Favorite Nature Experiences of 2017

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Hiking through the hail in RMNP – photo by H. Valey © 2018

I wanted to get this done in January, but well the month steamrolled over me before I knew what happened.< Anyhow,! I’ve been wanting to do an overview of my favorite nature experiences of 2017.- -more- It’s healthy I think,- to look back on the past year and celebrate the moments that made that year special.> It’s so easy to forget the little things that brought a smile to your face or changed the way you look at the world. One of the reasons I like photography is it allows me to go back to a specific moment in time and relive it briefly.

10.  Vanishing River Cruise – Golden Eagle sighting

In December we took the Vanishing River Cruise up near Lake Buchanan in Texas.  They boasted Bald Eagle viewings and I hadn’t seen a Bald Eagle in Texas yet and was itching for a sighting.  Not only did we get to see Bald Eagles, but we got a glimpse of a couple Golden Eagles as well.  Other birds we saw on the trip included Double Crested Cormorants, Belted Kingfisher, Blue Herons, Osprey, Snowy Egrets…   They had a biologist as our guide on the boat who pointed out the birds and they served us lunch too. If you’re ever in that neck of the woods I highly recommend their eagle cruises!

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Golden Eagle – Colorado River, Texas – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

9. Thanksgiving weekend  2017 – Animal Spotting

One of my favorite things about mother nature is when you go outside for a hike, you never know what you’re gonna see.  I find this especially true if you walk slowly and quietly.  This past November, I was out scouting for coyotes.  I saw one that weekend but he didn’t want to have anything to do with me and my camera. However, other critters were cooperative.  Lots of deer and birds including a red-shouldered hawk.

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Red-Shouldered Hawk – Hill Country in Texas – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

8. Rocky Mountain National Park

Every year we make the trek to Colorado to camp and backpack.  This last year we went up into Rocky Mountain National Park for a backpacking trip. It rained and it hailed but it was still an amazing trip.  As you can see we had to get creative to keep our gear dry, and well actually it didn’t work too well.  I still ended up sleeping in a wet sleeping bag one night… brrr.

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Inclement Weather in RMNP – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

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RMNP Colorado – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

7. Butterfly photo shoot

In Austin we get butterflies in the spring and then again in November.  The Monarch butterflies migrate right through our area on the way to Mexico every fall.  I really wanted to take advantage of the migration to take photos.  I scouted a handful of locations near creeks and rivers where bee brush and other nectar plants thrive… no luck.  Finally I found a bunch of Goldeneye bushes packed with butterflies basically in the parking lot where I work.  Sometimes you don’t have to go as far as you think you do to find what you are looking for!

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Monarch Butterfly – Austin TX – Photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

6. Buck Chases Fox

So this was some fun animal interaction.  I was looking out at a meadow in the Rocky Mountains one morning and I saw a white tail buck browsing the vegetation.  A red fox comes trotting up the road past him and stops to stake out the scene.  I don’t think he knew the buck was there at first. The buck notices the fox right away and he is not happy.  He charges the fox and chases him out of the meadow. With the fox gone he goes happily back to grazing on the vegetation.  I have no idea why the buck wanted the fox gone.  It was late summer, the fawns were big and fat. Much to big for a fox to take, but maybe I’m wrong.  I find animal interactions like this pretty fascinating.

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Buck Notices Fox – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

5. Purple Martins

Every year in late February the Purple Martins start arriving in Austin, TX for breeding season.  You’ll see the tell tale gourd bird houses hanging all around town in Austin.  In summer, after the birds have fledged their young they all flock together before making the trek back to South America for the winter.  Thousands and thousands of birds swirl around and land in just a few trees in the summer evenings of June & July.  Travis Audubon hosts Purple Martin parties every year to promote awareness of the species and their club.  I’ve gone three years in a row to see the birds roost before their migration and every year is just as spectacular.

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Purple Martins by Moonlight – Austin TX – photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

4. Texas Panhandle

In the spring, we took a trip out to the Texas Panhandle to  visit some wildlife refuges and state parks.  The highlights of the trip were the wildlife sightings. My favorite were the Bullock’s Orioles.  They were a welcome blast of color as they flit from tree to tree looking for food.  The prairie dogs were fun too.. lots of babies when we were there.  I’m glad we made it out when we did as I heard recently that the particular prairie dog colony we were at was closed down just a few months later as the colony had come down with the bubonic plague. 😦

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Panhandle Collage: Bullock’s Oriole, Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs, Ground Hog, Mississippi Kite, Wild Turkey, Collared Lizard – photos by H. Valey

3. Golden Cheeked Warbler

Last spring, I volunteered with the city to help do a re-sighting count of Golden Cheeked Warblers in our area.  They are an endangered bird and there are many agencies in the Austin Hill Country doing their best to protect habitat for the bird.  The bird is endangered due to loss of habitat as the hill country in Texas becomes more and more developed and the trees that they rely on for nesting materials get removed. The re-sighting work involved tracking the birds by ear in the wilderness.  It was exciting to have my first sighting after chasing the birdsong around for a couple hours.. they are fast little buggers.

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Golden Cheeked Warbler – Austin TX – photo by D. Valey (c) 2917

2. Robin Migration

Last February we had an unusual American Robin migration into the city for a couple of weeks.  Thousands of American Robins flew over Austin, Texas and surrounding suburbs. I had hundreds of birds in my yard for a couple of days, which was pretty exciting, although a bit messy to clean up after.  These guys at the bird bath cracked me up.  They would all jockey for a spot at the bird bath and some other bird would fly over and kick someone off their spot.

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Robins Visit – Photo by H. Valey (c) 2017

1.Critter Cam fun

I bought a game cam last year, because I was interested in what type of animals we got in our backyard at night.  I was most interested in the night visitor that insisted on knocking over the birdbath continuously.  Our yard backs up to a preserve so I knew we probably got some interesting visitors.  I set the camera up in a variety of places and got glimpeses of deer, grey foxes, screech owls, a rat, deer and the rude bird bath visitor, a fat ol’ raccoon!  The pictures from the cam aren’t great, but it was alot of fun looking at them.

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Critter Cam Collage- Top L -R Raccoon, Screech Owl. Bottom L-R Grey Fox & Rat

 

 

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