Sunday, December 22, 2013


Howdy bird lovers:  The other day we had about 16 Eurasian Collared Doves show up at our box-type seed feeder. We really thought that was something, since we had never seen a Collared Dove until 2 years ago. This last Friday we had maybe 30-40 doves show up at the feeder. There were so many doves they had to wait in line up in the Mulberry trees above the feeder. We were gone yesterday ( bird photography) but the feeder was empty when we got home last night. I put about 1/2 gal of mixed seed in last night, at 0830 this AM we had maybe 50-75 doves come in and empty the feeder in about 20 minutes.  Does anyone know where I can get a deal on mixed wild bird seed by the 50 lb. sack? I have got the place posted as a wild bird sanctuary but I think maybe I will apply for a Licensed Game Bird Club? What do you think? I did see an ad for a Rape seed farm for sale in Alberta. But it's really cold up there right now.     

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

By Jim and Shirley White

Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Richard Bigelow saddled up his horse at Emigrant Gap, mounted, and headed south for Westville on the Foresthill divide to investigate a report of a large forest fire burning near Michigan Bluff. It was 5 A.M. on August 1, 1909. Ranger Bigelow had given orders to the trail crew at Mumford’s Bar on May 18th, to build a trail from Mumford’s Bar on the North Fork of the American River to Emigrant Gap for just this kind of emergency. He had a report that the trail was completed and now was the time not only to inspect the trail job, but to use this new trail to lend a hand in fighting this important fire.
One hundred and four years later, on November 30, 2013, Shirley and I headed south in our jeep, along this same trail to photograph the Royal Gorge of the North Fork of the American River. About ten miles of this trail is now a road and paved. Near the ten mile marker we turned east off the old trail on forest road 19, headed for the abandoned site of the Big Valley Bluff fire lookout. To the East and 2000 feet below is the Royal Gorge of the North Fork of the American River. This year we could see at least a mile of the river was dry, with only a hidden flow of water below the river gravel.
In late July, 1955 I had visited with Bill Watson, Forest Service lookout at Big Valley Bluff lookout, who told me of seeing several Golden Eagles flying below his lookout on some days. The old trail to the lookout was only a jeep road part way back in the 1950’s, and I had to hike about one half of a mile to get to this outstanding view. Parts of the old horse trail to the lookout are still visible to this day.
On the recent trip to the lookout the weather was perfect. Not a breath of air was stirring, and a few clouds made the scene special. We photographed the Gorge from a number of promontories to the east of the lookout always looking below, hoping to see an Eagle. After a couple of hours it was time to go and we reluctantly headed up along the sharp ridge out with one glance back down the canyon. And there they were! There were two Golden Eagles, with fixed wings, gliding below us. I let out a yell, stopped the jeep, grabbed the D-7000 with the long lens, and drew down on the birds below. The auto lens would not focus! The target was too small, the lens was not fast enough to focus, who knows what went wrong? We missed the shot. The birds apparently landed below the point of the cliff where we could not see them. Who knows how long they were going to sit below us? We missed the shot and it is just part of the game.
Ranger Bigelow rode his horse down into the American River canyon 2000 feet below and then back up 2000 feet to the road at Westville where he ate dinner. After dinner he received a message that the fire had jumped over Deadwood Ridge. He saddled back up and was on the fire line by 4 PM.  He supervised the fire fight till midnight, slept on the line waiting for daylight. He then worked on the fire line the next 3 days and established a camp to feed the fire fighters.  After this fire was out Ranger Bigelow rode his horse up Ralston Ridge, to French Meadows and three days later arrived back home in Nevada City.
While sitting on the cliff at Big Valley Bluff and looking down on Mumford’s Bar, we talked about Ranger Bigelow and his epic horse trips throughout the Tahoe National Forest. I have a copy of his diary, but I really wish he had had a camera. As they say, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jim and Shirley White

We were staked out west of Dutch Flat, watching the Union Pacific Railroad tracks for the late afternoon down- mountain freight; hoping for a photograph of a snow encrusted engine with its yellow headlight pushing thru the late evening snowfall. I had four-wheeled thru the frozen crust making a sound like breaking glass to park along the tracks on a seldom used dirt road. There were no dwellings for miles on this road, but somehow two large Newfoundland type dogs ran out of the snow-covered woods across the tracks and barked at us like we were unwelcome intruders into their icy domain. Our cameras are ready and the windows are down so we can hear the approaching train.

I poured two cups of steaming coffee and we munched on our Kashie bars and tried to stare down the barking inferno across the tracks. Earlier I had shot at high speed straight into the setting sun at U.P. # 6933 eastbound near the Dutch Flat diggings. One shot was not bad with a star effect had on the sun behind the engine .Now we are ready with the camera all set when a train comes around the curve up-stream with the setting sun behind our backs. The barking finally stopped and the dogs across the tracks went back into the woods.

Time to put the thermos and energy bars away in the back of the truck; no need to spill hot coffee when the train rushed around the corner and I started shooting like a demon trying for that great train  picture. I stepped out of the truck and walked to the rear to open the camper door when 30 yards away something big and black glided out of the woods on the left side of our access road and stopped in the snow on the road with a solid stare that made me hold my breath and check the holster on my belt. I strained to see, but this beast had a 2 inch tail that stuck straight out and ears that stood straight up, with maybe tassels on the ears. The body was really dark and thicker than it should be. The light was poor and I really needed my binoculars left on the front seat. He paused and then glided into the very thick snow covered manzanita, and then stopped. I could feel the stare coming from just below his ears .A faint beam of sunlight refracted off the snow struck his face and one eye went bright green. I could see the outline of his thick black body thru the brush. As silent as he came, he glided away into the thick snow covered jungle.

The train picture did not seem that important now. We waited 15 minutes more and gave up. We drove over the tracks of the unknown, unable to tell what it was from its tracks in the too hard snow.

It is the next day now and as you can tell, the thoughts of those green eyes are still with me. With more than a half century of wildlife observations in California behind me, I am not sure now what I know about wildlife in California. I do love photography.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


A WALK IN THE PARK no normal stroll. We leave the house in the morning at the first sign of daybreak. Five minutes later this is what we see where we park.
We walk 2 miles in 50 minutes. That is if we don't run into some wildlife activity on the lake which requires us to stop and watch.
This is our pond in our park. On any given day we may see, River Otters, an Egyptian goose native to Africa, Kingfishers, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, all kinds of ducks and geese, Cormorants, various other Shore Birds, Mud Turtles, Hawks, Beaver, Wild Turkeys, Grey Squirrels, all kinds of native birds....and in the Fall, color enough to knock your eyes out!

Along with all this wildlife and natural color we meet friends. They are as crazy about being out here early in the morning as we are. Of course we stop and talk and compare notes as to who has seen what. It seems like there is always something new to share. Some of our friends will have their dogs. I usually have a treat for each of the dogs. We can see the tails start wagging when they are at the other end of the pond. Nice to have a friend who lets you know a mile away that they like you. What a way to start a day. It just makes you feel good all over.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The weather forecast for the upper Sacramento Valley is for high winds 30 to 45 MPH with some clouds! Just what we have been waiting for to photograph the first of the northern birds in large numbers this year. We are having breakfast at Tommy's Market Street grill in Colusa this early Sunday morning in November and I can't wait to see the conditions at the refuge. Wind, dust,few people and millions of waterfowl, restless and moving around. Just what wildlife photographers need.
First the Snow Geese. Noisy and restless. There is only 3 or 4 large groups we can find. Lots more to come later. A scattering of Ross Geese mixed into the Snows. You can tell the Ross because they do not have the "Grinning Patch" the Snow's have. We shoot a few shots of the geese and then move on to young Red Tailed hawk sitting on the ground. He looks at us like he has never seen a person before. Maybe?
The best part of this day is the ponds on the last part of the auto tour. Lots of trees around these ponds and for some reason the birds feel safer here. We park 50 feet away from a packed house.
I single out a few Mallards. Pictures of a few Mallards taking off or landing are very commercial and hard to get. We keep trying.
It's been a good day. Time to get home and watch some football. When we get some rain we will get some more birds and we will be back. I wonder what time Tommy's opens?

Thursday, October 31, 2013


at least all the signs point to that. This morning just after daylight we saw our first Bufflehead ducks on our pond at the park. Two pair....right out of the north. Alaska maybe?
And how about this snow last Tuesday! This is the way it looked on the Chipmunk Ridge road above Hell Hole reservoir. And last Saturday we were checking for Sandhill Cranes near Lodi and among the thousands we saw was the bird with the tags on its legs above....right down from the north but we can't be sure where because at least 2 of the tags are missing. We photograph S.H. Cranes for the International Crane Foundation and they gave us that information. The River Otters ( two half grown ones) have returned to our park pond like they do most winters. The Great Egret above still thinks it is only Fall....since the Willows in the background still have some red leaves..... but the pain in my right knee tells me...."WE GOT THE WINTER TIME FEELING". Might as well get up...bundle up...and enjoy. It is really winter again!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Let's Go Deer Hunting

By Jim and Shirley White

In the dim night- light of the bedroom, I pushed my knees up against the mattress to rock the bed gently, my sleeping wife too. “It is 4 am…time to get up” I said to Shirley. A moan with an angry “what time is it? I said “let’s go deer hunting”. “It is snowing on your chickens and they have fallen and can’t get up” I often say that to wake her…since she then has to think what is really happening. She looks at the clock and slowly starts her move to get up and get ready for our planned “deer hunting adventure”. She really won’t know what we are really going to do until she walks in to the kitchen for that first cup of coffee.
We eased the jeep down the Ponderosa Way below Foresthill in a very low gear. The road is rough, dirt and with no guard rails. Not a road to put a tire over the edge with careless steering in the poor light from the jeep’s headlights. It is a long way down to the canyon below…so steep in places one would have to use a rope to get back up. That is if you could still stand and walk after that fall. We are going to stake out a hundred yards of open land where the deer trails are everywhere, mostly from deer going down to water in the North Fork and then coming back to feed and bed down for the day. Our plan… to intercept the big buck we saw two weeks ago in this very spot. My Nikon D-600 with the 80-400 zoom attached lay across my lap, ready to fill the frame with that beautiful 4 point rack on that nice fat buck…now we need just enough daylight so I can hand-hold this camera and lens very still, without shaking from all the excitement.
When it is light enough to see, I see movement on the ground. It is a covey of Mountain Quail. What the heck are they doing down the mountain at this low elevation? It has been so warm and dry this October that most of the high mountain species are still up high. It is the very first time I have seen Mountain Quail at this low elevation, ever! Our first “payoff” for getting up so early” I say, slurping on another cup of coffee from our thermos. “Let’s drive up and down the road and see if there are any deer moving” I say. We do our up and down and see nothing. Back to our clearing and while we are still moving we see them! A doe with this year’s fawn, and a little forked horn buck. They see us in the dim light and start a little dancing back and forth….as if to try and see us better. I kill the engine in the jeep, parked at an angle so I can shoot out of the window if I need to. The dance continues and I peer thru the viewfinder and read “¼ sec. at f5.6”. The shot will be blurry or soft at least at this slow shutter speed. I need more light. Shirley fires a time or two thru the windshield, “You’re wasting pixels” I growl.  “Try to shoot out the window, but we need more light” The buck and doe dance around with the buck mostly trying to hide in the tall grass behind the doe. They don’t really know what we are. The fawn is somewhere but in the tall grass it is hard to see. A little lighter and the camera meter reads 1/20th of a second at f 5.6. I start shooting, bracing the heavy lens on the window sill. Maybe the new improved “sharpen filter” In the new Photoshop CC will save the day…but I don’t think they are going to stay where they are much longer. First I shoot the buck and doe together, then the buck, several times. Then I shoot the doe by itself.  Looking at the LCD screen it sure looks drab! No color for sure. Well maybe I’ll make B&W’s out of them. We have got to come out of this effort with something!  Dam…there they go…up the hill. Straight into the brush. We are done for this day.
We are parked in front of the “Dash and Dine” in Colfax. Before I get out, I ease the Winchester Model 94 in its gun case out of the front seat into the back of the Jeep along with the shell belt I have around my waist. 30-30 shells in a gun belt might draw attention in the restaurant.  My huge skinning knife on my belt comes off too.  Shirley’s says “are you glad you did not shoot”? “Hay man” I say. “I ain’t about to shoot no young buck in front of his mommy and sister” So I guess we eat beef this winter again.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Eastern Sierra Magic

By Shirley and Jim White

“Pass the fried chicken” I said to Shirley. Last night’s fried chicken at Nicely’s restaurant in Leevining had been more than we could eat last night, but really hit the spot today. We were sitting in our lawn chairs on the shores of Rock Lake at 9500 feet in the Eastern Sierra. It was October 2, 2013 and we were photographing the fall colors in the Eastern High Sierra on what was to be one of our most fun trips. We were out for 5 days and had camped our first night at the Virginia Lakes. We camped along the shore of one of the smaller lakes where one could walk along the shore in the dry grass and fly cast into the shallows with a strike now and then from a good size trout. The Aspens along the highways from Carson Pass were O.K. but the real vivid colors were to be found in the higher mountains south. We photographed the colorful Willows and Aspens in the open high valleys to the north from along the Virginia Lakes road first.  Really nice!
Above Rock Lake at the 10,000 foot level the leaves were already blown from the Aspens. As we ate our fried chicken the wind picked up with a little icier bite to it and we slipped on our light fleece sweaters, which were to stay on the rest of the trip. The Rock Creek drainage is always one of our favorite places to shoot yellow and red colored Aspens. Shooting from along the road up, following the creek with the mountains in the background is hard to beat.
Our trip to Bodie, the old gold mining ghost town and State Park was great because of our encounter with the sheep along the road going in. Two bands of about 500 sheep each were grazing along the road, with the sheep herder and his dogs. Some of the dogs were the Great Pyrenees Herding dogs which are very large and white. One of the dogs broke from the herd and ran up the hill to the road into the arms of my wife Shirley. She believes that this dog must be the grown-up pup she had played with last fall, and that the dog remembered her! Who am I to argue with real dog and women love in the Sierra?
We camped at Convict Lake with the weather lady in Bishop forecasting winds 25 to 35 knots with gusts up to 45 knots in the evening. Our pop-up camper has a solid aluminum roof which flexes and pops like a gunshot when the wind hit the 45 mark. Shirley said “she now knows what real rock and roll feels like”. While listening to the wind blow we heard the Coyotes howl about 3:30 am and I just had to go out and stand in the lee of the camper to hear them better. Wow, I had forgotten how bright and icy sharp the stars are in the really high mountains.
Shooting Convict Lake the next morning was a challenge. My tripod would blow over if I did not hang a rock from the middle hook. I wanted to photograph the lake before the sun hit the peaks but I was about 10 minutes late. I was amazed the D-600 picked up so much detail in the shadows with the sun so bright on the peak above the lake. I am not sure yet, but I think I like it.
When we think of the Owens River Road we think first of horses, Cowboys, Hot Creek, a Cow Camp I know, and the wind. We went there this time because of the Cow Camp. I really love a picture I took of the camp many years ago, with an old stuffed sofa alongside the cabin. I know two other Cow Camps like this one, but you have to ride for hours on a horse to get to them. The one in Owens Valley you can drive up on a hill behind the camp and photograph the cabin and horses in the background if you are lucky. We were not lucky this time but we shot it anyway. The Cowboys had driven into the camp just before us and were un-loading horses to go move some cattle. The wind picked up and later when glassing the valley I saw a Cowboy lunging his horse. Horses get spooky real easy when the wind blows hard and he was trying to take some of the fire out of the critter. Been there and done that.
The radio said roads to the south were closing to campers and trailers because of the wind and we could barely see the mountains thru the heavy blowing dust. We headed north looking for some color and clear air to breathe. The Little Walker River just south of the Sonora Pass road was our home for the night. This is one of the most beautiful river valleys in the eastern Sierra. This was our first time to camp in the campground at the upper end of this valley. The temperature dropped like a rock that night. The temperature in the truck read 13 degrees at 7 am the next morning before sunrise. I was so excited to photograph the nearby Aspens before sunrise I wore nothing but my long johns and a down jacket. My knees burned but hay…I had a nice warm camper to retreat to. The coffee was hot so what else could you want?
On the way out we photographed the Aspens along the Little Walker River below the road and perched on a high dead limb in a tree along the road was a Red Shoulder hawk, with his feathers puffed out looking like a football. Outdoor photography at its best! We stopped at the Meadow Cliff restaurant in Coleville and had their Spanish omelet which was their special…Yum.
Go give it a try. We have found that even if our pictures are not great, you can’t fool our eyes. What we see has got to be magic.