Friday, December 26, 2014

Longing for the snow?

by Jim and Shirley White 

There was supposed to be snow in Hope Valley and along the West Fork of the Carson. Somebody was dreaming or maybe having a nightmare! There is more snow in our freezer that in that part of Alpine Co. But a big cold storm is coming! Not our idea of a good snow storm. But lots of wind and cold rain drove us down into Carson valley chasing hawks. Not many hawks and the wintering deer herd is not on the winter range this year! So we photographed barns.
So you can see the cold rain coming off of Freel Peak and when it got to us our barn got really grim.
The rain turned into ice when it hit me and the camera so lets go back up to 8000ft and see whats happening? Yep, it is snowing and blowing. Chain control did not faze the big truck ahead of us so as he started sliding sideways I passed and let the Subaru's computer take us over the hill. 25 mph going down Carson Pass with blowing and drifting snow put us below the snow in about 1 1/2 hr. Not to let this little chicken storm ruin our chances for some good snow pictures we are back after Christmas to check out the damage. Nice "mare's tails" blowing off of Round Top but no place to park and shoot. Nothing but the roadway has been plowed. Managed some photos of Round Top, but 6 keepers in two days? What's happened to our old time Sierra snow storms?
On the way home Round Top looks a little better.
Merry Christmas! And pray for a little snow for Shirley and I. We still hobble around on snowshoes.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Waterfowl Heaven

by Jim and Shirley White
Sullen skies NW of Lincoln this morning. Not a bird to be seen over the flooded rice fields. Off in the distance we saw a white flash in the sky. The white flash was huge and blinked on and off at slightly different places, Snow Geese I guessed? Or were they? And then another white flash, more to the north and closer to the ground. Maybe shore birds? We put the Jeep in high gear and ran down Brewer Rd. to the north. Thousands of Snow Geese to the east down Kempton Rd.! But there was something funny about the flooded plowed field straight ahead. I stopped and glassed the field. Those little brown dots were Dunlins by the thousands! As we watched the field, a milliom more flew in from somewhere and landed at the end of the birds we were watching. Hard to photograph these high speed bullets but we have to try. The birds sit so still I can not believe they are really birds. In a flash they fly and swirl and loop around the field all in absolute synchronization and when their bellies are toward us they flash white. What a sight! How do they keep from hitting each other at such speed?
 Later we go north down Kempton and there are Snow Geese by the tens of thousands! We work on the Swans. Our access to a 600 ac. rice ranch on this road provides the answer. After the shoot it is breakfast at Kathy's in Lincoln. Not a bad way to spend a morning. Can't wait to get back.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wild in the Park

by Jim&Shirley White

It was 5 AM when I looked out our bedroom window. The cloud deck looked low, it was really grungy. Not raining yet, but the sky promised it would not be long. I really felt like doing our early morning walk. The temp gauge outside said 39f. So I made the coffee and did my morning chores.
And then I got the idea! If it looked that bad to everyone else, maybe no one but Shirley and I would show up at the park this early morning. We have been a little concerned about safety wandering around the early morning in the park with expensive camera gear, a known gang headquartered nearby and the homeless person we meet upon occasion. With this kind of weather will they will stay under cover too? Let's go to the park and photograph wildlife! Shirley thought it was a dumb idea.

We started walking toward to lake at about 20 minutes before sunrise.What sunrise? The overcast was grim. But how thick were the clouds? We started out using our little fold out canvas stools and set up near the big island. We knew there were 4 river otters in the lake but as dark as they are how to capture the image in this poor light. Shirley let out a gasp and whispered " at your feet"! All I remember is little brown heads, long whiskers and big brown eyes starring right at me. Too close, camera won't focus. They were a wild and rowdy bunch. They played together constantly. They were all over the pond. Our only hope was to get them on the island. We did but most of the shots were throwaways.
I checked my LCD screen and I could not believe the color. A slight improvement in the light.
First the Golden Eyes swam past us and then the Buffleheads. These diving ducks from the far north are our notice that the northern birds have really made it back!
Only one person approached us, wanting to know where he could find our pictures. Seemed like a nice guy, a banker or perhaps a local Judge? The bad guys just don't get out of bed very early I guess.





Saturday, November 1, 2014


by Jim and Shirley White

The large brown bird dropped out of the sky like a bombshell, exploding in a sea of Mud Hens (American Coots) like a grenade going off. The Rough-legged hawk nailed one of the Mud Hens on some dead tules about 50 feet from our road, in the Colusa National Wildlife
Refuge, near Colusa. Ca. A bite to the back of the head of the Mud Hen and the flopping bird was soon dead. Shirley and I stopped on the edge of the road and started firing the Nikon's in high-speed mode. Welcome back to some of the best wildlife photo shooting in the west.
A few minutes after, an SUV with a sun-roof pulled up in front of us, out of the roof popped a girl with a red parka on and the hawk flushed carrying part of the Mud Hen in his claws, and our hawk shoot for this day was over.
We had had a good shooting day. Earlier while chatting with the refuge manager, he had pointed out an area where some Sandhill Cranes had landed in a shallow pond. The Cranes had flown off before we could get there but we were rewarded by a dozen Curlews playing grab-ass and we were able to shoot some action shots of this un-common northern bird.
Yep....the game is on! Another great season of chasing waterfowl up and down the Sacramento Valley, always looking for the unusual but always interesting waterfowl from the far north.

Saturday, October 11, 2014



The soil at the Owens Valley cow camp was powder a foot deep. At every step the dust swirled up and covered our cameras. I drive 400 miles every year to photograph this camp. Each year it is different. This year it was murder. I really wanted to go sit on the couch along-side the cabin and have Shirley take my picture, but the nearby Cowboys vaccinating cows were watching us. I think one of them was packing heat! I don't want any shootout in this heat today.
The nearby Hot Springs creek was the only thing that looked cool today. Not enough snow on the mountains for sure.
We are standing on the handicapped fishing platform at Convict Lake shooting the early morning light on the lake and I am grousing about what a lousy place to build the platform with all the shallow water below when a 24 inch Rainbow Trout weighing at least 10 lbs.cruses by. My casting arm begins to twitch and I know now I know nothing about fish!

We photograph sheep herders, their dogs and sheep, and dream about the old days of lamb stew and red wine in the Basque sheep camps we have known. We love their dogs, and one white Pyrenees remembers Shirley from some years ago. They were in the Bode Hills right where we always find them. The Herder waves but does not come up to see us this time. He knows we need him in our shot too.

Monitor Pass was as beautiful as we have ever seen it! I use the glasses to view White Cliff Peak way to the South, just above Connel's Cow camp of old. Our memories of horse adventures in the Fish Valley of the Silverking are as strong as ever. My horse Lady died there, her skull nailed to the wall of the Soda Springs Ranger Station. Rest in peace my lady.

Shirley let out a slight sigh as the girl scooped a very small scoop of Vanilla ice cream, but then worked it into a huge ball that hardly fit on the sugar cone. The Markleeville ice cream shop closes on Oct. 24th this year. Next trip I guess we will just have to hit the old Cutthroat Saloon for a shot or two, and remember Shrimp Ebright, the old horse packer who always wanted me to stay longer. But my family and kids were waiting, and trailering horses at night over Carson Pass, well only one for that road that was for sure.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Crane Addiction

by Jim and Shirley White


 A soft rain was hitting our bedroom window as I drug my body out of bed. It was 5:00 AM and pitch black outside. I nudged my wife Shirley and said "good morning, time to go chase some cranes". "My God Jim, it is not even light outside!" "I know, I said but it will be light by the time we get there" " "Your sick", she said, "you need to get another hobby!". Yep, I know, it is some kind of addiction that makes us chase Sandhill Cranes, the way we do. The report we had was the first Cranes this year had arrived at the Consumnes Wildlife Area, with Desmond road the best spot to see them. We were there at first light, and there were no Cranes. No Cranes, few ducks, nothing but lots of Blackbirds. What to do? Lets try Woodbridge road. Maybe we will see some Otters or something? At the public viewing area on Woodbridge road there was nothing. I parked the car, grabbed the Nikon with the 150-600mm lens, and walked to the bench and sat down. A few cars drove in looked around and left. Nothing. And then I saw something move, 150 yards away, and behind some thistle plants. It was a Sandhill Crane! And then I saw 5 more, and then 10 more off in the distance. To our amazement two cranes walked out of some cover less than 100 yards away. And then to our amazement, one began to throw a stick up high into the air and leap and try and catch it before it hit the ground.

And then the Cranes began their dance! They leaped up high and were playfully poking with their bills at each other. The light was poor, but who cares? They were playing and doing their dance for us!
How could these birds know how hard we tried to see them perform? It was like they were performing just for us. The dancing and throwing the stick lasted for maybe 3 or 4 minutes and then they wandered on behind some growth where they could not be photographed. It was over.
By 10:00 A.M. we were at Wimpy Marina and were ordering steak and eggs and biscuits and gravy.
Getting up this early does work up an appetite.As we waited for our order, Shirley remarked " I really love those Cranes!" When can we go again?


Monday, September 15, 2014

Wild Along Our Coast

by Jim and Shirley White

The shrill high scream sounded like the higher notes of a pipe organ in distress! It was a bull Tule elk in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore telling all that could hear,"this is my territory". It was thrilling to hear,even more thrilling to see him run-off the two huge bulls that tried to move in on his harem. We watched our screamer run around in circles, rounding up all the young does into a remarkably tight band. He was the proud owner of a really nice herd of females, that is if he can just hang on to them.
I know of no other place in California better to break in my new wildlife lens, a 150-600mm Tamron zoom, for my Nikon bodies. It was last Wednesday, all the Motel'ers were still in bed, no traffic at all on the Pierce Point road so we had it all to our self. Unfortunately, a dull grey fog hung over everything. Not the best light, but wildlife was every where. In three days we saw Coyotes, hawks,Shore birds,lots of Elk, deer, Cottontail rabbits and quite a few "dicky birds" to photograph. Camped at the Olema campground, we had lots of homemade stew, Truckee sourdough, and some good red wine. God does bless the poor, sometimes wicked, and always enthused wildlife photographers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Death on the highway

by Jim and Shirley White

Driving at 65 mph on I80 east near Cisco Grove, I barely saw the roadkill out of the corner of my eye. I saw a small mass of an animal with long dark brown fur, long orange or yellow guard hairs across it's shoulders and down it's back. Not much different than the Wolverine I have seen. Seconds before I had been looking to the north at the Black Buttes and thinking about Byers Lake, where someone had photographed our local Sage Hen creek Wolverine crossing the ice a few springs ago. I shouted to Shirley, "they have killed our Wolverine". Not sure if it was a Wolverine or maybe a small cub bear, I had to go back and check. I pulled in off the road near the animal and guessed it was a cub, California Black bear. A closer exam proved that it was a bear cub.
Very fat, heavy, maybe 100 lbs, I drug it off the highway, more out of respect for the bear, than worry about the motorist. I could almost guess the history of it's short life. Back in the 1970's two DFG  bear biologist, Larry and Dick had helicoptered into the Granite Creek drainage south of here, following the radio signals from a female bear that had denned under a big log, with 10 feet of snow on top, right along Granite Creek. While digging thru the snow to change the batteries in her radio, the irate female had burst thru the snow just behind them and scared them so bad they almost did not jab her with the syringe with the drugs. After she went to sleep, an inspection of the den produced two small cubs with their eyes closed, about the size of a squirrel. Following the mother with her cubs from our airplane the next summer, we watched them go north, cross the freeway, and go all the way to Grouse Ridge and the Byers lake drainage. The freeway was new then, the deer herd fairly large, and records kept by Cal-Trans at Kingvale recorded about one thousand deer killed on the new I 80 each year. In late August that year, how the mother bear and her cubs made it back across the freeway and back down into the North Fork of the American river had to be just luck. The years have some how come and gone and also several generations of our mother bear. But in my mind, my little friend killed on I 80 yesterday, "I must have known your Great Grandmother." Get out of our way, or die. Are we in too much of a hurry to care any longer?



Friday, August 8, 2014

The Coyote with the pretty brown eyes

by Jim and Shirley White

We had been staked out for hours yesterday on the Beaver pond in a remote part of Sierra county. Trying to get more pictures of the baby Wood Duck chicks we have been following. Tired and on our way home, we were traveling east on the Jackson Meadows road and were only about 3 miles from highway 89 when we saw him. A skinny, half-starved coyote climbing up the steep bank from the upper Truckee river. After seeing many wild coyotes thru the years my first comment was he was starving. He walked out on the highway, head held low, a really dejected looking animal. The car ahead of us slowed to a stop and we pulled off and parked behind him. The creature walked slowly up  to the car when I saw something about his head that just did not look right. Ears too big, face not pointed, muzzle too long. I said "it must be a half-breed". I have seen them before, but never with a collar around their neck. It was a skinny, half-starved dog! The guy in the car ahead got a rope and I got down low and spoke softly, and he walked right up to me. I put my hand along side of his head, and he stopped, and pushed back against my hand. I saw some fresh blood on his right front foot, a wound he had just got coming up the steep cliff. The fellow in the car ahead wondered where the nearest house or cabin would be, and I said about 10 miles at least. Our dog was lost and had been lost for a long time.

 One other car stopped and offered a gold miners pan full of water. The driver in the car ahead said he had some kibble dog food in his trunk. Now who carries dog kibble in their trunk in the back country? The dog wolfed the food down, and drank his fill of water out of the gold pan. He walked up to the other driver's  car and looked up. You could see he really wanted in the car. The driver that offered the water left and said when he got cell service he would call the Sierra Co. Sheriff's office. I knew from other experiences like this, no one would come. Too far in the boonies, too many more important things to do. To leave the dog along the road, was to kill the dog. If he made it to the highway, he would be hit by a car for sure. Not a really pretty dog, no one would want him.

After talking at great length about what we should do,the guy in the car ahead said he would make room in the back of his car, he just could not let him die after what the dog must have been thru to survive. End of story. The guy who took him saw the desperate look in the dog's eyes, and said there was no other answer. He had to take him and give him a good home.

Although it is had to believe, there a some good people out there. It has been a long time since we have met one....but we did yesterday! We slept good last night.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

f8 and Be There

by Jim and Shirley White

It is another very hot summer day in the foothills of Placer Co. Not a cloud in the sky. The waterfowl have all gone north, the deer,bear and other critters in hidden in the "bush". What is a Outdoor/Wildlife type photographer to do? I have no idea where to get some satisfying wildlife/outdoor photos today. Our first rule....get off your ass, pack up the photo gear, and get out there. It ain't going to happen in my refrigerated living-room!
 We have got to have a little pleasure first. Eggs and fixings at Katrina's at 0700. Where is there the most wildlife in this part of California? It is in the valley for sure. Where to go? I don't know. The refuges are barren, not much in the rice fields, a few Egrets and Ibises, but we don't need pictures of them. Hit the old familiar places and play it by ear I guess. We go to East Nicholas and I stop and think. During my Warden days where did I find the most pecker necks? The East Levee road just to the south-west. Up on the gravel levee road and the drain-ditch is full of Water Hyacinths. So full of plants waterfowl will not use it now. We turn east, cross the ditch and travel on a dirt farm road out into the thousands of acres of rice fields. The really green rice, without heads yet, is barren of wildlife. How about Coon Creek way to the north? I have not driven there in 40 years or more. One set of tire tracks in the road ahead tells me the rice rancher's water tender must travel this way. We cruise slowly along the creek road and thru a small opening I spy eyes watching me! I back up and there he is, a baby Black-Crowned Night Heron! He is standing in shallow water in a beautiful setting. I have never seen a BCNH baby out of it's nest before. This one is looking at me like I might be it's mother. Shirley and I fire our shutters at 6 frames per second while we have the chance. You can hunt the wildlife web sites and not find a shot like this one. A real prize for sure.
We move on and let the chick have it's peace. Nothing to fear from us for sure. I'm wondering where I am now out in the many rice field roads, when around the corner of the tule's up ahead appears this white pick-up. Time to play cool, like we belong here and it is just a real nice day. The driver smiles and has a slight frown that must be a question or two. I shove my 2 foot-long lens out the door and tell hem we are wildlife photographers, trying to make some bread today and having a tough time. He smiles and wonders out loud if we had seen all the white-herons on big tree along the creek? He called it a "roost". I said it must be a "rookery" and if he is going that way would he show us the way.
 One mile back along the creek at least 100 Large White Egrets were in the trees with babies stuffed in the nests everywhere. They are at least 100 yards away and Shirley and I are ready to climb to fence and get closer, when our new friend mentions all the black Angus bulls he saw along there the last time he was here. I show him what the babies look like on my LCD and he is amazed. 
When we figure out how to handle the bulls, we are going back. Just another case of f8 and be there!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sierra Valley High

by Jim & Shirley White

Sierra Valley California can be a place of wonder. It has wildlife, rivers and ponds, farms and live stock. Add some clouds and it can be an outdoor photographers dream come true.

We have had some wonderful experiences in Sierra Valley. We go there in the middle of winter, spring and summer. We could tell stories. We prefer to just take pictures and remember. Just a few days ago this is what we saw.

A true California wonderland.

Monday, June 23, 2014



by Jim and Shirley White

Last year was dry. There were no Tiger Lilies in our Secret Meadow. Well there were actually three, all droopy, dried up and sick looking. This year it is really dry. Really very dry. But not in our Secret Meadow. There are hundreds of our Tigers, all bloomed out and of a beautiful orange-yellow with black spots everywhere. The bees and butterflies are there too. And the meadow is all squishy to walk on. We feel terrible to walk out into this Garden of the Gods. It is impossible not to trample something. We try to be careful, but to no avail. Something must get injured for us to photograph our loved ones. The meadow is circled with the beautiful Death Camas flowering plants. They are white and shaped like a Roman Candle. And deadly if you eat them. Lewis and Clark ate them and survived. I would not try them ever. But we thought our meadow would not be a bad place to die.
We of course are not ready yet for that. Our heart's raced fast when we saw our meadow this year. How can our meadow be so wet, moist and beautiful, in this dry, crisp and brown year. Ah! it is green and beautiful now for a while. But we fear it will dry out this year. But the beautiful Tiger Lilies of our Sierra Nevada mountains will only go to sleep and wait. For the rains and snow will come and new life will happen again  in our little Secret Meadow. We can't wait to go again!

Thursday, May 29, 2014



We were not going to tell you about this. You know about our mountains but you don't know about the flowers this year. You know it is a year of drought, hot, dry, miserably dry. But somehow our joy of seeing so many flowers, so soon this year, is not so great if we don't tell you about it. I wanted to wait until the bloom was over, you would have never known. Shirley thought we should share. Maybe I will feel better once you know. I don't know.

Snow plants are everywhere. More than we have ever seen. I should have not even stopped to take this picture. They are so common this year. But yet I did.
Indian Pinks? It is too early I think. Are they crazy? It is too early, but there they were! I must take their picture too. I don't need any Indian Pinks mad at me.
Yellow Monkey flowers are everywhere on every canyon wall. What can one do? Drive right by? After all, we came to see the lakes and mountains too.
Hell Hole lake is a little low. But what the heck! It is wet and cold, and fishermen are catching lots of fish. Should we be sad? Remember? It is a drought year too.
Now French Meadows lake, it is really low this year. There will be no canoeing up the Middle Fork to photograph Osprey catching fish for us this year. I wonder if the old Forest Service cabin Shirley and I and our three kids used to stay in when it was snowing hard during deer season will show itself in the lowering lake? Sad thoughts of happy bygone days I guess.
Dogwood were in bloom from French Meadows up to Chipmunk Ridge like they always are in July. But hay! This is still May! Maybe a summer thunder storm will brighten up our sky. The Dogwood will need some rain in July this year for sure. 
This was Mt.Mildred last Sat.and I used to ski down that ridge coming down Chipmunk Ridge every June first ! Coming over from Alpine Meadows to French Meadows each late May to early June was always a blast.Guess Shirley and I will just have to hike up to the summit and see what it looks like in the summer for a change. Now that you know about our flowers and our secret Mt. Mildred ski trip, please....don't tell anybody. You see....even on the Memorial holiday, there was no one looking at the flowers and the mountains were all ours. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Our Loneliest Friend
By Jim and Shirley White

We have had a visitor to our home the past few weeks. It is a Canada goose, one of the species of wild Canada Geese that have made this part of the Sierra foothills their yearlong home. He has flown into our small backyard livestock pasture to rest and feed on our abundant green grass. A few weeks ago we had a pair of geese that would come and feed for a while and then leave. They never spent the night here. The goose that is here now, has spent two days and nights here 24 hours each day, this past week. He leaves for an hour or two to go where we do not know? I saw him land about 6:30 A.M. this Sun. morning so he went somewhere either last night or real early this morning. We are on a sort of a flyway here with geese flying over headed out to the Country Club golf course, or perhaps another pasture in between. They call to our goose as they pass over but he just looks up and says nothing. About 10 days ago we had a pair land to visit him, cackling loudly as they landed but he lowered his head and charged them and ran them off. He seems very content to feed by himself, preens by the hour, or just stares at the pairs of Mocking birds that are nesting just below our pasture. I had to mow the pasture last week and hated to bother him but he just stood and watched as I rode the mower back and forth for at least an hour. He moved from place to place to get out of the way of the mower but acted like he could care less about me.
I think our goose likes us because when Shirley and I sit on our deck overlooking the pasture and the goose, he often looks up at us. Shirley talks to him all the time. She wants to name him but I don’t believe in giving wildlife human names. After all, they are not human and deserve better than that. The bird biologist have named the Canada Goose, “Branta Canadensis” but who in the world calls them that. I just call him “Our Loneliest Friend”.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


by Jim & Shirley White

A friend was going to call but he did not. You see he knew it had snowed almost 2 feet in the Sierra and so the next day he knew very well where we would be. It used to be on skis heading up high. Now of course it is with the cameras, trying to capture that love we have for the Sierra when covered with snow. It was a Saturday and would have been crowded along I 80 in Placer Co. But it was not since the ski areas were closed, most of the ski-summer cabins around Donner Pass and Tahoe were empty since the season was wrong for most. Not for Shirley and I! When it snows we are gone that's for sure.

To us, when it snows, we almost feel young again. We look at those high ridges and pick our route.
You see we know every tree and rock along that route, and in our mind we are there, Our memories of those high ridges are there forever. Ski Heil!