Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fireworks, The Moon, Owls, a Snake, And Sunsets

Birding is often slow during July and this year is no exception. When the birding gets slow, however, I turn to other opportunities to explore and enjoy outdoor activities.

The 4th of July is a fun holiday for our family. This year I made my first real attempt at photographing fireworks. The show was free to the public and held at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah. I read that I should use a long lens (at least 200mm) for fireworks so I took my 80-400mm lens. Once the fireworks started I realized I needed to back away from the action even with the lens pulled back to 80mm. I moved back as far as I could and I was still unable to fit complete firework blasts inside the camera frame.  I was pleased with the results.

I heard we had a super moon approaching so I set up my camera on a tripod in my driveway the night before the super moon and practiced capturing night images. The moon looked like a pearl cradled in the clouds the night before the peak of the super moon.

The Night Before the July 2014 Super Moon (Seen from Pleasant Grove, UT)
I enjoyed capturing images of the super moon the night it peaked. Again, I was in my driveway so the glow of the city lights impacted the overall results. I learned a bit about photographing the moon and was wishing I was high in the darkness of our local mountains.

Super Moon Seen From Pleasant Grove, UT
The night after the super moon I made my way up into our local mountains via American Fork Canyon. I found a place to park and set up my gear. It was at 8000 ft and near the summit of the Alpine Loop (Hwy 92). The detail of the craters on the moon was better than the night before, but it was a waning, or not-so super, moon.

The Night After the July 2014 Super Moon (The waning, or not-so super, moon)
Before capturing images of the moon that night I spent some time whistling for a Northern Saw-whet Owl. I've learned some tricks for calling these owls in that include taking advantage of a very short window at a certain level of darkness and the type and order of the whistling sounds I make. I was successful at whistling in an owl before the moon rose above the horizon, but I wasn't able to capture an image. It was a skittish little owl. The image below is of an owl I whistled in previously at the same location.

Northern Saw-whet Owl Wasatch County, UT
Flammulated Owls breed in our mountains during the summer months so I called one of those in as well. These owls are much more cooperative with being photographed. These owls will migrate down to Mexico and beyond once they finish breeding and their young have become adept at hunting and flying.

Flammulated Owl in Wasatch County, UT
I've been riding my mountain bike along the Murdock Canal in the early evening hours recently. I watch for birds and other critters, especially, Rattlesnakes as I ride along that trail. It runs along the foothills so snakes often come down to the trail where the asphalt and gravel are warm. The other night a ran across a new species of snake. I'm not sure I've ever seen one before, but I wasn't surprised when I looked in up in my reptile guide and discovered it was a subspecies of Racer. I managed a few images, but once it decided to leave my presence is moved faster than any snake I've ever seen.

Western (Yellow-bellied) Racer in Cedar Hills, UT
Western (Yellow-bellied) Racer in Cedar Hills, UT
Western (Yellow-bellied) Racer in Cedar Hills, UT
Sunsets in July can be quite spectacular. I always enjoy watching a sunset unfold because you never know what to expect. If there are clouds in the sky and on the horizon they can often be painted in a variety of colors by the light from the lowering sun.

Summer Sunset Seen from American Fork, UT


  1. Owl whistling!? Very cool, and the fireworks are gorgeous as well.

    1. It's kind of fun to have that interaction with the Saw-whets, Laurence. And the fireworks were quite fun as well. Thanks for visiting. I hope to get down to Arizona soon, before the Elf Owls head south of the border.