Acme Little Giant Do-It-Yourself Rocket-Sled Kit

rr still

Each time I travel the desert roads of Texas and New Mexico, I manage to catch at least one glimpse of a roadrunner. Usually, they just zip straight across the road directly in front of me, and by the time I reach for a camera, they’re long gone. I’ve never come close to capturing one on film (or the digital equivalent).

That changed on my most recent visit to the Davis Mountains. I had activated my phone’s video camera to record a scenic stretch of road. Almost immediately, a roadrunner joined the party. You’ll see it enter the road from the grass on the right, zigzag up my lane, cross the centerline, then run up the left edge of the pavement. As I pass, it hops into the grass and flies away. Far from a spectacular piece of cinema, but I’m happy that I finally got a lens on one of these beasts.

This short video has been slowed to just 20% of its original speed and there is no audio track. You’ll have an easier time seeing the bird if you play the video in full-screen mode (the icon in the lower-right corner of the video window).

Click HERE to view the video on my Vimeo channel.

Runtime: 55 seconds

 

The Sleepy Owl

One sunny morning, many years ago, I was rolling westward along US 12 in Broadwater County, Montana on the section of the highway that passes through the Helena National Forest. Suddenly, in the opposite lane, I saw what appeared to be a large bird sitting in the road. As I slowed beside it, I realized that it was an owl…

I’m a big fan of leaving wild animals alone to do what they do, but when it comes to animals in the road, I can’t help but take action. I always stop (safely) when I see a turtle on the pavement; sometimes I’ll just sit in the car with my flashers on until it has completed its journey, other times I’ll carry the turtle to its destination on the far shoulder.

This owl was in the eastbound lane of the highway at the end of a fairly tight curve, and as the morning sun would have been in the eyes of those driving in that lane, chances were high that it would have been crushed by the next vehicle to come along. So, on went the flashers and I pulled halfway onto the eastbound shoulder to block the owl from approaching traffic, then I got out of the car for a closer look.

Naturally, I’m wondering, What is this owl doing in the middle of the road? It appeared to be sleeping. If so, it could have found a better location!

Perhaps it was sunbathing. Whenever I drive rural roads in the morning, I frequently see birds sitting on the pavement to get warm, since asphalt retains heat quite well. But they always fly away when a vehicle approaches.

Perhaps this owl was sick. If so, I wouldn’t know.

Perhaps it had been stunned in a collision. That was my best theory at the time, although I didn’t notice any blood, any missing feathers or any body parts out of place.

Really, it just appeared to be…sleeping. Content, relaxed and in charge. This is my road, I’m taking a nap, deal with it.

My attempts to rouse this beast by shouting and clapping failed miserably; the only response I got was one slight turn of the head. Though the eyes never opened, at least I knew someone was in there. I then grabbed a branch from a nearby shrub and gently tapped the bird on the back several times. Nothing.

No cooperation forthcoming, I went to the trunk and grabbed my leather work gloves and a towel. Approaching the bird from behind, I gently covered it with the towel, lifted it carefully and carried it through the tall bushes on the south side of the road. There, beside a small stream, I set it down in a patch of sunlit grass…

Fortunately, due either to the remote location, the time of day or the day of the week, no vehicle traffic appeared during this encounter (had there been any, I wouldn’t have held things up by taking pictures).

Using field guides, I was never able to positively ID this owl. Looking at the photos now, many of its feathers remind me of those on juvenile raptors. Working with that assumption, and considering the bird’s size (somewhat larger than an NFL football) and the curved black beak, and after scanning through internet images of juvenile owls, my best guess is that this was a young great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). (This ID was verified by the folks at Montana’s Owl Research Institute. Thank you!)

Had I access to a smartphone at the time, I would have tried to contact a local bird rescue operation. But this was years before I owned a cell phone, and I have to wonder if you could get a signal even now in that remote area.

I hope this owl lived to fly another day.

Down on the Farm

This morning, my road trip brought me to a natural oasis within a sea of development. There, I found photographer Gary Bowen. With our cameras at the ready, we enjoyed a frosty sunrise hike through the Metzger Farm Open Space in Westminster, Colorado. Though we didn’t spot the coyotes today, there were plenty of birds out and about, and lots of color. Be sure to check out Gary’s wonderful photographs featuring the many inhabitants of this preserve.

Grebe…

Great blue heron…

Magpie with a cattail…

The resident kingfisher, and his friend, a northern flicker…

The Night Has Eyes

…and ears and wings and talons. Owl sightings are always special to me as they are so infrequent, and it’s rarer still that I can catch an owl on camera. When I saw the silhouette of this beautiful creature along a lonely road just after sunset, I parked the Pontiac immediately and walked slowly toward the brush, firing off a frame every few seconds. This was as near as I could get before the owl disappeared silently into the fading light.

One last image from the archive before I hit the road this week. I’ve packed 25 rolls of film for this trip…hope that will be enough. And I’ll certainly keep an eye out for owls along the way.

Western Texas
December 1994
Kodak Tri-X film

Call Me the Breeze

Guess he really liked the feel of the wind in his antennae as we rolled through South Dakota, so much so that sticking his head out of the window wasn’t good enough…he decided to cling to the passenger door to get the full effect.

So Many Trees

During my final day in the Northwest Territories, I pulled over and parked on this piece of high ground to gawk at the sprawling and seemingly endless boreal forest. These shots were captured with my infrared DSLR.

My trip as a whole was virtually bug-free, with the exception of the area around Fort Providence. When I stopped to photograph the narrow forest road seen below, the sand flies came after me with great enthusiasm. Fortunately, I was prepared with gloves and a mosquito-netting hat. The dark blobs you see are just a few of the hundreds of sand flies swarming around my head. They didn’t get my blood, but they photobombed every shot taken in this area.

A Last Look at the Boreal Forest

Before we head back to lower latitudes and enjoy the scenery of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, here are some final images from the far north:

Old wood, being reclaimed by the forest…

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No shortage of abandoned mines in the north country…

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Some of the forest’s smaller residents…

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Something with wings…

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Speaking of wings, the ravens were everywhere, and always on the lookout for a free meal. Though I never fed them, they stalked me constantly, and I couldn’t wander far from the car if the top was down; I could tell that this one was just waiting for me to turn around so he could hop in and steal my crackers…

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Another waterfall: Alexandra Falls, on the Hay River…

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The gorge below…

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Nature’s masonry skills on display…

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So many trees…

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