I woke up early enough to get myself to Bayport for the sunrise this morning. It was chilly enough to have turned the heat on when I got up at 4:30 AM, but 48 degrees isn’t really something to complain about when my dearest childhood friend reported temperatures of -4 degrees in her neck of the woods at 8 AM. I miss my friend, and I will always get homesick for New England now and then, but I will never miss weather like that.
It’s currently 69 degrees outside. I suspect that it’s colder in than out at the moment. I need to find myself a patch of sunshine to sit in…
We pulled the car over to join the line up of cars on the side of the road just beyond the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC. We quickly saw the female elk that everyone was getting out of their cars, toting their phones and cameras, to photograph. She had just emerged from the tree line, and was wandering into the pasture to graze. More females followed her, emerging by twos and threes, or just one at a time. I had seen elk before, but not in such a natural setting. In Yellowstone they had taken over the streets of a town, and the rangers weren’t so much herding the elk as they were herding the people who were getting too close to them. In Colorado Springs I saw them on a lawn of a business on one corner of a busy intersection, with a traffic light and constant traffic just a few yards away. The elk were not fazed by either of these situations.
What was so different about this situation was the appearance of a huge buck, sporting a very impressive set of antlers. He also emerged from the tree line, and was bugling, and obviously rounding up his herd, which had scattered a bit. It’s the season of ‘rut’, so he was probably establishing his dominance to any other bull elk in the vicinity. It was interesting that a lone female quite a distance away, but in the same pasture, was of no interest to him, beyond a glance in her direction now and then. She apparently didn’t belong. Despite his attentions the females slowly continued to wander in the general direction of the road, and the dozens of people lined up beside their cars, intent on getting their pictures. And as they wandered so did the bull, right towards us, until a female ranger suddenly ran a short way into the pasture, waving her arms, and shoo’d the gals back to the center. I thought she was carrying a camera and long lens, but I was corrected, it was a tranquilizer gun. I’m happy to report that it wasn’t necessary to use it, at least on that day. I guess seeing the beautiful scenery, and having a chance to see the animals going about their business in the same way that their ancestors had done, is the entire point of a visit to our national parks, isn’t it?
A trip to Safety Harbor for the sunrise always includes the ulterior motive of heading to Philippe Park to see the owls, or at least try to see them. There are always other photographers there, and I usually embarrass myself when I can’t seem to ‘find’ the owls that everyone else seems to have no trouble seeing. Not yesterday though, the Mom was sitting on a branch that even I had no trouble spotting. Seeing Dad, however, took a little more sleuthing, but now that I’m informed that that’s his favorite spot it’ll probably be easier to spot him next time.
I was told that Mom was keeping an eye on the nest while dear old Dad, tuckered out from his night of hunting, snoozed nearby. And in the nest was a curious baby, or make that two of them, easy to see after you finally do realize where the nest is.
And that’s basically it, Mom watches, Dad snoozes, and baby occasionally pops his head up but mostly is hidden down in the nest. The photographers were waiting, wanting to see Mom fly to the nest and get that owl-in-flight shot, but since nothing much was going on I was tempted to leave, my good-byes were on the tip of my tongue. Then a couple of blue jays seemed to be pestering the parents. That blur to the right of Mom was one who photo bombed the shot. Mom’s ‘horns’ came up, she wasn’t happy, but nothing much happened until the crows got in on the act.
Several crows landed above Mom, and several more near Dad, and they were working together, by the sound of their crowing they were quite obviously harassing the owls.
Mom was getting fluffed up, and the photographers got excited that she was going to fly.
I had just enough time to zoom out a little to give myself room when both owls took off, and those crows did too. I wish I’d gotten sharper shots, but I have to say I was glad to get them at all. From the groans I heard around me I think several people were caught off guard. And that was the finale for the day, for me at least. If the crows were intent on raiding the nest it didn’t work, not this time, and the owls returned to their chosen spots to continue their watching and snoozing…
A beautiful day in a beautiful park, but I get up so early to get to the area for sunrise that I’m too anxious to head home to explore the park and just enjoy it…