Most divers encounter southern stingrays (Dasyatis americana) buried in the sandy bottom during a dive in the open ocean. During our time on Bimini island in the Bahamas, we decided to snorkel around the shallow mangroves in search of juvenile lemon sharks. Mangroves are critical environments for juvenile fish and sharks because it acts as a nursery for many species. Protected from the predators in the open ocean these shallow waters with their massive root systems provide protection.
We didn’t find any sharks but we were surprised to see so many southern stingrays around the shallow mangroves. There is a relatively large population of great hammerhead sharks that inhabit these waters at this time of year. Because the main predator of these rays is the great hammerhead shark we wondered if they modified their behavior at this time of year to try to avoid these sharks.
Our goal was to photograph the sunrise at Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas. We had photographed the canyon during the day just after a rare snowfall. The rocks in this canyon are multicolored and we thought it might make for some nice sunrise pictures. A coyote crossed our path as we drove in the night to reach our destination. As the sun began to rise Tricia decided to use her drone to capture a different perspective of a beautiful sunrise.
As she continued with the drone I decided to hike into the interesting red sandstone rock formations. As daylight was beginning to wake the world, I came across a male mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides). What a colorful bird! Unfortunately, the light levels were low first thing in the morning so I had to increase my ISO substantially in order to capture him. Using a high ISO allows you to shoot in lower light conditions but makes the pictures more grainy (not as sharp). Considering the conditions, I was happy with the end result.
The pictures directly above and below have the red sandstone formations as a background and hence the red colored background. The mountain bluebird in the picture below is sitting next to desert mistletoe (the red plant). Mistletoe is a leafless parasitic plant that grows on other vegetation like desert trees and shrubs. It obtains some of its some of its nutrients from the plant it has embedded into.
This mountain bluebird was in its’ winter range in February. It eats insects and berries. During breeding season it will lay 5-6 eggs in a natural cavity. They line this hole with grass and the young hatch in about 14 days. The naked birds grow rapidly and then leave the nest approximately 21 days. The mountain bluebird is the state bird of Nevada.
Adding birds to our photography adds so many new subjects to what we can photograph when we travel to a new area. Along with the common gallinule, we got some pictures of the American coot (Fulica americana).
They make their home in marshes and wetlands. These water birds are not ducks and do not have webbed feet. They have extremely odd looking feet and their toes fold back enabling them to walk on land. Their feet look out of proportion to the rest of their body. However, they are commonly observed with ducks.
The American coot is common although this was our first encounter with this bird. The male and female are similar in appearance, unlike ducks where the male generally has brilliant plumage.
To find food it can walk on land, consume aquatic vegetation while swimming, and is also capable of diving. Consequently, it has a varied diet which includes snails and fish. Nests are made from marsh vegetation and the female will produce about 8-10 eggs. Incubation is shared by both parents and the eggs hatch about 21 days later.
When most people think of sharks, they think of species like the great white shark, tiger shark, and bull shark. These are known as requiem sharks and have that classic shark appearance. However, there a numerous species of shark that look very different from requiem sharks including the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). These are very common sharks in the Caribbean and often encountered by new divers.
The head is broad with tiny eyes and has two barbels (whisker-like appendages) that are used in the search of food. Their teeth are small and designed for crushing as part of their diet includes eating shrimp, crab, and lobster. They are nocturnal and during the day they are often seen laying under ledges but are also seen in the open on the sand.
They are a fairly large shark and can reach over 3 meters or about 10 feet although most are much smaller. They can tip the scales between 90 to 115 kg (200-250 pounds). The gestation period for nurse sharks is about 6 months and generally, they have between 20-30 pups.
Although many divers see them as harmless, their mouth can produce a tremendous suction and could easily suck in fingers or a hand which they generally will not let go of. Therefore, like all sharks, they must never be touched and need to be respected.
We arrived at this dry riverbed at just the right time to see this small herd of elephants. The rains were late and had not arrived in the Serengeti yet. After a few minutes, it became apparent why they were here. In the photo below you will notice a small hole in the sand about the width of their foot. Inside there is water.
We assume that the elephants have dug this hole themselves into the dry riverbed. The Serengeti can be a tough place to live in and animals must be innovative to survive. The adults will pass these skills onto the young calves.
Elephants have a wonderful group dynamic. They work collectively for the survival of the herd. As large as they are they are amazing coordinated and use their feet and trunks to perform tasks that you would think they would be incapable of. However, if you are a young calf, drinking all that water can be exhausting and sometimes you just need to get off your feet.
Fortunately, we were able to spend about 20 minutes with this herd before they had all drank from the water hole and began moving on. This group of seven consisted of 2 calves, juveniles (male and female) and adults. We never get tired of seeing and photographing elephants.
Although we love to photograph all sharks, our favorite is the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran). Generally, it is a cautious shark and will keep its distance from scuba divers. There are 9 species of hammerhead sharks worldwide but the great hammerhead is the largest. An average adult reaches lengths of about 3.6 to 4.3 meters (12-14 feet) but can reach 6 meters (20 feet) and exceed 550kg (1,200 pounds).
Great hammerheads are newer sharks on the evolutionary scale and have developed some unusual characteristics. The unique feature of this shark is obviously the head. The “hammer” which is called a cephalofoil is full of electrical sensors. These pores called ampullae of Lorenzini aid in hunting as these sensors pick up electrical signals given off by all living creatures including humans.
As you view these photographs notice how different the shark can look depending on the angle of the photograph. On a larger shark, the cephalofoil is about a meter (3 feet) in length and the eyes are at the ends which gives it a large range of vision.
The diet of this shark is diverse. They will feed on a variety of fishes including tarpons, porcupine fish and even other sharks. As well, lobster, squid, and octopus form part of their diet. However, their favorite food is rays. Stingrays bury themselves in the sand and the great hammerhead uses its cephalofoil with its electrical sensors to detect their location.
We were looking for the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera), a native species, in the rivers around Las Vegas. Got some tips from a few local people on where we might find them and after 3 days of searching, we found this unusual turtle. Not sure we would find them as the temperatures had been near freezing which is often when turtles brumate (a type of hibernation for reptiles).
The turtle has an unusual tube-like protruding nose which makes it different from any other turtle we have photographed. It has a thin body and the shell (carapace) is somewhat flexible. Near the head, on the edge of the shell, there are some small spines and hence the name spiny softshell turtle.
We discovered them on some rocks on the far side of a fast-moving river. They were larger than we anticipated. The shell averages 40 cm (15 inches) but can be much larger, especially in females. Apparently, they can live for about 50 years.
At about 10 years of age, these turtles will begin to mate. This occurs mid to late spring as the temperatures warm. On average, the female deposits about 20 eggs on the sunny banks of the river generally in a sandy area or a gravel bed.
Like many turtles, they consume a wide variety of food. Insects and various types of vegetation make up a large portion of their diet as well as fish. They will often bury themselves in the river bottom and wait for a fish to pass by and then ambush their prey.