American Coot (Mud Hen): Las Vegas Wetlands

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Elephants (2018): Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spiny Softshell Turtle Las Vegas, Nevada USA

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Olive Baboons at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

There is so much expression in the eyes of a primate and you have to wonder what is going through his mind. This male Olive baboon was beginning to tire and was looking to get some sleep. With us nearby he was unwilling to close his eyes. We assume as soon as we left he closed those expressive eyes and got some deserved sleep.

0W4A0201Of course, if you have recently been born into this wonderful world then you have little use for sleep and would rather explore this new and curious planet. Everything is new, exciting and interesting so why sleep? This young Olive baboon was fascinating to observe and proved to be very photogenic and interested in us.0W4A0209-10W4A02140W4A0204-1 Mom, however, is never far away. She is allowing her baby to explore and learn about this new environment but within limits. Should this calm situation change then she will immediately intervene to protect her baby.

0W4A0219-3Of course, the male baboon is really in charge of the entire encounter. Here he is grooming the female and picking off insects and parasites. Just below his eye is a wound probably received from a fight with another male baboon. It is a tough job being a male baboon and protecting your status as the dominant male.

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Grey Whales In Magdelena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The blue whales in the Sea of Cortez (see the previous post) was a neat experience but the grey whale encounters on the Pacific side of the Baja Penisula were breathtaking. Often female grey whales with calves will come up alongside the boat and occasionally let you touch and rub them. This is the experience we had. Grey whales can reach 15 metres (50 feet), weigh about 35 tonnes (75,000 pounds) and live approximately 60 years.

 

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This Grey Whale Calf, About 2-3 Weeks Old, Stays Very Close To Its Mother In The Bay At Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Mexico.
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Playful Grey Whale Calves Often Come Next To The Boats At Magdelena Bay, Mexico.
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Each Day The Mother Grey Whale Exercises Her Calf To Build Up Its Strength For The Long Journey North In Just A Few Months. Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Each winter the whales migrate from Canada and Alaska south to The Baja Peninsula traveling up to 11,000 kilometres. There are a number of bays and lagoons along the Pacific (western side) where the pregnant mothers deliver their babies. At birth, the calves are about 4 meters (13 feet) long and weigh approximately 800 kg (1,764 pounds)! The babies are often playful and occasionally bring their heads out of the water making interesting photographs.

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This Grey Whale Calf is Only 2-3 Weeks Old And Is Curious At Adolfo Lopez Mateos.
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The Mothers Allow The Calves To Come Next To The Boats. Baja California Sur.
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Grey Whale Calf Leaning On Mom. Notice The Blowhole & Barnacles. Magdelena Bay.
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Not Sure How Well A Grey Whale Calf Can See Above Water. Adolfo Lopez Mateos.
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What Is This Grey Whale Calf Thinking As It Looks At Us? Magdelena Bay, Mexico.

We were hoping to get some good underwater shots with our underwater cameras to get a different perspective of them as most people see then only from the surface. The water, however, is very green filled with phytoplankton and visibility was maybe 10 feet. Therefore, it proved difficult to get any good photographs but we have included a few to give a different perspective.

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Mother Grey Whale Lifting Calf To Surface, Baja California Sur, Mexico
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Playful Grey Whale Calf Next To Its Enormous Mother At Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Mexico

 

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Grey Whale Calf Approaching Our Boat At Magdelena Bay, Mexico

If someone is wanting a wonderful whale experience for themselves or for their family then we would highly recommend the grey whales at the fishing town of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Magdelena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. We were there towards the end of February.

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Occasionally, The Tail Will Break The Surface As The Grey Whale Begins Its Descent.
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Another Grey Whale Beginning Its Descent In Magdelena Bay, Mexico
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After Descending The Adult Grey Whale Can Remain Submerged For 10-15 Minutes But The Calves Must Surface More Often. Magdelena Bay, Mexico.
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Barnacles Growing On the Skin Of A Grey Whale. Magdelena Bay, Mexico.
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The Blowhole On The Top Is How The Grey Whale Breathes. Baja California Sur.

 

Blue Whales In The Sea Of Cortez, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are the largest whales in the world reaching lengths approaching 30 metres (100 feet) and weighs up to 180 tonnes (400,000 pounds). They start arriving in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Mexico in February each year. There seems to be a sweet spot called the blue triangle where they are regularly seen. Danzante Island, Del Carmen Island and Monserrate Island make up this blue triangle in the Sea of Cortez. Some whales like humpbacks with their spectacular breaches, or grey whales that come next to your boat are more photogenic. However, blue whales just break the surface of the water to exhale, take in more air and descend.

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Blue Whale In Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Sea Of Cortez, Mexico
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Upon Surfacing The Blue Whale Exhales Air From Its Blowhole Creating A Large Waterspout

On our way to our dive site, we saw some large waterspouts caused by the exhaling blue whales off in the distance so a detour was in order. Marine park rules dictate that you keep your boat a specific distance away from the whales. The way it works is that you see the blue whale in the distance, you move the boat towards them but by then they have descended again. The boat captain guesses where he thinks they will come back up (usually 6-9 minutes later) hoping they will surface closer to the boat. We played this game about 8 times and each time they came up a long distance from the boat. Great experience but now it was time to go to our dive site so off we went. Unexpectedly, the whale surfaced about 30-40 metres (100-130 feet) away from the boat which was close enough to get these photographs!

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Blue Whale Blowhole Close-up Just After Exhaling, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
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Blue Whale Beginning Its Decent After Taking In More Air, Loreto Bay National Marine Park
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Descending Blue Whale Showing Small Dorsal Fin, Sea Of Cortez, Mexico

 

Hummingbirds In Baja California Sur, Mexico

Every day we walk the arid canyons and hills around Danzante Bay along the Sea of Cortez. The sparse vegetation has many cacti and some flowering shrubs. Surprisingly, we see hummingbirds out here on a regular basis which we did not expect.

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At Villa Del Palmar where we are staying, they have flowering plants that attract the hummingbirds on a regular basis. There are two species that we have identified. The Xantus’ and the Costa’s hummingbirds.

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Costa’s Hummingbird
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Xantus’ Hummingbird

Hummingbirds proved difficult to photograph as they don’t stay still for very long. To get closeup shots we shot at 600mm with our 150-600mm lens. With such a narrow field of view, it takes time to find the hummingbirds. After you find it the next step is to focus on the bird but most of the time the hummingbird has decided to move to the next flower. They zip around from flower to flower in a very irregular pattern.

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Costa’s Hummingbird

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Xantus’ Hummingbird

The key to getting these photos was patience and taking lots of photos (most of them were discarded). Hopefully, you will enjoy these beautiful little birds.Hummingbird7

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Xantus’ Hummingbird
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Costa’s Hummingbird
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Xantus’ Hummingbird
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Costa’s Hummingbird