Valley of Fire Photography Tour: Hummingbirds at the Visitor’s Center

I did not expect to take many photos at the visitors center, but grabbed my camera anyway. The landscaping around the visitor’s center was fantastic. The garden area in front had numerous flowering cactus. Before long I noticed some hummingbirds flying around the cactus.

I discovered this is a male Black-chinned Hummingbird. The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website has some fantastic info about these bird. For example:

“A small green-backed hummingbird of the West, with no brilliant colors on its throat except a thin strip of iridescent purple bordering the black chin, only visible when light hits it just right. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are exceptionally widespread, found from deserts to mountain forests”

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-chinned_Hummingbird/overview

The site also tells us:

  • This is one of the most adaptable of all hummingbirds, often found in urban areas and recently disturbed habitat as well as pristine natural areas.
  • A Black-chinned Hummingbird’s eggs are about the size of a coffee bean. The nest, made of plant down and spider and insect silk, expands as the babies grow.
  • The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves; nectar moves through these via capillary action, and then the bird retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into the mouth. It extends the tongue through the nearly closed bill at a rate of about 13–17 licks per second, and consumes an average of 0.61 milliliters (about one-fiftieth of a fluid ounce) in a single meal. In cold weather, may eat three times its body weight in nectar in one day. They can survive without nectar when insects are plentiful.

Hummingbirds are a challenge to photograph so I really got into the task. I also enjoyed watching a bird that I don’t see on the east coast of the US.

Valley of Fire Photography Tour: Bighorn Sheep

On Friday May 13th I took at photography tour of the Valley of Fire, which is just outside of Las Vegas. I knew the Valley of Fire was known for colorful rock formations and ancient petroglyphs, but I did know know there were so many Bighorn Sheep. We actually spotted some right near the entrance to the park.

Our second stop on the trip is a place named Atlatl Rock.

Soon after arriving we were near the base of Atlatl Rock getting ready to look at the ancient petroglyphs. I was taking to the tour guide when we spotted a Bighorn Sheep moving near the base of the rock but moving towards the Valley of Fire Highway. I put the 300mm lens on my camera and headed towards the sheep on an intercept course.

I was amazed and impressed to see petroglyphs depicting Big Horn Sheep, especially after just having an encounter with one.

In addition to Big Horn Sheep, there are petroglyphs of people hunting the sheep using an Atlatl, which is an ancient spear thrower.

Grand Canyon West Rim Helicopter Tour May 12, 2022

Thursday May 12th was the day I schedule the helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon West Rim. Since I was now familiar with the area near the Grand Canyon West visitors center, I would have a better understanding of the terrain during the helicopter tour. This tour was the real reason that I brought my GoPro Hero 9 along on the trip. Although I booked the tour with Canyon Tours, the actual company that did the tour was Maverick Helicopters. They picked me up from my hotel and brought us over to their airfield. I think it was in Henderson but I’m not sure now.

Below is footage from the Colorado River, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The lighter colored rocks near the water shows how much the water has dropped over the last few decades. I posted this video to my YouTube channel. Since the title of the video was related to a current news topic the video got 34 thousand views in the first month. As of June 25th it’s up to 40 thousand views.

The Colorado River, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

Below is the footage from when we crossed Lake Mead on the way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. Off to the right we can see Temple Bar Marina.

Lake Mead west end

It was exciting to fly up over the ridge and into the canyon lands.

Entering the west rim of the Grand Canyon

The best footage from the trip was when we left the Grand Canyon West visitors center and flew along the canyon on the way back to the Las Vegas area.

Grand Canyon West from the Visitors Center to Lake Mead

Below is the mouth of the Colorado River where it goes into Lake Mead. This is another video that is getting thousands of views per day due to the fact that the water level of Lake Mead is in the news so often.

Mouth of the Colorado River where it goes into Lake Mead

The video footage below is the west end of Lake Mead, which we crossed on the way back to the Las Vegas area and the airfield

Lake Mead west end

Overall it was a wonderful tour and I would definitely book another trip with them if I am ever back in the Las Vegas area.

Colorado River Kayak Trip May 11, 2022

On Wednesday May 11th I went on a kayak tour on the Colorado River in the section below Hoover Dam. I booked at tour with Blazin Paddles Kayak Tours. They picked me up from my hotel on the strip, so I did not not have to worry about driving. We started at Willow Beach on the Arizona side of the river. It had been windy in the Vegas area at time during the week. Wednesday was no exception. The wind was supposed to pick up during the afternoon and hopefully we would be off of the water by then.

It turns out that Willow Beach has a rich history and had been visited by people for thousands of years.

I brought my GoPro Hero 9 to record some video footage of the trip. It turned out that Emerald Cave was a lot smaller than I imagined. But it was still a great trip. It was a treat to kayak in a totally different landscape than I am used to in New England.

On the way back we stopped at an historical site called the River Gauge House Site. We pulled up on the landing area and some mallard ducks swam over for a visit.

The house site was part of the Willow Beach Gauging Station. The house site was just down river from the Gauging Station, which was used to measure the flow and level of the river below Hoover Dam.

This is the view down river from the house site.

This is the view upriver from the house looking towards Emerald Cave.

When we returned to Willow Beach a Mallard duck followed us in and swam real close to us. They don’t fear humans like the ducks that I usually encounter in New England.

Next we headed over to the Willow Beach Marina to wait for the shuttle bus and visit the store. I was able to take a few photos of the marina.

Inside of the store their were stuffed & mounted stripped bass had had been caught in the Colorado River around Willow Beach in the past.

Since I enjoy fishing I just had to check out the fishing info poster at the marina. The big shock was that marshmallows and cheese are the recommended bait for Rainbow Trout.

The recent news stories about the low water levels in Lake Mead make me nervous. What will be the impact for this part of the Colorado River if the water in Lake Mead gets so low that they reduce the amount of water they let through Hoover Dam.

Red Rocks Conservation Area Horseback Ride May 10, 2022

On Tuesday May10th I scheduled a horseback ride with Cowboy Trail Rides in the Red Rocks Canyon Conservation Area.

Cowboy Trail Rides is located on Rt. 159 near Cowboy Canyon with views of Calico Basic and Red Rocks Canyon to the north and Rainbow Mountain Wilderness to the west.

The ride started by taking the trail behind the stable to the top of the hill that formed one side of Cowboy Canyon.

We stopped at the top of the ridge to take photos, which I thought was great!

The mule that I was riding was named Liberty. He was one of the best behaved animals in the whole group.

I found out that the mountains in the distance are called the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness. The Friends of Nevada Wilderness website says,

Rainbow Mountain and the adjoining Red Rock Canyon have served as an important cross-roads and desert oasis for humans for at least 11,000 years. Today this area is recognized as an area of cultural importance for Newe (Western Shoshone), Southern Paiute, Hualapai, Chemehuevi, and Mojave people.

https://www.nevadawilderness.org/rainbow_mountain_wilderness_whats_out_there

I really enjoyed the views during the ride. Walking on a horse was the just the right pace to enjoy and appreciate the scenery.

I switched my phone camera over from photos to video for a short clip.

The view below is looking towards Calico Basin.

I would definitely do this trip again if I am ever back in the Las Vegas area!

Grand Canyon West Rim on May 9, 2022

On Monday May 9th I took a bus tour from Las Vegas to the west rim of the Grand Canyon. The two major stops on the trip were Eagle Point, home of the Grand Canyon Skywalk, and Guano Point.

I brought my Pentax Kx Camera with a variety of lenses. My plan was to make a series of Panorama photos using Adobe Lightroom.

The Grand Canyon West Rim is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. They also operate the Skywalk observation platform at Eagle Point. I chose not to go on the Skywalk since you are not allowed to go on the Skywalk with your cell phone or camera. Instead I took photos from Eagle Point and Guano Point.

The views from Eagle Point are pretty good with views looking to the east.

Skywalk at Eagle Point West Rim of the Grand Canyon
Eagle Point Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon West from Eagle Point

The best views are from Guano Point. Guano Point has an interesting history. As the website says,

In the 1930s, a passing boater discovered a guano cave, and for 20 years after, unsuccessful attempts were made to mine the nitrogen-rich guano for fertilizer. After hearing there was more than 100,000 tons of guano in the cave, the U.S. Guano Corporation bought the property and constructed a $3.5 million tramway system to extract it. The aerial tramway was built from the mine to what is now known as Guano Point, with the cable head-house built on land leased by the Hualapai Tribe. The cableway crossed the river, with a main span of 7,500 feet and a vertical lift of 2,500 feet.

In 1959, all the cave’s resources were exhausted because the predicted 100,000 tons was actually closer to 1,000 tons. Shortly after this, a U.S. Air Force fighter jet crashed into the overhead cable system and permanently disabled it. The remaining structures were left intact as a monument to man’s attempt to mine the canyon.

https://grandcanyonwest.com/explore/west-rim/guano-point/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwvqeUBhCBARIsAOdt45YKFbgczswm0cGvkObM2XKI7PnZ5ugIurQ26TEIb_RBOxkPCbUI5TAaAsOzEALw_wcB
Grand Canyon West from Guano Point
Grand Canyon West from Guano Point
Grand Canyon West and the Colorado River from Guano Point

This is a great way to see the part of the Grand Canyon if you find it challenging to put together a trip to the South Rim of the canyon.

Honeycomb Cowfish in Cozumel July 20 2021

The afternoon dive on July 20th was relaxing. There was very little current and we were at a shallow dive site. This meant we could go slower and spend more time looking at sea life.

I was fortunate enough to encounter a Honeycomb Cowfish near one of the coral formations. I have always liked this fish because of the unusual body shape and their honeycomb color pattern.

The website mexican-fish.com tells us,

The Honeycomb Cowfish, Acanthostracion polygonius, is a member of the Boxfish or Ostraciidae Family, that is also known as the Cowfish and the Trunkfish and in Mexico as torito hexagonal. Their common name stems from the honeycomb like pattern and “horns” with sloped face and pronounced forehead.

https://mexican-fish.com/honeycomb-cowfish/

The article taught me that their, “deep triangular shaped body that is enclosed is a “carapace” made up of hexagonally-shaped plates fused together to form a shell or true carapace.”

The Florida Museum Website has more detail about the carapace. They describe it as, “consisting of thickened hexagonal scale plates that are firmly attached to each other with the exception of the cheeks to allow for respiration movements. There are openings in the carapace for the mouth, eyes, gills, fins, and the flexible caudal peduncle.”

Towards the end of the article they say, “Larger fish are potential predators of the honeycomb cowfish, however it may be undesirable as a prey item due to its protective external armor, the carapace.”

Whitespotted Filefish in Cozumel on July 19 2021

During one of the dives on July 19th I encountered a pair of Whitespotted Filefish.

A page from the Dive Paradise website tells us, “They have scales, although very small, and feel like sandpaper – not dissimilar to a shark’s skin. This roughness is how the Filefish got its name. Reportedly their dried skin was once used to finish wooden boats.”

They go on to say,

Every Filefish has a sharp spine on its head just above its eyes. It erects the spine when threatened as a defensive move. Its primary defense is to erect its dorsal and pectoral fins plus the spine to make it difficult for a predator to eat or to extract from its hiding place if back in a little cave.

https://diveparadise.com/2017/11/05/american-whitespotted-filefish-cozumel-reefs/

It looks like I made the darker filefish nervous since it’s spine was up as it approached me, and what I assume is it’s mate. Since both sexes can change color, that’s not a good way to tell which is the male and which is the female. The website says, “It is difficult to differentiate between males and females. The male fish are said to have slightly larger appendages extending from their bodies at the base of their tails.”

When the orange colored filefish turned it’s tale towards me I can see what I think are the “appendages extending from their bodies at the base of their tails.” Although it’s still difficult to tell for sure, this would make the orange colored filefish the male.

Foureye Butterflyfish in Cozumel, July 19, 2021

A tropical fish that I enjoy watching is the Foureye Butterflyfish since they are often in pairs. The Florida Museum website tells us, “This is one of the few fish that seems to mate for life.”

The website continues to say,

Male and female foureye butterflies form pairs early in life. These pairs can be long lasting, suggesting that a monogamous relationship may exist between the pair members. If the two fish get separated, one partner will swim upward for a better view in an effort to rejoin the other partner. Courtship between the two is prolonged and energetic. Often the fish will circle each other, head to tail, until one fish breaks and runs, with the other close behind. They will chase each other all about the reef, and chase away any lone foureye that approaches them. Actual spawning takes place at dusk. The female releases from 3000 to 4000 eggs a night. The eggs are small, pelagic, and hatch within a day.

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/chaetodon-capistratus/

Although the fish are beautiful, take a look at how healthy the coral is that they are swimming near! After seeing so many diseased and dead coral in Florida, healthy coral is a welcomed sight. Although coral identification can be a challenge for me, based on the star coral identification page on the scubadiverslife.com website, I think we are seeing Mountainous Star Coral and Lettuce Coral.

Queen Triggerfish in Cozumel, Mexico on July 21, 2021

It took me most of the week to get a good video of a Queen Triggerfish. Notice how it changes color as it swims by. Since many of my favorite fish can change color, I became interested in learning how it happens.

The New World Encyclopedia tells us,

Chromatophore is a pigment-containing and light-reflecting cell, found in various invertebrate and cold-blooded vertebrate animals, that can help bring about changes in color or brightness in the organism. Among animals with such cells are various crustaceans, cephalopods, amphibians, fish, and reptiles. Through aggregation or dispersion of the pigment and reorientation of reflective plates in single cells (in most animals) or through the muscular movement of complex chromatophore organs (in cephalopods), the color or brightness of the entire organism or part of the organism can change, which is useful for camouflage, signaling, temperature regulation, and protection from radiation.

https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Chromatophore

It looks like this Queen Triggerfish was changing color to blend with the surroundings for camouflage.