Tag Archives: Wildlife

Story of a photo: mountain goats on Mount Evans

This picture of mountain goats is one of my favorite pictures that I took in 2016, and indeed one of my favorite pictures in my portfolio. I think this is a quintessential Colorado photo, with the two goats, the great mountain view, snow and sunshine.

Mountain goats on Mount Evans
Mountain goats on Mount Evans

It combines my passions of wildlife and landscape photography. From a landscape perspective it has good depth and balance and a range of interesting features, with the texture of the snow in the foreground, the rocks in the middle distance, the mountains in the background and nice clouds in the sky. From a wildlife perspective, the adult goat has quite an imperious pose, looking out into the distance as though surveying his kingdom, and the baby is mimicking this behind him. The whole photo is very sharp and well focused, from the close up snow to the distant mountains.

I have been to Mount Evans many times and have a large collection of good mountain goat photos. Whenever I go these days, I am not just looking for a nice sharp picture of a mountain goat, it has to be more than that. It has to have great scenery in the background or be doing something interesting. So I am always thinking about the background of the photo in addition to the subject. In some cases, if the animals are relatively still, you have time to make your composition. In other cases, like this one, they are moving quickly and you don’t have much time.

The taking of the photo required a combination of a few things, including observation, anticipation, quick thinking and a bit of luck, which you always need to some degree to get this sort of combination of things in a photo. I was driving up Mount Evans and getting fairly close to the top, and constantly scanning around looking for wildlife, which is tricky as it’s a very twisty and dangerous road so you can only take your eyes off the road very briefly. I spotted a goat’s head poking above a ridge of snow higher up on the mountain, some distance away. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, at the apex of a hairpin turn which looked out over the view you see in the picture. I had a long zoom lens on the camera as I usually do when looking for wildlife, and got a couple of quick shots of the goat in the distance.

Here is the first shot I took of this goat. This was taken with my Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens (200-800mm equivalent), which is a fantastic lens, very light and compact for the reach it has. It was only zoomed to 156mm (312mm equivalent).

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As an aside, I was curious how far away the goat was at this point, and so did a bit of research on how to estimate this based on the size of the goat in the photo, and knowing the focal length of the lens. I found this handy web page for calculating the distance of an object of known size in your photo. According to National Geographic, a typical mountain goat is 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder, so using that as an estimate I got this result:

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So the goat is a little over a hundred feet away at this point. This calculator is a cool little tool!  This shot was taken at 4:47:18.

At 4:47:21, three seconds later, I took this shot, and obviously had now figured out that there was a baby too, so I was excited about that.

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This shot was taken 2 seconds later at 4:47:23, so clearly the goats are moving fairly quickly and the scene is changing.

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The final shot I took with my big zoom lens was the following one, at 4:47:58, and at this point the goat is an estimated 40 feet away from me, so it has traveled around 60 feet in 40 seconds, heading pretty much straight down the mountain. My lens is at its widest zoom of 100mm (200mm equivalent) at this point.

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By this point I realized that they were coming pretty much in my direction, and might well walk very close to me, and if I was lucky they might walk in front of the spectacular mountain view to my left. But clearly I needed a wider angle lens in order to fit in the goats if they got any closer, and to fit in the mountain scene in the background. A real key to the image that I got was that I was visualizing the shot that I really wanted to get, and I was anticipating what the goats were going to do (while taking pictures at the same time).

One advantage of using a wide angle lens is that it has a larger depth of field than a larger zoom like this one, so you have the possibility of getting a shot with a nearby subject in the foreground, and a distant background, and having both in focus. If you look at the first goat shot above, taken at 312mm equivalent focal length, the goat is in focus, but the rocks that are further away are not. So I quickly scrambled to get my Lumix 14-140mm (28-280mm equivalent) lens which was in the car, and switch that onto my (Lumix GX8) camera. The first shot I got with the wide angle lens on the camera was 24 seconds after the last shot with the big zoom lens, and by this point the goat was 19 feet away. So it’s important in this sort of situation to be decisive and act quickly.

As I was changing the lens I was also thinking about what camera settings to use. I knew I would need a large depth of field to get both the goat and the background in focus, so I would want a relatively small aperture, though I would be helped by using a wider angle lens as I mentioned previously. But I also needed a fairly fast shutter speed in order to make sure I froze the movement of the goats and kept everything sharp. The goats were walking quickly and I knew I would only have a few seconds to get my shots in. So I decided to trust the auto mode (P mode) on my Lumix GX8, which is something I am a big fan of doing. Many good photographers turn their nose up at P mode, but in my experience on modern cameras (my GX8 in particular) the camera generally makes good decisions in most situations, and lets me concentrate on the important matter of making sure I get the right content in my image. This can make a key difference in situations like this when time is very tight. I watch what settings it is using as I shoot, so if I don’t think it is making good choices I can switch to another mode if needed.

One bit of random good luck I had in this instance, which I only found out after the fact, was that somehow in grabbing the camera quickly when I first got out of the car, I accidentally changed the ISO setting from “intelligent auto” to ISO 800, which is a setting you would normally use in somewhat low light. The light was very bright for this picture, so having a higher ISO setting had the effect of the camera choosing both a smaller aperture and a faster shutter speed than it would have done with the auto ISO setting (I assume), both of which were what I wanted. I think I would have still got a good shot without this ISO change, but this inadvertently helped make sure I got the sharpness and depth of field I was looking for. This technique of using a higher ISO in good light is potentially a good one to use intentionally if you are looking for both a fast shutter speed and a large depth of field, whether using P, S, A or M modes.

Once I had the right lens on, I just remained still next to my car as the goats walked quickly down the mountain, and fortunately they did indeed walk by where I hoped they would. My distance estimator says that the goats were about 14 feet away from me at this point. This is probably a good point to say that of course you should not approach wild animals too closely, and this is closer than I would normally approach a goat. However, on Mount Evans the goats are very accustomed to having people around, and my experience there is that if you just stand or sit still they will often come quite close but just ignore you, as they did on this occasion. Plus I was right next to my car, just in case I needed to hop into it!

The goats were walking quickly across the mountain view, so I snapped as many images as I could in high speed burst mode, framing the shots to try to get a good composition for both the background and the goats. Altogether I got a total of 50 shots in the space of about 15 seconds as they walked across my field of view, of which I would say about 36 in the space of 10 seconds were really in front of the best viewing area.

This video sequence is made from the 50 shots I took over the 15 seconds, so gives a reasonable impression of the speed they moved at and the shots I got, though of course it’s a bit jerkier than real life was!

Mountain Goat photo sequence on Mount Evans from Peter Batty on Vimeo.

I got a number of good shots in this sequence. I chose the one at the beginning of this post as the best because I liked the way the large goat is looking out over the mountain view, and the baby is doing the same. But the following are all candidates too.

The top three of these are the same two goats and are all part of that 50 shot sequence in the video. The last one was another goat that followed the first two ten seconds or so later.

There are several factors that make this a unique picture that is hard to reproduce. One is obviously just getting not just one goat but two, and not just any two but a male with good horns and a baby, in a location with such a good view and where I can manage to get this close to them – if this was taken from further away with a longer zoom, it wouldn’t be possible to get both the background and the goats in focus. There are not many spots along Mount Evans Road with such a good view including good details in both the middle and far distance. Another important element of the picture is the snow, especially in the foreground but also in the background, and there is only this much snow for a short period of time after Mount Evans Road opens for the season, normally on Memorial Day (at the end of May). These pictures were taken on June 2. You can also tell this is an early season picture because the goats still have their winter coats – the adult is just starting to lose his very slightly, but for much of the season apart from the beginning and the end the goats are shedding their winter coats and don’t look as nice as they do with a full coat. And on top of all that there is a nice interesting cloudy sky – though still with sun on the subjects.

One of the great things about living in Denver is that you can get these sort of shots after work. On this day I left downtown Denver just a little early, around 3pm, and was up near the top of Mount Evans by 4:30pm.

Amazing image stabilization with LUMIX GX8 and Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens

I have been using micro four thirds cameras by LUMIX for several years now, having previously shot with a Nikon D7000. Since I travel a lot, and like to travel light, I love how compact and lightweight these cameras are compared to a traditional SLR (see a recent snapshot of my gear here). One thing that has been missing from the micro four thirds space until this year has been long zoom lenses. I have had a 14-140mm zoom for several years, which is my goto “do everything” lens, and is equivalent to 28-280mm in 35mm terms. I added an Olympus 40-150mm Pf/2.8 Pro lens in February 2015, together with a 1.4x teleconverter, which in combination amount to a maximum zoom of 420mm equivalent. This is the sharpest lens I have ever owned, I really love it.

However, for wildlife photography it is nice to have access to something longer than 420mm, so I was very excited when the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm Pro lens was announced, and I got one of these when it came out in April 2016. This lens weighs only 2 pounds, which is absurdly light and small for an 800mm equivalent lens – for comparison this Canon traditional DSLR 800mm (non zoom) lens weighs 10 pounds! There are lots of excellent technical reviews online and I’m not going to duplicate the details that you can find in those. I will just say that overall my experience with the lens has been great and I’ve been very pleased with many of the images I’ve got using it.

But what I wanted to talk about in this post is one particular image which I took on my recent trip to Brazil, in the Floresta da Tijuca, the rainforest in Rio de Janeiro – as it happens at the side of one of the roads that the Olympic cyclists raced along this week. It’s this image of a tufted (or brown) capuchin monkey – it’s not my favorite image that I’ve taken with this lens, but I think it’s technically one of the most interesting.

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This is the image directly out of the camera – the raw image just loaded into Lightroom and exported as a jpeg. You can click on the image above to see a full size version. The remarkable thing about this image is that it was taken in very low light, as the rainforest canopy really blocks out a lot of light. It was hand held at 800mm equivalent using a 1/40s shutter speed, which is an incredibly slow shutter speed for such a long lens. A general rule of thumb is that to get a reasonably sharp image without any camera shake, you should use a shutter speed of 1 over the focal length or faster, so 1/800s or faster with an 800mm equivalent lens. For handheld wildlife shots with any longish zoom I will usually try to use a speed of 1/1000s or faster.

Modern cameras can mitigate camera shake using image stabilization technology, which can be done in the lens or in the camera body. My camera, the LUMIX GX8, has some of the most advanced image stabilization technology available today, which lets you combine image stabilization effects from both the lens and the camera body. People talk about the number of stops of improvement you get from image stabilization, and going from 1/800s to 1/40s is about 4.5 stops worth of improvement, which is pretty amazing I think. Of course you also need the subject to be still at such a slow shutter speed, and fortunately the monkey co-operated in this shot.

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Here’s a version of the photo with a little editing. It’s also worth commenting that this picture was taken at ISO 3200, which is pretty high for a micro four thirds camera, and I think the quality is very good when you consider that too.

Finally I will say that this picture was taken using auto exposure mode, and auto ISO. This is a theme I will return to repeatedly on this blog. A lot of serious photographers have the attitude that you’e not a “proper photographer” if you’re using auto mode. I strongly disagree with that. I am very proficient at using all the main modes on my camera, and use shutter, aperture or manual modes when appropriate. But I think that modern cameras are much smarter than many people give them credit for, and much of the time auto mode makes excellent decisions for you. Much of the time these days my default mode of operation is to use auto mode and keep an eye on the settings it is choosing, and just switch modes if I think the camera isn’t making good choices. This way I can focus more of my attention on the content of my photo, and I really think that has helped me take better pictures. When you’re doing wildlife pictures, saving fractions of a second can make a difference in getting a great shot, and with landscape pictures you can focus all your attention on getting the best possible composition and lighting. Also on occasions, like this one, auto mode will really surprise you in a good way – there was no way I would have attempted to take this picture at 1/40s if I was choosing the settings myself, I would have just given up and concluded that it was too dark.

How I saw snow monkeys in Japan and ice caves in Iceland without taking a day off work

Last weekend I hiked across a glacier to visit several amazing ice caves in Iceland, and the weekend before I photographed the amazing snow monkeys in Japan. I did this without taking a single day off work.

Hello snow monkey!
Hello snow monkey!

Because I post a lot of photos and adventures online, people often ask me, “are you still working these days?”. The answer is yes, I have a full time job, but I just make more effort than most people to fit things in around my work schedule – and I am fortunate to travel quite a bit with work. So I thought I would post this to encourage people to make more effort to fit in adventures when you travel for work (or indeed when you are at home!). There’s no rocket science to this, it’s just making the effort to fit things in, and perhaps being a bit creative about how you organize your travel to optimize your time.

Snow monkeys in Japan

I was scheduled for a 3 day meeting with our company’s Japanese team in Tokyo. They suggested we could start the meeting on Wednesday, which would mean I could fly from Denver on Monday morning and arrive Tuesday evening in time for the meeting – you lose a day going out there – and then fly back either Friday night or Saturday. That would use up a week of work time, with two days of travel and three days of meetings. I suggested to them that instead I would fly out on Saturday morning and we should meet from Monday to Wednesday, then I could fly back on Sunday night, which would get me four days to explore in Japan. I am still fitting my five working days into that 9 day stretch, just organizing things a little differently to get my four days in Japan.

Relaxed snow monkeys!
Relaxed snow monkeys!

I will post more details on my snow monkey trip shortly, but in summary it was an amazing trip and I got lots of fantastic pictures. I did it as a two day trip from Tokyo – a morning traveling up there, an afternoon with the monkeys, a great evening at a traditional Japanese “Ryokan” hotel, and another morning with the monkeys before traveling back. I also fitted in some exploring in Tokyo, including a visit to the fish market, some great food, my first visit to a Japanese Onsen (public baths) with my friend Edson, which was a really interesting experience, and some time wondering around the historic district of Asakusa. Not bad for a full week at work!

Ice caves in Iceland

After my Japanese meeting had been set and I had booked travel, it turned out that I needed to be in England the following week for a management meeting. I looked at what it would take to change my tickets to fly from Tokyo straight on to London, and it was ridiculously expensive. So I decided to leave my original tickets as they were, return to Denver on Sunday lunchtime local time and then fly straight out to London that afternoon.

View from Sapphire Cave
View from Sapphire Cave

I had been intrigued by the IcelandAir stopover deal, which lets you fly from Denver (and various other US cities) to London (and various other European cities), and do a free stopover in either direction. On top of that, they had the cheapest fare of any airline from Denver to London on the dates that I wanted to go, and that seems to be consistently the case. Paula and I had just been to Iceland over New Year and we had a fantastic time, but the ice cave tour that we booked was canceled because of flooding, and also we didn’t see the Northern Lights, partly as we had lots of cloudy weather. So I was quite tempted to revisit, because we had liked it so much, and in particular to try to catch up on either or both of those things that we missed.

I was a little in two minds because of the craziness of my travel schedule, and wondered whether I should just take the British Airways direct flight, rather than flying Tokyo to Denver to Reykjavik to London. But you only live once, so I decided to go for it.

Or as Tim Ferriss said recently:

Time is a non-renewable resource, while money can be recouped. Think hard, work smart, and play often. Assume this life is your only chance at bat, so schedule the fun stuff.

I’m a big fan of Tim and this is very much my philosophy too.

So I went ahead and booked the IcelandAir flight. I arrived in Denver from Tokyo at 12:21pm, then flew out to Reykjavik at 4:15pm. Paula came to the airport to meet me for lunch and swap a couple of items in my baggage! I arrived at London Gatwick at 11:23 Monday morning, and made it to Cambridge in time for some mid afternoon meetings, and my main meetings started the next day. Two colleagues who were attending the same meetings also flew out from Denver Sunday afternoon, but took the direct BA flight.

We had meetings in London all day Thursday. My colleagues flew back to Denver on Friday, a full day of travel. Instead, I caught an IcelandAir flight out of London Heathrow at 8:30pm on Thursday night, getting into Reykjavik at 11:30pm. My flight on to Denver was at 5pm on Sunday, so I got more or less three whole days in Iceland, again without having to take a day off work, as otherwise I would have just been flying home on the Friday.

I booked an ice cave tour for the Saturday with Local Guide of VatnaJokull, who I recommend highly. It was a really incredible experience, see my picture story about it here.

Me in Waterfall Cave
Me in Waterfall Cave

Summary

As I said above, there is no great rocket science to this, but a surprisingly large number of people don’t take the opportunity to fit in something cool and interesting when they are on a business trip. As this story illustrates, you don’t necessarily even need to take any days off work to do some really cool things.

This particular example was an extreme case, where I was in Japan one week and Europe the next. But the same principles apply regardless of where you are traveling. I definitely recommend that anyone flying between the US and Europe should consider the IcelandAir stopover deal – Iceland is such a cool place, and I see this becoming a frequent destination for me, as I travel regularly between Denver and the UK.

Creating composite images using 4K photo mode on the Lumix GX8

I recently got a Lumix GX8 mirrorless camera, which I have been really impressed with. I’ll write about various other aspects of it in due course, but today I did my first serious test of its 4K photo mode, which is a new feature on several recent Lumix cameras. And I’ll explain how I used this to create cool composite images like the one above.

4K photo mode takes a 4K video (roughly 4K x 2K pixels), but using settings that are suitable for extracting good quality photos from the video, rather than settings that are suitable for smooth video, which would typically be a 1/60s shutter speed for a 30 frame per second video. You can set whatever setting you like for each frame, for example setting a fast shutter speed to freeze action, which is what I did in this case.

This enables you to take 8 megapixel JPEG images (not RAW, unfortunately) at a rate of 30 frames per second, which is a great option for fast moving action.

I went to a raptor photo workshop today organized by Rob Palmer. I’ve been to several of these before and highly recommend them. Apart from using 4K photo mode to get individual photos, I thought beforehand that it would be interesting to capture images that would be suitable for combining into composite images, like I did with my lightning photo a few months back.

The workshop gave you lots of opportunities to picture flying birds – in general they would fly from a perch to one of their owners/ handlers, like this:

Barn owl flying

So what I did was to set my camera up on a tripod and focus on the woman who the bird was flying to, then I switched to manual focus to keep the focus at that same distance, and I rotated the camera slightly to the right so I just had the trees in the background. I used shutter priority mode, as I didn’t have a bright background so I figured I didn’t need to use manual mode. I set a high shutter speed, 1/2000s, to freeze the action, and ISO 400, which gave me an aperture setting of F/2.8. I was using my Olympus Pro 40-150mm lens (80-300mm equivalent), at 40mm to get a wide enough field of view to fit several owl images into one frame. Then I captured an eleven second 4K photo video, which looked like this:

Barn owl 4K photo video from Peter Batty on Vimeo.

You can extract images from the video in the camera, but I prefer to do it in Lightroom. You can play movies in Library mode only, not Develop mode, and the screen looks like this.

Lightroom movie example

The control at the bottom of the video looks like this by default …

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 5.03.14 PM

… and you can click on the gear icon at the right to expand it to look like this …

Lightroom move control expanded

You can play the video in the obvious way, though your computer may struggle to play 4K video smoothly. I can play it reasonably well on my iMac, but not on my MacBook Air. If you want to capture a frame from the video, you just pause at the right point and click the screen icon to the bottom right, and choose “Capture frame” – this will create a new jpeg image right after the video in your current Lightroom folder. The arrow icons either side of the play icon let you move forward or backwards one frame at a time, which is very useful for this type of work.

I created a JPEG image for (almost) all the frames that featured the owl flying through. I then selected all of them and exported them from Lightroom to Photoshop, using “Photo -> Edit in … -> Open as Layers in Photoshop”. I’m no Photoshop expert, I use Lightroom for nearly everything, but with a bit of trial and error I did the following (any advice on better approaches welcome!).

I put a layer mask around the owl on each layer. I did this by clicking on the Quick Selection Tool icon on the left hand side, and dragging this over the owl to select its outline. You can remove areas from the selection by holding option and dragging. Once I had the selection outline as I wanted it, I chose Layer -> Layer Mask -> Reveal Selection, which gave me a layer that looks something like the following:
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I left the layer with the owl closest to the left hand side as a complete image, including the background, and ordered the other images so that an owl to the right would appear above an owl to its left. With all 17 layers turned on, this gave me this image:

Owl composite 17

I tried a couple more variants, just by turning some of the layers off. This one used 6 images, with some of the owls still having a little overlap:

Owl composite 6

And this one just uses 4 images, with no owl overlap:

Owl composite 4

I’d be interested to hear which image you prefer! I will probably take a little more time and remove the rope from the owl’s legs, which should be easy enough to do, either by removing it from the masks in Photoshop, or by cloning in Lightroom, or a combination of the two.

Here’s a final composite image, for now, using the same technique, but from a different photo sequence:

Owl composite 3

Overall I was impressed with the quality of the images I got using 4K photo mode. While I like to shoot RAW images normally, to have more flexibility in image editing, I will definitely use the 4K mode as an option in situations where I want to capture very fast moving action. Here is a single image from the sequence, cropped and with a little tweaking of exposure and color, and some quick cloning to remove the rope.

Flying barn owl

Where to photograph wildlife in Colorado

This is the first in a series of posts on how to take better wildlife photos.

Top of the list is figuring out where to go (and when). It may sound obvious but it really is the most important thing. You can go to several of the places listed here and have a great chance of getting some excellent pictures just pointing and shooting with your iPhone. No matter how fancy your equipment or how great your technique, you won’t get good pictures unless you go to places with the right subject matter!

By the way, when I say you can get good pictures with your iPhone, please don’t be this person! But for example, here’s a recent picture from Rocky Mountain National Park taken by my partner Paula from the passenger window of our moving car, with a compact camera without a big zoom (Lumix LX7), in auto mode.

Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park

These days there is so much information available online that it is easy to research. Look on Facebook for wildlife photography groups in your area (or an area you are planning to visit), try local meetups, or just search on Google. I am fortunate to live in Colorado which is a great place for wildlife photography. An excellent resource is the Front Range Wildlife Photographers (FRWP) group, who have both a meetup group and a very active Facebook page. The Facebook page is both a source of inspiration with many great pictures posted every day, and a supportive community. It’s also a great place to get an idea of good places to go, and good times. A little while ago someone posted a picture of a baby buffalo at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, which prompted me to go out there the next day, and I got some nice pictures of the baby – and there have been other examples like this.

In the rest of this post, I share some of my favorite spots for wildlife photography in Colorado, and what you are most likely to see at each. Of course there is no “sure thing” when photographing wildlife, that’s part of what makes it exciting, but it’s very rare that I have been to any of these places and not seen something interesting.

You can buy a range of prints of any of the images in this post at batty.photos – just click on any picture to go there.

 Rocky Mountain Arsenal – Bison


Rocky Mountain Arsenal is on the north side of Denver, just a 15-20 minute drive from downtown. It was once a chemical weapons manufacturing site, but is now one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the country. This is a great place to get good pictures of Bison. The bison enclosure is the square area to the left of this map. You have to stay in your car while in this area. The bison also have access to an area to the north of this space, which visitors do not have access to. So they may or may not be visible. There is a gap in the fence about half way along the north side of the enclosure, and I have had good luck parking close to this and getting pictures of the bison as they walk through this in either direction. I have found late afternoon, around 5pm, to be a good time to see them in this location – but obviously there are no guarantees! I usually drive around the bison enclosure when I first arrive, then explore other areas if there is no action there, and revisit once or twice before leaving. The Arsenal is also a good place to see bald eagles, though I haven’t had much luck with those there, and other birds, deer, and more.

Rocky Mountain National Park – Elk

At Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
As I said, of course there are no guarantees in wildlife spotting, but at Rocky Mountain National Park you will definitely see some spectacular mountain scenery. You will almost certainly see some elk too, and quite likely in significant numbers. Good places to spot them include Moraine Park, near the Beaver Meadows entrance, and higher up on Trail Ridge Road, which is a must visit for the scenery (but is closed in winter). In the fall and winter you may well see elk wandering through the town of Estes Park. There are plenty of other animals you can spot there too, including marmots, big horn sheep, and moose. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Denver, so a comfortable day trip.

Mount Evans – Mountain Goats

Mount Evans has become my number one thing that I do with out of town visitors whenever I can. It is one of only two “14ers” (14,000 foot peaks in Colorado) that you can drive to the top of, going up the highest paved road in North America. It’s a spectacular drive and you are almost certain to see mountain goats somewhere near the top. The shot above is several years old but remains one of my favorites – I love the dynamic movement of the goat, and the background. You will often see bighorn sheep here too, and marmots. Mount Evans is an easy drive west of Denver – I love that I can leave downtown Denver at 3pm and still do a comfortable trip to Mount Evans – it takes about an hour to get to the beginning of the Mount Evans Road, and then it’s a 14 mile steep and windy drive to the top from there. Stopping at Beau Jo’s original pizza place in Idaho Springs on the way back is a well established tradition – I recommend the BBQ pie, my favorite pizza anywhere :). The Mount Evans road is normally open from Memorial Day (late May) to Labor Day (early September) – though in 2015 it has still not opened in mid July, due to lots of snow last winter which delayed reconstruction work on the road.

Waterton Canyon – Bighorn Sheep

Waterton Canyon is a new destination for me, I only went there for the first time in 2014. I was made aware of it by the FRWP Facebook page. This seems to be by far the best place to spot bighorn sheep. It is on the southwest side of Denver, not far off C-470, about 30 minutes from downtown. There’s a parking lot just after the Audubon Nature Center – park there and you can either walk or ride a bike up the (smooth) dirt road that runs up the canyon. I took the picture above at about 1.5 miles up, which seems to be a fairly common area to see sheep. The road goes up for 6 miles, and larger sheep are often seen nearer to the top, so a bike is a good idea if you want to get up that far. Waterton Canyon has its own Facebook page for photography which is a great source of good photos and information. You can see plenty of other wildlife there too – a number of people have posted pictures of bears from there, though I still haven’t managed to see a bear in the wild, there or elsewhere!

Brainard Lake – Moose

Brainard Lake is one of the best spots for seeing moose in Colorado. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times. It is near Nederland, west of Boulder and about an hour’s drive from Boulder or an hour and a half from downtown Denver.

City Park – Birds

In City Park, Denver

City Park in downtown Denver is a great place to spot a whole load of birds. The small island on the south side of Ferril Lake has dozens of nests of herons, egrets, cormorants and more. This is another new spot for me, and I have to confess I don’t know if they are there all year round, but certainly in June and July there are lots of birds, and lots of interesting activity to photograph! There is parking along 17th – try somewhere around the intersection with Steele – and it’s a short walk from there.

Belmar Park – Birds

At Belmar Park, Denver, Colorado

At Belmar Park, about 15 minutes drive from downtown, you can see a very similar range of birds to those I mentioned at City Park. I was there recently, in June 2015, for a FRWP meetup, which was a great outing. I got lots of good pictures of blue herons and cormorants, as well as some nice ones of a mother and baby avocet including the picture above. You can park in Belmar Library parking lot, and walk to the gazebo on the east side of the lake for a great view of the island in the middle of the lake where the birds nest.

And more …

Of course there are many, many great places to photograph wildlife in Colorado. This is just a sampling of some of my favorites, all within easy striking distance of Denver. Feel free to share any comments or other suggestions below!