VermPhoto: Blog 2017-03-12T23:53:00Z (C) VermPhoto VermPhoto The All-Star Blog

This will be an action-packed blog post as so much has happened since I last posted.  Great to be so busy. My apologies for not posting more often,  but I hope you enjoy a bunch of cool photos here and endure some chest-beating.  I've been stressed out like crazy as to the impending fate of our environment given the rise of Emperor Tiny Hands.  But one thing that brings me back down to Earth is getting outside to immerse myself in Nature.  So here are some of my favorite photos from the last 12 months.  I hope you get lost in them too and do your bit to encourage your representatives to defend the Endangered Species Act, support public lands, and fight against those who would pollute our water and air.  For months I have been upset at how Social Media has driven a wedge between me and my friends who are on different sides of the political fence.  I resisted publishing my own opinions as I found the constant bickering to be depressing.  But what I found more depressing was the thought that I would lay down and just let Nature get run over by short-sighted politicians and profiteers.  If I lose some friends by taking a stand to protect our environment, then so be it.  But I think that we all depend on clean air and potable water for our survival.  That being able to retreat on occasions into unspoiled lands recharges our soul.  That we don't want the Grand Canyon to become Exxon National Park.  That we only have one planet to live on and if we screw it up, we don't just annihilate other species, we demolish ourselves.  There are those in Congress that would sell out the environment and my and your health to corporate interests for short-term economic gains.  I can't stand by meekly and watch this happen.  This (the photos I share here), and much more, is what we stand to lose.  I hope you enjoy these photos and encourage your representatives to put our environment ahead of corporate interests.

For sale to highest bidder???


Hey Handsome!  My favorite bird species, if you haven't guessed long ago, is the California Condor.  I've been on a mission to photograph every member of the Arizona/Utah population and have documented 74 of 75.  Condor 203 has eluded me so far, but thankfully Condor 441 struck this wonderful pose that ended up as a Table of Contents shot for Arizona Highways. But wait, there's more!  (Do I sound like an infomercial?)  This condor portrait won a Silver Medal in the International Regional Magazine association contest. 

I had no idea it had been entered (the staff of Arizona Highways did me the favor), but it garnered high honors in the Portrait Category and this was against portraits of humans in such esteemed magazines as Texas Monthly, et al.  GO CONDORS!!!!!  Even my Mom tells me "Well Son, it's a nice sharp photo, but what an ugly bird."  I couldn't disagree more (well, it is sharp I'll agree, but condors are beautiful).

And the Condor Love just gets better.  I entered a number of photos in the uber-prestigious Bird Photographer of the Year contest.  This is an international contest run out of Britain and attracts the best talent worldwide.  I was thrilled that not one, but five, of my photos got shortlisted for the awards.  This is out of thousands of entries.  Here's the link to the short list - check it out, the photos are amazing and I'm honored to be included. Best yet is that two of my five short-listed photos were of my buddies the condors.  For an "ugly bird" to be in the running against the glamorous egrets, puffins, penguins, eagles, Cedar Waxwings, and other perennial favorites is terrifically heartening.  This is what I hope for when I spend days in blinds atop Vermilion Cliffs and combing the rims of the Grand Canyon - bringing attention to this incredibly majestic and critically endangered species.  Cross your fingers and hope one of the condor shots can become the Bird Photo of the Year and raises awareness and support for this incredible species.

One of the short-listed shots


Back last spring, I was enlisted by the mega-talented National Geographic photographer Keith Ladzinski to scout out locations for a commercial shoot to advertise Nikon's new D500 pro-level APS-C sports and wildlife camera.  The job was to find engaging bird photo ops.  I chose Florida due to the time of year (lots of breeding and nesting behavior going on) and the fact that Florida is a bird photographer's paradise regardless of season.  It was stressful scouting the job, but a complete blast when I came up with several golden locations for us to shoot the ad in.  Here are some pics from job with Keith.


Wood Stork

It was a great experience working with Keith.  He is terrifically animated and mellow at the same time, keeping his crew and clients entertained, excited and yet on point throughout the shoot.  Check out his work here.  While you're at it, check out the work of the client, Mike Corrado from Nikon (head of pro relations and marketing business development) who as you might guess is no slouch with a camera.  He loves bird photography but where he goes beyond other photographers is with his Drummer Love series of multi-camera shots of famous and soon-to-be famous drummers and his coverage of the families and child cancer patients at Ronald McDonald House.

If you aren't following me on Instagram yet, it's @vermphoto, where you can see the latest greatest.  But that small format just doesn't do some photos justice, so to wrap up here are some of my faves since I last posted.  Thanks for checking in and enjoy. 

text and photos all copyright John Sherman - no reproduction without written consent.



VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2017-03-12T23:51:07Z 2017-03-12T23:51:07Z Celebration Time

Super super super psyched to be profiled in the current issue of Arizona Highways magazine. 

When I was starting out in photography back in my teens I dreamed of being an accomplished landscape photographer - something in the Weston, Adams, Porter or Muench mode.  Back then, and of course still today, Arizona Highways was one of the most highly regarded publications to be seen in and it was an ambition of mine to have my work featured in its pages.  I've had quite a few photos published in Highways now including portfolios on peregrines and condors, but being profiled in the annual Photo Issue is an even greater honor.  Heck, it's like having the head cheerleader ask you out to the prom.

Big thanks to Noah Austin for penning the profile, Dawn Kish for the great shots accompanying it, and Jeff, Robert, Kelly, Barbara, Nikki, Diana and the rest of the crew at AHM for all their support.  I look forward to many more years of being part of the Arizona Highways family.


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2016-08-22T23:47:37Z 2016-08-22T23:47:37Z In Memory of Condor 337

The biologists don’t give names to individual condors.  Instead they get a number.  Supposedly this helps keep the biologists from getting too attached to the birds. I’m a photographer, not a biologist. Does it make a difference?  When I heard that Condor 337 died, I cried.


Condor 337


I got the news on Father’s Day.  Wretched timing as 337 had just become a dad again and was tending a chick in a cave high up the towering orange walls of Zion National Park.  In 2014, Condor 337 gained the distinction of having sired the first wild-hatched chick in Utah.  It’s common that a condor pair’s first attempts at rearing a chick fail.  That chick didn’t survive.

In 2015 GPS data suggested that 337 and his mate 409 may be tending a new chick.  They were commuting back and forth between food sources and a possible nest site in the Kolob section of Zion National Park. Perhaps there was a chick they were feeding in the outback. However, nobody had seen a chick to confirm this.  At the time I was just over a year into my mission to photograph every wild condor in the Arizona/Utah population.  337 and 409 were both birds I had yet to see, so when I was invited to join biologist Eric Weis on a reconnaissance to check for the chick, I jumped at the chance.

It was three days after Christmas, sunny and cold.  Our first telemetry check from the roadside yielded little.  



We moved closer to the last known location and picked a high point to gain for another signal check (both 337 and 409 carry small GPS and radio transmitters attached to their wings).  It was clear and sunny and gaining the high point involved a mile of hot slogging through wet snow only to summit and find a road coming up the other side.  Why work smarter when you can work harder instead?  From the hilltop we picked up a signal and Eric spotted one condor from several miles away through his spotting scope.  Was it 337 or 409?  No telling from that distance.  But we had a lead.

We hiked down the hill then drove to where a suspected carcass might be.  The first hint the condors might be around were some eagles flying about.  


An immature Bald Eagle cruising for carrion.


Eagles are frequent scavengers and sure enough there was a carcass nearby.  Then on the hillside I saw two black birds even larger than the eagles.  Jackpot!  It was 337 and 409.  


Condor 337 casts a glance back at his mate Condor 409. 337 gives a loving glance over his shoulder to 409.  Check these two lovebirds off my list.  


These were hard birds to get photos of because they rarely joined the other birds that frequent the release site atop Vermilion Cliffs.


337 and 409 soaring together in happier times.  Mated condor pairs like to fly in tandem.


I’d succeeded in photographing 337 and 409, but we still hadn’t seen a chick and I knew I could get better shots if I worked harder (or maybe smarter?).  409 flew across the valley and settled in on the hillside while 337 disappeared.  Had he gone to feed a chick?

Only one way to find out - slog up another snowy hill only this time steeper and looser. Two steps up to every one step sliding back down.  It was going to be a low probability trip - there was less than an hour of daylight left, the hiking arduous, and no telling how far 337 might have wandered off.  


Biologist Eric Weis trudges up the hill in search of Condor 337 and a possible undocumented chick.

Topping the mesa, we picked up 337’s signal.  Wandering through the juniper pinyon forest, we followed the signal then were blocked by a deep ravine lined with scrappy sandstone cliffs.  The direct line down and back up looked tough and a time waster. So we opted to stay high and hike around it.  We reached the head of the canyon then made a beeline down the far side.  The sun was dipping quickly and I feared the prospect of reversing our hike in the dark.  The signal got stronger as we approached a point looking over the valley below.  With a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver, a signal can be heard 80 miles away, so it’s not an exact science.  From the point the signal directed us to march west.  After 75 yards it told us to head back east.  Was 337 on the move or… ha, there he was surveying his domain from the treetop right above us.


Male Condor 337 perches in the rugged terrain north of Kanab, Utah. GPS tracking data indicate he and his mate Condor 409 may be tending to a chick, however no visual confirmation of this has yet been made.

Real estate Bill Gates couldn't afford - Condor 337 at home near Zion National Park.


The sun was just about to kiss the horizon and the light was warm and delicious.  I backed away from the tree to get my angle and 337 obligingly busted off some nice poses for the camera.  We tried to locate a nearby chick, but there was none to be seen.  A few minutes later as the shadows licked up 337’s tree, he yawned mightily, spread his wings and leapt forward into the blue sky.


Condor 337 drops from his perch.


As it turned out, there either wasn’t a chick or it didn’t survive.  If it had, 409 and 337 would still be busy raising that chick and would not lay another egg this year.  

Fast forward to 2016 and we have a confirmed chick for 337 and 409.  When I heard the news I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep.  Last week 337 became sedentary and stopped making food runs for his family.  Biologists from the Peregrine Fund’s Condor Recovery Project went to check up on him and found him lethargic, dehydrated and severely emaciated.  The biologists took him in for treatment, but 337 was too far along and he died the next day.

How did 337 die?  337 tested positive for high lead levels in his blood.  Over half of all diagnosed wild condor deaths are from lead poisoning.  Among other symptoms, lead poisoning causes paralysis of the digestive system - a bird with a full crop and stomach can die of starvation because food can’t move through the GI tract and rots in place. 337’s emaciation and dehydration were consistent with these symptoms.

Condor 409 has been widowed and now has the enormous task of trying to feed and raise a chick on her own. (More awful timing - International Widows Day was yesterday).  Compounding the tragedy is that 337’s death was so easily avoidable.  

The solution to lead poisoning is simply for hunters, ranchers and anyone else who dispatches an animal with a gun to use non-lead ammo instead of lead bullets.  This prevents lead from entering the food chain where it doggedly persists and continues to kill.  For instance, a rancher might euthanize an ailing steer with a lead bullet.  Later a group of scavengers (eagles, coyotes, turkey vultures, ravens, condors, etc.) clean up the carcass.  Because lead bullets fragment while traveling through an animal several of the scavengers might ingest lead fragments.  Those that do become sick and/or die and if their carcasses are scavenged the lead fragments can be consumed again.  Lead poisoning takes time to kill, so there’s always concern that if a new parent like 337 ingests lead, he can pass it on to his chick when he regurgitates food for the young one.  We all hope this has not happened to 337’s offspring, and that his mate 409 didn’t eat from the same tainted carcass.  So far 409 and the chick appear in good health and the chick is probably old enough to maintain it’s body temperature long enough that his mom can go on food runs.


Will 409 be able to raise their chick on her own?


This incident occurred well outside hunting season, which demonstrates that lead poisoning can occur at any time of year.  And while condors prefer to gorge on freshly dead large mammals, they will also eat smaller carcasses - varmints and such.

What can we do to help?  If you’re a hunter or someone else who dispatches animals with a gun please use non-lead ammo.  The remains you leave behind will then become a nutritious meal for a scavenger.  Please do this whenever and wherever you hunt, not just in condor country.  An alarming number of bald eagles contract lead poisoning too and they are found nearly everywhere.  We took lead out of our paint and out of our gas and out of our pipes (unless you live in Flint).  It’s terribly toxic.  Why pump it back into the environment?  Furthermore the new non-lead ammunition is very effective - for more info on the latest findings please visit, a website by and for hunters.  Save your lead ammo for target shooting, that way you’ll never have to worry if it was your bullet that inadvertently killed one of these majestic and rare birds.  If you don’t hunt, but have friends or family that do, encourage them to make the switch and share the link:  To help the Condor Recovery Project directly click here and you can choose condors specifically on the donation page.

There are only 74 wild condors in the Arizona/Utah population, of those perhaps 20 are males of breeding age.  At twelve years old, 337 was one of the elder males.  He had terrific attributes - he was one of the more independent birds in the population, preferring to seek out his own food sources rather than rely on food left out by the biologists.  It is this sort of independence that will be needed for condors to become a self-sufficient population in the future.  Sadly, it is also this independence that made 337 more susceptible to ingesting the lead that caused his death. I’ll remember 337 as a hard bird to find, but one of the most rewarding to photograph.  I hope his chick survives and leads me on more wonderful adventures.


Condor 337 (2004 - 2016)

Fly On 



VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2016-06-27T14:15:00Z 2016-06-27T14:15:00Z How Can Anyone Live Without This?

Well last year's resolution not to buy any new camera gear self-destructed with the release of Nikon's new 500mm not to mention having to replaced my beloved D810 which did not survive the Jeep rollover I luckily walked away from.  This year I think I'll do better to resolve to buy the newly announced D5.  Speaking of things I can't imagine doing without...

How can anyone live without a life-sized condor print hanging in their living room?  The only downside I see is it makes the 50" TV look so puny.

On to serious and seriously good stuff.  My recent one-man show Plight of the Condor has been announced as one of the final nominees for a Viola Award.  The Viola's are Flagstaff's Oscars for arts and science and as Condors are so beautiful and full of natural history and pressing significance as a critically endangered species they are a great fit for the Violas.  Plight of the Condor is entered in the Excellence in Visual Arts category.  Wish me and my enormous feathered friends good luck. 

Best wishes for a great 2016 to all my readers!




VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2016-01-05T23:44:41Z 2016-01-05T23:44:41Z Sixty-two and Counting

This is the condor release site atop the Vermillion Cliffs on a cold windy November morning.

Those little black specks in the sky are giant birds. 


Anytime I'm granted access to the site I jump at the chance to photograph the condors and help tell the story of their reintroduction into the wild.  As many of you know I'm on a mission to photograph every individual in the Arizona/Utah wild condor population.  I was thrilled to see Condor 266 up there, one of the condors I had yet to photograph.

Here's the 13-year old 266 flying in tandem with fellow male 388, a ten year old.


Sometimes the tandem flying produces interesting photo ops.


And here's Condor 193 doing a dragonfly imitation.  193 is a dominant male, who with his woman 241 pretty much enforce the pecking order at the release site.


One bit of tandem flying the condors could do without is this:


Here a juvenile Bald Eagle is hassling Condor 354.  The eagle made several passes at 354 but stopped short of hitting him.  I've also seen juvenile Peregrines dive at the condors.  The juvenile birds of prey seem to practice their hunting techniques on anything that moves, regardless of whether that something could kick their butt. 


Before the condors were reintroduced to the Grand Canyon area, the Golden Eagle was the biggest bird around.  Several Golden Eagles nest along the Vermillion Cliffs escarpment.  Even though they're no longer the baddest bird on the block, they are still very impressive, especially when in a vertical dive, or stoop, like this.


In such a stoop a Golden Eagle can hit speeds of 150 mph.  Not sure if this one hit that speed but it was sure going helluv fast when I took this pic.



Biologist Mark taking notes of all the goings on around the release site.  Which birds are showing up, who's bossing who around, if an eagle attacks and whatnot. The biologists spend long days alone hidden inside this 5'x5'x8' wooden blind.  I really admire their dedication to saving this species.


The biologists drop off fresh calf carcasses at the site so the birds will have a clean, lead-free meal whenever they want.  Some of the population take advantage of the MacCarcasses while others prefer to scavenge in the wild.  Here is Condor 114, a 20-year old male who is the eldest member of the Arizona-Utah population.


After the condors pick a carcass clean guess who gets to dispose of the remains?  Erik the biologist! 


Eagle or condor?  The bent wings look like an eagle, but that quick flash of white under the wing identifies this as a condor.  Usually condors will soar with outstretched wings, but the high winds this day caused them to tuck their wings lest they get blown half way to Salt Lake.



Adults and wild-born juveniles have the experience to fly in high winds that keep the captive-bred juveniles grounded.


Condors in calmer conditions.


Condor 618 is captive-bred and four years old.  She was released into the wild this year (most captive bred release candidates are about a year and a half old when they get released so she was a late bloomer).  See my previous blog about the public release - she was one of the birds that took to the wild that day.  It was good to see her adjusting well to her new surroundings.


Prior to release the captive-bred birds get fitted with a transmitter.  I was honored when asked to lend a hand while Condor 752 got his transmitter.

Ah, smell the love.  Holding a condor is an experience I won't soon forget.  As you can see they would make a pretty big lap dog and like a lap dog they are very warm.  My right hand is holding his wing still so they can remove his old tag.  My left is cradling his body and I could feel the strong steady beating of his heart.


P2 is 752's new tag number.  Why don't they have all three digits on the tags to avoid confusion?  Because the tags would be too big and flap too much while flying.  Why not leg bands like other birds?  Because condors, like vultures, urinate on their legs to help cool themselves.  Bands would interfere with this.  The white color of the legs is evaporated urine.  The piercing of the wing is akin to getting one's ear pierced.


Here's my boy 752 dropping in to a carcass to feed.  Go get 'em 752!


Condor 721 is a relaxed sort who seems content to eat then just perch atop the release pen all day instead of flying about like the other condors.  Come sunset the other condors had all found safe roosts on the cliff face below.  However 721 was still hanging around atop the cliff and seemed disinclined to leave.  Part of the biologist's job is to ensure the safety of the birds.  Spending the night atop the cliff would put 721 in danger of predation by coyotes so Mark had to haze her from her roost so she would find a safe spot to spend the night.  The biologists don't go home until they know the birds are safe for the night.


My last trip to condor country started slow.  I didn't see a condor until day three.  Later on though I saw five I hadn't photographed before and now have shots of 62 of the 76 wild-flying condors in Arizona and Utah.  With winter coming in the birds will be leaving the high country in Utah and heading to Arizona.  I'll be waiting for them.


All text and photos ©John Sherman, no reproduction without prior written permission.






VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-12-08T21:02:25Z 2015-12-08T21:02:25Z Salt of the Earth and the Stench Too

The Salton Sea has been on my photo bucket list for years.  With over 400 different avian species recorded there, it promised to be a wildlife photographer's dream. 



When I dream it’s primarily visual, a bit tactile, but never olfactory.  So the reality of The Sea was a bit of a shock to the ol’ nostrils.



Ah, the beaches I visited at Salton Sea sported multiple bathtub rings of dead tilapia.  (As the Sea’s salinity has increased over the decades, tilapia are the last sport fish able to survive.) When life gives you limes, make Vermaritas.  When life gives you dead fish, make still lifes.



The sand under the fish is primarily composed of barnacle shells.  The barnacles are not native to The Sea, but were introduced from the hulls of Navy seaplanes that landed there back in WWII. 

In the 50’s The Sea was a resort destination for Hollywood types.  As the lake became saltier and saltier, the ecosystem evolved into sub-resort quality conditions -- the fisheries cratering, rising lake levels from agricultural runoff and pollution, the barnacle beaches taking on a razorwire texture.  Now, when you manage to make it to the shoreline you sink into bacteria-rich muck.  As your feet ooze down, the hydrogen sulfide fumes rise to compete with the rotting fish aroma.  No wonder the resort towns are mostly deserted now.  But what’s a bit of stench and shredded feet when you have 30% of North America’s White Pelican population wintering there?



The White Pelican is one of the biggest birds in North America, with a 9-foot wingspan, it’s second in size only to the mighty California Condor.



The white flock is pelicans.  View from Rock Hill lookout at the southeast end of Salton Sea.

There are also the formerly endangered Brown Pelicans at The Sea.


I dig watching these birds utilize their mastery of ground effect aerodynamics.  By flying just inches above the water surface, they compress a layer of air under their wings that provides lift, allowing them to glide long distances quickly without wingbeats.



Egrets are predictably common.


Great Egret with pelicans


Snowy Egret landing


Cattle Egrets


The Cattle Egrets thrive at the local agricultural fields, as do the White-faced Ibis.




The wind cranked up when we moved to the south end of The Sea to visit the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Reguge.  Whitecaps raced across the surface and waves crashed on the rocks.


Cormorants on their morning commute.

The grebes were unperturbed by the rough water.



When confronted with a wave. They’d just dive under it or punch through the curl like this Western Grebe (Clark’s Grebe?).



Why not fly over?  Turns out the1.5 million Eared Grebes that winter here give up flying for the winter.  So much so that their flight muscles waste to near nothing while their digestive organs greatly increase in size.  (This is an even greater morphologic change than my body undergoes during football season.)  After gorging all winter on brine shrimp and the such, they reverse the changes, put back on their flight muscle and migrate to the breeding grounds.  I’m not sure if the Western Grebes undergo the same metamorphosis (still researching this) but I didn’t see them fly at The Sea either.

The dead fish fragrance was not as pungent at the south end of The Sea and Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR. 


Rock Hill pokes out of the shoreline to the left.  A trail leads to a lookout at the summit.  Steam rises from a geothermal plant to the right of Rock Hill.


Is this due to the competition from the geothermal plants or agricultural fertilizer?  Or could it be a sweet whiff of eau d’Cher?


A Northern Harrier send a flock of blackbirds flying, geothermal plant in background.


Doves on power lines.


The Refuge grows crops for the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes to keep them from raiding the nearby agribusiness fields.



Back at the coast, cormorants are abundant, but still can’t eat all the tilapia.



Nor could the Pelicans.  This next scene cried for B&W.



I spent only 100 hours at the Salton Sea, but had an amazing and prolific time.  Who knew the Wildlife Photographer's Dream smelled like a dead fish farting fertilizer in a bucket of rotten eggs?


Can you count all the cattle egrets?


Text and contents all ©John Sherman – no reproduction without prior written permission. 

VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-11-16T13:45:00Z 2015-11-16T13:45:00Z Welcome to the Wild

This weekend three new California Condors left the realm of coddled captivity and soared into a new life with the wild population in Arizona.  This brings the Arizona-Utah condor population up to 73 members, roughly one third of all the wild California Condors in the world. Yep, that's not many.  The three captive-bred birds were released atop the Vermilion Cliffs.


The Vermilion Cliffs - condor country.


I was super-honored to be asked to photograph the release from a blind atop the cliff near the release pen.  Also in the blind was condor biologist Erin Bramnon, who graciously answered my condor questions and taught me a lot about the birds' habits and personalities, and the many tasks of a condor biologist. 

Let's meet the new birds.  At 11 AM the doors to the release pen were opened. Initially the birds seemed content to stay in the pen, but at 11:29, Condor 618 ventured out the bottom door, ran down the rock slab below and took flight. 


Condor 618 is first out of the gate


618 is a four-year old female.  An adolescent, her neck is just starting to turn pink.


First flight for 618


618 cruised out over the rim, then flew out of view.  We wouldn't see her again for a couple hours, but Erin kept tabs on her transmitter signal and could tell she hadn't strayed far.  Meanwhile Condors 731 and 735 ventured to the bar at the entrance of the top door.


731 (tag P1) and 735 (tag P5) stare down into House Rock Valley and the hundreds of condor fans waiting for a glimpse of them.  731: "Look at all those people down there."  735: "That huge guy in the ball cap looks like he might die of answering all those questions."  731: "Yeah, that could feed us for weeks."


Neither seemed inclined to follow 618's lead and just fly off and explore.  Instead they worked their way to the top of the pen and hung out there.



The pen was far enough from us that heat shimmers were driving the photographer in me crazy.  Long telephoto lenses don't do well at midday.  But what to do other than enjoy watching these young ones enter a whole new life?

731 and 715 are both one year old and for the moment were content to watch the adults wing around. 


Condor 389 (tag 89), a feisty ten-year old female, wings past.


After a bit, Condor 162 decided 735 was occupying a perch that would be better suited for an adult.  


It's common for more dominant condors to shoulder submissive condors off their perches and that's just what happened. 


Knocked from his perch, 735 takes off on his first flight.


735 takes a peek over the rim and decides to quickly circle back.  The first time flying outside a flight pen is tricky with the updrafts.  731 doesn't seem too sure about his raven escort either.


Tail end of 735's first wild flight.


Lastly 731 gets coerced by the adults to fly.


And after her short first flight, 731 comes in for a landing.


First wild flights out of the way, the newbies took to getting to know their new tribe.  Condors have a well-defined social hierarchy.


Elders get to eat first.


618 gets shooed away until the adults finish.


520 (tag J2) tells 735 it's time to leave the bath.  Adding insult, a raven yanks 735's tail feather.  The newcomers will soon learn that ravens can be real irritating.


Drying out after his bath.


At last the newbs get to help themselves to the leftovers.


731 lies down to digest while 618 decides to fly off.


Into the sunset after a busy day one.


All contents, text and photos are copyright John Sherman.  Absolutely no reproduction without prior written permission from John Sherman.  That especially means you Scrubby.


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-09-30T21:07:41Z 2015-09-30T21:07:41Z Bald is Beautiful, especially when you have a 9-foot wingspan

California Condors are some of the most majestic and rarest birds out there.  It's always a great honor to photograph them and now I feel honored yet again with the wonderful portfolio Arizona Highways just published of my condor shots.  So many things came together for me to get these shots - access, lighting, timing and of course the presence of the birds which is never a given.



This is one of my favorite shots of all time - everything came together at once to make it happen.  Check out those primary feathers - each is well over a foot long. 



Get the August 2015 issue of Arizona Highways for the full page look at F1 getting his neck feathers tugged by another bird.  Condors have a pecking order, though in this species the dominant birds are the ones getting their cheeks bitten and feathers tugged.



The top left shot was one of my cooler photo experiences.  54 kept flying straight at me until my lens wouldn't focus any closer then passed six feet over my head.

Thanks again to the crew at Highways for publishing these shots and helping bring attention to the cause of helping this noble bird back from the brink of extinction.  To learn more about the Condor recovery program please visit the Peregrine Fund's website.  Please consider helping out the condors with a donation.  And as always you can help out my efforts to try and photograph all of the Arizona/Utah wild population by purchasing prints, Condor coffee mugs or even just some fridge magnets from this site.   I'm working to get these shots which will be donated to the Condor recovery program to help create an adopt-a-condor program.  This way people will get to see and know each individual bird they help support.  Spending time with these birds, it becomes obvious that each has it's own quirks and personality.  With public support and the continuing hard work of the biologists we hope that in the near future we'll all be able to see sights like this.



This is a young condor born in the wild and not yet touched by humans, hence the lack of ID tags and transmitters that get attached when the birds are annually checked for lead poisoning.  Catching sight of an untagged condor is exceedingly rare.  Let's make it common.




all photos ©John Sherman, please no reproduction without written permission


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-07-18T09:33:22Z 2015-07-18T09:33:22Z Olympics

Less than two weeks have passed since my latest near-death experience.  It was one of those things you always think might happen climbing - you're on easy, but loose terrain, and unroped so if you slip you don't kill your partner as well.  How many hundreds or thousands of times have I said, "if this foothold comes loose, I'm a goner?"  I guess I wasn't meant to die on my birthday, because when the moss hummock blew out under my feet nearing the top of Beacon Rock, my rickety handhold stayed in place and I swung to the left.  Had I swung to the right it would have been 400 feet of what the fuck vertical freefalling to the base of the rock.  Which would really suck because I had a slideshow to give that night in Portland and I hate giving shows on crutches.  Instead I landed in a nice soft patch of poison oak. 

Now one would think that would be the most memorable moment of my northwest tour, but so many other cool things happened that the scary mishap and the rash are quickly fading into the past.  Most of the trip was climbing-related, but DKish and I had a few days to explore the Olympic Peninsula before returning to Flagstaff.  The Olympics were her birthday gift to me and it was an incredible 48 hours of sensual overload. 


My landscape photography has often been hampered by the lack of any dark clouds over my head.  Our first afternoon we went to Hurricane Ridge and watched clouds swirl through the valleys.


I encountered my first Black-tailed Deer.  Being in a National Park they seemed very tame.




The Olympic marmot is only found in this range.  It's the State of Washington's official endemic mammal.  Sorry orca.


This non-native Mountain Goat found a yummy pee patch.  The goats crave the salts found in human urine and will hang out around trails and the base of climbs sniffing out their treats.


Hiking back to the car some mist moved in.


Creating this cool sunbow.  That's my shadow.


We spent the night ay Crescent Lake.  Even though the water is super clear, you can't see to the bottom - it's over 600 feet deep.  Wild to see such a cool glacial feature just miles from the coastline.


The next morning we went to the coast and Rialto Beach.  These are some of the medium-sized logs that have washed up there.


And Dkish bouldering on more sizeable fare.




It's a popular place.


This Black-tailed Deer was just cruising along checking out tidepools and such.


It reminded me of Point Lobos in that everywhere you turned there was something cool to shoot.  From long shots...


To close-ups.


Getting a bit abstract.


Then working with forms in black and white.



This crow photo-bombed the Bald Eagle perched atop the pinnacle. 


The last morning came way too fast.  We had less than two hours to explore the old growth forest.


Lush is not a word I get to use much in Arizona.  At least not the adjective.






This last one is for the photogeeks - a handheld 3-shot HDR (braced on bridge railing) processed in Lightroom 6's HDR function - I was impressed at the seamless job it did (set at high no-ghosting). 

Thanks DKish for a great birthday trip. 


Text and photos all ©John Sherman, please no reproduction without written permission.






VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-06-25T03:00:04Z 2015-06-25T03:00:04Z Random cool pics

Much of my writing of late has been in the form of reviews and essays for Photography Life.  Reviewing gear can get boring if you let it, so instead of shooting lens charts, I like to get creative with real world examples.  Following are some shots I had fun taking with two new offerings from Nikon - the Coolpix P900 with its crazy 24-2000mm equivalent zoom, and the new DX flagship the D7200.  If you are interested in the techy details please click the links to get to the reviews I did.  Without further ado.


Here's the P900 catching a flight of Turkey Vultures passing by the Desert View Watchtower at Grand Canyon.  Shot from over a mile away - bravo for the zoom range.


And inside the Watchtower.  Designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932.  The paintings were done by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.


Looking west down canyon.  Smoke from prescribed fires added to the haze.


Moonrise in Sedona, again with the P900, but at moderate zoom range for it.  Fully zoomed you can fill the frame with the moon.


On to the D7200, which I was interested in for it's wildlife capabilities.  The autofocus system works great and this Osprey can attest.


This other Osprey looks less enthused.  Actually it might be clearing a bone stuck in it's throat.


Ah, the rarely seen Virginia Rail came out and posed for a few shots after sunset.  I'd only seen one before and only got a shot of it's butt disappearing in the reeds.  Can you say ISO 5000?


Not a great shot, but a really great and uncommon bird - the Gray Hawk.  These guys rarely mess around soaring lazy circles like other hawks.  Instead they blast past like they are always on a mission to get past my camera before I can get a lock on them.  I'll be back for more with these beauties.


Why should birds get all the fun?  A nice Pronghorn buck near Chino Valley.  Digging the D7200's fur-level detail.


And what about amphibians?  Canyon Tree Frog northeast of Chino Valley.


Let's not forget the invertebrates.  Making more dragonflies near Whitehorse Lake.


All that sex can make a girl hungry.  While the male minds to his business, this female Pond Strider spied a fly which it caught and ate while the male was still mounted.  Who needs cigarettes?  (As a technical note, the male had probably already inseminated the female, but will hang out on top of the female, sometimes for several hours, to make sure no other male tries to share his genes with her.)


GT likes invertebrates too.  Female Western Box Turtle in Scottsdale backyard.  She's been hanging with the jet set pet set for over 15 years now, maybe 30.  Rumor has it she has implants under her belly plate.


The D7200 does fine at landscapes too.  Baboquivari Peak from Buenos Aires NWR.  Had to climb it a few weeks later. 


Messing around with a plasma globe and 6400 ISO at Kitt Peak.  We thought Chuck had already killed all his brain cells, but the plasma globe managed to suck a few more out through his nose. 


Damn, that's one huge yucca.  And AZ's classic desert dove - the White-winged Dove.  Underneath Baboquivari.


And perhaps my favorite with the two cameras (this one back to the P900).  Landscape photographer immersed in his work at Grand Canyon.



Text and photos all ©John Sherman.  Please no reproduction without written permission.

VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-06-08T19:04:43Z 2015-06-08T19:04:43Z First D400 sample image leaked












Just when I was starting to believe all the D400 rumors were pure baloney, a VRS ("very reliable source") leaked this sample image to me.  The resolution is not quite what I expected for the D300 replacement, but wildlife shooters will be wowed that this was taken by the light of a crescent moon at ISO, wait, wait, 1,024,000!  Hallelujah! 



The D400 release date is not yet set, but again, and I have this from One Of Those In The Know, it is going to be the same day that Bigfoot beats Nessie in the 1000m freestyle.  Now this may seem a long ways off, but rumor from Nessie's training camp is she has torn an ACL in her left ventral fin.  Come race day she'll be turning left like she was at Daytona.


Happy Shooting Everyone,


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-04-01T11:30:00Z 2015-04-01T11:30:00Z Arizona's Grand Vortex

This is Grand Falls on the Little Colorado River.  Or as we like to call it around these parts, The Niagara Falls of the Southwest.



Pretty sweet, huh?  It's one of the classic  landscapes to shoot in Northern Arizona, so of course when I saw that water levels were high I had to go out and practice my cliche waterfall shots.



Slow shutter speed.



Fast shutter speed.



Slow shutter speed.



Fast shutter speed.






Long shots.



Yeehaw, I score the coveted double cliche rainbow/waterfall shot.  But there's more to this scene than shown above.  Like this.



Yep, thar be a Pot o' Trash under that rainbow.  If we zoom back on our initial offering we can see this is no little trash pile.



The giant gray peninsula at the base of the falls is composed of driftwood, styrofoam, plastic bottles and so much more. 



In addition to numerous tires, coolers and the like, I counted 50 basketballs under the falls. 


Click play below to trip out.  (Hit your browser "back" button if needed to return to the post.)



Not only does it undulate, but unlike the vortices in Sedona, this vortex actually spins without drugs.



That's about three minutes in real time as is the clip below.



Arizona Daily Sun photographer Jake Bacon showed up to join the fun.  He reported seeing a new piece of trash fall from above about every minute.  But why let that spoil family fun time at the beach?  Here he takes a break from his Pulitzer Prize search to snap some Spring Break at the Beach shots of his daughter.



What's not to love?



I camped out there to shoot sunset and sunrise and had trouble sleeping.  My mind was racing with calculations of how to clean up a football field's worth of trash, haul it up to the canyon rim and dispose of it properly.  Just when I was about to call Sheriff Joe to get some convict labor, I ran into a young woman already engaged in an effort to organize a clean up.  Here's a link to the Grand Falls Clean Up Facebook page This Sunday is Round One.


Picking up and bagging the trash is the easy part (assuming the shore is cleaned up first and the floating vortex cleaned up when the water drops to a trickle later in the year - right now there is quicksand and tricky hydraulics making the in-water clean up risky).  Hauling it to the rim of the canyon will be very time-consuming without a crane.  Disposing of it?  Anyone got some landfill space they want to donate to the the cause?  All help will be much appreciated. 



Let's make Grand Falls grand again.


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-03-19T21:28:52Z 2015-03-19T21:28:52Z (Black and) White Sands

My girlfriend gave me several Edward Weston books for Christmas.  Great inspiration that I took to heart on a recent visit to White Sands in New Mexico. 



White Sands is the biggest field of gypsum sand dunes on our planet.  Gypsum sand is very white compared to those boring over-photographed quartz sand dunes of the Sahara or Namibia.  It makes for great color photos, especially at sunset when the sunlit sand turns orange and the shaded sand goes blue.  But this is winter and with the sun low in the sky, there's little excuse not to shoot all day.  Add the psyche that came from ogling the Weston shots of the Oceano dunes, and I couldn't help thinking in black and white.



Near the road, the dunes are laced with footprints, but venture a few hundred yards from the cars and the footprints diminish until after 15 to 20 minutes of wandering you are in untracked territory.



Here was a place where my photo brain, usually easily overwhelmed by the "grand landscape", could digest both the overall view and the abstract details.



Yep, another photographer laying tracks into my otherwise pristine landscape.  Dang it, if I want to see another person out here why can't it be one of those alluring dune nymphs that seem to pop up in Weston's shots?



Oooh, oooh, there's one now.  Time to reach into my bag of wildlife photography tricks and see if I can get a bit closer. 



Damn, I think she spotted me.  Please don't run....



Wow, I must have made Santa's nice list.



Okay, I admit when I was a young lad, the thought of shooting nudes seemed pretty erotic.   I dreamed of lusty trysts with the models.  But when I actually have the opportunity, I found I was more intent on nailing the exposures and the poses than the model.  



It's a lot of hard work requiring rigid, unflagging attention to details.     



One aspect of the Weston dune nudes I found cool was the dark outline around the figure - a natural reflective phenomena of front-lit subjects that nevertheless Weston was often accused of somehow doctoring after the fact.



I'm managing to capture a bit of the dark outline by dialing up the contrast on these shots. 



Overall, I'm quite happy with these shots and excited to do more figure photography in the future (not to mention I have a strong emotional attachment to my subject).  And next time I'll pay as much attention to the armpit-ponytail shadow as I do to the nipple shadow.



As always on this blog, all content is ¬©John Sherman, no reproduction without written permission.  Thanks.


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-03-02T21:02:17Z 2015-03-02T21:02:17Z Feeling Ducky

This Mallard mom is starting her own duck dynasty at Page Springs and made it to the Table of Contents page in the latest Arizona Highways.  I'm always psyched to have my pics appear in Arizona Highways and super happy that this sale will help chip away at the cost of owning the 10-pound 1-ounce Baby Jesus (AKA Nikkor 800mm).  BJ is one seriously fun and challenging lens to shoot with and it should be at over 22 bucks per millimeter.  Go BJ!



Spring is just around the corner here in Arizona and the Mallard drakes are already battling amongst each other to win over the females.  It won't be long until this mom has another passel of chicks to rear.


For those wondering where I've been the last many months, I've been writing about photo gear and technique for the Photography Life website.  You can check it out here.   Search around and find why this shot of DKish has great significance.





VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2015-01-27T20:09:28Z 2015-01-27T20:09:28Z Oooh Lava Falls, You Make Me Wet (in just fourteen seconds)

This was a level of Hell that Dante couldn't describe.  The ferocious desert sun torched the black lava boulders until they could fry eggs, burn skin and make even the cruelest rattlesnake whine for its mama.  I crawled down through this field of overgrown smoldering briquets, dodging the cactus, braving the polished sizzling inky slabs, forging onwards into the forge.  Of two groups of rafters, nobody else dare follow me.  They all crawled back into the cool comfort of their overgrown innertubes and readied for a relaxing pleasure float down through the sparkly frothy riffles of Lava Falls.  Here is one of the runs.


Everything looks dandy as this raft eases into the mocha frappachino waters of Lava.




Oops - the frappachino has gone all double espresso on our boatman and ripped an oar from his hand.  (Of the eight rafts I shot plunging through Lava, half to boatmen had their right oar ripped from their grasp in this top bit.  If the Colorado wants your oar, the Colorado gets your oar.)


But he calmly reaches out...


and regains control of the oar.


Back in business,


and it's all smiles.


My, what have we here?


Hang on!


Wow, looks like they got thrown in the chocolate milkshake machine and someone hit the puree button.




How fast smiles turn to screams.


Who peed in the pool?


One more bitty wave.




Fourteen seconds after the first shot in this sequence, the raft glides safely by Cheesegrater Rock.  Bravo!


Once again, all words and images copyright Vermphoto - please don't reproduce without permission.





VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-09-26T17:47:43Z 2014-09-26T17:47:43Z Arizona Flyways

Big thanks to these Sandhill Cranes for flying past the Dos Cabezas at sunrise.  I told them I'd make them famous and now they're featured in the August issue of Arizona Highways - on the photography page no less.  Yeehaw!


VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-07-29T18:42:06Z 2014-07-29T18:42:06Z Joining the Photography Life Team

I'm honored to be joining the team at Photography Life.  Photography Life is a site I've visited for years, especially for the insightful gear reviews.  I'll be supplying content to them on photographic subjects/issues but still will post up here with other less gear/techy content and also just to share some cool images like this.



Here's the (in)formal announcement.  And here's a recent post with more images from Point Lobos and some interesting trivia about photography great Edward Weston.  I hope you'll check it out.



VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-07-19T22:20:37Z 2014-07-19T22:20:37Z Point, shoot, post!

And one more scouting mission from this week.  This morning I hit the beach armed with a point and shoot and an iPhone both locked in Auto mode.  The fog was shrouding the kelp-wrapped boulders in mist, not to mention getting my lens wet.  Yes Verm, you're not in Arizona anymore.  Here's some examples.



all contents Copyright John Sherman, yet again

VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-06-28T02:03:46Z 2014-06-28T02:03:46Z Scouting Wildlife near Elkhorn Slough

The pressure was on to find a good location near Monterey Bay to take some wildlife photography students to to introduce them to the joys of the pursuit - i.e. crawling through guano only to watch your subject take off an instant before you lock focus then discovering that that bush you snuggled into to use as a blind is poison oak.  I think I found the spot!

Here's some pics from the other afternoon of the critters I hope my students get to photograph.


Great Egret coming in for a landing.


Those trees aren't dead. They are whitewashed with guano.  It's a rookery for Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and tons of Cormorants.


The Brown Pelican is a great introductory bird for bird-in-flight practice.  They are slow direct flyers and that pass by in wave after wave.


Harbor Seal


Heerman's Gull - a nice simple portrait of this handsome specimen.


Look what washed up on the bank.  The head of this thing is the size of a compact spare.


Jellyfish detail.


Red-tailed Hawk lurking in the woods.


Southern Sea Otters roughhousing.


Turkey Vulture feasting on student who didn't tip.


all contents copyright John Sherman

VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-06-28T01:53:39Z 2014-06-28T01:53:39Z Landscape Nirvana

"The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!"  Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Godfather of Street Photography, said that during the 1930's as the world tumbled into depression.  Of course had HCB been to Point Lobos, he would have traded that toy of a Leica, hoisted a manly 8x10 view camera and gone on a kelp-shooting, rock-snapping, cypress-hugging tour de force.

Oh heck, words can't do it justice.  On to some pics from my scouting missions.


And all these years I thought Point Lobos was made of black and white.  Sunset last night near Whaler's Cove.


That's better - also last night's sunset at Whaler's Cove..


From the Cypress Grove trail.


Oooh, gnarled cypress in black and white.  I'm feeling a photorgasm coming on.


Yeah HCB, the world is still falling to pieces. 


And we're still shooting rocks.


In China Cove.


Along Cypress Grove trail.


Lots of Harbor Seals near here.


Mmmm, gentle surf washing over polished black pebbles.


Kelp swaying in the current.


Do not fall into the jaws!


all this stuff copyright John Sherman as usual

VermPhoto (C) VermPhoto 2014-06-28T01:24:46Z 2014-06-28T01:24:46Z