Bull Elk walking in bushes DSC_5305 copy

Mark Holtz Winged Lion Photography | Explorer of the Month July 2020

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Fen Photo Fun by Mark H. Holtz | 7/9/2020

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About Mark Holtz Photography

Mark Holtz of Winged Lion Photography is a nature, wildlife, landscape and travel photographer who’s goal is to inspire the mind and spirit and the preservation of the earth! Thanks to Mark for letting us share these wonderful photos and for taking the time to give us a glimpse into a day here in beautiful Park County, Colorado!

See Mark’s Website for Winged Lion Photography and be sure to follow on Facebook!


The light driving through Alma Colorado is mottled in the morning at 5 am due to the irregular spacing of the streetlights giving the town a frontier feel, setting the stage for a nature photography morning. Hwy 9 to Fairplay and southwest on 285 to the Fen, I thought to myself as I accelerated out of town. The Nature Conservancy turn off to the Fen is unassuming, with a small sign on the bobbed wire fence and cattle gate. The predawn soft light that was now filling Badger Basin was enough to find the turn. As I turned,

I could make out on my left a grazing pronghorn antelope buck who starred at me then continued his morning breakfast.Past the fence I was paralleling and then on to a small parking lot a mile from the turn off. I was now by the Fen.


Fen, you might ask, what is that? Good question and until a year ago I would have guessed it was some type of leafy vegetable not an ecosystem. A fen is a marshland, or what this Wisconsin boy like me would call a bog and its unique feature is that the water in it comes from underground and is continuously flowing. This water percolates up from the ground after traveling from the Mosquito range mountains to the west.

I thought about what I had read on the Nature Conservancy’s web site in regard to this being “an astonishing vestige of the last ice age” as I felt the cool still air, a lingering reminder of the previous night. The uneven ground which I thought of as “bogginess” under my feet made walking a little tricky.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

In a basin the horizon is a rim, miles away is undulating shapes from the mountain tops and in predawn that rim has a sharp edge towards the east with a yellow glow highlighting it. On this morning there was also cabernet purple cotton balls and vertical cotton candy streaks, with smaller light purple pillows aligned like gondolas reaching up to a mountain top. The cabernet turned a lighter shade, then dark orange, light orange, yellow, I was seeming a time lapse of the spectrum of light above the dark rim. I was experiencing the definition of open space in an optical physics experiment. I was in the Sistine chapel of landscape photographers.

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As I continued to walk, I would come upon an Indian paint brush, hugging the ground and be careful not to step on them. In the distance I could hear a Swainson’s hawk screeching, letting its mate know it’s location and a Meadow Lark calling the sun to rise. Suddenly off in the distance to the south east, motion caught my eye.

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It was the silhouette of an elk which has already noticed me and was at a slow trot to put distance between the two of us. I stood verystill, and a big bull elk slowly came out of the bushes, munching on leaves, and periodically lifting its head to look for danger. I photographed him until he disappeared in to the bushes and trees of the Fen.

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Inspiration filled me as I pulled my backpack off, pulled out my tripod, setting up for my Fen photo fun. My eyes had adjusted to the soft light, that kind of warm light which warms you emotionally. When you have a 360-degree view of everything the direction in which to shoot can be a make it or break it decision. But, today the landscape chapel had exquisite beauty everywhere. The time lapse of the spectrum of light was on the mountains to the west, skies to the east, and rain clouds to the south and northwest. I took zoomed in shots, panorama sequence shots, zoomed out shots and even a 360-video shot. The sun was nearly over the eastern rim and it’s light continued to warm the mountain tops to the west like a loaf of bread browns on the top as it bakes.

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A bright yellow crescent peeked over the basin rim, then a whole sun ball was visible. The sweet light of the morning filled the basin. A few more clicks then my productive wandering began. Productive wandering is when one has no real destination and lets the next step or turn be determined by what catches one’s eye. The marshland became more wet, and I could hear the suction of mud reluctantly letting go of my boots. Motion to my right and my eye caught a Northern Harrier gliding just above the yellow blooming shrubby cinquefoil, putting on an air dance, tipping its wings to and froe, changing it’s direction. It glided off into the distance being chased by the ever-gregarious redwing blackbirds. As I wander, I see tree limbs and stumps lying on the ground, bleached white by the sun and reminding me of the “ice age” connection and thus looking like the bones of Pleistocene megafauna. I only wish that that I could be photographing a giant beaver!

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As the early light became day, my productive wandering was skewed towards the parking lot. The tinker bell like sound of a hummingbird went by and I was lucky enough to see an emerald green dot on a branch, telling me tinker was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Continuing to the parking lot, 2 killdeers, with their distinctive cry tried convincing me that they were in peril, a few crows, with their finger like wingtip feathers lazily flapped by and a mountain blue bird preched stately on the top of a spruce tree.. The fen photo fun had shifted from grandeur landscapes to the many species of birds who make the fen its home. I thought to myself, bog birding is best in big boots! While I drove out my pronghorn friend was happily grazing and I, happy as well, having experienced the blazing sunrise on a Fen Photo Fun Morning!

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