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Amateur nature photographer captures several magical moments of 2016





<b>December 24, 2016</b> - It's amazing what a good photographer can capture in the grand San Gabriel Mountains. Here Steve Scauzillo tracks the great work of Candy Dougherty.


Steve Scauzillo


San Gabriel Valley Tribune


The male and female bald eagle pair, their nest in the foreground, on a tree in the Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel Mountains National Monument on Dec. 14, 2016. The first pair of nesting bald eagles ever in the Angeles were first seen earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Candace Dougherty

Under a black, midnight sky, certain noblemen looked up. Starlight chased away the darkness. And they followed the light on a magical journey.

While it’s unfair to draw comparisons to accounts of the Three Wise Men and the miracle of Jesus’ birth, a magical moment can still come to any one of us at any time.

Especially when we are experiencing nature.

Candy Dougherty had two such moments in 2016.

In March, the 71-year-old amateur photographer from La Cañada Flintridge was driving up to the ski areas at Mt. Baldy around 11 a.m. when a mature, big horn sheep appeared. The elusive animal’s orange-red coat hung on its skinny body like a fur coat on a runway model.

Immediately, I tried to vicariously share in her magic moment. You see, viewing a big horn sheep in the wild is on my bucket list. I’ve never seen one and frankly, not many people have. They are few in number in the Angeles National Forest, maybe only a few dozen.

In fact, she ran into an old timer after the moment was over and he told her he’s been hiking or camping in that part of the forest for 25 years and had never seen a big horn.

“I must have taken about 500 shots of that guy,” she told me.

Did it have horns?

“Oh yes,” she answered. “Great, big, beat-up horns.” In her Facebook posting, she wrote the horn’s tips were worn and surmised he’d probably been in a few scrapes. “He was kind of old, kind of a beat-up ram. He was just eating by himself. He didn’t look at us.”

On two other occasions, Dougherty snapped shots of a nesting pair of bald eagles. She was sipping hot cocoa with Adam Samrah, owner of the Crystal Lake Store when she and a friend headed back down Highway 39 on Dec. 14.

At a turnout, she stopped and got several amazing shots of the father eagle and his mate, perched on a branch, their nest in the foreground where only months before their eaglet was born, learned to fly and hunt and left the nest.

It was here that myself and staff photographer Keith Durflinger reported on what is pretty much accepted as the first pair of nesting bald eagles in the Angeles, and in this section, appropriately, our national bird was living in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, dedicated by President Barack Obama in October 2014.

Was it a sign? Are those bald eagles telling us something about protecting our national forests and national monuments?

Questions about environmental degradation raced through Dougherty’s mind. Also, she worried that the nest was slipping from the branch. But more than that, she said this was the first time she’d seen bald eagles in the Angeles, and she’d been living in La Cañada since she was 11 years old.

Perhaps the mommy and daddy eagle were back to make some more babies. Bald eagles mate for life. And they usually go back to their same nest.

Retired from her job at General Electric, Dougherty enjoys getting out into the wilderness literally outside her door and taking photographs. Mostly she’s drawn to birds.

Why birds?

“Their innocence,” was the first thing she said. “They are charming. Almost magical.”

Her shots of birds at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach are amazing. I love the fact that even an ordinary barn owl found nestled in a tree at Bonelli Park in San Dimas made her page. I’ve been to Bolsa Chica dozens of times with my camera, but I don’t think I’ve seen the reddish egret, nor the American bittern.

She enjoys sharing all her bird photos on Facebook. She’s met other amateur photographers through social media. They sometimes share their secret places for birding.

Dougherty also saves time for her own starlight moments. Like the time she shot the sky, bedazzled by the Milky Way, in Anza-Borrego.

I like that fact that she doesn’t make a mystery out of her hobby. Nor is she snobby about it. Her motto is simple: “You gotta keep truckin.’”

Steve Scauzillo covers the environment for the Southern California News Group and is a recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz or email him at




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