A Prized Addition to the Collection

And we are BACK!  There is a hidden surprise with this particular post … let’s see if you can tell what it is … ready Go! tick tick tick tick. Are you noticing anything different? does something feel a little more ummm snappy? Okay, here’s a hint… who has two thumbs, no longer has to share, removed of daily cap and no longer has to send every post 22,000 miles away from earth just so you can read it?  The answer is THIS GUY who is now the proud owner of a DSL Internet service. Yes boys, we have arrived and we’re loving it. I am sure you can feel just how fast this post is being created compared to those crappy satellite days.

In truth, this is a special day for another reason. Today I get to bring you, to use the description in the last blog, the jewel of Emiquon. My apologies for all those that thought that was a clever clue to the name of the featured bird. I was thinking in terms of how I feel having actually had the opportunity to photograph this bird as opposed to any insightful characteristic like color, hardness or price. First a quick background. When we first discovered Emiquon we immediately walked out to the observation decks to see what they had to offer. While out there I noticed there was a large sign showing the various wildlife in the area and a little history of the place. There was a bird featured on that sign that I had never heard of. Having grown up relatively close to the area, I found it odd that there would be water fowl that I hadn’t came across in many of the other local marshes, rivers and lakes we frequent… and believe me, I would have remembered this unique bird. As luck would have it, on our most recent visit to the Refuge, there it was (actually there “they” were). I will give credit to Linda for spotting them first but she alerted me to them with “what are those doohickies over there”. Those my dear are the find of the year!

And now I would like to introduce you to the latest check on the Birding List. Ladies and gentleman I give you the Black-Necked Stilt”

How cool is that!  Admittedly, there was a struggle to get the exposure right on these shots.  With the two ends of the spectrum covered by the bird feathering itself, all the other greens, browns and the pinks were filling up the palette pretty quick.  I had to delete a bunch of the initial shots thanks to forgetting I had recently reconfigured the camera to moved the focus button off the shutter to a rear button.  By the way, now that I did that it is highly unlikely I’ll ever go back and recommend it to all my fellow photographers out there … I just need to remind myself I did that until it gets engrained in my head.

There were two of these Black-Necked Stilts hanging out in the Marsh.  This particular one was pretty active walking through the water and muck occasionally stopping to stab at the water.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of this rare (at least to our area) Stilt!

Continue reading A Prized Addition to the Collection

The Birding Answer to The Shining

And were back and keeping the theme.  Once again were highlighting the wildlife at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.  Today’s post was a very rare sighting that not many people have had the pleasure of witnessing at this particular wetlands.  Behold our newest entry to Life Intrigued… drum roll …

The Prairie Peacock!

This bird is highly admired for it’s adaptive quality to blend into any marsh area in the prairie wetlands.  It is not uncommon for you to walk right past them dismissing them as a large dandelion or an isolated clump of prairie grass.  I will admit that I do benefit from this unique characteristic.  Whenever someone comes over and comments about the weeds in my yard I smugly inform them that we are blessed with a local muster of prairie peacocks!

You buying this?  If so, consider yourself gullible.  In case you live a sheltered life in the city, the bird of the day is actually a Plover.  These birds are all over the place at Emiquon enjoying the shores of the flooded lowland.  Confirming our field guides, this bird is very noisy and very cautious.  They did not want me very close at all and they made haste whenever the barrel of the Beast turned their way.  Last post I mentioned that there was an upcoming bird sporting the red eye color.  Well, here it is.

This Plover’s eyes are a little brighter with a larger pupil compared to the more blood red of the American Coot.  Like the Coot, they are a perfect for photography because they tend to keep their eye on you (if they are aware of your presence) making for very nice compositions.  Generally I see them walking the shorelines on their stilt like legs.  I think the one below failed to judge an oncoming wake.  It was looking around to make sure none of the other inhabitants saw his mistake.

Hit the jump to learn more about the Emiquon inhabitant

Continue reading The Birding Answer to The Shining

That’s Right, We Have Cooties

This topic of this post shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as how I gave a big hint at the end of the last post.  As the Northern Shoveler fades into the background, his friend the American Coot takes the stage.

This is actually not the first time this particular bird has graced these pages. If you recall we kind of called them out in the Yellowstone post (link here). However, there is one big difference from that appearance and today’s entry…. in this post you can actually tell it’s a Coot.  One thing I was not aware of from the first pictures was just how bright red their eyes are.  Guessing this one just flew in from Vegas after having a really good time.

As with the set before (and the upcoming ones) these shots were taken at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge which is located in Havana Cuba.. err make that Illinois.  By the way, somehow the individuals that named this town got the pronunciation of it right.  For some odd reason in our State the similar named cities and towns have butchered soundings – Athens, (strong A), Cairo (Kayrow), Rio (Rye-O), Milan (Mylan), Des Plaines (non-silent s), my favorite San Jose (San Joes) and Goofy Ridge.  Okay, so the last one doesn’t fit but I had a quest to reference that scary location in one of my blogs and it was time to get that off of the to-do list.  I wonder if I started calling it HavingNah if it would catch on.

Apparently this particular Coot didn’t appreciate my little joke about his hometown – giving me that stern look-back every 6 year old knows good and well.  (and yes, that is the EXACT age I felt when coming up with the title for this post).  It would be un-American to pass up the opportunity to draw up a reference to our childhood when confronted with a bird with that name.  For the record, Linda is usually the one who makes the reference first!

Hit the jump to see more the set — don’t miss the take-off shots!

Continue reading That’s Right, We Have Cooties

They Call It Emiquon

Well hello there, long time no read eh?  Admittedly the content has been a little slow around LifeIntrigued as of late.  Contrary to what you might be thinking, nothing terrible has happened to me nor have I turned slacker and abandoned this 5 year journey.  It was noted that there were zero calls to the police to see if I’d been run over by zombies and one comment on a post demanding content soon or they were going to come break my fingers (that last part might be a slight hyperbole, but the anger was dripping off every letter).  The truth surrounding the delay is the huge amount of pre-work that had to go into the remaining posts planned for this month.  I have been staring at a huge hill of photo backlogs that is resulting from not getting through our photo outings quick enough.  There is no easy answer to this problem other than committing to completing the post processing and getting them out on the Smugmug site… and there is no better time than the present.  So, be prepared to be hit with a lot of bird pictures and I mean hit hard.  You will be swimming in feathers before this series is done and we’re expecting at least one or two emails begging for mercy before the end of this.

Hey, what do you know, this post is about …. you got it a BIRD.  To be more exact a duck.

I have an extra affinity towards this specific duck which I’ll get to in a bit (you can probably guess).  First a little background on this particular set of pictures.  Friends of the blog know we hang out in Banner Marsh (in Banner IL) a lot taking in all the wonderful birds that call that place home or a stop off on their seasonal migrations.  There is actually another location we have been making a point to drop in as of late.  We call it Birder’s Paradise, but others call it Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge.  It is actually in Havana IL which is about 35 or so minutes South of us.  Why do we  call it B.P.? .. because you get to experience a wide range of water fowl (along with a number of shore and traditional land birds from the convenience of your car should you choose or by walking along their well constructed boardwalks and observation decks.

Back in March we made a late day run down to the flooded lowlands and see what was hanging about.  After shooting a number of birds we began our exit from the refuge when something odd in the water caught our interest.

The coloring led us to our first assumption that it was your basic Mallard – we have a lot of those around us so we are very familiar with that particular bird.  The green head was a check, but the black bill coupled with the inverted coloring on the body had me scratching my head.  For those not familiar with the Mallard, basically flip the white and the brown and slap some yellow paint on the bill and you are almost staring at a one.   Almost is the optimal word here.  The golden yellow eye is definitely not a trait of the Mallard and well…

hit the jump to read the rest of this post!

Continue reading They Call It Emiquon

Snowy Owl … Well, Technically

In lieu of having some kind soul grabbing his camera, getting in his car and driving what..6 minutes at most… and take a micro second to snap a keepsake photo of an extremely rare bird as a gift to his little brother… I am reduced to sleight of hand and clever semantics.  He also tends to dismiss the truth from his own brother and willingly accepts what are clearly untruths from his sister in law but that is fodder for a whole other post.  This month is probably going to be another one devoted to birds based on the backlog of shoots we’ve been on this year.  If this keeps up we’ll never get to the Indy Zoo pictures that have been in the queue for about a year now.  Sorry, but the big cats have to wait for our feathered friends.

Today’s offering is a snowy owl.

Okay, so it isn’t a true Snowy Owl per se, but it is an owl and although it is difficult to tell from this photo, it was snowing big time when I shot this set.  In case you do not know your owls, this is actually a Barred Owl and lucky for us, one that calls our woods his home.  To be honest, based on the hoots that ring out around the area around 5 pm there are at least 4 of them taking up residence near us.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of the Barred Owl.

Continue reading Snowy Owl … Well, Technically

Thrashing About in the Woods

First off, Happy Birthday to Kerby! (by the way, based on strange looks from the Walmart employee last night, apparently all dogs do not get their own birthday cakes)

Initially I was pretty excited about the opportunity to bring you a NEW bird sighting.  Over the course of about a week I kept hearing a very unique bird song.  It was almost like three distinct sounds that it would alternate through repeatedly.  Probably the most fascinating thing about this was how loud it was.  I would be out back and still hear the singing coming from the front woods.  Three times I ran inside, grabbed The Beast and went looking for the source.  Eventually the search would be narrowed down to a couple of trees, but the sound would either stop or there would be a rustle of leaves followed by some non-distinguishable bird launching itself in a different direction.  A few minutes later the chatter would start up again a couple hundred feet away.  Get close to it again and I’m in another rinse and repeat cycle.  As luck would have it, I stepped out of the truck one evening after a run and heard it again.  This damn bird was not going to school me again (earlier that day I had failed at another attempt even with Linda help in track it down).  Clearly stealth is the key so I grabbed the trusty Nikon and slinked my way over to the woods.  It took a some patience, but eventually it was spotted sitting on some high branches.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures!

Continue reading Thrashing About in the Woods

This One is Hard on the Nuts

I have decided to OCCUPY the MAN CAVE with my AMAZING and GINORMOUS Yellowstone photo collection reading about Beyonce’s BABY BUMP and wondering what the BLOWBACK will be on Katy Perry’s divorce.  All of this has led me to believe that being a PET PARENT is going to be the NEW NORMAL even with all the SHARED SACRIFICES that comes with it.  But enough of this rambling, let’s go out and WIN THE FUTURE through deception and TRICKERATION.  Oh, and THANK YOU IN ADVANCE for all your comments!

Whew, my apologies for that opening.  I was scanning the Internet and came across this years list of banned words from Lake Superior State University.  They do this every year to save our sanity from over-hyped words.  With only a few days left I wanted to make sure I used them all at least one more time.  Having done this now (some for the first time ever) I can assuredly say they will not be missed.  Here are a few other words I’d like banned for 2012 based on the shameful over use in the media

  • Slam (and all derivatives)
  • Bashes
  • Crash
  • Grills
  • Undecideds
  • Outrage
  • Weep
  • Obamacare
  • Gallup
  • Facebook

Have I distracted you enough to forget this is really another bird post from our Yellowstone trip?  Well, I tried.  This is the last of the bird posts from Yellowstone and with a small bit of sadness, the likely last post of the year (there may be one more depending on when my year end summary gets done) – where has this year gone?!  The reason I left this one to the end is thanks to our favorite orthopedic surgeon Dr. Giselle there was no need to spend a lot of time rifling through reference books to identify it.  As soon as the shutter went off on this bird…

Dr. Giselle immediately identified it as a Clark’s Nutcracker.  Having never seen this bird before, I was very appreciative of the assist.  Per the reference books, this particular bird prefers open coniferous forests in mountains.  A big checkmark on that – I left this wider shot with the evergreens as validation of that.  It is a member of the jay and crow family but chooses to walk like a crow than hop like a jay on ground (do scientist actually get paid for these observations?).  As is the custom here at Lifeintrigued, let’s bring that bird in for a closer look.

Hit the jump to learn more about the Clark’s Nutcracker

Continue reading This One is Hard on the Nuts

This One is Kind of Harri

There are two types of birds that tend to drive me crazy when trying to classify them.  Eventually I can get through to the waterfowl, but the family of Accipitridae and Falconidae have way to many similarly colored birds.  Adding even greater difficult to identification is color changes that can occur from juvenile to adult.  As a result, when it comes to classifying some of the hawks and falcons I open the reference books with a slight sense of dread.  That was exactly the case when it came to finally posting this blog.  While traveling out to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park to check up on the wolves, I spotted this bird hunting in the prairie fields.

Of course, spotting it was one thing, trying to actually get a decent shot of it was a struggle.  The Beast was on high speed continuous mode allowing for burst of shots once the bird came into frame.  It would glide for a short while towards me over a stretch of the field, but would then perform an amazing aerial maneuver to double back on itself.  Once his range was extended, it would start gliding back towards me again.  This was repeated until it eventually made it out of the range for the Beast.  Unfortunately, there were only  a few decent shots out of the whole shoot worth showing anyone.  The one above is clearly the best, but here a few more that provide a decent view of the coloring to help in identification.

Hit the jump to read my attempt at classifying it

Continue reading This One is Kind of Harri

A Surprise to My Goldeneye

I hope everyone that celebrates it had a safe and merry Christmas!  We hear at Lifeintrigued headquarters have been busy trying to wrap up the year’s posts so we can start fresh again after the first.  The plan is to get through the remaining three Yellowstone bird posts so I can spend January getting to the larger animals shot on our vacation last October.  First on this list is kind of a surprise to me.  Most of the time while Linda is driving, my eyes are focused out the window on trees and any water bodies we happen to pass.  Linda is pretty tolerant of this behavior even when I give our special code word for STOP THE CAR – WE NEED TO GO BACK AND PHOTOGRAPH A BIRD I JUST SAW.  This is shortened to a single word since we would be a quarter of a mile down the road before getting all that out (yes, she drives fast).

On one of these occasions out in Yellowstone I found these waterfowl enjoying a calm late afternoon.

For some strange reason I classified them as Goldeneyes and since I already had that bird checked off my Bird List I didn’t get overly excited about the shoot.  The dark reflections off the water were wreaking havoc on the exposure.  Adding time to bring in the details of the darker birds were causing some blowouts on the whiter ones.  Our presence did not go unnoticed and almost immediately they started heading away from the shore.

When I got back home I started the post processing on this shoot, again,  initially thinking they were goldeneyes.  When it came time to check out some of their reference bios it became apparent that my early classification was wrong.  Now the curiosity was peaking.  Thumbing through all the reference books again revealed what appears to be Buffleheads.  The markings on both the females (darker birds) and the breeding males (whiter ones) are a pretty good match.  The region is also consistent and true to the reference information they didn’t make a sound the whole time I was snapping pictures.  One of the other features of the breeding male is their iridescent head.  It is difficult to see in these smaller pictures, but if you look directly at this picture…

you will see the different colors shimmering in the light.

Hit the jump to see additional pictures of the Bufflehead (including some of them taking off from the water)

Continue reading A Surprise to My Goldeneye

Eagle Eyes

Well, as of 4:00pm today I am officially on holiday break from work until 2012 – WOOT. Of course, that really just translates to two extra days of standing in long lines at local merchants trying to finish up the gift list. Fortunately, that activity can start LATER in the morning so no need to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for the commute to the office. This month was dedicated to shots from our recent Yellowstone vacation. So far we’ve covered the Trumpeter Swans (link here), Mergansers (link here) and two posts covering those scary Ravens (link here and here). We’ll get to the big game soon enough, but today brings us a true American icon… The Bald Eagle.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the eagle a number of times now, both locally as well as up in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. I was excited to hear that they were out in the Yellowstone area as well. The first day we saw one from a distance gliding around, but the second to last day produced a great opportunity.  We were heading back to our room towards the end of the day when we passed by a small valley.  A glint of white from the trees caught my eye.  Hoping I was right, I had Linda turn back for a closer look.

Did you see it? (having it centered in the picture makes it pretty easy, but against the full backdrop of the woods it was definitely harder to locate).  The shot above is a pulled back shot with the Beast which starts at 200mm so you can guess how far away this eagle was from the road.  However, This is exactly where the Beast shines.  Pulling the bird in to the full 400mm gives a MUCH better shot of this awesome bird.

And there it sat keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.  I was actually shooting out the back window of the SUV trying to use the window frame to steady the lens.  The initial shots were producing a lot of blur likely due to the engine vibrations coming through the vehicle frame.  To adjust for that, Linda shut the car off.  that dampened it a bunch, but that distance just amplifies any movement

Heck, why don’t we just pull that shot in a little more!

Hit the jump to see more pictures from the set!

Continue reading Eagle Eyes