Robins in the Hole

There has to be something wrong with the rotation of the earth.  I know this because it is obvious I am getting shorted days in my months.  Take for instance this month.  I start my blog entries a little later than usual, but no worries, I have plenty of time to get my quota in.  Then all of a sudden I am staring at 2 days left in the month and I am sitting at only 5 posts.  Oddly enough, the tides do not appear to be affected much by the increased earth spin, but it may be the reason for all the rain we are getting and the fact I woke up to about 60 degree weather at the end of August.  Guessing Gore finds that fact an inconvenient reality.

No fear, I have plenty of content to pull from our vacation this year.  On our trip, we stayed at a Best Western in the Jackson Hole Wyoming resort area.  On a side note, that night’s stay was the most expensive place we stayed the entire trip.  I recommend finding somewhere else if you do not want to pay through the nose for a place to sleep.  As we were leaving, we passed a window looking out into the pool area.  It was too cold to actually swim outdoors, but I find it nearly impossible to pass a window without taking a look.  Besides, there just might be a blogging opportunity waiting for me to observe.  Sure enough, there it was sitting a few feet out from the window.

Nesting Robin

My guess is you are not too impressed by this particular robin, especially if they are as common in your area as they are in Illinois.  Although it was somewhat interesting that this particular bird would choose to nest so close to people (lots of people were continually passing this window but based on my analysis, very few of them were taking the time to take a peak).  So what was the tipping point that warranted taking the time to get the camera out?  … and by time I mean a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to shoot through the glass and get the focus through the numerous evergreen branches.   Hit the jump to find out

Continue reading Robins in the Hole

A Wise One Captured

I have a lot of bird pictures I really like, but to be quite honest, the next couple are definitely in my group of favorites.  It is not so much the quality, lighting, pose etc. as much as it is the amount of things that fell into place in order to actually be able to take this shot.  First off, Linda and I were heading out one morning to check out the Peoria Zoo and thus had both our good cameras with us.   It was a fairly nice sunny day so we dropped the top on the convertible which allowed me to take in the scenery as we were passing our favorite park just down the street from us.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that a large object was sitting in the branches of a dead tree (in a yard across the road from the park).  I had Linda slow down allowing me to make out that it was this sitting in the tree:

Owl

The best I can tell, it is a Barred Owl which according to my guide can be active into midmorning.  We always hear these birds hooting at night, but rarely have we seen one out in the morning sun.   Unfortunately, I had to crop it a little tight to block out some unappealing background.  I prefer to give my birds some room to move in the frame, but technically he is facing backwards to me so he does have room to escape out the left side.  Although this was a pretty close encounter, Linda and I have had two other experiences.  One was at our old house while walking along a trail in the woods.  We startled a huge owl that literally dive bombed us before getting enough uplift under the slowly unfurling wings enabling it to lift into the sky.  That one made our hearts skip a beat, but the other one just about killed us.  We were heading home late one night in my wife’s Wrangler.  As we came down a hill, there was a large object in the road.  Although there are conflicting reports on what actually occurred next, the consensus is my description is the accurate one.  For some reason my wife either did not see the LARGE OWL in the middle of the road or had some owl angst from a childhood experience and thus decided not to hit the brakes (she claims she was preventing a rollover due to the top heavy Wrangler). The owl unfurled its wings and began the slow process of lifting into the air.  Let’s stress the word slow in relationship to the speed we were traveling.  The next thing I see is a full window of owl feathers making an ugly smack sound.  Since the Wrangler has a flat windshield, my guess is that owl is toast.  For my own since of tranquility, I chose not to look back and just assumed the plumage cushioned the blow allowing it to survive the horrific event.  I keep reminding her of this night every chance I get and threatened to paint a silhouette of an owl on her vehicles next to the hundreds of other wildlife she has run down in their prime.

Oh, the other lucky factor is the owl gave me just enough time to get one still shot before he assessed the situation and headed off.  I did get one pretty cool flight shot but lost him in the zoom lens as he turned into the woods.

Barred Owl in Flight

Again, so many things had to come together to get these two pictures.  If I get a chance I might post another one of my favorite bird shots I submitted to the State Fair photography exhibit.  I am a little hesitant to post our best pictures on the web yet, but I am looking into some watermarking or labeling to give me a little more piece of mind.  I enjoying sharing, but I have been getting some stories from my fellow photographers that are concerning me.

Hoping to have more owls to share in the future!

We’re Here for You Marmots – Rocky Mountain National Park

What does the Puss ‘n  Boots and the tiny rock creatures in Galaxy Quest have in common?  The answer is they frighten me.  No, I know they are not clowns, but they have the ability to be charming and cute while they are scheming to kill you.  Puss ‘N Boots would take off his hat, expand the eyes to capture his victim off guard and the pounces on them with saber in hand.  Those cute looking rock creatures are all smurf like until one shows a weakness and they pounce on it and tear it to shreds with their fangs and claws.  Why am I bothering to tell you this?  The reason is I encountered a new creature on visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park that creeps me out in a similar manner.   Here it is in stealth mode:

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Did you find it?  Here is a hint:

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

According to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Rocky Mountain States, this devious creature is a Marmot.  In my opinion he looks like a groundhog or possibly a beaver with a furry tale instead of the paddle.  Apparently, it is a member of the squirrel family which puts it in the Yosemite Sam Varmint category.  There is an error in this guide as it states that the Marmot’s habitat is below 11,000 feet.  This picture was taken at 12,000 feet on the Tundra trail.

Upon first look, it is all soft and cuddly like.  He would probably curl up in your lap and softly chirp (straight from the guide) away.

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

But there is definitely a demon side to this creature.  Take the jump to see a couple more pictures of the Marmot

Continue reading We’re Here for You Marmots – Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellowstone Trip – All About the Moose (Part 2 of Many)

 Update: 8/16/09 (original post 7/28/09) – Please see the corresponding Errata Page for a correction on the location this moose was seen at

As we traveled through Yellowstone Park we were checking off the various wildlife we saw against the field guild I mentioned in the last post.  There was one particular animal that was successfully eluding us almost the entire time. That particular animal was the following.

Yellowstone Moose

We had completely given up as we headed out of the park to the South on our way to the Grand Tetons.  Literally 5 minutes from the park exit we come upon this fine specimen.  Not carrying the same fear we had with the bears, we actually pulled over on the shoulder and exited the vehicle to get a closer look.  I must say, I was re-thinking that idea when I took this shot.

Yellowstone Moose

From this angle it looked a lot more ferocious and although this one did not have the biggest rack, it was still one of the largest animals we had seen on the vacation.  I am guessing for a brief moment this moose was thinking steak would taste better than those weeds.  Luckily it turned its attention back to the grass which calmed my heart down some.

Yellowstone Moose

Oddly, this was the only moose in the area as opposed to the other wildlife (with exception of the bears) that was not mingling with others in a herd.    The moose was very content to just eat his veggies and taken in the likely oddity of humans pointing cameras in its direction.  The dark fur really stood out against the greenery providing a nice contrast to the photos.   The following shot is probably my favorite since the branch looks like a hand tickling the fur under his snout causing his foot to raise up in a mock scratch.  My dogs do this all the time which makes me laugh.

Yellowstone Moose

It was close, but we did get to check this animal off of our checklist.  Next time we hope to catch one with a larger rack

Yellowstone Trip – All About the Bears (Part 1 of Many)

It’s getting late in the month again and I have a few posts to go to make my quota for the month.  Luckily there is plenty of content waiting in the wings many of which came from our recent trip out to Yellowstone.  I already posted the oddities collection from that adventure and now it is time to start the wildlife segment.  I thought I would lead with something we do not see much of out here in Illinois.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

If you look real close you will see today’s subjects.  Surprisingly, we had just entered the park from the East side when there were a few cars parked on the side of the road and some people looking out over the valley.  Figuring there was something of interest, we parked and grabbed the cameras.  Sure enough, waaaaaay out in the distance were these two black bears.  Keep in mind, I have a full Nikon 70-200 glass fully out and manually focusing this to get through all the trees.   Although not tack sharp for sure, I am pretty pleased I even got them at all.  Here is a zoomed version and it looks like they spotted me.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

Just 5 minutes into the park and we already had our first bear sighting.   Since I was not sure there was going to be anymore chances to see the elusive bears, I was snapping a ton of shots in the hopes one or two would come out decent enough I could prove we saw them.  It should be noted that there is actually snow on the ground.  It was the middle of June and we were definitely feeling the chill.  Apparently the bears were quite comfortable in their winter fur.  These two shots are a little better, but again, there were hard to see with the naked eye and having to manually focus was making it difficult to draw them in clear.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

After awhile they grew bored with watching us and headed back into the woodlands.  I caught this one taking a final look back probably thinking how tasty I would be for lunch.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

The good news is we actually had 3 other bear sightings while we were out there.  Take the jump to see some much better shot.  Well, actually three better shots and one crappy one with a frustrating story.

Continue reading Yellowstone Trip – All About the Bears (Part 1 of Many)

Things I Am Unable to Explain

Deadlines Deadlines Deadlines.  Cutting it close this time, but this post brings me to my self imposed minimum of 6 posts a month.  Before jumping back into the trip pictures, something strange occurred today while working in the yard.  It was time to deal with the trimming so I brought the trimmer out, gassed it up and reved it up.  As soon as the engine fired a barn swallow flew up behind me and started hovering in the air.  Actually, it was more like a bird backstroke because the birds body was actually vertical while the wings did a backward flap.  Not phased in the least by me turning to look at him, I decided to play out the situation.  As I was whacking down the weeds a moth flew up into the air.  At that point it all became very apparent.  The bird launched into action, chased that moth down and caught it.  I was impressed, not only was he pretty agile, he (assuming a male at this point) was smart enough to associate my trimmer with dinner.  This went on for about 15 minutes until he was either full or needed a rest.  For the curious, I could care less about the insect.  I draw the line there in favor of actual animals unlike PETA which apparently doesn’t know what the ‘A’ actually stands for based on their recent declaration against Obama killing a fly.

With that out of the way, I’ll lead with this picture.  Take a minute and just absorb the image….

Rock Hard Man

Linda thinks I’m crazy, but it sure looks like a rock man with ummmm… well… let’s just say that is some hard rock.   She vetoed my idea of merging it with one of the pictures of Old Faithful.

While in South Dakota, this truck passed us on the highway.

Truck Skull

All I could think of was the movie The Jerk when Steve Martin picks up the red chair and claims that is all he needs.   I would think the paint would be getting scratched up pretty good, but I must admit, the skull was a nice touch.

Catch a couple m0re shots after the jump

Continue reading Things I Am Unable to Explain

Public Enemy #2 or Ders Evil n Dem Woods

I have seen the face of evil and it wears a mask.  In my quest to rid myself of Public Enemy #1, I overlooked his demon spawn brethren.

Raccon

That’s right, my latest nuisance is the masked bandit himself (sorry for the flash eyes).  Actually I must instead refer to them as bandits since there are about three of them that have taken it upon themselves to terrorize my bird feeders.  For the the longest time I could not figure out why my seed kept disappearing so fast.  At first I thought the birds were just really hungry, but as time progressed, it kept going down faster and faster.  That’s when I noticed these guys coming around.

Raccon

Sure, they look kind of cute, but they have this feature called opposable thumbs which apparently fuels their passion to climb.  It just so happens that my feeders are attached to a tree.  Yes, you know where I am heading with this don’t you?

Raccon

I actually figured my rope approach to hanging the feeders would prevent the little varmints from being able to reach them.  Obviously, the squirrels figured out how to navigate this obstacle, but I figured the weight of the raccoon would deter this kind of bad behavior.  That would be a big error in judgment based on the fact they apparently took some pointers from monkeys.  Check this acrobat move out.

Raccon Hanging

I like this shot a lot for a couple of reasons.  First off, it shows exactly how my birdseed is disappearing.  It reaches its mischievous little paws into the larger feeder openings and throws it to the ground where his friends are waiting to eagerly to feast.  Interestingly enough, only one of the three is ever up in the tree at one time so there must be some kind of short straw thing going on.  The other reason I like this shot is it shows the hanging technique it has mastered to defeat my rope system.  Check out that back leg latched onto the branch.  In case you are having trouble seeing it, here is a closer view.

Raccon Hanging

Please continue reading after the jump.  I have a bunch more pictures of this demon spawn.

Continue reading Public Enemy #2 or Ders Evil n Dem Woods

Public Enemy #1

It has been a struggle, but looks like I am going to make my minimum 6 posts a month goal after all.  I must say that I seriously underestimated the amount of extra time it takes to maintain this goal while fulfilling my commitment to jazz the site up more with images.  Hopefully you noticed that every single post for the new year has had either an accompanying photo or topic relevant graphic.  What this translates to is extra time required for every post.  But I am committed to my loyal but demanding readers, so we journey on.

“Thy Enemy Has Fur!”  Today we set our sites on my wildlife nemesis. That’s right, I am talking about this beast.

Squirrel

Do not be fooled by the cute brown-gray fur or the sparkling in the eyes because this monster is pure evil.  I believe he spends his day scheming how to circumvent every one of the bird feeder protections I can think up.  He’ll first use ninja like stealth to shimmy up the tree and wait until the coast is clear.  Using his cunning ability to blend with the tree trunk colors, he will navigate towards the prize.

Squirrel

Look at him with that smirk on his face.   But what he doesn’t know is I’m on to his little game.  I’ll turn my back to give a false sense of security. Slowly he creeps out of the shadows and begins his decent.  Claw over claw he makes his way to shiny brass container with the belly filling seed.

Squirrel

Actually it is a pretty impressive ability as he basically does a pawstand to stretch as far as possible down the twine.  But what would you expect from devil-spawn?  Once shimmed down the rope, he has to maintain his balance on the slippery top of the feeder.  A top supposedly designed to hurl the rodent to is final resting place.  But no, it doesn’t even seem to give an ounce of concern.

Squirrel

Another check to verify the coast is clear and over the side he goes.   I would love to know what his strength to body weight ratio is.  This must be where the heart gets pumping.  With a constant eye on the nearby doors and windows the feet are put in place to give optimal support yet freedom to totally mangle my feeder.

Squirrel

I can’t take it anymore so I turn to face him… to strike fear in his eyes… to end this folly.  Our eyes remain fixed as he assesses the danger and braces for my attack.  At least that is what I though he was going to do.  Instead, the coward literally leaps from the bird feeder and grabs on to the side of the tree.  The leaping ability puts the twine crawling capability to shame.  Back on solid ground he scampers back up to a position of authority.  What’s he doing now?  You have got to be kidding me?

Squirrel

The little SOB has taunted me a second time with a full flip-off.  Enraged I fling open the door in protest.  In a flash of the tail (yes, he waved it in my face for a third level of taunt) he bolts down the tree and heads out into the forest.  He may have be able to get away clean this time, but I’ve got the camera charged up and waiting his return.  Come to think of it, I’m a little hungry.  I wonder if they really taste like chicken.

Until the NEXT time!

Night Dwellers Part 2

Figured I would go ahead and get another night shot out of the way.  As with the spiders in the previous post these shots were taken late night on our porch.  Some people have bird dogs other rabbit dogs.  I happen to own a frog and toad dog.  When our poodle heads outside, he always does a quick look around the porch to see if there are any toads or frogs hanging around and makes sure he puts his nose no farther than a millimeter away.  The running joke is that Rizzi is a junkie and likes to lick the frogs to get his fix.  That was the case the night I took this frog shot.

Frog

It was definitely started by the flood of lights (not to mention the personal space violation from Rizzi).  I was afraid to get to close so I didn’t have a chance to give a visual size reference, but this one was around 3 inches.  The flash gave some pop to the eyes but again lost in the ‘shopping.  I am guessing this little creature is impossible to see on a tree trunk or in the dead leaves.  Not such great cover on the cement.

Frog

I probably need to pick up a frog reference when I go to pick up my spider reference book.  After quick searches on the web and a follow up with the trusty Wikipedia, the consensus is Gray Treefrog or Hyla versicolor.  Apparently if I had waited for it to jump there would have been color under the legs.  You don’t believe that did you?  Of course I did not just “wait” for it to jump.  After 5 minutes of trying to entice it with my toe in order to get the super cool jumping shot, I gave up and went to bed.

Well, I hope Mr. Gray has a fulfilling life and my thanks to him for being a willing subject.  RIIIIIBBBBBEEETTT

Night Dwellers (part 1 of likely many throughout the year)

One of my chores, if you will, is to take our dogs out before retiring for the night.  Due to the potential for coyotes and other non-friendly pet wildlife we coexists with out in the country, this involves hitting our flood lights which illuminates our entire porch and a large section of the yard.  You cannot be too careful when taking care of a 5 pound dog.  This instant light tends to surprise animals, insects and the like.  As a result, I tend to see some interesting (and sometimes scary) things previously undercover of the night.  I decided to snap a few shots to share the experience with my readers – especially those people who have not experienced the country life.

The first subject for the night dwellers collection is the Wolf Spider.

Wolf Spider

Interesting enough, I have often heard these spiders referred to as Timber Spiders, but I was unable to find that name on the web.  It may be time to hit the bookstores and pick up a spider reference book since at least once a week a new species pops up around here.  They are not venomous to humans, but their hairy texture and potentially large size have a tendency to provoke pretty aggressive stomping by those caught off guard.  As an FYI, the Brown Recluse is really the only venomous spider we have to worry about around here.  Those tend to avoid any contact and therefore not a big concern but I do give a quick scan of the woodpiles and such just in case.

Wolf Spider

My general rule is to let all insects and arachnids live if they are not found inside the house or are smaller than a Loon coin.  This specimen was definitely on the larger end of that (if not bigger) but since it tolerated my flash photography it was given a second chance.  I have a new lens coming for my camera that will give me much sharper shots, but hopefully you can tell these things are extremely hairy and look quite formidable.  The eye reflection was pretty neat through the glass, but did not really make it through the reduction process which makes the image web friendly.  By eye, I mean the reflection coming off of one or more of their eight eyes.

Follow the jump to see another image of the wolf spider taken a few days later.  That one has an egg sac.

Continue reading Night Dwellers (part 1 of likely many throughout the year)