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

My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

In honor of tonight’s MEGA MILLIONS Lottery drawing I bring you your very own jackpot if you will.  That jackpot being a bonus post for the month!  I know, I know, a cheap replacement for the millions you could have won with the real drawing, but hey, the likelihood of getting this post was a whole lot better than your odds of actually winning that thing anyway.  Truth be told, one of the reasons for the extra post is due to the quality of this particular set of pictures.  One of the professional photographers Linda and I enjoying listening to has a podcast we play on our longer road travels.  In this podcast, Rick Sammon is always fond of saying “One blurry picture is a mistake, a hundred blurry pictures is a style”.  Generally I laugh this off, but in this particular case I’m going with wholehearted truth.  In a slight variation, these images are in the STYLE of high grain hand painted mural.  Here is a perfect example of this.

What do you think, captivating brush strokes, complimentary colors and that “stand back 20 feet” appeal common in many classic paintings in art history.  Any chance you are buying that?  thought so.  Now a little background.  The first time Linda and I visited Yellowstone, we did not get the opportunity to see a single wolf while we were out there.  Part of that is due to not making it out to Lamar Valley which is where these wonderful animals tend to hang out (or rather where they are most often viewed).  This trip out we had a bold goal to leave with at least one sighting and if a miracle occurred, some photos.  On the very first morning we headed out to Lamar Valley with our friends David and Dr. Giselle.  There we were met with lots of people with spotting scopes trained on a far distance cluster of trees on the banks of the river – just below the confluence.  Thanks to a friendly lady from the UK we learned that the Druid Pack had been in a 2 day standoff with an cow elk who had sought safety in the middle of the river.  I cannot give you a good estimate of the distance that was from where we were at on the side of the road, but it was way too far for the Beast to pull in any detail at all.  Some other visitors around us were more than happy to give us a look through their more powerful scopes (quite friendly people out there by the way).  Sure enough, we could see the cow elk’s head and top of it’s back along with a couple of wolves taking random passes along the banks.  I can’t imagine how stressful this was for the participants in the standoff not having eaten in two days in a struggle of life and death.  I do not usually take sides in the natural wildlife food chains but it turns out that a group of ignorant tourists decided they have the right to.  Later in the day, these idiots decided they would walk out near the standoff and have a bite to eat while watching the event.  Well, guess what, both the elk and the wolves freaked out at this intrusion causing the end of the skirmish – the wolves abandoned the hunt and the elk made off.  Now one would say that those people saved an elk, but those of us who understand that predators have to kill to feed themselves and their cubs consider this as even more days without nourishing the pack.  While were making our final scans, a park ranger came by and informed us that this had happened and he was looking for the morons that walked out there… so we’re not the only ones upset about this (the UK lady wanted them banned from the park immediately).

So one of our goals had been met, we actually saw wolves – Yeah!   But the story does not end there.

Hit the jump to read the rest of the goodness and the explanation for the shot above !

Continue reading My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

Just Standing Around Waiting for the Acme Delivery

There are times when you come upon a particular sight that just makes you laugh. Unfortunately, those times are usually when you are alone and have no means to bottle the memory up to open when you need that little pick me up in the future. This, however, was not the case when such a situation happened on our way back out of Yellowstone. We decided to take the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway on our way to Custer State Park. Depending on the elevation, there was up to 5 inches of snow on the ground providing for some awesome pictures against the Autumn turned trees and … well .. ummm what can I say other than burst out laughing.

I am not exactly sure this was what they were talking about, but nothing says scenic more than a cow butt. The good news is I now have something to turn to when I need a chuckle.

… but there is actually more to this story that fits (almost) perfectly with this month’s theme of Yellowstone National Park wildlife. I say almost because we were technically outside of Yellowstone when the following shots of Canis Latrans were taken.

So, any guesses how these two shots are linked?

Hit the jump to see the answer!

Continue reading Just Standing Around Waiting for the Acme Delivery

If The Hump is There, Beware!

So in the last post I featured a black bear we came upon in Yellowstone National Park.  What could possibly be better than a small black bear out in the wild living life to the fullest?  Give up?  How about a 20′ high Grizzly bear sitting in the town square?!  Good news, you are in luck.

Pretty cool eh?  Alas, I don’t ‘t want to tease my readers too much, this big guy isn’t real – sorry.  Well, it is not a live bear per-se, but it is a real statue we came upon while cruising through and cruising through Cody Wyoming on our way back from Yellowstone.  Now you may be thinking there needs to be some  structure cleanup in the previous sentence but not the case.  I immediately spotted this perfect Phoadtography (link here) opportunity at least two blocks away.  With a polite request to the driver to simply stop speeding for a minute, I risked life and limb to climb into the backseat and find the camera.  A fast run through the Nikon menu system to get the settings right for the proper “on the move” exposure, an acrobatic move to get the glass on target, a strategic snap of the shutter button and presto a perfect Phoadtography shot to add to the collection.  Yes, that would have been the story had someone actually acted upon my request to slow down.  My hopes were crushed as the grizzly quickly became obscured by light poles and traffic signs.  One last hope… “Can we go back?  Can we go back? Can we go back? Can we go back? Can we go b… thank you!!! (annoyance tends to works 62.5% of the time – the other times she secretly unlocks my door and takes a hard left).   As a result, we should all thank Linda for looping back around so I could get the shot.

Which is all a long drawn out lead into the feature topic of this post.  Please extend a big welcome to the top of the Yellowstone National Park food chain Ursus Arctos Horribilis. The Ursa Major if you will of our National Park system.  Of course, I am talking about the Grizzly Bear.

Having struggled to get good shots of the black bear in the previous set, it was a relief to see that these came out a lot better.  Linda and I were on our way back from taking photographs of the Yellowstone Canyon Falls when some new arrivals informed us there was a Grizzly sighting up the road from where we parked.  This was candy to my ears so we quickened our pace back to the car.  Normally, this kind of news would have us single focused, but all of a sudden a big fat raven decided to dive bomb into the parking lot (think WKRP turkey episode).  This required a few shots as historical evidence that Ravens should consider developing a Weight Watchers program (see last set of pictures here).  Once that was done we headed off to validate the sighting… sure enough, there it was foraging for food in the fresh snow.  The following shot is one of my favorites with the snow on the nose.

Hit the jump to see some more pictures of the Yellowstone Grizzly

Continue reading If The Hump is There, Beware!

Bear With Me… Almost Through Yellowstone

Good news! Linda and I took our cameras out this morning and did some sunrise and bird shooting at Banner Marsh and then moved down to Emiquon (link here) to finish out the morning.  I missed the bald eagle off of Route 8 – it was in hunting mode and spent the time just circling way above the trees.  If the rest of the shots come out as good as they looked on the chimp viewer I’ll have plenty of blog fodder for next month – granted I get through the Yellowstone series first.

But on that front we are really getting close.  After this one I believe there are only two more animal series and then one for water landscape and another for land landscapes and we’ll put a bow on it.  Sorry about flooding you with these, but this is my sweet spot for photography and I really enjoy the post processing and posting almost as much as taking the actual shots in the field – well, truth be told, out in the field is a lot better than post processing but what good is pressing the shutter if you are not willing to put the time in to make them look their best?  Now “best” in this particular series is not as tack sharp as we strive for in our work.  The lighting was not the best (I know, old excuse, but it’s the truth) and the Beast was being pushed to its focus maximums.  Employing higher than usual ISOs are the answer to this, but this typically gives rise to that that evil demon we call Noise.  The shots were put through the ringer in Lightroom to pull out as much detail as possible, but there is point when it works against the shot to do much more.

So today’s topic (if you couldn’t surmise from the title) is all about the Bear.  In particular, the Black Bear.  We have been very lucky on our two trips to Yellowstone in that we captured bears both times we were there.  To see the other set go here.  Most of those were actually of the cinnamon brown variety, but our first bear sighting on this trip was the uber-rare grey variety.

Am I crazy or does this look exactly like a black bear laying in the grass?  Granted I may be biased, since intriguing rocks are always acceptable fodder for my photo outings.  So you might be asking yourself “How does he know it isn’t a Grizzly Bear? – giving some credit that you were aware there was a difference)  It is actually pretty easy to tell.  Grizzlies have a prominent hump on top of their shoulders…since it was missing from the gray specimen above, it must be a from the Black Bear family.  At least if the rest of the week proved fruitless in the search for bear we could say we photographed one.

But alas, we did stumble upon a real live Black Bear on our way back from checking out the wolves in Lamar Valley.  Shot was transitioning in and out of light and even with the Beast at full 400mm it still fell short of really bringing it in tight.

Oh, and was actually had the black fur.

Yes, it was clearly a younger specimen, but this is not the time to get choosey – just getting a chance to see one or two while you are out there is a thrill in itself.  These shots were taken from the side of the road looking back into the hillside.  There was an opening where this particular bear was rummaging around.  The tree shadows and traversing through multiple light levels made it difficult to get a decent exposure while keeping any definition in the black fur.

Hit the jump to see more picture taken of the Black Bear (the live one)

Continue reading Bear With Me… Almost Through Yellowstone