Bison: They’re Pretty Cool for the First 50 Times

I have a small Blog crisis.  Linda and I have just decided on our upcoming vacation destination.  I’ll keep that location a secret for now, but I can tell you it involves another National Park.  This means we will be burning through our camera batteries again.  Unfortunately, I STILL have to get through some wildlife sets we took on our last vacation to Yellowstone.  In an attempt to resolve this backlog, the next group of posts is probably going to be dominated by wildlife pictures.  Hopefully you won’t mind too much.  I do have some interesting observations as of late and will try to sprinkle them in where I can -heck, I might even exceed my standard output… although running season is kicking in now so the training hours go up as well.

Enough whimpering, let’s get to the big dudes in the forest.  Today’s set is a collection of Bison captured at various times throughout Yellowstone and likely a few from the Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountain parks as well.

At first, these large beasts are unique and exciting.  The camera comes out, you take about 50 pictures while marveling in their size.  The one above actually caught me a little off guard.  The real shot was slightly to the left capturing the water, the mountains in the back and a nice clump of evergreens off to the right.  Unfortunately, that shot didn’t make it up to the blog site (not exactly sure why, but it wasn’t there when went to link to it), but trust me it was pretty cool.  In an effort to give a couple of crop options, I took a few pan shots.  On the final pan right shot, the bison came into focus.  This caused a slight internal jolt realizing that not checking the surroundings when on a shoot could get you in some serious trouble.  Mental note taken to scan the area before bringing the camera up to shoot position!

I really like the original version of this image.  The cropping and zooming took a little of the life out of it, but I like the multiple depths through the pines and then back to the lake and beyond.

After awhile, you realize that Bison sightings are not that rare in that region.  In fact, at one point along the trip, we basically never stopped, but simply admired them as we drove by.  Although, one funny thing did happen while admiring this set of bison.  With the long glass on, we could still get nice photos from the established paths through the park.  A lady with a point and shoot apparently needed to decrease the distance between her four legged subjects and proceeded to walk out towards them.  Catching Linda’s attention, I pointed to the scene and told her to keep her camera ready for America’s Funniest Videos.  I blogged on this previously, but the interesting part of that eye witness was the fact some bison offspring were hidden right behind one of the bison on the ground.  Having no idea how protective bison parents were of the young, I assumed this was NOT the thing to do.  It went off okay, she got her shot and returned without ever realizing the potential danger she was in.  Darn, no videos for AFV.  By the way, here were the young from a different angle.

Are they not the cutest things?  Life must be great in the wild when you know your parents are at the top of the food chain.  I doubt the wolves would venture into this danger, there are too many elk and less aggressive prey out there for them.  Sure, the adult bison became somewhat of a bore after the frequent sightings, but I’m a sucker for wildlife with their young.  Linda and I didn’t pass up an opportunity to shoot a few cute family scenes.

Hit the jump to see a few of those shots!

Continue reading Bison: They’re Pretty Cool for the First 50 Times

Winged Justice

Apparently my brother has seen fit to have a multi-part post making it very apparent I need to step up my game or be lost in the dust.  To offset this recent charge, I’m reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out one of my favorite photo sets.  Needless to say, the topic is winged in nature but with a little extra.  Our Nikons get heavy usage whether it be on photo outings with my wife, capturing the sights on vacation, dog shows or just about any event worth reliving in the future … oh, and of course potential blog posts.  Every once in awhile there are some that make it into our favorites collection.  Sometimes we luck out and the photo is stunningly tack sharp.  Other times the tipping point is a unique setting, an interesting composition or a rare sight.   You may not even be able to tell from the picture itself because the special aspect of the photo was the effort involved in capturing it or pure luck of being in the right place at the absolute right time.  I am fond of this set mainly for the latter reasons, with a smattering of interesting composition and rare sight.

For the curious, I was shooting with the Nikon D90 at the extent of a 80-200mm Nikon glass shooting at ISO 1600 in a desperate attempt to freeze flight.  This results in the age old battle of speed versus grain and in this case I opted for the noise.  I need to briefly set this up for you.  Having spent the morning at Menards loading treated lumber for the bridge, I was slightly drained on the drive back home.  About a mile from the house, something caught my eye coming from the upper left.  Turning my head, my eyes locked onto a huge red tailed hawk in a tight dive right towards my truck.  Not sure what was going on, I hit the brakes in time to see the hawk begin to raise up, extend the wings and drop the landing gear.  With claws protruding, the hawk sailed in front of the windshield and dropped with authority in the ditch to my right.  Thankfully, there was no one else on the road at that time because I just sat there stunned with my mouth open relieved I was able to stop the truck in time.  After about 15 seconds, the hawk unfurled the wings and took flight landing in some tall Hedge trees further off into the woods.  At that point the heart sank because I had no way to capture this magnificent bird.  The truck was a mile from the house and loaded down with hundreds of dollars of lumber.  Screw it, some things are just worth taking some risks.  The truck was put in gear and the accelerator floored.  There was a slight scare as I turned into the driveway (slid would probably be a better word), but it was in 4 wheel drive due to the weight and the back wheels brought it back in line.  I flew into the house, grabbed the camera (thankfully had the right glass already on it) and jumped back into the truck and made the return trek – yes, with the wood since the only alternative was to run and I didn’t want to risk the camera.  Having already resigned to the fact the moment was likely already gone, I pulled off the road and started scanning the original bank of trees.  IT WAS STILL THERE! but definitely at a ways out there.  So, the first part of the equation was good, but was the the tipping point aspect still there?  This is rhetorical, of course.

By any chance, did you take a close look at the photo and notice anything intriguing?  The reason it was worth this effort (at least in my opinion) was that the hawk was actually on a specific mission and not just randomly scaring the crap out of motorists.  Nope, this red-tailed hawk was having some lunch.  As it rose up out of the ditch, there was a snake entwined in its talons.

Hopefully the zoomed shot provides a better view of the prey.  It was pretty cool seeing the snake trying to wriggle free, but that hawk was having none of that.  To be honest, I suspected the snake’s head may already be missing and the muscles were just convulsing by the time I made it back.  It would have had a few minutes to much while hunting down the camera.  It noticed my return giving me all of 3 to 4 seconds to get the camera settings the way I wanted before it started taking flight again.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this set – unless of course you are squeamish, have a snake phobia or a PETA idiot that thinks the hawks should be nibbling on a stalk of celery instead.

Continue reading Winged Justice

One Nervous Tick

It is not often that a blog opportunity just drops into my lap.  I by that I mean literally drops into my lap!  In case you did not get the chance to read my last post, I had my Macro glass out taking pictures of some metal shavings that were wrecking havoc on my whirlpool faucets.  As it turns out, during the afternoon before that picture was taken I was out working in the woods trying to clean up the brush from last year’s Operation Parkify.  I came in and decided to get the images created for the post (trust me, that steps takes far longer than the actual post text takes).  I finally got the camera, Macro glass and tripod all set up next to computer desk in order to capture the metal shavings.  As I was checking something on my computer I noticed something strange on wrist.  On closer investigation a controlled (and very manly) eeeesh was emitted.  Now, snakes do not bother me much, spiders fascinate me and bees/wasps will live another day unless they make a stupid decision to annoy me.  What does slightly raise the blood pressure is this!

I am not sure exactly what causes this concern, but it is likely due to the fact they are CREEPY looking and very difficult to actually kill.  Scratch that [hehehe clever pun], they are actually very easy to kill when you are trying to remove them once they have bedded down in the skin.

Based on some literature I read (actually, my brother may have given me the reference for it sometime back), ticks supposedly do not violate the prey until a number of hours after it lands on the host.  And yes, land is the appropriate verb since contrary to a common city dweller opinion, they do not have the ability to fly forcing them to fall from trees and such on their victims.  Needless to say, there was no way this Macro opportunity was going untested.  For some reason, (let’s call him) Vlad did not want to cooperate with the artiiiiist.  No problems, a quick reach for some paper provided a means to move it into the camera zone.  Vlad must have had a flashback of kids trying to burn its legs off with a magnifying glass because he did not want to sit still under the lens (what, you never did that when you were a kid? how about smacking lightening bugs with a Wiffle ball bat?  tearing wings off of flies?  nevermind 8^).  Anyway, the tight aperture of the Macro was not liking the movement with the low depth of field.

As you can see, the front legs and body are in focus, but the top legs were likely moving and past the depth of field.  Keep in mind this particular beast is all of 7mm long.  By my guess we are about 8x-9x magnification with this Macro shot.  Now, am I crazy or is this image not on the same level as demon spawn CLOWNS?  This was a trick question since nothing is in the same league as CLOWNS, but the jury will accept any comparison to moles or our current Congress members.

The annoying thing about Vlad and his species is how hard they are to see in the woods.  Having perfectly adapted to their natural surroundings, they are basically invisible to the naked eye when lurking between the tree bark and their feather weight raises no concerns when they successfully invade your personal space.  The stain on my computer desk is a little lighter than the hues in the woods, but you can see how it starts to blend in better (compared to the yellow paper in the background above)

The odd thing about ticks around here is they tend to attack a certain member of the family far more than the others.  In fact, that member does not even have to leave the house to get them.  If one of the others are out in the woods and forget to properly check their clothes when then come back in, it is a sure thing one of Vlad’s cousins will seek that member out and start feasting.  That member happens to be Rizzi, our youngest toy poodle.  Why you ask?  Well, he happens to be bright white and this is like streetlights to moths.  I can’t count the number of times we have had to pull ticks of him – once even on his eyebrow.  We do treat him regularly to help prevent this, but these sneaky pests always find a way past the defenses.

In closing, here are a couple super zoomed pictures.  Vlad wouldn’t keep still for a even a second so a lot of the detail shots came out a tad blurry.  This particular shot shows the tiny hairs along the bloody colored legs – try getting this image out of your head come bedtime, worse yet the new associations you will have with CLOWNS hehehehe.

I wish the shot came out better, but here is one of the tip of the foot.  It looks like a tiny scalpel.

Probably so it can dig into the flesh when it goes to bury its head deep into the epidermis to start sucking that juicy red nectar.  I am betting you just developed a phantom itch 8^)

Sweet dreams everyone!

Snap, Digging Days are Over

Playtime is over my little demon claws.  In general, I am pretty lenient on the local wildlife.  As stated previously, I pretty much walked into their backyard, dug a hole and slapped a house on it and called it mine.  In payment for this land grab, I tend to let the wildlife have free run of the area.  This includes the deer who destroyed all my new evergreens I planted last year, the squirrels who constantly attack my bird feeders and the raccoons who like to dig up my mulch.  Sure, I’ll shoo them away, but they generally have the privilege of returning to the waiting paws/hoofs of their four legged companions.  However, I still have my limits.

Take for example the owner of this:

Do you have any idea how much damage this clawed paw can do?  In case you are new to this creature,  imagine if you will spending hour after hour after hour toiling away in the sun and rain to make your dwelling look as scenic as possible.  You spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars in materials and equipment to keep it in that shape for the 3 of the 4 seasons.  Then one day you wake up and it looks like the Chicago Bears held a scrimmage in your yard.   I maintain less than 2 acres of grass/landscaping of our 15.  The rest are left in their semi-natural woods state that animals are more than welcome to frolic in.  But no, the owner of this bastard appendage thinks he should be able to do whatever it wants wherever it wants:

Well, I have my limits and fortunately there are geniuses out in the free world (which is currently turning socialist, but that topic is for another time) that have studied this demon, learned their wicked ways and designed the most effective (and lethal) device to exact our revenge.  First a direct disclaimer, if you are a fan of PETA prepare to cry yourself to sleep (of course you can always ask your president to send another email to the Middle East asking them to using something other than donkeys to blow up our soldiers – nope, I haven’t forgotten nor ever will).

So what happens when my blood boils over, when my leniency is abused, when my hard work is destroyed without a hint of remorse.  Well, let me tell you, it makes a loud SNAPPING sound…. wait for it… wait for it..

This one (let’s call him Mort) isn’t going to make it home tonight.  Why isn’t Mort feeling so well anymore?  Answer: Mort decided it would be fun to shred my front yard and is suspected of tearing up my side and back yard as well.  I am also not talking about a single tunnel from one part of the woods to another.  No, this was a systematic and diabolical effort that essentially resulted in raised ground in every square foot of the impacted area.  So now the barrage of .. your fault, you didn’t kill the grubs, you didn’t put this down, you didn’t put that down, they are so cute, they are god’s creatures too, you’re evil yada yada yada.

What do I have to say to those city dwellers?  Actually nothing, I prefer pictures instead:

Kind of peaceful isn’t it?  Just hanging there enjoying the pretty day, reflecting on all good things in life … wishing it had stayed in the 13 other acres of wooded bliss.  Oh, and as far as the “cute” camps out there.  Exactly what is cute about this beast.  Sure it is has a soft and fluffy pelt, but I have to think Mort was accidentally stepped on during Creation Day.  That is probably what flattened out the front paws so bad.  Couple that with a hideous rat face and you pretty much have your fill of nightmare fodder.  Still not buying it, try this:

Granted, if god is a mole, I am going to be experiencing the “real” global warming in the future.  However, for now, I am willing to take my chances and continue to battle against the horde.  One this is for sure, I will continue to use the most lethal tool in my arsenal.

To the makers of this trap, I raise my glass and salute.  You have truly mastered this animal in much the same way Raid has been owning the nervous system of wasps and bees.   Tonight I will lay my head on my pillow and dream of grass between my toes and vibrant greens surrounding my little dwelling.

Wait a minute!!!! did I remember Rule #2…….oh crap, I think I forgot the double tap…now I’ll have…

ZOMBIE MOLES!

Honey, get the 9 – it’s gonna be a long long night.

A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

That, my friend, is the result of FEAR!

Linda and I were up an agility show in Wisconsin last weekend.  Part of the bribe to actually get me to go with her was the opportunity to head back to the Chain O Lakes Park in Spring Grove.  Well, that and the chance to stop at my favorite chocolate store in Richmond IL.  8+ hours of waiting around to watch my dogs run for a total of about 4 minutes each.  Yes, their chocolate is THAT  good – especially the dark chocolate covered pineapple- yum.  As a shout out to my littlest dog, congratulations to Kerby (and Linda) on making their TACH II Agility Title at the show.

When we made it to the park, we immediately spotted a couple of swans enjoying a swim.  After about 100 shots of them (blog foreshadowing), we packed up and started to head out of the park.  Less than a mile from the exit, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  On closer inspection, I still was not able to tell exactly what it was, but it was moving in the weeds and figured I’d just go have a look-see.  Linda double back and dropped me off while she tried to find a place to pull off.  My suspicions were confirmed, it was a Sandhill Crane walking in the fall weed stalks.

It was rather amazing how well it was actually camouflaged among the fall coloring.  Unfortunately, the red on the head allowed me to zero in on it once the movement was vectored.  If you recall, the last encounter with these large birds was from pretty far away on the Yellowstone trip.  Here, the distance was less than 40 feet away giving a better perspective on just how huge these birds are.  Not only was I fortunate to see this feathered beauty….

there was actually TWO of them.  Based by the coloring, it looks like a male and female, but I need to verify that with the field guides.  I was actually struggling to get the shots I wanted.  They were very aware of my presence and continued to walk back and forth and every once in awhile adding some distance.  As they did this, they would pass behind the weed stalks driving my glass autofocus nuts.  Manual focus did not help much either as they refused to stop in one spot for more than a second or two to check out something on the ground or shoot me a glaring eye.  I continued to try and close the distance to help alleviate the focus issue and both the mono and tripods were in the car – mental note, at least grab the mono the next time I rush off into the woods.

So, you are probably wondering about the whole PANIC thing.  Well, it eventually dawned on me that I really did not know anything about these birds I was openly stalking.  Couple that with the fact I was totally alone and nursing a badly torn lower quad so if they had any cheetah friends I was a gonner.   Hit the jump if you want to see what happened.

Continue reading A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

An Unwelcome Visitor

About a month ago I was down in the woods cleaning up some brush and downed branches/trees while waiting for the weather to break so I can finish up my bridge work.  At one point something caught my eye swimming in the stream.  Rarely is there anything actually living in the water beyond minnows and tadpoles so it somewhat startled me.  I slowly crept up on it so I could get a better view of this creature.  Based on the fact it was still cold out (so definitely accustomed to the water and not just taking a dip), somewhat brownish fur and flattened facial features I figured it was a beaver.  For the next 15 minutes I watched the critter playing in the water and thinking to myself how cool this was since I had never seen a beaver in the wild (there is your opening, cue the classic beaver jokes!).  It would swim out to the middle, do some back strokes, dive under the ice and pretty much entertain himself (or herself I guess) the entire time.  Disappointed, I did not have my camera with me I eventually went in for a closer look.  It spotted me and dove under the ice not to be seen again.  After patience ran out, I gathered my stuff and headed back to the house thinking how cool that was but with a slight nagging feeling that something didn’t seem right.  As the critter dove under the ice its tail flipped out of the water and it seemed long and thin as opposed to the mexpected paddle.   After some mental gyrations, I decided it was probably due to being a juvenile and the tail comes in later or it was an otter which would make it an even a cooler experience.

The fact there was no picture of the sighting eventually bothered me so much I put my mud clothes on again and headed out with the camera.  As luck would have it, it was out playing again.

So, what does it look like to you?  … Beaver?  … Otter?  If you look close you can see the thinner than expected tail extending out to the bank.  It also seemed a little too furry for an Otter, but it has been a cold winter and wasn’t sure if they fluffed up for the winter.

Any guesses yet, or have you figured it out yet (in which case you were able to come to conclusion significantly faster than I did).  How about another view.

I’ll break the suspense and tell you it is a Muskrat.  Thanks to a colleague at work that is familiar with these creatures and was able to quickly discern what it was based on my brief description.  Turns out he traps these because they are BAD NEWS for rivers/streams.  Apparently, they dig deep into the banks to make their dwellings.  This results in destruction to the bank and causes serious damage especially when it comes to dams and dikes (assuming those jokes are still flashing through your conscious).  I can tell you for a fact I a) did not know what this animal was and b) never seen one before.  This prompted an immediate surf to Wikipedia.  Sure enough, the picture there perfectly matched my specimen.  Interesting enough, they are a rodent, but not part of the Rat genus.

hit the jump to see some other pictures I took

Continue reading An Unwelcome Visitor

Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

I hardy hello to all my readers out there!  It’s a new month and time to get going on my posts wouldn’t ya say?  I was planning to get some pre-work done on a future post today while at our dog’s Agility Trial.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I ended up taking pictures all day instead.  The good news is I already had another bird set ready to go.  Actually multiple water fowl earned the post spot today.  I’m going to start with one that apparently got the short straw when it came to appearance draws.  I’m talking about the American White Pelican.

I  spotted this one contently paddling along a small river while on our Yellowstone trip.  The growth on his beak signifies this is a breeding male.  Luckily the chicks apparently dig this blemish and is used in their courtship (no, I don’t want to know how) as well as ritualized combat.  While looking through the lens at this guy, all I could think of was one of my favorite scenes from Uncle Buck when John Candy (rest in peace) lit into the grade school teacher because his niece was characterized as a sillyheart.  Maybe he meant a MUSKRAT (dundun dun dun… blog teaser…).

I was actually disappointed I did not get to see him fish.  At a later time on that trip, I came upon a couple of them out in a marshy lake.

Apparently this is their preferred setting.  It is actually a pretty nice picture with the deep color in the trees contrasted against the bright white of the pelicans.  I had to shrink it down significantly which resulted in losing some of its visual.  Let me bring it in a little for you.

As you can tell (even with the zoom fuzz residuals) that it is another breeding male with likely his trophy wife.  Once again I was unable to witness any fishing activity which sounds pretty interesting.  In one of the descriptions in the bird guide, they described the technique.  They work in groups to herd prey into shallow water or they ease into a school of feeding fish gulping ones that stray close to the surface.  This description did not align with the settings I took these shots based on the most I found together was TWO.

Hit the jump to see two more birds being featured today, the Goldeneye and the Canadian Goose

Continue reading Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

Bringing out the Big Birds

Since no one has cried “Uncle” yet on the bird posts from the Yellowstone vacation last year, I’m bringing out another set of birds.  These are what I call the Big Birds of the water.  I actually have a better set of this particular bird from a couple of photo session in Lacon IL, but sticking with the theme, here is one I snapped on that particular trip.

This is the Great Blue Heron and to be honest, outside the Eagle, this is my favorite bird.  Not only is this a fascinating looking bird while on the ground, it has a truly majestic flight.  Along with the 72″ wingspan it has a flight form that recalls impressions of the pterodactyl.  Having stood less than 10′ from one while clearing the brush by our stream last year (recall Operation Parkify) I can assure you these birds are huge.  If I was to guess, this bird’s legs are the same length as body to head.  Obviously this particular fishing spot is a few feet deep.  It was interesting just how calming this setting was and it felt more like a painting.  And yes, that is snow in the upper left.  We were out there in the June timeframe, but snow was still melting off.   Don’t worry, I’ll zoom you in a bit.

Based on the plumage this appears to be an adult breeding male.  Interesting enough, I have never seen one nesting.  According to the field guides, they nest colonially in tall trees.  This one also has his head up pretty high which probably gives a better radius for finding  fish/frogs etc. swimming around him.  They will also fold their neck back on itself (as in pterodactyl)  which quite frankly when combined with that sharp long spear of a beak looks like a serious weapon.

Unfortunately, I did not get this in focus due to the low ISO being used for reduced noise, but at one point a bird (guessing swallow) cruised in next to the Heron momentarily distracting it.  This was the only time while watching him that a ripple appeared in the water.

You can make out the fuzzy image of the pesky swallow in the shot above.  Undaunted the Heron stiffened up again, the water calmed and soon he was back on his fishing game.  Expect to see more sets of this bird in the future.

An clever reader may have noticed I pluralized the title.  “Clearly the little swallow doesn’t count as a big bird and there is only one other bird in pictures -what gives blog boy?”  Well, it’s a bonus day because I am also highlighting another set of birds that managed to catch my attention while driving through the park.  My birding awareness must be improving.  As proof, Linda was driving through the park when this scene caught my eye.

Having never seen this particular bird before, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  The legs were somewhat invisible which made it seem like a couple of ground hogs playing on the side of a hill.  Curious, I had Linda stop on the side of the road and walked back to the spot I saw them.  Still not sure, I focused the zoom and to my surprise it had a long neck and legs.   They were pretty far out there, but I’ll try to bring it in a little.

Pretty cool eh?  Hit the jump to see more pictures of these two Sandhill Cranes.

Continue reading Bringing out the Big Birds

It’s VDay and Love is in the Air

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!  Hopefully you were able to spend some time with your significant others and remember the first time you knew she/he was the one to complete you.  In honor of “Couple’s Day” I bring you some water fowl I came upon while out on our Yellowstone trip last year.  I don’t think I am ever going to get through all the wildlife pictures we took while out there.  Thankfully we’re in the digital age or the film bill would have been horrendous.

First off is the Lesser Scaup.  Warning, these pictures are not tack sharp due to having to pull them in from so far away.  Based on the blurs, I am guessing I also did not have time to put the glass on the tripod either.

As you probably assumed, the male is the more colorful one.  His bill is actually a pale blue which blends in perfectly with the water making him look slightly odd from this angle.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell from the guide books the real difference between the Lesser version and the Greater version beyond the size (Lesser is ~1.5″ shorter and 3″ shorter between the wingtips resulting in about .5 lbs less in weight).  It does appear the Lesser’s have a more southern population during winter than the Greater.

Here is a better set of pictures from a small lake bordered by evergreens.  The trees gave an interesting green reflection on the water.

The green brings out the pale blue on the male much better.  The spooky aspect of the male is the yellow eyes.  In person they really pop against the dark purple head.  As you can tell the Lesser Scaup has all the standard male characteristics as he turns to check out the female’s tail feathers.  Clearly she is playing hard to get.

But in true Valentine’s spirit, she gave in to Cupid’s buckshot.

Just to contrast this romantic scene, there was another water fowl that wasn’t experiencing the joys of courtship.  This Western Grebe was trolling around all alone in a lake to himself/herself.

Unfortunately, once again I was pulling this fowl in from the extent of the glass.  The male and female do not seem to differ much from the pictures in the guides so I can’t tell if this lonely bird was a female or a male.  Following the trend of colorful eyes, this bird actually has a red tint and like the Scaup, really stands out against the darker head coloring.

This shot is pulled in a little more to help show the interesting coloring.  It is amazing how naturally camouflaged it is for his environment and when it moved out of the darker tree reflections you could barely distinguish it from the white clouds being mirrored in the water.   Based on the information in the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds, the Western Grebe has quite the courtship ritual involving synchronized scooting across the water (just their feet touching the water) and a cute “weed ceremony”  where each bird dances upright with the other while holding water weeds in their bills.  I definitely have to try to get a shot of that the next time I am out West.  Here’s to hoping our little friend above gets his chance to experience this interesting courtship.

Gotta go now, the Olympics are starting up again and this is one sports junkie who never gets enough of athletes trying their best to represent their country… unless it’s figure skating in which case I’ll switch on over to Spike TV.

It’s There, I Just Can’t See It

Things I am thankful for at the moment:

  • Voters in Massachusetts
  • My Chiropractors (unless  he is unable to get the feeling back into my four right toes thanks to a nasty snowboard crash a couple of weeks ago)
  • Burton product managers (just upgraded my snowboard boots and bindings to the latest advancements – can’t have any more of those crashes now can we?)
  • My parents made it down to Florida before the huge storm
  • All my blog readers out there (slather on the butter)
  • And most importantly that there are 31 days in January – and I needed every one of them to get 6 posts in this month

I am going to close out this month’s set of posts with a bird that posed a challenge for me in a couple of ways.  While out on our Yellowstone vacation, we took a short hike up a trail.  While taking in the beautiful scenery, I heard an interesting bird song coming from a set of trees.  It was a rather unique sound, but the point of origin was difficult to pinpoint.  Slowly the sound was vectored in and it slowly revealed itself.  What was this sneaky bird?  Well, it was this one:

The challenge of actually seeing this bird was matched by the difficulties in actually identifying it in my multiple bird books.  Turns out there are at least 6 variations of this Junco with varying coloring contrasts.  Some have a darker head, some have a larger brown spot on their back.  To be honest, at the time it looked like a shrunken robin without the bright orange belly.  Based on the picture above, it is obvious he had no trouble locating me.

This shot gives a better perspective of the side and belly feathers.  The belly t is a dull orange which lead to the robin reference.  From a photo perspective, I do like how these close up shots came out.  The coloring of the bird coordinated well with the bark of the back trees and the wisps of greenery give a nice depth perspective.  Here is another one that I probably like the best of all of them.  To his credit, even though I was moving around to get different angles he did not get concerned enough to seek safety in the deeper brush.

I hate the fact I have to reduce and compress the images for this website.  The full size raws look significantly better than the smaller versions used for the blog posts.  I might actually look into leveraging a photo service website to use as a repository for the larger images.  That way I could provide links to the full versions if you wanted to see those.

Unlike our friend the Mountain Bluebird the Junco blends in quite nicely with their habitat.  Based on the various pictures of the 6+ variations they all look like the colorings would hide it nicely among the limbs and brush common in the forest.  To demonstrate this, here are a couple of examples consisting of full scenes (reduced for space).  Try your hand at Where’s Waldo.

Now that you know what you are looking for it makes it a tad easier compared my struggle trying pinpoint the source of the chirp.  In case you did have some problems, here is a zoom of it:

I pulled a slight switcharoo on you.  This is actually one of the other variations that has a slightly lighter brown patch on the back.  How about another try:

It’s there, trust me.

Let’s hope they don’t figure out how to use that stealth trait against us. They would probably team up with the Ravens and wreak considerable havoc.  I recommend not making them angry!

Whew, that was a close one.  Wiping the sweat from my brow, I close out the 6th and final post of the month.