Let’s Hope His Enemy is Color Blind

Well, first off I would like to wish my Nephew a Happy Birthday!  This is a also a veiled reminder to my other brother that it is his Nephew’s birthday to.. hint.. hint.. I know he has been working a lot lately and it might have slipped his mind.

Well, I told it was going to be  a quick break.  We’ve gone to the birds again this particular post.  This particular picture caught me by surprise while reviewing all the pictures from the trip.  Often times I am snapping so many shots that I do not have a chance to go back and review them until later.  It definitely could be sharper but I am guessing I was fighting the limbs for focus control causing a less than tack sharp shot.  But with that said, this was a color photo that I only touched up a little bit to bring out the bird a little better.

This shot was actually taken in Yellowstone National Park at the Mammoth Hot Spring area.  I actually really like the gray of the dead tree on the backdrop of the gray mud and rock formed from the hot springs.  In stark contrast to this subdued setting is a beautiful bird called a Mountain Bluebird.  The full coloring indicates it is a male.  One thing for sure, if it is going to stay in this particular area, it better have color blind enemies or life is going to be pretty hectic for the little guy.  This is clearly one of those cases where evolution/adaptation is running a tad behind or it could just be passing through on a little site-seeing tour.  Or possibly trying to warm up a little since there was actually snow on the ground in other parts of the park while we were there.

Here is a slightly zoomed picture.

Again, not the sharpest on the actual bird itself, but I still like the contrast (and no, it was not gray-scaled).  The full 12M picture actually details the slight browns in the trunk which are still there if you look really close.  If I had known how interesting this was going to turn out I would have spent some time getting the bird sharpened up or minimally got the tripod out to prevent any hand holding artifacts.  Oh well, a lesson learned to take a quick look at the results while out on the shoot instead of waiting till later.  Although, to be honest, I usually when out on bird shoots I usually snap a few off as soon as I spot the bird regardless of how far away or the position in.  Once I have at least one shot of it, I begin the work of moving in to get the better shot.  This way I at least have something to prove the checkmark that goes into my bird book.

AAACCKK, it is already the 28th and I only have 4 posts including this one.  Maybe have to consider less Dragon Age and more Posting for the next few days.  Oh well, off to the P90X Ab RipperX – crunchy crunchy!

The Gray Jay on a Gray Day

Quick, guess what the subject of today’s post is going to be.  Did you guess a captivating discussion on how Socialism never wins out in a Free Democracy?  or maybe a dissertation on Why Spending The Youth of the Nation’s Wealth on Fictitious Global Warming Threats Is Criminal.   If so, you are unfortunately wrong, but if the answer was “Birdies” then you are dead on (don’t be sad, the other articles will likely be published later in the year).

Today’s feathered feature is the Gray Jay.

We encountered this bird in the parking lot for our hotel at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone.  We pulled in on a wet/cold afternoon and started hauling our gear out of the car to take into the room.  The minute we opened up the hatch, this bird came flying in an perched on the vehicle next to us.  It was extremely intent on watching us unload.  Since it was still there on our subsequent trips I grabbed the camera and took a couple of snaps.  I think we should round up some of these birds and fly them into Iran.  It will keep their president up at night worrying about  birds the US has trained to spy on their country (think I am kidding… Google it, you will get a laugh).

I did some reading and it looks like the coloring on this one means it is a juvi.  It also gave some clues to why it was so interested in us.  Apparently it is a bold campsite robber so it was likely waiting for some food item to hit the ground.  I can attest to the bold description based on the complete lack of concern it had for me walking around it while unpacking and taking pictures.

Definitely less scary than the Raven eh?

Nevermore … actually a lot more on the way

First off, being that this is the first post of the new year… Happy New Year everyone!  I have yet to decide on my 2010 goals and as a result my blog requirements are not set yet, but that isn’t any reason not to give a post or two.  One thing is certain, I am way behind on my wildlife posts based on the number of pictures I have in my “to post” folder for my blog.  As a result, I am going to bombard you with bird posts this month.  To be honest, I am actually having some problems identifying a few of them which is somewhat upsetting based on the amount of bird books I own and that wonderful thing they call the Internet is not helping out.  Thanks for sticking with the blog and looking forward to another year of observations.

As promised, here is the first of the bird posts.  Mr. Poe would be proud, however, it personally scares the bejeezzus out of me:

We were walking around the parking lot of Old Faithful when we saw this monstrosity of bird for the first time.  Although we had read about them and seen them in numerous horror movies, we had never actually seen one up close and quite frankly that was not a bad thing.  These common ravens are HUGE and apparently only have one thing on third little bird brain.  That, of course, being the dark seeded desire to peck our eyes out.  By the way, although it scares me, I happen to really like this particular photo and had one blown up to hang in our great room.

We had a Hitchcock flashback the first time we encountered these demon spawn.  As we walked across the parking lot to see the geyser a shadow crossed over us and landed directly above us on a light post.  Fortunately, we had our cameras and snapped a few quick shots.

Without a measure reference it is hard to actually appreciate the size of these birds.  The reference books indicate they range up to 24″ long with a 53″ wingspan.   The Smithsonian guide even credits them for removing rivets from aircraft.  This isn’t too surprising since they clearly want us dead.

Eventually this one heard the camera’s focus collars and quickly located the source.  None to pleased, it started a loud squawking in an effort to call in reinforcements.  Not wanting to test my martial arts skills against Raven-Fu we hauled it out of there and headed for the water spout.

They even stomp around with authority.  At another site we were on our way back to the car when this one made a grand entrance about 20 feet from the car.  Having experienced this previously, we took it in stride, but the family next to us were busing warning each other to find cover.  Once landed it started goose stepping its way around the cars.

On another day I did get the opportunity to snap this one.  I don’t know if this one was a juvenile or not, but it was slightly smaller than the other specimens above.  After reading all three of my bird reference books and checking on the Internet, there appears to be very little distinction between the Common Raven and the American Crow beyond the smaller stature of the latter.  So for all I know, this was an adult American Crow or simply a younger Raven.  In either case, I’ll keep the zoom lens on and keep my respectful distance.

Pleasant dreams everyone … Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore

We’re Gonna Be Rich…but First Get the Dogs Inside!

A Thanksgiving miracle apparently occurred that went unnoticed until now.  I have a field cam out in my back wooded acres to keep tabs on some unwanted hunter issues I was having and to keep up on the wildlife activity out there.  I changed out the batteries and the memory card recently and was going through the large number of pictures when low and behold I stumble on this beast.  At first I was scared for my pets because clearly this demon spawn is in search of prey to send back to the land of the dead.  After checking on the dogs of course, I sat down to assess the situation.  Apparently it was caught by the camera in the 4:00am time frame, required the infrared strobe to pull it from the cover of the night and is obviously well fed.  The oddest part was this is the only frame in a 9 frame consecutive burst that caught the demon.  There is nothing in the frames before it or after it.  Ruling out all the wildlife native to my woods, I started researching the possibilities.  Countless hours reading wildlife books at the library, tiring late nights surfing every off ramp on the information highway (Al Gore our technology savior) and a few beers with the locals at the nearby pubs resulted in only one conclusion.  A conclusion that is destined to make my bank account swell to unimaginable size.  A conclusion that will have the media consuming every second of my daily schedule yet doesn’t require me to duct tape a bunch of plastic together and fill it with helium.  Yes, folks, the terror you see before you is none other than “The Goat Sucker”.  I will let that sink in a while tick tick tick tick……. maybe the translated name is throwing you a bit… are you sitting down?  are the lights on?  are your credit cards nearby?  for the The Goat Sucker to our Southern tongues is CHUPACABRA (an assist goes out to Pakage for helping me with the spelling).

I know, I could hardly believe it myself.  Apparently Jerry Ayer is not the only one to find the creature (who later sold it to the Lost World Museum last September).  Although it is a little difficult to validate all the supposed features of the demon creature (reptile like skin, spines down the back, red eyes etc.) it clearly has a nasty set of teeth/fangs in which to suck the blood out of its victims.  This also opens up an additional possibility on the cause of a previous post I made on the dead coyote.  I had originally hypothesized that the cause of that death was drowning, but now it may have been the result of an unlucky encounter with the Chupacabra.  An encounter that resulted in the blood drained carcass being dragged up onto the branches by the scythe like claws.  The nasty venom causing the coyote’s skin to turn to leather thus providing the well preserved carcass in the pictures.

Now I just need to figure out the best way to market this invaluable gift from the dark side.  Should I put a large sign by the road advertising the chance to see the only Chupacabra ever found alive (for a mere $20 bucks which is the amount I got ripped off.. I mean invested at Crazy Horse) or maybe break out my rifle and track this creature myself so I can embed it in a freezer full of ice and go on public TV to find the highest bidder (except this time it will not just be a Halloween costume).  Maybe call up Bravo and persuade them to film a reality show about me instead of a couple  of broke washed up  socialites.  Or possibly call the Stealth Cam guys and get an endorsement as the only camera to catch a mythical creature.  All I know is I better figure this out quick if I am going to capitalize on this opportunity or worse yet it finds me before I capture it.  Until then, feel free to send me as much money as you can and I’ll be sure and put you at the top of the list to participate in whatever action I decide to take and just maybe I’ll even send you the picture above personally autographed in appreciation for your eagerness to witness history.

Honey, get the car, we’re going to make this a great Christmas this year!  Thank you Chupacabra for making us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.  Well, maybe not beyond our wildest dreams, but at least enough to pay for the tax fallout from the “Ticket for Change” farce.

That is One Steller Jay

The WordPress update effort has put me slightly behind, but nothing a quick jump back to the Yellowstone pictures can’t fix.  While we were out there, we came across this interesting bird.  This was actually the first time I have ever seen this particular variety and it caught me off guard when I saw it walking across a picnic table.  This is not my best effort in getting tack sharp photos, but it was a struggle to get it to stand still for even a second so I could zero in on it or attempt to focus through the branches.  According the trusty Audubon guide this is a Steller’s Jay and member of the Jay and Crow family.

According to the field guide, this bird is on the brash side and mostly omnivorous.  True to the description, it was indeed scrounging for food among the various groups picnicking in the area.  From a visual perspective, it is quite stellar looking with a bright blue back offset by a black plumed head…. somewhat woodpecker looking with a different color pallet.

From this particular picture it is obvious our presence was intruding on his foraging.  Okay, I admit it, my focus hand was shaking out of fear the bird was going to stab me with its beak and rip my eyeball out.  What, you do not believe me?  Take a look at this shot smarty pants and tell me if this isn’t one pissed off bird.

Oh yeah, his meat instincts are kicking into high gear.  I decided from that point on that all further pictures would stealth shots outside its vision.  Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this quite interesting bird

Continue reading That is One Steller Jay

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)