Know Thy Enemy

My mini vacation from blogging duties has come to its end. Truth be told, I have not written a new blog entry since January. Thanks to the scheduling capabilities in WordPress I was able to write all 6 of the February posts in January and simply queue them up for release at various times throughout the month. I even added an additional book recollection post to kick off the March posts just in case I did not get back in the swing of things in time. Enough slacking, it’s time to get back into the groove. The good news is the blogging downtime was filled with working on the photo backlog. While hunting for the Maine vacation pictures I stumbled on a set of Wildlife Prairie Park pictures we took last year. Those turned out pretty nice so I figured you might want to see some of them. This particular set focuses on an animal that is not one of my favorites.

For the city dwellers, this specimen before you comes from the coyote family. Unfortunately, I do not remember the specific species, but will make a point to track that down the next time we visit Wildlife Prairie Park. One might be under the impression that I as an avid Wolf enthusiast would have an equal affinity to these particular animals. This likely due to them both having four paws, a tail, tend to group in packs and have other similar canine features. If you happen believe this, it is my sad obligation to inform you that you are wrong. There are a few outward differences, the main one being stature. Wolves are generally much larger than coyotes and their legs tend to be longer relative to their overall body size (this is actually my first indicator when trying to distinguish the two).

To see the rest of the coyote collection, just hit the jump

Continue reading Know Thy Enemy

Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

This year is quickly coming to a close, but the blog queue is still deep with 2010 photo collections.  I try to keep it fresh and maintain a balance of photos, interesting viewpoints, service complaints/rants and things that make me go huh?  Linda and I were lucky enough to go on some pretty nice trips this year which means our hard drives have been riddled with photos this year.  It is far easier to make comments on things if they are still in short term memory so rather than push this off to next year, let’s go ahead and dump the Phoadtography collection from the Maine trip we took in June.  There are a lot of them so be warned, your browser cache is going to get a workout.  For sanity purposes (yours and mine) this post will actually be a two parter.  For those who don’t know what Phoadtography is please check out my previous post… especially if you are preparing to unleash your fury on how bad some of these shots ended up being.

Starting off this set is every kid’s favorite toys and more importantly, the machines that pay both our salaries.  Guessing due to the stimulus money (that actually got spent on job creating projects), we encountered a lot of construction on our way out and back to Maine.  Most travelers probably cuss the slow downs and stoppages, but in the case of my wife and I the sound of Caterpillar machines in motion is music to our ears.  As mentioned in the introduction Cat machines are always a good target for Phoadtography shots.  This vehicle is one of our articulated trucks that, if I remember correctly, are produced in Waco TX.

Pretty cool machine if I say so myself.  Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this post.

Continue reading Phoadtography Gallery: Maine Trip 2010 Pt 1

Beware the Urban Ninja

Remember me, I’m the dude that is suppose to have 6 posts a month yet it is nearly Christmas and the tally is stuck at a lousy one.  Of course, there is another more “half full” way to look at it which is 67 out of 72 in the books already with another New Year’s commitment about to get the checkmark.  Truth is things have been busy as of late, but Friday was my last day of work this year which leaves me plenty of time to pound on the keyboard.  Which brings me to tonight’s quick post.  Linda and I were up in the Quad Cities yesterday to have Christmas dinner (actually to be more accurate, Christmas lunch) with her side of the family.  Linda’s middle brother lives in Bettendorf IA which is minutes away from our favorite place to take eagle pictures.  With the cameras all packed, we left an hour early to give us some time to see if this year’s eagles had made their way down yet.

Unfortunately, I only saw two eagles.  One ended up flying over us and landing in the trees at the other end of the parking lot.  Creeping over there in my best ninja impersonation provided about 5 “bird on a stick” shots.  By the last shot, he was clearly staring at me rather intently before deciding his wings gave a significant advantage over the land dwellers and left for the safety somewhere out in the Mississippi River.  Stupid me didn’t have the camera configured to my preferred in flight settings making it difficult to get shots as he flew directly over my head.  Eventually another decided to check out the fish options nearby, but again, no shots worth bragging about.  I did walk down a little and say hello to another photographer that had set up along the river.  After some lens envy (always impressed by the $6K+ fast glass some people haul out there).  According to that photographer there were 10 eagles nesting in a nearby set of trees, but another photography couple had decided to walk directly out to those trees and scared them all away.  They were on their way back over while I was talking to the guy.  Guessing the dude wasn’t too happy about that since he literally stared at them the entire time they were walking back past him until they were in their car heading out.  Keep in mind, it was about 1 degree out and he was probably staking out that location for some time.  I always try to be conscious of other photographers in the area and respect their positions especially if they were there before me.  For the curious, I verified there were no other photographers taking pictures of the eagle I saw at the end of the lot, otherwise the approach would have been delayed.

Guessing at this point that it is still a little early for the best eagle watching.  After about 10 more minutes I called it a shoot and headed back to the car where Linda and the dogs were waiting patiently.  Another car pulled into the area just as I reached the edge of the lot.  Something seemed odd about it, but had difficulty pinning it down.  Nothing really unique or special about the car, in fact, it was a pretty boring 4 door in a champagne or off silver color.  There were no stickers or ornate hangings from the rear view mirror that would interest me either.  As I started to turn back to our car it became clear why the brain alarm was going off.  The front license plate was covered in a camouflage cloth.  It was also done with care since it was perfectly wrapped and tight fitting like a package.  Although I was trying n0t to stare since the car was right next to me and the owner was still inside, it did seem like it was actually more like a shower cap of sorts that had elastic on the backside which held it tight to the plate bracket.  Okay, now I am totally curious.  Is this some kind of car ninja all decked out in clever urban camo?  Maybe he’s like a transporter and wants to remain stealth like or worse here to kill me, take my camera and throw my lifeless carcass into the frozen river.  Conscious of the latter option I headed back to our SUV.  Once inside I informed Linda of the interesting situation, but it didn’t seem to be as intriguing to her as it was to me.  Needing to get to her brother’s, she backed out and headed to the exit.  As we passed the car, the first thing I noticed was it had a rear license plate (Iowa) that wasn’t covered up at all.  At the same time the owner of the car got out revealing he was probably in his late 60’s early 70’s causing an internal chuckle since my own ninja skilz would have kept me safe and sound.  This whole things still interests me and still kicking myself for not trying to get a shot for you.  Linda’s conclusion was that he didn’t want his car being photographed by the traffic cameras in the Quad Cities and therefore put the cover on the front.  I’d almost buy this under the assumption the traffic cameras only took head-on shots, but guessing they also take a rear shot just in case.  Secondly, and more importantly, it is mandatory in Iowa (like Illinois) to have a front license plate, so actually he is putting himself in a more likely position to get pulled over and given a ticket by any of the local police forces.

Probably reading more into this than there really is, but I’m all about the weird and this discovery fits the bill.  Any of you have theories on this you would like to share?  If not, I’m going with the discovery of an urban ninja using his clever skilz to live among us without detection (this includes the old guy disguise).  For what evil purposes is still unclear, but clearly lucky to be alive today to tell about it.

2′ Away from Freedom

Might as well get this out of the way now.  It’s time to put the Um with the Yang and bring this day to a close.  The celebration of 160 was put to the side this evening due to an unfortunate situation my wife experienced earlier tonight while on her way back from the dog show.  She was likely having a similar good day thanks to a couple of good runs from the little ones.  Unfortunately, those same dogs found themselves looking up from the  floor mats on their way home thanks to this:

Before anyone panics, everyone is fine. Well, everyone but the SUV and the dumbass deer that decided to play Frogger. In the deer’s defense, this is the first weekend of shotgun season so they are all probably running for their lives and throwing caution out the door. I just wish they were smart enough to stay in the woods out of sight being that it was after sundown and the hunters should have already called it quits for the day. As it turns out, Linda was driving by the Jubilee College entrance which is about halfway between Kickapoo and Brimfield IL. This is essentially big buck region and this particular corridor is deer alley. Most of the time they stay to the sides and tend to heed the roadways to the faster and heavier vehicles. You can always tell those not from the area because those are the ones who unknowingly have a death wish by speeding through these parts. Apparently this particular deer decided to test fate on a dead run and almost made it. By my estimates, it was probably less than 2 feet from freedom when it was clipped by the SUV bumper. Luckily, that particular area had a reduced speed due to a small subdivision. Linda said she locked them up but wasn’t able to avoid the impact. Guessing this sudden deceleration is what sent the boys for a thrill ride. It was a pretty big deer and fur ended up flying from the impact, but those deer are tough. I totaled a Daytona on one and it was still alive afterwards (broken legs, but still alive). I took a walk in the dark, but couldn’t find any remains so guessing it is nursing a pretty sore hind at the moment.

Catch a couple more shots after the jump

Continue reading 2′ Away from Freedom

Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

My fingers are still sore from the last mega-post so decided to go with a quick one today.  I do not know what the weather was like in your part of the world, but the US Midwest experienced a rather wet Spring and Summer season.  In fact, it just started raining a few minutes ago.  As a well owner, this does not bother me at all and takes a few worries off the daily list.  This rain does have an interesting side effect.  Some validation research is still ongoing, but the preliminary results indicate we have a ton more frogs and toads hopping all over the place in these conditions.  By the incredibly loud croaking that fills the night ambiance, the guess is they are at near plague levels this year.  You know about our stream in the back lot by now, but we also have a couple of ponds near our property that provide a perfect environment for them.  Over time you get pretty good at locating them especially late at night when they are hopping in desperation to escape the car lights and their frantic leaping out of harm’s way from the mowers.  As a personal favor to the reptile gods I try my best to allow them time to make it to safety – a small token of appreciation for helping me get through Biology class.  Every once in awhile, we uncover some nice specimens and usually head straight for the cameras.  Actually that isn’t entirely correct.  First we have to make sure our youngest dog (Rizzi) will leave them alone.  He has an uncanny ability to locate these creatures whenever they visit our porch and makes a bee line to them in order give them a thorough sniffing.  A running joke is our dog needs his frog licking hallucinogenic fix.

To finish cleaning up for the Halloween party, I needed to relocate a bunch of leftover boards from the bridge project.  While lifting up one of the boards, I noticed this amazing frog.

This was clearly worth stopping what I was doing and hunting down the camera.  Slap on the macro glass and off to the shoot.  In an effort not to disturb it much, a decision was made not to bother putting my hand or foot close to it for a better sizing perspective.  For reference, it was sitting on 1″ driveway rock so by that estimate it was probably 4-5″s long and had a pretty beefy 2″ sitting height to it.  It never moved the entire time I was snapping pictures either due to being there the whole time I was working on the wood or simply scared completely out its wits.  In either case, a stationary subject is always a good thing with the macro glass.  There was also some interesting lighting I was trying to play with.  Here is one of those experiments.

I actually really liked how this turned out.  There is enough contrast to isolate the frog from the rock and the upper shadow helps make it stand out really nice in the frame.  If you get a chance, jump over to the Smugmug gallery and look at it in the largest size available – pick Original to see the image in all its detail.  The eye came out very nice and you can make out the pretty cool toes.  As far as the frog family goes, this is probably the second largest I have had the pleasure of actually coming in contact with outside of the zoo.  The largest was one we found in a basement window well at my brother Dan’s previous house back in Channahon IL.  That frog was a good 7-8″s long and easily had a resting height of 3-4″s.  After some reluctance to actually touch that one, we finally managed to get it out of there and sent it on its way back towards a nearby river.

Hit the link to see another angle of … I shall call him Leo

Continue reading Biology Apology – Now We’re Even

I Hope It is Worth It

First off, Happy Birthday Ron!

Okay, we’re down to the final hour with all the marbles on the line.  Let’s do a quick check 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …. 5…. oh crap, I’m down a post.  What to do, what to do.  Actually, there are no worries, I have been loading up my SmugMug site with a ton of pictures.  One of my recent favorites is a set of macro shots I took on our porch a few months ago.  I was was walking on the porch one sunny day when one of the more interesting insects decided to take a stroll on my siding.

Probably out of the insects I come upon around here, the praying mantis is the one that fascinates me the most (the stick bug comes in a close second).  From a photographer’s perspective, they have a nice vibrant color and a ton of cool features that pop out nicely under the macro lens.  They have a number of dynamic features ranging from the hook like feet, highly articulated legs and fine hairs running along the edges.  The best part of working with these specimens is that they are fairly docile and do not tend to panic at the presence of a camera glass shoved close to their face.  Speaking of which, this one was practically posing for the glass.

In case you are wondering, in this particular shot he is gnawing on his own foot.  Check out the creepy pupils.  They can track just about anywhere around the eye bulb and basically remained on me the entire time, regardless of what position or angle the camera was in.  Here is another on of the face with the pupils transitioned up to the top of the head.  Based on nature’s law, typically, animals with such range of vision are considered the prey where the more forward fixed animals fall in the predator range.  By that rule, one would think the mantis was somewhat docile, but the male mantis probably has a different opinion of that seeing as how the the female rips the cranium off of him after mating.

hit the jump for more shots!

Continue reading I Hope It is Worth It

An Interesting Visitor

A week or so ago, Linda called me regarding a creature that was staring into our great room patio doors.  The odd thing is she was unable to tell me exactly what it was other than it was big, furry and the dogs were quite upset about it violating their space.  Short of a large rat, I still was not sure what it could be. One idea came to mind – “did it look like an otter and have a long skinny tale?”, I asked.  That resulted in a negative response which ruled out my arch nemesis the muskrat.  Luckily, she managed to take some  pictures.

It definitely was not a muskrat.  Turns out it was a groundhog.  Oddly enough, this is probably the first groundhog we have seen on our property since we acquired it.  We have had our share of squirrels, snakes, ground squirrels (or chipmunks), plenty of deer and that damn muskrat, but not one of these oversized rodents.

Apparently they are pretty nimble seeing as how it managed to balance itself on a single 4 inch board on our deck.  By this time the boys were in full bark so it was probably figuring out what its escape plan was.  Guessing it was more afraid of the large human yelling at it and taking pictures through the glass doors.

Finally a shot that showed its bushy tail confirming that it wasn’t the devil spawn muskrat (yes, I harbor deep hatred).  Not only is it nimble, it apparently does not have any bones in that fur.  That railing is only about 5 inches off the deck and it managed to squeeze its whole body under it.  To be honest, it looks kind of cute with its perky ears and plush fur.  Cute or not, it still needs to find another place to roam – their holes tend to be fairly large and destructive.  We had one living under a shed at our old house and it managed to dig a huge ditch all the way around the skids it sat on.  I had to put up a screen all the way around the shed to keep it out.

Hit the jump for a few more shots

Continue reading An Interesting Visitor

Hollow Words and Gutless Actions

Look into the eyes of another political victim.

I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog that we have a true treasure near our house.  That treasure is the The Wildlife Prairie Park which is located in Edwards, IL.  Linda and I have been to many parks and zoos around the country and when it comes to the smaller budget outfits WPP stands heads and shoulders above the others.  Their environment is well maintained, their animals are placed in natural habitats and when it comes to wolves in particular, there is not a more lively and accessible pack.  They have plenty of area filled with trees and prairie and tend to stay visible most of the time, always providing great opportunities to snap a few pictures for your pleasure or portfolio.

It is actually very enjoyable to sit and watch the pack interaction from an overlook built off the side of their habitat.  Give it enough time and you will be able to distinguish the alpha from the subordinates and although it is difficult at first to tell all the wolves apart, you can actually start ordering them by their rank in the pack by who bothers who, who has first dibs at the food and which ones are willing to intrude on another’s kill.  Eventually Linda will drag me away from their area to go check out the other occupants of the park, but I always try and stop by before I leave to say goodbye.  Up to now, that has been acknowledgment of a temporary parting with an expectation that I’ll be back soon to check on their progress and take some pictures for the walls.

But now things have changed thanks to our wonderful Illinois politics which has managed to not only become a disgrace compared to the rest of the states but put us on the brink of financial ruin.  I will not go into the history of illegal activity by our past governors and you have probably seen stories on the recent one that was impeached and now awaiting a jury decision on ethics violations.  Instead, I would like to highlight the recent actions of the individual who took over for the impeached governor with promises to right the titanic.  Before the impeached governor decided to make a public mockery of himself on wiretaps, he cut funding to a large number of parks which included our very own Wildlife Prairie Park as well as Jubilee Park that I do most of my training runs in.  It was downstate so what the hell did he care and besides his wife thought all the roads to the hick cities were ugly and wanted wildflowers planted to keep her eyes from having to look at the filth (note to politicians and their spouses, I never forget).  However, when our temporary governor was sworn in, he promised to restore the funding gaining the trust and appreciation for all of downstate hicks.  Finally, a governor with more in the skull than a hair mop.  As of this week , this promise has become as hollow as the rest of the governors’ statements.

Continue reading Hollow Words and Gutless Actions

I’m Feeling a Little Smug Today!

I can’t believe it is August already.  Things have been a little hectic around here lately with July being consumed with the Bix7 race and probably more disrupting is I accepted a new job opportunity within my company.  So now I have the stress of getting up to speed on my new job while spending every available minute organizing and documenting for a hand off of my previous duties.  But with all that going on, I did find some time to look into something that has been circling around the noggin for awhile.  Let’s start with a quick experiment.  Take a look at this picture from the previous post on bobcats at Wildlife Prairie Park.

Okay, now take a gander at this image:

So, what were the main differences that you noticed?  If you said the first one was larger then you are both correct and possess a passion for the obvious.  If you also noticed the crop was slightly different then again correct and your analysis skills are starting to rev up.  Lastly, if you noticed the second one has a slightly different black tone and the vibrancy was reduced slightly then you have started developing your keen photography eye… oh, and correct again.  However, none of these things were part of the experiment.  The answer is actually much more “smug” than that and can be found after the jump.

Continue reading I’m Feeling a Little Smug Today!

You Can Never Be Too Careful

It’s time to close this month out and I cannot think of a better way than displaying some wildlife pictures.  A few weeks ago, Linda and I headed out for a day of shooting at the Wildlife Prairie Park.  We happen to be members at this park which is located just outside of Peoria in the small town of Edwards (about 15 minutes from our house).  This park puts the residents in their natural settings with plenty of room to move and live out a fairly normal animal life in spite of the numerous visitors that come to admire their beauty.  It caters to the typical wildlife found on the Midwest prairies (this includes the historical perspective).  They have a nice heard of bison, a few cougars, looks like down to one bear, a few foxes, otters (although I can’t remember the last time they were actually out in view), a badger and two coyotes to name a few.  But most impressive of all, they have one of the best wolf packs I’ve found outside of the International Wolf Center in Ely Minneapolis.  Linda and I have traveled to many states to check out their captive wolves and always end up being disappointed because they never compare to what we have in our own backyard.  I’ll be rolling pictures of the wolves out soon enough, but today’s post focuses on another inhabitant of the park.

For the uniformed city dwellers out there, this is your classic bobcat.  Half kitty cat, half cougar and 100% kill you when you least expect it.  Basically look at it as a house cat skin covering of pure muscle that enjoys nothing more than to gnaw the flesh off of crunchy bones.  We happened to catch this particular beast at feeding time.  I really liked the contrast of the dead tree with the living animal and the brightness of the coat against the dreary setting.  It was very apparent this cat was nervous about someone messing with his catch and spent the entire time we were was watching him checking back and forth for any suspicious activity.  The interesting thing about this set of shots is the opportunity it gives to experiment with different cropping options.  Cropping is an art unto itself and one of those activities you can spend a day on just exploring the different configurations and the effect it has on the viewer.  In this set, I tried to let the cat drive the crop orientation.  In the shot above, the cat was clearing the upper left of suspicion so the crop was skewed in that direction. In this shot, the cat is checking if anything was lurking on the other side of the stumps.

To compensate for this new direction, the crop was brought down from the top and extended in the direction of the area being scanned.  At first I had the cat pushed closer to the right side to hit the rule of thirds, but it just felt like the cat was too confined in the scene.   I actually really like this shot since you can see more of the facial features and the concerned expression seemed to fit the situation perfectly.  Lastly, the subject gave a final inspection down the hill.

As before, the crop was adjusted to compensate for this new scan direction.  After debating for awhile and trying a few options, it was decided to sacrifice some of the stump in favor of the extra shift it provided to the left.  The stumps provided a nice anchor to the left side of the shot, but unfortunately it did put the focus of the photo too much in the center for my liking.  It would have also helped if the living tree wasn’t shooting right out of his head but I had to take what nature provided.  Although this one really shows off the strength of the muscles these animals have,  my favorite is still the middle one and likely the one I’m going to send out for production print.

I hope you enjoyed my little crop experiment.  If you get the chance, be sure and visit the park.  You will not be disappointed!  Just be sure and bring your longer glass and a full bottle of Off.