This One is Kind of Harri

There are two types of birds that tend to drive me crazy when trying to classify them.  Eventually I can get through to the waterfowl, but the family of Accipitridae and Falconidae have way to many similarly colored birds.  Adding even greater difficult to identification is color changes that can occur from juvenile to adult.  As a result, when it comes to classifying some of the hawks and falcons I open the reference books with a slight sense of dread.  That was exactly the case when it came to finally posting this blog.  While traveling out to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park to check up on the wolves, I spotted this bird hunting in the prairie fields.

Of course, spotting it was one thing, trying to actually get a decent shot of it was a struggle.  The Beast was on high speed continuous mode allowing for burst of shots once the bird came into frame.  It would glide for a short while towards me over a stretch of the field, but would then perform an amazing aerial maneuver to double back on itself.  Once his range was extended, it would start gliding back towards me again.  This was repeated until it eventually made it out of the range for the Beast.  Unfortunately, there were only  a few decent shots out of the whole shoot worth showing anyone.  The one above is clearly the best, but here a few more that provide a decent view of the coloring to help in identification.

Hit the jump to read my attempt at classifying it

Continue reading This One is Kind of Harri

A Surprise to My Goldeneye

I hope everyone that celebrates it had a safe and merry Christmas!  We hear at Lifeintrigued headquarters have been busy trying to wrap up the year’s posts so we can start fresh again after the first.  The plan is to get through the remaining three Yellowstone bird posts so I can spend January getting to the larger animals shot on our vacation last October.  First on this list is kind of a surprise to me.  Most of the time while Linda is driving, my eyes are focused out the window on trees and any water bodies we happen to pass.  Linda is pretty tolerant of this behavior even when I give our special code word for STOP THE CAR – WE NEED TO GO BACK AND PHOTOGRAPH A BIRD I JUST SAW.  This is shortened to a single word since we would be a quarter of a mile down the road before getting all that out (yes, she drives fast).

On one of these occasions out in Yellowstone I found these waterfowl enjoying a calm late afternoon.

For some strange reason I classified them as Goldeneyes and since I already had that bird checked off my Bird List I didn’t get overly excited about the shoot.  The dark reflections off the water were wreaking havoc on the exposure.  Adding time to bring in the details of the darker birds were causing some blowouts on the whiter ones.  Our presence did not go unnoticed and almost immediately they started heading away from the shore.

When I got back home I started the post processing on this shoot, again,  initially thinking they were goldeneyes.  When it came time to check out some of their reference bios it became apparent that my early classification was wrong.  Now the curiosity was peaking.  Thumbing through all the reference books again revealed what appears to be Buffleheads.  The markings on both the females (darker birds) and the breeding males (whiter ones) are a pretty good match.  The region is also consistent and true to the reference information they didn’t make a sound the whole time I was snapping pictures.  One of the other features of the breeding male is their iridescent head.  It is difficult to see in these smaller pictures, but if you look directly at this picture…

you will see the different colors shimmering in the light.

Hit the jump to see additional pictures of the Bufflehead (including some of them taking off from the water)

Continue reading A Surprise to My Goldeneye

Eagle Eyes

Well, as of 4:00pm today I am officially on holiday break from work until 2012 – WOOT. Of course, that really just translates to two extra days of standing in long lines at local merchants trying to finish up the gift list. Fortunately, that activity can start LATER in the morning so no need to get up at the ass-crack of dawn for the commute to the office. This month was dedicated to shots from our recent Yellowstone vacation. So far we’ve covered the Trumpeter Swans (link here), Mergansers (link here) and two posts covering those scary Ravens (link here and here). We’ll get to the big game soon enough, but today brings us a true American icon… The Bald Eagle.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the eagle a number of times now, both locally as well as up in the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. I was excited to hear that they were out in the Yellowstone area as well. The first day we saw one from a distance gliding around, but the second to last day produced a great opportunity.  We were heading back to our room towards the end of the day when we passed by a small valley.  A glint of white from the trees caught my eye.  Hoping I was right, I had Linda turn back for a closer look.

Did you see it? (having it centered in the picture makes it pretty easy, but against the full backdrop of the woods it was definitely harder to locate).  The shot above is a pulled back shot with the Beast which starts at 200mm so you can guess how far away this eagle was from the road.  However, This is exactly where the Beast shines.  Pulling the bird in to the full 400mm gives a MUCH better shot of this awesome bird.

And there it sat keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.  I was actually shooting out the back window of the SUV trying to use the window frame to steady the lens.  The initial shots were producing a lot of blur likely due to the engine vibrations coming through the vehicle frame.  To adjust for that, Linda shut the car off.  that dampened it a bunch, but that distance just amplifies any movement

Heck, why don’t we just pull that shot in a little more!

Hit the jump to see more pictures from the set!

Continue reading Eagle Eyes

Another Dose of the Ravens at Yellowstone

You are in luck if you liked the previous set of images on the Ravens we saw in Yellowstone National Park (link here).  Yes, it’s another dose of those dark winged demons and to be honest, the trusty companion of the ONLY ‘clown’ related character I can actually tolerate… Eric Draven.    For starters, I tried recreate one of my favorite pictures from the last time we were at Yellowstone.

It do not think it came out as dramatic as the other one (which is now hanging in our living room), but definitely not the worst shot I’ve ever taken.  A little brighter background would probably have made it pop a little more but he was having none of my “please move over here” requests.

My close up shots received a few comments on the last post so figured a few more wouldn’t hurt.  This one is a little more stoic but shooting against the bright blue sky wreaked havoc on the exposure.  I backed it down a tad, but lost some of the eye detail in the resulting shadows.  For some reason it gives me the feeling that a large tear will emerge from its eye followed by some public service announcement to not pollute.

The following was a once in a lifetime shot of a UFO hovering over Ol’ Faithful in some kind of super secret refueling process.  Well, that was what it was until this damn raven photobombed my shot… and thanks to this inconsiderate birdbrain.. NOBODY believes me.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Raven shots!

Continue reading Another Dose of the Ravens at Yellowstone

Book Recollection: Rare

I decided to pinch the Yellow stream for a quick post on a book recollection.  This is mainly due to something that arrived in the mail just a few days ago, but more on that later.  Today’s post is on a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Photographer Joel Sartore.  Like the previous book recollection post on Decisive Moments (link here), this photographer’s work is one of my favorites (to be honest, he is probably tops in my list).  As you can guess, he is a photographer for National Geographic and has a focus on bringing awareness to endangered species.  There are wildlife photographers that can capture a shot by getting all the technical details right such as lighting, focus, aperture and shutter speed.  There are also photographers who are able to illicit emotion from the viewer by capturing the mood and feel of a situation.  Without a doubt, Joel is one of the few people who is able to produce a shot with both of those qualities.  As an example, just take a look at the Red Wolf in the cover shot.  The 2 subjects reside at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This proud species is fighting for their survival with only 330 of them left (at time of publication).  As Joel states in his book, their relationship at the top of the predator food chains makes them susceptible to lead poisoning thanks to intolerance.  To be honest, this is not a book you put down feeling good about your place on earth.  Sure, there are some bright spots like the success stories on American Alligator recovery and the banning of DDT in 192 which was responsible for devastating the populations of our proud American symbol, the Bald Eagle as well as the Peregrine Falcon.  Having just come back from Yellowstone, let’s not forget the progress of the Gray Wolf recovery.  But for all those triumphs, there is the losing side of the battle.  This includes the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final resting place is in a jar at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville Florida or the fragile Mississippi Sandhill Crane population of 155 birds residing in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refugee that was put at great risk by Katrina.

I am not in a position to preach to anyone and I certainly have my biases, but if you get the opportunity, just take a look at this book.  Even if the message doesn’t hit a personal chord, simply enjoy the stunning photographs.  Joel does a nice job of capturing the subject in a black or white setting (intentionally done to illicit more emotion).  The book is organized by population sizes with a description of the plight of that particular animal, insect or plant and in some cases he includes a little background on where and how the shot was taken.  If nothing else, it will push the bar up a little higher on your own photography output.  The book was also published on high quality paper giving it almost a gallery feel that you can put on your coffee table.  If you like his photographs, keep an eye out for his other works.  For starters, his image in the Simply Beautiful Photographs (see recollection here) was quite stunning.

So, back to that mail delivery mentioned at the start.  As a wolf enthusiast, I feel obligated to help in their recovery.  As a member of the National Wolf Foundation based on Ely, Minn), a member of the local Wildlife Prairie Park (who have a very nice wolf pack) and a new member of the Yellowstone National Park Association I like to think in some small way I am helping make a difference.  A few months ago I was made aware of another effort to help my four legged friends.  Will Burrard-Lucas and Rebecca Jackrel (whose photography blog Lind and I actively follow) started a project to document the struggle for survival of Africa’s wolves – you can find more about the project at their website (link here).  They were asking for financial assistance to get the project off the ground and I jumped at the chance.  Since that time, I had slowly forgotten about it as the stress of the holidays began to set in.  Low and behold we received this postcard in the mail.  A handwritten postcard from Rebecca and Will from Ethiopia.  How cool is that!  Needless to say, I am excited to be a part of this and cannot wait to see the shots upon their return.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways from Rare

Continue reading Book Recollection: Rare

It Was a Forbidden Love

It was a tragic story of longing. A longing from deep inside to be with the one she loved so dearly. She could not free herself from the image of his silhouette soaring high in the majestic blue sky above Yellowstone National Park. But alas, it was a forbidden love in the eyes of her father, for he had wished a better life for his only daughter. Those early days in the nest hearing about how the life of an eagle’s spouse is a life of luxury would excite her so. A life filled with fresh fish and the respect of a whole nation. These stories filled her dreams until she spotted him in a murder. So dark! So sinister! So dangerous! With the constant danger of her father finding out, they had to keep their meetings in secret.

She would continually scan the sky looking for those sexy black tail feathers to come a calling. She couldn’t find him to the left…umm  the other left

A similar result when she looked to the right..yeah, the other right (hey, birds don’t really know direction anyway)

.. but then she spotted him hanging out on a low branch of a neighboring pine tree.  She fluffed her feathers and made a nervous scan for her father.

Good, he was out harassing some tourists trying to shake them down for a piece of hot dog or french fry… ummm french fries… oh.. she re-gathered her focus and called out to her beau.  “Hey Baby, your place or mine?” she jests as she takes flight already feeling her heart beat at the strength of 10 + 2.

Hit the jump to read the rest of the tragic story.. or just to see the rest of the pictures

Continue reading It Was a Forbidden Love

Ummmm the Merganser…I Think

Howdy Everyone! We are still celebrating reaching our 300th comment here at LifeIntrigued so pardon the mess. For those interested, Ron was the lucky commenter and will soon be receiving a token of appreciation in the mail – well… as soon as we figure out what that will be, we’ll be sending it out. He was also extended a guest blog spot so we are all looking forward to that. In the meantime, you are just going to have to make due with more Yellowstone posts. There are two similarities with the last post – one is it once again covers water fowl and like last time there are struggles on the identification front. The good news is the images are little sharper (not tack yet, but getting more familiar with the Beast). I must say, I am actually pretty happy with the action shots. The takeoff scenes were actually taken from the car doing my best to keep the Beast on focus while panning to compensate for the narrow field of view. Be sure and check out the larger versions up on our SmugMug site (link here).

I had just maneuvered the Beat into position to capture these ducks enjoying the water when they started their pre-launch plan. I am not sure if pulling up next to them in the car or pointing the bazooka glass at them startled them, but they definitely wanted out of there.

I was shooting at f4 so the depth was too shallow to get all the ducks focused in, but to be honest it gives a pretty interesting effect. The larger version gives a better view of it, but they were literally walking on water while building air under the wings. In the following shot they are just beginning to get air under their wings.

Hit the jump to see some more images of these birds taking flight!

Continue reading Ummmm the Merganser…I Think

They Say it is a Trumpeter, But it Looks More Like a Bird

It was a tough debate with myself.  Do I blog about the Zook finally getting the hook (a triumphant time for all Illini fans) or do a rant on what a piece of crap software iTunes is (you would think an half brained programmer would allow you to sort your playlist folders by the physical file name).  At last I decided to go with … oh geez, I better get going on those Yellowstone posts or I’m going to spending the rest of the month wading through all the email from my angry readers.  I need to ease into this thanks to the fact there are probably 30 posts alone from our shots that week and like a big night of bar hopping, once it’s tapped … you’re in for a long stream (too graphic?.. thought so).  This set is a little bitter sweet.  The sweet part is I was able to put another check in the bird list with Trumpeter Swans.  The bitter news is I wasn’t able to get the best shots due to a combination of the weather conditions and just not having the required reach – those suckers were out there and even though we ended up hiking out pretty far to improve the shots, I didn’t exactly execute.  Enough chit chat, let’s get those pictures up!

Linda and I were able to meet up with David and Giselle while we were out there.  They are friends from here that recently moved out to Billings, Montana (to join the militia ha!).  On our first day out there we passed by Swan Lake and noticed what looked like rather large white birds enjoying the water.  Now keep in mind that was a ways off!  I pulled out the Beast and tried to pull them in, but it just didn’t have the desired reach.  Somewhat adventurous we decided to hike out there to get a better shot.  It looked like just prairie grass at first, but we soon found out it was kind of swampy – luckily the cold weather firmed it up enough for us to pick our way out there.  Linda took this great shot of us shooting the Swans.

As you can tell from the shot, it wasn’t the best day for shooting – glad we bundled up before hiking out there. I should probably point out that if it wasn’t for the cold there is absolutely no way Linda would have been out there with us because this field must be a snake haven on warmer days!  As it turns out, we checked back at this lake later in the week and had a little better lighting than our first day.  Since those came out a little better, I’ll start with those – note, I wasn’t about to ask Linda to head back out there in snake land so the better lighting cost some distance.

Here they are pulled in a little bit more thanks to a tighter cropping.  For a bird that is somewhat rare, there sure was a nice grouping of them in the appropriately named lake.

Hit the jump to see more pictures of the Trumpeters!

Continue reading They Say it is a Trumpeter, But it Looks More Like a Bird

Another Check on the Bird List – The Great Egret

I bet you were all ready to read a post about our recent vacation.  Unfortunately, I am generally behind on my vacation pictures and if I recall correctly I have not even posted any shots from our Zion trip other than the Phoadtography set (link here).  It would be cruel to make you wait until I get completely caught up, but at least allow me the liberty of getting a few of the posts out before deluging you with a gadzillion pictures from our latest trek to the West.  Although, I could just be buying some time to get through tagging and filtering all those images, but I’ll never tell… to the post!

If you recall, we took a ride up North so our poodles could compete in the TDAA Nationals (link here).  The “Linda” part of that sentence was changed to “we” due to all out bribery.  Linda knows I enjoy visiting the Chain O’ Lakes State Park mostly due to the opportunity to see Sandhill Cranes again (link here) and was quick to remind me that the park was on the way.  Couple that with a promised stop at the Anderson’s Candy store and there was no hope for resistance.  Alas, there were no Sandhill Cranes to be seen anywhere in the park (this is where you shed a tear for my heartbreak… I’ll wait).  Come on, pull yourself together, the trip turned out very fruitful.  On our way out of the park, I was keeping my eyes focused on the field where the cranes were hanging out the last time.  Disappointed at the lack of birds I started to turn back in my seat.  That is when a a white spot caught my eye way off in the trees.  I yelled out our secret code word for “Stop the car, there is some kind of animal out there that Brian must have a picture of”.  The code word is short and sweet to help cut down on the ear to brake response – no, I will not reveal the code word but for effect it isn’t one you would not use in other company.

Linda put the car in reverse and rolled back a little to the observation spot.  It was definitely white and definitely sitting in a tree, but exactly what it was remained a mystery.  Time to bring out the Beast!  The viewfinder revealed that it was a White Egret.  Well, that is what I have always called it, apparently it is now just referred to as the Great Egret.  Here is my initial shot giving an impression of how far off it was even with the help of the glass – remember, the Beast goes out 400.

The sight line went through a series of trees causing the leaf splotches.  Once again, this park had come through.  This was the first White errr Great Egret I have been able to photograph and therefore another check on my Bird List.  This distance just wasn’t going to do for this opportunity.  Time to go cross country.  You cannot tell from these shots, but there was a large field in front of his perch that appeared to be thick prairie grass browned from the coming Fall.  Two steps later it was revealed that it was not really prairie grass, but more like cattail stalks growing up in the middle of a swamp.  My wet shoe and sock was a proof enough.  Crap!  Out came the cell, a quick call back to Linda (she had driven off to find a pull off) and on came the hiking shoes.  Once again I was off to get the shot.  Without a doubt, this was great entertainment for the egret.  15 minutes later I was standing in the middle of the swamp trying to find an adequately firm spot to put the tripod.  Still not as close as I wanted to be, but navigating much further was going to require some serious rubber boots and the nerves were a little frayed at the though of water snakes closing in for the kill.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Great Egret pictures!

Continue reading Another Check on the Bird List – The Great Egret

Phoadtography: Visiting Our Neighbors to the North Pt 1

There is no rest for the weary these days.  I can see the edge of October and it is approaching fast.  The good news is I am down to one more post after this one and I think that is doable … at the moment.   I ended up losing yesterday because I forgot to process all the pictures for this post.  Soooo last night was spent getting that done and uploading them to our Smugmug account (Eddiesoft) so I could post tonight.

Today’s entry is from our trip up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in early October.  Linda and the boys were competing in the Petit Prix, also known as the Teacup Dog Agility Association National’s.  Although I have really nothing to do with this since I neither train the dogs or run them in the ring, that doesn’t stop me from taking credit for how well they competed in the event.  Both Kerby and Rizzi came home with a pile of ribbons and Rizzi even made the Semi-Finals consisting of the top 84 dogs in the whole event.  Of course, there is a reason I get to take some credit…. I have to take off work and help Linda haul everything to and from the car and these toy dogs travel heavier than Paris Hilton.  The good news is Linda drove most of the way providing ample time to snap some shots along the way.  With that, let’s get to the pictures eh ? (in my best Wisconsin accent)

Keeping with the Halloween theme from the previous posts, I’ll start with these.  My eyes lit up when I saw this pumpkin.  Just imagine the cool pumpkin carving I could do with one of these babies.  It might take a chainsaw instead of a Dremel, but I’m definitely up for the challenge.

Hit the jump for the rest of the pictures from the trip

Continue reading Phoadtography: Visiting Our Neighbors to the North Pt 1