Snowy Owl … Well, Technically

In lieu of having some kind soul grabbing his camera, getting in his car and driving what..6 minutes at most… and take a micro second to snap a keepsake photo of an extremely rare bird as a gift to his little brother… I am reduced to sleight of hand and clever semantics.  He also tends to dismiss the truth from his own brother and willingly accepts what are clearly untruths from his sister in law but that is fodder for a whole other post.  This month is probably going to be another one devoted to birds based on the backlog of shoots we’ve been on this year.  If this keeps up we’ll never get to the Indy Zoo pictures that have been in the queue for about a year now.  Sorry, but the big cats have to wait for our feathered friends.

Today’s offering is a snowy owl.

Okay, so it isn’t a true Snowy Owl per se, but it is an owl and although it is difficult to tell from this photo, it was snowing big time when I shot this set.  In case you do not know your owls, this is actually a Barred Owl and lucky for us, one that calls our woods his home.  To be honest, based on the hoots that ring out around the area around 5 pm there are at least 4 of them taking up residence near us.

Hit the jump to see even more pictures of the Barred Owl.

Continue reading Snowy Owl … Well, Technically

Thrashing About in the Woods

First off, Happy Birthday to Kerby! (by the way, based on strange looks from the Walmart employee last night, apparently all dogs do not get their own birthday cakes)

Initially I was pretty excited about the opportunity to bring you a NEW bird sighting.  Over the course of about a week I kept hearing a very unique bird song.  It was almost like three distinct sounds that it would alternate through repeatedly.  Probably the most fascinating thing about this was how loud it was.  I would be out back and still hear the singing coming from the front woods.  Three times I ran inside, grabbed The Beast and went looking for the source.  Eventually the search would be narrowed down to a couple of trees, but the sound would either stop or there would be a rustle of leaves followed by some non-distinguishable bird launching itself in a different direction.  A few minutes later the chatter would start up again a couple hundred feet away.  Get close to it again and I’m in another rinse and repeat cycle.  As luck would have it, I stepped out of the truck one evening after a run and heard it again.  This damn bird was not going to school me again (earlier that day I had failed at another attempt even with Linda help in track it down).  Clearly stealth is the key so I grabbed the trusty Nikon and slinked my way over to the woods.  It took a some patience, but eventually it was spotted sitting on some high branches.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures!

Continue reading Thrashing About in the Woods

My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

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

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

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

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

Continue reading My What Sharp Teeth You Have… I Think

Just Standing Around Waiting for the Acme Delivery

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

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

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

So, any guesses how these two shots are linked?

Hit the jump to see the answer!

Continue reading Just Standing Around Waiting for the Acme Delivery

If The Hump is There, Beware!

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading If The Hump is There, Beware!

Bear With Me… Almost Through Yellowstone

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and was actually had the black fur.

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

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

Continue reading Bear With Me… Almost Through Yellowstone

Where the Buffalo Roam

We are now at the third in the series of Yellowstone (and Custer State Park) Ungulates… and if I remember correctly this will be the last in the set (unfortunately no moose were to be found on this trip).  Similar to the Wapiti in the previous post (link here), these beasts are so large they have two names.  Using once again my staple for all things researchy, I headed over to Wikipedia to get some details on these once common roamers of the Great Plains.  Surprising to me, the name I usually use for them, Bison, is actually a newer name than Buffalo.  I would have bet all my Double Jeopardy money on the reverse.  This particular Bison appears upset that I didn’t know that.

Bison actually comes from the Greek work for ox-like (originating around 1635).  On the other hand, the name Buffalo comes to us from French fur traders in the 1774 timeframe.  Strangely enough, they failed to give the name Native Americans used for one of their dominant food sources.  What appears to be one of those tragedies from a  lack of conservation principles, these animals definitely took a hit from hunting practices (skin market driven more than food source) which just about drove them to extinction – Wikipedia also indicates that this was a US Army endorsed activity in order to impact the Native Indian living conditions.  The good news is conservation efforts have been bringing them back and now listed as near threatened.

Linda and I have had the privilege of photographing these creatures at three wonderful places.  You can fill all your digital cards up with Bison shots at either Yellowstone National Park or Custer State Park.  They are so abundant there you eventually start ignoring them about halfway into the trip.  I always joke that trips there start out with “oh oh a Bison” proceed to  “wow, look at that one over there”, then “eh, let’s keep driving” and finally “hey, get the hell of the road so we can get to the wolves!”  Now in truth, we may progress through this transition to disinterest at a faster rate than most.  We actually live about 10 minutes from Wildlife Prairie Park which has a very nice collection of Bison and other native animals to the Great Plains.  You can read more about that park on a previous post (link here).  (looks like I already used the two name bit on that previous post – looks like I need to get some original material.)

Here is one of the local residents of Custer State Park.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Bison collection.

Continue reading Where the Buffalo Roam

Wapiti – Not The Sound of a Spinning Window Shade

Keeping with the theme of ungulates and that home away from home they call Yellowstone National Park, I bring you the big boys of the park – the Cervus Canadensis which is sooo big they have two names.  Thanks to European settlers we have the moniker of the Elk where are native Americans (according to Wikipedia specifically the Shawnee and Cree) we have “it which has a white rump” or Wapiti.  Since the first days of hearing this original name I’ve always associated it with a snapping window shade – do those even still exist?  If you recall, when one of them recoiled (typically never when you want it to!) first you will involuntarily twitch as the piece of wood in the bottom goes whipping past you and then your ears are barraged with Wapi Wapi Wapi Wapi as it cycles around the cylinder.  Ironically, whenever I get the opportunity to see these creatures I also twitch except in this case it is with excitement.   They are fairly docile (at least in Yellowstone) and are great subjects for us wildlife photographers.  Here is a younger one that was more than happy to pose for me.

If you haven’t noticed yet (which means you haven’t been looking close enough at about every animal set featured in this blog), I’m partial to the turn back across the body pose.  Just my thing I guess, but it is something I set out to do on each outing.  Personally I think it quickly distinguishes the prey from the predator.

If you can see the full eye, you should feel a little more at ease since you are not looking at an aggressive animal.  I also find that Elk have a tendency to pose which is a self serving description of animals that tend to have an intense curiosity.  Case in point.

Hit the jump to see a whole bunch more pictures of Yellowstone Wapiti

Continue reading Wapiti – Not The Sound of a Spinning Window Shade

Frankly My Deer, I Give a Damn

Hold on, just give me a second or two to swat these cobwebs out of the way.  It’s been awhile but truth be told I’ve been doing a lot of post processing to get ready for this month’s round of posts.  Not to let the suspense down, but this month will (hopefully) be the final push to get through the remaining animals captured during our Yellowstone National Park vacation Linda and I took back in October.  The weather is finally starting to cooperate with my running schedule allowing me to hit the pavement for my training runs (YES!).  Last Wednesday’s 5 miles and today’s 7 miles (both in the hills) were an excellent start.  In honor of that, I figured it would be fitting to start with creatures that must laugh at the running (in)ability of humans – the ungulates.  For the city dwellers, that is a fancy word for mammals that have hooves (although that definition has a varied past) – charge up that Volt drive 24 miles outside of town .. charge it up again overnight and then drive another 24 miles further out (repeat until you can see stars).

Let’s start with the only decent shot of an Odocoileus hemionus I was able to get in Yellowstone.  On our way back from checking out the wolves at Lamar Valley, this particular mule deer was found grazing among the evergreens.  Lucky for him the wolves were preoccupied with a cow elk they had trapped in stream at the confluence.

Mule deer are slightly different from the deer we have around here.  They tend to be a little more grey than our white tailed deer but the most distinguishing feature is their ears.  They are significantly larger than those on the white tail which tends to make them less appealing than their brothers.  I do sympathize with them having to go through their childhood with large ears probably taking abuse from all the other animals in the park (except of course the rabbits).  Note, light was starting to fall when this was taken making it an ISO battle – I think it cleaned up okay, but would have liked another shot at it.

On our way back from Yellowstone, we stopped into Custer State Park to check out the wildlife opportunities there.  For the longest time we were the only car to be seen providing a good opportunity to shoot Odocoileus virginianus Yes, that would be the White Tail Deer.  The first group we stumbled on were pretty cautious of our arrival and preferred to stay in the safety of the forest.

Hopefully you noticed the smaller ear size than the mule deer.  Living in the country in Big Buck territory of Illinois, we have the opportunity to see these animals nearly every day.  At times they’ll come through 10-12 thick in search of fresh acorns and saplings (unfortunately, that includes a fondness for our landscaping which is why we have no problem with a controlled hunting program).

I have to give Linda credit for the following crop selection.  I was debating back and forth and she walked in, looked at it for two seconds and then made an excellent recommendation.   Kicking myself for not taking the time to move a couple steps closer to push out the close evergreen branches (blurred items at the bottom) – not sure the doe would have stood for that though having already become agitated at how close the camera was already.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the deer set.

Continue reading Frankly My Deer, I Give a Damn

The Cute and the Pissed

My apologies, this post was suppose to go out yesterday – you know, the whole Valentine’s Day and the “Cute” theme.  Unfortunately, some unplanned issues came up that required me to spend extra time on the phone discussing  flight schedules from Florida.  For the record, I can’t believe the price of air travel these days.  So basically you get to be treated as public enemy #1  and have the pleasure of paying a premium for it. (To keep my spirits up during air travel I mentally replay Tracy Morgan’s SNL skit on profiling.)  Figured it would be prudent to get this post out while there was some free time.

This set of pictures  is from our Yellowstone vacation (assuming you were not surprised about that) but they were not actually taken at the park.  Instead, they were shot at a stop off on our way there and another one on our way back.  Need to make the most of the photo opportunities when you are heading out West.  Since the VDay theme doesn’t really apply anymore, let’s start with the “Pissed”.  Spearfish south Dakota is a favorite stopping point for us when we are heading to Yellowstone.  Beyond the cool name, this small little town has some gorgeous waterfalls in relatively easy walking distance from parking lots.  Linda’s nature photography specialty are the “silks” and she once again produced some very nice shots – guessing she will be putting these head to head with my wildlife shots during the competition season.  While she is off playing with the shutter speeds, I generally entertain myself by stalking the local wildlife.

Well, to be honest the word stalking is better served by “annoying the living crap out them” in this case.  Imagine the insane racket reserved for raccoons protecting it’s young packaged up in a large golden brown hamster with a long fuzzy tale.  Rather than simply state displeasure and carry on with the comfy life of a forest rat, this squirrel would come running at me (in full rant of course) and take up a defiant posture in the nearest tree.  10 seconds later it would scamper off into the trees only to repeat the cycle as I continued walking along a trail.  Thanks to confidence from earning 2nd degree black belts in multiple martial arts discipline I stood my ground against this upset furball.

Hit the jump to view the rest of the pictures… and commentary

Continue reading The Cute and the Pissed