Rats, I’m Down a Post

I got a surprise this morning when I checked the blog. I thought I was actually ahead of the game but it turns out my post output is lagging a bit. For some reason I thought I was already at 5 which put me right where I wanted to be – knowing the topic for the final post was already determined. Not a huge problem, just means I had to dive back into the Yellowstone trip pictures, do a little post processing, upload to our Smugmug site and I’m all set. Well, except for the hard part of actually writing something.

Having uttered the word “rats” when I tallied the posts this morning, I thought it would be fitting to go with the proverbial “rat” of the prairie lands. Fortunate not to live in an area infested with these rodents, I can still relate to the feeling having to constantly battle moles. There are two major differences when it comes to Prairie Dogs, one negative and one positive. On the negative side their destructive capabilities far exceed our local moles. Now, on the positive side, they can be so darn cute! Contrast that with moles which have to be the most hideous creature ever to crawl this earth.

Case in point, look at this scared little creature.  Out there all alone in the wild wondering where it’s next meal will come from.  Living in a state of constant worry if some human is going to pick them off with a high powered rifle just for fun or some taloned demon was going to descend from the sky and whisk away their brothers or sisters.

It is obvious they are clever creatures (as, of course, all dogs are!).  Just look at this example of how they’ve adapted to their dangerous surroundings.

The distant and vacant gaze paired with the stiff joint walk – what predator in their right mind would even come close to touching a ZOMBIE!?! Umm, that would be NONE.  (It might want to roll in the remains of a wolf kill to take that disguise to the next level (although recommend, waiting until the wolves move on).  I should probably mention that these shots were actually taken at Custer State Park.  We took a drive through there on our way back from the Yellowstone National Park trip.

Hit the jump to read more about these playful creatures.

Continue reading Rats, I’m Down a Post

A Walking Frigidaire or ???

Against my best wishes, January continues to fly by.  It is already the middle of the month and I am behind on a number of tasks I set out for myself for 2012.  Part of that is due to finally initiating Project Aunnauld – this one is going to take awhile so don’t look for posts on that for a few months (at least).  In my spare cycles I’m still trying to make it through the Yellowstone shots so guess what?  Yep, another post.  Unlike some of the previous ones, this set is what I consider sub-par.  There are times when it is fulfilling to just be able to slap the mirror and say you captured the moment whether it is tack sharp or not… which is usually photography speak for “I blew it”.  This set is more of the former based on being closer to a miracle than a failure.  If you have spent time on this blog at all you should be aware we invested in a rather large glass we affectionately call The Beast thanks to it’s beefy structure.  It is hard to actually demonstrate the reach this zoom glass has without first experiencing it through the viewfinder.  This set might just help out in this area… let’s begin shall we?

So here is a shot of the mountainside at 80mm which is the low end of the zoom on our workhorse glass.

Are you seeing anything of interest in that shot.. maybe some large animal(s) out for a stroll?  Hint #1 – remember on the previous post where I mentioned that we spent the week scanning for butts in the horizon (link here)? well, that pretty much came into play here.

Still not seeing anything of interest?  Hint #2, I chose not to go with the Rule of Thirds to make it a little easier on you.

If you give up, hit the jump for a huge clue.

Continue reading A Walking Frigidaire or ???

(Not So) Bighorn Sheep

I’ve been hoofin it lately to get the pictures of Yellowstone’s big boys post processed and uploaded to the Smugmug galleries (link here).  This particular set posed a bit of a problem due to the noise that came from the high ISO they were shot at.  If I remember correctly, all but the last shot here was taken the first day we were in Yellowstone and has the distinction of being the second animal we encountered out there (and reason why it was selected as the second post of the large mammal series).  Giselle and David were with us that morning and they actually alerted us to the spot where we found this specimen.

They had a similar encounter on a previous outing out there.  As predicted, we found this particular one taking a stroll along the rocky slopes.  I was eager to try out the Beast but to be honest was still trying to get comfortable with it.  As a result I overcompensated with the ISO on a few of the shots to address a dreary (and cold) morning.  This left some extra post processing to get rid of the additional noise and draw out some extra clarity/sharpness.  Most importantly, it gave me a chance to get some practice shots off  before we entered the heart of Yellowstone.  These first two are definitely my favorites of the set since you can quickly distinguish the animal from the  background.

Hit the Jump to view the rest of the shots

Continue reading (Not So) Bighorn Sheep

It’s Not a Bird … Nor a Bear

As you are aware, there was a big push to get through the “Birds of Yellowstone” before the end of the year.  The reason for that is I wanted to get to the larger mammals inhabiting that incredible national park.  Rest assured, my camera wasn’t just pointed at our feathered friends (well, at least not ALLL the time).  Nope, we were constantly on the lookout for those animals we do not get to see much back here in Illinois.  Let’s start with those fleet of foot Pronghorns.  This is somewhat in tribute to being the first animal to greet us as we passed through the Yellowstone Arch.  Immediately off to the right, grazing in the fields, was a couple of Pronghorns pretty much oblivious to our presence.

The above shot is actually on of my favorites from the Yellowstone collection.  It was taken in full on Beast mode (400mm) letting us reach out and virtually touch them.  This is one of those poses that I affectionately call “The Predator’s View”.  For those people locked in the concrete world or worse, PETA members, the eye position gives away the disposition of the animal.  Forward eyes generally signify the predator (find a mirror) where the prey have eyes positioned on the sides to increase their field of vision.  It may be pointing towards a companion, but it definitely knows where we were.  Note, I was also pleased to get some glint in those big black eyes.

A close second in the favorites category is the shot below.  Once again you get a feel for it’s field of vision yet it was content enough to continue breakfast while we were busy snapping shots.  This lack of interest is probably due to being acclimated to the two legged creatures, although the fact that it can out run my ass without breaking a sweat probably gives it more confidence than your average turtle.   For the record, they can run at 30mph for 15 miles with a burst of up to 70mph.  According to Wikipedia, this makes it the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

At first I thought the antler nubs above the eyes in the previous picture indicated it was a young male.  Not being an expert when it comes to non-feathered animals I did a little research.  Turns out that females actually have horns as well (up to 3″) where males tend to have larger ones (up to 6″ and then another 9″ during summer fall which it sheds in the winter).  The other distinguishing feature of males is a small black mane.  Based on that I will have to go with this being a male.

Hit the Jump to see the rest of the Pronghorn pictures

Continue reading It’s Not a Bird … Nor a Bear

This One is Hard on the Nuts

I have decided to OCCUPY the MAN CAVE with my AMAZING and GINORMOUS Yellowstone photo collection reading about Beyonce’s BABY BUMP and wondering what the BLOWBACK will be on Katy Perry’s divorce.  All of this has led me to believe that being a PET PARENT is going to be the NEW NORMAL even with all the SHARED SACRIFICES that comes with it.  But enough of this rambling, let’s go out and WIN THE FUTURE through deception and TRICKERATION.  Oh, and THANK YOU IN ADVANCE for all your comments!

Whew, my apologies for that opening.  I was scanning the Internet and came across this years list of banned words from Lake Superior State University.  They do this every year to save our sanity from over-hyped words.  With only a few days left I wanted to make sure I used them all at least one more time.  Having done this now (some for the first time ever) I can assuredly say they will not be missed.  Here are a few other words I’d like banned for 2012 based on the shameful over use in the media

  • Slam (and all derivatives)
  • Bashes
  • Crash
  • Grills
  • Undecideds
  • Outrage
  • Weep
  • Obamacare
  • Gallup
  • Facebook

Have I distracted you enough to forget this is really another bird post from our Yellowstone trip?  Well, I tried.  This is the last of the bird posts from Yellowstone and with a small bit of sadness, the likely last post of the year (there may be one more depending on when my year end summary gets done) – where has this year gone?!  The reason I left this one to the end is thanks to our favorite orthopedic surgeon Dr. Giselle there was no need to spend a lot of time rifling through reference books to identify it.  As soon as the shutter went off on this bird…

Dr. Giselle immediately identified it as a Clark’s Nutcracker.  Having never seen this bird before, I was very appreciative of the assist.  Per the reference books, this particular bird prefers open coniferous forests in mountains.  A big checkmark on that – I left this wider shot with the evergreens as validation of that.  It is a member of the jay and crow family but chooses to walk like a crow than hop like a jay on ground (do scientist actually get paid for these observations?).  As is the custom here at Lifeintrigued, let’s bring that bird in for a closer look.

Hit the jump to learn more about the Clark’s Nutcracker

Continue reading This One is Hard on the Nuts

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