A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

That, my friend, is the result of FEAR!

Linda and I were up an agility show in Wisconsin last weekend.  Part of the bribe to actually get me to go with her was the opportunity to head back to the Chain O Lakes Park in Spring Grove.  Well, that and the chance to stop at my favorite chocolate store in Richmond IL.  8+ hours of waiting around to watch my dogs run for a total of about 4 minutes each.  Yes, their chocolate is THAT  good – especially the dark chocolate covered pineapple- yum.  As a shout out to my littlest dog, congratulations to Kerby (and Linda) on making their TACH II Agility Title at the show.

When we made it to the park, we immediately spotted a couple of swans enjoying a swim.  After about 100 shots of them (blog foreshadowing), we packed up and started to head out of the park.  Less than a mile from the exit, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  On closer inspection, I still was not able to tell exactly what it was, but it was moving in the weeds and figured I’d just go have a look-see.  Linda double back and dropped me off while she tried to find a place to pull off.  My suspicions were confirmed, it was a Sandhill Crane walking in the fall weed stalks.

It was rather amazing how well it was actually camouflaged among the fall coloring.  Unfortunately, the red on the head allowed me to zero in on it once the movement was vectored.  If you recall, the last encounter with these large birds was from pretty far away on the Yellowstone trip.  Here, the distance was less than 40 feet away giving a better perspective on just how huge these birds are.  Not only was I fortunate to see this feathered beauty….

there was actually TWO of them.  Based by the coloring, it looks like a male and female, but I need to verify that with the field guides.  I was actually struggling to get the shots I wanted.  They were very aware of my presence and continued to walk back and forth and every once in awhile adding some distance.  As they did this, they would pass behind the weed stalks driving my glass autofocus nuts.  Manual focus did not help much either as they refused to stop in one spot for more than a second or two to check out something on the ground or shoot me a glaring eye.  I continued to try and close the distance to help alleviate the focus issue and both the mono and tripods were in the car – mental note, at least grab the mono the next time I rush off into the woods.

So, you are probably wondering about the whole PANIC thing.  Well, it eventually dawned on me that I really did not know anything about these birds I was openly stalking.  Couple that with the fact I was totally alone and nursing a badly torn lower quad so if they had any cheetah friends I was a gonner.   Hit the jump if you want to see what happened.

Continue reading A Shot In The Face of Fear – Yep, I PANICKED

An Unwelcome Visitor

About a month ago I was down in the woods cleaning up some brush and downed branches/trees while waiting for the weather to break so I can finish up my bridge work.  At one point something caught my eye swimming in the stream.  Rarely is there anything actually living in the water beyond minnows and tadpoles so it somewhat startled me.  I slowly crept up on it so I could get a better view of this creature.  Based on the fact it was still cold out (so definitely accustomed to the water and not just taking a dip), somewhat brownish fur and flattened facial features I figured it was a beaver.  For the next 15 minutes I watched the critter playing in the water and thinking to myself how cool this was since I had never seen a beaver in the wild (there is your opening, cue the classic beaver jokes!).  It would swim out to the middle, do some back strokes, dive under the ice and pretty much entertain himself (or herself I guess) the entire time.  Disappointed, I did not have my camera with me I eventually went in for a closer look.  It spotted me and dove under the ice not to be seen again.  After patience ran out, I gathered my stuff and headed back to the house thinking how cool that was but with a slight nagging feeling that something didn’t seem right.  As the critter dove under the ice its tail flipped out of the water and it seemed long and thin as opposed to the mexpected paddle.   After some mental gyrations, I decided it was probably due to being a juvenile and the tail comes in later or it was an otter which would make it an even a cooler experience.

The fact there was no picture of the sighting eventually bothered me so much I put my mud clothes on again and headed out with the camera.  As luck would have it, it was out playing again.

So, what does it look like to you?  … Beaver?  … Otter?  If you look close you can see the thinner than expected tail extending out to the bank.  It also seemed a little too furry for an Otter, but it has been a cold winter and wasn’t sure if they fluffed up for the winter.

Any guesses yet, or have you figured it out yet (in which case you were able to come to conclusion significantly faster than I did).  How about another view.

I’ll break the suspense and tell you it is a Muskrat.  Thanks to a colleague at work that is familiar with these creatures and was able to quickly discern what it was based on my brief description.  Turns out he traps these because they are BAD NEWS for rivers/streams.  Apparently, they dig deep into the banks to make their dwellings.  This results in destruction to the bank and causes serious damage especially when it comes to dams and dikes (assuming those jokes are still flashing through your conscious).  I can tell you for a fact I a) did not know what this animal was and b) never seen one before.  This prompted an immediate surf to Wikipedia.  Sure enough, the picture there perfectly matched my specimen.  Interesting enough, they are a rodent, but not part of the Rat genus.

hit the jump to see some other pictures I took

Continue reading An Unwelcome Visitor

Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

I hardy hello to all my readers out there!  It’s a new month and time to get going on my posts wouldn’t ya say?  I was planning to get some pre-work done on a future post today while at our dog’s Agility Trial.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I ended up taking pictures all day instead.  The good news is I already had another bird set ready to go.  Actually multiple water fowl earned the post spot today.  I’m going to start with one that apparently got the short straw when it came to appearance draws.  I’m talking about the American White Pelican.

I  spotted this one contently paddling along a small river while on our Yellowstone trip.  The growth on his beak signifies this is a breeding male.  Luckily the chicks apparently dig this blemish and is used in their courtship (no, I don’t want to know how) as well as ritualized combat.  While looking through the lens at this guy, all I could think of was one of my favorite scenes from Uncle Buck when John Candy (rest in peace) lit into the grade school teacher because his niece was characterized as a sillyheart.  Maybe he meant a MUSKRAT (dundun dun dun… blog teaser…).

I was actually disappointed I did not get to see him fish.  At a later time on that trip, I came upon a couple of them out in a marshy lake.

Apparently this is their preferred setting.  It is actually a pretty nice picture with the deep color in the trees contrasted against the bright white of the pelicans.  I had to shrink it down significantly which resulted in losing some of its visual.  Let me bring it in a little for you.

As you can tell (even with the zoom fuzz residuals) that it is another breeding male with likely his trophy wife.  Once again I was unable to witness any fishing activity which sounds pretty interesting.  In one of the descriptions in the bird guide, they described the technique.  They work in groups to herd prey into shallow water or they ease into a school of feeding fish gulping ones that stray close to the surface.  This description did not align with the settings I took these shots based on the most I found together was TWO.

Hit the jump to see two more birds being featured today, the Goldeneye and the Canadian Goose

Continue reading Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

Bringing out the Big Birds

Since no one has cried “Uncle” yet on the bird posts from the Yellowstone vacation last year, I’m bringing out another set of birds.  These are what I call the Big Birds of the water.  I actually have a better set of this particular bird from a couple of photo session in Lacon IL, but sticking with the theme, here is one I snapped on that particular trip.

This is the Great Blue Heron and to be honest, outside the Eagle, this is my favorite bird.  Not only is this a fascinating looking bird while on the ground, it has a truly majestic flight.  Along with the 72″ wingspan it has a flight form that recalls impressions of the pterodactyl.  Having stood less than 10′ from one while clearing the brush by our stream last year (recall Operation Parkify) I can assure you these birds are huge.  If I was to guess, this bird’s legs are the same length as body to head.  Obviously this particular fishing spot is a few feet deep.  It was interesting just how calming this setting was and it felt more like a painting.  And yes, that is snow in the upper left.  We were out there in the June timeframe, but snow was still melting off.   Don’t worry, I’ll zoom you in a bit.

Based on the plumage this appears to be an adult breeding male.  Interesting enough, I have never seen one nesting.  According to the field guides, they nest colonially in tall trees.  This one also has his head up pretty high which probably gives a better radius for finding  fish/frogs etc. swimming around him.  They will also fold their neck back on itself (as in pterodactyl)  which quite frankly when combined with that sharp long spear of a beak looks like a serious weapon.

Unfortunately, I did not get this in focus due to the low ISO being used for reduced noise, but at one point a bird (guessing swallow) cruised in next to the Heron momentarily distracting it.  This was the only time while watching him that a ripple appeared in the water.

You can make out the fuzzy image of the pesky swallow in the shot above.  Undaunted the Heron stiffened up again, the water calmed and soon he was back on his fishing game.  Expect to see more sets of this bird in the future.

An clever reader may have noticed I pluralized the title.  “Clearly the little swallow doesn’t count as a big bird and there is only one other bird in pictures -what gives blog boy?”  Well, it’s a bonus day because I am also highlighting another set of birds that managed to catch my attention while driving through the park.  My birding awareness must be improving.  As proof, Linda was driving through the park when this scene caught my eye.

Having never seen this particular bird before, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  The legs were somewhat invisible which made it seem like a couple of ground hogs playing on the side of a hill.  Curious, I had Linda stop on the side of the road and walked back to the spot I saw them.  Still not sure, I focused the zoom and to my surprise it had a long neck and legs.   They were pretty far out there, but I’ll try to bring it in a little.

Pretty cool eh?  Hit the jump to see more pictures of these two Sandhill Cranes.

Continue reading Bringing out the Big Birds

It’s VDay and Love is in the Air

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!  Hopefully you were able to spend some time with your significant others and remember the first time you knew she/he was the one to complete you.  In honor of “Couple’s Day” I bring you some water fowl I came upon while out on our Yellowstone trip last year.  I don’t think I am ever going to get through all the wildlife pictures we took while out there.  Thankfully we’re in the digital age or the film bill would have been horrendous.

First off is the Lesser Scaup.  Warning, these pictures are not tack sharp due to having to pull them in from so far away.  Based on the blurs, I am guessing I also did not have time to put the glass on the tripod either.

As you probably assumed, the male is the more colorful one.  His bill is actually a pale blue which blends in perfectly with the water making him look slightly odd from this angle.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell from the guide books the real difference between the Lesser version and the Greater version beyond the size (Lesser is ~1.5″ shorter and 3″ shorter between the wingtips resulting in about .5 lbs less in weight).  It does appear the Lesser’s have a more southern population during winter than the Greater.

Here is a better set of pictures from a small lake bordered by evergreens.  The trees gave an interesting green reflection on the water.

The green brings out the pale blue on the male much better.  The spooky aspect of the male is the yellow eyes.  In person they really pop against the dark purple head.  As you can tell the Lesser Scaup has all the standard male characteristics as he turns to check out the female’s tail feathers.  Clearly she is playing hard to get.

But in true Valentine’s spirit, she gave in to Cupid’s buckshot.

Just to contrast this romantic scene, there was another water fowl that wasn’t experiencing the joys of courtship.  This Western Grebe was trolling around all alone in a lake to himself/herself.

Unfortunately, once again I was pulling this fowl in from the extent of the glass.  The male and female do not seem to differ much from the pictures in the guides so I can’t tell if this lonely bird was a female or a male.  Following the trend of colorful eyes, this bird actually has a red tint and like the Scaup, really stands out against the darker head coloring.

This shot is pulled in a little more to help show the interesting coloring.  It is amazing how naturally camouflaged it is for his environment and when it moved out of the darker tree reflections you could barely distinguish it from the white clouds being mirrored in the water.   Based on the information in the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds, the Western Grebe has quite the courtship ritual involving synchronized scooting across the water (just their feet touching the water) and a cute “weed ceremony”  where each bird dances upright with the other while holding water weeds in their bills.  I definitely have to try to get a shot of that the next time I am out West.  Here’s to hoping our little friend above gets his chance to experience this interesting courtship.

Gotta go now, the Olympics are starting up again and this is one sports junkie who never gets enough of athletes trying their best to represent their country… unless it’s figure skating in which case I’ll switch on over to Spike TV.

It’s There, I Just Can’t See It

Things I am thankful for at the moment:

  • Voters in Massachusetts
  • My Chiropractors (unless  he is unable to get the feeling back into my four right toes thanks to a nasty snowboard crash a couple of weeks ago)
  • Burton product managers (just upgraded my snowboard boots and bindings to the latest advancements – can’t have any more of those crashes now can we?)
  • My parents made it down to Florida before the huge storm
  • All my blog readers out there (slather on the butter)
  • And most importantly that there are 31 days in January – and I needed every one of them to get 6 posts in this month

I am going to close out this month’s set of posts with a bird that posed a challenge for me in a couple of ways.  While out on our Yellowstone vacation, we took a short hike up a trail.  While taking in the beautiful scenery, I heard an interesting bird song coming from a set of trees.  It was a rather unique sound, but the point of origin was difficult to pinpoint.  Slowly the sound was vectored in and it slowly revealed itself.  What was this sneaky bird?  Well, it was this one:

The challenge of actually seeing this bird was matched by the difficulties in actually identifying it in my multiple bird books.  Turns out there are at least 6 variations of this Junco with varying coloring contrasts.  Some have a darker head, some have a larger brown spot on their back.  To be honest, at the time it looked like a shrunken robin without the bright orange belly.  Based on the picture above, it is obvious he had no trouble locating me.

This shot gives a better perspective of the side and belly feathers.  The belly t is a dull orange which lead to the robin reference.  From a photo perspective, I do like how these close up shots came out.  The coloring of the bird coordinated well with the bark of the back trees and the wisps of greenery give a nice depth perspective.  Here is another one that I probably like the best of all of them.  To his credit, even though I was moving around to get different angles he did not get concerned enough to seek safety in the deeper brush.

I hate the fact I have to reduce and compress the images for this website.  The full size raws look significantly better than the smaller versions used for the blog posts.  I might actually look into leveraging a photo service website to use as a repository for the larger images.  That way I could provide links to the full versions if you wanted to see those.

Unlike our friend the Mountain Bluebird the Junco blends in quite nicely with their habitat.  Based on the various pictures of the 6+ variations they all look like the colorings would hide it nicely among the limbs and brush common in the forest.  To demonstrate this, here are a couple of examples consisting of full scenes (reduced for space).  Try your hand at Where’s Waldo.

Now that you know what you are looking for it makes it a tad easier compared my struggle trying pinpoint the source of the chirp.  In case you did have some problems, here is a zoom of it:

I pulled a slight switcharoo on you.  This is actually one of the other variations that has a slightly lighter brown patch on the back.  How about another try:

It’s there, trust me.

Let’s hope they don’t figure out how to use that stealth trait against us. They would probably team up with the Ravens and wreak considerable havoc.  I recommend not making them angry!

Whew, that was a close one.  Wiping the sweat from my brow, I close out the 6th and final post of the month.

Let’s Hope His Enemy is Color Blind

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

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

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

Here is a slightly zoomed picture.

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

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

The Gray Jay on a Gray Day

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

Today’s feathered feature is the Gray Jay.

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

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

Definitely less scary than the Raven eh?

Nevermore … actually a lot more on the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pleasant dreams everyone … Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore

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

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

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

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

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