We’re Here for You Marmots – Rocky Mountain National Park

What does the Puss ‘n  Boots and the tiny rock creatures in Galaxy Quest have in common?  The answer is they frighten me.  No, I know they are not clowns, but they have the ability to be charming and cute while they are scheming to kill you.  Puss ‘N Boots would take off his hat, expand the eyes to capture his victim off guard and the pounces on them with saber in hand.  Those cute looking rock creatures are all smurf like until one shows a weakness and they pounce on it and tear it to shreds with their fangs and claws.  Why am I bothering to tell you this?  The reason is I encountered a new creature on visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park that creeps me out in a similar manner.   Here it is in stealth mode:

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Did you find it?  Here is a hint:

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

According to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Rocky Mountain States, this devious creature is a Marmot.  In my opinion he looks like a groundhog or possibly a beaver with a furry tale instead of the paddle.  Apparently, it is a member of the squirrel family which puts it in the Yosemite Sam Varmint category.  There is an error in this guide as it states that the Marmot’s habitat is below 11,000 feet.  This picture was taken at 12,000 feet on the Tundra trail.

Upon first look, it is all soft and cuddly like.  He would probably curl up in your lap and softly chirp (straight from the guide) away.

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

But there is definitely a demon side to this creature.  Take the jump to see a couple more pictures of the Marmot

Continue reading We’re Here for You Marmots – Rocky Mountain National Park

Yellowstone Trip – All About the Moose (Part 2 of Many)

 Update: 8/16/09 (original post 7/28/09) – Please see the corresponding Errata Page for a correction on the location this moose was seen at

As we traveled through Yellowstone Park we were checking off the various wildlife we saw against the field guild I mentioned in the last post.  There was one particular animal that was successfully eluding us almost the entire time. That particular animal was the following.

Yellowstone Moose

We had completely given up as we headed out of the park to the South on our way to the Grand Tetons.  Literally 5 minutes from the park exit we come upon this fine specimen.  Not carrying the same fear we had with the bears, we actually pulled over on the shoulder and exited the vehicle to get a closer look.  I must say, I was re-thinking that idea when I took this shot.

Yellowstone Moose

From this angle it looked a lot more ferocious and although this one did not have the biggest rack, it was still one of the largest animals we had seen on the vacation.  I am guessing for a brief moment this moose was thinking steak would taste better than those weeds.  Luckily it turned its attention back to the grass which calmed my heart down some.

Yellowstone Moose

Oddly, this was the only moose in the area as opposed to the other wildlife (with exception of the bears) that was not mingling with others in a herd.    The moose was very content to just eat his veggies and taken in the likely oddity of humans pointing cameras in its direction.  The dark fur really stood out against the greenery providing a nice contrast to the photos.   The following shot is probably my favorite since the branch looks like a hand tickling the fur under his snout causing his foot to raise up in a mock scratch.  My dogs do this all the time which makes me laugh.

Yellowstone Moose

It was close, but we did get to check this animal off of our checklist.  Next time we hope to catch one with a larger rack

Yellowstone Trip – All About the Bears (Part 1 of Many)

It’s getting late in the month again and I have a few posts to go to make my quota for the month.  Luckily there is plenty of content waiting in the wings many of which came from our recent trip out to Yellowstone.  I already posted the oddities collection from that adventure and now it is time to start the wildlife segment.  I thought I would lead with something we do not see much of out here in Illinois.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

If you look real close you will see today’s subjects.  Surprisingly, we had just entered the park from the East side when there were a few cars parked on the side of the road and some people looking out over the valley.  Figuring there was something of interest, we parked and grabbed the cameras.  Sure enough, waaaaaay out in the distance were these two black bears.  Keep in mind, I have a full Nikon 70-200 glass fully out and manually focusing this to get through all the trees.   Although not tack sharp for sure, I am pretty pleased I even got them at all.  Here is a zoomed version and it looks like they spotted me.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

Just 5 minutes into the park and we already had our first bear sighting.   Since I was not sure there was going to be anymore chances to see the elusive bears, I was snapping a ton of shots in the hopes one or two would come out decent enough I could prove we saw them.  It should be noted that there is actually snow on the ground.  It was the middle of June and we were definitely feeling the chill.  Apparently the bears were quite comfortable in their winter fur.  These two shots are a little better, but again, there were hard to see with the naked eye and having to manually focus was making it difficult to draw them in clear.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

After awhile they grew bored with watching us and headed back into the woodlands.  I caught this one taking a final look back probably thinking how tasty I would be for lunch.

Black Bears in Yellowstone

The good news is we actually had 3 other bear sightings while we were out there.  Take the jump to see some much better shot.  Well, actually three better shots and one crappy one with a frustrating story.

Continue reading Yellowstone Trip – All About the Bears (Part 1 of Many)

Things I Am Unable to Explain

Deadlines Deadlines Deadlines.  Cutting it close this time, but this post brings me to my self imposed minimum of 6 posts a month.  Before jumping back into the trip pictures, something strange occurred today while working in the yard.  It was time to deal with the trimming so I brought the trimmer out, gassed it up and reved it up.  As soon as the engine fired a barn swallow flew up behind me and started hovering in the air.  Actually, it was more like a bird backstroke because the birds body was actually vertical while the wings did a backward flap.  Not phased in the least by me turning to look at him, I decided to play out the situation.  As I was whacking down the weeds a moth flew up into the air.  At that point it all became very apparent.  The bird launched into action, chased that moth down and caught it.  I was impressed, not only was he pretty agile, he (assuming a male at this point) was smart enough to associate my trimmer with dinner.  This went on for about 15 minutes until he was either full or needed a rest.  For the curious, I could care less about the insect.  I draw the line there in favor of actual animals unlike PETA which apparently doesn’t know what the ‘A’ actually stands for based on their recent declaration against Obama killing a fly.

With that out of the way, I’ll lead with this picture.  Take a minute and just absorb the image….

Rock Hard Man

Linda thinks I’m crazy, but it sure looks like a rock man with ummmm… well… let’s just say that is some hard rock.   She vetoed my idea of merging it with one of the pictures of Old Faithful.

While in South Dakota, this truck passed us on the highway.

Truck Skull

All I could think of was the movie The Jerk when Steve Martin picks up the red chair and claims that is all he needs.   I would think the paint would be getting scratched up pretty good, but I must admit, the skull was a nice touch.

Catch a couple m0re shots after the jump

Continue reading Things I Am Unable to Explain

Public Enemy #2 or Ders Evil n Dem Woods

I have seen the face of evil and it wears a mask.  In my quest to rid myself of Public Enemy #1, I overlooked his demon spawn brethren.

Raccon

That’s right, my latest nuisance is the masked bandit himself (sorry for the flash eyes).  Actually I must instead refer to them as bandits since there are about three of them that have taken it upon themselves to terrorize my bird feeders.  For the the longest time I could not figure out why my seed kept disappearing so fast.  At first I thought the birds were just really hungry, but as time progressed, it kept going down faster and faster.  That’s when I noticed these guys coming around.

Raccon

Sure, they look kind of cute, but they have this feature called opposable thumbs which apparently fuels their passion to climb.  It just so happens that my feeders are attached to a tree.  Yes, you know where I am heading with this don’t you?

Raccon

I actually figured my rope approach to hanging the feeders would prevent the little varmints from being able to reach them.  Obviously, the squirrels figured out how to navigate this obstacle, but I figured the weight of the raccoon would deter this kind of bad behavior.  That would be a big error in judgment based on the fact they apparently took some pointers from monkeys.  Check this acrobat move out.

Raccon Hanging

I like this shot a lot for a couple of reasons.  First off, it shows exactly how my birdseed is disappearing.  It reaches its mischievous little paws into the larger feeder openings and throws it to the ground where his friends are waiting to eagerly to feast.  Interestingly enough, only one of the three is ever up in the tree at one time so there must be some kind of short straw thing going on.  The other reason I like this shot is it shows the hanging technique it has mastered to defeat my rope system.  Check out that back leg latched onto the branch.  In case you are having trouble seeing it, here is a closer view.

Raccon Hanging

Please continue reading after the jump.  I have a bunch more pictures of this demon spawn.

Continue reading Public Enemy #2 or Ders Evil n Dem Woods

Public Enemy #1

It has been a struggle, but looks like I am going to make my minimum 6 posts a month goal after all.  I must say that I seriously underestimated the amount of extra time it takes to maintain this goal while fulfilling my commitment to jazz the site up more with images.  Hopefully you noticed that every single post for the new year has had either an accompanying photo or topic relevant graphic.  What this translates to is extra time required for every post.  But I am committed to my loyal but demanding readers, so we journey on.

“Thy Enemy Has Fur!”  Today we set our sites on my wildlife nemesis. That’s right, I am talking about this beast.

Squirrel

Do not be fooled by the cute brown-gray fur or the sparkling in the eyes because this monster is pure evil.  I believe he spends his day scheming how to circumvent every one of the bird feeder protections I can think up.  He’ll first use ninja like stealth to shimmy up the tree and wait until the coast is clear.  Using his cunning ability to blend with the tree trunk colors, he will navigate towards the prize.

Squirrel

Look at him with that smirk on his face.   But what he doesn’t know is I’m on to his little game.  I’ll turn my back to give a false sense of security. Slowly he creeps out of the shadows and begins his decent.  Claw over claw he makes his way to shiny brass container with the belly filling seed.

Squirrel

Actually it is a pretty impressive ability as he basically does a pawstand to stretch as far as possible down the twine.  But what would you expect from devil-spawn?  Once shimmed down the rope, he has to maintain his balance on the slippery top of the feeder.  A top supposedly designed to hurl the rodent to is final resting place.  But no, it doesn’t even seem to give an ounce of concern.

Squirrel

Another check to verify the coast is clear and over the side he goes.   I would love to know what his strength to body weight ratio is.  This must be where the heart gets pumping.  With a constant eye on the nearby doors and windows the feet are put in place to give optimal support yet freedom to totally mangle my feeder.

Squirrel

I can’t take it anymore so I turn to face him… to strike fear in his eyes… to end this folly.  Our eyes remain fixed as he assesses the danger and braces for my attack.  At least that is what I though he was going to do.  Instead, the coward literally leaps from the bird feeder and grabs on to the side of the tree.  The leaping ability puts the twine crawling capability to shame.  Back on solid ground he scampers back up to a position of authority.  What’s he doing now?  You have got to be kidding me?

Squirrel

The little SOB has taunted me a second time with a full flip-off.  Enraged I fling open the door in protest.  In a flash of the tail (yes, he waved it in my face for a third level of taunt) he bolts down the tree and heads out into the forest.  He may have be able to get away clean this time, but I’ve got the camera charged up and waiting his return.  Come to think of it, I’m a little hungry.  I wonder if they really taste like chicken.

Until the NEXT time!

Night Dwellers Part 2

Figured I would go ahead and get another night shot out of the way.  As with the spiders in the previous post these shots were taken late night on our porch.  Some people have bird dogs other rabbit dogs.  I happen to own a frog and toad dog.  When our poodle heads outside, he always does a quick look around the porch to see if there are any toads or frogs hanging around and makes sure he puts his nose no farther than a millimeter away.  The running joke is that Rizzi is a junkie and likes to lick the frogs to get his fix.  That was the case the night I took this frog shot.

Frog

It was definitely started by the flood of lights (not to mention the personal space violation from Rizzi).  I was afraid to get to close so I didn’t have a chance to give a visual size reference, but this one was around 3 inches.  The flash gave some pop to the eyes but again lost in the ‘shopping.  I am guessing this little creature is impossible to see on a tree trunk or in the dead leaves.  Not such great cover on the cement.

Frog

I probably need to pick up a frog reference when I go to pick up my spider reference book.  After quick searches on the web and a follow up with the trusty Wikipedia, the consensus is Gray Treefrog or Hyla versicolor.  Apparently if I had waited for it to jump there would have been color under the legs.  You don’t believe that did you?  Of course I did not just “wait” for it to jump.  After 5 minutes of trying to entice it with my toe in order to get the super cool jumping shot, I gave up and went to bed.

Well, I hope Mr. Gray has a fulfilling life and my thanks to him for being a willing subject.  RIIIIIBBBBBEEETTT

Night Dwellers (part 1 of likely many throughout the year)

One of my chores, if you will, is to take our dogs out before retiring for the night.  Due to the potential for coyotes and other non-friendly pet wildlife we coexists with out in the country, this involves hitting our flood lights which illuminates our entire porch and a large section of the yard.  You cannot be too careful when taking care of a 5 pound dog.  This instant light tends to surprise animals, insects and the like.  As a result, I tend to see some interesting (and sometimes scary) things previously undercover of the night.  I decided to snap a few shots to share the experience with my readers – especially those people who have not experienced the country life.

The first subject for the night dwellers collection is the Wolf Spider.

Wolf Spider

Interesting enough, I have often heard these spiders referred to as Timber Spiders, but I was unable to find that name on the web.  It may be time to hit the bookstores and pick up a spider reference book since at least once a week a new species pops up around here.  They are not venomous to humans, but their hairy texture and potentially large size have a tendency to provoke pretty aggressive stomping by those caught off guard.  As an FYI, the Brown Recluse is really the only venomous spider we have to worry about around here.  Those tend to avoid any contact and therefore not a big concern but I do give a quick scan of the woodpiles and such just in case.

Wolf Spider

My general rule is to let all insects and arachnids live if they are not found inside the house or are smaller than a Loon coin.  This specimen was definitely on the larger end of that (if not bigger) but since it tolerated my flash photography it was given a second chance.  I have a new lens coming for my camera that will give me much sharper shots, but hopefully you can tell these things are extremely hairy and look quite formidable.  The eye reflection was pretty neat through the glass, but did not really make it through the reduction process which makes the image web friendly.  By eye, I mean the reflection coming off of one or more of their eight eyes.

Follow the jump to see another image of the wolf spider taken a few days later.  That one has an egg sac.

Continue reading Night Dwellers (part 1 of likely many throughout the year)

These Mallards Play in Water

I figured I would go ahead and close out the Davenport Iowa bird shoot.  We’ve done the eagles, the gulls and now presenting..

Mallard

That’s right, the Mallard Duck.  This guy was enjoying the 50 degree weather in march.  The shot turned out pretty good with the green shimmering nicely in the sun and you can even make out the water droplets on the duck’s feathers.  This was pretty fitting since the Quad Cities’ minor league hockey team is actually named The Mallards.  Here is another one with a different direction to the sun giving a slightly different shimmer pattern.

Mallard Duck

There were actually a number of them (can’t remember the proper term for a grouping of ducks at the moment).

Mallards

Believe me, it was extremely tough to get them to all go in the same direction.  You also have a nice mixture of the females included in this shot – clearly they were stiffed when the coloring was handed out.

Follow the jump to see some more shots of the Mallard

Continue reading These Mallards Play in Water

Dr. Livingston I Presume

 Gull

This post is a first for our little off-ramp on the Information Highway.  Today we have, in a sense, a guest blogger.  The pictures contained in this post were actually taken by my wife.  As with the previous posts, these were taken up in Davenport IA.  We had parked at the rollers on the Mississippi River looking for eagles and she decided to snap a few shots of a flying gull.  It actually took a while to identify this particular bird.  Previously, we had always referred to them as seagulls.  That name was mysteriously missing from the field guides I use.  After looking and relooking and re-relooking we have decided to go with a Herring Gull.  The beak does not appear to have a strip (ring-billed gull) on it and the range appears to fit.

Gull

Although they are often considered the vermin of the airways, these birds do have a certain aura about them that gives the appeal of a heavenly glow.  A very pure white with a touch of highlighting like a quill dipped in the inkwell.

Gull

While I was trying to identify the species, it occurred to me I couldn’t see his feet (one of the gull types has yellow feet).  Guessing the belly is pretty fluffy allowing him to tuck them under for greater aerodynamics – or possibly warmth.  I saved the best image for last.  I really like this shot and left it a little larger to hopefully show a little more detail.  The sunlight radiates through the wings almost to the point of transparency.  Personally, I think their quite beautiful, but then again, I do not have to live with the pain of their constant scavenging.

Gull from the Heavens

Thanks again to the wife for taking some pretty shots