They Who Suck Sap

I put my blogging hobby in jeopardy tonight.  Linda and I checked out a German Christmas Market (Christkindlmarket) in downtown Chicago or as I like to refer to it as – Ron’s neighborhood (cue comment ha).  Really nice German/European themed market full of cultural foods and gifts.  We took a special liking to the cider and hot chocolate in souvenir mugs and an amazing amount of really cool glass ornaments.  Show me a colorful glass bird ornament and I switch into “here, take my money” mode.   Problem was it was an OUTSIDE market.  Start with the windy city’s namesake, add in a heaping amount of plunging temperatures gives you some mighty bitter conditions.  Somehow made it back to the hotel without my fingers falling off – still tingle while I type.  In an attempt to bring them back to room temperature, thought I would feature a bird found in much warmer conditions.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin - April 2014

Actually this post features specimens found in multiple locations over multiple years and in different months of the year (yes, all warmer than the tundra conditions we experienced tonight).  This featured bird is a member of the Sapsucker species.  It is pretty easy to tell the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a member of the Woodpecker family.  Long, powerful bill, well clawed to support hanging on the sides of trees/branches and adorned in the common colors of black, white and red.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at Kentucky Lake - April 2015

Hit the jump to read some more about Mr. Sappy Sucker!

Continue reading They Who Suck Sap

Here Comes the King

I am officially an owner of an empty shell of a body.  Tonight’s run was quite the struggle with the gas running out at the 2 mile mark.  Forced my way to a total of 8 miles but there were some dark side of the moon moments that made me think back to the last section of my Marathon.  Pretty much overdid it digging the trench yesterday.  Not good seeing as how I have a training run in the Quad Cities this Thursday evening prepping for the Bix 7 later in the month.  Tomorrow just might be a take it easy day (for the record, I HATE those days).  I promised another update today so broken body and all (ha), I’m here to serve.  Today I bring you a collection of shots of the Eastern Kingbird.

Eastern Kingbird shot on trip to Yellowstone Park - 5/2013

These first two were taken at Lake Andes in South Dakota.  We were passing through on our way to Yellowstone National Park back in May of 2013. The Eastern Kingbird happens to be one of those species that is easy to identify in the field… even if you are not a seasoned birder.  They have a fairly slim profile with a brilliant white underbelly up through the neck.  This contrast with the black overcoat (some say it wears a business suite) is easily recognizable from afar – especially when spotted in their preferred marshy habitat.  Similar to the Phoebes and Flycatchers, these birds put a serious hurt on the insect population wherever they roam.  Watch them for a bit and you will see them dart out from their perch, do some amazing acrobatic moves and return to their starting point with the fruits of their labor clinched tightly in their beaks (like in the shot above).

Eastern Kingbird shot on trip to Yellowstone Park - 5/2013

Oh, I should probably point out there is another easy way to identify them in the field.  If you check the shot above you will notice their tail feathers look like they were dipped in white paint.  This is usually my first identifying mark depending on the viewing angle.

Hit the jump to see a few more shot so the King.

Continue reading Here Comes the King

Crane Craniums

Pretty much doing some early Spring cleaning around here at LifeIntrigued.  I have a bunch of processed pictures sitting in the queue I want to get through as soon as possible.  Not that there is anything wrong with them, I’m just getting really antsy to get to all the trips we’ve taken since these were taken.
International Crane Foundation July 2013

The good news is this set of shots is more recent than all the Yellowstone posts from May 2013 you’ve been reading for the last couple of months.  To quantify the liberal use of “recent” these pictures were taken in .. wait for it … July of 2013.    WOOT!

International Crane Foundation July 2013

Hit the jump to see some more interesting birds!

Continue reading Crane Craniums

Whoop Whoop Whoop

So how’s everyone doing out there today?  Will it make you feel better if I tell you this is the last post in the first International Crane Foundation series?  Although if you are a birder you might be saddened thinking this might be the last of the bird posts for awhile.  If you are in the latter, no worries.  The Denver trip produced at least 6 new checks on the bird list and thinking at this moment of jumping to the back of the queue and processing them so I can claim the full check.  I feel a little embarrassed when I tell people there are only 70 some birds on my life list – keep in mind that means photographed and blogged on so far.  Hoping to be over a hundred by the end of the year.  A few more trips like Denver’s and I’ll be in good shape.

Truth be told this post is somewhat bittersweet.  I do like Cranes (as noted by my brother Ron) so knowing this is the last of the First Series is a little sad.  On the sweet side, I purposely saved the best for last – this bird is in the top echelon of my favorite birds.

The title should have given it away, but this is indeed a Whooping Crane.  One of two Linda and I spent a healthy amount of time photographing on our first trip to the International Crane Foundation.  Unlike the previous post that talked about the issues with fences, these Whoopers live in the nicest habitat they have complete with natural enclosures and a pond that comes up right alongside the viewing area.  There is also elevated bench seating for visitors to sit back, relax in the shade and listen to the ranger educate them on this wonderful bird.

We are generally there early in the season giving us the entire area to ourselves.  No problem setting up the tripod wherever we want, right up to the waters’ edge.  A fantastic experience for any bird photographer – even ones that claim they are not bird photographers ….like my wife  who on the contrary has been upping the competition as of late.  Every time we have been there, we’ve been able to witness two of the resident Whooping Cranes.  I can’t say for sure it has been the same couple all those years, but they are pretty oblivious to our presence and mirror slaps.  Calm birds and nice settings – what more can you ask for (well, if you insist, could have used some overcast that day to help cut down on the harshness of the sun).

Hit the jump to see and read more about the Whooping Crane!

Continue reading Whoop Whoop Whoop

Round Shapes in Square Holes

It’s a new month which means the blog counter gets reset.  All is good though due to our recent trip out to Denver – came back with enough blog material to pretty much take me through the end of this year.  That, of course, is under the assumption I can plow through the current backlog.  Just need to get past a few more planned races and time should free up again.  As of now I’ve managed to tweak a back rib which really luckily only hurts when I breathe or move.   Making the best of a bad situation figured it would be a good time to sit in a chair and get started on the quota – holding my breath so if a long stream of letters shows up here get help for I’ve passed out.

Speaking of making the most out of a bad situation, that is just about what this particular post was titled.  Why?  because this is all about trying to cope with a wildlife photographer’s nemesis – the dreaded chain link fence.  The International Crane Foundation has some very nice habitats for photography, but there a number of pens in the central area that rely on standard fencing.  No need to fear…

There are plenty of opportunities to still come away with some nice shots and if nothing else, you can use it as practice when conditions are not ideal out in the field.  In a previous post it was mentioned that the Beast (my 200 to 400 glass) is capable of limiting the impact fences have on a shot as long as the subject you are shooting is a considerable distance away from the fence.  You might get some linear shading but that can be worked out in the digital dark room if really needed – most of the time people will not notice unless your composition tells them there was a fence there in the first place.  When the subject is close to the fence, there is no way the glass is going to let that go.  Instead you have to be a little more creative.  The easiest approach is to simply go for dramatic detail.

These first two shots were simply a matter of cropping out those pesky fence lines and focusing on the core component of all wildlife photography – the eye!  If you recall, this topic has come up before (link here).  I really like those shots and planning to make them into a mini wall collage at some point in honor of Peter Lik who does a similar thing with textures.  Thanks to the ICF trip there are now two more shots for the collection.

Hit the jump to see more examples of how to cope with fences in your composition!

Continue reading Round Shapes in Square Holes

Surprise, A Trifecta of Cranes

What will he post about next…. hmmmm.. maybe a collection of observations at buffets including the lady at Jumer’s Casino who takes her bare hands, puts it on the top plate of a stack and pushes them out closer to the customers and then repeats with the remaining stack of plates next to it leaving me stunned.  I took the top plate off one of the stacks put it on the now empty spot behind them and took the plate below it – making sure she noticed.  As fun a topic as that might be it really doesn’t stick with this month’s theme.  Idiots that throw trash on the ground at State Parks…nah, last year’s trek to get a rare bird (Ron wishes)… I know, how about some more CRANES!!!

What a great idea.  The bad news is these pictures are not gallery quality, but it does feature one of the coolest Cranes (my personal opinion of course).

This regal looking Crane is called a Demoiselle.  Every time I see it at the International Crane Foundation images of Roman Senators leap to mind with their leaf crowns.  According to the ICF website, these Demoiselles occupy the low end of the Crane stature scale – 3ft, 4-7lbs and once again rockin’ Wikipedia nets me their wingspan of 61 to 71″ for a wingspan.  Note to ICF, wingspan is a common birder attribute so highly recommend adding it to your descriptions.  What they lack in stature, they make up in quantity.  They are in the 200 to 240K range with a stable average population – yeah!  As a result, they are listed as Least Concern Conservation Status.

Thought the composition of the  shot above was cute.  It was definitely taking an interest in the shape it had spotted in the grass – sorry, not sure what it was but let’s simply refer to it as “food”.  Don’t be worried, I do have a shot that shows their entire profile

Admittedly, not a stellar shot since it lacks that faux in the wild feeling seeing their little man made hut. Did I mention these birds are cool looking!   Pretty sure I have a better picture of them from a more recent visit so stay tuned and hopefully I’ll get caught up enough to get them on the Blog. Oh, reminded by the next shot, the Demoiselle is on of the few cranes that don’t sport the red patch on the head (which for those researching day and night does not match the red palette clue for my prize hunt).

Hit the jump to view two other Cranes we visited at the ICF

Continue reading Surprise, A Trifecta of Cranes

Another Royal Crane

We are on a roll here at Life Intrigued – a Crane roll for clarification.  I was going to vary it up a bit for this particular post, but the teeming millions of readers out there demanded that I stick with the International Crane Foundation shoot.  Steady readers will recognize we are once again back in Baraboo, Wisconsin admiring the beautiful Cranes.  This one happens to be even more ornate that rest.

This royal looking Crane, like the others this month, is making its debut on the blog.  According to ICF’s website, this bird is referred to as a Black Crowned Crane.  In a nod to the long time readers with an incredible attention to detail, you must might be thinking “Hey you ‘if you like your plan you can keep your plan period’ apprentice – that bird isn’t making its debut.  You already have one of those from your visit to the Indianapolis Zoo.”  Wow, that was harsh but unlike the reference, I was telling the truth.

A very similar Crane was posted previously on the blog back in Feb 2013 (link here).  Although that bird had a similar palette around the face and definitely a match on the spiky head piece, that was actually a Grey Crowned Crane.  Unless you saw these two birds together you probably wouldn’t be able to make the distinction, but as you can see in the shots of the Black Crowned Crane, the body is more … wait for it .. black.  Those clever namers never cease to surprise me.

Hit the jump to read more about this royal bird!

Continue reading Another Royal Crane

Another Day With The Cranes – 2 of Many

Been an exhausting day pounding out a 12 miler in the Jubilee hills and then breaking out the mower for the first cut of the season.  To give myself a bit of a rest, figured I’d take a seat and crank out a quick post.  I warned you in the last post that there were a number of Crane entries coming from our visit to the International Crane Foundation (link here) nestled near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

This colorful Crane specimen is referred to as a Wattled Crane and like the Blue Crane from the previous post, is a native of Africa.  Half the population of these birds (total ~8,000) take up residence in Zambia – a mighty long way from Wisconsin!  Unlike the Blue Crane, this particular species is on the other end of the stature scale.  If I recall correctly the Blue Crane tops out in the 4 foot range.  The Wattled Crane tops out in the SIX FOOT range.  Yes, this is one of those Cranes you can view at eye level while standing (unless you are short of six feet in which case you are immediately demoralized having to look UP to a bird.

Hit the jump to see more shots of the Wattled Crane!

Continue reading Another Day With The Cranes – 2 of Many

A Day With The Cranes – 1 of Many

In case you might have missed it, we are now officially in May.  Hard to believe around here seeing as how it has been like 46, windy and raining most of the week.  Couple that with the current administration claiming our economy is hurting because of .. wait for it .. the unusually cold Winter and we officially call Globull Warming a policy of redistribution based on hogwash.  But I digress, the real point about mentioning it was May is that it signifies the start a new set of posts (yeah, crowd goes wild!).  Calm down, you might scare the bird of the day.

Pretty cool eh?  Happened to catch this beautiful specimen walking across our backyard one morning.  Believe that?  Okay, I lied.  This was actually taken while hiking in a remote and dangerous part of Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Wow, tough crowd.. so it really wasn’t that remote… or that dangerous … but it WAS just outside of Baraboo Wisconsin so it wasn’t a complete distortion of the truth.  Reality is this Blue Crane was taken while visiting The International Crane Foundation (link here).   For those not familiar with this particular place, this foundation is focused on saving/restoring the various Crane species throughout the world.  They were founded back in 1973 by Ron Sauey and George Archibald.  From there they started a journey to conserve the Crane population that was in serious risk throughout the world.  They are probably most well known for their ongoing efforts to bring back the Whooping Crane population by creatively employing an ultra-light to help young Cranes migrate from Wisconsin to Florida starting back in 2001.  If you are a true birder, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to visit this awesome foundation.

On our first visit up there several years ago (when these pics were taken), we didn’t have very high expectations.  Wisconsin didn’t seem like the appropriate place to go check out Cranes.  Figured we’d stop by there, walk around the place for a bit and head out – maybe an hour tops.  It is stunning how wrong we were – thinking we pulled ourselves out of there after about 3.5 hours and that was because we had other places to be.  Not only did they have a number of birds on display, there were a number of habitats that were set up perfectly for photographers – in other words, they provided a means to shoot directly at some of the birds without having to deal with annoying linked fences.  The Blue Crane featured here had a nice area complete with muraled walls to provide the illusion of being out in the wild.  Each of the areas had some form of grazing area along with a structure they could seek shelter from the sun if needed.  I spent a lot of time waiting for the shot above thinking the doorway would provide a natural frame.  Decided to do a little more cropping on it to see which I liked better (see first shot).  Been back and forth on that, but eventually decided I liked the tighter cropping – any opinions from your perspective?

Here is a shot showing the wall mural – also gives a better impression on the size of the bird.  From a Crane perspective, the Blue Crane is on the smaller stature end.  They run in the 4 foot and 11 pound range.  Yes, I did just say they average 4 foot tall while also stating they are on the SMALLER end of the scale.  You haven’t had a true Crane experience until you are staring at one of the species standing nearly at eye level.

Hit the jump to read more about this beautiful Crane!

Continue reading A Day With The Cranes – 1 of Many