Scarlet for Valentine’s

Once again the white fluffy stuff is coming down. Luckily the accumulation has been manageable so far and not one to complain since it means our wells will benefit as it melts off in a month or so. Unfortunately, not the best of timings as Linda and I had to renew our qualifications on the range this morning. Last time it was also snowing, but 2 degrees (F) out making conditions completely miserable. Still chilly today, but definitely better. Now that the fingers are all warmed up, figured I’d bang out a quick post (bad pun). Decided to wait on the previously planned post and continue with the Valentine’s theme. This was mainly due to a few people asking for details on how our annual “Date Night with a Skunk” went.

Brian and Linda Dinner with a Skunk Wildlife Prairie Park February 2019

Quick background. We are members of Wildlife Prairie Park, a now privately owned park focused on the wildlife historically common to the Midwest. They have a number of captive animals and birds to enjoy and really nice grounds for walking, birding, mountain biking, trail running etc. We happen to volunteer there helping them photographically chronicle their progress on a new bird related endeavor they embarked on last year (3+ years still to go on that). This park used to be owned by the state, but since Illinois is essentially a fiscally failed state (scratch the “essentially” and just go with it IS a fiscally failed state), some private investors ended up taking it back and turning it around. One of their annual fundraisers is an elaborate Valentine’s dinner complete with drinks, dancing (if you are into that), 5 course meal, door prizes and you guessed it… an evening with a local resident Skunk – a play on the love stricken Pepe Le Pew cartoon (not sure this cartoon fits in this day and age anymore). For several years now, along with some friends we have been attending this event and yes, getting our pictures taken with an absolutely adorable Skunk. Just in case you are wondering, de-scented and basically a domesticated version of their more common wild brethren that have a habit of causing neighborhood dogs to get tomato soup baths. Our friend Sung took our pictures above before the night took on an unexpected elation moment only to result in a major disappointment.

Before I get to that, let’s shift to the real feature for today’s post.


Hit the jump to see a few more pictures of the featured bird and find out how the dinner party went.

Continue reading Scarlet for Valentine’s

Project Chekov: Eagle

Getting close to my blog quota for the month and we really are not even out of the first week of the new year.  The good news is Project Chekov is still getting into gear which can mean only one thing – yep, another bird post.  The featured bird today is a tad bittersweet for me.  On the one hand it allows me to get through some pictures that were taken awhile back.  On the other hand I would much prefer focusing on the latest series which were just taken last week while up along  the Mississippi.  Just more incentive to get caught up!  As you probably noticed, the bird topic today is the Eagle.

These are second only to owls when it comes to my personal bird photography and really only second because they are becoming much more abundant in places we can easily reach.  When Linda and I started taking pictures of these along the Mississippi River up in the Quad Cities area we would find maybe 5 or so along a particular road we frequently hunted.  Now days, that same road has well over 50-70 of these majestic birds hanging out in the trees with probably another 300 or so circling the surrounding areas.  Definitely a resurgence in their population – not sure if that is just a local phenomena and maybe there is some condition up North that is driving more of them down or they are just prospering as a species.  In either case, we get the benefit of whatever is going on.  The interesting thing is about a third of the birds we saw were juvis so we should have good viewing for some years to come.  There is just something exhilarating about watching these large birds through the big glass as they scan the river surface looking for food.  Once spotted, they’ll unfurl their wings and essentially drop off the branch before gaining enough air under their wings to lift up their strong torsos.  A few circles and those talons emerge from under their tail feathers for the final dip into the water, often times snagging an unsuspecting fish.  The other Eagles in the vicinity will notice this and give chase, but if the Eagle makes it back to the trees it is generally left alone to enjoy a hearty feast of fish.  Every time I get to witness their ability to rip into fish makes me wonder what would happen if they got annoyed by my presence – those razor sharp talons and beak could do some harm.  But then I think – oh, no problem, my UB has my back (collective laughter).   Good for me, the Eagles tend to pay little attention to those annoying people with their cameras.

Having the pleasure to witness Eagles in the wild has a sobering effect when viewing them in captivity.  I have mixed feelings about the whole zoo thing.  As long as the birds are well taken care of and have an environment that is conducive to their lifestyle I have little issue – in fact, if it wasn’t for access to birds in this setting I would probably not be such an enthusiast today.  The other condition that is completely acceptable is rehabilitation or sanctuary for injured birds (again, the latter still needs to have a conducive environment).  When it comes to Eagles, I think injury and recovery are the only lawful means to have one in captivity – may be wrong about that, but that has been the universal reason for all the ones I’ve seen in zoos etc.  Our own Wildlife Prairie Park has Eagle residents and both of those have damaged wings and are unable to fly sufficiently to be in the wild.  Without this assistance they would surely be dead in the survival of the fittest wild.

However, under the protection of WPP, they appear to be well nourished and accepting of their pen.  The hard part for photographers is this particular pen is encased in wire fencing.  As mentioned in a previous post, The Beast can focus through most fences without much issue depending on how close the links are – if you look close at the shot above you can make out some soft areas where the links crossed through the shot.

Hit the jump to see a couple more shots from captivity

Continue reading Project Chekov: Eagle

Tawt I Taw A Putty Cat

Thought I would keep with the theme from last post and bring you another set of shots taken at Wildlife Prairie Park.  As with the last post, these were also taken in April 2011.  You might be glad to know that I am only one trip away from closing out all the shoots through 2012.  With the time off over the holidays I’ve been spending extra time in the digital darkroom previewing, selecting, post processing and preparing them for upload to our gallery.  This means PLENTY of fodder for the blog well into next year.  Also gives me the chance to think about a blog project for January I’ve been chewing on for awhile now – stay tuned on that.  Until then, let’s talk about a cute little kitty.

Okay, maybe not so little and for most more on the threatening side than cute, but still a member of the cat family.  As with all cats apparently, a purebred killer – all that really differs between them is the size of their prey.  These particular cats enjoy the tasty flesh of  deer, elk, moose, sheep and can probably include cattle in that category.  As opposed to those domestic cats (which these bigger cats are genetically closer to than lions according to our friends over at Wikipedia) which tend to reign terror over the local birds and mice.

Hit the jump to view a few more shots of this killing machine

Continue reading Tawt I Taw A Putty Cat

Badger Them with Badgers

Wanna see pictures of badgers?  Do you wanna see pictures of badgers.. really .. wanna see my pictures of a badgers… hehehehe – thought I would have some fun and “badger” you a bit – to keep with the theme in all.  In truth, it is December which is my designated time to go back and try to get caught up on all the stragglers  that I didn’t get to over the course of the year.  Sad to say, that time machine now takes us back to April 2011 at a Wildlife Prairie Park shoot.  If you recall, Badgers made their debut last April (2013) (link here).  Admittedly, not my best work at time due to some harsh lighting and eek missed focus points.  The RAWs from this shoot were at first glance not that stellar either, but it was worth a try in the digital darkroom.

If you saw the originals you would understand how much work it took to get to this point.  After a direct comparison, I much prefer this set to the previous.  On retrospect, could have gone a little bit more darker, but not sure if there was any more left in the RAW format.  Those claws still make me shudder every time I see them.  Haven’t seen rippers like that since battling the Snapper (link here). The reference sites declare their predators to be coyotes and eagles – seriously?  what dumbass coyote (obviously not a fan) would have the nerve to take on one of these beasts?  Oh, forgot, those wusses only take on the enemy when they have the numbers – sneaky bastards.  An eagle might be able to grab a cub but there is no way they could lift off with this specimen in their talons.

This evidence does cry foul on the previous post statement that we had never seen the Badgers out before – there was apparently one other time they were out.  My humble apologies for leading you astray – I’d say Mr. photoblogger needs to stay on top of his shoots in the future.  Of the three shots I worked up, the following is my favorite for one simple aspect – the tooth.  Just seems to add that extra element that draws your attention away from the claws.  Surprised it wasn’t more of a sharper fang.

A quick check of Google Images did produce this picture (link here) which does show it carries some nasty looking teeth.  There were no other  shots in the my set that showed any more of the teeth.  Next visit we’ll see if we can zoom in on those.  For now, all you get is a little tease.

Lastly we have the Badger dude working on that upper body strength.  Lift that branch.. feeeeel the burrrrrrn.

You can see a little of that harsh light coming in on the bottom edge.  The tree provided enough cover to cut most of that out but for some reason I ended up over-exposing during the shoot.  The darkroom took most of that out for the save, but I have to force myself to check the histogram in the future.  More diligence in the field will make for far less time in the darkroom (and maybe .. just maybe I’ll be able to post shots sooner than 21 months after the shoot!)

Oh well, photography is a journey and I can still see the starting gates.  Time to go watch the Voice finals ooops.. I mean read some Nikon manuals.

No One Bites Back as Hard

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

I saved the best for last which is quite fitting since this is the last post of the month and the last in the three part Wolf series. Continuing on with the shoot at Wildlife Prairie Park, this particular entry brings closure on the after treatment study.  If you recall, the first post in this series was the traditional color version with some amped up contrast (link here). The resulting benefit of that is the conversion to Black and White was pretty impressive (link here). In fact at the time it was a definite candidate for this season’s contests. There was still one more effect to experiment with….

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free
No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you

What do you think? Admittedly, I was very very pleased and ranking these series as my best yet. Granted the purists are going to have some hardship with the degree of post processing, but at this point I could care less. Whenever this particular argument comes up (purist vs processing) I always fall back to one simple question – “What is your impression of Ansel Adams’ work?”. I do not think there are many photographers out there that have a bad opinion of his work and some out there (as in Linda) consider the pinnacle of the business. Guess what folks, he did major manipulation in the darkroom – granted before the age of digital, but the concept of dodging and burning was in full use in his workflow. I am no where near the caliber of Ansel and the other greats in the photography world likely post processing their work (perhaps Mr. Lik falls into this category), but what is good enough for them is good enough for me. I tell no lies, I do use Lightroom and Photoshop… and why do I do that… because these are the results.

Hit the jump to read more about the treatment done on this set of pictures.

Continue reading No One Bites Back as Hard

Aftertreatment Sweetness

Here I sit at another dog show trying to figure out how to pass the abundance of downtime that comes with these agility events.  Working in my favor, for a change, is I still need to get some posts in to close out the month.  Knowing the show was coming up gave some security that as long as the post processing was done on the images and the upload to the Smugmug gallery went without a hitch only thing left to do was find time to spew out some words – maybe even in readable sentences!  Processing done – check, upload successful – check – some free time … crap loads.

Keeping with the theme of all the barking dogs crated around me, today’s post returns us to the ancestry of the domestic dog.  Not sure if it was mentioned in the previous Wolf post (link here), but that post was really a three parter. A trifecta if you will since that specific shot resulted in three very distinct post processing opportunities.  The previous shot was the standard color treatment, but likely unnoticed by you, there were some subtle differences in the final processing of those.  Specifically the contrast was amped a little more than usual to darken the background.  This provided better separation between the wolf and the foliage in the background.  Although it does make a slightly better image in terms of color, where it really makes an impact is when you convert it to …

Welcome to my new favorite set of photographs.  Although there were a few sample tests during the color processing I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to turn out.  Admittedly a very biased opinion, but I really really like them.  My favorite shots are the one above and below (and one a little further down) – can’t decide between these two which I like more for sure, but leaning to the first one due to the more symmetrical ears.. at the cost of the wolf staring directly at the viewer in the one below.  Hit the comments section and give me your thoughts.. which as always are valuable input into the upcoming competition season – Linda’s already beginning to worry but the Yellowstone trip is coming up and that is a rich environment for her preferred subjects.  Some photobombing may be in order hehehehe.

Hit the link to see more of these B&W wolf shots!

Continue reading Aftertreatment Sweetness

What Big Eyes You Have

Based on the recent feedback from the Wildlife Prairie Park shoot, it appears that Badgers are not that appealing to my readers.  In addition, what I thought was simply a collection of cute and cuddly goslings conjure up images of horror that have been unsuccessfully suppressed.  Well, there is only one thing left to do and that is to bring out the big boys.  I am actually torn between deciding what was more exciting that day at the park.  The rare sighting of the Badger was definitely a highlight, but the time we spent at the Wolf exhibit is tough to beat.  Compared to all the times we have been to WPP and all the times we have experienced other captive Wolves, nothing stacks up against the awesome setting one of the Wolves chose to pass away the day.

This is one of those shots I could stare at all day.  Truth be told, I’ll get that chance since almost all of the shots in this set were sent out for prints based on the results out of the digital darkroom.  It was pretty sunny out that day and the Wolves were pretty lethargic having had their big meal for the week.  For those new to the Park, they tend to feed them on Sundays – guessing that consists of deer roadkill and other raw meat based on the bones the Wolves  keep a very protective watch over.  The Wolf above decided to help us out a bit and walked over to the tree line out of the harsh light.

Pure gold from a photographer’s perspective.  The observation platform sits above the enclosure giving us a means to shoot through the foliage.   The specific spot it picked to take a rest filtered out the harsh light but left enough ambient light to easily pull out the fur details.  Further benefiting the shoot, it remained alert providing a variety of facial expressions and head position.  After awhile, I became to question exactly who was watching who.

Be sure and hit the jump to see even more shots of the WPP Wolves

Continue reading What Big Eyes You Have

Goslings Lounging

Looks like our wonderful 67 degree weather day is going to transition to rain pretty soon.  Good thing I got my run in earlier.  if you recall, I’m in the midst of a Project Austin and today marked the first time on the road since three visits to Accelerated Performance.  Today was all about working on the list of things I need to change in my running form (and that list is long).  The good news is the tweaks resulted in very little pain in the hamstring – definitely a plus since that area usually flairs up during every run.  Maybe those torture deep tissue messages are going to pay off or it is simply terrified that if it makes its presence known it will get the hell gouged out of it again.  With the good news is a little bit of bad news.  Apparently these changes are engaging a different set of muscles that have been neglected due to the injury compensating.  At about mile 4 started feeling the effects and ended up backing down to only 5.5 miles today.  This wasn’t meant to be a quick journey so not concerned yet – real test will be next week to see how quick those neglected muscles are going to take before they kick in.  For now it’s just all about the rest.

Speaking of resting, that is the theme of today’s post.  Apparently my last post scared some of our readers (okay, some being ONE but she has some power over me).  Who wouldn’t want to curl up next to a badger? all fluffy for comfort and you know, NO ONE will mess with you if you are sleeping next to a BADGER (especially a Honey Badger because those are just bad-ass).  Instead I get a plea for a more pleasant looking animals.  Sigh, figured I get kudos for bringing something new and intriguing but instead I get a fear response – not unlike when your lovely wife finds a mouse in the car.  Fortunately, the badger wasn’t the only wildlife we captured that day.  Rifling through the shoot I decided on something more cute and plushy but added some contrast to it by taking it in an icky setting.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured Canada Goose goslings here at LifeIntrigued (link here) but this is probably the nastiest setting I’ve bothered taking them in.  We had just arrived at the park and was caught off guard by the crowd of visitors.  Generally there is not problem parking in the close lots, but that day we were parked way out on a back road.  On our trek to the entrance these goslings caught my eye – yes, I did say goslingS!

Hit the jump to read more about these cuties

Continue reading Goslings Lounging

What Big Claws You Have

It’s April and that can only mean one thing.  That’s right, the post counter has been reset.  Figured tonight was a good night to start seeing as how I’d rather be sitting for an hour rather than working on a project.  This is due to having started my 50th round of rehab on the body.  This time I finally broke down and opted for the complete overhaul of my running mechanics combined with professional recovery and rebuilding of the body.  The constant injuries was definitely a catalyst for this decision – figured if I’m ever going to get in any condition to potentially tackle a marathon I better make sure the foundation is correctly built.  What I wasn’t expecting is how hard this was going to be.  After my gait assessment this week I have a LOT of changes to make.  Words of wisdom for you runners out there, when you manage to damage yourself pretty good.. take time off to get it fixed.  Apparently my body decided it would start compensating for its stupid owner which is likely the root of the problem.  Coupled with that is some serious torture they cleverly disguise by calling it message therapy.  Let me tell you, what it really means is warming up your leg with ultrasound (which actually feels good) and then digging the hell out of your leg to break up a 3.5″ band of scar tissue imbedded in your hamstring – god please don’t let me cry in public!  I got to thinking about this torture and immediately thought of the perfect post to compliment it.

Let us all welcome a new animal to the blog.  Just in case you prefer to hang out in the urban jungle, this here is a Badger.  While I was looking for the set of pictures that was supposed to be April’s theme, I discovered a shoot at Wildlife Prairie Park taken back in May ’12.  Somehow this had slipped through the crack on my post processing.  As the Yang and the Um goes, the bad of being unable to locate the original post has allowed for the discovery of an entirely new set for your pleasure.  The other set has been found, but we’ll get to those after a few posts from our favorite local wildlife sanctuary.

We have been visiting Wildlife Prairie Park since the day we both arrived in Peoria (when we were just two wide eyed kids out on a secret date).   From those initial visits up to this one I can’t remember a single time that this Badger ever showed itself.  The Badger enclosure is somewhat off on its own and has a few clay drainage pipes situated throughout giving it ample places to hide.   Based on the number of holes this boar (or sow) had dug it must spend sometime in the open.  To say I was surprised to see both of their Badgers out and about is an understatement.  Immediately the shutter was in full snap.

Hit the jump to read more about this interesting creature!

Continue reading What Big Claws You Have

Know Thy Enemy

My mini vacation from blogging duties has come to its end. Truth be told, I have not written a new blog entry since January. Thanks to the scheduling capabilities in WordPress I was able to write all 6 of the February posts in January and simply queue them up for release at various times throughout the month. I even added an additional book recollection post to kick off the March posts just in case I did not get back in the swing of things in time. Enough slacking, it’s time to get back into the groove. The good news is the blogging downtime was filled with working on the photo backlog. While hunting for the Maine vacation pictures I stumbled on a set of Wildlife Prairie Park pictures we took last year. Those turned out pretty nice so I figured you might want to see some of them. This particular set focuses on an animal that is not one of my favorites.

For the city dwellers, this specimen before you comes from the coyote family. Unfortunately, I do not remember the specific species, but will make a point to track that down the next time we visit Wildlife Prairie Park. One might be under the impression that I as an avid Wolf enthusiast would have an equal affinity to these particular animals. This likely due to them both having four paws, a tail, tend to group in packs and have other similar canine features. If you happen believe this, it is my sad obligation to inform you that you are wrong. There are a few outward differences, the main one being stature. Wolves are generally much larger than coyotes and their legs tend to be longer relative to their overall body size (this is actually my first indicator when trying to distinguish the two).

To see the rest of the coyote collection, just hit the jump

Continue reading Know Thy Enemy