I don't disagree with the intent of the new California data privacy law that went into effect this year. Anything that makes Google or Facebook squirm is fine with me. But so far the only effect of this and a somewhat similar European regulation is there is one more stupid button to click on when you visit a site, joining the ranks of millions of meaningless government-mandated disclosures that pollute our lives. My web site thomasoneil.com does not plant cookies or collect data so I will not be adding a stupid button.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
I just read a short story by Ray Bradbury, "The Murderer," in which the perpetrator crushes or shoots the technology that is demanding his constant time and attention. The victims are the TV, phone and various portable devices. In the police interrogation room, the perp even smashes the device carried by the psychiatrist who is interviewing him. No electronic noise interrupts them as they converse. Then the disturbed man is led away to a quiet jail cell and the psychiatrist returns to air-conditioned reality in which he is in constant communication with a myriad of people without seeing anyone in the flesh. Once again, he is safely immersed in his devices.
The story was published in 1953, decades before Al Gore, Steve Jobs and Satan himself Mark Zuckerberg conspired to steal our souls.
Bradbury wrote of the world as it was 66 years ago, and we know what the world is like now. Imagine how deeply embedded the children of 2085 will be in their technology. I may be becoming a Luddite in my old age (as I'm typing this on my tablet) but Yikes!
Wednesday, December 04, 2019
My first photo expedition to Northwest Missouri was in 2005. The wildlife refuge near Mound City used to be called Squaw Creek, now it goes by the bland PC name Loess Bluffs, but the attractions are still the same – eagles and snow geese. The geese start coming in November with the eagles following, and I have found the first week in December is usually the best time to see some of each.
There is a public event at the refuge this weekend, Eagle Days. There are many eagle events located throughout the country this time of year, and I encourage everyone to find one in your area and check it out. But you won't see me because I want to see eagles, not a bunch of people clogging the road. My advice is to avoid the crowds and hit the location of your local event the week before.
Unlike some recent quick trips to Loess Bluffs, I had all day Tuesday and half of Wednesday to hunker down and wait for things to happen. This worked well on Tuesday with the eagles, but the only snow geese I saw were high in the sky, on their way elsewhere. There are two eagle nests, one on the west side and a newer one to the southeast. Unlike last year, there didn't seem to be any construction going on, but there were eagles hanging out at both locations. I have one image of an eagle in the west nest, but it just seemed to be resting there momentarily. Prominently present in the pools were hundreds of trumpeter swans, a formerly-endangered species. On the way out at the end of the day, I came across a large, scary cloud of red-winged blackbirds.
Wednesday, a big flock of snow geese did come down to earth, but in a location I don't usually see them. They were in the Pintail Pool on the west side rather than the Eagle Pool to the southeast near the main entrance. I waited around for a while, but finally they did the big cloud thing. I snapped some final pics then headed home just before noon.
I took a few videos with my SLR, and caught about 30 seconds of an eagle screeching. There is some wind noise, but I thought it was worth posting. See this YouTube Video.
Click on one of the images to start the slide show of 37 images.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
As a resident of South Dakota, I just have to cringe at the new state anti-meth ad campaign that uses the above slogan as its tag line. After watching it the first time, I thought it was a Saturday Night Live skit. I was expecting Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin to pop up in cameo roles.
As a taxpayer I wonder if we can sue the ad company that came up with that to get our $449,000 back. I wish there were video of the pitch meeting where the ad company presented this lunacy to state officials. Everyone thought it was a good idea? Unbelievable.
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
I have been eating more sensibly recently, but I still have one packet of Maruchan Ramen lurking in my pantry. Does throwing away the flavor packet get rid of all the 830 mg of sodium? How about using the packet for cooking but draining away the broth, which is what I usually do? The back panel of the package doesn't break it out, and good luck finding the answer on the internet. Let's just say opinions vary.
I did notice one little disclosure on the package that should cause Millennials to flee to their safe spaces: "Partially produced with genetic engineering." Cool. Now I want to eat it every day just to be a contrarian. Instead I'll probably switch to Rice Ramen (0 sodium) or (if the United States Postal Service ever finds my spiralizer) zucchini noodles aka zoodles. My Amazon tracking update says the package was left in the parcel locker yesterday, but the USPS didn't give me a key.
Update: I stood and stared at the mail carrier today to make sure he put the parcel locker key in my box. Zoodles!
Monday, November 11, 2019
On the 11th day of the 11th month, it was 11 degrees in my yard as I prepared to witness the Transit of Mercury. The forecast said it might be cloudy until 10 a.m. but by 8:00 there were only scattered clouds interfering occasionally. In the warmth of August 2017, I got a few images of the total solar eclipse through my telescope with the old Canon S45 camera attached. Today it was just too cold to fiddle with that setup, which is very hard to aim and focus. I gave up on that and just used my DSLR with 400mm lens. (Everything is protected by appropriate solar filters, of course.) I also set up my little Coronado solar telescope, but photography through that is impossible so that was for visual observing only.
I could not see the planet through my camera, but on the solar scope I was able to make out a little dot near the center of the sun. The apparent size of Mercury is much smaller than Venus, but we won't see another Venus transit until 2117. So this is what we have today. Unlike the total eclipse, which was rather exciting, this really doesn't get the adrenaline pumping, but it is a somewhat rare event involving another world. The next such transit is in 2032. Click on the image to see a larger version.
Next celestial events are an annular "Ring of Fire" eclipse Oct. 14, 2023 (I plan to be in Albuquerque) and a total eclipse Apr. 8, 2024 (I probably will be near Austin, TX). Previous celestial events:
Total Eclipse 2017
Total Eclipse 2017
Annular Eclipse 2003
Venus Transit 2004
Venus Transit 2012
Partial Eclipse 2014
Full Moon 2015
Mercury Transit 2016
Monday, November 04, 2019
There are certain places where I stop just about every time I drive by, and the Badlands is one of them. I know there are usually bighorn sheep in the Pinnacles Overlook area near the western entrance, and the rams usually hang out just west of there a short distance down the Sage Creek Rim Road. I saw a couple of rams when I drove through there Oct. 28, but on my return trip yesterday I saw nothing on my first pass. After a pit stop, I did another short loop and saw a herd of something off in the distance.
It was a herd of bighorns, including five or six rams of various ages. Most of the group eventually came closer, and a few approached the canyon rim just a few yards from me. A couple of the rams curled their lips and tasted the air, which is a mating behavior, but to my disappointment they didn't engage in any head butting. There were only about four ewes, so it seemed the females who usually frequent the area were elsewhere.
By my count I have posted 268 images of bighorns on my site, including 11 from this trip. Click on the image to start the slide show:
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
The Sioux Falls Air Show was over the weekend featuring the USAF Thunderbirds. Including Friday's practice, I had three chances to track the Thunderbirds through their routine.
While there may be some value in being on the flight line at the airport, I camped out on a hill a mile or so from the airport and waited for the planes to fly over. I missed out on the static displays and some of the other performers, but I avoided the crowds and the Thunderbirds flew right over my position several times during each show.
The other highlights of the show were the old warbirds. I didn't get great photos of the Corsair, P-51, and TBM Avenger, but I did post a couple images of the latter two. (I got much better warbirds shots at the 2016 Sioux Falls Air Show.) I had more success with the Heritage Flight, which this year featured Navy planes including the AD-4 Skyraider, FJ-4B Fury, and F/A-18G Hornet. The Skyraider and Fury were Vietnam-era ground attack planes, one being prop-driven and the other being a jet. The Fury is related to the Air Force's F-86 Sabre. The Hornet is a version of the same plane used by the Blue Angels. Another Hornet at the show was a CF-18 Canadian version, which did solo shows before the Thunderbirds. It was reported that this was the only appearance by the RCAF at a US air show this year. It seemed like five minutes after finishing its performance, it took off again and headed back to the Great White North.
By my count this is the 11th air show I've photographed since 2002, the third with the Thunderbirds. The last time I saw the Thunderbirds was back in 2005 at their home base in Nevada. That was a gigantic show. Click here to see the air show listing on my Galleries page.
I posted 63 images, including 47 of the Thunderbirds. The light was constantly changing during the three days, so at times it was challenging. The Thunderbirds images are roughly in chronological order, but with single planes first, then formations of four, five and six. Click on the images to start the slide show.
Update: I just added seven new images to the 2016 Sioux Falls Air Show gallery. The new stuff is three AV-8 Harrier images, and additional Blue Angels and B-25 images.
Monday, July 08, 2019
The Fourth of July once again brought me to Red Lodge, Montana. Last year I shot the fireworks with the Canon M100 on a tripod, which was OK, but this year I decided to use my real SLR, 5D Mark III, with the ultrasharp 80-200 f4 lens. For some reason the difference was dramatic, perhaps due in part to the ability to fire continuously with a shutter release.
Saturday, June 08, 2019
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Who wouldn't dream of walking in the shoes of both Graig Nettles and Roger Staubach, playing third base for the New York Yankees and playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys? Drew Henson experienced both of those things during his unique but short pro sports career between 2002 and 2004. He got a hit (just one) for the Yankees, and he had a start at quarterback (just one) for the Cowboys. I got this photo of him in the 2002 Arizona Fall League when he was battling to make the Yankees.
But Henson's greatest claim to fame probably comes from his college football days at Michigan when he battled Tom Brady for the starting quarterback job. (Brady was thought to be a baseball prospect at catcher but never went the dual-sport route, instead concentrating on football.) There's an urban legend that Henson beat out Brady for the Michigan job, which isn't true. The two platooned for the first seven games of 1999, after which Brady was named the starter. In the image below, Henson made a good stop on a hot grounder to third, but was indecisive and threw late to first base. Just like his career, didn't quite make it.
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
This is the third installment this week in my "old images revival." This time the setting is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland in April 2003. There were lots of osprey in the area but it seemed I would have to be content with distant shots. Until...I was walking along a trail and heard a crash in the tree above me. An osprey had landed with a huge fish that was still flopping around. I carefully got in position to shoot up at it, and fired off 85 images in 10 minutes.
The lighting conditions were difficult. It would have been much better if the sky had been blue and I had a flash unit for fill flash, but what I recorded was a low-contrast bird with a washed-out, cloudy background. At the time, I posted a couple of images with which I was never really satisfied. I took another crack at the images today with my more modern version of Photoshop Elements and another 16 years of experience with photo editing. There are still the limitations of the original images, but I think what I came up with is more presentable. I ended up posting two revised images and eight new ones. Click on the image to start the revised slide show.
Monday, May 20, 2019
I've been going through old images, as I do from time to time, and noticed that a few from the April 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC didn't make it onto the web site. I went to Washington many times between 1986 and 2014, this time to attend orientation for my fourth and final incarnation as an FDIC bank examiner, and for only the second time I happened to be there in April when the blossoms were peaking. (The other time was pre-digital. I've got some prints somewhere.) Click on the image below for the slide show starting with the four new images. It then wraps around to other DC-area images from the 00's.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
In 2002-2005 I was rediscovering photography and I also felt the need to do something more with my vacation time. In 2003 I went to Antarctica, Alaska, Iceland, Maine, Florida, Maryland, and the Yellowstone area. I was looking through my Yellowstone photos today and decided to add five more images to that gallery. I also did a revision of the iconic (for me) elk image shown below. The new images are two more of the elk, a magpie, a female mountain bluebird, and a moose in Grand Teton. Click on the image to start the slide show.
Sunday, May 12, 2019
I've made the Black Hills and Badlands photo trip several dozen times since my move back to the Heartland 12 years ago and have accumulated hundreds of bison, pronghorn and bighorn images. There's always the hope that I'll see and capture some behavior I haven't seen before, and this trip didn't disappoint.
When we passed through the Custer State Park in mid-April, there were no baby bison present. According to news reports, they started popping out just after we left. When I returned solo on Friday, there were baby bison everywhere. I was staking out a large herd in the south part of the park and saw this baby, no more than four weeks old, decide to jump over a small creek rather than wade through it. Baby bison really can fly!
Something else I hadn't seen before was pronghorns chasing each other. Next to Oak Draw Road, I saw a small herd of six, and I think the old buck was chasing the youngsters around to keep them in line. Compared to the youngsters he seemed to move rather stiffly when walking, but he could still run. Pronghorns are considered the second-fastest land animal in the world after cheetahs, and it is something to see them race across the prairie at speed.
I stopped in the Badlands both Thursday and Saturday expecting to see bighorns, and as usual a herd was in the vicinity of Pinnacles Overlook. There was only one small ram with the ewes. Several of them with lambs were on the cliffs above the nearby Ancient Hunters Overlook and I got some images both Thursday and Saturday. The lambs blend into the cliffs and it was hard to see them, but I was able to tell there were three of them climbing around on the steep hillside. The Sage Creek Rim Road was finally open on Saturday after being closed the last few times I've been in the park, but I did not any of the four rams that frequented the area the past few years.
Click on the image below to start the slideshow of 60 images at the beginning. Besides bison, pronghorn and bighorns you'll see prairie dogs, elk, deer, mountain bluebirds, swallows, and some other little birds. Alas, no coyotes.
Update 5/26/19: Geese and ducks are so common I rarely bother to shoot them, but I decided today to head to the neighborhood pond, the site of my first Canon M100 test two years ago. I got three images worth posting but it was a reminder that a mirrorless camera without a viewfinder is not a wildlife camera. The image shown below is two ducks on what I believe is a muskrat hut. I got a few blurry images (not posted) of a muskrat (?) swimming toward me. He submerged near the shore and I never saw him come up again. Not only is it hard to frame a moving subject, it is hard to get correct autofocus with a long lens, even with a stationary subject. I missed my tripod and real DSLR 0.8 miles away; maybe this week if it stops raining. Click on the image to start the slide show at that point, then it wraps around to the images from out West earlier in the month.
Friday, February 01, 2019
After the snow coach experience of last Friday, we struck out on our own Wednesday and Thursday to drive the only portion of Yellowstone open to traffic during the winter, Mammoth Springs to Cooke City which includes the famous Lamar Valley. We saw an abundance of bison and a couple concentrations of bighorn sheep. Strangely enough, this is the first time I've seen Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep outside of South Dakota, which is not in the Rockies. There also was another "coyote of the week" strolling down the road taking no notice of people gawking at him. Most of the elk we saw were concentrated near the human activity of Mammoth and Gardiner.
We got to see how the different grazers dealt with digging through the snow to find vegatation. The bighorns pawed at the ground with their hooves. The elk stuck their noses into the snow. And the bison swept back and forth, clearing the snow with their massive heads.
The weather was mostly overcast but not too cold. There was one minor little incident where I got too close to the edge of the road near Soda Butte and needed the assistance of park rangers to get my truck free. My bride describes the incident in much more dramatic terms. Anyway, I added images from these two days to the previous slide show. The link below will start with the new images, then wrap around to those from last week.
Sunday, January 27, 2019
One of my favorite photos from my September 2003 trip to Yellowstone is of a bull elk in a meadow. There were at least 20 photographers with big lenses gathered around, snapping away at the elk. Meanwhile, along the road where all the vehicles were parked, a coyote strolled past almost unnoticed and unconcerned about the gaggle of humans who were watching the elk.
It was deja vu all over again this week, except this time Yellowstone was under a cover of snow and the star of the show was a coyote. Once again, the photographers with the big lenses made their presence known. For me, nature photography is a solitary pursuit and I've never paid for a workshop. I'm not a fan of packs of guys (almost always guys) piling out of a vehicle to stalk an animal. No doubt Yellowstone and Grand Teton are more spectacular than Custer State Park and the Badlands, but I've never seen a van full of photographers in my local parks. This week in Yellowstone, I was in a snowcoach full of regular tourists with camera phones, but I had my 5D Mark III/100-400 hiding in my backpack in case something happened.
It was an uneventful day, lots of snow-covered scenery but only a few bison on the road, until we were well on our way back to West Yellowstone when a coyote was spotted on the ice of the Madison River. About 10 guys with big lenses were lined up on the bridge firing away. The snowcoach driver disapproved of them stopping their vehicle on the bridge, so he found a pullout a little further on, and I got a few shots of the coyote on the ice working her way toward us. She came through the guardrail just west of us onto the road, then took a pee. (That's why I think it was a she. I got an image of that but I'm not posting it.) She then headed for the north side of the river and started working her way along the bank headed west.
The most interesting part of her journey was when she climbed up a snow-covered tree trunk to get up the bank to higher ground. I didn't think a coyote would try to do that, but I was wrong. The climbing sequence of images starts with the eleventh image in the slide show. Then she had to plow through some deep snow on her way up the hill. The last I saw of her she was up in the trees.
Thursday, January 17, 2019
For more than 15 years, 1992-2007, I was a daily commuter in the Boston area, driving up I-95 to my office near Route 128, Boston's version of the Beltway. I loved the day after Thanksgiving before it was known as Black Friday because there was always light traffic and I could make the drive in 30 minutes. On normal days it was 40 minutes; on one really bad day it was three hours. Radio was my entertainment.
The first few years of that drive I listened to Imus until he turned his show into a constant telethon for his children's ranch scam, so in the mid-90's I turned to WEEI sports radio. At that time the Red Sox were still tagged as lovable losers and dominated the sports talk. The Patriots were largely ignored because they were utterly inept, but their 2-14 record in 1992 allowed them to take quarterback Drew Bledsoe #1 in the 1993 draft. An amazing thing happened just before that draft: Owner James Orthwein, who was not considered a football genius, somehow convinced two-time Super Bowl champ Duane "Bill" Parcells to take the head coaching job. Bledsoe and Parcells coming to town forever transformed the radio buzz surrounding the Patriots. Parcells press conferences were highly entertaining and became appointment listening. More importantly, the Patriots began to win and they made the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. But just as they neared the pinnacle, it seemed as though they couldn't stand success.
There was chaos leading up to Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers. It was rumored that Parcells was on his way out because he didn't get along with Robert Kraft, who had bought the team from Orthwein in 1994. Indeed, mere seconds (it seemed) after the Packers finished off the Patriots 35-21, Parcells bolted to the hated New York Jets. Despite the tensions between the owner and the now-former HC, Kraft considered promoting Parcells' right-hand man Bill Belichick to be the new HC. Kraft eventually decided to make a clean break with the Parcells era, but he respected Belichick enough that he felt it was necessary explain his decision over dinner with their spouses. Instead of taking over the Patriots in 1997, Belichick went to the Jets to resume his recurring role as Parcells' defensive coordinator, with a deal in place to eventually become HC. Pete Carroll took over as Patriots HC for three downward-trending seasons, then was fired. (Whatever happened to Pete?) By all accounts Bledsoe is a wonderful person, but I grew increasingly frustrated with his play. He could put up huge passing numbers but was a statue in the pocket, holding the ball too long and taking a lot of sacks.
Parcells decided to move to the Jets front office after the 1999 season, which triggered the promotion of Belichick to head coach, per the agreement. But Little Bill decided he didn't want Big Bill looking over his shoulder, and he also didn't like the Jets' ownership situation. In a bizarre scene in January 2000, Belichick infamously resigned as HC of the NYJ at his introductory press conference and (eventually) became HC of the Patriots. After that 23-day New York-Boston media circus which required the intervention of Commissioner Tagliabue, completely unnoticed was the selection of Tom Brady with the 199th pick in the April 2000 NFL draft. After the 2000 season, Kraft gave Bledsoe the richest NFL contract to date, $10 million per year, despite an 8-8 team record, a 59% completion percentage (low by today's standards), 45 sacks, and only 17 TDs to 13 interceptions. Sometimes I wished they would put in Michael Bishop, the scrambler from K-State, just to cut down on the sacks. One of WEEI's frequent callers gave voice to my frustrations with Bledsoe: "He's tall, he's got a strong arm, he's tall, he's got a strong arm. And he's tall."
That damning faint praise was delivered by "Butch from the Cape," a mysterious Yankees fan who took joy in blistering the Boston teams on sports talk radio. Butch was the New York a-hole Boston loved to hate, and no doubt he was good for ratings. It was rumored that Butch was a retired wise guy, a rumor he no doubt reveled in. Although he certainly associated with mobsters, it turned out that Butch was a small-time gambler and stool pigeon named Thomas Speers. It matters not that Butch technically was from Connecticut, he represented the arrogance of New York. Even a pacifist like me wanted to punch him in the face, even though I largely agreed with him on Bledsoe.
September 2001 is forever defined by national tragedy, but it also was the month that Bledsoe suffered a serious injury. When he went down, I expected Bishop to trot onto the field. Instead it was the afterthought low-round draft pick, the guy we thought was the third- or fourth-stringer, Brady. About the same time Boston sports fans were contemplating a lost season with an inexperienced backup QB, the story spread that the notorious "Butch from the Cape" had cancer. Many WEEI listeners figured it was some weird scam being perpetrated by the degenerate gambler. No, he really was sick and he died in October 2001 at age 58, missing Brady's development into a legend and the Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino, not once but four times.
Belichick's decision to stay with Brady after Bledsoe recovered was controversial at the time, but of course it was proven to be correct. Seventeen years, four months after that initial 2001 relief appearance, Brady is getting ready for his 13th AFC Championship game, trying to reach his 9th Super Bowl, adding yet another chapter to the greatest career in NFL history. Brady is tall, he's got a strong (enough) arm, and he's the ultimate championship quarterback. Decades of frustration with the Patriots ended when Belichick picked Brady over Bledsoe, symbolically coinciding with the death of the loud-mouthed New Yorker "Butch from the Cape," now so very long ago.
Monday, December 31, 2018
I've been doing this now since 2002, and since I'm the only one allowed to enter I can make up the rules as I go along. That said, this year was difficult to select a POY because two of my favorite photos posted in 2018 were actually trailcam images that were snapped in 2017 but not retrieved until later, the Montana Moose and the Trailcam Inferno. And although I did select a trailcam images as POY in 2014, I have this feeling I should select something where I actually tripped the shutter.
With that preamble, the 2018 POY is an eagle catching a fish in Illinois. This is the fourth time an eagle has been the subject of POY, but the first since 2010.
Here are my POY selections for 2002-2017.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph 2012
Night heron 2013
Elk Frame 2014
Squaw Creek Geese 2015
Friday, December 07, 2018
For the eighth December since 2005, I went to Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (former Squaw Creek NWR) in northwest Missouri to see eagles and geese. Unlike last year there weren't so many geese this time, but there were lots of eagles. I also saw something I hadn't seen there before, bald eagles actively building a nest.
I got there Wednesday afternoon and it was already getting overcast by the time I found the nest. There are a couple of nests on the western side of the driving loop, but this one was on the southeastern part of the loop. I expertly located it by spotting a bunch of cars stopped along the side of the road and slowing down to see what they were looking at. It was overcast late Wednesday and the light wasn't great, but the slide show includes some interesting nestbuilding shots. Thursday morning it cleared off, but the eagles weren't back working on the nest until 11:40 a.m. I took advantage of the better light and shot snapshots for about 40 minutes until the pair flew off to do something else.
According to the official count, the number of geese peaked a couple weeks ago. In my expert opinion, the geese have already moved on because the ponds have mostly frozen over already. Officially, the eagle count peaked at 198 on Nov. 27 and dipped to 95 on Dec. 4. I easily spotted 50 without really trying. The eagles out on the ice shadowing what waterfowl remained were generally too far away to photograph (although there is one in the slide show), so most of the images are in the trees. Click on images to start slide show of 47 images.
The refuge had its Eagle Days the previous weekend. I generally try to avoid these events because seeing more people than eagles is not the reason I go to these places. But if you want to become more educated about eagles and how to find them, lots of places near where eagles congregate in winter have such events.