Thursday, February 15, 2018


A modest proposal.

This isn't directed at anyone in particular but you know who you are. I already know that Trump is stupid, Pelosi is an evil witch, Congressmen act like babies, guns are bad, and guns are good. Since I already know all this, by the power vested in me I hereby release you from the burden of finding and sharing Facebook memes that prove any or all of the above. Use Facebook to tell me something interesting about YOUR life. Everybody loves baby pictures. (Real babies, not Congressmen acting like babies.) Nobody gives a rat's ass what you think about politics. Sorry to be blunt.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Trailcam Inferno

My trailcam updates have tended to follow a pattern. Every six months I would post pictures of elk and other critters my trailcams had captured, mostly in Wind Cave National Park. Going into this update I had already decided to pull my cameras out of the Highland Ridge area where they had been for the past six years, but nature decided to put an exclamation point on it.

As I pulled into the Black Hills the afternoon of the 13th, the air was heavy with smoke from burning slash piles. The recent snow made it a safe time to burn the piles. However, the smoke was an unwelcome reminder to residents of a very unsafe fire about two months before, the Legion Lake fire which burned 54,000 acres of Custer State Park, Wind Cave NP, and private land east of the parks. The fire, the third-largest in the Black Hills since the arrival of non-natives, was started by a tree falling on a Black Hills Corp power line.

(In the 15 years my Dad, Jerry O'Neil, was the Black Hills Corp Forester and in charge of keeping trees out of power lines, the company was not blamed for any massive forest fires. Nor in the five years he was Assistant State Forester for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks overseeing Custer State Park did he let half of the park burn. Just thought I would point that out.)

Thanks to my transition to a 4WD vehicle in mid-2017, I was able to navigate through the snowdrifts on Highland Ridge Road to my usual parking area. There were plenty of bare spots among the snow to make the hike down only slightly more challenging than usual. On the way down and as I approached the location of the new Browning camera, it was obvious that the fire had gotten down this far. There was no camera on the tree where it was supposed to be, but I quickly spotted it sticking out of the snow. There was only a small charred remain of the nylon strap that had held the camera to the tree. The camera case was melted in a couple of spots. I was able to open it, turn the switch to off, and stick it in my pack.

Then I went in search of my Reconyx further down the hill. I found it where it was supposed to be, secured to the tree by a MasterLock cable. However, I couldn't get the camera off the tree because some of the plastic sheath on the metal cable had been charred and distorted. It looked as though the fire charred the south side of the tree, but not the north side where the camera was mounted. Weird. I whittled the sheath off the cable with my handy Leatherman and eventually was able to pull the cable through the locking mechanism and free it from the tree. I hiked back up the hill in the hour before sunset and headed to the hotel in Custer.

The Reconyx camera and memory card seem to have survived without significant damage in the fire. (Update: There was some bubbling on the plastic over the infrared sensor. Since that might affect the detection sensitivity, and because Reconyx seems to be the only trailcam company that actually services its products, I sent it in for repair.) The images in the slide show (link below) are from that camera. The Browning seems to be damaged beyond repair, although after a few anxious moments I was able to recover the images from the memory card. Unfortunately, the card filled up with a bunch of false triggers from September and contained no images of the fire. There was one usable sequence of an elk, and that was it. (Another Update: The Browning still has life! The case is warped, so the battery compartment and SD slot are tight while the latch is very loose. I tested the batteries, replacing two of the six, and the camera detected motion and took pictures. It looked as though the seal across the top was compromised so I covered it with electrical tape. It's ugly but, for now, it works. I'm going to change the camera name to Quasimodo.)

Today I headed to the location of my third camera, the Moultrie, in Custer State Park. The location was 9.5 miles north of the other two but close to where the fire started. When I got to the area near the Badger Clark Memorial, it was obvious that the fire had been through there. There were a lot of trees down in the area where the camera was and it took a while to figure out from my GPS where I should be looking. I didn't find anything. Like the Browning, the Moultrie was secured only by a nylon strap and I'm guessing it burned away. The ground was covered with snow and I dug through it for some distance from the marked location, finding no melted hunks of green plastic. In a few months when the snow is gone I will look again. I'm sure the camera was trashed but I would be happy to be able to get something off that memory card.

I'm not sure what my next trailcam project is. As of now my only operational cameras are the idle Reconyx and another Browning at my brother's cabin in Montana. I've been trying to figure out ways to use trailcams in Conata Basin prairie dog towns to get burrowing owls, badgers and ferrets, but with no handy trees I have to decide on a mounting system. And I have to figure out what replacement cameras to get. In my short time with the Browning Strike Force HD Pro, I was underwhelmed by the oversharpened images and weird aspect ratio of 9:5, which is too wide IMO. I prefer to make my own sharpening decisions and try to stick with a 3:2 aspect ratio for DSLR images. The Reconyx images are even more square at 4:3. Lately I've been sizing all horizontal images at 1,800 pixels wide, so this means the Browning images are 1,000 pixels high, my standard images are 1,200 pixels high, and the Reconyx images are 1,350 pixels high. I don't crop trailcam images so the aspect ratio makes a noticeable difference.

Here is the link to the fire images from the Reconyx, the elk images salvaged from the Browning, and some miscellaneous images from my trip through northern Nebraska and western South Dakota. As you go through the fire slides, note the time stamp and how quickly the fire is spreading. Winds of 35 mph were responsible for the quick advance of the fire.

Legion Lake Fire

Since I won't be using this location again any time soon, I can now reveal that since 2012 my cameras were at the bottom of this hill in Wind Cave National Park, latitude 43.609558, longitude -103.397058. Notice most of the trees are still standing, but some of them have turned brown from the fire and probably will die. Hopefully next spring or summer these slopes will be green with new grasses.

My (former) trailcam site

Friday, January 12, 2018


Gone Fishin'

The two places I usually go to see wintering bald eagles are different. At Loess Bluffs along the Missouri, the eagles chase migrating geese and feed off stragglers. At the dams along the Mississippi, the eagles catch fish. I did Loess Bluffs a few weeks ago, and this week I did the dams near Burlington and Keokuk, Iowa. When the upper Mississippi freezes, the eagles congregate around the open water below the dams. Except for the overcast skies which resulted in some gray photo backgrounds, conditions were ideal to see hundreds of eagles at both dams.

I posted lots of photos, because I can, 54 in all. I want to point out a couple of sequences. The first one is about halfway through the slide show. I was getting a bit discouraged at Burlington (actually Gladstone, Illinois) because the eagles were fishing far from shore, but then a juvenile came to the edge of the ice nearest me and on its second try managed to catch a small fish. The second sequence near the end of the slide show was in Keokuk where an eagle perched on a shoreline tree near me with a big fish. After taking a few bites, the fish slipped out of its grasp and fell in the water. I thought maybe the eagle might go down and retrieve it, but apparently that was too much bother and it flew away.

Click here to start the slide show at the beginning, or click on one of the images below to start one of the sequences, or the link at the bottom to see the short video.

Bald Eagle fishing

Bald eagle having lunch

Despite my preference for still photography, it is hard to convey how many eagles there are at the dams when conditions are right. I posted a 20-second video on YouTube showing the eagles buzzing around below the dam at Burlington.

Technical camera stuff: I didn't use the Canon M100 mirrorless a lot, but the first two images in the slide show are of a pair of eagles roosting, one taken with the M100 and one with the 5D Mark III, both with the 500mm lens. I would rate image quality the same. There is a slight difference in brightness that I haven't bothered to fix. The M100 does well on a long lens with static subjects, but forget about using it with any sort of action shot. As I have said before, for that you need a camera with a real viewfinder such as the 5D.

After five years of owning the 5D, I found out about a technical quirk regarding storage card selection and burst shooting. The camera takes both CF and SD cards, and for five years I shot primarily with the SD card. Bursts were limited to about 8 shots, then the buffer had to clear. It turns out that the camera buffer will clear much more quickly with a fast CF card and no SD card, so I bought a Sandisk Extreme Pro CF rated 10 times faster than my old CF card. The fishing sequence, of which I posted 13 images, was actually 19 images in 15 seconds. Obviously that is not continuous shooting as the 5D is rated for 6 frames per second. However, based on previous experience, in a sequence like that there was a danger of the buffer filling up and taking a few seconds to clear, causing me to miss the key sequence culminating in the 10th image shown above. I took some other bursts and never felt any lag, but with freedom comes responsibility. I fired off 830 shots in 24 hours which is a lot to go through.

The overcast skies were troublesome for flight shots, so from 2014 here's what a Mississippi River eagle looks like with a big fish and a blue sky:

Bald eagle with fish from 2014

Sunday, January 07, 2018


Photo of the Year 2017

The bighorns in the Badlands were my most reliable subject during the year and I was tempted to make one of those images my POY, but eclipses don't come along that often and I went with the cropped image that shows the three prominences on the sun revealed by the solar eclipse of August 21.


Here are my POY selections for 2002-2016.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma ButterflySertoma Butterfly 2011 Dark Morph of Broad-Winged HawlDark Morph 2012 Yellow Crowned Night HeronNight heron 2013
Elk FrameElk Frame 2014Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015
Elk 2016

Thursday, December 07, 2017


Loess is Less Offensive

Just east of the Missouri River in Iowa and Missouri is a line of hills made of wind-blown silt, also known as loess. Therefore the piles of silt are known as the Loess Hills or Loess Bluffs. After extensive study, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined earlier this year that "loess" is a much less offensive word than "squaw", so the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge was renamed to Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.

Since 2005, this refuge by whatever name has been my #2 go-to location for bald eagles and #1 for huge flocks of snow geese. Early December is the best time to go as the geese migration is in full swing. I arrived yesterday and found just about nothing. I saw no snow geese and about 10 distant eagles. It was very windy and I wondered whether that somehow scattered the birds.

There were more eagles visible this morning, especially around the eagle nest south of the road intersection. I hung around there for a while and got my best shots of two eagles fighting over the wing of a smaller bird. After all, the reason the eagles congregate there in December is to pick off any birds that aren't strong enough to complete the migration. As I continued around the loop, I finally found a good-sized flock of snow geese east of where I've seen them in prior years. I got a few good flock shots, but just before noon it was starting to cloud over so I headed for home.

I continued experimenting with my new Canon M100 mirrorless camera. Although I can attach my big lenses to it, I quickly figured out that the M100 has no role in getting images of flying birds. A camera with a real viewfinder remains the best option for action shots, and after five years my Canon 5D Mark III DSLR is still exactly what I need. The M100 does work well with the big lens on a tripod, and the first image shown below is an example of that.

Click on images to start the slide show at that point. There are 24 images in all, including nine of the fight over the bird wing.

Bald Eagle in nest

Two eagles fight over a bird wing

Snow geese

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Mirrorless camera test

After 35 years of shooting with a single lens reflex camera, the idea of a mirrorless camera has an appeal. In the old days, the ultimate mirrorless camera was the Leica rangefinder, a beautiful device that took 35mm film but was much smaller than a 35mm SLR. National Geographic writers observing indigenous cultures usually carried Leicas due to their small size, ease of use, and relatively quiet operation (no mirror slap). The major disadvantages of rangefinders were the viewfinder view was slightly different than the resulting image (parallax), and it was difficult to design a system with interchangeable lenses, particularly long lenses.

The modern mirrorless camera is a digital device so both of these disadvantages can be eliminated. My new Canon M100 has a big screen on the back like so many digital camera these days, although some more expensive models have a digital viewfinder that you can look through like an optical viewfinder. I decided not to go with the digital viewfinder for two reasons, (a) you lose some of the size and weight advantage vs. a DSLR, and (b) it will not be my primary wildlife camera. But when I don't have my 5D Mark III handy, I can use one of my Canon long lenses on the M100 with the use of an adapter.

A drive back from Denver Nov. 18-19 served as a test of the M100 in wildlife mode. The configuration included my 70-200 f4 lens that is best know for Galapagos 2004. Since the M100 has a 1.6x crop factor, supposedly this equates to a 112-320 equivalent vs. a full-frame 35mm camera such as the 5D. I've never really believed in this supposed "magnification" since I can get the same effect on my 5D just by cropping, but whatever. The M100 also came with a 15-45 kit lens, which is equivalent to 24-72 full frame. This is somewhat important because it covers the "normal" range used for most non-wildlife shooting.

The past few years I've gotten far more of what interests me in the Badlands rather than the Black Hills, and so it was again on this drive. There weren't any bighorns in their usual spot on the Sage Creek Rim Road, but there were several groups further east on the main Loop Road. Click on the image to start the slide show.


This image was taken with the kit lens at the Chamberlain rest stop on I-90. The statue is 50 feet tall and is called "Dignity," depicting a Dakota/Lakota woman. Despite the area's location overlooking the Missouri River and the history of Lewis and Clark passing through there, this is not a depiction of Sacagawea, who was Shoshone. As a newspaper reporter in Sturgis 35 years ago, I occasionally came in contact with the artist, Dale Lamphere, who is now the artist laureate for South Dakota.


This image, which is not included in the slide show, shows the M100 with 70-200 on the left and the 5D with 100-400 on the right. The difference in length isn't much (9.5 inches vs. 10.5 inches, not including the lens hoods), but the M100 rig weighs only about half as much, 45 ounces vs. 88 ounces. So when I don't want to take all the heavy stuff, the M100 is a viable option. Dec. 9 update: And when I do carry the heavy stuff, I can hook the M100 to the 500mm lens (supposed 800mm equivalent) on a tripod to focus in on an eagle's next while keeping the 100-400 on the 5D to get in-flight shots. Click on the image to see larger version.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


New Toy

I'm not an early adopter any more, but I did acquire a Canon M100 mirrorless camera today, one day after the official US introduction. It is a cloudy, windy day today, but I went down the local duck pond a few minutes ago to see what it can do.

I also bought a converter so I can use my full-sized EOS lenses on it, so my combo for today was the M100 and the venerable 70-200 f4. I know the lens is sharp due to an image I got in the Galapagos many years ago, but it lacks image stabilization so I need to keep a close eye on shutter speed. I manually set shutter speed for 1/500, which resulted in a wide-open f4 and narrow depth of field. The birds closest to the camera are fuzzy, which you can see if you click on the image to bring up the larger version. With that proviso in mind, I see the M100/70-200 combo standing in for the 5D Mark III/100-400mm when I feel like traveling light. And when I am in full 5D Mark III/500mm monster lens mode, I'll have the M100 with its 15-45mm kit lens to cover the shorter end, which is a few steps up from the 7-year-old S95 point-and-shoot that has been filling that role.

I've been shooting RAW instead of JPG 99.9% of the time since my first digital SLR in 2002. One pain-in-the-ass problem which I also endured with the 5D is my version of Photoshop Elements can't process the M100's RAW files. Eventually I upgraded from version 9 to version 14 so I could process 5D RAW files. Until I get tired of the extra steps involved and spend the $99 to upgrade Elements, I'll have to convert the RAW files to DNG files using Adobe DNG converter.

After I got back I saw this weird cloud formation like piano keys in the sky and and got this shot with the 15-45mm kit lens.

Saturday, September 30, 2017



On my trip to western South Dakota this week, I kept encountering single photo subjects: A bighorn camped out for days along a road in the Badlands, a bison grazing along the rim above the Badlands, a migrating butterfly stopping off in Custer State Park, a golden eagle soaring above the Conata Basin, a badger lumbering through a prairie dog town in the basin, and a lone cottonwood on the otherwise treeless expanse of the basin.

Click on any of the images below to start the slide show.


Lone tree

Bighorn at sunset

Solitary bison

On the road home

The purpose of the trip was to redeploy my trail camera in some manner. Part of that involved temporarily putting two of them in a prairie dog town in the Conata Basin south of the Badlands to see if I could find a black-footed ferret. At first I thought I had succeeded, but I now believe I got images and a short video of a badger. It's still a first for me. Anyway, this is the current trailcam situation:

Next spring I will probably pull #2 and #6 out of Wind Cave. After seven years, I think I will have thoroughly documented the elk that pass through that area. Unless #3 reveals something new in Custer State Park, I will probably place most of my cameras in the Conata Basin in search of burrowing owls, ferrets, and (yes) badgers.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Still experimenting

I'm a gizmo addict, and one of the gizmos I'm always trying to find is an effective way to connect a camera to my telescopes. When I saw a $12.56 Landove cell phone adapter on Amazon, I jumped on it. I got the order on a cloudy Monday the day before I left for Buffalo Gap National Grassland and wasn't able to test it out, so I packed my Televue to try a few things out on my trip.

The prairie dog pictures simply did not turn out. Whether it's a cell phone or a conventional camera's LCD screen, focusing the scope in daylight is very difficult. But I was able to get decent results shooting the sun because I was able to focus on the sunspots. For a camera phone, this is pretty good. Click on the image for the full-size version.

Shot through my cell phone (with telescopic assistance)

This gizmo is already a success, but the next test when I get home is to see whether it will work with my Coronado solar scope. I've had that scope for years and have never gotten a decent image through it.

Saturday, September 09, 2017



We were supposed to be in Glacier National Park in early September, but nature interceded in the form of large forest fires that covered much of Montana with smoke. We pivoted south through Yellowstone and got caught in a traffic jam while approaching the lake. The reason for the jam became apparent eventually when we saw bison swimming across the Yellowstone River. We got to the front of the jam just as the last of the herd was crossing the road and heading toward the river.

Click on any of the images below to start the very brief slide show.

Bison swimming the Yellowstone

Friday, August 25, 2017


A Brief History of (My) Trailcams

I’ve been dabbling with trail cameras since 2009 so I thought it was time to mark them in my database so I could have a custom web page. I thought it would be a big project but I actually did it in about an hour. One thing that surprised me is I had only posted 147 images in eight years. I would have guessed a lot more.

All but a couple are from Wind Cave National Park near Highland Ridge Road, with elk the primary subject. I had seen some elk in the area and tried to pick a spot where they were likely to pass. I started with a location west of the road at the bottom of a hill. Then due to elk activity I had observed on a hillside to the east, in 2012 I moved across the road and have been in the same general area since.

Best image from west of the road

My first camera was a bulky Bushnell that used big “D” batteries. NiMh rechargeables only lasted a few weeks so I tried to augment with a solar panel. One of the elk decided to chew on the solar panel cord and put an end to that configuration. I went looking for a better camera and in 2011 settled on my current #1 camera, a Reconyx PC900 (no glow). The Bushnell sat for a couple years before being revived briefly in 2014 when I got some cheap “D” cells on clearance at Target, but after I used those up it went into permanent retirement.

Reconyx is the premier name in trail cameras and prices its products accordingly. Battery life is impressive, sometimes 18-24 months. But even with a high-end camera, image quality usually doesn’t measure up to what you can get from a cheap consumer point-and-shoot or even a cell phone. I suppose there are reasons for that, such as the use of fixed focus. That allows for quick response when triggered and holds down the cost, I suppose. Also, I don't fall into the usual demographic for purchasers of trail cameras. I think most customers just want to know that there is a big buck out there for them to harvest and don't care about image quality.

Winter scene at the "new" location

One crazy factoid is that of the 147 images, 20 of them were obtained within 2-3 hours of my first deployment of the Reconyx on July 2, 2011. The 20 were the best of a sequence of 500 images of two elk shot in quick succession in less than 15 minutes. They lingered in front of the camera, seemed to pose, then a couple times acted like they wanted to take a bite out of it. If only they were always so cooperative. I could have posted 300 good images out of that sequence, but it would have been a bit repetitive. But I have gone back six years later and added nine more images to the posted sequence.

In 2014 I acquired my current #2 camera, a Moultrie M-880 Low Glow. The Moultrie images are easy to spot on the thumbnail page as they have a wide aspect ratio consistent with HD video. The Reconyx does not have a video mode and I have not experimented with it on the Moultrie. Moultrie images also have more of a reddish cast while the Reconyx images are greenish. I've figured out a couple of Photoshop Elements adjustments that bring the color closer to reality, but there will always be differences between the cameras.

In 2016 I went cheap and put a Primos Proof Cam 02 (low glow) into service as camera #3 and had nothing but trouble with it. Bottom line is daytime images are almost always washed out (overexposed) and this camera is much more susceptible to false triggers than the other two. First time I checked the camera it had 60,000 images of waving grass. I tried it at a couple locations in Custer State Park that I thought would be more sheltered, but it didn’t get much better. Even though there are five images from the Primos in the gallery (as of today, the last five images), I just don’t think it is worthwhile to keep feeding it batteries to get yellow-cast, overexposed crap. The Primos is currently under my deck at home trying to get images of bunny rabbits. It's like being sent down from the majors to rookie ball. In that application I was hoping to use rechargeable batteries rather than expensive lithiums, but my rechargeables don't work in the Primos.

One of the best from the Moultrie

So today I ordered a new camera #3, a Browning Strike Force HD Pro. I had considered getting another Reconyx, but the price difference is astounding ($660 vs $160). I would probably go with the premium product if I had assurance some dirtbag wouldn't steal it. Considering I leave these things out in the woods for six months at a time, theft is a consideration. The Reconyx is secured with a Masterlock Python cable, but a couple years ago I had to cut through one of those using just my Leatherman so I know that only discourages casual thieves. Although the cameras have recorded a couple of instances where people walked by, the biggest risk to the cameras so far has been the elk. Besides the elk chewing on the Bushnell solar panel, there have been at least two instances where elk jostled the Reconyx (2011 and 2017) and one in 2014 where an elk nearly ripped the Moutrie off the tree and somehow loosened the cable lock. The Moultrie hung crooked for the next five months but some of the crooked images were actually good and I posted 10 of them in the October 2014 update.

A few times the elk fogged the lens with their breath. In a strange way, that's maybe what I like about trailcams. They allow you to get close to the animals without spooking them. I have found some national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) where fat elk lounge around near the visitor center, but that is not the case at Wind Cave. I have found elk in the Black Hills to be very skittish so I feel more of a reward when I get something good.

What is next? I would like to get images of mountain lions. I have a location picked out in Custer State Park where I was planning to put the Primos, but since it didn't measure up it will be a few months before I can get the new Browning out there. I've also thought about some sort of remote solution for imaging burrowing owls in the central South Dakota grasslands. A trailcam might work, but I've also thought about setting an SLR with a tripod close to the burrow and remotely triggering it from my truck 100 yards away. Either solution has advantages and disadvantages.

Click here to bring up the web page with the 156 thumbnails, including the nine "new" ones. I don't have the images set up in a slide show, so to see the next image you may have to return to the thumbnail page.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Multitasking during Eclipse Trip

Since I drove through the Black Hills on the eclipse trip, I took care of my three trail cameras. Camera #1, the Reconyx, is in a new location for the first time in five years, a few hundred yards to the south of its former location. I posted six of the better images in the slide show, including the one below of an elk getting up close and personal. The strap on Camera #2, the Moultrie, was rotting away so I had to put it on a smaller tree last April. I fitted it with a new strap yesterday and was able to move it to a larger tree in what I hope is a better location. I got some images in the four months since last check but nothing worth posting.

Camera #3, the Primos, is officially a disappointment and will be relegated to taking pictures of bunnies under my deck. When it worked properly, image quality was actually decent although a bit oversharpened. But it rarely worked properly. Almost all daytime images were extremely overexposed, and even the usable ones required more adjustment than those from the other cameras. Nighttime images were better but still not great. Although I included five images from #3 in the slide show, I'm tired of it being an Odell Beckham drama queen. (It's an NFL reference.) I'm in the market for a new trailcam #3 and probably will go with a Bushnell. The Reconyx has been very reliable, but it costs 3x what other trailcams cost. Bushnell seems to be the best option now in my target price range.

On the way home I wanted to follow up on my burrowing owls quest in May. I just discovered I never actually posted any images from that quest. So to finish off the slide show are an image from May shot at a location south of Pierre west of the river, and a more distant shot from today at a location east of the river. Burrowing owls are my current white whale and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. I'm thinking about planting a trailcam at another location south of Pierre I found today. I didn't get any DSLR photos there but I'm thinking there may be some trailcam potential.

Click on the image to start the slide show.

Elk getting too close

Monday, August 21, 2017


Eclipse 2017

I've been planning to see the Aug. 21, 2017 total eclipse since at least 2003 when I saw an annular eclipse in Iceland. I was planning to stay overnight in Columbus, NE and drive either south or west to the zone of totality. However, the cloud situation over Nebraska looked iffy so I switched at the last minute to overnighting in Custer and driving down through Lusk to Jay Em, WY.

I was not disappointed in Jay Em. Skies were clear except some irrelevant haze on the horizon. Of course, since it was Wyoming, there was a stiff wind. I staked out a spot just south of town along US 85 about an hour before the partial phase started, and leading up to the event all I could hear was the wind and the traffic. As the eclipse progressed and the light dimmed, the wind also began to abate. Coincidence, I don't know. When totality began, I could hear the people in town for the first time as the cheers went up. After taking my totality pictures, I made sure to leave a few seconds just to look around at the landscape and the sky. I noticed a few stars and an extremely bright spot to the right of the sun that I later learned was Venus. Duh, should have known that. I included some technical details on the images that some may find interesting. With the totality shots, different shutter speeds revealed different details.

Not to bury the lead, the image below is the best of the bunch. It shows three prominences rising from the surface of the sun at 12:00, 1:00 and 3:00. Click on the image to start the slide show of larger images at the beginning.

Prominences on the Sun

Depending on your monitor, you may notice that the filtered shots have a totally black background while the unfiltered totality shots have a lot of "noise" in them. The filtered shots were processed in Photoshop with all the adjustments I usually make for levels, contrast, color saturation and sharpening. I chose to present the first three totality images "as is" with no processing. A lot of the eclipse pictures you see are composites or manipulated in some way. But often there is a legitimate reason to invoke Photoshop, so the fourth totality image in the slide show has been cropped and processed a bit to emphasize the prominences.

With wildlife photography, I have equipment that professionals would use, I have a certain amount of technical proficiency with it, and I have the patience and inclination to look for the animals. I'm not much of an astrophotographer because it usually requires fumbling around in the dark long after everyone else has gone to bed, I don't really see that well at night, and even low-level equipment is fairly expensive. High-end equipment costs millions or billions of dollars and requires either a plot of land in the Chilean Andes or a launch vehicle. So I don't go after planets, stars or other distant objects, but the sun and moon are easy enough to do with what I have, and often can be done during the day. Here are some sun/moon events that I have photographed with varying degrees of success over the years. Unfortunately there are no more Venus transits until 2117 but there are other things coming up. The next major event is a transit of Mercury Nov. 11, 2019. It will be visible from my house and will be in progress at dawn, so I should be able to get some better images than 2016 assuming clear skies. After that there is 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).

Annular Eclipse Iceland 2003
Annular Eclipse 2003
Transit of Venus 2004
Venus Transit 2004
Transit of Venus 2012
Venus Transit 2012
Partial Eclipse 2014
Full Moon 2015
Full Moon 2015
Transit of Mercury 2016
Mercury Transit 2016

Saturday, August 19, 2017


South Dakota's Top 10 in 10 after 10

To a coastal resident, voluntarily moving from the Boston area to South Dakota must seem like lunacy, but 10 years ago I made such a move. I had a decent-paying job in Massachusetts, but when my employer offered early retirement and even though I wasn't yet age 51, I decided to take it and move back to the Heartland. It's hard to make a "coastal" understand, and I'm not going to try. I don't want a bunch of people moving here and spoiling the solitude.

In commemoration of the 10 years, I decided to put together my 10 favorite South Dakota images in each of 10 categories. I'm proud that of the 100 images, none are what the typical tourist might get. You'll have to go elsewhere to find the Corn Palace, Reptile Gardens, the still-incomplete-after-all-these-years-but-still-charging-to-see-it Crazy Horse, or even Mt. Rushmore. The fact that there are two elk categories and two bighorn sheep categories shows where my head is at. I only have one eagle category, but that's because most of my favorite eagle pictures are from the Mississippi River on the border of Iowa and Illinois and aren't eligible for this tribute to my home state.

I consider myself a photographer of wildlife, not scenics. However, many of these images incorporate the landscape to show the wildlife in its natural setting. The final category is a catch-all for scenics and other images, and even there six of the 10 incorporate wildlife. Seven of the 10 if you count the T-Rex. Locations include Custer State Park (31 images), Wind Cave National Park (26), Badlands National Park (12), Newton Hills State Park (6), my yard in Sioux Falls (6), elsewhere in Sioux Falls/Brandon (6), Ft. Randall dam (5), Cleghorn Springs State Fish Hatchery (4), central South Dakota grasslands (3), and Hill City (1). No doubt there are other great photography locations in South Dakota, but for my subject matter, Custer, Wind Cave and the Badlands are the obvious destinations. For a day trip, Newton Hills can be hit-or-miss but sometimes offers up something interesting (oriole, sphinx moth).

Here are the 10 categories. Click on an image to start the slide show in that category. If you keep clicking, you will see all 100 images.

Trailcam images of elk. I've been playing around with trailcams since 2009, and most of that time I've had the cameras deployed in Wind Cave National Park in areas known to be frequented by elk. There are national parks where some of the elk are more tame (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon), but Black Hills elk have always been elusive when I've gone looking (as shown by the next category), so I resorted to trailcams to get closeups.

Trailcam Elk

SLR images of elk. Most of these are distant shots of the hillsides near my trailcam location, but I got a few in 2016 in other parts of Wind Cave National Park.


Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Black Hills. The first time I saw a flock of bighorns in Custer State Park in 2008, I nearly drove off the road. The snowfall pictures from later on 2008 and 2009 are some of my favorite. I also found out about a flock that hung around in and near Cleghorn Springs State Fish Hatchery in western Rapid City. However, in recent years I haven't come across the sheep as often in these locations. But I found another hot spot....

Bighorn in the Black Hills

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the Badlands. Since 2012, I've found that Badlands National Park is a fairly reliable spot to find bighorns. This is a great place to incorporate the landscape into the images.

Bighorn in the Badlands

Bison and pronghorns. It is easy to find these big animals in Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park and take the standard photo. I selected images that show the animals as part of the landscape, or interacting with each other as rivals or family members.


Eagles. I couldn't neglect eagles entirely. In addition to bald eagles in the Black Hills and near the Ft. Randall dam on the Missouri, I also found a golden eagle's nest near the tiny town of Quinn.

Bald Eagle

Other mammals. From various locations around the state, coyotes, deer, prairie dogs, bunny rabbits, a ground squirrel, a marmot, and a woodchuck.


Big Birds. Other than eagles, these include burrowing owls, various hawks, turkey, sandpiper, robins nesting under my desk, and some ducks.

Burrowing Owl

Little Birds and Butterflies. The headliners are the Mountain Bluebirds in Custer State Park. But there also are orioles, woodpeckers and flying insects in Newton Hills State Park in the eastern part of the state.

Mountain Bluebird

Scenics and other. Mostly scenics incorporating wildlife, and a few other things.

Bison in Wind Cave National Park

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