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.



SLR Elk

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.



Bison

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.



Coyote

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 states.



Mountain Bluebird

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



Bison in Wind Cave National Park





Saturday, April 22, 2017

 

Badlands Bighorns

This is my twice-yearly trailcam update, but I posted only five images from the last six months. I'll get back to the trailcams later, but the best images from the trip were SLR shots of bighorn sheep in the Badlands. I also got some interesting images from Custer State Park of bison babies, bluebirds and meadowlarks.

I hit the Badlands on both legs of the round trip to the Black Hills. On Wednesday I saw 20 bighorn ewes but didn't see any rams. It was rainy and foggy so I didn't make the turn down Sage Creek Road. On Friday, I did take that road and found nine rams and eight ewes, including a group of four rams that I followed for more than an hour. At first they were grazing near the rim, and eventually three went down into the rough country. They provided hundreds of photo ops as they roamed around. The fourth ram, who appeared to be old and a bit beaten up, found a resting spot on the rim to take in the view. That is the last image in the gallery. Click on images to start slide show.


Badlands Bighorn


Mountain Bluebird

Regarding the trailcams, in an effort to shake things up I've been trying to figure out how to redeploy them:

Camera #1: I have moved the Reconyx from where it has been for five years to an area further south. Despite some good shots over the years, it can go for a month without seeing anything. I'm hoping for higher traffic in the new location.

Camera #2: The Moultrie has probably given me the best images since I deployed it three years ago. I had a bit of a scare this time as I could not find the camera. I had already concluded it was stolen or lost and had started hiking back up the hill when I finally stumbled across it. Last November, the strap broke, and I had to move it to a smaller tree. For some reason I didn't mark the new location on my GPS. Anyway, I left it in the same location this time and carefully marked it. It is a little bit north of the Reconyx.

Camera #3: The Primos is very tempermental and I would not buy it again. Last time, positioned near cameras #1 and #2, it fired off 70,000 images of waving grass before the batteries gave out. So I moved it to a more sheltered location 12 miles away in Custer State Park, which sort of worked except most of the exposures looked washed out. And except for one sequence of elk, most of the images were of deer. I moved it to a slightly different location in CSP and have no great expectations. But if a mountain lion strolls past, cameras #1 and #2 will be moving.

In summary, the Reconyx is an excellent trailcam but I probably won't buy another one because it is expensive and I don't think they've really upgraded them in recent years. I can buy four Moultries for the cost of a Reconyx, so my next camera probably will be another Moultrie or perhaps a Bushnell. Every once in a while the Primos takes a good shot, but the false triggers and the confused exposures lead me to conclude it wasn't worth it to save a few bucks on this cheapo brand. Generally speaking, I'm not happy with trailcam image quality, even with the high-end Reconyx, but I understand I'm not in the usual demographic for these devices.


One of the better recent images from camera #2

Even though it is necessary to travel to wildlife hot spots to see the most spectacular displays, every once in a while there is the reminder that some wildlife tries to make the best of the urban landscape. When I got home last night, I put my rosemary plant out on the deck where it will spend the summer. This morning I was starlted to find a duck sitting on my rosemary plant! Before I could finalize dinner plans, she flew away.


Rosemary Duck


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

 

30 seconds of fame

I am a regular listener of the Tony Kornheiser Show, which is a daily podcast that evolved from a radio show on ESPN 980, WTEM in Washington. I have followed Mr. Tony throughout his career from the Washington Post to Monday Night Football to his current role on Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. I know he is an acquired taste and many people can't stand him, but as an old fart I appreciate his humor and I listen to his show every day.

I found an old MP3 player that I thought might be useful at the gym because, compared to my current phone, it is tiny. On there I found a download of the Tony Kornheiser show from February 2013. I sent an email to the show telling what I found, and that email was read on the show today. For me, this is the equivalent of mugging for the camera after spotting myself on the Jumbotron at a sporting event (which I would never do).

Follow this link, download the show from 1/18/17 "The Socialite is in the house" and fast forward to 1:12:04. The clip lasts for about 30 seconds.

http://www.tonykornheisershow.com/archives/#

This is the email:

"I was cleaning up an old MP3 player and found a copy of the Podcast in its former incarnation from February 2013. Feeling nostalgic about a bygone era, I listened to it, and it happened to feature the first in-studio appearance of one Mr. Chris Cillizza. The topic was whether the abrasive Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel would run for President in 2016 if Hillary decided not to, and Mr. Cillizza offered this insightful peek into the soul of America that we have come to except:

"Gary: Can you think of a President that has had that sort of an edge to him?
"Tony: No.
"Chris: His reputation is he loves to swear and is very confrontational. I'm not sure that's what people are looking for in a President."

Today the response to this was,
Chris: Nailed it!
Tony: Yeah.
Gary: Funny.
Chris: Is Rahm president? Thank you. You're welcome.

Validation for life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

 

Photo of the Year 2016

I have posted lots of elk images over the years, but most of these either were of semi-tame residents of wildlife parks or trailcam images. This image is notable in that is a free-ranging elk in the Black Hills that I snapped with my DSLR. I came around a corner and spotted this guy drinking from a stream near the road. He stuck around long enough for me to get a few shots.


Elk
Black Hills Elk 2016

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2015.

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 2014 Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015




Saturday, November 12, 2016

 

Past the Shoulder

If September and October are the shoulder season for western South Dakota tourism, then November must be past the shoulder. However, with temperatures forecast for the high 60s, I decided to drive west Nov. 9-11. There was very little traffic as I made my way through the various parks, and the wildlife was as abundant as I've ever seen. Whether that's because the tourists are gone, I don't know, but it was very easy to get lots of images. The photo gallery includes elk, bighorns, bison, pronghorns, prairie dogs, coyotes, turkeys, and some celestial events. I saw at least six coyotes, all near prairie dog towns, and I was impressed with how well fed they looked. But the highlights for me, at least until I get a mountain lion on one of my trailcams, are always the elk and bighorns.

There are some national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon included, where the elk are so tame that they lounge around in well-trafficked areas without a concern. I've never found that to be the case in Wind Cave National Park. That's why I've had trail cameras set up in the park for the past five years to get elk closeups that were very difficult to get with an SLR. Sometimes when I go down to check my cameras, I see elk on the far hillside and I can get a shot like this with the 400mm lens on my SLR.


Distant Elk


On this trip, I saw elk right along SD 87, which I had heard of but had never seen before. On the morning of the 10th I had a distant view of seven bulls grazing in a field near the highway. Then that afternoon, I stumbled across this guy getting a drink in the stream right next to the highway.


Closeup Elk


I haven't seen bighorns in the Black Hills recently, but I've seen them in the Badlands the last three times I've been through there. On Nov. 11th I saw two groups, one with a ram, five ewes and a lamb, and the other with a ram and two ewes. I got some good images of the rather lazy first group, then drove on and found the second group. I set up the tripod and big lens, and after a while through the viewfinder saw the ram heading in my direction with a wild look in his eye. I was debating whether to flee until I saw what he was actually headed toward. It's that time of year. I guess I wasn't in danger, but I retreated a few yards just in case. Nothing happened while I was there, but here's hoping that his companions have little ones next spring.


Badlands Bighorn


Friday, October 14, 2016

 

Elk and Parks, and a few Olympians

Early October took us to five national parks, a couple of wildlife viewing hotspots, and the U.S. Olympic Training Complex in Park City, Utah. I split the trip into five photo galleries in chronological order: Tame Elk, National Park Landscapes, Olympic Skiers, Wild Elk on Trailcam, and Badlands Bighorn.

Tame Elk: The Omaha Zoo has a wildlife park west of the city, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, which features North American animals including elk, bison, bears, wolves, raptors, and other birds. For me, the highlight is the elk, which are huge and very easy to photograph in their drive-through enclosure. I previously visited the park in 2008.

National Park Landscapes: I never claimed to be a landscape photographer, and only posted a few images from the parks that don't have wildlife in them. But I think one image from Bryce Canyon is more than just the usual snapshot.

Olympic Skiers: We happened to hit Park City while the aerial skiers were practicing. They jump off a ramp to do their twisting routines, then land in a pool. I snapped a bunch of images.

Wild Elk: Even though I can easily get images of huge placid elk near Omaha, I still like to stalk the wild elk in the Black Hills. During the recent six-month period I had three trailcams deployed in Wind Cave National Park. The Reconyx got a few decent images in the location where it has been for the past four years, but the best shots were on the Moultrie located a few hundred feet further south. The new Primos camera takes a decent image, but is far too sensitive. It fired off more than 60,000 shots in a month before the batteries died, and so far I've only found a handful that were anything other than wind-blown grass. I took the Primos out of service while I figure out how to work around the problem. I did post one image from the Primos. Because it was mounted on the same tree as the Moultrie, they both captured a shot of a cow elk at about the same time. One problem I have with trailcam JPGs is adjusting the color to look natural in various lighting conditions. The images from the two cameras illustrate this problem.

Badlands Bighorn: We knew from a previous side trip to the Badlands that there are a few bighorns in the park. We were not disappointed as we saw a bighorn working his way down steep cliffs from a peak to the vegetation below. I posted 25 images just of that sequence, because I can. Click on any of the images below to start the 87-image slide show.


Tame Elk


Bryce Canyon


Olympic Skiers


Wild Elk


Badlands Bighorn


Monday, July 25, 2016

 

Sioux Falls Air Show

I've been photographing air shows from time to time for 14 years now. In fact, my first trip overseas ever was to attend the 2002 Flying Legends show in England.

I didn't have to fly across the pond last weekend as the Blue Angels and a number of other interesting aircraft came to Sioux Falls. Rather than deal with the crowds, I decided to shoot the show from a hill about three miles from the airport. I tried this back in 2009 on one of the two days, and it worked fairly well for the larger aircraft.

I've developed some definite opinions about air shows, and I suppose they are tied to my photographic preferences. I like to get closeups of powerful planes in flight. I find big aircraft on the ground less interesting, and little aerobatic planes (airborne or not) even less so. I don't like being in a crowd when shooting air shows because (a) it's hard to carry my 500mm lens and tripod into the show particularly when backpacks are prohibited, and (b) even if I'm shooting handheld with the 400mm zoom, it's possible to bonk someone in the head as I'm trying to follow the planes. So I parked at the Southeast Vo-Tech and only had to carry my big lens and tripod about 10 feet. I missed out on the ground displays and the aerobatics by being further away, but I got some great shots of the B-17 Sentimental Journey and other planes as they came close, sometimes directly overhead. Click on the image to start the 14-image slide show.



B-17 Sentimental Journey


Sunday, July 03, 2016

 

Beer

After extensive research covering the past 45 years, I have come to the following conclusions about beer:

Generally speaking, I don't want fruit or spices in my beer, which is why I detest most seasonal beers. With that in mind:

Just speculating here, but I think the term "Pre-Prohibition" some brewers use (e.g. Brooklyn Lager) came into existence to emphasize that 100 years ago brewers didn't use cheap ingredients like corn and rice in place of barley. These cheap ingredients are called adjuncts, so crap like Bud and Miller are categorized as Adjunct Lagers. They really do have inferior flavor, and the reason is the ingredients. PBR makes the best of this disadvantage and has its place as I described above, but it is still inferior. The beer revolution is not some marketing gimmick as Bud might want you to believe. It's an ongoing revolution against the pale imitation beers that somehow became popular in this country in the 20th century.

Some beer snobs turn up their nose at Boston Lager because it has become a national brand over the past 25 years. But as far as I can tell they still aren't cutting corners, and there's something to be said for being able to go into a restaurant anywhere in the country and being sure there is at least one good beer on the menu.

I don't consider myself a beer snob. I don't really care about Belgian brews that almost taste like wine, and are bottled (and priced) accordingly. Even Boston Beer Company dabbles in this stuff. As long as they don't screw up Boston Lager, I don't care.

All of the above is my opinion. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I'm probably not interested in hearing it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

 

Black Hills Coyotes

For the past six years, I've spent May away from home in either New York or Chicago. This year, my annual May project has been split into a semiannual project in February and August, so I'm home in May for the first time since 2009.

The latest run out to the Black Hills to retrieve trailcam images was this week and the most interesting series took a bit of deciphering. The first four images showed a coyote, which is not unusual. The fifth image showed a deer popping up from behind the hill. Shown here is the sixth image where it appears the coyote is taking off after the deer (upper right). Not a great image, but an interesting scenario with an unknown ending. Click on any of the images to bring up the thumbnail page. Also included are some SLR shots of bluebirds and baby bison, and a bad shot of the transit of Mercury.

Coyote chasing deer
Coyote chasing deer

I often get coyotes running past my trailcam as they track elk, deer, or whatever. This is one of the better shots I've gotten.

Coyote in snow
Coyote in snow

Here's one of a devil dog (or a devil yote) at night.

Coyote at night
Coyote at night

And finally, this is what they are chasing.

Elk in snow
Elk in snow

I only had one trailcam deployed during this 7-month stretch. This time I put the Moultrie back in service and also put a new Primos on the same tree as the Moultrie. Doing this will give me a chance to compare the two. I've had trailcams in Wind Cave National Park since 2009 and at this particular site since 2012. It might be time for a change to a different site in the fall. I've already picked out a potential site in Custer State Park, but I haven't actually visited it yet.


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

 

Los Angeles

I have a really weird work schedule that is five weeks on followed by five months off. The "on" time this time was in downtown Los Angeles. The real estate I traversed on my daily walk from Little Tokyo to the Staples Center area ran the gamut from posh to scary. I got back into big city mode very quickly – do not make eye contact with crazy people. And there seemed to be plenty of those.

Anyway, here are a few photos from the month, which included a weekend trip to San Diego. I'm safely back home in South Dakota awaiting my next assignment, which is supposed to start in mid-August in Minneapolis.

Challenger memorial in Little Tokyo
Challenger memorial in Little Tokyo


Monday, February 01, 2016

 

Photo of the Year 2015

My interest in photography as a hobby was revived around 1999 and probably peaked in 2003-04 when I made the majority of my international journeys. It was a way to get away from work, really. Now that I'm semi-retired, the urge to hit the road doesn't seem as strong. But there are the occasional trips, usually to familiar places, and from one of those I select the 2015 Photo of the Year. This is from Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri. There was one of the biggest flocks of snow geese I've ever seen filling the sky as sunset approached.

First prize, which I award to myself every year, is a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see wintering eagles. I did go through eastern Iowa this January but didn't make it down to Keokuk. Instead what few eagle shots I got were actually from Squaw Creek again. Here is this year's POY and previous winners.

Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2014.

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 2014  


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