Friday, February 01, 2019
Lamar Valley in Winter
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
Yellowstone in Winter
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.
Monday, December 31, 2018
Photo of the Year 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.
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Toward the end of Duquesne's 51-6 loss to South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs during a winter storm yesterday, the beleaguered Dukes defense finally made a play and recovered a fumble. With no hope for victory, a couple of senior defensive linemen said "what the hell" and did snow angels to celebrate the fumble recovery and the end of their college careers. The refs threw a flag. Of course they did.
I really hate the choreographed NFL end zone dances, which are rehearsed and tiresome. This was different. It was spontaneous and harmless and fun. No fun allowed, 15 yards.
The great thing about FCS football is everyone who has a remote chance gets into the 24-team playoff field. Thankfully no Herbstreit droning on and on and on. And on and on and on. If we did have an FBS-style "debate," the Jacks would have been pleading with the committee to ignore its stinko loss at Northern Iowa and give it a top 3 seed. Instead they were seeded #5 and will have to win two road games, likely including one in Fargo, to reach the final. (Lesson to SDSU: Don't lose to UNI. Lesson to Georgia: Don't lose to LSU and Alabama.) Not ideal, but the Jackrabbits will decide their own fate on the field, which next week in Kennesaw, Georgia will probably not be snow angel-ready.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
We are doomed
I had an oversized letter to mail today so I went to the nearest postal station which happens to be at the customer service counter in a grocery store. When I got to the counter there was a sign that said the system was down. I had this delusion that they could still weigh it and figure out the postage manually. No such luck.
"The system is down and we can't do anything." "Can't you just weigh it?" "They told us not to trust it."
It is believed the Earth was hit by a massive coronal mass ejection from the Sun in 1859, frying telegraph lines across the U.S. and Europe. Scientists warn that if our modern world gets hit by a solar event of comparable magnitude, it would fry all of our electronics and send us back to the stone age. No more GPS satellites, no computers, perhaps not even any functional vehicles made after 1975. Since our economy is now almost entirely dependent on electronic technology to function, mass starvation seems to be the unavoidable result. We don't have an analog backup for most of our digital world. It's not like we can seamlessly revert to using 1859 steam locomotives.
I took the letter home, weighed it on my analog food prep scale, slapped two Forever stamps on it and stuck it in the mailbox. Disaster averted, for now.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
I have found it!
The greatest stuntwoman in history, Kitty O'Neil, died last week at age 72. That caught my eye, not only because we shared the same last name, but because the place of her demise was Eureka, South Dakota.
In addition to being acknowledged as the greatest stuntwoman, Kitty also holds the world land speed record for women of nearly 513 mph. She had her own Mattel action figure and a biopic movie. Stockard Channing played her in the movie, but she did her own stunts. She overcame much adversity in her life, including deafness from a childhood illness, meningitis which ended a promising Olympic diving career, a couple bouts of cancer, and various injuries from her risky profession. She retired from that lifestyle in 1982, and in 1993 moved to Eureka. She was a native Texan, but apparently she moved there with a fellow named Ray Wald who had some ties to the area.
[In a side note, South Dakota native Jessi Combs (Rapid City), has tried to put together an attempt to break the land speed record, which Kitty set in a three-wheel vehicle. Combs already holds the women's record for a four-wheel vehicle, 399 mph. Combs is best known, at least to me, for one season on Mythbusters while Kari Byron was on maternity leave. Kitty publicly supported Jessi's plans.]
Some of the news coverage of Kitty's passing included bewilderment how a famous Hollywood figure could end up in a tiny little town deep in flyover country. According to the Hollywood Reporter, "I got tired of living in L.A.," she said. "I don't like the big city, too many people. So I moved here and fell in love with it. The people are so friendly."
According to the Washington Post, “How and why they (her and Wald) settled in Eureka probably still has a lot of people scratching their heads and a bit baffled,” said Barry Lapp, president of the Eureka Pioneer Museum, which features an exhibit on Ms. O’Neil’s life.
In my former life as a bank examiner, I never went to Eureka per se, but drove just south of there heading to towns further west such as McLaughlin. My understanding is Eureka is a nice little town, maybe even an oasis in the vast expanse of prairie, but it is only 868 people. Aberdeen, population 28,000, is 73 miles away. In McLaughlin, which is near the Missouri River, we asked a single 20-something junior bank officer what he did for fun. He thought about it for a while before responding, "It helps if you like fishing."
When I retired and moved from Massachusetts back to South Dakota, my co-workers thought I was going to the wild frontier. And I'm in a city that has a Costco and Paul McCartney concerts. Eureka is 280 miles deeper into the wilderness. For the last 25 years of her life, Kitty had the blue skies of uncrowded Eureka rather than LA's congestion and brown smog cloud, but I'm sure the writer for the Hollywood Reporter still doesn't get it.
Friday, October 12, 2018
Ten days ago the surgeon removed the cloudy lens from my right eye and replaced it with an artificial lens. Four days ago, the procedure was performed on my left eye. In the six days in between, I was able to compare what the world looked like through a cataract versus a clear lens. Even though I knew the cloud had been reducing the amount of light that passed into my eye, I was surprised at how much brighter everything was. Even more surprising was the color, which I had not noticed was shifting toward the murky. Have you ever seen a piece of aged plastic that used to be clear? It turns yellowish brown, and that was what had happened to the lenses in my eyes.
The audience for network evening news is old people, so the commercials often are for the multitude of medicines that old people need. The sales pitch is followed by the list of side effects, some of which are quite horrendous and alarming. While there are potential negative side effects to cataract surgery, there was one positive side effect I hadn't thought of: I am no longer nearsighted. The implanted lenses fixed it. I've been wearing glasses every waking moment since age 7, but now I don't need glasses for distance vision. I still need reading glasses, but as I'm at my computer typing this I'm not wearing them.
This image of bighorns in the Badlands approximates the difference in my eyes without glasses between the surgeries. Most (but not all) of the blurriness is due to my nearsightedness, so not everyone with cataracts will be this blurry. This actually understates the problem because it doesn't show the triple vision I was experiencing. Click on the image to see a larger version, and welcome to my (former) world.
I started driving again a couple days ago. As I settled into my truck, I noticed with relief that I was able to see the dashboard without the reading glasses. I also noticed the MPG number on my dashboard. I thought Ford was stupid for using a small blue number on a black background which nobody could possibly see, particularly during the day. After the operations, it is crystal clear even during the day. So maybe it was me.
I probably should have started gathering information in late 2016 after I first started noticing that my glasses weren't doing the job. Certainly after my eye exam in late 2017, I should have been more insistent that I needed something other than a new glasses prescription. My suggestion is if your eye doctor ever says it looks like you are developing cataracts, ask about the surgery. It is a relatively safe procedure and I'm unaware of any benefit of putting it off until you see three stoplights where there should be one.
One week later: I used to have a superpower. I used to be able to read the tiniest print by holding it four inches from my face. Now that I'm no longer extremely nearsighted, those days are gone. I suppose now having 95% of the world in focus makes up for it.
Five weeks later: After waiting for my eyes to stabilize and for delivery, I finally got my new glasses today. I'm slightly nearsighted in my right eye, which was planned (monovision), but I primarily need glasses for reading. The new lenses are one-third the thickness of the old lenses. If high index lenses had not been invented, the difference would be more dramatic. Maybe this sounds mundane to anyone who has always been able to see, but for me it still feels like a miracle.
Monday, August 20, 2018
Since I started my photo web site years ago there have been tremendous advances in the tools (cameras, computers, monitors, software) and my skill in using them. For some reason I came across this image from 2008 today. I remembered how the shadow across the owl's head posed a lot of difficulty while editing, and I never produced an image worth posting. Maybe Photoshop Elements is better than it was, but the sliders for RAW processing changed a few years ago and now it seems much easier to balance shadows and highlights. The shadow is still a bit distracting, but this is much better than it was.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Little Brothers revisited
I've been posting photographs on the internet for more than 20 years. At first, the only way I could get SLR quality in a digital image was to shoot it on film, get it printed, and scan the print on a flatbed. The first digital SLRs circa 2000 were quite costly and I thought one way to put off that major expense was to invest in a film scanner. I settled on a Minolta Dimage Elite Pro, which was merely rather expensive versus an insanely expensive DSLR.
In 2002 after coming back from an air show in England with 16 rolls of film, I got REALLY sick of scanning. A few months later I took the digital plunge with my first Canon DSLR, the 1D. But I still had my good Canon film cameras and continued to shoot some film for a few more years, perhaps in part to justify buying that film scanner.
In August 2004 I took my most successful photo trip ever, to Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine to shoot puffins. This trip resulted in the only image I've ever bothered to title, "Little Brothers," which was on the cover of the 2010 book "Nothin' but Puffins: And Other Silly Observations" by John McDonald, still available on Amazon.com. The Latin name for the Atlantic puffin, Fratercula Arctica, translates as "Little Brother of the North." Another 20 of my puffin images are inside the book. All of the puffin images in the book and on my web site are from the digital SLR.
Recently I purchased VueScan scanning software which has breathed new life into my now-vintage Minolta film scanner. I'm certainly not shooting any new film images. The Canon film cameras are long gone. I do have a couple of vintage Pentax SLRs and a few lenses, but there is no temptation to take them off the shelf and put them back into production. I got the new software to deal with hundreds of old family photos on black & white negatives and color slides. VueScan has improved the scanning process, although it remains tedious.
Yesterday I came across a box of slides from the 2004 Machias trip. I suppose back in the day I picked out the best digital images from that trip for web posting, and when the slides came back later I didn't feel like scanning. Looking back through my archives, I found only one scan. When the publisher asked for images for the book six years later, I didn't even remember that I had slides.
I scanned a few batches today and came up with 12 new images for the web site. One thing worth remembering is the Canon 1D only had a 4.1 megapixel sensor. (I was hoping to get the new 8.2mp 1D Mark II delivered before the Machias trip, but alas it didn't come until after I got back.) The 35mm slides I scanned today at 4800 dpi resulted in 27.8mp images, almost 7x larger than those original 1D images. It can be debated whether the scanned images have 7x the resolution of the digital images, but to my eye the scans would have been more than good enough to be in the book. The ISO was probably 200, so there is some film grain, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Click on the image to start the slide show of new images, which eventually loops back into the images originally posted in 2004.
This may be an old man yelling "Get off of my lawn," but when hands-on photography meant chemicals and darkrooms, and consumer photography meant a trip to the store and waiting days to see your photos, there were a lot fewer photographs taken. I actually had the title of photographer at a weekly newspaper 35 years ago and my relatively basic equipment was better than what 99% of the population had. Even though the club is less exclusive now, I don't want to go back. Digital photography is a modern wonder if for no other reason than automatic white balance. Scanning the old B&W negatives is no big deal since white balance is not a factor and you can get a good exposure by adjusting three sliders on a histogram. I could teach someone to scan B&W negatives in 30 seconds.
Color on the other hand introduces far more variables, complicated by the fact that our brains interpret strong white daylight and soft yellow artificial light differently. Even though I did the darkroom and chemicals at the newspaper, I only did B&W. Our chief photographer did color only a few times a year. Color processing required very precise temperature control and attention to detail.
The Minolta is actually my second film scanner. The first one was so awful with color that I eventually gave up and passed it along to some other poor sucker on eBay. The Minolta/VueScan combination often (but not always) produce a good color balance automatically, and I also can do some additional tweaking in Photoshop Elements 14, as was necessary with the puffin scans. Digital images shot with automatic white balance rarely need color adjustment. Still, getting the **perfect** color balance remains elusive. Viewed on their own the color of the puffin slide scans and the digital images are quite acceptable, but side by side you can see color differences. At this point I'm going to leave it at that.
Monday, July 09, 2018
For the second straight year I spent the 4th of July in Red Lodge, MT with family. This visit gave me the chance to finally see what my Browning trailcam captured in the past year.
The rodeo in Red Lodge is preceded each of the three days by a parade, but the biggest parade is always on the 4th. Appreciation goes out to Dunham Real Estate, Whispering Pines, and Aspen Ridge Ranch for their hospitality during the parade and other activities during the week. Click on any of the images below to start the 45-image slide show.
Last year I shot the fireworks with my Canon S95 on a pop bottle tripod on a deck post and had "artistic" motion squiggles in the images. This year I used my newer Canon M100 on a sturdy tripod on solid ground and for the most part eliminated the squiggles. My triggering method was a two-second delay after pressing the button, so I think only one image showed the slightest camera shake. Maybe next year I will break down and use my DSLR with a cable release.
The highlight of the trailcam images was the bull moose that strolled past on Nov. 1, 2017 in the snow. There also were moose images later on of a female and a young one, although not together. There was one elk and a number of deer. For more on my trailcams and where they are currently deployed, see "Tom's Trailcam Central."
Tuesday, June 05, 2018
When a telescope is put into service and is pointed at the stars for the first time, that is referred to as seeing first light. I planted a new Browning Strike Force HD Pro trailcam near my brother's cabin in Montana last July but haven't gotten back there to see its first light results. He went down a couple days ago to see what there was to see.
Here is a moose trudging through an early snowfall somewhere in the Beartooth Mountains, Nov. 1, 2017. I'm told there are plenty of other images but apparently I'll have to wait in suspense for another month until I get up there. Click on the image for a larger version.
For more info on this image and my trail cameras, see my trailcam blog.
Friday, May 25, 2018
Keep South Dakota Green
South Dakota has gotten plenty of snow and rain the last couple of months and the state is green everywhere, except for the brown and black parts in and around Custer State Park. The effects of December's 54,000-acre Legion Lake Fire are plain to see as the burned forest stands in contrast to the flourishing spring grass.
In the '60s while employed by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, my dad Jerry O'Neil was on the Board of Directors of the Keep South Dakota Green Association, an organization formed in response to devastating wildfires. In the '70s and '80s, he was the forester for Black Hills Power and Light. The recent fire happened to be caused by a tree falling into a BHP&L power line. After this week's drive through Custer State Park I couldn't help but think how it would look through his eyes today.
Although much of the burn area looks more like the singed middle of this photo than the completely-burned top, having all of those brown trees still standing means extreme fire danger when things dry out. The park is frantically trying to clear the dead trees from along the heavily-traveled Wildlife Loop Road, but it will take a long time to recover completely from this fire. But, as is evident in the bottom of the image, the grass is doing fine.
Custer State Park
One of my primary goals on this trip was to find the Moultrie trailcam that I had deployed in the fire area. An effort to find the camera in February failed due to snow cover. This time I found it, although my worst fears were confirmed when it turned out to be a charred and melted mess. I'm going to make a perfunctory effort to try to read the remains of the SD card, but I am not confident it will work.
I deployed the two cameras that survived the fire, the Reconyx and the Browning, in a new area outside of the parks. I decided to put them on the edge of another burn area, the 2000 Jasper Fire around Jewel Cave west of Custer. Large elk herds have been seen in that area in the past, but I'll probably check the cameras more frequently in the near future to make sure I have them in a good area.
After that I headed to the Badlands where I was disappointed to find the Sage Creek Rim Road closed. This is usually the best place to spot bighorn rams. Instead I settled for a herd of 17 ewes which crossed the road at the Pinnacles Overlook.
Badlands National Park
Updates: I added a few more images from my February trip out west and a moose from my trailcam in Montana. See the last four images in this slide show. Also, earlier this month I happened to be back at the Kansas Cosmosphere, one of the great space museums of the world. It is in the most unlikely location on the campus of a junior college in Hutchinson. I was disappointed that Liberty Bell 7 was out on loan, but the Apollo 13 command module was still there. I added three images to this slide show.
Friday, January 12, 2018
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.
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:
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.
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
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