Sunday, December 04, 2016

 

Transitive

I admit, I watch the talking heads on ESPN. However, the last few weeks have been maddening as the college football FBS playoff qualifiers have been the topic of debate. (The only more tedious topic is the firing and hiring of college coaches.) The problem is there are only four playoff spots, yet there are five so-called power conferences, an assortment of minor conferences, and some independents. The obvious solution is to have at least eight qualifiers, then you could have five automatic power conference bids and three at-large selections. For those who say then there would be debate about #8 vs. #9, at least you wouldn't have the situation where the Big 12 is left out year after year.

Since there are only four spots, the talking heads take turns spouting circular arguments over and over. Ohio State has the best resume. But Penn State beat Ohio State and won the Big 10 title. But Ohio State gets the benefit of the "eye test" where "we all know" that Ohio State is better. Back in BCS days, I remember another year (2006) when "we all knew" Ohio State and Michigan were the two best teams and many were clamoring for a title game rematch of their regular season game won by Ohio State. Turns out "we all didn't know" as Ohio State lost the title game to Florida and Michigan lost the Rose Bowl to USC.

Sometimes one of the talking heads uses the transitive argument to bolster their position. It goes like this: A beat B, B beat C, so we all know that A is better than C. Let's try it: South Dakota State beat North Dakota State, which beat Iowa, which beat Michigan, which beat Penn State, which beat Ohio State; THEREFORE we all know South Dakota State is better than Ohio State. Also bolstering that argument is that yesterday SDSU football beat Villanova, which is the defending D1 basketball champ. What does basketball have to do with football rankings? Just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

Actually, my Jackrabbits won't be invited to the FBS playoff because they already have a gig in the FCS quarterfinals. On Saturday they get to go back to Fargo to try to beat North Dakota State for a second time in one season. As the Donald might say, it would be huge if the Jacks could break through and win that game. Maybe the talking heads would pull their heads out of Ohio State's backside for a few seconds and take notice.


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  


Tuesday, January 05, 2016

 

Winter Drive

I had to get from Chicago to South Dakota and wanted to include my annual Mississippi River eagles trip as part of the trip. Alas, the Corp of Engineers site wasn't giving me good news about eagle numbers around Keokuk and Burlington, so I decided to hit Squaw Creek in northwest Missouri for the second time in a month. The snow geese were mostly gone, but eagle numbers had increased. Along the way I made the usual stop at Neal Smith NWR just east of Des Moines to see the small elk and bison herds.

Click on the image to start the slide show.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle


Friday, December 04, 2015

 

Geese and more

This is a fairly big photo update covering the past 6+ months, including:

The trips to the two wildlife refuges in late November and early December were quite different experiences. I have been to Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico many times. For this late in the year I was expecting many cranes and geese, and a number of raptors. For whatever reason, the migratory bird numbers were down and there were no raptors in view. On the positive side, the snow geese were close enough to provide opportunities to photograph individuals and small groups. A highlight was seeing a leucistic sandhill crane. The crane had mostly white feathers, but it still had the red patch on the head and colored eyes so it was not an albino. Refuge staff said this was the bird's second year on the refuge. Seeing this bird reminded me of the leucistic penguin I saw in Antarctica 12 years ago.

I've also been to Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri many times. Even though the geese were further away than in New Mexico, there were such massive numbers that it was easy to get the huge group shots you will see in the slide show. I also saw 15 eagles and a few hawks in the refuge, which is a low number compared to previous years, but I've included a few shots of those.

Click on one of the images below to start the 49-image slide show.

Moth
Newton Hills

Elk
Trail Camera

Moth
New Mexico

Moth
Missouri


Friday, August 07, 2015

 

Sturgis at 75

I am compelled to comment on the 75th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is wrapping up this weekend. I drove through the Black Hills a couple weeks ago and already significant motorcycle traffic was evident, lending credence to the expectation that this year's rally would be a monster with attendance approaching 1 million bikers.

Many of the articles leading up to the 75th rally mentioned its start in 1938, giving credit to J.C. "Pappy" Hoel as the founder. I claim a unique perspective on the rally because, although I have never driven a motorcycle in my life, I was a reporter for the Sturgis weekly newspaper 1978-84, and I met with Clarence (as locals called him) and his wife Pearl at their home soon after I started at the paper. I remember him as a cordial but sort of deaf old gent. He talked about working as a young man in the family business, which was cutting and storing ice in the winter and delivering it in the summer. In 1936 when refrigeration was making ice delivery obsolete, he bought an Indian motorcycle franchise. Clarence founded the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club in 1936 and helped start the rally in 1938. I got the impression that he didn't want to take personal credit for founding the rally, but whether that was due to modesty or embarrassment about the crazier aspects of it, I'm not sure. Whenever I dealt with him after that initial interview, it didn't have to do with "the Rally," but with the White Plate Flat Trackers, an organization he helped found in 1979-80 that was devoted to preserving the history of motorcycle racing. ("White Plate" refers to the white numbered plate awarded to expert riders, and "Flat Track" was the dirt track upon which they raced.)

Part of my beat was city and county government, so I covered countless meetings where rally proponents and opponents came to debate whether the town should continue hosting this insane event. A near-riot by campers in the city park one year led to a series of meetings and a public vote. I wrote an opinion column in the paper advocating that the rally should continue because it was the thing that made the town unique. Without it, Sturgis would be just another ranch town like Belle Fourche. (No offense.) Proponents narrowly won the vote, but there were changes – camping was banned in the park and much of the partying moved, out of sight and out of mind, to new private campgrounds outside of city limits, such as the Buffalo Chip.

In 1989, nearby Deadwood embraced part of its dark history. Gambling was legalized, revitalizing that little town. Today there are dozens of casinos and hotels in Deadwood. Without Deadwood gambling and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, there still would be tourists in the Black Hills, but not nearly as many. Whatever judgments you want to make, moral or otherwise, those two decisions made back in the 1980's bring millions of dollars to the northern Black Hills each year.

Being in the middle of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was part of my job, not something I would do on my own time. These days I live 375 miles to the east and usually visit the Black Hills in the spring and fall when the roads aren't clogged with bikers and RVs. But the rally is a unique event and I'm always interested to see (on TV, not in person) what is going on.



A t-shirt from 1981, one of my few Sturgis souvenirs. The event has gone by various names over the years.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

 

Photo of the Year 2014

How about that, until now (Auguest 2015) I neglected to choose a Photo of the Year for 2014. There's no doubt I've spent less time hunting with my camera the last few years but I did get a few decent shots during the 2014. Nominees were the partial solar eclipse and my first photo of a Baltimore Oriole, but I picked a webcam shot of an elk framed by another elk's antlers. I have been diligent about checking my webcams in Wind Cave National Park every six months. First prize, which I award to myself every year, is a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see wintering eagles, although I neglected to make the trip this year. Here is this year's POY and previous winners.

Looking back on the previous selections, I was wondering if I should pick a photo of the decade, but it is too hard. The 2003 penguins were snapped during the greatest adventure of my life, a trip to Antarctica. "Little Brothers" from 2004 ended up on the cover of a book. After I clicked the owl picture in 2008, I was thinking about retiring then because I didn't know if I would ever top it. Maybe the Sertoma Butterfly from 2011 comes close. So there will be no "photo of the decade" selection. Click on the images for larger views.

Elk
Elk Frame 2014

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2013.

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




Sunday, June 28, 2015

 

GOG

Every once in a while I have a hankering to watch a silly sci-fi movie, and this week I found GOG on Amazon Prime. It has its share of silly movie "science," but the premise is quite interesting: The story centers around a computer that, among other things, controls two robots, Gog and Magog. (Wiki says these names show up in the Old Testament in many different contexts, including the End of Days.) An unfriendly foreign government installed a Trojan Horse when the computer was being assembled by outside contractors, and are able to hack into the computer and control the robots and other systems. Several "accidents" and attacks occur before the intrusion is detected and stopped.

Have I mentioned this movie came out in 1954? In other words, more than 60 years after this movie was released the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is still too stupid to figure out that it might not be a good idea to trust outside contractors with access to confidential records. Although I have not received notice that my information has been compromised, as a former federal employee whose records were transferred to OPM upon my retirement, it appears I am at risk. Thanks Obama (and Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy and Eisenhower).


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

 

Black Hills

It's (almost) spring, and time for another trailcam check. I only had two cameras deployed due to a lock snafu with the third. The old Bushnell didn't deliver anything of note, but the newer Reconyx had some good nighttime shots of elk, a decent looking buck deer, and a couple of coyotes chasing through the snow. Strangely enough, there were absolutely no images from February, but some of the better nighttime elk and the coyotes were snapped during an early March snowstorm.

But what I'm showing here is (what I believe is) a yearling Bighorn that I snapped in Custer State Park while driving to the camera site in Wind Cave National Park. Click here for a slide show of the eight images.

Despite some frustration with another lock that I had to break, eventually, all three cameras including the Moultrie are now deployed a few hundred feet from each other in the national park.

Bighorn
Bighorn Yearling


Thursday, October 23, 2014

 

Eclipse

Partial solar eclipses aren't spectacular events. I'm sure a lot of folks didn't even know why it was a bit darker than usual in the late afternoon.

If nothing else, I took this as a rehearsal for the total solar eclipse that will cross the US three years from now. I have a Coronado solar telescope, but I've never taken a decent photo through it, so my best setup for solar photos is a telescope with a neutral density filter and an SLR. These telescope images are not flipped, so north is at the bottom. Note the large sunspot. Click on an image to get into the slide show.

Partial Solar eclipse
Eclipse starting

Partial Solar eclipse
Eclipse


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