Saturday, November 10, 2007


The reason I took early retirement in August was so I could drive around the American West aimlessly, snapping photos of whatever caught my eye. Recently I completed my first such drive, crossing 11 states and seeing such varied things as mammoth bones, Chinese baseball players, migrating birds, and derelict spaceships. It will take me a few days to go through all my photos, but here is a sample, a roadrunner at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.

The sequence between Oct. 24 and Nov. 7 goes something like this. I drove through the Black Hills of South Dakota, stopping at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs to see the excavation of skeletons of animals that fell into a sinkhole 11,000 years ago, primarily mammoths. After a visit in Colorado, I continued on to Scottsdale, Arizona where I took in four Arizona Fall League baseball games. In addition to games between the usual six teams of minor league prospects, this year the Olympic teams from USA and China also were playing in the league for a week. Then it was on to Bosque del Apache for a couple of days to see the cranes and waterfowl.

Arizona Fall League

My route home took me through Hutchinson, Kansas where I made a second visit to the Kansas Cosmosphere. The first time a few years ago I saw the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey, but the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule was on a national tour. This time Liberty Bell 7, which was restored at the Kansas Cosmosphere after spending 38 years on the ocean floor, was in its permanent home. My final stop before heading home was Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri to see the waterfowl and a few eagles.

Liberty Bell 7

I've been asked where my next drive will be. My guess is I'll take some short eagling trips to Squaw Creek in December and the Mississippi River in January before embarking on another long one, and I haven't chosen the direction yet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Victory Tour

There are those who are lucky enough to be paid to do what they love to do, and there are the rest of us who look forward to the day when they can afford to do something else. As a kid or even as a 28-year-old grad student I never dreamed of becoming an FDIC bank examiner, but that's how I spent the 21 years and four months up until Aug. 17. On that day I accepted an early retirement opportunity and embarked on the rest of my life.

Maybe in six months or a year I might decide that I need to return to the work force in some manner, but for now I plan to travel the West snapping shots of critters. Last weekend was the first chance for me to get out of my house, which is still in chaos after moving from Massachusetts to South Dakota. I headed out to the Black Hills.

The best place in the Black Hills for wildlife is Custer State Park, and I went in search of bison and pronghorn. (Supposedly there also are elk and mountain goats, but I think you have to be a bit lucky to see them.) The biggest group of bison I saw was far away and only single bulls came close. The pronghorns were more cooperative.


I grew up in the Black Hills so I know about prairie dogs, but still I was surprised at the vast numbers in Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park where this shot was taken.

Prairie Dog

I had some time to kill in Hill City one afternoon so I toured the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. These are the folks who were involved in the legal battle over Sue the T-Rex. To make a long story short, they lost and Sue is now in the Chicago's Field Museum. So they went out and got another T-Rex which they named Stan.

In addition to Stan they also have replicas of two other T-Rex skeletons, casts of several T-Rex heads, and lots of other fossils and casts. It's an incredible collection for what basically is a storefront in a tourist town. I think it's a must-see when visiting the Mount Rushmore area. Admission was only $5.

Stan the T-Rex

I might try Custer again before a longer excursion to the Southwest in late October/early November.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fulton Eagles

During a recent cross-country drive I wanted to make sure I swung past Lock & Dam 13 near Fulton, IL to see if the eagle's nest was active. It was, sort of. This year's hatchlings were fledglings by the time I got there July 1.

The nest is closer to the road and more visible than the few other eagle's nests I've seen, but it's still not that close. This shot taken with 500mm lens and 1.4x extender shows one of the adults. Barely visible behind is one of the youngsters, and if I had posted a wider shot you would be able to see the second youngster roosting a few feet above the nest. It's not a great photo op but with a good binoculars or scope it is a great observing op. Click for larger version.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Too Many of Something

Tom Stienstra, Outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on the SF Gate blog about a mountain lion eating a pet cat near Eureka, CA, "This is another loud, clear warning that there are too many mountain lions out there."

His conclusion: Time to manage (kill) mountain lions. My conclusion: The ramblings of a deranged mind.

How many humans are there in California? About 37 million. The state Department of Fish and Game estimates there are about 5,000 mountain lions.

House cats are an invasive species. They kill millions of wild birds each year. Maybe it's time to manage house cats. Maybe it's time for humans to manage their own population. Instead we have "sportsmen" who want to kill everything that interferes with their pathetic existence.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Photo of the Year

I just realized I forgot to select a Photo of the Year for 2006. I was saving up all my vacation time so didn't take any exotic trips last year, and it just slipped my mind. I did put some effort into snapping the birds in my back yard because I knew I would be selling the house this year, and this blue jay photo is from that effort.

Even though I forgot to have the contest (which only I am allowed to enter), I did remember to award myself the prize, which as usual was an all-expense paid trip to Keokuk, Iowa in the dead of winter.

Blue Jay

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2005.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Get Off My Back

I've posted the photos from my Florida trip. Here are a couple of the highlights, or lowlights depending on your point of view. There are so many osprey in Honeymoon Island State Park that they have to perch on top of each other. Or something.

Next, have you ever done something for someone only to have them dump on you? Literally? Consider this gator at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. The egrets nest there because the gators keep away the raccoons and other predators. As a reward for standing guard, this gator caught one right on the snout, and a few other places as well.

Wildfires have been raging in various parts of Florida. Last Friday I had to drive through a cloud of smoke to get out of the Tampa area. And after a winter in the northeast, I was not accustomed to the warmth and humidity. Maybe I'm rationalizing because I'm moving soon from one cold locale to an even colder one, but I felt a longing for fresh-fallen snow and a crisp, clear winter day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Honeymoon Island again, osprey, great horned owl, same raccoon. Hot, windy.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Honeymoon Island near Tampa. Osprey, armadillo, and a very blase raccoon. More tomorrow.
Arrived Florida yesterday. Smoky, windy. Few birds at Venice rookery. Honeymoon Island osprey next two days.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Voice in the Wilderness

I just saw the Boston Herald's coverage of the NCAA championship game. There were four AP photos in the section: two of Florida celebrating, one of Greg Oden congratulating the Gators, and one of Oden being interviewed. No game action.

I did sports photography for a newspaper 25 years ago, and I've dabbled in its since then. I know it is easier to get a good reaction shot than a good action shot. With basketball, you have to make an effort to avoid coming out of a game with nothing but armpit shots. But I think it is lazy and wrong to depend exclusively on reaction shots.

The game is not Dickey-V, Billy Donovan's next job, Oden's plans for next year, Hall-of-Fame coaches, the pom-poms, the ceremonies, or the interviews. The game is 10 guys on the court competing. Does anyone cover that any more?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The spirit of Hoosiers will be alive in Brookings, S.D. tomorrow night during a Women's NIT game.

The visiting team in red will be real live Hoosiers, the women's team from the University of Indiana, members of the Big 10. The home team in white, gold and blue will resemble the small-town team from the movie Hoosiers. Playing the role of the Hickory High Huskers will be the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, comprised entirely of players from fairly small towns in the Upper Midwest. The team was in Division II as recently as 2004, and since embarking on the move to Division I has been a transitional independent.

But working against the Hoosiers storyline is the fact that this Jackrabbit team has a more impressive resume its Big 10 opponent. If there are degenerate gamblers who wager on WNIT games, no doubt they will be asking for points to take South Dakota State. Gene Hackman, er, Coach Aaron Johnston has a career mark with the Jackrabbits of 169-54, including 32-3 and a Division II championship in 2003. This year, his team played a strong Division I schedule and went 24-5, beating teams from the Big 10 (Minnesota), Big 12 (Kansas, Colorado), ACC (Virginia), SEC (Alabama) and Pac 10 (Southern Cal), along with NCAA tournament qualifier Middle Tennessee State. The Jackrabbits probably would have been selected for the NCAA tournament, but are not eligible until 2009 due to the transition rules. Their resume and the ability to sell out Frost Arena for women's basketball are the reasons they got the WNIT home game. A crowd of 5,719 turned out Saturday for their win over Illinois State, a school record for a women's game and the most by far in the WNIT this year. That's a few hundred short of the stated capacity, but tomorrow's game already has been announced as a sellout.

(The arena record is 9,456 for men's game against Augustana in 1989. For some reason a group of us drove up from Sioux Falls to attend that game. I can personally attest that it is impossible to see both baskets from a lot of the upper bleacher seating, and I'm fairly sure the Brookings Fire Marshall had a heart attack that night when he saw how people were jammed in. So for the game against Indiana they'll sell tickets for the 6,000 seats with a good view of the court and call it a sellout.)

Megan Vogel is the team leader and the only senior on the team. Her freshman year was the final year the team played in Division II. She is in 2nd place on the school career scoring list by 70 points, so if the team plays four more games she would need to average 17.5 points per game to tie the record. Her season average is 17.6, so it could be close. Vogel also is moving up the charts of legendary South Dakota sports figures. She's no Adam Vinatieri (SDSU, Super Bowl Hero), but I'm pegging her well past Lyle Alzado (Yankton College, Broncos/Raiders, death famously attributed to steroid abuse) and closing in on Mike Miller (Mitchell High, University of Florida, Memphis Grizzlies, video of him getting hit in the throat by Kobe Bryant last year has been replayed a lot recently). And unlike those guys, her greatest exploits have been accomplished while wearing the local uniform.

I was skeptical when South Dakota State announced it was embarking on the transition to Division I starting with the 2004-2005 school year. I don't know whether the men's basketball team (6-24 this year) can be competitive with the 330 other teams chasing March Madness recognition, so in regard to that program I'm still skeptical. I doubt the Jacks could stay within 50 of Syracuse, which is a men's NIT qualifier this year. But the South Dakota State women probably could have gone Division I 25 years ago. No doubt women's basketball isn't nearly as deep as men's basketball, so it's possible for a plucky band of small-town girls to rise up from Division II and live out their Hoosiers dream.

March 22: The Jacks battle from behind to beat Indiana 60-53. Now it gets tough as the team hits the road at Wyoming. Wyoming has a bigger arena and very good crowd support, and the WNIT sponsor is a profit-seeking business. Some folks care even if ESPN's Bill Simmons doesn't.

March 25: The Jackrabbits fall to Wyoming this afternoon 70-59. I can flip back to the Georgetown-Carolina game now, with the sound down of course so I don't have to listen to condescending Billy Packer or the blaring commercials.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Kansas City is Strange

Word comes that a new piece of art called Strange Attractor for Kansas City has been installed at Kansas City International Airport. The sculpture is described as a 50-foot-tall structure made of aluminum, wire mesh and neon lighting and is meant to suggest future travel through wormholes or time machines. As shown in this photo from USA Today, it looks like two tubas jammed together.

In the five minutes of research I did, I didn't find the price tag for this masterpiece, but I'm guessing that it wasn't free. I haven't been there since last year and the web site claims there have been significant renovations recently, but I didn't seen any mention of restroom upgrades in the terminals.

Whether traveling by car, airplane or wormhole, I take the precaution of visiting the little boys room before I embark. But because KCI was designed back before anyone thought we would need security at airports, there is nowhere to pee (at least not without the risk of arrest) or get any refreshments after you go through the security checkpoint. What other airport of any size is similarly deficient? Before installing any more futuristic tubas, perhaps it would be a good idea to put in a few more old-fashioned porcelain fixtures.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More Eagles

Photos and a report have been posted from a short eagle-hunting expedition along the Mississippi River.

Eagle checks its catch.
Eagle checks its catch.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Shoot the Moon

The moon is always there, or at least it is there often enough, to be a test subject for a long lens. Here's my 500mm f4 with a 2x extender, on a DSLR of course.

One day past full

I think the result is somewhat sharper than the digiscoping setup with the telescope. Of course where a telephoto lens really outshines a telescope is the edge-to-edge sharpness, something I really noticed when trying to use the scope to shoot eagles. That's not important with the moon photo because the edges are black. Where the telescope has an advantage is the ability to provide greater magnification, but I would need to get additional attachments to do serious astrophotography.

Camera lenses are great for taking photos, and telescopes are great for looking through, and trying to use one in place of the other does not provide the best results. It's only taken about 10 years for me to figure that out.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Rolen Exception

With the NFL conference championship games about to start, I've been thinking about the people who attend these games and what they wear. I'm known as something of a fashion trendsetter so I've come up with a few fashion rules about wearing player jerseys.

  • General Rule: Don't look foolish by wearing the jersey of a player who is younger than you. I don't own any jerseys, but as an old fart this would limit me to old timers such as Bart Starr and Reggie Jackson. A man of my age wearing an Uhrlacher jersey to today's Bears game should be forced to exchange it for a Butkus jersey. The Retired Player Addendum: If you have a Butkus jersey, only wear it to football games. Otherwise don't wear it out in public.
  • The Brady Exception: Women are given five years leeway. In the case of Tom Brady (29), this qualifies women up to the age of 34 to wear his jersey and have impure thoughts.
  • The Scott Rolen Exception: The five-year rule is waived for women whose ideal evening with the subject player would be to have his family over for dinner and send them home with a tin of cookies fresh from the oven. Also known as the "The St. Louis Grandmother Exception." It is recognized that this exception is subject to abuse, so the jersey wearer's true motivation should be determined through pointed questioning.

What I'm saying is middle-aged guys shouldn't go around wearing Kobe Bryant jerseys. You look ridiculous. His father Joe "Jellybean" is two years older than me so even I can wear one of his jerseys, if such a thing exists, but for Kobe you have to be 29 or less.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Beep Beep

I hadn't been on a plane for eight months so TSA nabbed me for trying to take two cans of Diet Coke through security at the Albuquerque airport yesterday. I thought the new rules only applied to tubes of stuff, not unopened cans of pop, but I was wrong. They gave me the option of surrendering them or exiting the security area and consuming them. I had some time and there were no lines, so rather than risk a caffeine-withdrawal headache (and unwilling to pay airport prices), I went out and chugged them.

So it was quite funny when one of the first news items I heard after getting off the plane was that Atlanta QB Michael Vick had a similar experience in Miami on Wednesday. TSA wouldn't let him through with a water bottle, so reluctantly he surrendered it so he could catch his flight back to Atlanta. Except the drug in his water bottle wasn't caffeine; it was (allegedly) marijuana hidden in a secret compartment. He might not even be charged with an offense, but this incident proves he is a dope. Pun intended.

Anyway, I had been in New Mexico for my fourth trip to Bosque del Apache NWR. On previous trips (October 2004, March 2005, November 2005) I saw a lot more coyotes than roadrunners, but this time the situation was reversed. I came across five or six roadrunners, and no yotes. Perhaps Wile E. is holed up, waiting for his next shipment from Acme.

See my web site for a full trip report and all of the photos.



Sunday, January 07, 2007

Upon Further Review

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Massachusetts is reported to attract Snowy Owls in winter, so I made the 100-mile trek last week to check it out. The refuge is located on Plum Island, a barrier island consisting of sand dunes and salt marshes. I spent parts of three days in the search and all I found to aim my camera at was a few harriers and the usual assortment of ducks and geese.

However, when reviewing what I thought was a distant harrier shot, I saw that I had something else instead. It's not the white Snowy I was hoping to see, but there's no doubt it's an owl.

Unsnowy Owl

Next Saturday it's off to New Mexico for four days of shooting at Bosque del Apache NWR. Who knows what further surprises await?