Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Photo of the Year

It's the time of year for charity, which I suppose is why nine college football teams with 6-6 records got invited to bowl games. It's also time for the Photo of the Year. As usual, I'm the only one allowed to enter and the prize is an all-expense paid trip to Keokuk, Iowa to chase eagles, which I will be doing next month.

Previous POY have something in common; they are all of birds. If the circumstances were somewhat different I might have broken that tendency with a good bighorn sheep image, but I don't have one that tops the Great Horned Owl fledgling and mother that I snapped at Honeymoon Island State Park in Florida back in March.


Great Horned Owls

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2007.

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cleghorn

When I was a youth in Rapid City, SD, one of our family's favorite stops was Cleghorn State Fish Hatchery to see the huge trout in the ponds there. But I don't recall a herd of bighorn sheep wandering the grounds.

There was a blurb in the Sioux Falls Sunday paper warning motorists to watch out for bighorns along the highway near the fish hatchery. I left Tuesday and drove the 350 miles west to see what there was to see. The bighorns weren't hard to find as six rams and two ewes were grazing on the grounds and across the highway on a steep hill.

I stopped again Wednesday morning and the count was up to eight rams and four ewes. Then I drove on to Custer State Park and found nine bighorns (two rams and seven ewes) grazing on the visitor center lawn.

In the first image, the curling lips behaviour these two Cleghorn rams are showing is indicative of the rutting season. The second image shows the two Custer rams in the snow. Click on images for larger version. I added several dozen photos from November and December to my Autumn 2008 gallery.


 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mo Birds

I did a quick trip to see the snow geese at Squaw Creek NWR in northwest Missouri Monday and Tuesday. The official guesstimated eagle number for Monday was 61, which seems high to me, but there were multiple viewing opportunities. The official snow goose number was 110,000, which is as good a guess as any. Click on images for larger versions.

Lots o' snow geese

Eagle on muskrat hut

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Watchable Bighorns

Today I drove through Bighorn Canyon in southern Colorado looking for, what else, Rocky Mountain bighorns. I didn't see any. (Plus I'm having electrical problems with my car and my Sirius radio is currently unavailable, which is not fun on a long drive.)

However, a couple days ago in Custer State Park, South Dakota, I saw nineteen (19!) bighorns, including a herd of 12 ewes and lambs on the lawn of the Norbeck Visitor Center, and a group of seven rams grazing four miles to the west. Here's one of the rams. Click on the image for a larger version.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Zoolander

My photo goal for the month was to get some elk. The supposed several thousand elk in the Black Hills were uncooperative, so I did a day trip Friday down to Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari near Omaha. I was there a month ago, and the elk were losing their antler velvet then. This time the antlers were polished and the elk were bugling.

The park is part of the Henry Dorly Zoo, so I've been pondering whether doing photography in a zoo is really "wildlife" photography. I suppose it isn't. I have 178 bald eagle images on my web site. One of them is a captive eagle. I included it because it is a closeup that I shouldn't even try to get in the wild. So I'm not a purist.

As long as I was there and the elk were there, I fired off a couple hundred shots and will be posting some of them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

52

Sometime in the 1960's our grade school class toured Ellsworth Air Force Base in western South Dakota. I remember they let us look inside the KC-135 tankers, but not the B-52s. Until the mid-80's, you could see the giant tails of parked B-52s as you drove past the base on I-90, and occasionally you would see one the behemoths lumbering through the sky.

The base switched over to the B-1B in 1987. There is only one B-52 remaining at Ellsworth, at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum just outside the main gate. Unlike the Strategic Air and Space Museum near Omaha where the gigantic aircraft are crammed into two hangers, the 20 aircraft on display at Ellsworth are mostly outside. Much better for taking photos, but I wonder what effect the weather will have on them.

In addition to the B-52, other significant aircraft are a B-1B, a B-29, and a B-25 that was Gen. Eisenhower's personal transport during WWII. The museum is free. There also is a tour of the base featuring a Minuteman missle training silo for $7, but the last tour for the season is tomorrow and they don't resume until June.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ram On

I don't know if it's accurate to say I'm on vacation since I've been unemployed/retired for just over a year, but it really feels like a vacation this week in Custer. I've alternated between floating around the hotel pool and hiking through the Black Hills for the past few days.

The wildlife species I've been looking for this week has been elk. Supposedly there are hundreds of elk roaming around Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. All I have to prove that is a very dark and noisy image I snapped after dusk last spring, but I have never driven arond a curve and seen a herd grazing in a sunlit meadow. This is the time of year when the bulls are bugling, so I heard six or more bellowing at each other this morning. I think I caught a half-second glimpse of one 200 yards away. Fortunately on the way back to the hotel for my noon hot tub break, I came across a couple of Rocky Mountain Bighorns in Custer State Park.

I guess to see elk I need to head down to Simmons Wildlife Safari near Omaha again. There the elk graze next to the road and I can shoot with my wide-angle lens.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Infrared

For months (off and on) I've been trying to find a decent location for my trail camera. I think I finally found it. It's less than a mile from my house, but it's a low-traffic area for humans and I've seen deer in the area. If this were a daytime shot you would see a pond in the background.

This is the best of three deer shots I've gotten since I found this location two days ago. It was taken by infrared at 3 a.m. But my hope is to get a shot of a fox, which I have seen in the area.

Sept. 27 update: Besides the deer I've also gotten some motion-blurred images of something. I don't think it's a racoon, although it seems to be about that size. My best guess is it's a muskrat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Elk

I've made stops at various places that claimed to have elk, and usually all I saw was scattered shy animals a few hundred yards away in the trees. So I was skeptical of the brochure photos for Simmons Wildlife Safari near Omaha which showed cars surrounded by elk.

I took along my usual brace of telephoto lenses, the 500mm and the 100-400. I had the wide-angle zoom that I used at the SAC museum, but I didn't expect to need it to shoot elk.

I was wrong about that. The 500mm was almost useless. This was taken with the wide angle from 10 feet away. The elk are oblivious to cars, and there are quite a few of them. And most of them have huge antlers.

Most of the bulls had either shed their velvet or were in the final stages of doing so. The tattered velvet hanging down made them look like Dodger fans wearing Manny dreads. I might stop back again in a few weeks to see if they are in the rut and bashing away at each other.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Strategic Air Command

The first day of a short trip to the Omaha area found me at the Strategic Air and Space Museum a few miles to the west. I've been in the major air and space museums in Washington and elsewhere, but this facility commemorating the Strategic Air Command has a unique problem -- many of its mementos are gigantic. It's not hard to put a bunch of space capsules in a room. Finding space for a B-52 is more of a challenge.

The museum has two huge hangers, yet there isn't enough space between the planes to get good photos. There is a B-52 of course, but I was a big surprised to see that it looks like a toy next to a B-36. The B-36 had 10 engines (6 piston and 4 jet), and had intercontinental range without refueling. Eventually it was replaced by the all-jet B-52.

Unlike WWII piston-driven warbirds which are kept flying by enthusiasts, you aren't going to see any B-36s or B-52s (eventually) outside of a few museums. Below is a left wing full of B-36 engines. (The propellers face backward.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Woody Followup

I made it back to Newton Hills State Park today fully equipped to blast away at any red-headed woodpeckers that came within view. The nest hole I spotted last week was in a tree at the bottom of a creek bed, and due to the steep banks it was pretty much impossible to get closer than about 50 yards. I was able to get this shot as the bird roosted in a closer tree, perhaps 30 yards. DSLR, 500mm lens, 1.4x converter. Click on images for larger versions.

I pointed my telescope at the nest hole and saw this little woodpecker peering back at me. This image was digiscoped through the telescope.

The last few times I have used my digiscoping setup (Televue 85 telescope, 20mm eyepiece, Canon G6 camera) have been chasing eagles at Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri, and they were miserable experiences for the most part. The two primary problems were moving subjects and wind. Since it takes so long to locate and focus on a subject, digiscoping is difficult unless you can predict exactly where the subject will be. And wind causes the scope to vibrate so much that the camera can't take a sharp image at the high magnification. Fortunately this morning at Newton Hills, there was very little wind and it was easy just to focus on the nest hole.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Woody

I was hiking through Newton Hills State Park (SD) today looking for whatever there was to find. I saw this red-headed woodpecker that was using this hole as a nest and got a few shots with a 400mm lens. It's difficult to get any closer because the tree is in a creekbed with high banks on each side. Maybe next week I'll try to get some digiscoping shots, which should provide more magnification.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bombers

If I was a K-State basketball player, I would be listed at 6-foot-3, but in reality I'm about 6-0. I was pondering that today as I was attempting to stand upright in the belly of the B-17 bomber "Nine O Nine," which was parked on the tarmac at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, SD. My guess is the ideal waist gunner would be at least three inches shorter than me. At the foot of the waist gunners is the tiny little hatch leading into the ball turret, and all I can say about that is, "No effing way!"

See the ball turret hatch?
Look down for the ball turret hatch.

B-17's with their crews of 10 were bombing Germany 65 years ago, which means anyone still alive who crewed these flights is in their 80's or beyond. As someone who is from a generation or so later (and with no military service) it boggles the mind that men had the courage to do such things.

The B-17 and three other warbirds are on the Collings Foundation "Wings of Freedom" tour. The other planes are the B-24 "Witchcraft," B-25 "Tondelayo," and P-51 "Betty Jane." Although I've seen examples of these planes before at various air shows, this was the first opportunity I've had to climb inside the bombers. And if I had been willing to cough up $400 or so, I could have flown in one of the bombers. ($2,200 for the P-51.) The tour continues through the summer in the Midwest and East.

Update: This photo was used the in book Witchcraft: B-24 Liberator by Kenny Kemp, 2017. See page 97.

Waist guns
Waist Guns

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Golden

My only planned stop on the way home from the Black Hills was a return to the raptor nest near Quinn. Once again the young one in the nest wasn't very cooperative, standing to stretch for just brief moments. And still there was no adult in sight. But based on size, coloration and habitat, I'm fairly certain in identifying it as a golden eagle.

I took a shortcut on the way back to I-90 and saw this cooperative subject on a post near the road. After scouring my Sibley bird book, I'll say it's an Upland Sandpiper.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Close Encounter

Way back in 1977 when Spielberg did Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there really were coastal dimwits who thought Devils Tower was a special effects creation. I set out today to prove that is not true.

From Custer I drove up the west side of the Black Hills, in other words the Wyoming side. Keep going long enough and eventually you run into this ancient volcano plug.

It's a national monument, and the admission price to the grounds is $10. Unless you are planning to do some hiking/climbing, or you need a ranger to tell you all the factoids that you could read in the brochure, I don't think it's worth $10 to get a slightly closer view than you can get from the highway.

It didn't take long to get my snapshots and drive on to Spearfish, so before checking into my hotel I took a ride through Spearfish Canyon. It might be heresy to say so, but I think this drive is overrated. I think there are many more lovely canyons and valleys in the Black Hills, but they don't have paved roads running through them and they don't get the publicity. I drove back to Spearfish via gravel county roads. There were a few potholes to avoid, but I thought it was just as scenic as the canyon. Don't tell anyone.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Custer Day 2

Another day of roaming around Custer State Park produced some family images of prairie dogs and bison. The adult bison are still shedding their winter coats. See below.

But the day's goal was to find some of the alleged 1,000 elk that roam the park. The lady at the wildlife center pointed me to the appropriate location, but warned that they usually didn't come out until dusk. Sure enough, I didn't find any during the day.

Although it was getting dark, I decided to make one last attempt and drive east toward the Game Lodge before heading back to my hotel. I spotted a car a few hundred yards ahead stopped and looking at something, so I slowed down. It turned out to be six elk a few yards back in the trees. Since it was almost dark, I set my camera's ISO to 3200 and fired. The images aren't worth posting, but they do prove there are elk in the park.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Back to Custer

I figured I had better get to the Black Hills before they are completely overrun by tourists for the rest of the summer, so I embarked today. On the way I took a short detour north of I-90 near Quinn to check out a raptor nest near the road that I spotted a few months ago. There is a young raptor in the nest, but it didn't sit up to provide a good view and there were no adults in the area. My guess is it's a golden eagle, but I could be wrong.

I arrived at Custer State Park at 4:00, which left plenty of time to drive some of the back roads before dark. The park and South Dakota National Guard are hosting 4,000 soldiers from various units for two weeks, and some of the usually deserted back country spots are occupied. Most of the gravel roads have a good surface but are very narrow. I came across a military truck sitting at about a 30 degree angle with the two right wheels dangling over the ditch. And two despondent-looking soldiers trying to figure out how to get it back on the road.

The sarge (I'm guessing) said they had to swerve to avoid deer crossing the road, and asked if I would take the private (I'm guessing) back to the nearby camp to get help. The front seat of my car was jammed with camera gear and a cooler, so the private had to ride in the back. As we approached the crest of a hill, he said, "Here is fine." I was confused as to why he wanted to get out there so I continued on over the hill, then saw the camp about a quarter mile further on. Apparently the GI didn't want his buddies to see him rolling into camp in the back of an old Camry, so he hopped out there and started jogging toward camp as if he had run the three miles. Remember Rosie Ruiz?

Anyway, when I wasn't on military transport duty I managed to get this shot of pronghorn twins and mom. And I saw a rainbow. Click on the images for larger versions.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Trail camera

One of my recent acquisitions is a 5MP Bushnell trail camera. Hunters use them to scout the best location for blasting critters, but I'm interested in the actual images. I think that difference in motivation is why I haven't been very impressed with the camera so far. The motion detector works well enough, but the images, I must say, suck.

I saw a fox sprinting across a nearby field a few weeks ago, so I set up the camera in a stand of trees nearby. After a week, I got about 140 images of vegetation waving in the wind, two of me approaching to check it, and one of the deer below. I can tell this is an antlerless deer, but other than that I don't have much use for a noisy 5MP JPG.

Nonetheless, I'll probably try a new location in the next few days in the hope of getting a shot of that fox. At my next location I'll avoid shooting into the sun and also avoid having vegetation in the background that sets off the motion detector when the wind comes up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Eagle's Nest

During my recent trip to Kansas, I cut through the northwest corner of Missouri and Squaw Creek NWR to see the bald eagle nest. I saw a youngster in the nest, but the light and the weather were unfavorable for making images. I drove down to Squaw Creek yesterday so I could spend this morning getting some better images of the eagles.

Throughout the morning I saw an adult eagle roosting near the nest and flying around, but got only the slightest view of the little one. In early afternoon just as the sun was moving toward an unfavorable angle, I finally got a few shots of an adult at the nest and the youngster shaded but visible.

Since this was just a brief trip and I had plenty of trunk space, I also brought along my telescope and digiscoping attachments. For comparison purposes, the above image taken with a DSLR and 1000mm lens (500mm + 2x teleconverter) is cropped, and the digiscoped image below is uncropped, so the digiscoping setup does provide more magnification. It's also less sharp and very difficult to focus.

Neither version is real successful but still they are the best "adult and young eagle in a nest" images that I've gotten. So there's plenty of room for improvement.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Goldfinch

When I was in Massachusetts the goldfinches were around all year, but here in the frozen heartland I didn't see any all winter at the thistle seed feeder. Finally yesterday a group of three or so finally made their presence known, but it was too late in the day to get any images. And today a big shovel is digging a basement in the empty lot next door, so I think the little birds are staying away from the commotion.

So here's a Massachusetts goldfinch from '06, and at least now I know they frequent South Dakota as well.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Yellowhead

Here is my best yellow-headed blackbird shot from my trip to Kansas. Click here for a wrapup and a link to more photos.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cheyenne Bottoms

I drove north of Great Bend, Kansas today to check out the Cheyenne Bottoms area, which includes a state wildlife management area and some Nature Conservancy land. I can see why birdwatchers flock here; there's lots to see through binoculars and spotting scopes.

But my conclusion after two days of touring is the best photo ops are in Quivira NWR to the south. Most of the images I got were on the Wildlife Loop next to the Big Salt Marsh in the northern part of the refuge. And proving once again that I'm not a birder, I had to consult my bird books to see that this is a Wilson's Phalarope.

It was tremendously windy today. I would guess it was a steady 35 mph. There was a high overcast in the morning, but it blew away in the late afternoon, so at least the lighting was good for a few hours. The owls I saw yesterday were both huddled inside the barrel nest. The adult seemed to be seeking some protection from the wind.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Salt of the Earth

I'm doing a week in Kansas, hoping to see the shorebirds as they migrate through Cheyenne Bottoms in the central part of the state. On the way I drove through one of my usual spots, Squaw Creek NWR in northwest Missouri, and saw a few little shorebirds flitting around there. The active eagle's nest is now in a location nearer the road than a few years ago, so I will stop again on my return and try to get some images in morning light.

Another stop was the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson. I suppose Kansas might suffer from an image problem as a boring place to visit, but two of the "8 Wonders of Kansas" are in Hutchinson. I've been to the Kansas Cosmosphere a couple of times, but not the salt mine until today. It's 650 feet deep, which is the second-deepest mine I've been in. (During my journalism days 25 years ago, I went 8,000 feet down into the Homestake Gold Mine.) I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, but if you are ever stuck in Hutch for a day, visit the Cosmosphere first, the salt mine second, then go have BBQ dinner at Danny Boy's on Main Street.

I didn't get to Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area or the Nature Conservancy's Preserve today, but I did go through the nearby Quivira NWR. I saw a large owl, probably a Great Horned, in a tree on the opposite side of a pond. It was too far and dim for good images, but I might try again tomorrow. I know it will be roosted in the same area because there was a young owl peeking out of one of the barrel nests constructed in the pond a few yards from shore.

And there were pockets of shorebirds. This is an American Avocet.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lighten Up

If you have been looking at this blog for the past three weeks and thought the images looked quite dark, you are not alone. I've had my new laptop for just a short time, and it's obvious that images that look fine on its very bright screen are quite dark on my desktop monitor, which I'm guessing is closer to what most people have. So I've edited the images. Here's a new one of the fledgling owl.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Something New

Now that I'm unemployed and don't have to fly to get to places quickly, I can take my time and see the sights along the way. I spent much of the day in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky and Tennessee. I took a drive through the Bison and Elk Range, where I saw about 40 bison and two elk. There's also another few dozen bison in a pasture a few miles south.

It's still too blustery to say spring has sprung, but there are many, many wild yellow daffodils throughout the area. It looks like a charming area, but I can envision it being overrun with people during the summer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

49

It was my last full day in Florida. I snapped a few more butterflies before leaving the Lower Suwannee area. I didn't notice until I looked at this image on my computer that the butterfly's head and body are caked with pollen. Click on the image to see the closeup.

Tomorrow I'll be driving through Alabama on my way northward. It will be my 49th state, leaving only Oregon. Maybe I'll get Oregon later this year.

Of course I'm claiming credit for Michigan and Washington even though my presence there was limited to the Detroit and Seattle airports. I've had pointless debates about whether such states should count. Absent official notification to the contrary, I'm claiming them.

What I think is even more pointlessly impressive is my '94 Camry has been in 34 states. Think about it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flutterby

My northward return journey has begun, and my modest goal for today was to find a little patch of ghost crabs in Lower Suwannee NWR. I found them under the boardwalk on the Dennis Creek Trail in the southern part of the refuge, although there weren't as thick as they were when I saw them several years ago. I got a few snapshots, but to see what I was trying to get it probably would be best to wait for the video to come out.

But when I got there, I discovered my videocam battery was dead. Fortunately I have a 12 volt inverter, so I was able to go back to the car get enough of a charge in 10 minutes to get the video. Now I know why I bought that inverter thing.

As I was leaving that part of the refuge, I saw something along the road a hundred yards away. I stopped to get my DSLR out of the trunk and carefully drove up to catch a few shots of this fox.

I headed northward from there and turned onto the Nature Drive, which turned out to be swarming with butterfies. I stopped at a couple of locations and snapped away. I'll post more images when I get home, but here's one example. Click on the images for larger versions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Back Scratcher

I went back to Honeymoon Island to get some more osprey shots today, and saw something I've seen there before. One osprey took off, circled, and landed on the back of another osprey. I know what the obvious explanation is, but I don't think that's what they were doing. Click on the images for larger versions.

I saw the two owls again today, but their posing wasn't nearly as good as yesterday. If you look down instead of up, you are likely to see tortoises and armadillos crawling through the underbrush, although I didn't see last year's nonchalant racoon.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Best Owls Ever

There's no place like Honeymoon Island State Park near Tampa. Not only is it the best place I've found to see nesting osprey, but for the past few years there has been a Great Horned Owl nest on the island. The best image I got a couple years ago was distant and murky, but today I was lucky enough to get this shot of the fledgling and the mother.

I got lots of osprey shots and no doubt will get more tomorrow. In addition to fish, some of the ospreys were hauling vegetation, perhaps to fix up their nests after recent windy days. Click on images for larger versions.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Venice

On my way from Ft. Myers to Palm Harbor, I stopped at the Venice rookery. Blue herons, egrets and anhinga were busy building nests. This blue heron made several trips to get sticks. Click on the images for larger versions.