Monday, December 07, 2009

Custer Bighorns

I've been stricken with employment since July and haven't had a chance for much (fun) travel, but I headed to the Black Hills this weekend to see if I could find the bighorn sheep I imaged last year at this time.

It took a while, but Saturday afternoon I eventually found a flock of 16 ewes and four rams in the Game Lodge Campground, Custer State Park. It was starting to snow and the light was fading, but I took snapshots for more than an hour as they grazed. Here's one of a ewe casually steeplechasing (is that a word?) over a four-foot fence that borders the campground.

See for two dozen more images.

It kept getting snowier and darker, so I decided to pack up. At that moment one of the rams which had wandered off earlier came charging back in and head-butted one of his counterparts with great vigor. I quickly set up my camera again, but of course nothing further developed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Curious Elk

I left my trail camera in Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills May 27 hoping to get a few shots of elk wandering past. I did get a few during the next few weeks, but on June 12 an elk became very curious and somehow managed not only to knock the camera askew, but rip the end off the cable that attaches the solar panel. For some reason the camera fired off 200 shots of nothing in the next couple days and filled up the memory card. So it's been sitting out there dead for three months but I didn't have a chance to retrieve it until this weekend.

The first image is the best full-frame color shot of the bunch. The second was taken just after midnight with the flash shining off the elk's retinas. You can also see another shining eye below and to the right.

I reset the camera and installed new batteries, but because the solar panel connection is useless for now, the batteries will run out within 10 days. On the way out of the park I saw a batch of nine elk with huge antlers on a distant hillside. Hopefully they'll wander past the trail camera soon. If all else fails I'll go down to Omaha and shoot some zoo elk. (Update: Zilch from battery power.)

Click on the images for larger versions.

Devil elk, click for larger version.
Devil elk, click for larger version.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I got my camera back from the Canon hospital just in time for the Blue Angels at the Sioux Falls Air Show. Saturday I went to the airport and tried to fight through the throng to find a decent place to shoot with the 100-400mm zoom. I got a few shots worth posting but I never really did find a good spot.

Sunday I tried something different and went to a hill a couple miles southwest of the airport. No crowds, and no danger of bonking someone in the head while swinging around the big 500mm on a tripod. My positioning was vindicated by this shot as the main formation passed directly overhead; in fact the planes were too close and I barely got their wingtips into this 4:3 crop of the image. Click on the image for larger version, or click here for the gallery.

Blue Angels, click for larger version.
Blue Angels

The gallery also includes several shots of a P-38 Lightning, including in Heritage Flight formation with an F-22 Raptor. Compared to the P-51 Mustang, the Lightning is fairly rare, and in fact this was my first view of one in flight.

Heritage Flight, click for larger version.
Heritage Flight

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Final result

The robin raising process is almost over. This little one was resting in the shade of my parsley plant. It sat quietly as I got a few close snapshots. Then I went to pick a tomato for dinner and it decided then to panic and fly off. One of the parents witnessed this, decided I was a threat, and made a few strafing runs. I was able to get a tomato without injury. Click on the image for a larger version.

Robin nest, click for larger version.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Birds

I didn't photo the robins for a few days, but I do have to go into the back yard to water my tomatoes. The robins always chirped at me when I appeared, but the past few days one of them (I presume the father) has taken a more aggressive attitude and has buzzed me a few times. I set up the camera today, but partly to avoid confrontation and partly for a change of pace, I set it on the other side, further under the deck.

The little ones are growing and changing color, and now look more like robins than dinosaurs. Click on the image for a larger version.

Robin nest, click for larger version.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I found a robin's nest under my deck a couple weeks ago. Every few days since I have set up my G6 to take images from about a foot away every few minutes. I didn't have any headroom to look down into the nest, so it took a while for the little ones to get big enough to be seen. Today I got a few shots of feeding time, and there appear to be three chicks. Click for larger versions.

Robin nest, click for larger version.
Robin nest, click for larger version.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Achtunddreißig Luftballoon

The last time I was at a hot-air balloon event was five years ago in Albuquerque, and I still have nightmares about that one. (Click here to see why.) I figured Saturday's balloon launch in Sioux Falls, officially known as the Great Plains Balloon Race, would be a less traumatic affair.

I didn't make it up for the 5:45 a.m. launch, but I did bicycle the four miles to take in the evening attempt. Because I was pedaling, I took my smaller G6 camera, including the wide angle attachment. Thirty-eight (achtunddreißig) balloons were launched at about 7:30 p.m. The light wasn't great but I got a few shots. Click on the images for larger versions.

I used the wide angle attachment to get this shot inside a balloon. The G6 is my "Ireland camera," and I got the wide angle after I got back from there because sometimes I had wanted something wider than the 35mm equivalent. It is fairly easy to attach and gives a 24.5mm view, wider than any non-SLR camera I know of. But I haven't been back to Ireland since and haven't used it much at all.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Random birds

When I was in Massachusetts, the goldfinches would sit at my thistle feeder all day and waddle away at dusk. I had to fill it every three or four days. There also are goldfinches in South Dakota, but I don't think I filled the feeder more than twice last summer. I finally got around to getting a snapshot of a South Dakota goldfinch this morning.

Later in the day I had to go down to Canton, so I also went to Newton Hills State Park to scout for woodpeckers. I saw a few and probably will return in the next week or so at a better time of day to get some digiscoping shots. I also saw some orioles lurking around.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eagle revisited

I toured the Badlands today, proving once again that landscapes are not my favorite photography subjects. Fortunately it was only a slight detour north to visit my favorite golden eagle's nest.

When I stopped two weeks ago, the little one was all white and the parents were hovering around. Today, the baby's body was brown and the parents were nowhere in evidence. I set up my 500mm with 2x extender and got a few images. There are leaves on the tree now which probably block the light for much of the day, but it was late afternoon so the light was coming in low. I think the eagle was panting to cool down, thus the tongue sticking out. Click for larger version.

South Dakota Golden Eagle, click for larger version.
South Dakota Golden Eagle

And now for something completely different. As I was driving down the Wildlife Loop near the airport in Custer State Park, I realized there were Mountain Bluebirds all over the place. So I stopped and snapped for a while. Unlike Eastern Bluebirds, these guys are blue all over.

Mountain Bluebird, click for larger version.
Mountain Bluebird

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


One of the misconceptions about big telephoto lenses is they can "zoom in" on dot-sized elk a half mile away and make them big as life. The reality is even with a 500mm lens you have to get fairly close to get a decent image.

Perhaps I could be satisfied with images of semi-tame elk at Simmons Wildlife Safari in Omaha, or perhaps there is something to the thrill of the hunt. I've finally pinned down a location in Wind Cave National Park where I can usually see the dot-sized elk running wild. Unlike the pronghorn which pay no mind to cars passing within a few feet, the elk carefully avoid people.

Since they are so difficult to approach, I tried setting up a trail camera in several locations in the park, and finally found the right area with the most recent deployment. From May 13-21, it snapped about 25 elk images of varying quality at all hours of the day and night. Unfortunately all of the night images taken with the infrared flash were overexposed, and I wasn't real pleased with the daytime images either.

I raised the camera up higher and switched the flash from infrared to white. I hope these changes will result in something a bit better, but an underlying problem is the camera image quality is not very good. I equate the quality to the Kodak digital I had back around the turn of the millenium. Memo to Bushnell: Image sensors have improved greatly in the past seven years. Toss that lifetime supply you bought on closeout back in 2002 and invest in some new ones.

Click on the images for larger versions.

Trail camera elk, click for larger version.
Elk taken with trail camera
Elk from a distance, click for larger version.
Elk taken with long lens

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chuck Wood

On my way to the nursery in Brandon, SD to pick up plants yesterday, I stopped at the Big Sioux Recreation Area for a hike. I decided not to carry the heavy DSLR/400mm lens, but did take my Canon G6 just in case I saw something. This woodchuck spotted me from a distance and decided to climb this tree, which I didn't think woodchucks did. After I got this shot he decided to bail out and make a run for it. Click for a larger version.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Burrowing Owl

My month of employment ended Monday, so Tuesday I slipped back into retirement and drove west to the Black Hills and to see how spring was progressing. In Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park, I saw the usual bison, pronghorns and prairie dogs, but also managed to spot some marmots (related to woodchucks) and the elusive elk. I found what I hope is a good elk location for my trail camera and will check it in a few weeks.

On the way home I stopped at a golden eagle nest 10 miles east of Wall. Last year I was there in June and saw a large brown chick about to fledge, and no adults. This year, nearly a month earlier in the season, the chick was small and still white, and the two parents were lurking nearby. I got this image when one of the adults flew in with some nesting material. (Click on the images for larger versions.)

South Dakota Golden Eagles, click for larger version.
South Dakota Golden Eagles

Further down the road on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation, I stopped at a prairie dog town in an attempt to find burrowing owls. When one of the prairie dog-sized creatures started flying around, I deduced it was one of the owls. I saw quite a few through binoculars, and one posed on a post long enough to get a few images.

South Dakota Burrowing Owls, click for larger version.
South Dakota Burrowing Owl

Monday, April 27, 2009

Born to Fly

Every once in a while I get an unusual request for the use of my photos. A few months ago I got an email from someone in the Netherlands asking to use some of my eagle photos in a book. I granted permission and forgot about it. Today I got a copy of the book in the mail, "Geboren Om Te Vliegen" by Henk Stoorbogel and Eugene Poppe. They used five of my images in black and white.

I don't read Dutch so went to Babelfish to get a translation. The title translates as "Born to Fly," and from some of the other text it seems they are using the eagle as a metaphor for ... something. If you were in the Dutch equivalent of Barnes and Noble you would probably find this title in the Self Help or Religious aisle.

Here's one of the images they used, although they flipped it right to left to fit in with the page layout. Click to view larger version.

South Dakota Eagle

Monday, March 23, 2009

Owls revisited

As I was snapping the two Great Horned Owls in Florida last year, I knew I had a winner. I selected an image from that sequence as my personal Photo of the Year for 2008. When I found out there was a $200 prize for a nature photo contest at a local lawn and garden show, the owls were an obvious choice.

Great Horned Owls

Eagle-eyed observers may note that this image is not the same one that I picked for my Photo of the Year. What can I say – I happened to have an 8x10 print of the alternate version, and I was too cheap to spend $1 to get the other one printed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Face Time

The NCAA Division 1 Summit League men's and women's basketball tournaments were in Sioux Falls this week. I've been pondering my new role as a graduate of what is now a Division 1 school, South Dakota State.

Jackrabbit women at the Summit

SDSU embarked on the long transition process to Division 1 in 2003-04. At the time I thought the brain trust in the Jackrabbit athletic department was suffering from delusions of grandeur and I foresaw permanent irrelevance as a Division 1 competitor in basketball and football.

Teams in the transition process have to endure a Twilight Zone existence for five years, no longer Division 2 but not yet Division 1. The Zone is populated by the likes of New Jersey Tech and Utah Valley State, schools that have to schedule anyone anywhere in the country to get the opportunity to call themselves "Division 1."

Despite my earlier misgivings, I have to say the transition worked out as well as could be expected for SDSU. The primary reason for this is the Jackrabbits were able to join decent conferences, the Missouri Valley in football and the Summit League in everything else.

Now that I'm a Division 1 guy, I'm starting to get what being Division 1 is all about -- appearing on national television. Since that is the primary goal of all Division 1 basketball programs, I'm learning to resent all the butt-smooching ESPN and CBS bestow on the major conferences in the Eastern time zone while neglecting the Summit Leagues of the world. The predictions of the four men's #1 seeds have been changing from hour to hour as the favorites lose in their meaningless conference tournaments. Meanwhile, I set my DVR to 6:00 CDT Monday to catch the women's bracket announcement and see where my Jackrabbits, Summit League champions and ranked #14 nationally, are seeded. A #5 seed and a first-round game in Iowa City would be good; any lower or further away and as a Division 1 fan I would be obliged to come up with a conspiracy theory regarding the prejudices of the selection committee.

Update: A #7 seed and playing against Texas teams in Lubbock represents a snub. The ladies took it out on TCU with a tournament record-tying three-point barrage and coasted 90-55 in the first round. Fear the rabbit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eagle Window

I bought a new car a month ago and one of my "must-have" features was a moonroof. Not to soak up the sun or to get a breeze rolling through the car, but so I can get shots like this when I'm rolling through a wooded area looking for eagles.

This image and the one that follows were taken last week at the oft-visited site of Lock and Dam 18 near Burlington, Iowa. The following day the light was better and I was set up on a tripod waiting for eagles to pass overhead with their fish. The thing I like about this image is the detail visible in the feathers.

Click on the images for larger versions. A short report has been posted at, and photos are on