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