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

Thursday, October 13, 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


After extensive research covering the past 45 years, I have come to the following conclusions about beer:

  • Best beer: Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I've decided the best beer style is Vienna Lager, and Sam is the best of this style. It is the perfect balance of hops and malt, creamy head, and it is available everywhere. Whenever I'm in New York I get Brooklyn Lager on draft when possible, but my recent side-by-side comparison of bottles from Brooklyn and Boston came out in favor of Boston. I've been consulting to find beers to try, and even though regional brewers such as Great Lakes and New Glarus have higher-rated entries, I still prefer Sam.
  • Best amber: Colorado Native Amber Lager. Hoppy but not a hop bomb like an IPA. Unfortunately only available in Colorado. Alaskan Amber isn't bad, and on a related note:
  • Best local (South Dakota) beer: Red Water Ale from Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish. I think this is a spring seasonal so not always available.
  • Best IPA: 7,000 varieties tied for first place. Bell's Two-Hearted is my most recent try, not too bad. I actually prefer an IPL such as Colorado Native IPL or even Leinenkugel IPL.
  • Best wheat beer: Like IPA, I don't think it makes much difference which you choose. 312 is ok, Blue Moon usually available, whatever.
  • Best stout: Guinness Draft. I've decided I don't like most stouts but the Nitro creaminess of Guinness sets it apart.
  • Best pilsner: Small sample size but I'm going with Brooklyn Pilsner. Wish I could get it more often. Sierra Nevada Nooner is often but not always available in my area. Eastern Europe imports often available and usually good.
  • Best cheap crap: Pabst Blue Ribbon. The purpose of yellow fizzy beer is to quench your thirst on a hot day. PBR fills this niche. Other mainstream beers suffer in comparison, but I have been known to suck down the occasional Coors (but NOT Coors Light).
Generally speaking, I don't want fruit or spices in my beer, which is why I detest most seasonal beers. With that in mind:
  • Best shandy: Seriously? Shandy sucks. I hate that it steals shelf space from real beer. I can't find the aforementioned Leinenkugel IPL because of all that shandy crap they sell.
  • Best hard cider: Don't know, don't care.
  • Best lite beer: Does not exist. Beer-flavored fizzy water.

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.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Its Own Glory

After yesterday's dreadful Final Four semifinals, Jon Morse wrote this morning, "The best game yesterday was the one you didn't watch."

Morse writes a blog called "Bring on the Cats," which is essentially a Kansas State Wildcats fan site. However, Morse also provides the public service of tracking all of the "other" college basketball tournaments that are going on this time of year. The "best game" to which he refers was the University of South Dakota's 71-65 win over Florida Gulf Coast for the championship of the Women's National Invitational Tournament. The game was available nationally on cable channel CBS Sports Network, and those who bothered to watch saw a competitive contest played before an enthusiastic DakotaDome crowd of 7,400. I'm a USD alum, so yes, I was watching.

Summit League regular-season champ USD was relegated to the WNIT with a loss to South Dakota State in the league championship game on March 8. SDSU went on to play well in the NCAA tournament but bowed out in the 2nd round. After yesterday's win, USD Coach Amy Williams was asked the inevitable question of whether it was better to play a game or two in the NCAA tournament or win the WNIT. As with most situations that have arisen in the past four years at USD, Williams was prepared, answering, "Every accomplishment has its own glory." Despite chants from the student section of "Bring on UConn," this 32-6 WNIT winner isn't ready to take on the undefeated Huskies. But after the Summit League disappointment it did string together six wins over good teams, including dominating performances against so-called Power 5 teams from Minnesota and Oregon.

The men's Final Four yesterday did nothing for me. The only interesting figure, Buddy Hield, had a bad game as Oklahoma got trounced. I used to sort of like Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, but he has turned into something of a detestable figure in his old age. North Carolina is in the middle of an academic scandal that goes well beyond the athletic department. Unlike Syracuse and UNC, Villanova hasn't gotten caught cheating lately (1971), but there's nothing there that draws my interest. I'll probably watch UNC-Villanova Monday night out of habit, but I really don't care about the outcome.

This year I've found local college basketball much more interesting than that played by these corrupted national brands. Last week, the men's team from Augustana University of Sioux Falls completed a 34-2 season by winning the NCAA Division 2 championship in Frisco, TX. The campus is five miles from my house, so yes, I watched that championship game, also on CBS Sports Network. So what happens to the players who actually attended class for four years and will not get drafted by the NBA? Augustana seniors Dan Jansen and Casey Schilling, both D2 All-Americans, are student teaching for the remainder of the semester. USD senior Tia Hemiller, who carried her team with 22 points yesterday, also will be busy with student teaching. Any bets on whether projected high NBA draft pick Ben Simmons has attended any classes since the end of his one-and-done season at LSU?

The mythos of the "student/athlete" and the view that there is considerable hypocrisy in college sports are not mutually exclusive. Both have elements of truth. The NCAA loves its $10.8 billion (with a "b") March Madness TV contract, no doubt about it, and there is plenty of speculation that bigger schools are trying to figure out how to share less of that with the smaller schools. But even smaller schools have to invest considerable funds in facilities and coaches. For those who think we spend too much on college sports at the expense of more worthy constituents, sorry but that's just the way it is and you are going to have to deal with it. Right or wrong, colleges see their sports programs as important marketing tools for fundraising and attracting prospective students. USD is completing a $74 million building project that includes a new basketball/volleyball arena. Alas, unlike buildings, coaches cannot be affixed to the ground. One of the plights of being a so-called mid-major institution is serving as a stepping stone to Power 5 jobs for talented young coaches.

In discussing the candidates to be the next coach of the Arizona Wildcat women, Arizona Star columnist Greg Hansen wrote, "Some big-school AD will soon hire Williams, 40, who led the Coyotes to a win in Saturday’s Women’s NIT championship game." He cited her salary as $180,000 a year, which sounds like a lot to your typical South Dakotan but is well below what a Big 10 or Pac 12 coach gets and is probably the lowest of the six football and basketball head coaches at USD and SDSU. Until now, all state employees were limited to a one-year contract, which is far from the norm in Division 1 sports. This has not been a problem at SDSU for whatever reason, but it became a problem at USD when it hired a new football coach recently. The South Dakota Board of Regents passed a resolution this week to allow four-year contracts for D1 coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents.

As Hansen pointed out, many of the top coaches in women's basketball are men (including all four in the women's Final Four), but Arizona has never hired a man for its top spot. SDSU's Aaron Johnston may have been the victim of gender discrimination when the Minnesota job was open a couple years ago, so it appears there are at least some schools that want a woman to coach the women. Being a hero in her home state may have its own glory for the Spearfish native Williams, but it seems likely that a young, successful mid-major coach who also happens to be female will be offered Power 5 opportunities that will be difficult to pass up. Last Wednesday, Williams' team obliterated Oregon of the Pac 12 by 34 points. Is that something you would be interested in, Arizona of the Pac 12? USD probably will be unable to hang onto Williams forever, but in my view it would be a good idea to act quickly on an enhanced contract offer and make it at least slightly less tempting for her to move on and seek greater glory elsewhere.

Update: Just a few hours after I wrote this, it was reported that SDSU men's coach Scott Nagy was leaving for Wright State in Dayton. While this doesn't sound like an upgrade, apparently Wright is going to nearly double Nagy's salary to $400K. I don't think the two South Dakota schools are willing yet to compete with that. Time to go find a young ambitious (relatively inexpensive) coach and hope for the best.

And eventually, Williams went to Nebraska of the Big 10 for a huge pay raise.

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. More crazy people await.

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 Butterfly
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph of Broad-Winged Hawl
Dark Morph 2012
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Night heron 2013
  Elk Frame
Elk 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