Archive for the 'Mammals' Category

A Season of Contrast

Sitting in my office tonight I reminisce of the week gone by.  The windows are open and all is quite except the faint lone dog barking in the distance.  The sound of a train whistle breaks the air.  The sound of the keys on the keyboard, producing letters to be explored by those who come upon this imagery of contrast in weather and life from one weekend with life the weekend that followed.

Last weekend there was snow.  There was lots of snow.  There was more snow than we’ve had in few years.  Being the adventurous person I am, I did a little camping in my backyard, sorta.  Using a hunting blind as a tent, to protect me and my equipment I hid from the scurry of life in my backyard.  Hiding is of importance here, wanting to photography the wildlife, I must hide, so they can live, eat and play.  Wanting to be amongst them, but not changing their behavior is the goal.  I set up my camera equipment inside, and then moved outside for a few minutes.  I set up a few props also, hoping to bring the birds in close and have some control of the setting.

Hungry and cautious is part of survival.

Hungry and cautious is part of survival.

Soon a bird or two appeared.  Starting in the back of the bushes they slowly worked closer to the feeder.  Just a few hours before, there was food available on the ground everywhere, easy pickins.  Now, all that is covered with snow.  White snow is everywhere, and it may be a long night.  All the food is covered, so the birds seek out the feeders to eat and gain energy for warmth to carry them though the night.

I sit inside the blind on an old cooler, with gloves, hat and coat on, watching, waiting, watching.  Birds come and spend some time, moving from branch to  branch, taking their turn at the feeder.  Waiting their turn while keeping an eye in the sky.  Danger not only comes from the cold and not having food to warm them through the night, but other birds (bigger birds) fly over.  They feed at the bird feeders also.  Only they don’t eat bird seed.

A brilliant cardnal's contrast with the snow.

A brilliant cardinal’s contrast with the snow.

Something flew over.  Something moved.  I am not sure what it was, but the birds are alarmed.  They all fly for cover.  Some head for the bushes, and some for places unknown.  The rush of wings is fast and furious, then silence fills the air once more.

Sitting there watching and seeing nothing out the window of my hide, I think of the photo ops I missed.  I look back at some of the ones I captures on the back of my camera.  Looking out, nothing, nothing at all is in sight.  I pick up my soda and take a drink.  Then another drink, put the cap back on and set it back on the ground.  Patience pays off in this game of hunting with a camera.

Soon, I hear the chirp of another bird.  Ten seconds of its voice fills the air.  Then quite again.  Soon another bird voices up, and another joins in.  I hear the flutter of wings fly over my tent, and stop in the bush next to me.  The window on that side is not open, so I am not able to see what landed there.  Then the game of waiting it out starts again.  A bird lands in the bush twelve feet away.  It is joined by another.  They hop and flutter from one resting area to another in front of me.  But they are deep inside the bush, so taking the picture is out of the question.  Still watching is fun.  The anticipation is greater.

Bird landing on snow in front of my hide

Bird landing on snow in front of my hide

Fantastic.  Just six feet in front of me it lands.  I slowly swing my lens around, focus, and soon the sound of the camera joins in the chorus.  The camera shutter sings as image after image are taken.  I take one, then another, then a burst of images and then one more.  One of those has to be the one.  The contrast of sounds, both are music to my ears.

A week later contrast shows again.  It was cold, wet and unforgiving when I took the images above.  Today, things are different, or are they?

Again, I find myself hiding in the blind, sitting on my cooler and drinking another soda.  Life can be so fun.  It is warm with a little breeze.  It is very comfortable sitting on my roost, with short sleeves on.  Again, a game of patience.  Sitting there and listening.  I think about the pictures I had taken last week.  I think about the pictures I would like to capture today.  Contrast again, it is much easier today.  I am warm and so are the birds.  Last week there was little food for the birds, so they came in numbers to the feeding station in my backyard.

Today things would be different.  I sat in my hide for ninety minutes.  I listened to the slow breeze.  I could hear a dog bark in the distance.  Sometimes there would be two of them.  I could hear neighbors out talking and moving things around.  Contrast is here again.  Much different from last week, sitting in the blind, watching survival playing itself in front of me.

I can hear birds singing their songs around me.  But today would be different.  A contrast of life again.  I am not seeing many birds.  Few are landing in the bush before me.  There is food everywhere.  Survival is not as difficult.  A change in my backyard.  A playground for some other adventurous visitors today.

A squirrel overlooking backyard

A squirrel overlooking backyard

Today a squirrel dominated the feeder.  It sat there and ate and ate and ate.  None of the birds dared to join in.  They would sit and watch, then finally leave.  Things are different this week.  It is a feast for one today.

Feasting Squirrel

Feasting Squirrel

This squirrel was taking its time.  I never filled it mouth full, it just ate one seed at a time.  It would reach down for seed, then pop back up and keep its eyes open for trouble, and eat and eat and eat.  Trouble could have been a big bird, like the little birds were on alert for last week.  But, mainly this squirrel was on guard to defend it cache of food.  Another squirrel friend would show up.  It sat on the fringe area watching, pondering if it should make its move to the feed.  Moving and stopping, moving again it would get too close.  The one on the feeder would take off and chase it away.  Then back to feast again, all to itself.

Then came along the bravest and most successful critter of them all.  The squirrel was annoyed, but somewhat put up with a chipmunk that joined in to feast.

Chipmunk with cheeks buldging with seed.

Chipmunk with cheeks bulging with seed.

Cautiously the chipmunk would make its way close.  It would move under the feeder to pick up feed on the ground.  The squirrel would move some and off the chipmunk would run.  Soon it appeared again, and repeat the scene again and again.

Then the little one became a little bolder.  It would climb on the feeder with the squirrel.  It would come up on the blind side of the feeder with a log laying between it and the squirrel.  It would fill its mouth with seed and take off to empty it.  Back it would come.  Cautious, but daring it would climb up to the table.  It would gather more seed, then jump up behind the log for a short time looking with anticipation, and figuring its next move.  Again down into the feeder it would go.  Filling its mouth with food to go hide for days to come, it was cautious watching the squirrels every move.

Slowly the squirrel became more accepting of the little one and the chipmunk became more bold and a little less nervous.  It still had its guard up, but they shared, as there was plenty for each of them.

There was contrast from last weekend to this weekend.  Both times I set out to photograph birds.  One a cold, snowy,wintry day, I was lucky.  Birds were everywhere, sharing and feeding at ease with each other.  Today, a king of the feeder dominated it.  No birds allowed, and no squirrels either.  Then as its belly filled up, it welcomed a nervous little chipmunk.  Both had all the food they needed, and life was much easier too.

Both days were enjoyable.  Both days were different.  I hoped for one thing, but quickly adapted to what I was given.  Both were relaxing and fulfilling.  Both produced some pictures and both took me far away from the grind of day-to-day living.

What a contrast.  Great contrast happened in only a weeks time.  Both are rewarding.  I sitting here writing and thinking about another contrast I mentioned.  The sights and sounds of this afternoon are on my mind, as I listen out an open window to the darkness and I pound keys on my keyboard to share the feast of life experienced in a little hide in my backyard.

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Face To Face

Face To Face

It was one of those leisurely days sitting on the swing in the backyard.  Watching the birds hide in the bushes, relaxing and letting the day slowly drift by.  Out of the corner of my eye, something moves, with a jittery nervousness.  Stopping, moving and looking, it climbs high to get a better view.  Face to face I was with this creature.  It twitched and I sat still.  Sizing each other up, we patiently waited for the first one to make its move.  The creature slowly settled down, and I became a little more relaxed.  It was feeding while I moved the camera into place.  A picture was born, a thousand words to share, a memory preserved for all time.  My backyard is a place of retreat.  You never know what will show up.  That is what makes it so nice.  Another day, another encounter, and maybe another picture.

Young Buck – Lake Shelbyville

Buck In Velvet – Wolf Creek State Park – Lake Shelbyville, Illinois

Wolf Creek State Park, was the destination on Monday.  After photographing a few other places, I headed to one of the places you can always see deer.  Driving though the park, you can see them feeding in the prairie.  I came upon this one and pulled over to photograph it for ten minutes or so. Other people came along and watched as I photographed.   Heading on toward the boat ramp I left the buck behind.   There were a few people there standing around talking near the ramp.  I thought about waiting for the sun to set, and do some photography with the water, but I wanted to stop by and see someone before heading home.  Heading back out, I came across the buck again.  It was in the same spot grazing away.  Stopping again, I took a few more images.  Then I drove off letting it continuing to enjoy dinner.

It is always fun to watch deer.  When I started photographing them, I would have gotten out of the vehicle and tried to slowly approach it to get a better picture.  sometimes that works, but I find many times all it does is scare them away.  Sitting in my vehicle and using it as a blind let me and others after me become part of its world for a short time.

 

More From Smoky Mountains

Bull Elk - Cataloochee Cove - Great Smoky Mountain National Park

 
A little known area of the Smoky Mountains is Cataloochee.  Cataloochee was an old settlement in a cove that has much to show.  There are some old buildings to see, but the real treat are the elk.  Elks were native to the area, but people hunted them out.  In 2001 they started re-introducing them to the cove.  People come to watch them in the early morning and late evening as they come out to the fields to feed.  During the rut, the bulls will fight over their harems.  You may ear one bugle or better yet see two bulls spar.  This magnificent animal is a must see for all who will travel the winding dirt roads up and down the mountains to this remote site.
 

Little Pigeon River - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 
If you want to get away from the traffic in Gatlinburg and yes the park, then head east out of Gatlinburg.  Greenbrier is another old settlement area.  This area has some nice hiking trails.  One of them is Porters Creek Trail.  But on the way to the trail you drive along a scenic river called the Little Pigeon River.  There are plenty of places to pull off and photograph.  There is nothing like spending an hour in an area photographing then spending another hour sitting by the river with your eyes closed listening to the water rushing over the rocks.  Life can be so fun.
 

Little Pigeon River - Great Smoky Mountain National Park

 

Its A Bear

While I was in the Smoky Mountains a friend was in Georgia at a workshop.  One the way back he came back through the Smokys.  So we got together for two days to photograph.  Since he was arriving in the afternoon we stayed close to Gattlinburg.  Another trip to Greenbier.  Greenbrier is a favorite spot of mine in the park.  As we drove to a spot to photograph he mentioned that he wanted to see a bear.  Guess what, soon in front of us crossing the road was this cub.

Bear Cub at Greenbrier in the Smoky Mountains
The cameras came out and the shutters started clicking.  We had maybe five minutes with the cub.  Before the cub left two other people came by to watch.  Bears are always fun to watch.  Slowly the bear worked its way up the hill looking for food.  Soon the moment was all but a memory.  Time to move on and find a place to photograph a stream.  That is what our goal was for the day, to capture moving water.  The added bear was a Smoky Mountain Treat.

Catching Up On Photography This Year Starting with Florida

I have been a little lax on posting some of my photography outings.  But before I go on with that I would like to mention that if anyone is in the Decatur area, stop by Rock Springs Conservation Area.  It is a great place to hike and enjoy the outdoors.  Also, down the South Wing Gallery are several of my images on display.  Hopefully you can take a look sometime.

I started off the year in Florida this year.  I spent ten days down there.  It was great.  I loved seeing the locals walking around in warm winter coats while I just wore a T-shirt.  Daytime temperatures in the 60’s are great to me.

Spent the first part of the trip in St. Augustine.  One of the days I spent time walking the beach and photographing.  As mentioned people were wearing coats and I  a T-shirt.  To top things off, I was laying in wet sand on my stomach taking pictures.  I know the locals thought cold and crazy when they saw that.  But here are a few of the images I came away with:

Looks like the Ring Billed Gull is Dancing in the Waves.

Looks to me like it is wet out there.

Laying in the sand allowed me to get a bird’s eye view with this Brown Pelican as with the birds shown above and below.  It was fun crawling in the sand to get the view and also to get closer.  I had a lot of brushing off of my cloths to do before getting back in my vehicle.

Watching these birds was a blast.  Their interaction was amusing.

Next I headed down to the Everglades for a few days.  Anhinga Trail was my first planned stop.  I had been there for a half day on another trip to the area.

 

On the drive through the Everglades going to Anhinga there are many opportunities to photograph birds.  There will be areas of water by the roadside.  Just pull off the road, get the right angle for the sun and shoot away.  This was shot in the middle of the day using a flash extender on my strobe.  It amazes me that there are few to zero photographers stopping to photograph on the road.  Most will go to areas like Anhinga and Shark Valley.

After taking my time on the drive I arrived at Anhinga.

  There are many birds and alligators close by.  You walk a paved trail and the birds are across a small moat which are full of alligators.  The alligators also sun themselves on the walkway as you stroll by.

There will also be some endangered species making a show.  Wood Storks find their way to the area.

These birds did not do much while I was there.  They sat there sunning themselves.  Once in a while they moved slowly, but not far from the previous spot.

Another bird that is kind of ugly (like the Wood Stork) is the Black Vulture.  These birds were all over the place at Anhinga.

An interesting note on the vultures.  They tend to like the rubber surrounding  windows on cars.  So the US Fish and Wildlife Service has come up with a vulture deterrent.  They hang dead vultures from poles in the parking lot.  It seems to work, as the vultures stay away from the parking lot.

One other note on the vulture.  At the bottom of the post the vulture hangs from is a sign that says something to the effect that the carcass is the property of the USFWS and disturbing it is illegal.  Go figure, but it works.

Birds in flight are always fun and a challenge.  Here is another one taken the same day at Anhinga.

Even though there were plenty of birds around there are better times of the year to head to Florida to photograph birds.  April and May tend to be best.  Most of these birds are nesting and feeding young.  Some areas such as here and, also the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine hold more birds than you can image.  I still say there were plenty of birds to photograph.

It was getting to be dusk with the sun about to disappear.  The alligators were moving and I wanted one more image of one.

You can see the gators gums below the water line.

Being the sun was disappearing, it was time to leave the park.  What a great time.  Time to head back to the hotel and get ready for the next stop.

In the morning I headed to Key Largo to see an old diving operation I used to visit.  It looked like it was shut down.  The owners wanted to sell and my guess the hurricane was not good to them.  I found a great place to eat on the water.  Then I headed for Kissimmee, Fl.

The next morning I met with photographer Jim Neiger.  Jim is an excellent birds in flight photographer there.  We went to several places that morning, even thought it was cloudy, to photograph.

The conversation became interesting.  I mentioned I was from Decatur and he said he lived there when he was young.  It ends up he lived about ten blocks from where I lived.  We talked about people we both knew.  It is a small world.

We went to one place to call owls in.  We could get them to call back, but they never showed themselves to us.  On the drive out of the area a meadowlark appeared.  Jim pulled over and let me photograph out the window of  his truck.

Another stop was the CaraCara tree.  This tree is a great place to go for CaraCaras.  They are endangered in Florida.  They are in the eagle family.  For some reason they like this tree alongside of the road.  We saw them first thing in the morning.  They flew off and we went on our way.  Toward noontime we stopped by the tree and they were there again.

These birds are smaller than the Bald Eagle, but are still impressive.  What amazes me even more is how consistent the birds are sitting in a tree with all the traffic going by.  There must be a great food source close by.

One of the very last stops we came upon a Great Blue Heron. 

It looks to me that something did not agree with it and it was coughing it up.

Florida is great in the Winter with sunshine and great photographic opportunities.  This was a great trip and I plan on doing it again sometime.  Florida is the place to go for these kind of birds.  As I said though, it gets even better in April and May.

Shelbyville again

It sure seems like I am spending a lot of time at Lake Shelbyville.  I have spent more time there this last month that normal.  Last Saturday I went camping to give me more time to photograph around the lake.  Saturday night I arrived and drove my truck around to photograph deer.  There were many to be seen.  Just driving through the park on the main road you are almost guaranteed to see some.

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There were a lot of does and some fawns.  There were even a few bucks to be seen.  This one was close to the campgrounds at Wolf Creek and I spent about ten minutes photographing this it.  The truck makes for a great blind.

After photographing the buck, I set up the tent and went into Findlay to eat at Stan’s Steakhouse.  Having a full belly and some nice pictures, it was time to head to camp.  Off to sleep it was.  Laying there listening to the sounds of nature, I heard the hoofs of a deer sliding around on the concrete fire pad next to the tent at one point.  The deer walk around the campground throughout the night along with raccoons and other critters.  Don’t leave a bag of potato chips out.  Been there and done that.  The raccoons love you for it and the sounds you hear are expressions of their gratitude while getting their fill.

Sunday morning I awoke to the sound of a pack of coyotes howling.  I love waking up to that song.  They did not last long, but they gave me the treat I hoped for.  It was up about thirty minutes before sunrise thanks to the coyote alarm clock.  Time to eat a snack bar for breakfast and off to look for more deer and there were more to be found.

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Later on I looked toward making landscape images.  I walked down a small hill to the lake a little area that I will call the beach.  Right now the whole lake is a beach.  With the water being low there are some great beach shots to be found.  The lake is a feast for a photographer right now.  I hope when the leaves turn colors this fall, desert will be served.

Sitting on the sandy ground I shot away.  Changing compositions and moving around.  A treat in this image is the deer track in the lower left hand corner of the picture.

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More towards noon I headed to photograph a small island in the lake.  This scene has given me several great images.  There is something about the island the attracts me.  Maybe someday I will take a trip out to it to explore it a little.  Hopefully I won’t get stranded 🙂

Yes the picture was taken around noon.  Lots of people would be disappointed with cloudy and drizzly weather.  I enjoy it.  It gives me the opportunity to photograph all day if landscape is the subject of the day.

_DSC8640_n_p_wOn the way home I stopped by some other places.  This one was at the end of the Old Depot Road.  This area would be fun to canoe.  This area and up river would produce great images.  The lake is still a little wide here, but you are getting into the up river area of the lake.  Things are more secluded here and it has the feeling of a backwoods area.  There were a lot of herons and egrets in the area, but they were to far away to photograph.  So I stayed with capturing landscapes.

Lake Shelbyville is unique for Illinois.  It has the feel and look of a more southern lake with the high banks.  Table Rock Lake and others like it have rocky cliffs for the banks.  Shelbyville has high banks made of dirt and sand.  When the water is low, there are rocks, and downed trees exposed to photograph.

The day was over and time to head home.  Who says you can’t play in the rain and not get wet.  The proof is in the pictures.