Hoofing It

I just noticed my WordPress dashboard is indicating I passed a milestone of such.  Apparently a couple of posts ago I hit my 200th blog post.  Seems like yesterday when I started this whole blog thingy, but in reality it’s the middle of the third year.  Yeah, it has been work at times, but it gives me a change to show off some of my photos along with things that happen to catch my attention.  I definitely appreciate you taking the time to peruse my ramblings and offer up comments from time to time.

Apparently, Linda and I have been poisoned by the Par-A-Dice deli tonight.  My money is on the cheese fries, but the jury is still out – well, the stomach jury has definitely provided a verdict.  While waiting for this to pass, I figured a bonus post was in order.  This one will close out the large mammals from the Yellowstone trip last June.  Still trying get caught up in preparation for the upcoming vacation, this should leave me with some bird shots and a collection of water themed snaps that stood out while reviewing the vacation portfolio.  Ironically, Linda and went out on a shoot yesterday and now we have about 10 more blog topics… guess there is really no such thing as catching up.

This is a miscellaneous set and not all tack sharp by any means.  Let’s start with an Elk.

These animals are simply majestic to look at.  Although not the largest rack of the ones spotted on this trip, it was definitely up there based on size and weight.  Not being an expert on antlers, it is hard to tell how mature this one was.  The antlers were still covered with velvet and for all I know still growing.  According to the guide, they can grow 5′ long.  Oh, and they can run 35mph.  They are also called Wapiti which is Shawnee for Pale Deer.  Come for the pictures, leave a little smarter 8^).  Amazingly, these beasts were not bothered by us and generally just focused on grazing.  This buck happened to look over resulting in a perfect pose.

If you caught the previous Bison post, you know there are plenty of them out there.  Another plentiful animal is the Pronghorn.  By the time we got to South Dakota you couldn’t go 5 miles without seeing them off the side of the road.

Not one of my better pictures, but for some reason I didn’t take any other photos of them.  This is a buck per the short black mane.  Contrasting that with the elk, the male pronghorn antlers only reach about 6″ (with a extra 9″ sheath that is shed in the winter).  Although slightly slower than the elk, these guys can run 30mph for 15 miles with bursts up to 70mph making them a tough prey.  Another interesting piece of information is, thanks to conservation, they are more abundant than they were in the 1900s.  By the way, they are part of the antelope family if you were wondering.

Go ahead and hit the jump, there are two other specimens for your viewing pleasure

Continue reading Hoofing It

Well, It’s a Critter and It’s Furry (Pt 2 of 2)

As promised, this is the second part of my two part post on furry critters.  If I was guessing on some of the categorization of the critters in the last blog, then I’m pulling them out of certain somewhere with this set.  It is hard enough to classify birds, but these animals are about impossible to distinguish one from another especially when they have essentially the same fur coloring.  So, I have taken some liberties.  Due to limited references and numerous inconsistencies on the web, there is a high probability that the animals are not properly named.  Take for instance this creature.

Based on the Rocky Mountain Guide from Audubon (region where this photo was taken), the closest I can tell is that it is a Rock Squirrel.  Am I sure about this… NO.  However, if looks like a Rock Squirrel, walks like a Rock Squirrel and unable to squeak English to correct me, we’ll be going with Rock Squirrel.  On the size scale, this was the largest off all of them I was able to snap a shot of.  Based on the glint in his eye, he seems ready to rip me to shreds.  And then there was this squirrel.

Now there were two options for this fur monster.  It has a distinguished grey color and a distinctive white outline of the eye.  After spending hours scouring the Internet and reading the paltry paragraphs in the field guide, the options are either an Abert’s Squirrel or a Red Squirrel.  The Abert’ Squirrel is suppose to be grey (check), has a white underbelly (check), tufts of hair coming off the ears (uhh, hmm) and white highlights on the end of the tail (crap).  In contrast, the Red Squirrel has a rounded ear (check), white underbelly (check), pale reddish grey coloring (uhh, hmm).  Playing the odds, the money is on Red Squirrel.

Wait a minute, now we have the pale reddish gray we were expecting in the last picture, but the tufts are there now which were more indicative of the other squirrel.  So do we have two different squirrels here or is one in some kind of disguise to hide his super squirrel ninja skilz.  One minute innocent cute and cuddly creature, the next chopping nuts with a pair of squirrel chucks.  Okay, probably not a likely scenario so sticking with the Red Squirrel option.  Oh, and based on about 40 minutes of searching the net, there appears to be a lot of images labeled similarly showing a creature with the same dark grey coloring as in the previous photo.  Maybe the fur coloring changes with maturity or seasons.  This was not confirmed with the weak descriptions in the field guide.  Although this may be the missing link.

This appears to be the transition specimen.  The fur coloring blends in between the deeper grey and the reddish hue.  It also has a similar posture (and eyeliner) along with the tufts from the first picture but still showing the rounder ear structure mentioned in the guide.  For the record, I do like this particular shot since it has both foreground and background depth (nicely blurred) and hint of symmetry with the rock.  After about 5 different cropping experiments, the center crop won out since that allowed for keeping the foreground indicator and still showing the round of the rock.  To critique myself, next time I’ll move about 15 degrees to keep the background limb from impaling the subject.  For snicks, here’s another shot of what appears to be the perfect specimen for a Rock Squirrel based on the Audubon guide.

Makes you want to reach out and pet it doesn’t it?  Wait, two words… Squirrel Fu.

Hit the jump to see a couple of other squirrel like creatures captured in the Yellowstone region.

Continue reading Well, It’s a Critter and It’s Furry (Pt 2 of 2)

Two for the Furry Critters (Pt 1 of 2)

If you read my last post, this one should not be a surprise at this content. I was just relaxing a bit before my race in Chicago tomorrow. This will be the first race since experiencing an injury on the right (inner) side of the left knee back in July (during the Bix7 race). It has been a pretty long journey back to this point with an MRI, x-rays, two-a-week therapy sessions and a regiment of 1.5 hours a night of stretching and strengthening. I will not be pushing the pace, but still hoping everything makes it through alright. The flexibility has definitely improved, but unfortunately, the cardio has taken a hit being only able to crank out 2-3 miles every couple of days. As a lesson to all the kiddies out there, don’t be taken by the latest BS articles against stretching.

As you can tell by the title, this is a two part series focused on the rather cute looking squirrel/chipmunk families. We came across a number of these critters during our vacation and they always seemed like they were living the Carpe Diem. There didn’t appear to be intimidated by my constant picture taking and in some cases it seemed like they were actually posing for the camera. Of course, they are probably all cute and cuddly on the outside while plotting world domination at night in their dens. First step: act cute, second step ehhhhh, third step, world domination.

In all honesty, I had a difficult time actually distinguishing the various types of squirrels and chipmunks so ended up making some educated guesses on what was what.  This particular post will focus on the dominant grouping call Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels.  There appears to be some similarities with other species, but the stripes all appeared similar on this set and the similar critter (White -Tailed Antelope Squirrel) had white underneath the tail.

Essentially, if they had the dual colored stripes on the side and the white outlines of the eye they were labeled golden-mantled.  If you see any images that are incorrectly identified, please make a comment so that can be corrected.  Of all the pictures we took during the trip, a shot of the Raven and the following shot are my two favorites.  We also had these images blown up for entries into photography contests and are now proudly displayed in our house.  You know the drill, the image here isn’t nearly as nice as the non-reduced version, but hopefully you will appreciate the coloring and the cute pose.  This is also one of the few pictures that I didn’t follow the thirds cropping rules.

Well, to be honest, I did follow thirds since the floral in the lower left and the texture and coloring in the log in the upper right were the features that really make the image appealing to me.  The living, the dead and the cute all rolled together in a nice package.  Just to give you a better feel for why I like this particular photo so much, I cropped another version for you.  This one is closer to real size of the photo.

A smile crosses my face every time I pass by this picture.  With that said, the critics apparently hated it probably due to their overly rigid rules about only good pictures are taken in the morning or night and the thirds violation yada yada yada.  Rather than get myself lathered up on that topic, I’ll just let it go and let you decide for yourself.  I love opinions on any of my photos so feel free to let me know what you think – don’t worry, I’m a big boy and can take the bad.  While we are there, let’s toss out a similar picture.

This picture has essentially the same subject, the same background and foreground setting with on exception.  The foliage was cropped out in the zoom.  As a result, it is still pretty cute, but just doesn’t seem as appealing as the full shot above.  You will be happy to know I did follow the thirds for that crop and it does honestly help in this particular picture.   I probably should have reduced the light some on the little one’s head to pop it a tad more, but overall I have taken a lot worse… and yes, I know it was not taken in the morning or the late afternoon.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the shots featuring this furry critter.

Continue reading Two for the Furry Critters (Pt 1 of 2)

Bison: They’re Pretty Cool for the First 50 Times

I have a small Blog crisis.  Linda and I have just decided on our upcoming vacation destination.  I’ll keep that location a secret for now, but I can tell you it involves another National Park.  This means we will be burning through our camera batteries again.  Unfortunately, I STILL have to get through some wildlife sets we took on our last vacation to Yellowstone.  In an attempt to resolve this backlog, the next group of posts is probably going to be dominated by wildlife pictures.  Hopefully you won’t mind too much.  I do have some interesting observations as of late and will try to sprinkle them in where I can -heck, I might even exceed my standard output… although running season is kicking in now so the training hours go up as well.

Enough whimpering, let’s get to the big dudes in the forest.  Today’s set is a collection of Bison captured at various times throughout Yellowstone and likely a few from the Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountain parks as well.

At first, these large beasts are unique and exciting.  The camera comes out, you take about 50 pictures while marveling in their size.  The one above actually caught me a little off guard.  The real shot was slightly to the left capturing the water, the mountains in the back and a nice clump of evergreens off to the right.  Unfortunately, that shot didn’t make it up to the blog site (not exactly sure why, but it wasn’t there when went to link to it), but trust me it was pretty cool.  In an effort to give a couple of crop options, I took a few pan shots.  On the final pan right shot, the bison came into focus.  This caused a slight internal jolt realizing that not checking the surroundings when on a shoot could get you in some serious trouble.  Mental note taken to scan the area before bringing the camera up to shoot position!

I really like the original version of this image.  The cropping and zooming took a little of the life out of it, but I like the multiple depths through the pines and then back to the lake and beyond.

After awhile, you realize that Bison sightings are not that rare in that region.  In fact, at one point along the trip, we basically never stopped, but simply admired them as we drove by.  Although, one funny thing did happen while admiring this set of bison.  With the long glass on, we could still get nice photos from the established paths through the park.  A lady with a point and shoot apparently needed to decrease the distance between her four legged subjects and proceeded to walk out towards them.  Catching Linda’s attention, I pointed to the scene and told her to keep her camera ready for America’s Funniest Videos.  I blogged on this previously, but the interesting part of that eye witness was the fact some bison offspring were hidden right behind one of the bison on the ground.  Having no idea how protective bison parents were of the young, I assumed this was NOT the thing to do.  It went off okay, she got her shot and returned without ever realizing the potential danger she was in.  Darn, no videos for AFV.  By the way, here were the young from a different angle.

Are they not the cutest things?  Life must be great in the wild when you know your parents are at the top of the food chain.  I doubt the wolves would venture into this danger, there are too many elk and less aggressive prey out there for them.  Sure, the adult bison became somewhat of a bore after the frequent sightings, but I’m a sucker for wildlife with their young.  Linda and I didn’t pass up an opportunity to shoot a few cute family scenes.

Hit the jump to see a few of those shots!

Continue reading Bison: They’re Pretty Cool for the First 50 Times

Views on the Move

Howdy everyone.  It has been a very busy weekend so going to crank out a quick post today.   That is if my fingers hold out long enough to get all the words typed out.  I am literally sitting here too exhausted even to get up and turn the channel to something other than golf.  The cause of this discomfort is the 3 hours on Friday, 12 hours on Saturday and 8 hours today spent finishing off the bridge decking.  The good news is, this completes the last major task on Operation River Kwai.  There are some odds and ends to complete, but the stress is basically over.  The bad news is I can barely stand at the moment and the arms are like Jello.  There will be a future post covering the progress in more detail.

It was a definite struggle to come up with the graphic for this post and opted for the easier way out and just set up quick picture with the two key components of the observation.  It also provided a great reason to show off my favorite toy car.  Not only is it a replica of my dream car, it is painted up as my favorite comic book theme.  Not positive anymore, but pretty sure Pakage got this gem for me!  Lately I have been checking out the various drivers encountered while motoring around the city of Peoria.  Apparently, there is a serious problem with wrecks occurring due to someone “texting” when they should be watching the road.   Strangely (for being so prevalent), I have never encountered a driver actually doing this.   There are plenty of distracted cell phone users and makeup appliers out there, but no one doing the thumb olympics.  While doing my investigations, I came upon two very interesting scenes.  The first one involved a green Cherokee that came up alongside me.  Catching my eye was a huge prescription bottle that the passenger was raging war with to get open.  Finally outsmarting the child proof locks, the lady took a large yellow pill and handed it to the driver.  Fairly mundane.  However, the lady then took one out of the bottle and washed it down with water.  This I thought was odd, since I can’t remember anytime where a prescription was given to a party of people.  This was either another buried feature in the healthcare reform, a rare case of two related people needing the same medication or something that likely was not legit.  It could have just been a handy storage container for over the counter drugs, but that would have been an interesting discussion should they get pulled over since it still had the medical label on it.  They drove away when the light turned leaving me still pondering a situation I had not encountered before.  Eventually, the Sixteen Candles quote “Now we are both on the pill” came to mind giving me an internal chuckle.

The other interesting visual I had was when a blue GMC Jimmy came up next to me on the right at a stop light.  As soon as the car came to a stop, the driver turned toward the passenger seat (away from me), grabbed a 6 inch by 4 inch by 2 inch piece of white plastic and started blowing heavily into it.  After one long breadth he brought it down and looked at the top and then repeated the whole process.  On the second read, he put it down on the seat and exploded off the line when the light turned green.  My best guess is he had a portable breathalyzer.  This seemed odd and a little troubling that he felt the need to check it at 4pm in the afternoon leading to the assumption he had spent a good deal of time drinking and was concerned enough to check it.  On additional scrutiny, a thought occurred that it was a contraption for convicted drunk drivers that prevented the car from going unless the breadth was clean.  I had heard of contraptions to get the vehicle started, but didn’t think it was required to get the car going again it came to a stop.  If this was the case, that could be a serious safety risk above and possibly beyond actually driving drunk.  Obviously, I’ll never know the actual reasons, but like the first situation, this still seems like it would be an interesting discussion if he was pulled over by the police.  “Look officer, I’m not legally drunk, my handy breathalyzer says .0799999999, which means I’m still legal!”.  “Why do you have that?”  “Because I need to know when to drive really fast to avoid being pulled over when I’m drunk.”  “Please step out of the car…”  I cleverly let this individual get a number of car lengths ahead of me before leaving the stop light, no reason to take any chances.

Good news, Linda just showed up.  Hopefully I can convince her to get the remote (sitting 2 feet from me) and change the channel.  Be safe out there!

Winged Justice

Apparently my brother has seen fit to have a multi-part post making it very apparent I need to step up my game or be lost in the dust.  To offset this recent charge, I’m reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out one of my favorite photo sets.  Needless to say, the topic is winged in nature but with a little extra.  Our Nikons get heavy usage whether it be on photo outings with my wife, capturing the sights on vacation, dog shows or just about any event worth reliving in the future … oh, and of course potential blog posts.  Every once in awhile there are some that make it into our favorites collection.  Sometimes we luck out and the photo is stunningly tack sharp.  Other times the tipping point is a unique setting, an interesting composition or a rare sight.   You may not even be able to tell from the picture itself because the special aspect of the photo was the effort involved in capturing it or pure luck of being in the right place at the absolute right time.  I am fond of this set mainly for the latter reasons, with a smattering of interesting composition and rare sight.

For the curious, I was shooting with the Nikon D90 at the extent of a 80-200mm Nikon glass shooting at ISO 1600 in a desperate attempt to freeze flight.  This results in the age old battle of speed versus grain and in this case I opted for the noise.  I need to briefly set this up for you.  Having spent the morning at Menards loading treated lumber for the bridge, I was slightly drained on the drive back home.  About a mile from the house, something caught my eye coming from the upper left.  Turning my head, my eyes locked onto a huge red tailed hawk in a tight dive right towards my truck.  Not sure what was going on, I hit the brakes in time to see the hawk begin to raise up, extend the wings and drop the landing gear.  With claws protruding, the hawk sailed in front of the windshield and dropped with authority in the ditch to my right.  Thankfully, there was no one else on the road at that time because I just sat there stunned with my mouth open relieved I was able to stop the truck in time.  After about 15 seconds, the hawk unfurled the wings and took flight landing in some tall Hedge trees further off into the woods.  At that point the heart sank because I had no way to capture this magnificent bird.  The truck was a mile from the house and loaded down with hundreds of dollars of lumber.  Screw it, some things are just worth taking some risks.  The truck was put in gear and the accelerator floored.  There was a slight scare as I turned into the driveway (slid would probably be a better word), but it was in 4 wheel drive due to the weight and the back wheels brought it back in line.  I flew into the house, grabbed the camera (thankfully had the right glass already on it) and jumped back into the truck and made the return trek – yes, with the wood since the only alternative was to run and I didn’t want to risk the camera.  Having already resigned to the fact the moment was likely already gone, I pulled off the road and started scanning the original bank of trees.  IT WAS STILL THERE! but definitely at a ways out there.  So, the first part of the equation was good, but was the the tipping point aspect still there?  This is rhetorical, of course.

By any chance, did you take a close look at the photo and notice anything intriguing?  The reason it was worth this effort (at least in my opinion) was that the hawk was actually on a specific mission and not just randomly scaring the crap out of motorists.  Nope, this red-tailed hawk was having some lunch.  As it rose up out of the ditch, there was a snake entwined in its talons.

Hopefully the zoomed shot provides a better view of the prey.  It was pretty cool seeing the snake trying to wriggle free, but that hawk was having none of that.  To be honest, I suspected the snake’s head may already be missing and the muscles were just convulsing by the time I made it back.  It would have had a few minutes to much while hunting down the camera.  It noticed my return giving me all of 3 to 4 seconds to get the camera settings the way I wanted before it started taking flight again.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this set – unless of course you are squeamish, have a snake phobia or a PETA idiot that thinks the hawks should be nibbling on a stalk of celery instead.

Continue reading Winged Justice

Can I Interest You in 50 More?

Well, my brother the math whiz has made another post on his blog once again putting to shame any paltry efforts I’ve put forth up to now.  This results in lots of word and image counting to assess just who has produced more (all I’ve got is quantity so that’s the hand I have to play).  So, I will state for the record and bean counters that I still hold the image count for the year and in fact actually have his post beat with just my front page.  To put a little cherry on top of this count I actually stayed up late to crank out the image and publish this post.  I also killed another mole yesterday and plan to post those on an upcoming blog entry to put the pressure on the Nomogracultist – and you better not tell MOM!

With that little bit of housekeeping taken care of, I guess I should get to the meat.  So if you recall from a previous post, I tend to sweat the pennies when it comes to bad service or worse yet when someone is trying to screw me.  Admittedly, this is a serious character flaw and it would probably be for the best to spend some time on a couch getting it resolved.  It is definitely not the monetary aspect, but probably due to all the years working at Jewel getting my butt chewed by angry shoppers because the computer was off a penny on a price.  Off on the overage side, of course, since they kept their mouth shut when they got a deal.  So there I had to stand 1.5 feet away from the snapping teeth thinking to myself some day I’m going to look back on this and write a blog (of course  Gore hadn’t made the Internet yet, but my register announced every price that was scanned (a total hell while checking by the way) so it wasn’t hard to see the future of technology.  Hard to knock it too much, it got me through school.

Ugh, two paragraphs and you are probably still wondering why there is a glass with dollar signs in it.  The reason for this is due to a recent lunching at a division leadership lunching we had.  Once a month we go out to lunch at different places to get some relief from the grind.  This particular month we headed to Jonah’s Oyster Bar in East Peoria.  Pretty much disliking all food from the water other than shrimp, I was taking one for the team.  We ordered our drinks and proceeded to wait and wait and wait and wait and wait a little more for our dishes to arrive.  The guy next to me was enjoying ice teas and the efficient waitress would bring him one every time his glass got near the bottom.  I was nursing my Sprite so my first glass was only half empty by the time the food arrived.  Surprisingly, when the dish arrived, the waitress brought another glass of Sprite out and put it next to my half full one.  Note, she also brought out another iced tea and put it next to his half full glass.  I didn’t think much of it until the bill arrived.  On closer inspection I noticed there was an extra 25 cents tacked on to my bill for my one REFILL.  This was quickly verified with my colleague who sure enough had multiple 25 cents tacked onto his bill for REFILLS.  Mind you, nowhere did I see that refills cost extra and hardly expected it since Jonah’s is a pretty popular restaurant.   That was not the troubling part since rarely do I need a refill on the very rare occasions I opt for something other than water and rarer still when the non diet drink path is not taken (not drinking caffeine really limits your choices).  No, the irksome part of all this was the fact neither of us even asked for refills.  They just kept showing up at the waitresses discretion or should I say profit.  After a good chuckle we paid our bill and left a little wiser than we entered.

I can see it now, the next thing they’ll be charging you for is every straw you use… of course the waitress would probably just keep walking by and tossing straws on the table… CHA-CHING.