A Big Thanks to the Cloud Gods

After a little bit of debate, I decided to spare everyone from a fourth consecutive post on the bird haul at Henderson, Nevada.  Since this is June, the annual steam bath was was on the docket.  Hopefully by now, everyone here is familiar with the Steamboat Classic having competed in it every year .. and of course following up with posts about the experience.  Just in case you are new, the Peoria Steamboat Classic is a multi-event race.  There is a 4 mile race which is considered one of the World’s Fastest (with the exception of a small hill at the start, it is basically flat if not downhill the entire way).  In addition, the race also boasts Illinois’ Toughest 15K (translated.. hills).  Guess which one I usually run?

That’s right, no wimpy 4 miles for me.  Way I see it, if you are going to get up early on a Saturday morning, you might as well make it worth it.  That and the fact I LOVE hills and HATE flats.  I know, I know that puts me in the quirky category but don’t forget what usually comes after a big hill… a runner’s best friend, the descent.

Putting on the orange this year would be a little extra challenging.

Linda and I took a two week vacation three weeks before the big race.  Not an ideal time for a runner, but the race season doesn’t leave a lot of openings to schedule play days.  Adding more difficulty, the short races were officially out of the way leading to the middle distances (15Ks and 7 miler) before the half marathon season starts in the August timeframe.  This just meant the luggage was going to be heavier than usual having to add all the running clothes/equipment for training during the vacation.  I think we may have set a record this year for the number of shoes we had to bring along with us – at least we were driving.  There were two other aspects of this vacation that didn’t bode well for proper training.  First of all we were headed into the mountains which takes elevation training to all new levels.  Piling onto that, the spring season out there comes a lot later than it does here in the Midwest (ugh, need to add TWO season’s worth of running clothes).  I did manage to get a multitude of runs in including hotel treadmills, rain runs, cold runs, sleet runs, hill runs and… mountain runs.  The good news is my body was becoming accustomed to running anywhere from a mile to 8,000+ feet elevation.  My friends accused me of “doping” for the big race.  Sure, that is one way to look at it, but there was still a definite concern I’d need one of these below before the end of the race.

Hit the jump to see how the race turned out!

Continue reading A Big Thanks to the Cloud Gods

Girl Power

Just so I don’t forget to mention this like I did in the last post, the following topic is another product from our Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve shoot we went on towards the end of last year.  Another difference from last post is this one  is not as picture scarce.  Oh, and indeed there is another major difference but we’ll get to that in a second.  With that lead in out of the way, please give a grand welcome to yet another new bird to the blog.

Want to take a shot as to what it is?  Hint, it is NOT what I had mistaken it for while out in the field.  For some reason I crossed this particular duck up with the Dufflebag,  Well, it really isn’t a Dufflebag, but that is what I’ve always called the Bufflehead.  Ever have one of those bizarre associations that popped in your head at the second it entered long term memory?  No matter how hard you try it just never gets corrected in the gray matter so EVERY time you see it, that is the first thing your brain’s Google engine conjures up.  Not knowing at the time that this was a wrong identification, I snapped a few and went on my merry way.  This classification error was discovered while hunting down the reference material to post on the blog.  Our friend the Dufflebag has the white markings shifted up to the 4th quadrant.. and has a completely different body feather palette, but let’s not get nitpicky.

No worries, this pattern is pretty unique so a few more minutes in the duck reference should clear this mystery right up.  10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes … later and I’m asking myself what the hell is this bird.  Eventually, the Stokes’ guide came through.  The problem is, the bird that caught my attention is not a male.  Nope, everyone one of the shots in this post are of the female which, for the record, are traditionally harder to identify than the normally more colorful males.  The fact these females have a unique coloring threw me off.

Hit the jump to see more pictures of this duck and maybe even confirm your guess as to what it is

Continue reading Girl Power

Pin the Tail

I’ll tell you right up front, this particular blog post is going to cheat you a bit on your viewing pleasure.  Normally I try my best to give a healthy dose of pictures with each of my offerings.  When it comes to birds the goal is to give you a variety of poses or angles that help provide a good perspective of the featured species just in case you happen to live in one of those obnoxiously big cities and think birds just get in the view of the pretty skyscrapers.  Today.. not so much.  To be honest, I cannot recall what the issue was, but there was really only two picture taken of this bird – surprising since this was another NEW bird to check off the list.

The only hope is there are more shots of the Northern Pintail from the second day of shooting – which hasn’t been processed yet.  If I find more while in the digital darkroom for the those I’ll be sure and post them to make up for the sparsity here.  There is a correction for the long term readers of this blog.  Back on June 5th 2010 I suggested one of the bird shots on that post was a Pintail (although skeptical even then – link here).  Clearly it didn’t possess the twin tails of real Pintails as clearly seen in these shots.

This day began in one of those “Small World” experiences.  It was a little cool that day so I was sporting my Illini pullover.  While walking up to the entrance of the Preserve, a man came out and noticed the coat and asked me if I had gone to Illinois.  Always seems surreal to head out thousands of miles from home and then come across someone that lives a few hundred miles from your hometown.  He actually was the individual who alerted us to the presence of the Pintail.  Based on his excitement at the time it appears that was not a common sighting on the ponds.  A quick look at the regions indicates they do Winter there in that region, but since this was August that does seem pretty early.  From an artistic perspective, I find the color palette on these ducks to be gorgeous which is only enhanced by the sleek profile.  In case you are wondering, these two are both males.

How about some interesting facts to complete the post.  First off they are very abundant and therefore have a conservation status of Least Concern – follow up research indicates they are in a large decline so this may actually change in the future (sad).  They also happen to be a very popular game duck due to (and I quote Wikipedia) “speed, agility, and excellent eating qualities”.  Hey, look ad that purdy eyegil burrd leck’s put led in itz ass.  They are classed as dabbling ducks or simply those ducks that feed off the water’s surface instead of diving.  They are primarily plant eating animals with the exception of when the female is nesting.  During that time,  it changes to invertebrates likes insects – wonder if that is similar to us humans which tend to switch to ice cream and pickle juice during our “nesting” period.  Interesting.. another site indicates they are the first ducks to begin their Winter migration.  I think we can personally confirm that now!  And lastly, the ducks organization website indicates that Northern Pintails have a circumpolar breeding pattern.  Know what that means?  … ‘cuz I have no clue hehehe.  Current guess is they only have sex when circling a polar bear.  Trust me, I’m an Eggspert on dem der wingy things.

That’s all folks – my apologies again for the lack of pictures – good news is you could read the whole post without a jump.

Hefner Would Be Proud

Admittedly, when things get tight I go to my ace in the hole.  Lucky for me, I was able to finish processing all the shots from our first day at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.  If you recall, on our trip to Nevada last year we stopped in to that gem of a preserve.  Per previous posts, this area already provided two blog posts for brand new birds to my collection – specifically, the Green-Winged Teal (link here) and the Greater Roadrunner (link here).   Here’s a little secret.  Those were not the only two new birds this shoot produced!  I was able to add another new check in the bird list with today’s blog entry.

Anyone want to take a guess on what this might be?  Really take a guess – a little validation would help me at this point.  This little bird took me some extra time to eventually come to a consensus on what it was… or actually what I think it is.  To accomplish this I employed my brand new bird reference guide I picked up while out in Yellowstone.  While perusing the various gift shops in the park, The Stokes Field Guide To The Birds of North America caught my eye.  It isn’t often a book on birds shows up I do not already have, much less ever seen.  The key aspect of this particular reference was the ABUNDANCE of pictures.  None of the books on my shelves come close to  having the quantity of actual photographs contained in this book – in particular the fact it has shots of the female, the male, the juvenile and even seasonal and regional differences.  Truly awesome and it was instantly “mine” – didn’t hurt we got a discount being Yellowstone Association members but truth be told I would have gladly paid full price (shhhh don’t tell anyone).  After about 40 minutes of thumbing through the book I decided to go with … drum roll .. a Verdin.  The only concern was the region but a closer look (need a brush up on my state shapes) shows that it does venture into Southern Nevada.  A friend at work (thanks John!) helped me verify the region today so thinking that concern is past me.  As with any bird post at Lifeintrigued – you are more than welcome to debate any identification.  So for now were going with a Verdin.  This bird is especially cool since it doesn’t come anywhere near where I live making the trip that much more fruitful.

According to Stokes, this bird prefers desert scrub along washes and streams.  The desert part was dead on and it was alongside one of their ponds which kinda fits the water reference.  That is about the sum total of info I got out of the book.  Again, that was purchased to help identify the bird, I have our friends over at Wikipedia and an abundance of info on the web to fill the data gap – finding out what the hell it is the real battle.  Another site did mention they like thorny scrub – based on the shot above and the one below, this one was right at home.

Hit the jump to read more about this cool looking bird.

Continue reading Hefner Would Be Proud

Being Bryson

It’s a pictureriffic post today!  Well, definitely in the sense of quantity, but in truth it is a rather hodgepodge collection if I do say so myself.  The topic today happens to be something that I have in common with Bill Bryson – we both like a good Walk in the Woods (link here).  One glaring difference is he had the opportunity to do his walking on the Appalachian Trail were I tend to stay a little closer to home.  Some day I’d like to actually do that legendary trail but there are a number of items ahead of it on the Life List as of now.  Just a quick note on Bill Bryson – he is one of my favorite writers up there with AJ Jacobs.  Something about his dry wit that makes me crack up every time I read or listen to one of his offerings.  He has a very British feel from spending a significant amount of time in that region, but his perspectives of a Midwestern life are dead on.  I recommend starting out with “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (link here) to get a feel for his style and maybe even learn a thing a two along the way.

Back on topic, one of my favorite past times is hiking waterways.  Hiking is a great way to get out and experience the best the outdoors has to offer.  No cars to stress over, forces you to unplug from the electronic media push industry and helps you forget that this administration has (as we’ve come to expect) abused the Patriot Act.  Just you, a good pair of boots, a pair of leather gloves, protective eye wear, a hat, a camera and depending on the time of year maybe some bug repellent.  Now there is one other convenience I do recommend for two reasons – a smart phone.  Obviously, the ability to call in help in an emergency is the major benefit, but the GPS capability is pretty cool for tracking your route and distance.  Case in point, here is the results of my hike back in April.

It is difficult to tell at that zoom level, but that trail directly follows a stream which is a feeder for the Kickapoo Creek.  This is the same stream that runs through my property which I had already mapped on a previous outing.  On this particular hike I wanted to continue it through Jubilee Park.  So, why the fascination with streams and rivers?  It’s quite simple really – first, it is virtually impossible to get lost and secondly, that is where the wildlife hangs out.  My rule is to choose a side of the stream and walk along that side as close as possible to the bank following every switchback and fork that keeps you on the same side of the water.  If you get lost.. simply retrace the stream and it will lead you back to the start as opposed to trying to navigate in open woods which can be a nightmare (trust me, been there).  It also makes it very easy for rescue teams to find your body should something go awry (don’t ever use this as the argument, your significant others tend to get a little nervous).  Now, this rule does need to be broken every once in awhile – such as when a fork eventually takes you way out of the way or when you get caught in between another merging stream.  That is what happened to me at mile 2 above.  Conforming to the rule, the hike took me back on a merging stream until eventually there was a horse crossing I used to get back on the right side of the main stream (if I would have stayed on it it would have taken me back out of the park).

Granted the hike will do your body good, but it’s the sights and sounds that give me the greatest enjoyment.  All the running allows me the freedom to trudge through the thickets, briars and weed for as long as I want allowing me to  explore wide sections of the woods at a time.  You never know what you will find on a given trek no matter how many times you’ve already covered that area in the past.  In a macabre sense you just never know what might have met their demise along the bank.

Truthfully, this is a pretty common scene on my walks.  For one thing it is apparent deer head to the water when something is wrong.  Not sure of the reason, but multiple hunters have informed me that deer they’ve shot tend to run directly toward water.  Most of the deer carcasses I encounter are not felled by human hands and appear to the handy work of coyotes or possibly simply old age.  Now for a little secret.  The spine of deer tend to solidify when they die.  Why mention this?  ummm it happens to play into a little quirk – I like to arrange the bones as a little surprise to fellow hikers.  Specifically, I either place the skulls in the “V”‘s of trees or better yet….

… stand them up along the banks.  This particular valley near the stream was FILLED with deer bones and a few full skeletons.  The full ones were positioned in various arrangements around the value like they’re still alive.  Wish I could videotape anyone who comes upon them hehehe.   Don’t worry, the rest of the shots are from the land of the living.  Hit the jump to check out all the birds found along the hike

Continue reading Being Bryson

Project Sesame Street

It has been a whirlwind the last two weeks, but now I’m pleased to say we finally made it back home.  Linda and I were actually off on vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton areas and caught a number of entertaining places on our drive out there and on the way back.  This is the main reason last month’s posts were a little more burden than usual.  In fact, the last 5 posts for that month were all done on the road (literally) or late nights in hotel rooms.  Luckily I was able to get all the pre-work done on the images and then uploaded before heading out – no trivial matter since the bit into the packing time and prepping for the Chase Race.  All is good now, the kids are back and finally getting some sleep thanks to being through with crappy hotel beds.  The next couple of posts are actually cleanup from last month’s prep work.  Not knowing what mood I’d be in for posting topics, I worked up a few extras.  Tonight’s had a slight time lag since the trip also involved delivering a project to our friends Dr. G and David.  We had the pleasure of meeting up with them on our way out to Yellowstone and were able to spend a few days catching up and checking out all the animals in the park.  (By the way, thanks again for letting us stay over at your house)

Turns out we were able to explore Yellowstone with David and Dr. Giselle a few years back (link here).   To complete a project idea, we gave ourselves a mission – Seek out and photograph naturally (er or in some cases man made) occurrences of the letters W Y S T O L E N. When I chose to accept this mission I didn’t have very high hopes of actually being able to pull it off but this kid is no stranger to a challenge.  It took some effort, but with the help of the team we located every one of those letters somewhere in the park (er.. at least close to it if not in it).  Each was expertly photographed, transferred in triplicate to the storage drives and then … left to wallow in the darkness until there was enough time to kick-start the official project.  That point in time did not make itself available until last December – just before Christmas to be exact.  When possible I like to give Linda creative gifts for special occasions .. something she can’t just go out and buy which directly translates to something handmade.  To be honest, she probably could go out and buy much better versions of the stuff I give her, but part of the gift is really the blood sweat, tears and too often frustration that go into making it.  Good thing I waited until nearly Christmas Eve to working on this project ’cause nothing like putting yourself in a corner to keep you focused.

I’m going to skip ahead a bit on the project since the real meat of any photography project is the matte creation.  So just assume the all the typical effort of pouring through thousands of photographs to find the best letter composition, post processing those, sending them out to get printed in both color and black and white and locating a frame and corresponding matte blank were tediously completed.  with that out of the way, the matte cutter was dragged out along with the tools that would be needed.

We do a LOT of photography framing etc. so we opted to purchase our own matte cutter (on the left of the image).  Based on the prices local framing retailers charge this has more than paid for itself over the years.  After an extended period of time in Jeffery Alans I decided on the choice of mattes – a textured white front with a black backing.  This would give a nice black border on the images with the bevel cuts.  The shot above was taken a little late in the process since you can see the layout had already been drawn out on the backing of the frame I purchased.  Let’s go a little closer on that since this is the loooongest part of the process.

Hit the jump to see how this project turns out

Continue reading Project Sesame Street