Where the Buffalo Roam

We are now at the third in the series of Yellowstone (and Custer State Park) Ungulates… and if I remember correctly this will be the last in the set (unfortunately no moose were to be found on this trip).  Similar to the Wapiti in the previous post (link here), these beasts are so large they have two names.  Using once again my staple for all things researchy, I headed over to Wikipedia to get some details on these once common roamers of the Great Plains.  Surprising to me, the name I usually use for them, Bison, is actually a newer name than Buffalo.  I would have bet all my Double Jeopardy money on the reverse.  This particular Bison appears upset that I didn’t know that.

Bison actually comes from the Greek work for ox-like (originating around 1635).  On the other hand, the name Buffalo comes to us from French fur traders in the 1774 timeframe.  Strangely enough, they failed to give the name Native Americans used for one of their dominant food sources.  What appears to be one of those tragedies from a  lack of conservation principles, these animals definitely took a hit from hunting practices (skin market driven more than food source) which just about drove them to extinction – Wikipedia also indicates that this was a US Army endorsed activity in order to impact the Native Indian living conditions.  The good news is conservation efforts have been bringing them back and now listed as near threatened.

Linda and I have had the privilege of photographing these creatures at three wonderful places.  You can fill all your digital cards up with Bison shots at either Yellowstone National Park or Custer State Park.  They are so abundant there you eventually start ignoring them about halfway into the trip.  I always joke that trips there start out with “oh oh a Bison” proceed to  “wow, look at that one over there”, then “eh, let’s keep driving” and finally “hey, get the hell of the road so we can get to the wolves!”  Now in truth, we may progress through this transition to disinterest at a faster rate than most.  We actually live about 10 minutes from Wildlife Prairie Park which has a very nice collection of Bison and other native animals to the Great Plains.  You can read more about that park on a previous post (link here).  (looks like I already used the two name bit on that previous post – looks like I need to get some original material.)

Here is one of the local residents of Custer State Park.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the Bison collection.

Continue reading Where the Buffalo Roam

Frankly My Deer, I Give a Damn

Hold on, just give me a second or two to swat these cobwebs out of the way.  It’s been awhile but truth be told I’ve been doing a lot of post processing to get ready for this month’s round of posts.  Not to let the suspense down, but this month will (hopefully) be the final push to get through the remaining animals captured during our Yellowstone National Park vacation Linda and I took back in October.  The weather is finally starting to cooperate with my running schedule allowing me to hit the pavement for my training runs (YES!).  Last Wednesday’s 5 miles and today’s 7 miles (both in the hills) were an excellent start.  In honor of that, I figured it would be fitting to start with creatures that must laugh at the running (in)ability of humans – the ungulates.  For the city dwellers, that is a fancy word for mammals that have hooves (although that definition has a varied past) – charge up that Volt drive 24 miles outside of town .. charge it up again overnight and then drive another 24 miles further out (repeat until you can see stars).

Let’s start with the only decent shot of an Odocoileus hemionus I was able to get in Yellowstone.  On our way back from checking out the wolves at Lamar Valley, this particular mule deer was found grazing among the evergreens.  Lucky for him the wolves were preoccupied with a cow elk they had trapped in stream at the confluence.

Mule deer are slightly different from the deer we have around here.  They tend to be a little more grey than our white tailed deer but the most distinguishing feature is their ears.  They are significantly larger than those on the white tail which tends to make them less appealing than their brothers.  I do sympathize with them having to go through their childhood with large ears probably taking abuse from all the other animals in the park (except of course the rabbits).  Note, light was starting to fall when this was taken making it an ISO battle – I think it cleaned up okay, but would have liked another shot at it.

On our way back from Yellowstone, we stopped into Custer State Park to check out the wildlife opportunities there.  For the longest time we were the only car to be seen providing a good opportunity to shoot Odocoileus virginianus Yes, that would be the White Tail Deer.  The first group we stumbled on were pretty cautious of our arrival and preferred to stay in the safety of the forest.

Hopefully you noticed the smaller ear size than the mule deer.  Living in the country in Big Buck territory of Illinois, we have the opportunity to see these animals nearly every day.  At times they’ll come through 10-12 thick in search of fresh acorns and saplings (unfortunately, that includes a fondness for our landscaping which is why we have no problem with a controlled hunting program).

I have to give Linda credit for the following crop selection.  I was debating back and forth and she walked in, looked at it for two seconds and then made an excellent recommendation.   Kicking myself for not taking the time to move a couple steps closer to push out the close evergreen branches (blurred items at the bottom) – not sure the doe would have stood for that though having already become agitated at how close the camera was already.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the deer set.

Continue reading Frankly My Deer, I Give a Damn

The Cute and the Pissed

My apologies, this post was suppose to go out yesterday – you know, the whole Valentine’s Day and the “Cute” theme.  Unfortunately, some unplanned issues came up that required me to spend extra time on the phone discussing  flight schedules from Florida.  For the record, I can’t believe the price of air travel these days.  So basically you get to be treated as public enemy #1  and have the pleasure of paying a premium for it. (To keep my spirits up during air travel I mentally replay Tracy Morgan’s SNL skit on profiling.)  Figured it would be prudent to get this post out while there was some free time.

This set of pictures  is from our Yellowstone vacation (assuming you were not surprised about that) but they were not actually taken at the park.  Instead, they were shot at a stop off on our way there and another one on our way back.  Need to make the most of the photo opportunities when you are heading out West.  Since the VDay theme doesn’t really apply anymore, let’s start with the “Pissed”.  Spearfish south Dakota is a favorite stopping point for us when we are heading to Yellowstone.  Beyond the cool name, this small little town has some gorgeous waterfalls in relatively easy walking distance from parking lots.  Linda’s nature photography specialty are the “silks” and she once again produced some very nice shots – guessing she will be putting these head to head with my wildlife shots during the competition season.  While she is off playing with the shutter speeds, I generally entertain myself by stalking the local wildlife.

Well, to be honest the word stalking is better served by “annoying the living crap out them” in this case.  Imagine the insane racket reserved for raccoons protecting it’s young packaged up in a large golden brown hamster with a long fuzzy tale.  Rather than simply state displeasure and carry on with the comfy life of a forest rat, this squirrel would come running at me (in full rant of course) and take up a defiant posture in the nearest tree.  10 seconds later it would scamper off into the trees only to repeat the cycle as I continued walking along a trail.  Thanks to confidence from earning 2nd degree black belts in multiple martial arts discipline I stood my ground against this upset furball.

Hit the jump to view the rest of the pictures… and commentary

Continue reading The Cute and the Pissed

Rats, I’m Down a Post

I got a surprise this morning when I checked the blog. I thought I was actually ahead of the game but it turns out my post output is lagging a bit. For some reason I thought I was already at 5 which put me right where I wanted to be – knowing the topic for the final post was already determined. Not a huge problem, just means I had to dive back into the Yellowstone trip pictures, do a little post processing, upload to our Smugmug site and I’m all set. Well, except for the hard part of actually writing something.

Having uttered the word “rats” when I tallied the posts this morning, I thought it would be fitting to go with the proverbial “rat” of the prairie lands. Fortunate not to live in an area infested with these rodents, I can still relate to the feeling having to constantly battle moles. There are two major differences when it comes to Prairie Dogs, one negative and one positive. On the negative side their destructive capabilities far exceed our local moles. Now, on the positive side, they can be so darn cute! Contrast that with moles which have to be the most hideous creature ever to crawl this earth.

Case in point, look at this scared little creature.  Out there all alone in the wild wondering where it’s next meal will come from.  Living in a state of constant worry if some human is going to pick them off with a high powered rifle just for fun or some taloned demon was going to descend from the sky and whisk away their brothers or sisters.

It is obvious they are clever creatures (as, of course, all dogs are!).  Just look at this example of how they’ve adapted to their dangerous surroundings.

The distant and vacant gaze paired with the stiff joint walk – what predator in their right mind would even come close to touching a ZOMBIE!?! Umm, that would be NONE.  (It might want to roll in the remains of a wolf kill to take that disguise to the next level (although recommend, waiting until the wolves move on).  I should probably mention that these shots were actually taken at Custer State Park.  We took a drive through there on our way back from the Yellowstone National Park trip.

Hit the jump to read more about these playful creatures.

Continue reading Rats, I’m Down a Post

It’s Not a Bird … Nor a Bear

As you are aware, there was a big push to get through the “Birds of Yellowstone” before the end of the year.  The reason for that is I wanted to get to the larger mammals inhabiting that incredible national park.  Rest assured, my camera wasn’t just pointed at our feathered friends (well, at least not ALLL the time).  Nope, we were constantly on the lookout for those animals we do not get to see much back here in Illinois.  Let’s start with those fleet of foot Pronghorns.  This is somewhat in tribute to being the first animal to greet us as we passed through the Yellowstone Arch.  Immediately off to the right, grazing in the fields, was a couple of Pronghorns pretty much oblivious to our presence.

The above shot is actually on of my favorites from the Yellowstone collection.  It was taken in full on Beast mode (400mm) letting us reach out and virtually touch them.  This is one of those poses that I affectionately call “The Predator’s View”.  For those people locked in the concrete world or worse, PETA members, the eye position gives away the disposition of the animal.  Forward eyes generally signify the predator (find a mirror) where the prey have eyes positioned on the sides to increase their field of vision.  It may be pointing towards a companion, but it definitely knows where we were.  Note, I was also pleased to get some glint in those big black eyes.

A close second in the favorites category is the shot below.  Once again you get a feel for it’s field of vision yet it was content enough to continue breakfast while we were busy snapping shots.  This lack of interest is probably due to being acclimated to the two legged creatures, although the fact that it can out run my ass without breaking a sweat probably gives it more confidence than your average turtle.   For the record, they can run at 30mph for 15 miles with a burst of up to 70mph.  According to Wikipedia, this makes it the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

At first I thought the antler nubs above the eyes in the previous picture indicated it was a young male.  Not being an expert when it comes to non-feathered animals I did a little research.  Turns out that females actually have horns as well (up to 3″) where males tend to have larger ones (up to 6″ and then another 9″ during summer fall which it sheds in the winter).  The other distinguishing feature of males is a small black mane.  Based on that I will have to go with this being a male.

Hit the Jump to see the rest of the Pronghorn pictures

Continue reading It’s Not a Bird … Nor a Bear

A Special Load

 Convoy Ahead

Last year we headed out to South Dakota a week later than this year.  While we were there, the army was carrying out their training exercises in Custer State Park.  Since we were out a week earlier, we came up on a number of military convoys heading out to the park.  One particular grouping of trucks turned out pretty comical.  As w approached one of the semi trucks, something looked odd about the payload.

Military Convoy

Slowly the picture became a little clearer.

Truck Convoy

I have to admit, we did not have the camera out when we passed this convoy the first time.  We laughed so hard we doubled back to take a few photos.  It is amazing the lengths you will go to get a blog entry.  As we passed the truck for the second time, took the payload shot.

Truck Convoy Payload

I think it is our newest secret weapon developed for special urban assaults.  There are probably rocket mounts in the dump bucket and special hummer inflating tires to allow it to traverse any rubble it encounters.  We definitely appreciate the job they do to keep us safe and our Democracy intact.  Good luck boys an girls and in the words of Maximus “unleash hell”.

Eat Dust

Salute the Troops!