Ummmm the Merganser…I Think

Howdy Everyone! We are still celebrating reaching our 300th comment here at LifeIntrigued so pardon the mess. For those interested, Ron was the lucky commenter and will soon be receiving a token of appreciation in the mail – well… as soon as we figure out what that will be, we’ll be sending it out. He was also extended a guest blog spot so we are all looking forward to that. In the meantime, you are just going to have to make due with more Yellowstone posts. There are two similarities with the last post – one is it once again covers water fowl and like last time there are struggles on the identification front. The good news is the images are little sharper (not tack yet, but getting more familiar with the Beast). I must say, I am actually pretty happy with the action shots. The takeoff scenes were actually taken from the car doing my best to keep the Beast on focus while panning to compensate for the narrow field of view. Be sure and check out the larger versions up on our SmugMug site (link here).

I had just maneuvered the Beat into position to capture these ducks enjoying the water when they started their pre-launch plan. I am not sure if pulling up next to them in the car or pointing the bazooka glass at them startled them, but they definitely wanted out of there.

I was shooting at f4 so the depth was too shallow to get all the ducks focused in, but to be honest it gives a pretty interesting effect. The larger version gives a better view of it, but they were literally walking on water while building air under the wings. In the following shot they are just beginning to get air under their wings.

Hit the jump to see some more images of these birds taking flight!

Continue reading Ummmm the Merganser…I Think

Book Recollection: Decade of the Wolf

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!  We held the festivities at our house for the Barton side of the family and had a great time although I ate waaaay to much (but why endure the hardships of running if you can’t splurge a little eh).  I can hear it now, “When is this dude going to get those Yellowstone pictures done so we can see all the great wildlife they encountered out there”.  Well, the good news is I think I’ve post processed all of them now – at least the ones I like the best out of the thousands and thousands we took that week.  Now I need to export them out, get them to a manageable size, slap the ol’ copyright on them and start the long tedious upload process.  Soooooo… my apologies, but it is going to a little while longer.  In the meantime I wanted to bring you a book recollection about Yellowstone.  In particular, this recollection is from a book I picked up at the Old Faithful Visitor Center called the Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone.  I had just signed up to become a member of the Yellowstone Association and was looking for something to apply my resulting gift discount on.  This book by Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson caught my eye.  I really didn’t know much about the background of the reintroduction and decided this might be a good way to gain some knowledge.

Admittedly, I had a little buyer’s remorse when I took a closer look and found out the book was actually written 6 years ago.  I was hoping for something a little more recent which would provide some more updated information on the current packs.  I eventually convinced myself that the reintroduction was a point in time so the historic viewpoint would still be a worthwhile read.  Let’s just say those early doubts were quickly put aside as I became thoroughly engrossed in this book.  The author was involved with the reintroduction from the start and provided a captivating narrative from the initial wolf captures in Canada, through the acclamation process and then proceeded to immerse the reader in the surprisingly rough life of the early Yellowstone wolves.  Having just experienced wolf sightings in the park, it made me feel that much closer to them – seeing them through the camera glass was one thrill, but now understanding what they have been through and the struggles they endure as a species just makes it that more special.  I was actually surprised at the number of wolf on wolf skirmished that occur with a few of the packs doing significant damage to their perceived rivals.  The packs were rocked by disease (parvo and distemper), struggled through territory battles, attack prey at great risk to survival and live with the constant threat of man’s aggression outside the park – and yet thrive in their reintroduced surroundings.  They are truly a majestic animal that clearly represent an Apex Carnivore.  They are still no match for a grizzly, but on the range they reign supreme.

I highly recommend this read for anyone with an interest in wolves, desire some information on successful and disappointing events in the reintroduction process as well as any skeptics to why this was the right thing to do.  I am sick and tired of reading about people’s ignorance and bias against this animal and hopefully more people can get their facts straight before demonizing the reintroduction process.  It was disappointing to find out my Church is to blame for the early “evil” opinions formed about the wolf but hopefully we can all come together and cast that wrongly applied stigma aside.  It is a fairly quick read with many pictures and specific wolf accounts.  It is doubtful you will be able to remember all the wolf numbers (each wolf is given a number) especially when the packs start intermingling.  But don’t let this get in the way of your reading – just try to put yourself in the wolf’s particular situation and admire its ability to handle hardships, adapt to their surroundings, lead their families and more importantly … survive.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that I have an affinity to the wolf, but aren’t those traits also at the core of humanity?  My thanks to Doug and Gary for their fine effort.

Hit the jump to see the takeaways .. and our Yellowstone Association gift!

Continue reading Book Recollection: Decade of the Wolf

It’s VDay and Love is in the Air

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!  Hopefully you were able to spend some time with your significant others and remember the first time you knew she/he was the one to complete you.  In honor of “Couple’s Day” I bring you some water fowl I came upon while out on our Yellowstone trip last year.  I don’t think I am ever going to get through all the wildlife pictures we took while out there.  Thankfully we’re in the digital age or the film bill would have been horrendous.

First off is the Lesser Scaup.  Warning, these pictures are not tack sharp due to having to pull them in from so far away.  Based on the blurs, I am guessing I also did not have time to put the glass on the tripod either.

As you probably assumed, the male is the more colorful one.  His bill is actually a pale blue which blends in perfectly with the water making him look slightly odd from this angle.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell from the guide books the real difference between the Lesser version and the Greater version beyond the size (Lesser is ~1.5″ shorter and 3″ shorter between the wingtips resulting in about .5 lbs less in weight).  It does appear the Lesser’s have a more southern population during winter than the Greater.

Here is a better set of pictures from a small lake bordered by evergreens.  The trees gave an interesting green reflection on the water.

The green brings out the pale blue on the male much better.  The spooky aspect of the male is the yellow eyes.  In person they really pop against the dark purple head.  As you can tell the Lesser Scaup has all the standard male characteristics as he turns to check out the female’s tail feathers.  Clearly she is playing hard to get.

But in true Valentine’s spirit, she gave in to Cupid’s buckshot.

Just to contrast this romantic scene, there was another water fowl that wasn’t experiencing the joys of courtship.  This Western Grebe was trolling around all alone in a lake to himself/herself.

Unfortunately, once again I was pulling this fowl in from the extent of the glass.  The male and female do not seem to differ much from the pictures in the guides so I can’t tell if this lonely bird was a female or a male.  Following the trend of colorful eyes, this bird actually has a red tint and like the Scaup, really stands out against the darker head coloring.

This shot is pulled in a little more to help show the interesting coloring.  It is amazing how naturally camouflaged it is for his environment and when it moved out of the darker tree reflections you could barely distinguish it from the white clouds being mirrored in the water.   Based on the information in the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds, the Western Grebe has quite the courtship ritual involving synchronized scooting across the water (just their feet touching the water) and a cute “weed ceremony”  where each bird dances upright with the other while holding water weeds in their bills.  I definitely have to try to get a shot of that the next time I am out West.  Here’s to hoping our little friend above gets his chance to experience this interesting courtship.

Gotta go now, the Olympics are starting up again and this is one sports junkie who never gets enough of athletes trying their best to represent their country… unless it’s figure skating in which case I’ll switch on over to Spike TV.

Nevermore … actually a lot more on the way

First off, being that this is the first post of the new year… Happy New Year everyone!  I have yet to decide on my 2010 goals and as a result my blog requirements are not set yet, but that isn’t any reason not to give a post or two.  One thing is certain, I am way behind on my wildlife posts based on the number of pictures I have in my “to post” folder for my blog.  As a result, I am going to bombard you with bird posts this month.  To be honest, I am actually having some problems identifying a few of them which is somewhat upsetting based on the amount of bird books I own and that wonderful thing they call the Internet is not helping out.  Thanks for sticking with the blog and looking forward to another year of observations.

As promised, here is the first of the bird posts.  Mr. Poe would be proud, however, it personally scares the bejeezzus out of me:

We were walking around the parking lot of Old Faithful when we saw this monstrosity of bird for the first time.  Although we had read about them and seen them in numerous horror movies, we had never actually seen one up close and quite frankly that was not a bad thing.  These common ravens are HUGE and apparently only have one thing on third little bird brain.  That, of course, being the dark seeded desire to peck our eyes out.  By the way, although it scares me, I happen to really like this particular photo and had one blown up to hang in our great room.

We had a Hitchcock flashback the first time we encountered these demon spawn.  As we walked across the parking lot to see the geyser a shadow crossed over us and landed directly above us on a light post.  Fortunately, we had our cameras and snapped a few quick shots.

Without a measure reference it is hard to actually appreciate the size of these birds.  The reference books indicate they range up to 24″ long with a 53″ wingspan.   The Smithsonian guide even credits them for removing rivets from aircraft.  This isn’t too surprising since they clearly want us dead.

Eventually this one heard the camera’s focus collars and quickly located the source.  None to pleased, it started a loud squawking in an effort to call in reinforcements.  Not wanting to test my martial arts skills against Raven-Fu we hauled it out of there and headed for the water spout.

They even stomp around with authority.  At another site we were on our way back to the car when this one made a grand entrance about 20 feet from the car.  Having experienced this previously, we took it in stride, but the family next to us were busing warning each other to find cover.  Once landed it started goose stepping its way around the cars.

On another day I did get the opportunity to snap this one.  I don’t know if this one was a juvenile or not, but it was slightly smaller than the other specimens above.  After reading all three of my bird reference books and checking on the Internet, there appears to be very little distinction between the Common Raven and the American Crow beyond the smaller stature of the latter.  So for all I know, this was an adult American Crow or simply a younger Raven.  In either case, I’ll keep the zoom lens on and keep my respectful distance.

Pleasant dreams everyone … Nevermore, Nevermore, Nevermore

Operation Parkify or What Was I Thinking

So this is a shot of our wooded lot when we bought it a few years back.  You will notice it is pretty rugged and was essentially virgin land that had never really been touched beyond the occasional hunter.  I can’t tell you how many times we got lost while checking out the area before we made the decision to purchase it.  We have always liked the country and this was a pretty big step up from our previous 2 acre lot in a country setting subdivision.  As it turned out, we were even a confused on the lot boundaries.  After numerous Google satellite searches and distance estimates we thought we had a pretty good idea of the back boundary which you can somewhat tell from the picture was a stream hidden amongst the trees, thorns and weeds.  A few days before we agreed to acquire it, we were questioning the previous owner about the lot lines and found out the stream was actually in the middle of the lot and not the end surprising us both.

The first couple of years my focus was on the house and the immediate landscaping.  Due to an opportunity to take a little extra time off from work this year, I decided to embark on sprucing up the stream area.  This idea was sparked after our trip out to Yellowstone this year.  With two week of vacation and just about every night after work for two months I worked on exposing the stream by cutting back the wild, trimming up the trees, yanking out the thorns and raking up all the brush so I could mow without damaging the blades.  This was a great 13 pound weight loss program if you are feeling the belt tightening over the holidays.  Armed with nothing more than a chainsaw, lopper, trimmer, steel rake and wheelbarrow I plodded happily along.

The amazing thing is just how much the stream has widened with the ridiculous amount of rain that has fallen this year.  Unfortunately, with the rain came a record horde of mosquitoes.  I can’t remember how many cans of Deep Woods Off that were drained during this effort but a wall of citronella torches kept most of them a bay until the sun started dropping under the trees.  Here is another shot from a different portion of the stream.

So what do you think, was it worth all the work?  It is definitely not a Yellowstone, but it is a nice place to take a stroll and unwind after a hectic day at work.  It also provides a nice setting for some bird watching and if you know this site, you know I am all about the birds.   In fact, one afternoon I was taking a break close to the right side of this picture when all of a sudden there was a swooshing noise and huge shadow crossed over me heading for the middle of the stream.  It turned out to be a Blue Heron who plopped down into the middle of the stream to fish for some frogs.  For about 5 minutes I just watched this majestic bird do his thing before he noticed me standing about 10 feet away.  Out came the huge wings and away he went leaving me in complete awe.  It’s times like these that make the work worth every bead of sweat.

Note:  besides showing off my lot, I  actually had a side motive for this particular post.  Take a mental note of the branches that are across the stream towards the top of the last picture and check back for the next post.  Warning though, you might be shocked a little if you are squeamish.