Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

Grebe Fun

These grebes may not be the most colorful of fowl but they are certainly an agile and active bird making for some entertaining bird watching.  They’re almost always in motion weather they’re diving under water making the observer guess where they’ll surface next or preening their feathers providing a show to those watching. If there’s a flock of ducks around, there’s probably a grebe or two in the mix as well.

Contortionist Grebe

Spending some time sitting quietly will bring these birds a little closer so you can watch as they contort into positions that appear quite uncomfortable or even a little painful. These birds can amaze the observer with how they can fluff their feathers in an effort to dry them further after diving. It almost looks as though they are just out playing around in the water.

Fluffing feathers

From time to time I would watch as a grebe spread its wings while swimming. Is this a simple act of drying them after spending time underwater, using them as a sail to move across the surface of a pond, or do they think they’re flying while swimming? A fun grebe game perhaps.

Flying on water

At other times a grebe would begin flapping its little wings so hard water would begin flying everywhere. Again I wondered why it would do this. Is it taking a shower this way or just playing around and motor boating? Maybe it’s showing off for other ducks around it. Either way it provided some interesting entertainment.

Splish splash a grebes taken a bath

It wasn’t until I saw one of these grebes surface with a fish in its mouth that I realized what they eat. Often ducks dive for aquatic plants so that’s what I thought these were doing. They eat so fast it can be hard to tell what’s in their mouths. Fortunately cameras can photograph rather quickly allowing me to capture the photo below confirming that they eat fish. A grebe is certainly an interesting bird to watch for awhile if the opportunity presents itself. By the way, I believe these are Pied billed Grebes however their distinctive bill color is missing during the migration.

Catching a fish for dinner

A Coyote on the Prowl in Yellowstone

On our recent adventure in Yellowstone, we were witness to a successful coyote hunt making for the end to a great day of exploring this incredible park. After a full day of taking in geysers, hot springs, and mud pots we traveled into the Hayden Valley in search of wildlife at the end of the day. This valley is well known for wolf and bear sightings because of all of the other wildlife that frequent the area so we thought a little time to stop and lookover this beautiful area would be a nice way to end a great day. There were buffalo, pronghorn deer, and elf to watch for awhile and then it was time to head back to our hotel for much needed rest. On our way I happen to spot something moving through the sagebrush right by a pullout so making a quick decision we pulled in. There was a coyote on the prowl less than fifty feet from our car.

In search of a meal

My first reaction, a wrong move, was to get out of the car with the camera and begin taking pictures of this coyote so close to us. Before getting the door fully open I remembered that this was a wild creature and the rule in Yellowstone was twenty-five yards away or more for safety and immediately shut the door again while photographing through window openings. We could tell the coyote was contemplating what to do next. We obviously intervened in its original plans and now it had to adapt to us being there. After a few moments it moved a little further from the car and then continued on its original path continuing to hunt for an evening meal. The coyote disappeared into some long grass along a small pond so I was putting my camera away when I heard a quick squeal and a snap. Seconds later the coyote appeared again with food in its mouth.

Moving with a muskrat meal

I couldn’t believe how fast this animal was able to snatch a muskrat from the edge of the pond. Now this effective predator was further than the recommended distance so I quickly got out of the car with a camera and began snapping pictures while it found a place to eat. Up until this point we were the first, and only, people there but now others were stopping to see what we were watching. The coyote stopped in a great place to photograph it while eating so I brought the camera up and kept my distance to allow it a comfortable distance to take in this necessary food. Others were not so inclined to do this. With cameras in hand other eager visitors decided to try to get closer for a better picture. That was all the coyote needed to decide this meal was better consumed in a different spot so it trotted away through the sagebrush keeping all of us bystanders out of sight.

Too much activity for comfort

It kind of felt like a missed opportunity which irritated me a little as I’ve seen over and over again people always pushing for a closer photo often scaring away the wildlife to end up with no good photo at all. I understand the desire to get closer pictures but if you don’t have the appropriate camera gear to take photos from a safe distance for you and the animal, accept this fact and take the pictures you can get safely. I also understand that reading the body language of an animal is a skill not often possessed by tourists so they don’t realize when that animal is not comfortable. I was grateful to be the first ones on this scene to be able to watch this coyote hunting and successfully capturing its prey. A fun experience at the end of our day only to be capped off by a beautiful sunset! Another great adventure in Yellowstone National Park.

Sun setting on another beautiful day in Yellowstone

Why Disney World?

During a recent school break we took the opportunity to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida to watch as our daughter played in the high school marching band while marching at the Magic Kingdom. When we first started talking about taking the whole family to Disney World the first thoughts that came to mind was battling crowds to stand in long lines and paying large sums of money to do this. This wasn’t an incorrect assumption but wasn’t nearly accurate enough. Seeing the reality of this brought the question of why so many people desire to visit Disney World.

Marching at the Magic Kingdom

So in a nut shell here’s my question: Why pay over $100 per person per day to immediately get persuaded to spend even more money on food and gifts as soon as you enter the park and throughout the park only to be beaten up by the crowds to stand in long lines and kicked by kids who are unable to stand for that long? Lets break this down a little. First is price. The more days you buy the cheaper each day becomes which can bring your cost down below $100 per day but not everyone had that kind of time. Food and gift purchases are, of course, optional but there are way more gift stores and food places than attractions so that great smelling meal or those Mickey ears become harder and harder to resist. Looking at reviews of Disney World you will come across several complaining of the crowds and how rude people can be along with the wait times for attractions. My wife was hit by a mom who had one stroller stacked cross ways on top of another stroller causing these to require more room but this mom didn’t seem to care how many people she was going to hit while pushing these double stacked strollers with no children in them. And lastly, the lone lines. Many attractions had a wait time of about an hour but the most popular Avatar ride had waits exceeding 3 hours. We ended up not being able to go on this one as it was too much time but obviously a lot of other people were willing to wait that long. Security to enter seems cumbersome and slow as there are people that need to go through all of your bags before you can proceed into the park. This is the same at each of the parks so if you’re going to park hop add extra time for security at each one. And this is all called fun at the “Happiest Place on Earth!”

Waiting in line

So what seems to be so appealing that people from all over the world have to go to Disney World? First off, nobody does a better job of immersing you into a ride with all of the props, landscaping, music, and characters. They put a lot of effort into making you feel like you’re transported into another place and are a part of that ride. Although many of the attractions at the Magic Kingdom feel like they’re old and outdated when you compare them to the newest rides put together today. Maybe that’s one of the draws is people like these nostalgic rides. I felt they could do a lot more to many of them with today’s technology. Certainly other things like the castle, parades, and fireworks and lightshow work with these other rides to create the Disney Experience that so many return time and again for.

We didn’t take the time to look over reviews before going to Orlando and that was a bit of a mistake. Reading just a few reviews a couple of months before going would help understand just how important advanced planning and preparation is and can make your time in Disney a little better. Definitely learn about Fastpasses if you do not know about them and utilize them. You get 3 with each ticket per day. There are some great things to see and do at Disney World but the crowds and long lines definitely detract from them.

Fall decorations

Duck Migration is Here

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in pursuit of ducks beginning to move south stopping by local lakes to rest and feed before moving on. In this particular area there have been flocks of hundreds of ducks making it very enticing to set up the camera and wait for them to move closer.

Widgeon coming in for a landing

It’s been fun to photograph them and then try and identify what type of duck it is afterwards. This particular flock of ducks has included Widgeons, Gadwall, Mallards, Wood ducks, and one immature pintail. They sure are pretty to watch with the different colors and patterns as well as listen to. Each with a unique sound identifying the species further.

Widgeon swimming along

While most of the ducks on this particular lake seem to be widgeons there are some gadwalls mixed into the flock. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a different duck or if it was just an immature widgeon still coloring up. Looking further I noticed the bill on the gadwalls is darker than with widgeons. Also the white spot on the back of the duck is different and the head has slightly different colorations confirming a different species later identified as gadwalls. Ohh and they make a different sound which helped figure this out.

Gadwall floating by

Included in all these ducks are, of course, mallards which tend to be very plentiful on most bodies of water in Minnesota and elsewhere. One of the nice things of having mallards around is other ducks see them and figure it’s a safe place to land with food available so join them. The mallard below was shaking off water after spending time under the surface looking for food.

Mallard stretching out of the water

One of the unique ducks in this particular flock is an immature pintail. I wasn’t completely sure of this immediately because the coloration is different from the others but not as well defined as the photos I was comparing it too. A couple of things that helped I.D. it was when it tipped into the water in search of food the tail was more of a point and more pronounced than the widgeons and gadwalls but still lacked the characteristic long pin tail giving these there name. Also the colors on it’s head, while not completely developed, still matched well with the pictures I was comparing it to leading me to figure out this is a young pintail. This duck has continued to stay with this flock for the past couple of weeks with no other pintails in sight.

A young Northern Pintail

I’ve definitely been enjoying photographing each of these different species and hopefully will be able to catch a few more before these lakes freeze over.

Craters of the Moon

At least that’s what they thought before people actually traveled to the moon. Craters of the Moon National Monument received it’s name from the volcanic rock and volcanic cones blanketing this area of Idaho appearing to look like what scientists believed the surface of the moon to look like. Because of this, lunar training took place at this place preparing for going to the moon’s surface. After landing on the moon it was realized how inaccurate that belief was.

Lava rock covering much of the landscape

This unique landscape in Eastern Idaho is a result of volcanic eruptions 2,000 and 4,000 years ago leading to the possibility that another eruption could occur at anytime again if the cycle were to continue. Nothing to worry about yet though as there will likely be signs of an eruption well before it actually occurs. These special rock formations can only be found here and in Hawaii within the United States with Idaho being the easier place to see such volcanic formations.

Inside a lava tube

Ice inside one of the lava tubes

Probably the most amazing part is the vast tunnels called lave tubes created by lava flowing under hardened volcanic rock. Several are large enough for people to walk inside and feel like they’re in a huge cave similar to Mammoth or Wind caves but being just a short distance below the surface allowing natural light to illuminate much to the path. Another interesting piece to these lava tubes is the cold temperatures inside. While visiting the scorching heat outside was near 100 degrees F. Once submerged into these caves, the temperature dropped rapidly enough to maintain ice on the cave floor. A nice natural air conditioning as there are no trees to provide shade near these tubes.

Peering into a cinder cone

Another fascinating feature of Craters of the Moon are being able to look inside these volcanic cones called cinder cones. To be able to see deep into these relatively small volcanoes is quite interesting. Even though they are capped after their eruptions you can still imagine lava surging out of them blanketing the surrounding landscape scorching what may have been their growing. Amazingly even though it has been 2,000 years since the last eruption there is little plant growth covering this lave. Of course receiving very little rain could have a lot to do with this characteristic preserving these formations. Still a few plants have been able to persevere in this harsh climate.

Flowering among the lava rock

Night skies provide amazing views into the universe with this national monument, being an international dark sky park, if you’re able to remain awake for it to show it’s full splendor.

A grand view of the night sky

The Flowers of Fall

As fall has taken a strong hold of the Upper Midwest there are still some plants blooming away providing much needed food for bees and migrating butterflies. Mums are probably the most well known of these and are springing to life with their cool weather colors on a beautiful sunny day.

Sedum

Another of fall’s splendors are cold hardy sedums producing small individual blooms massed together to form striking clusters of flowers able to attract pollinators from longer distances away.Their pointed petals and long anthers blend together giving a much softer appearance to those viewing from a distance.

Purple Asters

Showing off their beautiful pinks and purples are asters coming to life this time of year bringing smiles to those searching for the few remaining blooms of the growing season. These seem to withstand the coldest of temperatures before succumbing to winters dominance arriving soon after. While the trees seem to be confused with ample rain and warmer than average temperatures combined with decreasing sunlight, the fall flowers are certain it is their time to bloom.

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Some of Yellowstone’s Wildlife

There are several reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park: The natural beauty of the landscape, geyser watching such as Old Faithful, Looking at colorful hot springs, and looking for wildlife.  Most desired to see here are bears and wolves but they certainly require effort to find. Geysers and hot springs were something I was looking forward to seeing but the opportunity to see a bear and/or wolf was what I was most hoping to see. Everywhere else I’ve hoped to see a bear ended unsuccessfully and this was my last chance during our Monopoly travels.

Sunrise in a foggy valley

On our third day in Yellowstone I woke up before sunrise and snuck out of our hotel in search of early morning wildlife. My plan was to enter from the Roosevelt entrance and drive to Lamar valley in hopes a wolf pack was on the move. On the way, as the sun was rising, I stopped to photograph the foggy valley as the sun rose above the horizon. Ready to continue to my destination I looked again and there in the shadows was a blacktail deer with her two fawns. What a great way to begin this morning! After watching for a few moments I moved on to get to the popular Lamar Valley

A black tail deer with her two fawns

As I drove back and forth through the valley I only saw hundreds of Buffalo roaming and grazing along with the occasional Pronghorn Antelope. Some people next to me had spotted a grizzly bear but I could not see it as it was several miles away and they were using a spotting scope. A little disappointed after a couple of hours, I looked around and noticed that most of the people also in search of wolves had left so decided it was time to head back to the hotel and re-join the rest of the family. A short drive away I ran into a major road block with people all looking at a hillside miles away. Deciding to stop I found a place to park, got out, and began listening to others talk. Apparently wolves had been spotted in this area but where out of sight at the moment. After awhile of looking through the binoculars I did see one of the wolves but it was so far away it was difficult to positively identify for me. Others nearby did confirm it was a wolf though so I was lucky enough to see that.

Fortunately this was not the end of my luck in search of these great predators. On another day, driving back to our hotel from watching Old Faithful there was another encounter. We had an hour and half drive ahead and I was exhausted from the day so my wife was driving while I rested in the passenger seat. Night was falling fast so there wasn’t much to look at. About 30 minutes into our drive something was right there in the road in front of our car. Karen slammed on the brakes almost hitting a wolf staring briefly at us before moving on to the should near our car where it stopped to watch us before becoming a little uncomfortable with us still stopped. Still in disbelief we gazed at this wolf wondering if there were others nearby when another moved slighter higher up from the road. All we could really see was it’s outline and eyes as this was a black wolf blending in extremely well with the surroundings. All of us now on fully awake we continued on in complete amazement that we were that close to wild wolves which so many desire to see but don’t. Because it was so dark and all of this did happen relatively quickly I was unable to get the camera and snap a photograph. Only memories exist of this experience but one I’m sure we won’t forget.

A Pronghorn Antelope

Returning to my morning drive back towards the hotel, I drove around a corner after seeing the far off wolf and there was another traffic jam. Once again I decided to quickly find an available parking spot and see what was causing this temporary ruckus. Quickly I spotted a bear with its cub grazing near a creek below. Finally success! after all of these years hoping to see one here was a bear and cub. I watched as long as these bears remained in sight before returning again to my car. Just before getting in I heard someone say another bear was in a field nearby. After a few seconds I spotted that one and watched as long as I could photographing when ever the opportunity arose. Imagine that? Two bears! What luck. Ok now it really was time to get back with the family as the morning was nearing the end.

A black bear with her cub

Continuing on there was yet another traffic jam although smaller than the previous two so I stopped to see what was there. Some of the other bystanders said it was a lone wolf. Curious I got out my camera and began scanning the area and found what they were pointing to. Unfortunately I had to inform them this was a coyote and not a wolf. They were somewhat disappointed but still enjoyed watching as it meandered among the sage brush. It was fun to see but I really needed to get back so off I went without further traffic jams. Add to this the elk from an earlier visit and plenty of bison and my thirst for seeing wildlife was temporarily filled. You can click on the links above to view those stories.

All in all I ended up seeing 7 bears during our brief time in Yellowstone over three different occasions. The top picture is from our morning driving one last time though Yellowstone National Park on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Another traffic jam alerted us to wildlife near the road so we stopped and ended up watching this bear graze for about 45 minutes. A lot of fun to see definitely making me want to return another time.

Coyote on the prowl

The Beautiful Grand Tetons

While traveling in between Yellowstone National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, we took a few hours to explore the incredible Grand Teton National Park since we needed to drive through it on our way. There were only a few hours and many places to see so the goal was to hit the major highlights. We entered the park around lunchtime and one of our goals on this National Park trip was to at least grab lunch or dinner in Idaho just to add another state to our list of states traveled to.

Many wildflowers blooming near the tall mountains

According to maps, Idaho borders Grand Teton National Park but roads are another consideration. The nearest road on the map was Grassy Lake Road heading towards Ashton, Idaho so we thought we would give it a go. This road was also a recommended place to potentially see moose which would be fun. At first this road is easy with beautiful surroundings to explore but that soon changes as it becomes a dirt/gravel road with many potholes that seem to be designed to wreck your car. About halfway to the Wyoming – Idaho border we determined this was not a great idea and turned around to grab lunch in Colter Bay Village near Jackson Lake. I guess Idaho isn’t going to be accomplished on this trip.

Fishing under the majestic mountains

After lunch we spent some time exploring Jackson Lake and the beautiful mountains rising up behind it just taking in a great summer day in this amazing place. Eventually we continued south through the park stopping on occasion to take in a different view of Jackson Lake, explore the Jenny Lake area, and see the Mormon Historic District before watching the sun set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I hope to return here within a couple of years to climb Grand Teton and see more of this incredible landscape.

Mormon row

20 Years Later

Recently my wife and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary and decided to spend a couple of days at Cove Point Lodge were we went for our honeymoon. We enjoyed staying here the first time so wanted to do it again. Just ahead of our trip we looked over photos from our honeymoon to remind us of what we did the first time. There was a photo of us in front of Cove Point Lodge taken from Cove Point which creates this little cove along the shore of Lake Superior that we wanted to duplicate just to see how much has changed. Well, other than us.

Certainly cameras have changed which made it somewhat challenging to attempt to capture the same photo. After some repositioning we got something close but not as close as I would have liked. some of which was hindered by Lake Superior being higher than normal with all of the rain we’ve received this year. Some of the changes noticeable were different colors on the lodge, some of the shoreline in front of the lodge cleared with chairs added to take in the magnificent view of the lake, and new buildings along the shoreline. Otherwise things appeared to have stayed much the same.

Standing in Front of Cove Point Lodge in 1997

20 Years Later

One of the mornings we were wakened by thunder with some lightning. I got up to watch as it was still dark our and you could see for hundreds of miles over Lake Superior so catching a glimpse of lighting stretching across the sky was easy to see. My bigger camera was left in the car the night before causing me to question whether or not to get dressed and fetch it or just enjoy the passing storm. I really didn’t want to get dressed or go out into the rain so I came up with another alternative. Attempt to use the camera on my phone. After some practice I actually was able to capture lightning streaking across the sky. With a little more exploring I found where I could change the settings on the phone camera to basically get what I wanted which allowed me to capture some cool shots of lightning satisfying my desire to photograph the early morning storm.

Lightning from an early morning storm over Lake Superior

Also while preparing for this trip we discovered how poor our memories can actually be. While recalling our first time at Cove Point Lodge we remembered hiking along a river which we were sure was accessed from a side trail from the lodge to the Superior Hiking Trail. Turns out this side trail, which we hiked again this time, does not connect to any sizeable rivers close by. Also we discovered that on our honeymoon we explored Tettegouche State Park hiking up to the high falls. I thought my first time seeing the high falls was actually many years later with our children. Another false memory was how the Lodge was arranged. Yes there was a fireplace, tables and chairs arranged around the fireplace, and a dining area but it did not match the way I recalled it from our honeymoon. While they could have rearranged the chairs the fireplace was in the same place only I remembered it differently. This is one of the reasons I photograph things now because I know our memories are not always accurate.

During our recent trip we did some hiking along the Beaver River nearby and stopping to see Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time but enjoyed much of our time relaxing around Cove Point. Sitting near the shore listening to the waves, watching thunderstorms, and staring at the night sky. After sunset one night we went out to stargaze and could see lightning occasionally near the horizon. Upon checking the radar it showed a line of storms several hundred miles away. That was pretty amazing to think we could see that far over Lake Superior. While it was a little disappointing to realize how much we didn’t remember from our honeymoon, it was an enjoyable couple of days with beautiful weather to take in the North Shore.

Hiking on the Beaver River

Getting Close part 2

Another method of macro photography is to use a larger telephoto lens and zoom in until you get the composition you’re looking for. For the photograph above I set up a tripod with the camera and focused on this grouping of flowers. After taking a few test shots to make sure I liked the composition and the lighting was adequate for a fast enough shutter speed I just waited for a bee to come along in the exact position I was looking for. Seems simple enough, right?

Setting up the shot

But there’s a little more to the story. In order to get a picture with this composition the lighting needed to be right which only occurred for about an hour just before sunset so it took me two nights of setting up in this location to accomplish my goal. Setting up involved getting to this location about an hour before the light would hit these flowers, hiking into this spot which took about 15 minutes, and getting the tripod, camera, and lens put together in the same location with the right height. Above you see a test shot to make sure I liked the set up.

Just a bit out of focus

What’s not shown is there were multiple test shots where I adjusted the focus and shutter speed until I got to this point. While doing this there was a lot of second guessing. Would I even be able to get a bee in focus in the small area of focus to make this an interesting image? Was my shutter fast enough? How fast should it be? Do I want to stop the wings in flight or is it ok to have them blurry from their fast movement? Those questions were answered with a little patients. Once the sunlight moved to this area it didn’t take real long for a bee to make its way to these flowers. Using a remote shutter I started shooting away as the bee moved in and around these flowers. You can see it doesn’t take much to have the bee out of focus.

Pulling the flower down

After reviewing those photos I determined I would stick with my setup and wait some more. Thankfully a few minutes later another bee entered my photograph and again it was out of focus plus this time it pulled the whole flower stem down changing the whole composition. I wasn’t going to adjust the camera for this because once this bee left and the flower stem bounced back up I would be going through the whole focusing again so I just waited for another bee.

Getting closer

Over the course of an hour several bees visited. Some where in focus and others were not but eventually I captured the photograph I was looking for – a bee hovering in front of an in focus flower. There was actually quite a bit of work involved but it was fun just to be out there amongst the bees and flowers watching as they moved from one flower to the next. It was also a good learning experience with a successful photo that matched what I had imagined ahead of time. In addition it was a nice summer evening on both nights and hummingbirds kept me entertained, or distracted depending on how you look at it.

Another one almost in focus