Over the past couple of weeks snow has began to fall creating a beautiful white blanket covering the landscape. When looking out at this landscape it just looks like a white fluff everywhere that we have to shovel and drive over. Examining this white that covers everything shows some amazing micro formations, each one different from one another. Once again I’ve been trying to capture these snowflakes with a camera hoping to reveal the incredible structures many of these ice crystals possess.
Photographing them can be a bit of a challenge as it can be difficult to find a single snowflake in the camera among so many others with a macro lens because it is out of focus until the camera and lens are at just the right distance and then its unique and amazing shape begins to reveal itself as long as there is enough light reflecting from it. Once I find it in the camera it’s time to set up the tripod and again get the camera as close as I can and have the snowflake be in focus. These are sometimes difficult to get in sharp focus because their clear ice crystals so you don’t always realize if the snowflake is in focus or the sharp focus is behind it. And it’s such a small subject anyway which always makes things more challenging.
Before taking too many pictures it’s a good idea to make sure the snowflake is positioned correctly so the camera can pick up the detail in each segment. Once positioned well the camera needs to be adjusted to bring it into focus and stabilized so there is no movement in either the ice crystal or the camera otherwise everything becomes a little blurry. With everything finally set up its time to take the picture. Using the camera timer or remote shutter is a good idea as just the act of pushing the shutter button will most likely result in a little movement and a blurry photo.
One other element to photographing the incredible ice crystals is that is has to be done in the cold. This alone presents challenges. You need to acclimate the camera and lenses to the cold otherwise they can fog up and your out of luck getting good pictures so a little preparation ahead of time will help. Also you need to make sure you stay warm in order to successfully accomplish the fine movements necessary to capture a beautiful snowflake without breaking it. In addition what ever surface your using to hold the snowflake must be cold or it will melt before you can take the picture. Even with that wind can ruin the shot. Snowflakes are a subject that requires fairly quick reaction as they begin to break down within a short time of landing on the ground giving an hour or two to capture this great architecture created in the sky. With all of these challenges, snowflakes are a great source of amazement to view after they’re gone making them worth the effort to capture.
When visiting a number of the National Parks there are signs warning visitors of wild bears however it is not a common occurrence to actually see one. The first places we really began to hope for a bear spotting was while traveling in Alaska – Mendenhall Glacier, Glacier National Park, Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail, and Ketchikan. Being there during the salmon run seemed like it should almost guarantee a bear sighting yet we did not see any. This was disappointing as we could see where bear had been and in one case was told of a sighting mere minutes before we arrived to that area. Well, there were other parks in our travel plans with good opportunities as well. Maybe there will be better luck at those.
When planning for the Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah we read about high bear populations so hoped this would provide the much sought after encounter (from a distance of course). Keeping a watchful eye while driving and taking time to hike into the forests produced no success and once again left us wanting to see a wild bear. Now we are starting to wonder if we are bear repellent as we’ve been to some good areas to see them and nothing to show for it. It became kind of a joke for us and many friends of ours that seeing a bear is not in our future and if you want to go into bear territory, just ask us to join you and you won’t need to worry about encountering them.
As our Monopoly National Park travels near the end we had one last hope to see a wild bear a safe distance away – Yellowstone National Park. The first afternoon and evening in the park and no bears. Our first full day exploring this beautiful place – you guessed it, no bears. A second full day on which I got up early and went into areas with a higher probability of bears just hoping to come across one and still no bears. Giving up in the late morning I began my trip back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the family for more Yellowstone fun only to encounter a road block and not being able to get through. Losing a little hope at the sight of road construction equipment I eventually made it through the jam and began passing numerous people with cameras all pointed in the same direction.
Quickly pulling over hoping to finally see a bear I was confronted with park police told I couldn’t park there so I continued on and finally found a legitiment place to stop and walked quickly back to the place I saw all of these people expecting whatever wildlife to have moved on by now. Shocked there she was – a bear. Not only was there a bear but she was with a cub. Finally… a wild bear siting! After this bear and cub walked into a nearby forest I began my walk back to the car when another person pointed out another bear in a nearby field. This bear also was with a cub. That’s four bears in one area. By the time we left Yellowstone a few days later we had observed seven bears in total. The wait was over and well worth it. Bears are fun to watch at a safe distance for both the observer and the bear, especially the cubs as they play on trees or in a meadow.
Temperatures begin to plummet and all that is living becomes brown and lifeless to the north in November. There begins to be less motivation to go out and enjoy the great outdoors in the cold without much to see at this time of year in Minnesota, however, there is one sight worth dressing up for the cold to see and that is sunrises and sunsets. We’ve had some spectacular days of both of these as November comes to a close. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to photograph many of these due to extra time at work but I’ve at least been able to spare a moment or two watching silently as the incredible colors begin to move across the sky. These photos may seem touched up but they are anything but. They are straight out of the camera so are as the camera interpreted them at that time. Sunsets and sunrises are just that colorful and vibrant at times in the fall months of the year.
At this time of year, with the sun so low in the sky, the show doesn’t end with this yellow source of light going below the horizon. In fact often it is just beginning! I did a post about this a year ago if you want to see how our fall sunsets progress. For sunrises the progression is reversed with the amazing rainbow of colors splashing across the sky ending with the sun rising above the horizon. In November it can begin about 45 minutes before the sunrise or end about 45 minutes after it sets in the afternoon. Yes, here it is still afternoon when the sun sets around 4:30 pm. One of the reasons for these colorful sky paintings has to do with having at least some clouds much of the time which reflect some of the suns light as it fades into night along with the low position of the sun in the sky. This happens quite quickly when we’re fortunate to have the right conditions so once the show begins it doesn’t last long.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.