All posts by Troy

More Snowflakes

There hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to go out and find beautiful, wintery landscapes to photograph recently. Temperatures have also been staying quite cold so I’ve taken this opportunity to capture more snowflakes under the camera lens whenever a few flakes have fallen and have been having a lot of fun doing it. A previous post with more snowflake photos can be found here.

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Some snowfalls don’t produce much for interesting snowflakes while at other times there are so many to choose from that they can’t all be photographed before blowing away or disappearing. Yes, they disappear even in very cold weather. I can only assume it’s due to the very dry air near the ground causing these delicate ice crystals to evaporate.

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The many different shapes and make up of these ice crystals continues to amaze me with each one I see. Some are so sharp and pointy while others are more rounded. It’s also fascinating to see the different stages of development of different snowflakes in each photograph that surrounds the larger one focused on. In some cases you can see the center of a developing snowflake that has fallen before growing larger. Other times seeing the different fragments that have broken off from a snowflake during its journey to the ground provide some great shapes.

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At times there are multiple snowflakes frozen together such as in the picture above. On the longest branch there is the center of another developing snowflake frozen to the larger snowflake. In addition, the branch next to this one you can see the beginning of the center of another snowflake. One theory indicates these snowflakes collided on their trip from the clouds and merged together. I wonder if it’s possible these centers formed at the tip of these branches. Fun to discover regardless of how they were created. I hope you enjoy viewing these and also find it fascinating to see the different shapes they develop into.

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The Year Ahead – 2018

Now that the holidays have passed I like to make goals for the new year. Some are already underway while others have yet to be defined. This is going to be an interesting year for our family. To begin the year Minnesota is hosting the Super Bowl and my wife and I are committed to be a part of that which will be great. My oldest daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school and move on to the next phase in her life so that’s going to be a big change for us. Before the school year ends we are expecting to complete our National Parks Monopoly board with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After graduation there are no definitive plans which feels weird for me. I’ve had an adventure planned many summers and not having one this year seems like something is missing. Maybe this will be a good summer to get another dog and use this time to train it. Once the fall arrives there could be a transition bringing our daughter to college in a different state. We’ll see.

Getting Ready for Super Bowl 52

In just a few short weeks Super Bowl 52 will take place and I get to be there for all the fun, with my wife and several other family members, for the entire 10 days. During this time I’m a part of the volunteer group Crew 52 which will be roaming the Super Bowl Live area each day so if you’re in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week look for me and say hello. I’ll be the one in the long, blue coat that says Crew 52 Volunteer on it. In addition to that I’m also a part of the halftime setup crew so that is really exciting. There will be posts on these experiences I’m sure. The question often comes up wondering if I will be part of the crowd on TV. No, I’m part of the crew that sets up the staging and takes it down all in a matter of minutes so the only opportunity to get on TV is possibly in the background behind the on field analysts during halftime before or after the show.

Volcanic rocks

Plans for traveling to Hawaii to explore this great National Park and Island have been in the works since last fall but there is still much to do before we go on this adventure over spring break. This is a happy and sad trip bringing mixed emotions each time I plan another piece of it. I’m really looking forward to spending this time with family exploring another National Park and learning more about volcanoes and the tropical wildlife in the area. However, this is the last trip that I may get to take with my children in this way. The future is uncertain with the oldest moving on in her life. Sure, there’s likely to be other trips but will it be with significant others or spouses and how often will vacations align to take trips like this? I’ve really enjoyed our trips to explore National Parks and cherish the time spent together and I will do the same with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Just about to graduate high school

Shortly after returning from the Hawaiian Islands, graduation will take place. Something I am definitely not ready for. It’s one of those events you know will come (at least you hope it will) but that doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for. High School goes so fast even though it may not seem like it on a day to day level. Our youngest daughter has now entered her first year in high school so she is not far behind. It’s kind of exciting to see what her future holds as she becomes more in control of it. A factor I know that is scary for her but she’ll be fine I’m sure.

A pair of Ringneck ducks

Once these events are complete there really is nothing on the books to look forward to. There are several possibilities such as more homeowner projects of which there are always plenty. I would like to take in a hiking and camping trip here or there to enjoy the summer and use the camera to photograph more beautiful scenery. Continuing to improve my photography is another goal throughout the year but I have nothing specific determined yet. We’ll have to see by the end of the year what comes up because one thing is almost guaranteed – something always comes up. I’m not one to just sit around hoping for things to appear. I hope you have several things to plan for to make 2018 a great year!

A rider connecting with her horse before going into the riding arena

Another Year Here and Gone

Two Thousand and Seventeen has now come to a close and I like to take a brief look back to see if I attained the goals set out in the beginning of the year and what else happened before going forward to the next year. The goals set out for 2017 included exploring Yellowstone, Little Bighorn, and Dinosaur National Parks, a return to Isle Royale, some home owner projects, and celebrating 20 years of marriage. We did end up visiting Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument as a nice addition to our year. Most of these items were accomplished all except a hiking excursion to Isle Royale which was canceled just a couple of weeks before going off an this adventure. I’ll get more into this in a moment but first let’s look at the other goals.

Looking at the landscape at a portion of Custer's Last Stand

Once summer began we were off to Montana to see the sight of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Bighorn. It was a warm and very windy day while we were here giving us the full Western Prairie experience. Learning about and seeing how this battle unfolded was a great learning adventure. Even looking over the landscape and seeing the different encampment areas and trails taking to get here, it’s hard to image the battle which ensued on these lands. Fortunately there’s plenty of information in the visitors center to fill in the events leading up to this historic battle. A piece of American history that is brought to life by this park.

Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park was the next adventure waiting for us which brought beautiful landscapes and interactions with nature that will last forever in our memories (and photographs). It has been said this is the Serengeti of the United States because of the diverse and numerous wildlife living here. We absolutely can attest to that with several bear sightings, a wolf encounter, bison, elk, coyotes, and other wildlife making their way into our view. Experiencing the thermal features here are very impressive with geysers, extremely colorful hotsprings, and mudpots giving a unique adventure to those able to visit.

The Yampa River cutting through Dinosaur NM

Our final park on the National Parks Monopoly board for 2017 was Dinosaur National Monument located in Utah and Colorado. To image dinosaurs roaming this area was special and really brought to reality by seeing first hand the skeletons still buried in the earth among the hills here. Very interesting to see what has been already un-Earthed and imagine how many more places in the undisturbed grounds still held on to these historic creatures. These are surrounded by beautiful landscapes created by two rivers creating valleys through the colorful hills over thousands of years. At night the dark sky becomes filled with stars from horizon to horizon. I spent a night just photographing these bright lights in the sky.

A cinder cone at Craters of the Moon NM

In addition to these National Parks we managed to take in Grand Teton National Park and Craters of the Moon National Monument before returning home. Both are great places to visit and we enjoyed a brief exploration of both. One day I would like to climb Grand Teton so a potential upcoming adventure.

Sunrise over Lake Superior on the North Shore of Minnesota

A few weeks before taking off to Grand Portage, Minnesota in August to hop on a boat and head to Isle Royale, the person I was going with had to cancel for work reason so I needed to make a decision of not going or going it alone. I decided to cancel primarily due to safety concerns. Our hotel was unable to be canceled by then so I decided to take the family to the North Shore of Minnesota to explore Voyager Days in Grand Portage along with a Pow Wow and take in the night sky with the Perseid Meteor shower on full display. This was all great to discover but would have been even better after hiking on Isle Royale for a week. One morning I got up to watch the sunrise and go exploring by myself photographing the beautiful area landscape. At one point I crawled up on some boulders only to have one of my hand holds give way causing me to fall onto the rocks below. Expecting to feel a lot of physical damage I only noticed one of my hands injured from this fall. Once I was up and walking around again I figured out that canceling the trip to Isle Royale by myself was a good idea for this very reason.

Celebrating 20 years together. We needed the bottlecaps to fill in the missing pieces for checkers

September brought my 20 year anniversary being married to my wife. We took a few days and stayed at the same lodge, Cove Point Lodge, that we stayed at on our honeymoon. It was interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same in those 20 years. The worst part about this celebration was realizing how much we’ve forgotten in those 20 years which was brought to our attention by looking back at pictures of twenty years ago in this very same place and not being able to remember several parts of our honeymoon. I guess that’s become one of the reason I like to take so many pictures.

Heading out with the camera in search of another beautiful picture

Speaking of pictures, I ended up taking several thousand photographs again in 2017 and saw improvement in my picture taking abilities. There’s still more to learn and improve so I expect the same will hold true in the new year. It’s been another great year and I hope you had a number of memorable moments to look back on with a smile. On to 2018!

Making due with the surroundings to capture a good photograph

The Beauty of Snowflakes

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.

Each snowflake has a unique design

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.

A single snowflake glistening in light

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.

A single snowflake appearing verying lopsided

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.

Single snowflake with each side just a point

Finally….We Saw a Bear

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.

A cinnamon bear with her cub

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.

Black bear with her cub

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.

Bear scratching on a tree trunk

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.

Foraging for food

November Brings Beautiful Sunsets to the North

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.

Sunset reflecting in the ice.

 

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.

Another stunning November sunset

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.