Posts from the ‘wildlife photography’ Category

The Snow cometh —Yellowstone Day 4

October 9, 2019

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We awake to a couple inches of snow at our Madison Campground…but despite having to cook breakfast in the cold, dark, wet conditions, we are pumped! Snow in the landscape always makes for moody wildlife shots, and we were headed to a spot where two bull Moose had been spotted the day before.

But before we even made it to Norris, we were turned around by a ranger who said the mountain passes were closed with 18 inches of snow already. We turned around and headed for the geyser basins south of Madison. And now it was snowing HARD. After a look-see we saw nothing and then were turned around by another ranger. It was clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. A female ranger greeted us back near Madison Campground and said the park was closing and ALL of Yellowstone’s roads would be shut down for at least a day and a half.

Chinese tourist bus slides off the road (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Ryan and the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Our choices were to stay at our campsite for 36 hours (not!) and freeze (temps were predicted to be below zero F. that night) OR shoot on our way out the West Yellowstone park entrance. We decided to pack up our tents and head towards Teddy Roosevelt. With only two-full days of shooting in Yellowstone, it was our shortest trip to the park ever.

Elk along the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

The snow continued to pile up as we spotted this herd of cow elk along the Madison River.

Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Firehole River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

A “car window” shot at 40 mph. No self-respecting photographer would post this shot, but I kind of like it in black and white. It reminds me of my early darkroom print days. It has a vintage feel to it.

Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison and Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

We were finally told by the rangers to just keep moving, so we had no choice but to exit the park and head for Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Little did we know that the real adventure of this year’s trip would be just getting home! But more about that in the next post.

Searching, Looking, Hunting… for anything! -Yellowstone Day 3

October 7-8, 2019

Day 3 (really our second full day of shooting) started as usual…Crawling out of the tent in the pre-dawn darkness, and boiling water and frying bagels on our Coleman stove. So after our breakfast of grits, oatmeal, bagels and cream cheese, we stuffed the “bear locker” with our cooking stuff and headed out to find….anything!

Ryan and I seem to remember more elk bugling near our Madison Campground in previous years, but we hadn’t been to the park in fall for seven years so maybe things had changed. We also did not see many elk, period. We realize the wolf packs have brought the Elk numbers down and more in balance with the park’s holding capacity, but we surely thought we’d see herds scattered about. But it was slim pickings.

A classic Yellowstone “animal in the landscape” shot. Steam from geothermal vents frame a lone bull Elk. After glassing the bull, Ryan said he noticed that he only had one antler! Must have lost it in a fight.

Bull Elk watching his harem near Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/640 second at f7.1; ISO 3200; hand-held]

Just a nice portrait of a bull Elk near Mammoth

Bull Elk, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Cow Elk, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm; 1/640 second at f4; ISO 100; hand-held]
Firehole Spring at dusk along Firehole Lake Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f1.2 lens; 1/30 second at f18; ISO 320; hand-held]
Bison herd in golden light along Fountain Flat Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 200mm; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]
Bison herd in golden light along Fountain Flat Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]
Bison herd in golden light along Fountain Flat Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f9; ISO 800; tripod]

As the sun set over Fountain Flat Drive it illuminated this herd of Bison with neat golden backlight/rimlight. I love the peaceful painterly quality of these photos. They look even better if you view them full-screen.

Lenticular clouds along Fountain Flat Drive, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Bison herd and Cottonwoods (and Ryan) near Lamar Valley
[iPhone 7 Plus panorama]
Fisherman and fall colors, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Abstracts of water shimmers on Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Abstracts of water shimmers on Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Abstracts of water shimmers on Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Abstracts of water shimmers on Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Cottonwoods along Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Ryan photographing the “Zen Cottonwood” in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The “Zen Cottonwood” along Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The “Zen Cottonwood” along Soda Butte Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We named this well-balanced tree along Soda Butte Creek, the “Zen Cottonwood.” Ryan first spotted it and it is a stately tree.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

If you can’t find wildlife, you can always find scenery in Yellowstone National Park! Some details of the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm; 1.6 seconds at f5.6; ISO 1600

We spent quite a while with this good looking bull Bison. My idea was to take a long exposure so the grass would blur but the Bison and background would be sharp. I took about 100 photos ranging from 1.6 seconds to 3.2 seconds and this is one of the few that turned out. BUT I don’t think my idea really came to fruition as there is not enough blur to the grass, and the sage doesn’t really blow in the wind. Oh well…You gotta try and experiment!

Sunset in the Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sunset in the Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sunset in the Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Coming soon….”Kicked out of Yellowstone”…due to snow, not our behavior!

A Grizzly Welcome -Yellowstone Day 1

***Just a note to my subscribers that I have now ponied up for the “Premium” plan so you won’t have to wade through those annoying ads placed into my posts.

October 6-7, 2019

Since we were coming from the South Dakota Badlands, Ryan Marshik and I headed towards the Yellowstone East Entrance. The country between Cody, Wyoming and the park is stellar, and as we got closer, we started thinking, “Hey, we might even have some shooting light by the time we get into Yellowstone!”

But even before we got to the park, we had our first bear sighting. It was a Grizzly crossing the Northfork Shoshone River. We managed a few snaps but it was soon into the brush…but on our side of the river. So we decided to pull over in a locked entrance to a campground. And we didn’t have to wait long! The Grizzly was working its way towards us…and completely ignoring the two Minnesota guys laying on the ground pointing big barrel-shaped things toward it. Within a minute the bear was too close for comfort and we retreated to the vehicle.

But then a large patch of Wild Rose hips caught her attention. And she began delicately plucking the ripe fruit only 20 yards from us. It was dusk and we kept cranking our ISO up. I ended up at my max for my old Canon 7D…ISO 6400. Some noise in the photos, but I’d MUCH rather have a sharp and grainy/noisy photos of a Grizzly than a blurry noise-free shot!

These images took quite a bit of working in Lightroom to get to the images below.

Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear at dusk near Northfork Shoshone River
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/250 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
Black and white image
Grizzly Bear eat dusk near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens at 55mm; 1/160 second at f5.6; ISO 5000; hand-held]
Grizzly Bear eating Wild Rose hips near Northfork Shoshone River, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/200 second at f5.6; ISO 6400; hand-held]

Eventually she sauntered within 2 feet of our SUV. A really neat encounter. Made better by the fact that we didn’t have to share it with the typical Yellowstone “shooting gallery.”

Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Due to our wonderful “bear delay,” we didn’t get inside the park until sunset. But Ryan spotted this perched Red-tailed Hawk which made for a neat silhouette.

Burned pines and Yellowstone Lake sunset; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Red-tailed Hawk silhouette in old burn; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4L USM lens; 1/100 second at f5.6; ISO 800; hand-held]
Ryan shooting the sunset and burned pines scene

We camped in the Madison Campground, and headed out in the early morning, excited to see the Hayden Valley again. The last seven years had been spring trips, and almost every time the road through the valley had still not been opened up by the time we arrived.

And we found this cooperative Raven. In all likelihood, it is probably the same begging Common Raven that I photographed here years ago. It is such a treat to be able to get close to these birds since in Minnesota they are so spooky that you can’t even touch the brake pedal and they are gone.

Video of the Raven’s backlit breath while calling was my goal, but I also tried some stills. Like Ryan said, it would have been better if the slight breeze hadn’t been blowing their breath behind them. Interestingly, the biggest puff of breath didn’t come until their beak was already half closed again…and not when it was fully open.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/320 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]

I intentionally darkened this image, and increased contrast, in Lightroom to make it a more dramatic photo.

Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Common Raven backlit breath, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note nictating membrane over eye (in middle of “blinking”)
[Panasonic GH5 with Sigma 50-500mm lens and Metabones adapter to Canon mount; 1/400 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 200; hand-held]
Can you find the Grizzly?

We were photographing the Coyote below when Ryan spotted this distant Grizzly. We knew we were somewhere near a carcass by the small Raven congregation and 3 Coyotes milling around. We had walked out into this meadow near Canyon to check it out. We later learned that it was a carcass that had been picked over, and this Grizz was probably checking on it…Just in case.

Grizzly in morning light near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Note the distinctive shoulder hump of the Grizzly (Black Bears lack this). Its shape is highlighted by rim light of the rising sun.
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/640 second at f6.3; ISO 500; tripod]
Coyote licking his chops near old carcass; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm; 1/800 second at f6.3; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Coyote leaping for voles in frosty meadow near Canyon; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/1000 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.66ev; tripod]
Ryan shooting our Raven friend in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Lunch on Yellowstone Lake (colder than it looks!), Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Sparky on Mount Washburn pass, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Evening stars at our campsite in Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
[Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm lens; 20 seconds at f18; ISO 320; tripod (and flashlight to illuminate my face)

Day 2-3 in Yellowstone coming soon

Prairie Dog Group Back Rub and Peek-a-Boo Burrowing Owls in the South Dakota Badlands: October 5-6

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

Ryan Marshik and I moved our annual Yellowstone trip to fall this year. We hadn’t “done fall” since 2012. Only late April-early May spring trips from 2013-18. And this time we were NOT going to go through the relative torture of driving 17 hours straight to Yellowstone. No siree. This time we decided to make our first stop South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.

We had high expectations for beautiful landscapes and Bighorn rams, and a slight hope for a Burrowing Owl. Ryan had a report from a friend of a location from this summer where a Burrowing Owl had set up camp in a Prairie Dog town.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)

Well, we found the Prairie Dogs! Ryan doesn’t care for these rodents at all. But this is where the Burrowing Owl had been reported, so he tolerated them.

I love these “Group Backrub” photos. This is a family group of young ones and an adult.

GROUP BACK RUB! Black-tailed Prairie Dogs
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f5.6 at 1/640 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Bighorn ewe
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 70mm; 1/200 second at f10; ISO 3200; -hand-held)
Bison and Badlands
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 135mm; 1/100 second at f8; ISO 3200; hand-held)
Bison scratching his belly on wood post (processed as black and white in Lightroom)
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 800; hand-held)
Bison sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Badlands sunset
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Sony A6500 with Rokinon 12mm f2 lens; 1/60 second at unknown f-stop; ISO 640; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)

Ryan’s “owl intel” paid off! The next morning we drove by the spot where his friend Sandra had seen one in the summer. I saw a very round blob and yelled, “Stop!” Sure enough, a Burrowing Owl was soaking up the first rays of sun on a cool morning. But as we stopped the car and fired off a few shots, it retreated to the safety of its abandoned Prairie Dog hole.

A few minutes later, we found a second Burrowing Owl about 100 yards away. This one was in perfect light, but crouched down when we stopped the car, and hid in the burrow when we got out.

We set up our tripods across the road from the owl and laid down to shoot at eye level. But this guy wasn’t having it. He’d only peek above the rim of his safe hidey-hole, and even after an hour and a half didn’t show any more of himself than the top of his head and two eyes. But a very neat experience none the less.

Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/800 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; f11 at 1/1250 second; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/500 second at f5.6; ISO 200; -0.33 ev; hand-held)
Burrowing Owl at sunrise
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f5.6; ISO 100; -0.33 ev; tripod)
Black-tailed Prairie Dog family
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
Horned Lark
[Badlands National Park, South Dakota]
(Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens with Canon 2x-extender; 1/640 second at f11; ISO 400; -0.33 ev; tripod)

The 3 photos above are results of me playing around with Lightroom controls and experiencing a “haccident”… a happy accident. By sliding the Luminance slider to 100 and the Detail slider to 0 under the Noise Reduction panel, you reduce the detail in the image and it creates a painterly quality to the photo. No Photoshop filters here!

Lizards, Tortoises & Snakes—Southeast Arizona June 2019 Part 7

Here are the seven species of herps I saw in southeast Arizona. Most were lifers for me. I get about as excited about new species of reptiles and amphibians as I do about new birds!

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Note the blue-tinted body and black bars on forelegs that help identify this Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) and separate it from the Desert Spiny Lizard below.
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

This male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) was very cooperative. He was displaying (and even doing a little “dance”). Maybe it was all for the benefit of the less-colorful female (pictured below).
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female (?) Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Female Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Clark’s Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii) female or juvenile?
[Sonoran Desert Museum near Tucson, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Sonoran Spotted Whiptail (Aspidoscelis sonorae)
[Beatty’s Miller Canyon Apiary and Orchard near Sierra Vista, Arizona]
Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

I was thrilled to find this Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum) on Foothills Road after dark near Portal, Arizona. I joined him on the road and got some decent photos considering it was quite dark out. I had to move slow or he would bolt. This was my third species of horned lizard for my life list.
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

What great camouflage!

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Round-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum)
[Foothills Road Chihuahuan Desert Chiricahua Mountains near Portal, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

This old guy was sauntering along a dirt road near Patagonia, Arizona…and I couldn’t resist making friends with him. What a magnificent creature!

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Selfie with Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Eye-level view of Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai). Sometimes you just have to lay in the dirt to get the shot!
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]
Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

See ya buddy! Live long and prosper.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai)
[Along road west of Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve near Patagonia, Arizona]

Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

I saw this very long and thin snake curled up on a dirt road in the mountains near Sierra Vista, Arizona on my way to Hunter Canyon. But by the time I got the car stopped, it was already up a nearby tree. I was really hoping to get a very up close look at this guy, especially since it was a lifer.

I determined that it is a Sonoran Whipsnake (Masticophis bilineatus)
[Hunter Canyon near Sierra Vista, Arizona]

Swedes Forest: Lizards & Cactus—Minnesota River Valley July 2019

July 23, 2019

Did you know that within the border of Minnesota lives 3 lizard species and 4 species of cactus? On this quick trip down to the western portion of the Minnesota River valley I hoped to see several of these rare species.

Panorama of Swedes Forest in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota

My first stop was Swedes Forest Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). This site was protected because of its unique rock outcrops, which were historically in a prairie setting. But over the years, Bur Oaks and other trees have grown up and shaded the rocks. The periodic fires of pre-White-Settlement times kept the landscape as mainly prairie, but with the fire suppression of the last 100 years, the forest has encroached. It is time to try and bring back the open grasslands here. On the day I arrived there was a crew cutting down these trees in order to restore the ecosystem.

A view from the exposed bedrock of Swedes Forest SNA.

I headed right to the most obvious rock outcrop south of the parking area. My main goal was to see the very rare Five-lined Skink, but I also knew there were Prairie Skinks here as well. After about 15 minutes I saw a couple-inch long skink start scurrying across the reddish rock. It stopped barely long enough for me to get a few shots. The first thing I noticed was its blue tail…but that doesn’t help identifying the critter since both the Prairie Skink and Five-lined Skink juveniles show this tail color. But by the head and back stripes and markings I could tell it was a young Prairie Skink. Still very exciting because I have never seen one before.

Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)
Juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis)

My only skink for the day (despite looking under many rocks) was this juvenile Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis). It’s blue tail is one clue but you really have to check out its back and head stripes to separate it from the similar, but much rarer, Five-lined Skink. This youngster was only a few inches long.

I nicknamed this jumping spider the “scary Halloween mask spider” for its unique abdomen pattern, and texted a photo to my kids. I thought I had a rare species at first, but later learned from Minnesota spider expert Chad Heins, that this was simply a young female Habronattus decorus, a jumping spider which I have photographed the very different looking male several times.

Have you ever seen a shiny green, red and blue beetle before? I hadn’t either…until I found this one foraging on a shrub. This is Calleida punctata, a species of ground beetle.

The Coral Hairstreak is a beautiful butterfly of mid summer. I rarely get to see them as they are never found in large numbers.

Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)
Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink)

Shallow depressions in bedrock outcrops on the prairie create one of Minnesota’s rarest habitats. These low spots catch and hold rainwater since they have no outlet. One specialist in this microhabitat is Talinum parviflorum (Small-flowered Fameflower or Rock Pink) as show in the 2 photos above. I was a bit late to see it in full bloom unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to come back!

Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)
Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia fragilis)

Some may be surprised to learn that cactus grows natively in Minnesota. The above four photos are of one of the smaller species called Brittle Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis). It is fragile as its Latin name implies, but it packs a painful prickly punch if you accidentally touch or kneel on one!

The tiny, but large for its family, Galgupha Ebony Bug is so shiny that you can see my reflection, and that of the sun, clouds and blue sky, on its smooth exoskeleton.

Plains Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus externus)

Dickcissels are only irregular visitors to my home territory of northern Minnesota, making summer irruptions every 4 years or so. But they are abundant breeders in the scrubby grasslands of Southern Minnesota.

**All photos taken with Canon 7D and either Canon 70-200mm f4 lens or Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. Macro photos with Canon 500D attached to Canon 70-200mm lens. Panorama photos taken with iPhone 7+.

Trio of Romping Red Fox Pups—Video & Photos

TRIO of ROMPING RED FOX PUPS. Carlton County, Minnesota. June 23, 2019.

I had a date with a kayak and a family of Common Loons on a lake near my home in northeastern Minnesota…but then I found these siblings out and about in the middle of the afternoon. The Loons would have to wait!

I pulled over and enjoyed their antics for about an hour. I shot video and photos out of the van window and they only occasionally looked over at me. In the entire hour I was there, only one other car came by, and even then, the pups came right back out onto the gravel road to continue their wrestling.

There is an old gravel pit that is now overgrown. Their den was probably in that area.
Play fighting pups