May 16, 2018 Interior, South Dakota

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

A Couple Days Exploring Badlands National Park

Badlands Morning Color
Badlands Morning Color

I continue to rack up the miles in the poor old Prius driving the roads through the park.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The sun rises very early here on the eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone, so I am out the door by 6AM and head west through the park with the sun at my back.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The colors are constantly changing depending on time of day and weather.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Sam Exploring the Badlands
Sam Exploring the Badlands

Sam is still active enough to want to accompany me out to spots to take photos, but is left in the dust by her new companion Pearl.

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

Stormy skies to the west change the feel of the landscape. Daytime temperatures have been in the high 80’s but the evenings cool down fast for comfortable sleeping.

Clouds Over the Badlands
Clouds Over the Badlands

Gorgeous cumulus clouds cast shadows on the landscape

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

I encounter a small group of Bighorn Rams each morning …

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

… and again as I return back to camp in the afternoon.

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs

There are numerous Prairie Dog communities throughout the park and the surrounding  cattle grazing land.

Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout

Some of these communities must contain hundreds if not thousands of individuals.

Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

If you scan these Prairie Dog “Towns” carefully with some binoculars, often you can spot a Burrowing Owl or two.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

Shaky images taken at a very long distance.

Bison
A Formidable Obstacle in the Road

I have encountered a few Bison bulls, but have not seen any cows and calves.

Scratching Post
Scratching Post
Bison Portrait
Bison Portrait

I had hoped to do some boon docking at the site just south of the town of Wall when I leave here Friday, but the weather is calling for some nasty weather ( possibility of large hail with violent thunderstorms ) and the road accessing those sites can get too sloppy for my rig after heavy rains, so I will continue to head west to Yellowstone and hope I can find a place to stay.

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May 14, 2018 Interior, South Dakota

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Probably not necessary to put a name to this location as most people are likely to know where these shots were taken. I arrived here last night and settled in at the Badlands Interior Motel and Campground. I hated to stay in a commercial campground when the Badlands has one of the best boon docking areas that exist, but I had to order new Tow Dolly Basket Straps  ( used to tie down the Prius’ front tires to the tow dolly ) or risk dropping the car somewhere along the highway. And I had to have an address to have them shipped to and this was what I came up with.  They should be here Thursday and then perhaps I will move on to the boon docking area.

( Right clicking on any image will open a larger, sharper version of the photo in a new tab or window )

Badlands Peaks
Badlands Peaks
Badlands Peaks
Badlands Peaks

I was here many years ago and really don’t remember much about the park, so this is sort of a new experience for me.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

First thing this morning I drove west on the park loop road and was blessed with some sun and blue skies to the west after two days of rain.

Yellow Hills
Yellow Hills

Pretty spectacular colors along the drive, made more so by the presence of green, lush grass, thanks to the unusual amount of rain this area has gotten this spring.

Yellow Hills
Yellow Hills
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Yellow Hills
Yellow Hills
Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns

I found some Bighorn Sheep not far from the road, some of then kind enough to settle in amongst some flowers.

Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns
Badlands Bighorns

At the end of the loop road, I drove the nine miles in to check out the changes at Wall Drug. What I remembered as an all but stand alone tourist trap years ago, is now surrounded by commercial development.

Because of the recent rains, some of the drives in the park are gated closed, most likely impassably muddy. Hope they dry out quick! More on the Badlands coming … I hope.

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May 10, 2018 North Platte, Nebraska

Abandoned Kansas Farm
Abandoned Kansas Farm

Poking Around Kansas and Nebraska

Old Kansas Barns

Over the past few weeks I have racked up a lot of miles in the Prius traveling the dusty back roads of Kansas and Nebraska searching for picturesque old barns and farmsteads.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Unfortunately, what I have discovered is that most of the old wooden barns have long since gone the way of the dodo bird. Most are just piles of rubble and all of them have been replaced with modern metal buildings, very functional, but surely lacking the aesthetics of the old wooden structures.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Abandoned farmhouses dot the landscape out here and I always wonder exactly what caused the owners to leave these these buildings to the elements.

Nebraska Barn
Nebraska Barn
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

I have not taken any images of the main streets of the many tiny towns you encounter along the back roads here for it is indeed a sad sight to see. The old brick or stone buildings are all vacant and most are crumbling, but the small towns probably lack the resources to demolish them. Needless to say, the general stores and small restaurants and hotels that supported these farming communities have all fallen victim to “progress”.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Wildlife Along the Backroads

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Unfortunately, I have encountered very little in the way of wildlife in my recent travels …

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

… a Red-tailed Hawk or two, a few wild Turkeys and Ring-necked Pheasants strolling the remains of the harvested cornfields ( of which there are  a few acres devoted to that crop in Nebraska ) …

Nebraska Does
Nebraska Does

… and here and there I have encountered a few White-tailed deer, does only, no fawns seen yet.

Nebraska Sandhills
Nebraska Sandhills

I have driven to check out the Nebraska Sandhills, a vast expanse of sand dunes, disguised with a thin covering of grasses.

Endless Nebraska Sandhills
Endless Nebraska Sandhills

These dunes seem to go on forever and must have been something for the early westbound settlers to traverse in their wagons. You can right click on this image to get a larger version to get a better sense of the vast expanse  of the these sandhills.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

One day, while traveling between North Platte and McCook, Nebraska, I saw a beautiful herd of horses grazing in a pasture along the highway. When I noticed a large number of mares with fairly new foals amongst them, I had to stop for shots.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

A youngster enjoying a roll around on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

The differences in coloring of the moms and the colts was kind of interesting.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

Unfortunately, the majority of the mares with young walked away when I approached the fence to take my pictures, probably to protect the youngsters from any possible threat an unknown presence such as myself might cause. Or it could have been Pearl’s few barks of alarm from the Prius when she noticed these huge beasts just outside the windows of the car.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

This were absolutely gorgeous animals, as if they were brushed and carefully groomed just for these photos. If you right click on the image above ( or any image in these blog posts for that matter ), it will open a larger image in a new window, and you will see what I mean.

Nebraska Horses
Nebraska Horses

I wish I could have gotten this lone white horse to position itself right next to one of the black ones, would have been a neat shot, but I waited and waited and this was the best I could get.

I am probably headed to the badlands of southwest South Dakota next, while I await the release of winter’s grip on Yellowstone NP. Snow is still falling there as of this post and some of the roads are still closed by snow. Hoping I can get there to see some early season bear activity, assuming I can get a spot in the campground at Mammoth Hot Springs, something I have not had any luck doing the last two times I have attempted to visit Yellowstone.

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January 16, 2018 Falcon Lake State Park, Texas

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Same Birds From a Different Perspective

Warning: A long post today, and it is birds again, for those that do not share my interest in the subject.

The Setup
The Setup

With a limited variety of avian subjects available at my site, I thought I might try something new and go for a new perspective to add a little something different to my images. So I borrowed Sam’s quilt and pillow from the back of the Prius, pulled a dinette cushion from the motorhome, and tried to make as comfortable a setup as possible for myself on the concrete pad at my campsite. This to give me a new, lower, and hopefully more interesting perspective on my feathered friends. Note my trusty slingshot on the picnic table bench, more on that later.

The Cleanup Crew ( Javelinas )
The Cleanup Crew ( Javelinas )

What I had failed to consider when I decided to go this route were my neighbors, the parks’ resident javelina population. These guys have been coming in to clean up all the leftover seed on the ground since the first day I set up my feeding station. As soon as I stop shooting for the day, I take in all the feeders, since the javelinas have no problem knocking over the posts that may hold feeders or standing on their hind legs to get at feeders in the bushes or the lower branches of the short trees around the perimeter of the feeding area.

Javelina Mom and Young
Javelina Mom and Young

For the most part, the females and their young have been no real threat and after a few warning shots of pebbles from the slingshot, they have been easily discouraged  from entering the yard while I am photographing.

Javelina
Javelina

However, there are a couple large boars who are a bit more aggressive and tend to take objection to my training methods ( slingshot ). On a couple of occasions , these fellows have not only stood their ground, but have aggressively challenged me after I had attempted to dissuade them from feeding while I was photographing the birds. They have bluff charged me, snapping and popping their gums, only stopping about fifteen feet away from where I was standing ( which, by the way, was with the picnic table between us and I within arms length of my open motorhome door, after all I may not be wise, but I’m not stupid ), so these guys have gotten my heart pumping on a couple of occasions.

Well, one afternoon while laying out prone on my concrete pad, a movement to my immediate right caught my eye and I turned to find a female and her young silently walking past me to check out the opportunity to feed. I could have reached out and touched her … she was that close! When I moved, she was probably as scared as I was, and she bolted out of the yard into the surrounding bush, with her young one right on her tail. At that point it occurred to me that had it been one of the aggressive males rather than this more docile female, the outcome may have been quite different. The encounter made me think it prudent to not put myself in this potentially hazardous position again, so these are most likely the only ground level bird shots I will get here.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow

The Olive Sparrow is a creature of the edge, almost always staying in the shadows of the underbrush, just every now and then darting out a bit to grab a morsel, then quickly retreating to the safety of cover. Initially, I thought this staying in the shadows would make for some tough shots, but the more I looked for moments where there were some highlights on the shadowed bird, the more I  grew to attempt more of these shots, and ended up quite pleased with the results.

Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Olive Sparrow
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

As with the Olive Sparrow, the two Thrashers here, the Curve-billed and the Long-billed, also tend to seek the protective cover of the edges of the yard.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

However, unlike the sparrow, these guys do, on occassion, hop up on the surrounding bushes and even venture up on the tray feeders.

Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher

They are pretty much constantly in motion though, not staying out in vulnerable areas long, before retreating to cover.

Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher

Got a kick out of the timing of this shot … sometimes you never know what you got until you view it on the computer screen.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

These guys are a true nuisance here as they were in the nearby Salineno birding area where I volunteered two winters ago. Unless deterred ( slingshot ), they descend on the feeding are in droves, their numbers driving out the birds I want to photograph and cleaning out all the food I put out.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Another nice shadow area shot, although the cardinals are not all that shy about venturing out into the light.

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal
Green Jay
Green Jay

Still one of my favorite birds to watch, these jays pretty much rule the roost in the feeding area. If other birds are on a particular feeder, they have no problem crowding them off. They do not feel a need to wait their turn.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay
Green Jay

I really do like this lower perspective angle on these small birds.

Green Jay
Green Jay
Inca Dove
Inca Dove
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbird

I have no idea how this Mockingbird sustained the damage to his upper bill, but he seems to be doing just fine, though his looks have suffered.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren

Though certainly not easy to do, getting down to a Wren’s eye level gives a new and interesting perspective on this tiny energetic bird.

Bewick's Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Each day I look forward to the arrival of the Northern Bobwhites, now venturing in to feed at least two or three times a day.

Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

You can right click on these images to get a much larger version of the photograph, showing some of the fine detail in the feathers of these birds.

Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Once again, the ground level perspective seems, at least to me, to really add a little something to these shots.

Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite

As long as I am lying relatively still, these guys will walk as close as ten feet from me, making for some nice intimate shots. In fact, quite often they come too close for me to be able to focus on them with the long lens I am using.

Male Northern Bobwhite
Male Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Female Northern Bobwhite
Northern Bobwhites
Northern Bobwhites

Well, that about wraps up my attempts here at ground level bird photography. Really hope I get to try this again at a javelina free location.

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