Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It was late and the bugs were bad, but I'm glad I stopped...

Well after sunset on Fish Creek and Lake Superior.

I've been trying to figure out how best to photograph a certain area of Lake Superior for a few days now. With mixed results.

Tonight's plan was to wear my swim trunks, take my camera and tripod and stay in the lake.

After just a few minutes I found this painted turtle. I tried to get some photos, but it was tough going. There was no dry land or shoreline to speak of. There was no good place to put the turtle down and get to work.

It took some effort, but eventually I found a log out in the water and made a few images.

Things didn't start out smoothly. Or end smoothly, for that matter. I was kneeling in water about 2 feet deep and working with my camera on a tripod just above the water.

I used to be a lot more cautious with my cameras and water. At some point I realized that the cameras were only tools and of little value if I couldn't take them where the best photos were possible. 

So I'd set the turtle on the log, capture a couple of images and it would slide off and swim away. I'd catch the turtle and do it again. After only a couple of times I realized it wasn't the answer, but as I stood up to catch the turtle the sand under the tripod shifted and the camera was heading towards the drink. I grabbed it quickly.

The lens and body were a little wet, but I caught it before the entire thing was submerged. I used my cotton t shirt to dry it and blew the water off of and out of any places I could. After the camera was about as dry as I could get it I took a photo to see if it was still working. Jackpot! It seemed no worse for wear.

So I set the turtle free and made a few images of it in the shallow water as it left.

The timing was pretty good and when I looked up I saw this cloud to the east. 

To the west the sun was almost at the horizon.

I kept scanning the sky for good looking clouds, color, and compositions as the light quickly changed.

These clouds presented a more subtle view to the east.

And red, blue, and black to the west.

When I got done I was standing knee deep in the lake a couple of hundred yards from the nearest land. It was well after dark when I carefully put my camera into its mostly dry case and picked up my tripod to walk back to the car. I had at least a half a mile to walk through the lake and I couldn't see the bottom now that the sun was gone. I was leaving a different way than I had come in and didn't know how deep it was. The water was warm and it had been a hot day, so it was still a pretty good place to be.

I walked through the water back to the nearest shoreline. There were reeds and plants all the way into the water, no beaches to walk on. So I walked next to the land in the lake until I got to a point where the bottom dropped out. It went from knee deep to waist deep in one step and it was only getting deeper. So I chose to backtrack.

Plan B was to cut across a fairly wide river channel at its mouth where it met the lake. If I got across I could walk along that shore up to a road that would take me back to the car. I didn't know how deep it would be and any concern I had was for my camera. So I held the camera bag on my shoulder with my left hand and put the tripod over my right shoulder. If it got too deep I'd drop the tripod and do whatever it took to keep the camera dry.

With that I headed across. It never got deeper than my chest and I made it to the other side with my camera and tripod still dry. As I walked in the water along that shore I noticed the sky to the west and stopped to get the camera out again.
It was late and the bugs were bad, but I'm glad I stopped.

This is what I saw. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Nick of Time

It had been overcast for hours when I saw some light in the sky. I grabbed a camera and tripod and made for Lake Superior.

I got there just in time to catch this cloud above Fish Creek where it meets the Great Lake. The light only lasted a minute.

Lucky for me there was still light over the lake.

So I made several images in the little time I had.

Like this.

And this.

And this.

And then it was gone.

Just getting wet

It was still 90 degrees just before sunset when I got to Lake Superior. I kicked off my shoes and got in the water. I had only a few minutes before I lost the daylight as the sun went down.

There were almost no clouds in the sky and the day just sort of slipped away. 

This is what it looked like just after sunset.

Since I had no subject and wasn't in a hurry to leave the water, I screwed around and made a few self portraits. I'm glad I did, because about ten minutes after sunset the sky to the west got a little color.

I was pleasantly surprised to see this.

It surely wasn't a spectacular sunset, but I was glad to be standing knee deep in the lake on a such a warm night.

Another self portrait with the western sky behind me.

I made the mistake of setting my camera bag down on an exposed sandbar in the lake as I took my camera and tripod and went further out to get photos. About twenty minutes later I looked back to what had been the sandbar and saw only my camera case on the water.

It was already pretty dark as I made my way back to see if anything important had gotten wet. My extra memory card was sealed in a Ziploc bag and seemed no worse for wear. A couple of filters and an owners manual got soaked, no big deal.

I'm gonna have to google it, but I'm pretty sure that Lake Superior has tides similar to an ocean's. The water had risen a few inches in just half an hour.

All in all it was a good night. I didn't get the photos I was hoping for, but I had fun trying.

Update- I did google it, and found the water fluctuations in Lake Superior aren't actually tides, they are called seiches(pronounced saysh).

You can click here to learn more 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another day, another tree frog

When it rains, it pours.

After several years of seeing no eastern gray tree frogs and one unsuccessful attempt at photographing said frog, I finally found and got photos of a tree frog about a week ago. Then without even trying I found another gray tree frog last weekend.

It took a couple of hours for the sun, wind, and frog to all cooperate, but eventually I was able to make some pictures of this frog as well.

So I've gone from no good tree frog images to a plethora of them.

Lucky me.

I really like the dexterity, balance, and overall stickiness these frogs exhibit. They are some of the coolest critters out there.

I hope my luck holds up and I keep getting more cool things falling in my lap.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

At least this one made it

My dad had bluebirds nesting in a house on his land. The birds had successfully hatched their chicks and had been feeding them regularly.

One day when I was with him my dad asked me to check the nest. So I walked over and opened the bird house door to look inside.

The good news was that this fledgling eastern bluebird was inside the house.

The bad news was that its four nest mates were dead and the nest was soaking wet.

It had stormed and rained heavily a day or two earlier and apparently the water got blown into the house and onto the young bluebirds.

I carefully took the live fledgling from the house and then cleaned out the wet nest and dead birds. The little bluebird looked pretty rough and there were no adults around so I couldn't tell if it had been abandoned or not.

I decided to take the baby bird and get some meal worms and see if it would eat.

I googled bluebirds and learned what I should try to do. Once I got the worms from a local bait shop I offered one to the baby bird. It wouldn't eat, but it did poop.

I took that poop to mean that it had been fed by its parents fairly recently. I got some tissues to use as bedding in the now empty birdhouse and took the bluebird back home.

I put the tissues and baby bird back in the house and closed the door. Then my dad and I waited to see if the adult birds would come to the nest.

It was less than a minute before an adult male bluebird landed on the birdhouse and then went inside. When he came out he went to the ground, caught an insect and went right back inside the house to feed the baby bird.  We watched for about ten more minutes as the male bluebird continued to catch and deliver food for its baby in the house.

It didn't feel so great to have four bluebirds dead in the house but I was glad one made it. We checked on the little bird the next day and it looked and acted much healthier. A few days later when we checked the bird had already fledged and was no longer in the house.

My kingdom for a tree frog

Several years ago I found a gray tree frog at my parents house in northern Wisconsin. I tried but wasn't able to make any decent images of that frog.

Since then I kept hoping to get another chance. Last week I finally got my chance. I found another gray tree frog and photographed the heck out of it.

I really love the color and expressiveness of this little frog.


Though it's called a gray tree frog this one was a beautiful shade of green.

One of the greatest features about tree frogs are their feet. They seem to stick to almost anything with their specialized toes and feet.


After I made these images I took the frog back to the spot where I had found him.

Here the frog seems to effortlessly cling to the side of a maple tree.  

Far away

Several years ago my life went to hell. Important things weren't working, people lied and cheated and I wasn't doing well. On an August afternoon I got in my car with no luggage, no plan, and started driving west.

I drove for about an hour before I had a choice to make. The interstate highway split; to the left was I90 which headed through southern Minnesota to South Dakota and Montana. Going straight I94 went through central Minnesota and North Dakota before it rejoined and became I90 near Billings  Montana.

I didn't know where to go, I just wanted to get away. I pulled to the shoulder of the expressway and sat there for a couple of minutes.

I chose left.

It had been awhile since I had spent any time in South Dakota.

The sun was already getting low as I crossed the Mississippi River and the road climbed the bluffs above LaCrosse Wisconsin.

As I came to the top of the hill and started driving west  across Minnesota and into the sunset, I didn't know where I was going, but it felt good to be there.

Just a few hours later I had passed through the farmlands of southern Minnesota into South Dakota.

The skies were clear and the night uneventful as I continued west. Nothing but a little truck traffic and lots of time to think.

I started to get tired so I stopped to sleep for awhile at a rest area somewhere in South Dakota. I fell asleep lying on a picnic table watching shooting stars cross the night sky.

The sun rose in my rear view mirror. It was a good start to another warm and sunny day.

I decided to stop in Wall South Dakota just because I could. 
There had been signs advertising Wall since Minnesota. Wall is a made up destination for tourists heading west. I had been there before, but that was a long time ago.

So I pulled off the interstate and pulled into a parking space in front of an old west (in a movie sort of way) looking building advertising free ice water. I walked in, got some water, and stretched my legs. It was a spacious building with lots of souvenirs and mementos. Though it was still early, quite a few tourists were milling around and living their dream in Wall South Dakota.

I was glad I had stopped, but I didn't stay long.

There were signs for Badlands National Park but I decided not to visit. I had spent a little time there in August years before and could still remember the 100 degree plus heat.

It wasn't long and I could see the Black Hills in the distance. I could feel the cool breezes and picture the shade from big ponderosa pine trees in my mind. Maybe that's where I would go.

An hour later and I was in Rapid City South Dakota and it was time to make another choice. Go left, and I'd be headed towards Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Black Hills. Go right, and I'd be in Wyoming and eventually Yellowstone National Park.

I'd always loved Yellowstone. For me it was good for the soul.

I turned right.

The road I was on, I90 swung north along the edge of the Black Hills. In the distance on the right side I could see a tall hill standing all alone on the open plains.

I didn't know anything about it, but thought maybe I should go there.

As I got closer to the hill there was an exit for Sturgis South Dakota and I got off of the highway.

Every year Sturgis holds a huge motorcycle rally which draws 100s of thousands of people to a town with a normal population of about 6,000. 

I got into Sturgis just after the rally had ended. There were still vendors taking down their tents and storefronts, but very few bikers around. I stopped at a grocery store and got  something to eat and a local newspaper.

The paper said a mountain lion with a radio collar had been hit and killed on the road that led to Bear Butte. The hill I had seen was called Bear Butte.

Since I was a kid I had wanted to see wild mountain lions, live mountain lions, not dead ones. It was good to know they were around.

I found signs leading to Bear Butte and followed them a few miles out of town until I got to the lone peak. I stopped to pay the daily user fee and drove up to a parking lot at the base of the hill.

Although there was a nice visitor center, I only used the bathroom and water fountain to fill two empty water bottles I had with me. 

It was already evening as I took my water and started up the trail towards the summit of Bear Butte. The weather was beautiful and occasionally a cool breeze blew along the edge of the hill.

I stopped often to soak in the amazing views. The Great Plains stretched into the distance flat and unbroken in three directions and to the south rose the bluish colored Black Hills.

Bear Butte had been called Bear Mountain by some Native Americans and from the right direction it resembles the silhouette of a bear. 

As I walked the trail two prairie falcons cried out and coasted along the side of the mountain. A mule deer doe and fawn stood up and started to eat on the hillside below me. I only saw five other people and they were all heading down as I was going up.

As the trail came around the side of the hill I found some rocks jutting out from a ridge line where I could stand, stretch out my arms, and lean into the wind. The wind was blowing strongly enough that It could actually hold me up. For a few minutes I smiled broadly and laughed out loud as the wind whipped against my face and body holding me upright as I leaned forward trusting it not to drop me. 

What a great day!

A little later as I sat facing northwest on the side of the hill I had a 'different' experience. It'd be hard to explain and maybe unbelievable to some. All I can say, is that I got some much needed help from an unlikely source and my perspective had to shift to accommodate what happened. 

At the top of Bear Butte the trail leads to an observation platform. I had the place to myself and the views were outstanding so I stayed at the top until the sun set and then slowly followed the trail back to my vehicle.

I made some notes about what happened and then headed back through Sturgis towards the interstate and home.

I'm sorry to say that I don't have any pictures left from that trip. A couple of years ago malware got the better of my computer and I lost the few images I had made that day with my point and shoot camera.

I did go back to Bear Butte a year later hoping to have a similar experience. I didn't. But I took a small camera and these two photos are from my second trip.

Ponderosa pine trees at the top of Bear Butte.

I noticed that the shadow from the mountain forms an almost perfect pyramid shape on the ground to the east at sunset. Some of the shadow can be seen on the right side of the above photo.

Beautiful sky at sunset from the summit.