I’d say it was a couple of bucks but it’s actually a load of bull

elk_41665I’m no hunter, so I had to use Google to verify that a male elk is a bull and not a buck.  Don’t ask me why.  All I know is that these guys and a few of their friends hung out near me for a little while after I arrived at the part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park where they were grazing at sunrise.

badlands_sunrise_41752-7_hdrI’m glad they sauntered off when they did, because if they hadn’t I’d have missed this shot…my favorite of the summer!

I got a few Northern Lights photos last night, and – SQUIRREL

baby_squirrel_37557Before I process and share the photos of Saturday night’s blazing auroras, I have to share this little guy.  We had the kids at a park in Mandan for an afternoon with their cousins, and my youngest came up to tell me he was able to pet a little squirrel. He wanted my help to climb the tree where the little buggers were (apparently there were two) so he could get another look at them.  Well, I found the tree and one of the squirrels.  I was astonished to find a hole in the tree and a tiny little baby squirrel daring into it.

 

squirrel_setup_ip_8341Well, that’s all it took.  I got my camera gear out of the truck and set out to capture the little guy.  The family day was wrapping up anyway, so I set up shop under the tree and decided to wait until the baby squirrel(s) decided to make an appearance.  All the din of the boys and girls had settled, and after a while one of the babies popped up for a visit.

 

baby_squirrel_37570Isn’t this cuuuuuuuuuute?  Peek-a-boo!  Thankfully I didn’t appear to be too big a threat, as I actually had a much longer time with my subject than I anticipated.  I had the tripod all set up in position so I wouldn’t have to waste time framing, I had my focus point set, I had weighted down the tripod with my bag to avoid wind issues, and I had the remote handy so I wouldn’t have to get any closer to take my shots.  Preparation paid off.

 

baby_squirrel_37563I didn’t see any evidence of my own to corroborate the existence of two baby squirrels here, but rather than wait around to find out I chose to pack up and work my way home…after checking out a place for a sunset shot.  That shot didn’t happen, as my fuel pump in my truck decided to flake out on me…but from a photographic standpoint I was satisfied with my day.  Just not from an automotive point of view.

Uh oh … we could have a LOT more mouths to feed

mantie_7407My youngest boy catches the strangest things as if it’s second nature.  That’s why I was elated but not altogether surprised when he brought home Mantie the praying mantis.  She’s huge, ferocious, and entertaining.  We even let her spend a few days at the boys’ dentist’s office, where I’m told she was a big hit.  And now she’s about to have company.

As you can see in the photo above, she’s just laid an enormous egg sac.  We suspected this was coming; she’d been blimping out like crazy since we got her.  Male mantises are much smaller than Mantie, and often don’t survive the mating process, so I had no doubt that Mantie was a girl.  Whether or not she was going to lay eggs was another matter.  Finding a praying mantis in North Dakota is rare enough; what are the odds of that mantis getting a date?

I’m told that there could be upwards of 200 little Manties in there.  While I’m okay with keeping a cricket farm for Mantie’s nutritional needs, I have no idea where I can get aphids – especially enough to feed a dinner part of 200 – so I’m planning on stashing the egg sac out by the water behind our house.  It should ride out just fine until Spring, and then maybe I’ll have an army of mantises to take care of mosquitoes.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

The trick now is to get the egg sac outside in the cold so it doesn’t hatch.  Otherwise the warm indoor air will trigger something for which we’re entirely unprepared.  Yikes!

Ruthless killer apprehended in northwest Bismarck

mantis_35617I have never seen one of these in the wild before, and certainly not in North Dakota, yet my littlest boy brought one home from a nature walk today!  I shouldn’t be surprised, since he caught a four-inch “walking stick” bug at the sandbar a couple of weekends ago.  He catches toads and frogs, flies, and any manner of bug.  I don’t think he got that talent from me, although I did “catch” him a fuzzy caterpillar on the way home from work today.  This mantis is one majestic insect, let me tell you.  But it’s got a mean streak.

 

mantis_35622“If I could do this, I’d never leave the house…” 

In addition to being a talented climber, this bug is a diligent preener as well.  It spent plenty of time tending to its legs and feet while I snapped away in an impromptu dining room photo shoot.

 

mantis_35599“Say it isn’t so!”

I don’t have any photos to post, but once we put this critter back into its habitat with a grasshopper from the yard it showed its true colors.  I looked over to see how it was doing, and it had gnawed the head off the grasshopper and going to town on its body like it was an ice cream cone.  Before long, nothing was left except a few bits of wing and forelegs.  Yikes.

After I’d tucked the little ones to bed and was sitting in my recliner, I heard a spooky scratching.  The mantis was trying to escape its bug hut (good luck, pal).  I went to the next room and peered at it through the plastic wall.  Its antennae constantly swayed back and forth in a nearly hypnotic motion, and it stared at me with an unwavering “I’ll chew your face off, wise guy” glare.

We’re going to go the extra mile to prepare a happy habitat for this predator.  Grasshoppers and crickets abound right now, and are available year round.  I think I may lock my bedroom door at night, though…

 

 

Here’s a little color

butterfly_4423As autumn progresses in North Dakota brings a lack of color to the landscape as everything turns a shade of brown or gray until the following spring.  I was craving a little bit of color and searching my photos for something else when I came upon this shot, one I’d forgotten to share.

I forgot to mention the sideshow

riverboat_crane_29063A while back I posted about the riverboat being hoisted into the Missouri River to begin its season, but I didn’t tell the whole story.  You see, while all this coordinated action was meticulously taking place, there was another show going on in the river behind us.  Here’s the video…the noise you hear is the crane crew and the image stabilizer on my telephoto lens.

 

I don’t know what species of bird these are, but they’re hilarious to watch.  It was cute to see them dart underwater in large groups.  They’d all go under for a little while, then gradually resurface a few at a time about ten meters or so from where they disappeared. There were at least two enormous clusters of them slowly making their way upstream, undeterred by all that was going on around them.

If you know what kind of bird, please leave a comment.  Enjoy!

Mynd you, møøse bites Kan be pretti nasti

moose_28134A friend of mine who works nearby called me this morning to tell me that a moose had decided to visit.  It later walked across Century Avenue, deciding to hang out and enjoy the nice wetland area on the corner of 19th Street.  After a taco lunch with some new friends I decided to stop by.

 

moose_28149While making some small talk with a patrol officer, animal control officer, and game & fish officer I was able to grab a couple of shots while keeping my distance.  The beast was having a nice lunch and didn’t seem to care that he was about to become a spectacle.

 

moose_28196About the time that someone remarked that they figured he was about to move on, the moose showed us how much we know about moose…mooses…meese…whatever.  He dropped to his knees and eventually settled down to chill and digest his lunch.

That’s when the circus came to town.  Soon there were gapers everywhere.  I even saw some absolute idiot dash across 19th street, tugging along two little girls who couldn’t be older than 5, through 35mph traffic while all the drivers were paying attention to the moose and not potential jaywalkers.  While the moose couldn’t have cared less, the police were notably agitated…and rightly so.

Not wanting to be lumped in with the developing crowd, I left.  I’d already gotten some satisfying shots, managed to stay out of everyone’s way, and didn’t want to be part of the officers’ consternation.

 

moose_28233On my way home from work I decided to swing by the area and see if they’d managed to bring their plan of walking the moose southward to the Hay Creek area to fruition.  They’d just begun.  I kept ample distance due to the wonder of telephoto lenses, snapped one shot, and again left as quickly as I’d come.

I presume that by this time the moose has meandered southward.  In the mean time, we North Dakotans will wait for the next spectacle at which to gawk en masse.  It’s something we’re really good at, even if we feel somewhat silly afterwards.  Maybe next someone will spot a flying squirrel!

Bird whisperer?

wings_13929Those who know me well know that I’m very fond of birds.  Above is my little lovebird, Scooter, who sadly is no longer with us.  Over the years of being his best friend, I was able to develop quite a rapport with the little guy.  One example of that was being able to coax him into showing off his feathers.  One way was by asking him to “get fluffy”, at which point he would fluff up his feathers and stick his breast out proudly.  The other was by showing me his wings as he’s doing in the photo above.

wings_4307I came across this photo from a Dakota Zoo photo contest a while back, and it brought to mind the “conversation” I had with this sandhill crane.  My boys know this as the “pecking” bird for reasons that should be self-evident from the nom de guerre which they assigned to him, and I’ve always known this to be a particularly cranky bird.   Well, one day I visited the zoo on my lunch break in an effort to photograph this challenging subject.  After what seemed like twenty minutes of talking to him, he suddenly began to show off his wings.  As I encouraged him, he finally struck a pose that was a shoo-in for the photo contest.

wings_20DThen I spotted this photo, from the very first year I got my first digital SLR camera.  I was poking around on the sandbar beneath the old Liberty Memorial Bridge when I spotted a sandpiper wandering around nearby, keeping his distance and eyeballing me.  I began to talk to him since there was no one else around and I didn’t see anything else worth photographing.  I stayed in one spot for a while, looking around and talking to the bird, when suddenly he began to stretch out a wing.  He didn’t take his eye off me, of course, but he spent the next several minutes stretching out those feathers.

wings_46845Finally, we have the trifecta.  I took another lunch break to head to the lake at the Game & Fish office east of town, the large OWLS area which is always promising as a photo spot.  This time around I spotted three geese who were apparently happy to see me.  Not only did they let me walk right up to them, but they all began to vogue in front of me for the next several minutes.  I started chatting ’em up for a while in the hopes of keeping the mood light, and they kept up the act for a while until apparently we all thought it was played out and we parted ways.

I’m not claiming any sort of supernatural gift or anything, but when I consider all these instances it looks like I have a knack with winged creatures.  Even more likely is dumb luck, but I’ll take it.  I love birds, and when I can get them to relax around me and even show off a little I’m absolutely thrilled.  I’m sure the fact that I egg ’em on so much (see what I did there?) once they start to show their feathers helps get them into the act, and I’m glad I have a camera to catch them hamming it up.