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Happy Herons Pair Diptych

Happy Herons Pair Diptych
Happy Herons Pair Diptych

Happy Herons Pair Diptych

These birds are masters of their domain. This is 50 feet up at the top branches of a Cottonwood Tree. This Pair has set up shop with the left bird returning from a hunting trip. For a shoreline wading bird, these guys handle the high tree life roost without a miss. The nest is just off frame right. I am lucky to have the topography such that I can get to their height across a lake from their nesting site. I am about 150 yards out for this capture.

Blue Herons eat a pile of fish…. but its diet also includes frogs and other amphibians, reptiles, insects, and even small mammals if they are in striking distance. While it’s pointy dagger like beak has developed for catching prey, an unusual tongue also helps. No teeth in that mouth though their avian dinosaurian ancestors certainly had teeth lining that mouth cavity. The hunting behavior was handed down generation after generation though and these guys are exemplar walking metaphors to dinosaurs. Some did survive the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous after all… The avian dinosaurs 🤔

Herons whole anatomy is all about fishing along wetland edges though. They even have specially adapted neck vertebra/muscles that enable them strike like a rattler at prey but they don’t usually catch and release lolol. I note that catch and release is a human invention not seen in nature unless you consider cat’s playing games with their prey……

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Happy Herons Pair Diptych

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Heron High Jinx Landing

Heron High Jinx Landing
Heron High Jinx Landing

Heron High Jinx Landing

The Cotton Wood Trees are freshly leafing. Still some cold days to come and the Cottonwoods flowers were out a week ago. About to test the thinest branches at the crest of this 50 foot tall Cottonwood Tree. These birds are roughly 5 pound, 5 foot tall fully grown Great Blue Herons. That’s a big bird coming in for a landing. You can see the wind due to the flowers all blowing from right to left. A 15 – 20 mph gusty wind was blowing. The branches were moving left to right. Sometimes dramatically from the wind that afternoon.

This female had just returned from it’s feeding mission around the area. They usually hunt within a few miles of their rookery. In this pretty high gusty winds, she had to land on a moving target. She nailed the landing as she was essentially levitating not moving and just dropping inches a second. These Avian Dinosaurian descendants are AMAZING masters of the sky. This a shift change with a neighbor watching..

I’ve spent some time watching Heron’s over the years. Building a nest near the top of 50 foot high cottonwoods one stick at a time is a story of a lot of trips by the male. Identification is usually because the male carries sticks to the nest and I’ve never seen a female do so. The male does the stick supply route over and over again but it’s the gals job to build the house. She will carefully weave and cajole all the loose sticks together.

I’ve seen them land and take off in all wind situations. This shot shows one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever seen a bird make. Floating down as delicately as spider silk in the breeze. It’s amazing to watch a fine motor skill control stall speed in the single mph digits.

Location: The Heron Rookery in the wetlands at the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Heron High Jinx Landing

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Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze
Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

The Great Blue Heron is also know as Ardea herodias by hobbiests and professionals alike. Here it is hanging out 50 feet up above a lake in a big CottonWood Tree. You know, the tiny branches at the tippy top. It was variously gusty / windy that morning at 5 AM.

These are BIG birds weighing in at 4.5 – 5.5 pounds, stand 5 foot tall with a 5 foot wingspan….. They are truly AMAZING circus actors. As far as I can tell they are total masters of their environment!📸 This bird was sitting about 150 yards from my lenses while I was on an adjacent slope I can actually get at nest level on (50 feet above the lake). I gain distance from the birds though by gaining elevation up to them. Leaves will shortly be getting in my way of seeing into their cloistered world.. Soon the curtain will be drawn except for the coming and going of the birds from the rookery here on the ranch.

The rookery/colony is only a 6 nest group along a remote backcountry lake. The only visitors to this place are me and who ever hays the ground around the lake that year. 99 percent of the time no one bothers this area. I have a game trail camera under their nests but I won’t get there for some time as disturbing the nests is not a good plan. I won’t get out of my truck if I’m within 300 yards of these guys.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Heron Balancing in the Breeze

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The Birds on the Border

The Birds on the Border
The Birds on the Border

The Birds on the Border

That’s a LOT of BlackBirds (maybe cowbirds) in one photo. The flock surrounds the camera. This is a well placed game trail camera capture that is located at a water tank. I occasionally get migrating flocks pass through the cameras field of view. This was in mid-April when we still had some snow on the ground. I often place cameras around natural game attractants and in funnels.

As I type this it’s getting time to work sunset. I’m considering a bit early to pick up a couple of chips and service some game trail cameras. I will often leave cameras for months at a time between visits to their location. They keep a good eye on things for me when I can’t be there. It’s truly amazing when they catch and what they catch. Most of them use 2 different cameras. On for Infra-red night images and one for day images.

Each image from this particular camera tends to be a little grainy. Other cameras have other issues with the quality of the .jpg image. But they all share the silly candid nature of the wild creatures that wander by my photon traps. I’m currently running a line of 29 game trail cameras. Many of them are due to check this time of year with all the early spring migration and animal movement. I’m opening certain gates to create wildlife funnels of easy access/egress. There are usually cameras planted in those areas.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: The Birds on the Border

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Heron Fencing Practice

Heron Fencing Practice
Heron Fencing Practice

Heron Fencing Practice

It took me about 10 minutes to drive up this close once I crested the nearby hill exposing my self. . When I approach this area, I slowly encroach in steps. It’s comparable to imitating a grazing animal. The Raptor is pretty quiet. Particularly when compared to my previous clinking rattleing Jeep Grand Cherokee. This new rig is also very Black, dark and stealthy in it’s appearance. Lots of black animals walking around the hills (angus cattle). So my new rig is working very well to integrate into the scheme of things up here.

The various creatures on ranch will become accustomed to that new Ford F-150 Raptor with time. I also worked a herd of deer this same evening getting very close for this early in the season.

The return of the Great Blue Herons signifies the start of nesting season. I have only seen 8 Herons actively nesting so far. There may be some others to straggle in as they work their way back from winter haunts south. There are 7 nests in the trees across the lake from where this guy stands here. (one newly built this year) The male here did just fly up to the nest greeting it’s mate with a 3 Musketeers sword/beak swish caught here. They didn’t care about my approach and were fine in my rear view mirror when I backed up and away to change the scene. (got enough photos lolol).

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Heron Fencing Practice

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Meadowlark Singing in the Grass

Meadowlark Singing in the Grass
Meadowlark Singing in the Grass

Meadowlark Singing in the Grass

These little birds are difficult to get close to and never pose long for you to take your time setting your camera up. Now catching on at ground level is a tricky stunt to say the least. I won’t give away my secrets on this one but it’s a good story. You really can’t move much once it knows your there. These guys cue on movement and react usually with an escape maneuver. Once they sense danger, there is no stopping them. This is a telephoto capture NOT a game trail camera….

Generally Meadowlarks are singing fools. If they aren’t actively hunting insects (slim picking this spring so far), they are yelling at the top of their lungs. I’ve pursued them for years. I’m pretty sure I’ve worn out a set of brake pads slowing down / stopping to try to capture their images. I have literally hundreds of attempts to photograph them where all I accomplished was to stop my forward momentum to the next photo location lolol.. Off they fly if you give them ANY reason to.

I will continue to hit the brakes when I sense their presence. Driving backroads often will give you long sections of fences to hunt meadowlarks. Having said that, places to perch are rare in the backcountry. Preferred locations with a view in mid prairie are well populated with these guys. Deep spring snows will place a premium on those perch locations. I find the morning after a good snow the best time to find them competing for places to alight.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Meadowlark Singing in the Grass

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Heron Mated Pair Nested

Heron Mated Pair Nested
Heron Mated Pair Nested

Heron Mated Pair Nested

Great Blue Herons are not common birds here on the high plains but they do come to roost and breed each spring. Our ranches wetlands have our share of Heron Breeding Pairs. These two are sitting in a fixed up nest that still remained from the year(s) before. Breeding/Nesting in the high branches of Cottonwoods is a common thing to see up here for Herons. The Cottonwoods line water ways and courses in the borderlands of Wyoming/Montana. Tall and safe from any climbing creatures, they set up a home perched way up there. There were sitting birds in all the nests this eventing this was the only parent returning in light I could catch him in. Later was too dark to catch any action.

Absent all winter having migrated to warmer climes, they returned a month ago to start nesting. . These guys were also a football field away from the vantage I had on an adjacent ridge to get this level look at the tree tops. Add a very long lens and you get “up close and personal” if you will. Early on I can see most of the nesting in this 1/8 long mile extended cottonwood tree line. Habitants last year included a great horned owl and chick in addition to the Heron Rookery… I love this place’s diversity of subject matter. Raptors fly about harassing the Great Blue Herons.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands. (Wyotana)

Title: Heron Mated Pair Nested

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Morning Meadowlark Making Song

Morning Meadowlark Making Song
Morning Meadowlark Making Song

Morning Meadowlark Making Song

I find Meadowlarks a difficult critter to photograph. I should clarify that by saying getting a REALLY close “Closeup” to be a bucket list item.

The tendency of a Meadowlark encounter is to be random. They occur often while driving in the backcountry along fence lines. I often am traveling along a two track backroad only to see 50 foot ahead a meadowlark on a fence. If you stop too close, they will fly away. But if you stop “just right” and don’t move at all, they won’t fly for a while. If you move AT ALL once you come to a complete stop, they will fly quickly away. This is a law of nature that I’ve only seen ONE bird out of hundreds ignore. He is another story. This is a wild Meadowlark way out in the backcountry. Drove up on him.

This guy was very tolerant of my Ford Raptor as it approached. I stopped literally about 20 feet away. Typically, they will fly but he stood at his “post”. At that close distance, with an 1200 mm fast lens, I can focus on his eyelashes. The hard part is getting 20 feet away from a wild bird. All meadowlarks are “flighty”.

As a group they they have been back in this country for 4 weeks as of this post in mid May. This is a bit early based on what I’ve observed the last 2 decades here.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Morning Meadowlark Making Song

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Great Blue Heron Wingspan

Great Blue Heron Wingspan
Great Blue Heron Wingspan

Great Blue Heron Wingspan

Spring time, the trees are just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I’m busy searching this tree line for the missing Great Horned Owl Nest as well.

Earlier last season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot. Earlier this season before leaves are in the way, I am able to see clearly all 6 nests in this “rookery”. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction.

They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. They are sitting on eggs currently It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings.

These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes long the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas.

I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀. Northern Wyoming/Southern Montana is certainly known as/located in their breeding areas.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Great Blue Heron Wingspan

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Vulture Culture Barnyard Overlook

Vulture Culture Barnyard Overlook
Vulture Culture Barnyard Overlook

Vulture Culture Barnyard Overlook

So my wife Patty was gardening here at the homestead when she heard a ‘Lot of Flapping”…. It was a surprise to see this huge vulture directly overhead. I’m pretty sure this was a rest stop on it’s way. It wasn’t particularly interesting in moving. So Patty walks across the yard, comes inside where I was cleaning up a bit. She mentions to me that a “vultures are circling” and I need to grab a camera….

Never being one to refuse an offer from my wife to get out of a cleaning job. I figured the bird had departed before bringing a camera to into play. As I stepped out the side door, it was certainly checking me out. Now when a Vulture is considering the possibilities….. a bit disconcerting…. The light was terrible being totally overcast. It wasn’t that bright which in and of itself is problematic. Hand held tight telephoto shots prefer good lighting. Leaning against a deck post I rest the camera and spin some dials. I took about 15 images just to eliminate the blurring from my moving the camera. I think I got 2 sharp images out of the batch. Having gotten the capture, I was lucky enough to go back to my cleaning chores lolol.

Turkey Vultures feed exclusively on carrion though I suspect this one was checking out all the nesting ducks about the barnyard stationary in their egg sitting. Having the best sense of smell of any bird, they can detect carrion over a mile away. All have featherless heads to keep the carrion from fouling the feathers.. Adults as here have a bright red head. Juveniles have a head that is blackish in color. These are not to be confused for the smaller black vulture. I’ve observed them riding thermals in large flocks before. That visual spectacle referred to as “kettling.”

Nesting by laying two egg under a rock overhang but on bare rock. Nesting starts in Wyoming as late as the first part of July. Both parents incubate and care for the defenseless young for a period of 9 to 11 weeks. They feed them through regurgitation. Regurgitation is also used by both adults and juveniles as a defense mechanism. This is one of the less pleasant defense strategies in the animal kingdom I’m thinking. No other animal hunts turkey vultures to any degree. I understand they are taken on a very rare occasion by larger raptors such as eagles, and young or eggs may be consumed by predators Feeding on decomposing flesh (and the willingness to use it in defense) apparently has its benefits.

Location: in our backyard… Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Vulture Culture Barnyard Overlook

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Heron Pair Building Nest

Heron Pair Building Nest
Heron Pair Building Nest

Heron Pair Building Nest

With a pink “Belt of Venus” twilight sky behind, the Male Great Blue Heron brings the sticks to it’s mate. The female builds the next and this is a brand new nest for 2020. There are at least 6 other nests in this treeline for these 5x5x5 birds. (5 foot tall, 5 foot wingspan, and 5 pounds). They are basically dinosaurs without teeth and tail in this paleontologists opinion. Tough light to freeze a flying flapping bird…

Spring time, the trees are just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I’m busy searching this tree line for the Raptor and Owl Nests as well. Earlier last season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot.

I am able to see clearly all 7 nests in this “rookery” at this early date. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction. They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings. The leaves will obfuscate most of the nests from my long lenses (150 yards across a lake and 50 feet up this Cottonwood)

These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes long the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas. I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀. Northern Wyoming/Southern Montana is certainly known as/located in their breeding areas.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands

Title: Heron Pair Building Nest

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Red Robin in the Snow

Red Robin in the Snow
Red Robin in the Snow

Red Robin in the Snow

Robins that arrive too early in the spring have a tough time of it. They are usually insect and “fruit” eaters and a good friend in the yard. They do occasionally dive bomb me during nesting season a few weeks away. But in the mean time, this guy would settle for 38 degrees and a clear ground to hunt on. This little area of driveway free of snow under a large tree in the midst of a deep 4 inch crisis for this traveler. Puffed up against the cold, it will struggle for the next few days against the harsh high country spring weather. (taken a 10 days before this posts)

There are of course American Robins that Winter north of here in Canada. Generally the 36 degree isotherm contour on the map is their northern boundary. Of course any particular Robin might just be nuts and go too far north every now and then. They migrate in response to food presence / absence not temperature however. I understand they can move about 40 miles a day or night) when on the move. If earthworms or fruits are not available, the Robins will “Spread Out” in response to the diminishing food supply.

You might notice that Robins DO NOT SING out of their breeding territory. If your local neighbor hood Robins are singing, there are going to be some peepers being hatched in the not far distant future. Rarely they may produce their first songs on their wintering grounds but the majority will not until they reach their breeding grounds. . The singing is part of the way the male defends it’s territory. . Male Robins don’t particularly like other males Songs…. this breaks up the winter migratory flocks. I have another image of a half dozen Robins in a tree during this storm. All within about a 2 feet diameter circle. Still flocking and no songs…

Title: Red Robin in the Snow

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Sharp Tail Blue Sky

Sharp Tail Blue Sky
Sharp Tail Blue Sky

Sharp Tail Blue Sky

It’s always interesting lighting when subject patiently sitting for me is in the shade. The contrast with the Robin’s Egg Blue Wyotana sky was remarkable to me. The bird itself was a “Score” in the photon capture world I play in. I seldom get this close to any wild creature but “when I do”…… I like to bring a 28 inch long lens along.

It took me over a minute to SLOOOOOWWWLY move from under a roof clearly into this observant birds view. It was perhaps 10 yards away and was watching me like his distant cousin the hawk… This encounter didn’t last more than the next 360 degree sweep of the pocket watch dial. (you guys that grew up with only digital watches / clocks won’t get that 😜) .

I consider these birds as a food bank if shortages occur lol. They hang around here mooching off my barnyard Duck and Chicken feeding “operation”, (read my wifes hobby). I of course get to haul the feed around…. save that for another narrative I’m thinking …..👀

“Sharpies” are certainly plump flying boats. Look to me like a “Cataline PBY” aircraft plowing through the air. Landing is usually a LONG glide and a last second . I’ve seen them literally glide over a mile (with me following on the county road lolol). I find it is fairly difficult though to photograph Gliding Birds while driving along side of them. Easier in the middle of a big field lolol.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Sharp Tail Blue Sky

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MeadowLark on a Wire

MeadowLark on a Wire
MeadowLark on a Wire

MeadowLark on a Wire

Meadowlarks named amazingly by Audubon himself. Noting them “neglected” by earlier birders. Lewis and Clark made note of them as well. The melodic enchanting song is a constant here in the Wyotana borderlands. A Dozen per acre would be my estimate in the deeper backcountry. A lot of grass is growing up here along with the afiliated insect population. These guys thrive in this environment.

The Species is the “State Bird” of 6 Western States!. Quite an accomplishment if you ask me. Wyoming was the 6th and last state back in 1927 to grant it that honor. Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota and Wyoming are the list.

They are tricky to get close to and I always pursue an opportunity If I see it mostly with long telephoto shots. I’m often listening to their song driving along slowly around my place. I have found that if I pull up to a bird as close as I dare in my vehicle, if it didn’t fly, it probably won’t until you move your vehicle at all. If you move just a little they are outta here…. 😜 I can count on one hand the number of Meadowlarks that let me move to get a better shot once I had come to a stop. This was one.

This was a very windy day thus the sporty feather-do hair cut and the “cow lick” on his shoulder. It was a 30/20 day. 30 degrees F and 20 MPH winds that morning. He was happy anyway…… First Meadowlark I worked this year. Early bird…

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: MeadowLark on a Wire

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Blue Heron Sunset

Blue Heron Sunset
Blue Heron Sunset

Blue Heron Sunset

The return of the Great Blue Herons signifies the start of their nesting season on Ranch. I have only seen 4 Herons so far but it’s early. We expect 5+ inchesnow/single digits over the weekend (a week ago as this posts). The Ranch has “left the light on” for others to straggle in as they work their way back from winter haunts south. There are 6 nests in the trees across the lake from my camera where this mated pair is building a nest. The third is probably waiting for a mate that is out hunting.

The group obviously weren’t worried about my truck as the three were mostly motionless for 20 minutes all through my maneuvering. Left them still standing like this as I backed up to leave. I drove away as the sun disappeared. It seems they just don’t care about my Black Ford Raptor. I have not been much of a concern to these birds. Many local wildlife are already familiar/tolerant to my 3 month old rig. Many see it at least 2 times a day on average.

Natural behavior occurs while I’m in this rig. I just drive around like I’m a grazing animal. Stop, Start, turn, sit a minute. The truck is all black and only a little smelly/noisy. Just like a Black Angus cow :). Going really Slow in a factory “Baja truck”…. only in America.. 😜🤘📸

Photographic Musings:

I approach groups of animals living here on the huge grasslands with respect. If I scare them, I don’t get to photograph them. Of course most wild animals sense your approach early. At my crossing some pre-determined line in the sand, most bolt. Learning where that line in the sand is becomes pertinent towards the pursuit of the image.

I find stopping well back, take a few photos, figure out the light, get your settings up for a quick exit shot, then move. I usually readjust my settings for quality, get the composition set and click. Then go back to settings for speed (faster shutter, more ISO and or bigger aperture/fstop.). Move closer….rinse and repeat until you get the shot. (you might think this is “tough” light to work…. You would be right).

Most of the time with really long fixed (non-zoomable) lenses, I fill the frame, get the shot and leave without causing the animals to move. (Pronghorn excepted since they move regardless). 😜

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Blue Heron Sunset

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Raptor Dive Bombing Heron

Raptor Dive Bombing Heron
Raptor Dive Bombing Heron

Raptor Dive Bombing Heron

Photobombing Hawk. This image is so deep it almost looks almost fake to me but I swear I did NOTHING to this other than some shadow work to bring out some hidden details under the birds wings. The edge detail on those birds is just SPOT on focus as fine as I have ever seen at this 150 – 200 yard distance. The trees behind were blurred (bokeh) as I relented F-stop/depth of focus for gaining shutter speed here. I gained sharpness doing so in the zone that is in focus. The lighting was early morning hard right over my shoulder. I’m thinking the “field of focus’ is maybe 4 feet deep at this distance. The 3-D appearance of this stunned me in it’s depth. Closing speed has got to be 100 MPH. Both birds were cruising with the hawk veering away the last second!

Calling this unlikely would be an understatement lol. I was tracking the Heron with a partner of his across the tree line. 50 feet high Cottonwoods house their nests. A 1200 mm lens, 28 inches long resting on my trucks glass. (lens is padded) I saw them incoming a ways off . Fortunately I had a few seconds to “spin the dials” in anticipation of a 1/2000th sec shutter speed. (see above for some more camera on manual mode hints) So I got lucky on the light. I was “machine gunning” the camera rapid fire. I also caught this raptors partner diving in as well but it is well out of focus in that capture. A total of 3 hawks dove at this Heron Pair that had already claimed a nesting spot on the trees. They are all building nests at the moment down at the ranches wetlands.

Raptor War: This week I found a Red Tailed Hawks body at the base of the tree the Heron’s nest in. Photo of such on my web gallery. It lays there still as it’s illegal to collect any piece part or even a feather of a Raptor or most other migratory non game birds. (Fed Laws) I’ve seen Herons there every year for 20 years.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Raptor Dive Bombing Heron

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Blue Herons 1 RedTail Hawks 0

Blue Herons 1 RedTail Hawks 0
Blue Herons 1 RedTail Hawks 0

Blue Herons 1 RedTail Hawks 0

I’ve been watching the Great Blue Herons slowly trickling in from warmer climes. All to set up house up in our wetlands. We really don’t see many of them. We don’t have a lot of lakes up here on the high ridges of the MT/WY borderlands. I was photographing the tree line populated with 6 Heron Nests last year, 3 of them remain. The Herons zipped off from their nest with 3 Red Tails Harassing them. I quickly took advantage of the absence. Drove my portable blind (Ford F150 Raptor all black) under the trees so I could get close and change the “chip” in a trail camera I had planted behind where the birds nested.

Busy with these guys, I photographed an aggressive encounter between a Red Tail Hawk and a full sized Herons about 2 weeks ago. I believe this dead bird is the result. Of course nature is cruel. Red Tails are spunky little raptors and I sure wouldn’t want one harassing me. A big war is ongoing in the Wetlands… I was photographing a Heron flying over the nests. Just then, a Raptor flew into frame right as I rapid fired the camera. Raptor and Heron in the Same frame flying opposite direction. Posts next week it will📸..

I would point out that a Great Blue Heron is 5 feet tall with a 5 foot wingspan weighing in at 5 pound. A 5x5x5 bird is nothing to mess with. I compare Herons with the Dinosaur Coelophysus without the tail and teeth. They are bad a** with those pin pointy beaks. It would be like me at 6 foot 200 pounds taking on Andre the Giant in the ring. Not even fair.

This is the result I believe of a real estate dispute. I actually have a photo of a raptor and a heron in silhouette facing off over who is getting the nest above this body for the night. I think the Herons won this one. Just saying 📸

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Herons 1 RedTail Hawks 0

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Blue Heron Mated Pair

Blue Heron Mated Pair
Blue Heron Mated Pair

Blue Heron Mated Pair

These two could have cared less I was slowly moving in their general direction. They are just starting to build their next with the male bringing sticks to the female. She is the construction engineer of the two. He’s the classic hunter / gatherer. I believe these two killed a Red Tail Hawk I found under their nesting area a few weeks old carcass. Both flew off this AM from the harrassment. So I went to tend to a game trail camera along that tree line. Thusly I drove under the trees in my Black pickup. Screeches above… I watched from a terrible vantage an acrobatic chase routine of Herons getting bombed by 3 Red Tailed Hawks located in this treeline. I’ve seen all sorts of aggressive behavior and posturing between the two different species fighting for the good nesting spots. Raptor/Heron Wars!

I believe these guys more or less consider my truck just a noisy/smelly Black Angus Cow playing Sirus XM 56 most of the time. What’s good about my Ford Raptor is that when I’m moving it runs normally. When I stop, it shuts off to save gas. It is by far the coolest thing they could have built into the truck for photographers.. The vibration from running engines has ruined more than a few images of mine over the years. The Auto-off feature is WONDERFUL. If you take your foot off the brake, it starts before you can hit the gas. It’s all effectively way more quiet by far than my old Trail Friend a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Heron Mated Pair

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Blue Heron Launch Paddy

Blue Heron Launch Paddy
Blue Heron Launch Paddy

Blue Heron Launch Paddy

Well, sort of a Paddy lol.

The Great Blue Heron is also know as Ardea herodias by hobbiests and professionals alike. This gal was shore wading out 150 yards out, the sun was setting. You know, a classic wetland scene. Really not common up in this high dry ridge country….. Seeing a Heron out on the ranch is rare unless you go to where they hang out. They are not known for hanging out on the high dry ridges of the grasslands. Fortunately we have several small lakes on the ranch. This lake is a spring fed OLD man made lake dammed up around the turn of the century. Early cattle drives watered here even before the dam was built.

These are BIG birds weighing in at 4.5 – 5.5 pounds, stand 5 foot tall with a 5 foot wingspan….. They are AMAZING circus performers. Being total masters of their environment, they have superpowers!📸 I observed this one through a 1200mm 28 inch long lenses while I was on an adjacent shore across the lake. Watched it for about 20 minutes, finally it took off tired of watching me I suspect lol. The light was fading fast, I’m trying to get detailed shots of a still bird so the camera settings were not quite fast enough to totally freeze in ice the wing tips. Getting at lake level while a spooky bird watches but doesn’t fly way is a good thing :). The rules of Physics and technological limitations again demonstrate they are my masters. (along with topography if you follow my narratives 😜. )

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Blue Heron Launch Paddy

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Great Blue Heron Sunning

Great Blue Heron Sunning
Great Blue Heron Sunning

Great Blue Heron Sunning

A Month from now they return… Spring time 2019, the trees were just leafing out thusly I can still see these birds in their “bush”. Getting to see nesting activities this late in the game is difficult and changes with the lighting direction. While I’m waiting around for “flybys” and “launches” plus lighting… I was busy searching this tree line for the missing Great Horned Owl Nest as well. These are big 5 pound 5 foot tall birds if you’ve never seen them before.

Earlier that season I got a few long range captures of a Great Horned owl and a “chick” just down the tree line. This is a very biologically productive spot. Earlier that season before leaves were in the way, I was able to see clearly all 6 nests in this “rookery”. The female builds the nest with the male providing the “sticks” and other materials used in the construction.

They start way early in the spring taking a month to hatch their eggs. It’s just about when the leaves start budding out on the Cottonwoods when I start seeing fledgelings. These large wading birds eat about anything they can catch/spear or otherwise grab. They hunt along the shorelines of the many lakes along the old “Texas Trail”. That trail runs from Miles City pretty much right by this spot as it continues down to Newcastle Wyoming. Most of the old cattle routes eventually head towards Oklahoma and northern Texas. I suspect millions of Montana Cattle Raised Cattle passed by this spot historically. They drank from this spring fed pond and enjoyed the large grassy pastures surrounding. It’s a nice spot to camp out for a few nights you might say 🤠 I suspect the herons were around here then as well….👀.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Great Blue Heron Sunning

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Meadowlark and Two Grasshoppers

Meadowlark and Two Grasshoppers
Meadowlark and Two Grasshoppers

Meadowlark and Two Grasshoppers

I find Meadowlarks a difficult catch. I should clarify that by saying getting a REALLY close “Closeup” to be a bucket list item. The tendency of a Meadowlark encounter is to be random. They occur often while driving in the backcountry along fence lines. I often am traveling along a two track backroad only to see 50 foot ahead a meadowlark on a fence. If you stop too close, they will fly away. But if you stop “just right” and don’t move at all, they won’t fly for a while. If you move AT ALL once you come to a complete stop, they will fly quickly away. This is a law of nature that I’ve only seen ONE bird out of hundreds ignore. He is another story.

This is a wild Meadowlark way out in the backcountry. Drove up on him. This guy was very tolerant of my Jeep as it approached. I stopped about 20 feet away. At that distance, with an 800mm fast lens, I can focus on his eyelashes. The hard part is getting 20 feet away from a wild bird. They frequent this whole area with 5 or 10 birds an acre sometimes. I’ve seen a bird fly every few seconds before driving two tracks. If I go slow, their songs permeate the quiet. Up here it can be so quite that you can hear your heart beat. Not during Meadowlark season lolol. They are all gone now for southern Climates as we are sub-arctic at the moment.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Meadowlark and Two Grasshoppers

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Perspective Meadowlark Fence Line

Perspective Meadowlark Fence Line
Perspective Meadowlark Fence Line

Perspective Meadowlark Fence Line

T-posts generally set right posts a “ROD” apart make a barbed wire fence to “spec”. A Rod consists of 16.5 feet from end to end. The right at 50 feet of fence line here is in a perspective that makes it look a LOT shorter. That is literally 50 feet of fence 👀👀📸

As I pointed the long telescopic lens at the fence line, it lineup. I noticed the Meadowlark was still there. I had stopped to take him, reached down to grab the 3 foot lens used here. . Clicking away Icaught this. I think the Meadowlark was as surprised as I was.

Meadowlarks are very active this early in the red light. The sun had been up for about 5 minutes while I was moving between locations. I was headed back as the sun was climbing into the blue sky over my shoulder. Click on machine gun setting which works will that time of morning with all that bright light. (This was a well side illuminated fortunately. The best cameras can’t resolve this much difference in illumination between objects.

Meadowlarks are abundant up here in the Wyotana borderlands/high plains . Beautiful Song and obvious Yellow breast lending itself to be the state bird for several states out here in the west. Abundant in their preferred habitat, they thrive here on our ranch as far as I ca see in this environment. They gorged on Grasshoppers all summer. They are welcome here anytime . A Dozen per acre would be my estimate in the deeper backcountry. There is a lot of grassland up here and these guys thrive in this environment. They have a beautiful song and are a little difficult of a subject. They are the state bird for several states in this region.

This Image is a 2×3 aspect to 36 inches.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title : Perspective Meadowlark Fence Line

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Meadowlark Silhouette Singing in Twilight

Meadowlark Silhouette Singing in Twilight
Meadowlark Silhouette Singing in Twilight

Meadowlark Silhouette Singing in Twilight

I often have to leave very early in the morning to get into position to work a sunrise photographically. The etherial glow I see sometimes in Civil Twilight is a difficult to capture relative to any other object. Thusly all things silhouette. This simple Meadowlark Singing so early might at the onset seem easy to do. Meadowlarks are flighty. Encounters I have with them are all random. If you drive up on one and manage to stop your vehicle without him flying, luck be with you.

My advice is. If you manage to get stopped/ point a telephoto at a Meadowlark. Don’t move your vehicle. If you do, it will fly with a 99.6 percent reliability. (Remember that 83.8326 % of all statistics are made up at the moment)😜👀 Fairly tolerant Meadowlarks are, seeing you, watching you slow down and come to a stop. So WHERE you stop is fairly important. If you go too close they will of course fly.

Musings on difficult photographic environments:

Photographing a silhouette require there to be a subject AND actual light behind that subject. This Twilight wispy sky was not being generous with it’s photons of yet. My cameras (Sony Alpha 7 R series) are low light monsters but there are limitations in the technology. Taking a photo in a dark environment of things that move like a singing bird is usually silly to try. I got lucky with this guy un-blurred as he was moving while singing a lot lol. Razor edge settings. I hate High ISO (camera sensitivity) so I used a very fast f4- 600mm telephoto wide open at 50 yards or there about.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Meadowlark Silhouette Singing in Twilight

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Migrating Geese in Twilight Alpenglow

Migrating Geese in Twilight Alpenglow
Migrating Geese in Twilight Alpenglow

Migrating Geese in Twilight Alpenglow

As Canada Geese migrate, they make nightly stops here on open water which was getting rarer as the season went along. Migration consists of these big birds moving from where there were born, to warmer areas, then back to their birth place.

These geese are amazing birds with up to a 75 inch wingspan weighing between 5 and 15 pounds. Now a 15 pound bird is a LOT of bird. Big Males are nothing to mess with if they are being territorial and habituated to humans in city parks etc. They never stick around up here to give me a hard time so far. They will violently attack any creature that is a perceived threat to their goslings including humans.

The Canada Goose is literally the largest goose in the world. Having said that, there is a subspecies of canada goose that is the smallest goose species in the world as well. The oldest captive goose lived 40 year with 30 years being common in captivity. 10-25 in the wild is typical. They mate for life but if one mate is lost, they will take another.

True Story here on ranch…

I have some experience with geese chasing me. Never fought one. I did however have a confrontation with (captured them by hand) a wild 30 pound bird or 2 before (turkey) that was in our log house under construction at the time with no windows in the building yet. A flock of 1/2 dozen turkeys were inside. Not wanting to clean up the mess, it was my job to get them out…. I went in with safety glasses, a light jacket and gloves. I have determined that turkeys while flying through missing windows do well. Not so much flying out the same windows blanks in a log wall. (to the light). I had to catch each one of the birds Stuck on running around the room from me rather than trying to leave via the window. Dinosaurs all. Just no tail and teeth.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands. (Wyotana).

Title: Migrating Geese in Twilight Alpenglow

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Meadowlark All Ruffled Up

Meadowlark All Ruffled Up
Meadowlark All Ruffled Up

Meadowlark All Ruffled Up ( a bit out of season but surely welcome. I’m tired of the ice/mud this year ).

Taken under EARLY morning yellow sunlight adding a colorcast to the entire image. I was just digging the Orange Lichen on the post. It takes a long time (decades) for that much to grow. The old cedar post could be 114 years old as it’s fairly close to the homestead. There are a lot of very old posts in the backcountry. We have 30 miles of fence that I have done some repairs on a time or two. 😜

The tendency of a Meadowlark encounter is to be random. They occur often while driving in the backcountry along fence lines. I often am traveling along a two track backroad only to see 50 foot ahead a meadowlark on a fence. If you stop too close, they will fly away. But if you stop “just right” and don’t move at all, they won’t fly for a while. If you move AT ALL once you come to a complete stop, they will fly quickly away. This is a law of nature that I’ve only seen ONE bird out of hundreds ignore. He is another story. This is a wild Meadowlark way out in the backcountry. Drove up on him.

This guy was very tolerant of my Jeep as it approached. I stopped about 20 feet away. At that distance, with an 800mm fast lens, I can focus on his eyelashes. The hard part is getting 20 feet away from a wild bird. They frequent this whole area with 5 or 10 birds an acre sometimes. I’ve seen a bird fly every few seconds before driving two tracks. If I go slow, their songs permeate the quiet. Up here it can be so quite that you can hear your heart beat. Not during Meadowlark season lolol. They are all gone now for southern Climates as we are sub-arctic at the moment.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: Meadowlark All Ruffled Up

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Mountain Blue Bird on a Wire

Mountain Blue Bird on a Wire
Mountain Blue Bird on a Wire

Mountain Blue Bird on a Wire (6 months out of season, remember these guys?)

These 6 inch long one ounce birds don’t make much noise in my experience but a little in the morning. Hard to describe. They are fairly small Thrushes with a round head outline and straight thin bills. Sky blue is how I describe the color but are a bit darker on the wings and tail but with a light patch under the tail and it’s stomach. These guys hoover while foraging for insects. I’ve seen it many times. This guy was jumping around this Yucca Flower frond as seen and zipping about and then back to this place.

He was putting on a considerably good show for me in my portable blind (my jeep at the time) while I had just crested a hilltop in the backcountry. He was flitting around this Yucca like it was a toddler on a sugar high. I just by happenstance had an 800mm camera set up with me that I grabbed off the seat for the fairly close encounter. Several other Males were in the area pretty much just watching the aerobatic display I think as I was … amazed at it’s abilities. They hoover to catch bugs so they have mastered their environment for sure.

We are actually a little low at 4000 feet in elevation for them as they are found to 11000 feet up in the hills. The do like our grasslands though. Lots of bugs out there for them to eat…. Good habitat for most insect eaters.

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Mountain Blue Bird on a Wire

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Sharpie On A Stick

Sharpie On A Stick
Sharpie On A Stick

Sharpie On A Stick

This was a capture from 30 feet away with a LONG 1200mm fast lens. The Prairie Sharp Tailed Grouse was about 16 feet up. . . It was about 3 degrees F at the time. .…I’ve never seen them eat those seeds before so I’m trying to figure out when perch where he did. There are better trees still with fruit on them in the yard. 😵

I was in my Jeep working out the drivers window. This guy and a flock of at least 10 others were hanging out nearby. There is a much larger flock hanging around this year. He was with a smaller division of that group. All the good images I will get of grouse this year will be from inside of my vehicle. If Sharp Tailed Grouse see a human, they take off for a good distance. I understand they can fly for several miles at a time. From up here on the ridges, they could glide for 20 miles lololol. These guys are plump prairie Chickens.

The native Americans called them Fire Chickens because they would take advantage of burnt out areas moving in very quickly to take advantage of the feeding opportunities. They are plump birds for sure lolol. At least it doesn’t make their tail look fat ……. cue top hat rif…

They really don’t occur in the east or much bast Wisconsin OR west of the continental divide. They are quite a large grouse with the characteristic pointy tail. The purple cheek bags the males puff out in breeding season is spectacular. I will get to that one too ….

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana).

Title: Sharpie On A Stick

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Killdeer Oscar Performance

Killdeer Oscar Performance
Killdeer Oscar Performance

Killdeer Oscar Performance

I think this is the only acting photo I have of Killdeer. Performed so much I’ve ignored it photographically lol. They are pretty spooky. They literally live in my yard, nest nearby or on the prairie.. Of course the same injured bird ritual rinses and repeats. Shooting through grass has it’s issues but this is a fun image none the less. Getting within a hundred feet of a nest without a big scene occurring is unlikely. I got lucky with this one.

I knew where the nest was having run across this Killdeer and mate earlier that week. (early summer). I even have photos of the eggs sitting on gravel/grass. Nothing fancy for sure. There is a lot to be said for working out of cars/vehicles. Much better than a regular blinds because vehicles have radios news and tunes. 🤠 The birds don’t care as much for as long. Back to normal behavior shortly if your in a vehicle and park near the nest.

We live integrated with all these animals up here. Everyone has their place. These guys seem to be happy where they are whether in my yard or on the prairie. I watch them set up nest (I’ve got egg photos on rocks). They have chicks, (photos of lots of chicks). I follow them all summer through that August gathering season. I might see 30 or 40 of them in a flock at that time. About the time I see them again, I will know that it’s just about spring.

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Killdeer Oscar Performance

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AERMOTOR Windmill Doublet

AERMOTOR Windmill Doublet
AERMOTOR Windmill Doublet

AERMOTOR Windmill Doublet

Aermotor windmills account for the bulk of windmills out there. The company started way back in the 1888 with 24 sold the first year. Over 20000 of the beasties sold in 1892. The company still exists. They also sold a LOT of steel fire “look out towers” for fire watch and being a lightning target lololol.

Reconstructing past lives and events grabs your minds eye coming upon and old homestea. The comings and goings of old homesteads spark my imagination. There was a homestead about 1/4 mile from this location. They had their own hand dug well 35 feet deep and 4 feet wide about 200 feet from their house down in a deep gully.. I filled it in when I moved here. It was an “attractive nuisance”.

Most settlers had to use the water at their windmill. I suspect an outhouse long since gone somewhere nearby downward of the prevailing wind. This land has had cattle or sheep on it for 100 years and slightly more. That’s 5 generations of cowboys that stayed the night or the summer in this treeless pasture. Being the only source of water for several miles around, the cowboys drank here too.

This is very big country open back country. Many square miles of grass are attached to any particular ranch. This is a steel windmill which is more expensive than building the wood towers was. Wells were positioned centered in the pasture. This made it accessible to the entire area. A lot depended on the ground water geology to make the shallow wells work long term. (luck mostly early on).

Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands.

Title: AERMOTOR Windmill Doublet

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Oh Crap a Camera Lens

Oh Crap a Camera Lens
Oh Crap a Camera Lens

Oh Crap a Camera Lens If you had a “Crappy Old Year, this image is important. It’s going to get better after 😉

I’ve raised many parrots (I owned a pet shop in the 80’s). Working very closely with dozens of big birds before. I’ve been pooped on by the best. Big Birds Shoulder birds can really mess up a shirt … This meadowlark is not much different than those big birds but for it’s size. With this I’ve pretty much have all different obvious Meadowlark activities. Eating, sleeping, pooping and singing lolol. Most birds will do this move if they must right before they fly…

I’ve learned that all birds lift their tail and squat just a bit right before…. Note: If you have a parrot or other arm tamed bird on your arm, if the tail lifts, push it down with the other hand. They don’t/can’t “go” with the tail down. . So my timing only looks lucky. While this might be a bad example lol … anticipating a shot can save a lot of machine gunning with the camera. Storing photos is expensive if you do say 50 thousand 100 meg images some months.

Computer Tech Musings: So how do I keep track of and store that many 100 plus meg files? (How does a serious photographer deal with safe backups).

Finished photos are one thing (not as many of them). There are only a few thousand of those at 220 meg each lolol.. It’s The raw files streaming out of the 7 or 8 cameras I routinely use are huge files. There are also many. I like to keep the timeline so I have all the raw files for the last several years on demand. Older than a few years I have to connect external drives to the system.

I currently manage 50 TB of storage devices. Most storage drives I keep off line. All turned off to prevent any intrusion or loss. . I keep a monthly backup off site in a pile of 8 (currently) 4 TB SSD hard drives I keep adding finished work to. As they fill up, I add a new one to the pile and always have a pristine backup of the raw files and the they are kept in a fire safe.

Every image I finish is saved in three separate external hard drives as a last step. I’ve maintained professional graphic stations for 30 years. I’ve still got most of my graphics files available to me. Even those created decades ago available to me fairly quickly. Most of my old images, belonged to clients back in the day. Lots of them around. Can’t use them. But I’ve got a few of my own to work with

Location: Bliss DInosaur Ranch, Wyoming/Montana borderlands (Wyotana)

Title: Oh Crap a Camera Lens