This subdued sunset brought to you by the soot in the air contributed by hundreds of western wildfires. Hopefully you’ve been off grid and out of the way of these plumes. Such a Pall changes not only the air quality but the amount of solar radiation that makes it to the surface.
This image is my best try to get the scene exactly as I remembered it. The wedge of smoke from various Montana fires were moving this way. The cloud front was forming in advance of the smoke pall with the smoke moving with the front. I have seen this develop before and got the heck up the hill well over an hour before sunset. I figures that as the sun dove behind that jagged bottomed cloud, that shadow would get projected in the smoke below. The result is a fan of crepuscular rays radiating outward away from the sun well above the cloud deck. This is a fairly expansive display. Taken through a very wide lens at 24mm .
This is the second nice crepuscular display I have seen from this years smoke/brown season. They are somewhat predicatable to me but to get the ducks to actually line up is an entirely different matter lol. This would be a nice candidate for a mirror/mirror ART treatment I’m thinking… I’ll have to make a note to reflect this back on itself. I bet a nice face will appear magically.
Old “Sneaky Pete” here has met his match. The environment is even kicking his butt. The air is thicker up here, it’s hard to breath, the sky is under a perma-eclipse. Asthmatics need not apply for a ranching job surrounded by a sea of grass/sage with smoke filling the air. Not an eclipse of the sun by the moon but by Forest Fires. If you’ve missed this enjoyment consider yourself healthier. Visibility was about 8 miles this morning at times. It comes and goes.
I don’t even remember a stretch this long (2 weeks) when I had a “normal” sunset to watch. These images will stretch out over the fall as I have dozens to finish from the startling skies. The very unexpected physics is welcome from a photographic standpoint. I have to clean my lenses more often that is for sure. I find my eye’s are more sensitive than my nose or lungs. It’s hard to take photos of what you can’t see. I found that out taking photos of Comet Neowise. Photography by instinct.
This was actually QUITE a dark Scene. Everything was indeed brown or a shade of red. I’ve seen VERY interesting shadow effects from this that I will work into my publishing schedule. There is SO much red light proportionally that it is actually hard to take a “normal” photo until about mid day. More than a few miles of atmosphere will completely block out the sun. I’ve seen it set into the smoke not the horizon 1/2 a dozen times already.
So your down in deep grass hiding from the Photographer in the scary big black truck. But that truck is very patient so it might be time to get outta Dodge. A quick squat to load those leg muscles and a push off for the launch. That is one clue. Figuring out where creatures are going to be, the direction they are using to ‘escape’, is the other half of the game here. As many times as I’ve tried it’s pretty hit or miss (mostly miss) following a fast bird with a 28 inch long lens. Literally an anticipatory click with a little reaction time built in based on that last second squat. Using the machine gun setting on these modern cameras take 10 images a second (or more), there is at least a chance to get a take off.
Meadowlarks are known for the melodious tendencies. Being Bright, Yellow and gorgeous probably has something to do with the following factoid. The western Meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming, Only the Northern Cardinal has more states under it’s “belt” at seven. Not bad for a singing relative of an avian dinosaur. You know dinosaurs didn’t all go extinct at the end of the Cretaceous right? There are many flying around among us but they lost their tail and teeth along the way. Other than that, they are very close anatomically to various dinosaurian lineages.
It takes 1/2000th second or faster to freeze these guys wings in ice. I like working them at 1/1000th of a second to get a little motion blur on the wings. Both ways are OK but you need a lot of light to freeze small bird wings on take off.
The semi-arid region of the border region between these two great states is “blessed”. All it’s share of winds falling off the high country is standard here. Yellowstone is 7000+ feet on the plateau. The BigHorn Mountains are 13000 feet. They wring the moisture out of our air often. Air flows freely off the Rocky Mountain highlands to our west with a 12 mph average windspeed on an exposed location.
When the air is moving by you at 35 mph or more, your being buffeted certainly. This fellow for what ever reason, turned at right angles to the breeze. It might be a result of picking the wrong branch lol. Normal Meadowlark behavior is to face aerodynamically face into the wind. Seldom do I see a bird fighting it this for long.
I personally find it hard enough to work a steady camera inside a vehicle on a windy day. So the truck is “lurching” too and fro with the gusty daily breeze around here. Imagine a branch moving back and forth 3 or 4 inches in various oscillatory motions. The birds seem to go through all sorts of gymnastics under the onslaught of the atmospheric tide. The weather has been “changeable” here bouts of late. Many a weather front with significant pressure difference exacerbate this high countries tendency toward a good breeze anyway.
The feathers are certainly kerfluffeled. It was a warm breeze that day. 87 degrees if I remember correctly (IIRC). 👀 T-shirt weather is a nice change up here..
There was a lot of complexity to this evenings sky up here in Wyotana. The wind was indeed blowing hard and spinning ol’ “Sneaky Pete” a good bit. I have no idea how many times those bearings have rotated but it’s millions…. many I suspect. As I type this we had a 43 mph gust and the storms that moved through last week gave us an 84 mph gust on my weather station. I now have my weather reporting station back on line. Do a search for DW1087 for my weather station live here on ranch.
From a technical standpoint, doing this in camera with no Neutral Density filter in front of your lens is rare. The conditions must be JUST right. Anytime I point a camera into the bright sun, I’m mostly turning off the all the light valves. This gives me either crimson or burnt umber colorations. Who am I to argue with the camera. No human eye could stare at this live and work later.
I wanted to blur the windmill sail. A fast shutter speed will freeze it in it’s track and reduce light (less light is good here into the camera). It’s all about balancing these three things. But to blur such a thing, means 1/15th of a second which is VERY LONG in bright light. OVERPOWERING BRIGHT = hard to do right. Balance……3 things…..Shutter and:
Camera Sensitivity to ISO 100. Faster shutter speeds reduce the light coming in too. (you need to)
Leaving F-stop (aperture/iris size) to consider. I want a close far focus with this telephoto so I’m using F-36 (a high setting for a 400 mm lens). Higher the F-stop, = less light BUT deeper focal field. That means the depth of focus will have both the windmill and the distant sky/horizon in focus). Sort of a requirement but not a problem here. I only use 1 of maybe 10 of these I take….. Hard to do.
All you Windmill junkies out there might be having a little withdrawal … I thought I’d throw this in as a post. Here “Re Pete” the windmill surveys his domain with an unusual mostly blue twilight morning sky. Being a control freak, “Re Pete” here is intent to keep things around him in line. Little does he know that the crafty old sun will just sneak up over the hill and spoil his mood. This image is just a snip of the continuing adventures of the “Pete” Brothers Windmills for you their loyal followers. (You know who you are😜 )
I usually work my way out to this guy’s hangout where he gleefully “photobombs” my landscapes…. (It’s a years old narrative if you don’t understand lolol). Aermotor windmills account for the bulk of the still standing windmills out there. The company started way back in the 1888 with 24 sold the first year. By 1892, 20000 had been sold lolol. The company still exists. They also sold a LOT of steel fire “look out towers” for fire watch and being a lightning target lololol.
This business is not for sissies here in the backcountry.
I’ve only dumped ONE camera and long lens out of a moving vehicle to date. It cost around a 1000 dollars to fix that camera back. I feel that was cheap. Particularly compared to buying a replacement camera. The lens undamaged. I was traveling about 15 mph at the time. Then watched the unit tumble end to end. It was very close to this spot lolol
This area of the sky is the size of your thumb at an arms length on the horizon. The BigHorn Mountains Cloud Cover that morning was climbing up the back of the peaks. Those clouds well past the 130 mile distant 13,000 feet high PreCambrian Cored, uplifted Mountain Range. Parts of Montana and Wyoming in this photo.
It was to cover the highest ones within a few minutes of this photon trap. The sun was JUST rising over my shoulder. I was standing in the long shadow of the ridge I live on.
Getting to see weather move over those high ridges is a rare treat from this far away. These huge blocks of the earths crust uplifted during a major tectonic compression episode called the Laramide “Orogeny”. (Google Word of the day) Cloud peak is 13,175 feet. The same compressional forces that uplifted the peaks, also downwarped the adjacent basin to the east toward my camera. This deep basin is called the Powder River Basin.
The Powder River basin is a major source of clean burning coal in the US. The burning of this coal generates 30 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. My ranch coincidentally sits directly on the western most edge of the Wyoming Black Hills. It is actually JUST east of the edge of the Powder River Basin. If I drive 2 miles west, I start to see alluvial fan sediment. These sediment fans stretch all the way from the Big Horns.
Those long fans of sand/gravel/silt and clay, dissected into ridges by huge rivers washing off the peaks during glaciation. These alluvial deposits are far reaching, called the “Tullock/Fort Union” formation. The first two sets of ridges are all Tullock, as are the hills behind them out to the Mountain range. They are all made of sediment that traveled from the Big Horns when they were MUCH taller.
Major Mountain Chain sized Anticlines and Synclines resulted from continental wide compressional forces. Huge were those forces bending even the underlying crystalline Pre-Cambrian rocks. The rocks weathering to sand and clay washing off of those peaks filled the basin and washed all the way… well just about to my front door.
I attempt to see the world from an entirely different perspective. From under here, there is a feeling somehow of security even though there is a ton of wood over your head being held up by rotten broken branches. What could go wrong there?😜
It’s a busy photo with all sorts of of things going on. Enjoy the looking. I ought to put a “where’s waldo” in some of these images lolol. It was a cool spring morning, still some snow in the hollows. Not long past as this was taken one month ago as this posts. “Summer is coming” and is slowly arriving here to the borderlands. Spring was on a Thursday this year it has been confirmed. ❄️
The sunset here was clear sky with a single cloud providing filter to the light. This kind of show almost always pushes me toward snags to work wide lenses….Grab that 12 – 24mm for sometimes like this. I have a 10mm wide angle full frame lens. I use it when ever I get a chance. It takes very wide perspectives.
Perspectives and clear skies seems to go together… Cloudy complex skies detract from the detail up close. I feel that detail is the point of the photo myself but your opinion may differ lol. RegardingFallen logs: “Snags” each has it’s own character and personality I find out. Some are masculine and rugged like this one. Others are more curvy and feminine with a grace that is hard to describe. Orientations change from tree to tree, opportunity emerges as I drive by on the ridge tops. I see the possibilities as I go though sometimes I get on a mission for a particular tree.
Taken about 12 days ago from this post, narrative written 8 days ago.. Such is my work flow these days. Present future and past reflections a this remote wetlands echo back to us in time and space. A Cottonwood Tree covered dam built many decades ago. A spring fed pond is home to many a gorgeous vista. It will have many more. Each sunset/sunrise is a new pallet of color for me to explore.
I have so many choices of where to pursue the limited time I have to chase the light. Because the wind was dead calm at the homestead. The flags were slag. I thought that a trip a few miles into the backcountry to get to this place would worth the investment of time and gas. .
“Backcountry” …. I’ve defined the term before and for all the time. OK, Here’s how it goes…
This little “Heaven on Earth” is 2 miles of bumpy two track dirt/grass road from the nearest county road. That county road is crushed red scoria (“Clinker”) gravel. Generally local gravel travel over well maintained roads is a dusty pleasure. I point out that these roads are fodder for “Clever Girl”. She eats them up. 🤔👀
So… upon gaining the county gravel, it is 14 miles of curvey / hilly 1.5 lane road to the closest asphalt paved two lane highway. . It is 70 miles to the nearest 4 way 3 color traffic light but there is a 4 way red light 50 miles away lolol. Back far away from population…. = Backcountry or at least that is my definition. My nearest neighbor is about 4 miles away. 2 people per square mile density in this area while there are several hundred cows in the same area. Cattle Country with Dinosaur Bones. …. There certainly are more remote areas of North America but not a lot of difference from those to the lifestyle of living in the “backcountry”.
This spot is about 200 yards from the Montana/Wyoming Border and it has a bit of both states in the image as do most of my photos.
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.
Trees growing out of boulders are always a photographic target . Particularly with a LOT trees growing out of boulders. On the crest of this backcountry ridge, is a hard cap rock that has resisted erosion thusly protecting the rocks below.
This is ALL Hell Creek Sandstone. Differential erosion leaves these relatively harder boulders for me to enjoy. They are 66 million years old and that lichen can be 100 years or more old. Only rocks that are undisturbed have big lichen patches. Cattle pressure/wear from rubbing will destroy it. There are big areas of this boulder strewn surface covered with Sunburst Liichen (Xanthoria sp.), sometimes called pincushion lichen.
Bear in mind that there are hundreds of different species of Lichen that inhabit Wyoming and differentiating them exactly is sort of a science all by itself. Lichenologists have to have work of some kind. Academia is the obvious job path. I suspect that there is a use for court testimony however the job prospects of a Lichenologist is about the same as a masters in biostratigraphy such as myself. Though interestingly, biostratigraphers do a lot of work with oil companies .. My general comment about Lichen nomenclature is that you need a bachelors of science in Biology (which I have) to look at the photos or read the text. The text about the lichen is a foreign language.😀😀. I digress,
Enjoying a veiled sunset while walking around with several cameras in the remote backcountry is similar to a shooting gallery with a .22 but without the report or an occasional zinnnng…. . Lots of good stuff to shoot at. Just a click versus bang. BTW, I do carry a firearm in the backcountry. add a few more pounds. You never know exactly what your going to run into. A 10mm 1911 pistol with a 5 inch barrel is good for 300 yards… (work on that one for a while). This was taken this fall and it was pretty chilly.
A tad out of season is this Bee on a Summer Day. I’m still finishing random photos from pretty much the last 3 years so don’t bee surprised to see a few more bee photos incoming lol. I’ve actually seen a few bees about but it’s 37 degrees as I type this and it snowed today.
Its nice to keep the spring season in perspective. Looking ahead 1 month is healthy if you have the images. The limitations of the technology I use are such that deep focus in these macro images is not easy to achieve. There is a fine balance between getting closer and getting focus. It depends on what your wanting to do technically. Bumblers are still sort of rare these days. We’ve been in winter conditions pretty much since Oct 1. That was the last time I was able to photograph bumbler since then. I’ll do my best to give you macro fans a slow but steady flow of the little guys as they start appearing again. 🤠
The Bumblebee family has over 250 species in the genus Bombus. A few related genera to Bombus are found in the fossil record. Bombus is the last genus in the tribe Bombini which also had those fossil species in the classification scheme of things. There are fossil bees found but I point out that the 13 dollar BEE in “Amber” on Ebay might be a fake. Just saying😜 Fossil bees are rare as hens teeth (which, by the way actually exist ).
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.
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).
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.
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.
Meadowlarks were named by Audubon noting that they had been neglected by earlier birders. Lewis and Clark made note of them though. They are abundant up here in the Wyotana borderlands. A Dozen per acre would be my estimate in the deeper backcountry near my homestead. There is a lot of grassland up here and these guys thrive in this environment. They are tricky to get close to and I always pursue an opportunity If I see it mostly with long telephoto shots as this.
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.
This guy is a wild Meadowlark way out in the backcountry. Drove up on him. He was very tolerant of my Vehicle as it approached. I slowed to a stop about 20 feet away. I’m not usually so lucky…. At that distance, with an 1200mm fast lens, I can focus on his eyelashes. The hard part is getting 20 feet away from a backcountry 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. Genernally not during Meadowlark season lolol 😜
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.
I call this kind of sunset with divergent crepuscular rays a “Crown Sky”. The rays reminding me of a royal crown but it is also suggestive of a massive cathedral with a starburst at the focal point. I really don’t see too many of these. Considering the nature the particular environmental conditions necessary to create this.
OK here’s how it work. The light from the sun is passing under the lowest cloud bank just on top of the white disk. That light is stopped by the shape of the puffy bottom of the cloud surface. This creates shadows on the clouds/ice toward the camera. The “Rays’ you are seeing are the opposite of the shadow lineson the foreground of the effect. The lit up parts of the rays are illuminated by the light passing under that lower cloud bank. So that clouds bumpy surface profile is reflecting off the cloud deck. As a final “nice tough” here of course also has to be some falling ice crystals (hexagonal plates falling oriented like parachutes) to light up to really make it pop like this. So several things have to be happening at just the right time for this phenomena to occur.
I’ve seen these rays pointing upward like this capture as well as in a down facing divergent crown. I watch a lot of sunset/sunrises and I’d say these occur at a 1 in 500 rate or so. I have a handful of Crown Sky Captures over my travels.
These three Great Blue Herons are a mated pair and a third. The pair is busy building a nest, the third is waiting for it’s mate that is off fishing. Perched in their nest for the next few months there. Soon the yet to leaf Cottonwood Tree supporting them will conceal them. Soon hidden behind the canopy of this 50 foot tall tree. They have an amazing view up there until then. Sitting above a lake high in the Montana / Wyoming borderlands.
The Great Blue Heron is a wide spread species ranging to exotic places like the Caribbean, the Galapago’s Islands and the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch lolol. Now why several mating pairs (6) hang out up here about 1/2 way between the Equator and the North Pole, or in the Galapagos….hummm Choices. 😂 Actually there are a lot of frogs and fish in the waters up here and I don’t see them skinny lol. They usually raise 5 or 6 chicks and head out.
The rookery is adjacent to a tall grassy hill such that I can get an angle at the tree top level. This from about 150 -300 yards away depending on the angle. I have some serious good images of Blue Herons taken over the years both sunrise and sunset. This wetlands is one of a few on our remote highland ranch. The lake is a spring fed ponded behind an early 1900’s dam. Water from the Fox Hill Sandstone 200 feet below seeping through a crack to the surface. I’ve never seen that lake dry.
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…
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.
The difference in illumination of the front versus the back of this perched Raptor is huge. Bright unfettered “Golden Hour” sun was hitting this guy from behind JUST off frame left. I tried about every manual shutter and f-stop setting possible on the camera to get the shadow detail and not overexpose the rest of the scene. This was the best result of the scatter. I think the photo finished with his chest very pink but I would indicate that that area was in deep shadow and I’m grabbing detail out of that shadow.
Colors brought out of the shadows seldom survive photorealistically under these harsh differences in dynamic range. I couldn’t with any precision see it’s chest in the camera. Regardless, the detail was in the dark and I do take MANY photos dark only exposing the highlight correctly in the camera. .
The digital dark room enables me to bring differential exposure to life. My long time job as a professional ‘photo finisher’ is to do just that. It’s the same thing that Ansel Adams did sort of.. He laboriously, in the chemical darkroom masking off negatives so as to expose different parts to a different light exposure. That act VASTLY expanded the dynamic range of the technology at the time. Essentially I’m doing the same thing in the computer. Different subjects…. Be nice to have Yosemite to yourself….🤔👀 I don’t think, this birds chest was quite that pink. It’s the way it finished and I have no memory of that part of this image to argue with it. …
The sun did highlight the tail feathers nicely thank you. He sat that way for 5 minutes… tail 1/2 fanned. I think the branch kept it from opening all the way. Robin’s Egg blue sky just at the start of golden hour. Stay tuned to my narratives for the story of “Raptor’s versus Herons at this tree line. I watched battles this morning, found a casualty of a Red Tail Hawk under the Great Blue Heron Nest. Witnessed the battle from UNDER trees and barely caught on film (Horribly I suspect) , 3 Herons and 3 red tail hawks doing aerobatics. I expect this mornings timeline to publish next week (my current lag time). This mornings work was wonderful with a HUGE April Setting Supermoon to start my early morning.
Egg Moon images soon.
Till later and Be Safe. Stick with the plan folks. I’ll do the tourism for you 📷🤘
I had just left my drive way to photographically “chase” the light for this Golden Hour at sundown here on the ranch. Before I leave, I set my longest lens camera for the lighting at the time with the anticipation of catching some animal running/jumping/flying or otherwise trying to blur my otherwise in focus landscape image. Nice puffy clouds for Spring in Wyotana..
I work everything manual including focus on my cameras. So I physically have to twist the lens to get a bird flying at least 50 mph like this in focus.. So I have to stop my truck, bring the camera to bear, it only takes a few seconds….. Moving bird…..close to me, the landscape blurred as I was tracking this Raptor with a 28 inch long 1200 mm lens.
I really don’t see a lot of Bald Eagles up here on the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch. They certainly are not rare in the area but tend not to hang out up here. I see them on carcasses/road kill all the time. They also hang out on the river valleys where they fish as opportunists. But to find one coming across my high ridge land ground is sort of an unusual thing. We have some wetland areas on our place where “most” of my other eagle sightings occur. They tend to hang near water which of course is where most animals levitate to. Ranchers are no exceptions. 😜
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 😜. )
Blue is a rare color scheme from my cameras. I don’t work blue skies very often mid day . Most nights around the solstice (as here) are brightly colored. IT was an odd night. But the wind was dead calm. I thought that a trip a few miles into the backcountry to get to this place would worth the trip.
Backcountry…. I use the term all the time. OK, Here’s how it goes…
This pond is 2 miles of bumpy two track road from the county road passing through a seriously hard wire gate to pass through. Tight bastard it is… The nearest county road is gravel, it is 14 miles then to the closest paved road. It is 70 miles to the nearest 4 way 3 color traffic light but there is a 4 way flashing red light 50 miles away lolol. Back far away from population…. = Backcountry or at least that is my definition. My nearest neighbor is about 4 miles away. This spot is right at about 200 yards from the Montana/Wyoming Border and it has a bit of both states in the Image as do most of my photos.
The Dam was built by cowboys probably 100 years ago. Located directly on the Miles City to Newcastle Cattle Drive Route, many a herd over nighted at this spot historically. Wetlands are rare this high up the ridge. The crack in the earth that that lets the aquifer leak into this puddle is hundreds of feet deep into the Fox Hill Formation (The Beach sand of the Dinosaurs). I’m still looking for a fossil beach umbrella…..😜
The ephemeral wetlands of the Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, entertain many reflections every day but you have to be there at the right time to capture those photons that are worth catching…. The winds were somewhere else as the water here was mirrored as smooth as it gets. Dead calm air is quite unusual up in this high ridge line country. The ice floating on the surface of this rapidly depleting due to the warmth… Melt water pond will be here but a few more weeks. This water level is quickly dropping soaking into the Hell Creek Formation sands underlaying this spot.. There is NO snow left to melt up the hill from it. Nothing to feed it further so I’m expecting it to disappear shortly.
This nearly full March Worm Moon that evening a few weeks ago was a beautiful sight rising just a few minutes before sunset. I worked it with 4 cameras/lenses over about 30 minutes. I have a few photos to finish from the “sitting” lol. The “Golden Hour” lighting tinting everything an orange hue that is classic for the timing of the sunset ongoing over my left shoulder. The sky show there is a subject for another post another day. Seeing the full moon while the sun is still up only occurs for a few days a month, perhaps 4 chances during the month.
Location: Bliss Dinosaur Ranch, (pretty much directly ON the Montana/Wyoming border, the 45 parallel, precisely 1/2 way between the north pole and the equator. Exactly🤔
I can count the number of Blue Sky Background images I produce a month on both hands. I have been finishing 150 -180 images a month for the last 7 months. I’ve got 1300 pages finished on my future book (s) project. My tendency is to have a definite preference away from the longer colors of the spectrum. Robin’s Egg Skies are ubiquitous up here at certain times of the year. This visual tunnel with the anastomosing feminine form of the snag caught my attention driving along that late evening. The shadows were very long in the late golden hour low angle light. The Fallen snag in the foreground frames the bottom, the surrounding pine boughs frame the sides.
Telescopic perspectives are always worthy of the attempt. This is a 600 mm 28 inch long lens with me standing down this hill hundreds of yards. These long shots are deceptive in how they treat relative distances. That plus the lighting on this scene drew me to stop my rig and set up to take this cornucopia of textures and contrasts.
Taken late fall 2019, it’s just making it’s way into my workflow. I have the job security of 3800 portfolio images left to finalize lolol. Finishing more than 5 a day is hard work. These days are warming so that might have to go to 4 a day over the summer. I get distracted by fossils and ranch chores during the warmer days. I’ve finished 1300 since Sept 21, 2019. It’s be easy if I also weren’t finishing new material as I take it lololol. 😜📸
Some of the pre-sunrise drives out into the backcountry are silly amazing sometimes. It takes me a minute to get set up for this kind of location. I usually have photographed the sight a different day . This fully involved twilight sky was colorful icing on the cake from that morning’s long timeline.
The term “Twilight” means 3 different things: Civil Twilight begins about 28 minutes before sunrise or ends 28 minutes after sunset. It is that period from when the sun is about 6 degrees below the horizon. On clear days you can do normal outside activities that require light. That solar elevation angle below the horizon defines each twilight phase. CIvil Twilight is by far the brightest of the three twilights.
Nautical Twilight starts when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon technically. Both the Horizon AND brighter stars/planets are visible in this twilight. It is the “middle” of the three twilights. At the beginning of Nautical twilight, it’s about one hour to sunrise.
Rule of thumb which varies with your position on the globe, is 28 minutes each twilight. In Astronomical Twilight, If you live in the city, you have probably never noticed astronomic twilight. The are NO shimmers of daylight at the beginning of Astronomic Twilight a full hour and a half before sunrise. .
Away from the lights of population centers, we see Astronomic Twilight regularly where there is just a slight greying of the black totally dark sky mid night. It gets as dark here on our ranch in remote northeastern Wyoming as the North Atlantic Ocean according to NASA.
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….👀.