Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Custer State Park's Wildlife Bonanza

I'm jumping around from spring wildflowers to current times with pics of summer wildlife in South Dakota's Custer State Park.  Whenever I visit the Black Hills, a drive through this top-rate state park is a must-do.  Not only is the scenery outstanding (think granite spires and pine forests) it is also a wildlife photographer's dream with bison, antelope, burros, deer, elk, meadowlark, prairie dogs, and many others often visible from the park roads.

Big fella

In early July, my parents drove me through the park to look for some of it's famous wildlife.  In particular, Custer State Park is known for their large buffalo herd often found right next to the park's main entrance.  But on this day, we didn't arrive until nearly noon, and the buffalo were already settled in for their midday nap.  We only spotted one group - and they were way off in the distance.  But I did roam around one of the prairie dog towns and a couple of brave little rodents posed for me.

Early morning elk herd

In mid-July my entire family gathered for a reunion that had been delayed a year due to COVID.  My hubby returned for the event, and after 3 weeks away it was wonderful to see him again.  Always an early riser, he offered to take me back to Custer State Park one morning to try our wildlife-spotting luck.

Friendly cottontail

Leaving our rental cabin at 5:30 am we made the drive to nearby Custer State Park.  Not only did I witness a lovely sunrise, upon entering the park we had our first wildlife sighting within 5 minutes.  My eagle-eyed hubby spotted a huge elk herd, complete with six cute babies!

Morning light illuminates the bunny's ears

Turning onto the park's "Wildlife Loop" I began to get excited.  My hope was that some of the buffalo herd would hang out right next to the road so I could get some closeups of the shaggy beasts.  But first we stopped at a roadside pullout so I could photograph a meadowlark.  The bird ended up being shy, flying out of camera range.  However the stop wasn't entirely a bust.  I did notice a cottontail rabbit munching away near the ditch.  The bunny didn't mind this camera-wielding woman getting up close and personal, so I was able to get some nice shots. 

We found the buffalo!

Hubby drove for about 10 miles with no animals in sight.  I was beginning to think we'd be skunked again, when our truck drove over a rise and there they were!  Not only was the large buffalo herd concentrated on both sides of the road, they were also sauntering across it.  And these beasts were so big, they definitely had the right-of-way.

Buffalo have the right-of-way

Approaching the main herd, hubby had to stop his truck several times for road warrior buffalo.  Of course we gave them lots of space, some of those beasts were gigantic!  (Why did the buffalo cross the road?  Because he could!)

Baby buffs

I was happy to see lots of babies hanging out with their mothers.  Although most of them had been born a couple of months ago, they were still awful cute.  Some of the little ones were already sprouting tiny nubs on their heads, the beginnings of horns yet to grow.  I also loved their orange-red color (did you know baby bison are sometimes referred to as "red dogs?")

Here we come!

Of course, we didn't dare get out of our vehicle.  Buffalo are wild beasts and extremely dangerous.  Custer State Park literature warns visitors to keep their distance from all wildlife, but especially the bison.  Every year there's one or two dumb tourists that get too close and are injured trying to get a selfie with the "fluffy cows."

All of these photographs were taken through the car window.  At one point, several large male bison surrounded our truck.  Talk about extreme close-ups!  I hastily rolled up my window as one guy was right outside the door.  We couldn't move for a short time, as our truck was totally hemmed in by the big guys.  But when one buffalo started licking the side of hubby's pickup, he put it in drive and quickly rolled away.

This big guy kept sticking out his tongue

Hubby spotted one male buffalo that was absolutely huge.  He kept sticking out his tongue and emitting rude grunting noises.  Not sure what that was all about, but it did make for some funny pictures!

After being delayed several times for various buffalo crossings, my hubby and I arrived at the Wildlife Station visitor center.  Besides partaking of the restroom facilities, we also were able to watch several bison amble towards a water hole.  A large fence provided protection from the beasts, enabling us to view the herd safely without being in our vehicle.

Using a sign post to scratch an itch

This big boy used a sign post for scratching his itchy neck.

My favorite image

After driving back and forth along the same one-mile stretch of road several times, my hubby noticed a nearby gravel road.  Consulting the park map, we discovered it was possible to complete a loop using two of these minor roads.  Since the main Wildlife Loop was getting busy with more tourists, we opted to try the road less traveled.

Antelope family

Right away we had an antelope family sighting, complete with a cute baby.

Male antelope eating flowers

This male antelope was having a flowery snack.

Content buffalo calf

The series of gravel roads finally led back to the Wildlife Loop.  But before entering the main road again, we came across another large buffalo herd.  These guys were right next to the road.

Shaggy beast

There were several mothers and calves and it was adorable to watch their interactions.


Not to mention some more opportunities for close ups of the babies.

Tender moment between momma and baby

So now I know - if you want to see lots of wildlife in action, visit Custer State Park in the morning's wee hours.  It's totally worth the early wake up alarm!

Brave prairie dog

I'll close this post with pics of a couple fearless prairie dogs that didn't mind me sticking my long lens in their faces (well, I wasn't quite that close but I did get within a few feet and that's pretty good for these usually skittish little guys).

Curious rodent

For anyone interested in wildlife photography, I highly recommend a visit to South Dakota's Custer State Park.

NEW EDIT:   Has anyone else noticed that the "Reading List" tab on Blogger isn't working?  Or is it just mine?  This is how I've always gotten updates on the blogs I follow and as of yesterday it stopped working. I wonder if it has something to do with Feedburner closing up shop.  Any advice my fellow bloggers can give would be appreciated!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Glorious Morning on Tom McCall Point

First a quick health update.  Monday's MRI revealed my brain abscess is almost gone.  Very good news!  The doc wants an additional week of iv antibiotics just to be sure the infection has totally disappeared.  I'm ok with that - I don't want this to ever happen again.  So finally there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  Yahoo!

Pre-sunrise gorge view

Now on to today's blog post.  These photos are from an early May pre-sunrise visit I made to Tom McCall Point, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  I'd come here a week prior, but only had time to wander around the lower Rowena Plateau before rendezvousing with a couple of friends to hike nearby Memaloose Hills. 


Colorful sky over Tom McCall Point

Despite an impossibly early wake up call, I managed to drag my sleepy self out of bed and arrived at my chosen sunrise destination with ample time until daybreak.  Wanting a different vantage point than previous trips, I walked out to a flat shelf below Tom McCall point that overlooked the Columbia River and eastern Gorge.

"Here comes the, do, do, do, do"

My lofty perch was a good one.  It provided a nice view of the sun as it rose over the hills of the Washington side.  I also was able to capture some pink-tinged, pre-sunrise clouds  hovering over the skies above Tom McCall Point behind me.

My sunrise spot

Tom McCall Point and the lower Rowena Plateau are owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy.  To protect this sensitive area, the Nature Conservancy has established many rules, including one that prohibits dogs (or any pets) on the trails.  There are signs prominently displayed at the trailheads that state this.  So you can imagine my dismay when, right after sunrise, I noticed two young female trail runners starting out on the Tom McCall trail accompanied by a large, unleashed dog.

Flower-lined trail

Don't me wrong - as a former dog owner who took her dog hiking, I love dogs and enjoy seeing them on the trails.  But I never considered taking my dog somewhere he wasn't allowed.  As the runners disappeared up the hill, I chastised myself for not speaking up.  Although I'm usually a non-confrontational person, this incident had my blood boiling.

Oodles of balsamroot!

After the women left, I gathered my gear and began concentrating on capturing some images of the fantastic wildflower display in the meadows immediately below Tom McCall Point.  Every year this area puts on a good show and this display was no exception.  Photographing the showy yellow balsamroot and purple lupine temporarily made me temporarily forget my ire.

Columbia River views

But....a half hour into my photo session I saw the ladies and their dog returning from their run.  They were heading right towards me.  I pondered the situation - should I say something?  Now was my chance.  Finally, with the women within earshot I summoned my courage and said "You know dogs aren't allowed on the trails here."  One woman, averting her eyes as she ran by, mumbled "I know."

Her response made me furious.  I don't remember exactly what I yelled as they retreated, but it was something like "Well, follow the rules then!"

Chocolate tiger lily

I'm sure those ladies expected they wouldn't see anyone at this early hour and thought they could get away with taking their dog.  Although my words probably won't change their behavior, I hope at least it makes them think twice next time they consider taking Fido someplace he's not allowed. 

A local deer family

Okay - rant over.  On to the main reason for this day's visit -  to see and photograph the famous wildflower bloom atop Tom McCall Point.

This meadow was especially colorful

Every year the top of this small hill blossoms into a colorfest of yellows, purples and oranges.  I climbed quickly, trying to minimize the photo stops.  But the wildflowers were many and the views fantastic so my uphill progress wasn't as speedy as I'd hoped.  Despite the early morning canine intrusion, I did spot a family of deer, complete with mama and two babies!  At least the dog hadn't scared them away.

Great Mt Hood view - before the clouds took over

Near the summit, I was treated to some drop-dead gorgeous views of Mt Hood.  Although clouds were swirling around the mountain, I was able to get several unobscured shots of Hood's perfect, white cone.

Flowers and mountain - it doesn't get any better!

The above image was my absolute favorite of the day!  I think you can see why.

Summit wildflower garden

Although I met a couple of early-riser hikers descending, upon reaching Tom McCall's summit, I was happy to discover I had it all to myself. 

One happy hiker

And Mt Hood stayed out of the clouds long enough for a proper summit selfie!

Great Gorge views to the west

The views up here were phenomenal.  The Columbia River and Gorge hills stretched out in both directions, all framed by acres of beautiful wildflowers.  Photo ops abounded!

The trek back down

You could even see the tip of Mt Adams, rising above the Washington side (notice it in the above photo?)

From the lower meadow

After spending an appropriate amount of time on top, capturing everything that caught my eye, I noticed the clouds starting to blot out the lovely Mt Hood view I'd been enjoying.  Good thing I'd hiked up here early.  The people who arrived later would miss out.

Nature's perfection

And miss they would!  As per most of the trails around here, the early riser gets the plum views and vacant paths.  Upon my descent, I encountered dozens of hikers.  Seems no one started before 9 am - and that's fine with me!

A fitting end to a great day!

Another wonderful spring wildflower expedition in the Columbia River Gorge.  Having been denied these places due to COVID closures last year, I was intent on making up for lost time.  I think I did pretty good that day!  Hope you enjoyed all the photos, and sorry for my rant.  :)

Oh - and just a reminder - if you'd like to follow my blog via email, please enter your email address in the "Follow by Email" box in my blog's sidebar, located just underneath the list of followers.  You can also follow my blog on Facebook - just search for "Linda's Lens Blog."  (I'll eventually figure out how to reestablish the links to my Facebook and Instagram pages on this blog.  If anyone has suggestions on how to do this, please let me know!)

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Spring Bird Extravaganza

 Yes, I'm still in South Dakota recovering from my surgery.  Every day I'm feeling better, so fingers crossed I'll be able to end my treatment soon and go home.  To pass the time, I've been busying myself taking lots of photos - from last week's family reunion, to the deer and birds in my parent's backyard, to a early morning trip to Custer State Park where we saw TONS of wildlife!  (Blog post coming soon)

Regal Great Blue Heron posing for me

In the meantime, I've dug up some bird photos from last April.  These images were taken within a week's timeframe, at a park near my house.  It's affectionately referred to by the locals as the "duck pond."  In the spring a wide variety of feathered friends call this place home.

Great Blue Heron being harassed by a red-winged blackbird

There's a very tame Great Blue Heron that hangs around the pond.  The first morning I arrived early and was able to capture an amazing image of the big guy posing on a partially submerged tree branch.  He even flapped his wings for me and I was able to capture the action!  

After that, I walked around the inlet creek/swamp on the west end of the pond and came across another GBH.  This one was being harassed by a red-winged blackbird.  I think the heron was too close to the blackbird's nest and the blackbird was defending it's young.  Whatever the reason it was sure fun to watch (and photograph!)

Bushtit with nesting material

There are a couple of nice wooden fishing docks that provide lake access to local fisherman.  These docks are also great for viewing wildlife.  I caught a bushtit perched on the wire netting at one of the docks, it's mouth full of nesting material.  These birds are one of my favorites - so tiny, nearly round-shaped, with the most expressive faces!

Surprise osprey sighting!

Later that morning I met up with my neighbor Cheri and her friend Dotty.  These ladies had brought out their cameras in hopes of getting some great bird shots.  Cheri knew the lake had recently been stocked with trout.  Not only for fisherman, the recently-added trout also attracted osprey and eagles.  Both ladies hoped to capture one of these birds in mid-catch.

So we sat on a nearby bench and waited.  No action.  Half an hour passed, and Cheri said she had some things to get done, so packed up her camera and left.  Dotty and I continued to sit and chat.  Then, not five minutes later, Dotty noticed a shadow overhead.  Out of nowhere, an osprey flew into the lake, grabbed a fat trout and began to fly away.  It happened so fast Dotty and  I barely had a chance to focus our cameras on the retreating bird.  I did happen to capture one image that was actually in focus (but overexposed so some creative editing was employed).  Dotty, who's a much better photographer than I, got a few great shots.  We both commented that it was a shame Cheri left so early - she missed all the action!  (But never fear, Cheri returned the following morning and got some good pics of a bald eagle grabbing a fish.)


The following day, Cheri and I ran down to the park to see what we could photograph.  I was still getting used to my new Canon R6 camera, and it was good practice for me to capture some of the shorebirds.  The focusing system on this camera is much different than anything I've used before and it's been a steep learning curve.

GBH in excellent morning light

Good thing the "duck pond" provides lots of subjects!  Cheri and I caught this GBH illuminated by wonderful morning light.  

Successful capture of GBH in flight

When the GBH had enough of us, he spread his wings and flew away.  But not before I managed to get one good pic of him in flight.

Two woodpeckers in one tree!

In addition to photographers, a lot of local birders visit the "duck pond."  While walking by a huge dead tree, a man pointed out to Cheri and I that two different woodpeckers had made their home in the tree's upper reaches.  It's not everyday you see two different species of woodpeckers in the same place!  The one on the left is a Red-breasted Sapsucker, while the one on the right is a Northern Flicker.


Although not as photogenic, this Cormorant was in such good light Cheri and I couldn't resist shooting a few images.

Fluffy new gosling

The other wonderful thing about the "duck pond" in spring - baby ducks and geese!  However for the first two days, both were elusive.  Other birders and photographers tried to point me in the right direction but I always just missed seeing the young 'uns.

Gosling nap time

Then on the third day I hit the jackpot.  Arriving about an hour before sunset, two groups of goslings were out with their parents.  There's nothing quite as precious as seeing newborn baby goslings tucked under their mother's wings, deep in slumber.

Snacking on fresh greens

Later, the parents roused the goslings and they waddled over to a small creek to begin feeding.  The babies were so close I was able to get some great images with the zoom lens.

Someone isn't happy!

I even captured a squabble between the youngsters!

Mother goose taking her goslings and leaving

But after awhile the parents grew tired of being the subject of my camera.  Gathering the brood, they swam away to an inaccessible area of the park.  By that time I'd filled my memory card with tons of images so it was okay.

I hope you've enjoyed some of my favorite bird images from this spring,  With all this downtime, I'm hoping to keep busy posting more stuff from April and May's adventures - with a few more recent South Dakota stuff thrown in.  Heck, maybe I'll even get caught up!  (Wishful thinking)