All posts by Joni

SOUTH DAKOTA (Part One) The Black Hills

Since there was so much fun stuff to post from our South Dakota trip, I have split it into two parts, the Badlands (see the entry below) and this entry on the Black Hills, featuring in particular Custer State Park.

Before going to Custer, we stopped at a zoological facility in Rapid City to enjoy some animals living within “Bear Country USA”.   Although I took loads of photos there, I’ll just post the two below.   This grizzly was having such a delightful time in his pool.   This gesture just killed me!

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It appears that Alan is enjoying a new friend.  A buddy like this can be nice to have, as they wear a constant smile and don’t ever talk back!  It seems at least for the moment like they have a lot in common…!

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OK, on to Custer State Park, which is why we made this trip in the first place.  What an amazing park this is.  It reminded me of a mini Yellowstone, featuring fewer species but offering unparalleled viewing and photographic opportunities.   The animals are wild, but are so used to visitors in cars that they barely noticed us.

The American Bison is the  species that most represents the tragic history of the great plains, and it is a feature species in Custer State Park.   Smaller sub-families of females and their calves  gather together in summer to form great herds of hundreds of animals.  And you can sit right in the middle of the action (inside your car of course, as bison are VERY dangerous) and watch them all around you.   It is like a window into the past, when bison herds covered the great plains in numbers too great for us to even imagine.

(Below) Although this bull is not yet fully mature, he is formidable looking when staring you in the eye from only a few feet away!   All bovine species can go from placid to really PISSED OFF in .001 seconds.  Lucky for us this guy decided that we were OK and put his attention on something more gratifying like the lush green grass at his feet.

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One of hundreds of new bison calves dotting the plains…

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A Mountain Bluebird surveys his surroundings.  This is a really prolific species where the high plains meet forest edges.   Their blue feathers are almost electric in color.

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I lost (or should I say temporarily misplaced) my mono-pod strap.  When we made a back-track to find it, we discovered this Mountain Bluebird nest in an old dead pine tree.    I was so glad that I misplaced that strap.  Finding a nest like this in a big wooded area is a bit like finding a needle in a hay stack!  It was our lucky day!

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(Below) A shot of the open prairie…just BEAUTIFUL!

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(Below) The  Pronghorn Antelope is the Maserati of the great plains.  This species can clock over 60 mph, making him the second fastest land animal on the planet (second only to the Cheetah).  All of this speed allows him the luxury of being right out in the open during daylight hours.  There is not another animal in this country that can catch him in a chase.    So he is calm, cool and collected.   This is a fully mature male.

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“If we all put our heads together, maybe we can find the answer we’ve been looking for…”     Three young male Pronghorn put their heads together in a mock sparring display.   It is too early in the season for this to be serious, and these males are all too young to be real contenders.   But they learn how to spar early in life.

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(Below) A Leopard Frog in a mud puddle.

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We were seeing early mock sparring in a number of ungulate species while in Custer.  Here two mature Big Horn rams “play spar”.   They first face each other, then suddenly both rear up and lunge forward hammering their huge horns together.  The impact is so hard and loud that it sounds like a gun going off as it echoes through the hills.   This is only “for fun” right now, but by fall it will become a serious competition for mating rights.

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Custer State Park was once known for its large population of Big Horn Sheep.  But in recent years pneumonia has somehow gotten into the population and is killing most of the babies.  This year only one baby survived and it was later taken by a Mountain Lion.   The park has made the painful decision to allow this population to disappear through attrition,  and then reintroduce the species back into the park when the disease has cleared.   We were very lucky to spot these two rams twice during our stay, as Big Horn sitings are becoming more and more rare.

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(Below) A stunning Western Tanager.

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(Below) A “wild” burrow and her baby.  These burrows are so funny.  Because park visitors have fed them for years, the adults will walk right up to you and if you are in your car, they will stick their big heads well into your vehicle begging for handouts.  It’s hard to remember that they are wild when they behave in this way, but last year a child was badly hurt by one of these.

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It has been a wet year in South Dakota.   The prairie grasses were especially green and flowers were in bloom everywhere.

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A Whitetail Deer with her two brand new twins.  She was very nervousness as most new mothers are and quickly moved her babies to a good hiding place.  The deer in South Dakota are so much smaller than the monsters we see outside our windows here in Kansas.   It is likely a simple difference of how harsh their winters are.

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SOUTH DAKOTA (Part Two) The Badlands and MT Rushmore

Anyone who thinks that a prairie is “void of life” or is “boring” has never spent time in western South Dakota.    I Just love the tall-grass prairie and the abundant wildlife that lives there.

Alan and I recently returned from a trip to beautiful western South Dakota.  We had traveled through there nine years ago on our way to the Yellowstone National Park area.  But on that particular trip, South Dakota was a mere “pass through” to our final destination.  Unexpectedly, we both fell so in love with the Black Hills and Badlands area that we vowed to one day return, with this area as the final destination.   It took almost a decade, but finally, we made that trip.   And it was more than worth the wait!

Our real reason for going on this trip was for me to study the wildlife of Custer State Park in the Black Hills.  But of course one cannot simply zip down a highway and roll right past beautiful Badlands National Park.  I will do another blog entry (above) on our findings in Custer State Park a bit later.  In this entry I will feature the beautiful Badlands.

For anyone who hasn’t been, the Badlands are an area of jagged buttes and spires and deep canyons caused by millions of years of wind and water erosion.   This area contains one of the richest fossil beds in the world.  The winds of the great prairie have exposed the rock in rich layers of color almost like a multi-layer cake that spans for several miles across the rolling tall-grass prairie.    Heavy rains this year have turned the vast grassland into brilliant shades of green cloaked with the yellow blooms of summer flowers.   Contrasted against the orange rock and bright blue sky, this beautiful land is a feast for the senses.

(Below) one of many amazing views across the Badlands.

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One of the only things this baby bunny really has to fear here is the wrath of a rattle snake.  Keeping an eye on the sky is not a bad idea either.  Raptors quite like the taste of rabbit.   But for now, with human visitors around, he is safe and seems to know it.

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Another amazing vista…

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Badgers love the open prairie.  They dig huge dens in loose soil.  These animals are famous for their tenacious, raspy personalities.  I would not want to upset one of these!

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Modern technology is mind blowing.  While viewing the beautiful scenery out in the middle of nowhere, our good friend and dog sitter (“Sitter Susan”) called with a report on our dogs.   “They are being angels.”     That was good to know and nice to hear and Alan looks really happy about that.   I guess that one is never really out of touch these days!

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(Below) One of my favorite birds, the Meadowlark.  This is the state bird of Kansas (and Wyoming too, I believe).  They LOVE the open grassland and can be found in great abundance here.

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And of course one cannot ever do a piece on the prairie and not include its most famous resident, the Prairie Dog.   Although considered vermin in areas populated by humans, they sure are funny and cute!   They are prolific breeders which is why they are considered a nuisance.    There were once countless billions of prairie dogs in the western half of the US.  Now they continue to thrive in wild areas like this one.

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(Below) On to the black hills.  This old rock road tunnel perfectly frames the four famous faces of beautiful MT. Rushmore.

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A better look at those famous faces of stone.  What an amazing feat this was to conceptualize, create and maintain.  It is truly a one of a kind landmark.

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“Queen Tuts”

I rarely take commissions, and haven’t done a dog portrait painting in many years.  But recently I decided to portray this little beauty for some very nice people oirginally from the UK who now live in Alaska.

I had a Shetland Sheepdog once myself and do find the breed to be very delightful.

Her owners call her Tuts.  So I gave the painting a fitting title “Queen Tuts”.

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Bad Hair Days

In May, a pair of Cardinals built a nest in an evergreen tree only feet away from our front door.   It can be quite interesting and entertaining to watch baby birds grow.  Change happens very quickly.    In nature,  songbird chicks must mature very fast before predators are able to locate their nest.

Photographing songbird nestlings is quite tricky.  A long lens is a must and a photographer must always assess whether or not he/she is influencing any behaviors of the birds themselves, in particular the parents.   Chicks this age need to eat continuously or their growth and development will be impeded.   If the presence of the photographer keeps the parents away even for a short time, this can be detrimental to the growth rate and ultimate success of these chicks.  A ladder and a long lens put me in a position to not bother the birds at all.

(Below) These babies have just hatched.  They have  barely dried off.  There were five eggs,  but only three hatched.  All three chicks look quite healthy.

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Hours old Cardinal chicks.   The fuzz on their tiny heads reminds me of when I am having a bad hair day…!

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(Below) Three days old now and the chicks continue to be all mouth.    They are ravenous eaters and keep both parents very busy.

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(Below) The chicks are five days old.   The feathers that will one day carry them on the wind are developing nicely.

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Seven days old now and they have really changed…    I did not photograph them again until they were leaving the nest.   I wanted to be absolutely certain that my presence did not in any way send them out of the nest too early.

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Here, two of the babies are entering the world outside of their nest for the first time.   As you can see…the bad hair days continue on…!

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A brief flight onto the ground and then staying very still is a good strategy for survival.  This chick later flew up into a little bush for a bit and then was out in the wilds of the woods within that same afternoon.    Of the three little babies that originally hatched, only two fledged.  The third was small and weak and the parents abandoned it that afternoon.   He died very shortly thereafter.  This chick below is robust and healthy.

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Here is their pretty Dad, bringing a tiny insect larvae to one of the chicks.  It is hard to believe that those gangling, brown fuzz-balls will one day be as pretty as he is…

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A Fuzzy Flotilla

Birds are wonderful parents.  During my explorations in the wilds I’ve seen examples of this over and over again.

Recently I have run across two different families of Canadian Geese at a nearby park, both undertaking the arduous task of raising a family.   They have allowed me to share their space to the point of having to zoom all the way out to photograph them as the babies pass sometimes within inches of me.   Mom and Dad just don’t seem to mind at all.

This is a typical procession with a parent on each end of a perfectly straight line.  The adult in front guides the way and the one in the rear makes sure everyone gets there safely.  What a smart strategy.  These chicks are about three days old in this photo.

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A fuzzy feathered flotilla…

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Goose chicks constantly watch their parents to learn from them.  Here a chick from the slightly older brood is learning from an expert how and where to find food.

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Mom pulls seaweed up from the bottom of the lake.   Sure looks tasty!   Some of the chicks are already trying their hands at it as they dunk their heads under, leaving only their fuzzy bottoms above water.  But the fellow in front isn’t ready to work for a meal yet and takes the easy way out.

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Once out of water the chicks wattle all around.  This one is curious about me.  “Commin through!”

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But then he stops and decides to give me a good look-over.

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Once joined by a sibling, he wattles off to go and find mom.   I find it interesting that in many cases when chicks walk around together, they do so in perfect step with one another.  This photo is an example of just that.    I have dozens of photos of chicks together where this is the case.

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Time to gather the kids.  Mom corrals her chicks back into a little group again for another feeding lesson, this time on land.

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See son, we can eat grass too…

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And you don’t want to eat Maple tree seeds…

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A tender moment between parent and baby…

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With a lesson learned, these two are able to feed on their own.

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One last cute pose for good measure…

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It’s Tough Being a Family Man…

Sometimes the simplest thing can start a quarrel…

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And when one party just won’t let it go, the conflict can become more troublesome…

These orioles were having a rough day!

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I don’t know what was said, but it didn’t go over well…

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This poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.  Now his mate jumps in and reads him the riot act…

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In the end there was little he could do to smooth things over.

SOUND FAMILIAR GUYS???

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Turtle Time

My dog Pawsome found a box turtle in the garden today when we stepped outside at lunch time.  He was a bit shy at first but eventually “came out of his shell” and went about his business.

The step from the garden onto our concrete patio is a BIG one if you are a turtle!

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Feeling a bit perplexed and out of place, he looked me over for a bit…

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And then he decided that it was time to explore our deck.

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On the smooth surface of the deck, one can build up some real “speed”…  COOL!

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These purple flowers sure look interesting.  Wonder what one might find in here?

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Oh, I see this little Skink likes purple flowers too…

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An ant came out from under the turtle’s shell.   When the turtle noticed it, he went from a poky little chap into a streamlined hunter (well, as streamlined as a turtle will ever be).  The chase was on as he “raced” after the ant…

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In the end it wasn’t the ant that he was after, but rather the vegetable matter that the ant was carrying.  GULP!   And the ant went along on his way.

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Hmmm…wonder what is over there?

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This pretty thing sure looks tasty…

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Chomp!  Gulp…

(This by the way,  is why we DO NOT use weed killers on our property!)

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Ahhhhh!  Lip smackin good!

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There is nothing like a nice dandelion mustache to show for a good meal…

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Time to mosey….see ya!

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SOME BOX TURTLE FUN FACTS:

Box turtles can live to be 100 years old.

Box turtles are becoming increasingly threatened in the wild due to habitat loss (woodlands being converted into subdivisions, roads and farms) and the pet trade.  Pet traders are pulling  them from the wild and selling them at alarming rates.  Over half of them die in captivity.  It is difficult to adequately meet the nutritional and physiological needs of a box turtle in captivity.  Most are anemic and sickly.   So teach little Johnny that the best place for the box turtle he has just found… is exactly where he found it!

A box turtle stays within about a half mile range of where it was born, all it’s life.  If it is caught and released somewhere else, it will spend the rest of it’s life trying to find it’s way back to it’s original range.

Female box turtles lay eggs in late spring, usually around 4-6.  Their reproductive cycle is very slow.   They only need to mate every four years and are able still to lay fertilized eggs each year.

The next time you see a box turtle, ask him how old he is.  His first birthday could date back to the time when automobiles were first invented!

The King’s Dragon

I never know where a painting idea will come from.  Any artist will tell you that they get inspiration from life experiences.  I guess that I’m no exception.   It can take years for an idea to come to fruition as it percolates in the back of my mind.   Then finally, I will decide that the time has come to pull the idea out from my imagination and recreate it with paint.

Several years ago my husband and I were taking a leisurely walk around a small lake in a nearby park.  I’ve always admired an abstract sculpture that sits beside the lake.  The artist crated this sculpture by welding scrap metal pieces together to form a kind of serpent-like creature.  Over the years rust has given the sculpture a wonderful patina.    We strolled past the serpent on that day as we have many times.   Suddenly out of nowhere a Belted Kingfisher flew up and perched right up on the top of the serpent’s head, using it as a vantage point over the water.   I didn’t have my camera with me that day, but that image has stayed etched in my mind ever since.

I decided to redesign the serpent to be as it would if I had sculpted it myself, using the idea of old rusty metal.   I wanted it to be more dragon-like to give traction to my idea.  It was fun to come up with a three dimensional sculpture idea based loosely on one that I had already seen.  The result is my painting “The King’s Dragon”.

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“The King’s Dragon”

Male Belted Kingfisher, (detail)

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Emerging after a loooong winter…

One of the surest signs that winter is indeed over is the emergence of cold blooded critters.   Reptiles and amphibians appear, often a bit sluggish from shaking off winter and from the cool temperatures of spring.  The sun is a critical factor in warming up their systems enough to gain energy for normal function.

Starting in April, the nearby ponds are filled with a chorus of bullfrogs.

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The eyes of a bullfrog are very pretty I think…

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And who cannot smile when looking into the face of a box turtle?

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A garter snake coils up and gives me a face-off.  She is ready for action.

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This snapping turtle looks like he has had too much to drink on his night out (perhaps too much to eat too)…

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A beautiful Ribbon Snake is out and about looking for lunch.

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Face to face with a Ribbon Snake…

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This little chap creates one of my favorite sounds found in nature, a chorus of tree frogs.   He is perched on our hose holder.

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I ran into this male Broad-headed skink on my walk in our woods yesterday.   What a beautiful creature!

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I will never understand how this Black Rat Snake is able to scale straight down a brick wall.  He  can seemingly defy gravity.

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FINALLY! A sure sign of spring!

Old Man Winter finally lost his hard fought battle to stay forever, against the soft, warm sunshine of spring.   Everything is just exploding in color.  How I love this time of year.

I decided to take my new little pocket camera out for a stroll today.  I need to learn how to use it.   After over 25 years of wearing a big SLR camera around my neck, I decided that a small purse-size camera could come in handy for more casual shooting situations.  Although I could never abandon my wonderful SLR , this little hummer is just the ticket when I’m not after “professional” results.

This pond below is on my regular walking path that the dogs and I take every day that we can.  The red bud trees are so beautiful in it’s reflection…

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One of the surest signs of spring here is the arrival of cute little Yellow-rumped warblers.  They pass through eastern Kansas on their way to Canada, staying on for a few days to beef  up on tiny insect larvae.  They arrive like clockwork each year in mid April.

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This is Little Mill Creek (below).  We have had a great deal of water this year, between the massive snow melt-off and heavy rains.  I love how the creek looks when sparkling in the warm sunshine.

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I decided to use the macro setting on my little camera to photograph this tiny frog.   Believe it or not,  this fellow is about the size of a DIME!  A natural spring oozes out of the hillside and trickles across our driveway, attracting these tiny frogs.  One must be very careful where they step!

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The view off our bedroom deck…

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Bradford pear trees line the streets of this industrial park.  They all bloom at once, creating a white tunnel down the roadways.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…Make a SNOW WOLF!

OK, we are SO done with this white stuff… or ARE we?   Ten inches of snow fell on Saturday and Saturday night.

Despite it being the middle of March, yesterday morning we awoke to a winter landscape.   I decided to make the best of it, so I made Aurora the Snow Wolf.

I just couldn’t resist a couple of corny poses beside him…

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Aurora looks especially good in his bright scarf!

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Here he is all finished…

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Everyone should have a Snow Wolf to look after their house!

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Pawsome doesn’t know what to think of this new comer…

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The next morning, like any loyal canine, Aurora was there waiting for me anticipating the fun of a brand new day…

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Oh no…the sun is coming out!   Aurora doesn’t like the sun.  It makes him perspire profusely!

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What is one to do???

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Maybe a cover up would help!

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This worked for Michael Jackson…

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In the middle of March, one should not become too attached to a snow friend…

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That Crazy Little Thing Called…SPRING???

Just yesterday I  typed away on a new blog entry (below), crooning about the wonderful joys of early spring.  The warm air filled with the soft smell of frozen earth thawing into mud and the promise of new plant life just starting to appear was downright intoxicating.    I had spent the past two mornings photographing  large nest-building birds, and enjoying the promise that springtime brings.

But nature had other ideas.  When I entered the grocery store yesterday afternoon, the air was almost balmy.  Although the once sunny sky was giving way to thick gray clouds again, it seemed to be of little worry or concern to me.  By the time I was wheeling those groceries to the car only minutes later, the wind was whipping all around and the temperatures had dropped by at least 15 degrees.  By bedtime, rain had become snow, passing through a sleet stage along the way.

One of the things that I most love about the weather, is that it is one thing that man has not yet learned to control.   The truth is, we are simply along for the ride.  So we may just as well enjoy it!  This snow (about 5 inches and still growing) is likely Old Man Winter’s last hurrah for the year.  At least I would like to think so…

Today my husband and I had a leisurely lunch in the hearth room enjoying the pretty white stuff as it found it’s way to the ground.   Spring will be here one day….. really it will

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Two of our does prance around in the snow.  I can’t imagine that they are not even more tired of the cold and wet than we are.

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Here our buck “TK” strides by.  The deer are still in full winter coats, thank goodness!

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Our deck railing makes a good resting place…

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Our front yard looks especially pretty when covered by a blanket of white.

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Early Signs of Spring

Yep indeed, it’s been a hard winter for most of us here in the U.S.  I can’t complain too loudly, as those on the east coast have certainly taken the brunt of Old Man Winter this year.   But we’ve had our share of the white stuff, and the semi-white stuff and the just plain wet stuff.  A sunny day or two mixed in would have been most welcome.  But nope, Old Man Winter had other ideas…(gotta love him!)

Finally, the grip of winter loosened just long enough to throw in some spring teasers.   I of course, just can’t stay indoors for these.   So I set out with camera in hand and dogs by my side to see what in the holy heck was going on in the wilds around me.

It didn’t take long to stumble upon my first good find, a Cooper’s Hawk pair starting the early spring nest building process.  Actually, they have made some real progress, as the nest is substantial enough for one of them to actually climb into it.  Both the male and female just posed and posed for me.  I LOVE it when that happens!  I’d swear that some animals actually want to be in paintings…If you pose for me, I’ll photograph you.  If I photograph you and like what I get, I will likely paint you!

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(below) A close up look at that pretty raptor face.  Note the bright blue sky.  We have not seen one of these in awhile.   That alone  was worth the picture!

Cooper’s Hawks are commonly referred to has “Chicken Hawks”.   They are unusually strong for their size and have been known to kill and carry off something as large as a barnyard chicken!  So it goes without saying that most other birds are not happy to see one of these!   This pair was enduring the wild bombardment of Blue Jays when I found them.  Undaunted, the hawks just ignored those pesty jays, almost regarding them as if they were annoying flies that continuously buzz around your picnic lunch sandwich.   “Beat-it, you bratty blues, or I will make lunch out of YOU!”

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My next good find came this morning.     In a giant sycamore tree there are a cluster of between 15 and 20 huge nests that were built by Great Blue Herons last year.  This tree is nearly six stories tall and stands mixed into the woodland right by the river’s edge.  The herons must have been quite satisfied with the location, as this year they have returned and are currently undergoing the process of high-rise remodeling.  The tree is full of these huge birds again, all busy with a decor update.  The birds work as a group and help to build the entire nest community together.  I don’t know how the process of choosing who gets what high rise condo in the end occurs.

(Below) A nest is built one twig at a time…

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Hmmmmm, this nest is looking pretty good, but could use a bit more substance on the back side…

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This heron appears to be taking a break.  In every group there is a slacker…

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Meanwhile, my patient companions waited in the woods as I slid down muddy river banks and moved all around to get a better vantage point of the heron tree.   You are good dogs…  When I’m done taking pictures, we will finish our walk!  … I promise…

And that we did…

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2010 NatureWorks

There is no place where  you will meet friendlier people than in Tulsa, Oklahoma.    The annual NatureWorks show in Tulsa was a resounding success for Alan and me this year in every way; wonderful visits with our friends in the NatureWorks organization,  sharing lots of laughs with artist friends, a booth neighbor whose dog shared the weekend with us, and very good sales.  Indeed, Tulsa is a wonderful place!

The people of NatureWorks work incredibly hard to put on this stellar, world-class  show.  And they do it with continuous smiles on their faces.  It is obvious that they enjoy doing this for the community of Tulsa, for conservation and for the artists who come from all over the country and even several countries across the globe to show their work at this special show.  I feel most blessed to know these hard working, generous  people and to be included in their show.

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This year there was an extra bonus for me.  My booth neighbor Lyn St. Clair brought her sweet border collie mix Newt with her to hang out all weekend.  It made leaving my own dogs at home a wee bit easier.   Thanks Newt, for warming the hearts of all!   Below are Neut and Lyn.

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I want to thank the many people who stopped by to say hello and who decided to take some of my art home with them.  I am passionate about what I do and it is so very rewarding to know that others appreciate and share in this passion.

Creating One’s Own Vision

For wildlife artists, I believe that there is no replacement for time spent in the field.  Opportunities for viewing wildlife don’t just happen.  We often have to make them happen.  Although there are sometimes wonderful things going on in the outdoors around us, in order to observe, photograph and study animals that don’t live in our immediate areas of the country, we need to get on a plane or climb into a car and go to where they live.  This seems like a no-brainer to me.  But I am amazed at the amount of people who paint wildlife that just don’t see the need in this.   It often shows in their work.

For me, this travel and observation is the best part of the job.  I can honestly say that a day spent with  mountain goats high up in the heavens or watching crocodiles in the Zambezi River are memories that stay with me for a lifetime.  It can be challenging and fun to bring those wonderful moments home within you and then attempt to capture them with paint.

My husband and I were incredibly fortunate to visit the Yukon in the summer of 2008.  I’ve always dreamed of seeing a wild northern place such as this.  And it of course, didn’t disappoint.   I took thousands of photographs of the area’s amazing scenery, and studied some unique animals there as well.   “Lofty Heights” below is the first painting that I have done as a direct result of this memorable trip.

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Upcoming NatureWorks show

With the annual Natureworks Wildlife Art Show only two short weeks away, I’ve been painting like a crazy woman.   I must apologize to people who regularly check in on my website for the loooong span of time with no updates.     But I have a surprise in store for all of you.  I am in the process of doing a complete website overhaul.   Most of my design work for it is done.    My dear techy husband is the one who makes the magic happen.  I am hoping after the show that he and I can find some good, quality sit-down time together to implement all of the changes.

In the mean time, I will post my feature piece for the NatureWorks show here.   It is a rather large painting for me, at 24″ x 36″.

“Sun-Kissed Orange”

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Silent Language

We humans often blunder through our daily lives giving little thought to the myriad of living creatures that  share this world with us.    The animals that live outside our windows are simply below our radar of importance.        For many, this happens  by default of logistics.   Being dwellers of concrete and stone, we go about our business paying little attention to anything that is  not relevant to our daily tasks.

But what are we really missing out on?  There is a world out there of  unimaginable complexity, full of drama and the constant use of silent language.  Many mammals don’t have a complex audible language.  They don’t need it.  They are masters at reading the silent language of others.

For anyone who doesn’t believe that animals  feel a complex range of emotions,  continue on and see these emotions for yourselves…

Winter is optimal deer watching time for us.  Whitetail deer are incredibly interesting to watch, as they tell us what they are thinking with their faces and their bodies.  Below a mother and  fawn share a tender moment.  Their emotional connection to each other is obvious.

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Another mother and daughter share a tender moment.   Fawns look to their mothers for guidance and decision making.  And the does show amazing patience as their fawns learn valuable life lessons.   Whitetail does are wonderfully devoted mothers.

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(Below) Trouble in paradise.  Sometimes when a youngster crosses a social line or comes too close to someone else’s mother, the emotional energy changes.  The fawn below knows that she has made a mistake.  The doe tells her so with a dramatic display of disciplinary body language.  A swat from a front hoof is coming.  The fawn knows this and attempts a hasty retreat.

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Another situation where a reprimand is necessary.  This fawn does not belong to this doe.  Like many ungulates, whitetail deer mothers know their own fawns even from a distance and don’t tolerate close contact with others.  This fawn knows what is coming.

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(Below)  This youngster approaches with trepidation.  The uncertainty is written all over her face.  Big bucks were already in the area and they won’t allow her to come near them.  She knows this and proceeds with great caution.   She is so wonderfully expressive with her emotions.

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The buck on the left (our long time resident Broad Beams) shows an obvious display of dominance and displeasure.  The buck on the right is Shark, a new buck in the area who temporarily denounced Broad Beams from the top position.  But antlers are everything in the world of whitetail bucks, and Broad Beams still has his here.  Well…..it’s PAY BACK time!   Shark doesn’t want trouble and makes good his escape.

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With a distinct display of aggression Broad Beams lowers his head and flattens his ears back.   This body posture is very effective and helps deer avoid dangerous physical contact with each other.  The only time this may not work is during the rut, when violent battles sometimes do take place.  But outside of the rut, deer have a very effective way of “talking” that requires no sound.

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(Below)  Mohawk makes it clear that another buck has come too close.   Just about anyone would know by looking at his face that one step closer could be your last.   The silent language of animals transcends species.

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The next time you get a chance to watch wild animals going about their business, take a good look at what they are really saying to one another.   This silent language is actually spoken quite loudly.

A Changing of The Guards

Well, after all of these years it has finally happened.   Just two short weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry stating that our old monster buck Broad Beams was still the king of our woods.   For years he has ruled this land with unwavering confidence,  maintaining his top position one battle at a time.   Wounds now cover his body from the rut fighting of recent weeks.   He looks tired.  He looks old.   He looks sore.  Indeed Father Time has finally worn him down.

There is a new kid on the  block.   Strong, stocky and in his prime, he has come here with great purpose.  Many big, strong bucks have come and gone, all trying to achieve the same thing.   Until now, none have been successful.

The one thing about nature that is constant is change.  It is the way things work out to keep bloodlines varied and animals healthy.    In strides our new patriarch,  “Shark”.   How he got his name is a long story.  How he achieved his new position as top buck is not.  It is quite simple really.   He won the battle between two great titans.

(Below) Shark boldly struts about.  We can’t be sure if he will stay in the area after the rut is over.  But for now, he is the undisputed king.  Because of Broad Beam’s long stay as the top breeding buck here, there is a chance that Shark is one of his sons.

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(Below) Broad Beams after loosing his position as the guy on top.  Note the horrific injury to his back right leg.  This injury is likely the single source of his loss.  He can barely stand on this leg now.   There is a deep puncture in his chest and his nose leather was torn nearly completely off.   Despite this, he is still the second ranking buck around here.  Everyone scatters when he arrives, everyone that is except for Shark.   It is so very strange now after all of these years, to see Broad Beams defer to another buck.

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(Below) Broad Beams in his prime,  cocky, confident and sporting a rack the width of a Volkswagen.  No one messed with him in those days.

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(Below)  BIG BUCK CENTRAL:  Shark (front), Mohawk (center) and Broad Beams (farthest).   Bucks are very social with each other as long as an estrus doe is not in the area.   Once the rut is over, these guys will buddy up together and will even occasionally groom one another.   But this is a “BOYS club”….NO girls allowed!

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(Below) A doe approaches Mohawk from behind.  He looks somewhat annoyed.  Moments later he chased her away.  When does are not in estrus, bucks don’t tolerate them.    “Three”, a young eight point watches from the right.  He has a lot of growing to do before he is in contention for the girls.

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