Category Archives: Trips and travel

Spots on the Rocks

I haven’t done a painting from my trips to beloved Africa for awhile so I decided that the time has come!   The Cheetah has the distinction of being my favorite of all the big cats.   What an amazing specialist they are.   They are poetry and grace in motion.  And even when lounging on a rock pile or termite mound, they still exude a fragile, perfectly designed power.   This Cheetah only seconds before was lounging on rocks, dozing in what is left of the late-day sun.   But a hunter can never fully sleep.  A sound in the distance interests the cheetah enough to sit up and take notice.   Is it time to stretch those long lean muscles in preparation for a 60 mph dash for dinner?   Or is the sound insignificant, warranting one to go back to napping again?

“Spots on the Rocks”   Acrylic on masonite (12″ x 18″)

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Society of Animal Artists “Art and the Animal”

This year celebrated 50 years for the Society of Animal Artists.  The opening of the SAA’s  landmark art exhibition was hosted by the San Diego Natural History Museum on Sept 4th.  Artists from all over the world joined together to celebrate the occasion.  I felt most honored have my painting “The King’s Dragon” juried into this benchmark show.

(Below)  The art was displayed on three levels in the atrium of the museum.  Visitors from the public came in good numbers for viewing.

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(Below)  My painting hung on the third and top level under the beautiful light of southern California.    My dragon and Kingfisher hangs in the middle here.

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One of the best parts of any show or exhibition is the convergence of many great wildlife artists.   There is a special kinship among animal/bird painters.  And of course there are a lot of laughs along the way too.

(Below L-R)   Joni Johnson-Godsy, Morten Solberg, Andrew Denman, and Guy Combes.

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For those who don’t follow the lives of wildlife artists,  Robert Bateman has spent his life not only creating some of the most beautiful and compelling wildlife art in the world, but he also has been a tireless champion for the wild world and the heritage he and others in the SAA would like to leave behind for our grandchildren.   Indeed, Bob is a remarkable man.

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(Below) The annual Awards Dinner.   You can dress us up…but you can’t take us out!

Here Andrew Denman assists Kelly Singleton with her “Stretch Armstrong” impersonation.

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In the end the fancy clothes only cover the outside.  We can’t  seem to help ourselves…our clownish natures still emerge from within!

A collaborative cocktail of crazy chemistry indeed!

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(L to R)  Andrew Denman, Kelly Singleton, Sandra Blair, Joni Johnson-Godsy and Guy Combes

Life is a ZOO, especially when your’re IN one!!!

A visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo proved to be more of an “adventure” than I was originally hoping for…

First thing in the morning, fellow wildlife artist Kelly Singleton and I ambitiously set out to find the Harpy Eagle exhibit.  Neither one of us had ever seen one and we both really like raptors.   Ever elusive in the wild, this rare bird turned out to be impossibly elusive to find in the ZOO!

Following the zoo “map”, we ended up in a crazy tangle of dense jungle vegetation, wandering aimlessly around in the gloom under the thick green canopy, completely surrounded by the one and only thing that we DIDN’T really care about seeing in the zoo…monkeys and apes.

After an hour and a half of schlepping up and down the incredibly steep hills of this part of the zoo only to find out we’d been walking in circles, we FINALLY found our way out of the darkness.

(Below) This escalator will take any poor unsuspecting sap up into “Monkey Hell”.  We have nothing against monkeys mind you.  But getting that lost in a zoo while your perfect morning light is fading is NOT so fun!   And don’t count on zoo workers to help you find your way, as they don’t seem to know how to get out of there either!!!

I couldn’t resist creating this parody of our little “adventure”.

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In the end, we did find the Harpy Eagle exhibit and it was not even close to where it was positioned on that crazy zoo “map”.    It was on “Eagle Drive”………Imagine that…

The Harpy Eagle indeed had the last laugh.  He/she was hidden by the vegetation inside the exhibit.  We felt lucky to get a glimpse of some tail feathers.  We worked HARD to see that eagles a…s!

(Below) Kelly cops an attitude towards the beautiful bird species that made our morning so “eventful”    How many birds can you count in this photo?

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OK, on to more serious things…

There are very few people in this country over the age of about 35 who have not at least heard of the plight of the California Condor.  This huge raptor became the “poster child” for our environmental mistakes of the past and is partially responsible for the eventual turn-around of  mindset in modern North America.

Thanks solely to the tireless effort of a small handful of biologists who have devoted their lives to correct these mistakes, the California Condor still exists and is actually growing in numbers…albeit slowly.  Only a couple of short decades ago, there were less than two dozen of these birds left on the planet.    Although often thought of as a corny Eco-phrase….. extinction really is… forever.

Very little was known about this species when humans finally realized that his extinction seemed eminent.   More had to be learned about the habits and breeding of Condors without risking these precious few birds left.  A decision was made to capture every wild California Condor and hold them all for safe keeping at three different zoological facilities,  the San Diego Zoo,  the SD Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo.  The population was deliberately split into thirds and kept apart from each other in the event that a disease would accidentally slip in.  This way biologists could be more certain that the entire population was not totally wiped out.

(Below) A California Condor (still  not free from the threat of extinction).   This species now glides free in the skies of California and Arizona as it should be.   Unfortunately these birds are still being shot by short-sighted “Ya-hoos” who think that they are ugly and unnecessary.  I wonder what the Condor thinks of us???

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Enter: The Andean Condor (below), the only other condor species in the world, which thankfully was slightly more abundant and at the time seemed a good candidate for study.  Biologists spent the next number of years working with the Andean Condor (originating from South America) in captive breeding programs.  Much was learned about  successful egg hatching and the rearing of chicks that could one day be released into the wild.  This unlikely hero not only gave insight into it’s own future success, but also was instrumental in the saving of another species.

(Below) An immature Andean Condor takes part in a “Free-flight” show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.   For many people, their heroes reside mostly in the entertainment world, (musicians, athletes and movie “stars”).   For me, when this pretty fellow took the stage with his out-stretched wing span matching the width of a grand piano,  my heart started pounding faster.  It was like Elton John himself had emerged on stage to tickle the ivories through a famous song.    Fellow bird lovers would understand this…

Thanks to the hard work of biologists and the stunning  Andean Condor, the California Condor now has a brighter future.

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There are many other less “famous” residents at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, this one being a male Eurasian Eagle Owl.   This fellow was part of the best “Free-flight” bird show I’ve ever seen.   Owls are defined by their eyes, and this fellow is no exception…

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The symbol of wisdom and darkness as reflected in the soul…

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(Below)  One cannot help but wonder what in the world Mother Nature was thinking when she came up with this character.   This is a Shoebill Stork.   Wild populations now number between 5000 and 8000 individuals and live primarily in Sudan.    This species is considered as “threatened” in the wild.   Ancient Egyptians included these birds in their visual stories.

This chap was incredibly charming.  The more I watched him the more I fell in love.  It’s hard to not get a chuckle out of someone who is this comical looking yet at the same time takes himself so seriously.    He had the trademark quiet, intense, stalking habit so often seen in herons and storks.    But with that big, silly face looking down at them I could almost hear the frogs and fish laughing.

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Of course there are many, many species of mammals in the San Diego Zoo.  But you all already know what lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) look like so I chose to show off some of the more unusual residents.  However… one cannot overlook this silly chap.  He is of course, a meerkat.   Disney made this fellow famous.  There are very few children who don’t know all about him, at least the Disney rendition of him!  :-)

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Bird Nerds

San Diego, California is full of fun surprises.  As an extension to my trip to CA for the SAA art exhibition, friend and fellow SAA member Sandra Blair arranged to have professional photographer and friend Jim Dunn take us out to the local San Diego birding hot spots.  We stayed in southern California for several extra days after the SAA events ended, trekking the fabulous coastline in search of shorebirds.  Thanks to Jim’s  knowledge of the area, the trekking wasn’t very difficult!  He knew the best places to go and we were not disappointed!

(Below) Jim with fellow wildlife artists and SAA members Sandra Blair (middle) and Kelly Singleton on the rugged California coastline.

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If ever there were two bird species that say “ocean”, the brown pelican and the seagull are it!  This species is the “Western Gull” and like all gulls, they were very abundant on the coast of southern California.  I shot this on a foggy morning at the break of dawn…

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Pelicans are very entertaining to watch, as they are such a strange adaptation to life on the sea.  These clownish chaps gather in large groups and lounge around, dozing or preening.  Then all at once when they see that another bird has found food out on the water, they lift off and try to get in on the action.  When it turns out to be a false alarm, they come  back in in small groups and proceed with their napping again.

(Below) This pelican seems to be saying to his sea faring friends “Come forth yee fellow pelicans…come one, come all”.

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In comes this youngster.  This poor chap has somehow gotten his head stuck in a piece of rubber trash.   This bird still has a bit of growing to do and may parish from strangulation due simply to human irresponsibility.   Call me crazy, but I do believe that animals have a right to live in a trash-free world.   When people discard unwanted items in irresponsible ways, it is often animals and birds that pay the ultimate price.  Millions of shore birds and marine animals die each year because of this carelessness.

No one will be there to watch as this bird takes his last desperate breath…so it remains beneath our notice.   That is why I am posting him here.   Please, please be mindful of what you buy and where you ultimately discard it!

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(Below) This silly guy has turned his pouch completely inside out.  When a pelican “yawns” the arch of his neck pushes his pouch up and out.  That “lump in his throat” is actually the front of his neck!  Not just anyone  can do this!  Such a comical creature Mr. Pelican is!

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(Below) A slightly more dignified looking brown pelican…

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(Below) The “Three Amigos”.   Or for folks who have seen us yucking it up a different title might come to mind… “The Three Stooges”!

Wildlife artists have a special kinship that is hard to explain.   We seem to come from a similar place in our lives as far as what we value and prioritize.  I’m never happier than when I’m with a group of talented fellow animal/bird artist friends…

This photograph is compliments of Jim Dunn  (www.avian-images.com)  Thanks Jim!!!  :-)

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Another famous resident of the California coast is of course the Sea Lion.  Below is a nursery.  This adult is solely responsible for a rather large group of youngsters.  Some lounge with their babysitter here on these rocks, while many babies were playing about in the water.   I have no idea how it is decided who stays behind to play lifeguard and watch over the  youngsters.

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This Double-Crested Cormorant seems to be trying to make a deal with his sea lion buddy…”If you scratch my back, I’ll come and scratch yours!.  No WAIT!  Let  ME do that!

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Meanwhile, a bit farther out in the water these two adult sea lions were trying to settle an argument.   The bickering went on for quite some time.  I have no idea what the dispute was over…maybe who had to take the next shift as communal babysitter!  I know that I myself would sure hold my ground on that one!   NOT ME!!!

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During low tide, we visited the “mud flats” of the San Diego River.  As the water recedes a myriad of tiny sea creatures are revealed.   Shorebirds come en mass to feed.   We sat for hours watching and photographing them.

(Below) A snowy egret “reflects” on his day.  Snowys have bright yellow feet and if you look closely, you can see one of those feet through the water.

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Shorebirds are incredibly hard to identify, especially those in the Sandpiper categories.  This (I believe) is a Dowitcher.  Jim would know this bird’s species at a glance.  Having him with us was like adding a natural history lesson to our birding trip.  It doesn’t get better than that!

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Here two Dowitchers reflect twice as much as one!

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This little beauty below is a Willet.  Unlike many of the smaller sandpiper species who feed in small groups, this bird seems to like to hunt for food alone.  Watching shorebirds will bring your blood pressure down like nothing else in the world!

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Life is an Adventure…

The other day I drove (with the dogs in tow) three hours south to a lake where my husband is currently working on an engineering project.

The plan was for Alan and I to have a nice picnic dinner on his brother’s sailboat and camp out on the boat that night.  We were both looking forward to doing something a bit out of routine while we enjoyed some good rest and relaxation at the same time.  And since Alan was working on a project at the lake anyway, he could just get up and go right into work the next morning from the boat.

The weather was beautiful when we arrived, with warm sunshine and a soft breeze just enough to put a light ripple on the water.  We were the only people anywhere around at the marina and really even on the whole lake.  The only sound we could hear was the soft tapping of lines against aluminum sailboat masts as the boats in the marina gently rocked about.

(Below)  Our dogs are great swimmers, but since there is no way for a dog to get out of the water if they fall in here, we had them wear their little life jackets, at least until we were sure they “knew the ropes” of life on a sailboat.

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Pawsome is a wonderful dock-diving dog so keeping him from launching himself into the water was a bit difficult at first.  He did catch on quickly that we were not here for that and the life jackets soon came off.

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The sunset slowly gave way to a starry night.  We sat and gazed upwards, picking out and admiring the different star formations.   Indeed, this is what we came here for…

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Finally we retired within the cabin of the boat, leaving the side and top hatches wide open so a nice breeze could cool and freshen the interior.  I fell asleep looking straight up at the stars, listening to the distant, disorganized song of a pack of coyotes.

At some point after we retired, I was awakened by the tapping of the lines on the mast and noticed that it had drastically quickened in frequency.  Our gentle, soft breeze was fast turning into a stiff wind.  Where I was gazing at stars only an hour ago, I now saw thick  clouds interrupting the blackness of the galaxy.  A few rain drops followed.  Within a minute the sky opened up and rain came down in a deluge.

Fortunately we were able to baton down the hatches, close up the cabin and stay dry inside.

We retired again, this time listening to rain pounding on the fiberglass shell of the boat…a nice sound.

After a short time with the cabin all closed up, I noticed a rather nasty smell coming from the cabins bathroom.  Since neither of us were in there at the time, I became a bit concerned.  We couldn’t open up the cabin for fresh air due to the rain, and it became most “uncomfortable” in there.

The moment I figured out that the “black water” in the toilet tank  was backing up everything changed.  How does one fix a thing like this in the middle of the night?  If I didn’t constantly use the pump on the side, it was going to come over the top of the  toilet rim.  Can a person stand there and crank on a toilet pump all night long?  And if so, then what???   Daylight in and of itself doesn’t fix toilets.  And there was absolutely NO ONE around.  This is what nightmares are made of!!!

It is nearing the end of the sailing season and apparently the bathroom has been a busy place this summer.  It was at capacity!  A full sailboat toilet system is NOT a happy sailboat toilet system.  GET ME OUTTA HERE!

The only fix was to start bailing!  My dear husband took command (at my urging) and did the dirty deed.   I SO wanted to open that cabin hatch door!!!  Suddenly the pouring rain wasn’t looking so bad.  There is nothing quite like bailing “black water” out of a sailboat toilet in the wee hours of the morning!…So much for R & R!

In the torrential rain and complete darkness of 5:00 a.m. I started unloading the boat, taking all of our stuff waaaaay up to the car one load at a time.  I don’t think the interior of my Subaru will ever be the same!

Alan ended up going to work that morning soaked to the skin from rain and I still had a three hour drive to make to get back home.  I set off in complete darkness with blinding rain, thunder and lightening accompanying me most of the way.

About half way home I made the unwise decision to fill my car up with gas.  The temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees and I was still soaking wet in my summer clothes.  That wind was coooold!    Suddenly the valve on the gas hose malfunctioned and kept pumping even though my car tank was full.  I ran over to yank it out of the gas tank.   Gasoline was still spewing out and with nowhere to go shot straight back at me,  completely soaking my right side from head to toe.  The gas wouldn’t shut off and continued to spray all over me until the nozzle was bumped hard several times on the ground.    I arrived home several hours later, still wet from rain and reeking of gasoline.   What in the holy heck happened to our peaceful trip?

I guess I’ll make the executive decision to “mostly” remember this beautiful sunset we witnessed on the marina and those amazing stars of the evening that we enjoyed, before the tide turned and everything went astray.  And of course adventures like this one make for great stories later….much, MUCH later!   :-)

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Colorado Memories

With my husband’s work schedule too tight to go to my beloved Colorado this summer, I’ve been reminiscing by looking at pictures from our wonderful trip last year.  We took our two Nieces with us knowing that since they are both now in college, they soon will become too busy to join us.  It worked out perfectly.

The photo below is of one of my favorite places on the planet, the Maroon Bells, near Aspen.  Alan and I got engaged and later married here.    The Maroon Bells Range has it’s own weather pattern, and things can be very dicey there.  But on a calm day when the water is still, it is truly a sight to behold, one of the most beautiful places anywhere…

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A straight-up hike near Glenwood Springs takes you to another incredible place called “Hanging Lake”.  This beautiful little body of water hangs right out on the edge of a cliff, hence the name.   Travertine  has formed all over the bottom of the water, making it an interesting emerald green color.

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This place looks like something out of a fantasy movie…

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(Below) Crater Lake lies just beneath the great spires of the Maroon Bells.

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(Below)  While resting on a hike, Kippy meets a new friend.   Chipmunks are for viewing…NOT touching.  Gooood boy Kippy!

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Alan’s brother and his wife joined us in Colorado for a white-water rafting adventure.  Alan and I made the executive decision to put our Nieces in the front of the boat so they could bear the brunt of the hideously COLD water and shield us from it a bit (after all, what are a loving Aunt and Uncle for???).   Sara (in the red visor) and Mary (in the black visor) are in the front row, with Alan and I just behind them, and Alan’s brother and wife behind us.  A couple that we didn’t know sat in the back and of course our river guide Tim brought up the rear, making sure that we hit every trouble spot in the river along the way.

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(Below)  This is why we stuck the Nieces in the front!

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But in the end, the water had the last laugh.  It didn’t matter where on the boat a person was.  We all ended up SOAKED!   What a FUN day this was!!!

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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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Nature’s True Masterpieces

As a wildlife artist I am interested in all of nature.  I can honestly say that I don’t find one form of nature to be pleasing and another scary or creepy.   They are all interesting to me.    Some of the most beautiful places on the planet are rarely viewed by human eyes because of the stereotypes that have been placed upon them.

On a recent hiking trip to Arkansas, Alan and I (joined by two adventurous friends) took some time to go underground.   Blanchard Springs is one of several commercial caves in the area.  Much of the state of Missouri and the Ozark mountain region of Arkansas are nearly hollow underneath making it a cavers dream.    I have always had a passion for nature underground.  So a trip to Blanchard Springs cave with camera in hand seemed a natural fit.

Below:  Tens of thousands of soda straws hang from the ceiling of this chamber.  It is said that a soda straw grows about one inch every thousand years.  They are indeed hollow like a straw and are created by the minerals in water as it drips down from the limestone ceiling.   After enough time passes they connect to the floor creating great columns.

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Amazing formations form under ground creating some of the most beautiful patterns found in nature.  Below, this group of columns reflect in a perfectly still pool of water.  It is like sculptural stone sitting on a mirror.  It is difficult to tell where the rock ends and the water begins.

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Commercial caves are often lit up in extraordinary ways, showing off the amazing depth and beauty of their formations.

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It takes many thousands of years create these breathtaking places.

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(Below)  This photo shows magnificent stalactites hanging from the ceiling of this huge “room”.  The railing at the  bottom left gives a sense of scale.  These were some of the largest “organ pipes” I’ve ever seen.

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(Below)  Some cave formations create familiar images.   These minerals have formed a perfect scene of a great ocean liner among icy glaciers.  Could this be the Titanic before it met it’s doom?  Or perhaps it is one of the many ships that failed an attempt across the north pole and is still there, frozen in time.    This photo reveals the magnificent architecture of nature only where the lights shine.  Otherwise, there is complete and utter blackness.

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It  seemed fitting that we happened to visit this cave on Halloween day.  The image below shows stalagmites reflecting in a mirror pool.   They somehow appear as if to be the great glowing, jagged teeth of a frightening Halloween monster.

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Massive “organ pipes” hang from the side wall of this chamber.  A cave is thought to be one of the safest places to be during an earthquake.  It takes many, many thousands of years to create these behemoths.   They have withstood the test of time during countless geological changes throughout history including earthquake tremors.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES:     I was once an avid spelunker.  I spent many years exploring the beautiful world under ground.  The caves that I visited with my fellow cave enthusiast buddies were not beautifully lit commercial caves with paved walkways,  but rather were dark, rugged and largely unexplored.   We would spend many hours at a time exploring and mapping these wild caves.  This photo of me was taken during one of these expeditions back when I was in my late 20’s.  It takes a nimble, strong body and very adventurous spirit to endure the rugged unforgiving terrain, tight spaces and total blackness of the underworld.

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Many of the caves that I explored in my 20’s and 30’s had water passages.  Some were large like the one below.  Some were so tight that we had to remove our helmets to get through them.    Some even required swimming underwater to find a hole leading to the next passage.

Here a thin layer of water lays atop of thigh high mud.   The most difficult part of traversing this passage was keeping one’s hips in their sockets!    Not all caves are as muddy as this one is.

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If you are ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to explore nature underground, even if it is done the commercial way, be sure to do it.   You will feel as if you have gone for awhile to another planet.    It is the ultimate “get-away”…

Fish Tales

Cormorants are marvelous swimmers.   They are also marvelous fishermen.  I had a chance to watch them in action recently on a small lake just outside of Denver.   They disappear under water for several minutes at a time to swim around and gulp down fish, eels and even occasionally water snakes.   You never know when and where they will pop back up into view again.  This makes them a challenge to photograph.

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(Below) The fellow on the left has had a good day of fishing.   He tells his chums about the one that got away while giving a gesture with his wings… “And it was THIS BIG!”

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(Below)  Not to be out-done, the chap on the right chimes in.   “My catch today was even bigger!”

The poor fellow in the middle looks back and forth not knowing who to believe…

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Finally he leaves his two pals to their tall tales and swims off to find his own whopper.  The next story about “the one that got away” will be told by HIM!

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Mountain Mamas

Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that the mountain regions of Colorado are among my favorite places on the entire planet.  Any excuse to go there is just fine with me.   Alan and I recently attended a conference in Denver.   Denver is not actually in the mountains.  But it is close.   “Close”,  and an extra day or two is all I need to make a trek up into the high country!

We spent a couple of days way up in the heavens.   One of my favorite mammals to watch is the mountain goat.   They were out in droves.    Actually there were three different family groups that we discovered and spent time with.   Mountain goats are wonderful about sharing their space with people, as long as young children are not present.    Children make them nervous and even a little aggressive (I see eye to eye with them on this :-) ).

June is baby time in the mountains.   Each family group of mountain goats had its own tiny, fuzzy white babies.   Mountain goats form tight family groups of related females.    Males are off on their own in the high country.   They all come together during the mating season.

(Below) What kind of mother would allow her child to stand on the edge of a cliff?   A mountain goat mother.   This is where the goats feel safest.   Predators wouldn’t be very likely to spend time here.    The only exception is the Golden Eagle.   This fierce raptor is the number one predator of mountain goat babies.   They swoop down and knock them off of rocky cliff edges just like this one.   So a diligent mountain goat nanny keeps an eye on the sky!

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(Below) There is nothing like a nice firm mattress!   A mountain mama and baby rest together.    Although Mountain goats are devoted parents, they will not except the presence of a baby other then their own, even if it is in the same family group.   The mama will push another baby away, forcing it to give her some space.   They know their own babies from sight and scent and can tell them apart even from a distance.

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This baby below is about one and a half weeks old.    He was a wobbly fellow on his chubby legs.   Someday he will scale great cliff sides like an acrobat.  But for now, simply balancing on this rounded rock provides a nice challenge.

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Below, a mother leads her baby up the  mountainside.   The one clamoring up the rocks in the center of the picture is hers.  The other standing on the rock is looking for her own mother.   When she spots her, she will follow along.

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(Below)  Two babies nuzzle each other.   Baby mountain goats are VERY playful.  They bounce around on chubby spring-loaded legs.  Then when they tire, they come together and snuggle.   The baby on the left below is only a little more than a week old…

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Sometimes it’s good to have a friend…

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“Adventures”—the Yukon and Canadian Rockies

For those who are interested in stories, photographs and field sketches from far away places, I have just added two new segments to my “Adventures” link on this website.   You will see them at the top entitled “Yukon” and “Canadian Rockies”.

These are a few images from the Yukon entry.  This entry includes interesting history of the area and many images of summer in the far north including a close up look at some of the most famous animals of the vast Yukon territory.

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Below are a few images from the Canadian Rockies entry.   This entry takes you through one of the most scenic places in North America and gives you a glimpse into the lives of the fascinating animals who call the Canadian Rockies home.

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For much more, be sure to check it out!  :-)

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing…

I recently enjoyed one of my favorite things about being a wildlife artist.   That is spending time with the animals that I portray in my paintings.   This past weekend I traveled to visit my wolf friends who live in a captive pack in Indiana.   Wolf Park was established in the early 1970’s by a research biologist.  The wolves are raised as pups by humans and thus are habituated to them.   They are not domestic.  They are “tame”.   But a tame wolf is still a WOLF, and it is important to know how to behave around them.   I have been most fortunate to join the pack inside of their enclosure.   There is nothing quite like actually putting your hands on the subjects that you paint.

The fellow in the photo below is Reudi.   He is a lower ranking male in a pack of six wolves.  He has atypical blue eyes.   He has the cutest face!  I’ve always adored him…

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Actually going inside of different wolf enclosures gives an artist the unusual and magical experience of not only photographing and observing an apex predator up close, but also the chance to feel the “energy and spirit” of such an amazing animal.  I have had a life long passion for wolves.  I remember as a very young child searching the local library for a single book that might have just one photograph of  a wolf in it.   Even with the help of the library staff, I was not ever successful.   I couldn’t possibly have imagined as that wolf crazy youngster, that I would one day have a real wolf licking me in the face and asking for a scratch behind the ears.   Life is wonderful, isn’t it?

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(Photos by Monte Sloan)

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Hey Joni…He’s right behind you…

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Below, Ayla asks for a tummy rub.  It is important to remember that although wolves have so many dog like characteristics, they are indeed NOT dogs.   Correct protocol is important when sharing time and space with wolves.   Ayla did get a tummy rub…all of the wolves at Wolf Park are spoiled rotten (in a GOOD way).   Look at that CUTE Ayla face!

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Wolves are no match for healthy bison.   Below,  Renki strolls past a group of bison that are ready for him.   Nothing more than “testing” ever results from the wolf-bison demonstrations at Wolf Park.  It is a rare, up close look at the relationship between  an apex predator and a prey animal that has evolved with unusual toughness…

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My painting “Wolf Portrait” is one of my earliest wolf paintings.   The inspiration came from an experience at this wolf facility.    The point of this painting was simply to showcase the beauty of Canis Lupus.

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Wolves are individuals and their physical features can vary tremendously.   In my painting entitled “The Eyes of a Hunter” I wanted to capture the intensity of that amazing wolfy stare.

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Ice Statues

On a COLD and sunny day last weekend, Alan and I decided to visit one of our favorite day trip places.  Squaw Creek is about a two hour drive north of Kansas City.  This marshland refuge hosts spectacular waterfowl migrations at different times of the year.  It is also the home of dozens of bald eagles in the winter.  You never know what you will find there.  That is one of the most interesting things about it.

As we had hoped, there were several dozen bald eagles there.  Most were sitting on the edge where ice meets water way out in the middle of the lake.  Tens of thousands of mallard ducks bobbed along in what was left of the unfrozen water.  The eagles posed like sentries, waiting for a mallard to make the wrong move.

Although I have very good camera equipment, I don’t have anything that can bring an eagle that is three football fields away up close.   So we enjoyed watching them through our binoculars.   There is nothing quite like watching a wild eagle fly…

As we continued our travel around the lake, we found a group of several hundred snow geese right along the shore.  I just couldn’t get over how beautiful the contrast was between the white of the geese and the dark, brilliantly blue color of the ice.

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The following goose is still in the gray phase.  He will whiten into his winter feathers as the cold season progresses…

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Glacier National Park

On a recent trip to Montana, I was fortunate to have some extra time to visit majestic Glacier National Park. It is hard to sum a place like this up with mere words. Photos really don’t do it justice either, as no matter how great a photo is, you can’t smell the cool mountain air and sense the grand scale of things. But this doesn’t stop me from taking lots of pictures!

This is a panoramic view that consisted of four photos taken from the same spot. I hadn’t tried this before now and am pretty pleased with the results, although some degree of distortion is an inevitable result.

The stream below was full of beaver activity. I saw a beaver at close range, but a fisherman unknowingly sent him off in a scurry…

About two feet of snow fell shortly before I arrived at the park (in the middle of June). For that reason the main road that runs through the park was closed towards the top. A friend and I walked a few miles up the road until we reached the area where the snow still covered it. The views were AMAZING from here!

Evening light rivals only the lighting of early morning for it’s beauty.

June and early July are wildflower time in the mountains. There were bright splashes of color everywhere!

I’m not used to seeing white tail deer in the mountains. When I think of western deer, it is the mule deer that comes to mind. This young white tail buck was grazing on vegetation just under the water’s surface. He jumped around like a rabbit from one place to another looking for food. He was so much fun to watch.

We ran into four good sized Big horn rams hiding in the brush near the road. The largest three were shy but this younger one stuck his head out in plain sight. We waited for them to emerge, but they stayed hidden until we continued our journey on foot down the mountain. When we had finally left them, we turned and looked back just in time to see four big butts trotting up the road in the opposite direction from us.