Category Archives: Blog

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.


(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.


(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.


(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!


(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.


The Hunter and the Hunted…

It is autumn here in the woods.  And a somewhat wintry autumn it has been.  The whitetail bucks are on the move following does.   Rut fights have become serious lately and our big old monster Broad Beams so far, is somehow holding this area once again.   I have no idea how he fights so well, as the competition is fierce around here and he can hardly walk due to a rut injury from two years ago that has festered into a great melon sized appendage on his right rear leg.   His nose leather was torn nearly all the way off a few days ago in a recent battle.   How can anything be worth all of this pain?!!

But the drive to carry on one’s genes is so strong that bucks will endure unimaginable injuries just for the privilege of being the only one who gets to follow those does around.

Yesterday while it drizzled cold rain, I was watching Broad Beams tailing does from  our hearth room windows.   We have seen some very interesting whitetail behavior this year so I’ve been keeping an eye on him.

(Below)  The fresh buck rub evident in this photo (on the extreme right) draws does into the area.  They seem to be very attracted to rubs.  Broad Beams did not make this rub himself but has claimed the area against all other foes non the less.


Meanwhile… our little song birds have come en mass to the chip feeder.  The cold weather turns up the amplifier on calorie burning for them so they gather in large numbers vying for a precious spot at the feeder.

While I was watching the deer yesterday, songbirds were everywhere.  Mourning doves littered the ground, wattling around looking for food.   Juncos have arrived and were competing for eating spots on the feeder with gold finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, tit mice, and  nuthatches.   It was a quiet, serene scene filled with the calm beauty of nature.  Deer, birds…what more could anyone ask for?

(Below) Two gold finches wait for a spot to open on the feeder.   They are all puffed up to keep warm.


Suddenly, the serenity was shattered apart like an explosion.   Every tiny songbird lifted off as one.   They left so abruptly that even Broad Beams jumped.   I’ve never seen birds spook quite like that before.   Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a new visitor.  A Krider’s Red-Tail hawk had just landed and was perched only yards away from the feeder which is only inches from our window.  He was intense in his ghostly white.   He was here for a songbird lunch.    He flew wildly around, perched for a few minutes and then was through the woods after them like a shot.


A couple of weeks ago a Cooper’s Hawk was swooping down, chasing birds at our feeder.   He was so ambitious that he careened right into the window while in mid grab.   Stunned but alright, he perched for a quick recuperation and then swooped around again for another try.   With the songbirds frantic and then gone, he went off like a missile to go and apprehend them.

I’ve more recently been seeing this Krider’s hawk performing wild areal acrobatics while trying to capture the same small birds.   Raptors have amazing areal abilities.  And they don’t give up easily.  I can actually hear the small birds  screaming while in frantic flight, desperately trying to get away.   This screaming outside is what alerts me to the action when I’m working in my studio.

It is easy to have an emotional response to this drama.  But perhaps this is not so far removed from what we as a species are ourselves.  As I watch a new mini-series on World War II (on the History Channel) and view the many atrocities of war, I can’t help but ponder the very nature of nature.    How do we fit in to this well organized scheme?   Perhaps we  ourselves are a bit more like this hungry ambitious hawk than we would like to admit?

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.


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.


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


It takes many thousands of years create these breathtaking places.


(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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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”…

New Computer Screen Saver for Windows

For computer users who love wildlife art, I want to announce the release of a new screen saver featuring a collection of my wildlife images  of animals from around the world.   This screen saver runs on Windows operating systems.     It is available for download in my online store.  Below are just a few examples of images included in this collection.   Images appear one at a time and fill your screen with the wonderful beauty of nature.


For more information on the new screensaver click here.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Wildlife “management”.      We’ve all heard this term.  But what exactly does it mean?   Recently there has been much public debate on “controlling”  the growing whitetail deer population in a prominent park very near our home.   During the economy boom just before the recent crash, people were moving in droves into newly constructed McMansions (over-sized houses of the cookie-cutter variety placed on under-sized lots) built right up against the borders of this beautiful natural park.  What a nice place to live.  You can enjoy your enormous, impeccably decorated home and watch deer and other wildlife in the park through your rear windows.  Sounds appealing, right?

In the tiny yard surrounding your McMansion you plant your garden and wait anxiously for it to mature into an even more beautiful setting.  Splashes of blooming color now also surround you just outside your windows.  You’ve felt especially ambitious  and even decided to plant and raise your own tomatoes in your new garden.  After all, we all know how wretched those Styrofoam tasting tomatoes in groceries are…

On a rare trip out into your little yard to harvest some ripe tomatoes, you notice that some of your flowers have disappeared where there should now be blooms.  Your tomatoes don’t look so great either, as many are now gone and the plants have been pushed over.   The lower branches of your new carefully planted little trees are snapped off at about half their length.  You glance down and notice a place in the grass that has a foot imprint in it that is not yours.  It is a tiny print of an animal with cloven feet.   What could possibly have happened in your garden last night?    Whatever it is….this simply WILL NOT DO!

You’ve decided to set up surveillance by looking out your windows more.  You diligently keep an eye on those flowers and tomatoes even after the sun goes down.   Finally the culprits unveil themselves.  It is a small family of whitetail does.  They have come into your yard and are munching away!   All that colorful beauty is GONE!

A call to the Park Management is now in order.  You make your call only to find out that you are only one in a long procession of previous calls made by your neighbors.   Something must be done!  Your garden is RUINED!    And deer carry diseases too!   And the ticks are just terrible this year!   And ticks carry diseases!  What if you get sick?   This is just AWFUL!  The park ranger who has taken your call now feels pressure from the “public” to somehow make this tragic situation “right”.   A formal count of deer in the park is now in order.

It doesn’t take an exceptionally bright person to know that whenever wildlife and people clash it is always the wildlife that looses.   It has recently been decided that the whitetail deer population in the park will be reduced by three-quarters this fall.  Yes, I did say THREE-QUARTERS.   It is the plan by park officials to bring sharp shooters  into the park during a predesignated week.    These marksmen will wait in hiding as deer come up to feeding stations placed solely for the purpose of blowing their brains out.   Maybe next year’s tomato crop will be better…

The deer population within the park has indeed increased over time, as it has nearly everywhere else in the U.S. where they live.   Man is directly responsible for this, as we have systematically annihilated  any and all natural predators of this animal so they are left to reproduce with very few casualties.   If this “problem” inside the park had been addressed before complaints had been filed in droves, then perhaps a kinder solution could have been found.   Sterilization is a gradual solution that would have been quite effective over time.


(Above)  A small family of does runs across a walking/bike trail within the park.

(Below) A doe watches me watching her.    Deer in the park and surrounding areas have very little fear of people, as they share the same space in close proximity.  I was on foot walking two dogs when I took the picture below.    Quite relaxed near me this doe lowered her head again to graze.


(Below)  Bucks generally are shy and tend to be more active at night.  In the following two photos I tried to capture the ghostly nature of these magnificent creatures.   In these photos they almost look as if they are on fire, which I think aptly defines their wild spirits…



(Below) A two month old fawn is attracted by our mineral block.  Life for wild animals is precarious at best.   With the added pressures from man, one can never know how long a pretty little creature like this  will survive.


(Below) this three month old fawn is a sitting duck for the horror that is to come.    Killing these human acclimated animals will be like shooting fish in a barrel.  To me this short-sighted solution seems like a terrible injustice, not only to the deer but also to ourselves…



“Noxious, objectionable, or disgusting animals collectively, esp. those that appear commonly and are difficult to control, such as flies, lice, bedbugs, cockroaches, mice, and rats.”
Has man added the whitetail deer to this list?

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.


(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!”


(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…


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!


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!


(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.


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.


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.


(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…


Sometimes it’s good to have a friend…


A standoff at the O.K. Corral

House Wrens have occupied the bluebird house that is attached to a post at the edge of the woods in front of our house.   This morning I could tell by the sweet, exuberant chattering coming from inside the house that the babies are very nearly ready to fledge.   The parents have been busy continuously bringing the incredible amounts of food needed for them to grow.  This creates almost constant commotion around the little house.


This morning I was out with the dogs and heard one of the little wren parents having an absolute FIT.  I looked up to see her on top of the wire raccoon guard just outside the entrance to her nest.  She was jumping back and forth wildly.  Her desperate calls rang out through the woods.

Naturally I had to investigate.  Although I was already pretty close to the birdhouse, I knew that I was not the one upsetting her.  I have been around this house quite a bit, and she has not been overly bothered by me.    I wandered over and looked inside the tiny house entrance.   What I saw when I looked in was NOT what I expected!

Filling the round entrance of the house was what at a glance looked like a dark thick rope that was curled just enough that the round part was sticking out of the hole.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that a snake had somehow made it’s way up the post and into the house.   I could smell an unpleasant odor coming from inside.    Things were not looking good for the wrens.

It is my policy to not interfere with nature.  I like wrens.  I also like snakes.   Everyone out there has a tough living to make.   It is my privilege to watch any scenario as it plays out in nature as an unbiased bystander, even when the end result is a sad one for one of the parties.   But something struck me on this day.  Maybe I was in an unusually sentimental mood, I don’t know.    I decided to remove the front of the house and see what was going on inside.   All this time the little wren continued screaming from nearby tree branches.

(Below) this is the scene that was unveiled when the front of the bird house came off.   There was one dead baby on top of the nest.  The entire contents in the box,  including the snake was motionless.


After some time passed, I stepped back a bit.  Now exposed, the snake was feeling pressure to better hide himself or leave.   He slipped out through a slit in the back of the house which is likely how he got in there in the first place.  The brave little wren came charging down to deal with the situation herself.  She was amazingly tenacious.   Songbirds are fiercely devoted and protective parents.

(Below) A protective parent and a hungry serpent are in a temporary standoff.   The wren’s wildly focused aggression and the newly exposed nature of the nest eventually discouraged the snake.


The snake decided to retreat back inside of the house for safety from his aggressive little foe.   He hid behind an old wasp nest.  But this was the wrong move to make.   The wren just turned her volume up a few more notches.   He was close to her babies again and this simply was not acceptable!


In time the snake finally found himself outmatched and decided to get the heck outta Dodge.   I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures of him on my computer that his eyes were milky.  This means that he has out grown his clothing and is getting ready to shed his skin.


After the snake left all was quiet.  For a long while I had surmised that the snake had already constricted  all of the babies by the time I got there.  But slight movement way down into the nest revealed that some of the babies were still in there and were alive.  I quickly removed the dead one (and pitched it into the woods to become food for perhaps the same snake?) and promptly placed the front of the house back on.   It will be interesting to see if any baby wrens fledge from this brood after the standoff at the O.K. Corral…

Noisy Neighbors and a Best of Show…

I am  pleased to announce that my painting entitled “Humble Abode” was awarded Best of Show at the Artistic Designs Gallery’s annual miniature invitational.    This was a fun little painting to create and any artist is most pleased to know that others enjoy and appreciate their work.



(Above) “Humble Abode”     8 ” x 10″        Acrylic on masonite

Although exotic travel is one way many artists including myself gather experiences from which to paint, we are also often inspired by  nature that is right outside of our own windows.  This painting features a Carolina Wren who is returning to her nest inside of whats left of  an old shed that once stood on a relative’s farm. She has brought a meal back for her babies.  Carolina Wrens are very common here at our house and nest in a variety of places, from planted pots, to our gas grill (it’s a good thing we prefer to cook in our charcoal grill instead!).

This little Wren sings just outside our window.  Carolina Wrens are very gregarious and noisy, singing all throughout the day.   They have become very numerous in woodland areas in this part of the country.


Another comical and noisy neighbor is this little family of Tufted Titmice.   This was a large brood and they all successfully fledged.  Their raspy cheerful calls could be heard all throughout the day.


A less numerous visitor, but one who arrives here to nest each summer is the Great Crested Flycatcher (below).  These birds have a very unusual song and their enormous size makes them quite noticeable in the woods.   Roger Tory Peterson best describes this bird’s call in his book as “a loud, whistled wheeeeep!   Also a rolling prrrrrrrreeet.”    Like many songbirds, the Great Crested Flycatcher sings less often when the summer temperatures get very hot.


“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.






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.





For much more, be sure to check it out!  🙂

Share and Share Alike…

I adore birds.   All birds.  There is something about them that simply fascinates me.   My mother instilled this love in me from early childhood.    Although not at all outdoorsy, my mom did enjoy watching the birds in our back yard from the glass sun room (no BUGS!).   We had a Peterson field guide on the table  in that room accompanied by binoculars .   Although the birds we saw  mostly were common back yard birds found in the eastern U.S. we enjoyed watching them just the same.

When I moved from Ohio to the Kansas City area, the birds that I saw each day were many of the same species that I watched while growing up.   Once we moved to wooded acreage however, bird watching took on a whole new dimension!     Many of the familiar birds are here in the woods (although I have not seen a single Sparrow since our arrival here).    But we are now able to attract colorful canopy birds too, my two favorites of which are sharing a feeder below.

(Below) A mature Baltimore Oriole shares “his” jelly feeder with a male Indigo Bunting.   Size is everything in the bird world…usually.    Ordinarily, a larger bird would nearly always dominate a feeder.   But Buntings are very laid back and tame by nature.   They are birds of little conflict that are amiable and seemingly unflappable.    This tiny fellow was not deterred by the larger more flamboyant Oriole.    They were somehow able to work out an agreement with each other and dined together.    This is unusual, as birds of different species typically don’t eat at a feeder at the same time.


Like any busy airport, one must occasionally wait in line to get onto the tarmac.    Here the Bunting is trying to decide whether or not to hop down onto the jelly feeder.    Buntings are very adaptable birds, getting along well with others and eating virtually anything that is available to them from small insects, to jelly, to small seeds.   This is a delightful and beautiful species.


We are nearly overrun by Orioles this year.  Adult males are the only ones that have a solid black head.   Juvenile males are speckled where they will later be black.   This mature male poses within the Clematis on our trellis.   The purple and orange are a beautiful sight.


My acrylic painting entitled “Vibrant Garden” was inspired by sights just outside our windows.


There’s No Place Like Home

I have had the wonderful fortune of camping in a variety of places in the world, from Kruger National Park in South Africa, to the jungles of the Amazon rain forest, to the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  If pressed with the question of where my favorite camping spot is, I could not answer that easily.  The Colorado Rockies win the prize for the most scenic, Kruger Park the most exciting, and the Amazon the most challenging.   But I have to say that one of my favorite spots to set up a tent is at Cheyenne Bottoms right in the middle of the state of Kansas.

KANSAS…you ask…?    There is a simple beauty there.  It is a place where huge cottonwood trees tower overhead, quickly giving way to prairie.  In May, migratory song birds fill the trees in an explosion of music and color.  Migrating water birds come through too, stopping off at the Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivera wetlands.  This has proven to be a most restful and peaceful place to be.

May is a time when anything goes in “tornado alley”.   Mother nature can dish out anything and out in the middle of nowhere, you’d better be ready to take it.  Last year high winds nearly blew us away.  This year, we were graced with perfectly comfortable temperatures accompanied with a mix of clouds and sunshine.  One dawn following a brief rain, thick fog blanketed the landscape.   When the sun began to rise, everything receded back in soft layers.  It was a sight to behold…


As the sun rose higher in the sky, the fog gradually began to burn off.  The world went from orange into subtle color…



Finally the true colors of daylight arrived as the fog slowly disappeared…  This is the subtle beauty of Kansas…


Seeing the World For the Very First Time

Groundhogs have lived with us here for years.  There is nothing all that unusual about that, as many people see groundhogs here and there.  But for some reason our hot tub deck is especially popular with them.  Raccoons like the hot tub deck too, and usually occupy the area under it all winter.  But this spring a female groundhog was somehow able to call dibs on it and made it the site of her den.

I was in my studio working this afternoon and heard  funny squeaking sounds just outside my windows.  I looked out just in time to see two baby groundhogs playing a game of “Ring Around the Rosie” on top of our hot tub cover.  They were soaking wet from being in their little hole under the deck.   Heavy rains have soaked everything here.  The wet babies looked more like baby porcupines than groundhogs!   But the water didn’t seem to bother them at all.


Mother groundhog is quite patient as her babies crawl all over her.   Oh, the joys of motherhood!


In short order the babies dried off.  They seemed to almost double in size as their tiny bodies puffed up in fluff.


There are five babies in this litter.  At first they stayed very close to mom.


Flowers in the garden provide a wonderful place to play.  It took a day or two for the babies to learn to balance themselves in the classic upright groundhog position.   They looked like fat, fuzzy little bowling pins toppling over.   This one below has finally got it!


This baby poses for his close-up.  Baby groundhogs are very inquisitive and active.


The photo below shows the runt of the litter on the right with his sibling on the left.  Four of the five babies are the larger size.  But size is relative.  Baby groundhogs are small.  This gives an idea of how tiny the runt is.  He is about the size of my clenched fist.


Below, the tiny runt is behind not only in size but also in development.   He seems much younger than the others.  He also wins the grand prize for cuteness!


Here is a bigger sibling in the same pose.  It is easy to see how different these two are at this stage.


The tiny one is less active than his bigger brothers and sisters.  He doesn’t have enough coordination to run very fast yet.


Have you ever seen anything so adorable?


The babies play and explore but every now and then check back in with each other.  The larger ones are very good to their tiny brother.



Two bigger siblings touch noses.  They do this often when they come together into the same space.   There is no apparent competition between them and they seem to really enjoy each other.


This little guy ran right up to the window where I was photographing them.


Mother groundhog gathered up more leaves to freshen up the den.


The photo below required a very fast shutter finger and a whole lot of luck.  The tiny runt baby poses with his big brother.  This pose lasted for all of a millisecond before they scampered all around again.


Below the tiny one seems to be having a conversation with his bigger brother.  I wonder what they were saying…


A dedicated mom relaxes nearby.


Ice Castles

Nature is a funny character.   You never know what she will do.   Humans have evolved into an animal who likes to control.  We live walled off from the natural world in controlled climates, controlled air quality, controlled lighting, even controlled mental stimulation.   But in reality it is nature who is in control.  I quite like that about her.

We have not had a hard winter this year here in eastern Kansas.  In fact, it has been downright nice out.  The world around us had decided to come forth in vibrant color just as it does every year at about this time.   But nature had one last surprise for us.

Two days ago it started to rain.    Grasses can green up literally over night with early spring rains.   But a strange wind accompanied this rain, wind that was swirling in circles, and then the temperature began to drop dramatically.   The rain began to freeze on every  surface outside.   Although this is a nightmare if there is somewhere that you need to go, it is quite beautiful if you are able to stay cozy and warm in your home.  The ice came on a weekend.  That was fortunate.

The freezing rain eventually turned into sleet which turned into snow.   It was strange to see ice and snow covering tree blossoms and spring flowers.

By the next day the weather front had moved on and left only bright sunshine behind.  This is when the layers of ice are the most beautiful.   This photo below was taken at the base of our driveway.  The tree blossoms look HUGE as they are encased in a fat layer of ice and snow.


It is strange to see delicate blossoms encased in ice and snow.




The sun shining through the ice creates wonderful abstract shapes.


The red bud trees are just starting to emerge in color.  Hopefully the ice will not stunt their blossoms this year.


Below is a view of our deck that overlooks the icy woods.    Our home is surrounded by woods, so we have this crystal ice castle view on all sides.


The daffodil blooms likely will not survive this wintry assault.   This one below is encased in an icy coffin.


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…


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?


(Photos by Monte Sloan)



Hey Joni…He’s right behind you…


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!


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…


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.


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.


A Late Winter Treasure Hunt

Every king looses his crown…eventually.   The neat thing about the whitetail king of our woods “Broad Beams” is that he just grows back a new crown on the top of his head each spring.    He is old now, very old.  He has haunted our woods for the duration of our time in this home.  My husband and I have grown more attached to him than any of our other deer, perhaps because of his enormous size and charisma or perhaps because we simply know him the best.    Each and every time I see him, my heart beats just a little bit faster.

Broad Beams comes by every day.    He is shy around “strangers” and will lay low if he hears voices other than ours inside our home.  But he knows Alan and I, and if we are here alone, he just strides right up to the house.   Below is one of my favorite scenes through our hearth room window…Broad Beams approaching on the deer trail.  When he sees me standing in the window taking his picture,  he will often stop and pose for me before proceeding.  Then he emerges onto the scene like the great titan that he is.


Each year the antlers  on Broad Beams have grown back a bit differently which is typical for whitetail deer.   The  size of his antlers is on the decline now because of his advancing age.   He is a magnificent, battle torn warrior, wearing the scars from many, many years of maintaining his reign as King.     These post-rut pictures (above and below) were taken this January at age 8 1/2.  Indeed he is quite old for a wild whitetail deer.


Alan and I  hike in our woods each March, looking for antlers that have recently been shed by our deer friends.  It is like a treasure hunt.  We find something every year, but usually don’t find the antlers from our big guys.  Last year my husband found one of Broad Beam’s antlers.  After much searching, we were never able to find the other one.  Antlers usually don’t drop off at the same time.  So if a buck is on the move while they are loosing them, the antlers can be miles apart.

This year I noticed exactly when Broad Beams lost his antlers.  I saw him in the morning with them, and then saw him in the early evening that same day without them.  So we surmised that they must be nearby.  My husband and I set out on our late winter treasure hunt.   It didn’t take long to find both antlers.   They were only about 100 yards apart which means that he lost both of them at close to the same time and he had not covered much ground in between.   What a wonderful gift our boy has left for us this year!


Unexpected Popularity

Wildlife artists often try their best to balance what is in their hearts with that which will sell.  We all love the idea of painting whatever it is that moves us but let’s face it, we are also trying to make a living.   Each artist paints certain animals that are sought after by collectors.    Paintings of these animals sell quickly.   So it is easy to see how there could be temptation to paint those animals over and over again.   I try my best not to fall into that trap.   A recent event proved to me that in the end, you can not ever really predict what images will be the most popular with buyers.

A couple of years ago some friends invited my husband and I to join them out on the Kansas prairie to watch the mating rituals of the Greater Prairie Chicken.   I didn’t know much about these birds at the time and it sounded like a fun and interesting time.   Long before the sun pushed upward on the eastern horizon, we went out and sat in a wooden box in the middle of the prairie.  It was early spring.  It was cold and dark in that box.  We nearly froze our fannies off!

The sun finally rose and illuminated the Flint Hills of Kansas in a brilliant pink glow.  We could hear strange thumping on the top of the box that we were huddled inside of.  These were male Prairie Chickens arriving to defend a little patch of grass that they each had decided was theirs.  They flew onto the ground one by one.  All was calm on the prairie.  That is until the females began to arrive!

Watching male Prairie Chickens take part in their “booming” dance is quite a spectacle.  When they  fiercely begin competing for females, things really liven up on the prairie.  I knew at that moment that I just had to paint this spectacular event.  And I really wanted to capture the magical light of the Flint Hills at dawn.

Sure enough I did start a painting of this most unusual scene.   I wanted to portray a male booming to impress a female.  I wanted the viewer to decide on their own whether or not this particular male was able to woo her enough to “get lucky”.    I got about three-quarters of my way through the painting.  Then it found itself in the bottom of  a drawer.  Who in the world is going to want a painting like this?

Many months passed.  I stumbled onto that painting again and decided that I did indeed like the start that I had gotten on it.  I told my husband that I would finish it “just to get it out of my system.”… So I did…  End of story, right?


I am most fortunate to have been included as an exhibiting artist in the NatureWorks Wildlife Art Show for the past five years.  This show takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is currently one of the premier wildlife art shows in the country.    And it is a WHOLE LOT of FUN!  I take a collection of new paintings there each year.  Somehow the Prairie Chicken painting was thrown in as a last minute decision.    I decided to entitle it “Prairie Passion.”

“Prairie Passion” attracted a surprising amount of attention at the show.  The painting sold on opening night and there were several collectors who wanted to purchase it.   The person who ended up buying it decided to pick it up at the end of the show on Sunday.   It remained in my booth and attracted attention throughout the entire weekend.


“Prairie Passion” (above).    (Acrylic on masonite)

Greater Prairie Chickens are a member of the grouse family.  The North American species was once abundant, but has become extremely rare or extinct over much of its range due  largely to habitat loss.  We were most fortunate to see these birds on that beautiful morning.

Prairie Chickens prefer undisturbed prairie and were originally found in tall grass prairies.  They can tolerate agricultural land mixed with prairie, but the more agricultural the land the lower the Prairie Chicken population.  The Greater Prairie Chicken was almost extinct in the 1930’s due to hunting pressure and habitat loss.  They now only live on small parcels of managed prairie land.  It is thought that their current population is about 500,000 individuals.


Currently, human interactions are by far the greatest threat to Prairie Chickens.  The conversion of native prairie to cropland is very detrimental to these birds.  It was found in a radio telemetry study conducted by Kansas State University that “most prairie chicken hens avoided nesting or rearing their broods within a quarter-mile of power lines and within a third-mile of improved roads.”   They also found that the chickens avoided communication towers and rural farms.

Prairie chickens are most famous for their bizarre mating rituals, called “booming”.   It is said that native Americans found inspiration for many of their dances from the dances of the prairie chicken.  I could definitely see a parallel here.

Two males face off (below).  They boom and then leap into the air at each other.  This bizarre dance lasts for several hours until the females leave.  Then the prairie falls silent again.


A Last Look Back


Once in awhile I take the opportunity afforded to wildlife artists to make an environmental statement with my work.  Ordinarily I paint only what I have experienced for myself in the wild.  But there are certain animals for which this is highly unlikely.  Even if I traveled to far away lands to see a Siberian Tiger in his remote wilderness, because there are so few left  it would be very, very unlikely that I would catch even a glimpse of one.  So I chose this beautiful, illusive creature to voice my sadness about what is happening to our wild world.

To best convey his story, I decided to place the tiger in the middle of nowhere.   He is not in the classic snowy backdrop that most wildlife painters choose for him.   Instead, he is floating in a sea of nothing.    It is nearing the last light of the day in Nowhere Land.   The tiger saunters by and pauses, taking a last long look at his viewers, the human animal which is the source of his demise.    Then he slowly continues on his journey… into extinction.

Most people would not look at this painting and immediately realize the sentiment behind it.   But the mood is quiet, the sun hot, and the day is nearly done.    I can’t think of a better mood to describe the sad story of this most amazing creature.

All wild creatures need our help.   It starts by caring.   This is what my art is all about.


(Above)    A Last Look Back (detail)  Acrylic on masonite

The End of an Era

There is an old saying that “nothing lasts forever”.  I can’t say that I fully agree with this sentiment.  There is one thing that perhaps does last forever.   That is love.

For anyone who has ever loved a dog there is a kind of silent empathy and understanding for what my husband and I have gone through today.    Our dear border collie Bea passed her final hours in the warm sunshine streaming through a window, on this otherwise very cold day.   After 16 1/2 years, Bea had finally run out of time.

There are people in this world who feel that grieving over the loss of a pet is silly.  For those people, I am truly sorry.   There is no bond more magical than that between man and dog.   Anyone who has shared their life with a four legged friend knows exactly what I mean.

Bea was my husband’s dog.  He got her as a puppy several years before he and I met.  He raised her and trained her himself and did a stellar job.   She became an outstanding American Kennel Club tracking dog.  He trained her to find lost people and indeed she did…she found him a wife!   It was at Bea’s tracking test that Alan and I met.  I too, once trained tracking border collies back in the days when they were not a common breed.  Ours was a match arranged by the Gods.

It is most unusual for a border collie to mature to the age of 16 1/2.  Our Bea had all the right ingredients to travel such a long journey.  She possessed a strong inner spirit, a spirit that sometimes didn’t serve her well.  But overall it did serve her well, as it takes a spirit like hers to hike mountains at age 14 and to live to see a time frame of well over a decade and a half.

We now feel the enormous hole she leaves behind…

Rest in peace, dear girl. Track on…