Friday, October 31, 2008

Nice Racks!

Here are a few more bucks found in my favorite buck territory.

I got him last night. He was in good light, found at about 1 in the afternoon, wandering around looking for a date.

8 points and a low rise to the rack. I think it means he's "gangsta".

Another 8 pointer. He's got a lot of height which makes him king in his territory.

Another 8 pointer. He's got a nice and square shape to his crown.

Now for an observation. I barely spotted a buck in this tree line. He is waaay...out there but I did take a few reference shots.

Can you see him?

How about now? Do you see what I see?

Are you kidding me? Holy hatrack Batman...that rack is HUGE!

Here's another angle...

another angle...

and another angle...

I have been cruizing this particular area for years and years, and I can tell you that I have seen many a buck in my experience. I have also seen the same bucks year after year after year. I have never seen this one, or have ever seen one with a rack this size anywhere, and we grow them pretty big here in Illinois. There is a reason he is as big as he is, and thats because he is smarter than your average deer, and keeps away from the roads and humans. He stays out of sight! If the hunters know about this bad boy, his days would be numbered if they had anything to do with it. I'm glad I saw him, and of course I want to see him close up, but I won't hold my breathe because he isn't your average deer. Good luck buddy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Guess what? Something extremely exciting happened to me yesterday! I was minding my own business, driving along a country road looking for bucks in a particular old growth forest I don't routinely drive down, when all of a sudden, I heard some loud woodpecker drilling. My first thought was Pileated...Who doesn't automatically wish for a Pileated Woodpecker when you hear drilling? Wouldn't it be cool if I finally found my nemesis bird? ( I have yet to see one, let alone photograph one. These woodpeckers are not common in Illinois, and even more scarce in the northern parts.) Anyhoo...I listened for awhile, and heard a call...then a drill...then a call again. It wasn't exactly like a flicker, but similar. It was deeper, and slower, and just...well...different. I had an eerie feeling... Then..all of a sudden I saw some movement in a distant tree. I looked thru my lens and saw THE red crest. Oh. My. God! The rush of endorphins raced thru me...I had to get a shot! I focused in...waited for the head to appear...[click]...waited for the body to move out of cover...[click]...He flew off...He flew closer! [click][click] He flew off and out of view with a his...(wait for it)... mate! ...She calls back!...They both call to eachother and land on nearby trees! Where are they? Oooh... I see one [click]. It flies to a tree behind me. I twist and contort to shoot out the back side window, but he hides on the other side of the tree. I wait with my strain, but its absolutely worth it... I wait some more...He pops to the front of the tree [click]. I shoot some more, hear a call, then in a flash he is gone. The forest goes quiet except for the lil woodpeckers which seem to be everywhere. I spend my next hour or so shooting every kind of woody I can think of. Mr & Mrs. Woody Woodpecker never did come back, but you can bet that I will spend lots of quality time in this Woodpecker Wonderland!

(I found out later upon further inspection that this guy I keep referring to is a gal. Sorry Mrs. W.)

Interesting Facts: Nearly as large as a crow, the Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in most of North America. Its loud ringing calls and huge, rectangular excavations in dead trees announce its presence in forests across the continent.

The Pileated Woodpecker digs characteristically rectangular holes in trees to find ants. These excavations can be so broad and deep that they can cause small trees to break in half.

A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter.

Sexes similar, male has red crown and forehead and red in black mustache stripe. Female has gray to yellow-brown forehead and no red in mustache stripe.

Pileated Woodpecker populations declined greatly with the clearing of the eastern forests. The species rebounded in the middle 20th century, and has been increasing slowly but steadily in most of its range. Only in Arkansas do numbers seem to be going down.

Source: All About Birds

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Flying Flicker Circus

While out and about looking for fall colors in McKinley Woods, I heard the distinctive call of the Flicker and spotted him as he chose a new tree to land in. I focused in on him and took a shot.

It was kinda distant, so I knew it was a throwaway shot...

...but as I was processing this thought, he hopped down to a twig and began his acrobatic display.

He found a berry to eat, so his selection of trees was obvious...

He reached down to get another berry when all control was lost!

He swung back and forth and just couldn't regain his balance...

Seeing the bright yellow underparts were a highlight of this chaos...

His wings and tail feathers displayed the gorgeous yellow we almost never see.

He never gave up trying to balance himself on the scrawny lil twig!

I had no idea of what settings I was using, but prayed for the best...

...and although these are not the best quality work I've ever done, I am so glad I got to see this acrobatic display!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Big Rut!

It's one of my favorite times of the year! Ooohh...I just love it! I took this photo on Sunday, and was thrilled to learn by this fine example of a buck, that the rut has officially begun! Look at that swollen neck!

Interesting Facts: As the light decreases in the fall, glands are stimulated (by the amount of daylight which comes in through the eyes) and these glands will release hormones. In the does, this will begin the oestrous cycle. In the bucks, there antler growth will stop, the velvet will dry up, their necks will swell, and their testicles will fill up with semen. The bucks will be less and less social with their summer time companions. They will soon begin to seek out the does and form their harems. Only the largest and stongest of the bucks will become herd bucks and be able to take and hold a herd of does. This is natures way of insuring that only the best bucks do the breeding. Their genes can now be passed on for future generations.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finally... Some Fall Colors!

The blazing autumn colors have finally arrived here in northern Illinois! It took a whole lot of miles and the whole weekend, as I drove from county to county to find the beauty, and trips to parks I haven't been to in awhile, searching for the golds, reds, and orange hues of Fall.

Pilcher Park, Joliet, Il.

Pilcher Park, Joliet, Il

McKinley Woods, Channahon, Il

Pilcher Park, Joliet, Il

Hammel Woods, Shorewood, Il

Hammel Woods, Shorewood, Il

Pilcher Park, Joliet, Il

Tandem Lake (private property), Morris Il

McKinley Woods, Channahon, Il

McKinley Woods, Channahon, Il

McKinley Woods, Channahon, Il

Forest near Mazon Creek

I couldn't find any of the "babbling brooks" we all love to photograph, but...I am still on the hunt!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Sunday Sandhill Sunrise Spectacle

Attempt after attempt has rendered a tad more success in finding the Sandhill Cranes, and the degree of difficulty, a bit more in my favor, since my initiation into the Obsessed Sandhill Crane Fanclub.

This being said, Sunday was no exception to the latest and greatest of Sandhill Crane Expeditions, as I like to call them, because it's never an easy task out here.

Here's how it played out:

Parking in the usual spot, and listening for the morning
call-of-the-cranes at sunrise, has been a staple.

It lets me know that:

1. They are still here, and have not migrated south yet...
2. They tend to move to find breakfast, so get ready!
3. Getting up this early to hear that melodic sound is oh-so-worth-it!

There are some downsides to all of this drama:

1. The Sandhills do not phone first to tell me they are going to fly that day, so I do sit for several hours on any given day, without a siting.
2. They tend to fly in other directions that differ from my location.
3. The sun and the sandhills do not always align for optimal shooting conditions.

So getting to the meat of the stew, saturday was unproductive. We did heard them in a more northerly location, so we adjusted our parking place to a closer spot, but we did not see them from the new site. For sunday, we parked where we always are, and heard them within 5 minutes. All of a sudden, we see them take a southerly route, but turn sharply west, and head in our direction. The positioning was acceptable, but if I had the best vantage point, I would have been on their other side, as they flew. I shot plenty of frames as they lofted past. Checking the photos on the camera, I was somewhat happy with better lighting than in the past, although my settings still needed tweeking.

Where I need the "Help Department":

1. If only they would fly into the sun instead of against it. They fly west, leaving their wings and tail partially lit, instead of their heads and leading wing feathers.
2. If only I had known that I left my menu setting on "Landscape", thus leaving me with photoshop techniques to brighten up the photo. The grain is quite evident in their underexposed bodies.
3. I need the "Help Department" to plead with the cranes not to leave, before I get in 1 last shot!

Thanks to everyone who always have a nice comment, and sticks with me through these episodes of insanity!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Do you know what a C.F.I is? Well, I do, but I just made it up...Colorful Flying Insects.

On my trek to find the sandhills, I caught this cute lil butterfly on what is left of the colorful flowers in the prairie. I love the BIG green bulging eyes! I can't ID the winged one or the flower, so if you know, throw me a comment. Thanks!

This Praying Mantis happened to buzz past me on the trail. His lil face is kinda adorable! The coloring of this mantis changes just like the season does.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rescue Me From Myself

As I sit here and type this entry out, I am (over)thinking of how to plot out my next move...

What is Hannibal up to now? might ask?

Obsessing over the sandhills, thats what!

Well, let me catch you up to date, plenty has happened...

Time is ticking away before the Sandhill Cranes in Goose Lake leave, which means I have been throttling up to get the shots I want in a hurry. I spent all weekend getting to Goose Lake before sunrise and listening for their melody to give direction to their location. I heard them every morning and hiked to my lookout after sun up. Nothing! On Thursday afternoon, I took a 3 mile hike to a new lookout and discovered tracks in the mud. COOL!

At the top of the hill, I sat on a bench provided to those who venture to reach this mecca. (Thank you Goose Lake!) Looking out at this vast prairie, I discover hidden lakes everywhere. I had no idea! Only google maps satellite images could reveal this secret. Scanning the lakes edges with my zoom, my ears perk to the sound of the sandhills. I peek out from behind the lens (because I can somehow hear better!), & I hone in on the direction the sound is coming from...Dead ahead! I scope the lens again and scan the area. Oooh...Whats that? Two white sticks poking out of the reeds about a million miles away from where I sit. One of the sticks disappears, then pops back up...Ooooh....It's them! I shoot a few frames and check the display:

COOL again!...Now I know the secret location from which they sing! But...There are no trails leading me in their direction...

I head back down the trail after taking the scenery in, and trek the miles back to the car (Ugh!). I need a new plan. Since I can't get closer to their secret locale, I must come up with a plot to put me closer to their flight route. The only flight route I have seen has been heading west. If I put myself in that flight pattern at the right time...It's all I have to go on. I saw one fly before dawn a few weeks ago...hmmm... I have my plan: So...Friday & Saturday, I wake up before dawn and go out there. I park my car and watch the horizon. The sun comes up, the time ticks by and no flight in my direction either day. Come on! I take the shorter path to my usual lookout on both days and hear their trumpets. Are you kidding me? Well...Maybe they didn't feel like flying today...I left near noon on both days. Maybe Sunday will be my day...And odds are growing in my favor...I hope...

Sunday arrives and I am in my usual spot, waiting for the sun to rise:

Time is passing slowly, but eventually my mood grows dark. It's the final day I can be here at sunrise, as Monday means the workday grind (5am-1pm), and I will miss the sunrise for another week.

It's nearing 8:00 a.m. and I am thinking of calling it quits...Then out in the distance...the trumpeting begins...I scan the horizon for a sign...Woohooo!...

They are flying to the south of me, but close enough to get a few decent shots...

I was thrilled that the plan worked.

I was thrilled that I was learning their behavior.

It's all a very good thing.

Am I satisfied?

No...Do I have a better plan?

Yes! Will it work?

Only if the cranes are still here and I get very lucky before the next weekend runs out, and I am out of time...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Young Buck

This is the first buck I have seen without velvet. The tines are dark and freshly stripped of the delicate fine hair that protects the antler during growth. While in the growth phase, the antlers are covered in a layer of skin that supplies the budding antlers with the nutrients needed to build the bone mass. The antlers will grow rapidly for 2-4 months. When the velvet is no longer needed, a ring at the bottom of the antler shaft forms and cuts off the supply of blood and nutrients. The velvet withers and begins to fall off. As a rule this process is facilitated by the deer by rubbing his antlers against trees. The whole process is repeated every year for the rest of his life.

It's one of my favorite times of the year, as I bundle up at the crack of dawn and go scouting for the "Big Buck" with the plentiful tines.

Chimney Swifts

I went outside for a break from work yesterday morning and found a flock of Chimney Swifts circling overhead in a feeding frenzy. This shot was when a particularly large bug had all eyes and mouthes closing in on it at the same time. I would have hated to be that bug...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Goose Lake Menagerie

The last of the latest in Goose Lake!

The Cabin is hard NOT to photograph, as I have shot 100's of frames.

The sunrise in the tall grass is also a fav of mine.

The geese are always around, so a take off shot is irresistible.

The Palm Warbler is the most abundant migrater at the prairie.

The snipe can sometimes be caught flying in the morning, just after the fog has burnt off.