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Days at the Pond – Haiku/Photo of the Day

Days at the Pond

Memories of youth, 
The babbling song echoes still;
Summer’s sweet cadence

Western Meadowlark - Sturnella neglecta

Last Friday was a day devoted to rockhounding on the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. However, it started on a sour note, with fog, drizzle, and gloom. It was a productive, yet quite uncomfortable trip, as the wet and grayness kept trying to persuade me back to the comforts of my pickup, and then to home. But the mood changed during a brief break in the clouds, when an oh-so-familiar sound cut through the gloom…the song of the Meadowlark. It’s a familiar sound to anyone in the Great Plains, but each and every time I hear that sweet warbling I’m reminded of one place and time…fishing at my uncle and aunt’s pond in southeastern Nebraska as a kid. It’s been years…decades…since I’ve been there, but that sound is forever engrained in my mind and forever associated with that pond. So as I pondered the gloom, pondered heading home, I was reminded of the times at that pond.  I remembered the time grandpa and grandma took my twin brother and I fishing there, and his hearty rolling laugh even as blood ran down the side of his face, thanks to my back-cast that planted a hook firmly in his earlobe.  I remember my sweet aunt (still with us) and the jokes of my uncle (sadly not with us), all on that farm and around that pond, with the song of the Meadowlark filling the air.  It’s funny how strongly we can tie a smell…a sight…or a sound…to a specific place, to a specific emotion, to a specific time. But yet one more time, the Meadowlark’s song brightened the day.

Ode to the Sparrow – Photo/Haiku of the Day

Ode to a Sparrow

A whisper in the grass

“Just a sparrow”, overlooked.

Autumn’s hidden jewel

Le Conte's Sparrow - Ammodramus leconteii

We’re approaching mid-September, and with it, one of my favorite birding migrations of the year. Warblers? Fall shorebirds? Migrating raptors? No, I treasure early to mid-Autumn for the wonderful array of sparrow species that migrate through eastern South Dakota. Among them are one of my top 3 species of all time…the Le Conte’s Sparrow. No “little brown job”…not “just a sparrow”…the Le Conte’s Sparrow is a brilliant array of complex patterns and beautiful warm tones.  With a reputation as a “skulker”, they’re a prized birding target for many, but during fall migration here, I’ve found them to be very approachable and rather easy to photograph. Along with the other 20 or so sparrow species that migrate through in the fall, a sparrow bonanza is just around the corner!

 

Photo Haiku – The Literate Pheasant

Ring-necked Pheasant - No Hunting

Probably my favorite photo of all time. This was taken near Presho, South Dakota, on a cold winter’s day. The sun was just rising, when I came over a hill and saw this male Ring-necked Pheasant on the fence. To my surprise he didn’t immediately fly, but stayed in the perfect position while I took several photos. The pose…the light…the setting…and of course, the “no hunting” sign…I couldn’t have staged a better photo set up myself. What better photo to inspire a haiku…

Photo/Haiku of the Day – Summer’s Last Hummingbird

Summer’s Last Hummingbird

Ruby summer splash

between the flowers they dash

till chased by Fall’s chill

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Archilochus colubris

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering in front of flowers in our yard. It’s now been a couple of days since I’ve seen a male in our yard. They’re always the first to leave for the summer. I still have a couple of females and juveniles, but their time with us is short as well. With the constant buzz of activity in our back yard all summer long, it’s easy to take these guys for granted. Now we will wait another 8 months for their return.

Photo/Haiku of the Day – Grebe Family

Downy striped young grebe

hidden world below the reeds,

staying close to mom

Pied-billed Grebe and Young

I was birding yesterday in western Minnehaha County, and drove on a gravel road that split a large wetland area. The cattails were right next to the road, making it difficult to peer into the wetland, but in a few places there were breaks in the vegetation. As I slowly drove drove past one of the breaks, a Pied-billed Grebe and its young came swimming out of the thick reeds. Neither were particularly concerned with my presence, so I shut the car off and watched for a while. The adult would dive under water in search of prey, and when she popped up, the fledgling grebe would let out a whining call and quickly swim over to the parent. Once she came up with a relatively large fish (for her size), but despite the young one’s pleas, she downed it herself and returned to hunting. In the ten minutes or so that I watched the pair, I never saw the young one’s pleas answered, but she always stayed close to mom.

 

 

Photo/Haiku of the Day – Season of the Bobolink

Season of the Bobolink

Tinkly spring-time song

Fades away as summer ends.

Golden autumn fire

Autumn Bobolink - Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Bobolink in the warm dawn sun. This morning I went to a remnant tallgrass prairie patch and found a small group of Bobolinks. Males have lost their bold black-and-white breeding plumage, and share the same warm brown plumage as the females now. Rather than post as simply the “photo of the day”, thought today we’d take it one step further to my first ever “Photo / Haiku of the day”.

POTD – Dreaming of our next Arizona vacation

A story of one of my all-time favorite photos, related to an upcoming vacation. We LOVE Arizona. The diversity of landscapes, the scenery, the wildlife…it’s just such a treat, and so different than what we have in our part of South Dakota.  We first went about 20 years ago and have been back many times since.  However, it’s been a few years!  We decided that we’d take a week-long vacation and head down to Tucson this winter.

From a birding perspective, the Tucson area (where we usually go) is birding nirvana for me, particularly when we go down to Madera Canyon and some of the other famed birding spots in the area. Winter is still good for birding, but not nearly as good as the spring and summer (HOT!!!!) months. But despite what birds we may find, there’s always the scenery.

If it weren’t for the oppressive heat in summer, if I had the choice of anywhere to live in the US, it would be in the Sonoran desert habitat of Arizona. My first time there, I was shocked not only by the beauty, but the amount of LIFE that you find there. Given the heat and aridity, I expected a place that was tough for live to thrive, but whenever we go, it seems full of birds, insects, reptiles, and other life.  The backbone of the ecoystem, the “big daddy” from a vegetation standpoint, are the giant saguaro cactus. So many species depend upon them, not only for cover and nesting cavities, but for food.  It’s really cool being there in May when the saguaro are blooming, and seeing how many critters utilize the big blooms.

The place we stayed many times is now sadly closed…”Hacienda del Desierto”, a former B&B that not only had wonderful hosts, but a massive acreage with their own Sonoran desert habitat. Many a morning on vacation I’d wake before dawn and roam their lands, running into critters including coyotes, javelina, birds, snakes, and even bobcat.  Right outside the Hacienda is one of the largest saguaro cactus you’ll ever see, a saguaro full of character, with all the nesting holes from the birds that have used it over the years. Elf Owls will often nest in this cactus, as will Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, and other birds.

On one of these mornings at the B&B, I awoke just before dawn to a gorgeous sky full of wonderful, scattered clouds. As I walked out by the big saguaro, I thought I’d try something unique for me…a photo that wasn’t a bird! I wanted something that captured not only the grandeur of that saguaro, but the wonderful early morning sky.  I put on my (rarely used) wide-angle lens, and tried to get a shot that captured both the sky and the saguaro. Not happy with what I was getting, I decided to try something different. I laid down on the ground next to the saguaro, and shot straight up the cactus towards the sky.

I absolutely love the resultant shot.  I love it so much, I made a big 36″ tall print on canvas that adorns my office wall at work.  I paid the price for this photo!  I learned that even if you don’t see them, the Sonoran desert ground is LITTERED with cactus thorns of all shapes and sizes! After taking the photo, I returned to my room, and spent some time with my wife, who graciously removed the thorns from my back, and the back of my legs and arms.  A price, but oh so worth it for one of my favorite photos of all time.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

Blizzard-inspired Drawing – American Woodcock

I don’t draw a lot any more…perhaps twice a year at most.  Not sure why, as I really enjoy it when I do drag out all the colored pencils and give it a go.  With the blizzard this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to draw. The species is actually inspired BY the blizzard.  American Woodcocks show up here in early April, and are already on their breeding grounds. They’ve already been doing their spectacular, unique display flights in the late evenings, spiraling up into the sky and diving back down, producing series of twittering and tweeting sounds as they go.  They normally feed heavily on earthworms.  When the blizzard hit, I remembered the posts of people seeing their displays here already this spring, and was wondering how they’d handle the blizzard. Inspiration leading to this, a colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock.

American Woodcock Drawing - Scolopax minor

Colored pencil drawing of an American Woodcock – By Terry Sohl

New website changes, including new “Favorites” section

Elegant Trogon - Trogon elegans

This isn’t one of my best photos from a technical or artistic standpoint, but it definitely is one of my favorites! It’s an Elegant Trogon, a find from a November 2015 trip south of Tucson. One of my most memorable experiences as a birder, so it’s high-time I update my “favorite photos” section to include photos a little newer than just those from 2000 to 2010!!

I’ve been working on my main website a lot lately (sdakotabirds.com), trying to fix some technical issues, as well as address content issues. On the technical side, note my site is now completely “secure”.  When you try to access the site, no matter what you type in (“sdakotabirds.com”, “http://sdakotabirds.com”, “www.sdakotabirds.com”, etc), you should be rerouted to the safe, SSL “secured” pages with the https:// prefix.  Given that Google search rankings are now said to be affected by whether a site uses https or not, I figured it was about time to make the switch.  It should also help people feel more comfortable on my blog should they want to register on my blog or comment on a post.

I’ve also been working on streamlining my website.  When I first started making my website 15 years ago, I had a “species photo” page that showed all the photos I had for that species. You’d then click on a little image chip that would take you to a separate web page for each individual photo.  My photo collection on my website is now around 5,000 individual photos.  That means I actually have (or had) 5,000 individual pages.  It DOES help me to provide more information about an individual photo, such as details about when and where it was taken, or other anecdotal information that I may want to convey with a photo.  It’s not very efficient though!  It’s made my website massive and unwieldy, and given so many similar pages (for example, ~40 different individual pages for each of the ~40 or so Ruby-throated Hummingbird photos I have), it’s also resulted in “penalties” for how Google ranks my website.  I’m greatly simplifying the structure of my website for displaying photos.  I’m working on having each species have only one web page for the display of photos.  All photos of that species are provided on the one page, as smaller image “chips”.  Clicking on the image chip brings up the photo itself, instead of directing you to another web page that contains the photo. In progress, but it should cut down the number of individual web pages on my website by ~75%, and will make it much easier to navigate around my photo collection.

I’m also working on updating material in other parts of my website. One focus right now is my “Favorite Photos” section. It’s been a long time since I’ve updated that page, so most of my “favorites” were photos from 2000 to around 2010.  I’m updating that page right, making it 1) more “selective” in what I deem to be a “favorite”, and 2) more current, with favorite photos from 2000 all the way through the present day.  Clicking on each “favorite” will bring you to a new webpage with a large version of the photo, and a story about what makes the photo special to me. Given how out-of-date my old favorite photo section was, I hope this provides a better impression of my photography, my favorites, and what makes me “tick” as a birder and a photographer!

More website updates are coming this spring as well, including 1) new Bird Quizzes to go with the ones I already have, and completion of the individual species pages for all ~980 or so species that have been seen in North America.  If there are any other things you’d like to see on my main website, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

SuperB Owl Sunday – Drawn Owl Edition

And along with the photos, owls have been one of my favorite species to draw.  I haven’t really done all that many drawings since I took up colored pencil drawing about 5 years ago, maybe 30 overall, but I have drawn three different owl species.

Barn Owl Drawing - Tyto alba

Drawing of a Barn Owl, a species I’ve had glimpses of on occasion, but have never had a good photo opportunity. That was the reason behind many of my bird drawings…to fill a “hole” in my photo collection of species I had no photos for!

Boreal Owl - Aegolius funereus

A few years ago I made the 6+ hour drive to Sax-Zim bog by Duluth, Minnesota, to look for Boreal Owls. They’re a rare find in the lower 48, but that winter, a number were seen in the area. Alas, I struck out and didn’t find any, so I did the next best thing…come home and draw one.

Northern Saw-whet Owl Drawing - Aegolius acadicus

A Northern Saw-whet Owl. These are the little guys I tried SO hard to find a couple of years ago, and I was finally rewarded by finding several near Sioux Falls. Love these little guys so much that I thought I’d try drawing one as well.

 

 

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