W is for Wildlife – #atozchallenge

There are not many better things on a back road trip than running into unexpected wildlife. There is an abundance of birds and animals to be discovered on the road.  For me, my camera is always at the ready for the chance meeting of some interesting animal or bird.

Sandhill Cranes fly over high plains near Dell, MT

One such incident happened on a gravel road near Dell, Montana.  I was on the lookout for bison as I drive along Ted Turner’s massive bison ranch.  While stopped to look I heard a strange bird call that I had never heard and shortly thereafter a pair of large birds came zipping by.  I got some shots, but wasn’t sure what I had until I got to the hotel later that night and discovered they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes, my first ever sighting of these glorious birds.

Sandhill Cranes near Cecilia, KY
A pair of Sandhill Cranes at sunset near Cecilia, KY

Just a few years later in my own state of Kentucky I was able to track down a migration of 1000s of these magnificent birds.  I actually came close to walking among their huge flock and they were flying all around me.  Words can’t explain the awe I had.

These birds migrate north back to their homes in Michigan and Wisconsin and fly through Kentucky in late January.  They stop in the bounteous cornfields to eat the leftovers that remained after harvest.

1000s of sandhill cranes converse on a field near Cecilia, KY
Sandhill Cranes take flight
Sandhill Cranes fly over Cecilia, KY

Chance encounters are always a thrill.  On a morning drive in Grand Teton National Park on a snowy morning in March 2013, I caught a fox leaping in the snow out of the corner of my eye.  The lovely animal stopped and stared at me as I sought to nab a shot.

Fox on Snow in Grand Teton National Park
Migrating Snow Geese by the hundreds in Arkansas in February 2017

On another trip earlier this year, we were driving on a backroad in Arkansas when we saw a “field of white” ahead of us.  Turned out to be a massive flock of migrating snow geese.

There could have been 1000s of them here, much the same as the Sandhill Cranes I noted above.  But it was such an unplanned surprise.

Once again, camera was always at the ready, so I was able to get a few shots while still sitting in the van (though we had to go about a mile down the road to turn around and accommodate the photo shoot.

Snow Geese everywhere
A flock of Snow Geese darkens the sky
1000s of snow geese in a small field in central Arkansas

Just like the snow geese, I happened upon a large flock of white pelicans at Andes Lake in South Dakota.  I could see them from a distance and thought they were ducks.

Pelicans in Lake Andes, SD
Pelicans taking flight at Andes Lake
Antelope in open range along the side of Wyoming 120

Of course, its not always about birds.  There are plenty of opportunities in the high plains to come across America’s fastest animal, the pronghorn antelope.

On trips through Montana and Wyoming I always saw these lovely sleek animals.  Sometimes I got them right on the side of the road.

I did have one lucky trip in 2013 when I was driving through Colorado and saw a mother and her two calves go jaunting through the tall grass.  I was able to get a nice shot with my telephoto lens.

Antelope Doe and Calves as seen from CO Hwy 13 north of Craig, CO
Antelope just stared back at me…didn’t run
A small family of pronghorn Antelope scamper across a field near Pulis Lane in Wilsall, Montana.
Antelope on the Run in Wyoming
A big bison poses for me in Yellowstone

The National Parks are always a great place to get some nice wildlife shots.  I have been to Yellowstone three times in the past 5 years and have seen a nice variety of wildlife, but mainly its the bison that roam free that are a thrill.  I was amazed at how huge some of these guys get.  One that walked by my car was at least 7 feet tall.

Bison and calves relax by a lake in Yellowstone
Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
Bison relax along Lava Creek in Yellowstone while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Buffalo in southern Montana on Ted Turner’s sprawling ranch near Dell, MT
Another Bison in Yellowstone Park
A solitary elk bull relaxes in the meadow at Yellowstone

Elk are another great large mammal to look for.  I have seen them in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as well as some of the mountain drives I made.

These are lovely animals.  And, like the bison, are huge.

 

Elk Bull in Sugar City, Idaho
An Elk Bull near Elkton, Oregon
One antlered elk bull on a breeding farm near Archer, ID
An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone
Deer at sunrise in Shenandoah National Park

The great culprit of car accidents and frequent recipient of roadkill awards are deer.  These can be seen along highways everywhere both day and night.

I recently made a trip to Shenandoah National Park and got some very nice shots of deer. I have many more from other places, but these are my best.

Deer jumping away in Shenandoah National Park
Deer looking on
Deer on the road from Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park
Deer grazing in the snow in Lewistown, Montana
Bald Eagle shot taken in mid April 2017 near Cave Run Lake, KY

Sometimes I make trips to find the wildlife myself.  Such was the case recently on a visit to the fish hatchery near Cave Run Lake in Eastern Kentucky.  I was in search of some of the bald eagles that hang around there.  Found one!

There have been more sightings recently of these lovely and regal birds.  I have seen one or two almost every week at Jacobson Park locally and also have been able to see a nest with three adults and two offspring near Taylorsville Lake west of Lexington.

Love these eagles.

Eagle at Jacobson Lake in Lexington
Eagle at Taylorsville Lake, KY
Great Blue Heron

My most favorite wildlife subject is the Great Blue Heron.  These huge birds hang around lakes and rivers in Kentucky and many other places.  I literally have 1000s of photos of them.  Here are a few recent ones from Lexington.

I have photos of these birds in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio and other places as well.

Blue herons in Taylorsville Lake
Blue Heron in Flight over Jacobson Lake in Kentucky
Breakfast time

I could post dozens and dozens of other photos, but I will only add a few other wildlife shots to this post from my travels.

Cormorants in flight over Kentucky
Turkey vulture gathering on a road in central Kentucky
Prairie Dog – Cactus Flats, SD
Prairie Dog — standing watch in Cactus Flats
A prairie dog scampers near the Camp Disappointment Monument
Mama Doggie – Cactus Flats, SD
Pelicans in formation over the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, TX
A pelican starts its dive for a meal into the gulf
Pelicans fly in formation over the beach in Galveston
Christmas morning sunrise in Ocean City , MD and greeted by a dolphin in the foreground.
A closeup shot of a seagull taken on Bremerton Ferry while crossing the Puget Sound in Washington
Seagull in flight with the Gulf of Mexico behind it
A couple of seagulls “converse” as they enjoy the view over Lake Superior in Wisconsin
A pair of seagulls glide by in Galveston
Caught some nice seagull shots in Egg Harbor, WI
An osprey in flight
Mountain Goat in the Badlands of South Dakota
A Great Egret relaxes in the swamp near Uncertain, Texas
A red squirrel with a mouthful in Nebraska City, NE
Cattle Egret seen in Angleton, Texas
I found a gator in Brazos Bend State Park in Texas
Another Gator in Brazos Bend State Park

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A to Z Challenge: Reflections #atozchallenge

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]During the month of April 2016 I participated in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge had each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays.

This was my first opportunity to really participate in this annual event, which just completed its 6th year.  It was not easy!!  I had to not only post something daily, but also create a theme and stick with it.  And, in my perfectionist way, I wanted to make sure there were plenty of photos and commentary.  I wrote in such a way to draw people to the more detailed posts, where ever possible. 

It was a load of fun and I completed the challenge.  Not sure how many actually did, but it was certainly tough, yet fulfilling. 

What I really loved about the event was being able to communicate and link up with others doing the same thing.  I have made some new friends on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  I have found some interesting blogs to follow and also have a few new followers.

I most certainly look forward to participating again next year.  Now to start thinking of a good theme for next year.  May actually take a long time!!!

A BIG Thanks to Arlee Bird and her wonderful team!!

My blog was number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts took readers across the back roads of America to many unique towns.  See what other bloggers posted about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016

Following is a complete listing of each with the banners associated with each post’s link. Click on the Lettered Banner to go to the specific post.

ABanner600

The A Towns: Amarillo, TX – Adair, IA – Alzada, MT – Alamogordo, NM – Alligator, MS – Alliance, NE – Ada, MI – Akela Flats, NM

 

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The B Towns: Bemidji, MN – Boring, OR – Blackfoot, ID – Burk’s Falls, ON – Booger Holler, AR – Brownsville, TN – Babb, MT – Blackwater, MO – Bena, MN – Bucksnort, TN – Bugtussle, KY – Bugtussle, TX

 

CBanner

The C Towns: Cactus Flat, SD – Centralia, MO – Cape Elizabeth, ME – Climax, NC – Climax, KY – Choteau, MT – Cave City, KY – Charm, OH – Chelsea, MI – Champaign, IL – Cut Bank, MT – Caledonia, ON – Cut and Shoot, TX – China Grove, TX – Cool, TX – Coolville, OH

 

DBanner

The D Towns: Douglas, WY – DeForest, WI – Discovery Bay, WA – Dublin, OH – Dublin, TX – Dragoon, AZ – Denton, TX – Durant, OK – Danville, IL – Dallas, SD – Denver, NC – Damon, TX

 

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The E Towns: Earth, TX – Eureka Springs, AR – Elbe, WA – Easton, PA – Eldon, IA – Egg Harbor, WI – East Peoria, IL – Embro, ON – Eagle, CO – Endeavor, WI

 

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The F Towns: Flagstaff, AZ – Friendly, WV – Friendship, AR – Flippin, AR – Fair Play, SC – Fergus Falls, MN – Feely, MT – Flippin, KY – Fly, OH – Four Way, TX – Future City, IL

 

GBanner

The G Towns: Gainesville, TX – Gothenburg, NE – Guthrie, KY – Gregory, SD – Galata, MT – Glasgow, MT – Glasgow, KY – Gardiner, MT – Gillette, WY – Granbury, TX – Grand Forks, ND – Gravel Switch, KY – Gilboa, OH – Georgetown, TX

 

HBanner

The H Towns: Hell, MI – Hamtramck, MI – Hamilton, ON – Hatch, NM – Hico, TX – Hopland, CA – Hoboken, NJ – Hugo, OK – Hershey, PA – Home on the Range, ND – Hamburg, IA

 

IBanner

The I Towns: Indian Head, SK – Intercourse, PA – Ironwood, MI – Independence, MO – Idaho Falls, ID – Iona, ID – Inverness, MT – Iron River, WI

 

JBanner

The J Towns: Jamestown, ND – Joseph, OR – Jeffersonville, IN – Juneau, AK – Jackson Hole, WY – Janesville, WI – Jackson Center, OH – Jamaica Beach, TX – Jamestown, NY

 

KBanner

The K Towns: Kemmerer, WY – Keystone, SD – Ketchikan, AK – Kensington District, ON – Kadoka, SD – Kremlin, MT – Kirkwood, MO

 

LBanner

The L Towns: LeClaire, IA – Lake Nebagamon, WI – Lesage, WV – LeRoy, NY – Lizard Lick, NC – Lake Jackson, TX – Lost Springs, WY – Langdon, ND

 

MBanner

The M Towns: Mt. Horeb, WI – Meadville, PA – Metropolis, IL – Marshfield, WI – Moenave, AZ – Mystic, CT – Montrose, SD – Minot, ND – Mitchell, SD – Mapleton, ON – Medina, NY – Moose Jaw, SK – Mars, PA

 

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The N Towns: Nicholson, PA – Nekoma, ND – Natchez, MS – Neah Bay, WA – Nauvoo, IL – Newport, OR – Newark, OH – Normal, IL – Nice, CA – New Salem, ND

 

OBanner

The O Towns: Only, TN – Old Orchard Beach, ME – Okay, OK – Oil Springs, ON – Oak Creek, CO – Oacoma, SD – Odd, WV – Onawa, IA – Oddville, KY

 

PBanner

The P Towns: Pella, IA – Peculiar, MO – Pierre Part, LA – Point Pleasant, WV – Paris, KY – Paris, TX – Paris, TN – Paris, ON – Port Orchard, WA – Powder River, WY – Paducah, KY – Port Gibson, MS – Palmyra, NY – Perryville, KY – Paxton, NE – Pembroke, NY – Penn Yan, NY – Ponder, TX

 

QBanner

The Q Towns: Quincy, IL – Quartzsite, AZ – Queen City, OH (Cincinnati) – Quicksand, KY

 

RBanner

The R Towns: Roswell, NM – Regent, ND – Rhinelander, WI – Rabbit Hash, KY – Raton, NM – Red Lodge, MT – Riverside, IA – Rugby, ND – Rudyard, MT

 

SBanner

The S Towns: Steubenville, OH – Stanley, ID – Sedona, AZ – Santa Rosa, CA – Staunton, IL – Sisters, OR – Seymour, WI – Santa Claus, IN – Sandwich, NH – Sweet Grass, MT – Shakespeare, ON – Stratford, ON – Sikeston, MO – Success, MO – Soda Springs, ID

 

TBanner

The T Towns: Tightwad, MO – Talent, OR – Toad Suck, AR – Thermopolis, WY – Teton Valley, ID – Tetonia, ID – Tuba City, AZ – Tornado, WV – Tavistock, ON – Tomahawk, WI – Tripp, SD – Tunica, MS – Tioga, TX – Ten Sleep, WY – Torch, OH

 

UBanner

The U Towns: Uncertain, TX – Uncasville, CT – Upper Lake, CA – Ukiah, CA – Upton, KY

 

VBanner

The V Towns: Vulcan, AB – Valier, MT – Vernal, UT – Vandalia, IL – Vicksburg, MS – Versailles, KY – Vincennes, IN

 

WBanner

The W Towns: Wharton, TX – Welland, ON – Wapiti, WY – Wall, SD – Winterset, IA – Winner, SD – Walla Wall, WA – Worland, WY – Walcott, IA – Waldo, AR – West Montrose, ON

 

XBanner

The X Towns: Xenia, OH – Lexington, KY – Cotopaxi, CO – Oxford County, ON – Texarkana, AR – Texline, TX – Rexburg, ID – Exie, KY

 

YBanner

The Y Towns: Yampa, CO – West Yellowstone, MT –  Yellville, AR – York, NE

 

ZBanner

The Z Towns: Zanesville, OH – Zelienople, PA – Zurich, MT

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South Dakota Backroads: Prairie Dogs and Badlands

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

On my previous post I covered my travels from Omaha to Kadoka, South Dakota along the Oyate Trail. This post covers the second part of that day, basically, my visit to the hauntingly wondrous Badlands National Park in western South Dakota.

Scrappy the Scrap Metal Buck by Brett Prang
Scrappy the Scrap Metal Buck by Brett Prang

Before I get into the Badlands visit, one more final comment about Kadoka.  While at a gas station off if I-90 I came across this giant scrap metal buck.  I did some research and found out that it’s name is “Scrappy” and it is the creation of metal artist Brett Prang, who resides in the Badlands area and runs Incredible Metal from his Guest House and their Frying Pan Ranch. I wish I would have known about his scrap metal art while I was in the area…..  He also has an amazing 37 foot tall metal cross that I would love to have seen.  (See article about Prangs here)

Closeup of Scrappy
Closeup of Scrappy

Scrappy was originally created as the mascot of Tivy High School (The Antlers) in Kerrville, Texas.  It was auctioned in 2005 to raise funds for the school.  It has now returned to its South Dakota birthplace.

Another closeup of Scrappy
Another closeup of Scrappy

Now, off to the Badlands!!

Welcome to the Badlands
Welcome to the Badlands

From Kadoka on I-90, I took Exit 131 and headed south on South Dakota Hwy 240 which passes by a big trading post and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site which I did not visit.  Another couple of miles south on 240 is “The Ranch Store” which is a tourist stop for Badlands and Prairie Dog mementos, but is also home to the Giant Prairie Dog statue and about a gazillion little prairie dogs.  If you make a visit to the Badlands, this is a must stop, especially if you have children and a camera.

Giant Prairie Dog - Cactus Flats, SD
Giant Prairie Dog – Cactus Flats, SD
Sumoflam with the Giant Prairie Dog - Cactus Flats
Sumoflam with the Giant Prairie Dog – Cactus Flats
Here's Looking at You - Giant Prairie Dog
Here’s Looking at You – Giant Prairie Dog

According to the Ranch Store’s website, they got their start in Kadoka in the 1950s, but once I-90 was completed their location was no longer viable.  So, they moved their store and their 6 ton pink prairie dog statue to its current location in 1971.  Not only can you get your souvenirs and ice cream, but you can also feed the prairie dogs that reside in their own huge underground village on the side of the store.  I got some nice shots of some of these cuddly looking little guys….

Prairie Dog - Cactus Flats, SD
Prairie Dog – Cactus Flats, SD

These little Prairie Dogs have great personality!!

Prairie Dog -- standing watch in Cactus Flats
Prairie Dog — standing watch in Cactus Flats

I saw this mother prairie dog cuddling her two babies.  It was absolutely darling and almost human. Had to put three of the photos together to give a better feeling of her care.

Mama Doggie - Cactus Flats, SD
Mama Doggie (kissing, comforting and hugging)  – Cactus Flats, SD

And just one more fond farewell….

Fond Farewell - Cactus Flats, SD
Fond Farewell – Cactus Flats, SD

Rather than drive the full loop from Cactus Flats, I decided to head back up to I-90 and then take the exit for Wall Drug to head south to Badlands National Park at the Pinnacles Entrance.  It had been a long day’s drive from Omaha and across southern South Dakota, so the sun was beginning to set in the west and shadows were beginning to fall on the Badlands, which, in my opinion, was a great time to view the park.  Following are a few of the nearly 300 photos I shot in the Badlands.

The Badlands as seen from Sage Creek Rim Road
The Badlands as seen from Sage Creek Rim Road
The Badlands
The Badlands
The Badlands
The Badlands
Badlands and Grasslands in Badlands N.P.
Badlands and Grasslands in Badlands N.P.
A lonely buffalo grazes in the valley near Sage Creek
A lonely buffalo grazes in the valley near Sage Creek
More Badlands as seen from the Pinnacles Drive
More Badlands as seen from the Pinnacles Drive
Rolling prairie grasslands as you look north from The Badlands
Rolling prairie grasslands as you look north from The Badlands
A Mountain Bluebird perched on a fencepost in the Badlands
A Mountain Bluebird perched on a fencepost in the Badlands
Shadows in the Badlands
Shadows in the Badlands
Sage Creek Valley in the Badlands
Sage Creek Valley in the Badlands
Mountain Goats relax at sunset in the Badlands
Mountain Goats relax at sunset in the Badlands
Sunset at the Badlands
Sunset at the Badlands
Turkey Vultures take a rest
Turkey Vultures take a rest

Of course, the park has herds of mountain goats.  As I drive down into a valley a couple of them appeared on the side of the road grazing.  Unfettered by my stopping and shooting, they continued.  Here are a couple of shots of them.

Mountain Goat in the Badlands
Mountain Goat in the Badlands
Mountain Goat in the Badlands
Mountain Goat in the Badlands
Mountain Goat in the Badlands
Mountain Goat in the Badlands

The Badlands offered many amazing views.  I will devote a photo gallery to this trip later on.  But, I don’t think there could be a better time to visit than at sunset…

Badlands at Sunset
Badlands at Sunset

As the sun began its descent, I headed back to I-90 and then west towards my eventual overnight stay in Gillette, Wyoming.  My next day would take me west though Cody and into Yellowstone National Park.  That will be another a post in a few days.

A lonely cabin in the prairie
A lonely cabin in the prairie
Heading West towards Wyoming on I-90
Heading West towards Wyoming on I-90
Heading into the Sunset as I crossed into Wyoming on I-90
Heading into the Sunset as I crossed into Wyoming on I-90

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