Trailside Photography: Blog en-us (C) Trailside Photography [email protected] (Trailside Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:06:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:06:00 GMT Trailside Photography: Blog 90 120 Prairie Dog Jump-Yip Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) towns abound in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) and Badlands National Park (South Dakota). These small mammals occupy an important niche in the shortgrass prairie, grazing on grasses in a manner that promotes the growth of forbs and provides browse for pronghorn and bison. Hawks and coyote prey on prairie dogs (see the photo at the end of this post), and burrowing owls live in their abandoned burrows. We enjoyed watching the prairie dogs' complex social behavior, including the "jump-yip" portrayed below. For more on prairie dogs in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, click here. For one scientific explanation of the "jump-yip," see "Catch the Wave: Decoding the Prairie Dog’s Contagious Jump-Yips."

The jump-yip:

Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) Jump-Yip, Badlands National Park, South DakotaPrairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) Jump-Yip, Badlands National Park, South Dakota


A coyote trots away with its catch:

Coyote preys on prairie dogCoyote preys on prairie dog.Coyote preys on prairie dog

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Badlands National Park Prairie Dogs Theodore Roosevelt National Park Thu, 28 Jul 2016 17:57:06 GMT
Burrowing Owl Chicks in Badlands National Park Of all the young animals that Pat and I watched in Badlands National Park, the burrowing owl chicks fascinated us the most, in large part because we were privileged to witness a slice of their family life. As you may know, burrowing owls nest in burrows abandoned by small mammals such as prairie dogs, and we first noticed these owlets' mother standing in the opening of her family's burrow in a prairie dog town. Before long, five hungry owlets popped their heads out of the burrow. Soon after, their father landed on a nearby prairie dog burrow, and the female flew over to meet him. He had brought a grasshopper with him, which he transferred to the female, and she flew back to her brood and gave the grasshopper to one of the chicks. We watched the family repeat this feeding behavior three times over the next hour.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Chicks, Badlands National Park, South DakotaBurrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Chicks, Badlands National Park, South Dakota


Here's a sequence of their feeding behavior.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Badlands National Park Burrowing Owls Thu, 28 Jul 2016 16:02:11 GMT
Color in the Badlands Hay Butte, Badlands National ParkHay Butte, Badlands National Park


The colorfully banded escarpments of Badlands National Park in South Dakota reveal a complex history of deposition and erosion of sedimentary rock layers overlying even more ancient igneous and metamorphic bedrock. The different bands testify to changing geologic forces such as the uplift of the Black Hills to the west, which were subsequently eroded, their deposits flowing into the basin to the east that would eventually become the Badlands. Ancient volcanic activity to the west of the Badlands deposited layers of dark ash carried by the wind. As climate and physiography changed, inland seas alternately flooded and exposed the area, creating habitat for the many animals and plants whose fossils can be found in various layers.

While the dramatic formations of the Badlands seem at first glance fixed, erosion continues to wear away the soft rock at a rate of up to one inch per year. Even more changeable are the colors of the landscape. When wet, the red bands stand out. In full sun, contrast among the bands can fade. This photograph was made in twilight as a line of storms approached from the south, the reflected blue of the lowering clouds lending a unique hue to the Badlands.

For a brief overview of Badlands geology, see Geologic Formations; for a more detailed account, see “Geology of Badlands National Park: A Preliminary Report.”

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Badlands National Park Wed, 27 Jul 2016 17:22:22 GMT
Pronghorns at Badlands National Park, South Dakota Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and fawn, Custer State Park, South DakotaPronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and fawn, Custer State Park, South DakotaPronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and fawn, Badlands National Park, South Dakota



The juvenile Pronghorns in Badlands National Park tended to stay close to their mothers, except in one case in which we saw a doe trot across a meadow, leaving behind two fawns in a shallow depression near the road. The young Pronghorn stayed put. According to the Great Plains Nature Center, Pronghorn fawns will "bed down and lie still most of the time," the doe visiting "every 5 hours or so to nurse and check on them" (Pronghorn). Apparently, that behavior can extend into the summer. For more about Pronghorn, see Pronghorn - National Wildlife Federation.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Badlands National Park Pronghorn Thu, 21 Jul 2016 17:28:50 GMT
Bison Calf in Theodore Roosevelt National Park Next up in the parade of new life in the North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park: a bison (Bison bison) calf in its "red dog" phase. For more on the bison herd at TRNP, see

Bison Calf, Theodore Roosevelt National ParkBison Calf, Theodore Roosevelt National ParkBison calf (Bison bison), in its "red dog" phase, Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Bison bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park Tue, 19 Jul 2016 17:59:27 GMT
Feral Horses at Theodore Roosevelt National Park Pat and I just returned from a six-week, hiking-camping-visiting road trip through the upper Midwest (MI, WI, MN), Manitoba, and the Dakotas. I’ll be posting photos from the trip as I select and edit them, beginning with this shot of a feral mare and her foal in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Many of the large animals roaming the Badlands had young, reassuring evidence that they still have a place where they can live largely unfettered. To learn more about the horses, visit Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Feral Horses, Theodore Roosevelt National ParkFeral Horses, Theodore Roosevelt National ParkFeral horses, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit, North Dakota.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Mon, 18 Jul 2016 19:52:23 GMT
Trashed Trails Project Trashed Trails - Macedonia Brook State ParkTrashed Trails - Macedonia Brook State Park

We have uploaded a new gallery entitled "Trashed Trails" to Trailside Photography. During a car-camping and hiking trip through the Mid-Atlantic states and New England in the late summer of 2014, we picked up trash along trails over a period of several weeks. This series of composite images juxtaposes the land and the litter.

Of course, we were appalled at the amount—and kind—of litter we found on some trails, but we wondered whether each bit of trash represented a wanton disregard for these public lands or whether some of the litter might be explained by less sinister circumstances. Perhaps that water bottle fell out of a pack and the hiker didn't notice. Maybe someone simply forgot that pair of socks after cooling his feet in a stream. Someone else, dealing with a fussy infant, might not have noticed that the baby spit out its pacifier. And perhaps the person who left soiled underwear in the woods was simply too embarrassed to carry them out.

Of course, the images in this gallery can't explain how each bit of trash ended up on the trails, but we think they illustrate the cumulative effects of our individual behaviors. Rather than feeling superior to the litterers—we would never throw trash in the woods!—we realized how easy it can be to ignore the impact of individual actions because we can't imagine, and often cannot directly see, the cumulative patterns to which each small act contributes.

Note: We are not currently offering prints of these large composite images for sale through this site, but we welcome inquiries about prints, licensing, or other arrangements for display.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Litter Trashed Trails Fri, 09 Oct 2015 21:06:16 GMT
What is rare Often, photographing wildlife reminds me of these lines from William Meredith's "Sonnet on Rare Animals":

"It is this way with verse and animals
And love, that when you point you lose them all.
Startled or on a signal, what is rare
Is off before you have it anywhere."

And therein lies an ethical problem for photographers: how close, and in what manner, should we approach animals in the wild? Species tolerate different proximity to humans, but wildlife managers often offer this simple guideline: if the animal stops its normal behavior and attends to your presence (e.g., watches you warily, adopts a defensive stance), you are too close. However, all sorts of situations complicate that rule, as I recently discovered when making this photograph of a Trumpeter Swan, taken at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's Upper Peninsula:

Trumpeter Swan, Seney National Wildlife RefugeTrumpeter Swan, Seney National Wildlife RefugeTrumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan. I don't own a "wildlife" lens (e.g., 500mm+ focal length), so I rarely am able to fill the frame with a truly wild animal (I know that category is open to interpretation), even one the size of an adult swan. Prior to taking this shot, we had driven around Seney's Marshland Wildlife Drive and observed many Trumpeter Swans and several Common Loons, all of whom kept their distance from shore. Stopping for lunch at a picnic area on the Refuge's eastern edge, we were surprised to find a pair of swans swimming placidly toward us as we walked a trail along the bank of a pond. A short distance from shore, the swans stopped to feed, dabbling for aquatic vegetation, then groomed themselves for several minutes, this one right on the edge of the pond, close to where I stood. After I made the image, I withdrew and the swans swam off to the far shore.

We puzzled over this close encounter until we saw a sign posted further down the shore imploring visitors not to feed the swans. Sadly, I suspect these swans had become accustomed to people doing just that. I was grateful for the opportunity to observe the swans at close quarters, but reminded that we need to keep wildlife wild.

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Seney National Wildlife Refuge Trumpeter Swans Wed, 12 Aug 2015 00:09:47 GMT
Storm Clouds Over Lake Carlos  "Expect storms, possibly severe, to sweep through Minnesota tonight." That was the forecast for the evening of July 5 when, on our way from central Ohio to attend a family wedding in Manitoba, Canada, we stopped to camp overnight at Lake Carlos State Park in west-central Minnesota. From our wooded campsite on the north end of the lake, we could hear thunderstorms in the distance, but they seemed to be missing the park. Under thick clouds, dark settled in early. We had given up on watching the sunset, then just before 7:00 PM we saw sunlight through trees to the northwest. We jumped in the car and headed around the lake, hoping to find an opening on the eastern shore. A public fishing access ramp provided a clear view of the sun setting beneath turbulent clouds trailing a rain squall to the southwest.

Storm Clouds Over Lake CarlosStorm Clouds Over Lake CarlosStorm clouds over Lake Carlos, Lake Carlos State Park, Minnesota.

Of course the sun ultimately provides the energy that drives heavy weather—and the hydrologic cycle more generally. The storm on July 5 was not one of the "1,000-year storms" that hit southern Minnesota in 2004, 2007, and 2010, but according to a recent story by Minnesota Public Radio, climate change will mean more big storms for the state (Climate Change in Minnesota: More heat, more big storms | Minnesota Public Radio News).

[email protected] (Trailside Photography) Lake Carlos Storm Thu, 06 Aug 2015 18:46:53 GMT