Category Archives: Outdoors photography

Time for the trail cams

This buck obviously feels at home on this food plot, showing up about every day for the past two weeks. He’s put on about 15 to 20 more inches of antler since last year.

It’s kind of like running a trotline, only you have the chance to catch a lot more than just five or six fish.

I ran a set recently  that had more than 1,600 “catches” in about two weeks. I’m talking, of course, about running a string of trail cameras.

What used to be bulky units the size of cigar boxes, that used size D batteries and a roll of 36 exposure film are now about as little as about one-third the old size, run on a few AA batteries and I have some memory cards that store more than 4,000 images.

Photos of young, spotted fawns are always a pleasure to see. This doe actually appears to have triplets, though the camera never got all four in the same frame.

The main thing those with trail cameras…and note it’s plural, because once you have one you realize you need many more, are placed for is to get photos of deer. The main goal is often trophy bucks but I get a kick out of the shots of little spotted fawns, or a pair of does reared up on their hind legs, slapping hooves in a power struggle over a source of food.

 

Tulsa’s purple martin majesty…400,000 strong!

It’s no secret I’ve enjoyed the Wichita purple martin show near the Via Christi medical complex on St. Francis for several years. It seemed so special to be in such a setting and have 40,000 or so of the birds swirling about overhead, then pouring themselves into a tiny line of trees under the glow of street lights.

Well, I just found out I’m going to be making a road trip next year, to see a much better purple martin show in downtown Tulsa. I’d read online that it is not uncommon for 250,000 of the great little birds to gather there.

Mark Schuyler, a local dentist who I’ve spend some great times with at the Wichita roost, went to Tulsa last week and estimated their flights at closer to 400,000 birds. Even my limited math skills shows thats 10-times better than the best show I’ve seen in Wichita. Another person at the same event, an Oklahoman, assured me there were at least 300,000 birds at the Tulsa roost.

Schuyler was kind enough to SHARE SOME FINE VIDEO of what he and his family saw last week. When you click this link, you should go to a page that shows you three other videos “Docshu” shot that same evening.

As well as numbers,the Tulsa birds seem to be openly embraced by local businesses, unlike Via Christi which altered much of the bird’s habitat this summer.

In Oklahoma, a downtown hotel allows parking on the top floor of their parking garage, which puts viewers directly in the bird’s flight patterns as they descend into the trees below. The Audubon people in Tulsa offer educational evenings for the public, and keep martin updates on their website. They also have link so viewers can express their appreciation for the birds to the Tulsa mayor’s office.

While the birds will probably be around another week or so in Tulsa, our schedules won’t allow us time to go down for a viewing this year.

But I’m danged sure seeing a road trip a few hours to the south and east coming in August, 2014.

Wow,…400,000!

Turkey vulture in a tux still not pretty

As is usually the case, Tuesday morning I was sticking to the backroads, spending most of my time watching anywhere but the road, when  I spotted a bunch of about 20 turkey vultures spread amid the top of a dead tree and a few fence posts. About 40 yards away, perched by itself, was a lone vulture. When I passed by it opened it’s wings and I saw the body was splashed with white.

This piebald turkey vulture was photographed between Sterling and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday morning.

I’ve seen normally black birds splashed with white coloring before, but they’ve been crows that were obviously roosting on the lower branches of  of a communal roost tree.(Insert “ewwwhhhh” and wrinkled face, here), but I’d never seen a vulture like this.

Turning a quick, but careful U-turn in a soft spot down the road, I checked the bird first with binoculars and saw it was what I’d thought – a piebald turkey vulture, with most of its white plumage up around it’s neck.

As I let the car roll slowly down the road towards the bird, three birds from the tree pitched down into the middle of the road. The bird with the tuxedo feathering followed, landing amid them. As soon as he landed the other three vultures walked several yards away, and wouldn’t look back at the piebald bird.

When the birds flushed as a truck barreled towards them, (which I thought was fairly rude since I was obviously in the middle of photo shoot,) the white and black bird landed on a fence post about 50 yards from the others. I think there’s no doubt he’s being shunned.

Other vultures seemed to shun the piebald bird on the ground, and it roosted many yards away from the other birds when they were in trees or on fence posts.

Home after an afternoon of shooting pics at Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, I pulled up the shots of the off-colored buzzard first. The white plumage is kind of striking, but it still leads into what has to be the ugliest mug in the bird world.

But at least he looks better than the other vultures that were shunning him…I wonder if they were jealous?

Mastery of the art of fishing, rod building, writing and photography

Do me a favor, and yourself as well, and read what I’ve attached to the link a few lines down.

It’s fairly long, but whatever you think you have to get done can wait. The story is moving, the writing masterful and the photography better than artistic paintings.

Dang, I wish I could do anything as well.

It’s an ESPN story about one of the finest custom fly rod makers in the world, despite the little fact that he’s largely paralyzed about from the neck down.

Those of you who fly fish will admire the man for his craft, and how well he understands our way of life.

Those of  you who don’t, may get a hint of why some otherwise sane people become so insane about things like taper, weight, tips, tippets and finding the perfect fly.

So, pour a fresh cup of coffee, grab another can of Coke or pop the top of a a favored beer and enjoy.

CLICK HERE TO ENJOY OUTDOORS JOURNALISM ABOUT AS GOOD AS IT CAN BE.

Yet another problem from ticks

Just this week my family learned that a friend hunting turkeys on our wooded lands north of Lawrence picked up a few ticks on his April hunt. At the Dr. for another matter, they ran a blood test and found he’d tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Fortunately, they got treatment started  before symptoms arose and all should be well.

About the same time I started hearing about a disease spread by the Lone Star tick, or at least that’s what the disease is named. We had an article about the disease in today’s Wichita Eagle. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT IT. I’ve also heard several reports lately of the disease being found in Missouri.

And, unfortunately, Lyme Disease is still too prevalent in many areas, including Kansas. Some groups are also claiming America’s health industry isn’t giving tick-borne diseases enough attention, or treating them properly when diagnosed.

Personally, I’ve had a lot less ticks since I started treating some of my garments with Permethrin, a spray you put on your clothing and let it dry before wearing. It lasts up to six weeks, even through a few washings.  YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THE PRODUCT.  Several brands of spray contain the chemical. As per the directions, do not get it on your skin while the spray is still wet!

Nebraska turkeys not as friendly as the people

We went, …we called, …we saw…and my 33 seasons of experience, and  $300 worth of decoys and calls, got kicked around by a bunch of birds with penny-sized brains.

Only in the turkey woods.

A rainbow over the South Loup River was the consolation prize after a failed afternoon of turkey hunting. Photo by Ed Schulte.

Last weekend longtime friend Ed Schulte and I headed to his boyhood home amid the cornfields, pastures and meandering South Loup River of central Nebraska.  No stranger to the Merriam’s/Rio Grande hybrid turkeys of the Nebraska and Dakota prairies, I was confident.

We’re talking hit the baseball off the top of the tee with three swings confident.

I was to take care of the calling and equipment, while Ed took care of lodging and hunting grounds. That meant staying with Ed’s relatives, Don and Diana Axmann.

With a feed and seed business, and a lifelong resident of the area, Don had us set to hunt three great properties along the South Loup. When we showed interest in another place, Don’s quick call got access there, too. That’s the way we were treated, both by Ed’s large family, friends of the family and complete strangers.

The people were as refreshing as the weather was blustery on two of our four days.

The first evening we just scouted properties, located several groups of gobbling toms at sunset and I got to know the Axmann’s. Judging by the dominance of red and Husker memorabilia in his basement, it was quickly obvious that Don was addicted to anything Nebraska football. Quiet on the outside, his dry since of humor  is appreciable.

Diana reminded me of her sister, Ed’s wife, Ronda – friendly, talkative, positive, perpetually happy, and very talented in the kitchen.

Goal #1 was to call in a tom for Ed, who’d only ambushed turkeys in the past. With plenty of mouth, slate and box calls along, and a pair of ultra-realistic, decoys, I figured no problems.

Hunters plan, turkeys laugh.

And really, the first day went well enough.

The morning’s hunt never had a chance thanks to a guitar string-tight barbed wire fence that probably dissuaded enthusiastic toms from coming our way. It happens when you’re hunting an area for the first time

No biggie. That afternoon I lured in a nice tom that came in at a bad angle and was probably within the fringe of shotgun range. Figuring he’d come on in and give Ed a shot, I held off the trigger. The tom simply turned and slowly strutted away. Coward.

Ed Schulte and the prairie tom that played by the rules, and came to calls and decoys.

Towards evening, Ed got to see a nice tom come to calls and decoys. He made the shot, which left us a day-and-a-half to get me at least one  bird.

We had two hunts at some of the prettiest prairie turkey habitat I’ve ever seen. Amid the mile-long stretch of timber along the South Loup was a 20 acre or so plot of alfalfa totally hidden from any roads. About 20 turkeys, including at least five longbeards, were in the field when we checked it. Farm trails seemed perfect travel routes to and from the field for turkeys in the area.

The first afternoon at the spot we set-up along the edge of one of those trails and had a hen in our decoys within 10 minutes, but the toms in the area showed up late and didn’t want to play. We moved our blind to where they’d been that evening.

The next morning, our last of the hunt, the air was filled with gobbles when the birds were scattered amid three roosting places. When they hit the ground, though, – silence.

We had two henlesss longbeards pass along the field oblivious to the decoys and calls. A mixed flock of about two dozen hens and toms showed no reaction, not even  yelp, gobble or strut to my calls, an hour later. Even four lone jakes, probably the most gullible creatures in hunting, totally ignored calls and decoys that had fooled so many birds, through so many seasons.

I did a made move-and-call dash through the woodlands during the final minutes of the hunt. Nada, but tt least I went down swinging.

We wondered if it was the weather, or hunting pressure we didn’t know about, or just turkeys being turkeys that day and flipping me the feather.

No problem, really. The beards and spurs will be a bit longer next spring, Ed and I know two properties better and still have at least two more to explore.

Hopefully next year the turkeys of central Nebraska won’t again be so  rude.

The people and the country won’t let us down.

Go Huskers!

 

 

Casts and Blasts, Quivira’s management plans

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ SUNDAY’S UPDATE ON PROPOSED MANAGEMENT PLANS FOR THE NEXT 15 YEARS AT THE QUIVIRA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE.

You read below for a few more details.

Mike Oldham, the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge manager.

- Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said a total of 45-50 people attended their three public meetings in Stafford, Wichita and Great Bend last week.

-Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas director, commented in Wichita that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife  staff  promoting the meetings didn’t do an adequate job of notifying the public. I also expressed concern that The Wichita Eagle didn’t appear to have been notified. Fish and Wildlife personel at Wichita’s gathering said they followed normal procedures.

- After the three meetings, Oldham indicated he’d heard only from hunters more interested in keeping the North Lake region open to  public hunting, than keeping other portions of the refuge open for hunting when whooping cranes are present. Under a current proposal, the refuge could remove the North Lake area from places open to public hunting.

As a trade, some areas previously closed to public hunting could be opened, thus allowing hunting when whoopers are present because they’re seldom in the proposed new areas. Oldham said the wetlands habitat within those units has been improved recently.

Several years ago, sportsmen at early planning meetings expressed a desire to keep the refuge open to hunting when whooping cranes are present. Since, U.S. Fish and Wildlife planners have been working to  implement a plan for such desires.

- Oldham said federal regulations limit how much of Quivira can be opened to public hunting at about 40 percent.

My personal perspective -

- It appears that Oldham and other Fish and Wildlife staff members are indeed trying to include public desires into the 15 year management plan, though the good of the wildlife on the 22,000 acre refuge will come first…as it should be.

- Because of the small turnout at the meetings, it appears that a vocal minority may have the opportunity to help set the refuge’s future.

- It’s good to see consideration be given to the wildlife viewing quality at Quivira. In my opinion, it’s the top viewing/wildlife photography destination in Kansas, by far. On a good November afternoon I can shoot 300-700 frames of deer, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and, if I’m fortunate, whooping cranes.

Possible changes to Quivira’s management plans to be discussed

Discussion and public comments on long-term habitat and wildlife management plans at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are planned for Tuesday evening at the Great Plains Nature Center.

Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said topics will include proposed tree control plans, changes in public use of wetlands when whooping cranes are present and allowing deer and turkey hunting for the first time at the refuge.

Oldham said the refuge is holding the 5 to 7 p.m. meeting as part of its 15-year conservation plan. The process began about four years ago and has resulted in a 300-plus-page plan for how the refuge should proceed in the future.

“Everything we could think about doing has been put in there,” Oldham said of the detailed plan. “We need to justify everything we do.”

Oldham stressed that even though the plan shows preferred options, plan details can still change.

He said he knows tree removal plans could draw a lot of public interest. For several years, refuge management has been working to restore the area to its native prairie state.

Many visitors have expressed frustration that thousands of trees and bushes have been removed from the area to make room for prairie grasses.

Oldham said the conservation plan will probably see continued tree control but maybe not at current levels.

A long history of closing the entire 20,000-plus-acre refuge to all hunting when endangered whooping cranes are present could end. A current proposal would close areas where the birds are present to all hunting, while leaving other areas open to hunting.

Another possible change could be the opening of areas previously closed to hunting, making up for wide areas closed when whooping cranes are present.

Oldham said any area known to hold a whooping crane would probably be shut down immediately, according to the preferred plan.

The plan is similar to one at the state-owned Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, where only units holding whooping cranes are closed to hunting.

Oldham said the refuge staff would also like the chance to hold limited hunts for deer and turkeys in the area. He said such hunts would probably take more planning and public comment before implementation.

“As for now, we just want to be on the table to allow deer hunting,” said Oldham, noting that population control could eventually help reduce the spread of disease. “Right now we don’t even have any details; those would have to be worked out down the road.”

Such considerations could include refuge deer and turkey population densities, public safety and having a minimal impact on wildlife watching within the refuge. He predicted any limited deer hunting could be several seasons away.

Oldham said other parts of the long-term plan could be implemented later this year, pending federal approval.

Other topics within the long-term plan, and possibly up for discussion on Tuesday, include water quality and quantity for the refuge’s wetlands, prohibiting the collection of shed deer antlers and ways to increase public use and wildlife compatibility.

A similar public meeting will be held Wednesday at the Front Door Community Center in Great Bend.

Comments can also be submitted at www.fws.gov/refuge/quivira.

 

Hard to top the northern cardinal

A male cardinal shows its brilliance in Tuesday’s snow. As well as stunning looks, the birds are eternal optimists and extremely faithful to their mates.

We could all learn a lot about living from northern cardinals. They’re one of nature’s premier optimists, and know a thing or two about how to treat their mates.

Well before daylight amid Monday’s blowing snow, a male cardinal was happily trilling away from deep inside a cedar tree near our backyard. Most spring mornings, from the Black Hills to the Everglades, they’ve been the first bird I’ve heard in the morning while on spring turkey hunts.

Mated males and females are so tight she may finish a song that he begins, and the male will bring the female food while she’s incubating their eggs. Even now, weeks before the first eggs of spring, often where you see one you’ll also see the other.

Cardinals are the favorite birds of many people I know, but a lot of that is probably because of the male’s brilliant red colors. That they also aren’t too shy probably adds to the appeal.

Scouting a place to photograph pheasants on the snow earlier this week I happened by a deer feeder with a half-dozen or so male cardinals sitting about a snowy cedar, shining in the early morning light. Sitting in the warmth of Ol’ Red, a window down just enough to rest  a 400mm lens, the birds seemed to pose for about 200 photo frames in less than an hour.

Happy, brilliantly colored and seemingly ready to pose for easy photography…what’s not to like?

Casts and Blasts from the Great Outdoors Photo Contest

Clarissa Peterson’s “Wood Duck” won first place in the adult division of the 2013 Wichita Eagle Great Outdoors Photo Contest.

Hundreds of photos were entered, and a few of us at The Eagle narrowed the field to 15 adult and five youth finalists. From there votes were casts online and at the Kansas Sports, Boat and Travel Show and winners were announced on Sunday.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO SEE THE RESULTS FROM THE CONTEST.

Looking back from the day after, a few things of interest have appeared.

– As in years past, there was a fairly wide variance in the photos that did well online and those that did well at the Sports Show. The votes were combined evenly  to determine the overall winners.

– Clarrisa Peterson’s “Wood Duck” was the overall winner for the adult division and took first in the online voting but was fourth at the Sport Show.

– Overall second-place winner, “Shhhh! Don’t wake Mama!’” by Phoebe Janzen was second online but seventh at the Sports Show. It was a photo of three young screech owls with an adult on a tree limb.

–”No Compromise,” Joe Harris’ photo of two trophy-class bucks locked in battle predictably won the votes by a good margin at the Sports Show, but was the fifth most popular photo online. It placed third overall.

– Some photos did about equally well online and at the Sports Show. “A Great Day at Work,” the photo of the jumping bass by Linda Wallace scored ninth on both polls. “Rise,” Jordan Moritz’s sunrise silhouette of a whitetail buck  scored fourth online and fifth at the Sports Show.

– Under the, “Shows how much I know,” department, “Kansas Painted Bunting,” taken by Chuck Streker along the Arkansas River near Derby, scored last and didn’t get many votes online or at the Sports Show.  Of all the photos entered, I probably envied it more than any other because the birds are so exotic and secretive. No matter where it ranked, I wish I’d have taken it. My other envied photo was “No Compromise.” I’m out more than 100 days a year, and I’ve never come across two such nice bucks engaged in a serious fight.