Monday, December 31, 2007

Lone Jack CA

This morning was crisp and sunny- When I arrived at Lone Jack early there were two other hunters on the opposite side of the area. One had set out many goose decoys and his calls were heard from a mile away- the other paced through a field of tallgrass and over crops. I never did hear a shot from them.

The lake was frozen over- solid. A shallow coat of dry snow covered most parts and the surface was textured. trails could be found no matter were you looked- many rabbits and a few opposum, some small birds and rodents, and plenty of deer and coyote. The trail seen above was small and dog-like- maybe fox or coyote. The clouds arrived suddenly, the geese disappeared from the sky and the wind grew stong-- at about nine it began to snow- flurries!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

La Benite and Liberty Bend- MO River

Took advantage of our fresh powder and beautiful weather on the river this evening. It was sunny and, though I cant really say warm, it was warmer than it had been the past few days. We got right up to about 30degrees. My mother was with me- we hiked through the park, along the river, and entered the conservation area. The area, my mother observed, was pretty ratty looking- There were many invasive, exotic shrubs and vines and the understory was very overcrowded. Throughout the park and the conservation area stood many large, ancient-looking sycamores.
I carried my gun in hopes of getting a goose before the season ended, but didnt have any luck. In the distance, we saw swarms of a smaller species of Canada goose, and several small flocks flew above the river. Across the river we heard the roar of another group of geese. They sounded different and I suspect that they may have been snow geese. Large gulls (Herring?) flew up and down the river and rested in small flocks amongst the geese and ducks. I identified a duck, which we observed swimming calmly from our side of the river as a goldeneye and saw several similar birds in the distance. Others on the other side of the river were fast and flew close to the water. Many had red/brown heads and others had green ones. Those with the red heads had grey backs and pale breasts- those with green ones had white/black backs and wings, grey tails and white breasts. There were hundreds of them in the air and in the coves and still spots of the river. When I had the opportunity to look them up with the help of my blurred pictures, I found that there was only one species that fit the description of the red-headed birds; the common merganser. I continued to read about them and found that the opposite sex of the same birds fit the description of the green-headed birds. Cool!
We flushed two different bald eagles- both were juveniles and one circled around and was flushed for a second time further down the trail.
The river was very high, and the water rushed over several of the rock dikes. When I slipped down to the water to see what I could see, I found that the frozen parts of the river had been decorated by oodles of unique ice crystals and formations. The formations caused by the rising and falling water levels and the fragile, tiny crystals by the moisture that had been frozen out of the air. We watched the sun sink and the yellows and oranges cast a different mood on the river every moment. I took a single shot at a goose that passed over us- they were very high, but I tried. I missed (of course!) and we watched several other small groups pass over before returning to the car. I look forward to seeing other parts of the river in this condition!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

JC McCormack CA

The air was dead still and the fog was thick. This morning was the MMN trip to Squaw Creek NWR- I woke late and did not attend because of the low clouds. There are about 20 swans, 250 geese, 100 eagles and 20500 mallards on the area but I cant imagine that there was that much to see. At 9am I had about 300yds visibility at the top of the CA- the clouds lifted and the ground was clear by noon.

In the parking lot I found mounds of saw dust and chopped wood sitting on top of the inch of snow that had fallen over night. The wood had been cleared last night and this morning and was left over from the large ice storm that occured several weeks ago. The damage was horrible and widespread. I climbed the steep loess road carefully- my own breathe and the crunch of snow dominating over all other sounds through the area. A thick layer of ice- more than two inches- acted as a slick under the powdery snow and I landed on my back several times. The trail is wide and depressed between the hill that was carved through to make it. Limbs, trunks and powerlines created a carpet for and canopy over the trail- the timber supported by the natural topography and suspended over the trail. The broken trees and snapped branches in the woods were swarmed by woodpeckers and flickers and the brush by wrens, chickadees and sparrows. When I stopped moving to absorb my rare environment I enjoyed their music.
I hiked up the trail and discovered a murder scene. The coyote tracks and rabbit tracks seemed to tangle and a small spot of the freshly disturbed snow had been dripped with blood. Tan, soft fur had been left all over the trail and the coyote had laid in the brush after the game. I did not find where he ate the critter, but the whole thing was pretty cool to see. I remember last year on the area- when the snow was much thicker and the sun was bright. Near the same area was a carving in the powder- a pristine mark of a broad tail and two wings spread wide. Two feet had struck deep in the snow where the hawk had found his meal. After a struggle, I summited the area to find a 360* view of cloud. It was kinda cool! I looked down to see Squaw creek frozen and covered in snow. There was little traffic on the Hwy and only a small caravan of MMNs? traveling through the NWR.

I spent the rest of my day clearing debris from the storm from my grandparents property in Big lake village- just a bit further down Hwy 159. The community seemed to be devastated by the ice storm - houses were destroyed by the fallen branches and trees. My property was incredible lucky; Many large trees had fallen, some several feet in dia., but only a few gutters and a tiny windchime died. A neighbors home had a large sycamore fall THROUGH the roof and another's windows had been broken by the trees. I cleared the roof and garage area from the branches, and found no major damage. The property had locust, sycamore, maple, elm, pear, pine and juniper- in most areas throughout the village the sycamore had been damaged the most, but here it was the maple and elm. The elm, which was ~50ft tall and 3-4ft in dia. had split down the middle and only half had fallen. The scenes were awesome and powerful and I experienced a major ice storm (though well after the fact) for the second time in my life.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

RPG snow

Over the last 24 hours or so we've accumulated about 1.5 inches of snow in Swope Park. The snow isn't so bad, but the ice and sleet that it sits on is. I knew that I was in for an adventure when I gave into the temptation of a good hike this morning. The roads were still nasty and I must have been crazy to try to drive my little truck up the entrance road to the 'hill'. My wheels spun many more times than they would normally need to, but after a few minutes and several shots of adrenaline, I found myself parked infront of the glade. 'I wonder if I'll be able to get back down?' I thought upon entering the glade. The road down is much steeper and has many more blind curves.

The trails were smothered in many different tracks. It seemed that the majority of tracks were of dog, deer and rabbit- I found others though, from birds and mice to cats and things I could not identify. The sun shot through the woods before the glade and cast beautiful shadows on the ice. In many low spots that the sun was able to reach and where the leaves were still suspended by their twigs, the light acted as a back drop and the colors were intense in the icy world of black and white

I did not take many photos, as I was very satisfied with just being up there, but I got some nice ones. I had a bit of trouble with the temperature and stronger winds. Though the actual temperature was about 18 degrees F, The wind made it feel more like zero. My hands were stiff, and I hesitated to remove them from inside my jacket to take a photo.


I took the trip home slow. The expedition down the hill was exciting, but I did not get into too much trouble. The cold, dry wind and adrenaline had beat me and I felt pretty exhausted after the hike but the glades were beautiful and it was very worth the drive up there.



Friday, December 21, 2007

Lone Jack CA

The way to lonejack starts on 435 E at state line, merges onto 470, hwy50 and then 'left at the shamrock station'
The drive usually takes me 20-30min and is not too exciting. This morning, however, this was not the case. as I was driving over the Blue river on 435 I encountered a great wall of the thickest fog. When I left my home and until this point there was even little evidence of any clouds! The vehicles exiting the blob all had their lights on and seemed to pop out of it. I drove into the blob and remained in the blob through my stay at lone jack. At times visibility was just a few hundred feet and cars and bends in the road were invisible until this point.
Upon steping onto Lone Jack, I knew that the trip was a waste for any hunting I was hoping to do. I left the gun in the car and enjoyed the morning for what it was. The air was moist and cold; a thin layer of ice had formed on the front of my truck from the drive. The ground was coated in a thick frost and patches of slick snow and ice layered those parts of the ground that had got the least amount of direct sunlight over the past few warm days. The lake was frozen and the dead trees that disrupt its surface were only grey and hazy silouhettes in the fog. The air was still with the exception of an occasional light breese that lasted for only a moment. The fog suppressed all sound of traffic and city, and Lone Jack was completely silent but for the songs of birds and the scream of the neighbors cattle. I walked through a few thickets of dogwood, summac and rose and tried to take photos of the numerous shy songbirds that ate the bittersweet from the thickets. On the edge of a confield, where the harvested crop met the thickets, I found creatures like mocking birds, chickadees, cardinals and lots and lots of juncos and sparrows. The birds stayed far enough to make a decent exposure in the fog difficult and impossible.

A briar (maybe grape?) was some of the best colour on the property! Bittersweet and rose hips were even better, though they could be harder to find.

By the time I left the area and made my way into leessummit the fog began to lift and when I reached past the blue river the clear sky dominated. Were expecting snow tomorrow, up to 6in. is what i am told, and I look forward to exploring many areas in white. Happy Holidays!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Things have only just melted from the bout of ice a few days ago, and weve had our 3rd wintry blast. We got about 2.5 in. (much less than the 8 that was expected)--

The snow fell Friday night and Sat., but the roads were fairly clear this morning. It was 12 degrees when I woke and 20 when I arrived at the glades near noon. It was gorgeous!!! Because it was a dry snow and had not been above freezing since it had fallen, the glades glittered with the tiny flakes and crystals. The grasses were coated and the bluffs held a display of ice sickles.
At the top of trail, just before I entered onto the glade I found fresh tracks. They were of a bobcat and I followed them around the bend to catch a glimpse of the little guy. I only saw his butt end, but I know it was a bobcat. I tried to catch up with him, but the rocks were slippery and by the time I rounded the next corner he had disappeared. I continued over the first and second glades and doubled back to crawl down the stream bed that divided the two. When I got below I found myself looking away from the shadows and did not find too many photos. . that is, until I got past the glades and into the forest and stream below. I found, on the hill a few strange prints that ascended a large sycamore seemingly without any problem. they were in pairs and about 8 inches from each other-- long and skinny like a woodpecker?
I snapped the last of my pictures before returning to the truck.
It was beautiful and very cool to see all of the nights activities in the tracks that were left behind. The shadows and silhouettes were in perfect contrast with the snow and ice and I only had trouble making a decent light measurement for an exposure.

I strongly suggest that you get out this winter season in the snow or ice, as I have done. If the roads are not too dangerous it will be well worth the beauty that you will behold in the sun. Both days that I have gone out, it was the first sun that we'd seen since the precip and the ice was gone in the matter of hours, so I suggest that you keep an eye on the forecast after the next storm and get out before it all melts. another suggestion that I would stress would be to start with an area that you know well- for safety and for the photo opportunities (take backways as to not ruin a scene with footprints, and go into the sun, to take advantage of the shadows and contrast)
This has been the first winter in KC that I have been able to get out into our natural areas- Ive been in school and without a vehicle. Its a whole new experience and one that is just as beautiful, if not more so than any other season. In my opinion, this winter has been significantly better to explore our city and county properties than any other time Ive ever seen them!!!! Nothing will ever beat being on the glade, or better- a prairie- in a major thunderstorm, but this comes damn close !!!


Thursday, December 13, 2007

RPG ice

We got the first sun in days today. The rays peeped through around 10:30, though the sun was low in the sky. Sunlight lit the ice and created a crystallized world in the woods. The temperature was up a few degrees above freezing and once I entered the woods on the hill I noticed the ice was melting. After a few moments amongst the trees the ice began to fall. It would crash against the frozen floor and soon it sounded like a hail storm. It even began to feel like one.

A view across the road from the top of the glade was the canopy a a far hill. The coating of ice on every branch and twig reflected a tiny sun. It was beautiful and I switched to blk&w for a few shots.

When shooting today I ran into a number of difficulties-
I had trouble with debris on my lens. With the ice falling as fast as it was I couldnt keep it off my filter. Another problem I encountered was that most of my photos turned out overexposed. I wonder if a polarized filter would help?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ICE storm

multiflora rose is a beautiful exotic that is sometimes invasive and dangerous in our natural areas

Over the past few days weve had about a third of an inch of ice. North, south and west of us all got it much worse with up to 1.5in .
Though yesterday was the majority of the precipitation, most of it did not freeze and roads improved from monday. I got the opportunity to get out of the house today and visited a couple areas close to the house.
Today it was cloudy and dark, windless and cold. Every step you take is announced by a shattering explosion of the thin sheet of ice that coats everything. In many places air has been trapped under the ice sheet by the grass and it only enhances the noise.


The river was very high and the surface was smooth and dark. The reflections of the surrounding ice and woods were perfect.
Early in our walk we could hear a bared owl calling very near. I asked my mother- half jokingly- to call it in. She gave one nasty scream that could scare anything away. A few minutes later the small owl flew over the river only about twenty feet to our right. It saw us and flew past us to land on a branch back down the trail. I scurried down to the river to take a last picture before I changed my lenses to shoot the owl. When I returned with my telephoto lens, the owl was gone.
I changed lenses again and continued down the trail with a tripod. I stopped frequently to shoot an ice cicle or a river scene. I was kinda disappointed by the lack of ice on the vegitation. It seemed that the higher out of the river valley we got, the more ice coated the trees and dead plants.


With this, we decided to find some higher terrain and continued to swope park. I did not expect to access the 'hill'- rocky point glades, but there was little ice in all parking lots in the area. We stopped by the shelter and I got out to snap a few pics. Every foot step seemed louder than the last and parts of the area were very slippery. The area was empty and silent with the exception of a passing car or the ice dropping from the tree.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cedar tree event

I caught this poor woman in the middle of either a yawn, victory cry or maybe a scream of pain due to thetree or cold. Either way, she got her tree and I got a good picture- hope she doesnt find my blog!!!

Shawnee Mission Park- 15 volunteers- 300 pulic sign ins.
Though many volunteers couldnt make it due to the coat of ice on the road, we had an outstanding number of public show up to take their christmas trees. It seemed like everyone had a great time- despite the ice and wind chill (10-14*F).. We had a good fire going and plenty of warm cider and chocolate. I spent most of the time between the fire and tieing trees to cars. Got away from the crowd and found a small group of bluebirds, chickadees and cardinals to photograph near a patch of sumac. The geese constantly flew over and an occasional large gull came from the lake. Couldnt get a picture but my guess is maybe hering gulls.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lone jack

I got out there around 9 this morning in hopes of finding some geese or a duck on the lake. I was the only one on the area for much of the morning, and did not see much wildlife.

A thin coat of ice shielded the water's surface from the light breeze and made the lake appear completely still. An occasional small flock of canada geese would fly over and break the silence. one group of 4 birds flew especially low in order to land in the water. As they neared me I set my pack and camera down and raised my gun. I shot only once with #4 steel shot- the lead bird flinched but nothing showed much sign of being hit and so I didnt bother shooting again.

I ventured across a new field today- navigated my way through a few nasty thickets of ivy and locust. I found nothing worth doing that again! Came out into a familiar part of the property and waited on a stump for the birds that I spooked upon bursting out of the locusts. I set everything but my camera down and took off my orange and jacket to advance on the birds. I creeped through the grass until I dared go no further and waited. A large group of not-so-gold goldfinches sat about 20 feet away and I snapped a few shots. Something ruffled behind me and a chickedee's call near deafened me about 3 feet from my ear. I turned around and flushed the little energizer in an attempt to photograph him. Oh well..

A bit further I came out onto a remote cove of the lake. The sun warmed my skin and a duck whipped around the bend before seeing me. I mounted my gun and watched it- it was smaller and flew very quikly. I decided not to shoot in fear that it may be a teal- I shot one last year in duck season on the same cove. I had never shot a duck before, and misidentified the bird that was flying directly at me..oops.

After I summitted the hill that divdes the two hlaves of the area, I shot a large foxsquirrel and herded a flock of some kind of sparrow into a dogwood island. The tiny birds were probably song sparrows- they had streaked breasts, a darker mask and white tuffs under their beaks. Wish I'd gotton a worthy photo.

Saw nothing else that was too exciting- returned to my truck enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Squaw Creek NWR

This weekend, EAGLE DAYS was celebrated at Squaw Creek NWR. A small handful of Master Naturalists volunteered today, Sunday. I left the house at about 5:30am and took the drive up. Just before I reached St. Jo, I encountered a short bout of sleet and ice- the rest of the drive, I only had the wind to fight.

Upon arriving at the refuge- just before sunrise- I was able to watch hundreds of thousands of waterfowl make their daily migration for the crop fields surrounding the area. It is quit impressive to see a mass of birds that large! I was assigned to the nature centre for the early morn- then I was moved into the field. Three of us were to man the spotting scopes in the harsh cold. It was the kind of chill that tore the skin from your body and exposes your bare bones. The temperature itself was not that bad- it was warm when I arrived- in the 40's?- but in the upper 20's when I was outside. It was the strong, northerly wind that slaughtered us.
We saw many eagles- dozens- and many waterfowl and other birds of prey. However, there were only three different things that seemed real special to me.

A couple of eagles spared in the air- neither had food, but they were arguing over something. It looked like two juveniles to me, but they were only silhouettes against the lightly blanketed sky.
Left: Silhouette of eagle taken today in B&W
After we'd spent a few minutes at our first location, several rooster pheasants and a hen began to emerge from the thick dead grasses. Two bulleted from in front of us, traveling in opposite directions at first but landing in the same destination- a small, smooth pond- behind us. Then another bird popped out of the mess- flew slowly around us and remaining low to the ground. He and the last rooster also landed near the pond. I hadn't seen the birds since this time last month, when I visited Quivira NWR in south central KS.

At our second post, after I had lost feeling in my toes and fingers, we observed a group of about 13 trumpeter swans. This was very special for me-. Several had orange neck bands, and the entire group seemed very active they flew across the road in several smaller groups- the last of which passed directly over us. I had enough time to snap six shots- nothing too nice, but they are still cool to look at.

When I take a photo of a creature like the swans, my goal is to capture not only the image, but everything that composes the moment. In order to do this, I need to include every factor of the moment in that little square viewing screen- obvious characteristics of the animal, the lighting and colour, the weather, and other components that could help portray what I am experiencing.- the most important of which being lighting. It can set a mood, and if the mood that you provoke matches the creature well I have created a beautiful scene that gives the creature a personality. Okay, so maybe I thought about that too much; I am only able to think about a photograph when that subject and setting is still enough for my slow head. In the case of the swan, I didn't have the time. I did in a photo like the one below, which is not a very exciting subject, but I feel like I was able to capture the moment.