Monday, September 22, 2008

North Dakota Trip, June 2008

After being bitten half to death by mosquitoes and black flies in Canada, my brother and I ventured to our next main stopping point on our trip, North Dakota pothole country. Potholes are gouges left by the receding glaciers during past Ice Ages. These potholes today are many small lakes within the grassy plains. These have been a tremendous breeding ground for many water birds and a migration route for many other waterfowl that breed further north in Canada. The pothole region is essentially along the north-south line in the middle third of North Dakota. The area is bursting with all kinds of wildlife and is a favorite place of mine to visit. In good years you can roam around and see ducks even in every puddle. Unfortunately, the cold, dry, Spring in 2008 really created havoc on the bird populations here. The numbers were at least 30% of what we saw two years earlier, and the most of the grassland birds were non-existent. It was rather shocking, but very wonderful to have absolutely no mosquitoes!

We spent most of the time about 20-30 miles Northwest of Jamestown, roaming the back roads. We also visited the Arrow Wood National Wildlife Refuge, which is a good area. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, American White Pelican, Bittern, Snipe, Avocet, Upland Plover, Ring-Neck Pheasant, Blue-Winged Teal, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Marsh Wren, Northern Shoveler, Pied-Billed Grebe, Western Grebe, Cormorant, Red Head, and more are very common here during the month of June.

The first night was spent near a larger lake that had a wooded area left over from an old farmhouse windbreak. I recorded near the lakeshore as Avocet, White Pelicans, and Blue-Winged Teal fed near a reed bed. When it got dark I was able to record some Western Chorus Frogs along the roadway. I could hear lots of Coyotes yelping, but it got real windy and started to rain, so I wasn’t able to record them. While eating a late meal, we saw two Great-Horned Owl perching on some old grain silos.

Earlier the next morning we roamed around a bit to see what was around, which wasn’t very much. It was very windy. Wind is typical to the area, so getting great recordings is always difficult. There were amazing numbers of Marsh Wren calling from some of the reed beds. Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were a bit scarce. We spent some time at the Arrow Wood NWF, but then some large storms came in. We then drove to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grasslands for a day, where the weather was very nice. The Little Missouri Grasslands are very scenic, but are mostly an open range cattle area. Sharp-Tailed Grouse, Turkey, and Pronghorn are common here, except I noticed the numbers were down since two years previous. Again, the Spring looked very late and the grass barely started growing for the year. The Bison and Pronghorn still had their full Winter coats on.

The next day we drifted back towards the potholes with a good idea exactly where the best spots were. The weather was now perfect and there was no wind. What a perfect rare day. In the evening we found a no hunting region near some smaller potholes. The music of chattering Marsh Wren, Yellow Warblers, and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds was beautiful. As the sunset, two packs of Coyotes hollered group choruses. It made a perfect recording. A little later nearby another small pond, I recorded ducks feeding, splashing in the water, and flying in, sounding like jets coming in for a landing. Snipe were putting on aerial displays and winnowing. Western Chorus Frogs were calling, a Bittern is heard in a nearby swamp, and a Marsh Hawk was screeching from it’s nest. This was another perfect recording. These recording will be in a new Natureguy Studio CD coming out before the end of 2008. I will also have some sounds from the grassland areas around the potholes.

We left the area the next day. I continued to snap photos of the area. We even found a Red Fox den near one of the dirt roads and I was able to snap some really great photos of one of the kits. It was a beautiful area, but we had to venture off to our next destination, Minnesota in search for Loons.

Kentucky Elk Trip, Sept 2008

Kentucky has been reintroducing Elk into their state for about 10 years. I heard ranges between 7,000 and 25,000 Elk now roam the southeast counties. I finally decided to visit southeast Kentucky to scout around hoping to find large herds to record. The weather looked good around the 19th-22nd of September, so my brother and I loaded up the vehicle and took off.

We first tried to visit the area near Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County. We drove on SR 194. It was a nice wooded area, with narrow, winding roads, which were very hazardous to drive on with other drivers crossing the centerline many times. The area was quiet enough for recording, but it is not a likely place to see Elk due to the lack of open fields. From satellite maps, it appeared that there are reclaimed coal strip mines just northeast of Jenny Wiley State park that would make better view areas, but we didn’t have enough time to explore there. We wanted to get to Knott County well before dark. I noted some of the side roads were closed for private recreational parks.

We arrived in Knott County, labeled as the “Elk Capital East of the Rockies”. While at a gas station I asked where the best places to see Elk were. They told me to go to the place I already was planning on going to, CR 1098, and Elk View Drive beside Sutton Memorial Park. I read on the Internet, Robinson Forest was one of the best places for Elk in the state, and that was adjacent to CR 1098. Sutton Memorial Park and the near area are on reclaimed coal lands. Large tracts of open fields are found here. Many horse and ATV trails are found throughout the area. We did find Elk tracks and brush damaged by bull Elk, but we didn’t see any Elk. I wanted to visit another Elk viewing site in Breathitt County along CR 1098. That viewing site was on a hilltop, beside a cemetery. The only thing I saw was a couple of wild horse at dusk, and a Timber Rattlesnake along the road. We drove back to Elk View Drive to see if we could hear any Elk bugling that may have come out after dark. We heard nothing. We were going to camp here, but people started streaming in with their ATV’s to camp, and for what I am trying to do, loud ATV’s don’t mix. So, we drove back north and drove on some back roads in the reclaimed coalfields just north of Robinson Woods, and camped. We heard one Elk bugling in the distance. At sunrise, two bull Elk came near camp, bugling. They got quiet after someone came along and started shooting rifles nearby. I didn’t see any cows, and the bulls looked like maybe 3-4 years old. We drove around the area, and north of CR 1098. We only saw wild horse roaming around. There were plenty of Elk tracks around and many turkeys. The horses looked absolutely famished and boney, which isn’t a good sign of viable food sources in the area. There is a lack of grasses growing in the general area; mostly weeds filled the open areas. We left Knott County. The county didn’t live up to its namesake this time, but again, it was quiet enough of an area to record. The jet traffic even seemed low enough to get stretches of 15-30 minutes free of jet sounds.

We ventured off to the Begley WMA around the borders of Bell, Harlan, and Leslie Counties. We found a nice reclaimed coal land with open fields of grass. This area is the second area I read as being one of the best areas to view Elk in Kentucky. This is just on the southern edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, so there was lots of wooded cover next to fields. It looked perfect. We again found lots of Elk sign here. Unlike many states, Kentucky seems to allow ATV’s and vehicles drive the trails around the Wildlife Management Areas, so there where some really great access to the area. Beautiful views of the rugged terrain were awesome. Near sunset we were glassing the open fields for animals. We saw a large Black Bear about a mile away. Then we started to hear a bugle or two from some Elk. Other people were in the area looking around as well. We asked a gentleman, who walked up to say hello, about the area. He thought the peak of the bugling wouldn’t be until the first and second week in October. He said it was still too hot. We stopped beside an area we thought was one of the best areas, and it was. This was the west side of the area along a trail that appeared to go to CR 2011. At dusk three, large bugling bulls emerged from the deep, wooded valleys. I saw with the aid of night vision that there were also cow Elk with two of the bulls. Later, the cows disappeared from view. A group of ATV’s drove through scaring the Elk away for a while. We drove to a location to get closer the action, as it appeared that the bulls were closing in on each other. We were a little late. We caught a large bull and a group of cows heading to the grassy field along the road and had to cut them off, pretty much causing the bull to retreat further away. I started recording at an overview where two bulls were in a grassy area. It didn’t make the most exciting recording, but at least I finally got something and the sound of insects were good. The Elk bugled most of the night, intermittently, as they roamed the area. Later in the night, one of the bulls came within 60 feet of camp, bugling. Once the sun rose, all the Elk disappeared. The Elk in Kentucky appear to be very nocturnal, probably due to the hunting and general human pressure. This is in contrast to what is like in Pennsylvania, where the Elk can often be seen moving about during the daytime, and lingering in the open areas during the evening and morning hours. Audio recording in the Begley WMA has promise. It is quiet from highway and road noise, jet traffic is low enough not to be a big issue. The only issue is active mining is in the area and can be heard from the hilltops. But, once you descend a little over a hill, all is quiet.

I am sure we didn’t scout all the areas to find the best locations during this brief trip. There are probably better areas to view Elk and where Elk are more plentiful. I really didn’t see the herds I was expecting to see from the numbers given. The Elk herds are better seen in Pennsylvania if you ask me, probably due to more open areas are available, but the jet traffic in northern Pennsylvania is very bad for audio recording.

We almost could have gotten stuck in Kentucky. Gasoline supplies were suddenly limited in the region. Some gas stations were closing their pumps and many were limiting customers to 20 gallons. We found out when we got back that a major supply line to the Southeastern states was disrupted during Hurricane Gustov and Ike. It was a sudden surprise to everyone that gasoline supplies were running out. We were lucky we got back in time. Stations in Tennessee and Georgia were running on empty. It was a surprise to me, because I specifically tried to see if there were any fuel concerns before I left due to the two hurricanes. This makes me want my 200-MPG vehicle even more…if only I could figure out how to get it licensed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chapleau Crown Game Reserve, Ontario Canada

Ever since I noticed this reserve in Ontario Canada on a map and learning that it was the world’s largest game reserve, I was interested in visiting. It is difficult to find information about this reserve and to hear from people who have visited so I will write about my experience in June of 2008.

The 2 million acre, Crown Game Reserve is larger than any in Africa. The reserve holds the highest density of Black Bear in Ontario, of almost 1 bear per square kilometer. Believe me, the place is loaded with bear. Other animals that reside there are Moose, Snowshoe Hare, Wolves, Canadian Lynx, Martins, and Fisher. The reserve was established in 1925 to have a hunt-free zone to recover the huge losses in the unregulated fur trade, which nearly wiped out many species. Lying in the middle of the reserve is the Missinaibi Provincial Park, which offers regulated camping and canoe access to the Missinaibi River.

I visited the reserve in early June 2008 with my brother while on a general trip through Ontario for recording nature sounds. We came from Wawa on highway 101. Highway 101 was a rather lonely road. We arrived in the very small town of Chapleau to find many of the businesses have gone out of business. The main employment of the town was the large logging operation and mill. As we headed into the reserve we couldn’t help but to notice the logging trucks running back and forth on the main route through the reserve at high speed. The trucks apparently ran 24/7, and a road grader maintains the road for high-speed truck traffic. As we drove along the main western route, we found many of the trees were clear-cut and this didn’t look good. We drove further to find areas that haven’t been logged in a while. But, the western route had way too much truck traffic so we ventured on the very remote eastern main route. There is supposed to be a circle route through the reserve, but we never really found the main route. There are a lot of very large roads left over from logging in years past which can you can get lost on.

It was cool to roam around on the old logging roads. There are a lot of trails where ATVs can explore as well. There were lots of moose and bear tracks and sign along the roads. We also saw wolf tracks. I have never seen so much bear activity before. We saw about 8 bear in the 18 hours were there, and we weren’t looking very hard. We also saw bears with cubs, and two of the largest Black Bear we have ever seen. The bear here are very different than the bear we ever encountered. The bear were not very afraid of humans. One of the bear we saw with cubs didn’t run from us, but approached our vehicle. It was sure to place it’s self between us and it’s cubs. Usually, all Black Bear run immediately. My brother got out of the vehicle hollered at the bear, jumping around, but the bear was pretty much un-phased. It came within 15 feet of the vehicle before it was more startled by a logging truck racing past. This is something like you might encounter at Yellowstone National Park. In the evening we encountered an amazing sight. While driving down a road, two large bear got spooked and ran over a hill. But, we stopped to see if we could see them more. What do you know, two of the largest Black Bear we have ever seen, came waltzing out to feed on the grass along the road. These bear could care less about us watching them. They must have weighed at least 600 pounds and looked more like Grizzly Bear. One was lighter brown in color, which is very rare in the east. My guess is that they were two related males. It was amazing to just sit there watching them eat in complete comfort. I took about 15 minutes of video of them until it got too dark to film. It may just be me, but I think this reserve can be quite dangerous with the bears not having fear of humans. We had bear mace with us, but never had to use it. I think it would be a very good place to carry bear mace with you at all times. You can’t avoid coming in contact with bear here. Even though we saw a lot of Moose tracks, we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Nor did we have the luck of hearing wolves.

The Chapleau Game Preserve is a very unique area to visit. There is lots of potential wildlife viewing, filming, and photography here. The bird life wasn’t exactly abundant, but there were a number of species common to the Boreal Forest. There are a number of beautiful lakes and swamps in the area, many with fantastic clearings for camping. The biggest problem with the entire area is bugs! They were hideous! During daylight hours you could not avoid swarms of black flies. At night, or in the shadows, you could not avoid swarms of mosquitoes. Later in the night, in clearings, the mosquitoes would let up. The bug problem made it rather difficult to enjoy the area. We were trapped in the vehicle much of the time. We had to eat what we could cold, since it was impossible to cook outside. If you wanted to go out, you had to wear ample bug protection and head net. Never the less, we were very bug bitten from the experience. I wasn’t able to do much audio recording in the area. It was very windy much of the time. When the wind died down, I had to invent a new way to get my equipment out of the vehicle. I couldn’t open the doors for long or the vehicle would fill with black flies and mosquitoes. I ran along the vehicle as my brother drove, and then quickly opened the door to grab a couple things. We would continue this until I could get my equipment out and back inside. You only have about 4-5 seconds before the swarms find you. Oh, if you have to answer nature’s call, well, your eaten alive by the swarms. We asked a gas station attendant what time of the year doesn’t have as many bugs, and he said the bugs are always around. I suspect times around or below freezing don’t have many.

The Chapleau Game Preserve is a remote area. Plan on having everything you need before venturing there and make sure you can do some repairs on your vehicle yourself, if you have to. Not many people visit the area, so you can be on your own. If you are on a main route, where the logging trucks travel, you can probably flag one. With the high cost of fuel, it is a difficult place for many people to reach. Gasoline in Ontario was running about $5.50 per US gallon in early June 2008. The high cost of fuel in Canada has shut down much of their road travelers. If you go and stay away from the logging traffic, it can be a place of many wildlife-viewing opportunities. Just be ready for the bugs!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Very beautiful lunar eclipse light show of colored vertical banding.

On February 20th, 2008 I was out taking some photos of the total lunar eclipse. About 1/4 to full eclipse, I started noticing a red vertical light beam coming from the eastern horizon. At first I thought it was a jet contrail, but the light strength increased, and I noticed many more vertical light beams along the southern horizon. These beams were faint, and were red and green in color. I used a night vision viewer and saw what looked like vertical banding along the southern horizon. I took the zoom lens off my camera and took a one minute exposure looking south. Here is the photo.

I am not sure what the reason for this light show since I can't find any reference material citing the light beaming phenomenon. I suspect it has something to do with refractive light reflection between the celestial objects. I was only able to snap one photo. Cloud cover came in and a snow squall followed on that 15 degree night. I waited to see if any light banding would show up after the full eclipse, but it didn't. I have never seen this phenomenon during any other lunar eclipse. If someone out there could give me a scientific reason for the lunar eclipse causing a vertical light beaming around the horizon, I would like to hear about it.

One thing is for sure, the light show was one of the most beautiful things I had ever experienced.

Here are some other photos from that night, including a not so good photo of the light beam I saw in the eastern sky (jet contrail also seen, and the moon for reference).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Global warming delays Fall leaf drop, record!

The Fall of 2007 was the most unusual Fall I have ever seen. The Fall in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area was exceptionally warm, especially at night due to high dew points. My family has always marked my mom's birthday, November 9th, as being the time that all the leaves have fallen from all the trees. In 2007, a 100 year, record warm October and November in the region left trees with green leaves during the second week of November. December came and there were still fruit trees and shrubs with green leaves. The snows started and the green leaves started to fall. This was one of the weirdest Falls ever seen in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area.

Global warming? I would say so. It was also a record year of ice melt in the northern Arctic, with exceptional 20 degree above average temperatures. 2007 also marked a change in theory that now scientists estimate all the Arctic ice will be gone by the year 2012. That is a huge change in thinking, and is in line what I believe, that world change due to Global Warming will be far sooner than anyone has calculated.

I have seen changes during my lifetime where I live. Summers have been not only hotter, but much more humid. I need to only look into the sky to know why. I see a ever increasing tanish cast to the blue skies, and the stars at night have become difficult to see even in the most remote, dark places in the county. Relentless pollution spews into the air. I am left many times with a tickle in my lungs after my biking workouts due to the high ozone levels and I live in the "country". I think back to the mid 80's and wonder what happened to the cars that got a true 60MPG, like the Chevy Sprint and Honda Civic?

Our need for change and to do with less is ever more critical. I hope for radical changes, but feel people and political change will be too slow. Global warming has serious implications to migrating birds who time their migration to the peak of insects. That timing has been faltering as the insects are peaking sooner and bird nesting is failing.

Sorry to sound bleak. :(

Nature MP3 downloads now available!

I wanted to post that I have worked out the details and now have almost all of my CDs available as MP3 album downloads. Plus, there is at least one track of each album available as a single MP3 download. I hope to add other various tracks that didn't fit well into an album as single MP3 downloads in the future.

I wasn't as easy I as thought it would be to able to sell downloads. I spent over a month with endless hassles back and forth with numerous software vendors, and web hosts about the requirements of each. I am telling you, most people don't know how their own programs work, nor how downloads are handled. I eventually found a software engineer who knew what he was doing, and I was able to get his software integrated into the web site like I wanted to. Yay!

My MP3 downloads are large files. If you are used to downloading music, you will notice my track lengths are much longer, in the 10-30 minute range. Full albums are in the 100MB range. Those of you with dial-up Internet service may run into Microsoft time out errors while downloading due the length of the files. If you do have a time out error, that stops the download, try this: about every 10 minutes, cancel the file download, then restart the download, continue to repeat this until the file is downloaded. Windows saves the download in a temporary file and picks up where it left off when you restart the download. This a trick I learned from once being on dial-up out in the boonies until cable became available. Downloading an album with dial up will take over an hour. Those of you with DSL and Cable Internet service, should be able to download an album in less than 5 minutes, depending on your service provider.

Browse the MP3 files now at

Allegheny Plateau CD now available!

I introduce to you another Gold Series CD, Allegheny Plateau, Songs of Birds in Spring Chorus. The large, connected forests found in Northern Pennsylvania is a rare find in the Eastern USA. Once striped of almost every tree in the early 1900's, this region has bounced back having forests covering it's ridges and valleys. This is one of my favorite places to explore, camp, backpack, and to escape the constant hum of traffic. This region has begun to suffer from acid rain from states west of Pennsylvania. Some of the thrushes have suffered the most from the depleted snails and worms that need less acidic soil to thrive. I used to hear beautiful choruses of Wood Thrushes in the Summer evenings, but now I only hear a couple of birds. The Oven Bird has also lost serious numbers. The Verry, on the other hand, appear to be increasing in numbers in the past years, but that maybe that they are more noticeable with a lack of other birds. Good news for the future is that the New England states, since the federal government wasn't going to do anything, have successfully sued the power generating plants that were causing the majority of the acid rain problems to install scrubbers to dramatically reduce acid rain problems. I certainly hope the scrubbers being installed becomes reality.

I am surprised at the number of Warblers that nest and migrate through this region. While recording the material for this CD, I was surprised by two birds. I found a Woodcock in a small clearing in the forest, prenting in late May. It was so unusual to hear a Woodcock that late in the year. The other surprise was that I found some Whip-poor-wills. I know, your thinking that shouldn't a big deal. A few years ago, I was on a mission to record Whip-poor-wills. I went to southern Ohio, where I have always heard good numbers before and there was nothing. I had to travel all the way near the Ohio River to find enough to record. I since learned that Whip-poor-wills have been decreasing in numbers greatly, so to hear some in Northern Pennsylvania was a pleasant surprise. It also tells me that the area I was recording was a very good habitat that hasn't seen the wrath of human sprawl.

The Allegheny Plateau CD celebrates the sounds of this forest. The sounds were recorded with the lowest noise microphones available and the best, lowest noise microphone amplifier, with direct 24-bit, digital recording and editing. This is one of my very best Eastern woodland bird CDs. Allegheny Plateau differs from my Woodland Birds in Chorus series in that it is not as busy sounding, more relaxing. The Woodland Birds in Chorus series were recorded at the peak of the bird migration in rich sunrise choruses. Allegheny Plateau is a story of a day in the forest, with morning, afternoon, and evening bird songs. Buy your copy today at An MP3 album is also available for download.