July 4, 2011

American Prairie Reserve, June 23rd - 26th, 2011

A Marbled Godwit flys over a resevoir near the Yurt Camp in the American Prairie Reserve. Captured with a Canon 7D with 400/5.6L in aperture priority mode with an exposure bias of +2 at ISO400, f/6.3, and 1/800th of a second. The camera was handheld.


It was a great little four day trip up to the American Prairie Reserve to help with the BioBlitz. What is a BioBlitz, you ask? A BioBlitz is an intense survey attempting to record the living species within a defined area. We were working on about 30,000 acres of property owned by the American Prairie Foundation that sits directly North of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Reserve near Zortman, Montana.

I arrived mid day on the 23rd, so I could get checked in, set up camp, and chat with some of the reserve managers to plan out both the birding survey and some desired photogrpahs for me to capture over the next few days. Others started to arrive, we had a great dinner, and started a group orinetation meeting; but mother nature had other plans. A storm was building to the West and it came roaring through giving us a great display of lightning, and as it left the setting sun broke through illumination the land with beautiful light and a double rainbow. I was busy shooting like a mad man running from place to place shooting landscapes, tentscapes, and peoplescapes. It was incredible!

The next morning I did something stupid... It was very cloudy and just finished raining, so I watched the sun rise from inside the vestibule of my tent while, unbenonst to me, there was a fog bow right behind me. I never even got to see it. Sorry all I failed, let that be a lesson to me, and all of you; always get out of the tent and look all around you at sunrise. Oddly a friend who was camping on the other side of the hill decided not to take any photographs because he assumed I was taking some.

A BioBlitz runs for 24 hours, we were up early and all chompping at the bit to get started; but we had a 10am start time (too late for us birders). We had a nice breakfast, did some chatting, finilized our survey plans, and were off right at 10am. I was in a group that was set to work our way down the dirt roads and spot as many bird species as possible. At the same time we had groups going to hike along a creek and another was hiking out to a prairie dog town. We meet at the reserve headquaters compiled our lists and found that we were already around 50 species of birds, not bad for a late morning search; but we still had our work cut out for us.

After lunch I was back out to a prairie dog town to look for Mountain Plover, Sprague's Pipit, and Burrowing Owl, etc. After striking out I lead a group out to the reported location of a Great horned Owl nest, and we found the mother and two fledglings (one of them gave me some great photo oportunities). We headed back to camp for dinner it was great and our list was then up into the mid sixties. a group of us went out to add a Short-eared Owl and then head South towards the Misouri Breaks to attemp to spot a Common Poorwill, we were unsecessfull; but I did manage a nice landscape of the Breaks at sunset. Back to camp where I raced to bed so I could be ready for an early morning sunrise, hike, and search for birds until our 10am end time.

Unfortunatly about 1:30 in the morning it started to rain, or should I say storm. It continued to rain until 6:15am, so I got to go back to sleep each time the alarm went off. The problem with all of that rain is that the roads in the reserve are not drivable (and a couple that came out to work the BioBlitz was driving a Prius). We did the birding that could around the camp and I spent the morning photographing some birds ,and people enjoy life around camp. The roads were not good enough to head out for the public event; but we decided to do what we could for the scientists and citisen scientists, and I took photographs of it all. We ended up with about 500 species of "things," and 74 species of birds, had we been able to get out one of the mornings I am sure we could have gotten our list close to 80 species.

Around noon the roads were mostly dried up and I was off with a group to collect some of the traps and see what rodents we were able to capture over the rainy night. We were actually prety sucessfull, and we even got to find a nice bat (I'll get the name soon). After that the BioBlitz was over and everyone left, except me. I decided to stay an extra day to see what I could find to photograph; but first I needed to drive about 50 miles to fill up my car's tank with gas. The one problem with spending time photographing in the area is that gas stations are few and far between, and they have a tendancy to be closed or out of gas. I filled up and made my way back to Yurt Camp with a full tank of gas. The birding on the drive back in was productive and I was able to shoot a nice time lapse sequence of the drive in. At sunset the Short-eared Owls were just teasing me just out of the reach of my lens, and then when they came near enough it was dark.

Off to bed, because the misquitos were horible; but inside of the tent they were not an issue. I had set up a camera to soot some star trails over the Little Rocky Mountains; but clouds came in and ruined that. Sunrise was a bit weak; but the birding was great. I headed up a two track road, yes my Subaru Outback can handle two track roads (when they are dry), to spend time photographing Burrowing Owls; but they were a bit skittish. I then photographed an old school house and an even older trapper's cabin. I decided that the clouds building to the South could make the roads nasty, so I birded my way out of the area and headed back to Billings, hiting the storm on my way home.

All in all I had a great time, and plan on making many more trips back up to the area for future photography trips.

If you don't know about the American Prairie Foundation or their Reserve you should check them out.

I have a few time lapse sequences still to edit.

Make the jump to go through the online gallery, I ask that you leave comments/criticism or at least give your favorites a thumbs up... THANKS!

If you have questions, ask... I published the camera information with each image and have added full keywords to share just about anything you would want to know about the images.

Happy shooting

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