About Sue

I am a retired biology professor who has taken up photography to showcase the wonders of nature in my own backyard.

“elephants” on the beach

We hiked about a mile and a half out to the sand dunes at Año Nuevo state park, and were excited to find the giant forms of sleeping Elephant Seals there.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

One of several inter-dune spots we visited where mostly male Elephant Seals congregate to wait for arriving females. A single female nursing her newborn pup in the center foreground.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Males arrive first (November to March) to establish their territories; females (short-nosed individual in the center) arrive later, giving birth after their 11 month gestation within about 5 days of their arrival.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

There is a lot of machismo on display, and mock battles take place between all ages of males. Although they are sexually mature at 5 or 6 years, they usually can’t maintain a harem of females until they are big and strong enough at 11-12 years.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

What’s the big nose for? Likened to an elephant trunk, which is how these seals got their name, their proboscis grows in length, can be inflated with air, and gives their low-pitched staccato vocalization a deeper and more threatening tone.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Males might try to have their way with females even as they emerge from the sea, but females hold their own, and remain unreceptive until after they have given birth.  This female is expressing her displeasure with a male’s advances with sharp barks and open mouth gape.  

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Mature males reach about 14 feet in length and might weigh more than 2 tons. Females are much smaller, 10 feet in length and reaching about 1500 pounds max. Elephant seals are the largest seals and far outweigh potential terrestrial predators like the grizzly bear.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Mature males collect a harem of females which they defend from other males, by engaging in vocalizing, assuming threat postures, or in actual fights. Once the females have their pups, they become sexually receptive, allow males to fertilize them, and the next cycle of gestation begins while they are still nursing the current year’s pup.  In this harem, I count at least 5 pups.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Pups are born with black coats, which eventually are replaced with the light brown fur. They gain about 10 pounds per day, but are nursed for just one month, reaching about 250 pounds before their mothers return to the sea to feed.  They are on their own to learn how to swim and to find food!

Elephant seals don’t eat or drink while on land, instead subsisting on the fat stores acquired during their many months at sea.  When they leave the breeding beaches, males and females take differ routes to feeding grounds either along the coast (males) or open ocean (females), but both feed at extreme depths, up to 5000 feet deep in dives lasting almost 2 hours.  (There are some special adaptations for that activity, to be discussed later). Preferred foods are usually benthic forms like rays, bottom-dwelling sharks, squid, hagfish, etc.

Elephant seals at Año Nuevo state park, CA

Bearing the scars of many battles on his thickened neck skin, this giant bull elephant seal looks passive at rest.  But watch what the bulls can do to each other in the video below.

From David Attenborough’s “life in the freezer”

 

Pelicans on the pond

We spent a lovely sunny afternoon at Ano Nuevo state park watching the elephant seals, but on the way to marvel at these gigantic beasts, we passed a pond with some Brown Pelicans, flying from fresh water to the nearby ocean.  It was too good an opportunity to photograph these majestic flyers to pass up.

Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA

It’s hard to see the pelicans flying up from the pond.  How many do you see.

Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA

Brown Pelicans at Ano Nuevo state park, CA

The coastline at Ano Nuevo state park

a dog and her ball

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix For those following the travelog, yes we made it to California, just an hour before a major winter snowfall hit Donner Pass.  Cars were delayed 17 hours on I-80 and chains we didn’t have were required after 36 inches of snow fell on the Sierras over the weekend.

The grandkid cousins had a chance to play together and exercise the McNab border collie that lives here in CA.  She’s great entertainment for the kids, and gave me a chance to practice my high speed (and she is definitely a high-speed chaser) photography.

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

Look at that take-off!

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

my ball!!

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

Granddaughter thought she could try to keep up with the dog…hah!

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

In most fleet-footed chasers, the flexion of the spine and extension of its entire length is what makes the animal gain a lot of ground in one stride, and if they can flex and extend quickly, they can achieve great speed and distance covered.  

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

Look at the extension as she grabs for the ball.

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

Eye on the ball…

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

McNab border collie-Australian shepherd mix

Success!

Crossing America — Nevada

From Elko to Winnemucca along I-80, we cruise up and down the mountains and valleys that run like long fingers north to south.  A blanket of snow and scattered clouds filtering the early morning light make this usually monotonous landscape very photogenic.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

The mountain passes are over 6000 feet, the valley floors are dominated by sagebrush in this high desert.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

The valleys are typically self-draining (rather than running out to the Pacific ocean) making the soil unsuitable for much plant life except those that are salt-tolerant.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

Mountain peaks and canyons often have more lush vegetation, even pine forests, and creeks running from them may have fish and a variety of bird and mammal life.  The valley floors are a mecca for insectivorous lizards and a few adventurous birds and small mammals.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

Nevada means snow-covered, as the landscape exhibits in this winter scene, but most of the Great Basin here is in the rain-shadow of the Sierra mountains of California, and thus the annual precipitation is less than 10 inches.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

Towns are few and far between, often located at the base of some scenic peak, rather than out on the valley floor.

I-80 from Elko to Winnemucca, NV

Broiling hot in the summer and chilling in the winter, this is a place for really hearty people to live.

West of Winnemucca, the valley basins are more expansive, merging into one gigantic bowl, the Great Basin sink. Water from rivers draining the eastern side of the Sierra mountains eventually makes its way into the Great Basin, some of it collecting in temporary or even permanent lakes.  This is the only source of water for agriculture in western Nevada.

and now we will climb the eastern side of the Sierras, hopefully in advance of the giant snowstorm headed there.

Crossing America — Utah

It’s a short drive down the Lincoln Highway from Evanston, WY to Salt Lake City, and what a scenic drive through a gorgeous red canyon it is.

Lincoln Highway to Salt Lake City, UT

What could be prettier than white snow, red cliffs, and juniper and sage?

Lincoln Highway to Salt Lake City, UT

As we descend from the higher elevation Wyoming plateau, the cliffs get higher, and the topography more rugged.

Lincoln Highway to Salt Lake City, UT

Canyons with aspen and cottonwood meander back into the niches between cliffs. This must be glorious in the fall.

The Lincoln Highway was one of the earliest transcontinental routes for car travel from New Jersey to California, traversing 13 states.  Now that would be a real cross section of America, instead of this abbreviated picture I’m presenting here.

Having driven through sparkling, crystal clear landscapes from western most Wyoming, I had big expectations of the sight that would greet us as we broke through the cliffs into the Great Salt Lake flats.  But, a dense inversion layer of  smog greeted us in Salt Lake City, and instead of mountains, city, and lake landscape, we saw this.

Great Salt Lake smog

Ugh! I think there are supposed to be mountains on Antelope and Stansbury Islands visible from the southern lake shore as we drive along I-80.

If I have matched up google images correctly with our stop for lunch on the southern shore of the lake, it should have looked something like this.

Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake Tours

A summer time view, when the air is cleaner and clearer. Courtesy of Salt Lake Tours

But the best view of this amazing body of water was still ahead of us at the  Bonneville salt flat, where the salt-laden earth has dried into a hardened concrete and land speed records are set (currently 622 mph in a rocket-powered vehicle).  Imagine the g-forces the driver of that car withstands as he rockets (literally) down the 10 mile speedway.

Bonneville Salt Flat, Great Salt Lake, UT

I had to use a lot of dehaze filter to cut through the thick layer of smoky, foggy air. The reflection of the distant mountains is best seen when the water is just a few inches deep. When this area dries up in the summer, it will be a completely flat and extremely hard surface.

The drive through the rest of the salt desert went by quickly, and soon we were greeted by Wendover Will at the Nevada border.  My husband claims he always looked forward to seeing cowboy Will greet them on their trips from California to Nebraska in the summer.  It’s good to know that some things don’t change over 50-60 years in the west.

Wendover Will on the border of Nevada and Utah

Crossing America — Wyoming

Take the vast, open prairie of South Dakota, and remove the cows and farms, add some bunch grasses, sage brush, and pockets of stunted juniper, along with a few rolling hills, and you have Eastern Wyoming.

Eastern Wyoming highway

Eastern Wyoming open spaces

Snow makes this landscape completely homogeneous. There’s a tiny house/farm in the distance.

Eastern Wyoming open spaces

There is a lot of open space here, miles and miles of monotonous sameness.  Oh look, a mountain ridge in the view adds a little variety to the landscape.

Somehow on our way from I-90 to I-80 in eastern Wyoming, we got off the beaten track and stumbled across a road through a picturesque canyon right before sunset.  One of those construction signs with lighted messages warned us, “wildlife next 10 miles”.  This was quite exciting because we had seen a total of exactly one hawk the entire day.  Sure enough around one corner, there were three mule deer standing next to the road, but they quickly scurried away.

Mule deer, Sybille Canyon, Wheatland, WY

Two mule deer does just as surprised to see us as we were to see them.

We spotted a raven or two as we drove along the smaller roads, but the winter landscape in this part of Wyoming seems devoid of wildlife: few hawks, no coyotes, no antelope, no jack rabbits, no cattle, no people.  It might as well be the Gobi desert.

In the twilight we negotiated our way back to I-80 and were treated with a glorious sunset.

Wyoming sunset

Wyoming sunset

The next day, following I-80 west from Rawlings to Evanston and then into Utah, the Wyoming landscape got more and more interesting, as rolling hills of sagebrush gave way to rocky cliffs, deep canyons, and taller juniper interspersed with a few pines.  But the sparseness of human settlement did not change. This is land for the very rugged, independent, individualists of us, who really enjoy their alone time.

a Wyoming farm

Nearest neighbor…25 miles?

Wyoming cliffs near Rock Springs

Bald Eagle over cliffs near Green River, WY

Flying over the cliffs near Green River, a Bald Eagle glided slowly toward the river. That was one of 4 raptors we saw that day.

Wyoming is challenging, and mystifying, and interesting, and welcoming.  Towns have unusual names like Winner (where you introduce yourself by saying you’re a Winner-ite), Chugwater (how do you suppose it got that name?), and Guernsey (are there actual cows there?).  Friendly hotel and restaurant personnel provide wonderful service, with nary a country twang in their speech.  And I bet they are strong enough to throw a hay bale up on a pickup!

Crossing America — South Dakota

It’s bleak season in Minnesota, so we’re on the road again, this time across country to Northern California.  So I’ve decided to take my readers along on a photo journey crossing a part of America.

South Dakota, like it’s northern neighbor is flat as a pancake along the I-90 corridor.  It’s the land of big skies, because there is no relief in the land.  It’s the land where buffalo roamed, chowing down on those nutritious mixed, native grasses.  It’s sparsely populated away from urban areas, one farm per several road miles.  And it’s dotted with black cows and hay bales.  A few of the scenes we encountered…

Wind turbines near Chamberlain, SD

Wind turbines near Chamberlain, SD at sunset.  

Wind turbines near Chamberlain, SD

With so much sky, you get great sunsets!

SouthDakota prairie farm

South Dakota prairie farm

SouthDakota prairie farm

You see what I mean about FLAT landscape?

SouthDakota prairie farm

And lots of very black cows…

South Dakota

Closer to the Black Hills in the western part of the state, the landscape becomes more rolling.

near Wall, SD

The monotony of the flat landscape is broken up by humorous advertisements for places to eat and drink in Wall and Rapid City.

One advertisement for Firestone Winery in Rapid City read: “in wine there is wisdom, in water there are bacteria”.  Wall, SD got its name from the literal wall of bluffs running north from the badlands to its terminus at I-90 where a town grew up, and it got its fame from an enterprising young pharamcist and his wife who offered free ice water to thirsty travelers making their way west.  And thus a popular tourist attraction was born.

Black Hills, SD

The Black Hills of western SD are an isolated mountain building event that produced an inner core of hard igneous material surrounded by softer and earlier-formed sediments.

Black Hills looking toward Cheyenne river bottom

Coming around and over the bottom of the Black Hills, you descend to the Great Plains of Wyoming and the Cheyenne river bottom.

Next on to Wyoming…

Looking back on 2018 — oh, the places we’ve seen!

What a fabulous year of sight-seeing, from Peru to the U.K and Iceland, to the wilds of California and Minnesota, and scenic coastlines of northeastern North America. It’s so hard choose the favorites, so instead I chose representative ones that bring back fond memories.  I hope you enjoy the re-run of the previous year’s landscapes.

Llamas at Machu Picchu, Peru

Llamas at Machu Picchu, Peru.  The iconic mountain view looming over the city ruins with the iconic mammals of the region!

Peruvian village in the mountains near Pisac

Peruvian village in the rugged Andes mountains near Pisac.

Lake near Sillustani, city of the dead, Puno, Peru

What looks like a floating island in a lake near Sillustani, the city of the dead, Puno, Peru.

Crossing the Amazon, Peru

A typical scene of family crossing the Amazon, 50 miles upstream from Iquitos, Peru.

Coal house near Thornham Harbor, Norfolk, England

Coal house and ancient boat near Thornham Harbor, Norfolk, England

Loch near Tongue, Scotland

Typical view of northern Scotland Lochs and Mountains with the gorse in bloom (near Tongue, Scotland).

Seacliffs, Handa Island, Scotland

Sea cliffs with lots of breeding sea birds all along the coast of Scotland.  This was on Handa Island, off the northwest coast of Scotland

Black sand beach at Vik, Iceland

Black sand beach at Vik, Iceland, with its strange volcanic remnants and steep sea cliffs along the coast on a typical “spring” day (May).

On the road to Vik, Iceland

On the road to Vik, Iceland, lots of exposed lava, high mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers.  It’s the land of Ice and Fire (a la Game of Thrones).

Iceland’s waterfalls: Gullfoss

Iceland’s waterfalls: Gullfoss drains an enormous inland glacier.

Minnesota autumn colors

Autumn colors on one of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes.

Winter in rural Minnesota

This is the classic scene of winter in the upper midwestern U.S.: gray and white with blotches of brown. Dreary, cold, uninviting…but picturesque.

And now on to 2019…

Looking back — wildlife encounters in 2018

Our travels took us far and wide this year: Peru, England, Scotland, Iceland, California a few times, New England and Maritime provinces of Canada, Florida, and of course, northern Minnesota.  There were so many interesting, colorful, and unique encounters with wildlife it was hard to pick favorites, but my choices are partly based on diversity of subject material.  Of the ones below (that made my top 15 list), which are your favorites? (You can click or tap on each image to enlarge it to full screen and use the back arrow to return to the post.)

Red Fox

Red Fox in the MN back yard, January 2018

White-tailed Buck

White-railed Buck in the MN backyard January 2018

Male Anna Hummingbird

Male Anna Hummingbird displaying in the CA back yard, January 2018

Blue Tit

Blue Tit, in Norfolk, England, in April 2018

Atlantic Puffin

Puffin from Farne Islands, England, April, 2018

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf, MN Zoo, August, 2018

Icelandic ponies, Hella, Iceland

Icelandic ponies, Hella, Iceland, May 2018

Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow, San Jose, CA, February, 2018

Grey seals

Grey seals on the Farne Islands, England, in April 2018

Cream-colored Woodpecker

Female Cream-colored Woodpecker, Ceiba Tops Lodge on the Amazon, Peru, March 2018

Alpaca in the Andean altiplano, Peru

Alpaca grazing in the Andean altiplano, Peru, March 2018

Masked Crimson Tanager at Ceiba Tops Lodge, Peru, February, 2018

Yellow-bellied spider monkey

Yellow-bellied Spider Monkey, Ceiba Tops Lodge, Peru, February 2018

Red Squirrel, Rothiemurchus estate, Scotland, May 2018

Red Squirrel, Rothiemurchus estate, Scotland, May 2018