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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Have A Plan

10:01 AM 2 Comments
Those of us that work in the outdoor industry are in the throes of "show season".  When hunting seasons draw to a close, and the fishing season hasn't quite  gotten off the ground, the outdoor related trade shows pop up across outdoor communicators calendars in a variety and number that rival the schedule of the busiest socialite.

Sometimes I attend the shows as member of the media, collecting information, new product news, and conducting interviews. On other occasions, I attend the shows as an exhibitor, working with various outdoor companies where I am on staff.

I always stand in awe of those hyper organized folks at the shows, the ones with a sound plan, pre scheduled meetings and interviews. Those uber productive souls that are tweeting and facebooking updates on the hour and filing stories from the press rooms every two hours. You know the type.

 I am not one of those. It's not for lack of trying, but my plans always seem to fall apart. Something catches my eye that wasn't on the list. An opportunity suddenly presents itself. I  seem to do much better just cruising and flying by the seat of my pants.

The downfall to this type of approach is that I return home with such a hodge podge of information, images and interviews that it takes me weeks to sort it all out and get it into usable form.

I decided this year to try a slightly  different approach.. a half a plan of sorts. While I made my lists, and decided that I would focus on a few key parts of each show, I also left myself plenty of wiggle room for those spontaneous things that happen.

It seemed to work fairly well at the Archery Trade Association show, so I am trying the same approach at the upcoming Southern Illinois Boat and Fishing Show this weekend.

Perhaps the most important part in my new approach is allowing myself time. I often forgo a motel stay when the shows are within a reasonable driving distance. I've finally learned that just plain doesn't work. The money I save on not utilizing lodging close by ends up being spent in time and gas. I miss the after show social activities that can provide a much more relaxed atmosphere to network, interview, and gather additional information. I also am so exhausted by the time I arrive home that I can barely stay awake to dump the images from the memory cards, throw up a few posts and tweets, and trundle off to sleep a few hours before starting the trek back.

The Williamson County Tourism Bureau  does a great job with this show and also secured some group lodging rates for us. Thanks to the hard work on their part, I can afford to stay the duration of the show, and to also factor in some time pre and post show hours to capture images of some of the jewels in the crown of Southern Illinois such as Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

So early Friday morning I'll be heading out, with half of a plan and high hopes that this may be the show I finally  figure out the best way for me to approach a trade show.

I'd love to hear from you dear readers, how do you approach a trade show? Shotgun scattered or highly organized and planned? Tips? Tricks? Share your "battle plans"! Please!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Feathers and Friends

8:23 AM 2 Comments
I'm always anxious when I'm guiding other outdoor communicators, writers, and photographers. Despite the best planning, and patterning, I'm always afraid the creatures, the weather, and any number of other variables will end up biting me in the fanny.

Luckily, Saturday was not the case. I was hosting/guiding a fellow  outdoor writer and photographer in search of the Short-eared owls.

This owl seems to always start his evening hunt from this same straggly outpost. 

You again? What are you some kind of bird paparazzi?

Diving in to snatch up a snack

There's a nice sized colony of the owls wintering in the strip pits, and as they are an Illinois endangered species, the size of their colony is news worthy.  I was delighted that the weather had taken a turn towards the warm end of the scale, opening up some of the water in the pot holes and lakes. This resulted in a large number of different waterfowl species loafing and floating around enjoying the respite form the winter weather.

The coots kept us entertained with their crazy "walk on water" antics

The owls weren't flying and feeding as early as I had anticipated so, I gave my colleague "the fifty cent tour" of the area, and we enjoyed an hour of so of great bird watching while waiting on the owls to start flying and hunting their evening meals.

Lots of ducks out loafing, feeding and flying around

Of course the snows were present to put on their afternoon show as they head out to feed in the refuge fields.

A pair of swans happily obliged us with some photo opportunities as they leisurely paddled around one of the refuge lakes.

The Great Blue Herons were feeding on mice and voles in the fields, avoiding the still icy edges of the lakes and pot holes.

Thankfully my owl karma was in good shape and the owls put on quite the show for my colleague enabling him to not only experience the awe of having a raptor sail remarkably close to his head but to also capture what I  anticipate will be some superb images.

Our most enjoyable afternoon afield came to an all too soon close as the sun began sink over the edges of the strip pit hills, bringing our "adequate shooting light window" to an end. My colleague and I parted ways  happy, content, and with plans for me to visit a migratory song  bird hotspot in his area later this spring.

Yes, I could have pitched the owl story to the publication he works for, but as I said to my colleague as we stood atop the hill in tall grass watching the acrobatic little owls, "Somethings you just can't be greedy with. Somethings you just have to share with others." 

The sunset provided us with one last photo opportunity before we parted ways

As I headed home the "Wolf Moon" began it's rise on the Eastern horizon

A closer look at our January "Wolf Moon"

Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Common Ground

7:52 AM 3 Comments
After a week of brain numbing press releases and information overload, it seems that most of my friends in the outdoor world are like me- dreading even checking e mail, Facebook, our feed readers, and Twitter feeds.

 So many controversies this week. The Eastern  Sports and Outdoors  Show incident, the introduction of Senator Feinstein's proposal, a flurry of state and local level gun, hunting, and conservation  related legislation; all of these have made me weary. I have friends and colleagues on both sides of the issues and have especially grown weary of the line in the sand attitude  that many have adopted. So instead of yet one more opinion piece about these issues, let's  have a look at these images and remember the common ground that we have; our love of the outdoors and the wild spaces.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Short-eared Owls Abound

8:27 AM 2 Comments
Short-eared owl in flight
The return every winter of the short-eared owls to the rolling strip pit hills of southwestern Illinois could be considered a mine reclamation success story.  The short eared owl is considered  endangered in Illinois - and the primary cause of it's decline is the loss of habitat.

The short-eared owls thrive in the grasslands - many of which have completely disappeared across the state of Illinois, except in the "strip pits". The rolling hills and deep valleys of reclaimed strip mine ground.

Here in the strip pits that litter the southern Illinois landscape the owls find the perfect habitat and a ready supply of their favorite foods, mice, voles, and other small rodents. Several state parks have regular wintering populations and they can be seen easily  in the late winter afternoons, soaring over the grassland, across dormant agricultural fields, and gliding low along the edges of the marshes and pot holes.

My late winter afternoons of late  have been spent sitting high on the strip hills, nestled into the grass listening to the owls odd little call that almost sounds like a scratchy voiced cat meowing, and watching them soar and glide in the rays of the winter sun.

You can hear the variety of call that the short eared owls make by visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology  web site. Pay close attention the winter roosting call, that's the most often heard  echoing across the grasslands this time of year.

Quick facts about these small wonders from the Illinois Raptor Center :

 Quick Facts about short-eared owls:
mostly voles.
Endangered in Illinois. Very few pairs nest in the state.
When Can We See Them?
Short-eared owls are active at dusk and dawn. Some groups have been seen spending the winter in Illinois.

Nesting Behavior:
On the ground in wet prairie among tall grasses and reeds.
They lay 4-8 eggs.
How do we find them?
Short-eared owls often roost with their counterpart, the northern harrier. If you see harriers, be alert for short-eared owls.

As spring approaches the sightings will dwindle, and most will move on to nesting sites in more hospitable areas, but my hope is that someday soon  I will find them nesting  in the tall grass of the strip pits and will know that the once scarred and stripped land has truly come full circle and is back to it's once former glory.  


Monday, January 21, 2013

River Rats, Refuge Refugees, and Marsh Mutts

7:32 AM 4 Comments
It's okay if you call me a River Rat, a Refuge Refugee, or Marsh Mutt; I take no offense at those titles. Really - it's OKAY. I'm acutely aware that most of my days are spent wet, muddy, messy, smelly and this time of year cold.

What can I say? I love the mud and the muck, the boggy bottom ground, swampy sloughs, reedy marshes and flooded timber. Thankfully that yella dog that is joined at the hip with me is a muddy marsh mutt too. After all, if we didn't slog through the sloughs, roam the rivers, and wait in the willows, I would never get to see things  like this:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Such Grumps are the Gulls!

7:59 AM 0 Comments
It's no secret that along the rivers edges, the sloughs, the potholes  those are my favorite places. I think even more so in winter when the birds hang out, looking for little spots of open water to feed , bathe, rest. The gulls are no exception and tend to gang at the boat ramps, parking lots, and anywhere the beggars think they can rustle up a handout meal of left over crackers, french fries, or anything that people might toss heir direction. Gull are grumpy gulls are in the winter- just plain grumpy and pushy! Raucously shrieking where's my snack? where's my coffee? Hey! You PEOPLE! Feed us!

I present you the grumpy old men of the bird world ~