Great Photographer - Great Teacher - Great Opportunity

Elk Lake is just one of those places - - - special enough to draw in talent, natural enough to entice the every-day guy (or gal). This means we rub shoulders with all types - and we like it that way!

Like most, Ron Bielefeld arrived at Elk Lake without fanfare. Just a guy on family vacation with a super large lens practically glued to his side. By the time they left, I knew Ron for what he is: a knowledgeable biologist and skilled bird photographer in one! Thus when Ron expressed interest in conducting photography classes at Elk Lake Resort, I was more delighted than surprised.

The first test of any teacher is their own work. The photos which follow show Ron has the photographer's 'eye'. Perhaps of greater value (and vastly important to those seeking a skilled teacher), Ron's images have recently been honored in two of the most prestigious nature photography competitions. While the two photos which follow were not taken in Montana, they show the quality of Ron's work.

Receiving a Highly Honored recognition in the annual Windland Smith Rice Competition put on by Nature’s Best Photography is a marked distinction. Being highly honored means Ron placed in the top 50 of around 30,000 images submitted from around the world. Thus his image will be featured in the Nature’s Best Photo magazine, on their website, included in a slide presentation to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, and printed and displayed at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute. What an honor!

Placing in the top 10 in the North American Nature Photographers Association annual competition is also a high honor. Competing against nearly 10,000 entries an image which scores in the top 250 is considered spectacular. However, every competitor's goal is to be in the top 10. Ron's image is due to be printed huge in front of their magazine, featured on their website, and framed and honored at their annual banquet - certainly another noteable achievement.

Yet, the trait most commonly lacking, even among skilled photographers, is the ability to transfer expertise and skill to others. While William Kleinfelder is no amateur, he would be the first to tell you Ron has helped him to greatly enhance his skills (highlighted in this earlier post).

However, Ron's scientific background may be his best asset. His autobiography is impressive. "I hold B.S. and M.S. degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Biology and have worked as a professional wildlife biologist for 3 states over the past 20+ years. All of my photographs are of wild birds and none were baited in to get them close enough to photograph. To me, part of photographing nature is capturing it as it occurs "naturally," as if I were not there"

Thus, when Ron offered some photos from his recent visit to the Centennial Valley for posting, I asked if I could showcase his skills. He complied. Thus I invite you to sit back and enjoy some amazing photography while tasting what Ron has to offer in knowledge and skills.

Ron says, "I love dynamic images and have a special passion for capturing birds in flight." During an afternoon conversation Ron said he realized true skill requires a distinct focus. Obviously not one to stick to the easy path, Ron chose a medium most avoid as too difficult - birds on the wing.

A common sight, sparrows are often considered the 'back-step fowl'. Like miniature chickens they gather at our door. Yet one would be amiss to dismiss the White-Crowned Sparrow as ordinary. The Cornell Lab of Orinthology says "A young male White-crowned Sparrow learns the basics of the song it will sing as an adult during the first two or three months of its life. . .Males on the edge of two dialects may be bilingual and able to sing both dialects." Amazing!

Crisp photos are a challenge, even when shooting a static landscape. The odds against a decent photograph climb dramatically when the subject is in motion. Birds are common companions but they are quick and illusive. Ron agrees. "Getting tack sharp images of birds in flight is the most difficult aspect of avian photography." Yet he says, "I can definitely arm you with the methods needed. . ."

Trumpeter Swans were, for many years, the heart and soul of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was a key player in the fight to bring them back from near extinction. Now that their numbers have returned to solid ground, the Refuge has broadened its focus. Yet, the Trumpeter remains an important focus. I am sure its unique grace, beauty, and size are one reason.

With a 10 foot wing span, a body length reaching 5 1/2 feet, and weights exceeding 35 pounds, the Trumpeter Swan reigns undisputed as the largest existing waterfowl species on earth and the heaviest bird native to North America. How are they so graceful?

Does the idea of capturing clear images of wildlife interacting within their natural habitat appeal to you? While this all may seem terribly complicated, Ron prefers to keep things simple. He promises not to throw technical terms your way unless that is your wish.

He will show you simple techniques to increase your reactions increasing the number of images captured. Better yet, he can show you how to ditch the extra "gear and become a lean and mean shooting machine."

Hopefully next time I will have more glorious images and more interesting photography and scientific tidbits.

Lady of the Lake


Some Great Reads

As the snow falls outside my window and the clouds lower their grey blanket upon my world, a hot drink, a sparkling fire, a soft throw and a great book take on an almost ethereal appeal. Furthermore, with the approaching holiday season, one begins to think about gifts. So. . .if you're looking for a great gift for your book-loving family and friends (especially if they have a love for the old west) or if you're just looking for a really good read, I encourage you to consider this series.

In the past I have focused on books which feature Yellowstone or SW Montana. However, the wildness depicted in these books is not unfamiliar to one living in the Greater Yellowstone Eco-System. Furthermore, Richmond Hobson Jr.'s books mesh the 'wildness' of Yellowstone country with the challenge of the Montana range cattleman.

I found these amazing stories in a small bookstore in Ennis, MT. Since switching to a Kindle, I rarely hold a 'real' book. However, a friend's rave reviews prodded me to make this exception. I am so glad I did!

Richmond Hobson Jr. was someone I would have liked to meet. He was just enough crazy to be a great cowboy, just daring enough to be a great visionary, and just foolish enough to put the two together. In addition he possessed the rare talent of a born story teller. Thus one can easily understand why his books garnered such interest when they were first published years ago.

His first book, "Grass Beyond The Mountains" is perhaps his best. It relates the fantastic and barely believable story of the 'development' of the largest inland cattle empire in North America. As you might imagine, the challenges of establishing a toe-hold (foothold would be far too optimistic) in such are far-flung and wild country were frequently death-defying! Hobson does a wonderful job of bringing this wild world to life in your cozy reading nook.

While the title of the second book, "Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy", earned the prestige of movie title, it was my 'least' favorite of the three. However, this series was so good, least favorite was still well worth the read.

"The Rancher Takes A Wife" takes off where the second leaves off. It returns to the high story-telling quality of the first book. My favorite part in this book is the chapter written by Hobson's new city born-and-bred wife. Here she records her first impressions as she is introduced into a world far from her own.

While I would recommend them to anyone with an interest in a rancher's life, in wild country, or in an exciting read, to enjoy these books to the fullest, it helps to have at least a rudimentary understanding of cattle, horses, grizzly bears, moose and wolves (or at least the horses and cows). These unlikely partners often play opposing roles in the story.

It is perhaps more amazing to realize Hobson, himself, was the Stanford-educated son of a New York congressman. His partnership with Panhandle Phillips, a life-long cowboy, adds the literary frosting to an already solid story cake.

Together these unlikely partners throw their heart and soul into developing a huge cattle ranch in the wild and untamed vast miles between Vancouver and the Yukon. In spite of the unreasonable odds, their story holds more success than failure.

I found Hobson and Phillips' heart in the face of unbelievable odds extremely encouraging. No, the story is not silver-lined. Neither is real life. But reading of others who have struggled and prevailed always encourages me to press on through the hard times. A great read and an encouraging one! What more can one ask of a book?

Lady of the Lake


Centennial Valley Autumn Splendor

In the Northern Rockies typically one or two seasons dominate. Their presence is so overpowering, those which bracket them are merely commas in the year's journal. Rarely do the 'pleasant' seasons truly compete with the more challenging ones. This year the commas became exclamation points! Thus we enjoyed a long, hot (for us) summer and a brilliant, long-enduring autumn.

My hiking excursions were sorely limited this fall. However, one evening we broke away to enjoy the glorious landscape wrapped in its warm cloak and kissed by the rosy evening sunlight.

Last post I majored on the 'story' and minored on the 'photos'. This time I'll step back and, outside of a few minor explanations, let those thousand words speak for themselves!

Majestic mountains in a golden setting - what could be more breathtaking! Certainly the purple - green mountains look their best when couched in a pile of gold.

The waning sunlight accentuates the beauty any time of year. Yet in the season when golds dominate, they catch the sunlight and reflect it back like a million rose-kissed mirrors.

Angel tree with halo of gold you write your Creator's glory. With each tickling wind your flickering leaves dance and bob like shy maidens flashing smiles then dancing away.

Fall means cowboy season. In come the cowboys to take their charges back down to the home range.

Of course domestic stock aren't the only critters wandering around. As fall breezes cool our backyard, the wildlife return for our viewing pleasure

And, of course, I have totally enjoyed the Elk Lake swan family. By late fall they were spending a good portion of their time at the lake's south end - in clear view for photography.

A glorious autumn season has come to an end. Winter is knocking at the door. Yet, for those long weeks, we were blessed to enjoy the most colorful and lovely fall for the past nine years. I hope you enjoy these several thousand words!

Lady of the Lake