Variations on a (cute animal) theme

I used to keep pet rats, and at some point I decided to breed them. A litter of baby rats is usually between five and fifteen babies. They start out tiny and pink, and by the time they are a few weeks old they have fur and start opening their eyes. When they are little like this they are very tame, inquisitive, and friendly. I found homes for them all.

This led to endless variety of cute baby rat photos like the ones shown here. They like to cuddle and form little piles, so it was easy to take multiple photos of the same group of animals. Posted in response to the weekly photo challenge Variation on a Theme.

The key to naps is to get everyone in a pile.

There is more than one configuration of the nap pile

Time to sniff the butts!

Time for another nap. Naps are important.

Smuckles’ Garden Camping Adventures

Smuckles’ Garden Camping Adventures is the story of several slug and snail friends who decide to go camping together. The story starts out with lots of laughs but pretty soon something scary happens! Follow the adventures of Smuckles the Slug and pals as they encounter spooky stuff on their camping trip. Get the book on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. Learn about the hilarious gang on

Smuckles Garden Camping Adventures

Smuckles Garden Camping Adventures

Framing a photo using the rule of thirds

Rule of thirds is a way of framing photos so that they are more pleasing to the eye. The idea is that if you break up the photo into thirds, the main lines of action should follow the divider lines. For example, if you take a photo of a person, don’t center them exactly in the frame; shift them to a focal point along the left or right divider lines. It is easier to demonstrate with a photo that doesn’t quite meet the standard.

The photo above doesn’t quite follow the rule of thirds. The stamen is too low and is also cropped off the picture. I would have loved to line this up better.

This photo is a better example of following the rule of thirds:

Here’s another photograph demonstrating rule of thirds:

The horizon is at the lower third divider; the owl is at the leftmost divider.

Rule of thirds is not an absolute rule but it is a great way to frame one’s photos. Let me know of your favorite “rule of third” photos! Posted in response to weekly photo challenge Frame

See some bison

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
A bison is a two thousand pound behemoth that is impossible to miss if you visit the right park. That park is Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Heres the plan: Park your car. Stay in your car. Wait in the car with your camera. The bison will come to you. Don’t get out of your car. Take a picture. Carry on with your life.Here’s the whole sequence as it happened to me. A swarm in the distance looked like dots on the horizon.

It took me a while to register them as bison. The swarm came closer, and the individual animals appeared larger.

It was clear they were coming straight for me. I felt a certain sense of dread. I locked my car doors and took pictures. Bison moving inexorably closer to my location.

The bison were heading right towards me now! They were all around me! They were relentless! They came from all angles! What would I do? Well, keep the car door locked. I didn’t think bison would knock my car over. Where was this guy planning to go?

One of the bison stood right in front of me and watched me. Spooky! Is he winking at me? DID THAT BEHEMOTH WINK AT ME? I am not your type, bison guy. You need to find yourself a lady bison. Gross.

At long last! The beastly creatures sauntered past! I was safe! The swarm moved past my car. I live to tell the story!

This concludes the beast-swarm portion of my Badlands National Park adventure. Badlands is a beautiful park, and it is very easy to see wildlife. Also, in the summertime there werent many visitors.However I recommend visiting in July so as to avoid the cluster of traffic surrounding Sturgis. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held in South Dakota in early August. Its lovely to meet so many bikers on the road and in the diners, but it does create havoc for traffic and renting motel rooms. I had to avoid South Dakota completely in order to find a room at a reasonable price or even any room at all. Many motels and hotels were booked completely near Badlands because of the motorcycle rally. Next time I will travel this part of the country in July or September.

Posted in response to Variations on a Theme

See a moose

When you get a chance, you need to see a moose.

I was seriously impressed the first time I saw a live moose. They are huge creatures averaging 900 pounds, with spindly legs and big old pendulous dewlaps. The bulls antlers are spectacular, though unwieldy-looking. I don’t know how they balance such a structure on their heads, but moose seem to do all right.

Moose were on my list of animals I really wanted to see during my cross-country trip from San Francisco to Boston. I had seen many other large animals in and around the national parks: bison; big-horned sheep; elk; coyote; bear. By the end of my road trip moose were still elusive.

Moose are more skittish than some of the other large animals. Bison will have no problem scuttling right up to your car. Big-horned sheep will chew on grass right next to you as if you are a visiting cousin. Park regulations suggest that you back off, but in my experience the animal will make that your problem.

Moose on the other hand might not be so easy to spot. The easiest way to see moose is to head north to our friendly neighbor nation Canada, where the moose are bold and plentiful. However this book is about things to do in the U.S., so Ill share my advice for seeing good ol red-blooded American moose.

There are moose in the vicinity of Grand Teton National Park. However, the pressures of tourism on the park mean they more likely to spend time outside the park. I looked, so I can tell you, they are hard to find in the park.

I spent at least two hours looking for wild animals in this collection of bushes:

Collection of bushes looking for wild animals in Grand Teton

After just about giving up, I asked a naturalist at the park where to find the moose. She told me that the moose tended to gather at a spot southeast of the park, across from the river. They eventually come out to drink. I took this advice very seriously, and went to this spot to stake out the moose. I spent three long days waiting for the beasts to come out in the open.

When I got there a crowd had already gathered. L’enfer c’est les autres. I particularly recall one guy who was showing off his giant long lens. It was an impressive lens, definitely the right lens for taking wildlife photos. He wouldnt stop talking about his camera equipment. I dont know the guys real name, but for the purposes of this story his name is Golem. Everybody was impressed with Golems lens. Im sure it was very precious.

Fortunately I had patience on my side. Bugs also worked in my favor. The bugs came out at dusk, driving away the crowd. I went back to my motel at night and came back the next day. Fewer people milled about. Golem didnt last a day.

There was still no sight of the moose, but I persisted. By the third day everyone else was gone. However, there was still no sign of moose. It was getting dark. I was losing hope of getting a picture, but I just wanted to see some moose. Any moose at all would have made me happy.

And then they came! A bunch of moose! Including bulls! The grainy dark photo below is the best photo I could get, but you can see the outline of his antlers. I was ecstatic.

Bull moose outside of Grand Teton.

Bull moose outside of Grand Teton

If you want to get a good photo, bring a long or fast lens. Ignore the chatty people, because they will dissipate after a day or two. Be patient and keep a lookout. The moose will eventually come to the water. Bring bug spray. If you still don’t see a moose, leave the park. Also be sure to follow their seasons. The mating season happens in autumn and leads to more bulls out in the open.


Not your average bear

Bear in Yellowstone

I was driving around in Yellowstone when I saw an unpaved road so of course I HAD to take it. An earlier wildfire had burnt down most of the trees and taller vegetation. Lots of wild flowers had grown up over the burnt land. Because it was unpaved, fewer drivers came down this way. I had the place to myself.


I got to go as slow as I wanted and eventually I snuck up on a bear. He was just digging away happily in the dirt, totally ignoring me, presumably looking for bugs to eat. I was kinda hoping he was looking for berries. Someone told me that bears often got drunk on the amount of fermented berries in their bellies.