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Image of bluetongue-inflicted deer worth 1,000 words, but explanation still needed

WILDLIFE — My Saturday front-page story about the drought-stoked outbreak of bluetongue that's killing hundreds of deer in the region caught some attention on Saturday, and so did the accompanying photo of a dying white-tailed deer.

Some people are criticizing The Spokesman-Review for publishing the photo (above) of a diseased deer in its last hours of life.   One email I received from a concerned woman says in part:

I am reacting quite adversely to the front page photo of a deer hanging onto "Deer Life".  The cause of such suffering was explained within the article but does not translate to me as humane in the depiction of its demise….

Certainly whoever made this macabre decision should be told how disturbing the image is to anyone within our humane society.

I appreciate that she and others took time to write their notes.  It keeps the media aware.

Newspaper editors carefully consider the photos we use, especially when they deal with graphic material.  We don't use many photos like the one of the dying deer. The situation in this case caused us to make an exception.

The story is serious:  The most widespread outbreak of deer-killing disease in the memory of area wildlife professionals. The disease has been confirmed in Eastern Washington, northcentral Idaho and northeastern Oregon.

We were planning to use a file photo of a live white-tailed deer.  But as I was finishing the story at about 4 p.m. on Friday, we received a call from a homeowner distraught that a deer was dying in his driveway. Photographer Dan Pelle rushed out and documented the case. That's what newspapers do.

We know some people will be offended by just about anything we run, whether it's a photo of the president or Sunday's front page photo, and moving story, of the elderly woman who fell and bruised her head and face, a tough blow to her will to help her dying husband.  Sometimes we have to make difficult calls.

We also know that most of our readers appreciate our attempt to tell it like it is within limits.  We don't show graphic photos of crime victims, for example, but the parameters broaden in the cases of war.

When we've done stories about the bloody carnage and high toll of road-killed animals we have been very careful in how we illustrate the story. Our readers aren't big on seeing blood, and neither are we.

The white-tailed deer Pelle photographed Friday was dying, bleating and graphically playing out its last hours. It was gut-wrenching for him and for the homeowner. This wasn't happening out in the country but rather in a Spokane neighborhood where kids walk the sidewalks.

This is news the public should know. More than 70 deer dead from bluetongue have been picked up from the city streets of Colville alone in the past six weeks.

Pelle's photo is not bloody, but it's real. When in doubt, newspapers are best off to tell it like it is. 

People who want to go farther in learning how ugly bluetongue is in killing whitetails can Google it on the Internet and get some VERY graphic images.  We didn't go that far.

I've also heard from readers who say the photo will traumatize kids. I don't buy that.

Kids are capable of understanding the ways of nature.  Kids routinely see road-killed animals, including flattened squirrels on the city streets as they walk to school.

Savvy adults would see that photo — or a dead deer in the neighborhood — as a teaching moment.

Nature taking its course in a disease outbreak and the survival of the fittest — and perhaps the related issues of drought and climate change — are topics that make good lessons for all of us.

Bedtime coming soon for grizzly cub

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This grizzly bear cub photographed last month by Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson appears to have had a great first year in the field.

In a few weeks, depending on the weather, this cub, its sibling and mother will be snuggling into a den for a long winter's nap.

Grizzly cubs usually spend three years with their mothers before heading off on their own.

Says Johnson:

We were able to spend some time this fall with a sow grizzly and her two cubs.

It was a lot of fun watching mom teach the two cubs how to eat berries from the bushes.

This image is one of the cubs walking through the berries.

Photo: Ptarmigan change color with the leaves

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Just as the leaves are changing changing color on the trees this month, a member of the grouse family is slowly changing colors to eventually blend into its mountain wintering areas.

White-tailed ptarmigan are the species you're most likely to see in the North Cascades and high areas of Montana and British Columbia.

The willow ptarmigan that Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson captured with his camera this week in northern turndra is showing its colors (above), and what will be its lack of color in a month or so when the snow blankets the high ridges.

"These birds are really great," Johnson said. "We love to sit and listen to their sounds – they sound like a cartoon! We can’t help but laugh when we hear them!"

Bull elk will fight for love this month

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Here's a short glimpse (below) of what's going on in elk country this month, and why some of the small trees you might be passing look a little worse for wear. 

The rut is on.

Red-tailed hawk photo captures power on the wing

WILDLIFE WATCHING — North America's most common hawk — the red-tailed hawk — is a picture of fierce aerial heartburn if you're a rodent, snake, bird, hare or other creature on its menu. 

Outdoor photographer J. Foster Fanning of Curlew made this outstanding and powerful image of redtail landing in a ponderosa pine recently at Curlew Lake State Park.

Photographer offers 5 tips for better wildlife pictures

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Digital photography has made it possible to shoot photographs in such quantity that virtually anyone will bag a good one sooner or later.

But when it comes to wildlife, you'd better be ready for the action because it's often fleeting.

To add consistency to your wildlife photography, check out these five detailed tips for taking better wildlife photos from a man who's made his career with a camera. Here's a summary of his suggestions:

  1. Learn your camera
  2. Learn your subject
  3. Look for good light
  4. Your car as a blind
  5. Plan your photos



Photographers suspected of endangering wolves with bait

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wildlife photographers have a code of ethics, which apparently was ignored in the case of someone trying to get a photo of wolves in Canada

Photographers suspected of baiting wolves in Alberta national park
A Banff National Park warden who discovered wolves from the Bow Valley Park dining on a turkey carcass and other leftovers said he questioned wildlife photographers taking photos of the wolves about the food cache, but they denied knowing where the food came from, although they did acknowledge that the food was attracting the wolves and they did not report it to park personnel.
— Calgary Herald

A fed predator is often a dead predator, to expand the adage.

Another case in point: The first Yellowstone wolf that had to be killed for public safety likely lost its natural wariness of humans after getting food from visitors, most likely photographers.


Deer takes icy plunge to flee mountain lion

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson and his wife, Lisa, were in the right place at the right time to see a killer wildlife drama play out on  below-zero temperatures on Monday.  I'll let Jaime explain:

We had a really amazing thing happen today. We were heading up a mountain road to get to a whitetail deer spot that we frequent when we spotted a nice 5x5 whitetail right across the river from us. It has been sub-zero here

for several days and the river has four or five feet of ice on each side frozen. Slush is flowing down the river. River is four or five feet deep. It looks really really cold. I was photographing the buck when all of the sudden, he looked behind him and bolted. In an instant, he was gone. I lowered my camera to see what was up. Then, to our left - a doe whitetail on the opposite side of the river was running full steam towards us (towards the river). Before I could get my camera raised, she jumped with all of her might over the icy edge of the river strait into the swift current. Reminded me of a kid jumping into a deep swimming hole except it was almost zero, I couldn’t believe what I saw – (what was she thinking).

Then, right behind her – a mountain lion appeared. He hit the brakes when he saw us, turned and vanished instantly (no pictures). The doe was swept downstream about a hundred feet or so before she could get started up on the ice. She managed (after several attempts) to get her front legs up on the ice, but couldn’t seem to get her hind legs up. She laid there for a few minutes and then flailed until her hind legs got up. We could tell she was freezing, but could do nothing. She walked about 15 feet and shook as much water off as she could, barely able to walk. She eventually laid down and stayed there for the next six hours. She eventually got up and fed away.


Another human-fed wild creature bites the dust

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I don't have a crystal ball, but this one was an easy call.

The spike elk featured toying dangerously with a photographer in a video that went viral this month has been euthanized by Great Smoky National Park officials. The elk had become too accustomed to people and was posing a danger.

My blog post called it like it was — a death sentence.

Here's the latest update, which ends with the photographer whining that he's tired of being blamed.  


Elk teaches photographers a few points on safety

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Serious wildlife photographers are not amused by this latest viral video of a man who exposed himself to serious danger with a yearling "spike" elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One lunge and the man could have lost an eye or been killed. This is stupid, and the people who sat and watched are equally stupid.

The man made the initial error by getting too far from a vehicle and leaving himself exposed to the elk's advance.

The videographer who posted the video on YouTube apparently doesn't like the criticism going out on the internet and he/she deleted it from this post.

  • See the ABC news story with footage from the video plus an interview with the photographer, James York.

We already posted the news of the spike elk that Western Montana wildlife officials dispatched this fall after it became too aggressive around people who tried to treat it like a pet.  

Comments from professional wildlife photographers include:

This is the kind of idiot that prompts excessive and overbearing rules for photographers in national parks, wildlife refuges, etc.The guy could have easily stood up, waved his hat and yelled at the bull, but no, he had to play with it.  I'm sure he thought that such behavior was cute. What would not have been cute is when the bull lowered one of those antlers (or both) and impaled him through the chest… 

  • The guy is not a nature photographer; he is an idiot…
  • Sadly if the guy had gotten killed or even seriously injured, the bull would have been killed…
  • I seriously hope that the park where this took place look long and hard at prosecuting the guy in any way they can…  

—Tim Christie, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Bull elk in full concert

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I've heard stories about bowhunters who've been having many close, exciting encounters with bull elk during their September season that coincides with the rut.

Just in case the brush was too thick to get a clear shot at what might have been bugling at you in the woods last week, here's a good look from Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson.

Bucks are polishing up their act

WILDLIFE WATCHING — It's time for this whitetail buck to peel off the velvet and get ready for action.

Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson documented this late-summer stage of antler development last weekend with this photo.

Bull elk getting ready for the season

WILDLIFE — Bull elk are polishing their antlers and getting worked up for the season ahead, as Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson documented yesterday with this photo.

Are  you getting ready for the season?

Is your gear ready?

Do you have your territory staked out?

Are you in shape?

Can you beat the competition?

Mule deer buck already showing promise

WILDLIFE — Deer antlers are among the fastest types of tissue growth in mammals.

Each year, a buck's antlers typically begin growing in April in response to increasing day length. They develop fully in four months.

When the antlers are growing, they are full of nerves and blood vessels and are covered with a hairy skin covering tissue commonly called “velvet.” Antler growth is like building a skyscraper. What is first built is the structure or a frame or matrix. Think of pouring concrete; you must first build a form. That is what deer do. During the early summer, deer antlers are soft to the touch or spongy. Towards the middle of summer, as the form is being finished, the deer begins to “pour” the bone. — Izaak Walton League report

It's early in the antler growing season, but this buck  spotted by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson is showing a lot of potenti

See you this fall.

Well owl be! Planning pays off for photographer

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Some wildlife photos happen spontaneously, the product of being ready to capture a surprising moment. 

Other great photos are the product of planning, such as this great horned owl image by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson:

We knew where this guy was, so we packed up the camera gear, tripod, light stands, lights, Radio controls and did a 5 mile hike in 8 inches of snow to get to where he was roosting.
A three second burst of images and it was all over….

Photographer makes time; pikas respond

WILDLIFE — Most people just keep hiking through mountain talus slopes when they hear the squeaky whistle of a pika.

But Montana wildlife photographers Jamie and Lisa Johnson have learned there's much to be gained by parking in a pika hot spot and hanging out with the "rock rabbits."

Lisa and I spent the past several days camping in the Beartooth Mountains. The purpose of the trip was in search of Pika, a small animal that lives at altitude. We struck out at the start, but finally found a great place where (after many hours) we were accepted (or at least ignored) by the Pika.

We ended up with just under 800 images of Pika. Amazing mountain range, we also took many scenic shots.

Fox pup makes wildlife photographer’s day

WILDLIFE — Western Montana wildlife photographers Jaime and Lisa Johnson have been monitoring fox dens in their daily pursuit of outdoor images this spring.  Here's a journal post from Jaime regarding their latest encounter with the new crop of red foxes.

Funny,  last night we went for a drive to check on a few back country cameras. Lisa thought I put the camera in the truck; I thought she did.

So, after checking the back country motion cameras, we went for a drive to a few fox dens we know of. We realized there was no camera,

But still fun to see a fox.

Just before we got to the first den, papa fox ran across the road. He was on his was to find some food for the growing pups. When we got to the den, Mom was lying flat and pups were running and jumping all over the place. We watched for a while and then moved on to the next den.

When we arrived at that den, mom had three of the pups in a field about 50 yards from the den. It was a hunting lesson. The pups are growing fast!

So, tonight we headed to yet another active fox den we know of. We hiked out to the den (where we have been several times this year). The land owners have been really great to us letting us take pictures whenever we want. I’ve been there enough to have some of the traits of the pups memorized.

I switched it up and sat in a different place tonight hoping for a head-on shot (my favorite images of fox). After about 45 minutes, it worked like a charm.

I only took about a dozen images, but they are all different, sharp and head on! These guys are just about to leave home for hunting lessons – another week or so..

I love it when it works!

Count ‘em yourself: 11 snowy owls in one photo frame

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Wildlife photographer Sandy Milliken of Post Falls isn't missing the opportunity to capture images from this season's snowy owl irruption.

With her radar out for the best opportunities, she recently traveled to Boundary Bay just south of Vancouver, British Columbia, to capture "thousands of snowy owl photos" as she put it.

Get the details in my Outdoors section feature story about Milliken.

The two photo's with this post are highlights of Milliken's expedition, especially the one above featuring 11 snowy owls in one frame, including the heavily barred owl that looks grayish in the background.

Here are more links to check out related to snowy owls:

See Sandy Milliken's flickr photo site.

WSU tends migrant snowy owl with broken wing.

VIDEO: WSU tending "Tundra," the snowy owl with broken wing.

Snowy owls give Oregon surprise visit.

MAP: Snowy owls making a scene across the country.

Snowy owl dazzles birders along Lake CdA.


Brian O’Keefe details NW steelheading in Spokane program

FLY FISHING – Brian O’Keefe, an Oregon-based outdoor photographer and fly-fishing ace, will present a free program, Northwest Steelheading. Wednesday, 7 p.m., at St. Francis School, 1104 W. Heroy, hosted by the Spokane Fly Fishers.

• O’Keefe will teach a two-hour fishing photography seminar starting at 4 p.m., but class size is limited. Cost: $5.

Preregister: tytlynz@gmail.com

Sign up for outdoor photography seminar

OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHY – An internationally known professional photographer and lecturer from Issaquah will conduct the annual Photographic Society of America Spring Seminar in Spokane, April 2-3, hosted by local camera clubs.

Darrell Gulin will be at Spokane Community College Lair Building focusing on a wide range of subjects, including travel, macro, action, HDR and landscape photography plus a session on editing.

Cost: $85, includes lunches.

Optional field trips are set for April 4, led by PSA members.

Click here for details and to pre-register: