Yellow-bellied Marmot

A departure for me this morning, from feathers to fur.


yellow-bellied marmot 0678 ron dudley

1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Typically I can’t get very close to Yellow-bellied Marmots but this one, photographed eleven days ago in a remote area of Box Elder County, was an exception. I think being so close to its den entrance (the cave-like hole at the bottom of the rock in front of the marmot) gave it a sense of security and some bravado.



yellow-bellied marmot 0621 ron dudley

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in 

The marmot assumed this vertical posture for some time as it carefully checked me out (as usual I was inside my pickup).



yellowo-bellied marmot 0642 ron dudley

1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in 

This is probably the best shot I got to show many of the physical features of this fairly common denizen of the mountainous areas of western North America.



yellow-bellied marmot 0683 ron dudley

1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in 

Once the marmot determined that I was no threat it relaxed and laid down on this large rock. It was really quite a cute pose because most of the time its chin was clear down on the rock but at this angle I couldn’t see the eyes well as it was doing so.

As a kid growing up in Montana I knew these marmots as rock chucks but they’re also called “whistle pigs” for their propensity to whistle as an alarm call when they see a predator.

Like chipmunks, groundhogs and prairie dogs, marmots are types of ground squirrels but they’re much larger than the typical ground squirrels that many of us are familiar with. For example, the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel that I grew up with in Montana weighs less than one pound but male Yellow-bellied Marmots can tip the scales at over 11 lbs.

That’s a pretty big rodent!


PS –  Scientific American has posted an interesting and amusing clip of two marmots having an apparent disagreement about grazing rights to a particular area of grass. The sounds they make as they squabble (about half way through the clip) will probably make you smile. Here’s the link if you’re interested.


Swainson’s Hawk Takeoff (+ reasons for not shooting at midday)

I’m posting this image for its shortcomings, not for its strengths.


swainson's hawk 1304 ron dudley

1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this Swainson’s Hawk ten days ago as it took off from a tree in Box Elder County. I like the dynamic, vertical wing position, the clean background and I think that bulging crop is interesting.

But I’m not particularly fond of the image overall because the light was just too harsh. It has reduced some of the detail in the hawk and two wing primary shafts in the right wing are so bright that they’re very nearly blown. During processing I removed those two bright areas from my sharpening mask (sharpening increases brightness) but they still grab my eye every time I look at the image. In my view harsh light generally has a negative effect on my bird images.

The higher the sun is in the sky the harsher the light tends to be. Sharp-eyed and knowledgeable viewers will get a hint as to the position of the sun when this image was taken by noticing where the catch light is on the hawk’s eyeball. With the bird’s head level that catch light is right at the top edge of the eye. If the sun had been low and behind me the catch light would have been about in the middle of the eye. Not long after this image was taken the sun would have been so high that I’d have had no catch light at all.

As I’ve discussed before, catch lights are so very important to give “life” to our subjects – yet another reason to photograph with the sun relatively low in the sky. And it’s particularly important with raptors because their heavy brow ridges tend to shade the eye (that’s exactly their purpose) when the sun is high so catch lights are more difficult to get in raptors than they are in most other birds.

This image was taken at 10:31 AM. This time of year that’s just too late to get the light quality I prefer. Winter would be a different story.

My general rule of thumb – if my shadow is shorter than I am I usually pack it in for the day.