Dakota Reflections Gallery


Independent Doctors at Horizon Clinic

Nature Photography in the Northern Plains and the World

Stephen McDonough MD

Brown Bears


 The bond between mom and cub is intense.  Cubs are nursed for two years during which time mom defends her babies from adult males and will charge bears much larger than herself if threatened.

Brown bear cubs weigh about 1 1/2 pounds when born during the winter.  When they leave the den 2 months later, they weigh around 12 pounds.  These cubs were part of an unusual litter of 4 cubs. 

Bear milk is high in calories with over 20% fat.   Cubs can consume 45 ounces of bear milk daily which means a mom with 4 cubs must make 1 1/2 gallons of milk a day!

During the sockeye salmon run, brown bears can consume 10 to 20 salmon a day, sometimes more.  With each salmon containing 4,000 calories, brown bears can add 2 to 4 pounds of fat a day.


Mom bears often have one cub with their first pregnancy and twins with subsequent pregnancies.  Four cubs is very unusual.  This mom was named "Milkshake" and she had 4 cub litters in 2003 and 2010.

These brown bears were at Katmai National Park in Alaska.  The blurred water effect at Brooks Falls was created by using a slow shutter speed with a tripod and hoping that the bears didn't move.

Brown bear claws are 2 to 4 inches long, slightly curved, very strong and powerful.  The claws are used for climbing, digging, fighting and tearing open food to eat.

The brown bear has lost 98% of its habitat in the lower 48 states, however, they are repopulating slowly but steadily along the Rockies and the western Great Plains.  The Alaskan population is estimated at 32,000.  Brown bears are omnivorous and their diet varies with the season:  grasses, apples, berries, nuts, plums, roots, insects, mammals (including moose and elk in the Canadian Rockies), reptiles, honey and salmon.

Brown bears sleep during the winter when they hibernate in dens.  During the spring and fall, they sleep just a few hours a day as they try to eat as much as they can.  Summer presents opportunities for napping, either cubs snuggling together or an adult taking a siesta after feasting on salmon.

Polar Bears and Sub Arctic

This polar bear was photographed 15 yards away on the ground as the bear rested on the shores of Hudson Bay.  They can sprint at 25 mph and swim for days in the frigid Arctic waters.  Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on earth.  Male polar bears average from 700 to 1500 pounds and can rise to nearly 10 feet tall.  Females are one half as heavy as males.

The above polar bears are play fighting.  Polar bears can smell seals 1 mile away or 3 feet under snow.  Polar bears are insulated with 4 inches of blubber.  Approximately 25,000 polar bears remain.

Polar bear cubs stay with their mom for an average of 30 months.  They are born in a snow den in November and December and emerge in March to April.  Only pregnant polar bears make a den, males and non-pregnant females don’t den at all.

Polar bears live an average of 15 to 18 years.  Females usually become pregnant at age 5 to 6 years and may have 5 litters during their life, usually 2 to 3 cubs in a litter.  Polar bears are only found in the Arctic and in the following countries: United States, Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway.

Arctic Fox

The arctic fox is a small fox with thick fur that is brown in the summer and white in the winter.  The arctic fox feeds on lemmings, voles, fish, birds, berries and insects.  The sunset picture of Seal River, Manitoba took 2nd place in a photography competition.


I was allowed into the cheetah pen at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida to photograph these cubs before they climbed on me.  The worldwide cheetah population has 10,000 remaining and they are listed as a vulnerable species.

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals and can run up to 75 mph in short bursts, going from 0 to 60 mph in 3 sec.  This cheetah "Hasari" was photographed at the White Oak Conservation Center in Florida.

African Elephants

African elephants are highly intelligent and social.  They can live in the wild to age 50 years.  Poaching for ivory has killed hundreds of thousands of African elephants in the past 30 years.


Tanzania is located in East Africa and is a diverse country of 47 million people.  Tanzania has wonderful national parks and Mt. Kilimanjaro which is 19,340 feet tall, 1 mile higher than the Colorado Rockies.  Hiking in Tanzania is unique where one can climb a very tall mountain, see glaciers and then go on safari and see the remarkable Tanzanian people and animals.


Giraffe calves may nurse up to one year.  This mom and calf were seen at Arusha National Park in Tanzania.  Giraffes can grow to be 19 feet tall and run 35 mph in short bursts.

After a gestation of over 400 days, giraffe calves are born head first and fall to the ground.  They are nearly 6 feet tall at birth and can run within a few hours of age.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro is 19,340 feet tall and located in Tanzania.  These 10,000 years old glaciers on the Uhuru peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro may be gone by 2030.

Alaska and Ocean

Only 30 percent of visitors to Denali National Park in Alaska get to see the 20,310 foot peak.  Denali is so massive that it creates its own weather system and is frequently hidden by clouds.

Orcas are highly intelligent and social and a top predator in the ocean.  They travel in groups called pods.  The yellow coloring in this orca photographed in Antarctica is due to ingesting diatoms, a sea algae.

The sea otter’s coat consists of 600,000 to 1,000,000 hairs per square inch which keeps them warm in cold waters.  Sea otters do not have a layer of blubber for insulation.


While chasing warblers in a wildlife refuge near Bismarck, I turned the corner of the path and came across this male moose, 15 yards away.  After a stare down, the moose gently turned into the forest.



The scattered remains of an American bison were discovered while hiking in the North Dakota badlands.   Bison have an average lifespan of 15 years in the wild.

Badlands sunsets in North Dakota can be quite spectacular.  The big sky nature of the state allows grand vistas.

Coyotes are monogamous and have litters averaging 6 pups.  They are only territorial during the denning season.  Coyotes have been known to form friendships in the wild with American badgers.

Mule deer bucks average 170# and are found primarily in the Badlands near the Little Missouri River.

The Little Missouri River was photographed at sunrise with some autumn color present.

North Dakota Birds

This sharp-tailed grouse was photographed in North Dakota in flight at a lek, an assembly area where males carry on display and courtship behavior.

Female mallards lay 8 to 13 eggs which is more than ½ of her body weight.  Her ducklings imprint on her and stay with her for 2 months at which time they fledge and are able to fly.

The Canada geese nest in northern United States and Canada.  Tens of thousands stay year round in North Dakota.  Males and females form lifelong monogamous pairs.

The western meadowlark was designated official state bird of North Dakota in 1947.  Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wyoming also recognize the western meadowlark as state bird.

Snowy owls nest at latitudes north of 60 degrees.  Occasional south migrations occur due to changes in food sources.  This female snowy owl was photographed about 20 miles from Bismarck, North Dakota in 2015.  Males are largely white in color white females are darker with black markings.

Blue Birds

Mountain bluebirds are found across western North America to Alaska. Mountain bluebirds are monogamous and both males and females protect the nest.  Males can be seen singing from branches when the sun rises.

The little blue heron is one of my favorite birds and was photographed at Crooked Tree Sanctuary in Belize.  This is a small heron that is all white with dark wing tips when young.

The blue grosbeak is a beautiful bird, males having a deep blue color.  They nest in the southern United States, Central and South America but a few venture in to southern North Dakota.

Great blue herons are found throughout the United States including Alaska.  They are a large wading bird that feeds on small fish and frogs.  Their neck is curled in the shape of an S which allows them to strike at prey quickly.

Blue jays are noisy and aggressive and will chase owls and hawks.  They stay year round in North Dakota.

Florida Birds

These cuddling roseate spoonbills were photographed in Florida.  They have a very large bill that strains small crustaceans and insects.  The pink and red color comes from their diet.

This great egret is in breeding plumage.  They stand 3 feet tall and have a wingspan over 5 feet.  Nearly wiped out over 100 years ago when their feathers were used in hats, the great egret has recovered.

Osprey are found on all continents except Antarctica.  Only ospreys and owls among raptors have an outer toe that is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind, helpful when catching fish.  Osprey dive feet first into the water when catching fish.


In 2010, while hiking the trail to the Grinnell Glacier, we were most fortunate when 4 big horn sheep crossed the path 5 yards ahead of us.  A wide angle lens for landscapes was used to take this photo.

Saint Mary Lake is the second largest lake in Glacier National Park in Montana and is nearly 10 miles long and 300 foot deep.  The lake was photographed just after sunrise.

Costa Rica

 This long-tailed silky flycatcher is found only in the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama.  What an absolutely beautiful bird!

This brown-throated three-toed sloth was photographed at Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica.  The green color of the fur is due to an algae and helps with camouflage.

This slaty flowerpiercer was photographed in Costa Rica.  The upper mandible has a hook that allows piercing the base of flowers to get nectar which was occurring as I took the picture.

Sloth fur grows in a direction opposite from that of other mammals, their hairs grow away from the extremities to provide protection from the elements while the sloth hangs upside down.  The fur hosts two species of symbiotic algae, which provide camouflage. 

Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly; they have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight.


This is my favorite photograph from Ecuador.  These collared incas are fighting.  Getting both of these hummingbirds in focus as they rapidly moved in combat was a great stroke of luck.

This female purple-throated woodstar has caught a fly in midair in Ecuador.  Female hummingbirds eat more insects than males to feed their babies.  Nectar is still important but a diet variety is needed.

The long-tailed sylph is a spectacular hummingbird found in South America from Venezuela to Bolivia.

The Western Emerald Hummingbird is a South American hummingbird that is found in the subtropical and tropical moist forests of western Colombia and Ecuador.

The sword-billed hummingbird is found South America in higher elevations in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.  It is the only species of bird to have a bill longer than the rest of its body.

The booted racket-tail is a hummingbird found from Colombia and Venezuela south to Bolivia.  This is a spectacular hummingbird - males have a metallic green body, black wings, and elaborate tail.


The rufous-tailed hummingbird is a common medium-sized hummingbird in Central and South America.

The magnificent hummingbird on the upper right was photographed in Costa Rica.  This large hummingbird breeds in mountains from the southwestern United States to western Panama.


These guanacos were nice to pose before the three towers "Los Torres" in Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region of Chile.

The name "Torres del Paine" refers to the Spanish word for towers (Torres) and the indigenous Tehuelche (Aonikenk) term for the color blue (Paine).  Torres del Paine National Park was listed by National Geographic magazine as the 5th most beautiful place in the world.

Cerro Torre is the photograph on the left.  Mt. Fitz Roy of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina was photographed from different locations including one at sunrise, named after Robert Fitz Roy, the captain of the Beagle, the ship that took Charles Darwin on his voyage.


This beautiful mountain is Cuerno Norte, 7217 feet (2200 m), photographed in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Fur Seals

South Georgia is home to 95 percent of the world's Antarctic fur seals where this pup was born on the beach the day I visited Fortuna Bay.  Mom and pup are experiencing their initial bond.

Male fur seals live 15 years while females live around 25 years.  Males are up to 6 feet long and can weigh nearly 500 pounds.  Pups are born in late November to early January and are nursed for 4 months.

Since South Georgia is only accessible by sea, few visitors travel there. South Georgia is home to the British Antarctica Survey.  Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctica explore is buried at the Whaler's Cemetery in Grytviken along with his first mate, Frank Wild.

Elephant Seals

Southern elephant seals can weigh as much as 8000 pounds.  Large males have harems and are known as "beach masters," can dive to nearly 7000 feet while holding their breath up to 2 hours.

These cuddling southern elephant seal pups were born in South Georgia and nursed for over 3 weeks when their mothers returned to the sea to feed.  The pups then swam to the sea when 5 weeks old.

These baby elephant seals are enjoying playtime, exhibiting behaviors that are also seen in many other mammalian species including bears and dogs.

King Penguins

King penguins are the second largest penguin next to the emperor penguin.  King Penguins can dive for 5 minutes to depths up to 1000 feet.

Gentoo Penguins

This Gentoo penguin is heading out to sea from Carcass Island in the Falkland Islands.  Over 300,000 nesting pairs of Gentoos are present worldwide.

These Gentoo penguins were photographed on Petermann Island in Antarctica at 65 degrees south latitude.  They call in a loud trumpeting voice as they throw their head back.

Gentoo penguins are the fastest swimming penguins and can swim 22 mph.  They are the 3rd largest penguin after the emperor and king penguins.  Gentoos can live in very harsh and cold environments.

These Gentoo penguins are shown flying through the water, swimming and exiting the sea.


Pleneau Bay in Antarctica is home to beautiful icebergs.  Almost 90% of the iceberg is under water.  This photograph was taken during a rare day of sunlight on a 21 day journey.

The blue ice of these icebergs off Petermann Island, Antarctica is due to glacial compression which removes air bubbles.  Red light is selectively absorbed by dense ice resulting in deep blue color.

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent.  Nearly all of Antarctica is covered by an ice sheet which averages 1 mile thick.  Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth.

New Zealand

Aoraki (Mount Cook) is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218 ft (3724m).  It is found in the Southern Alps, the mountain range which runs the length of the South Island of New Zealand.

Golden Retrievers

Golden retrievers were initially bred in Scotland in the 1860s from a yellow retriever and a tweed water spaniel.  Later breeding included other sporting dogs including black retrievers and Irish setters.  Golden retrievers were selected to gently retrieve waterfowl so they were excellent swimmers with a dense coat and a soft bite.

Golden retrievers make excellent family pets due to their gentile nature, intelligence, and friendliness.  They also serve as dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, hunting dogs, detection dogs, and search and rescue dogs.  They make poor guard dogs.

Golden retrievers are the 3rd most common registered breed in the United State.  Golden retriever litters usually have 5 to 10 puppies.  Their live span is 10 to 12 years of age, although longer live spans are not uncommon.  They require ample exercise, about 2 hours a day.

Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan had golden retrievers.

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About the Photographer

Stephen McDonough, also known as “McD”, has been photographing nature for many years.  He especially likes to photograph mammals with mom and baby interaction.  He also loves bird photography and concentrates on birds in flight. 

Most of his photography occurs in the Bismarck/Mandan area and the North Dakota badlands.  He has an extensive photographic collection of North Dakota birds.  He is out every day with his three golden retrievers and drives the gravel roads in the region looking for birds and mammals to capture with photos.

Stephen and Denise McDonough have long supported wildlife conservation.  They were the first non-organizational sponsors of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a consortium of large conservation centers for breeding endangered species including White Oak Conservation Center, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, The Wilds, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, San Diego Zoo Global, Omaha's Henry Doorley Zoo and Aquarium and Austin Savannah. 

They have also supported the International Rhino Foundation for many years.  Of the five species of rhinos in the world, the two most endangered are in Indonesia, the Sumatran rhino with approximately 100 left and the Javan rhino with approximately 40 left.  The Javan Rhinos are concentrated in Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia where they are relatively protected from poaching due to the presence of Rhino Protection Units (RPUs).  They are, however, critically endangered and under threat of extinction.  They are rarely seen or photographed unless camera traps are used.  Sumatran rhinos are also critically endangered with only 100 left in the world.  They are scattered in three national parks in Indonesia; Gunung Leuser, Way Kambas, and Bukit Barisan Selatan and one area in Borneo.  The Sumatran rhino became extinct in Vietnam in 2010 and became extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015.

He has had many close encounters with animals in the wild: within 5 yards of big horn sheep and coyotes, 10 yards from grizzly bears, 15 yards from polar bears, physical contact with penguins and elephant seals, 5 yards from Fer-del-Lance snake and 15 yards from a moose.  At conservation centers, he has been in the enclosures of giraffes, maned wolfs, and cheetahs.  He has petted a baby Kiwi bird, bottle fed a baby white rhino and okapi, and fed, in the enclosure, a critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros.    

"The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value."   Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America 1901-1909

Photography Awards

2016 First Presbyterian Fine Arts Festival

  • Judge's Choice for Photography

2016 North Dakota Governor's Photo Contest Honorable Mention Wildlife Division