Monthly Archives: June 2014

Yellowstone Day Four

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Wow! What a day we had today in Yellowstone! We set off across the park to check out reports of a moose which had given birth on a small island, but with recent rains and melting snow having raised river levels, she was struggling to get the calf off the island.  It was a long a beautiful drive past Yellowstone Lake in the higher elevations of the park.

Marmot

Marmot

Seeing something small and furry on the edge of the lake, we stopped to find four marmots. Two moved away, but the remaining two put on a show, wrestling with each other right in front of us. Although they look cute, these little guys have an impressive set of teeth.

Wrestling marmots

Wrestling marmots

Bald eagle

Bald eagle

Further on we stopped so that I could photograph a beautiful bald eagle by the side of a frozen lake. It was nice to see the symbol of the US in such a stunning setting. I could not help but notice, however, that he was not bald at all!

Big horn ram

Big horn ram

As we started to descend towards the north east entrance to the park, we spotted a group of bighorn rams right by the side of the road. As we had only seen females, we were really pleased to find some males with their impressive horns. Although they were shedding their winter fleece and were therefore a bit scruffy, they are still gorgeous animals.

We left the park through the north east entrance to look for the trapped moose. Seeing other photographers by the side of the road, we stopped and set up to wait. The mother moose was lying in some bushes, barely visible. After a few minutes we could see her tiny calf, as he got up and circled his mother. After about a ten minute wait, she got up and fed the baby. Then she led her baby out into the open. To our delight, she began to lead him across the swollen river. He was almost across when the river got deep and the current strong. He began to turn back as the current swept him off his feet and swiftly downstream. It pushed him close to the bank but it was too deep for him to scramble to safety. He was quickly pushed downstream and almost went under. He started to swim, crying piteously while his mother watched helplessly from the bank. Willed on by the dozen or so photographers, the current dragged him towards a sandbank and he was able to regain his footing, and walk back to the island on which he was born. His mother quickly crossed back to join him, tenderly touching his rump as they were reunited. She led him back to the shelter of the bushes to recover from his ordeal.

Buzzing from such a thrilling sighting, we had a delicious lunch and set off on the long and scenic drive back towards the north entrance to the park. After about half an hour, we saw a traffic jam that could mean only wolves or bears. Spotting a grizzly and cub moving back towards the direction in which we had come, our guide swung around and parked at a closed service road to wait for the bears.

Grizzly and cub

Grizzly and cub

As he pulled his tripod and camera from the boot, he knocked off the bear spray hanging from his belt. Just as the bears appeared walking towards us, a loud hissing signalled escaping pepper spray as the can burst open on the ground. As the bears got closer, we had tears streaming down our faces from the effects of the spray as we tried to get shots. The bears headed straight towards us, but the mother did not even look at us. At one stage they were only about 20 feet from where I was standing, next to the car for a swift evasion manoeuvre if required. Some people walked out towards them, away from the protection of their cars, and no rangers were yet on the scene, which made others watching rather nervous, and one woman yelled at them. Fortunately the bears moved a little further away, and proceeded to forage in the open for more than half an hour. Rangers arrived to stop people from getting too close. As the bear had moved away from us by the time they arrived, we did not have to relinquish our prime spot.

Grizzly cub or racoon?

Grizzly cub or racoon?

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bear

It was warm in the sunshine, probably about 21c, and the baby bear was clearly hot and tired. He kept walking over to his mother and lying in the shade of her massive body, but she was intent on foraging and would move on and leave him lying in the sun. At one point she swatted him away when he tried to suckle. Eventually she relented and sat down to feed him, before rolling on to her back.

Grizzly cubWe got back into the car to continue our journey back. That is when the coughing started. We had to open all the windows and the sunroof to try to get the pepper spray out of the car. Our poor guide had not lived down crashing the car when he filled it with noxious fumes. However, even coughing until I lost my voice (no doubt to the relief of my companions) could not detract from what had been one of the best days of wildlife watching I have ever had.

Feeding the cub

Feeding the cub

 

 

Yellowstone Day Three

Larkspur

Larkspur

Arrowleaf balsamroot

Arrowleaf balsamroot

Day three of my Yellowstone photo tour was all about birds. Birds and wild flowers. Although we did, of course, go looking for badgers, foxes and wolves, there were none to be seen, so we took the time in the beautiful Lamar Valley to play with some macro images of wild flowers.

Building the nest

Building the nest

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff swallow

Cliff swallow

A quick restroom stop provided the opportunity to photograph the cliff swallows building nests under the eaves. Both the male and female build the nest which consists of over 900 blobs of mud. They build remarkably quickly, as they made noticeable progress in the 15 minutes or so we were there.

 

Mountain bluebird

Mountain bluebird

While looking for badgers, we spotted first the beautiful yellow-headed blackbird featured above, and then this gorgeous mountain bluebird which was posed on a log next to his nest hole, conveniently close to a pull out to allow his every move to be documented by a forest of long lenses.

 

Common goldeneye

Common goldeneye

These goldeneyes drifted away on the fast-moving current when we photographed them. Although they were perfectly in synch, he is not as devoted as he might appear. He leaves her while she is incubating the eggs, to raise the chicks alone.

Great horned owl chick

Great horned owl chick

As we headed back to Gardiner, we stopped to see if the great horned owls living in Mammoth Springs were about. Not only did we spot the mother perched below the eaves of a nearby roof, screeching harshly, the three owlets were very active, flapping their wings and hopping from branch to branch. It seemed like their mother may have been calling them to try to fly.

 

Three owlets

Three owlets

Yellowstone Day One

I have moved on to my wildlife photography trip round Yellowstone. I flew to Bozeman, Montana via Denver. Denver is a huge airport, but Bozeman airport was just what I had pictured, a small airport that looks like an overgrown log cabin, populated with people in cowboy hats. In Bozeman I joined my guide and an older couple from Florida and we drove to the tiny town of Gardiner where we are based. It is right at one of the entrances to the park.

On the first day, which was beautifully warm and sunny, we saw lots of elk and bison, but also a small and very sweet pika. These are almost perfectly camouflaged against the rocks they live in, and are hard to spot if they are not moving, but one fearless fellow posed neatly for us on the grass.

Contorting bison

Contorting bison

Baby bison

Baby bison

Pika

Pika

Coyote prowling

Coyote prowling

We also saw a beautiful coyote. This is a much prettier animal than I had imagined. To photograph the coyote, we leapt from the vehicle and stood just metres away. He ignored us, intently watching something we could not see.

Baby bear

Baby bear

A long wait for a black bear and her three cubs yielded dividends when she arrived not far from where we were waiting with about twenty other people armed with telephoto lenses. We were able to park and see the mother and two cubs about 60 metres up a hill from where we stood, in a long row of telephoto camera lenses at the side of the road. We watched as the cubs played, climbing trees and tumbling down logs as their mother fed. Suddenly she moved down the hill, charging towards the throng of photographers, who hastily grabbed tripods and retreated. A young ranger was there, armed with pepper spray trying to keep everyone back and stop any passing cars from blocking the road.

Satisfied that she had given everyone a good scare when she pulled up about 15 metres short of where we had been standing, she then posed for photos before dashing off to one side to retrieve the missing third cub. She then sat to calmly feed her three babies until she had had enough, standing to abruptly shake them off and resume her own foraging.

Feeding the baby bears

Feeding the baby bears

Yellowstone Day Two

The second day was much colder than the first in Yellowstone. We set off to look for wolves and grizzly bears. After spending some time peering into the distance looking for wolves, we suddenly saw one running down the other side of the road, towards us. Our guide put the car into reverse and set off after the wolf, but had not gone far before realising that there was another car behind us. Sadly that realisation came when he hit the other car, which was pulled half on and half off the road, and was therefore in his blind spot. The need to swap insurance details meant we lost our chance to photograph the wolf. Fortunately, the only injury (other than to the car bumpers) was to the pride of our guide! “I’ve heard about people like you,” said the other driver, “who get all over-excited when they see the wildlife”.

Elk

Elk

We then found a handsome elk lying by the side of the road. He will have shed his antlers over the winter. They are now growing back, covered in velvet, apparently at a rate of up to two and a half centimetres a day.

Grizzly and cub

Grizzly and cub

After stopping to photograph some of the sulphurous springs that steam malodourously throughout the park, we found a grizzly bear and her year-old cub foraging about 100 metres up a hill from where we stood. Much of the time the cub lay with his back to us, looking like a small and slightly hairy rock. Sadly they headed further up the hill. Hopefully we will get another chance to get some better shots. Not only were they quite far away, but the contrast of the dark earth and the snow was hard to photograph.

Great horned owl

Great horned owl

That evening we headed out to look for bears again. We spotted a large male through binoculars, but he disappeared into the woods. Heading into the little resort of Mammoth Springs, we had the chance to photograph a great horned owl perched in a tree. Periodically magpies turned up to try to chase him away, but a fierce glare from him was enough to scare them away. He has a nest with owlets nearby, and we will be back to try to photograph his kids.

Baby elk

Baby elk

Also in the resort we found a clever mother elk who had realised that if she kept her baby close to people she would be less vulnerable to predators. The fawn was so new she was still wobbly on her legs.

 

Sulphur springs

Sulphur springs