Friday, June 29, 2007

Useful Yellowstone Web Pages

The Official Park Website

Old Faithful Webcam

Xantera's webpage for reservations for lodging and the RV Park in Yellowstone National Park

Old Yellow Bus Tours Forums

My favorite area of the forums at I found this to be very useful with information about where people were seeing things. It is fun to read other people's experiences in Yellowstone. link's to newspaper articles about Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Online Newspaper This link provides numerous links to Newspaper articles, opinion/editorials, and blogs about Yellowstone. It seems to be updated daily. I found this very useful.

Yellowstone Jobs This page provides several links to job opportunities with the various entities in Yellowstone National Park.

Xanterra's Job Webpage

Obviously you can Google "Yellowstone" and find many listings. These are the ones that I found most useful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yellowstone Wildlife Viewing Etiquette

I will start with a disclaimer: I know we also did some "stupid" things while visiting Yellowstone. But I watched as the Yellowstone Park Rangers dealt with the crowds of people trying to view wildlife. I also watched what happened sometimes when the rangers were not around. So here is my attempt at some practical guidelines:

1. When you see wildlife you are interested in viewing, pull your car completely off the road. That means completely on the other side of the white shoulder line. The rangers will appreciate this so that thru traffic can continue on. Don't stop in the middle of the road to take your photos.

2. If you come across an animal jam where the road is completely blocked, don't honk your horn. For one thing there is a fine for doing so, for another you're going to disturb the animal. I saw this happen a couple of times. Remember that you've come to Yellowstone National Park. Many people have not seen these animals before. Allow them to enjoy the amazing wildlife. You are NOT in New York City where honking is the norm.

3. If you are watching an animal, stay near the road. The animals in Yellowstone are used to people watching them from the road. But when you start entering the meadow or forest, you are entering their turf. This may make the animals nervous or anxious. While the animals look placid as they go about grazing or foraging for their food, they can abruptly charge you.

4. Everyone wants a photo memory of the animals they saw. But chasing the animals just to get a better shot is not only hazardous, but it places unnecessary stress on the animal. What worked for me several times was to note the direction an animal was traveling. I then drove or walked to be in line with its natural path. This gave me the opportunity to get a closer shot without causing the animal to change its behavior. I made sure that I was not in front of the animal's path, rather I moved parallel with the animal's movement.

5. Whether the ranger is present or not, observe and honor the signs. While we were there, there were two areas that were marked with cones -one where the baby coyotes were close to the road and one with the bald eagle nest. These areas were marked to give the animals space to care for their young. Before the cones were up near the coyote babies, I noted that the mom would not come down because there were too many people so close to the den. The following morning there were fewer people and she did come down to feed the pups. After that her side of the road was closed. Even so, the ranger had to keep reminding people to stay on the opposite side of the road. I was also observing the eagle nest (on the proper side of the "closed" area.) The signs are clearly marked - no stopping, standing or walking. And yet, the cars started stopping in the zone that could have disturbed the parents tending the nest. And then people starting walking as well. Fortunately the ranger showed up and got the traffic moving.

6. When it is obvious that an animal (especially a bear) wants to cross the road, make sure that it has an open corridor available. I watched a grizzly create her own corridor as she charged through cars, tourists, and photographers with her cubs. She did not give any warning and there was not an open space for her to cross. But plan ahead to allow the animals to get where they need to go.

6. If you have a spotting scope, it is such a blessing when you let others see the wonders of nature. People in Yellowstone are so good about doing that.

7. Don't feed the wildlife! It is so true that a fed bear ends up a "dead" bear. Fed bears become aggressive and dangerous. But even the smaller wildlife do not fare as well once becoming dependent on humans for its food. Plus human food may not have the proper nutrition. Summer is short in Yellowstone. If an animal does not get the nutrition it needs during the summer season, it will probably not survive the winter.

8. The animals in Yellowstone are acclimated to people. For the most part, they ignore us and go about the business of finding food, caring for young, etc. However, they are wild animals in their habitat. This is NOT a zoo. We are visitors in their natural home. Both animals and humans have "boundaries" or comfort zones. When we encroach into an animal's territory, it may choose to move away. But it may also choose to defend its territory. Bison gore people who approach too closely, elk will charge, and bears can maul you with their powerful sharp claws. Give animals the space they need to feel comfortable.

9. Yellowstone is such a great place to see animals. With a little courtesy, people and animals can live together in harmony.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Life Lessons from the Harlequins

When I observe the wonders in God's creation, sometimes I see things that I think I can apply to humans. With the Harlequin ducks several ideas popped into my head. When I first looked for them, I looked in the smoother more tranquil waters. I've been watching a lot of water fowl over the last few years and I generally find them either in lakes or ponds or the smoother waters of the river. Of course, I've also observed the ocean birds swimming right where the waves crash along the rocks and wondered why they weren't pounded to death.

Discovering the Harlequins in some of the most turbulent white water in Yellowstone, I thought about people whose lives are marked by turbulence. Everyone goes through rough periods in their lives. A few people seem to go from one crisis to the next. But these Harlequin ducks not only choose the most turbulent water, they thrive there. They can swim in the rapids, their food source is found at the bottom of this fast flowing water, and the rocks provide a resting place for them. God has equipped them to live in this turbulent environment.

When we go through those turbulent, trying times in our lives, we forget that God has equipped us as well. We see the difficulties, we want to wring our hands, we may see our situation as impossible. Harlequin ducks are small, the water is powerful. How do they have enough strength to fight the force of the water to get their food? God has designed them to live in this environment. Psalms 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made-that God's work is wonderful. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, God has equipped us to handle it. Some of our turbulent times are part of a temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

Watching the Harlequins as they swam in the strong current and flew upstream, so well equipped for their environment reminded me that God has equipped me for the challenges that I face in life. While most of us prefer to dwell in the calmer, more tranquil streams, there is beauty and power in the turbulent waters. When life is its most difficult, we realize how much we need God and His strength. We also learn the special strengths God has given us to enable us to thrive in our unique environment. And just as he provided large rocks where the harlequins rest, he will provide resting places for us when life tries to wear us down.

Yellowstone's Harlequin Ducks

We happened to visit with a couple who were just learning birding. They mentioned seeing the Harlequin ducks at LeHardy's Rapids. While we were staying at Fishing Bridge we passed them every day. I stopped one day and looked for them, but did not see them. My first thought was how powerful and swift running the water was. I could see a few birds in the smoother flowing waters, but none of them matched the photos of the Harlequins. Having limited time left in the park, I was not too worried about having missed them.

However, one of the photographers I had met mentioned that I should be sure to go see the Harlequins. Apparently they are only in Yellowstone a short time each year. Also, this was at the far end of their range. I mentioned that I had tried but had not seen them. He told me where to look. To my surprise the Harlequins prefer the swift turbulent waters. He told me that usually four drakes hung out on one of the rocks.

On the day we moved from Fishing Bridge over to Pebble Creek, I stopped again at LeHardy Rapids. Sure enough, there they were sitting on the rock.

Further research showed me that their range is very limited. They are found along the coast in Canada. The Atlantic population is considered endangered with only about 1000 known individuals. Yellowstone is on the far southern range. I was lucky to get to see them. They spend their winters on the coast choosing areas where the water is turbulent. They go inland to fast running streams in forests to breed. They walk along the bottom of these turbulent streams searching for the larvae of flying insects. Along the ocean, they dive into the water near rocks where the waves are crashing searching for crabs, mussels, and fish eggs.

What a fascinating bird!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spotting Scopes for Yellowstone

During the time we spent in Lamar Valley looking for wolves, I found myself wishing we had a spotting scope. On one of our trips here we bought an inexpensive one at the Hamilton stores here just to see the wolves. We've used it even at home to watch birds down by the pond. This year we left it at home. While my big lens works well for photography, it does not take the place of a scope when watching the wildlife that is only a small speck on a distant slope. And while my binoculars do allow me to watch the wolves in the distance, a scope allows handsfree viewing.

I've found that people with scopes are usually generous in letting other people see the wildlife they have found. Most of them want to share the wonders of the park with other people. I listened as they told other people about what to look for in scopes.

Things I learned:

1.You want to get magnification up to 60X - one person I overheard said that you don't really use the 80X scopes.

2. For best light gathering (for those early predawn or after sunset viewings) you want the 80mm refractor (the large lens in front)

Both Amazon and B&H Photo carry scopes. Eagle Optics is another good source for scopes. Your local camera or outdoor outfitting shop is also a good place to look.

Swarvoski scopes are probably the most expensive. They seemed to be favored at the birding festivals I attended. Leica are also pricey, but they also make a camera that can be paired with the scope for "digiscoping." While you can get adapters to attach your Digital Single Lens Reflex camera to a scope, I'm a little sceptical due to focusing issues. If I ever try digiscoping, I would like to have a good point and shoot that was designed with digiscoping in mind. I saw a display for Leica at the Rio Grande Valley Birding festival.

But for watching the distant wolves and the bears on that far slope in Yellowstone, a cheaper model with the 20-60 zoom and the 80mm refractor which can be bought fairly inexpensively at Amazon or Eagle Optics is all you really need. Obviously the more expensive models have better glass and will give you a more precise view.

Other things to think about: you will want a good standing tripod. I have camera tripods that will work just fine. You will also want one of those covers that allow you to watch while the cover is on. Weight is a slight issue if you are going to be watching for wolves, because the best viewing in Lamar Valley is generally up on top of a steep slope.

I don't know yet which scope I'll get or whether I will try for the digiscoping set up, but next time I'm in Yellowstone I do want a scope. There are too many animals that you can see better in a scope than through my 300-800mm lens.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Yellowstone Withdrawal

After spending almost three weeks in Yellowstone, we are definitely spoiled. Everywhere we went, there was wildlife to watch-bears, coyotes, elk, bison, pronghorn, uinta ground squirrels, bigh horn sheep, mountain goats, moose, wolves, bald eagles,osprey, red tailed hawks, peregrin falcons, etc. Some days we saw 8 or 9 individual bears. Almost every day we saw coyotes. What a feast for the eyes!

Today as we drove south through Wyoming and into Colorado, we did see wildlife. There were pronghorn, a bald eagle on a post, a swainson hawk near Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge. We even saw some domestic buffalo doing their bull pen butting heads routine.

But in ranching country, coyotes are unwelcome visitors. I'm sure they live in the sage covered hills we passed through, but they were nowhere in sight. As we drove on through the forest on the way to Grand Lake, I kept checking the willows for moose. While I saw fishermen and a deer or two, no moose.

Yes, we saw wildlife today, but not nearly the quantity, frequency, and variety we had grown accustomed to in Yellowstone.

Sigh . . . while I love Breckenridge (our next destination), I'm going to miss the wilderness and wildlife of Yellowstone.

Seeing the Moose

We kept hearing both in Yellowstone and Grand Teton how rare moose sightings have been this year. On other trips we saw moose regularly in Yellowstone. There was almost always a moose up in the northeast corner. This year we saw a moose once up there. We also saw a bull moose at Floating Island lake splashing through the water. Neither sighting was very conducive for a great photo so I passed. We also remember seeing a moose the first night we pulled into Grand Teton on our way to Yellowstone. While there was quite a moose jam, I wasn't impressed with the sighting as all I could see was the rump through the thick trees.

We spent the last two nights in Grand Teton National Park. Last night there was a crowd of people at the Oxbow overlook. The common theme was they all were hoping to see moose.

I was tired last night, I'd already seen my moose, so I was just enjoying watching the beaver, the muskrat, and possibly an otter swim around the calm river waters. One family came over and asked me what everyone was seeing. I pointed out the elk in the meadow, I mentioned the sandhill crane which were out of sight, the beaver, the muskrat,etc. One pereson was trying to find moose among the elk. I mentioned that the moose would be over by the river. She questioned whether I was "local" and wanted to know why I thought that. I commented that the sagebrush was elk habitat - they preferred the dry grasses. Moose like aquatic moist plants, so they are generally found closer to a water source.

Some kayakers did see moose on their boat excursion. They had some great shots as well - beautifully backlit.

On the way back to the RV, there was a real moose jam. Yes, it took binoculars to get a good luck, but it was definitely a female moose amongst the willows. Then this morning while we were doing our internet work at the Oxbow overlook, Henry said, "Moose!" I only caught a glimpse as the moose finished crossing the water and disappeared into the tall willows. Although we kept looking, it stayed hidden. We knew it was there, but no one could see it.

Makes you wonder how many animals we pass by every day that are "hidden" near us.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge

I read about a new wildlife place to visit while we were up in the Yellowstone area, the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge. When I learned that the last of the trumpeter swans in the Yellowstone National Park had died and none had come in to replace them, I was especially eager to visit this refuge.

We drove out of the park yesterday, did the mundane (laundry), and finally were ready to head over there this afternoon. Since late afternoon and sunset are good wildlife viewing times, this seemed ideal. And if it was going to be a productive area in terms of photography, I thought I could get back tomorrow as well. We had looked on the map and it did not look too far away so off we headed.

The map said we would have some dirt and gravel roads, and shortly after we left state highway 87 the pavement ended. We clocked the mileage coming back at 50 miles from our campground to the refuge. Half of that was unpaved. The scenery was beautiful, glacier carved mountains, the wide Centennial Valley, and beautiful lakes. There were lots of "bluebird" houses along the road occupied by both mountain bluebirds and tree swallows. Since I don't see tree swallows in the Hutto area, I really enjoyed seeing them as we went down the road. There were other swallows as well - I did not get all of the swallows identified.

We stopped at the Refuge headquarters and got the pamphlets about the refuge and the bird lists. It was late in the day and I knew we did not have a lot of time. The roads were far from the lakes and I was not seeing the trumpeter swans. We decided to go over as far as the Marsh campground before heading back. Finally we were close to the water! And I saw white birds. With the binoculars up - YES! They were trumpeter swans with two babies!

We saw another duck with babies but the lighting was not good enough for me to see the markings on the birds for identification. In addition we saw white faced ibis both flying overhead and feeding in the water. There was an American Avocet.

As we were getting in the car, we noticed a killdeer chirping nervously at us. It had a slightly distressed sound. I suspected we were near her nest. When Henry went closer, we got the broken wing behavior. Yes, there were four eggs carefully positioned on the ground. We left quickly not to disturb her nesting.

We saw two raptors flying and as I got a closer look through the binoculars I realized these were not hawks! They had owl faces! I had to dig out the Sibley's out of the back seat. In thumbing through the owl pages, the short eared owl met all the descriptions - from coloration to behaviors. It was flying over the sage very much like the northern harrier. We saw one perched farther down the road and got a pretty good look at its face. Definitely the owl. Later we saw a northern harrier - the difference was obvious. The harrier had the tell tale white rump - but the behaviors are certainly similar.

I don't get to see that many owls in the wild, so seeing these short eared owls made my day.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Viewing Yellowstone's Wolves

People are fascinated by wolves. At the science fiction conventions we go to there are almost always wolf photos and artwork. i suspect there is something primitive or primeval that triggers an instinctive response. Since the wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone system, people want to see them in the wild. And wolves are naturally skittish of humans, so it is not always easy to see them.

We visited the park just a few years after they had been reintroduced. We knew Lamar Valley was the best place to see them. Being there back in 1998 gave us the opportunity to observe the wolves at the same time and place as the researchers who had the telemetry equipment. They could tell us not only roughly where the wolves were, but which ones were out there. My favorite memory from that trip was getting up way before dawn, making the long drive over to get to Lamar and watching the pack during the morning reunion. How joyful and playful! We even got to hear them howl!

Today, the wolves have dispersed through the park. While the number of wolves in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is over 300, the number in the park is only 136 down from a high in the 170's. There have been two years where disease has reduced the numbers. Plus the number of packs has grown and wolves kill each other. The Druid pack has moved high up the Lamar Valley, away from the road. So . . . it is not as easy to see them.

I had seen most of the other major wildlife and I wanted to enjoy the wolves again, so we moved the RV over to the Pebble Creek Campground in the northeast corner of the park. What a wonderful campgroud-I could see Pebble Creek right out my front window! Truly my kind of place to camp!

The first morning there I was out and on the road around 6:00 A.M. Sure enough, there were the wolf watchers on the hill. I scampered (yes, scampered) up the rocky slope. They had radio communication. Yes, there were wolves in the area. I scanned and I believe I caught sight of them. I tried to get them in her scope and I know I saw them, but she didn't. But soon they were in her scope and she let me look. However, the viewing was better up the road. The group quickly went down to their cars and headed off. I followed, but I don't scamper down slopes.

At the top of this other hill (nicknamed Exclosure because it is next to an area that has been fenced off to keep the deer and elk from damaging the aspens as part of a scientific study) we got to watch the Druid pack for about an hour. They ran along the high ground above the river. They ran through the buffalo herd. At one point the buffalo (bison) presented a united front making a semi-circle facing the wolves with the calves behind. There was definitely a reaction with both the buffalo and the pronghorn antelope to the wolves presence. But they were unsuccessful in hunting while we were watching.

The people I was with knew which wolves we were seeing. Black wolf 302 has a reputation for being lazy. He certainly spent time laying around while the other wolves were out trying to get breakfast. Female wolf 569 is the alpha female. She seemed to be leading the way most of the time. I believe that wolf 570 was also there as well as at least 2 uncollared yearlings.

The next two mornings, the people out with their scopes were not the knowledgeable ones with the radio contacts. So I didn't see the wolves. Evenings were the same. People had scopes, but they tended to be looking at bears.

I got up the last morning, figuring that since I had seen the wolves with such a nice sighting, it would be OK if I didn't see them again. Once again the hillsides were empty. But I checked with a young couple who had a scope, "What are you seeing?" I was ecstatic when the answer was 4 wolves laying down. They let me look through the scope. Yes, this was the Druid pack again. I quickly went back to Exclusion and up the hill so I could get a good luck. Turns out there were 5 of the 6 I had seen just a few days earlier. And they were resting this morning - all laying out in the sun together. The first bison group that went by did not interest them, but when the next group went near the wolves, the bison sentries went over and forced the wolves to get up. The bison started trying to chase the wolves out of the area. The wolves quickly settled back down after that herd passed on. One got up and headed downstream. In a little while they all got up stretched, greeted each other. I was overjoyed to hear them howl (and it was ever so faint because they were so far away.) They were calling the other wolf back and before too long here he came. And then shortly they all disappeared into the forest just about where they had the other morning. The knowledgeable wolf people had said this used to be the summer den. Maybe it will be the summer den again this year.

The serious wolf watchers this year seemed to be stationed along the north side of Mount Washburn. With their powerful scopes they can see one of the dens far on one of the distant hills. You can also see wolves along Swan Lake flats and in Hayden Valley.

Since this was my last day, I was so very grateful to get to see the wolves one last time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Otter's Demise

I had bee hearing about the otters at Trout Lake in the northeast corner of Yellowstone. The stories sounded wonderful. The otters fished regularly in the shallow rocky bed where the trout spawn. I even heard there was a collared coyote that went fishing there. I should have known that would spell trouble.

There is a BBC crew here filming what will be a four part series - The Seasons of Yellowstone. They found the first dead otter. And then they found two more dead. Apparently the otter population was the one family. While there may be a male hanging aroud, there might not be. In which case there are no babies to die for lack of a mother, but it also means no more otters for now.

I have mixed feelings - I no longer am quite as eager to hike the .6 miles uphill. This will free me to watch other wildlife. And I did get to see an otter in Hayden Valley. But it is sad, because it sounds as though the creek leading into Trout Lake was a unique place to watch otters fishing. I wonder how long it will be before a new otter family comes in.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Grizzly Watching - Part 2

Today was "moving day." We moved from Fishing Bridge RV Park over to Pebble Creek Campground. We decided to drive separately so I could take advantage of any wildlife sightings along the way. I found the harlequin ducks (more in a separate blog). But I was really planning to make only a few stops and get over to enjoy the Lamar Valley. As I came up to Mount Washburn, I could see the grizzly sow and her cubs. The were on the west side of the road in the morning light. I pulled over to enjoy them. As the cars came and went, I saw a better parking place and she seemed to be working her way in my direction, so I decided to set up. I had my tripod and big lens where I could just step out of the car or even sit in the seat and photograph her. I kept thinking, "I really was not planning to do this today." But I had a great position - I was there before the crowds. At one point when she was just above me high on the slope, I was surrounded by people who were enjoying watching her even at that distance. They were using the hood of the jeep to stabilize their binoculars. Even the male voices were amazed at how cute the cubs were.
She moved on south and the people dispersed and went on their way to see something else. I had cookies and a Dr. Pepper. I saw other people with big lenses hanging around. At one point she came bounding down with her cubs in hot pursuit and then settled into grubbing. It was so much fun to watch her dig out a hole and see the cubs find the goodies. The cubs were doing a good job on their own turning over rocks and eating the grubs.

Then she dug a little bit, the cubs had settled down. Soon they were all asleep on the slope. They were in plain view so there was still a good crowd watching them. I've still got a great location for viewing and photographing, so I decide to wait. She stirs occasionally when a car is loud, but she is stretched out and very relaxed.
Eventually, the cubs start moving around and mom gets up. They start grubbing, but they are definitely working their way down hill. My position is still good. I take off the 1.4 teleconverter I've been using, hoping for cleaner shots. Another photographer sets up behind my jeep and checks on what part of Texas I'm from. It turns out he was from Texas as well (more on that later.) She's getting closer, so my attention needs to stay on her.

All of a sudden she starts running with the cubs. She's coming my way. Click . . ., click . . . click . . . click, click, click. Everyone around me is gasping, "She's coming our way . . . Oh, my . . . Stay still . . . " There is definitely tension and some real fear because she is crossing the road right through the people and the cars. I've gotten her bounding down the hill. Now I'm watching to see where she appears on the road.

There's her head peeking around the car. My photos show that her teeth are bared - that's a feral expression on her face.

She looks around quickly and leads her cubs quickly across the road. I've been pretty comfortable through all this, because I've been sitting in the jeep seat or standing right next to it with both a car door and a big tripod between me and her. I know I've gotten my shots for the day. I try to lug my lens set up to get some shots of her below, but there are too many people - no place for me to set up.

And then all of a sudden she is back on the uphill side, rapidly heading up hill. I get off a few more shots, but she is rapidly heading to the safety of the high slope far away from all those pesky humans. The crowd breaks up. I discover that Thomas Mangelsen has parked just across the parking lot from me. He was positioned downhill from where I was. He may have gotten a better shot of her second crossing, but I suspect I was better positioned for the downhill charge. This is the second time I have happened to be at the same place at the same time with him. Pretty amazing. It will be interesting to see if any of his shots end up as prints for me to compare my shots with.
I did not feel as frustrated with this shoot because I was positioned early. It was sheer luck or providence that the grizzly headed down so near my position. But the other amazing and scary part, sometime around the naptime, the rangers left. There was no-one directing traffic or insuring her a safe passage across the road. No wonder she came charging across. There is always an interesting mix of people at the bear sightings. Tourists families eager to see their first grizzly. Veteran bear watchers who have a little clue what to expect and are careful where they position themselves. Every range of photographer from the point and shoot to the really professionals with the huge lenses. Some of the cameras are so small, I know that the bear will be a very small speck in the picture, but is THEIR bear photo, a remembrance of what they saw. With my Sigma 300-800mm I don't have lens envy any more. I will either get the shot or I won't. I still have to check those histograms for blown out highlights and proper exposure. I still have to hope I've got the image sharp enough, a quick enough shutter speed to catch the action.
One of the most fascinating things about today's bear shoot was that Mangelsen as well as several other well known photographers were all out mid-day trying to get their bear shots. Sure is breaking the rule that professionals only shoot in the early morning and the late afternoon. But . . . the bears don't know that rule. So I guess to get the bear photos you have to shoot when the bears are out!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Grizzly Watching - Part 1

As we drove the Mount Washburn-Dunraven Pass road today, we saw the grizzly sow and her cubs on the east side of the road on the south side slope. She was below the hiking trail to the top. She was doing her grizzly thing, turn over rocks and looking for grubs. We could tell that most of the hikers were unaware of their proximity to the grizzly. There had been a ranger in the area all morning giving looks through his scope.

We noted that as the grizzly stayed very near the trail, another park worker hiked up the trail and stopped the downhill traffic.

Cars were going slowly as people were checking out the view of the grizzly. I saw this lady taking movie shots as her RV passed by. It was not too long before I saw them going back the other direction. It was a LARGE RV - they must have turned around in the parking lot just above. I would not want to be trying to turn around a vehicle that large in that kind of traffic on a mountain road, even with the parking lot.

Her view would have been something like this as the bear appeared and reappeared in the trees above.

The grizzly finally headed downhill and over in our direction. The ranger's voice took on an authoritative tone - back to your cars, professional photographers can stay with me. I stayed with him briefly, but as it appeared obvious that the bear was going to cross the road, I did head over and set up next to the jeep. I was definitely feeling a little blind because I could not see where the bear was. Then came the call: "She's coming up!" And there she was - very close to my car.

I shot a round of shots - head shots with my lens at the 800mm length.

She climbed up just above us and started grubbing and still moving closer to us.

Henry is insistent, "Get in the car!" One or two shots more and I'm glad to oblige. She is all too close.

In retrospect, I was very impressed with how carefully the rangers orchestrated this crossing. They made sure there was a clear path - no people or passing cars to block her way across. While we were certainly not the legal 100 yards from her, she did have a clear path to get where she wanted to go without feeling threatened. The rangers had actually blocked the vehicular traffic when it was obvious she was going to cross. I have no idea how far the traffic was backed up, but when they did start letting people drive through there was certainly a large number of slow moving vehicles. The person directing traffic kept telling people to take their pictures, but keep moving - no stopping. I could not get to my lens or my camera to use the 100-400 to take photos of her as she worked her way above me, but we still had a great sighting.

As I thought about this afterwards, I pretty much decided that I don't think I'm cut out to be a bear photographer. Bear photos sell well, so when there is the likelihood of a good sighting, you have a lot of people out there all lined up with their big lenses. In Yellowstone, once the bear is sighted and the crowd starts growing, a ranger shows up. Just when the bear is getting into a position where you might get the shot you are hoping for, the ranger tells you that you must move. In this case when I first decided to get in the car rather than stay with the other photographers that were moving up and down the road, the bear was totally out of my sight. So then, when she does cross, she may be much closer than you bargained for. When I come across a jam that is already in full swing, I take a look at all the cars and all the people and it is a little overwhelming. I don't particularly want to struggle to get a good position or feel frustrated because I'm down on the far end of the pack because I got there "late." Plus, bears are a little hard to photograph. They have thick eyelashes that make getting a good clear image of their eye very difficult. An animal really comes to life in a photo when you can get a clear view of their eyes, the details and the catchlight. Those eyelashes make the catchlight nonexistent. Also, the grizzly bear is a LARGE animal and the eyes are very small. Lastly, when this bear finally came into view as it came up onto the road, I had only an instant to focus and shoot and hope my exposure (that I had tested) was accurate. I was lucky this time, at least two of those shots seem to work. But to get those two shots, we were there several hours. I'm not sure the risk-reward and the time factor works well here. Plus you are jammed packed with all these people. I prefer situations where the number of people is smaller and where I can predict more accurately when and where to go to find the animal.

P.S. Thanks to Henry for letting me use his photos to further illustrate this blog.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Highlights & Baby Grizzlies

We get up and out early . . . we come home at dark (10:00 P.M.). Internet is sometimes slow . . . And sometimes blogger does not want to load photos. I have more subjects to blog about here in Yellowstone than there is time to write it, prepare the photos and post it . . . Frustrating because there are so many wonderful things to see and experience here.

So I'm going to post today without photos because I need to get to bed soon because I have a new grizzly mom and cub to watch in the morning (or at least try for).

Today's best:

Missed a grizzly jam
Saw a grizzly and cub - way way far away - little spots on the mountain
Saw redtail hawk mom and babies on her nest
osprey nest with sitting mom
big horn sheep
peregrin falcon nest with 3 babies
mountain goats high on the mountain - just small dots of white, but definitely mountain goats
injured great gray owl (great photos, but put a damper for a little while. Hopefully he is going to Gardiner for rehabilitation and perhaps will live to either be released or for education.)
Carcass - really just a skeleton left . . . but it was killed within the last 24 hours. WOW how fast it was consumed.
Black bear working his way up the valley - close, great sighting, pictures not practical
Finally got to see the grizzly mom and the 2 cubs at Mount Washburn . . . and close up! No great photos, but since I had heard so much about this set and they were SO SO SO CUTE, I felt like I was in heaven when I got to see them so close up.
Saw elk running from something into the water and then they frolicked. Never saw what spooked them.
Saw the grizzly mom and cub that we just missed this morning in Hayden Valley - gotta get up early tomorrow to try to see them!

The best part of this trip has been seeing all the babies.

Eventually I'll be setting up a Yellowstone Page on my website. But it is impossible for me to work photos when there is so much to photograph. So for those of you wanting to see some of my treasured shots, be patient. If you got one of my cards and have a special interest in one of the things we both saw, please send me an email so I can be sure you get to see what I got.


The Grizzly Jam

The first part of the day was spent doing mundane tasks - cleaning the kitchen, stowing enough stuff so we could move the RV to replenish the propane, and catching up on rest with the traditional Sunday afternoon nap.

We finally headed out around 5:00. I did not plan to go too far today. But if you're in Yellowstone you do need to cruise around everyday to check out where the animals are today.

We went up the Chittendon Road on Mount Washburn hoping for a look at the grizzly and cubs there. No luck. I saw a red tailed hawk sitting on a cliff over the road - nice view. We went on to the overlooks on the north side of Mount Washburn. I heard about a red tailed hawk nest, but not much else going on - a couple of buffalo. Thanks to a photographer I met at the owl nest I was able to see the red tailed hawk chick in its nest. I think the nest is a little far for my lens, but I may try to photograph it at least once.

We were heading back in the direction of home, when we saw the beginnings of a jam in front of us. Grizzly! And near the road! I've been riding around the park with my 100-400 lens in my lap just for moments like this. I quickly check the settings and begin to photograph from the safety of the jeep. He's close! As he moves on past us, I get out of the jeep. Henry kindly brings me the tripod. I keep hoping he'll move out from behind the tall grass and give me some good views. He's busy digging up the rocks looking for grubs. He's injured - scar on his face and he seems to walk on one elbow.

The crowd is growing. The bear is slowly moving toward the parking lot where lots of people are standing with their kids and cameras. There are quite a few people that are standing near the bathroom. Henry wonders how many people can fit in one of those pit potty rooms. For some that will be the quickest safe haven should the bear decide to charge.

Eventually the first park personel arrives and begins moving the people around. The next ranger arrives and quickly and authoritatively tells the people near the bathroom to go back to their cars. He reminds those of us behind the bear that if the bear changes direction we need to return to our cars. Later he reminds us that all of us are closer than the 100 yards mandated by federal law for the park.

We stayed for about an hour from when we first sited the bear. I suspect these will be my best bear photos. Due to the injury I'm not sure these will be prize winning. But they are certainly my best bear photos!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Finding Wildlife in Yellowstone - Hayden Valley

We've been very fortunate this trip in seeing wildlife. We've been to Yellowstone before so we already knew some of the good wildlife viewing areas. Any of the overlooks of the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley is an opportunity. Elk and buffalo are a given. Coyotes are common, often giving you the treat of watching them hunting for the small ground squirrels.

It is fun to watch the buffalo ford the river. They walk in and when it gets over their heads they swim until they can stand up and walk out.

It is also possible to see bear foraging on the slopes in the distance. While they are a small dot on the distant slope, they are still fun to watch. You have to be careful because the buffalo and bear look similar in the distance. Even the winter coat of the buffalo is the same color as a grizzly.

One good strategy is to keep an eye out for those overlooks that have people with scopes. They are likely experienced watchers and are more likely to spot the interesting wildlife. Some of them will let you look through their scopes or will talk you into which spot on the distant slope is the wolf or bear.

This afternoon we saw a muskrat swimming first across the river and then up the bank. He was close enough that I was able to get a pretty good shot handheld shot with my 100-400 lens.

There are numerous flocks of geese along the grassy, sagebrush shores of the Yellowstone River. There are also mallards, buffleheads, American Wigeons, cinnamon teals, lesser scaups, Barrows golden eye. There are bank swallows, bald eagles and ospreys. We saw killdeer with a baby, spotted sandpipers doing their bobbing act, and eagles perched on a fallen log and in the grass overlooking the river. White pelicans often fly in to spend the night on the river. And there is a great blue heron who flies up and down the river. Tonight we watched three sandhill cranes fly up the riverway.

While time of day is somewhat important, there is always something to see in Hayden Valley. We saw the baby killdeer in the bright afternoon sun, when a mother and baby buffalo disturbed the parents. We've had several good coyote sightings.

This afternoon we watched a coyote run along the river area hunting successfully for ground squirrels. One evening we saw a coyote consuming his catch (possibly a goose). Another coyote joined him and they played for awhile.

In the late afternoon you can pick a spot to stake out. Sometimes you will hit the jackpot with a coyote, wolf or bear sighting, Other times you wait quietly hoping something exciting will happen. A few minutes ago I saw an osprey challenge an eagle who had flown into its territory. As sunset nears, the elk start emerging from the forest. The buffalo move around. Even a quiet evening is special in Hayden Valley.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In Search of the Great Gray Owl

I had bought a book, Watching Yellowstone & Grand Teton Wildlife, at one of the bookstores in Yellowstone hoping to get some ideas in addition to our past trips' experience finding wildlife. I had been excited to see the great gray owl listed as one of the species. Naturally I hoped to find one. The book mentioned several places, one of which was the meadows south of Canyon. It also mentioned areas near the Blacktail Plateau. I heard one of the ranger talks about the birds around the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. He said you could sometimes see them in the trees along the roads around the canyon. So while we kept our eyes open, we had not seen any.

While I was standing around waiting for the coyote pups, I visited with the wife of the photographer standing next to me. She gave me some great information about where to see one. In addition to the vague "meadows south of Canyon," I had the more detailed description, just south of Canyon where there are pulloffs on both sides of the road. She had heard that you needed to walk around the edges to see it. She warned me to be careful if I did walk through this forested area because there were bears, better not to walk it alone. She and her husband had walked through the area looking for the owl, and when they got back to the car, they saw the owl in a tree from the parking lot! They had checked in the mornings, but had only seen it in the evening.

As we came home that night, I checked out where this area was. No gray owl that I could see. But, of course, when you have not seen an animal or bird, you don't necessarily know where to look or what size it will appear in the distance. Will it be at the top of the tree or lower? WIll it hide deep in the branches? But this is an area we pass several times a day, so we got in the habit of checking it out each time we passed.

This morning was gray and cloudy. We did get up and out pretty early, hoping for that special grizzly sighting. We stopped at this pullout to check for the owl . . . I see something . . . is that it??? WOOHOOO! It IS the great gray owl. And what a cute white "bow tie" or collar.

I see a gentleman walking back from the forested area. I check to make sure he has indeed seen the owl. He warns me about a buffalo back there. He gets his photo gear. I watch him walk around the marshy ground. It is going to be a hike with that big lens . . . But, yes, I'm going to go for it. I make my way around on the higher ground, through the fallen tree trunks, worrying about stepping on the beautiful delicate flowers. I get in range to take my first shots. The owl's back is to me. . . I take a sample shot just to check for exposure . . . oh dear, off he flies. He's still in sight, but I've got more tree trunks to maneuver over.

Another couple wander over with their camera gear. Turns out they've been observing this bird for 10 years. They are hoping for flight photos. I see the owl fly behind them a couple of times, but at this point he has gone much deeper into the forest. I'm not too eager to keep chasing it deeper and deeper. As is my personality, I visit with the first gentleman - we chat about photographing birds in New York City's Central Park. He did a photo book about 10 years ago about buffalo. We talk about my upcoming trip to Africa . . . He's been - we talk about what he's seen. Yes, I'm chatty. And then . . . all of a sudden . . . the owl is back! Thank you, God!

He poses quite nicely for us. My new photographer friend suggests that we move a little closer. The owl is calm. What an experience to be so close to such a big beautiful owl. I get shots of him grooming his feet, ruffling his feathers. I'm trying to be conscientious - I try different ISO's, different f/stops to vary my depth of field, verticals, horizontals. It begins to sprinkle. I don't want to move. My battery gets low, my other battery is low . . . I keep shooting. Henry brings me two jackets - one for the camera, one for me. My hair is damp-so much for the work with the curling iron before I left for the day. I finally figure that I've either got a good shot or I don't and I start to leave.

After I walk a few steps, I realize I have a different angle . . . more shots. The other couple has moved into the position where I was. Time for me to leave. As I trudge my way back to the car, I see both Henry and the other photographer heading my way to help with my gear.

What an experience! Now I know what to look for. Maybe I'll get another chance with different lighting on a different tree. But for now I'll savor the pleasure of just getting to see and photograph this great bird.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

We've seen . . .

We've seen a grizzly and her cub, black bear walking the highway, we've seen lots of coyotes, we've seen buffalo, elk, deer, and moose, we've seen sandhill cranes, bald eagles, baby bald eagles, red tailed hawks, osprey, Canada geese, beaver, we've seen baby big horn sheep and baby elk. We also saw a baby kildeer today.

As we stop at the various turnouts or sit at a lunch counter we hear lots of stories. I would like to have seen the elk chasing the wolf in Lamar Valley. I would like to have seen the grizzly bear trying to dig out a coyote den and then having the coyote fight him off.

But Yellowstone is a big park. You can not possibly be everywhere at once or in the right place at the right time for everything.

Each person who comes to Yellowstone will have a unique experience based upon which animals show themselves. While almost everyone will see the elk and bison, not everyone will catch a glimpse of the wolves. We sat out at Lamar Valley this evenign for an hour or so around sunset (and till it was beginning to get dark.) We saw the elk, the buffalo, the antelope, but no coyote, wolves, or bears this evening. But another guy saw four wolves the night before in the very same spot. Yes, it is a good spot for watching, we'll be back another night to try again.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Baby Bighorns

A chance encounter right along the roadside.