Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yellowstone's Coyotes

As you make the rounds on the roads of Yellowstone, coyotes are frequently seen as they work their way through the sage and grass covered meadows.  Our best encounter this year was just west of Canyon Village mid-afternoon.

We first saw him when he was south of the road working his way through the tall grass looking for mice.  He crossed the road and we managed to move ahead of the path I thought he would take.  It is MUCH easier to photograph an animal as it is working its way toward you naturally.  They often will get closer to you than you could ever get if you try to chase it. A parked car makes an excellent blind that coyotes will often ignore in their search for food.

While I did miss a few shots because I was trying for a good head shot when it pounced and caught the mouse, I was still pleased to get some good shots as he was mousing.

It was really special to be able to watch and photograph the actual capture of the mouse so near to the car.  Amazingly enough, the coyote swallowed the mouse pretty much whole, very little chewing!

I know that outside the park, coyotes are a costly nuisance to farmers and even dangerous for pets in the city.  But . . . one of the wonderful things about Yellowstone, it is possible to see wild animals in their home territory doing what they've done for thousands of years.  In Yellowstone I LOVE to see the coyotes go about their business!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yellowstone's Night Skies

With clear, dry air  and very few electrical lights, the night sky in Yellowstone is glorious. We tended to explore the park until dark and then make our way back to Silver Gate driving at night. We stopped in Lamar Valley and I decided to try to photograph star trails and the the beautiful Milky Way. There are a lot of ways to approach night astrophotography. One approach is to shoot a long exposure and get beautiful star trails.

I learned quickly that if you are shooting the Milky Way, long exposures just leave the Milky Way blurry - not beautiful. My new Canon 5D MKIII has low noise even at higher ISO's. So I experimented with higher ISO and shorter shutterspeeds. This gave me beautiful Milky Way and much crisper stars.

I tried a different approach with this photo.  I shot away from the Milky Way and gave a much longer exposure trying to get the skyglow to illuminate the scene.  While  it does get the road - hand of man- I like this one.

The following night I went to a different place in Lamar Valley -Soda Butte.  I wanted to illuminate the Butte and get the stars.  My results were mixed because when I used the highest ISO, there is a LOT of noise. One shot was "messed up" by the passage of a car, but it looked better than I expected.

In this one below, the lights from a passing car lighted up Soda Butte.  Because I was trying to position the Milky Way in the third's position, I had to clone out our car and the reflective road poles.  I shot this with an ISO of 25,600 hoping to get the stars crisp. The noise level was much higher than I wanted so I definitely had to use noise reduction software.  There is still noise when you blow this up at pixel level. But it is pleasing anyway.

I did try light painting on Soda Butte, but was not happy with the results.

I meant to try one more time, but as the days went by getting up before dawn to look for wolves and staying out late to enjoy other parts of the park, our stamina gradually diminished. Our last night there was overcast.

Things I would try next time - lower ISO on the star trails over the trees. I used infinity focus for most shots, but I think it might have been better to focus on a brighter star. Henry recommended using a smaller aperture to try to get the stars crisper.

Perhaps I'll have another opportunity as we travel east from Seattle to try more star shots.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Birding in Yellowstone

The bird above is a dusky grouse, formerly called the blue grouse.  We were thrilled to get to see in on the Blacktail Plateau drive.

I had enough time in Yellowstone to try to identify the birds we saw.  I kept my intial list on my notepad on my iPhone.   To get my bird list better organized I entered them after the fact in my phone app, Bird Log. I probably should have used Bird Log to do my initial observations, because I had to go back and correct the coordinates. While I labeled my bird sighting Yellowstone, it picked up my geographic location when I started putting the information into Bird Log in Washington State.  I had to go back to the website to get the coordinates for this sighting back in Yellowstone. 

After I completed the bird list and submitted it to eBird, I emailed myself the information because I wanted to post my bird sightings here on my blog.  I know that I saw a few more birds that I couldn't identify, one a hawk that might have been a Cooper's Hawk.  I get frustrated because there are still so many birds I don't immediately recognize.  However, when I think back to my 2002 visit, I know so many more birds than I did then. 

Here is the list the way it shows up on eBirds.  I like the way it automatically organizes the list by species groupings.  BIrd Log is a great app for keeping up with the  birds you see - whether you submit to eBird or not.

2012-09-09 03:54
yellowstone national park
50 miles
420 Minutes
Observers: 1
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: This represents a week of birdwatching in Yellowstone National Park. I was more interested in how many species rather than exact counts. 
100 Canada Goose
Specie Comments: Too many to count and all over the park
20 Mallard
7 Lesser Scaup
50 Common Goldeneye
10 Common Merganser
1 Ruddy Duck
1 Dusky Grouse
Specie Comments: I have a photo
1 Common Loon
1 Eared Grebe
2 Osprey
2 Bald Eagle
1 Northern Harrier
7 Red-tailed Hawk (Western)
2 Peregrine Falcon
13 American Coot
2 Sandhill Crane
Specie Comments: I am very familiar with Sandhill cranes. We saw a pair several times- possibly same pair in different locations
1 Wilson's Snipe
3 gull sp.
1 Gray Jay
1 Black-billed Magpie
8 Clark's Nutcracker
1 Common Raven
5 Mountain Bluebird
8 American Robin
5 American Pipit
10 Yellow-rumped Warbler
1 Sage Sparrow

Monday, September 17, 2012

Memories of my Trips to Yellowstone

Because we travel so much, people frequently ask me what my favorite place is.  That is a very difficult question for me, because I don't have just one favorite place.  I have  many places that I love - all of them for differrent reasons.  That said, Yellowstone is high on the list of favorite places for me.  We tend to go back over and over again.

I went first as a child when I was 10 or 11.  I went with my grandparents.  It was a very brief visit.  We saw Morning Glory pool and Old Faithful and drove around the park some.  My grandad was very cold natured. The conversation around us made him believe that the available cabins were very cold at night.  We drove south through Jackson, but all the hotels were full.  I saw the Tetons by moonlight.  By the time we found a place to stay it was too far to come back.

My next visit was in 1977.  My husband and I had bought a new extended length van and converted it to a camper complete with bed, closet, and simple porta-a-pottie bathroom.  We spent about three days in Yellowstone as part of a longer trip that took us all the way through Glacier Naitonal Park and Banff and Jasper in Canada. One of the highlights from that trip was going to all of the viewpoints for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the beautiful waterfalls.  I went all the way down to Uncle Tom's trail.  I'm glad I did it then while I was young - it is a LONG way down!

We brought our kids to Yellowstone in 1985 - Thomas was 5 and Debra was 1 1/2.  We were tent camping and I think we stayed at Grant Village.  Thomas' memory is that you had to wait along time for the geysers to erupt.  That was the trip that we focused on the geysers.  One day we hit it just right to see Grand erupt with 5 glorious bursts and Riverside. We spent most of the day exploring the Lower Geyser Basin.  When we got back to Old Faithful, it was a short single burst - a disappointment after the other longer geysers.

When it was time to go to Yellowstone when the kids were older, Thomas was old enough to stay home.  Sadly his memories of waiting so long for the geysers made him uninterested in returning.  With a nearby family to watch over him, we left for Yellowston in 1993 with just Debra.  I think it was a tent camping trip and I think we stayed at Tower.

At one of these trips, we went to an evening ranger program where they were talking about the desirablity to return wolves to the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  The talk made such an impression that both Henry and I remember it today.

At another trip, the bison were in rut. It was so funny to watch the bulls follow the cows with their unique grunts! Usually the bulls are off by themselves, but that time they were always following a female.
While the kids were at Camp Blue Haven,  Henry and I went again in 1998. We made our home base at the hotel in Canyon Village. Canyon Village is very close to Hayden Valley which is one of our favorite places in Yellowstone. So easy to be at the lookout over the valley at sunset and be close to the hotel.  That was the trip where we really learned how to look for elusive wildlife - the bears and the wolves.  The small moving dark dots on the far hillside were worth checking out because some were bears not bison.  That was also right after the wolves had been released.  In Lamar Valley,  there were scientists monitoring the wolves through the radio collars.  It was fascinating to be around the people who knew which wolf you were seeing and where they were in the valley from the radio signals.

When Debra graduated and left for college, Henry and I had the opportunity for extended travel. That first fall, 2002, we discovered the joy of Yelllowstone in the fall.  The elk were in full rut, the air was crisp.  One evening as we headed back to the campground, we could hear the sounds of the elk battling with their antlers for the privilege of mating.  We left at the end of the season as they were closing up the Fishing Bridge RV park as well as other major lodging in the park.

My favorite trip was 2007, once again in the RV.  We came in late May and stayed 3 glorious weeks.  Birds were tending their nests. A coyote den with nine pups was right next to the road.  A grizzly sow with two cubs frequented Dunraven Pass, giving many people a great view.  We started our stay at Fishing Bridge RV Park, but finished up at Pebble Creek Campground in Lamar Valley.  I have so many great photos from that stay.

We've just finished our 2012 trip to Yellowstone.   The wolves were especially easy to see this year, both in Lamar Valley and in Hayden Valley.  Grizzly bears and wolves put on quite a show at a bison carcass in Hayden Valley.  I was surprised that it was still feeding animals even after 3 or 4 days.  We sampled a little bit of everything this trip - wolf and bear watching, geysers, waterfalls, bison, elk, and antelope.  I even did night photography with the beautiful stars and Milky Way.

Some people make it to Yellowstone every year.  We live too far away to come that frequently. But, I never tire of the wonders that I see in Yellowstone. I keep hearing the call to return.  I dream of a winter trip some year.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Enjoy the moment -Yellowstone

This trip to Yellowstone has been more an enjoy the moment rather than a photographic work time. Many times the animals are too far away for great photography.  But it is still a delight and a wonder to behold grizzlies and wolves on a distant hillside fighting over a carcass or to see a bald eagle sail over the valley.  Watching the morning reunion of a wolf pack is always too far away to photograph, but a delight to witness.

As a photographer it is really easy to spend an entire vacation viewing everything from the view finder on the camera.  The benefit of that is that you can end up with amazing photos to help you remember what you've seen or to have images to share with others.  But sometimes, in the intensity of trying to capture something with the camera, you can miss out on the wonder of the experience.

When I first started watching the grizzlies and the wolves in Hayden Valley yesterday, I just sat down with my binoculars and enjoyed watching the drama of nature in action.  I came back after lunch and decided to try to capture the distant scene with my 300-800mm lens.  I was correct that the animals were small figures in a big image, but I was able to capture the grizzly chasing off one of the wolves.

Whether I come back with great images or great memories, I do want to take time to experience the wonder of Yellowstone.  The detailed blog posts will come after I'm home - rather than taking time out of my day  while we are trying to enjoy as much as we can in  a short time.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Yellowstone Memories

As we drove through Yellowstone today to get to our home base this week in Silver Gate, Montana, memories kept flooding in as we passed familiar landmarks.  Regularly Henry or I would remark that we remembered seeing a bear there or that was where the bear with the damaged face was.  Over the times we've been here, we've seen bears many places in Yellowstone and it felt like we were remembering them all.  As we drove through Lamar Valley I remembered the fox den by the creek, the beaver that posed so nicely for me, the many wolf sightings.  We haven't been over to the area where the coyote den was yet, but I know I'll think about all the times on the 2007 trip that I stopped to photograph that family.  

Today we spent the first part of the day in the Grand Tetons, but smoke from the fires early in the day left the air too hazy for good photographs.  I did spend time by the marsh of the Elk Refuge trying to identify a particularly pretty green bird.  I know what I think it was - a female orchard oriole, but they aren't supposed to be here.  When  I had my camera out it never gave me a good enough look-see to photograph it.  We left the Teton area mid afternoon and enjoyed a leisurely drive through the park arriving at our hotel just as it got dark.  

It will be an early morning tomorrow.  No internet at the hotel, so I'm posting this at Canyon on Monday.  

Yellowstone's Geyers

One of the things I realized after we were several hours from home was that I had left my geyser book at home. Each trip to Yellowstone has had a different focus and the last few have been more on wildlife than on the geysers. But it is SO nice to have the geyser book so that when you get to a geyser, you can look at the signs and determine by how full the bowl is as well as other tells and get a rough idea how long it might be before it might erupt. Also the thermal features are always changing.

 So, one night away from Yellowstone I googled to find Geyser Information sites.

  Geyser Watch has interesting information about some geysers whose activity level has increased - geysers that hadn't erupted in a long time that were active this year. also has good current information about what is going on right now at Yellowstone. They also have 3 pages dedicated to the information I was looking for about the signs to look for. I saved the information as .pdf and have moved them to my iPhone so I will have the information at hand.

 We're in Pinedale tonight. Tomorrow is a Grand Teton day.