Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Yellowstone - The Animals

One of several parts of my recent Yellowstone trip.

UPDATED: I can't believe I left out the Bison.  They are added near the bottom.

I had already seen a number of the animals that Yellowstone has to offer, but I went with a wishlist of things I hadn't seen or things I had not photographed.  Some I got, others I didn't.

At the top pf my list was the bobcat.  They are fairly common in Yellowstone and we even have an occasional one around Park City, but I have never spotted one, much less photographed it. We made a concerted effort to find one that had been hanging around the river and sure enough, got a few shots before he ambled up the hill and out of site.  We saw another one but as we were trying to get close to him, a few groups of amazingly annoying snowmobilers came through and had to stop to see whatever it was we were looking at.  Gone...
Elk are fairly common in the park, but I was surprised that we didn't see any big impressive bulls.  Most of the males were spikes or perhaps a bit older.  Since you can't hunt in the park, I would have guessed that the big guys would lead long and healthy lives.
Coyotes were quite frequent, but a lot of times you spotted them wandering across a field a half mile away.  This one was much more considerate and photogenic.  In fact, we determined that some of the animals were almost rude about being in the wrong light or standing with a very cluttered background.  Ones like this we referred to as "compositionally aware".  Wish more animals were so inclined.
I was amazed that he had one of the same habits my dog Jasper does: dragging his face through the snow.  I'm not sure why they do this.  Perhaps it's just to wipe all their eye boogers off?  He did it a couple of times, plunging his face into the snow and then giving his head a good shake.
This coyote was sitting down for dinner at an old elk kill.  There sure wasn't much left, but he still seemed happy.  We saw another elk kill one morning.  The next day it was all gone.  Between the wolves, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, and ravens, no good pile of meat sits around for long.
Another animal I really wanted to capture was the wolf.  In particular a pack of wolves.  Ideally a pack of wolves hunting or on a kill.  We got close twice, sort of.  One morning we ran across a black wolf trying to drag an elk carcass out of the river.  He got spooked by our vehicle and ran, even though we were a long ways away and across the river.  We sat for about 30 minutes hoping he would come back to the kill, but no such luck.

Our second encounter was with the rare Scott Wolf, seen below.  Scott is the name of our vehicle driver and tour guide.  We saw this animal up on a ridge line and watched it as it moved closer.  Everyone was excited to be shooting great photos of a wolf until Scott changed his mind and realized it was just a very big, very healthy coyote.  Looks like a damn wolf to me.  I wouldn't want to mess with him.
The same Scott Wold looking even meaner.  I am glad I was shooting from a long ways away, with an ice cold river between me and him.  Then again, I think I could outrun a number of my fellow photographers, so perhaps that's all that really matters.
There are quite a few fox in the park and I specifically wanted a photo of one hunting.  I got my wish, but unfortunately the sun was just barely coming up and there was a bit of steam rising between the fox and our group.  So, not the best photos, but our subject fox was quite the little performer.  Hearing a vole or mouse under the snow, he gets ready and pounces.
Good vertical, with a half tuck.
... and straight down he goes.  The bad news is that he didn't get anything on this attempt.  I really wished I could nudge the sun up a bit higher.  In the morning's "golden hour" he would have been amazing!
There are bison throughout the park.  You see an occasional male by himself, but by this time of year, they tend to be hanging out in small herds.  If nothing else, that provides better protection from the wolves and mountain lions.

I took lots of pictures of them, but all of my favorites came from one morning when we stumbled on a group covered in rime ice.  Yes, nothing is safe from the ice. Without arms like we have, you can't wipe all that crud off your face.  Bummer.
It's not the right time of year for a male to be hitting on a female.  If they had a little one, it would happen in October and the calf would have almost no chance of survival.  That didn't stop him from following her around every step.  Did you know that male bison have a gland in their mouths that can sense where the female is in her cycle?  This helps him figure out when best to try and impregnate her.I think if human males had a similar gland, we would know when it was best to leave the house and find somewhere else to be.
We all felt really sorry for this little calf.  He is probably about 8 months old and this can't be an easy life.  Just the same, I guess it is pretty good camouflage.  He blends in pretty nicely with the ground.

There were eagles each day, and every once in a while someone would see one perched fairly close by.  Those probably make better photos, but I really liked this one where his talons are extended, reaching for the branch.  Just one more animal I wouldn't want to tangle with.
There were quite a few Trumpeter Swans on the river each day.  We were apparently lucky to see that many. They move around based on the weather and where the rivers are frozen. The trick is to try and catch one in the setting sun as they spread their wings.  You have to find them in shallow water because they won't do this while swimming. This one example of our trip leaders local knowledge.  I never would have stumbled on this shot on my own.  Thirty seconds before and after this shot, the swan was boring.  You had to be looking for it.
After a couple of them stretched out in the sun, they all started honking. Scott told us that meant they were probably about to fly.  Sure enough, they took off. They are a joy to watch as they run along the river for 20 or 30 feet before taking off.
And we end our animal section with one of the most brain dead little grouse I have ever run across.  We were all in the snow covered road, taking pictures of something other than a grouse.  In particular, I had a very long lens on my camera.  This little lady pops up on the road and starts walking right towards our group.  We keep expecting her to fly off once she realized what we are, but not a chance.  She literally walked right up to me.  I could have taken a full frame head shot of her if my lens would have focused that close.

After she decided that I wasn't food or her mother, she hopped up on the tread of our snow coach.  We actually had to run her off so that we wouldn't kill her when we started moving.  How bizarre!
This was our parting shot.  The last animal photographed on the last day.  He does seem to be saying goodbye before he walks off into the sunset.
Post a Comment