The Coyote

I don’t know what it is, maybe some level of snobbery perhaps, but when you go to a place like Yellowstone NP to photograph wildlife, many photographers give the coyote absolutely no respect.  Everyone is all excited about the wolves, and I admit, so was I.  But let us not forget about this little guy.  The coyote may not travel around in packs like the wolves, and may not bring down the big game like the wolves, but, at least in my opinion, they are just as beautiful a creature.

My trip this year gave me the chance to see a few coyotes up close.  One came and sat down about 15 feet from our vehicle one morning, allowing me to get out and take several shots of him in the early morning sunlight.  While he appeared to be tame, one must never forget that at Yellowstone, all the wildlife is just that–wild.

So next time you are out at a place such as Yellowstone, don’t forget about the coyote.  They deserve to be photographed too, and given the chance, they may even pose for you.

Yellowstone: Day Five!

Day five!  This turned out to be the greatest of our days for wildlife!  We got an early start and headed to the Hayden Valley.  We got up early enough to make the hour and a half trip to be there by sunrise.  We were well rewarded for our trouble.  As soon as we parked at the Alum Creek pullout, we were greeted by the local coyote.  He walked across the street and sat down right behind the vehicle.  What a great way to start the day.  But wait, it gets better.  As the coyote is sitting there, we have the windows rolled down, and suddenly we hear the most amazing sound.  The Canyon Wolf Pack was somewhere nearby, all howling in unison!  Wow!  As much as we loved the sound, the coyote did not appreciate it near as much.  The wolves have had a hand in thinning the coyote population since their reintroduction.  So, upon hearing the wolf choir, the coyote turned and trotted off in the opposite direction.  Given the circumstances, I can’t say that I blame him.

We hang around here for a while, listening to all the sounds of nature as the morning fog moves into the valley.  This really is a beautiful place.  Words and pictures simply do not do it full justice.  As time passes, we notice more cars entering the area so we follow them a little up the road to the next turnout.  By this time there are a few people with their spotting scopes set up, which can mean only one thing: the wolves have been spotted.  We park, I drag out the big lens, and point it in the direction they suggest, and there is the pack.  Of course, they are about a mile away across the valley, but they are there for sure.  That’s them, the spots in the picture on top of the knoll.

As futile as it seemed, I wasn’t the only one who drug out the big glass for a chance to see them.  Karen, sitting in the warmth of the car, snapped this one, while we were freezing our fingers catching glimpses of whatever activity happened to be going on over there.  Every once in a while, the pack would come together again for a howl-fest, and every time it was amazing.

We actually stuck around here watching the wolves playing around on the knoll for a couple of hours.  It was also an opportunity to meet a few of the other photographers and wolf-watchers who were there. They really are some very nice people.  Full of information and not afraid to share.

Finally, there is some action.  A few of the wolves take off toward the road, looking like they are chasing something.  Karen and I jump in the car, and take off, along with several of the others.  One of the others I met, Keith Alan Wright, was a photographer who knows the pack very well.  We trolled up and down the road several times looking for any sign of the wolves.  Suddenly, we pass by Keith who motions that he hasn’t seen them, and then as we pass each other, he honks and I see him speed up.  I turn around and catch up as he is jumping out of his car with lens and tripod.  I follow suit.  This was one picture that Karen missed that she said she wishes she had caught.  Me, running with tripod and big lens, chasing after a wolf (separated by a river).  I guess walking the stairs the past couple of months at work really paid off as I didn’t drop dead.  I was however, very excited, and upon seeing the wolf up close, began shooting a little wild.  This is the best shot I got as the wolf was running and I was out of breath and excited.  But as Moose Peterson says, I have broken the curse.  Next time will be better!

With that excitement, it was time for lunch.  Karen and I headed up to Canyon Junction and had a snack before heading back to the valley for even more excitement.

When we get back to the valley, we find most of our new friends at a different pullout looking at the side of a hill.  We pull up and realize that they are checking out the grizzly bears!  Pretty cool, but they were really too far off for any pictures.  About the same time someone mentioned that a bald eagle was flying around on the other side of the road.  This was turning into the best day yet for wildlife and it wasn’t even half over!

Our main desires for this trip was to see wolves and grizzly bears, and now we have.  Now it’s time to see what else we can find.  Our new friend Keith tells us that many times otters can be spotted out by Mary Bay, so we go.  We find the little pond he told us about, but no otters.  We did however find this Hairy Woodpecker.  That’s one I’ve never seen before, and now I even have photos of one.

Driving back past the bay, we catch a flock of ring-billed gulls flying overhead.  Chalk up another species I previously had no pictures of.  It may be “just a gull”, but I found it very graceful in its flight.

Working our way back, we stopped at the Pelican Creek pullout.  There was a truck parked there and the man appeared to be looking through binoculars.  Way out in the field, there is a dark spot that was moving, but we couldn’t decide what exactly it was, so we camped out there for a while.  Soon enough, the spot came into view enough that we could tell that it was a moose!  Now moose aren’t that common up here, as they are usually down in the Teton NP, so this was a treat.  We watched as it grazed in the field, still too far away for pictures.  Then, as the moose approached the edge of the field, it suddenly turned toward us and began trotting and looking over its shoulder as if something was closing in on it.  At this point, out came the big lens!  I manage to capture several good clear shots before the moose takes a sudden left turn into the wooded area and simply disappears, literally!  Me and another photographer ran into the woods to find her, but no luck.  We couldn’t even find her tracks.  This moose is good!

We make it back to the Hayden Valley and almost immediately find a bunch of cars suddenly pulled to the side of the road.  The grizzly bears have moved and are now closer to the road and everyone is out watching.  They are close enough to the people that a park ranger has now been dispatched to the area, for the safety of both the people and the bears.  Now is the time for the big lens!  What we have here is a sow and her two cubs.  The cubs are thought to be about two years old at this point, and one of them is blond!  Her facial features have been described as looking like a panda.  Very unique looking for sure.  If my information is correct, we have mom, her son, and her blonde daughter.  So…

Mom and son…

Mom…

Son…

And daughter…

Needless to say that at this point we are completely stoked!  What a day this has been!  And it still is not over.  We make our way back to the overlook where we saw the wolves and meet up with our new friends again.  We share stories of what all we have seen today and swap information.  At this point someone says, “Hey, there’s a bald eagle perched just below us!”  Yep, out comes the big lens again!  It’s not just that it is our national bird, but there is truly something regal about this bird.

So, it’s been a full day for sure.  We make plans to meet up with Keith for dinner, say our good-byes to the others, and head back to Gardiner.

But, as they say, wait…there’s more!

Not more than a mile down the road, our friendly coyote is mousing in the field.  Can’t pass up an opportunity to catch a coyote leap!

Wow, what a day!  As we approach Mammoth on our way out of the park, the falling sun is striking the side of the mountains.  What a beautiful end to a beautiful day!

As we start to exit the park, Karen and I are talking and mention that about the only thing we hadn’t seen that we thought we might was…SCREECH!!  BIGHORN SHEEP!  Right there on the side of the road!!  This day just won’t end!  Out comes the big lens once again!

Having never shot these guys before I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but for sure, their agility is truly amazing!  The way they scale the sheer cliffs and rocks without tripping or falling is astounding.  Just like they were designed for an environment such as this. Hmmm.

And as the sun sets and I lose light, I catch one last silhouette before heading back to our room and dinner!

This was an amazing day, and once again, we are thankful for all we have seen.  Thankful to the One who created it all!

Yellowstone: Day Two

Day two started out in a magnificent manner!  I stepped out of our residence to this view!  Snow capped mountains right out the front door!  What’s not to love about that!  Gardiner is a very small town right at the north entrance of Yellowstone.  I’m told that the actual population of the town is somewhere around 800 people, but obviously, the number of visitors, especially in the summer months, is much higher.  The size of the town is perfect for its location, nestled in a small valley surrounded by the wonderful mountains!

We get a somewhat early start to the day, still recovering from our normal work-life and travel.  One of the places I wanted to visit is a trail over the Blacktail Plateau.  It is known to have copious amounts of wildlife, so we’re really hoping to see and photograph them.  However, this trip, it seems that about the only wildlife to be seen there is this herd of bison grazing in the fields.  Still, any chance to interact (even from the car) with a beast powerful enough to leap it’s 2,000+ pound body over a fence, is a chance not to be missed.  While these animals appear to be very docile, their looks can be deceiving.  In fact. more people are injured each year by bison than pretty much any other creature in the park.

Also, the safety of being in the car, give a great chance for those up-close shots that really accentuates the power of this beautiful animal.

One of the things Karen and I were really hoping to see this trip was snow, and we were not disappointed this day!  It wasn’t much, but coming from Texas where we just suffered through a record-breaking summer of heat, any change was appreciated.  Most mornings started out in the teens and twenties, which really didn’t bother us in the least.

After leaving the Blacktail Plateau, we headed to the Lamar Valley, known for wolf and bear sightings.  These are two animals we seem to always miss out on when we travel.  We are really hoping to get to see them this time.

On our way to the valley, we spot this lone elk in a field at the Roosevelt Junction.  This is another of the creatures which is numerous in Yellowstone.  The males, with their proud antlers always look so majestic.  This one was alone and we just couldn’t pass by the opportunity to capture a few memories of his image.

Once in the Lamar Valley, we traveled up and down the road with no luck.  Normally you can tell if there is wildlife (wolves in particular) in the area because there will be many people pulled off the road with spotting scopes and cameras.  Nothing was to be seen today though.  But even with this bit if disappointment, we were still privy to the wonderful mountain views from the valley!  It just doesn’t get much better than this.

After driving through the Lamar Valley a few times, we come across a guy and his dog Jake, (yes, I rememberd the dogs name and not the guy) and have an opportunity to chat with him for a while.  While talking, he casually asks, “Do you want to see some wolves?”  Well DUH!  He tells us that the Blacktail pack have been spotted over near Elk Creek.  That’s near the exit of the Blacktail Plateau Trail we were on earlier.  That’s all we need to hear and we are off, after we thank him for the information of course.

We arrive, and sure enough, there are all the wolf-watchers with the scopes and cameras set up.  We finally get a spot to park, and I grab the big lens and hike up to where they are.  Then I ask, “Where are they?”  I’m pointed to these little black and gray dots way out in a field!  Well, that’s even too far for my 600mm lens.  Disappointment sets in for a second, then someone says, “Listen!  The wolves are howling!”  How cool is that!  If you have never heard that sound in real life, you really should get to some day.  It is amazing!

But the adventure here isn’t over yet.  A couple of the wolves decide to come closer and cross over the road.  Still a ways off from where I am, but at least I can get a “I saw them” shot and crop it enough to tell they are wolves and not just dots.

Giddy with excitement, we leave the Blacktail pack and begin heading back toward the area of our home-base.  On the way, we spot a herd of Elk on the side of a hill, all grazing together.  We hike the trail at the bottom of the hill and are able to get a few shots.  The male elk was higher on the hill watching over his herd, taking a very masculine pose with his big rack and one of his ladies.  This situation just begged for a photo, so I obliged.

After leaving the elk, we stop off at Udine Falls, which is right off the roadway.  When out photographing areas, it is hard to grow tired of waterfalls, especially when they are surrounded by wilderness.  Waterfalls have that combination of power and beauty that just makes one feel right about the day.

Okay, for those that live in the area, the magpie is a nasty bird.  They are compared to our grackles here in Texas.  But for those of us who don’t live there, this is very pretty bird!  Very basic black and white color scheme just draws my attention.  I thikn I’d trade our grackles for the prettier magpie any day!

One of the craziest areas of the park is the town of Mammoth.  This is the area where the army set  up Fort Yellowstone when they were in charge of the park before the creation of the National Park Service.  This town almost always has wildlife roaming around the buildings.  Usually it is the resident heard of elk, but this day, we spotted this coyote roaming around like he was looking for something.  He didn’t seem to worried about us, as he gave us a single glance and then went about his business of sniffing out whatever he was looking for.

And the aforementioned elk.  This one caught our attention as it appeared he was about to bugle to his harem.  We paused, took pictures, but nothing ever came out of his mouth.  A silent bugle.  That was a big strange, but as you are about to see, strange is relative in this place.

As we get back into Gardiner, the strangeness steps up a notch.  There are elk everywhere.  We see them in people’s front yards and as I look across the river to the hotel there, I see elk, not just in the surrounding yard, but actually right outside the first floor rooms!  It made me wonder if when you check in they ask questions such as, “Smoking or non-smoking?  Elk or no elk?”

Bottom line: This is a very cool place, especially if you like close interactions with wildlife.  Today will not be our last interactions for sure, and the best is yet to come.

Day two comes to a close and we are thankful for all we have seen!

Yellowstone: Day One

Welcome to Michael and Karen’s 2011 Yellowstone Adventure!  We flew into Bozeman MT on Saturday to rainy weather, and today (10/16) looks to continue that trend.

We got up early, not because we really wanted to, but I guess we’re just getting old and can’t sleep in as much as we used to when we were younger.  Today was to be an easy day, our first real “vacation” day where we really had nothing planned or anyplace that we just had to be.

I took the opportunity to test the camera equipment off the deck of our vacation rental.  It sits on the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, MT, just outside the park entrance.  Pretty view, but I’m hankerin’ for wild critters for my lens.

After breakfast and meeting with the property manger, we buy some bear spray (just in case) and head into the park to scout the route to the Hayden Valley.  Obviously, this is the park entrance.  As you can see, it is still rainy, and will rain on us most of the day.  But that’s okay.  Compared to the miserably hot and dry weather in Texas this summer, the rain and cold (lower 40s all day) isn’t all that bad to me.

Well, this looks promising.  Just after entering the gate to the park we see a group of mule deer trotting along the top of a ridge.  While this isn’t the last of the wildlife we will see today, let’s just say that most of the wildlife didn’t seem to care much for the cold rain.

The obligatory “entering-the-park” sign.

Our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs, just inside the north entrance.  Very interesting place, and very photogenic. It also had a very “slight” odor of sulfur.

This was taken after leaving Mammoth and give you an idea of the weather here today.  Again, I am by no means complaining.  This is a welcome change to the record-breaking “Summer of 2011”.

After leaving Mammoth, we aren’t finished with the thermal features.  In fact, the entire western side of this park is spotted with them.  Technically, Yellowstone is sitting on top of a “super volcano” that is so large, it it were to go off, the effects would be felt around the world, and I wouldn’t really have to worry about being right here at the epicenter.

This is “Roaring Mountain”

I thought this was pretty cool.  From this overlook, you can see the steam rising from numerous geological features in the area.

We made our way down to the Canyon area, a place we visited two years ago when we were here, but this time we observed the falls from the north rim instead of the south.  Still a very impressive sight.

But even the beautiful falls cannot compete with the beauty of my wonderful wife, Karen!

Or to the power of her magnificent husband!  (Okay, maybe not).    (And yes, it was a bit chilly, but being a “real man”, my coat was in the car)

As be begin to get close the Hayden Valley, we begin to see at least a little more wildlife.  This hawk was sitting patiently in a tree right next to the road.  I shot it from the drivers seat.

After making it all the way to the Fishing Bridge with no bears or wolves, we turn around and head back north.  Then, while passing through Hayden again, we see a few cars stopped on the road.  That usually means some sort of wild action, and sure enough, there was this coyote.  Looks like it was planning an attack on some Canadian Geese that were in the nearby water.  Karen was able to grab this shot from her seat.  We turned around and I set up the big lens where we were expecting it to come out of the weeds, but it disappeared in a stealth-like manner and was nowhere to be found.

But finally, as we were approaching Mammoth, we saw activity and pulled over.  There were some elk out in the field.  We could hear the males bugling, but they were staying hidden.  I did manage to get this shot of one of the females before the light was totally gone.  Finally, a real-world test of my 600mm lens!  Not the greatest of shots, but a good start!

Tomorrow, we will scout the northern and north-east parts of the park near the Lamar Valley and see if any wolves or bear show themselves there!  The forecast is calling for sun, so maybe we’ll see some action.

(Pictures taken with Canon 5DmII, 7D, and T1I)