An Eventful Trip to LLELA!

Saturday was a beautiful day!  Temperature in the low 80s, no rain, no clouds.  So with schoolwork for the week done, I decided to head over for a hike and see what birds were around.  With all the rain lately, surely there would be plenty out and about, especially in the mark area.  I was really looking forward to this.

The first thing I see as I’m getting my equipment together is a 4-wheeler carrying my new friends Owen and Lynn Richards.  Owen was nice enough to pose for me, but by the time I got the camera pointed in the right direction, he was seated back down.  Smile

As I begin my trek toward the Bittern Marsh area, I hit my first obstacle.  With lots of rain, comes lots of water.  The lake is full and they are letting out a lot of water into the river.  Consequently, the west side of the trial heading to the marsh was flooded.  No problem, I’ll just take the high ground and take the east side of the loop.  Perhaps I can find another way past the flood on the way back on the west side.

As I enter the wooded area, I realize that I’m not seeing a lot of wildlife today.  I also notice that in the woods, the breeze is not blowing and the humidity is pretty high.  No problem, I brought along three bottles of water.

Finally, I spot a Hairy Woodpecker up in the trees, just on the north side of the marsh.  The trail doesn’t go near the tree it is in, but I still manage to get a few semi-obscured shots with the 600.

I continue on, around the east side of the marsh, and then realize the trail on the south side is flooded as well.  No problem though as there is an alternate path on a higher piece of ground, so I take it.  In the mean time, I’m realizing that I’m really glad I wore my water-resistant hiking boots because by now, my tennis shoes would be soaked!

Finally make it around the south side and up to the marsh, when I realize that with the exception of about 4 or 5 American Coots and another couple who were headed out to the boardwalk over the marsh, the marsh is empty today.

Drats!  Okay, I’ll admit it.  By now, the tripod, 7d with the 600 attached, and the 5d2 with the 24-105 attached were starting to get a little heavy.  But hey, that’s one reason I’m out here, for exercise and staying in enough shape to lug all my equipment around.  So, time to head up the west side of the trail back to the parking lot.

Hmm, where’s all that water come from?  Yep, the western path to and from the marsh is flooded all the way down to here.  Can’t even make it to the boardwalk without some serious wading.  I’m scouring the trees, but still no sign of egrets or herons, or much of anything for that matter.

Resigned to the fact that the path is blocked, I head back the way I came.  Of course, this hike just got about 1.6 time longer than I had expected, but hey, like I said, that’s one reason I’m out here.

On the way back, I decide to take a few environmental shots.  May as well use the time I’m having in nature to enjoy the scenery.  I stop at a footbridge and notice this very peaceful scene, and down a half a bottle of water.

A little farther up the path, and I see this barbed wire, looped and hanging on a tree branch.  Reminds me of something out of an old western, so I take a photo.

Back the way I came.  By now, I’m through two bottles of water and my shoulders are really feeling the weight of the equipment.  As I approach the area where I had seen the woodpecker earlier, I’m searching the trees to see if it is still around, and if it has any friends.  I stop and set the tripod down to scan the trees and reset my shoulder.  It sure is peaceful… and quiet… except for a strange rustling noise.  That’s strange.  I wonder what that could be.  I listen again.  Surely that’s not a rattle snake.  I start looking out in the woods beside the trail, searching for anything that might be slithering along the leaves.  Then I look straight down… and my heart stops… if only for a brief second.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I was suddenly about 10 feet away looking at this, right where my foot was just seconds before!

Well, it took a bit, but I slowly calmed down enough to gather my thoughts, even though I was still shaking a bit.  But then I noticed that it wasn’t moving.  Had I stepped on it without knowing?  It’s head was all thrown back and it’s mouth was side open, so I slowly approached.  As I got closer, nope, it was still alive.  It’s mouth opened even farther and it tail began to vibrate.  I didn’t see any rattles, and I’m admittedly not real familiar with snakes so I’m thinking maybe this was a young rattle snake that just hadn’t grown its rattle yet.  So I get my shot, and realize just how close my foot was to this thing.  I spend about 10 minutes there wondering if I should do anything or not when I hear voices approaching.  The couple from the boardwalk.

As they approach, I holler and let them know that there is a snake on the trail.  To my surprise (and relief actually), the gentleman tells me that he is the ex-president of the North Texas Herpetological Society (they study reptiles) and he slowly approaches the snake.  I told him I thought it was a rattle snake because it was shaking its tail, but he informs me that it is “just a water moccasin.”  I’m thinking to myself, “and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”  But knowing that there was someone present that knew about snake was a great relief.  (It is funny how God can orchestrate things so that needs are met at just the right time.)

Long story short (I know, too late), we talk a bit and then I follow my new friend and his girlfriend out of the woods like scared school-boy hiding from a bully behind the teacher.  As we are walking, I find out that his name is Jeff Justice and he is the staff photographer at a local hospital!  So not only did he know about he snake, he could have given me first aid if needed!

We finally make it out (alive) and exchange information.  While I didn’t get the shots I went in looking for, I came out with a new friend and a shot I never thought I would take.  You just never know how your day is going to turn out, so be prepared for anything.

Keep shooting (and be careful)

All shots made with the Canon 7D & Canon 600 f/4 IS + 1.4x and the Canon 5d2 & Canon 24-105 f/4

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!