Ft Worth Nature Center

Today, Karen and I woke up early and headed over to the Ft Worth Nature Center to be there when they opened the gates at 8am.  I had been told that a bald eagle had been spotted down around the river area and I thought we’d try our luck at finding it.

When we got to the gates, there were a few other vehicles waiting for them to open, and a few guys in camo standing around talking.  The sky was completely overcast and it was still in the 40s, but I got out and tried to strike up a conversation.  I could tell by the beanbag mounts on their doors that these guys were photographers, and the way they were dressed, they appeared to be looking for wildlife.  I tried to ask them about the best locations to shoot here, but they didn’t appear willing to share any of their “secret” places with me.  That was a first for me.  Ever other time I have met photographers out and about, they were more than willing to share whatever they knew.  These guys must be a different breed of photographer.  When I asked if they were with a specific group of anything one of them looked at me and said, “a photography group” as if to say “well duh!”  I got the hint.

About that time the lady came to open the gate and we entered the area.  We drove along the river and our first stop was the boardwalk at the marsh area.  As we were approaching the bird blind on the boardwalk, I looked over to notice a deer crossing the river.  I hurriedly set up my tripod and was able to capture a few frames before it was all the way across!

While still at the marsh boardwalk, I spotted a red-shouldered hawk on a tree near the bank of the river.  His feathers were being blown by the wind and even he looked a little chilled.  He stuck around for quite a while before finally flying away.  Gave us plenty of opportunities to capture his image.

As we began to leave the boardwalk, Karen pointed out a large white bird that was flying right at us.  I looked through the 600 and wasn’t really sure, but it looked like a pelican.  I wasn’t sure because I’ve never captured one before, but as it got closer, (and as I found later when I looked it up), it is indeed an American Pelican.  These guys can get large with a wing span of up to 9 feet!  This one flew right at me and at one point was so large in the viewfinder he no longer fit!

But it wasn’t enough for just this one pelican.  There was a whole flock of them.  At one point they flew right over our heads, at which point I was glad they weren’t mad at us for any reason.  I did capture this shot of a few of them flying in formation.

One last bird as we were leaving the marsh area.  This little song sparrow was sitting on the high grass just a singing away.  The cold and gray sky didn’t seem to darken his spirits any.

From here, we drove around a bit and found “Prarie Dog Town”.  I knew I was going to be in trouble here.  I have this thing for small, cute, critters, and sure enough, I shot quite a few frames at this location.  I just couldn’t get enough of these little guys.  Every time I would get a shot that I really liked, they would turn around and do something else cute.  So, here are a few of the many shots that I took.

 

And what could be cuter than the husband prarie dog kissing his wife good-bye as he leaves for work.

Okay, enough silliness.  Our next stop was Greer Island.  Yes, there is a sign as you cross over to the island that alligators have in fact been seen in the area, but we didn’t see any today.  I’m guessing that the cold water has those cold-blooded creatures looking for warmer climates right about now.

Hoping to see some more bird life, we were quietly waking through the woods on the island, when all the sudden, we hear a loud voice and then the sound of little girls screaming (playing).  Yep, all the birds flew away.  Luckily, once things calmed down again, I did happen to catch the sound of a downy woodpecker doing his business on the side of a tree.

And finally, as we were leaving the island to conclude our visit I spotted a great blue heron on the shore of the island.  He was just hanging out at the edge of the water as ducks swam by.  One last picture before we left.

All in all, not a bad day.  Got to explore some new places, and even through it was cold and the sun refused to shine, I was still able to find some photo-worthy opportunities.  If nothing else, the Prarie  dogs alone were worth the trip! And speaking of prarie dogs, one more before we go…

These guys are just too cute.  I could stay there and shoot these guys all day long.

All photos taken with the Canon 7D and the Canon 600mmL f/4 IS usm lens

Bears! Oh My!

One of the attractions of Yellowstone NP, is the chance to be relatively close to wildlife that you don’t normally see around your neighborhood.  For those of us that live in a metropolitan area such as the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex, this can include things as common as birds.  But when you plan a trip to Yellowstone, you plan and dream for the big game.  Sure, bison are great to look at and to photograph, but there are a couple thousand of them roaming around the park.  Everyone has snapshots of them.  Elk?  Just head up to Mammoth and you will see that the elk have called that place home for some time now.  But when you mention seeing a wolf or bear, a photographer’s mouth begins to water and they must know where!

On my last trip to YNP, I was fortunate enough to be close enough to photograph a momma grizzly and her two “cubs”.  They are about 2 years old from what I have been told.  They were in a field next to the main road in the Hayden Valley.  Armed with my Canon 5DmII and my 600/f4 lens + 1.4tc, I was able to get a few pretty decent shots while remaining at the “legal” distance.  Now mind you, I was not alone.  There were probably about 50 other people pulled over also snapping away at the same scene.

The bears rooted around eating what they found for quite a while as the crowd remained calm at the side of the road.  There was a Park Ranger present which I’m sure helped keep any who might think about approaching the bears to get a closer shot, and also providing a better meal for the bears, so everyone was good.  Eventually the bears approached the road and the ranger spread the people to give the bears plenty of room to cross over.  Then it was up and over a hill and they were gone.

One of the joys of being in a situation like this is the opportunity you get to share with others.  While I was taking picture with the “big lens”, I had a few people approach me and ask if they could look through my camera to get a better look at the bears.  I was happy to oblige.  There was a lot of ohh-ing and awe-ing as each person got their first close-up view.  I especially enjoyed the squeal of excitement from the group of young Japanese school girls who spoke little english but were clearly excited as they got their first up-close look at the “wild beasts” of Yellowstone.

So, the next time you get the chance, don’t forget to share your experience with others.  Taking good photos is one thing, sharing the experience with others not only deepens the experience for all involved, it brings us all a little closer together through the sharing.

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 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)