2022—River Antics

The antics of a trio of River Otters entertained us for a couple of hours as they romped in the partially frozen Lamar River last week in Yellowstone National Park slipping in and out of the narrow channels that remained unfrozen. They could not keep their eyes off the Elk carcass that was partially submerged in the water but they seemed not to be able to get up the courage to venture closer. Although it was in the midst of the Otter domain, Coyotes dominated the carcass, resting on the snow covered ice close by when they were sated and chasing away the Black-billed Magpies that picked at the frozen flesh. Unconcerned, the Otters occupied their time frolicking above and beneath the ice just for the sheer joy of the frolic. Their antics were hilarious as they romped across the ice, climbed a hill, then slid down the embankment, only to climb up and slide down again. They would run across the ice, disappear into the water, and emerge a hundred yards down the river. When we thought they’d disappeared for good, they would reappear, suddenly popping up in an unfrozen spot in the river to peer at the carcass again. They really are the clowns of the river.

2022—Bison Bull

The temperature on our last day in Yellowstone National Park yesterday hovered around a chilly 10° most of the day. As we approached the Lamar Valley mid afternoon, we stopped to photograph a couple of Bison bulls who were grazing on what was left of the meadow grasses. The yellowing grasses are buried under the snow so the bulls must brush aside the snow using their heads, plowing through the snow and swinging their heads side to side. The massive hump above a Bison’s shoulders is solid muscle, developed specifically to allow them to push away snow with their heads so that they can uncover the grasses and sedge that enable them survive the cold, harsh Yellowstone winters.

2202—Who’s Shoveling Snow in Yellowstone?

Well, that would be me! And yet another couple of firsts for me! Shoveling snow and shoveling snow in Yellowstone National Park! How many people can say they’ve shoveled snow there?

The day started with sun and few clouds and a temperature in the Lamar Valley somewhere between 11 and 17 degrees Farenheit. While searching for the Red Fox known to frequent a meadow in the Lamar Valley, we instead found a woman shoveling snow in a turnout across from the meadow.  At first we thought she was a park employee. When we drove by Moose  offered to help her shovel the snow and she accepted. We found out she was not a park employee at all.  She is a park guide and photographer based in Gardner just outside the park. She told us she had been clearing that turnout of snow for several years just as a volunteer. 

Moose and Richard took turns shoveling and after watching and seeing that it was powder,  I figured I could help too.   Moose showed me the proper way to shovel snow, something I had never done. Richard took my photo above and the video below to prove that I actually did it. Eric spelled me for a while then I finished the main pile while Richard and Moose cleared the edge of the road. Shoveling snow in Yellowstone National Park is one activity I have never imagined in my wildest dreams, let alone actually doing it. We had a lot of fun, got some exercise, and helped out someone who was also contributing to the welfare of Yellowstone National Park. The guide, Deby Dixon of Yellowstone Wild World was a delight and her knowledge of the critters in the park was helpful. We were glad to help out a new friend.   

Our Group: From left: Richard, me, Sharon, Moose, Mark, Bob, Taylor, and Eric. Photo by Deby Dixon.

2022—Coyote Ecstasy

We’re off to a great start in Yellowstone. Our first day was filled with snow, cold, and critters! We started the morning with Pronghorn and Elk in the snow. In the afternoon, we saw what remained of a bull Elk that appeared to be frozen in place in the Lamar River. Its carcass had been picked apart but one huge antler identified the unfortunate beast. Several Coyotes were feasting on the carcass along with a flock of Black-billed Magpies. A trio of River Otters slinked in and out of the water nearby eyeing the prize but were too unsure of themselves to approach. As the Coyotes finished their meal, they would roll in the snow near the remains, rubbing their bloody snout to clean it off. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as they wallowed in ecstasy, then they returned to the carcass to gnaw on it some more.

2022—Trio

Today I’m heading back to Yellowstone, my fourth visit this year. Last year in November we had a fabulous encounter with a band of Bighorn Sheep and there were lots of mature rams that made time with these critters very special. I took this shot exactly one year ago (yesterday). Our target species on our November trip this year is wolves but I can’t help but hope that we see a few Bighorn Sheep along the way.

2022—Raindrops on Roses

We’ve had a bit of welcome and much needed rain in drought stricken California over the past few days. It was nice to see actual raindrops on the roses, not just drops from sprinklers as is usually the case. I used my Nikkor ZMC 105mm macro lens with the Nikon Z9 set to a square image size to capture the detail of the drops on Betty Boop, a floribunda and one of my all-time favorite roses. The storms clouds and the redwood trees over my neighbor’s house are reflected in the largest drop.

2022—Somebody Up There?

The male Anna’s Hummingbird who has laid claim to my garden is on constant vigil. He seems to wonder if somebody up there is out to get him. Whenever he is in one place for more than a second, he looks up to see what might be lurking above his head, even when he’s hovering near the feeder. I’ve only seen one other hummer in the garden recently and it was a female, although before this guy showed up, the females had the upper hand. Maybe he’s not too sure of his status.

2022—Yellowstone Colors and Textures

Textures and colors are everywhere in Yellowstone National Park. Sometimes narrowing your focus to eliminate the grand vistas and looking more closely at smaller views can reveal beauty that you didn’t notice at first. The Yellowstone River, mere seconds from the cascade of Upper Yellowstone Falls, rushed down the canyon as it continued to sculpt the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I leaned out over the overlook, bracing myself against the rock wall and was mesmerized by the swirling patterns and deep blues of the rushing water. When I looked up above the water, I was again awed by the multi-hued rocks reaching down to the water’s edge, so deeply textured. Together, the textures and colors of the rock face and the rushing water created a thoroughly gorgeous view.

2022—The Elk Trip

Every trip to Yellowstone National Park has its memorable moments and its memorable critters. The memorable moments can be a breathtakingly gorgeous sunrise or the thrill of listening to a pack of wolves calling across the canyon or hearing the roar of a geyser spewing into the air or any number of other unforgettable vistas or events. With the huge variety of critters that call Yellowstone home, it is surprising to me that each trip seems to have one star critter and that critter changes from trip to trip. In October, we heard and saw Wolves several times, not just fleeting views but nor were they close enough to photograph. We saw and even photographed Grizzlies a couple of times and the Bison proved to be very photogenic, too. But for me, the most memorable critters of this trip were Elk. We photographed them three out of the four days we were in the park and had long opportunities to photograph a Bull Elk on at least three different occasions. This big guy spent almost 40 minutes grazing along the side of the road with the mist from a hot springs behind him but there seemed always to be obstructions that prevented good photographs. A small boardwalk gave other visitors the sense that it was safe to get close to him when it was not and he finally was pushed across the road by people who had ventured close to him. By this time we had moved well away because it appeared he wanted to cross the road and we wanted to give him space. At first it appeared he would disappear into the forest but he stopped briefly and I was able to capture a few frames while he was in the open. I have dubbed this the “Elk Trip” because I saw and photographed more Elk during those four days than on any other trip to Yellowstone.

2022—Dihedral

One of the easiest ways to identify a Turkey Vulture in flight is to look at its flight pattern. Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a slight v-shape, known as a dihedral, and teeter slightly from side to side as they soar and circle. They have excellent eye sight and an extraordinary sense of smell so they can sense carrion from long distances. If you see a group of Turkey Vultures circling in the sky, they are homing in on a potential meal. According to The Nature Conservancy, a group of vultures circling is called a Kettle of Vultures. If they land in a tree, they are called a Committee. But when they feed on carrion (i.e., dead animals) they become a Wake of Vultures. How appropriate. This Turkey Vulture was part of a Kettle circling over a dead carp on the shores of the American River last week and was circling down to join the Wake.

2022—Juvenile Piping Plover

Last August, we spent some time in Plymouth, Mass. with a plan to photograph shorebirds on the beaches there. Unfortunately, our access to beaches was limited and it wasn’t until our third day there that we were able to do what I call “beach panning,” laying flat on the sand with our panning plates on Frisbees and using our long lenses so we were at eye level with the small birds. It was one of the first chances I had to use the new Nikkor Z800mm lens and I loved the results. Seeing these tiny shorebirds (this is a juvenile Piping Plover) at eye level as they dashed back and forth looking for tiny crustaceans buried in the sand, was remarkable.

2022—Front and Center

Mr. Anna (male Anna’s Hummingbird) decided to show off his gorget yesterday afternoon. The last couple of times I’ve photographed him I have attached a snoot to the front of the Profoto A10 flash. Yesterday I adjusted the snoot down a little and rotated the zoom ring to narrow the beam so I could better highlight the gorget. It hit the gorget just right. It’s the shot I have been working on for a while now.