There were lots of Bison calves in Custer State Park a couple of weeks ago. Some of the calves were brand new, others slightly older and starting to explore their new world. This calf was probably a couple of weeks old and its mother was looking after it, making sure her baby was OK.
Last month, we found about a dozen Bald Eagles at Sadie Cove in Kachemak Bay in Homer, Alaska. We watched them fly around with the mountains as a backdrop. Very cool to see.
The Kodiak Brown Bears we photographed in late May on Kodiak Island were never menacing. We spent several days photographing many of the same bears (all females, I was told), and the more time I spent with them, the more they seemed like they were approachable. Of course they were not and our guides kept us on our toes and reminded us to keep a 360 degree awareness of them at all times. But, despite their size and reputation, they started to become like old friends because we kept seeing the same bears. And, the biggest compliment to us was when they began to approach us on their own terms, not to menace or threaten but because they were comfortable with us and our gear and must have felt that we were just another type of wildlife grazing with our cameras. This photograph of a bear drinking from a stream to slake her thirst doesn’t have the same cuddly look as the bears I photographed later in the week. While not menacing per se, her snout is upturned almost in a snarl. I took this shot on our first day. I hadn’t yet developed the sense of serenity that I felt most of the week and I hadn’t yet realized that I wanted to portray these massive creatures not as aggressive and dangerous as many people perceive them to be but, as the reality we saw, gentle and benign, more like big teddy bears, grazing cattle, and sleeping dogs.
It was so much fun to be at Custer State Park in the spring. Along with the Bison calves and the Bighorn lambs, the Prairie Dog pups were on display. We saw one family with at least four pups playing a rough and tumble game, even with their mom. The young, no matter what species, always have that irresistible appeal. This duo was rolling around in a scuffle atop their burrow, then they stopped, briefly looked in the direction of my lens, and then continued their playful battle.
Early one morning in Custer State Park, we drove along the Wildlife Loop until we found a good spot to take sunrise photographs because there were some interesting clouds in the sky. As I pointed my lens east for sunrise, I heard Moose say quietly to me, “Carol, don’t move. An Upland Sandpiper is heading right toward you.” Sure enough, the bird was walking directly at me, head down, searching for something to eat. I froze in place and watched as the bird ignored me completely and continued its search closely passing me and not seeming to notice. It was oblivious to all of us. I had a chance to switch from my Nikon Z6II and Nikkor Z14-24mm lens back to my Nikon D6 and 500mmPF lens to capture larger images of the bird. The Upland Sandpiper was so cooperative that we had ample opportunities to photograph the bird. We photographed it for about 20 minutes. Only once did we see that it had been successful in foraging for bugs.
This young Bison used the “no vehicles” sign to rub its horn. This behavior in Bison is common and rubbing can lead to damage by eliminating the bark of trees that Bison rub against. This must be an eco-friendly Bison calf. Of course the more obvious explanation is that there were actually no trees in the meadow so the calf used the only thing available.
Wind Cave National Park, adjacent to Custer State Park in South Dakota, has a huge Prairie Dog Town that is on the edge of a dirt road. Photographing the Black-tailed Prairie Dog from a vehicle there is easy. Circular dirt mounds strewn throughout the native grass fields mark the entrances to Prairie Dog tunnels. But if you’re in doubt, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs spend much of their time on the lookout so they are visible here and there in the middle of the fields. They are small sentinels peeking out of their dens or standing rigid atop them. Their posture is upright and stiff when they’re on duty. They stare unmoving in one direction, then move their heads slightly but not their bodies as they scan the distance for something to worry about. We heard Coyotes howling in the distance so that may have been what had this dog’s attention. We also saw a Red-tailed Hawk grab a Prairie Dog one morning so their concerns are legitimate. When they determine the danger is gone, they signal with chatter or the whole body wave, then go about their business which is usually eating the grass that surrounds their dens.
We spent much of the day in Badlands National Park on Wednesday, starting with sunrise and the partial eclipse, watching Bighorn ewes with their lambs, tracking bison, and ending up at the Visitor’s Center with this view and where we walked up the rise in the foreground of this photograph. I was able to walk up the narrow ridge with confidence. Maybe there is hope that eventually I will conquer my fear of heights and my lack of sure-footedness.
Watching the Bighorn lamb starting to explore its environment was fascinating. I don’t know how old this lamb is but it was sound asleep at its mother’s side when we arrived and began photographing the sheep. It finally rose on its knobby-kneed legs and stared at us for a few seconds. Then, a trio of Cowbirds displaying caught its attention. Curiosity took over and I’m guessing the little lamb had not seen Cowbirds before, at least not a trio of them. It moved slowly toward the birds. But seconds after I took this shot, one of the Cowbirds moved suddenly and that startled the little lamb. It backed away a few steps and never ventured closer. It was delightfully charming to see how this little lamb was starting to piece together its new life as its mother watched from a few steps away.
Thursday morning we were excited to encounter a small band of Bighorn ewes and their lambs in the Badlands Buttes in Badlands National Park. There were several lambs resting with their mothers when we arrived but soon after we started photographing them from the edge of the cliff above, one of the young lambs became impatient and began to explore. It is so young, its umbilical cord, now dried, is still attached. Rocky Mountain Bighorns are able to walk within hours of birth. They are born with the natural grace and agility that allows them to deftly scale the steep rock faces that serve to protect them from predators. We watched in awe as this young lamb scaled the cliff then sprinted across its face without hesitation. While it looked to me that there was nothing to hold onto, the lamb managed to find a foothold for one hoof, then the next without missing a step, allowing it to scamper quickly across. The footholds are such small outcroppings that in the photograph, it looks as if the lamb is hovering in front of the rock face. What a beautiful natural phenomenon to see.