2018—Yosemite Coyotes

Most of the wildlife sightings in Yosemite last week were fleeting.  We saw a few deer crossing the road; we watched ravens scavenging; we heard the sounds of pileated and acorn woodpeckers and nothing more.   But, on our last morning as we pulled to the side of the road to photograph from one of the famous photographic viewpoints of Half Dome that Ansel Adams used, a coyote in its thick winter coat was so intent on capturing its morning meal, a small rodent tunneling below ground, that our presence was not noticed.  We were closer to these coyotes than we were to the wolf kill in Yellowstone, only a hundred feet or so.   When Sadie, Moose’s English Beagle who accompanied us on the trip, let out a loud bugling bark from the van where she was confined.  I captured the look of the coyote as it turned its head to see where the threatening sound had come from.

Yosemite coyote.jpg


2018—Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall is so-named because when the fall is at its peak in spring and early summer, the winds push the spray out in such a way as to mimic a bride’s veil.  Although precipitation in the valley has been slight this year, the winds whipping the spray from the falls still created frozen patches of ice and snow that are reminiscent of a white veil.  We hiked up the steep icy path to the base of the falls and were treated to another spectacular and iconic view in Yosemite Valley.


2018—Yosemite Falls

We stayed in the Yosemite Valley Lodge which is steps away from Yosemite Falls.  I used a 6 stop neutral density filter to slow the shutter speed to blur the water on both upper and lower Yosemite Falls in this photograph.  Because of the harsh sunlight, I rendered the final image in black and white.  The wind blows the water and the water vapor freezes to the granite walls overnight, making a unique pattern on either side of the falls the changes daily.  As the sun warms the rock, huge chunks break off with a resounding boom.

Yosemite Day 3  1265-1.jpg

2018—The Kiss

Yosemite National Park is gorgeous every season of the year.  In winter, it is even more gorgeous with its stunning vistas covered in snow.  On our second morning, after a day of snowfall, we visited Yosemite’s Tunnel View area (the tunnel was behind us but this view can be appreciated through the tunnel, hence, the vista’s name).  On the left, El Capitan is kissed by the first rays of sunlight to hit its face.  In the back is Half Dome and to the right, just out of view is Bridalveil Falls.

I’m calling this blog post The Kiss because not only is the face of El Capitan “kissed” with the first gorgeous rays of morning sunlight, but when I took the photograph and later on when I finished the photograph,  I was reminded of  Moose Peterson’s general philosophy of photography, the K.I.S.S. theory:  Keep it simple, stupid.  When I took this photograph, I was standing next to Moose and we discussed the major problem with the scene which was the bald skies which would draw the eye away from the real subject of the photograph, the kiss of light on El Capitan and the reflected kiss on the granite opposite it.

K.I.S.S. is something I struggle with every day with my photography.  And, after five years of experience with Moose, even knowing his philosophy, I still struggle and I always seem to make things more complicated than they need to be.  When we had our first Digital Darkroom session during the Yosemite workshop, I once again struggled with how to make this photograph exhibit the beauty it deserved.  It took quite a while for Moose to extract the correct approach to finishing the photograph from me that would convey the emotion I felt when I witnessed this scene.  And, it was a deceptively simple fix, right in line with his K.I.S.S. theory.  When I first looked at the RAW file, I did not like the photograph and told Moose I didn’t have much of an emotional response to it.  After Moose stopped beating his head against the grand and gigantic historic granite fireplace in the storied Awahnee Hotel (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) where he conducted the DD session, he patiently extracted from me the simple steps needed to create the beauty it deserved.  I won’t go into detail about this except to say that it took just a few “simple clicks” as Moose is wont to say. And, the most important click was to change the white balance using the white balance selector tool in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw.  Once I selected a patch of white snow, the warm colors suddenly appeared, reflecting the stunning morning light that created this photograph and it came to life.  Yes, this photograph does represent the KISS in more ways than one.


Yosemite Day 2  666-3.jpg

2018—Wyoming Has Big Skies, Too

One of Montana’s nicknames is “Big Sky Country.”  And, while Yellowstone is partly in Montana, most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming where I took this photograph.  I think those “Big Skies” claimed by Montana extend well into Wyoming.  After I converted this photograph to black and white using a Luminar 2018 preset, I thought the clouds became much more dramatic and so the “big sky” analogy seemed to fit perfectly.

Yellowstone Day 2    189369-1.jpg

2018—Sunrise On The Madison

Most of our days in Yellowstone last month were gray, snowy, and colorless—great for black and white photography but there were not many opportunities for colorful landscapes when we weren’t at one of the geyser basins with their colorful mineral and algae displays.  The one exception was on our second day.  Shortly after we entered the park, we pulled over and slogged through knee deep snow to the edge of the Madison River and were treated to a glorious sunrise complete with god beams.  Or, maybe I should say, complete with god beam.  There was a single beam that shined straight up from the rising sun.  The god beams in this photograph had a little help from Luminar 2018.

Sunrise on the Madison River.jpg


I love watching the Winter Olympics.  The sports are so different from the mundane football, basketball, and baseball with which we are inundated on a daily basis and, so much more elegant.  I marvel at the dazzle of the skaters, the grit of the boarders, the grace of the skiers, and the courage of the sledders.  The sports of the Winter Olympics are so unique and so difficult and I am captivated by them all.

In the midst of the cold, snow-banked Madison River in Yellowstone last month, this pair of Tundra Swans paddled by ever so elegantly.  While their leisurely swim by was not comparable to a Winter Olympic sport, their simple movements were effortless and I was captivated by them, too.

Yellowstone Day 1    187932-1.jpg


I just can’t get enough of the wolves that I photographed in Yellowstone.   As I continue to review my images (I took almost 4000) I keep finding gems that I didn’t notice the first (or second or third) time through.  The young wolves playing together were the most captivating to watch.  Of course I took lots of them gnawing on the bison carcass but those aren’t nearly as appealing as those of the wolves just being, well, the big dogs that they are (gray wolves are Canis Lupus and domestic dogs are Canis Lupus Familiaris.

Yellowstone Day 3 191231-1

2018—Christmas In February

In the first hour of the first morning on my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park,  we stopped to photograph this lone tree just off Highway 191 which is the  main road that parallels the Madison River into the park.  It was barely light with heavy overcast when we stopped about 8AM.  There was banter about this being a potential Christmas card photograph.  Since I haven’t sent any Christmas cards in more than 20 years, it is doubtful that this would ever become a Christmas card.  Consider this a (very) early Christmas greeting.


Yellowstone Day 1    187846-1.jpg


On our last morning in Yellowstone, the cold got to me.  My boots kept my feet warm; my several layers of SmartWool and down kept my body toasty.  It was my fingers that were numb.  I had three different pairs of ice climbing gloves with three increasingly warmer levels of protection plus  I had hand warmers in my pockets.   But, they didn’t seem to help.  We stood on a turnout watching bison nibbling their way through the sparse undergrowth, shoveling snow away with their hooves.  The scene was dreary and the cold was very visible.   I am used to standing still for long periods watching nature pass in front of my lens.   I have been in cold situations like this before and I will be again.  But, on this last day, I lost interest in photography and could think of nothing but my numb fingers.

I left my camera and walked down the road at a brisk pace pumping my arms in an effort to get the blood circulating again.  When I returned a few minutes later, Moose offered me the use of his beaver and elk skin mittens.  I was almost instantly warm again.  My fingers felt as if I’d wrapped them in an electric blanket.  What was most amazing is that once I was warm (in just a few minutes) and removed the mittens, my fingers stayed warm.  I can’t explain it how these mittens could provide such lasting protection but I will be getting my own pair of them.

This photograph reminds me of how bitterly cold I felt.  I don’t know what the temperature was that morning.  I just know that after standing in it for an hour and a half, my hands rebelled.

Yellowstone Day 5 195443-1.jpg


While Susan fished from the jetty with Dave, I sat on the edge of one of the giant pink granite blocks that form the jetty and photographed Forster’s Terns as they searched for fish in the shipping channel.  The day was foggy and overcast with brief patches of clear sky.  In the first shot, the tern is flying to the water and in the background,  Port Aransas is reduced to a few dark splotches  through the foggy mist.  The fog dissipated briefly and I lucked out with some blue instead of the dismal gray as a backdrop for this tern keeping an eye on a fish in the water.

Port A 203581-1Port A 203743-2.jpg

2018—Pink Granite

All of the jetties in Texas seem to be constructed of pink granite.  The jetty on St. Joe’s by Port Aransas is no exception.  We spent the morning there and Dave and Susan fished while Rose and I walked on the beach.  When Rose and I returned to the jetty, and we walked down the jetty toward where Susan and Dave were fishing, a lone Ruddy Turnstone skittered back and forth across the pink granite.  There were no stones to overturn but he busied himself by poking around in the cracks and crevices.  I crouched down low, fearful of lurching over the edge, but managed to capture a few closeup images without tumbling into the surf.

Port A 202873-1.jpg


While the other gray wolves tore at the bison carcass or dozed with full bellies, these two young gray wolves spent lots of time playing in the snow together.  After romping along the hot springs and gnawing each other’s necks, they finally stopped to check out what was happening around them before resuming play.


Yellowstone Day 3 191757-1

Yellowstone Day 3 191735-1

Yellowstone Day 3    191920-1.jpg


Yellowstone Day 3    191893-1.jpg



Stately, elegant, ubiquitous, and often referred to as the photographer’s friend because they are huge and pose well, the Great Blue Heron, or GBH, is not difficult to photograph because they are so large and stand so still.  On our Skimmer tour of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, we saw lots of them, many fishing for crabs and other shellfish along side the Whooping Cranes.  This GBH was near the edge of the water as we motored by.

2018 Port A - BW BH 010-1.jpg

2018—Long-billed Curlew

Early Thursday morning, our last full day in Port A, Susan and I drove to Fulton Harbor and boarded the Skimmer with Capt. Tommy Moore for a water-based Birding Tour of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge which is situated primarily on the Blackjack peninsula, behind the protective influence of Matagorda Island, part of a long chain of barrier islands extending down the Texas coastline.  Between land and water, this salt marsh habitat is made up of vegetation that thrives in the saline environment.  The brackish waters are teeming with blue crab and shellfish, both primary food sources for Whooping Cranes.  We saw more than twenty Whoopers on our tour but they were very far away and despite my 800mm plus range ( 300mm+Nikon D500 1.5X crop factor + 1.4X TC + 1.3 high speed crop) they were too small in the frame for decent images.

Seeing so many whoopers was fun and we saw more different species of birds on this trip than any other Skimmer trip I’ve taken in past years—37 different species.  One of the  most interesting was one I hadn’t seen here in a few years and Susan had commented earlier that she hadn’t seen in years either.  Perched on an oyster bed, we saw a small flock of Long-billed Curlews an interesting bird with a long curved bill.

2018 Port A - BS LC 006-1

2018 Port A - BS LC 039-1

2018—A Striking Difference

On Tuesday morning, we took the Jetty Boat to the Port A North Jetty so Susan and Dave could fish, Rose could search for shells, and I could take photographs.  We were all successful in our efforts.  Susan and Dave caught their limit with several Sheepsheads and a Redfish.  Rose found the St. Joe’s Island beach strewn with more shells than we’d ever seen there and in another first, I saw more birds on the island than I’ve ever seen in all my years of visiting there.  Large flocks of Sanderlings, something we haven’t seen recently on the Port A beach, skittered along the surf’s edge.  Of course the Gulls were ubiquitous as were Forster’s and Royal Terns, Brown Pelicans, and even a few Willets.

But I got most excited about a lone American Golden Plover that strutted gracefully at the farthest end of my traverse of the beach.    I was uncertain because my only other sighting of one was a nesting American Golden Plover that I photographed last June in Churchill, Canada.  The breeding plumage of these birds is strikingly different from their non-breeding plumage.  At first, I didn’t recognize it as an American Golden Plover because it looked so different but I suspected it was a type of plover because of the shape of its head.  I confirmed its identity with Moose. These birds have one of the longest migrations of any bird, wintering at the southern tip of South American and raising their young near the Arctic Circle in North America.  I was interested to see one on its return journey to its breeding grounds, in a different season and sporting different plumage.

2018 Port A - BS AG 112-12018 Port A - BS AG 153-12018 Port A - BS AG 065-1

2018—Did You Say Something?

As I have often said, Sanderlings are my favorite Texas shore birds.  They’re usually skittish and don’t hold still for more than an instant but Tuesday  morning on St. Joe’s Island, none of the members of the Sanderling flock seemed concerned about our presence.  This one appears to be listening to something (or someone) from above.

Sanderling listening.jpg