Watching the huge breeding colony of Northern Gannets at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland, Canada this past October was an experience of a lifetime. The sheer numbers of these huge birds living in such a confined space is an amazing sight to see. The gannet rookery on Bird Rock, a sea stack there, numbers more than 20,000 individuals. Each pair lays and incubates a single egg during the nesting season. Northern Gannets are monogamous and they mate for life. They are pelagic so they spend most of their lives at sea but they return each year to the same space on the rookery and to the same mate. How they do it each year, finding their mate and their nest site, is extraordinary. Each time a pair reunited on the rock, they performed bonding rituals that were so charming to watch. Sometimes they intertwined their necks; sometimes they preened each others feathers; sometimes they presented their mates with moss or grass for their space, whether or not they still had a chick. These bonding rituals happen whenever they reunite, whether they’ve been apart an hour, days, or months.
It is amazing how perfectly some animals can blend in to their surroundings. The color and pattern of their coats often makes it almost impossible to spot even large animals when they are essentially right out in the open. This Pronghorn buck was resting comfortably in a meadow covered with dry grass in front of an outcropping of snow covered rocks on the side of the road a mile or two from the North entrance to Yellowstone National Park. I didn’t notice him at first. We stopped nearby and I got out of the vehicle so I could photograph him in this serene setting. He didn’t move or get up. He just lay perfectly still and stared at us.
Northern Gannets of Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland are graceful flyers. It’s no wonder their flight is so elegant and effortless. They are pelagic birds meaning they spend most of their lives flying over the open seas, no matter the weather, coming to shore only for a few brief months in the summer to raise their young. Then it’s back to sea for eight months where they soar gracefully over the water. When we watched them at Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s, it seemed as if they took every opportunity to take flight. It’s impossible to tell the size of this bird from this photograph. These huge birds have a wingspan of more than six feet and their body is almost three feet long.
The week I spent in Nevada’s Great Basin with Desert Bighorn Sheep this past September made me realize that Bighorn Sheep are my favorite four-legged animals to photograph. Their tan coats blend into the rugged steep habitat in which they exist making it a challenge to find them standing or laying still among the crags and crevices. But once located, their behavior is a sight to behold and fun to photograph. They climb and descend without a stumble. Watching a band of Bighorn Sheep leaping nimbly from foot hold to foot hold as they come down a sheer cliff on their way to forage for food and water inspires awe. The arching curl of the ram’s horns makes an elegant display of strength and power. During the rut, the rams clash for dominance and the pick of the ewes for their harems. The sound of those huge horns crashing together echoes and reverberates through the mountains. Watching the young sheep cavorting gleefully for the sheer joy of it brings a smile. The young rams learn skills they’ll need as they mature.
This ram looks down cautiously. We spotted him from the highway. He was heading down the mountain toward a large water source across the road.
Nikon D5, 500mm PF.
It was Halloween morning and we stopped at Horseshoe Bend on the Yellowstone River to enjoy the sunrise. We were on our way to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park from Livingston, MT where we spent the week at the undeniably haunted Murray Hotel there. My haunting experience was relatively minor compared to some of my friends who experienced ghosties and ghoulies and long leggety beasties and things that went bump in the night. I had only an inexplicably dim beam of light that appeared intermittently in a bathroom which had no light sources near where the beam originated. The beauty of the morning sunrise made up for any sleeplessness caused by the odd goings-on at the Murray.
A small group of Bison foraged in the sagebrush off one of the roads in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park in late October. A few inches of snow covered the ground making the grasses they eat a bit more difficult to access. This young calf made the most of it as evidenced by the snow and icicles dripping from its chin. It seemed very curious about us and looked directly into my lens. Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF.