What I love about Kodiak Brown Bears is that they do not seem threatening or scary and they look as if they enjoy doing things just because. They remind me of either calmly grazing cattle, big lazy dogs, or fluffy teddy bears. One day we watched a couple of young Kodiak Browns greet each other like old friends and playfully pummel each other before parting company only to reconnect an hour later and play some more. Our guide told us they were probably 4 year old siblings newly on their own but it was heart warming to witness. We watched the three cubs playing with each other but not venturing too far away from Mama Bear. And Barnacle Bear took a break from gnawing on rocks and mussels and barnacles and rolled on the sandbar much like a dog will roll just for the sheer joy of doing it. What a privilege it was to witness the every day lives of these remarkable animals.
The cubs didn’t seem to be experienced swimming in the swift current of the Uganik River but they obediently followed Mama Bear into the rushing water when she went in. They were swept by us so quickly and so close to us that for almost 30 seconds I was unable to see them in my viewfinder with my 500mm lens with its 1.4X teleconverter and DX mode engaged (1050mm total) let alone focus and press the shutter release. This was the last shot I took before the cub was swept along by the current and before I was able to pick up this one and the rest of the cubs with mama on the other side. Mama Bear seems to be watching me watching her cub.
The cubs! Oh my, the cubs! They were so adorable, each one exhibiting a different personality. We’d heard about the mama bear with three cubs and hoped to see them the first week we were on Kodiak Island but she eluded us until the second week. We took the boats up the Uganik River past the tidal flats on the third morning of our second week and there they were, peeking out at us through the tall grasses on the opposite shore. We set up across the river and watched and waited for them to emerge into the open. Finally, Mama Bear waded into the swiftly flowing river and began to swim in our direction. The one year old cubs followed. The current was so swift that the cubs swept past us and whooshed down the river. We heard Mama grunting and calling because she was concerned about one cub that was separated from the others. She swam by us and managed to keep her cubs from floating away. I didn’t know until later that our guides were very concerned that when the current swept the three cubs past us, separating them from Mama and putting us between them and Mama Bear, there was the possibility that Mama Bear could have charged at us. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. They ended up across from us again on the shore and the cubs followed Mama Bear up the craggy hillside where they rested a while and nursed.
Meet Barnacle Bear. Bears are omnivores. Much of the time we photographed the Kodiak Browns munching contentedly on the grasses that cover the tidal flats but some of the bears found other things more delectable. Like Barnacle Bear who didn’t seem too interested in the grasses but seemed to really enjoy eating barnacles, hence his nickname. The problem with barnacles is that they are small, about a half inch or so, and they adhere to rocks. The barnacle shells and rocks were no match for the powerful jaws of the Kodiak Browns, however. We watched him sort through the gravel and rocks on the flats and along the river’s edge, crunching on the barnacles and spitting out rocks and barnacle shells. The bears that opt for the barnacles probably wear down their teeth but they seem to enjoy picking through the rocks and savoring the tiny barnacles.
The two weeks I just spent with Kodiak Brown Bears on Kodiak Island in Alaska were the most memorable two weeks I’ve spent in a long, long time. We arrived in the town of Kodiak on Monday, May 16 and flew into Rohrer Bear Camp on Willy’s Beaver on Tuesday morning. The Beaver is a pontoon boat so hip boots are the order of the day when deplaning and stepping down into the water. For that matter, we wore hip boots every day watching bears because getting in and out of the boats and watching bears required wading through water. Sometimes, we stood ankle deep in water, tripods deployed, watching those big Kodiak Browns across a sandbar. The tides were exceptionally high the first several days of our first week and the grassy flats where we watched bears last year were covered with water much of the time. By 2 PM that first afternoon we were on the boats with our guides Hiram and Chris heading across Uganik Bay and up the Uganik River to the flats in search of bears. We had to climb a berm because water covered the flats and we surveyed the area waiting for bears. One finally appeared on the gravel beach and slowly made its way toward us. It approached, grew larger in our viewfinders, climbed a log near us and continued on its way. It was a great start to a sensational trip!
The Lesser Goldfinches have been the predominant bird in my garden for the past two years. This female is surveying the yard from atop a wilted plant.
This is my first slow motion video. It is a 1 minute long clip created from a short video clip that I took at The Brink, the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River. There isn’t any action other than the water cascading over the falls and the roar of the water as it tumbles down. I held the Nikon Z9 and braced myself against the metal railing above the falls. I had never visited the Upper Falls and it is quite a spectacular place to see and it was fun to begin experimenting with video, especially slow motion video.
Kodiak Brown Bears! I’m excited to be back in Kodiak, headed to Bear Camp for two weeks. No cell, no Internet. Just bears. What fun! This is a sow from our visit here last year. She was enjoying munching on the native grasses as she watched us watching her.
The sun was barely up our first morning in Yellowstone National Park two weeks ago when we stopped to enjoy the views. Out Yellowstone Springtime Adventure was about to become wintery. The storm clouds were piling in. When we drove by this scene near Swan Lake a couple of mornings later, the blizzard had completely covered the area with a deep blanket of snow.
May seems to be Bear Month for me. During my recent week in Yellowstone National Park we saw and photographed Black Bears and Grizzlies. After dinner on our first day in the park, we encountered this Grizzly Bear in a field near Clearwater Springs. It ate grass but also foraged for earthworms, turning up clumps of grass and Bison droppings to uncover what appeared to be an enjoyable meal for the big bear. Today I’m flying to Kodiak, Alaska to spend two weeks photographing Kodiak Brown Bears. I’m excited to see what the next two weeks brings. I will not have cell or internet service for two weeks, so updates on my bear experiences in Alaska will have to wait until I get home at the end of the month.
The “spring” weather in Yellowstone National Park earlier this week was anything but “spring-like.” High winds and blizzard conditions pinned us down for a few hours on Monday so we didn’t get out into the park until after 1 PM. The sun came out intermittently, and by late afternoon we spotted a lone Coyote traversing the edge of Obsidian Creek. While we watched, it found a couple of different spots of interest, probably caches of prey it stashed earlier in the snow. We did not see it pouncing for voles or other critters under the snow although recent storms left a substantial snow covering that was not there when we arrived last week. It was almost like being in Yellowstone in winter but we could drive ourselves in the park.
There is no real bath time for the Bushtits. They bathe in the early morning, at midday, and in the early evening. What is so very charming about them is that they rarely bathe alone. It is always in a group, squashed tightly together. The most I’ve counted at one time bathing together is 13 so this group of five is relatively small for a Bushtit bathing experience. And they are very enthusiastic bathers as evidenced by the bird on the left completely blurred as it rolls in the water flowing from the bubbling center of the fountain.
It felt like I was back at Magee Marsh, trying to photograph tiny birds hidden in the dense foliage. Instead, I was in my own backyard, trying to photograph tiny birds hidden in the dense foliage. The Bushtits, tiny, gregarious, constantly twittering songbirds that move in flocks are among my favorite garden birds. They almost always tolerate my presence as they swoop in once or twice a day to bathe on the millstone fountain. Although they leave if I move toward them, if I sit very still, I can see the branches move slightly and soon, one by one, they return to the top of the millstone. It is rare, however, that I manage to photograph them in the surrounding branches because they move so quickly. Maybe my recent practice at Magee Marsh paid off. This male Bushtit (the eyes of the males are dark while the female’s eyes have a yellow cornea) is waiting to return to the fountain. He’s drenched from a previous splash.
It’s pretty spectacular, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This view is from Artist’s Point where Thomas Moran painted a similar view that was instrumental in creating the National Park System and designating Yellowstone as our first national park 150 years ago this year. I first photographed this site during the 94th anniversary year of the park back in 1966. I think it’s even more spectacular now and my photographic skills have improved so this image is a significant improvement over the results from my Kodak Instamatic camera back than. I have no recollection about where exactly I took my Instamatic photograph but it was somewhere around Artist’s Point. There are two viewpoints at Artists Point, and in the winter when I have visited and photographed in the past ten years, the upper viewpoint has been closed for safety reasons. But the park service opened the upper viewpoint after the heavy winter snowpack melted and viewing from there gives a slightly different perspective and show much more of the Yellowstone River beneath the Lower Falls.
This is a Coyote on a mission. During a brief sunny moment in Yellowstone National Park on our last afternoon there, this Coyote made its way across a snowy meadow heading directly toward us, crossed the road between the hordes of cars, oglers, and photographers that had stopped to watch, and crossed back again probably in search of one of its caches of stored food. It licks its chops after finding a cache or something in the snow and eating it before continuing on its way. Still in its thick winter coat, it was a beautiful sight in the snow. Thick clumps of snow adhered to the Coyote’s legs. It’s a good thing its winter coat offers some protection from the cold.
What an incredible spring-time trip to Yellowstone National Park this has been! It doesn’t feel like spring with the snowstorms. There is definitely a winter vibe in the park now. But that hasn’t affected our encounters with critters. They have been frequent and we’ve been able to photograph many of the critters we’ve seen. This trip has definitely been a Grizzly Bear trip. We’ve been lucky to see Grizzly Bears each day and photographed them three out of the four days. And, we’ve seen four distinct individual Grizzlies at various places in the park. The Grizzly is such an incredible critter to watch. We’ve spotted Grizzlies more than once each day of our trip and have been fortunate to be close enough to photograph them three of the four days. We photographed this bear three days in a row at the same location, Clearwater Creek and saw him at Roaring Mountain on the fourth day. It was so intent on digging for earthworms that it ignored the gathering circus at the edge of the road and stayed out in the open digging under grass clumps and Bison droppings for almost an hour.
The forecast Sunday was a few snow flurries. The day started out 29 degrees and cloudy. But soon, we found ourselves in a blizzard at 4:30 AM driving to Mammoth Hot Springs from Old Faithful en route to the Lamar Valley in search of wolves. It was near white-out conditions and by the time we reached Mammoth Hot Springs about 5:30AM, there were almost 8 inches of snow on the ground there. The day before there was no snow there. Moose decided we’d better go back where we came from before they closed the roads. He put gas in the Suburban and we returned the way we came. There were no snow plows and the only tracks in the road at that hour of the morning were our own. The blizzard had calmed a bit and the snow flakes were huge and the snow pack was light and powdery. When we reached a lower elevation about an hour later, the roads were mostly clear of snow but there was a heavy dusting everywhere and the trees had that gorgeous wintery frosting look despite the fact that we’re almost two months into spring. We stopped along Grand Loop Road past the Norris Geyser Basin about 7:00 AM to photograph what had suddenly become a winter landscape. Looks are deceiving and despite the winter look, there are American Robins, Common Redpolls, and even a Wilson’s Snipe around the edge of the water in this image. An hour later we were enjoying breakfast in West Yellowstone but there was quite a snow storm there. When we reentered the park shortly after 9 AM, we discovered the road between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs was closed due to an accident. We had made it out safely and just in time. Just another spring morning in Yellowstone.
Our spring visit to Yellowstone National Park started off with a bang and ended with fireworks! We left Old Faithful Snow Lodge well before dawn to get to the Lamar Valley by sunrise. The first critters we saw were Snowshoe Hares, and until then, a critter I knew only by its footprints in the snow. Their winter coats were still white, so they were easy to see in the darkness. As the morning light brightened, a small herd of Bison lumbered down the road. And then suddenly, three wolves, two blacks and a gray, crossed right in front of us and disappeared up the slope into the sage. A ways up the road we stopped in hopes of seeing wolves seen by others only moments before we arrived. We stayed for a while and saw no wolves but a pair of Bald Eagles soared overhead and some Elk grazed on the slope. We began to see several small bands of Pronghorn does and a small group of Bighorn ewes crossed the road, several obviously pregnant. But we had yet to photograph a single critter. Then, Pat shouted “Black Bear!” The bear was too high up a hillside to photograph so we watched, enjoyed the view, then drove on. Around the corner, another Black Bear, with a gorgeous shiny black coat, walked down a slight slope paralleling the edge of the road. We pulled ahead of all the cars and sure enough, it walked directly toward us. When it finally turned and ambled slowly away we felt elated that we’d already had a great day and it wasn’t even 10 AM. And, as if the morning’s sightings weren’t enough, after breakfast, we spotted a Grizzly Bear on a mission. We watched but didn’t get out to photograph it. The crowds and proximity of the Grizzly would have made it impossible for us to get any photographs. As we headed back to the Snow Lodge, it was just past noon. We spotted a lone Coyote loping along the edge of the Madison River still cloaked in its winter finery. After dinner we ventured out before the sun set. Another Grizzly rooting in the meadow posed for quite a while. This last sighting was the cherry on top of a very successful first day visit to Yellowstone.
My all-time favorite bird is the California Scrub Jay. For many years, one Scrub Jay nested in our yard and taught the chicks to feed there. One year, the jay lost its mate and consequently the entire nest with hatchlings. Jays mate for life and within a few days, he brought home a new mate and I watched, enthralled, as he showed her “his” yard including the birdbath and how to use it. They were a constant presence in my yard for eight or nine years. He was my companion when I grew tomatoes, waiting for me to pull tomato worms off the vines so he could pick them up and whack them a few times against the edge of the birdbath, before gulping them down. He was loud and obnoxious to the smaller birds in the yard but his antics were so interesting and he was so much fun to watch that he is my all time favorite bird. Even my companion parrot of twenty plus years, Bobo, a beautiful Red-lored Amazon, barely measures up. The Scrub Jays have been absent from my yard for a few years. I don’t know why but I’ve missed them. This spring, however, a couple of jays have been visiting. I hope they stay. This jay stayed for quite a while sitting on the back of one of the patio chairs. I hoped he would move to a more natural looking perch but he never did.
During our four days at Magee Marsh, I was able to photograph the magnificent Magnolia Warbler only once, on our last day there. My three colleagues were able to photograph this beautiful yellow bird several times throughout our visit but for some reason, I was just never in the right place at the right time until near the end of our visit. The intensity of its yellow feathers rivals the color of the Yellow Warbler but the black streaks on its breast make it stand out even more and the black mask on its face lends an air of mystery, reminiscent of the mask of Zorro.