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.
Downy Woodpeckers are the smallest North American woodpecker. We heard their characteristic drumming sound throughout the week we visited Magee Marsh in Ohio but they are year round residents throughout the entire US. Despite their small size (about 6 inches) the sound of their drumming carries so they’re often heard long before they’re seen. This is a female Downy; males have a red spot on the top of their head.
This little Ruby-crowned Kinglet was in shade until the breeze moved a branch slightly letting in a spot of light on its face. These tiny birds were constantly on the move at Magee Marsh. But this little one posed briefly while the light illuminated his face, then just as suddenly, the spot of light dimmed and the little bird flew off.
The tiny Yellow Warbler stands out no matter where it perches. This male is perched on a Virginia Creeper vine that encircled a Poplar tree in Magee Marsh. Yellow Warblers seem to be year-round residents of Magee Marsh, not just passing through like so many of the other warblers that stop to refuel before flying into Canada across Lake Erie.
In a rare moment of stillness, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher posed briefly for me at Magee Marsh last week in full view. It was incredibly challenging to photograph these fast moving birds. Their pursuit of gnats was endless and their movements were erratic and unpredictable. This little guy perched briefly on a bare branch without leaves or other branches obscuring the view. For me, this bird’s coloring made it one of the easiest to spot among the tangles of downed brown branches but one of the most difficult to photograph because of its quick movements.
The trees in Magee Marsh are just beginning to leaf out. In a week or so, the entire area will be green. This year though, because of the damage from the devastating wind storm last year that felled trees, the canopy that once was high above the boardwalk, will not be overhead but will be at eye level. We were told that the downed trees and branches now covering the ground will still leaf out and they are already beginning to do so. Some roots remain intact that will nourish the branches for a few years to come allowing them to continue to leaf and provide shelter. The birds will still come and fill the area with song. However, instead of looking up for the warblers that crowd into the marsh on their migration north as they ingest the fuel needed to cross Lake Erie, the birds will be at eye level. But, because either side of the boardwalk will be filled with dense foliage from the felled branches and trees, it will be extremely challenging to spot the birds as they flit through the leaves. We got to Magee Marsh just in time this year. The leaves were just starting to leaf out. As the week progressed, the new leaves changed the look of the area and the foliage became denser each day. The patches of dense green were the harbinger of what it will be like at the peak of migration. This Yellow Warbler is singing his territorial song alerting other male Yellow Warblers that he’s in charge here. The tiny bird is just visible on a leafy branch. The blurred green is a hint of the foliage between the edge of the boardwalk and the bird. Despite the overwhelming green, the bright yellow bird stands out, like he is hiding in plain sight.