Every season in Yellowstone has a decidedly different feel because of time of year, the weather, the color of the landscape, and which animals show themselves. It may seem as if the only ungulates we saw in Yellowstone National Park a couple of weeks ago were Bighorn Sheep but we saw and photographed Elk, Bison, and Pronghorn as well as Bighorns. Pronghorn are diminutive compared to Bison and Bighorn Sheep but they are the fastest land animal in North America. This year we encountered herds every day calmly grazing on the yellowing grasses. It was quite a contrast to last year at this time when we witnessed a pair of Coyotes take down a Pronghorn just a few feet from our van as the rest of the herd used their speed to distance themselves from their unfortunate mate. We watched, awestruck by this Serengeti-like drama without taking a photograph but it was something I’ll never forget. This year, the Pronghorn rarely seemed to be concerned about predators and were often curious about our presence but they returned to grazing as soon as their curiosity was satisfied.
It is pretty amazing how critters are colored to help them blend into their surroundings. The coat on this Red Fox in Yellowstone National Park is perfectly suited for its surroundings. The coat has every color in the meadow where it was hunting voles beneath the snow. The fox disappeared when it walked behind a shrub or through a stand of grasses.
We found the Bighorns outside of Yellowstone National Park along the Old Yellowstone Road. On our second morning, the sun was out and the sky was cloudless. The rams stuck together in small groups as the ewes and lambs grazed nearby. We eventually found and photographed eleven rams, most with large curls like this pair of rams. I shouldn’t anthropomorphize but I tend to do that. These rams appear to be discussing something, just talking it over.
Happy Thanksgiving! This is a Liquidambar leaf, from a tree also known as Sweet Gum. I found the leaf in the neighborhood on my walk one morning a few days ago. I thought it had an interesting shape but when I saw the resulting photograph I liked the leaf even more. I can see so many things in it. It could be a bird taking to wing, a cobra preparing to strike, or even a dragon. If you look long enough, you might even see a turkey, something apropos to today. I took this image with my newest lens, the Nikkor ZMC50mm Macro, using only ambient light. It is a focus stacked image created from 243 shots in HeliconFocus.
Those gigantic horns that a Rocky Mountain Bighorn ram carries weigh about 30 pounds. Their bodies are designed to carry the weight. We were so close to these sheep that my Nikon 500mm PF lens was almost too much lens. Had he moved much closer, he would have been out of focus. I was about fifteen feet away from the ram as he munched grasses on the edge of the road just outside of Yellowstone Nationaal Park. This mature ram’s horns show a bit of “brooming,” a term used to describe the frayed ends of the horns that results from wear and tear throughout their lives.
The spring lambs were just adorable earlier this month in Yellowstone. They stayed close to their mothers and sometimes were still trying to nurse although the ewes seemed not to be too pleased when the lambs tried. We were thrilled that we had played the game properly and so the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep came closer and closer to us, allowing us to get intimate shots. My Nikkor 500mm PF lens was too much glass for this scenario. At Moose’s suggestion, I carried my tiny NikonZ50 with the Nikkor Z70-200mm lens on a strap on my shoulder so I could quickly switch from my tripod mounted super telephoto lens to a wider angle lens. That’s what happened here. As this duo approached, they over-filled the frame with the 500mm lens so I was able to quickly pick up the smaller camera and lens and shoot seamlessly. Because the Z50 has a DX sensor, the 70-200mm lens becomes a 105-300mm lens which worked out perfectly for me. And, although the Z50 doesn’t have quite as robust an autofocus system as the Z6II, it managed to see past the grass and focus on the lamb’s eyes. I was concerned that it might struggle with that but it performed perfectly.
Ten of the eleven rams we photographed last week are in this shot as they lined up to nibble the grass. One of the younger Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams is having a little trouble finding space at the dinner table. He must be intimidated by those huge curls most of these rams are sporting.
When I watched this Rocky Mountain Bighorn lamb chewing on a discarded piece of wire from a downed fence line, I first thought it was tangled in it. But, I was assured that it was just playing and soon enough, the wire went from a plaything to an abandoned snarl. She’s not playing with fire after all, she’s playing with wire. Kids will be kids. Maybe I should say lambs will be lambs.
While I was at the Seattle Airport waiting for my flight to Alaska one Sunday last month, I received a text from my next door neighbor offering condolences that the gigantic live oak in my front yard had fallen during the predicted Bomb Cyclone that hit Sacramento that morning. Actually only half of it fell, the four huge front trunks of the multitrunked tree uprooted and toppled completely blocking the street. Luckily, it was early morning and no one was walking or driving by and no cars were parked under it. Friends took care of the immediate problem and the next day, Acorn Arboricultural Services was on the scene. At first they thought the remaining tree could be saved but the arborist sought a second opinion and they finally agreed that my thirty plus year old summer shade tree had to go. Friday morning, Blake, Andrew, and Chuck from Acorn arrived to cut it down. With climbing equipment and safety ropes, Blake ascended the tree and began to saw off branches. As he made his way through the treetop, he moved his carabiners and safety ropes. This shot made me think of steer ropers at a rodeo. It’s a tough job. They did it safely and cleanly. I’m sad to see the tree gone. When we moved into the house, I called it my oak shrub, this multi-trunked live oak that was barely ten feet tall. Thirty years later and at forty feet, it supplied lots of shade. I will miss it.
I share my home with a curmudgeonly but very colorful Red-lored Amazon Parrot named Bobo. She is 36 years old and next month she will have been my housemate for 20 of her 36 years. She is not the kind of parrot that willingly sits on a hand or shoulder. She would rather maim that hand or take a chunk out of an ear so I have never allowed her on my shoulder. She will step onto my hand without biting me when, and only when, it suits her and not any other time. In my efforts over the years to interact in a positive way with her and modify her behavior, I started positive reenforcement training by rewarding her with treats when she responds appropriately and not rewarding undesirable behavior. My efforts have met with some success but because I travel so much, our interactions are limited. I use a target stick and encourage her to come to me, touch the stick, and when she does, I give her an almond. I keep an open jar of slivered almonds on the table near her cage and she is welcome to sample the treats whenever she chooses. What pleases me is that much of the time, usually in the morning when I’m drinking my coffee, she will come onto the table and wait for me to present the target stick so she can touch it for her almond reward instead of just plunging her head into the jar and munching away which she does when I am not sitting there. I presume that she considers me her flock. Since Bobo is usually my primary subject when I’m trying out a new lens, and since I wanted to try out my new Nikkor ZMC 50mm macro lens, I decided to try photographing her with it while she was enjoying her morning treats on the table. With the Nikon Z6II battery grip attached and with the camera set about 12 inches away from her, the camera stands up high enough without additional elevation to capture all of Bobo. This was a new approach for me because I usually sit in front of her open cage door to photograph her. This time, with the camera on the table and me offering treats for touching the target stick, I pressed the shutter release after I offered the treat. She responded better than I expected and she held still for a slow 1/25 shutter speed, ate her treat, then moved in closer to touch the stick again and get another treat without regard for the proximity of the camera.