After they had rested and their stomachs had begun to digest their earlier feast , the Yellowstone wolf pack returned to the bison kill and gnawed on the remains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.