June 20, 2018 Seabeck, Washington

Juvenile Bald Eagle
Juvenile Bald Eagle

Hood Canal for Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

I visited the Hood Canal in my first year on the road and was absolutely amazed at the number of Bald Eagles gathered here to take advantage of the annual Sculpin spawn amongst the oyster beds here at the mouth of Big Beef Creek in Seabeck.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Unfortunately that was not the case this year. I was told that the number of eagles gathering here has been diminishing every year and I never saw more than five eagles at any one time over the four days I was here. In 2014 there would be as many as 60 eagles present at any one time, and back then I was told that I was there at a ” bad ” time, since there used to be over 100 gathered there during May and June.

( Since I don’t have any great eagle shots from this visit, you can see some of the eagle shots taken here from 2014 if you visit the following blog posts:

May 19, 2014     and   May 20, 2014  )

Bald Eagle
Attack!

Bald eagle diving down to persuade a heron to drop it’s catch.

Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron
Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron

There did seem to be as many Great Blue Herons here as there were in 2014, just not as many eagles, and the herons most likely were quite happy about the reduced number of eagles, so that now they could swallow their fish without the constant threat of theft from the eagles.

Bald Eagle Theft
Bald Eagle Theft

Still, on occassion, an eagle would spot a successful heron catch and swoop in to steal the fish.

Juvenile Bald Eagle Harassing Heron
Juvenile Bald Eagle Harassing Heron
Juvenile Bald Eagle with Sculpin
Juvenile Bald Eagle with Sculpin

You can just see the tail of the sculpin this immature eagle stole from one of the herons.

I again stayed at the Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck as I did in 2014, but could only get a site for Monday through Thursday as the campground has every site reserved for Friday and Saturday. That happens to be the case for almost every weekend during the summer months, not only here but at pretty much every desirable state park here in the northwest. But since there aren’t any eagles here to photograph anyway, I won’t be disappointed that I have to move on come Friday.

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May 31, 2018 Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl

More From the Tetons

Absolutely lucky that someone else had spotted this Great Grey Owl not far from the park road since he was perfectly camouflaged against the bark of the pine where he was perched. If not for the photographer already shooting this bird, I never would have stopped.

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl

He changed perches a few times …

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl

… including this spot that yielded the perfect shot.

Great Grey Owl
Great Grey Owl

Soon others stopped to check out this large, beautiful bird, and as so often happens, out came the cellphone photographers, racing closer to the owl, eventually scaring him farther and farther away until he was out of their reach.

Disheveled Pronghorn
Disheveled Pronghorn

The Pronghorn is usually one of my favorite subjects, but not this early in the summer as they shed their winter garments for their summer wear.

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush

Out at the end of Flat Creek Road, on the far side of the National Elk Refuge …

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush

… I found a hillside covered with Indian Paintbrush.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Indian Paintbrush
Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Indian Paintbrush

Mixed in were several patches of Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Wildflowers, Stormy Skies
Wildflowers, Stormy Skies

And as I was setting up and taking these flower shots, I thought I heard something behind me, about 50 feet away down a steep embankment along the Flat Creek.

Newborn Moose Calf
Newborn Moose Calf

Moving a little closer to the top of the bank, I saw this obviously fairly recently born moose calf, wobbling along behind his mother.

Newborn Moose Calf
Newborn Moose Calf

Mom had spotted me and was leading her newborn to a more sheltered area across the shallow creek.

Newborn Moose Calf
Newborn Moose Calf

She had to turn and offer encouragement to her calf to entice him to join her in crossing the creek.

Newborn Moose Calf
Newborn Moose Calf

Eventually safely across the creek and feeling a little safer having put some distance between us, they laid down to get some rest. I do not think I missed this calf’s birth by more than a few moments, probably the smallest moose calf I have ever seen. Wish I had some better, closer shots, but Mom wanted to remain in the willows and out of sight of predators and I certainly wasn’t going to push her and her young one out into the open.

The Tetons

The Magnificent Tetons

Grand Teton
Head in the Clouds

Since I was able to spend a full two weeks here this spring, I could patiently await blue skies or puffy cumulous clouds to set off the dramatic snow capped peaks of the Tetons.

Oxbow Reflections
Oxbow Reflections

As usual this year, I had my share of rainy and overcast weather, but I also had some just gorgeous blue sky days. So on gloomy days, I searched for wildlife, and when the sun came out, I looked for flowers and mountain shots.

Spring in the Tetons
Spring in the Tetons

The Jackson Hole area has become one of my all-time favorite spots to visit. I usually am here in the fall for the moose so this was my first time here in the spring, and the crowds were smaller, though still too many people for my tastes.

Spring in the Tetons
Spring in the Tetons

As usual, I stayed at the Gros Ventre Campground and it was definitely less crowded than in the fall, in fact, they still had two loops of the campground closed while I was there.

Plus there was more, and more accessible wildlife here, than I had encountered in Yellowstone just the week before, with fewer people pursuing them. On one of the rainy days, I braved the crowds and visited several of the many fine art galleries in downtown Jackson Hole. So, fine wildlife art, beautiful mountains, a quiet campground, as well as plentiful wildlife, what not to like about the Grand Tetons in the spring.

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May 22, 2018 Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Hillside
Lamar Valley Hillside

Badlands to Yellowstone

On my last day in the badlands, I headed out on some gravel roads searching for wildlife.

Badlands Bison Grazing in Dogtown
Badlands Bison Grazing in Dogtown

The Prairie Dog towns stretch for a mile or more in places and on this trip I found some Bison Bulls grazing through one of the towns.

Badlands Coyote Looking for Breakfast in Dogtown
Badlands Coyote Looking for Breakfast in Dogtown

In another vast town I came across this Coyote searching the area for breakfast. He would stop and sit at one of the burrow entrances for a minute or two, then probably realizing they were on to him, would move on a bit to another burrow and repeat the action. Never saw him come close to actually catching anything.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

I finally came across a Burrowing Owl that stayed within distance of my 600mm lens. Watched him come up out of a Prairie Dog burrow and fly up to this fencepost to check me out. From there he took off and landed at another burrow entrance too far off to get a good shot of him disappearing down the burrow.

With yet another potentially dangerous storm system, with high winds, heavy rain and the possibility of large hail predicted to move through, I decided to leave the Badlands for Yellowstone National Park. Starting out at 6 AM, I headed west straight into the storm system, black skies and flashing lightning, winds buffeting the motorhome, but fortunately, no hail. Turned out to be a very long day on the road and I pulled into the National Forest ‘s Canyon Campground about fifteen miles north of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park around nine PM.

Yellowstone National Park

I had scouted out the Canyon Campground on Google Earth and hoped there might be a spot open when I arrived, but that was not to be. Turns out there are only three sites in the small campground where I could fit and they were all occupied. Being dead tired and seeing as how it was already after nine, I found a level spot just off the road inside the campground where I set up for the night.

Next morning, one of the three spots I could fit in happened to open up very early, so I quickly moved in and set up among the large rocks and lodgepole pines. This small campground is right off Highway 89, so there is some road noise, and the interior loop road inside the campground is in just awful shape, very deep potholes and ruts, but the site I ended up in actually was very nice, so nice I abandoned my original plan to try and get into the Mammoth Campground just inside the Park and decided to stay here … for the princely sum of $3.50 a night. No utilities, no dump station and no trash receptacles or dumpster, as primitive a campground as you can get, but turned out to be quiet, no neighbors shining lights all night, no smoky campfires nearby, ended up being a nice restful spot.

View Along my AM Drive into Yellowstone
View Along my AM Drive into Yellowstone

Early each morning I would drive the fifteen miles into Gardiner and the north entrance into Yellowstone, passing the scene in the image above, as well as several small herds of elk grazing in the fields along the highway.

Since I usually would go through the park entrance before they were staffed for the day, I avoided any long lines waiting to get into the park. Five miles past the park entrance I passed the Mammoth Campground and noted the ” Full ” sign posted every day, making me glad I decided  to stay at the Canyon campground.

Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley

There are two major hotspots for wildlife sightings in Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley and the Hayden Valley. On my first two days I headed for the closer Lamar Valley.

Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley

There were Bison with new young spread throughout the valley, along with a few Pronghorns.

Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Mom and Calf

There were many small herds of 20 to 50 bison spread throughout the valley and almost all cows had a ” Red Dog ” accompanying them.

Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Mom and Calf
Bison Bull with Passenger
Bison Bull with Passenger

There were a few solitary bulls here and there, shedding their winter coats and looking very bedraggled.

Bison Mom
Bison Mom

A Bison mom takes a roll in the sagebrush, scratching some kind of itch.

Frisky Bison Calf
Frisky Bison Calf

The youngsters, if not nursing, were bouncing around with typical youthful exuberance …

Red Dogs at Rest
Red Dogs at Rest

… or settling down for a nap.

Bison calves in road
Dangerous Timeout

I got a kick out of this group of calves deciding the center of the road would be a great place to settle in for a nap …

Bison Moms Moving Calves Off the Road
Bison Moms Moving Calves Off the Road

… but their wiser Moms roused them out before anyone got run over.

Bison Moms and Calves
Bison Moms and Calves

With all the youngsters in the valley, I really thought I might see some Wolves or perhaps a Grizzly hunting some of the young, but never saw any such thing.

Bison
River Crossing

From my vantage point on the side of the road, I watched this small group of Bison head down the slope…

Bison
River Crossing

( Mom checking on Junior to see if he could manage the calm waters of the side channel )

Bison River Crossing
Bison River Crossing

… with the intention of crossing the river, perilously swollen with spring runoff. Into the river’s main channel they go.

Bison River Crossing
Swept Away

Though Mom has no trouble with the swift current, two youngsters are immediately swept downstream …

Bison
River Crossing

… instantly realizing that her offspring is in danger of being swept downstream, Mom quickly turns with the current …

Bison River Crossing
Rescued!

… and positions herself just upstream of Junior to block the powerful current and allow him to get back to a depth where he can hoof it back to shore.

Bison River Crossing
Crossing Abandoned
Bison River Crossing
Turning Back

The lead two Moms decide to abort their river crossing, realizing the youngsters just are not yet able to handle such a strong current.

Bison
Abandoning the River Crossing

They wisely decide to continue grazing this side of the river.

I was able to catch this sequence fairly early in the morning, before there was a lot of traffic in Lamar Valley. Yellowstone is, of course, notorious for traffic, a fact I am well aware of having visited several times over the past fifteen years, almost always after Labor Day. I would never dream of being here in the summer months. Unfortunately, now, after this springtime trip, I would have to say that I would hesitate to visit at any time of year ( well, maybe during mid-winter ).

Knowing that one’s best chance to catch something interesting, wildlife -wise, is to get to a potential hotspot, i.e.. Lamar Valley, early and set up … and WAIT. Hopefully, something will occur during the hours that you patiently wait. More often than not, something does happen. But one needs to be patient. This morning I found my spot, a pulloff, on the side of the road, on a small hill, overlooking the valley and not too far from the river bisecting Lamar Valley. With only one other car there, in a pulloff large enough for maybe ten cars, I set up my tripod, with the 6oomm lens mounted on the camera, pulled out my  folding camping rocking chair … and prepared to settle in for the morning.

I shot the above Bison sequence around 7:30 with only a few other people around, but then a small commercial wildlife spotting van pulled in and dumped out a dozen ” photographers ” who had trouble understanding that the backs of their heads did not make for very interesting shots. I can not understand how anyone can so easily set themselves up only ten or fifteen feet in front of another photographer, and not feel at all embarrassed in doing so.

To then make matters worse, a #%*^#@#! tour bus pulled in belching diesel fumes and deposited another 40 or more folks in my formerly peaceful little pullout. They quickly spread out, blocking views on both sides of the road and pullout. Then, unbelievably, here come not one, but two, yellow school buses, dumping about a hundred ten to twelve year olds, along with several adult chaperones. Now, not yet 9 AM on a beautiful spring morning, there are probably close to 200 people piled three deep all around me. Welcome to Yellowstone!

Needless to say, my plan to patiently wait for wildlife to show was now dead, so I packed up and headed back towards Gardiner. There are plenty of other spots in the Lamar Valley where I could have gone, but by 9 AM the road was choked with traffic ( remember this is only mid-May, not the 4th of July weekend ) and there really was no point in setting up anywhere else in the valley.

 

Yellowstone Osprey Nest
Yellowstone Osprey Nest

Just outside the valley, on the way back to the North Entrance, there is an old established Osprey nest high up in a lightning blasted pine.

Swan Lake Yellowstone N. P.
Swan Lake Yellowstone N. P.

On another day, I decided to get out early and circumnavigate the park loop road. Despite my misgivings about traffic, Yellowstone is still a wondrous place.

I drove south from Mammoth toward the Madison area and took the crossroad east and continued south down to the Hayden Valley. Being at a higher elevation than the Lamar Valley, there was still snow on the ground here and there in Hayden and very little in the way of green grass, and consequently, there was absolutely nothing in the way of wildlife, anywhere in the valley, with the exception of a few Canadian Geese and a duck or two here and there.

Disappointed with the lack of wildlife, I continued south along the shore of Yellowstone Lake and on to the Fishing Bridge area, again seeing absolutely nothing. Making the turn northward again, I proceeded through the geyser meadows, spotting a lone bull Bison here and there, but nothing else, unless you count the endless stream of traffic.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

Then, about three miles south of the Madison Campground, I finally encountered some wildlife, a herd of about 50 or 60 Bison using the loop road to travel down toward the geyser meadows.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

I had about three or four cars in front of me when I  came across the herd.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

This shot is through the windshield ( I took the others holding my camera high out the side window but had to pull my hand in when the Bison on the left of the shot above about took my side mirror off as it passed ).

Bison
Ripe !

I don’t know what these guys were rolling in, but it was RIPE! I could easily have reached out the window and touched these guys as they passed within a foot of the Prius.

Yellowstone Traffic Impediment
Yellowstone Traffic Impediment

They were walking at about what I would guess was around four or five miles an hour, obviously not in a terrible hurry to get to their destination. They used both sides of the road where it was clear of traffic heading north, as I was. When the last of the herd passed, there was a line of traffic bottled up behind them, and that line stretched back to the Madison Campground, about three miles back. People in that line, more than likely were destined to take a couple hours or more to get the 15 or so miles to the geysers, since the herd was very unlikely to leave the convenience of road travel as dense new growth forest came right down to the road’s edge.

I ended up very disappointed in my lack of wildlife sightings, and very frustrated fighting traffic and mobs of inconsiderate people in the park DURING the off season. This was in all likelihood my last trip to Yellowstone and so now it’s on to Grand Teton National Park, one of my all time favorite spots to visit, and here’s hoping that the Memorial Day weekend crowds won’t be too bad there.

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May 10, 2018 North Platte, Nebraska

Abandoned Kansas Farm
Abandoned Kansas Farm

Poking Around Kansas and Nebraska

Old Kansas Barns

Over the past few weeks I have racked up a lot of miles in the Prius traveling the dusty back roads of Kansas and Nebraska searching for picturesque old barns and farmsteads.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Unfortunately, what I have discovered is that most of the old wooden barns have long since gone the way of the dodo bird. Most are just piles of rubble and all of them have been replaced with modern metal buildings, very functional, but surely lacking the aesthetics of the old wooden structures.

Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

Abandoned farmhouses dot the landscape out here and I always wonder exactly what caused the owners to leave these these buildings to the elements.

Nebraska Barn
Nebraska Barn
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse
Abandoned Nebraska Farmhouse

I have not taken any images of the main streets of the many tiny towns you encounter along the back roads here for it is indeed a sad sight to see. The old brick or stone buildings are all vacant and most are crumbling, but the small towns probably lack the resources to demolish them. Needless to say, the general stores and small restaurants and hotels that supported these farming communities have all fallen victim to “progress”.

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Wildlife Along the Backroads

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Unfortunately, I have encountered very little in the way of wildlife in my recent travels …

Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

… a Red-tailed Hawk or two, a few wild Turkeys and Ring-necked Pheasants strolling the remains of the harvested cornfields ( of which there are  a few acres devoted to that crop in Nebraska ) …

Nebraska Does
Nebraska Does

… and here and there I have encountered a few White-tailed deer, does only, no fawns seen yet.

Nebraska Sandhills
Nebraska Sandhills

I have driven to check out the Nebraska Sandhills, a vast expanse of sand dunes, disguised with a thin covering of grasses.

Endless Nebraska Sandhills
Endless Nebraska Sandhills

These dunes seem to go on forever and must have been something for the early westbound settlers to traverse in their wagons. You can right click on this image to get a larger version to get a better sense of the vast expanse  of the these sandhills.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

One day, while traveling between North Platte and McCook, Nebraska, I saw a beautiful herd of horses grazing in a pasture along the highway. When I noticed a large number of mares with fairly new foals amongst them, I had to stop for shots.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

A youngster enjoying a roll around on a gorgeous spring afternoon.

Mare and Foal
Mare and Foal

The differences in coloring of the moms and the colts was kind of interesting.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

Unfortunately, the majority of the mares with young walked away when I approached the fence to take my pictures, probably to protect the youngsters from any possible threat an unknown presence such as myself might cause. Or it could have been Pearl’s few barks of alarm from the Prius when she noticed these huge beasts just outside the windows of the car.

Mares and Foals
Mares and Foals

This were absolutely gorgeous animals, as if they were brushed and carefully groomed just for these photos. If you right click on the image above ( or any image in these blog posts for that matter ), it will open a larger image in a new window, and you will see what I mean.

Nebraska Horses
Nebraska Horses

I wish I could have gotten this lone white horse to position itself right next to one of the black ones, would have been a neat shot, but I waited and waited and this was the best I could get.

I am probably headed to the badlands of southwest South Dakota next, while I await the release of winter’s grip on Yellowstone NP. Snow is still falling there as of this post and some of the roads are still closed by snow. Hoping I can get there to see some early season bear activity, assuming I can get a spot in the campground at Mammoth Hot Springs, something I have not had any luck doing the last two times I have attempted to visit Yellowstone.

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