May 27, 2018 Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Bear #399 and Cubs
Bear #399 and Cubs

A Beary Good Day in the Tetons

Grand Teton N.P. Unsettled Weather
Grand Teton N.P. Unsettled Weather

I arrived at the Gros Ventre Campground in Kelly, Wyoming, just outside Jackson Hole, on Thursday, apparently bringing the unsettled weather with me.

Grand Teton N.P. Unsettled Weather
Grand Teton N.P. Unsettled Weather

Storm clouds, a bit of sun, rain, hail … just can’t seem to escape this kind of weather this year. Does combine at times to produce some dramatic shots though. The above image is the scene as I exit the Gros Ventre Campground on what turned out to be a very rare, exciting day in the Grand Teton National Park.

Bear #399
Bear #399

Bear #399

Bear #399
Bear #399

( For a little background of Bear #399, arguably the most famous bear in the world, click here.)

On Saturday of the Memorial Day Weekend, I had originally planned to just stay home and avoid the holiday crowds, but at 5:30 in the morning when I caught a glimpse of a little bit of sun through the storm clouds at sunrise, I decided I would venture out, hoping the holiday crowds might be sleeping in..

Bear #399
Bear #399

I drove about thirty miles north on the main road to an area referred to as Pilgrim Flats and couldn’t believe my eyes when I spied a very healthy looking grizzly with two large cubs grazing in the flats not more than hundred yards off the side of the road.

Bear #399 and Cubs
Bear #399 and Cubs

And more amazing yet, early morning golden light and no rain!

Bear #399 and Cubs
Bear #399 and Cubs

I was able to position myself with the sun to my back and couldn’t believe that the bears seemed very content to do their thing and were oblivious to myself and some other early morning photographers who were able to take advantage of this incredible opportunity.

Bear #399 Nursing Cubs
Bear #399 Nursing Cubs

When Mom stopped grazing and called the cubs in to nurse, I just couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to have abandoned my plan to stay home on this holiday weekend.

Bear #399 Nursing Cubs
Bear #399 Nursing Cubs

Don’t think I would want to ever see those claws up close and personal.

Bear #399 Nursing Cubs
Bear #399 Nursing Cubs

Very healthy two year old cubs and obviously, a very experienced mother.

Bear #399
Bear #399

After spending the better part of two hours with these guys, and with crowds gathering, I departed Pilgrim Flats and continued up the highway to see what else I might run into.

A Second Encounter with Bear #399 and Cubs
A Second Encounter with Bear #399 and Cubs

On my return south on the highway, about two miles north of where I originally encountered these bears, I saw them coming out of the woods heading down to a small pond and pulled over to see if I could get any different type of shots. But by this time traffic was getting very heavy and my stopping started a huge ” bear jam ” on the highway. Just incredible how quickly the road backed up and people stopped in the middle of the road, on both sides, people darting in and out of traffic, just chaotic, and not my cup of tea. So, I left #399 and her cubs to the holiday crowds and hurried home to get my shots on the computer to see if I captured anything worthwhile in my early morning encounter with this star of the bear world.

An Obsessed Mountain Bluebird

Female Mountain Bluebird
Female Mountain Bluebird

While I have had other birds, at other campgrounds, be attracted to their reflection in the motorhome’s mirrors, I have never run into one as obsessed as this female Mountain Bluebird.

Female Mountain Bluebird
Female Mountain Bluebird

She shows up at sunrise and returns all throughout the day to try and discourage this interloper she sees in the mirror, trying to intrude on her territory.

Female Mountain Bluebird
Female Mountain Bluebird

Other times I have observed this kind of behavior, it has always been a male bird and I have never seen one so aggressively fight off this perceived intruder. She was making such a mess of the mirror that I finally had to go and wrap a plastic bag over the mirror, whereupon she turned her attention to the other other mirror, that she had previously ignored. Now both mirrors are wrapped in plastic, but she still shows up several times a day to check on the intruders she knows must be there but that she can no longer see.

Next post, another bear encounter at the same location, but a different bear!

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October 15, 2013 Espanola, New Mexico

Day trip to Valles Caldera and Chociti Lake

Since the weather forecast called for yet another gorgeous day, I headed out early this morning on a day trip to visit the Valles Cauldera and then check out the Army Corps of engineer’s campground on Cochiti Lake south of Santa Fe.

I headed west on 502 and then picked up Route 4 to White Rock and then on toward Bandelier National Monument, that of course is closed. Observing signage as I approached Bandelier, apparently you now must take a shuttle bus from park headquarters, about 6 or 7 miles from the park entrance road, and can no longer drive your own vehicle into the park. I assume there must be some good reason for this action, although considering that it is a decision made by our federal employees, that may not necessarily be the case. ( Internet research suggests that flooding, as a result of the severe forest fires in the region, has damaged the parking lots within the park. Replacing the lots would cause undo stress on the park, and since a shuttle has been the long term goal of park planners, this was just the impetus needed to implement the shuttle plan. Further research shows that the shuttle system has had a dramatically detrimental effect on the park’s concessionaires in lost revenue caused by a drop in park attendance. Park officials state that people visiting the park must be “trained” to adapt to the new shuttle service. Hopefully, the park officials will realize sometime in the near future that most people simply do not like the the new policy and as a result, have stopped coming to visit Bandelier. )

My personal objection to the shuttle bus only access is that it pretty much denies me entrance into these facilities, since I carry close to 100 pounds of photo equipment with me in my vehicle, and that can not possibly be taken on a shuttle bus. Thus I have to leave more than 50% of my gear behind when I go into these parks, greatly reducing the chances that I will have what I need to get the shots I may encounter. When I have my vehicle with me, I can return to the car to get something I may need, where with the shuttle system, I can’t.

Coyote portrait
Coyote portrait

Strange coyote behavior

Coyote
Coyote
Road coyote
Road coyote

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just past the Bandelier entrance road, I encountered a female coyote standing dead center in the center of the road. As soon as I saw her, I slowed down almost to a stop, so she was not terribly alarmed as I approached her, barely moving. When I had gotten about 20 feet from her, she very reluctantly plodded off to the side of the road and stood there, staring at me while I snapped a few shots. She then moved down the road a few yards and again, walked out to the centerline and stood there, not moving. Again, I moved forward, now on the shoulder of the road, until I was almost abreast of her. Once more she reluctantly moved to the far shoulder of the road and stared at me.

Second coyote
Second coyote
Bored Coyote
Bored Coyote

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then noticed two more coyotes maybe 40 feet behind her, moving about amongst the sagebrush, but trying to keep out of sight, as would be normal behavior for a coyote. Really puzzled by her odd behavior, I carefully looked around the area to see if there was a carcass or some other food source, a good reason for her to be out in the open like this and not running from a human encounter. I could see nothing. Although this Route 4 is a main road through this area, for whatever reason there was absolutely no traffic coming through at all during this encounter that went on for 5 minutes or more.

Once again, she moved along the shoulder of the road until she was 30 or 40 feet down the road from me and, once again moved out to the centerline of the highway, and just stood there. I continued down the road’s shoulder, this time moving past her without stopping until I was 100 feet down the road from her, where I again pulled off the road and stopped, getting out to observe her next move. And that move was… nothing. She simply stood there in the center of the road, looking around, but never leaving the centerline of the road. Really weird, and I just have no idea what she was doing. Finally a pickup truck came zooming along from the opposite direction, and he had to have seen her in the center of the road, never slowed down, and she just did jump out of the way, barely avoiding getting hit, and finally trotted off to join the other two coyotes in the sagebrush. If anyone can explain this strange behavior, I would love to hear an explanation.

I continued on Route 4 to the Valles Caldera, hoping to get some elk shots and maybe a few bluebirds as well. From the pulloffs along the road, I could spot several herds of black angus, way out in the distance.Taking out my binoculars, I also was able to find a large herd of perhaps 200 elk out in the center of the caldera, not too far from the Visitor’s center. Unfortunately, they were too far out from the road to get a decent photo, even with the long lens. However, it looked like I may be able to get closer by going down to the Visitor’s center. I headed down Route 4 to the Visitor’s center entrance…and found it closed off! The Valles Caldera is now a National Preserve, and as such, shut down by the federal budget impasse. Yea!!, yet once again. So, no elk shots.

Mountain bluebird
Mountain bluebird

 

Western bluebird
Western bluebird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did get a couple of mountain bluebird shots on the fences by the route 4 pulloffs though, so I guess the trip to the caldera was not a complete waste.

I continued on Route 4, down through the Jemez Pueblo and the red rock cliffs surrounding this little tourist trap village, actually, kind of interesting, if you have never stopped there. I then headed south on 550 until it joined 25 north and turned off on 22 and headed north to the Cochiti Recreation Area on the west side of the Cochiti lake, a lake formed by an Army Corps Dam on the Rio Grande River.

This is an extensive Army Corps recreation area with a large picnic area and a separate campground, half of which looks like it is all but brand new. The interior roads and sites are paved and each site has a nice new picnic table with a canopy and electric hookup. The sites are fairly well spaced, level, and there is a combination of backin and pull through sites, most all of which will handle the largest units. It is all out in the open, no trees, and, other than the lake, there is really not a lot else out here, you would have to enjoy the solitude to want to be out here. I think there was only one RV here today when I visited, other than what looked like two campground host sites. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here if I had a week this time of year when I wanted some peace and quiet to read or paint. One thing that really seemed strange as I drove all through the large campground, picnic area, overlook area, and down to the lake shore, was the absolute, complete lack of any signs of wildlife, no rabbits, no squirrels, NO BIRDS even, really weird.

Headed back home via route 22 to route 16 back to 25 north, then 599 around Santa Fe and on to 84/285 north back to the campground.

Coyote portrait
Coyote
Coyote
Coyote
Mountain bluebird
Mountain bluebird

 

Mountain bluebird
Mountain bluebird

 

September 21, 2013 Yellowstone National Park

View from Mammoth looking south
View from Mammoth looking south

Once again, I traversed the upper loop road from Mammoth to Tower, out to the Lamar Valley, and then on to Hayden Valley, then back to Norris, then home to Mammoth Campground.

Bison Jam
Bison Jam
Bison Jam
Bison Jam

 

 

 

 

I encountered a couple of bison jams along the way and a few scattered elk. Though unable to get any photos of him because of the distance, I was able to observe the grizzly that has been camped out on a carcass on the far shore of Swan Lake for the past three days.

Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got a few nice predawn shots of the bull elk in town, controlling his ever growing harem of cows, going out over the hills to drive a stray back to the harem if she wandered too far to graze.

 

Campground elk
Campground elk
Campground elk
Campground elk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the late afternoon, while I was at the computer processing today’s shots, I heard a bull bugling just outside the campground and it sounded like he was heading my way. Sure enough, I looked out the windshield and there he was cutting through the site directly in front of me and heading for the main road. I gathered up my camera and shot out the door after him and managed to get a couple of decent shots of him before he disappeared over the hill, apparently looking for some company.

Bison eyeing bus
To ram or not to ram
Bison walking road
Traveling the centerline
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

 

 

 

 

 

Yellowstone bison
Yellowstone bison
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk
Mammoth Bull Elk

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain bluebird
Mountain bluebird
Cottonwoods Lamar Valley
Cottonwoods Lamar Valley

 

 

August 30, 2013 Day trip to Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge

Decided today was the day to take a trip to Red Rock Wildlife Refuge on the border of Montana and Idaho. Initially set up to help the then endangered tundra swans, I had read that the refuge was a great place for all kinds of birds, especially ducks. The refuge is accessed off of route 20 by a 30 plus mile gravel road suitable for regular vehicles, but rough and dusty. What the online info did not specify was that nearly all the waters in the refuge are off limits and you really can’t even think about shooting with a large telephoto because you are so far away and the fields between the road and the ponds and lakes are closed to foot traffic.

 

Juvenile Mountain Bluebird
Juvenile Mountain Bluebird

Juvenile Mountain Bluebird

Juvenile Mountain Bluebird

 

All I got to show for my efforts are some shots of juvenile mountain bluebirds and sandhill cranes along the road, and a very dusty car, both inside and out. It was certainly interesting to see this broad expanse of meadows and lakes at an elevation of 7000 or so but I don’t think I would make the trip again, too much pain for not enough reward.

 

Madison River Ospreys
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Ospreys
Madison River Osprey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best shots of the day were taken about 6 miles from my campsite on 287 at the osprey nest platform I visited the other day. They obviously have not read the signs about “catch and release “ you find all along the Madison River. It was pretty neat to watch this pair fly down to the river, about 200 yards away, patrol only a short section, maybe 200-300 yards only, make a few dives, and then come back to the nest to devour their trout, some fairly good sized. They gave me a great opportunity to capture them in flight as they landed and took off from the nest.

Disaster Strikes

After my mostly unfruitful, very hot day trip out to the refuge, I was looking forward to getting back home to stretch out in the shade or in front of a fan. But when I arrived back at my campsite, I found my passenger side mid coach window shattered and laying on the ground, in a million pieces. I have single pane safety glass sliders on the motorhome and this has never happened before. maybe a bird hit it or some other kind of freak occurrence? I don’t think it was a breakin because the RV wasn’t missing anything and nothing was disturbed inside, so who knows?

Big trouble, broken window
Big trouble, broken window
Big trouble, broken window
Big trouble, broken window

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I do know is that this was the last thing on earth I wanted to deal with on a 90+ degree afternoon after an eight hour fruitless, frustrating road trip. Then it dawned on me that this was really bad, this being the Friday of a long Labor Day weekend when everything was going to be closed up for three days and me sitting here in a remote BLM campground, in bear country with a 24” x 28” opening in the side of my motorhome. My first thought was to call Tiffen Industries, the manufacture of my coach and see if they could ship out a replacement piece of glass before they closed up today. It was 2:30 here in Montana which meant 4:30 in Red Bay, Alabama where Tiffen is located, and that meant I had to get a call in quick before they closed.

Of course, with no cell coverage here in the campground, I wold have to scurry quickly to higher ground, so I headed back up 287 towards Ennis, searching for a signal all the way. At 2:42, I finally got one and pulled off the road to call Tiffen service, got put on hold by their automated call system ( aren’t they just what you want to hear when you are sweating it out in somewhat of an emergency? ) for the next ten minutes, 2:52 now and I am assuming they close down at 5:00, their time, so I give up and call their parts number and once again am put on hold for what seems like an eternity as the clock ticks towards the magic hour, 5:00, when finally, just exactly at 5 someone picks up.

I explain my situation, bear country, severe afternoon thunderstorms, being out in the middle of nowhere with this gaping hole in my motorhome’s side, and could they ship out a piece of replacement glass before they close up for the weekend. He explained to me that all they could do was manufacture me a full new window frame with components and that would take about two weeks to make. I got the distinct impression that my predicament really wasn’t a big concern to Tiffen, and after my experience at their maintenance facility in Red Bay last December, I kind of assume they really aren’t all that concerned anymore with maintaining their formerly great reputation for treating their customers right. Well, it doesn’t make much sense to me to wait 2 to 3 weeks for a full replacement window at a cost of probably a couple of grand ( I am guessing, I didn’t ask a price ) when I need something NOW and for a whole lot less money. A piece of replacement safety glass, there is no frame on the glass panel, surely can be come by somewhere at a much lower price than $2000 and a lot sooner than 2 or 3 weeks.

So, first things first, I rushed up to Ennis to the lumber yard to get a piece of 1/4” luan plywood cut to my window size that I could take home with me to temporarily close up the gap. They were very helpful there and for $7 I was out the door and headed back home in just a few minutes. Once there I took out my screen, used it as a pattern to trace out the rounded corners on my plywood, cut the corners out with my trusty utility knife, and then was able to bow the 1/4” material enough to get it snuggly back in the track of the now missing glass. Not much to look at, but now I can at least keep the rain out.

I will have to backtrack to Bozeman on Tuesday and try to find a glass shop that can custom make a piece of safety glass for me, I hope! If not, I will then try to get a piece of 1/4” acrylic ( plexi ) cut to use as a semi permanent solution until I can figure out what to do.

Flyfishing the Madison
Flyfishing the Madison
Flyfishing the Madison
Flyfishing the Madison

 

 

 

 

 

For the next three days, I guess I will just stay put here on the banks of the Madison River and enjoy my peace and quiet and watch the fisherman go by.

As always click on any image for a larger version.

Flyfishing the Madison
Flyfishing the Madison
Staging area for Madison River fishing trips
Staging area for Madison River fishing trips
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey

 

 

 

 

 

Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey

 

 

 

 

 

Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey
Madison River Osprey