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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February 14, 2018 Grand Isle, Louisiana

Roseate Spoonbills
Roseate Spoonbills

Finally!

After twelve straight days and nights of rain and fog with what must be about 100% humidity, I stepped out of the motorhome around 5 AM for Sam to do her thing … and I actually saw stars above. For the first time in two weeks! And that was followed by a visible  sunrise, and what’s more, the sun continued to be seen throughout the entire day.

I really do think I made a mistake not staying in the desert this winter. I can’t say I enjoy the fogged up windows day after day and the muggy 70 degree nights for sleeping, I guess the desert’s winter climate kind of spoils you with it’s wonderfully consistent sunny days, lack of humidity, and cool starlit night skies.

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Anyhow, with a return of the sun, there also was a return of some Roseate Spoonbills, a beautifully ugly wading bird that I had only caught a distant glimpse of during the last two weeks. Today I encountered a few individuals here and there and the one pair in the top image. Gorgeous pink plumage and an almost prehistoric looking head with that very unique beak.

Osprey
Osprey

The Ospreys were out in force, as usual. At times you may see one perched atop about one of every ten utility poles running along the highway, and they usually are dining on a freshly caught mullet or Speckled Trout.

Osprey with Speckled Trout
Osprey with Speckled Trout

There were a few wading fisherman below this bird who would have been glad to catch a healthy Speckled Sea Trout like this guy was dining on.

Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret
Great Egret

With the sunny weather, there seemed to be a few more Great Egrets out and about, prowling the shallow waters in search of breakfast.

Brown Pelican with White Pelican
Brown Pelican with White Pelican

Once again there was a single White Pelican wandering among the Brown Pelicans at their usual haunt on the south side of the highway. This morning I counted 88 pelicans gathered there with the majority of them juveniles.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Came close, but just didn’t quite get the dramatic pelican diving-for-fish shots I was looking for. But with some decent light this morning, at least I had some opportunities.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

I get a kick out of watching the occasional chaotic action in this large gathering of Brown Pelicans. Ninety percent of the time they are patiently floating along as in the image above.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

Then someone stumbles upon a fish …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… and everyone around instantly flies or paddles in …

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

… to get a piece of the action.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

A lot of splashing and slashing, then after just a minute or so, calm returns, until someone else discovers another fish below the surface.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be rain free, so I will get one more chance to get some shots before I head up to New Orleans for a few days at Bayou Segnette State Park.

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February 9, 2018 Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

 

Osprey and seagull
Waiting for scraps

What Happened to the Birds?

Now I remember why I enjoy the desert in winter … the sunny, warm days, the cool dry nights. I arrived in Grand Isle one week ago today and it has rained at least part of every day I have been here. Several of the campsites are flooded at times, fortunately not the one I am on. Daytime temps have been in the 60’s and low 70’s, nighttime temps in the 60’s, and with the constant showers and high humidity, it’s often difficult to see out the fogged up windows of the motorhome. Haven’t seen the sun, nor a single nighttime star since I arrived, but lots of clouds and fog. Enjoying myself here so much, I just renewed for another week! And the forecast for next week?

Next Week

Rain … every day!

The reason for reupping is really just to kill time since my next destination is Bayou Segnette State Park on the outskirts of New Orleans, and this week is Mardi Gras week.

I have visited here three or four times over the years and have always enjoyed my stays here at the state park. It is a quiet, not terribly busy park this time of year and I have had good luck with wading birds and ospreys in the shallow waters along the highway coming into Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. However, this year I am wondering what has happened to all the wading birds.

Osprey Dining
Osprey Dining

I came upon this osprey enjoying his meal about a hundred feet off the Port Fourchon road ( those are storage tanks in the background ), when a passing truck apparently scared him off his dining perch.

Osprey Dinner Interrupted
Osprey Dinner Interrupted

I am always amazed at the incredibly long, narrow wings of an osprey that seem so disproportionally long for it’s body.

Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Mullet
Osprey with Catch
Osprey with Catch

The ospreys are still plentiful and I am seeing large numbers of Brown Pelicans, with an unusually large number of immature ones. As in the image just below, the youngsters seem to outnumber the adults by a large margin. I guess that’s a good thing since just a few years ago, folks were worrying about the future of these birds.

Brown Pelicans
Brown Pelicans

There is a spot along the highway frequented by folks fishing from shore ( for what I am not sure ) and also by about 50 or more pelicans. Mixed in with the Brown Pelicans were three White Pelicans, the first time I have seen the two different types of pelicans together.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Immature Brown Pelican

I was aware that the White Pelican was larger than the Brown Pelican, but I never realized there was this much difference in their sizes.

White Pelican with Brown Pelican
White Pelican with Brown Pelican

I have only caught a glimpse of one Roseate Spoonbill flying way off in the distance, whereas before I have always encountered numerous small groups of them wading along the roadside waters. I have seen a few Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibises, but nowhere near the numbers I remember. Perhaps I’ll have some better luck next week ( in the rain ).

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February 14, 2014 Grand Isle, Louisiana

Osprey on post
Osprey

Finally, beautiful weather has returned, sunny and warm with a gentle breeze and blue skies! So up on the roof I go to replace the turret on my Winegard satellite dish. My hoped for ladder never materialized, so had to do a little improvising to get the unit up on the roof and get the old one down without breaking anything, including myself. Probably spent a couple of hours on the project and didn’t have any major problems except for one adjustment plate that had to be reused but did not match up perfectly with the corresponding part of the replacement turret.

Climb back down the ladder, go in and power the system up, the unit raises up, circles, and circles, and circles, then spits out a new error message “ AZ motor stalled”. Turn the power off and it starts to stow itself but now can’t and we are stuck with the new error message and a dish in the upright position that now won’t stow. Too late to call Winegard so this saga will continue tomorrow.

 

Osprey
Osprey
Osprey on post
Osprey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drove up to Fourchon with a little success, finding an osprey with it’s specked trout lunch.

Flotilla of white pelicans
Flotilla of white pelicans
Shorebirds
Feast!

 

This flotilla of white pelicans was only 100 feet from the gathering of white ibis, snowy egrets, great egrets and roseate spoonbills that were really working this area hard. Obviously, there either were a mess of shrimp in this area or a large amount of baitfish. On this trip, with the road work preventing me from pulling over, I have missed an awful lot of opportunities to shoot mass gatherings of birds such as this.

Black crowned night heron
Black crowned night heron
Black crowned night heron
Black crowned night heron
Black crowned night heron
Black crowned night heron