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 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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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 16, 2018 Interior, South Dakota

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

A Couple Days Exploring Badlands National Park

Badlands Morning Color
Badlands Morning Color

I continue to rack up the miles in the poor old Prius driving the roads through the park.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The sun rises very early here on the eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone, so I am out the door by 6AM and head west through the park with the sun at my back.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The colors are constantly changing depending on time of day and weather.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Sam Exploring the Badlands
Sam Exploring the Badlands

Sam is still active enough to want to accompany me out to spots to take photos, but is left in the dust by her new companion Pearl.

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

Stormy skies to the west change the feel of the landscape. Daytime temperatures have been in the high 80’s but the evenings cool down fast for comfortable sleeping.

Clouds Over the Badlands
Clouds Over the Badlands

Gorgeous cumulus clouds cast shadows on the landscape

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

I encounter a small group of Bighorn Rams each morning …

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

… and again as I return back to camp in the afternoon.

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs

There are numerous Prairie Dog communities throughout the park and the surrounding  cattle grazing land.

Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout

Some of these communities must contain hundreds if not thousands of individuals.

Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

If you scan these Prairie Dog “Towns” carefully with some binoculars, often you can spot a Burrowing Owl or two.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

Shaky images taken at a very long distance.

Bison
A Formidable Obstacle in the Road

I have encountered a few Bison bulls, but have not seen any cows and calves.

Scratching Post
Scratching Post
Bison Portrait
Bison Portrait

I had hoped to do some boon docking at the site just south of the town of Wall when I leave here Friday, but the weather is calling for some nasty weather ( possibility of large hail with violent thunderstorms ) and the road accessing those sites can get too sloppy for my rig after heavy rains, so I will continue to head west to Yellowstone and hope I can find a place to stay.

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