June 2, 2018 Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Bison
Classic Western Scene

Last of the Wildlife Shots From Grand Teton

This park is proving to be a great spot for wildlife photos in the spring. I had been visualizing a shot such as the one above since I arrived here and heading back to the campground the other day, here they were, a small group of bison heading down to the Morman Farm area and needing to cross the road just as I was passing by.

Pronghorns
Pronghorns

And farther up the road, on the same day, this group of female pronghorns, grazing amongst the Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers. I had really hoped to finally get some shots of some pronghorn fawns but I guess I am just a little too early for that as these gals look like they are still a week or so away from having little ones.

Bear #399 and Cubs
Bear #399 and Cubs

I briefly ran into Bear #399 and her cubs again, though this time only for a brief moment as they crossed a meadow and quickly disappeared into the woods.

Retreating Elk with Calf
Retreating Elk with Calf

Finally I have seen a new born elk calf, though I couldn’t get a decent shot of it as mom hastily retreated when I appeared on the scene. At least I know that they are giving birth at this time, though I have seen very few elk cows out and about recently.

River Otters
River Otters

Jackson Lake Dam Outlet

I spent some time at the outlet below the dam on Jackson Lake yesterday and was surprised at the amount of activity there. I had stopped just to watch the shore fisherman and see what they were catching ( small Lake Trout and some Cut throat Trout ).

River Otter
River Otter

While watching the fisherman casting from shore I noticed a pair of River Otters diving in the rushing waters coming out of the dam. Unfortunately I missed getting the best shots as the pair would catch a fish, dash ashore and climb the bank, then rush across thirty feet of open ground to some bushes, where they would be mobbed by three young otters they were delivering the fish to. All quickly disappeared back into the brush to eat and then the adults would return to the river to fish again.

Common Mergansers
Common Mergansers

Also actively fishing the churning waters were a small group of Common Mergansers, here seen resting on shore before heading out into the rapids.

Common Merganser Pair
Common Merganser Pair
Common Merganser Pair
Common Merganser Pair
Common Mergansers
Common Mergansers

They concentrated their efforts at the edge of the rushing waters exiting the dam, most likely picking off fish that were stunned as they came through the dam.

White Pelican
White Pelican

A pair of White Pelicans were also working the same area.

White Pelicans
White Pelicans
Trail Obstruction
Trail Obstruction

One morning I noticed a few large Bison Bulls as I was driving the main road in the park and pulled off and parked and headed down a trail through the willows to see if I could get a closer shot of them. As I rounded a corner of the trail, I ran into a trail obstruction, in the form of the aforementioned Bison. The three bulls stared at me as I looked around for the safest way out of this situation. Two of the bison turned and jumped over the fence you see on the right, clearing the top rail with their front legs but loudly crashing the rail as their bellies came down on the fence. The third bison simply stood his ground, so I retreated back to my parked car.

Grand Teton Bison
Grand Teton Bison
Grand Teton Bison
Grand Teton Bison

You just can’t appreciate just how large these animals are until you are face to face with them. Very powerful animals.

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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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April 14, 2018 Marion, Kansas

Endless Prairie
Endless Prairie

The Strange Weather Continues

As I write this, I am staring out the motorhome window at swirling snow and swaying trees as the winds howl out of the north and the temperatures continue dropping, now at 30 degrees and supposed to continue falling to around 22 degrees tonight. Springtime in Kansas!

Endless Prairie
Endless Prairie

Yesterday, however, it was a balmy 50 degrees with the wind howling out of the south with gusts up to 45 mph. The heavy clouds with intermittent sun made for some nice opportunities to shoot prairie landscapes, though it was no simple task to keep the camera from shaking.

Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Stone Farmhouse
Abandoned Stone Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse
Abandoned Farmhouse

Lots of abandoned farmhouses and barns in this part of the state, though most of the wooden barns I have come across have long ago given way to the elements.

Stone Barn
Stone Barn

This barn, built in the 1880’s, with stone walls 18″ thick, most likely will be standing for quite a while yet.

Bison Herd
Bison Herd

A shot of one of the bison herds that have been reestablished in the state of Kansas, this one at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.

Maltese
Growing Up Fast

Pearl is growing up fast! Big enough now to really give poor old Sam fits, just harasses the living daylights out of her.

Maltese
Windblown

This shot gives you an idea of just how hard the wind is blowing out here. As with everything else, the howling winds and blowing snow do not faze Pearl in the least, outside playtime is enjoyed whatever the conditions may be.

Her bold nature almost did her in two days ago as a large, rangy bobcat sauntered into our campsite around 7AM while I was outside with the two dogs for them to do their morning business. The cat eyed Pearl, then me, then Pearl, as if trying to decide if I was enough of a deterrent to her being able to grab an expensive breakfast. Just as the cat decided to give up that idea, Pearl spotted the cat and started to run her way. Thankfully, she responded when I bellowed her name, and stopped before she got close enough for the bobcat to react. Since Pearl is about the size of a very small rabbit, I have no doubt the bobcat was eyeing her as prey. I have always been on the watch for coyotes anywhere I camp, but I have to admit, it never occurred to me that a bobcat would be this bold, especially in broad daylight. Needless to say, I am now even more vigilant than before and try to make sure that Pearl doesn’t get very far from me no matter what time of day we are outside.

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