Spending time shooting in the rockies you come to really appreciate the life the inhabits the mountains. Bighorn Sheep are a great ungulate that lives in the cliffs eating grasses and minerals. Like all animals some years are better on them then others and this year seems to be pretty good in the Absaroka Wilderness for them. While out with the group we came across over 3 dozen individuals in a single day. Great thing about sheep is they are usually pretty cooperative.
This family group was busy munching the grasses along the road on a beautiful winter day. Taken with the D5 and 200-400 VR, the sheep kept moving along the road as they were grazing so getting out the tripod wasn’t going to work. The only way was to use the vehicle as a blind and slowly keep moving with the sheep.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep aren’t just one of the best winter creatures to photograph they are also one of my favorite. While they are technically still sheep their behavior is so fascinating that they draw attention. Everything from how they butt heads, climb steep cliffs and drink only once a day makes them interesting. In winter time they are one of my favorite subjects to work with because they are often down on the roads.
Bighorn sheep love salt. Salt is a mineral and for sheep minerals are essential for their diet. Bighorn sheep have a rather unique digestive system that actual doubles as a survival mechanism. Sheep have four stomachs, they eat and then climb back up the cliffs to re chew and digest what they have eaten. It’s a way to quickly gather food and then go back to where it’s safe from predators. The downside with the salt is if there are any other chemicals mixed in with the salt covering the road, then the salt can do harm to the sheep. These chemicals can be disastrous for the sheep so many precautions have been made to the deicing process in order to avoid these conflicts. I’ve photographed Bighorn Sheep with everything from a 70-300 VR to a 600 f/4 and TC-17E II Teleconverter. My best advise to go prepared because you don’t know how close or far away they will be.
It’s been a long time since I blogged about Bighorn Sheep so I made it a priority to find a group to photograph. I love working with Bighorn Sheep. When it comes to North American large mammals, Bighorn Sheep really are pretty simple to work with. Despite that, their behavioral characteristics are always interesting to watch.
This small harem consisted of only a few Ewe’s, a couple kids and from what I saw five males. Odds are the rest of the group was up the ridge where I couldn’t see them. Once a day Bighorn Sheep come down for water and then spend most of the day grazing before going back up to the cooler temperatures. Bighorn Sheep have a certain temperature range that they thrive at. They really don’t like being where it’s warm, that’s why they stay up in the mountains. While they are down below grazing they are pretty easy to work because all they do is go back and forth and graze. What’s important is being patient and waiting for that moment when they turn their body, or bring their head up or do something more interesting then just grazing. Often times what gets them is a noise.
This one Ewe actually was frozen looking up because of a helicopter that was going overhead. They didn’t seem to like that sound very much. The first time the rescue helicopter went overhead they all scattered back up the slope, this time they didn’t move as much. One of the main predators for sheep is the Golden Eagle, so naturally they spend a lot of time looking up. The whole time I was shooting this group I was hand holding the D4 and 200-400 VR which is my primary lens for large game. It allows for quick changes when the subject moves and provides enough space to show the environment in the composition. The one member that I was on the lookout for was the big ram which I found later on in the day but he was so high up that he never was really in a good place to photograph. Oh well. The rest of the sheep were plenty of entertainment until they had their fill and went back up the slope.
Fall is a great time to be out shooting and not just the leafs. North American mammals are in their prime for the season and is a great time to be photographing the big boys that roam the land. One of my personal favorites has always been the Rocky Mountain BigHorn Sheep. Fall is great time for these guys because it is cold enough that they tend to move around more. In the summer time it gets too warm so often they spend their days in the high mountains bedded down to keep cool. In the fall they come in altitude making it easier to work. Keep in mind that these critters have feet like suction cups that allow them to walk up the cliffs that would be impossible for a human to walk up. Having them at a more workable level is important. One of the important rules to consider when working with large mammals is how to compose the animal and where to crop into. Now there are no defined rules but just like with a human there are spots that are just awkward. This is one of those border line examples because yu can’t see the legs but you know there is a vertical drop cover up the legs. It’s very important to watch these natural details while shooting.
The last lesson for the week is quite a simple one in context but can be the most difficult in the long run, in part because not everyone lives in an area where these guys live. The last lesson is to go out and find the big game. The big critters Elk, Deer, Bison, and Bighorn Sheep are some of the best photographic subjects you can find in North America. However this is one of those location dependent cases. Well all Mammals look better in the Fall. The Fall is when they start to get their big fluffy winter coats and they honestly just look their best. If you have ever seen a Bison or Mule deer with a bad shed going on then you know what I’m talking about.
Half of a Mammals look or bodily shape is dependent on that fur coat. It provides color, depth and texture to that creature. Thus it creates all those elements in the photograph. Not to mention it also provides warmth for that critter. Fall also brings with it the rutting time for males. While each one has it’s own technique they generally can be quite exciting to watch. One of my favorite creatures to watch this time of year is the Bighorn Sheep. Not only are they interesting critters but their rut includes literally butting heads together. The sound of two big males slamming their horns into one another can be as loud as a gunshot but impressively neither one is affected by the force of the other. It’s truly amazing to biology.
So why did I post this lesson considering not everyone has big game in their backyard? Well it’s quite simple, not everyone has big game where they live but odds are everyone has some species near them, which means that there is a possibility to get shots of something that you ordinarily might not be able to. Keep in mind it’s Fall, migratory species are on the move. This comes with the changing of the weather and can be a lot of fun. There is one very basic and important rule when it comes to Wildlife photography, no photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of that critter or the home in which it lives in.
If you’re wondering in my blog absence if i found something inspirational to say you might be in for a disappointment. Then again writing posts at 2am tends to make for rather uninspiring conversation starters as this post is going up that early. I was thinking about the sheep lately since i have been reluctant to get myself to get out shooting for a multitude of reasons and thought to share an image. With a project coming up I’m hoping that will change. We shall see.
Image captured with D3, 600f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
What a surprise, Sunday rolled around and i went back into the park. Well Saturday was just so much fun that i thought another day was just what i needed. Besides i didn’t get the shot i was looking for of the sheep so i thought i would try again. O i thought i would get it too. I got there and the light was just perfect, here u can see it bouncing off the r0cks just beautifully, hitting little spots lighting them up so that they glow. Like the face of the one sheep or the butt of the other. Unfortunately for me the sheep were moving up the ridge and not sticking at the bottom of it so i didn’t to play with the kids for very long.
That didn’t stop them though. They climbed that ridge and peered over looking right down at me. I must have been interesting because the one in front kept cocking his head at me, maybe it was the sound of the D3 shutter. Now normally i wouldn’t blog shots like these because you wouldn’t be able to see the detail in the sheep but i thought it was interesting finding these four kids, no rams or ewes, just the four kids walking up the slope. Now i keep saying kids but in reality they are actually just young ewes. With the seemingly scarcity of sheep all of a sudden, I’m starting to wonder what is changed on the slope to change there habits. Weather or predators? Cause something seems to have changed there timing a bit more. Hmmm something to ponder and watch.
Images captured with D3, 600f4, Tc-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
This past Sunday was filled with a great day of shooting down in Yellowstone with the folks. For some time now i have been unable to go out shooting with Dad when it comes to wildlife. Sure it’s fun going out and doing landscapes and video projects now and then, and the T6’s were just a blast but blasting critters is just an area where we both have fun and truly enjoy. It was a nice change of pace. When i get asked where i go out and i tell people Yellowstone, they always reply, “O gonna find some wolves!” Well we looked, found the group of followers that track them and the remnants that they had been around but didn’t see them that day. From the time I’ve spent looking for them I’ve learned two things, one they don’t like cars or people and two they don’t work weekends. They seem to be like most dogs and hide on the weekends or sleep. I know my dogs back home are always sleeping on Saturdays.
No, Sunday was a great day partly because we got to have fun with these big guys. The Bighorn Sheep that inhabit the park are always there and normal pretty cooperative. For me i can never tire of working with them. These are also the first files of them captured with the D3 for me, because i didn’t have a D3 in South Dakota when we worked with Sheep in the Black Hills and since i didn’t work them this past fall. Needless to say i was having fun. The big guy up top was from the morning. A bit of loaner munching on some grass while listening to the herd who was around the hill in a gully on the other side. He was slow moving and friendly. Then there was this a group of Ewes and Rams that we ran into that afternoon just south of Gardener, and this particular Ram was being well rather youthful. Running around smelling the sent of the Ewes basically being a lets say “energetic male.” Well i managed to get him sticking his tongue out at me as the one Ewe was going over the ridge and into the gully on the other side and it just seemed to me like he was bragging. Gotta love when sheep have a sense of humor to them. Of course i think Dad’s Hafe was better but then i have a demented mind.
Images captured with D3, 600f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things, which includes playing with widlife. Yesterday was the first day of snow here in Bozeman and much of Montana. Well it wasn’t really snow, it started as rain then went to slush than snow for about 3 hours than back to rain, so it did snow but just turned to slush. It got the people here on campus happy, fresh powder already accumulating. It got me thinking about these guys. I’ve spent a good deal of time watching and photographing the Bighorn Sheep here in the Rockies. I thought i would share this one with you. This was taken last spring at Bigsky, an area better known for skiing rather than sheep but that’s where they were. I always thought the big guys just liked all the turist attention. A couple weeks back i went looking for the sheep at one of my favorite haunts but they weren’t they’re yet. Much too early for them to be that low. With it being October and going into fall, the migratory birds should be moving in and out of the state. With any luck i’ll stumble across some this weekend, or anything else i can find lol.
Image captured with D2Hs, 600f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
This morning we awoke at a lovely 3am. That’s right we woke up a long time before any person ever really wants to, but it was necessary in order to get to Badlands before sunrise. Sunrise was spectacular or at least as much as i saw of it. As much as i tried my eyes wouldn’t stay open and thus i slept through sunrise. Heck i’m writing this blog right now and my eyes wanna close. Well after the hour of lovely color we went up the road and saw the first Bighorn sheep of the day. They didn’t stick around so we did what any photographer does, went and got food. We came back after breakfast and there they were four Ewes and two lambs.
These guys were so incredibly cute. They were like any newborn, explorative. They climbed the walls of the canyon and hopped from one rock to another. They even played with each other a little bit. We spent three and a half hours photogrpahing the interactions between the moms and the kids. It’s a rare thing to find lambs so cooperative, so to get so much time with them is a real treat.
Images captures with D2Hs, 600f4, TC-14,on Lexar UDMA Digital Film