Active Canines

When it comes to Yellowstone everyone thinks about the iconic critters, like the wolves and grizzly bears, but the ones that are around most often are the ones that get overlooked. Coyote’s are a great example. While they roam throughout the whole park they are rarely seen in family groups but can be seen as in both groups and singles. While they are mostly scavengers they do go after mice, rabbits and other small game.

The coyotes have been quite active this winter with multiple sightings of multiple individuals. The downside of coyotes in the park is that they tend to be a little shy. Often times the best way to photograph them is to setup head of them and wait for them to come to you. They tend not to like it when you come up on them. This individual was on the move walking the river looking for the net meal. Simple click with the D5 and 200-400 VR.

Patience Pays Off

Patience is a very important aspect of wildlife photography that cannot be underestimated. For some reason there is always a rush to keep going, to see what else is down the road, even if there is a good subject right in front of the photographer. Well this scenario happened to me this past weekend when I was in Yellowstone. It was past six o’clock and the light was getting to that beautiful golden color. I helped it along a little bit by switching over to cloudy white balance which raised the kelvin temperature. You can see the results from yesterdays post. All that was around me was Bison. Everyone kept driving by except one other truck who was also shooting. Suddenly the other shooter jumped, I looked over and saw this grey blob running around and I knew it was a wolf.

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I was not expecting to see a wolf at this time of the day at this location going after Bison but in this case, one lone gray wolf was going after a Spring born Bison calf. It’s mother was being very protective and without the pack the wolf did not succeed but that didn’t stop it from trying. For over an hour the wolf and his companion entertained us.

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The whole time I was shooting with the D4, 600 f/4 and I was shooting a lot in high speed crop. To make the evening better the wolf decided to circle the herd of Bison that were present looking for another way to go after the calf. He couldn’t find one but he did come a lot closer to us which was great! If you ever wonder if wildlife know you are around, the answer is yes. This wolf was listening and watching us quite a lot. The whole time I was sitting in my truck shooting out the window, one more reason I didn’t use a teleconverter, low light and unstable platform but that’s what you have to do in this scenario.

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Now this was the interesting part. There was a coyote following and working with the wolf the whole time. They came up the ridge together, went after the calf together and the coyote also circled around the herd. Now the wolf was probably just tolerating the coyote because it was by itself but was very interesting behavior biology to watch.

All of this was because I didn’t keep going down the road. Ironically it was seconds before this happened that I was thinking about moving on. To say that luck played a role is accurate but if you aren’t out and aren’t patient then you are going to miss that opportunity and in this case the images scene here aren’t even the best, so it was a good opportunity.

The Benefits of the Cold Weather

Working with wildlife is about pushing yourself to get out more often and photograph them in their natural element no matter how uncomfortable it might be for you. Keep in mind that those critters are out there just like you are and they don’t have a warm fire to go back to afterwards.

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One of my favorite places to go in the Winter is Yellowstone. I know i talk about the park a lot but hey it yields a lot of different possibilities. With the cold temperatures comes great fog coming off of the rivers and geothermals. What that creates is a background that is not only clean but also more interesting.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 600 f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Neighbors

This past weekend I was enjoying one of my new books when a strange sound starting coming through my window. Behind my apartment lies a horse and cattle ranch. I thought it was merely the cold snow falling that was making them whine until about 12:00 when I started to hear howling, then it all made sense. At first it sounded like one coyote was out in the field but slowly more and more howls were coming. I have no doubt that the ranchers were very unhappy to hear them but for me it was fun. It’s that reminder that I get to live in the mountains and that they are just part of the land. Another critter that gets to roam around.

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Captured with Nikon D2Hs, 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Trout Fishing Coyote

On the way out of the park towards the end of the previous week we had an astonishing sight. It was a coyote frozen in the river, back covered with a fresh blanket of snow, and still as a rock waiting for a trout to swim by his feet. Up to that point i had only heard of salmon fishing wolves, those who wait by the shallows for a salmon to go by in the midst of grizzlies, but never had i ever heard of trout fishing coyote. It was cold, dark, and only getting worse. We shot out of the van regardless. The slightest movement would cause the image to be unsharp, most of my shots came back that way. At 1/30 shutter speed it’s easy to make that happen. Even a tripod wasn’t stable enough. We didn’t care, I didn’t care. I wanted that shot even if they did suck. A trout fishing coyote is just too darn cool. This is a perfect example of the mysteries of the park that have yet to be captured in a single click. Everyday there is a surprise.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, 200-400 Vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Not Wolves but Still Fun

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Whenever I go to Yellowstone there is always the mental preparations to be made. See i know that the sheep will be there waiting and always fun to work with. As i said they are not only interesting but comical at times. Everything else species wise is a gamble. Even something as common as a Raven or a Magpie is a gamble for getting a decent shot of. Normally this wouldn’t mean much because wildlife photography is basically just that, a gamble, we area out to photograph subject matter that may or may not be there when we arrive. We go to areas that better our odds of viewing and photographing species but there still isn’t any guarantee. One of these opportunities arose Sunday which is why i bring this up. Down in the depths of Lamar Valley where there are no settlements, no roads but one, and the only visible thing is the open country, we found a pair of Coyotes.

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Now i really like working with Coyotes, cuz most individuals have that great rufous color to them that just looks great against the snow. Unfortunately when in a place like Lamar Valley two Coyotes don’t get a whole lot of attention, and i can remember a time last year sitting on a wolf kill after the wolves were gone and the Coyotes came in and everyone just stopped shooting but me. Anyways before i rant anymore, these two individuals were sticking together pretty close and our best guess was that they were probably gonna go off to mate sometime soon, since they were sent marking on offly lot which is a good indication of setting up territory. Dad and I were shooting out the car window just like old times, o that lovely pain in the neck feeling from holding the 600 was coming right back to me as i was trying to follow the Coyotes as they moved across the hillside, scent marking, sitting down and of course watching us. It was good. They eventually crossed the road which was what they were looking for the whole time and we knew it was time for us to go.

Images captured with D3, 600f4, TC-14e, on Lexar UDMA Digtial Film

More to the Story

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If you have gone to Laurie Excell’s blog then you probably know that the wolves are busy in Yellowstone right now. What you probably don’t know is the story behind that wolf and that kill on the hillside. Before i do let me just say that i realize the image above and below this paragraph completely suck but they were necessary for the story, and thus we begin. Saturday morning was a cool and beautiful day. Blue skies and no clouds made the day just outstanding, and we photographers that filled the park weren’t the only ones that thought so. The true owners of the park were busy. This cow elk was brought down by two individual wolves early that morning. By 8am photographers lined the pullout and the wolves had left. We estimated that the kill happened around 7am but could have very well been earlier. At 10am the wolves came back, one black and one grey same as before, two loners that could be mating since it is mating season and individual wolves go off to form their own packs. By 12 they were gone for the day. Between the wolves, were four Coyotes and four Golden Eagles on the kill at the same time, along with the ravens and magpies.

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I arrived at 1pm to the site you saw above, the carcass still well intact and the trails beginning to be made. The wolves were gone so were the eagles. All that remained were two coyotes that took turns munching on the elk. One would stay in the shade while the other ate. After a while the one got full and the coyote in the shade would come over. This happened for a while. Now if any of you are pet owners particullary dogs, then you might have noticed that after they get fed they will rub their musles on the ground to clean it. I’ve seen my beagle back home do it all the time. I bring this up because the coyotes after they were done eating, would rub their musles in the snow to get the blood off. This behavior is something that i had never seen them do before. Partly why these images suck is because of the location the sun was to the hill, that and well photographer error. Early morning is fine because the hill is north facing and the sun hits it square on after a few hours of flat light; in the afternoon it sucks because it is back lit. So myself and the thirty or so other people there watching and waiting for the wolves, grumbled as we saw the sun move further and further into an awful spot. The others around me shared with me what had transpired earlier with the wolves, which was nice of them to do.

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The benefit of the light being at that angle coming over the hill was that it front lit this rock escarpment on the other side of the road. Now you might be asking, well why is that good the carcass is on the other side, did u drag it to the escarpment? Yea most of the people were wanting to, that and sacrifice Dave, but thats not why. One of the coyotes, a female which was made clear after it went to the bathroom on the rocks, scent marking as it were, went form the carcass to the other side of the road. She had a yellow ear tag and a big chunk of elk meat that she was trying to stach. Now i knew they did this but had never seen coyotes get so full on a kill that they were able to stach more for later. As you can see this was one fat coyote.

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The coyote posed beautifully for a split second before continuing about a mile down the road. Never saw her again. The funny thing was that i was the only one shooting that coyote on the hill, no wolves meant no shutters being fired by anyone else i guess. The second coyote came back to the carcass along with two Golden Eagles that looked rather full before landing and looked even worse after taking off or trying to at least. Finally after four hours of waiting and hearing about it not happening, a ranger came by. All day we lucked out but it had to stop at some point, not really. The ranger was quite laid back and merely said to keep the vehicles off the road which is pretty amazing considering how many vehicles were piled up there. For me that was an exit que, the light was gone, the wolves were gone and the cold was coming in.

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The light was almost gone, maybe 20 minutes left just enough time to find one subject in the gorgeous light. On the way back, just up the road and over the hill from the wolf kill, not quite to Blacktail Ponds yet, were three big Bull Elk on a little hill by the road. The only problem was the nearest pullout was 300 hundred yards away, so i had to walk fast to get to the hill before the light was gone. The same ranger was there watching everyone, making sure no one did anything stupid. Two of the elk moved towards the back of the hill while the last one moved towards us on the road. Everyone started to leave and the ranger offered to give us a ride back to the pullout. So myself and this other guy got in the back where the floor was covered with blood and elk fur, probably from one of the wolf kills from Mammoth the day before or that morning. As we are sitting there ready to go the elk seen here came right up to the truck bed and stuck his head in, it was huge, his head and those antlers just were massive at that range. Of course the both of us are leaning back and im thinking is the ranger on his phone and not seeing this or is this the extended Yellowstone tour. Well i waved and said hi to the elk and he left, and so did we. The drive home was great knowing that i had all those interesting moments to think about, and thats the rest of the story.

Images captures with D2Hs, 600f4, TC-14E, Elk 70-300AF-S VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Driving around, looking for wildlife

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I always enjoy a good drive just looking around. Today I kind of stretched that a bit, I drove 400 miles looking for wildlife, on the same road. Why you might ask? Well I was doing some scouting for the Yellowstone Base Camp, one of the many different base camps that my Dad puts on each year. This happened to be a coyote that my Mom and I saw over by the Madison River inside the Park. Couldn’t figure out what the heck he was doing, kept walking back and forth in the road, like he was checking both sides for something to pop out. Well at least he was photogenic, although not the greatest shot.

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