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.
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
Today was the first day of Base Camp South Dakota. It was an excellent day. Dad, myself and the three participants are out in Custer State Park discovering the wonders of what makes this place so magnificent. This morning we were enjoying the delights of the Mountain Bluebirds on the fence posts that run along side the road. It’s mating time and the males are displaying for the females, how many of us have said those words. They proved to be a particular challenge for me, having to hand hold the 6oo out the vehicle window is not something im very good at, yet.
The morning winded down with the light getting to harsh for any good opportunities, which meant getting into the classroom for some learning. After a few hours in the classroom we went out looking for the Bighorn Sheep that inhabit these hills. We got so incredibly lucky and found a ram group of six rams! Now if you have been to my blog before then you know that i shoot a lot of sheep, it’s true i do enjoy photographing them, and I’m not alone in that feeling. Dad loves shooting them too, safe to say more so than myself. These bug guys were right next to the highway which poses two problems; one, the cars going by us with tripods and big lens out and two, people tend to stop. The group had to maneuver around the trees while staying off the road. not always easy but definitely worth it. This was one of my worst shots that i captured in those two hours.
After the amazing couple of hours with the sheep we wiggled down the road to the wildlife loop looking for critters in the dying sunlight. We found the usual pronghorn doing exactly what they do, grazing. The sun was getting low and this nice male tee’d up perfectly on the hillside for us to shoot. Along with him were six females grazing a little lower down but still in good range. The day ended perfectly with great shooting in the evening just like the morning, and this was day one! Stay tuned for more.
Images captures with D2Hs, 600f4, TC-14E, 70-300AF-S VR(Pronghorn) on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
After this past week of not being able to go out shooting, i was thrilled to get out on Saturday. It was a great day to be out. The whole week was cloudy skies and snow, which is great cause we need the snow, but Saturday was blue skies and sun. It was also a lovely 30 degree high with a strong windchill. Down in the park i went, again down the same road I’ve traveled so many times before. Fresh snow covered the landscape. The Elk and the Bison were running around, every group i ran into was on the move, which was odd and added to the eerie feel of complete silence. That feeling started right past Black Tail ponds, i don’t know why but it just felt empty. Maybe everything knew that it was going to get cold so they were hightailing it somewhere warm. The coyotes were prevalent, saw six down in Lamar all at a distance. It wasn’t until the turnout towards the end of the valley that i finally got a shot off. Three Bison were hanging out at the bathrooms, this one above was scratching himself on the hitching post.
I headed back out of Lamar towards Tower Roosevelt and Mammoth. I didn’t make it too far before seeing something out in the distance. Out towards the frozen river were two wolves hanging out by a clump of trees. They were not doing much, too windy so they laid down. After fifteen minutes or so another two popped out on the hillside behind them and continued north into the treeline where i lost them. A fifth came from the south along the river and traced the river back and forth until it too disappeared in the trees. Finally the two laying down walked back into the treeline and out of sight. They never got close enough to shoot. That was the high of excitement for the afternoon, until i got up over the hill right before ducking into the flats of Black Tail River. There grazing on this little knoll was this very cooperative and gorgeous Bighorn Sheep. He made the day for me.
He just paced back and forth and ate while being photographed from every angle by about ten people. He stood in every great spot except at the top of the hill where he would have been front lite with blue sky in the background, the toad. The sun went back and forth from being cooperative to being annoying, which is usual. It kept darting behind the clouds and kept making this guy back lite, but I’m not complaining.
Continuing down the road i past another familiar sight, Bison crossing. This was the sixth time it happened. Couldn’t believe how many Bison jams i got into. Well it worked out, the Bison were moving in from the left and the light was ctaching them just right, along with the snow in the air and the blue sky, so i took a couple shots. Nothing great but gives the true feeling of being in Yellowstone in the winter.
Images captures with D2Hs, 70-300AF-S VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film