The Critters were out on a Saturday!

One of the best things about living in Bozeman is being bale to go down to Yellowstone whenever the desire arrives. For those that have been there, the desire to be there is almost all the time. This past Saturday I was down for the first time this Spring, which was very exciting. Over the last few years I have always left during the Spring and am unable to get to the park. Well this year I will probably be spending a lot of time there cuz the critters and the landscape are just spectacular.

Since it is still May the whole road and many of the areas covered in snow aren’t open, some places are open. I was down in the North End of the park and didn’t know what to expect as far as who would be around. The Sheep weren’t out which isn’t surprising too warm already, but a number of other fellows were, including the people. This Elk created quite a stir which was funny because all he wanted to do was eat in the shade. That didn’t stop the line of cars to pile up on the corner. Having spent a lot of time down in the park, I know it’s always better to be further back then next to the crowds. With the 200-400 and 1.7, it was a breeze. Only trick was waiting for him to poke his head up. He didn’t….

On down the road at one of the great ponds on the way to Lamar, were bird watchers. It’s not often I stop in the park for ducks, they just never seem to cooperate. Well this one pond had a number of American Coots, Eared Grebes, and even a couple of Rudy Ducks. The Grebes were kind of funny. They stayed in this group and bobbed back and forth as the wind carried them across the pond. I love how they kept their beaks in the whole time they fought the wind.

It just wouldn’t be a normal day in the park without a Bison shot. They just sum up the American West in my mind. Having good like doesn’t hurt that portrayal either.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VR, 600f4, TC-17e, TC-20e, GP-1 with cable, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Morning Frost

Ah early mornings and the surprises that come with them. As we get past the entrance of the park we find ourselves yet again driving along the Madison River. The early morning brings the frost from the previous night, normally it creates great crusty clumps on the Bison fur but it also does wonders for the elk. We have seen a group of five cows every morning for the last two weeks along the Madison. This particular morning we worked them for a little while as they munched their way along.

The cows had their heads and backs covered in a nice coat of frost. Hand holding the 200-400 it was an easy clean shot that started the morning off.

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

Extra, Extra! The kids didn’t get Dads memo about getting close


I know it’s kinda of an odd tittle but i was thinking about Dad’s blog when i was photographing these 3 bull elk youngsters and i just couldn’t stop myself. I thought some explanation was in order. Over the years of driving through the park I’ve gotten pretty good about knowing when to be where at what time. Sure the chance of running into the unforeseen wolf or bobcat “could” happen but that’s always the gamble. There was 2 hours of light left, and the skies above the north entrance cliffs were looking great. I was having not so great luck in the rest of the park so i headed down towards the sheep in search of them yet again. Much to my surprise they weren’t there. They must just be all shot out for a while. Then pops out this guy by the road. Just a young Bull Elk munching on some grasses. He has nice light on him but in a not so great spot. Well there is a big parking lot 30 feet away so i figured okay lets have some fun.


I get out the equipment, setup the big guy, 600f4 on the tripod. I was looking at him,the background and the light on him, and was thinking cool this is starting look like a good elk and landscape shot. Well he just looks at me and looks over at the gully behind him, when two more youngsters pop out. Even better, more kids to play with! An hour of light and three subjects. Well wouldn’t you know they all decide to walk straight towards me, and I’m watching and backing up with the tripod cursing under my breath as they got within a couple feet of me. Here comes three Bull Elk right at me, Ranger drives by me from behind, and I’m just thinking huh i guess they didn’t read the blog  about approaching wildlife. Lol, I found this somewhat amusing but knowing simple biology, like their ears being forward, i knew they were happy and didn’t care about me. Big difference of course between approaching wildlife like he talked about and having them approach me but still the timing made me chuckle. I didn’t get any shots other than portrait shots but it was fun nonetheless.

Images captured by D3, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Mammoth Hot Springs

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It’s the time of the year again for the rut. Elk and other ungulates butt heads with each other for dominace and mating rights. Mammoth Hot Springs has been host for the Elk of Yellowstone for decades. It is part of the park that has higher temperatures than most other locations for a longer duration of the year. A couple weeks back after the first heavy weeks of snow, i visited the park hoping that the first snow had pushed the elk into the hot springs area. Well, they weren’t. The number of Elk there was a lot fewer than normal, and this got me thinking. With the wamer winter last year, the wolves moving into the Mammoth area, and the famous #6 dying last winter, what will Elk do this year? Well i don’t know, 2 weeks ago when i went there were some elk and one big boy bull. Smaller than #6 but still a good six pointer. The Blacktail Plateau Wolf Pack was only a mile from Mammoth, all 11 of them and the elk weren’t too concerned. The weather has finally turned to fall, it has warmed up and the snow is mostly gone already. If you’re wondering why i’m going through all this its because they all affect where and what i can photograph,  and is therefore important to keep in mind.

Images captured with D2Hs, 300f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital 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

Our Antlered friends

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We spent another day in the park working on the video. Of course I say we and I mean Jason was shooting, Dad was being shot, Mom was shooting the interaction between the two and I was around for the ride pointing at rocks hoping they were wolves, especially after yesterday. It was fun watching two Bull Elks pushing around outside Mammoth Hot Springs. The little one was a heck of a whiner.We spent a good amount of time with them.

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The day was concluded with this big Bull by the side of the road. With the 600’s out, Dad and me had some fun playing with him.

There for the beginning and the end

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Well I was at the beginning of Base Camp and I was there for the end. I wasn’t able to go throughout the week due to class’s but I was able to attend the last shoot on Friday. It was an amazing day and I can’t even imagine what the rest of the week was like. We began the day by driving up to Mammoth Hot Springs from the west entrance. This was the hot springs in the morning, surrounded by cow elk and even the infamous number six.

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This is the infamous number six. He is a six pointer bull elk that tends to own the town at Mammoth. He is well known for destroying cars and injuring two people. A couple of years ago the park service cut off his antlers in a hope that he would leave; he didn’t. Instead of being driven off by some of the other bulls, he merely walked around a house until the bulls were gone and then went about owning the place. Despite his rather aggressive demeanor, he is a large bull and a big part of the breeding pool at the town.

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After the excitement at Mammoth, we continued the drive down into the Lamar Valley. We met up with some of the wolf watchers that were watching a Grizzly Bear on carcass a mile or so out. They said it was a wolf kill that the bear took, which is quite common. We never saw any wolves that day nor did the bear ever get closer, but the scenery of the valley was magnificent. On the way back we went north of Mammoth towards Gardiner in hopes of seeing the Bighorn Sheep that normally can be seen in the fall on the cliffs that stretch along the road. We did in fact see them. Females and kids, no rams ever came down.

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The whole day was a blast. It was nice to meet so many avid photographers enjoying the wonder that is Yellowstone. It seemed at the end that everyone had a wonderful time even though they never got that all so sought after wolf or Griz shot. It was also amazing to meet people that knew of my photography, and who wanted me to come back after only meeting that past Sunday. I can only thank them for visiting my sight and saying such nice things.

Last but not Least

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The last bit of wildlife we photographed was this nice Bull Elk. Of course along the way back we saw another bull but he was to far away to do anything with. So we lucked out and happened to see this fellow alongside the road only ten feet from a turn out. Tyler was quite happy, for he wanted the Bull Elk in winter shot. As I said he was last we photographed but not the least. For on the way back we also saw White Tailed Deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, two more Bald Eagles, and a Golden Eagle dive bombing on some other birds in the fields outside Gardner. All in all an excellent day of shooting.

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