As always nature never seizes to amaze me. This time it was a tree-climbing coyote! The event took place in Yellowstone National Park along the Madison River. My friends and I were along the main road attempting to photograph a coyote which was obviously searching for something?. Suddenly it heads into the trees and stands directly under a small lodgepole pine looking upward. He stands up on his hind legs and proceeds to methodically climb up the branches as though he was an agility dog climbing a ladder. As we stood with open mouths, our guide shouts “He is after the bobcat in the top of the tree.” Sure enough behind the branches at the top of the tree sits the bobcat we had been diligently searching for and it was holding a partially eaten Common Merganser in its jaws. We continued to watch and photograph as the coyote climbs higher up the tree until he can reach the duck. In a quick sudden move he grabs the merganser and pulls the bobcat, duck, and himself to the ground. He proceeds to steal the duck and consume it as the bobcat, obviously quite upset, walks away and climbs a much bigger tree (with no lower branches) to sulk and work his self-cleaning tactics. All of this happened quite quickly with barely time to set up, focus, and snap a number of photos. I am very aware that coyotes can be quite the opportunists, but had I not seen it with my own eyes, I may not have believed this canine would climb a tree for it’s dinner!
The American Dipper is a small, gray bird found along clear, swift-moving streams of the western states. It does not migrate away from the cold weather in Wyoming but seems to thrive in it. I have watched this bird on numerous occasions when the air temperature was sub-zero and it continued to feed non-stop by diving under water to locate small invertebrates.
At times it submerges only it’s head into the water scanning the creek bottom and other times I have watched it dive through the air a distance of 18+ inches before hitting the water and diving to the rocks below bringing a caddis larvae to the surface in its bill. It will dive continuously for a period of time working the same underwater area pulling up a variety of morsels for dining.
As winter continues it will take moments out of it’s feeding schedule to sing a melodic song consisting of a series of trills and whistles that are a thrill to hear as they are added to the sounds of the babbling creek on a cold, gray, winter’s day.
A quick little bird, it is often hard to follow with the camera and lens; predicting it’s movements works best but focus is still difficult to maintain on this constantly moving subject. I have sat for hours watching and attempting to photograph the American Dipper. It seems to avoid the areas with sun, sticking to the shadows as I desperately try to decrease my ISO and bring my shutter speed up to stop it in action. The Dipper is a photographic challenge along with great entertainment as it makes it’s living along cold, mountain streams throughout the winter months of Wyoming.
I was out with my camera the morning of December 1, just to get outside. The weather was warm, grey, and spitting snow; not great light for photography! I was hoping to find something to photograph but was not having much luck. As always I was paying attention to the bird life as the annual Christmas Bird Count was coming up. I was focused on the American Dippers feeding along the waterway when a gray bird popped up into the shrubbery. My first reaction was: Dippers do not land in trees. Sure enough I got a better look and realized it was a blackbird. My camera was ready and I wanted a positive ID. As I looked through the viewfinder I realized the expected birds: Cowbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, or Red-winged Blackbird were not the case. I took a few quick photos for ID purposes and returned home to find I had come across a Rusty Blackbird. A “Lifer” for me and a rather unusual bird for the area.
I returned for several mornings and found the blackbird feeding on aquatic invertebrates in the open water of the irrigation ditch. He was very cooperative with this photographer, even coming too close for my lens’ 15 foot focus limit. The weather was relatively warm but the weatherman insisted cold was imminent and by the third morning the temperature dropped to -2. The blackbird continued to hunt for his breakfast not seeming to be fazed by the cold. He stopped on occasion to shake the frost from his feathers and pull the ice from his legs. I had the pleasure of spending a number of hours observing and photographing this bird.
I have since researched this bird and found it was very abundant in the first half of the 1900’s and prior. According to Arthur Bent’s 1958 Bulletin which includes the Blackbirds, “the ‘Continental Rusty Blackbird’ spring migration is spectacular, noisy, and ubiquitous: the birds may be seen in enormous numbers almost anywhere”. Since then the species has taken a sharp decline and research is now being performed to find the reason why. The Rusty Blackbird is typically an eastern species wintering in the Southeast and migrating into the boreal forests of Canada and the northern US for breeding season. Unlike other blackbirds it frequents wooded, swampy areas, beaver ponds, and shrubby shorelines.
I returned this morning to check on the bird. We had had a number of days in which the nighttime temperature dropped to -20 and below barely making it into the single digits during the daytime. I had my hopes high that this small bird would be very cold tolerant and survive this blast of winter. Sure enough there he was in a small opening of water in the ditch. He flew over to the creek which parallels the irrigation ditch. This creek will stay open all winter boosting my hopes that he may hang around for the winter or at least until our annual Christmas Bird Count.
“The Great Gray” is a photograph I submitted this spring to a local contest here in Pinedale. The Pinedale Fine Arts selected this image through their public art program: Ex|Site:Incubate/2D Photo program to be reproduced on aluminium to a size of 12′ high X 10′ wide. It was installed recently on the back side of a cabin of the Rivera Lodge and it faces Pine Street (Hwy 191) for all that are passing through our community to see. This image will be on display for 2 years and at that time another photo will be selected. I am honored to have my image on public display and thank all of those involved in making this happen.
I tend to overlook our mule deer as they seem to be everywhere and yet they tend to run (for fear of their life) as soon as you stop and focus on them with or without a camera. This year I tried my hand at finding a suitable spot to capture the local migrating herd in hopes of seeing and capturing a photo of a few large bucks.
I sat in a bag blind early on a number of cold mornings along one of their migration routes. There was plenty of evidence that they may choose to swim the lake. This was my hope! I saw large numbers of deer move down the lake but only a few took the plunge and swam across. There were approximately five crossing spots and no way to determine which would be the best spot to sit. I chose a spot each morning and on several occasions I was lucky enough to have a deer swim close enough for photos. It was not only beautiful but spectacular when it happened! The lake is now starting to freeze over but I will continue my quest for mule deer in hopes of finding a few, large males sparring in fresh snow during early, morning light!!
Christmas is right around the corner! Here is a list of Christmas Shows in which I will be participating. Notecards and photographic prints, large and small, will be available for purchase. I also welcome orders via email:firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 307-367-7018.
November 1-2 Pinedale Holiday and Craft Show at Rendezvous Pointe, Pinedale, WY, Friday 5:00-8:00 PM and Saturday 10:00 AM-3:00 PM.
November 5 “Birds, Simple Moments of Beauty”, A photographic presentation on our local birds along with a short discussion on the Pinedale Annual Christmas Bird Count. This event will be in the Sublette County Library in Pinedale, WY starting at 6:30 PM.
November 23 Big Piney Christmas Bazaar at the Big Piney High School, Big Piney, WY 9:00 AM-2:00 PM.
December 7 Jackson Hole Christmas Bazaar at the Snow King Sports Event Center, Jackson, WY 9:00 AM-5 PM.
December 29 Pinedale’s Annual Christmas Bird Count. Look for more information as we get closer to the date.
I recently visited Yellowstone for a long weekend of photography with a good friend and awesome photographer. Yes, we ended up getting closed out with the gov’t shut down. We only lost one day but… it still was one day of photography in our first and most amazing national park. Against other adversities such as rainy weather and wind we managed to witness and photograph some incredible wildlife behavior. We started the first day with a young grizzly bear along side the road between Norris and Mammoth. The bear fed and wandered downstream, taking his time, doing what bears do. At one point, we took a break from the “bear jam” and ate lunch while a steady rain came down. The bear was taking a nap. It was a short nap and the bear started to wander again. She stopped right in front of us to scratch her back on a thermal area sign. No cameras ready with short lenses!! Ugh!!! We finished our lunch and continued down the road to find the bear taking another nap on a warm thermal area, sprawled out like she owned the place; well, yes she did. This bear was great and entertained these two photographers for hours that day. We returned to Mammoth in late afternoon to find a large, bull elk keeping the crowds away from his harem in front of the hotel. Not unusual at this time of year but exciting to watch. Two employees were trying desperately to keep the unsuspecting tourists from getting injured by this grand bull who had no qualms with charging a “too close” visitor, a camera flash, or a vehicle.
Day two: We headed for Lamar Valley in hopes of finding badgers, bears, or just about anything to put in front of our lenses. There was not a lot going on and the weather continued to be stormy and windy. We enjoyed lunch in a picnic area amongst Gray and Stellar Jays, Ruffed Grouse and an American Three-toed Woodpecker who decided it was OK for us to photograph his backside. We left before we wanted, as the wind had picked up and the sound of crashing trees was all around us. We headed back to Mammoth and detoured towards Norris in hopes of seeing our bear. No bear but we found a beautiful red-tailed hawk trying to dry his feathers after the persistent rainstorm.
Day 3: This was the first day of the gov’t shutdown and we were in the park (before the gaits were barricaded) bright and early for sunrise. We ended up at Le Hardy Rapids and had several Harlequin Ducks come close and pose for the camera. The park was steadily quieting down with diminishing traffic. What a treat, it was hard to believe! There was only one glitch, nobody was to get out of their car, sightsee, or photograph. We headed north towards our exit, spending a little time at the Mammoth Terrace knowing that we would probably be locked out as soon as we left the park. And so it was true, as a tourist on the boardwalk exclaimed “Can you believe it, they closed Yellowstone National Park!!?”
I was asked recently how I knew this Great Horned Owl was a juvenile of the year. It made me stop and think. I now had to put my observations into words which was a bit difficult as there are a number of things that came automatically that made me think “young bird”; any one of which would not necessarily stand on its own.
First of all, I frequent this particular aspen grove off and on throughout the summer. I have unintentionally flushed an adult Great Horned Owl on a number of occasions and it flew out of my sight quickly, not to be seen again that day. I knew there was a nest close by but I was unable to locate it as I was adjacent to private property. This young owl did not flush immediately but seemed to take an interest in me and had little fear. It was also very alert and paid attention to the goings-on around it. I found it on several occasions sitting out in the open on a lower branch or stump. I would say an adult Great Horned would find a quiet, hidden spot in the trees to roost for the day and try not to be detected by alarmist birds such as the American Robin. Also, the young owl’s feathering was clean and all primaries and tail feathers were lined out nicely with no ragged edges. It looked as though it had an entirely new “coat” of feathers which would be true of a September juvenile. I also took a good look at my photos upon returning home and could see the feathers around the eyes were not fully developed. The final clincher, which did not happen until later in the second morning of watching, was a juvenile begging call. The call is a “squawky- screech”; nothing that sounds like a typical owl hoot.
I did have the opportunity to watch this young bird (from a respectable distance) for a number of hours on several mornings. This time is when I learn the most and really take in some good behavior which becomes imbedded into my brain subconsciously making it difficult to describe “How I know”.
I was out birding this morning and came across this beautiful Great-horned Owl. It moved around a bit in the aspen grove looking as though it was trying to hunt but didn’t seem overly disturbed by my presence. It finally settled on this fallen tree for a roost site. I decided this bird to be a young-of-the-year owl with it’s fresh looking plumage and it’s curiosity and tolerance of this photographer. I always try to disturb my wildlife subjects as little as possible as I like to document natural behavior. This young owl paid me the ultimate compliment by falling a sleep in front of my camera lens.