Legacy

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The young black pup woke up and hazily looked around, stretched as long as the small den would allow her to and yawned big. She slowly turned around, wondering where everyone else was and poked her nose outside. She missed her little sister; she had disappeared a few weeks ago leaving her nobody to play with that was the same size she was. Her uncle did a great job trying to keep her entertained but it wasn’t the same.

The sun shined bright outside and made the colors of the trees seem to be a brighter green. She laid back down with her front feet crossed, her head up, taking in all the sights around her. Below in a stand of aspen trees stood a small herd of elk enjoying the mid day shade that the trees provided. She turned her head a bit to the side and lifted her ears higher; in the distance she could hear the small gurgle of a stream as the water rolled over the rocks, rolling some of the smaller ones farther down the hill. In a nearby pine tree there were a couple magpies squawking at each other and every now and then they would turn and watch the pup for a few seconds before they went back to bickering at each other.

All her senses had become much stronger the past couple of weeks and she had grown so much bigger and stronger – she wished that she could go with her parents and the other adults when they left her protected area. Her parents told her she was still too small but soon she’d be allowed. Until then she was not to leave this little meadow that was a safe haven, a meeting spot where they would return with whatever elk or bison meat they were able to take down in a hunt over the past few days. Her little tummy growled; somebody would surely be returning soon with lunch.

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A chipmunk darted out from behind where the pup was laying and ran over to a fallen pine tree that was starting to become part of the earth it originally came from. She wasn’t allowed to leave the safe meadow but while she was waiting for the others to return she could explore and today she wanted to see if she could catch that chipmunk! She bounded out of the den, her legs longer and gangly didn’t always do what she wanted them to and she tripped a couple times as she ran to the log. Just as she reached the log the chipmunk dived down in a small hole on the other side of the log into the soft dirt and pine chips. The black pup quickly went to digging, determined not to let the chipmunk get away. After a few minutes the hole had been excavated but no chipmunk appeared so the pup walked to the other side of the log to see if there was another escape route.

Just below the ridge on the hillside across from the site sat a large black shadow blending in with the shadows of the rocks and trees. It was up wind so the pup couldn’t smell what casted the shadow that was watching her. The shadow belonged to her black uncle who had recently returned home to the valley he had grown up in with several other brothers and sisters. He had spent the past 6 months trying to find his mother who had disappeared when they had gone out on a hunt; when she didn’t return to the pack after a few days his sisters, brothers and father had spread out searching for her. He had found her scent at one point and spent so much time howling for her and hoping she would return. As each day passed without her return he became lonelier and decided to return home hoping to find the rest of his pack.

When he arrived back in the valley he was greeted with happy howls of his black and light grey sisters. There was also a new large grey in the valley now and the small pack was excited to welcome him back as there were two new pups to raise. Since his return one of the pups had disappeared causing them to be more watchful and protective over the remaining pup he was watching. He sunk down low when he heard a noise in the brush behind him; he knew better than not to be vigilant but had been so intent to

watch as the black pup explored and developed her hunting skills. The pup was smart and quick; she was growing every day and becoming more and more pretty. He quickly lay down and melted into the rocks and slowed his breathing, his lip curled as he could hear the padding of paws coming closer, unsure if it might be a bear that was after the pup or another who did not belong here that wanted to bring harm.

Over the top of the hill came another black figure at a nice long trot, in her mouth was the leg of a bison calf. As she got closer he realized it was his sister and he stood up, his head level with his shoulders and his tail wagging side to side. When she got to him she dropped the bison leg at his feet and greeted him, proud of what she was bringing back yet once again. For the past several months this young black female had been helping in the hunts and right after she would eat her fill she would grab a large remaining piece and run back over several miles back to the den to bring the pups food. For awhile it was mostly her running food back and forth while one of the parents watched over the pups, but when her brother returned home he took on the responsibility of pup sitting and training making it easier for the rest of the pack to leave to hunt. She worked hard for her size; she was smaller than the grey wolves in the pack and leaner. However nobody doubted her strength or her loyalty to the pack. She was every bit as strong and determined as her mother was to see to it that this family survived.

The male picked up the bison leg and headed down the hill, the female traveled right behind him only stopping for a moment to get a drink of water from the small creek. Below the site on the other side of the creek two grey shadows appeared and stopped for a moment as they saw the black male and female heading to the safe haven meadow as well. The female put her nose up and let out a long, low howl. The black pup stopped her chipmunk chase and suddenly looked around, excited that her family was coming home! Her tummy was growling and she wanted to play. Seeing her mother a little below the meadow at the base of the hill, her tail started swaying side to side very quickly and she let out the happiest, highest howl she could find………….

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She’s the daughter of a grey daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the niece of the black son and daughter of ’06; Spitfire and Prince, the son and daughter of ’06, the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s the hope for the people that love the wolves and the Queen of Lamar Valley.

She’s part of a Legacy, the Legacy of the Queen of Lamar Valley, ’06.

Hear the Legacy howl.

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Mother Nature and Balance

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Before leaving yesterday morning to take the horses out I quickly jumped online to see if there was any additional information concerning the death of 820F, the 2 year old, grey daughter of ’06 who we lost last year. I was stunned when I saw a post of a wolf that was murdered by a hunter in the Wyoming Bighorns. It wasn’t the post that stunned me; it was who was passing along the information that stunned me. Most of my friends are wolf advocates, wild horse advocates or both. If not then they are friends who love all animals, if they don’t agree with my passion for these animals they are respectful and have no desire to get into debates or arguments over them. We’re adults and can still be friends; out of respect we don’t bring up topics that rub each other the wrong way. A lot of my friends are also wildlife photographers who make money by photographing these animals.

So seeing this information being forwarded by a wildlife photographer I waited to see what the response would be to some of the responses that were coming in. He responded to one person who was obviously thinking the same thing I was; how could somebody who makes money photographing these animals share something like this? His response was that these animals do not belong in the Bighorns and if he saw one he would happily shoot it. That was all I needed to know to end the conversation however I was still included in it and just read in shock some of the ignorant comments made.

For people to “include” a well known ranch in supporting their hatred and opinions wasn’t a smart move. I actually have known the owners of this ranch they claim don’t want wolves there, for years. They have shared with me their sightings (or not) and how they have loved seeing wolves and wish them no harm. Whether or not the sightings on their ranch are true or not, they haven’t reported any problems, no loss of stock and absolutely no concern that they will have any losses. I’m happy to say they are not the only very well respected, very large ranch owners who feel the same way. I’ve actually been invited to two who would enjoy the opportunity to find some proof of wolves being there and both have said they are so allusive, rarely seen and have caused no harm and as long as there is no damage the wolves are welcome there. We’ve even sat and discussed ways to avoid issues and thinking ahead. So this is how hatred and ignorance is spread; like the group lied about PBR supporting them a few weeks ago these individuals are passing on false information to other’s and the fire spreads. Not all ranchers have the hated wolf mentality and for these people to lump these ranches into it isn’t right.

Although the false statements about the ranch noted above should have made me angry that wasn’t the statement that got to me. The winner for the most ignorant comment of the day went to “Get ‘em before they overrun the Bighorns……pretty soon there won’t be any moose or elk up there either…” I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to laugh or cry about this comment. Anti-wolf people (for the most part equal hunters) really need to think about what they say or write before they hurt themselves. The thought that most of them carry armed weapons should scare most of the human population. I can explain; hang on……………

First this comment leads me to believe these people have poor eyesight. I’ve read stories that ranchers have lost both cows and mules because hunters have “mistaken” them for moose! This also concerns me! If they are so excited to pull the trigger BEFORE figuring out it’s a moose or a cow, they shouldn’t be allowed to own a weapon. And if they can’t tell the difference between a moose and a cow or mule, I’m not sure those are the people I want doing “official” counts on the moose and elk population.

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Second this comment really leaves me concerned about hunting “ethics.” You see, you tend to change your story. When asked if there are enough moose or elk up there to issue hunting tags this year your eyes glaze over and the numbers reported are “plentiful” and “increased from years prior.” If you were told that due to the depredation on the herds and the increased number of success in the hunt last year you would happily tell us the numbers are inaccurate and the numbers are better than fine and it’s okay to allow a hunt. Based on the comment made above this would leave me to believe that the moose and elk numbers are very low and the elk and moose seasons should be called off. It sounds to me like we are at risk to make them extinct. It’s the wolves fault of course; they take down the sick or older animals maybe once or twice a week; worst case scenario that is 104 elk per year per pack. Keep in mind at this point we aren’t even sure yet if there are wolves in the Bighorns and I’m just basing this information on the statements you provided. I’m curious as to how many elk and moose hunting tags are issued each year?

I’ve sat with a group of people including hunters who have said there were so many moose in certain areas that they are considered pests and rats and they couldn’t wait till hunting season to get rid of some of them. Of course my hair stood up! I love moose as much as I love wolves and wild horses! I wanted to run off every moose I found in a 100 mile square radius. So in one conversation there are too many moose and in another, when wolves are involved, there are not enough and your worried?

So my question is, based on the information you provided, why when asked about moose and elk population are the numbers great when it comes to allowing hunting tags but when it comes to wolves possibly being in the area are the numbers suddenly declining at a drastic rate? It can’t be both, it can only be one or the other, it either is or it isn’t. This leads me to believe that your numbers are based on what you want for yourself and the numbers change based on what that want is. This concerns me because it’s not honest; if you want me to believe you, you must be consistent with your stories. I can’t support or trust you if you’re not honest. You have obviously seen the populations decline drastically due to the wolves so I’m relying on you for these numbers. I’m not there, I haven’t seen the decline – I only count cows and mules. They tend to be easier to identify and count as they don’t hide in trees and marshes for the most part.

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The runner up comment, “When mankind took over the responsibility of managing this planet from mother Mother Nature it had and still has no idea. Mother Nature did a fine job.” I’m not sure exactly what this meant (and forgive the quote, I only copied what was written)? If you’re trying to say that Mother Nature was doing a fine job until mankind interfered with her, I believe that this is very true. A perfect example was how when mankind eradicated the wolves they not only allowed other species of animals to become weak and sickly, it caused over population in grazing animals that has drastically changed the ecosystem and caused a lot of damage. We’re currently doing it again if you look at what is happening with the polar bears and what is happening to the environment they have lived in for years. If you’re excepting responsibility for mankind making one mess after another that we cannot fix, you’re so right.

If however you’re saying that we were given responsibility of managing this planet and given the right to repeat history by eradicating predators that were here and did just fine long before mankind interfered, I think you are horribly wrong. I personally didn’t ask people to take on this responsibility of Mother Nature Management and I feel we are far from perfecting it. Until we can get rational people with good eyesight from both sides who are not “paid” by one side or the other who have no personal gain on the matter then I don’t think we will ever have a good management system. The fact that biologists were recently “fired” off the board providing information about delisting wolves because they may have provided information that would have hurt the information that hunters and ranchers gave shows exactly how far from perfect mankind’s management is. Mother Nature finds balance and co-existence; as of yet I don’t see mankind doing this much at all.

I’m not one to put this wildlife photographer’s name on here to destroy him. I figure he will do that to himself. It makes me sad that he will sale wildlife and wild horse images to put food on his table and then in the next moment take the very way these animals survive away from them. Eventually we will all lose the ability to see these wonderful animals, there will no longer be a chance to photograph them and he will lose his ability to put food on his own table and he’ll have no one to blame but himself. Maybe at that point we can say Mother Nature found balance?

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Fight for Wolves………….

2382I was really happy when I saw that another very active wolf supporting Facebook page shared my blog last week. It really helps keep me inspired and motivated and it lets me know that the work I want to do has not been for nothing. Due to last year’s wolf hunt and the loss of several of our valuable Yellowstone wolves in addition to wolves that we don’t know personally I made the decision last week not to share posts or images that give current locations of the Yellowstone or Grand Teton packs. I have to say that I believe that by the time we get that information and it is shared the wolves have moved on and are no longer there but it is just something that concerns me a bit. I also believe that the murderers who are after the Yellowstone wolves most likely know their location far better than we do and that the way they are choosing to hunt is not a sport; shooting an animal that has become habituated to people and lost fear of them is not a challenge and therefore not “hunting.”

Yesterday I received a message that a wolf hating Facebook group had gotten the support of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and that the PBR would be placing their stickers of hatred on the PBR trucks. I know many bull riders and rodeo people and I thought this was an odd thing for the PBR to be a part of. That’s a pretty large association for a small group of hateful people to claim to be a part of so I contacted PBR and asked. I was relieved to receive a quick response that confirmed what I thought and PBR is in the process of having that mis-informed statement made by that group removed. I have to say thank you to PBR. I can understand individuals having their own thoughts and opinions and that is their right but for an association like PBR to take that stance I was a bit concerned.

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Knowing that group has mis-informed the people that follow them makes me wonder what else that group has been mis-informing people about where wolves are concerned. I really believe if you are going to take a stand on an issue that you need to do your own research and seek your own knowledge and not be led by a group who is doing something based on hatred and spite. I do my best not to speak about something unless it’s a topic I know a lot about, something I’m passionate about and have done my own research to learn about; both the goods and the bads. If this group is willing to be dishonest about something like a large association supporting them what else have they mis-informed people about? That is really something important to think about.

Out of curiosity I visited their Facebook page and website; it is full of wolf hating products and comments which is what I expected. I was hoping to find a first and last name of the person behind it but it only had a first name so that I couldn’t find out any further information on them, that didn’t surprise me either. Of course the page goes on about elk hunting in Idaho and how the wolves are responsible for the population of elk declining since they were reintroduced; blah, blah and blah. I wonder if these same people believe that what the elk herds have done to the ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain National Park is okay and how much longer these herds will have food and will stay healthy when there are really no predators within the park to manage it? It isn’t a secret that there is already a serious problem and yet the park is hesitant to reintroduce wolves here and at the same time the public freaks out when the word “hunting” is tossed out. At the rate the elk population is growing it is obvious that something needs to be done it just depends on what makes more sense and sits better with the people. Keep in mind when the herds start to die of starvation or disease the blame will be placed on the ones who were not allowed to make a decision and no decision was acceptable.

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I visited Rocky Mountain National Park last week; I went moose hunting. I have to say I understand the adrenaline rush that hunters get and the excitement they feel when they find that big bull elk they are looking for. When I found the big bull moose I was looking for I was pretty excited, I took a few shots but sadly the willows were in the way and I missed the shot I was looking for. Then I realized I was surrounded by about 20 other people all trying to get that shot too and the excitement quickly ran out; this moose was habituated to people and really there was no challenge. I decided to leave and try to find a big bull who was more of a challenge. A little later while hiking I got the shot I’ve been wanting for awhile; my blood was racing, my heart pounding! I raised my arms for the shot! It was right there in a green open meadow, walking across, stopping occasionally on its way to a stream. It doesn’t get any better than this. It was so quiet and peaceful. Once it crossed the meadow I could barely stand still! This was going to be a winning shot. I quickly looked around and there was nobody there. This was perfect. When it jumped off the embankment and into the water my heart lept into my throat and I took the shot. Now it was a fair hunt; this moose was not habituated to people, wasn’t posing and was more of a challenge.

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God Only Gives You What You Can Take………..

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Once again, I’ve been off line for a bit.  Just when I thought I had been given enough God added more to my plate.  So I wonder now, just how much does God think I can take?  I’ve devoted much of my life to fighting for animals.  The wild horses, wolves and many more who don’t have a voice, who can’t speak for themselves, who are being murdered or removed from the land that belongs to them.  So why does bad things happen to good people?

Those that know me know that I try to ride my own horses about every other night if not more.  I rush home after working an 11 hour day in Denver and if I don’t ride, I’m out walking, hiking or running.  Not only are my animals my top priority but in order to keep up with and photograph the wildlife I love, I have to be in good enough shape to get to them.

After returning home from California and my dad’s funeral all I wanted to do was spend time with Blueper, the horse who has been there for me through all my hard times, my best friend, a horse I rescued from abuse.  I never expected him to have a flash back moment and jump out and away from me a few weeks ago.  I landed on my left side; the first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t hear.  After figuring out I hadn’t broken anything I walked over to him, lounged him for awhile and started to get back on when I realized I still couldn’t hear.  I put him away and went in to the house to sit for awhile.  The horse trainer I’m friends with always manages to call at just the right time and so he didn’t ruin that reputation, he called right on time.  I explained to him what had happened and that I couldn’t hear and after about 20 minutes of arguing I decided to go to the emergency room.  I wasn’t sure why.  I wasn’t hurt, I just couldn’t hear.

I drove myself to the hospital, walked about a half mile around to find the emergency room, signed myself in and waited about 10 minutes to be seen.  I waited another 20 minutes to get a CT scan and while waiting during that 20 minutes I got very sore and stiff.  The doctors really hadn’t even touched me yet, but I they had already hurt me!  They came back to my room after getting the CT scan results, 2 trauma doctors – I almost felt special until they told me that I had a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain and told me I had to spend the night so that they could observe me in case I needed brain surgery.  Up until then I had no stomach upset but when you deliver that kind of news to somebody like myself, you can bet it will make a person puke!   Lucky for the horses and dogs I have great friends who stepped up to not only run and feed them but they also rushed to see me in the hospital.

By the next morning the bleeding had stopped, I still couldn’t hear and I had a wonderful headache and over night I swear a semi truck hit me.  Amazing how sore a body can get when your allowed to sit and do nothing.  I walked into the emergency room just fine, I was leaving barely able to stand or walk.  Over the next 10 days or so the headaches were enough to drop me to my knees, my hearing still hasn’t returned, I found out I lost my sense of smell, my new house finally closed escrow and my landlord needed me out of the home I was in a week after landing on my head, I had horse shows to photograph and animals to take care of.  Again, thank God for friends and family.  Friends pretty much moved all my things while I shot a horse show one weekend.  Pretty amazing.

The accident was about 5 weeks ago now and my hearing on the left side and sense of smell is still gone.  I still have my sense of humor when my head doesn’t hurt.  The support of my friends and family has been the best blessing ever and I’ve even met new friends who make me appreciate life even more.  A very wonderful wildlife photographer emailed me a couple days ago and let me know she was thinking about me and felt my tenacity and strength was amazing.  It made me think of the things I’ve been “given” lately that somebody above thinks I can handle.

Blueper has now made me go through all the emotions; what did I do to make him feel he needed to hurt me, is he in pain and I’m not seeing it, does he have a mean streak horses with his breeding are known to have, did he do this on purpose or did I hurt him to cause him to do this?  Fear has set in.  I wanted to start riding about 2 weeks after the accident, not him but my other horse, Reno who I feel I can trust but the doctors said I’m not allowed to do anything that might jar my skull; sadly that includes riding, running and even leading a horse.    For my lifestyle this is pretty much not acceptable.  I’ve been on my best behavior, I haven’t ridden but I’m leading and working my horses from the ground and I’m not running but I am walking with my wonderful dog Drifter again.  Walking has helped reduce the leg cramps a whole lot and also reduces my stress.  Drifter was really missing our journeys and is again a happy pup; if my animals are happy, than I’m happy.

After the pain reduced there was a time when I was sad when I realized I couldn’t smell anything.  I love the scents of fruit candles, cake and cookie batter.  I was proud that my house always smelled good when you walked in.  I love the smell of horses and the barn.  It’s always nice to be able to smell a bear, something dead or where a mountain lion marked it’s territory before they see or smell you.  The next day I realized how much I would be saving by not buying these candle scents.  And although it has to be done I often can’t handle the smell of cleaning the dog’s yard, now it isn’t so hard to do.

A couple weeks ago we spent a weekend with some friends of ours at their ranch.  They raise and train some amazing horses and I got to spend the day sitting on the fence to watch them ride; I may be a little bit afraid but my heart wanted to be riding one of those horses.  They also have a month old fawn they found as an orphan they are taking care of.  As I watched her run and play it really lifted my heart.  So tiny, so innocent, so precious.  I could have spent all day with her.

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On the way home from the ranch I thought of my friend’s message.  If this is what I’m “given” then I’m lucky.  This accident could have been far worse; I can still see which allows me to see the things I love the most – the wildlife, my animals and the horses I love to be involved with.  I can still walk and hike so I can see the animals I so love in the places I love spending time.  I can still take photos and capture amazing memories.  For a moment I thought about what it would be like not to be able to see Hobo, Quad mom with her cubs, Spitfire or the wild horses.  That was a thought I wanted to erase just as quick as it came.  That wasn’t what I was “given,” thank God it was a lot less.  I have frustrating moments when I have to adapt to different ways but they are moments that go away.  I feel lucky.  I can still do the things that mean so much to me.  I’m hoping that as the fracture heals my hearing will as well and hopefully my sense of smell will return.  Time will heal the fear and I’ll ride again.

In the meantime I’m going to get back to working on the things that I want to accomplish; working on educating people and sharing wild animals with people who want to know more.  God wouldn’t give people gifts if He didn’t want you to use and enjoy them.

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Wildlife Photography ~ How Close Is Too Close……..?

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

Cow elk and calf crossing the river in Estes Park

A friend of mine and I were talking about a photo we saw this morning of 4 photographers running away, one of them leaving their tripod with the camera as fast as they could; approaching the camera was a younger grizzly bear.  The bear wasn’t running at them, it actually appears like it’s on a Sunday stroll.  We were laughing and he said that bear spray may have prevented this.  His next comment was “Stupid photographers!” and then he said, “Ohh wait!  I’m a photographer!”  We both laughed.  The photo was sent around and it was meant to be funny and it was.  Of course this led us to even more conversations and memories.

I normally don’t like photographing animals when there are fences in the back ground or houses but if I see wildlife I will stop regardless of where they are just to take a look.  One afternoon a few months ago on the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike in the snow; the snow hadn’t arrived yet, it was nice out and as we drove through Estes Park near the golf course, we spotted a herd of elk.  Of course we stopped.  We walked out taking in the herd and noticing who the big bulls in charge were and how far away they were.  The rut was over but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t react if you were to get too close.  We stopped after we noticed 2 pretty large bulls about 200 feet from each other, they were still singing away and we didn’t want to be in the middle if they wanted to discuss who was boss.

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

Big bull elk in the golf course in Estes Park

As we stood taking a few shots from about 80 yards and watching the cows and calves move by one of the bulls stood to his feet and started walking the direction we were standing so we started backing away.  There were no signs of aggression on his behalf but I like my personal space and I wanted to keep his happiness just the way it was.  I turned when I heard something running up behind me just in time to see a younger blonde woman run right by us with her iPhone in hand yelling about how cool it was to see a bull elk up so close.  Don’t worry, it’s okay, she stopped probably about 20 feet from him!  My friend and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped to the ground and our eyes huge!  It was obvious to us that day that God does protect certain people out there in the world!  She stood for a long time photographing this big bull and occasionally even got in closer while my friend and I stood in amazement.  When we finally walked back to the car we were laughing about the whole thing; had we attempted to do that it wouldn’t have ended so nicely.

I was reminded about the time I was out photographing Mountain Goats about 8 months ago.  I love sitting down a safe distance from the animals I am shooting and watch behavior and how they interact with each other.  I had never photographed Mountain Goats before, they were so pretty, there were so many of them ~ I planted myself on a rock, took a couple hundred images and then just sat and watched.  One younger kid seemed to have lost its mother.  I sat on that rock and watched her over 2 hours as she approached other mother’s and was chased off, other kids didn’t play and she continued her search, crying.  That made me want to cry.  I would take some shots off and on and as I continued watching her I started taking more images as she got closer, I was using my 300mm lens at the time.  At one point I felt myself leaning backwards so that I could get more of the little goat in my frame and I even started scooting backwards on my rock to get a better shot as I kept trying to pull my lens back.  I finally put the camera down frustrated that I was missing out on decent shots because my camera wasn’t helping me.  When I did I realized the little girl was nearly in my lap!  I guess it wasn’t the camera after all.  She stood in front of me crying out a few times before she realized I wasn’t her mom either and moved on.  About 30 minutes later her mother and twin jumped down from a rock formation behind me; they were not there when I sat down!  I had never intended to get that close and personal with the goats, but through my excitement with having the opportunity to spend time with them I got closer than I ever expected.

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

Not cropped in at all, and this was my 70mm lens and it was still too close

My friend and I continued to laugh about the image with the grizzly bear but I can say I have been so intrigued with shooting certain wildlife and forgotten my surroundings while looking through the view finder at times.  Lucky for me when I do shoot bears I’m with a group who is very experienced and we watch out for each other.  Normally I’m the one who forgets to shoot the images and am watching and learning from new behaviors and can sound the alarm if they are getting to close for my taste.  My favorite animals to shoot are normally horses, wild and domestic.  The domestic horses have no concept as to what personal space is and as soon as they see a camera feel that you want them to come in closer!  And I still haven’t figured out what it is with wildlife sticking out their tongues!

Blueper's nose on a snow day.  Didn't see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Blueper’s nose on a snow day. Didn’t see the tongue till I got in the house and looked at the images

Wildlife Lesson #5 – Bring Your Sense of Humor

Smile like this?

Smile like this?

There has been a bald eagle sitting in a tree in front of my place for a few days now.  I had seen him around Christmas time but was too busy to slow down to try and get some images.  Now he’s been back almost every night this week.  Day 1 ~ I wasn’t even allowed to get my camera before he knew I was coming and soared away.  Day 2 ~ He waited for me to be about 30 yards out of what I consider a good range, watched me, fluffed up, stretched out, then he tilted his head sideways to look at me and soared away.   Day 3 ~ Not even risking walking, jumped in the truck, drove up in front of the tree, rested the camera on the window of the door and took 3 dozen shots in bad lighting before he soared away.

Just kidding!!  You mean smile like this!!

Just kidding!! You mean smile like this!!

I’ve had a few friends who are entertaining the idea of getting into photography and they have been asking me lately how I get those great shots!  Tonight reminded me and I had to laugh.  The gorgeous bull moose above I nicknamed Bruiser.  I had tried several days to find moose on my hikes without much luck.  Then one late morning walking through a deserted camp ground I walked right up on him and 3 cows bedded down in some tall brush.  Sounds easy enough.  Took an hour for one of the cows to finally get up and when she did, she got up on the wrong side of the bed.  I was far enough away to know it wasn’t me she was mad at and after she stuck her foot in her ear several times she went over and bedded down with the other cows.  An hour after that is when Bruiser finally got up.  I have images of him on two knees, one knee, stretching, stretching more, shaking his head, stretching some more, smelling the flowers and eating willow; close to 700 images to be exact.  Out of them there are about 40 that I’m happy with.  A total of 8 hours, 8 miles or more over 3 days ~ 40 good images.  Not bad!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!!  My daddy can kick your daddy's butt!!

Ppppffftttttssstttttt!! My daddy can kick your daddy’s butt!!

Another hoofed cow who tends to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Bison are gorgeous in their own right however to get that “perfect” image it is pure luck!  I spend 10 plus days in Yellowstone and the Tetons and when I see bison in good lighting, I will stop and wait and hope for that perfect moment.  I’ll end up with 2 images I am proud of; the rest are every day bison, I’m so bored with tourists and photographers, behavior.  A total of 10 days in God’s country, I managed not to be treed by a bison, I get 2 nice images and I’m excited.

She wanted me in the picture!!!No, she wanted me!! I'm going to tell mom!! MMMOOOOOMMM!!

She wanted me in the picture!!!
No, she wanted me!!
I’m going to tell mom!!
MMMOOOOOMMM!!

One very uneventful wildlife day I decided I would not call it quits until I managed to photograph some sort of critter.  I had never seen many marmots before and had never photographed them.  I drag out the camera and get everything prepared in a nice area with decent lighting and a background where you could at least see what type of critter I was photographing.  I had been watching them for over an hour so I knew I was in a decent spot.  My problem ~ I did not notify the marmots of my intentions and explain the importance for lighting and background.  Instead of hanging out where I wanted them to be, they insisted on playing in front of the grey rocks where they blend perfectly.  A wasted afternoon?  Ohhhh heavens no!!  If anyone ever needs 300 images of marmot camouflage be sure to contact me, I know I can help you!

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

What do you mean this angle makes my butt look big?

Those amazing mustang images, those are easy to get.  The nearest HMA is 4.5 hours from me……………………….one way.  On any given day the horses will be right next to the road but not on the days I normally visit.  I love to hike and the horses know that and just for me they normally position themselves about 2 miles up on a hill where I can see them so I know which way to hike!  Most of the time they will stay in that spot at least until I manage to get within good camera range, set up and manage to get several nice images.  If they don’t feel I’ve had enough of a work out, not just one or two, but the whole herd will start walking away from me in order to assist the calorie burning a little more.  I find it interesting that they know how important it is to walk farther uphill and away from my car, not downhill toward my car.  I have even skirted and nearly missed rattlesnakes while out photographing wild burros, this adds the high jump into the daily workout routine.  Later that evening when I’m reviewing images I come across maybe 60 out of 1,500 that I find exceptional or emotional.

Ohh no!!  My hairs a mess!!  No pictures!!  No pictures!!

Ohh no!! My hairs a mess!! No pictures!! No pictures!!

To get this wonderful image I was standing with a couple dozen other photographers in the cold for a few hours one May day.  We played several rounds of “100+ yard rule weave,” the park rangers were our referees making sure that when she moved away we stayed far enough behind and when she turned to come towards us, we moved far enough the other direction.  At one point we watched her from the inside of our cars when she wanted to break the rules of the game.  Out of 600 images I think I found 60 with her head actually up.  It is obvious to me she is camera-shy and we made her nervous.

So now when somebody approaches me and is interested in photography I smile!  I tell them it’s very rewarding actually and has many benefits.  You will be forced to become healthier and you won’t even realize it.  You learn about patience and with each encounter you get better at it.  You learn to be creative and look for amazing moments.  You will learn who your worst enemy is ~ yourself.  Most importantly if your are lucky like me, you will find happiness beyond belief.

Yeah!!  I'm walking away from this conversation!

Yeah!! I’m walking away from this conversation!

The End!  Literally!  This is a bear butt!

Although this little story was told in a humorous manner, please be cautious when photographing wildlife.  Please be careful photographing close to roads as the animal could move into the road.  Be sure to give them enough space that they don’t feel threatened or alter their normal behavior.

Through Wolf’s Eyes

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

My name? I’m not sure. At the place I originally came from I would normally hear them call me 897M but I have no name. It was pretty there. Lots of room, green grass, rivers to play in, rocks to climb and some really big mountains. It would snow a lot there when the days were short. There was also a lot of elk and bison there, hundreds of them. The best time was when the short days started to become long again and the sun made the earth warm the family didn’t have to hunt as much because we would find the old and weak dead near the water’s edge. Sometimes the big brown bears would come and take the dead from us but we would normally fight for it and win. There were lots of others like me there too, not family though.

When I turned two I felt the need to move on and find a family of my own. I traveled far within this area but the families were tight and not welcoming so they drove me further and further out of the place I once called home. I didn’t want to fight or cause trouble; I just wanted a mate of my own. I eventually ended up in mountains I had never seen before where the families were fewer and smaller but I wanted land of my own where my family would be safe from others so I continued traveling in the direction that the sun set. One long, warm day I came across a rather large family who had sent their daughter away and she joined me. It was nice to have company after so many months.

We crossed many rivers, mountains and black lines with noisy machines that went very fast. We did our best to stay up high to avoid the animals that walked upright on two legs that drove these machines and lived in square dens above ground. Sometimes we would see them up high on the mountains but we would hide in the trees and watch them as they ate the elk or deer and when they would leave we would approach to see what they left behind.

As we traveled the mountains became smaller and so did the trees in places but there were still Aspen trees, elk, deer and other hoofed animals. We no longer saw the big brown bears but we still saw the black ones. We had to go around many tight lines with barb stickers on them, sometimes in these areas we saw a new hoofed animal but they didn’t smell like elk and we had plenty to eat here so we avoided them. Since the mountains were shorter it was getting harder to avoid the animals that moved upright on two legs but we did our best to stay hidden in the trees.

Eventually we found an area where there was lots of room, Aspen trees, elk and deer and water. This is where we stopped when the sun became shorter and my mate had her pups. Since there were no other families here it was easy to find food and watch the pups grow bigger. We could tell that before us one like us had been here but its scent was long faded and we wondered where he had gone. When the sun started becoming longer again the pups were very large and strong, we often went out as a family to hunt elk and deer but we did our best to stay hidden. The animals that walked upright on two legs with the machines were more here and meaner. They carried long sticks that exploded and we would see them chase the new hoofed animals with small machines until they were tired and weak.

Sometimes we would have to move through these areas to get where the elk and deer were and another kind of hoofed animal lived. Their hooves were not split and they moved very fast. The upright, two legged animals didn’t come here often unless it was to stalk the fast hoofed animals or to chase the other hoofed animals on small machines. The fast hoofed animals seem to be more powerful than the upright, two legged animal and the split hoofed ones because they were seldom harmed even though they were stalked. They stayed to themselves and hidden mostly. We would also see coyotes and fox here and another that looked like us but who traveled with the upright, two legged animals and they smelled. There was lots of food here, places to hide and water but we would only stay to hunt and then return home to the place of the Aspen trees. The pups had grown so much now and were able to travel farther from home and learn how to assist in our hunts of rabbits and deer.

During the season of the short sun more of the two legged, upright animals appeared by our home in the Aspen trees. It was strange how they followed our paw prints and would stare at our droppings. The droppings would disappear when they would leave in the big metal machines that brought them here, were they taking it back to their den? Them being so close to our home scared us and we moved further back into the trees and hid more and traveled more at night so they wouldn’t notice us.

We spent many days here happy; playing, hunting and hidden. One day when the sun started staying up longer two of the four pups went with my mate to the hunting grounds to watch for elk, we needed to bring back food for the new pups born many moons before. The hunting ground was quiet, no split hoofed animals were nearby and only the fast ones with no split hooves were close. They hid as they watched a metal machine go by with coyotes in the back; they were very still and lifeless. When it disappeared from the valley they continued on looking for elk but none were found that day. As they started to return for home my mate smelled dying rabbit, at least which would hold the pups over until the next sun. As she reached for it there was an explosion. She jumped backwards, startled and began trembling and shaking her head and pawing at her mouth. She told the pups to run and hide as she began gasping for air and staggering, she couldn’t get enough air into her as hard as she tried. Many minutes later she was quiet and lifeless like the coyotes on the metal machine. The pups tried to wake her up but there was no breath, they lied across her and howled begging her to get up and take them home but she wouldn’t move. When the sun finally left the sky they howled for her to come with them one more time and when she still did not move they ran for their home in the Aspen trees.

I heard the pups when they were close and knew something was wrong as they cried with low moans and whimpers. The other pups and I left the new pups sleeping and met them at the edge of the Aspens. I took one of the pups who had originally stayed with me and one who knew where his mother was back to the hunting grounds with me while the others stayed to watch over the new pups. She was just sick I was sure and I could bring her back to the Aspens and help her. The sun was just starting to come over the hills when we got to where she was, the area smelled like the two legged animals that walked upright. We searched for most of the time the sun was in the sky; sometimes we would stop and howl, waiting for her to answer us. No howl came back. We laid down in the shade to wait but she didn’t come. When the sun left the sky we returned home to the Aspen trees and the other pups that were waiting.

We stayed close to our home in the Aspen trees for a few suns and only hunted small game hoping she would return. We would howl often in hope she would hear us and respond letting us know she was coming home but no howl came back. I went back to the hunting grounds several times alone looking for her where she had been now only smelled of metal machine and the animals that lived in it. The pups were growing fast and the smaller animals we were finding close to our home in the Aspen trees was no longer enough to take their hunger away. We needed to find an elk and it should be soon. One day as the sun was leaving the sky and darkness was close I returned to the hunting ground again. After looking again for my mate I started to follow the trail of the elk. They were coming down from the high mountains now. I could tell they were close as I weaved in and out of the short trees along the river here. I stopped a little while later, hiding at the edge of the trees when I spotted an elk by the water. It was lying down with its front half in the water, the other half out on the bank. I waited for a long time for it to get up but it didn’t, I could actually smell a bit of death. I walked toward it slowly, weaving back and forth in case it did get up but it continued to be still. As I got closer there was a trace of the smell of one of the upright, two legged animals but it was very faint, I thought maybe it had been why the elk was dead; we had seen them often use one of the metal exploding sticks on the elk and other fast moving hoofed animals. The animals would fall quickly and lay quiet, sometimes it would take awhile, but their breath would leave them as the upright, two legged animals would roar and then get in the metal machines and go away. It was odd that they did not stay or take away good food like bears, lions, coyotes and we did. The fallen hoofed animals would eventually feed the others for days if they were left behind once the stench left the area and they felt it was okay to approach.

The elk had no breath left in it and it smelled safe, I was in a hurry and needed to take back food to the pups at our home in the Aspen trees. I started to tear into the hide and glanced around, the air was uneasy it seemed. I tore into a softer area of the hide and suddenly there was a loud explosion from where I had grabbed, a very strange and powerful stench. I jumped backwards, shaking my head and pawing at my mouth and face. I couldn’t take the smell away and ran toward the river, water would surely remove what it is that was taking my breath away. I rolled in the water, face first several times but my breath was getting harder and harder to take.

My name? I don’t think I have a name, Lord. Other than the number I was once called I sometimes would hear wolf or grey wolf. Is it important? I’m worried about our pups. They are out there without guidance and there was still much to learn for even the older pups about hunting and staying safe. We miss their mother; do you know where she may have gone? Why can’t I return to the pups Lord? Without us they will not know where to stay, what is safe to hunt and what to avoid. If one is injured the other may not know how to help it. My mate………………………..I see her now by your side. She looks many seasons younger again and a darker grey like when I first saw her and her family. We are home? Safe with no metal exploding sticks to fear? Please Lord, watch over our pups.

And Lord, please forgive them, the two legged, upright ones, they don’t know what they do…………………

*************************************

Imagine if a government agency or agencies in a state where wolves were still federally protected were to keep the presence of wolves a secret. Then due to pressure from corporate ranchers and their own reasons for personal gain decided to take matters in their own hands to make sure the wolves were taken care of before the rest of the public found out they were there. It happened. It may still be happening. I was recently asked by a group to assist them with another issue and in our discussion wolves were brought up. At first I thought it was “mistaken identity” – they had to mean coyotes. After more research I turned up evidence of wolves. The number of the wolf is made up. Through my research I followed a wolf’s journey and need to tell their story. I’m not finished yet………………………………..and I won’t give up.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Grey Wolf taken in Yellowstone standing over an elk carcass.

Wildlife Lesson #4 – Lessons About Yourself

Tucked into a meadow near the trees this black bear was in great health!

Tucked into a meadow near the trees this black bear was in great health!

Black bears seemed to be the most seen animal on my May 2010 trip to Yellowstone.  We saw several near Tower, all gorgeous and healthy.  One evening late while heading back to Gardner we stopped to take photos of a black bear in a meadow; we were the only people there.  A park ranger stopped and as the hours of “good light” for images had ran out we talked to the ranger about the different bears and their personalities inside Yellowstone.  He talked about Rosie and how she used to seem to enjoy bringing her cubs out for everyone to view and enjoy and sadly she had been hit and killed by a park visitor the year before (once I returned home and did more research there was also reports that she had been killed by a male black bear as some wildlife photographers had seen her injured).  I wondered to myself then was her death due to becoming so habituated to people that she was no longer concerned about crossing the road or getting too close them and their vehicles?

A couple of days later I spotted another black bear near Phantom Lake in the later part of the day only this one didn’t make me smile.  The bear was pretty high on the side of the mountain above the lake and one of the first things I noticed was how dirty and burnt it’s black coat appeared to be.  All the other bears I had been fortunate enough to see had been jet black, coats were sleek and shiny and they appeared to be in good condition.  This bear was a lot thinner than the others.  After it finished digging around in some dead fall it turned and headed out of the tree line; the bear was limping very badly.  As I watched I noticed it was barely putting any weight on the right front leg, when putting its foot down it was using more of the back of leg than the actual foot.  It may have been injured for quite some time as it moved with a very hunched over back and the shoulder on the right was also a lot more apparent.  As it continued hobbling along the side of the mountain I wanted to cry; it looked like the bear was in a great deal of pain.  I knew the park didn’t intervene so this bear would not receive help.

This bear had an injured right paw causing it to walk on the back of its leg.  It's hair coat was a burnt brown and dull.

This bear had an injured right paw causing it to walk on the back of its leg. It’s hair coat was a burnt brown and dull.

When this bear disappeared into the trees and out of sight we continued on and less than a mile down the road we came upon another bear, this one a cinnamon black bear, in very great condition and about twice the size of the injured bear that we had just seen.  At the rate they were traveling, it seemed to me they were on a collision course and my heart ached.  What would happen if these two bears did meet up?  Maybe I really didn’t want to know.  Since then I have actually thought about this injured bear really often.  I thought I had seen tags in the bear’s ears and according to the information I found on Rosie once I returned home it indicated that they feared she was severely injured in a fight with a male bear; could this have been her?  What had caused this bear’s injuries and how long ago did it happen?  And of course I wondered if the cinnamon black bear and this injured bear did run into each other and what happened?  Is the injured bear still alive and was it able to heal?

At one of the spots where I encountered a black bear I was lucky enough to have front row parking.  This was where I was able to witness what I hope I never become.  I love photography but my love for animals is far greater.  I never want to harass them or be so close to them that they feel threatened or that it alters their behavior.  The equipment I had at the time was a pro/am Canon with a 300mm lens; not a bad camera by any means but the lens was not what professional photographers consider “playing with the big boys.”  I also didn’t know enough about the equipment I owned to compete with professional photographers, nor did I want to.  As I sat in my car I took several photos of the bear as it walked by and occasionally stopped in the tall grass and dug around, something told me that morning to stay in my car.  On the hillside in front of the bear, directly in front of the bear, were about 40 people.  A few had smaller cameras but most of them had 500mm or larger lenses, no rangers had yet to arrive.  I smiled as I watched them jostle each other around, each one getting closer and closer to the bear in order to out-do one another.  By the time the ranger arrived they were less than 50 feet from the bear who continued on in their direction.  The bear wasn’t aggressive it was just on a mission and that was the direction it wanted to go.  There were also several people with cameras down by the road in front of my vehicle which were in a ‘safer’ zone than those on the hill, I heard several comments go back and forth concerning the “aggressiveness” of the people on the hill.  It was then that I learned there are several different types of people who observe wildlife; the ones who love the animals themselves and observing them in the wild doing whatever it is wild animals do and the ones who don’t seem at all interested in the animal but more about what they will gain out of encountering it.  It was a lot of fun that morning to witness and observe some very true animal behavior, the actual behavior of a wildlife photographer.  It was even funnier to hear the descriptive words the park ranger used when he arrived on the scene!

Another gorgeous and healthy black bear content to search for things to eat as it wandered.

Another gorgeous and healthy black bear content to search for things to eat as it wandered.

Yellowstone and the Tetons are wonderful places to hike; that is one of the reasons why I visit the parks twice a year or more if I’m given the chance.  You never go without bear spray and you make noise as you hike.  Groups of 4 (or more in some areas of the parks) are preferred and encouraged.  I did take two hikes on this trip alone due to my friend hurting her ACL, they were only a couple miles round trip and I checked with park rangers before I left and people knew my plans.  All of these precautions are not for my safety however it is for the safety of the bears.  After my wildlife photography friend shared with me that accidentally coming across a bear and startling it could cost a bear its life and that is the last thing I ever want to happen.  I hike knowing the country I’m in and that coming across wildlife will happen and I’m responsible for what happens there.  Stories of wild animals tracking, stalking and attacking humans are few and far between but stories of people hiking and coming over a ridge in between a sow and cubs are many.

Sometimes the best things are not down low but up in the trees!  A Great Horned Owl in Mammoth.

Sometimes the best things are not down low but up in the trees! A Great Horned Owl in Mammoth.

One afternoon at Slough Creek I was standing with Rick and a group of the wolf watchers, they had all turned their scopes to face the river on the other side of the road thinking the wolves might head that direction.  I heard Rick whisper that something was not good as he scanned the hills.  We all watched as 3 hikers walked up the trail between a stand of trees and a large patch of snow.  At the very top of that patch of snow was a sow grizzly, her cubs were playing between her and the trees.  We could see them easily from where we were but the hikers could not see the grizzlies due to the rolling hills.  There was no way to get a warning to them from where we were and we all stood there waiting for the worst.  The hikers were obviously doing something right because at about the time they topped the hill where the sow was she suddenly picked up her head, looked for a quick second and then ran to her cubs and all of them headed into the trees.  From where we were we doubted the hikers had ever seen her or the cubs, they hiked along the tree line and disappeared over the mountain.  We never saw the grizzly again.  I hope that most encounters end that way where nobody gets hurt.

Mountain Blue Birds are so pretty and vibrant!  They are also very quick and hard to catch images of.

Mountain Blue Birds are so pretty and vibrant! They are also very quick and hard to catch images of.

When my wildlife photography friends arrived we took several hikes together, the sights and sounds away from the road are amazing.  We looked for great grey owls and other wildlife and what we found were coyotes, mountain blue birds and bison.  We weren’t about to waste time or great hikes and not take any photos so we practiced landscape shots and I learned more than I had ever hoped.  I studied different tracks in the snow and mud of bears, wolves and other smaller animals and in my mind I could see the animals actually walking by that left these tracks.  This inspired me to want to learn more about animal tracking and it also makes you more aware of your surroundings.  You could take away my camera and I would go on these hikes regardless and I could spend hours sitting and observing the behavior of the wildlife I encounter and never become bored.

Twisted, dead tree near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Twisted, dead tree near Mammoth Hot Springs.

The first morning we had arrived in the park I had found 3 bison carcasses in a pond, part of the winter die off.  The days hadn’t been very cold and we would stop by and check in on the carcasses about 4 times a day.  I was hoping that eventually the Blacktail Plateau Pack would arrive on the scene but after 8 days in the park the only things that had stopped by were a few coyotes and another bison who almost met its demise the same way.  After watching him swim around for over an hour and finally making it out on solid ground all of us watching him from the turn out cheered!  Three dead bison was plenty, we really didn’t need another one.  My friends asked me to extend my trip; we were having so much fun hiking and taking photographs from sun up till sun down.  If it weren’t for having a job and my own animals waiting for me at home I would have in a heartbeat.  I had learned so much on this trip and the most important lessons were about me.

A male coyote stares off at his mate who was across the river.  He waited for 30 minutes before he decided to swim the river.

A male coyote stares off at his mate who was across the river. He waited for 30 minutes before he decided to swim the river.

This coyote was seen near Canyon hunting for voles in the snow and he was very successful.

This coyote was seen near Canyon hunting for voles in the snow and he was very successful.

 

 

Hike Around Barr Lake

I think this is the largest  buck I've seen!  If you get wrinkles in the jowl line when they turn to look back, they are pretty big!

I think this is the largest buck I’ve seen! If you get wrinkles in the jowl line when they turn to look back, they are pretty big!

Once again, there was no sitting still this weekend.  The snow was starting to melt, the sun was out, there was a bit of warmth in the air – no way I was going to stay locked up inside!!  I know, I know, I have thousands of images to go through, that really need to be gone through and organized and filed – but it was gorgeous outside.  Besides, I was only going to be out for a couple hours………….

Rumor had it there was a nesting pair of bald eagles at Barr Lake so that is where I decided to go.  As soon as I started to walk around the lake I saw a small herd of deer, a small buck and the rest were does.  Obviously they are not allowed to be hunted in an area that is visited by so many people, they didn’t feel threatened at all.

A few does walking by

A few does walking by

There were people lined up along the lake with spotting scopes, I assumed that they were also in search of the bald eagles but even with my 500mm lens, I was not going to be able to come even close if the eagles were on the opposite side of the lake which is 10 miles around, so I continued on my hike.

Along the way I found a Kestrel watching me from a tree branch.  I think of all the raptors these are one of the smallest and surely the bravest.  Where I had lived prior if they felt I was getting to close to their nest when I was dumping horse manure they would literally dive bomb me.  Personally I didn’t feel I was ever close to their nest!  I heard a lot of noise coming from another group of trees, so much noise that I knew I was about to see deer, coyote or maybe a fox.  I stopped and waited for one to appear, holding my breath – I was a bit disappointed to find a tree squirrel making all the noise!  He made me smile and they are very cute and photo worthy.

I love these little guys, they have to be the bravest of the raptors based on their size.

I love these little guys, they have to be the bravest of the raptors based on their size.

Hard to believe that this little one actually made more noise than the deer walking by.

Hard to believe that this little one actually made more noise than the deer walking by.

I eventually found the eagles and their nest after two and a half miles.  Through my camera I was able to see two adult bald eagles and one very large juvenile, that when he took to the air was simply breathtaking.  He had a huge wing span and even from a distance I could see his talons and his coloring.  Inside the nest I could see a head pop up, but that was as close as I was going to get to eagles today.  The grouping of trees that they were nesting in was too far back in an area covered with water and I didn’t want to get any closer knowing that they were taking care of little ones.  To me there is a reason they stay so far off the beaten path, if they wanted to be closer to people than the would fly in closer.  The pair I had photographed the weekend before were literally right next to the road on an island in a frozen lake; they didn’t mind being that close to people.  This family of eagles though preferred a little distance, I respect that.

I stopped to watch 100’s of mallard ducks feeding and bathing along the shore line, occasionally some would take to the air and although I don’t photograph birds very often, I thought with the snow and frozen lake behind them it would be interesting.

Mallards on ice.......

Mallards on ice…….

On the way back to my truck I had a doe come out on the trail right next to me, I stopped to watch her wondering where the herds go to bed down during the day.  About 3 minutes later I was shown, they were literally right next to me, about 30 of them.  Had she not come onto the trail I would have most likely never have seen them.  With them was one of the largest bucks I think I’ve ever seen.  When he turned to look over at me he had wrinkles along his jowl line and his muscles along his hind quarters were so detailed.  My close up photo ( head shot is not posted, but a full body view is above) shows the lines and details in his antlers.  We’ll see what next weekend brings but for this weekend, I had to settle for some raptors on the opposite end of the eagles.

Trying really hard to get to the eagles but they were too far out into the swamp

Trying really hard to get to the eagles but they were too far out into the swamp, however what a view!  An eagles nest with the snow capped front range behind.

Wildlife Lesson #3 – Expect the Unexpected

How do I get down?Black bear cub looking for a soft spot to land.

How do I get down?
Black bear cub looking for a soft spot to land.

All the recent wolf issues and holidays took me away from why I originally started my blog; to share my photography and stories of my encounters with wildlife.  I apologize but the wolves are very important to me, I’m passionate about them and wild horses, and if I feel that I am needed or that I need to speak on their behalf, that is what I promised I would do.  Things have been quiet today; the state of Wyoming has evaded requests for data on their Wolf Management plan so that leaves me thinking about other things.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I want to go next.  About once a month I become fidgety and feel I need to escape.  I want to go see new wild horse herds but they are all under snow at the moment making that a bit difficult so I considered going “home” to Yellowstone for a long weekend.  I feel I need to spend time as close to the wolves as I can get right now.  I’m not sure that will be possible however due to commitments here regarding both domestic and wild horses.  When I get like this I normally look through my past Yellowstone trips as they bring back wonderful memories of the people I met and the animals I was blessed to spend time with.

After meeting my “Hellroaring” bear the start of my trip in May 2010 I encountered several more black bears, about 2 every day.  One of my favorites was a black bear sow with cubs of the year.  Nothing can make me smile as much as a baby animal out exploring their new world and playing.  When we saw the black bear she had just crossed the road near Tower and headed into a little meadow.  It didn’t take long for a park ranger to arrive and establish a safe viewing spot for people.  This ranger has since become my favorite ranger inside the park as he is friendly, does his best to educate people and has a wonderful sense of humor.  He has shared many stories with me, most of which have made me laugh hard enough that I cry.  I stood near the road that day and took over 400 images of the sow and cubs.  She was an awesome mom, aware of all that was going on around her, protective and yet seemed to be comfortable in showing off her two young ones to people.

After about 20 minutes she took a nap with the cubs at the base of a lodge pole pine and while we waited for her to wake up the ranger shared a few of his experiences he has had with photographers in the park.  The conversation turned to photographers when a lady appeared carrying two tripods; one for a very expensive camera with a 600mm lens and convertor and the other a video camera equipped with a microphone.  Many people parted a path for her so that she could set up and after a little while somebody finally asked if she was filming for a production company.  When she replied that she wasn’t, that this was simply all for her I think everyone was stunned.  Why would you invest that much money in equipment if all of it was for yourself?  She stayed about 10 minutes and then packed everything up and left.  I was exhausted just watching her carry all that equipment back and forth.  I told myself then I was happy with my little Canon and 300mm lens.  At this point I had only been in the park two days and this was only my second bear, far too early to remain rationale.

The sow’s nap didn’t last too long, she had two growing cubs who wanted to see every little piece of the park and they were soon up climbing all over her while she remained down and would occasionally push one off.  When that didn’t work to get her up they tested their tree climbing skills, it was obvious that going up was far easier than coming down.  One cub managed to climb back down while remaining up right while the other stayed on a limb watching the cub who was now on the ground with mom.  A few minutes later it attempted to climb down again; head first didn’t work as gravity was rushing in.  It got back up right, slowly got about half way down, glanced over his shoulder and checked out the ground.  After he figured out where the softest landing spot was he leaped backwards letting go of the tree and landed right on top of mom!  As he rolled off of her the other twin was right there to pounce on him!  There wasn’t a huge crowd of people there and the ranger was wonderful, keeping us a safe distance but allowing us to get in position for great photos and filled us full of wonderful bear facts.

The cubs (cubs of the year are called coys) eventually got bored playing at the bottom of the trees and decided exploring the river bank would be far more fun and as they ran off, mom slowly strolled behind.  She eventually caught up to them in a meadow that was more open for viewing and photography and while they played under a tree we watched taking it all in.  An occasional car would drive by but we were all safely off the road and had nothing to worry about when a tow truck driver came by.  Our backs were to the road when the tow truck back fired, I had my eye on the bears, the ranger and I leaped what felt like 5 feet in the air and the sow had quickly gathered up her cubs in one swoop of her paw and was headed up the nearest tree.  My heart was racing!  I was amazed at how quick and agile the sow had been in gathering up two unruly cubs that were going different directions and start up a tree.  I never took my eyes off of her but I wasn’t able to see half of what she did.  What a great mother!

Safety in the tree!After the tow truck backfired I was almost climbing up the tree with her.

Safety in the tree!
After the tow truck backfired I was almost climbing up the tree with her.

As we stood there another hour a herd of bighorn sheep crossed the road right behind us, came within feet of us, grazed for a few minutes very close by and then went on down to the river the opposite direction from the bears and spent awhile there drinking.  We had been so focused on the bears that most of the people didn’t even notice the bighorns until they were crossing the road behind us.  The ranger talked about how quickly things can change here; one minute you have what is considered a safe distance of a 100 yards and then the next minute something can change and within seconds that 100 yards has become 10 feet.  I have worked with animals my whole life, I knew how quickly things could change and yet this was even more different.  I had heard the bighorns behind us and was aware of them but I didn’t expect them to cross the road and come so close to us especially when a black bear was so close.  Expect the unexpected.

Bighorn Ram waiting to cross the road to get to the river.

Bighorn Ram waiting to cross the road to get to the river.

I considered myself pretty good at being pretty aware of my surroundings.  I’ve ridden horses all over in different terrain and really keep my eyes open for potential horse eating objects and dangers that seem to be around every corner.  I have worked with all sorts of different livestock growing up and know that sheep and goats have it bred into them that carnivores are to be feared, ran from and kept away from.  Watching how quickly that sow grabbed and protected the cubs made it clear that bears, even though they are so big and may not appear that they can move quickly, can do what they need to very quickly to protect what is important to them.  I watched at how the cubs darted in and out of brush and could imagine if they could run off that quickly, mom wouldn’t be far behind them to make sure they remained safe.  If the cubs were to run in our direction, mom wouldn’t hesitate to come and get them.  The sow wasn’t afraid of us at all but she wasn’t aggressive either; we had rules and we were expected to follow them.  If we followed our rules then there would be no reason for her to fear us or become aggressive.  The bighorns crossing the road and getting so close to the sow was interesting to me; it was as if they were tempting fate.  Then I remembered the elk right outside of the wolves den the day before.  Odd that prey animals would be so close to the very animals that could kill them.

Pausing to look around before heading to the river.

Pausing to look around before heading to the river.