MORNINGS ON THE “AMERICAN SERENGETI”
For three consecutive mornings, after waking before dawn, cooking up some oatmeal and toasted bagels, and warming our fingers over the car defroster, Ryan and I hiked a half mile (3/4 mile?) in to a valley that was teeming with wildlife. Hundreds of Elk, dozens of Bison, Pronghorn, and Mule Deer grazed the nearly nonexistent grass, moving slowly but surely across the floor of the valley. Despite “bear activity” signs, we felt very safe as we could see for miles in almost all directions.
Here (thanks to a tip from a wildlife photographer friend) we found a “bachelor herd” of Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis).
In our many previous trips, we’d mainly seen bands of Bighorn ewes and lambs scrambling on the very vertical hillsides along the road from Gardiner, MT to Mammoth in the park. A few times we’d seen smaller rams come down to the river to drink, but never a big bachelor herd. But in this Valley of the American Serengeti (our name) we found a couple dozen “big boys” and another dozen young rams. You see Bighorn males and females only intermingle during the late November rut and mating season. After that, they go their own ways. Young males will join the bachelor herd after a year with mom.
Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5951 (1)The Patriarch
Though Bighorns don’t have a single band leader, they do seem to jostle a bit for social status, at least it seemed like that to us. This scarred full-curl ram seemed to be the oldest and the ram with the largest horns. His short muzzle had what appeared to be a scar all the way across the bridge. You can age a ram by its horns due to “growth rings” but I’m not experienced enough to attempt it. Their horns can weigh up to 30 pounds! Rams can live 9-12 years.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/1000 second; ISO 200; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5287 (1)Still Life with Bachelors
“Bachelors” is perhaps a misnomer as many of the older healthier rams may mate in the fall, but the all-male bands are called “bachelor herds.” I love the painterly feel to this image…Lots going on in this single frame. Note the young ram leaping over a laying ram. I muted the colors in Aperture.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1250 second; ISO 400; +0.33ev;  tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5989 (1)Two become One
Just a “haccident” (happy accident) when the two rams lined up to form “one head.” Blur your eyes a bit and …Bizarre.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/1000 second; ISO 320; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5310 (1)Resting Rams
Bighorns chew their cud. Note the patriarch in the upper right hand corner.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f10 at 1/250 second; ISO 400; +0.33ev; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5211 (1)

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f8 at 1/200 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5981 (1)

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/500 second; ISO 200; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5835 (1)

Blue Bighorn Silhouette
A so-so shot that gets a bit of creative life by reducing the exposure by a few stops and altering the white balance.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 100mm; f8 at 1/125 second; ISO 100; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5194 (1)

Monarch of the Mountains
Head on portrait of a full-curl ram. These boys not only tolerated us (can’t get closer than 25 yards due to Yellowstone’s rules (and common sense) but seemed to go about their business as if we weren’t even there. This is one of the real treats of Yellowstone; you get to witness the everyday lives of animals.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f9 at 1/160 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5191 (1)

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 330mm; f9 at 1/200 second; ISO 400; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5135 (1)

[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 148mm; f5 at 1/640 second; ISO 400; +0.33ev; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4312 (1)

Peek on the Peak
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/2000 second; ISO 160; -0.67ev; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5226 (1)

Not sure if I like this image as a black and white or color version yet.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 148mm; f5 at 1/640 second; ISO 400; +0.33ev; tripod]

Bighorn Gardiner River Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4299 (1)

Still plenty of snow in the high country of Yellowstone in mid April. These Bighorns are extremely sure-footed and are at home in steep country. One of their main predators is the Mountain Lion, which is also at home in rugged terrain.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/2500 second; ISO 160; -0.67ev; tripod]

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