Ryan Marshik and I decided to make a break for Yellowstone…We’ve been there many times…in May, September, October…but never April. We timed it so we’d arrive the day after some of the roads opened up for spring traffic. During winter, only the road from Gardiner, MT through Mammoth, to Cooke City is open. Now, on April 15, the roads to West Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (Artist’s Point, Lower and Upper Falls) would be open. Granted, one of our favorite routes up the Hayden Valley remained closed, but we could live with that.
So we packed up and left Duluth at 3pm sharp (actually 2:50pm) because we knew we’d arrive 16 hours later at the North Entrance at Gardiner, MT at dawn, ready to shoot. No daylight wasted! Of course, we’d be exhausted, but our modus operandi is to shoot until noon, find a campsite, set up our tents, and take a 2 hour nap, then shoot until dark.
Unfortunately, a kamikaze Mule Deer nearly ruined our perfect plan. Sometime after midnight in western North Dakota a Muley ran out on to I-94, paused and then bolted again, having a fatal encounter with a mid-sized SUV going about 60mph (we’d been doing 80, but slowed a bit before hitting her). Lots of front quarter panel damage, broken headlight covers, high beams taken out, but it was drivable. Thankfully Minnesota law states that all residents renting a vehicle are covered with their own insurance, avoiding the need to purchase rental car agency pricey insurance.
So, we made it just fine, Ryan was even able to bend the bottom of the door a bit so it wouldn’t make a horrible grating sound every time we opened it (and thereby scaring any nearby wildlife). Though a bit cold and windy, it turned out to be a fantastic wildlife-laden trip. I will have 4 blog posts about this trip..Yellowstone 2, Bighorns, Teddy Roosevelt (our usual overnight stop on the way home to Duluth). Enjoy!
Leaping for Lunch
While there was no snow in the Mammoth area (including our campground), as soon as you got above a certain elevation, there was plenty. Several cars were pulled over along the road to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and we soon saw why…A very oblivious Coyote, going about its search for voles under the snow. I didn’t have time to get my tripod out, but managed to snap a series of shots handheld. He leaped high but was unable to break through the crust of this wind-packed snow. We watched him (her?) for another hour or so and he caught at least 3 voles.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 227mm; f7.1 at 1/4000 second; ISO 200; handheld (no time to get my tripod out!)]
Red Fox with Vole
We got to watch this “famous” Red Fox hunt near the Yellowstone Picnic Area for over an hour. She’s been a regular here for a couple years. I guess she even lost some of last year’s pups (or kits or cubs…all equally correct names for baby fox) to a marauding Badger. She was sleeping when we got to the picnic area (only alerted to her presence by local photographer Steve Hinch…Thanks Steve!). Eventually she hopped up and started hunting,paying no mind to the growing long-lens laden crowd. Here she is about to end the brief life of an oh-so-cute Meadow Vole, the staple food of many North American predators.
Buddies? Not Really
My 5-year old son, Bjorn, had me print this photo so he could take it to school and show his music teacher. Perplexed, I asked, “Why?” He told me that they were learning a song about “unlikely animal buddies.” How cute is that!
Lady Mountain Bluebird
This was just a “grab and go” shot out the window of the car, but when I got home and saw it on the screen, I liked it! Not as gaudy as the males, the females still have their own beauty.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1250 second; ISO 320; -0.67ev; handheld, braced on car door window frame]
Bluebird tipped Sage
Whoever came up with the saying that the bluebird “carries the sky on its back” must have been talking about the Mountain Bluebird, as our Eastern Bluebird back home in Minnesota, is a much darker blue. I think the Mountain Bluebirds had just returned to the Yellowstone area and insects at this time of year are a bit scarce.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/2000 second; ISO 200; handheld]
Blue Sky Bluebird
I stalked this foraging Mountain Bluebird along the Old Yellowstone Road. He was busy moving from perch to perch, nabbing insects on the ground. After about 10 minutes, he landed on this rock and I laid down on the prickly and dung-covered ground (mostly dried elk dung) so I could shoot up and get the blue sky as the background. It would have been a bit better shot if he was facing away and looking over his shoulder at me, but I’ll take it.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/2500 second; ISO 200; handheld]
Coyote on the Run
It’s funny…every Coyote we see in Yellowstone seems to have its own personality. Some head for the hills when they see a human; some are methodical and slow listen-and-leap hunters; and some, like this little girl (who knows?) are speed hunters! She hunted while moving at a veritable sprint…more of a fast trot. But the technique worked, and we saw her catch 3 voles in the three miles or so that we followed her. And she often hunted right along the main park road. I panned at 1/40 of a second and picked this image as the best of the series…the eye is very sharp! But the composition is a bit tight on the bottom.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f14 at 1/40 second; ISO 100; panning handheld (a bit slow and therefore riskier panning shot…better might have been 1/60 second)]
Same “Speedy Gonzalez” Coyote as I talked about in the photo above. I laid down in the middle of the road to get this “below-eye-level” shot. A unique perspective but not a great shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/500 second; ISO 160; handheld while laying on ground]
The Rock has Ears!
Mule Deer backlit on the “American Serengeti” of Yellowstone National Park.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/640 second; ISO 160; -1ev; tripod]
….More to come! Three more blog posts about this trip coming (Yellowstone 2, Bighorns, Teddy Roosevelt)