Posts from the ‘deer’ Category

Early Spring in Yellowstone 1—April 16-19, 2016

rental car hit deer ND IMG_3698 (1)
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!

Coyote Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4652 (1)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!)]

Yellowstone landscape IMG_5834 (1)Mountain Vista Yellowstone
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 100mm; f8 at 1/200 second; ISO 100; tripod]

Sparky Yellowstone IMG_5387 (1)Sparky scanning for….Anything!

Red Fox Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5554 (1)Red Fox Hunting
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/1000 second; ISO 100; -0.33ev; handheld]

Red Fox Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5536 (1)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.

Red Fox and Bison Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5509 (2)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!

Mountain Bluebird female Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5440 (1)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]

Mountain Bluebird Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4466 (1)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]

Mountain Bluebird Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4505 (1)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 Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5708 (1)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)]

Coyote Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5688 (1)Yellow-line Coyote
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]

Mule Deer rim light IMG_4266 (1)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)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Prairie Dogs and friends

Ryan and I often break up the 17 hour drive home to Minnesota from Yellowstone with a night and half a day in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. The 36-mile auto loop is a fantastic road for wildlife photography…And no crowds!
Prairie Dog village Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9549 Prairie Dogs are truly charismatic critters. How can you not like them? Well, I guess cattle ranchers hate them as cows can step in a hole and break their legs. But they’ve been successfully eradicated on much of the private lands of the west.

We tried this unique shot last year but came up empty (Not every wildlife photo must be taken with a telephoto lens!). We placed our cameras with a wide angle lens near the mouth of a Prairie Dog hole…then we retreated to the hillside and waited to trigger the shutter remotely. But Prairie Dogs have interconnected tunnels with many exits/entrances, and they usually outsmarted us. And the same thing seemed to be happening to us this time, but after we had given up and were heading back to the car, one Prairie Dog seemed reluctant to go down his hole as I approached. Maybe curious, maybe young, maybe not too experienced, but “brave” enough to poke his head out to check out the “three-legged predator” just outside his home. “Click” …got the shot. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 16mm, f13 at 1/800, tripod with remote trigger]

IMG_6144 The North Dakota badlands are much more lush and green than the South Dakota badlands [iPhone!]

Lark Sparrow Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9227 Lark Sparrows are very common in Teddy Roosevelt but rare in northern Minnesota. It was a real treat to see and hear many along the auto loop. This guy posed in the tip top of a Rocky Mountain Juniper. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/250 (max flash sync speed), Canon 420EX flash and Better Beamer attachment (to extend the reach of the flash), handheld]

Western Meadowlark Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9366 Western Meadowlarks are a symbolic bird of the grasslands of the American West. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/400, handheld from car (This is an exposure between firings of the flash…The flash needs to recycle after every firing, so it is best to set your exposure so even between firings you get a decent exposure of your subject.]

Mule Deer Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9381 Check out those ears! Mule Deer, in fact, are named for their ears which are oversized as in Mules. It was a very dark, rainy, gray day so the color balance was a bit weird so I converted the image to black-and-white for better effect. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/640, handheld from car]

Teddy Roosevelt N.P.—Animals in the Landscape


The animal doesn’t always have to fill the frame! Is that news to you? More and more, I’m placing the animal smaller in the frame to show its environment and habitat. This gives a sense of place to the image. British wildlife photographer Andy Rouse just came out with a book called The Living Landscape and in it he talks about his evolution in wildlife photography to showing more habitat. Tom Mangelsen is another world-renowned photographer that also adeptly creates stunning images where the critter is small in the frame. He even does it within film-based panorama images!
Next time you’re out and had enough of frame-filling images, put away the long lens and grab your 70-200 (or wider!) and have some fun.

Theodore Roosevelt N.P.— Morning 1


We had planned on going out to Isle Royale in Lake Superior for a 4-day photo trip, but the ship captain called in mid September and said we were the only three passengers for two weeks on either side. So he was packing it in for the season on October 2nd. Time to make a new plan.

 
I suggested Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. I had done a couple backcountry hiking trips out there many years ago and remember all the interesting wildlife including Wild Horses, Bison, Elk, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, and how can we not include the Rattlesnakes and “Horny Toads” (actually Northern Short-horned Lizards). The land is more vegetated than the South Dakota Badlands and so—even though it’s still badlands—it is more hospitable to critters.

 
Ryan Marshik and I drove all night (9 hours) from Duluth, arriving at 4:30 am—two hours earlier than expected due to two factors; 1) MapQuest said it would take 10 hours but we had no traffic and no road construction and only stopped for gas. And 2) we counted on finding a breakfast spot in the early morning to eat a giant, greasy, gut-filling meal. But not even Dickinson had an all night diner, and Medora’s lone cafe in the off-season, is only open Monday through Wednesday (!).

 
So after an uncomfortable two-hour nap in the car, we headed out on the 36-mile loop. We found a heard of Bison in the campground and a flock of Wild Turkeys on the flats but this was before there was “shooting light.” A side trip up a dirt road towards Buck Hill netted us a mellow and large-racked Mule Deer buck. We followed him over a couple hills (lower photo). Mule Deer have dichotomously branched antlers unlike Whitetails which have one main beam with several tines coming off it. Muleys also have a unique escape gait in which they literally seem to bounce across the landscape, all fours in the air at one time (see photo below). Their name comes from their large, mule-like ears.

 
A band of Wild Horses next caught our attention.  They certainly have a different unkempt look compared to domestic horses. Each little band has a leader (thanks Chris!) who controls the group. He is usually the one that keeps a sharp eye on little humans with big cameras. The range of horse colors is amazing…some resembling Apaloosas, some sharing the color pattern of a Holstein cow! Wild Horses had been in the area for nearly a century but disappeared in the mid twentieth century. The current stock was reintroduced from Montana in the 1970s.

 
Our last stop before lunch was one of the many Prairie Dog towns that dot the park. It was great fun just sitting in their midst and watching their antics. I especially liked their alarm yip, where they would stand up, throw their head back and give a sharp yip. It is executed with so much force that I even saw one guy flip over backwards! If Prairie Dogs can show an embarrassed expression, this guy had it all over his face. See top photo.

 
And this was just the first morning! I will post several more journal entries from this quick 3-day trip in the coming days.
p.s. You can always click on a photo to see it in a larger format.

 
Prairie Dog yipping: Canon 7D, Canon 500mm f4 and 1.4x teleconverter, 1/1500 at f5.6, ISO 200, tripod with Whimberly head

Mule Deer buck head-on: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/500 at f5.6, ISO 320, handheld

Wild Horses: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/1000 at f5.6, ISO 100, tripod

Mule Deer bounding: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, 1/30 at f9.5, ISO 100, handheld