Posts from the ‘horses’ Category

Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Wild Horses running Wild

On our way home from Yellowstone, Ryan and I stayed the night in Medora, North Dakota and spent the next morning shooting in Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It is a fantastic place for wildlife photography…and far less crowded than Yellowstone! Though it doesn’t have bears or Moose it does have Bison, Pronghorns, Coyote, Mule Deer and, in the North Unit, Elk and Bighorns. It also has two very photogenic species that Yellowstone lacks…Prairie Dogs and Wild Horses (also Rattlesnakes in summer!).
Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339 copyThe band of wild horses and foals. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/500, tripod]

The morning dawned dismal and rainy but we weren’t about to pass up the amazing 25-mile?? wildlife auto loop. Coming around a bend, we actually saw a car parked along the road. We had to stop and see what was up. Off on a nearby hillside was what we thought was a researcher studying a band of wild horses. The horses then stared at us (or so we thought). A couple foals were in the herd too. We waited until she returned to the road and indeed she was researching the sex lives of the horses (basically). But she told us that she thought the horses had seen another band of horses. We went cross country to try and get some shots. After setting up on the same hillside we noticed the horses all switched their attention from us to something unseen to the east. Sure enough, there came into view another band of horses. The leader of the band near us got very animated and stiffened up. He then trotted over to the other band and the leader of that band came out to meet him.

They circled each other, posturing the whole while. The other male then kicked with both hind legs narrowly missing “our” male. Evidently our male “won” and the other band drifted off while he ran back towards us. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some panning, motion-blur shots.

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9293Panning with running animals at a slow shutter speed is low percentage shooting, but sometimes you get lucky and get the head sharp but still show the motion in the legs. You need to choose a slow enough shutter speed to convey motion but not too slow so there is no chance of any part of the animal being sharp. The best shutter speed to start with would be 1/60 to 1/30 of a second. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9304Nothing is sharp in this shot (I wish the head was a tiny bit sharp) but I love the power and speed of this stallion as conveyed by the motion blur.[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9306[Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/40, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9310Kicking stallion. I didn’t really like the color in this shot…Seemed to distract from the kicking horse. So I converted it to black and white but it was still lacking something for an image portraying such power and aggression. Then I played with the contrast and Voila! I really liked it. Aggression, strength, power, energy. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f16 at 1/50, handheld]

Wild Horse Theodore Roosevelt National Park ND IMG_9339The same photo as the top photo. Do you like it better in color or black and white?

[From official park website: “Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park do not fall under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but are managed by existing park regulations. For many years the National Park Service attempted to remove all the horses from the park. This policy was reversed in 1970 when the horse was recognized as part of the historical setting. The park now retains a herd of 70-110 animals so that visitors may experience the badlands scene as it appeared during the open range ranching era of Theodore Roosevelt. In order to maintain this population level, the horses are rounded up every few years, and surplus animals are sold at public auction. Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few areas in the West where free-roaming horses may be readily observed.

Wild horses have existed in the badlands of western North Dakota since the middle of the 19th century. While ranching near Medora in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

In a great many–indeed, in most–localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cowboys in the Medora area often captured wild badlands horses for use as ranch or rodeo stock. Prior to the establishment of the park in 1947, local ranchers used this area to graze their livestock. A horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. Of the few small bands of horses that eluded capture, several were thought to be the descendants of horses that had run free in the badlands since at least the turn of the century.

Some of the horses in the park do bear a striking resemblance to the types of horses common in this area during the 19th century. As depicted in drawings and early photographs, local horses of that era were typically large-headed, short-backed, and a bit larger than the mustang of the southern Plains. They were often blue or red roans, many having “bald” (white) faces and patches of white on their sides. This color pattern, called an “apron,” may be familiar from the paintings of Frederic Remington and C.M. Russell, but is seldom seen in modern horses.

Wild horses typically range in small bands of 5-15 animals, consisting of a dominant stallion, his mares, and their offspring. Frequently a subdominant stallion will “run second” to the leader. Stallions herd their mares by extending their heads and necks low to the ground in a threatening gesture known as “snaking.” When a band is in flight, a dominant mare will take the lead with the stallion bringing up the rear. Young stallions roam together in “bachelor” groups, sometimes in proximity to a stallion harem.”

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