Posts tagged ‘snowstorm’

The Snow cometh —Yellowstone Day 4

October 9, 2019

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We awake to a couple inches of snow at our Madison Campground…but despite having to cook breakfast in the cold, dark, wet conditions, we are pumped! Snow in the landscape always makes for moody wildlife shots, and we were headed to a spot where two bull Moose had been spotted the day before.

But before we even made it to Norris, we were turned around by a ranger who said the mountain passes were closed with 18 inches of snow already. We turned around and headed for the geyser basins south of Madison. And now it was snowing HARD. After a look-see we saw nothing and then were turned around by another ranger. It was clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. A female ranger greeted us back near Madison Campground and said the park was closing and ALL of Yellowstone’s roads would be shut down for at least a day and a half.

Chinese tourist bus slides off the road (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Ryan and the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

Our choices were to stay at our campsite for 36 hours (not!) and freeze (temps were predicted to be below zero F. that night) OR shoot on our way out the West Yellowstone park entrance. We decided to pack up our tents and head towards Teddy Roosevelt. With only two-full days of shooting in Yellowstone, it was our shortest trip to the park ever.

Elk along the Madison River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

The snow continued to pile up as we spotted this herd of cow elk along the Madison River.

Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Firehole River (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

A “car window” shot at 40 mph. No self-respecting photographer would post this shot, but I kind of like it in black and white. It reminds me of my early darkroom print days. It has a vintage feel to it.

Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)
Bison and Ryan (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming)

We were finally told by the rangers to just keep moving, so we had no choice but to exit the park and head for Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Little did we know that the real adventure of this year’s trip would be just getting home! But more about that in the next post.

Spring Snowstorm & early-returning Birds

On April 11-12 a ferocious spring blizzard hit Minnesota and affected most of the state. Winds in my home county (Carlton County) exceeded 50mph and created whiteout conditions. About 7-8 inches of snow fell but it was wet and windblown. The world was white again!

Some early migrants had already arrived in northern Minnesota. Males often arrive before females in order to set up shop in the best territories before the females arrive. But there is a great risk in arriving early in the North. You may get a great territory, but you’ll have to survive cold snaps, snowstorms, and lack of abundant food.

I decided to explore southern Carlton County to see how some of the migrants were faring. I drove along the thawed and flowing Kettle River, and also visited the brand new Wildlife Management Area called Firebird.

Red-tailed Hawk on wood fencepost in falling snow. Redtails vacate the North Woods in winter, avoiding the deep snow and bitter cold.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived and began looking for food and a suitable nesting site.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

A Roughleg catches a vole! There must be an abundant population of these plump small rodents here, because there were many hawks; I saw 3 Roughlegs perched on 4 consecutive power poles! Also Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were out hunting here. I even saw an American Crow swoop down and catch a vole!

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

At least 6 Rough-legged Hawks hunted the fields and meadows of Firebird Wildlife Management Area the day after the storm. This large buteo nests in the Far North tundra and eats only lemmings. In their winter range in the northern U.S. they eat mainly voles. Though roughly the size of a Redtail, they have a much smaller beak and feet due to their dependence on small rodents such as voles. No rabbits for them!

This is the last fueling stop before heading back north for the breeding season.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

Red-tailed Hawk in the landscape of Carlton County

Eastern Phoebe in a snowfall. Surprisingly, this flycatcher will eat fruits and berries if no insects are available. I think this guy was catching early flying insects (midges?) along the open and flowing Kettle River.


Carlton County, Minnesota’s Kettle River.

Common Merganser along the Kettle River. His mate was just out of frame. ALL the lakes in the county are still frozen (even as of April 18), but rivers have opened up and this large duck is taking advantage of that.

Wilson’s Snipe on ice. These “shorebirds” don’t need a shore, only wet, waterlogged ground where they can probe for worms and other inverts. But they are extremely hardy and have been known to linger in the North even into December (if there is some open water to search for food).


Hermit Thrushes are the SECOND thrush to return to the North Woods in spring. American Robins are the first. Both can survive on berries just fine…No need for worms and insects now.

Hermit Thrush along the Kettle River

Killdeer wondering where its snow-free fields went.