June 3, 2011

Yellowstone May 25th - 30th

A mother Grizzly Bear enjoys a vole while her "Cub of the Year" sits safely on her back near Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park. Captured with a Canon 7D with 500/4.0L IS in aperture priority mode with an exposure bias of + 1 2/3 at ISO400, f/5.0, and 1/160th of a second. The camera was mounted on a Gitzo 3540XLS and Induro GHB2 gimbal head with custom long lens support.


All of you who follow along with my trips on Facebook and Twitter know how great of a trip I had in Yellowstone. For those who are not following along, and are the kind of person who would enjoy the play by play during my trips... well it is simple to follow me on one of those social networks.


This was one of the trips that spoils me and makes most of my other trips seem a little slow. I spent a large amount of time near Grizzly Bears each day of the trip. If you count cubs I had nine or ten Grizzly Bears near me (and in my cameras viewfinder) over the course of the six day trip.

The activity was great; but the weather was not equally great (for most people). I personally LOVE snow, so I found the cool temperatures and ample snowfall to be pleasant, especially as it kept the tourists down over what could have been an insanely busy weekend. The snow did wreak havoc on the roads, and I found myself clearing trees, helping folks back onto the road, and even leading a caravan of scarred tourists out of the park. A few mornings I found myself making first tracks on the road from Norris to Canyon, and that was a bit scary on the 8% grade climb; but my Subaru did a good job, and I had no problems, other than needing to clear a tree out of the road to make a path for travel.

I arrived later on Wednesday than I wanted to; but I still managed some nice birding in Swan Lake Flats and that lead to the creation of this image of a Cinnamon Teal Drake.

I camped in Mammoth and was out very early on Thursday morning. Racing down to Yellowstone Lake with hopes of finding a bear or two, and I was in luck. I got to Mary Bay and found a Grizzly Bear to my left and a North American River Otter to my right; but snow filled the sky everywhere in between. The Grizzly was a bit too far (with all of the snow), so I photographed the Otter and waited for the snow to let up before photographing the second Grizzly Bear of the day at Sedge Bay. The Grizzly made his was across Sedge Creek on some logs and made a nice leap for a snow bank. Those of us in the area raced down the road with hopes that the Grizzly would emerge in the trees; but he turned around and actually ended up back where he had started. By that time I was preoccupied with birds and ignored the frantic waiving of my friends to alert me to the Grizzly's reappearance. I had an even rarer treat, a Short-tailed Weasel had poked its head out with a large vole in its mouth. I kept waiting, with the hope of another Weasel show; but all I got was some birds including this nice Dark-eyed Junco. I went back and photographed the Grizzly a bit more; but the light and scene were far from spectacular, and I had my Weasel shots (I was set for the trip ;) Little did I know that when I turned and drove back towards Fishing Bridge I was making the right choice. The Bear Jam was already underway, and I had heard that there was a spring cub in the area, so I found a place to park and watch this beautiful sow and cub Grizzly Bear. I found a spot that allowed me to shoot from the comfort of my car, and with the snow falling and blowing hard I was happy to be in the car. The pair started to leave, and so did the crowds; but that just gave me a chance to move my car into an even better spot in time for the pair to come near once again. I shot plenty of video, and really assumed that the best was over; but they were moving up the road and there was no parking, so I got out the tripod and walked down the road with a few others in the heavy snow. As we did this more followed, and others simply parked on the road near where we were heading. The sow and cub proceeded to come very near us (and the road) and start digging through the deep snow to find a vole. To our surprise the cub climbed onto mom's back as the snow quit, the clouds began to break and the late afternoon light began to pour in. Then the magical moment happened. Sow and cub looking up (and at us) with nice light, and a vole hanging out of mom's mouth. Those of us in the area had out camera's shutter banging off frames as quickly as we could. I'll admit that by this time my fingers were frozen and when I told them to adjust my exposure they failed to do so, leaving my shots over exposed more than I wanted; but because I shoot RAW I was able to turn out a pleasing image. The cub begged for the vole, and let out a little yell when mom ate the vole; but I think the cub just wanted a toy :) That basically ended the day, how could anything top that.

I drove back to Mammoth in heavy snow, I stopped to help a ranger clear a small tree limb from the road, helped get a couple of cars back onto the road, and then was asked to lead a caravan of tourists out of the park, as they were "too afraid to drive out." The next morning with visions of the bad road from Mammoth to Norris still in my mind I dedided to sleep in 25 minutes and head to Lamar. I took my time, hoping/waiting for some nice light to illuminate the clean snow covered scenes; but the light did not cooperate. I kept taking my time all the way to the Lamar confluence where I found out I was just a little late to experience the Lamar Canyon Wolves take down a Mule Deer Doe near the road. Oh well... I stuck around because I had seen a Grizzly Bear in the area and I had hopes that it would rush in and challange the Wolves for the carcass (and it did). The Grizzly won and the alpha male of the pack was left to just teasing and howling; but when no other Wolves came to his aid he gave up and let the bear eat in peace (except for the pesky Ravens that the Bear had to keep chasing off). The storm clouds caused a late sunrise in the valley; but they treated me to a nice landscape. The Bear eventually left and had a brief staring contest with a Coyote before crossing the creek and heading off. I spent over 14 hours on the carcass and only photographed for the first 3-4 hours; but I filled the day with great conversations and I only used 3 gallons of gas.

Back to Mammoth for the night and out early the following morning, so early that I was making first tracks from Norris to Canyon (and that is a scary drive in deep snow). I turned toward Hayden and thought that the it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way, because there was less snow on the ground. As I began to enter Hayden Valley I was greeted by a tree in the road. I cleared the snow out from around my tiers and inspected the tree, an off duty park employee shortly approached from the other direction and when we called in the tree we were told it could be a while before they could get out to clear it, so I decided to take action. The tree had started to crack when it hit the ground, so I figured a tow strap and my Subaru Outback might be able to get the job done. I was successful, all I had left to do was use my hatchet to clear a few limbs and I had a lane open for traffic, by that time I had an audience watching me work. I went through and found the driving easy through the Hayden Valley, especially after a plow came through going the other way. Unfortunately the road was closed at Pelican Creek, so I made a nice breakfast (instant oatmeal), and took the time to photograph the pair of Bald Eagles that were flying around. The day seemed uneventful after the hectic start and the great shooting from the day before; but I did make some nice images of a Grizzly at Marry Bay, some birds along Sedge Bay, the Hayden Sow with two, second year, cubs put on a nice show in bad light, an Eagle gave folks a nice look on a near perch, then the sunset looked great on a Morning Dove along Sedge Bay; but I had no idea how great the sunset would look over the snow and ice along Mary Bay. I had a friend get me a camping spot down by the lake, so I would have a shorter drive. (I still owe them money, as they disappeared the next day not to be seen the rest of my trip)

The next day was snowy, yet again; but those of us who braved the weather were treated with a tense meeting of two Grizzly Bears near Steamboat Point. The two Bears put on a show, whispered sweet nothings, and even played around. That was about it for the day, I went back to Mammoth to look around and try to get a message to a friend who was trapped in the Tower Campground thanks to the rock slide near Blacktail Drive.

I headed South early the next morning and the new coating of snow was lovely on the trees that burnt two years before. None of the Bears were out, and the Otter was way out on the lake, so I raced back at the report of a Black Wolf at Mary Bay. The Wolf was way out and it was snowing hard; but I had nothing better to do, so I waited. Everyone left, and I kept waiting... I decided to make a quick drive down along the trees, and was rewarded with this classic view of a black Wolf staring at me from the trees in heavy snowfall. "WOW! What luck," everyone said; but I was frustrated with that darn collar ruining what could have been a nice shot; but my editing ethic is against cloning things like that out, so it stays (I battled that one long and hard). I continued down Steamboat Point where I came across another Grizzly Bear; but the snow/fog/steam rolled in and made the bear almost invisible. As we had cell coverage I stayed in place and some friends headed back to Mary Bay to keep watch for the bear to reappear or the Wolf to show up. After and hour I decided I should make a lap to check and see if the Bear had dropped down in between; but it had not. When I returned to my post the Bear came down in front of me, so I made the call and they raced back to Steamboat Point; but now we had two bears in the heavy snow. The one Bear moved towards the thermal features as the weather broke, so we all positioned to photograph it, then unbeknownst to us the second Bear came very, very, near, so we needed to move to a more safe place. The Bear in the thermal feature kept posing, so we kept shooting until the ranger decided it was time to scare him back across the road (that was fun). The Bears played hide and seek (I don't think they were even trying). The weather closed in again, this time with corn snow then hail, so I decided to head north. The Ewes and Lambs were out in Gardiner Canyon, so I did a little shooting before driving back home to Billings.

It really was a great trip.

I took 4530 images, plus lots of video and a few time lapse sequences, and I was able to cut the images down to about 400 shots, they are online in the gallery. Make the jump to go through the online gallery, I ask that you leave comments/criticism or at least give your favorites a thumbs up... THANKS!

I made it easy on those of you who don't want to see all 400 images... the first 55 images or so are the "selects," looking through those will give you a great sense of how great the trip was.

If you have questions, ask... I published the camera information with each image and have added full keywords to share just about anything you would want to know about the images.

Happy shooting

p.s. I have some video footage and time lapse sequences that still needs editing, it will take me a while to find time to edit it.

1 comment:

  1. Shame on the audience who watched and waited while you cleared the road. Were you thinking "a little help would be nice"?

    Way to persevere. The experiences and photos are awesome!