2015 Spring Wildlife Yellowstone Safaris

Driving north on I-15 the countryside slowly changed hues, from brown to green, to vibrant green.  Through Utah, and then through southeastern Idaho into Montana the green only deepened, the grass was longer, the air crisper.  By the time we got to Yellowstone a fresh, thick green carpet covered every meadow, valley, and mountainside.  Nearly everyday thunderstorms built in mid-afternoon and washed and watered the park with rain.  By early evening the storms broke and calm had returned.

I spent 11 days shooting in Yellowstone this spring – the day before the safaris started, two back-to-back four day safaris, another day with my wife, and one last day with two of my sons and their wives and families.  By the time I left that final morning from Island Park, ID, to head home to California my spirit was certainly refreshed and my cameras had shot just over 11k images.

Over the decades of shooting in YNP I’ve learned to identify the common scenes quickly, scenes that will present themselves nearly everyday that can be passed by with little worry of not seeing it again, and anticipate the uncommon photo opportunities.  We had some tremendous uncommon opportunities on this set of safaris, opportunities that I probably won’t photograph in such depth again.  The pika images at the Hellroaring Trailhead, the harlequin duck in Soda Butte Creek, mallard ducklings in Lamar Valley, newborn pronghorn fawns in Little America, the sheer volume of black bears and cubs in the Tower area, the great gray owl in Island Park – to name a few.

A pika downing a dandelion at Hellroaring Trailhead.

A pika downing a dandelion at Hellroaring Trailhead.

A drake Harlequin duck along Soda Butte Creek.

A drake Harlequin duck along Soda Butte Creek.

A mallard hen and her ducklings in Lamar Valley.

A mallard hen and her ducklings in Lamar Valley.

Newborn twin pronghorn fawns stay close to mom in Little America.

Newborn twin pronghorn fawns stay close to mom in Little America.

One of three 2 year old black bear cubs from near Tower.

One of three 2 year old black bear cubs, covered in dew, from near Tower.

This great gray owl was photographed just 200 yards from our cabin in Island Park.

This great gray owl was photographed just 200 yards from our cabin in Island Park.

The traditional subjects were all there, though we struck out on Badgers (extinct according to Gary) and saw and photographed few grizzlies.  We shot traveling red foxes, mousing coyotes, and gray wolves on a bison kill, as well as spotted baby elk, excited red dogs (baby calf bison), and the always entertaining great horned owls around Mammoth.  The trees were full of cavity nesting birds, like tree swallows and red-naped sapsuckers, and we saw grouse but never had a good opportunity to photograph them.

A red fox traveling by us near Roosevelt Junction.

A red fox traveling by us near Roosevelt Junction.

A coyote performs a mousing jump in Lamar Valley.

A coyote performs a mousing jump in Lamar Valley.

D72_3608-web

A group of bison charge (tails up) after a gray wolf in Lamar Valley at about 600 yards.

A spotted elk fawn charges blackbirds as it learns the world around it.

A spotted elk fawn charges blackbirds as it learns the world around it near Mammoth Hot Springs.

Red dogs play on a cool, brisk morning in Little America in YNP.

Red dogs play on a cool, brisk morning in Little America in YNP.

This adult great horned owl keeps watch on its fledglings in a nearby tree in Mammoth Hot Springs.

This adult great horned owl keeps watch on its fledglings in a nearby tree in Mammoth.

A red-naped sapsucker cleans out wood shavings from its cavity nest.

A red-naped sapsucker cleans out wood shavings from its cavity nest.

These images give you a taste of what we photographed over all those days in Yellowstone.  I would like to thank Gary, Ron, Dave, Clay and Jody, Chris, and Box for their enthusiastic attitudes.  We spend a lot of time chasing for those moments, we start very early each morning with sleep at a premium, and all of you really performed well.  Also, thanks to old friends Butch, Karen, and Steve for spending some time with our safari groups as well.

We did have one experience that taught us all something about grizzly mace.  In one of the vehicles a can was punctured by a power seat moving over it, leaking mace that caused quite a danger in that vehicle.  While lots of water, towels, and some helping hands kept the incident from getting out of hand, it still incapacitated one safari member enough that they missed a couple days recovering.  So for those of you with mace, especially the more powerful grizzly mace, take extra precautions in their storage.

Here are some more image from the Spring Yellowstone Wildlife Safari:

A white-tailed deer fawn near Petrified Tree.

A white-tailed deer fawn near Petrified Tree.

Over the years I have seen a few white-tailed deer in YNP, but never very many.  So I was surprised when this spotted white-tailed fawn and its mother appeared suddenly in the meadow near the Petrified Tree road.  After a few shots the mother laid the fawn down in some heavy grass and it literally disappeared from view.

 

Two of four coyote pups at a den near Phantom Lakes.

Two of four coyote pups at a den near Phantom Lakes.

For 9 days I looked hard to find an active coyote (and badger) den.  Like needles in a haystack, at times they seem impossible to find – until you literally step on one.  I found this coyote den on the last day near the Phantom Lakes, about 150 yards uphill from the road.  There were four puppies playing and wrestling around the long grass and dirt pile, but never at once and never in the open very much.

A bald eagle take-off from the Slough Creek area.

A bald eagle take-off from the Slough Creek area.

We saw many eagles, including one Golden Eagle, as well as osprey in our travels around the park.  One bald eagle flew by with a large trout in its claws, though I didn’t see it in time for images.  And like all eagles and osprey, getting close is much more difficult than you would expect.  These fish eaters are active throughout the park and along all the rivers and ponds.

 

A grizzly charges across Swan Flats one morning before sunrise.

A grizzly charges across Swan Flats one before sunrise.

Swan Flats, just south of Mammoth Hot Springs, is one of my favorite grizzly search locations because if you do see one they are usually pretty close.  It is also the area where I photographed the quad cubs from 2010 extensively.  We spotted this bear before sunrise a few hundred yards off the road -by the time we stopped and got set up he was moving across the flats and crossed the road on a run

 

A pika takes a look at us at Hellroaring Trailhead.

A pika at Hellroaring Trailhead.

We had four different opportunities to photograph the elusive and beautiful Pika, a chinchilla sized animal – the smallest member of the rabbit family.  They love the piled up rocks on talus slopes, and one of the best piles of talus is found next to the Hellroaring Trailhead.  On two of those encounters we had completely cooperative pika who didn’t seem to care that we were standing 15 feet away, photographing the heck out of them.  We came to calling the slightly larger male pika – the “bull” pika.  He ran around more, called out warnings to the other pika more, and seemed a bit more reticent.  At one point the pika ate a dandelion (top photo of this article), slowly sucking it down like a piece of spaghetti – and providing us with one of the unique photo opportunities we had

A Harlequin duck at Le Hardy Rapids.

A Harlequin duck at Le Hardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River.

Probably the finest flight image I've taken of a Great Gray Owl, in Island Park, ID.

Probably the finest flight image I’ve taken of a Great Gray Owl, in Island Park, ID.

As you can see from the images, we had some great wildlife moments.  During the slower afternoons we shot landscapes, wildflowers, mushrooms, and chased songbirds.  I did miss one spectacular morning light scene at the south end of Swan Flats while looking for grizzly bears on our first morning out.  Layers of mist were rising up from the flats as the sun began to break the horizon line, shafts of light filtered through the mist turning it shades of gold and yellow, and a solitary cow elk stood silhouetted a hundred yards off the road right in the middle of it … and I kept driving looking for grizzlies … arghhhh.  My bad.

My next safari to Yellowstone is October 1-4 for the fall wildlife and bugling bull elk during the annual rut.  That safari is preceded by my southwestern Colorado Landscape Safari in the San Juan Mountains from September 27-29.  Come on along for some great adventures, and moments never to be seen again.  BRP

Advertisements

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
This entry was posted in Photo Safaris, Stories from the Field. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 2015 Spring Wildlife Yellowstone Safaris

  1. Ron Ludekens says:

    Brent – I truly enjoyed the trip, got great photos and probably more appreciated the knowledge pickup up about the wildlife, their habitats and habits. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s