To order images, prints, or cards, click here

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wolves at Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

There is a haunting, wild, beauty about the face of a wolf. 

Leopold - High Country Pack

The more I learn of wolves’ complex social structure the more I am in awe of these magnificent predators, beautiful and fearsome at the same time, amazing hunters able to bring down elk, moose, or bison. To see them in the wild inspires awe. To hear them howl is to experience an indescribably wild sound.

A special treat on our last visit to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone was watching the alpha pair of their High Country Pack, McKinley and Adara, play and roughhouse. Adara, the light colored wolf in the next five shots, is the alpha female of her pack and is displaying characteristic submissive behavior to her mate, the alpha male.

McKinley & Adara - alpha pair of High Country Pack

McKinley (standing) & Adara

McKinley & Adara

McKinley & Adara

McKinley & Adara

The four wolves of the High Country Pack are McKinley and Leopold, brothers born in 2006, and Adara and Takoda, sister and brother born in 2009.

Adara & Takoda

Leopold (left) & Takoda

Adara & Takoda

The wolves are especially active around the time they are fed, and periodically in winter they get a carcass.

McKinley feeding

Adara with remains of a carcass

The Gray Wolf (canis lupus) can range in color from white to tan or grizzled gray, to black.  The Gray Wolf was once common throughout North America, but was hunted almost to extinction up to the 1930s. Then wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Their recovery in the northern Rockies is one of the great successes of the Endangered Species Act, yet they are also the subject of deep and vehement controversy.  

I will not comment here on the intense political controversy over wolves but will simply say that to me, wolves symbolize power and strength, wilderness and wildness. 

Leopold & Takoda

I am drawn to the beautiful Lamar Valley of Yellowstone to observe wild wolves, and there is nothing more awesome than watching these amazing animals in the wild. At the same time, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is one of my favorite places and a perfect place to observe wolves, as well as grizzlies.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Trumpeter Swans on Henry's Fork

There is a special magic in observing the graceful Trumpeter Swan. This week we photographed these birds on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, at Last Chance in Island Park, Idaho - part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

It was about an hour before sunset when we arrived at Last Chance and set up our photography equipment. More than a hundred birds were visible on the river, with the late afternoon light catching the pure white of the mature adults beautifully. 

The birds seemed wary when we walked down towards the bank, and moved off in another direction, some swimming, and some taking flight. But if we walked along the road they seemed tolerant of our presence, no doubt having seen plenty of humans and cars in that location.

Periodically some of the birds would seem to stand up on the water, stretching and flapping their wings, or would take off, fly a short distance, and land with another group of birds.

As sunset approached, the swans became more active, with more birds flying up and down the river to land in different locations.

Yellowstone National Park reported this year that "Participants in the West Yellowstone Christmas Bird Count tallied 190 trumpeter swans on the Madison River and nearby open waters adjacent to Yellowstone National Park on December 16th. The Madison and Yellowstone rivers within the park also provide favorable wintering habitat for trumpeters, most of which nest in northern Canada.

A few thousand swans are reported to winter throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Most of them are birds that nest and spend their summers in Canada. Read more about wintering Trumpeter Swans in Greater Yellowstone in my blog post of last January.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall in Grand Teton National Park

Wondering what you will see on a visit to Grand Teton National Park in October? 

This two minute video highlights dramatic fall color, magnificent views, and wildlife including moose, bear, deer, bison, and pronghorn.

Certain views of the spectacular Grand Teton mountain range have been photographed tens of thousands of times, but each sunrise is still different. It is a surprise, having set out in the dark well before dawn, to see what the sunrise will bring, and in autumn, around the end of September and beginning of October, the fall color is spectacular.

Dawn at Schwabacher Landing

Mt. Moran just before dawn

Dawn at Oxbow Bend

There are more reported moose sightings in October than any other month, but to see a moose you must be in the right place at the right time. To photograph the animal you must also have a great deal of patience. Typically, this bull lay in the sage brush for nearly four hours - showing the moose paparazzi only a wonderful view of his antlers. During this time he stood up only once for 30 seconds. For all we know, he may have laid there another four hours before walking off, as we did not stay longer.

Moose lying in sage brush

Moose are huge animals which can weigh nearly a ton and stand almost 7 feet tall. They feed primarily on vegetation, both on land, and submerged under water. They can even dive - up to 18 feet deep - to feed. They are often found in marshy wetlands, and love to hide in dense brush and willows. It is amazing how quickly such a large animal can disappear into the brush. They are regularly seen along the Snake River, from the Moose-Wilson Road, at Oxbow Bend, at Schwabacher Landing, and also along the Gros Ventre River.

Bull moose near Moose-Wilson Road

Bull moose near Gros Ventre RIver

Bull moose near Gros Ventre River

Bull Moose near Moose-Wilson Road

As with the moose pictured in the sage brush above, many times this animal is first spotted lying in tall grass or sage.

Bull moose in grass

While it is especially thrilling to spot the big bulls with the huge racks of antlers, the cow moose and their calves are also fascinating to watch.

Cow moose feeding in pond

Calf born this spring still stays near his mama

Much of the park provides excellent habitat for bear - both grizzly bear and black bear. In fall they enter a phase called “hyperphagia” in which they eat voraciously in preparation for winter hibernation. These young black bears were photographed along the Moose-Wilson Road.

Cinnamon-colored American Black Bear

Tourists watch American Black Bear on Moose-Wilson Road

The aspens and sycamores turn bright shades of yellow and deep gold in fall. Some bushes turn to red and rust colors. The grasslands glow gold in morning and evening light.

Fall color near Jenny Lake

Aspens on Moose-Wilson Road

Near water, you may see various ducks, Canada geese, and other water fowl. The premier winged fishermen are eagles and osprey.

Osprey with fish

American Bison are an iconic animal of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Huge animals, often found in herds, they can be dangerous and as with other big game, it is important to keep an appropriate distance - federal law requires 25 yards for most of the big animals, and 100 yards for bear and wolf.

American Bison

Pronghorns are a lovely, graceful animal, often found in small groups. It is the fastest animal on land in North America, and is often seen in the open sage grasslands of the park. Antelope Flats and the area along the Gros Ventre River are especially good places to observe pronghorn.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Tribute to Elizabeth Laden

"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future.  It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance."  
            ~Marcel Proust

Yesterday, the Greater Yellowstone and Henry’s Fork country lost one of its greatest leaders and advocates. It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of loss that I write this tribute to our friend Elizabeth Laden, editor of the Island Park News.

My husband Randy and I contributed many photos to the IPNews, which she edited and published with her husband John Losch, and we had much interaction about our submissions. She was always enthusiastic and appreciative, even when she did not publish them. 

She called herself CalderaGal. She had a deep appreciation for nature, wildlife, and the environment as well as a profound commitment to bettering the community. She was a free spirit, "into a lot of things," and had more interesting experiences than most, as recalled by her brother in his blog post "My Sister Died Yesterday." She was patriotic in the best way, expressed strong spiritual values, and had such a positive spirit. She cared deeply about helping people, and about issues large and small. As editor of the newspaper and a mainstay of the community, people in Island Park called her about all sorts of things. Recently in response to one of these calls, she spent a day reuniting a family with a lost dog that had ended up with a different family when someone else who found it  “gave it away.” 

Elizabeth printed this photo of Targhee Peak from Flat Ranch weekly last season,
along with the notice of upcoming programs at the Flat Ranch

When she reported in a moving article, on attending a special ceremony in memory of bison killed in 2007-2008, when they strayed outside of Yellowstone, she quoted Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota chief and spiritual leader, as saying,
"Yellowstone . . . is sacred ground. It has been a sacred site for the First Nation's people, and for all humanity who hold deep respect for all Creation. . . . This understanding is how we maintain the balance upon Grandmother Earth, to protect these places, especially for the survival of our future generations to come . . . We must pray for the healing of the human Spirit, to understand the connection to all living beings on Grandmother Earth."
I sensed she felt a deep kinship to this spirituality.

Frequently I learned from her at unexpected times. When I sent her an image of a rare flower hoping she might want to publish it, she replied in an email with the subject line “beware of rare,” explaining how fragile this plant is, how too much attention will lead to its destruction, how even walking near the plant, can upset the soil and root system such that the plant would not survive. Therefore she would never publish a picture of it to confirm it even lived in Island Park. I promised never to tell where I photographed the flower. The people on whose property the flower bloomed, and still grows, have seen and admired the image. They asked where the picture was taken and I told them I promised Elizabeth I wouldn’t say. They have no idea it was actually on their property.

When I sent her an image of a pronghorn in Yellowstone this summer, she said it was a great photo of the animal but it broke her heart to see him standing in noxious weeds. That led to an exchange about the extent of noxious weeds in the national park and throughout Island Park, a situation that very much distressed her. Now when I look at the photo I see the noxious weeds instead of the pronghorn, and I really don’t like that photo any more. We sell other photos but I don’t expect to print that one for sale.

Elizabeth cared deeply about preserving the beautiful Henry's Fork

When I recently sent her an image of a magnificent perfect 7 point bull elk, photographed in Yellowstone, with a tag in his ear, she said it was a great photo of a majestic animal, but she didn’t like the tag. However, for the newspaper, the tag would have to be in the picture if she used it. Ever the inquisitive reporter, she inquired with the Yellowstone National Park PR office about the tag and shared with me that she learned this particular animal had once gotten a badminton net and poles wrapped around his antlers, had to be darted and sedated to remove them, and the FDA was concerned about the possible risk if he were “harvested” and humans ingested the meat within a certain period of time, so the tag was a warning to hunters to check his history. Fascinating.

Through the newspaper, her many professional contacts, the boards and organizations she was involved in, and her wide network of interests and personal contacts, her influence built community, and she was always at the heart of it. Her brother put it this way:

“Wherever Elizabeth lived . . . a commune named Joy Tribe, a farm in the foothills, West Yellowstone, a small town in the Idaho mountains, she became a core member of a community, a community that probably would not have even existed had she not been there . . .”             - Greg Laden

I always enjoyed the Caldera Cat Tales column in the newspaper, written by Smokey the Wild Cat (with help from a great ghost writer!), and I was a Facebook “fan” of Smokey’s write-in campaign for Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney. Elizabeth’s lighthearted, humorous approach to commenting on daily life (including her own), or local happenings, or the political scene, through Smokey’s observations was so refreshing.

Randy's and my hearts go out to her family, her husband, her children and grandchildren. Her passing is an unfathomable loss to hundreds of people and to the entire community of Island Park. She lived a rich, full, and productive life, was loved and appreciated by many, and gave much to contribute to others’ quality of life, including hundreds of people she didn’t even know. She leaves an amazing legacy, which will improve life in Island Park for many years to come. But she should have lived another 25-30 years. She gave so much, but had so much more to give. She will be deeply missed by more people than she probably ever would have imagined.

May her spirit soar forever with the eagles in beautiful clear blue skies above the Island Park Caldera, and run with the bison through mountain meadows full of wildflowers, and lush forests, along beautiful rivers like the Henry’s Fork that she so loved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Big Springs Float and Moose

On Labor Day weekend, we paddled a canoe about five miles down the Henry’s Fork below Big Springs - designated the Big Springs National Water Trail.

This is a favorite, easy, family friendly float. It is also well known as offering great opportunities for wildlife watching, especially on early morning floats. Canoes, rafts, and flat-bottomed boats are available for rent at moderate prices at Mack’s Inn, which will also shuttle a person one-way for $7 from the put-in to the take-out at the resort, if you need the ride.

Big Springs produces 120 million gallons of water a day and forms the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork. The water from Big Springs is sparkling clear. The stream bottom is mostly small stones and gravel, with lush underwater vegetation in places. 

The first wildlife we saw were birds: Kingfishers, Gulls, Great Blue Herons, and Blue Winged Teal.


California Gull

Juvenile Blue Winged Teal

There were places we had to get out and pull the canoe through shallow water only a couple of inches deep, and other places where the stream narrowed and there were pools eight feet deep. The stream flows through beautiful forest and is lined much of the way with willows that look like great moose habitat.

Great Blue Heron a split second after taking off from the river

Great Blue Heron soars above the willows

Moose are frequently seen on this float in late August and September, and we especially wanted to see a moose. Towards the end of the float, just as the houses at Mack’s Inn came into view in the distance, we saw movement in the grass along the river that turned out to be the antlers of two moose. These huge animals spend hours lying down in tall grass which camouflages them well. 

Bull moose - does he think he is hidden?

As we floated by in the canoe, one of the two big bulls stood up, looked at us, walked over to much on the nearby willows, and then disappeared into the willow thicket.

Classic bull moose in early fall

Bull moose gazes at photographer in canoe

Bull Moose - never knew they had such long eye lashes!

Bull moose heading into willow thicket

Minutes later, we spotted this osprey perched high in a dead tree-top.

What a thrill to watch it dive to catch a fish, then fly away with its meal.

Osprey with its catch - a formidable fisherman!

Osprey heads off with lunch