Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trip Report, 19 June 2009

I got started at 5:30 this morning, but as soon as I went outside, I did not expect the wildlife viewing to be that good this morning. The skies cleared last night and thus we had a heavy fog in valley and really couldn’t see anything.

I decided to try to get some images for black and white today, and the Hayden Bison herd was conveniently located at Grizzly overlook. The most exciting thing I saw this morning was a pair of the Canyon pack attacking an elk. Unfortunately, they had already started when I pulled up and they chased her back into the fog on the west side of the river. This occurred directly across from Mary Mountain Trail Head.

I headed on toward the east entrance, because I was leaving for the Battle of the Little Bighorn Monument. About a mile past Lake Butte there was a smaller grizzly lying on the slope opposite of the road.

The most exciting thing though was finding a bachelor herd of bighorn sheep. Two of them climbed a small rock outcrop just east of Sylvan Pass below the Corkscrew Bridge turnout. I parked below them and came back. There were 7 males of varying age, but two had very nice curls.

I then stopped to try and see the fox pups, which are still there. I could only devote a half hour and was skunked again. Maybe Sunday night when I return.

I headed toward Lovell, WY to go to Bighorn Canyon NRA and specifically the Pryor Mountain Horse Management Area. My plan was to check it out quickly and then come back on Sunday afternoon. Just inside the management area there was a group of horses with a foal. Awesome.

I then continued east on US Highway 14A. This is quite the beautiful drive and it tops out at 9400ft.

Not a bad day after all.

I hope to see you under the Western Skies.

Trip Report, 18 June 2009

I started out today at about 5:30 for the Hayden Valley. The elk did not seem to be as abundant as previous mornings, but it also rained most of the night. I did see quite a few on the west side of the Valley near the Mary Mountain Trail. I did not see the beaver this morning at Otter Creek, and I determined today that there are both beaver and muskrats at Elk Antler Creek.

I headed to the southern overlook first this morning. Today was a good bear day. This morning was a terrible morning for photography. There were two grizzlies courting and copulating on the east side of the river. They were paired for about 30 minutes. This was awesome to witness, but I really wish the overcast had been gone.

I proceeded down to Fishing Bridge for breakfast and then out to Mary Bay for cell signal to take care of some personnel business. I decided that was a good place to hang out and watch for otter and grizzly, but to no avail.

I then headed back to the cabin for about two hours of computer work and then headed over Dunraven. At the biggest turnout on the northwest flank of Washburn, I was able to observe for a minute or two a beautiful blonde grizzly bear. Reports are that it has been seen in the spot several days in a row.

I proceeded down to Tower Falls and checked on the osprey nest. The nesting pair were there repairing the nest, but it did not look like they had eggs. Across the river I was able to observe a bighorn ewe and lamb.

I then headed past Roosevelt toward Mammoth with designs on making it to Phantom Lake to check for the Great Gray Owl. I also wanted to try again and determine where the coyote den was, but I did not see it yet. At Floating Island I saw the sandhills cranes again, and they are nesting on the island. Then I continued toward Phantom but was stopped by a bear jam at the same location I had seen a black the night before. I was able to get just a couple of shots of the bear before something scared her and she headed for a tall tree.

I had already decided it was going to be too hard to get to Phantom with this bear jam, so I spent some time chatting with two couples who all were photographers as well. They gave me the best information yet for finding the coyote den and I think I have found it, but no sightings yet.

I then headed out to the Lamar. The bighorn ram was at Yellowstone Picnic area again, with the usual small crowd. I proceeded out into the Lamar with the intent on getting up to Silver Lake. I was primarily looking for moose out that way. The usual suspects were at the Druid den sight.

I was in hopes of seeing the black bear at Pebble Creek again, especially since the sun had come out. But it wasn’t there. However, I did get a few quick shots of a black bear in the meadow across from the Thunderer Picnic Area.

What was meant to be a quick stop at Baronnette Peak took a little longer than planned. I was able to seen 4 adult mountain goats and 3 kids. I attempted to get some shots, but just too far away. Maybe if I get up to Glacier.

I went to the Bistro in Cooke City of dinner and it wasn’t bad. I had a pleasant conversation with some like minded gentlemen from Wisconsin. The construction between the entrance and Cooke City is pretty major right now, and I could see the busy times of day taking a while to get through, so I don’t think I will be going back right away.

On the way back into the park, I saw lots of individual mule deer. Then I came on a fairly good sized black bear crossing the road. I am up to 6 bears for the day. I had decided that I needed to get back to the Hayden before it was too dark though, so I headed out.

In Antelope Creek I had my first moose sighting of the trip. She was fairly gray, but she did have a calf with her. The light was pretty dark, so I elected to go on. On the side of the Antelope Creek Valley, several vehicles were parked. I was able to see a black and a gray wolf, as well as a grizzly (7 bears). It was too far away and to dark to even try for any shots. So on to the Hayden. Here I had my last bear sighting of the day. I saw it from the southern overlook, but I could see it was heading toward the Elk Antler Creek drainage area, so I went there and set up. The sun had come out as it was setting, so the light was a little better. The bear was short though (or the sage was tall), because only his head and shoulders were above the sage when he was moving. So I had seen a total of 8 bears today, 5 grizzly and 3 black bears.

Tomorrow I will check out the Hayden with hopes of sunshine in the morning, and then head bag to the cabin to check out and head to Sheridan for the weekend.

I hope to see you under the Western Skies.

Trip Report, 17 June 2009

Between my not feeling the best and not being used to such long days, I overslept by an hour this morning. I got out of the cabin at 6:10 and headed straight for the Hayden.

The beaver was swimming this morning in the same place I had seen it the previous mornings.

I just missed seeing a pair of grizzlies chasing the elk again on the south end of the valley. I did stay and chat with folks there and found out that I had left about a half hour too soon last night. After I left the valley at the southern overlook in plain below it, four grizzlies attempt to take down an elk. The reports were that they missed taking any down.

I decided to head on south for my normal routine of going to Lake Butte. I decided to drive as far south as Bay Bridge first and saw the Gull Point Drive. I had never taken it so, I took the road less traveled. There was a nice fog over the lake this morning and finally, the sun was to be seen for a while. I decided I should try my hand at some landscapes, since I have focused so much on wildlife.

I then headed back to Fishing Bridge and on to Mary’s Bay. Right at the beginning of Mary’s Bay there was a small jam and they were looking at the water. There is a dead log right there and perched on it was an otter. By the time I got the camera set up, it had caught a trout. What a wonderful find.

I drove on up to Lake Butte Overlook, and proceeded back to Mary Bay, over an 1 ½ duration to no avail. So I decided to head toward the Lamar at about 10:00am. An acquaintance that I have been talking with who is shooting a wildlife documentary, arrived in the area around 11:00am and found a sow grizzly walking in the area.

The bighorn ram was across the street at the Yellowstone Picnic area again, both when I went into the Lamar and out of it.

I was going to try and see the coyote pups at either Slough Creek or at Petrified Tree. I had been told the pups at Pertified had been moved so I started with Slough Creek. I finally found the location and proceeded to spend an hour there and took a quick nap. I did not anticipate seeing anything, but had planned on coming back.

On the way out, I saw a Pronghorn with a fawn, and finally in the sunshine. It was great to watch her care for the fawn and then the fawn test its wild oats and start running and playing.

I needed to head to Gardiner for gasoline, as the gas in the park is $2.99 and I wanted a pizza from Outlaws. The gas was $2.73 at the Sinclair and $2.75 at Cenex in Gardiner. I didn’t stop at the Petrified Tree pup den, figuring I would see it on the way back.

I had heard reports of moose at Floating Island Lake earlier in the morning and there were a few people at the turn out, so I stopped. There was a pair of Sandhills Cranes there, but no moose. On toward Mammoth. Just before Phantom Lake, there were a few people pulled out for the Great Gray Owl, but I wanted to get on into town.

I stopped in Mammoth for about an hour, mainly to check on the Great Horned Owl and her owlets. I was fortunate to see one of the owlets, and the mother was perched on the administrative building behind the nest site. Pretty cool, and the sun finally came back out and back lit the owlet, ever so slightly.

After dinner, I headed back to the park. I did see one bighorn ewe below Mammoth, but I admit I wasn’t really searching. I wanted to get to Phantom Lake to see the Great Gray.

I arrived at Phantom Lake and it was a small mob, so I thought my chances were good. They weren’t. I waited for about 3 hours, chatted with other photographers, and finally caught a glimpse of the owl, way in the distance. I didn’t get a shot of it, because it perched in a tree a long way off, and I had taken off the tele-extender because the others were saying it had been hunting that morning and the day before right in front of the pull out, and the extender was cutting down the field of view. I assumed it would stay put for a bit, but by time I got the extender on, it was out of there. I waited another fifteen minutes, but it was after 8:30 and I needed to go.

I was a bit bummed, because lots of people were reporting bears and I had yet to see one today. That all changed on the way back to Canyon. About a mile to the west of Floating Island, I came on a small jam and spied a Black Bear and a COY. It was pretty dark, but did get some shots of the mother.

I stopped at the Petrified Tree den, to try and find it, but I just didn’t know where to look.

Then one toward tower, near the lower of the two lakes below tower, a large black bear crossed the road in front of me and a few other cars.

Past Tower and just coming out of the Antelope Creek drainage, there was another small black bear down in the creek area. So now I have seen four bears for the day, bringing my 3 day total up to 15.

At the beginning of the big prairie area of the Antelope Creek, there were several cars pulled off, so I asked if they were seeing wolves and they were. The descriptions given made it sound like the Canyon Pack, but hopefully it is the remains of the Agate Pack. They were hunting elk on the lower end of prairie. Now its time for bed to start all over again in the morning.

I hope to see you under the Western Skies.

Trip Report, 16 June 2009

Well, another good day in the park.

I began around 5:30am from my cabin at Canyon and headed toward the Hayden Valley.

My first bear sighting was about 5 minutes later when I was passing the turn off for the Brink of the Upper Falls. It was a medium sized black bear that had a black and red coloration. He quickly moved into the trees and out of sight. I attempted to get some shots, but as yesterday, it was very cloudy and not much light.

I then proceeded toward the valley, where I was rewarded with seeing the beaver at Otter Creek out browsing on the side of the road again. I decided not to stop, because I had spent so much time with him the day before. And I glad I went on.

I stopped at some of the first pull outs on the north end of Hayden for a look, but I didn’t see anything of interest to me. I headed on to Grizzly Overlook and the people were excited.

The Canyon Pack was on the move, all four of them. I saw them and started to calmly get out the 600mm and its tripod and I had kept an eye on the wolves and they were moving fairly quickly to the south. So I loaded up the truck and headed to Beverly, Beverly Hills that is, wait, I really meant to the first set of turn outs to the south of Grizzly Overlook down along the river.

This was a great move. The wolves continued south along the waters edge when about 100 meters to my north, the whiter of the grays swam the Yellowstone coming to my side. It proceeded to the other side of the road and up the hill. Meanwhile, the other three (including the black male alpha and the gray female alpha (my assumption since they were collared)) proceeded south on the river bank.

Then the other three began to cross, but I had lost sight of the white. She had actually recrossed the road to regroup with the others. When the other three got across the river, they all headed back across the road and up the hill to the west. What an exciting experience.

I continued south and stopped at the last big overlook on the south end of the valley. There were some Sandhills Cranes whooping it up and it gave me the opportunity to practice (because I really need it) with stacking the 1.4x and the 2.0x on the 600mm. This combination requires manual focusing, and I think I have got it, but when I look at the pictures, good luck.

From here I continued on my standard patrol and headed to fishing bridge, then out to Mary Bay and Lake Butte Overlook. No sightings but it did give me the opportunity to call the wife, because that is about the only place my T-Mobile phone gets reception on the east side of the park.

I then headed back toward the Hayden and was rewarded with observing the grizzly from the night before looking around the sage near the elk herds. He provided a decent show.

Now it was over the hill and on to the Lamar. I didn’t catch any action on Washburn, but at Yellowstone Picnic Area there was a lone Bighorn Ram browsing. While watching, a Pronghorn came down and crossed the road with her twins.

Then it was on out into the Lamar. I stopped past the Yellowstone Institute to observe the Lamar Bison Herd and some Pronghorn as well as catch a bite. Just as I was finishing up it started to rain. So I headed on east.

When I got out to the parking area near the Druids, I stopped to see what was going on. Last night the spotters had seen 4 pups in the vicinity of the den from last year. I chatted with some nice folks about it and they gave me the locations of some coyote dens that are within observation distance. I will confirm that tomorrow, I hope.

I forgot to mention that I stopped at the Tower Ranger Station and received confirmation that the cow and calf moose at Trout Lake had passed.

I began heading out to the northeast to look for goats and moose, and unfortunately, began to not feel well. So I stopped for a few minutes at Pebble Creek and decided that I needed to head back to Canyon to lie down.

When I left Pebble Creek a small black bear had begun browsing on the yellow flowers in the Meadow. So I decided to wait and watch and shoot for a while. But with nature calling me, I had to head on back to the cabin.

Just past the footbridge, I was fortunate enough to find a bison jam that took about 30 mins to clear. Then I headed on back to Canyon without adventure.

I headed back out from the cabin at 8:00pm to go back to Hayden for the sunset show. There was a grizzly across from Grizzly Overlook heading back into the trees. Then I went to Elk Antler Creek where there was some commotion. I reported that the night before I had seen a beaver there. I now think it was actually muskrats. I can confirm that there were at least 3 if not 4 muskrats there tonight.

It was time to call it an evening when the Grizzly Overlook bear arrived across the river continuing south. But this was just a speck. Then some folks I had met today, told me of another grizzly running through the meadow at the north end of Hayden, but unfortunately I was not to see it.

It was time to get ready for the next adventure.

I hope to see you under the Western Skies.

Trip Report, 15 June 2009

I was out the door by 5:30am and headed down into the Hayden Valley. What a day it was to be.

As I approached Otter Creek, I saw a brown lump on the shore of the Yellowstone. Last year my wife and I saw a muskrat, so I thought it might be the same one. Low and behold, it was a beaver. It proceeded to pose for me for about 30 minutes before it got into the water. I was using my 100-400L lens because I was fairly close. The grass he was eating was fairly tall, so I didn’t get many shots with the full beaver, tail and all. I was surprised by the number of vehicles that passed me, only two stopped to check it out.

I proceeded on south into the Hayden. The Hayden bison herd was in the Alum Creek area, with a few red dogs, but I figured I would late till later when there was better light. It was a very cloudy day and it drizzled on and off all day. I pulled up to Grizzly overlook and was intrigued by the amount of elk that I saw on the east side of the valley near the tree line. I had never really seen that many elk at once in the Hayden.

I began looking with my binoculars and was watching a gentleman with a professional camcorder, chatting with some girls and loaning them my binoculars when I heard a crash to the north of me. About 200yds north of the look out two grizzlies were fighting. Of course I didn’t have my camera(s) on me because that was something I was not expecting. I flew to the truck and grabbed my 100-400L and started to shoot when I realized that they were coming in my direction. I turned back to the truck to grab my bear spray just in case, and told an older couple they should watch out, as they decided they should walk towards the bears.

Fortunately, I did not need the spray, but with the overcast conditions and the time of day, I needed some help with the lens. I cannot handhold that lens at 400mm, even with the image stabilization.

The fight ended quickly and the loser continued toward and to the west of Grizzly Overlook. The victor started heading back to the river, originally I had thought maybe one of them was a female with a cub, but I don’t think that was the case. As the fight was concluding, I noticed that the herd of elk across the river from the overlook was running. There were two gray wolves chasing them. What a dilemma on what to watch.

I returned to the truck and decided to get the big gun out. I set up the Gitzo and Wimberly and got out the 600mm.

The bear proceeded to swim the river and then began chasing the wolves. What a sight. I then added the 1.4x on because I still needed the reach.

I then proceeded south through the Hayden, on to Lake Lodge, back to Fishing Bridge, out to Lake Butte Overlook, and back to Fishing Bridge. No real luck in seeing any of the bigger animals.

I love having breakfast at the General Store, and that is what I did. I then headed out to the east entrance of the park to Pahaska Teepee Resort to check on the foxes. They are still there and I had a brief glimpse of one of the adults during my two hours there. I will have to come back. I spoke with some folks who had just returned from a trail ride at the resort and they saw a mother grizzly with a cub in the meadow above the resort.

I then decided to head back toward Canyon and maybe a nap. I got sidetracked right at the beginning of the Hayden watching a pair of coyotes hunt. Then went on to Grizzly overlook, but did not see much of anything. The ranger at Grizzly overlook heard on the radio about a bear jam between Cascade Lakes Trail and Dunraven Pass, so I thought I would check it out.

I only caught a quick glimpse before they disappeared into the forest. It was a cinnamon black bear with a cub.

On over Dunraven, but I didn’t really see anything all the way to Tower Junction. I had also heard some bears were around the Petrified Tree so I decided to take a look.

It was a full on bear jam because of the narrowness of the road, but the rangers were being fairly good about letting visitors watch. It was a cinnamon male and a black female black bears courting. They then headed over the mountain south of the petrified tree.

I decided that it was time to try to find the Badger Sett, but no luck and I wasn’t sure where to look.

I headed back to the Canyon area for some dinner, and on the way back down Dunraven encountered the cinnamon female again, but I did not see the cub.

After dinner, I headed to Grizzly overlook to sit out the rain storm. I began watching some elk again and two cows swam the river to retrieve their calves. I started watching closely because they seemed really nervous. The rain stopped and a herd of elk on the other side of the river to the north of Grizzly came into view and then they took off running. It was a black wolf chasing them. He singled out a cow and started chasing her south. She jumped into the river and began swimming, he followed. They ran uphill and to the south of Grizzly out of view. I loaded up and began to follow. What a runner. He was well ahead of where I thought he would be, so I continued to move forward. He missed his meal but continued south toward another elk herd.

The light began to fail, so I began packing up when I was told of a “black” bear coming north along the Yellowstone toward the wolf with the elk between. I spent some time watching at Elk Antler Creek, but didn’t see the bear or the wolf again, however, there was at least one, if not two beaver swimming in the river and the creek. I finished packing up for the night and headed up the hill to the south, and was just in time to see a black phased grizzly chasing the herd of elk.

It was 9:00pm, so it was time to head to the lodge, and begin getting ready for tomorrow.

I hope to see you under the Western Skies.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the Road Again

Well it has been a long two days. Yesterday I started at 5:00am in Phoenix packing the truck up. Then a long day at work trying to get everything arranged before I left, and then the six and a half hour drive to Las Vegas. The drive itself wasn't bad, but it was long. I did stop at Hoover Dam for a little bit to get a picture of the dam at night, what do you think?

I got up early to head on toward Salt Lake City. It rained the entire way, OK sprinkled most of the way to Salt Lake. I had heavy rains for the last hour and a half, with people driving reeeeaaaalllly slow. This was probably not a bad thing as I did arrive on the seen of an accident about two hours from Salt Lake where some girls hydroplaned in their SUV and flipped it into the median. I stopped to see if I could provide additional first aid, but it was well under control and soon the Sheriff arrived. I believe everyone was OK, just a little shaken and a few cuts and bruises. Thankfully everyone was wearing their seatbelts.

I arrive in Salt Lake and spent a wonderful evening with my brother and sister in law at their new house. Tomorrow afternoon, I will continue on toward Yellowstone.

I hope to see you under these Western Skies.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On the Road

Well, I am leaving today for my longest trip yet to Yellowstone and the surroundings. It is with mixed emotions that I am leaving. I really am looking forward to the time in the mountains, but for those of you who know me, you are aware that my dog, Austin, is very ill with congestive heart failure. I feel bad leaving Dori behind to take care of him, but I know he is in good hands.

I will be arriving in the Yellowstone area on Sunday, 14 June and start exploring in earnest on Monday. I will be in the park until Friday afternoon and then head out to Sheridan to see my dad for Father's Day. He and I are history buffs so we will head up to Little Bighorn National Monument. On Father's Day, I will return to Yellowstone by way of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse range. Later that week I will head up to Glacier National Park for a quick scouting trip for a future project, and then return to Yellowstone until the 3rd of July, when I head out to Grandma's house in Nebraska. I love the Fourth of July back home. This will be a short trip to visit Grandma, but I intend to come back up in September or October.

During the trip, I will attempt to post some trip reports, however, I prefer to stay in the park lodges, and therefore no internet. Also cellular signals are bad at best, but if I am able, I will post abbreviated trip reports through the cell phone.

Anyway, if you are in the area and see me stop by and say Hello. I will have the King Ranch truck with Arizona plates.

See you under the Western Skies.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


This weekend should see the website go live. We know, it has been live for six months, but we think we have it the way we want it to look, along with branding for Western Skies Photography.

Tonight and tomorrow, we will be uploading new pictures from some of our trips. Our goal is to provide between 40 and 100 photos at any time online, so that it does not become too cumbersome.

Steven is now getting ready for his summer photography safari to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Little Bighorn Battlefield, Pryor Mountain Horse Range, and Glacier.

In getting prepared for this trip this year, Western Skies Photography has invested in some new gear with the hopes that it will provide better reach and stability for our images. We have purchased the Canon EF 600mm f4.0L IS lens along with a Gitzo 5541LS tripod and a Wimberly Tripod Head. Also, we have invested in Really Right Stuff ballheads and their ArcaSwiss style plates. We also purchased the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro Lens. We had seen pictures produced with this lens and we were impressed, even though it was the EF-S lens, but it will save weight and is well matched with the EF-S 55-250mm f5.6 IS lens.

So if you see us in the parks over the next month, feel free to stop and chat. We will be spending most of our time in Yellowstone in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys, looking for bears and wolves. We will only be in Glacier for two full days, 26 and 27 June. The trip to Glacier will be a scouting trip for future projects.

Steven will attempt to provide trip reports here, but he will not have consistent internet access. He will attempt to post abbreviated reports with his telephone, if he finds a good signal.

We hope to see you under the Western Skies.