Successful Winter Yellowstone Workshop

            Through the 2016 holidays, it was nice to see family and catch up on many much-needed projects.  The Christmas season is a busy selling time, as well, but I was still able to see everyone I wanted to see back home and many extended family members.  Once the New Year came, I headed back to Canada for a few weeks to be with me fiancé in Canmore.  I was excited to be back with her and scout out the Canadian Rockies for wildlife.  It was cold and snowy while I was in Canmore, but I didn’t have a whole lot of luck in locating much wildlife other than elk. 

            I always enjoy going to Yellowstone in the winter and searching for the wolves, and other animals.  I left Canmore on the 24th to scout for my upcoming workshop that started on the 28th.  I did manage to see some wolves in those three-days and figure out where they were hanging out, but they were very far away when I did see them.  There has been a good amount of snow this year, which was nice because there weren’t any brown spots showing like there has been in years past.  The animals didn’t cooperate for me in those three days to get many shots, but I felt confident I could find them when we come back to the north on my workshop.

            On the night of the 27th I went and stayed with some friends in Livingston, MT, and then on the morning of the 28th I went to Bozeman to get my group.  I was excited for the workshop to start and help them find and photograph the wonders of the Yellowstone Winter.  We headed to West Yellowstone after I had gotten everyone, and that night we went out to shoot the sunset.  The next morning would be our first in the park, and we would go in from West on a snow coach.

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

            Everyone was excited and ready on the 29th, and at 7 a.m. we headed into the park, and my good friend Justin Parsons was our driver guide as well.  It was forecasted to be the coldest morning of our time in West, so we headed toward Old Faithful first thing to try and get frosty bison.  The sunrise that morning was absolutely incredible, and a great way to start the workshop! I wish it had been colder than 5 degrees, but we were still able to find some bison that were covered in frost in the thermal areas.  We spent a long time with the bison and headed back toward the Madison River.  We got there after lunch, and as we were looking for a bobcat, another coach had already spotted one and everyone rushed out.  It is always such a treat to see a wild bobcat!  We were fortunate to watch it across the river for a few hours that afternoon as it stalked ducks and waited for an opportunity to pounce.  It never did jump, but we got great shots of the bobcat! It was a great first day of the workshop!

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

            On the 30th we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley in the morning.  It was so nice being the only group at the canyon in the morning, because in the summer that never happens.  It was a nice day, so we headed into Hayden Valley while the light was still good.  We photographed a famous tree there, and then further down the road found a red fox.  It was a very cooperative red fox, and we got to watch it hunt as it moved along the endless snow ridges.  It even decided to come our way and walked right up to us and onto the road! Once it crossed we kept photographing it, and it went on a ridge with the beautiful dark clouds behind it!

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

            We had heard otters were near the canyon, and we had great timing because the other groups had come to look for the fox we had and we went to the otters, where 50 people had been.  When we got there we were the only ones there, and the otter pups were so playful.  They played and played and played and ran around and were so fun to watch! A bald eagle flew in after a while and landed on a tree close to the road! It was one of the best otter experiences I had ever had! We went to Artist Point to photograph the canyon, and when we left we found the otters again and had to stop.  A different bald eagle was in a tree nearby this time too.  The otters weren’t as playful this time, but were still active.  One otter went running and sliding our direction down the frozen river, and it was great to photograph!  If he did it again I thought I would take a video of it because it was so neat.  Some time later it did it again, and I videoed it running and sliding on its belly numerous times! I never thought this video would go viral, but nature and wildlife sure can capture people’s hearts!  We even managed to catch a glimpse of a bobcat that evening.  What an incredible first couple of days!

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

            The 31st was our last day on the snow coach, and we headed to Old Faithful again in the morning.  We followed wolf tracks for a long time, but never saw the wolves.  It was a very windy day, which wasn’t a good sign for trying to find wildlife.  Animals don’t like wind, and will hunker down in the trees and wait for the wind to die down.  We shot some thermal features, but it was hard to photograph in the blowing snow.  On the Madison River we found more coyotes, and even got to watch one try and fish in the river.  Later that day a bobcat was spotted, so we got to see a bobcat again! I can’t believe we got to photograph the bobcat every day of our trip in from West!

            Our time in West went better than I could have hoped, then on the morning of February 1st I drove the group to the Northern Range of Yellowstone.  It was not a fun drive because of the snow and wind from last night that iced up the road.  We made it safely, and then that afternoon went in to the park and checked out the northern range.  We found some big horn sheep and coyotes on our afternoon run, but it was just good to see that part of the park and refigure out where the wildlife were in the north.

            On the 2nd we left Gardiner at 6:30 a.m. and it was snowing hard when we left.   It didn’t let up, but when we got to Roosevelt Junction, a mother and calf moose were right off the road.  It was still a little dark, but they were right by the road.  We were able to stay with them for a little while as they moved near the road.  It snowed so hard when we were with them, but it made for a dramatic scene.  A great start to the day!  We continued on to Lamar Valley, but it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see anything.  A large bison was on the road, and we were able to get ahead of him and pull into a pullout and let him walk by.  He was beautiful and fully covered in snow.  It had been a very long time since I had seen it snow that hard in Lamar.  The roads were getting dangerous because of how much it was snowing, so we headed to Mammoth hoping it wasn’t snowing as hard.  It was snowing just as hard, but we photographed the terraces anyway, and it made for a neat scene.  We called it a day a little early because it wouldn’t stop snowing and the visibility was so bad.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

            We left at 6:45 again on the 3rd and headed into the park.  It was a quiet morning, but when we got back to Pebble Creek we found a small bull moose bedded.  We waited for him to get up, and it was a beautiful scene when he did with the trees fully covered in snow.  It snowed off and on throughout the day, but nothing like yesterday.  My group really wanted to see wolves, as did I, but it is never an easy task.  Most days, if you see them, they are really far away and you have to pray you are in the right spot if they do come close enough.  Around lunch I was able to show them a pack of eight wolves through a scope, but they were over a mile away.  This is what wolf watching is like over 95% of the time in Yellowstone.  Wolves are, in my opinion, the hardest of the large mammals to photograph because they are skittish and hate people.  We saw some wildlife that afternoon, but didn’t have many opportunities other than with moose.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

            Our last full day was the 4th, and when we went in that morning the wind was absolutely howling.  On the Blacktail Plateau the snowplow hadn’t been up there yet, and I was plowing through 3-4 foot drifts! It was absolutely crazy! I only did it because I knew the road, and was surprised I didn’t get stuck honestly.  It was super windy across the whole park, which almost never happens.  Nothing was out because of the wind, but we did find one large bison fully covered in snow.  The wind blowing created a dramatic scene at times, and we stayed with him a long time because I knew there was nothing else out.  The roads were very dangerous and we had to wait on snowplows a couple of times to clear the road of snow.  We went back to Mammoth because of how dangerous it was, and that nothing was out.  A wolf pack was on a ridge above Mammoth, but again way to far for pictures.  We photographed the terraces in the sunlight and then went in.  There was no way I was driving back out with how dangerous the roads were.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

            On the 5th we put everyone’s luggage in one room and then headed in at 7:30 into the park.  I am dropping them off today, but no one’s flight is until the evening, so we went in the park in the morning.  It was again very windy and very little wildlife was out.  Four large bison were near the road and in a nice scenic spot.  A couple of times the wind kicked up and made for a very nice cold windy scene! A little further down the road we found a moose, and he came close to the road.  Then he turned around and crossed the river! It was a great way to close out the workshop!  We drove to Bozeman and I dropped everyone off by 4 p.m.  A great way to relax after a long, but great, workshop was to watch the super bowl with friends!

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

            Overall I was very excited for how the workshop went! We saw so many different species of animals, and all of those species gave us an opportunity to get good pictures except the wolves.  I know wolves were on the top of everyone’s list, but I can’t define a workshop by wolves only.  They would have been great, but we were able to get great shots on many species, including the elusive bobcat.  Twila flew in the night of the super bowl and I can’t wait to get to show her Yellowstone for her first time!

 

If you haven’t seen my video of the otter sliding on it’s belly that went viral, click on the video below this blog! It got over 70 million views on facebook!

Yellowstone Workshop

           On January 30th, my first winter in Yellowstone photography workshop officially began when Robbie and I picked up our first client at 1:30 p.m.at the airport.  She was from Germany, and then we went and picked up three people from Italy and one guy from Michigan.  We each drove a vehicle to West Yellowstone to give us flexibility during the workshop and more space.  That night we met for dinner and went over the final details and got everyone excited for the week, and particularly for the next day.

           Everyone was ready to go in the morning, and at 6:45 a.m. our snowcoach pulled up, and my buddy Grahm was driving it.  It was 15 degrees, and we were going to spend the day on the snowcoach looking for wildlife along the Madison River, but particularly hoping to find a bobcat.  We found river otters swimming around in the morning, which was neat.  I had never seen them on the Madison before.  We also saw a lot of coyotes and a few red fox, but no bobcat.  There were a few good photographic opportunities for our first day, so that was good!  We will be on the snowcoach three more days, so we will have many more opportunities for the bobcat and other wildlife.

           It was -25 degrees when we woke up on February 1st, so we decided to head toward old faithful and look for frosty covered bison.  When it is that cold, and bison are hanging out in the thermal areas, there fur will become covered in frost.  It was very foggy in the thermal areas, and that was great for us!  We found a number of groups of frosty bison, but I finally saw a group I really liked.  We walked out 100 yards to them and got great shots of them as they moved around!  They moved on, and we photographed some of the beautiful landscape on the cold morning.  We spent the entire morning with frosty bison and got great pictures!  The afternoon was spent on the Madison again, but still the bobcat still eluded us.  The morning was terrific though!

A bison heavily covered in frost moves my way on a -25 degree morning.

A bison heavily covered in frost moves my way on a -25 degree morning.

           The next morning it was -29 degrees, but we decided to spend the morning on the Madison looking for wildlife.  It’s very nice having the snowcoach when it is that cold.  You can get out for a little to photograph, but also know there is a warm coach right their if you get to cold.  It was a very quiet morning and we didn’t see anything.  All the animals must have stayed in bed because it was so cold.  We decided to go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and check out the landscapes of winter.  I love winter in the interior because there are so few people.  We were actually at the canyon by ourselves, which is not possible in the summer.  It was a beautiful day, and nice to see the canyon on a clear day! After we were done there we went back to the Madison for the late afternoon.  We again saw many coyotes, and this time we got good pictures of them. 

Catching the sun for the 20 seconds it was out between the clouds cast this gorgeous light on the little geyser runoff stream.

Catching the sun for the 20 seconds it was out between the clouds cast this gorgeous light on the little geyser runoff stream.

           February 3rd was our last day on the snowcoach, and was much warmer than it had been.  The morning started out slowly, but then Grahm spotted a wolf briefly crossing the river.  This was exciting, and we spent time scoping places out and looking for it again.  30 minutes after we gave up we spotted it, but only for a couple of seconds again.  We parked down the road thinking it would head that way, but it never came out.  We were so close to getting shots of a pretty black wolf.  There were a lot of red fox out in the valley, but they never came close for a great shot.  The bobcat never did show itself either, but we gave it the best effort we had.  It might not have shown, but we did get many other great shots and our time in the interior of the park was well spent.  The frosty bison were the highlight for me, and for most of our clients!

           On the morning of the 4th we loaded up and left at 7 am to drive to Gardiner, Mt, where we would base out of for the last three days of our workshop.  Our hotel rooms were luckily ready at 10:30 am, and we unpacked and then put all the photo gear back in and headed for the park.  We drove out to Lamar Valley, and a wolf pup was close to the road eating on an old bull elk carcass.  That was a great way to start!  We spent time there, and then went to a newer carcass hoping coyotes or wolves would move in.  They never did, but bald eagles were flying around and eating on the carcass.  We stayed there until dark and then headed in.  Not a bad first afternoon on the northern range.

A black mangy wolf crosses a river in the winter.

A black mangy wolf crosses a river in the winter.

           We got up and left at 6:15 the next morning to get out to Lamar Valley early.  It paid off, and as we were going around a corner a wolf was right there.  He unfortunately had mange, but was still a black wolf only 40 yards away.  Everyone got images of him before he wandered further away across the valley.  Another pack actually killed his pack mate not long before we showed up, and he was running from them.  We saw some bighorns after that, and they were nice enough to get up from their sleep and wander over our way, and my clients got some real nice shots!  The mid-day and afternoon were slow, but the morning was fantastic. 

Some of my clients shoot the bighorn rams headed our way.

Some of my clients shoot the bighorn rams headed our way.

           The 6th was our last day of the workshop, and we left at 6 in the morning.  There wasn’t the morning activity like the day before, unfortunately.  However, we made up for it in the mid morning when we were looking for wolves on a ridge, when all of a sudden a wolf came darting out of the woods chasing an elk.  It happened so fast, and then the chase went behind a hill.  The wolves did get the elk, but we couldn’t see it happen.  It’s only the 3rd time I’d ever seen a wolf chase!  We spent most of the rest of the day in that area, and saw wolves, but none came closer for us to photograph.  But what a way to end the workshop with a wolf chase! 

           Most of the people flew out on the 7th, so we took them to the airport in the late morning.  I went back to Gardiner to watch the Super Bowl and to relax after the airport drops.  It was a long week, but a good week.  I really enjoyed all the clients, and was glad I could put them on some good shoots.  Yellowstone is such a large place, and even a week in Yellowstone doesn’t seem like much time because there is such a variety of wildlife and so much terrain.  I’m glad the workshop was a success and look forward to doing more in the future!