Winter Sheep Snowshoeing

            In early December Twila and I headed off into the Canadian Rockies to look for sheep. We hadn’t had much time to get out and shoot since we got married, and we were really looking forward to our winter camping trip. We had never been to where we were going, so that was exciting too!

            Winter camping in the Canadian Rockies is not for the feint of heart. I’m very excited that my wife enjoys being outside all the time and loves winter! We got to where we were going in the afternoon and did a scouting hike of the area. We found some tracks, but no sheep, but we at least knew they were around. The sun almost beat us down before we got back to the truck. It gets dark around 5 p.m. in the winter, so it makes the part of the day we can photograph much shorter.         

            We got out the cooking stove and make a good pasta dinner, and finished right as it was getting dark. The temperature was dropping fast, now that the sun was down, so we hurried and got everything cleaned up and got in the truck. We had lots of blankets and sleeping bags and got cozy in the truck. It’s hard to keep the face warm in the winter while sleeping, but the rest of us did fine. It’s great to be out camping again!           

            The alarm went off before the sunrise, and it is always so hard to get up in the winter and put cold clothes on. We had made hot water the night before, which was a great call so that we could have hot chocolate to warm us up as we got up! It didn’t take too long to get up and start snowshoeing up the mountain. It was a beautiful morning and we got up the mountain pretty fast. When we got to where we hiked to yesterday, we spotted some sheep off in the distance. After waiting a while, they ended up coming our way and we moved to get in position. It was exciting they were coming to us as there was a large ravine between us and we couldn’t go any closer. They ended up going to the ridge closest to us, and the scene behind them couldn’t have been any better!

            For the next few hours we moved up the mountain on our side of the ravine as they moved. Fortunately, they decided to stay on the ridge for a long time. Blazing a new trail in deep snow while photographing was exhausting. It was fun, and it was the most Twila had ever snow shoed before, but it wore us out. We got really great pictures and had a fun time getting them. We even forgot how cold it was because we were getting nice shots!

           On our way down the mountain that evening Twila managed to find a snowshoe hare. I have looked and looked for them in the daytime for years, and never actually found one. They don’t move in the day much and they blend in so well that they are hard to find. I was very excited to see this hare and for it to not bounce away. It cooperated and just sat there and let us take its picture. So cool to finally photograph a snow shoe hare!

           That night it was considerably colder than the night before. We could see our breath much more prominently, and we knew we would be in for a cold night. It was hard getting out of bed in the morning, but again that hot chocolate was a lifesaver. We think it was colder than 10 degrees when we got up. It makes hiking challenging as well as you can overheat while snowshoeing, but freeze once you get to the top and stop moving. When we got to where we found the sheep yesterday, they were not there, which was not surprising. We ended up snowshoeing and exploring a lot of the area to know more of what to expect the next time we come back. From a higher vantage point we did find some sheep, but they were a very long way away, so we didn’t try to get to them.

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            We got down the mountain in time to drive and explore some more. It was another clear day, and we did find some mountain goats near the road. As the sun went down we also found a couple of real nice scenes over rivers with the sunset. It was a successful winter trip for bighorn, and we look forward to doing it again soon!

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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!