Yellowstone and Upcoming Summer

            In late January I headed to Yellowstone. I spent a few days in the northern range of the park scouting before my workshop began. I didn’t come across too much on those days, but I did see a number of animals, just not in good photo range. The best opportunity I had was with moose.

            On the afternoon of January 27th I picked up my photo workshop clients and we headed to West Yellowstone. The next morning we went in early looking for a wolf pack we had heard was around, and after a couple hours of searching we found them sleeping. Not exactly what we wanted, but we could see a number of the pack on the hillside asleep. We left and went to a geyser area close by and shot some beautiful trees that were heavily covered in hoar frost. The trees looked like a ghost forest. We went back to the wolves, but unfortunately they stayed asleep until we had to go.

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             The next morning we searched and searched for the wolves, and we found tracks, but no wolves. After looking for the wolves we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. Our coach got stuck in the middle of the road because of a snowdrift in Hayden Valley, so we had to turn around and headed back to the canyon. After waiting and looking for otters, we were finally rewarded and one put on a show for us for a long time!    

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             On our last morning of the snow coach, we headed to Old Faithful to shoot geysers and hot springs. It’s always neat showing people the thermal areas for their first time. It’s just like nothing they have ever seen before. We also got to photograph bison and coyotes. In the afternoon we tried one more time for the wolves, but the weather was so bad and windy that we had to turn around.

            For the next four days we were on the northern range. There is a lot of wildlife on the northern range and good opportunities. The wolf pack we had been tracking made its way to the northern range. One morning we found tons of tracks on the side of the road and lots of bird activity, but no wolves. We were getting closer, but still hadn’t gotten any wolves close enough to photograph.

           Over the course of the four days we had great photo opportunities with river otters a few times, moose, bald eagles, big horn sheep, red fox, coyote, bison and elk. We were really seeing lots of wildlife. The wolf was eluding us though. On the last morning, in a different area of the park than the pack we had been tracking, we heard wolves howling back and forth, so we knew they were close. We went to different areas to try and see which area the howling was the loudest from, and hoped for our opportunity. On one of our drives to listen, a black wolf crossed the road not far in front of us and into an open meadow. Everyone got out and got their wolf photo! It felt great to finally get a wolf!

          On the morning of February 3rd I dropped everyone off at the airport, and then I flew to Arizona. I met Twila there for a week trip, and then we went back to Yellowstone together. We spent around a week in Yellowstone photographing and visiting friends. In the park one of our favorite encounters was with a red fox. We waited and waited as the fox sat patiently in the snow, and then it jumped and dove into the snow! I was happy Twila got to see and photograph a fox doing that behavior. We then proceeded to follow it as it walked in the snow close to the road for a long time. It was fun walking along side it as it hunted. We saw lots of wildlife, but the red fox was our favorite.

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         After seeing a number of friends around Yellowstone we headed up to Canada. Over the next number of weeks Twila was busy getting ready for a couple of her shows, and I was busy helping her and preparing for the gallery this coming summer. In early May we headed to Alaska and set up the gallery for my third summer with the gallery!

 

Yellowstone and Gallery Preparation

            After my workshop, I was ready to get out on my own, and with Twila, and photograph more.  The day after I picked up Twila, February 6th, is when my otter video went viral, and my plans changed.  Instead of getting out in the park and showing Twila Yellowstone, I was at my friends house answering email requests and phone calls about my video for a couple of days.  It was very exciting, but I felt bad because Twila had never been to Yellowstone before, and we didn’t even make it into the park for a couple of days. 

            Once the requests slowed down, we went in the park and I was excited to be back in the park and show Twila how great Yellowstone is in the winter.  The weather really didn’t cooperate with us, unfortunately.  The wind howled for a few days, and actually shut the park road down a couple of times because of zero visibility and drifting snow.  When the roads were ok, we did get to see moose, sheep, bison, coyotes, and distant wolves.  I was hoping for her to be able to see a wolf decently close, but we never saw a wolf except through a spotting scope.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

            We went on a snowcoach to Old Faithful on the 9th, but that didn’t go how I had hoped either.  We got to go in for free with a friend of mine, and I was excited to show her the geysers and hot springs around Old Faithful.  However, it was a warm day in February and it decided to rain, and not snow.  I had never seen it rain in the interior of the park in February.  I was bummed it had to happen on the day we went in the park.  We did watch Old Faithful erupt, but it was too wet and nasty to walk around and look at the other thermal features.  She will just have to come back and try again next year.

            It was sad seeing all the snow melt from the strange warm up, and having brown patches appear in the snow.  Just a week ago there was so much snow, and now ground was showing underneath.  It’s amazing how fast nature changes things.  I was getting discouraged, so we went to West Yellowstone to visit, and for Twila to meet, some good friends.  It was nice to relax there a couple of days and to visit with them.  We then went to the Grand Tetons to see the beautiful mountains there, and the wildlife.

            The Elk Refuge is a very neat area, with thousands of elk residing there in the winter.  Twila had never seen so many elk in one place before, and she loved it!  I even got a nice shot of an eagle taking off from a cliff at sunset as she watched the elk.  We stayed with my friends in town, and it was fun seeing them again too. 

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

            On Valentines Day we went back to the refuge in the morning, and my car got washed by the big horn sheep licking it.  This thrilled Twila, and she loved every second of it! We, of course, then took a drive to see the beautiful Teton mountains, and they are a very scenic mountain range.  That afternoon Twila spotted a red fox and a great grey owl! I was impressed with her ability to spot wildlife, and it’s great that she loves seeing wildlife so much! We went out in Jackson that night, but we had to leave early the next morning so we didn’t stay out too late.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

           We got up at 5:30 a.m. on the 16th and hit the road back to Canmore, AB.  It was a 12-hour drive, but the roads were good the whole way and we made it to Canmore in one day.  Twila had work she needed to get done for her business, and I needed to start planning everything I needed to get for my gallery this summer.  I was glad Twila made it to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  But at least she made it and we had a great time together and next year will be better for her.

            It was nice being back in Canmore and relaxing after the past few weeks of craziness.  I went out and explored Banff National Park some, but didn’t have much success for the most part.  Once I started planning for the summer, I couldn’t stop myself.  There was just so much to think about for everything I wanted to bring back from last year and try to change: what to replace, what do I need more of, what signs to change or make new ones of, what sizes of new pictures, and the list goes on.  The more I did, the more I thought of that I needed to work on.  I’m thankful year one of the gallery is done, and that I now have more experience and knowledge of what my customers are looking for.  It was a very different feel preparing for the gallery this year from last year.

            Working on the gallery was made easier by where Twila is now living.  Last year she was in downtown Vancouver, BC, and now her place is in the mountains and has a great view!  There is just something about looking out the window and seeing only beautiful mountains.  Seeing mountains out the windows even helps me work inside better. 

            We’re not sure where the time went, and before we knew it, it was April.  March absolutely flew by, and that means the summer is getting close.  I feel much more prepared for the gallery this year, and I am looking forward to it.  I will have to do a crazy amount of traveling between now and being in Alaska in May though.  Let’s just say my trailer and pictures are all in Tennessee, and I am in Canada.  Let the craziness begin!

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!