Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

The Wild Life Part 2: The Badlands

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

The Black Hills once again showed off by wowing us with dazzling landscapes and very opportune wildlife appearances. When we arrive at the first overlook of Badlands National Park early in the morning my mom and I were both stunned by the surreal beauty of this unusual park.

As I scrambled down into a good position for my landscape shots, I nonchalantly declared that “The only thing that would make this view better would be if a bighorn sheep was right front in center.” As I checked in my view finder to line up my show I was astonished to see that I had been lucky enough to find right in front of me a bighorn sheep slowly making his way up the side of the mountain right toward me.

As I stammered out excited exclamations to draw my mom’s attention and gesticulated wildly in the bighorn sheep’s direction, he only continued to calmly move even closer.

I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I already felt insanely spoiled by my mountain goat sighting and here was another beautiful animal standing right before me.

The wild beauty held in the square caramel pupil of the bighorn sheep once again shocked me into total astonishment. How can a quiet majesty like this exist in a world full of so much noise?

The National Parks are so incredibly important to this country and sadly so many people will never get to experience the wonder preserved within the boundaries of these parks. These special places are not a manufactured space for the amusement of tourists, but rather they represent the remnants of a world left undisturbed by modernization and the greedy outstretched hand of man.

The Badlands in many ways epitomize the strange glory of the national park system. You drive into what appears to be nothing more than endless grasslands when suddenly you find yourself standing on the precipice of a natural wonder shaped by a millennia of natural forces. These spires and rocky edifices were carved by the hand of Mother Nature meticulously to cradle the unique characteristics of the world.

Even the wild animals embody a special feeling of otherworldliness. I was lucky enough to witness an entire family of bighorn sheep including several small babies. The fresh eyes of new born life shone brightly in their dark gaze. Locking eyes with these graceful creatures brings an exhilarating rush of understanding that stems from some unknown place inside of me. I don’t know exactly what it is that feels so understood in those moments, but I know that I will carry it with me always.

The Badlands really display the beauty of barrenness. Last time I explored the Badlands everything appeared to be dust, but this time around I was lucky enough to see the ground coated in green and a sparse, yet beautiful collection of wildflowers sprinkled throughout the park. The deep desert hues of the mountains contrasted so brilliantly with the green grass of the plains. 

The life here can seem so fleeting and in many ways that is what makes it so extraordinary. The continual struggle for survival, for a single foothold in life in a place as extreme as the Badlands, really illuminates the resilience of nature and the determination to continue on despite seasons of barrenness.

The best way to experience this for yourself is definitely to lace up your hiking boots and head deep into the rocky crags and spires of the park. Behind the looming towers of layered rock exists a microcosm of clay riverbeds, veins of blue grey pumice, and secret caverns of water carved rock.

My favorite hike in the park has to be the Notch Trail near the eastern visitor center. When you leave behind the boardwalks leading across the rocks and weave your way through the rocky towers, there lies a log ladder snaking up the mountainside.

This deceptively tall ladder while visually stunning creates quite the bottleneck of hiker traffic so definitely arrive early to dodge the crowds and enjoy the peaceful canyon trail! 

After climbing to the top of the notch and hiking a great deal around the park we took a fun break from the serious beauty of the Badlands by visiting a prairie dog town just outside of the park.

As I said before, I’m a sucker for these little guys. Especially when they come in groups of two!

We were sad to leave, but let’s be real, when would I ever be happy to leave a National Park.

On to Madison and then the western side of lower Michigan!

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The Wild Life

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

The last two days have been long but filled with inexplicable beauty. We left the Grand Tetons as the sun rose, casting the impressive mountain range in golden light. It was hard to leave this extraordinary national park but we were drawn forward in our journey with the promise of even more great national parks to come. Our next adventure destination: the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our first stop in the Black Hills was the Wind Caves National Park where sprawling grasslands spotted with wildlife hides miles of intricate crystalline caves just below the surface. Sadly we didn’t have time to go into the caves but that just means one more reason we have to come back!

As we left the Wind Caves we wove our way through rolling prairies on our way to our next stop, Custer State Park. Generally state parks are overshadowed by the grandeur of national parks, but one thing road tripping across the country has taught me is to never underestimate a state park. Custer State Park is a prime example of this. This preserve for wildlife and gorgeous grasslands never fails to awe me.

Our first wildlife encounter began with a prairie dog town that stretched far across the grassy landscape. These frisky little ground mammals are often heard before they are seen since their barking warning sounds echo from burrow to burrow whenever you draw near.

I personally love these little guys. They have so much character and always make me laugh. I had a great time photographing them as they ran from hole to hole, whisking their tails, and arching their backs as they called out to their neighbors.

There is literally wildlife all over this state park. Everywhere you turn there is some beautiful animal waiting to be discovered. As a wildlife photographer, spotting and photographing wild animals brings me so much life and excitement. I felt so in my element with my camera in hand and eyes keenly surveying every inch of the park. I can’t express how much I enjoy this place.

Custer is known for what their “Begging Burrows” or a group of donkeys that have learned to beg for food from tourists driving through the park. While I disapprove of feeding wildlife it does make for some fun experiences when a donkey walks straight up to your window and sticks its head right in looking for food.

This donkey even head butted my camera as he tried to stick his head into the car. I loved watching them meander down the roads and then venture out into the mustard grass hills of the park.

After our time with the begging burrows we were on the hunt for bison and found ourselves sadly lacking in opportunities to spy these giant iconic animals. We did discover quite a few beautiful roads while we pursued the illusive bison.

We actually only found bison once we left Custer State Park but boy was I excited to finally find them!

I did almost get charged by an angry male bison, but aside from that, I loved watching these lumbering creatures graze slowly across the grasslands.

After the bison, our Black Hills exploration led us to SD- 87, which is popularly known as Needles Highway.

This extraordinary stretch of highway weaves up the Black Hills through narrow rock tunnels and towering needle-like spires of rock.

We loved the drive but found ourselves suddenly stopped before one of the major tunnels in a traffic jam. When I left the car to investigate the reason for the sudden halt in traffic I discovered a mountain goat casually blocking traffic in the tunnel as he continually licked the wall.

When a barking dog in one of the cars finally startled the mountain goat out of the tunnel and back to his natural mountainous habitat, I was lucky enough to have front row seats from which to photograph him.

He was really quite the model and gave me every angle of his handsome face. I may have taken approximately 1,000 pictures of him as he climbed around the rocks and showed off his good looks.

I could not believe how lucky we were. Being blessed enough to experience moments like this makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. It still shocks me how much I have experienced becase of amazing trips such as this one.

I feel so humbled staring into the face of wild beauty. Driving across the country provides me with the opportunity to glimpse behind the curtain of natural wonders. I live for moments like this and wouldn’t exchange my memories of moments such as this for anything.

The shock of experiencing this natural beauty still had not worn off by the time we reached our final destination in the Black Hills for the day: Mount Rushmore.

This man made marvel offered a provocative juxtaposition to the wild beauty we had just encountered.

It wouldn’t be fair to choose one experience over the other, but it shows just how quickly vastly different experiences occur when adventuring on the road. This country has (almost) too much to discover. It feels both overwhelming in its sheer quantity and also exhilarating knowing there will never be an end to the adventure this life has to offer.

 

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Doing More with a Day

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

Road trips create a strange dynamic for the passing of time because each 24 hours occurs as it normally does, yet so many vastly different experiences can happen during that normal expanse of time. Today was one of those days were it felt like three different days crammed into one.

The first part of our day was spent in Idaho where the miles crept by along with countless fields of corner and empty silos. The monotony of this was only briefly interrupted by the most Idaho tourist stop ever: the Idaho Potato Museum.

As we drew closer to Wyoming the landscape drastically changed and suddenly the flat farmland gave way to gorgeous rolling hills of green and yellow. I had to stop in this amazing field of mustard grass where the yellow of the endless land seemed to shine brighter than the sun. It took my breath away. There is a simple yet wondrous joy that comes from experiencing awe-inspiring natural beauty like this.

After leaving the sunny fields of mustard grass, I couldn’t stop smiling. Everything we came across seemed beautiful after that, even old collapsing barns left abandoned to the whims of time.

After coming over the Teton Pass we finally arrived at our destination for the next two nights, Jackson, Wyoming. We didn’t stay put for long though since we had a day full of adventures in Jackson Hole.

Our first stop was Teton Village where we decided to take an aerial tram to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain, which sits at just over 10,000 feet in elevation.

The ascent was breath-taking, literally. The thin cold air made it difficult to breathe and definitely made my dizziness issues much worse. Still, it was entirely worth it because the views were stunning!

You could see almost all of Jackson Hole from the top, including the Grand Teton range which towered in the distance.

We were on top of the world and despite the biting winds and thin air, we enjoyed every second up there.

After enjoying a delicious hot chocolate, building a cairn on top of the mountain, and way too many pictures we descended so we could begin the next part of our adventure.

We drove to the Grand Teton National Park proper to squeeze in a hike at Phelps Lake. The hike through pine forests, across rivers, and along the lakeside really was all we could have asked for.

I even got to check off my biggest goal for my time in the Tetons: see a Moose. Technically, I went above and beyond because we found a mother moose and her newborn calf. We watched them feeding for quite some time but had to leave because we started getting devoured by mosquitos.

The best part of the hike was Phelps Lake itself. The crystal clear emerald waters and the rocks hiding beneath the surface all perfectly accented the towering mountains looming in the distance. It was truly a perfect sight.

Our first day in the Grand Tetons was exactly how I had hope it would be. I have been wanting to return to this National Park for over five years now since I felt I took the wrong approach during my first visit a decade ago.

I cannot wait to see what tomorrow holds. We are already pretty exhausted from our trip but super excited for what is to come. Tomorrow we will be spending the whole day in Jackson Hole and if it is even half as good as today was, I will be ecstatic.

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Elysium Red

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Virgin snow collapses under a heavy foot
Like sand washed away from a steep embankment
By waves impatient of passing time.
Footprints dug deep below the surface
Only to be covered by the next snowfall;
Man lacks permanence in a place such as this.

Translucent diamonds fall from the soft blue sky
Sharp and glinting in sunlight
That offers no warmth or respite from biting winds.
Tree limbs grow heavy with new white robes
Bowing before the might of Winter
With sideways eyes on far away Spring.

He pulls his feet from the earth
Only to plunge them instantly back into the deep;
An endless repetition of slow but sure
Forward progress that breaks the line
Between man’s land and Nature’s untouched garden.
The trail he treads marks a boundary line
Many have approached, but few have overcome.

A chill runs down his spine leaving his hair
Standing at attention without reason;
Caught between Winter’s grip and something
More primal that calls to the heart
Dragging the modern into the primitive mind of fear.
How small we become when we realize
The world is not ours to inhabit –at least not ours alone.

The twig snaps like a leg caught in a hunter’s trap,
He halts and listens with attentive ears.
The sound of Winter’s silence echoes loudly
Even a breath would disturb the crisp air
Cracking it like thin ice with the slightest exhale –
Dead silence reigns here, disrupted
Only by the sound of softly falling snow.

He turns again to continue down the path he chose
Only to again feel the haunting of the unknown
Creeping up behind him, wearing the silence like a cloak
Shrouded in mystifying white and revealed only by instinct
Felt acutely by the hunted when they have been marked as prey.
He knows he is followed by the ghost of something
But cannot name the adversary walking in his shadow.

A flash of red jumps out of the colorless scenery
Existing only on the periphery of sight
As the blurry edged undefined and unrelenting embodiment
Of all that leaves man powerless and afraid.
A phantom dancing just beyond what the eye can see
But the mind remembers as a timeless enemy.

As the man turns once more to seek out the sound stalking him
He is faced with the nothingness of a barren landscape
And his own footprints marring the pristine face of the wilderness;
Except now the first evidence of pursuit is present:
Laid atop his tracks stood the careful footprints of another,
But no sign of the creature that left them behind.

Whirling around to face forward once more
Hoping to escape the encroaching presence
Only to be confronted with the intense yellow eyes of his pursuer.
Standing in the path before him, a red tailed fox –
Royal coat, piercing eyes, black tipped ears keenly listening
Blocked the man’s path with the towering presence
Of a primal Queen who’s dominion has been challenged.

Frozen in place by the sudden appearance of this image of majesty,
Man stands facing the wild
Not knowing whether to continue his journey or turn away.
The fox tilts its head from side to side with curiosity,
Listening to the sound of one who once belong here
But was lost to another world long ago.
Not knowing whether he be friend or foe
She takes a cautious step forward.

She walks atop the snow, gliding gracefully forward
Her movements sound like the swaying of the trees.
The man slowly reaches out his ungloved hand toward the red spirit
She hesitates, paw hanging midair, head tilting to listen
Hearing his heart as it beats thunderously in his chest.
So close, the man stretches farther locked in her lightning eyes
When just as suddenly as she appeared, into the periphery she vanishes.

Left with hand outstretched, slowly filling with snowflakes
Gently kissing his open palm regretfully
The man is left haunted by the red ghost that almost felt real
If only he could have touched it and held it close
For a moment longer than Eternity.
Instead, the silence of winter surrounds him once more
And the Elysium he glimpsed returns to the realm of myth.

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Sea Level Lungs

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

I woke up bright and early this morning with only one thing on my mind: hiking Rocky Mountain National Park. I had visited the park once before but did not get to actually hike into the park anywhere and have always felt the need to go back and redeem my lost time in the park. Today was the day I finally realized that dream.

I made a quick pit stop on my way out of Boulder towards Estes Park to do the most important thing I do every day… get coffee. I have heard there are many great places to grab a cup of coffee in Boulder and I decided to try out the Laughing Goat on Pearl Street. I enjoyed it quite a bit, the interior was cozy and work oriented while also being hip, modern, and welcoming. I ordered a Venetian Creme that was sweet and delicious. I also grabbed a croissant for a later day hiking treat.

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It has been about six years since I last stepped foot in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. In many ways, my last trip to this place was the beginning of my life as a road tripper, but not quite in the way you might expect. Last time I was here all I wanted to do was leave. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible with as few stops in between as we could manage. I was not a road tripper, not yet. But looking back on the squandered opportunities I had passed by in such a hurry to get no where made me re-evaluate my priorities and the things that meant the most to me. I had to go back, I had to do it again and after that I never stopped. So here I am, back again and ready to do this the right way.

I pulled into Estes as the sun was rising over the lake that held the reflections of the mountains surrounding it. I bypassed Estes for the time being and made a bee-line into the park where I had a hike in mind. I decided to hike out to Emerald Lake, which is a trail that stops by a total of four alpine lakes. The final lake lay at an altitude of almost two miles above sea level, but I had my eyes on the prize and didn’t plan on stopping until I could put my feet into the cold clear emerald waters of that final lake.

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I packed everything I had (including Mama the Llama and my croissant my the Laughing Goat) and hopped on a park and ride that would take me to the first of the four lakes, the incredibly popular Bear Lake.

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Bear Lake was just the tip of the iceberg as far as beauty goes for the day and its still waters made a perfectly wonderful start to the adventure ahead.

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The path from Bear Lake lead upward into a Gorge with a glacier at its end, but everything from my point of view was all sunshine. The weather was splendid, perfectly warm but with a breeze that rustled the aspen leaves causing them to cascade gentle down from the sky onto the trail. The sky was a deep blue and you could feel the thinness of the air crisply in your lungs.

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I made my way between trees and boulders, over rocks and fallen autumn leaves, and found myself standing on what felt like the top of the world. It was enough to make my heart scream at the top of my lungs; it is a moment like this that makes you feel truly alive.

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After hiking with a smile from ear to ear on my face up the mountain side I arrived at the second lake of the day, Nymph Lake. Covered in lily pads and much smaller than the first, this lake definitely felt like little forest nymphs were hiding under the lily pads waiting for all of the hikers to leave before leaping from their hiding places to skip and dance across the still lake surface.

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From Nymph Lake the climb continued and the air was getting thinner and thinner resulting in a harder and harder ascent for me and my sea level lungs. But every gasping breath was well worth the effort because every step I took revealed an even more beautiful sight than the last.

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I repeatedly crossed over a stream that rushed by me from the third (and my personal favorite) lake of the day, Dream Lake. Just like Nymph Lake, the name accurately embodied the lake to come, it was dream-like in its natural splendor. I couldn’t help but think with every step that I took that people all over the world look at postcards or pictures of the places I have been lucky enough to step foot in and dream of someday visiting them, some with more realistic intentions of realizing these dreams than others, but still, I was there in this fairy tale place, a place of postcards and magazine covers as if it was my own backyard to play around in for the day. How lucky am I to have seen the things I have seen, to have done the things I am doing.

Dream Lake was rimmed with driftwood caught on the shores. The water was such a shocking emerald color it made me particularly dubious that the next and final lake, Emerald Lake, could possibly be closer to the color emerald than the waters of Dream Lake. Underneath the clear waters swam speckled rainbow trout that occasionally disturbed the still surface by pecking at bugs sitting on the water. The fish were everywhere, slowly drifting through the clear waters undisturbed and unafraid of the people surrounding the lake.

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I pushed on from Dream Lake knowing that the end goal was not too far off (albeit up the steepest portion of the trail yet).

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After befriending a young hiker ( a ten year old girl who followed me up the trail as her parents and brother lagged behind), we ascended the final portion of the trail. I felt light headed and a little faint by the end of the climb because we were almost two miles above sea level at this point and the affect was staggering. At least I had my little hiker buddy to keep me motivated and moving despite not feeling super well.

I rounded the final corner and there it was, Emerald Lake, the fourth and final stop on the hike. The waters were indeed emerald and beautifully pristine. Some hikers had stopped to eat lunch at the lake and were being casually attacked by a horde of chipmunks who were literally crawling on the backs of the hikers to steal crumbs. One chipmunk even tried to take a bite out of Mama the Llama until I chased it away.

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The driftwood surrounding the lake was a massive accumulation of bone white tree trunks scattered on the rocky shoreline. With some difficulty, I made my way down to the water’s edge over the boneyard of driftwood and took a break with my bare feet in the glacial waters.

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With the finish line crossed I made a decision that made the rest of my day perfect. I decided to return to Dream Lake since it was my favorite of the day and eat my lunch there instead of Emerald Lake. It was the best decision of the day. So I hiked back down to Dream Lake and found a perfect hammock spot on a rocky out cropping into the lake and set myself up with my croissant from the Laughing Goat in Boulder and my book. It was marvelous.

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I sat there for several hours just basking in the sun and soaking in everything. It was truly glorious but I wound up getting pretty sunburned since I was so much closer to the sun up in the Rocky Mountains than normal.

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After I was too warm to continue resting in my hammock I packed up and descended the mountain back to the first Lake where I took the shuttle back to my car so I could continue on my journey around the park. I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road and go up to the Alpine Visitor Center that was over two miles above sea level. I stopped a few times along the road to marvel at the Autumn colors and take views of the valleys below the towering mountains I now stood atop.

I even managed to get photobombed by a chipmunk at the Rainbow Curve.

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At the top where the Alpine Visitor Center sat I walked around the fragile Alpine Tundra environment that stretched across the ridge. I was above the tree line so there were only rocks and tiny shrubbery dotting the horizon line. The road going up there was slightly terrifying because there were no guard rails despite being precarious perched on a road with no shoulder and gigantic drops on either side. IMG_9455 IMG_9454

The air was getting a little too thin for my sea level lungs though, which became my general thought of the day, and with my head swimming and seemingly floating on my shoulders, I decided it was time to return to a somewhat bearable elevation. Dropping back down to the valley I took some time to look at the colors and was rewarded with a bonus sighting, a small elk family consisting of a Bull, a doe and an adorable little baby. IMG_5385 IMG_5414

The baby was eating while the parents were settling down to rest in the field and he was quite the photogenic little guy. IMG_5408

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I left them be and exited the park exhausted but satisfied. I wandered slowly on sore feet through Estes Park and stopped to get some Nepalese food outside in the warm autumn air next to the river. It was a pleasant way to end a long but wonderful day and my drive back to Boulder was filled with thoughts and images of everything I had seen and experienced in the park. I could have stayed forever, but there was always more to see and time would not wait for me, not today at least.

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Meerkat

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Because everyone needs a little meerkat in their day…

 

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Blue Heron

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Blue Herons are an animal that I see plenty of but still pique my interest like all wildlife. It is amazing how even after seeing this animal all my life I still find it fascinating.

Wildlife never gets boring because it is never the same. Each movement in its fluidity is a step towards something new and I hope to be there to watch as this creature sets out on its path to who knows where.

Within this steps the most beautiful thing about watching a Heron’s movements is watching as they take flight. Watching as they lift from the ground far from where I can follow them. This is where our paths separate, and I will forever wonder where it is they go.

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Yellowstone: Day 2

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Today was the first day of our real expedition. We headed out in sub-zero temperature in search of the wildlife and beauty that Yellowstone has to offer. We started out early and headed into the park. We got to see some more elk at Mammoth Hot Springs, one of which was nursing.

Then we started out on our long days journey to Lamar Valley. We saw all sorts of animals including coyotes, bison, elk, bald eagles, and big horns. However most of them were to far away to get actually decent photos of them. The big horns however decided to cooperate with us and get close enough to photo graph as they ate their lunch.

After that my dad and i went snowshoeing into a canyon at Pebble Creek. It was beautiful, with high stony walls, snow hatted rocks and a partially frozen river.

Due to fear that we may have been very close to encroaching upon a bear den we decided to take the safe route and return to our car for lunch. After that we headed out to see if the otters from last year were still in their same spot. Sadly we saw no otters today but hope to see them soon.

It was a beautiful day but the wildlife wasn’t super active. I am hoping for more activity tomorrow and hopefully some wolves. For now it was just another beautiful day in Yellowstone.

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Yosemite Coyotes

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Before we ever got into Yosemite National Park we spotted this coyote perched on top of a mossy rock framed by branches. He seemed so peaceful siting there, he didn’t even seem to mind me watching him. He looked very healthy for a coyote. He looked so fluffy and welcoming, I really would have liked to pet him if he wasn’t a wild animal. So instead I just enjoyed his beauty from a safe distance.

One of the most important parts of doing wildlife photography is respecting the animals I photograph. Some people will do anything to get their shot, even putting themselves in danger for the sake of the shot. Some, which is even worst, put stress on the animal. I always try to not disturb the animal that I am photographing in order to preserve the serene mood of the picture. It is important to remember that it is  a wild animal being photographed and even though it is beautiful or even adorable, it needs to be treated with the utmost caution and respect for its true nature.

When in the park we had more encounters with majestic coyotes. In a meadow out infront of Curry Village there were two or three coyotes wandering around in the snowy, misty meadow searching for food. It was very hard to get a good angle on them because they were constantly moving around the meadow. So when I moved out into the boardwalk they went to the river, and when I went to the river the went back to the boardwalk. Needless to say I was running in circles around the meadow for quite some time trying to get a good shot of at least one of them. Frustrating and tiring but totally worth it.

I got some pictures of a coyote hunting, which I must say is a very funny thing to watch in the snow. They walk around until they hear a sound. Then they slowly inch forward to where they heard the sound. Once there they stand there with their eyes deadlocked on the ground tilting their heads back and forth. They bobble their hed side to side listening to whatever small prey lies beneath the surface of the snow. Then they bring their back legs right up next to their front legs, crouch, and then spring into the air to pounce!

It is so funny watching this hunting technique and I am glad that I got a head on shot of his pounce unlike my time watching a coyote hunting in Yellowstone. I love watching wildlife in its most pristine yet savage moments. Like even this simple act of watching a coyote hunting allows me to have a sneak peek into the vicious cycle that is life. I can’t wait to witness more of this to better understand how this cycle, and our lives work.

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Yellowstone Photography Trip

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

For the next week I will be in northern Yellowstone on a photography mission. We will be following wolves and other wildlife in the snow from dusk till dawn each day. I will be updating hopefully with pictures and stories of my days, stay tuned. I am planning on posting some good stuff, you will just have to wait and see.

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