Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 8: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone/Grand Teton NP Groupshoot (FINAL BLOG POST)

It was another exciting day in Yellowstone but sadly, it is the final day of this MPEG Groupshoot.

Everyone was on their own today.

Jared and I started out before sunrise (5:15am) with the goal to get to Lamar Valley by 7:00am. We decided to take the Madison-Norris-Canyon to Tower to Lamar route today.

In Norris, we found a coyote hunting and 6 bull elk grazing by the road and one huge bull elk standing in the middle of the road. It was still pretty dark so I didn't take the time to photograph them.

The drive to Lamar was uneventful. We arrived there around 7:00 am. We cruised Lamar a few times and other than a zillion bison and their babies, and some pronghorn nothing super exciting was seen.

During these cruises of Lamar, We visited the Soda Butte picnic area once and found a cinnamon bear grazing but he was too far out so we returned to the SB picnic area again around 9:30am. The Uinta ground squirrels were out with their babies BUT so was the ermine (short tailed weasel) who resides there as well.

Marty and George joined us photographing these critters. The ermine finally came out of his den, and like lightening, he snatched up a Unita squirrel baby and went back into his den in like 3 seconds!

I was chimping my previous images and I missed the 3 second event but Marty and George got like 2-3 frames... Marty got a nice image of the ermine in midair.

The adult squirrels chased him but it was too late. The weasel would poke his head out and several adult Unitas would go after him...

then a mother Unita ground squirrel started (one by one) picking up her babies and carrying them to safety in their nest in her mouth.

I have never heard of or see such an event. It was fascinating to watch and photograph. She worked hard to protect her babies. I have some great images of this behavior.

We had lunch in Gardiner with Marty and Linda at Cowboys.

After lunch , we went back to Lamar but it started to cloud up and rain.

We ran into a "black bear jam" but there was no photo op but several tourists thought there was one. We moved on.

It was raining pretty good by the time we got in Lamar. A few jams but mostly folks with spotting scopes. Another bear jam but again, no photo op.

We were coming back into Lamar after a short trip back to the Soda Butte picnic area and there was another jam... this time a wolf jam!

A grey wolf was up on the ridge but then disappeared.... I asked Jared to drive down around the bend as she might be there..... with my 70-200 in hand, window open, we go around the bend and OMG, there she was, like 30 yards from me and I froze......just froze. I was stunned she was so close.... she wanted to cross the road but cars and people blocked her way so she retreated back up the hill and I quickly got my 500+1.4TC and took several snaps handheld of her on the hillside. She wasn't going to "get away from me". I got 2 good frames of her. This was the closest I have been to a YNP wolf and it was just plain awesome.

After that event, it was raining harder so we went to the Hitching Post pullout and my photog friend, Jim Chagaras radioed my photog friend, Ralph Kerr (we were all on the same channel) and Jim told Ralph a golden eagle just flew over his car and landed on a rock on the hillside.

Time for more action, I asked Jared to drive parallel to the eagle on the rock and I took 6 frames or so of the golden eagle, handheld at ISO 3200. The images turned out pretty well.

All of this happened within 10 minutes. Whew.

We decided to head back to the hotel around 5:30pm and take one last loop around the park.

We photographed two nice bull elk in Hayden Valley; Another bull elk by Yellowstone Lake (though I asked a lady "whats going on'? she said "its a moose!" and I said "great".... and then I look over the edge of the river bank and the "moose" was a bull elk..... I love Yellowstone and all that comes with it.

We then traveled to Madison and found some nice cow elks and some calves by the Madison River. I wanted elk calf pics so I photographed them along with the cow elk. (see blog pic)

We proceeded to the Wild West Pizzeria for the Groupshoot finale dinner at 8:30pm. Everyone had a a great time and has some memories that will last a lifetime.

I asked everyone at dinner "what was your most memorable photographic moment?"

Here are the answers:

Mark P: The Unita ground squirrel mom carrying her babies one by one out of harm's way from the ermine.

Jared P: Schwabacher's back ("like glass") reflecting pond with reflections of the Tetons.

Marty B: The Bull Moose at the east entrance

Linda B: The Swan Lake Flat Grizzly and her two cubs

Dane A (and Shari): The Pine Marten at Hell Roaring.

George L (and Margaret) : The Rainy lake black bear and two cubs

Barb G: The rainbow at the brink of the lower falls.

The 2012 MPEG Yellowstone/Grand Teton NP Groupshoot was very successful with near perfect weather all 8 days (rain just 7 hours out of 8 days!). The timing was right as the Park is getting busier every day with this weekend expecting to see a huge influx of tourists from now until after Labor Day.
I want to Thank Kim, my wife, for holding the fort down at home alone; Jared for his companionship and driver role at times; My photog friends, Ralph Kerr (from Idaho) and Jim Chagaras (and Debbie) from Indiana for their friendship and the laughs along the way.

Of course, my Thanks to Barb, Dane (Shari), George (Margaret), and Marty and Linda for their appreciation of the opportunity and their kind support and co-operation.

AND a Special Thanks to all of the 100+ readers of this blog during this groupshoot. your kind comments and emails have been most appreciated!

I will offer this Groupshoot again in 2013 (tentative dates June 2-9, 2013) but it will NOT be offered in June 2014 as MPEG will be planning a Groupshoot to Yosemite National Park in May 2014.

If you haven't been to Yellowstone to the Grand Teton National Parks, you must go!

Happy Shooting!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 7: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

Another beautiful day in Yellowstone! The skies/clouds here amaze me. They look too perfect.

We started out at 6am with George and his wife following us. We drove to Swan Lake Flat and no Quad Mom and cubs again. On to Mammoth where we had a nice look at the Great Horned Owl adult and owlet in the Visitor's center tree.

Mammoth to Tower was empty. Tower to Lamar, we saw the red fox in the distance heading west... then things changed, we arrived in Lamar Valley to a HUGE "jam", at least 1/4 mile long. I thought this has to be wolves and sure enough....

The Mollie pack (11 wolves involved) took down a bison in the early morning hours in Lamar about 500 yards out from the road where we were standing. (the blog image is not a high quality image but good enough to augment the story). The image shows 4 of the 7 wolves (who were there at the time we arrived) by the edge of the river. The carcass is "north on them" around 4-50 yards. We were told 11 wolves were seen on the carcass earlier.

The Park Service even flew a plane over low the carcass area to assess the situation.

We hung around until 10:45am then Barb joined us at 11:15am (Jared, George, Margaret and me) for the Beartooth Highway excursion. The Beartooth Highway drive is worth doing at least once. You reach a summit of nearly 11,000 feet . We saw marmots, pikas and some beautiful landscapes.

We had a great lunch in Red Lodge, MT together then we traveled the scenic road back to Cody, WY then to the park via Yellowstone's east entrance.

We didn't see much as we went through the Park on the way back to the hotel. The Beartooth Highway trip consumed a total of 6.5 hours but everyone enjoyed it.

The other members who stayed behind reported good days in the Park.

Tomorrow, June 13 is the last day of this Groupshoot. Everyone is on their own to wrap things up...

We are having a Groupshoot finale dinner tomorrow night to celebrate and share stories from this very successful MPEG Groupshoot.

The Day 8 blog post will be the final blog post.

Our last day in the Park will start at 5:00 am.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.....

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Day 6: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone/ Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

What a difference a day makes...

We had absolutely beautiful weather today all day and the wildlife was back on the job.

Everyone was on their own today to do things like Old Faithful and to gain their own experience in the park. YNP is very easy to learn your way around. You can't get lost.

Jared and I arrive in Lamar Valley at 5:30am as planned. The wolf watchers were at the first pullout east of the Hitching Post pullout.

As we drove by, Jared spotted something running in the distance heading east. He thought it was a wolf but wasn't 100% sure. It was still low light and I couldn't tell either so we went to the Hitching Post pullout, turned around and came back. We then learned a grey wolf crossed the road right where we just passed 3 minutes before! Major bummer. A YNP bridesmaid again....

I would have had a really good image had I got there at the time of the crossing. According to the wolf watchers, the Lamar Canyon pack was scattered over the Park (not together as a Pack) thus a funky wolf morning.

After recovering from this major disappointment (timing is everything in this place), we cruised Lamar Valley, then went to Tower and found a mousing coyote along the road. I got some nice images of this guy.

We proceeded to a known badgers den (mom and 3 cubs) and a Unita ground squirrel family's home. The badgers had moved east to a new sight. We photographed both the badgers and Unitas with fellow photographer friends, Ralph Kerr and Steve Hinch for about 2 hours then we all had lunch in Gardiner.

After lunch, we went to back to Lamar for about an hour a seeking the golden eagles.I was told they (2 golden eagles) and 1 bald eagle juvi perched in a tree close to the road and posed for several photographers .... but me.... this event occurred about 1 hour earlier. Another near miss.

Back to Tower and found another coyote mousing and then on to Mammoth...we encountered a red fox walking down the road towards us and then he slipped up the hill... with me in pursuit with a camera but he disappeared. I was out foxed by a fox......

After exclaiming, "oh, crap" (well , ok,, not the real words), we proceeded to Gardiner Canyon and found several Big Horn sheep ewes and lambs frolicking on the rocky hill side as an osprey with a fish flew overhead and a juvi bald eagle came out of no where and flew overhead as well about the same time.

We got some nice poses with the ewes and lambs.

We proceeded towards the hotel, stopping at Sheep Eaters Cliff but no marmots or pikas seen.

Marty reported being at Sheep Eaters Cliff earlier today and ran into a grizzly there about 30 yards away.

The others members reported in with good days. Barb came upon a very fresh coyote kill by the road in Hayden Valley. Some coyotes took down a mammal. Some think it was a elk calf but Barb wasn't sure. As she witnessed the coyotes tearing the kill apart, three grizzlies (mom and two yearlings) suddenly came out of the tree line and ran towards the kill thus "at the crowd" (of course, people were too close) and they caused folks to flinched a little bit. Barb had bear spray, as is required for this groupshoot, but she had already retreated to her car.

No rangers were around at the time.

Again, this a classic example why you should have bear spray with you at ALL times. You never know in these parks.

Another unpredictable day in Yellowstone.

We have two days left in this Groupshoot. It's crunch time.

Stay tuned for Day 7!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 5: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

Well, we BEARly saw anything today.

It was mostly cloudy today, some snow, some sun and the rain came around 5:00pm.

It was a decent weather day but the wildlife seem to take a day off .

The grizzly sow and cubs were not at SL Flats this morning so we went to Mammoth and had some breakfast. After breakfast, we went down to Gardiner, the back over to Tower/Roosevelt. We saw a black bear and a tan variant of a black bear but they were too far away- well over 200+ yards heading back into the woods.

We got some mule deer, pronghorn, bison/bison calf images. We missed a wolf photo op by 20 minutes (of course).

We did get to photograph the black bear sow and her 2 cubs in the Rainy Lake area. I got some decent images before the rangers showed up and moved everyone WAY back, well beyond the 100 yard limit.

We had lunch (Jared and I) in Cooke City then came back west through Lamar Valley and scouted the Tower/Roosevelt again and the Rainy Lake area. The sow and cubs were back but out of sight in the woods. This caused a massive traffic jam but a ranger was there to keep things moving.

We are still seeking the red fox around the Yellowstone picnic area.We missed him by 5 minutes today.

It was starting to rain and we decided to do Lamar Valley one more time as the rain was increasing. As we approached the bridge over the Yellowstone River, we saw a jam and then saw this huge grizzly walking down the middle of the road then veered off to the sidewalk.

Jared took this pic (see the blog pic) from the car window with the Canon 7D/ 70-200mm (we have a lap camera just for these occasions as wildlife here pops up unexpectedly).

Note theTouron (tourist moron) following the bear. Maybe 50-60 feet behind him!

Now, if that bear changes his mind and decides to turn around and go back over the bridge heading east and he feels threatened by the touron, the touron has no options...he has no chance to avoid serious injury or death from a POed grizzly.

Note he has no bear spray visible. It should be on his belt for easy access. I am confident he had none as most don't carry bear spray here but should, but thats another discussion.

The others haven't touched base with me yet so I don't know how well they did today. I am eager to hear.

The plan in the morning is to be in Lamar Valley by 5:30am in search of some decent wolf images.... then move over to Hayden Valley, and points south and west after lunch.

Not a bad day considering the weather. The weather tomorrow (Monday) is expected to be sunny. In fact, sunny for the remaining days of the groupshoot!

Stay Tuned for Day 6!

Don't change the channel!

Day 4: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

Where do I begin?

First, the weather was BEAUTIFUL all day, sun, etc. despite the forecast of cloudy and rain all day. Sunday's forecast is what today was supposed to be.... so who knows.. we just go out and shoot.

We started out at 5:40am for Swan Lake Flats in hopes of finding Quad Grizz Mom there and her 2 cubs. We arrived at 6:35 am and found not only quad mom and her cubs but 75-100 other photographers! It was a zoo.

The bears were rooting for roots to eat and moved closer to us. I backed off to my car as they were 40-50 yards away. About that time a ranger showed up and instructed everyone to get into their cars.

The bears moved closer and ended up in the pull out with the cars! One cub scratched his back on a sign pole and then placed her front paws on the hood of a car looking at the photographer inside.... at which time the ranger blew a whistle which caused the bears to disperse 50-75 yards away.

Grizz mom rooted as the cubs wrestled with each other over a stick they found. I was using a full frame camera and got full frame bears, they were that close. The two cubs playing was a joy to see. A heavy fog developed quickly which made photography impossible but the fog eventually lifted for clear images again.

The bears eventually crossed the road and fled to the woods around 8:30am, so we had about two hours with them! Great stuff!

We moved on to Mammoth then to Tower/Roosevelt. Not much. We went on to Lamar and found two black wolves wondering around Specimen Ridge area. We followed them as they came upon a bison herd. Before they every got close the whole herd was looking in the wolves' direction. The adult bison surrounded the bison calves (the calves being inside the circle) as 3 bull bison stood together, walking towards and looking at the wolves as if to say, "come on, we are ready to fight"...

The wolves did the math and figured 2 against these guys wouldn't work well so the slithered off north and out of sight.

This was really amazing to witness. Except for National Geographic films, I have never seen this before live. Really special to see.

We moved on to Lamar and saw a grey wolf cross the road ahead of us and up the hill with a zillion people watching.

Lamar Valley has a TON of bison and calves this year. Lamar is THE place for action. It seems always something going on there.

We left there and went to Canyon for lunch then over to Hayden Valley (no action), Fishing Bridge then all the day to east entrance and back. We had sun,wind, rain, snow and sleet on that trip! We saw a cow moose but she was back in the woods. We did find two bull elk in velvet by Mary Bay. No action alone Mary or Sledge Bay.

The MPEGers following us departed for the hotel but Jared and I decided to make another Lamar Valley run. We had a black bear jam and a big horn sheep jam along the way.

We got to the Hitching Post pull out about 2 hrs before sunset and I was speaking to some other photographer's there (with my 500 mm lens in my hand as I was about to set up) when another golden eagle (see blog pic) come flying around the same area as the day before . With about 1-2 seconds to react, I took 10 images, handheld and hoped for the best. 3 out of 10 images were decent. It was over in a blink of an eye.

I was told today that there is a pair of golden eagles nesting in the rock cliffs by the pullout (we saw both yesterday soaring) and I guess this is one of the pair. I like the image but i want more! We plan to spend a lot of time in Lamar Valley Sunday and Monday early for more golden eagle and wolf photo ops.

Dane reported photographing a black bear and a pronghorn mom give birth to two fawns.
George found a nice osprey nest. Marty and Linda to some grizzly and black bear sow and cub images on Saturday.

Jared and I got into the hotel at 10:10pm after a LONG day in the Park.

Let's see what Day 5 brings......

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Day 3: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

What a day!

Update from yesterday's blog: (Dane said my waterfowl was indeed a grebe, a western grebe! It's a very handsome bird)

We started off with a beautiful sunrise at Oxbow Bend. Hands down, the best sunrise I have ever had there! Everyone was happy.

We proceeded to stop by Jackson Lake dam, then went over to String Lake. Three of us hiked the trail about 1/2 mile and we came upon 2 mule deer and then face to face with a cow elk on the trail. She looked at us, we looked at her and she veered off the trail. We did have our bear spray out (of course) as we walked the trail as it is bear country. Coming upon the cow elk on the trail by surprise (as we turned a corner) made our hearts skip a beat or two or three. Dane found some marmots there as well.

We drove back to Signal Mountain for breakfast. Everyone was very eager to get to Yellowstone.

(Our two days in the Grand Tetons went very well. Everyone was pleased with the time spent there.)

We proceeded north to Yellowstone after breakfast. I took the members (who have never been to YNP) on a tour to make them familiar with the different areas of YNP.

We drove to the West Thumb area then to the Fishing Bridge then to Hayden Valley then to Norris, then to Mammoth to Tower/Roosevelt then Lamar Valley then to West Yellowstone via Dunraven Pass (Canyon to Norris to Madison) to our hotel.

In this trip we saw: a bear with 2 cubs at a distance, a mountain goat close (but no parking) , a black bear having a dandelion salad (see photo above) bison, lots of baby bison, elk, coyotes, pronghorn, 3 golden eagles soaring above us (one flew within 30 yards, of us across the road, 20 feet above the ground and we just stood there and watched it dumbfounded, we had no cameras set up as we had just arrived and exited our cars. I will really perturbed (mild word) at the missed photo op.

We were told we missed a fairly "close to the road" wolf kill by a few hours (they took down a pronghorn fawn) and nothing was left by the time we got there- a Yellowstone bridesmaid again!

It started to rain so we headed to our hotel to check in at 7:30 pm. Everyone was pretty tired and was looking forward to a good dinner and a bed.

There is a cold front coming in YNP for the weekend (Saturday/Sunday) with snow/rain 40-50% the whole weekend and cloudy. Good waterfall "picture taking " days.

Monday-Wednesday look great weather wise.

Jared and I will be leaving at 5:30am for Swan Lake Flats in search of the Grizz sow and her two cubs. Some members will follow us, the rest are on their own.

Despite the forecast, ANY DAY in Yellowstone is a GOOD DAY!

Stay tuned for Day 4.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 2: 2012 MPEG Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP Groupshoot

I honestly don't know if I could have planned a more perfect morning..... luck is good.

We left the hotel at 4:30am and made our way to Mormon Row for sunrise. Besides us, there were 6 or so other photographers there. We are all positioned in the sage brush across from the classic Moulton barn beside the pink house.

The sky is clear, the mountains are crystal clear and the stage is set for spectacular sunrise!

The light starts hitting the peaks and the shutters go off... I noticed a small herd of bison making its way down the row of barns and I jokingly said, "hey guys, come down here, we need you in the picture"....well, (like Dr. Dolittle) they did... they kept moving north and walking right into our picture as the light peaked.Unreal! We were all stunned as what are the chances? The bison in the picture was icing on the cake! Wait until you see these images.

then we scoot quickly to Schwabacher's landing for some nice reflections, then scouted the snake river overlook but the trees have grown so much, it obscures the nice S curve of the snake river.

We then stopped by Elk Ranch Flats and photographed the Teton horses in great light with the Tetons as the background. Breathtaking!

We then had a nice breakfast at Signal Mountain lodge, then drove over to the Chapel of the Transfiguration for some shooting. On the way, a cow moose and calf caused a jam, but they were in shadows and harsh light with everyone agreeing no photo op (but cool to see the calf) .

After stopping at the visitors center in Moose Junction, some members wanted to do some shopping etc. Jared and I drove around and found no wildlife worth snapping. We did stop by the Moran Junction osprey nest and some action occurred as we pulled up to the nest but light was very harsh so we left.

We went back to hotel to catch up email, rest some and started back out at 6:00pm.

I asked Jared to drop by the osprey's nest again just to see, by chance , if anything was going on. We pulled up and an adult was perched in a tree by the road and another osprey in the nest. I believe they have chicks but I didn't see them.

I photographed the adult in the tree..... and then it flew off, I watched him go south and told Jared to watch him (thinking he might circle back to the nest) as my view was blocked by trees. Jared said, "here he comes back".... I had to pick him up visually through the trees and just laid the AF point over where I thought he might land and lowered "the hammer"as he arrived..... I could only focus on him at the "last second when he came out of the trees. (see image in this post). It was over in 1-2 seconds.

We then moved north, no bears, few elk, stopped at Jackson Lake above Coulter Bay and snapped a red eyed (I believe a grebe) waterfowl but don't quote me.

We moved south back to Oxbow Bend for sunset (I wanted to do Lighttrac to prepare for sunrise in the morning there.)

After sunset, we headed back to the hotel and got in around 10:30 pm.

Tomorrow, another 4 am wake up call and sunrise at Oxbow Bend, then Jenny lake, String lake, and whatever else pops up... after lunch we will be heading to Yellowstone National Park for the rest of the groupshoot!

You gotta love these Parks..... It just makes you smile being here....