I spotted this coyote (Canis latrans) before sunrise one morning along the Madison River on the western edge of Yellowstone National Park. I was looking for elk but the bulls with their harems were not out in the meadows, preferring the cover of the trees. This fellow caught my eye however. Amid the falling snow I spotted some movement on the far side of the meadow, just along the river — a coyote foraging. He would move along slowly, pause after hearing a small animal under the snow, jump up only to drop and pounce on the poor creature through the snow. He caught a few while I was watching, but too distant and too dark to photograph clearly. There was just enough light to get a sharp photograph of it only when it went still, which it did just once.
Norris Geyser Basin is one of the principal geothermal areas of Yellowstone National Park. Loaded with fumeroles, steaming hot springs, geysers and other generally hot-as-hell nasty holes in the ground, Norris Geyser Basin is best seen on a cool morning when it billows forth steam. The two photos below are from the Porcelain Basin trail.
See more photos from Norris Geyser Basin.
The meadows around Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park are a good place to look for coyotes (Canis latrans) hunting voles. This coyote was found working the tall grass. He would stalk quietly through the grass, stop and listen, poise, leap high and and drop on his prey. Brutally effective.
I usually stop once or twice at Sheepeater Cliffs while in Yellowstone National Park, hoping to photograph the yellow-bellied marmots that are found there. This time I was disappointed: it was too late in the year and they had gone to ground for the winter, and I could not find any of them. As I was kicking back and eating my lunch before continuing on to Mammoth Hot Springs for the afternoon, a coyote (Canis latrans) strolled by and started working in the brush along the river, presumably for voles or other small varmits. He was pretty comfortable with my presence, so I walked along and watched him for a while, taking photos.
Update 12/28/07: Wow! This morning Laurie was pictured and quoted in an Associated Press article about the trend of people moving to western states such as Montana and Wyoming, appearing in newspapers throughout the United States. [AP Photo][AP article]
Our main motivation for visiting Yellowstone National Park this past October was to find an opportunity for my daughter to see wolves, in the wild, with our friend Laurie Lyman. Laurie taught at the Rhoades School for many years. Our daughter was part of her swan song class, the 3rd graders of ’04-’05. Following each vacation, which Laurie would spend in Yellowstone, she would entertain her class with stories of the Druids and Sloughs, of the alpha and beta wolves in each pack, which packs were faring well and not-so-well, and of the pups that would appear in spring. She was so loved that her class donated a radio collar, in her name, to be placed on one of the Yellowstone wolves so that it could be tracked using radio telemetry. I believe the collar is still transmitting. Immediately after retiring from teaching, Laurie moved to Cooke City, Montana to study wolves in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park, including the Slough Creek pack (which she has known since its inception in 2002) as well as the Druid Peak, Agate, Hayden and Molly packs. Her husband Dan splits time between Montana and California but is often with her in the field when he is in Montana. During the past few years, having rarely missed a day in the field, Laurie has gathered volumes of detailed field notes and considerable understanding of the complex social dynamics within and between various wolf packs in the Yellowstone area, including the roles played by key individual wolves and movements of individuals between packs. She can often be found in the field with noted wolf researcher Rick McIntyre.
On my several visits to Yellowstone, when I decide I want to see a wolf, I start by finding Laurie. Each time I have met with her, she has shown me wolves, so I have a perfect record so far! (I have seen a few wolves without her help, but honestly I am much better at spotting whales than wolves. I am well out of my element in Wyoming and need all the help I can get.) This year we spent two mornings with Laurie in the Lamar Valley and were treated to some fantastic wolf action. On our final day there we saw the Druid Pack cross a broad snow-covered field to pursue a bull (male) elk, a big fellow with an intimidating rack of antlers. This was the real thing, Wild Kingdom-esque, right there in front of us. Laurie made it clear that we should pay close attention and appreciate this special sight, so we did. Both elk and wolves were running at full speed through snow, across a river bed and over a number of small hills. For a while it appeared the wolves would catch the elk and make a kill, but eventually it seemed either the wolves grew tired, lost interest or perhaps concluded that they were not ready to tackle such a formidable adversary; the elk got away. What was particularly intriguing was that the chase was also watched by a grizzly who was positioned on the far side of the wolves. The bear seemed put off by the commotion and moved away into the trees, but stopped several times to watch the action. Much of the time we were with them, Laurie and Rick were in frequent radio communication with others elsewhere in the Lamar who were watching the same wolves from different vantage points or other wolf packs in the area. Rick kindly offered his scope to a few people who just happened by so they could get a glimpse, and patiently answered all of our questions.
Most wolf observation is done through high powered field scopes, Swarovskis and the like. Only once have I had a good look at a wild wolf without a scope. I have no real interest in trying to photograph wolves, at least not in any serious way with high end photo equipment, preferring to leave them to their business. Checking on them from afar through a scope is satisfying enough for me. Wolves receive enough attention already, from wolf lovers who just want to watch them to ranchers who believe that the only good wolf is a dead wolf, that they do not need to be further pursued by yet another photographer looking to shoot yet another wolf photo. We stayed high up on a hill with a great view of the entire Lamar Valley, listening to the howling of the wolves and watching them do their thing. Laurie’s friend Pauline, an accomplished digiscoper (what’s that you say?), allowed me to take a few photos by pressing my super-duper-ultra-mini-pocket digicam to the tiny viewfinder on her field scope. I even managed to get a shot of 10 Druid Peak wolves in one frame. It turns out that the simple act of aiming a point-and-shoot camera through a field scope and pressing the trigger, which even a simpleton like myself can do, is considered a “technique” and has a name: digiscoping. So there you have it, we were digiscoping the wolves. Photography for the masses: all you need is a scope and a point and shoot camera, and it’s pretty fun to boot. No strenuous hiking around either. I thought our digiscope shot was pretty good for a first wolf photo, and a fine souvenir of our morning watching the wolves with Laurie.
One of my favorite places in Yellowstone National Park is Midway Geyser basin. Here two of the largest geothermal features in the entire world lie just yards from one another: Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. These two huge holes in the ground are filled with superheated water, direct links to hot underworld not far below. The huge columns of steam rising over Midway Geyser basin on cool mornings is striking. I usually make a hike to my favorite vantage point to check out the colors in Grand Prismatic Spring. This time around, though, there was snow on the ground and freezing air from a autumn snowstorm passing through. The dense steam from Grand Prismatic almost obscured it from sight altogether. I waited a while until the sun peeked through and the wind blew the steam away from me and snapped this shot. Grand Prismatic Spring is in the foreground, Excelsior Geyser in the back left.
The only way to see how large Grand Prismatic Spring is is to have a few people alongside it for scale. This was shot in summer when steam does not form as thickly over the spring:
Grand Prismatic Spring displays a stunning rainbow of colors created by species of thermophilac (heat-loving) bacteria that thrive in narrow temperature ranges. The blue water in the center is too hot to support any bacterial life, while the outer orange rings are the coolest water. Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest spring in the United States and the third-largest in the world. Midway Geyser Basin.
Image ID: 13573
Location: Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Note the lack of snow on the ground. The entire place is, if not steaming hot, at least warm enough to melt snow as soon as it hits the ground. Our glasses were fogging up just walking around.
A few days into my Yellowstone National Park trip I found the ursine suspect in a double murder case. I was not looking for bears, rather just cruising around and admiring all parts of the park, and I was lucky to stumble upon him and get off a few good photos . I continued to explore the park on my own for another week but saw no more bears. My dad and daughter then arrived and I shifted the emphasis to wolves and bears after having spent the better part of a week watching the elk rut. We made several trips together through the Lamar hoping to see bears and wolves but were not having much luck, although we had seen most of the other charismatic animals including coyote, moose, elk, geese and swan. Finally, on our last full day in the park, before sunrise as we drove to the Lamar from Mammoth, at exactly the same place that I had seen it previously, we found the fratricidal grizzly. Snow had been falling the previous two days so he was quite easy to spot from far away even in the dim light, otherwise I might have missed him entirely (my co-pilot and navigator were both half asleep and of no help in spotting wildlife that early in the morning). He was strolling up from the river again, across a broad open field of white snow-frosted sage. We got a very good look at him, the best view my dad and daughter had ever had of a grizzly. This photo was taken only a few hundred yards from the other one. The entire time we were watching this fellow, the Agate wolf pack was above us on the ridge howling. A few minutes after this bear had sauntered off into the woods, we drove a short way up the road and saw the Slough Creek pack, howling back at the Agates. All this in the space of perhaps 2 hours. It was quite a morning.
In October I was in Yellowstone National Park primarily to see and photograph the elk rut. However, my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher now lives in Gardner, MT and spends her time studying the wolves, so I made a several drives up to the Lamar Valley to see her and check out wolves. Each time I passed through the burned tree area before Tower I saw small groups of what I believe are mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). They seem awfully small compared to the much larger elk. This buck — only males grow antlers, which will be shed in late December or January — was in the company of three other deer, presumably females, who seemed comfortable grazing in high grass near me. It was near sunset and raining, so for the most part I just hung out and watched them, not getting many photos.
Near the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park is a stand of fire-scorched trees, or “fire trees” as our younger daughter named them during her first visit to the park five years ago. The ground surrounding a section of these trees is often steaming, hinting at the subterranean warmth and runoff from springs on Firehole Lake Drive nearby. Following a snow fall this phenomenon was illustrated nicely with a sharp delineation between cool and hot ground. This is another 16×9 photograph taken with our cool little Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2.
Burned trees in grass meadow in Lower Geyser Basin. Grass on the left has hot runoff from nearby thermal springs, keeping it free of snow.
Image ID: 19789
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
We spent time checking out the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, in the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park. Several thousand pounds of calcium carbonate, carried in solution from the hot springs that bubble up through thick limestone, are deposited onto the enormous terraces each day. As the terrace complex spreads and grows, surrounding vegetation is overtaken. In this photo several dead trees are seen embedded in calcium carbonate, with steaming water flowing around them, a ghostly scene. This was photographed with our tiny Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. While probably considered a simple point-and-shoot camera by most people, it produces surprisingly high quality images (when used properly, including low ISO). Among other features, the camera allows full manual exposure (f-stop, shutter speed, ISO), auto-bracketing and RAW file format, all of which are uncommon in the point-and-shoot market. A number of the photos we shot with this fun camera while in Yellowstone are sufficiently sharp and clean to be posted for hopeful stock sales.
Dead trees embedded in calcium carbonate deposits in the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs, near Minerva terrace . Over two tons of calcium carbonate (in solution) is deposited each day on the terraces, gradually killing any vegetation that had managed to be growing.
Image ID: 19796
Location: Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA