I needed a little time off this summer, but now I’m back to work with my camera, and my inspiration is renewed with a trip to Grand Teton National Park.
On our first day in the Park, it rained, and the two places we drove to for breakfast were closed. (Thank you, COVID economy.) But we drove past these horses grazing in a field at the foot of the Tetons and stopped for a photo. Those rain clouds made the scene look like an oil painting.
Seeing a North American Badger might not be on your bucket list, but for four photographers in Jackson Hole, seeing a badger was a “bonus.” Having photographed bison, trumpeter swan, elk, coyote, bald eagle and golden eagle earlier in the day, the we called the badger sighting our “Bonus Badger.” For me, it was a first.
Reading about the badger’s behavior on Wikipedia, I discovered that it’s not surprising that sightings are rare. Badgers are solitary creatures, living in underground dens and are mostly noctural. Their predators are golden eagles, coyote and bears all of which are plentiful in this part of Wyoming. Moreover, they are aggressive animals, so I’m glad I was able to capture this photo from the safety of our car.
I like the badger’s furry coat and face markings, and I’m glad I had the chance to see it. Look at those long claws!
February 28, 2020 — It was just after dawn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with temperatures hovering around 8 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was scouting for wildlife with three other photographers. We spotted a Bald Eagle high in a frosty tree. A long lens (400 mm Sony) afforded us a closer look.
For my friend Chris, this was his first time seeing a bald eagle. I had just been bald eagle watching and photographing in Florida the previous week, but seeing a Bald Eagle is always exciting.
We were only weeks away from the lockdown to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but we were blissfully unaware. How blessed we were to complete this trip to Wyoming before the crisis hit the United States. I think of that childhood game of Musical Chairs. This is where we were just before the music stopped.
The first clue to the unfolding scene of predators and prey was the Bald Eagle with fresh blood on its white feathers. Our group of four photographers pulled off the road in Jackson Hole to study what was happening on this snow covered hillside.
Soon, we identified two bald eagles and a golden eagle perched on boulders. The golden eagle was much larger than the Bald Eagle, but as the scene appears compressed though the 600mm lens, you can’t see the size difference in the photo.
Yes, with binoculars we spotted a bloody carcass between the boulders with a magpie (black and white bird common to the mountainous ecosystem) currently picking at the carcass. The eagles must have had their fill.
Up the hill, watching over the scene was a lone coyote. He was likely the killer of the elk, who may have wandered away from the herd, not feeling well.
Scores of elk stay safe in a tight herd in the valley. It is also possible that a pack of wolves took down the elk. All these animals and moose too roam the national park in great numbers. Soon the bears will break hibernation and join the throng.
While we humans tend to pity the prey, we understand that all wildlife have to eat, and this is Nature’s way. We are privileged to witness it.
I’m the first to admit that I like to sleep in. Waking up to a buzzing alarm clock when it’s dark outside is NOT the way I like to start my day, especially when it’s cold outside. Proof positive that I braved the dark and the cold and forced my sleepy body out of bed at 6am in Jackson Hole is this photo of Rendezvous Mountain at sunrise. As you can see, I was in position to take this sunrise exposure before the first skier appeared on the slopes.
With the temperature only reaching 8 degrees Fahrenheit, my toes felt like blocks of ice in few minutes outside, so I got back in the car to look for some wildlife. We found some bald eagles in short order!
We interrupt this close examination of bison 😉 for a wider view of the landscape in Grand Teton National Park. Grand it is! How glorious are the vistas of the wide open spaces. In this image, we see a lone tree punctuate the snow covered flat lands at the foot of the steeply rising Grand Teton mountains.
In February, it was bitter cold and windy with many nighttime temperatures dropping into negative numbers (-25!). Snow pack is higher in the mountains than in the lower Snake River Valley, but many low lying roads and areas accessible during the Spring, Summer and Fall are off limits now. During our week in Wyoming, we picked up an additional 7” to everyone’s delight. Then, we also enjoyed “bluebird skies” like this in the image. The skiers and photographers were happy.
Near Kelly, Wyoming —- Who knew that bison have black tongues? In this image, I caught Mama Bison chewing some plants while looking in my direction. I was shooting with a 600mm lens from a safe distance. At least, we hoped we would be safe!
In this next close-up, you can see the bison trudging up the hill in fresh snow. It was also snowing, windy and cold. I like the raised hoof indicating the action taking place. In no time, all five bison had traveled from the field where they were lying, through the hot spring, across the road and up the hill.
This was our best sighting of the week in Jackson Hole. While we spotted moose several times, we never had a good opportunity for photos like this. A shout out to our guide with Wild Things of Wyoming, Colin Boeh, for his experience with finding and safely observing wildlife in Grand Teton National Park. Thanks to Colin, we had a fascinating and very educational day!
Sunday afternoon, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming —
A close encounter with five enormous bison? It unfolded like this: As the bison waded across the hot spring that separated us and approached the road, we backed up several yards to give them plenty of space. We were mindful of National Park Service rules for keeping a safe distance from wildlife, and we anticipated that the bison planned to cross the road and head up the snow covered hill. This scenario was unfolding peacefully until a pick-up truck, pulled up right in front of the bison, blocking their path.
What did the bison do? They looked down the road to us and gave us the stare-down. “Move the truck!” we said quietly — to the driver, but only loud enough that the three of us could hear. Luckily, the truck moved on after a pause of a few minutes (surely taking photos out the window and oblivious to the spot they put us in). I looked behind me for a tree to hide behind, but there were none. I’m not sure what we would have done, had they charged at us. There were several cars and spectators on the far side of the bison, but the three of us were isolated, standing on the road.
Once the truck moved, the bison trudged across the road and up the hill, as we predicted, stopping a few more times to stare in our direction.
There were three adult and two young bison, causing the two mother bison to exhibit protective behavior. It was our job to stay distant, quiet and non-threatening. During this time, I used my 600mm Sony lens to capture as many action photos as I could. Watching these enormous wild animals at close range was a rare and special experience. If you like this image, stay tuned, as I’ve got more good ones!
I know: the typical line on a scenic post card is “Having a great time, and wish you were here.” This weekend the opposite was true. My daughter Erin was hiking and loving the scenery in Grand Teton National Park, and I wished I were there!
My memories are fresh and sweet from Grand Teton National Park, because I was there recently in late September 2018 for six days of photography from before sunrise to after sundown. I’ll look up an image that I haven’t already shared with you.
Jackson Hole, I will be back! While some of roads are inaccessible in winter, I’m sure the Tetons are beautiful in all four seasons.
The shimmering golden aspens of the Rocky Mountains are known for their white trunks and brilliant fall color, but did you know their biological secret? Clumps of aspen trees are actually clones of each other. Yes! They share the same DNA.
“One aspen tree is actually only a small part of a larger organism. A stand or group of aspen trees is considered a singular organism with the main life force underground in the extensive root system.”
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