Frozen Beauty

As freezing temperatures grip the Northeast United States this week, we are reminded that a frozen landscape offers a new kind of beauty. The colorful palette of autumn leaves are nearly gone, and winter’s snow introduces a new aesthetic.

The Grand Tetons are draped in a blanket of fresh snow, while the valley underlines the scene with golden foliage. The Wyoming winter is approaching.

This image is one of 12 featured in Cathy Kelly’s 2022 Wyoming Nature calendar. There is still time to order one for the holidays. Email Cathy for details.

Introducing the Pronghorn

This beautiful mammal is truly one of a kind, as the pronghorn’s 11 closest relatives are extinct. It is the last surviving member of the Antilocapridae family. The Pronghorn’s closest living relative is the giraffe!

The pronghorn (female shown here) is the fastest land mammal in North America, running up to 55 miles per hour. Grand Teton National Park.

You might have seen some pronghorns running at top speed around the national parks of Wyoming, because the species is repopulating, coming back strong from near extinction in the early 1900s, when it had been over-hunted by humans for food. It’s numbers dwindled to about 13,000. Private groups began buying up land to create a refuge for the pronghorn until the 1930s when Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt (FDR) created enough public land for them to live in a protected habitat. The presidents also put hunting restrictions in place. Now the pronghorn is estimated at 500,000 to a million in the American Rockies. (Read full details on Wikipedia.)

Now we could say of our fast-footed friend, that she is one in a million.

What to Expect in Yellowstone

I had never been to Yellowstone National Park before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were going to see the thermal zone — geysers including Old Faithful and some boiling mud. I had seen geysers and boiling mud before in New Zealand and Iceland, so I was prepared to be “underwhelmed.” I was wrong. We were in for feelings of excitement and lots of “wow” moments.

Our day began at “West Thumb,” a thermal zone and large lake with boiling mud and geysers. I was captivated. As the geysers steamed and bubbled, I composed my photos of the simple yet other-worldly beauty.

Steam rises from the boiling geysers at the edge of West Thumb in Yellowstone National Park.
Shapes of the land, water and sky make a nearly abstract scene at West Thumb in Yellowstone.

Jackson Lake in the Mist

Jackson Lake water levels are at record lows this Fall (in 2021) after a very dry summer. From this location on the dry lake bed, we could see mist rising on a cold Fall morning and snow covered Mount Moran in the background.

Misty Jackson Lake on a chilly Fall morning with fresh snow on Mount Moran.

Brilliant Fall Foliage

Are you still waiting for the green foliage to change to its seasonal fall colors? The main factor that triggers the color change is the increasing length of the night, which causes chlorophyll production in the leaf to stop. We found some brilliant fall color in Grand Teton National Park in late September.

This location in Grand Teton National Park included the green, yellow and red foliage against a bright blue September sky.

I was curious about what types of trees turn yellow and what types turn red, so I turned to the Forest Service of the USDA for some answers.

Oaks: red, brown, or russet

– Hickories: golden bronze

– Aspen and yellow-poplar: golden yellow

– Dogwood: purplish red

– Beech: light tan

– Sourwood and black tupelo: crimson

The color of maples leaves differ species by species:

– Red maple: brilliant scarlet

– Sugar maple: orange-red

– Black maple: glowing yellow

The Best Part of Wildlife Photography

I think the most exciting aspect of Wildlife Photography is the chance to observe wild animals in their habitat, doing what they like to do. You can learn a lot from watching their behavior, and in doing that, I feel like a privileged secret observer. While we always keep a respectful distance in order not to distract or interfere with the animal, we whisper to each other, and our excitement is palpable.

Early one morning in Grand Teton National Park, we spotted a bull elk in the field, and his silhouette in the bright morning sun was striking.

Bull elk in Grand Teton National Park with morning light and fall colors.
A photograph of this bull elk in his habitat tells the story of his life in the wild. Grand Teton National Park, September 2021.
Bull elk running after his “girl,” an elk cow, during mating season in Grand Teton National Park.

At one point, we observed the interaction of the bull, the cow and the calf elk, and then they ran out of our line of sight. While close-up photographs are satisfying and show us exactly what the animal looks like, these experiences are exciting, and the photographs share a story. Autumn is a busy time in Grand Teton National Park for the elk, as well as the moose and bears.

Ever See a Badger?

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.

#badger, #wildlife, #jacksonhole, #elksanctuary, #nature, #winter, #nocturnal, #
North American badger comes out of his den to look around in the Elk Sanctuary in Jackson Hole, WY.

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!

Wake up time

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.

#snow, #mountain, #ski, #trails, #rendezvous, #tetonvillage, #jacksonhole, #sunrise, #cold
Winter sunrise on Rendezvous Mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Sunlight had not yet reached the valley floor. Can you spot a single skier on the trails? February 2020

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!

Trumpeter Swans

Temperatures might still be below freezing in Jackson Hole with the lakes covered in a thick coating of ice and snow, but the Trumpter Swans find the perfect spot to keep warm and well fed — in the hot springs.

#trumpeterswans, #swans, #duck, #symbiotic, #snow, #hotspring, #hotsprings, #kellym #jacksonhole, #wyoming, #winter, #wildlife, #wildlifephotography
Constantly bobbing for food, these Trumpter Swans keep warm in the hot springs in Kelly, Wyoming. It is a challenge to capture a photograph of these two swans with both of their heads above water. March 2020.

There is a fine mist rising from the hot springs, as the air is around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The lakes and parts of the Snake River are frozen solid, showing moose tracks across the surface. Last night, we got 7″ of fresh snow.

It’s no coincidence that the ducks are swimming near the swans. They have a symbiotic relationship, as the swans foraging makes it easier for the ducks to forage as well. The swans reach underwater with their long necks, stirring up the underwater ecosystem. Both species can find plenty to eat here.

Bison Action in Wyoming

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!

#bison, #buffalo, #feeding, #tongue, #action, #wildlife, #wildlifephotography, #sony, #outdoorphotography, #naturephotography, #nature, #wildthingsofwyoming
Adult bison forages on plants that emerge from the snow in Grand Teton National Park, March 2020.

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.  

#bison, #buffalo, #wyoming, #grandtetonnationalpark, #wildlife, #wildlifephotography, #action, #nature, #naturephotography, #sony, #outdoorphotography, #wildthingsofwyoming, #kelly, #jacksonhole,
With the sun on her back, Mama Bison climbs the snowy hill to “greener” pastures in Kelly, Wyoming, March 1, 2020. Grand Teton National Park.

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!