My winter visit to Yellowstone National Park was organized and led by Barbara Eddy and John Gurlach. In the wintertime, one cannot simply drive into the park. The Gerlach team led us on wonderful excursions for five days, rising before sunrise and shooting until it was too dark.
The Obligatory Buffalo Photos
This was our very first stop of the first day. Despite dressing as warmly as I possibly could, my fingers were nearly nonfunctional after futzing with the metal camera, lens changes and a tripod in single digit temperatures. In contrast to this, John Gurlach often did not wear gloves at all! I could hardly compose shots due to numb fingers. We all have seen dramatic photos of buffalo with falling snow streaking across their faces. Those photos are much harder to find and compose than one would think. These buffalo may eventually wander toward you which would make for a much better photo, but park rules then dictate you must back away…
We were happy to see buffalo in a foggy river setting. Still, they are constantly foraging and much like cows they are generally eating with heads down, a poor position photographically. These giants use their broad heads much like a shovel, pushing the snow aside to get to the frozen grasses.
Despite park rules, maybe we still got too close from time to time…
How Coyotes Catch Voles in the Yellowstone Winter Wonderland
It was very evident the bright sunshine reflecting back from the snow was an irritation to this female coyote. Much time was spent walking aimlessly with her eyes closed. But, when a sound was heard, all senses were alert.
We watched this coyote for well over an hour, until we had all had our fill of these dramatic and seemingly once in a lifetime scenes. We drove down the road, had lunch then drove back after an hour or so. This coyote was still hunting. I know I captured and counted 12 vole killings. We watched and photographed some more and finally left. This coyote was still at it. Imagine a platter served to you consisting of twelve chicken thighs. That would be quite a meal. Think what a big meal this is for a medium sized dog. Add in the voles and mice caught while we were away and this coyote had quite a Thanksgiving feast. All voles were chomped and swallowed whole, no picking at the bones for meat.
Other Park Animals
This was not a trip with animals as the primary goal, but when you see a hunting coyote you have to stop. Other than buffalo and this coyote, the only other animals we photographed in the wild were some birds and swans. My photos of the swans never really materialized. There needs to be doing some wing flapping or other good action. I got water dripping from their beaks, but little else. Plus the black beak on the black water was not a good mix.
One workshop morning was spent at the animal park in the town of West Yellowstone. Here your challenge is to capture the caged bear and wolf without obvious man-made objects in the frame and have the animal do something special. Snow helps, but this morning it was very clear and cold. I saw few possibilities with the white wolves as they just looked like big, friendly dogs. When this guy would yawn, all the cameras went off in motor drive.
So goodbye to this amazing winter wonderland, full of sights seldom seen elsewhere and great wildlife if you are lucky enough.