Coyotes and Buffalo Endure a Yellowstone Winter

A coyote locates a vole by listening, then pounces on lunch.

Coyote pouncing on lunch

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…

Yellowstone Buffalo

Geysers in the background spew forth hot steam throughout the park.

 

Buffalo in Yelowstone River

Buffalo emerge from the morning fog.

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.

Receiving the buffalo stink-eye

Despite park rules, maybe we still got too close from time to time…

Dang tourists, they keep coming.

 

How Coyotes Catch Voles in the Yellowstone Winter Wonderland

STEP 1: Find yourself a wide open, snow covered field where mice and voles might live.

 

STEP 2: Wander around with your eyes closed listening for voles feeding under the snow.

 

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.

STEP 3: Upon hearing the slightest scratch or squeak, cock your head toward the sound to better zero in on the exact location of the unsuspecting rodent.

 

STEP 4: Rock back on your haunches…

 

STEP 5: Spring forward, pounce on the target, eat the vole and then repeat the process…

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.

 

Chomping on yet another vole.

 

Continuing the search for food. Certainly not all days are so successful.

 

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.

Plentiful swans in Yellowstone National Park.

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.

 

15 thoughts on “Coyotes and Buffalo Endure a Yellowstone Winter

  1. Amazing photos!!
    Especially enjoyed “How Coyotes Catch Voles”.

    Also, I think that wolf might have a little decay starting on his lower left molar!

  2. Another great entry with most excellent photos, Harold.
    Congratulations on that award-winning coyote pouncing composite!

  3. Wonderful, Harold! I love these photos, especially the set of the coyote hunting moles. Excellent. Makes me wish to go there in the winter sometime but I don’t think I could deal with the cold.

    • The huge down parka, liner gloves and bigger gloves inside even bigger mittens, fleece balaclava, several layers of pants, wind pants, snow boots covered by outer boots and gators might fill up your travel suitcase….

  4. Beautiful pictures. Loved the ones with the coyote catching the voles. I had no idea that food was so abundant in the winter time.

  5. Those are amazing! I loved the “How to Catch a Vole” tutorial. I wonder if they get sunburnt eyes looking at the snow. They learned to shut their eyes.
    Are you going to change to a wildlife photographer after all?!

    • No future in wildlife photography for me. That is an entirely different aspect of photography with a great deal of competition. However, I do feel I need to go on an African Safari before tooooo long.

  6. hi Harold: you are quite the photographer and writer. I especially enjoyed the story regarding the voles and wolves. Mostly the photo of the frozen tree at the end told the story as to just how cold it was. sincerely sharon dowell

  7. Wow! The coyote shots are amazing. In my long life, i’ve never seen anyone capture a coyote cocking her head like a dog. Awesome!

  8. Breathtaking wildlife & Yellowstone background photos. I really enjoyed the icicle covered pine trees. Are your photographs available for purchase?

    • Yes my photos are for sale. Below the ‘Photo Gallery’ tab, click ‘My Galleries’. Click any ‘Gallery’ photo then any photo within the ‘Gallery’. You will see a bright blue ‘Add to Cart’ button. Click this button to see the sizes available for that print and prices. If you wish to talk to me further on this, you can use the ‘Contact HH’ option. Thank you for looking at my photographs.

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