“Pursue Ewe” A pair of bighorn sheep rams chase a ewe through sagebrush flats in the North Fork of The Shoshone River Valley. Shoshone National Forest, WY.
What appears to be a larger bighorn ram chasing a smaller one is a bit of an illusion – there is a ewe behind the lead ram and they’re both chasing her. The chase during autumn rut lasted for several minutes at high speed in open country. Imagine my surprise when I edited these shots awhile after returning from the trip and saw two butts on the lead ram. However amusing, these creatures are amzingly athletic, even while running full-tilt through sagebrush. The peak of rut (mating season) for bighorn sheep in Greater Yellowstone is in the first two weeks of December.
“Hoback Riders” Dan Smitherman leads Lee and Sarah on a ride above Noble Basin in the Upper Hoback. The entire area in the basin below was slated to become an industrial scale natural gas field, a plan that was strongly opposed by a vocal grassroots coalition led by Dan Smitherman. The Trust For Public Land purchased the gas leases and retired them forever!
This image is what a conservation win looks like, riding free where a gas field would have been. The threat of thousands of truck trips, millions of gallons of fracking water, toxic wastewater, air pollution trapped in a mountain valley, fishing, hunting, and recreation lost, decimated wildlife… are all over in this southern part of the Greater Yellowstone. I’m proud to work with The Trust For Public Land, Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council and a host of regular folks who stand for Western Heritage. You won’t hear about the Wyoming Range in the news, but this win sets a precedent in the West – our voices matter. In 2014, we’ll protect the remaining 44,700 acres that developers want to drill.
“New Year’s Dawn January 1, 2013, Flatirons” Boulder, CO
How fast was 2013? Four seasons, that’s it, that’s what we get. We plan our adventures for each season and I approach my story-telling photography by nature’s rhythms. Something amazing happens every day and the timing is set – we just have to be there to see it unfold. The Sage Spirit project continues to be my main conservation focus and we found time to walk in the Maroon Bells, Peru’s Huayhuash Mountains and elsewhere. Looking back on long walks, a few epic trips, and ongoing conservation work for the Sage Spirit project, 2013 was a good year. The images that follow aren’t a best of – just a quick glance back before looking ahead to a great Oh-14 Continue reading “2013 Rearview”→
“Chutes and Ladders” Bison are moved through chutes while those working the roundup open and close doors from the walkways above the bison.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge conducted their annual bison roundup on Tuesday, the 17th. The bison herd, now at 86 animals, is rounded up, cajoled into chutes, and tested for a variety of things such as DNA, diseases, and contamination. It’s a facinating process to watch and in spite of the pros working the roundup, bison still go where they want to go. There’s a lot of bison psychology applied to moving a 1,500 pound wild animal through steel chutes and keeping them calm while taking blood, clipping hair, and extracting a piece of meat from their hind end. Other than a few bloody noses and a broken horn, everything went smoothly for the USFWS team.
“Roundup” Bison are pushed from a large holding pasture to a much smaller holding pen before entering the chutes. Bison like to stay in a group and can easily double back on whomever is trying to move them. They’re very athletic and can run at speeds over 30 mph. This pass caught about 35 bison, with a few breaking free to stay in the pasture awhile longer. The guy in the cherry picker basket is a National Geographic photographer.
“In Chute” Bison are moved into the first open chute in small groups.
“Bull Bison In The Hub” This 1,500 pound bull was extremely pissed off about being moved from a grassy pasture to this metal enclosure. The paddles are used to get the bison to move through a door and into one of the chutes. Three doors were open at one point and the bull pawed the ground, snorted, and kicked the sidewalls, but wouldn’t go through. He was allowed to go back into a bigger holding area to cool off.
“Bison Squeeze” There’s a lot of activity around the machine that holds the bison for blood, hair, and fat samples. Once a bison is in this squeeze machine, the sides are slowly closed in to apply pressure, the head secured to prevent injury, and the bison is processed in a few minutes. If they have a chip (rice-sized under skin) the chip is read to add data about the animal. If not, a chip is inserted while the bison is in this machine.
“Bison Head Secure” Some bison calm down in the machine, others fight the whole process, start to finish. For the latter, this guy goes in and turns the head, securing it with a rope. He holds the bison there until processing is complete and the animal is freed.
“Squeeze” This juvenile was held still by the steel bar until release in just a few minutes.
The RMA bison are now free to graze the winter grassland.
A long awaited trip to Bosque Del Apache finally became a reality this year and this world-class refuge lived up to the hype. I made the trip to photograph the Rocky Mountain Population of sandhill cranes on their winter range. They’ll stay here until late February, then start their migration north, making a couple of stops in Colorado, eventually dispersing throughout Greater Yellowstone in April. They return to Bosque in autumn. It’s a journey they’ve made for millions of years and they need us to conserve critical habitat for their long-term survival. Long live sandhill cranes! More images follow Continue reading “Bosque!”→
I’ve been working hard on the Sage Spirit conservation project during my break from blogging – it’s not because I ran out of things to say. It’s an exciting time to be planning completion of fieldwork, writing, lining up partnerships, planning for the book and multimedia campaign, and developing an advocacy plan for the imperiled sagebrush ecosytem. I’m working with an amazing group of people at one of the top publishers in the U.S. and I’m grateful for their support. This post isn’t about making a big announcement, just to let folks know that all of these plans are in the works, so please stay tuned. The fieldwork will wrap up in June of 2014 and we will roll out the book and multimedia campaign in 2015. In the meantime, I’m available to photograph on assignment, present to any size group, and assist with stock photography requests.
* Fieldwork is expensive and I’d be grateful for your donation – it’s easy and tax-deductible, just click on the green Donate button (upper left) on this blog. Thanks!
While shooting an assignment for Trust For Public Land celebrating the permanent protection of the Upper Hoback, Dan Bailey mentioned sandhill cranes with chicks. I said “Of course I’m interested!” before he was done asking. This family was on a perfect nesting site surrounded by water in a marshy wetland, next to the Upper Hoback River in southern Greater Yellowstone. The colts (that’s what sandhill crane chicks are called) were feeding around the adults, who weren’t concerned with the two-legged observers on the hill. Their second colt is to the far right. They didn’t like the coyote chorus that started up across the sage meadow, but went back to feeding as soon as the concert ended. It’s remarkable to watch these tiny colts raise their legs and peck for food just like their parents, although the adults were helping out with mouthfulls of aquatic vegetation. I’m preparing for my first trip to Bosque Del Apache NWR, winter home of the Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) that migrates between Greater Yellowstone and New Mexico. I might even see this family at Bosque. Around 20,000 of these prehistoric birds make the trip twice a year, just like they did when they flew over dinosaurs. You can’t help being fascinated with them for their strong family bonds, grace, human-like characteristics, and resilience in such a rapidly changing world. And although sandhill cranes are remarkably adaptable to change, it’s imperative that humans protect the most important habitat throughout the migration route to sustain another million years of migrations.
My Halloween contribution – Trickster God in Native American mythology, goddess Morigghan in Celtic myth, and harbinger of death Mabinogion in Welsch myth, the raven is simply smarter than all the other creatures – and probably many people. If you see one this Halloween, jsut say hello – he may answer with a deep-throated croak.
Before I start this philisophical post, I’d like to thank the settlers of Kelly, Wyoming for locating the town in a corner of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) in the 1890’s. Back then the town was named Grovont, eventually chaged to Kelly to avoid confusion with another town in the area. For visitors in Jackson Hole during the government shutdown, the road to Kelly provided acccess to the edges of GTNP along Antelope Flats, and a route through the park to the Gros Ventre Valley while GTNP and YNP were officially closed. I’m still pissed at those that caused the whole shutdown debacle – we all know who they are, so there’s no need to mention them here. The common theme among photographers during that week was to focus on a much smaller area with gratitude for the few opportunities we had. It was a sort of Thoreauvian mindset of checking on the bison herd, the three moose along the Gros Ventre River, the pronghorn herd – still in rut and not migrating because of mild weather in Jackson Hole – and the Great gray owls on the edge of town. All of that and the lingering fall color seemed to keep everybody busy, and focused. The image on this post happened only because I wasn’t somewhere else at the time – there’s something to the concept of persistence and working the same area. But, these are our lands and we should never be denied access. There are a couple of lessons beyond beyond the obvious “make the best of your situation”: First, national parks have imaginary borders that wildlife don’t recognize; so explore the edges. Second, never miss a chance to be inspired or to inspire others. And finally, to those who would shut the gates and deny access to our national parks, our legacy, and the opportunity to inspire others, may your actions be repudiated harshly. May you rot in hell. A lot of folks were hurt across the country – that’s a damn shame that we won’t soon forget.
Although both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks remain closed, two great gray owls made my recent trip to Jackson, Wyoming a lot more enjoyable. It’s common for great grays to show up for a few days to hunt in a general area before moving on. Quite a few photographers and birders were thrilled to view these magnificent birds at close range on the edge of forest and a ranch close to town. I was fortunate to photograph the owls with Tom Mangelsen, a legend of nature and conservation photography and heck of a nice guy. Great grays are often called “ghosts of the forest” for their ability to blend into the landscape – in spite of their size. They are noble, stealthy hunters with an appetite for small mammals, mostly at the ends of the day. Continue reading “Ghost Of The Forest”→