Tag Archive | wildlife photography

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Storm Running

Day 4, Thursday, July 27, 2017

This morning we got up, had breakfast, and piled in the van about 10 am.

Our first destination was the Hayden Valley, where it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t much wildlife to be spotted.  The kids wanted to see bison and there were very few!  We did stop for a bit to check out some distant wolves from Mollie’s Pack, who were hanging out in the same area where they were the previous summer, when I visited with my mom.  They were beautiful!

A wolf from Mollie’s Pack (Susanna’s Photo)

We stopped at Dragon’s Mouth Spring and the Mud Volcano, and did a short boardwalk walk to look at the thermal features.  The kids, as expected, were not impressed by the stinky, sulfur smelling thermals.  I have to admit, of all the geysers, mud-pots and other thermal features, these aren’t the most exciting.  But who could miss something called a Mud Volcano, or Dragon’s Mouth Spring?

Dragon’s Mouth Spring


The Mud Volcano – Yep, it’s muddy

We headed next to the Visitor’s Center at Fishing Bridge, and I got my passport stamps – and we found out there was a Ranger Talk later for the kids on river otters.  Next up Pelican Valley and a short hike – where it promptly starting pouring rain – with thunder and lightning!  Lightning in these areas makes me nervous, but the kids were whining because it was pouring and my brother made us all stop so we could “enjoy the experience.”  Sorry bro, I gotta say, I am with the kids on this one!  I was glad when we got back to the car after our one mile hike – we were soaked!



We had originally packed a picnic lunch, but we ended up eating in the van because of the rain.  You win some, you lose some!

We tried to find another hike called Storm Point (ironic given the day), at Indian Pond, but we weren’t successful, and there was more thunder and lightning so we decided to scrap that idea and try to get out of the immediate path of the storm.  We headed out towards the East Entrance and found our first close up bison.  The kids loved it, so we all piled out of the car to take a look.

Our first look at a bison up close!

We also checked out a viewpoint that gave a fantastic view of Lake Yellowstone, as well as the damage caused by the the fires several years ago.  Of course, as we were up there, we heard the thunder start to roll in.  The weather changes so quickly!  Seemed like a good time to get off the mountain – so we headed down to lower elevations.

The view of Yellowstone Lake

Next up we found the LeHardy Rapids.  My mom and I had wanted to see it on our trip the year before, but it had been closed because there was a grizzly hanging out there!  The rapids are seen from a gentle walk along the Yellowstone River, with boardwalks in many places.  A man showed us where Cutthroat Trout hide in the calmer waters along the side of the river.  They jump the rapids to get to their spawning sites.

Lake Trout were introduced to Lake Yellowstone, likely in the 1980s, and are decimating the Cutthroat Trout population.  Lake Trout are bigger, swim deeper, and eat Cutthroat Trout.  Unfortunately, animals like otters and osprey don’t prey on Lake Trout much because they are too deep in the water. It was a nice walk and the kids enjoyed looking for the fish.


We went back to the Fishing Bridge Visitor’s Center to see the Ranger Talk on river otters.  River otters weigh between 10 and 30 pounds, and eat primarily fish, but also young beavers and frogs.  They have about 50 layers of fur to keep them insulated!  They steal dens from beavers, and can hear fish in the water when they are on shore.  What fantastically adapted animals!

There was another thunderstorm with hail when we were driving back to camp, so we went to the Canyon Visitor’s Center to wait it out.  I watched the movie they have there and we learned a lot about the park.

We got a few groceries and went back to camp when the sun came back out – what a crazy day for weather!  Dinner was a noodle box, with sausages, cucumber slices and canned corn.  Not fancy but still delicious!

That evening, after dinner, several of us headed over to the Visitor’s Center nearby for a Ranger Talk with Ranger Cass Hennings on the history of Yellowstone, called “What’s in a Name?”  She engaged us with tales of the first explorers, and how the various places in Yellowstone got their names.  Places like Dunraven Pass, Sheepeater Cliff and even how the Yellowstone River came to be named Yellowstone! She told us the story of Truman Everts, who got lost for 37 days during an 1870 expedition, getting frostbite, scalding himself with hot thermal water and setting his hair of fire and starting a small forest fire.  Oops…  Ranger Hennings also shared information on the Native Americans and how they used the park too.  It was really interesting!  They normally do the evening Ranger talks outside in the amphitheater, but it was really cold and threatening to rain and thunderstorm – again!

After the talk, we head back to our pitch black campsite and headed to bed – it was very cold, but finally clear!

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site



Hood Canal 2017: Waterfalls

Day 2, Sunday, July 2, 2017

On the second day of the trip, Brent, Joel and I went out on a tour looking for waterfalls.  We stopped for lunch at the Geoduck Restaurant and Lounge.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a geoduck is a large, Pacific coast burrowing clam.  And it is pronounced gooey-duck – the word origin is Native American – specifically from the Nisqually tribe.  Anyway, we had sandwiches (I don’t even think there were geoducks on the menu); I had the French Dip, which was reasonably priced and had good French Fries.  The food was decent bar food, but the view is the reason to visit…

If you sit outside on the deck, you have a superb view of the tidal flats and the Hood Canal, where herds of elk come to graze, and Bald Eagles fly overhead.  We were treated to about 20 cow elk and their babies, who were quite content just hanging out eating the tall grass until the bikers with their loud mufflers arrived.  I’m glad I took my photos as soon as I saw them…


Elk grazing


Elk and birds along the canal


After lunch, we drove up a little road, pointed out by the woman in the tourism office, and found the trail head for Rocky Brook Falls.  Trail head is a bit of a misnomer, since the falls are basically right off the road – the walk is only about 700 feet!  Yet, it is tucked away and not visible from the road.  It is a large waterfall, with a height of 229 feet!  It is beautiful and kind of falls in a fan shape.  Due to the ease of getting there, Rocky Brook is a crowded waterfall, but it is nice to sit watching it for a bit and listening to the crashing water.  There were lots of families swimming there too – it would be fun to go back with swimsuits sometime!


Rocky Brook Falls

After Rocky Brook, we went to find a trail head with another waterfall within the boundaries of Olympic National Park – Murhut Falls.  It is located down a dirt road several miles long; but other than being dusty, it is a pretty decent dirt road!  The falls are decently signed, but you will likely know you are there because there will be a lot of cars…  We had to park up the road a bit in order to find a space.

Under the Weather…

I got home after being out of town for three days at a work meeting.  Unfortunately, I am not feeling well…  So, please enjoy this simple photo of jellyfish from the Georgia Aquarium until I’m feeling on the mend.

At least it’s the weekend; because I might be in bed for a while…

Atlanta Aquarium Jellyfish

West 2016: Badlands NP Wildlife

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Do you have any idea how long I have been trying to get a decent photo of Bighorn Sheep?  I was thwarted in Colorado at Colorado National Monument, got the faintest glimpse of them at dusk on the drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park, got blurry pics of them at Pikes Peak, and then missed them again at Joshua Tree

But Badlands National Park did not disappoint!  We saw Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep for the first time that day at the Burns Basin Overlook.  There were three of them.  Two were resting on the rocks, and one was walking unhurriedly.  My mom didn’t get out of the car at first, so I had to go back and drag her out to make sure she got to see them too.  Of course, I did make sure to get some photos first.  I was so excited!

Bighorn Sheep at Burns Basin Overlook

I spotted some pretty little songbirds, but couldn’t really tell what kind they were because they were silhouetted against the blue sky.

They might be Mountain Bluebirds, but I couldn’t tell for sure…

We decided to drive down the Sage Creek Rim Road, a gravel road that is supposed to be where the bison and the bighorn sheep often hang out.  There is also a prairie dog town a few miles down the road.  We didn’t see any bison that day, but we were not disappointed because we had already done some fabulous spotting at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Yellowstone National Park was still coming up later in the trip!  Soon we happened upon a huge herd of animals grazing in the field in the distance.  At first glance, we both thought they were deer, but after watching them for a few minutes, I figured out that they were bighorn sheep!  We took some photos and continued on, because they were pretty far away.

Soon we came upon a bunch of sheep hanging out right by the road, and often, in the road!  There were a lot of babies too!  I had so much fun just watching them and taking photos.  They were stunning and so close!  They weren’t bothered by us at all.

Baby Bighorn Sheep!

Not even this guy, who was too lazy to even stand up all the way to re-position himself for better grass!

This guy… I have no words…

It was tough to pull away from the bighorns, but we headed the rest of the way to the prairie dog town.  These prairie dogs didn’t want to pose as nicely for us though…  I did get a nice shot of a Western Meadowlark though!

Prairie Dog! He was on a mission…


Western Meadowlark at Badlands

We did so much wildlife spotting that it was starting to get late, and we wanted to grab some dinner.  We returned the way we came, stopping for some more photos of the bighorn sheep, before heading out of the park.  Just outside, we found a lone pronghorn posing beautifully, so I got some photos of him too!


Is this not the cutest trio of butts ever!


A stately Pronghorn, just outside of the park

It was a great day for wildlife!


Colorado 2015: RMNP – Holzwarth Historic Site

In my last point – I shared our experience driving the Trail Ridge Road up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center. Now, we hustled back down the hill from our hike above the Visitor’s Center to some big, fat raindrops, but fortunately the skies didn’t really open up. Back in the car, we made our way down from the higher elevations, passing by the Continental Divide (we didn’t stop because we couldn’t find a parking space at the viewpoint).

We did stop at the Holzwarth Historic Site. It marks the site of a homestead and later tourist holiday and dude ranch located in the Kawuneechee Valley along the Colorado River.

Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzwarth Historic Site

It was operated by John and Sophie Holzwarth, who came to the area in 1917 after prohibition was a major setback for John – he was a saloonkeeper. The family decided to try their hand at subsistence ranching. The ranch never really took off, but in the 1920s, the ranch opened to tourists, who could stay there for $2 per day or $11 per week. For that price, you received 2 meals per day – Sophie Holzwarth was said to be an amazing cook – and lodging in a rustic cabin.

We walked about ½ mile through an open field to the site, crossing a Colorado River that is still more of a mountain stream so close to its headwaters. The clouds above were continuing to look ominous, and we felt more of those big, fat raindrops. We arrived at the site just in time to beat the rain and catch a tour of the main cabin, called Mama House.

The Living Room of Mama House, at the Holzwarth Historic Site

The Living Room of Mama House, at the Holzwarth Historic Site

Inside Mama House, the walls were covered in deer heads! And deer hoof decorations. John Holzwarth dabbled in taxidermy (he was actually really good at it) because people who stayed at the ranch often went hunting and wanted their trophies mounted. Mr. Holzwarth was kind enough, or foolish enough, to not require clients to prepay for their taxidermy, which of course led to a lot of people not coming back to pick up their dead things! So, he displayed them in his own home!  Yuck…

Deer Heads at Mama House

Deer Heads at Mama House

John and Sophie also distilled their own liquor in a homemade still – a big draw for their guests.  Apparently they were busted once during Prohibition, but the feds really had bigger fish to fry, so they were mostly left alone.  At the end of the tour, the kids had an opportunity to try on a bearskin coat (like in Legends of the Fall!). I couldn’t resist – after the kids cleared out I tried on the bearskin coat myself – it was really heavy and really warm!

Me, wearing a Bear Coat

Me, wearing a Bear Coat

We also checked out several of the other buildings onsite, there were several small cabins for the people staying at the ranch, the icehouse, and the taxidermy shop. They were all pretty cool.

One of the small cabins at the Holzwarth Historic Site

One of the small cabins at the Holzwarth Historic Site

The rain was really coming down at that point, and I was standing outside a cabin, under the eave, wondering if the rain would stop and chatting with the Ranger. He explained that if lightning and thunder began, we could get a ride back to the parking lot. Three people have been killed by lightning this year in Rocky Mountain National Park, so they aren’t messing around. If there is lightning in the area, they don’t want you walking through a field being the tallest thing out there, because then you are a target!

A few minutes later, we got to ride in an official National Park Service vehicle, and I didn’t even have to get myself arrested!

Our next stop was impromptu – we saw cars parked along the highway and knew something was up. What we didn’t know was that the something was two moose! I saw moose! They were just off the side of the road, so we got a great view of them – it was awesome! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but it was so cool to see moose in the wild! The moose were just relaxing quietly near the river, one was lying down and the other was standing. I think the one lying down was a yearling, still hanging out with its mother.

One Moose

One Moose

Two Moose!

Two Moose!

After a short time watching the moose, we got back in the car to get on our way, just as the rain was catching up with us again… This time we were in for a long evening drive to our destination for the night – Grand Junction, Colorado. We arrived after dark, after a long drive through road construction, alongside beautiful rivers, and past turnoffs for resort towns like Vail, and I saw another marmot in the middle of the median of the freeway – very much alive!

What a day!

Total driving distance on Day 2: 258 miles – Estes Park – Rocky Mountain National Park – Grand Junction
Hotel for the night: Econo-Lodge, Grand Junction – clean and bright with large rooms!

A Visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Imagine for a moment, a farm on a floodplain.  Not a foreign concept, as many farms are located where the land is most fertile.  The Brown Farm was no different.  After establishing the 2300 acre farm on the Nisqually flood plain in the early 1900s, the Browns did what was all too popular at the time; they built a dike.

The Brown Farm Dike got rid of that pesky problem of tidal surge and seasonal flooding, but the consequence was loss of critical salt marsh habitat for fish, birds and marine mammals like harbor seals.  Over 700 acres of estuary were eliminated, and the saltwater remained cut off from the freshwater for over 100 years.

The Browns grew crops, raised dairy cows, poultry and hogs, and prided themselves on a farm that was completely self-sustaining.  For a period of time the farm was successful enough to even have its own box factory onsite.  Unfortunately for the Browns, World War I took its toll on their fortune and Alson Brown was forced to sell the farm to pay his creditors.

The farm then changed hands a couple of times before it was sold to the federal government to create the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in 1974.  It wasn’t until 2009 that over four miles of dikes were removed to restore a significant portion of the estuary.

The huge, twin barns of the Brown Farm remain, a visible reminder of the land’s history.  There is a peaceful grassy area there and a few picnic tables for visitors.

The barns speak to the refuge’s farming history

The barns speak to the refuge’s farming history

My mother and I visited in mid-July on our way home from an antique show.  Admittedly, it was a terrible time to visit, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the day, on a day when the temperatures were above 90 degrees.  Temperatures that high are rare in Washington, so most of the birds that would normally be there mid-summer were staying hidden in the shade.

Although there wasn’t a lot of action, we did enjoy a walk on the estuary boardwalk, and we found several frogs in the freshwater marsh that were willing to pose for pictures.

The perfect camouflage!

The perfect camouflage!

We also watched a mother duck with her older ducklings foraging for some good eats in the marsh.  They weren’t bothered by the attention.  Plenty of songbirds flitted about, but they were notoriously difficult to capture on camera.

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

The vegetation is so thick that it coats their feathers!

We did find a happy colony of wasps making their home within the boardwalk railing, but they weren’t aggressive or flying too near to us.  I took a few pictures, but didn’t want to stick around for too long.

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

Even wasps make their home on the Refuge

I am hoping to return to Nisqually NWR soon; fall is the best time to see migrating waterfowl, and there are several species of birds of prey there in the winter.  Jon and I actually planned a weekend visit in November, but canceled when the forecast called for super-heavy rain.  I hope there is dry weather for Jon’s next weekend off!

Long Weeks Equal Raccoons!

It is shaping up to be a long week.  I’m hoping to be back to some posts on our Southwest vacation or wine soon, but until then, I still have more adorable baby raccoon photos to share.  Jon says that everybody is going to worry that I’m becoming the crazy raccoon lady, but I just can’t resist the cuteness.  And don’t worry, I don’t feed them, pet them, dress them up in little outfits or invite them into the house.  I just take photos when they are hanging out in the yard.

Happy Wednesday!

Double the Cuteness in one Photo!

Double the Cuteness in one Photo!