OK, a few posts ago, I shared with you some images and stories about the wildlife opportunities that we encountered this winter in the Tetons. I now want to re-visit those memories and add one more MAJOR chapter to that book.
So as many times as I’ve visited the Tetons, or other similar wilderness places for that matter, there’s always been a few things that I had never had the opportunity to photograph. No, I’m not talking about the bears (which I obviously wouldn’t easily find in the midst of winter) … or even the wolves (which I have seen from afar, but I’ve photographed other places) … or even a bobcat/lynx (which I’ve also photographed in other fabulous parks). What would be considered to be the “holy grail” to a wildlife photographer? OK, perhaps the wolverine … but I didn’t see that! Next to that, I’ve always wanted to see a mountain lion, right?
Well, on this trip, my dream came true … for we witnessed a MOUNTAIN LION sighting! It was not a close one, by any stretch, but it was nonetheless a sighting! Though it was about 600 yards away, we could actually see it through the 500mm lens + cropped sensor + major cropping on the image. This huge male had been sighted on an elk kill and had seemingly taken up residence under the tree where it was cached.
We planted ourselves in a position to be able to observe the cat as it maneuvered itself in different locations, but never far from the guarded carcass. It was definitely one of the coolest things that I had ever witnessed in nature. To think that this sighting was so far away and yet so viewable blew my mind! It was not known whether the lion had actually taken down the elk or simply stumbled across it, but this was so incredible that to me, it didn’t even matter. I really didn’t even think that it could get any better than this, right? I mean, the onlookers included wildlife biologists that were clearly moved by what they were even witnessing.On our second day of observing the cat, we noticed that it appeared to be walking away from the kill. We all thought that perhaps the “fun” was over … at least for a bit. As it was retreating into the landscape, Tom noticed that it was back on the kill. What? How could that be?The cat appeared to be aggressively tearing apart the carcass as if it hadn’t been exposed to it previously. That’s when onlookers started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. It was actually a 2nd MOUNTAIN LION … a female this time.It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my TONS of images (no joke … but who could blame me?) that I found a series of frames showing the female arriving to the scene and the male relinquishing the kill to her!She was quite beautiful too and she would pause momentarily during consuming the carcass and would look around her. By now, I was pinching myself to be sure that this was really happening and that I wasn’t just having a fantastic dream. It hurt, so I wasn’t dreaming and I was thrilled beyond belief. By now, I might add, almost everyone in attendance was either crying (inside or out) or on the verge of crying … it was just way too special. In the words of some of the biologists on hand, it was something that they had only read about or seen on film … never witnessed firsthand.In careful observation, through going frame by frame through my images, I noticed also the precise moment that the male actually returned to the scene. It was apparent that the lioness had noticed him as well. If you’re having a hard time seeing them in the image … let me help. She’s actually under the tree at the carcass and he placed himself in the trees in the upper right hand corner. Hope that helps.One last fine tooth comb look through the frames and I spotted this … both of them retreating into the wilderness separately, yet obviously together. Again, look towards the bottom third of the frame … her about 1/3 from the left side (harder to see) and him towards the right of the frame. Do you see it?Yes, it was an UNREAL day for this wildlife photographer! A once in a million (or even more) opportunity. Though I’m quite aware that these images are far from “wall hangers”, they hold the most prominent space in my heart and in my mind. Sometimes, it’s not just about the image gained on paper … but rather the one etched in your soul. Remember: It’s a journey in the experience … not just a one-time image. Yep, it was one of those experiences that no one can take away. Not just seeing a mountain lion, but 2 … not just seeing it walk about, but witnessing it on a kill, sharing the kill with a female … and then leaving the scene together. I do believe that we were witnessing some MOUNTAIN LION romance as well. I truly do. I went home feeling so unbelievably blessed to have been so fortunate. ❤
Thanks so much to Tom, and our good friends Jen and Travis, for sharing this encounter with us … and of course to all of the others who were present as well and shared your scopes and behavioral knowledge with us. We are truly bonded forever by this mind-blowing experience. 🙂
Before I forget, I wanted to share one lesson that I learned by this encounter … ALWAYS keep shooting … for I would have missed so much of the sequence of events, which aided in telling the story … or at least confirming it. 🙂
Next Up: Can you say “Baaa”?
© 2018 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography