2016 Review… The “Far”

As with most years, many photographic opportunities presented themselves, not just in my home state of Florida, but the west was well represented in 2016.  Like the previous year end review post, I will focus primarily on the “new”.

Of course, there are a few images that never grow old, such as the frosty face of a bison fighting for survival in the harsh winters of the west.

_DSC6231-2Though I tend to forget sometimes the landscapes that lay before me, I tried to focus on them a bit in 2016._DSC4055There’s something magical about the iconic image of a beautiful red fox making its way across the snowy landscape …_DSC5569… though unique fox sightings such as this are quite beautiful and intriguing as well.  Never have I seen a setting like this one before._DSC5495It’s always fun to find a couple of coyotes in the snow as well, but it’s not everyday that you see this.  I know that to the casual viewer this looks like 2 coyotes standing there looking at us, which I suppose it was, but what makes this one so special is that they weren’t standing there being cooperative subjects by chance … they were tied after mating.  Once again, I’ve never seen anything like that before … and believe it or not, it was captured on Valentine’s Day.  🙂_DSC6495Another lifer for me was the elusive saw whet owl.  It had long been a dream of mine and I felt like I was floating on a cloud of joy when I got this one._DSC6977Sporting some nice red earrings and a necklace (i.e. tag and collar), my first mountain goats in the snow images were thrilling and a great bar to capture more natural ones in the future, though I do love the fluffy snow in this one._DSC7104This snowy day made photography a bit difficult, but I like most, still tried.  This group of elk in winter were getting tight as a group of either coyote or wolves were moving in on them. _dsc4122Speaking of wolves, I haven’t gotten a great shot of any wolves, outside of Denali NP in Alaska, before and still haven’t, but this is my first of that black wolf that calls Yellowstone home._DSC9812While I have lots of bison shots, this was the first year that I got out in the spring to capture those “red dogs”, who couldn’t be any cuter._DSC0192_DSC9570-2Predators can come in different forms and species, but the instinct to seek refuge is all the same.  Here I photographed a black bear cub who obediently climbed high (really high) to the top of a tree, while mom spotted a boar in the area.DSC_2910Speaking of things that I’ve NEVER experienced before was this aggressive protective behavior exhibited by this dusky grouse.  Though it played coy allowing images, it clearly felt threatened by some (especially women) and it ended with an entertaining, yet scary, encounter with Mr. Flashy Eyebrows, which incidentally change colors too.  LOL_DSC9981Usual sightings of beavers for me have been swimming around in the ponds, usually in the dusk hours, affording little opportunity for me to capture a great shot.  That changed in 2016 when this cooperative beaver exited the pond and sat, in the midst of flowers, on the bank and groomed itself for quite some time.  I was thrilled.DSC_4173-2Who wouldn’t want to have a lunch date with an incredible golden eagle? … Well, except the one being served as dinner.  I sat in awe as it devoured its dinner on the banks of the river, not far from where I was sitting.DSC_4697-2A first for me too was this ADORABLE little pronghorn antelope, that had to be less than one day old.  Nature is an amazing thing because this baby was so skilled at running and kept up with mom right from the get-go.DSC_2714In Florida, we have red-winged blackbirds, but out west they have these beautiful yellow-headed blackbirds.  Though a different species, their song is equally as distinct and lovely.
DSC_1400A definite goal of mine for 2016 was to get that iconic shot of the red-necked grebes swimming with their babies on their backs.  While I didn’t get that, I did manage to get not only the Western grebes, but an image of them offering the fish as part of their courtship behavior.DSC_1726Cuteness alert!  2015 I may have gotten my very first long-eared owls, but how about this?  It’s a long-eared baby owlet!  My heart melted the instant that our eyes met.DSC_21972016 was spent also on some landscape shooting … here from Steptoe Butte in the iconic Palouse …_DSC0513-HDR… and also from the Colorado National Monument, which overlooks the town of Grand Junction, CO._dsc1370-hdrIn what had to be one of the craziest shoots of 2016, was that very, very early morning at Maroon Bells in Colorado.  It was freezing when we started shooting some astro images in the wee hours, but continued to get colder as the sun began to rise.  That was my first time there … crazy, crazy, crazy the number of photographers congregating there!_dsc1135Fall in Colorado is a special treat.  The clouds, the mountains, the leaves … all jaw-dropping._dsc1577-hdrOf course, the golden leaf dropping aspens are always a favorite of mine, both on the ground …_dsc1160… as well as looking up towards the heavens._dsc7922Courtesy of Hurricane Matthew, which re-routed us from our return home, this bull elk chest deep in the lake was a new one for me too.dsc_8342The mule deer, also sporting their racks, were organizing as well.dsc_8998Yes, our time spent out west in 2016 was fascinating and full of firsts and new behavioral images.  Noticeably absent, in both this blog and in my heart, was Alaska.  It would have been our 10th consecutive year, but it wasn’t to be in 2016.  That only means that something super special must be in store for us there in 2017.  Can’t wait to find out!dsc_1673Thanks so much for our friends who participated in the fun during the year, including Jen & Travis, Amy & Scott, Rebecca, Jay, Phil, and Rick … we really appreciated sharing the good times with you guys.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed the trip down 2016 memory lane.  There’s one more segment to 2016 left though … hmm, what could it be?

Next Up:  Proud as a peacock moments

© 2016 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Yellowstone is a very unique and diverse ecosystem … one where you never know what you’re going to be treated to … and the conditions and weather overall can change in a moments notice.  To me, that’s a large part of the beauty and mystique of Yellowstone NP.

On this particular morning, the fog was heavy and the clouds were low.  Though it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, often things present themselves in a fresh perspective.  This bull elk, already sporting some new antlers covered in soft velvet, was found out in the open grassland.   I couldn’t help but notice how wonderful it looked, with those thick clouds in the background.  I knew at that point that it would be an exciting day._DSC0255Yep, it would be a day of varied wildlife for sure.  It wasn’t long before we spotted this lone black wolf in the distance on the open plains … in stalking mode.  No reinforcement from the pack was seen nearby and a solo sandhill crane effectively alerted all potential prey of its presence.  Needless to say, it gave up for the moment and traveled along its way.  OK, so I have to share an amusing moment with everyone … when we were photographing the wolf, a car pulled up and asked us if we had spotted a … horse!  Not really sure how this looked like a horse … especially with the group of long lens photographers who were setting up … for a horse?!  LOL_DSC9812Yellowstone always has its fair share of bison which I’m always fascinated with.  Not sure if it’s their size, their manner as they move about, or the fact that maybe my mind goes back to the bison heads that used to hang on the walls of “Country Bear Jamboree” show at Disney when I was growing up.  🙂_DSC0110Of course, in the spring, there are always lots of “red dogs” nursing off their moms … just the cutest things to watch until they ram their heads into the moms bellies.  Ouch!_DSC0192Can anyone out there resist this one with its “Milk Mustache”?_DSC0218Pronghorn antelope were also quite prevalent during the spring.  This male was chasing around the female, who was pregnant, relentlessly._DSC7470Quite honestly, I thought it was going to drop that baby right then and there!_DSC7455Red fox are favorites of mine.  We caught this one waking up from napping in the shade.  DSC_3811Of course, deer also are fun to spot and photograph, especially when you’re treated to a “two-fer” … two for one, that is._DSC0146Springtime is confirmed with the presence of bluebirds darting about.  _DSC0158Though it was well into May and the official spring season according to the calendar, but in Yellowstone calendar dates aren’t necessarily what determines the season … and snowfall in spring or even summer can happen at any time.fullsizerender-1Just to add a bit of excitement to our day and drive throughout Yellowstone, as we were traveling this tight section, with dropoffs to the right, we heard a noise and watched as an icy boulder came down the mountainside right in front of our car.  Thankfully Tom was able to stop in time and we got out to investigate.fullsizerender-3At first, we thought that we would simply pick it up and off the road by hand.  No way that was going to work, as this frozen boulder was HEAVY!  So while Jen and I blocked any oncoming road traffic, the guys used Tom’s truck to drag it off the road and harm’s way with a couple of heavy tow straps.  Great job Travis and Tom!fullsizerender-2Good deeds are usually rewarded I believe.  Kind of like karma.  Not more than a mile or two down the road, we spotted a bighorn sheep ram … then realized it was an entire herd of boys._DSC7066At first, I wasn’t sure that they were feeling too comfortable with us being there, so we stayed way back, encouraging them to possibly come out for some shots._DSC7184They did just that … and eventually jumped over the rail, onto the road briefly, then proceeded up the mountainside.  I just love the way that they stare with those big eyes. _DSC7330At some point, we pulled over to find some Barrow’s Goldeneye swimming in the still icy water.  This couple was trying to have a few moments of “alone time”, but another male had other plans._DSC7417Over and over, it would be chased off, only to give it another chance.  LOL.  It would swim directly over to the lovebirds and a scuffle would ensue._DSC7410Defending it’s female mate, the male Barrow’s goldeneye would charge after the intruder.  You could hear the action … calling out, running on the surface of the water, water splashing everywhere … so funny to watch and quite interesting as well._DSC7386Every so often, after a successful defense, the paired male would sit up and perform a well executed flappy series for us.DSC_3954The ground squirrels, always on the menu for many wildlife species in the park, alert each other as to the goings on of prey._DSC7473In this case, it was the badger on the prowl.  I was so excited … after all, it was my first!DSC_3839DSC_3846I had been looking for these guys every time I visit Yellowstone.  Finally!  Thankfully (for us anyways), we never saw it catch anything.  I’ve heard stories of how relentless it can be for young wildlife.DSC_3843So this year, the trip was already known in my mind for the wide variety of wildlife that we saw.  Sure, we hadn’t seen a wolverine yet … but I really wasn’t expecting that.  Though I can dream, right?fullsizerender-4Even a yellow-bellied marmot came out to greet us, as it basked in the warmth of the sun.DSC_4910OK, one last glimpse of these young great horned owls before we retreat back to our B&B for the evening … ready to do it all again in the early morning.DSC_4915Can’t every get enough of Yellowstone NP, that’s for sure!_DSC0316Next Up:  What species of wildlife scares me most?  At least on this trip … :-O  Tune in to find out.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

 

Nothing Like Springtime In Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park, is mainly situated in Wyoming, but also extends minimally into Montana and Idaho.  While I’ve visited Yellowstone many times in the winter, summer, or fall … I had never been there during the spring season.  Earlier this year, with the company of our good friends Jen and Travis, we decided to do just that.  I have always said that I feel Yellowstone is one of the most diverse of the national parks of the US.  I’ve often referred to it as the “Disneyland” of parks … with lakes, canyons, thermal grounds, hot springs, geysers, valleys, and of course, many species of wildlife.

In the spring, there are less crowds, milder temperatures, emerging grasslands, and wildlife, including the US National Mammal … the American Bison._DSC9334-2

During my winter visit to Yellowstone, I had almost no chance of finding a bear, for they were hibernating in their dens at that time.  So, being the bear fanatic that I am, they were high on my list to find and photograph.  It wasn’t long before we found them too.  However, these were mostly black bears for us on this trip.  This big one seemed to be enjoying its lunch of greens.  🙂DSC_2556Whether black bears or brown bears, the sighting and photograph is always so much more special when eye contact is made.DSC_2534Visiting in the springtime does have its unique advantages including getting to see the spring babies.  Believe it or not, but this was the first time that I had photographed the young “red dogs”.  They were just too cute!DSC_2671They would take advantage every time that they could find their mama standing still to nurse on them, all the while keeping its eye on us.  Have you ever seen a baby bison nurse?  Well, it may look all peaceful in this image, but it’s quite an ordeal.  The newbie nursing peacefully for a short time, then rams its head into its moms underside in order for the milk to come out better.  Tom would give a few sympathy pain expressions for the mom every time that the young ones punched.  LOLDSC_2618-2They call them red dogs due to the coloration they possess when they’re newborn.  Clearly not the traditional bison color._DSC9510-2It was adorable how closely they stayed to moms side most of the time.  The protection of the herd is critical for their survival._DSC9532-2Once in a while they would meet up with another young one in the herd and appear to greet each other … often followed up with some running around together and a few head wrestling moments._DSC9570-2When there are bison around, there are almost always some birds hitchhiking a ride or using their backs as a landing strip.  LOL.  Never did it seem to even phase the bison._DSC9601-2Though bison are the most abundant large mammal in the park, there are also many more species, including the pronghorn antelope.DSC_2588-2I don’t think that I need to tell you how much we squealed with delight when we spotted our first baby pronghorn of the day, which coincidentally, was our first and only.  It was a bit too early for the babies and we were so ecstatic that this momma had hers a bit earlier.  It was by far just the cutest thing ever … such a sweet adorable face, wobbly legs, and it could race around impressingly fast.DSC_2714The bighorn sheep ewes were also spotted on our first day.  OK, so they weren’t the most photogenic subjects I’ve ever shot, with their scruffy spring coat, but hey, we found them grazing on the hillside and they were posing, so why not?  DSC_2695-2OK, so back to some more black bears … this momma sow was spotted near the base of a tree, not far from us.  We wondered what was going on because she seemed so alert to her surroundings.DSC_2794Then we spotted her cub … way up at the top of a very tall tree.  I wish I took an image to show just how high up it was.  To me, it looked like one of those “witches broom” deformities in the tree, but alas, it was this adorable cub.DSC_2910The story went that there was a boar (or two) cruising around the area where the sow and her cub were grazing, so she sent her cub up.  At one point, we could see the boar in two different places, but couldn’t be sure if it was the same one.  I couldn’t believe the patience of the sow and cub and how skilled it was to remain there safely.  That’s about when it climbed up to literally the tip top….DSC_2968We readied our gear, knowing that it went up of course to come down.  Nope, that cub curled itself over the point of the tree top and remained for quite some more time.  This was all during some rainfall and windy conditions.  I was nervous for the little one, yet couldn’t look away.  After mom gave it the “all’s clear” call, it began its descent.DSC_2995It skillfully hung on to the tree circumference as it went down … slow and steady.DSC_3065Along the way, it would savor some insects for some extra nourishment, maybe even lick a few raindrops perhaps.DSC_3071Every so often a break was taken on a convenient branch.  The sow below was getting quite impatient and as it got within her “standing on her hind legs” grapse, she tugged on it and made the arrival on the ground and by her side a quicker one.  Such an adorable experience to witness.  Those bears have amazing instincts for survival.  A boar in the area would most likely try to mate with her and kill the cub in the process.  They were both safe and it was a great morning for sure.DSC_3084When we were visiting Yellowstone earlier this winter, we had so many coyote sightings (including one with them mating).  I was quite surprised that we didn’t see as many on this spring visit.  We did however have one at a very close range that was rolling around … and around … and around paying absolutely no attention to us as we photographed.
_DSC9436-2As I said, this coyote knew that we were there, but was preoccupied in what it was doing.  When it left the area, we walked over to figure out what it was rolling in and saw nothing.  Must have been simply marking its territory.  Such a cool experience._DSC9403Remember, I’m no expert birder, so when I saw this guy, I took images and asked for identification later.  We knew that it was a woodpecker by its behavior of incessant pecking, but didn’t know the species.  It turned out to be, as many of you might already know, the American Three-Toed Woodpecker.  They lack the inner hind toe on each foot and breed further north than any other American woodpecker.  How fun to see._DSC9606-2While photographing the woodpecker who visited with us, we stumbled upon another visitor.  A gorgeous bull elk arrived and grazed on the hillside right next to us.  He already started growing its antlers, which were all covered in velvet.  He still was in the process of shedding his winter coat as well, so he looked a bit scruffy too._DSC9697-2_DSC9668-2Just before we exited the park on that day, we came across our first elk babies of the trip.  they were a bit higher than us on the hillside, so a great shot would have to wait for another day, but it was adorable to see them kiss nose to nose in a tender moment.  Got to love those spots too.  🙂DSC_3446

So our trip to Yellowstone NP in the spring was off to a great start.  Before I end this post, I wanted to share with everyone what I didn’t expect in May in Yellowstone … the weather that we were treated to.  We had weather that wasn’t that much different than our winter visit … rain, hail, sleet, clouds, and snow!  Hayden Valley couldn’t be accessed on several days because Dunraven Pass was closed due to snow and icy conditions.  (Note:  Please pardon these through the windshield images, but I wanted to share the wather shots)IMG_1085Of course, all we had to do was turn a corner and we had sunshine and blue skies as well.  Got to love the variety of weather conditions that we had.  🙂IMG_1086

Next up:  More from Yellowstone NP

© 2016  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Silence & Beauty of A Yellowstone Winter

As I mentioned in the last blog post, sometimes the heat comes early to south Florida, and I have to get away to cool down.  Tom always goes out west with his buddies on an annual snowboard trip in January, so what better time to meet up with him on a side trip to Yellowstone NP.

From the first time, 2 years ago, when I visited Yellowstone NP in the dead of winter, I knew how incredibly special it was … the silence, the cold, the lack of visitors, the winter wildlife … all make for an experience that you won’t soon forget.  There’s something so beautiful about encountering the wildlife in the snow, such as this healthy coyote, with its thick winter coat._DSC6085Some areas of the park in early February were already starting to have sporadic snow cover, which allowed the bighorn sheep to be able to dig in the sparse snow cover and find lichens and new shoots of grasses to feed upon._DSC5227_DSC5304The rams seemed to be out in force too this year._DSC5719I’ve always been fascinated by bighorn sheep, especially their eyes, which are so hypnotic to me.  They are often locked on us, while they graze or simply chew on the hillside._DSC5324When photographing wildlife out in the wilderness, sometimes patience is required.  For this particular image, I remained in place and tried to stay calm and relaxed, hoping for him to climb higher to the crest of the hill, so that I could get that amazing blue sky as the backdrop to show him off.  Yes, patience can sometimes be rewarded.  🙂_DSC5154Bighorn sheep have horns, which I like to refer to as curls, which they keep lifelong.  Consequently, those horns carry the story of the life that the sheep has lived, including all of its battles.  I often stare at them and wish that I could be privy to the animals life history._DSC5344This year, we found a lot of fox roaming around.  Most were hunting near the roads or off on the trails, mousing in the deep snow, or resting along a log.  However, this red fox was spotted in the crack of high rocky landscape … an unusual sighting for us for sure.  _DSC5454Reportedly it was hanging out in the area for a bit, then disappeared for a few days after a coyote was found hunting nearby.  We were sure happy to see that it returned just in time for us to observe and photograph it._DSC5473It would give us so many expressions and poses, but one thing is for sure … it sure was quite comfy way up there._DSC5495The eyes of the red fox are also quite beautiful and I get so excited when our eyes meet as they travel past us.    _DSC5569On one of our days, we were having a wonderful sunny early morning … until it turned cloudy, windy, and cold … until it turned into blizzard-like conditions.  It was like someone would open and close the “wind tunnel door”.  It made me appreciate what these animals have to endure during the winter months and how difficult their survival was._DSC5721Massive in size, but slow in movement (unless perturbed) is the bison.  They were seemingly everywhere along the valley road and would often be spotted walking the road … otherwise known as the “path of least resistance”.  Otherwise, they could be spotted off in the distance in search of food and running water._DSC6152An image that I really wanted to capture this winter was that of the bison, with its face covered in the snow, so incredibly iconic of Yellowstone in the midst of winter.  I was amazed at how the snow would cake up on their fur … though it was caked up on the photographers who were braving the snow and blowing wind as well._DSC6188Bison are actually quite smart in that in their search for food, they swing their heads from side to side as they made their way through the snow, making a clearing for them to try to find some food to eat._DSC6208When they would lift their heads, that iced-over face image is the result.  I think that I accomplished my goal of the snowy faced bison.  🙂_DSC6231-2As we were leaving, a coyote appeared and seemed to be inquisitive as to why we were leaving so soon.  Don’t worry there Mr. Coyote … we’ll be back for several more days._DSC5391In the winter, the sunset comes early … and spectacularly.  The perfect ending to a perfect few days so far in the north end of Yellowstone NP in the winter … I think my favorite season.  With all of the “eye candy” I saw today, I know that I’ll have sweet dreams tonight._DSC4030Next Up:  More images and stories from Yellowstone NP … but from the West Yellowstone entrance.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Sights & Sounds of Yellowstone NP

One can’t visit Yellowstone NP and get an appreciation of what it has to offer in just one day … not even in the winter when most of the roads are inaccessible.  Even though we were a bit short on time, we spent 3 full days there.

Now wildlife abounds in Yellowstone and one of the more famous resident species is the elk.  Many sightings of elk were encountered, both the females and the males.  Of course, at this point, they had all dropped their antlers, but still had most of their nice winter coats.

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You had to be careful of them too, as they sometimes crossed the roads with very little warning.  Of course, when there’s one, there’s usually more, so the key is to proceed with caution.

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Entering the park via the Gardiner entrance, the first area of Yellowstone that you come across is the fascinating Mammoth Hot Springs area – the first of many thermal grounds within Yellowstone.

20150312-DSC_6091Viewing the thermal features of the park, it’s easy to forget it’s not all hot springs and geysers and that this was still winter.  Icicle formations hanging over the rivers were equally impressive this time of year.  Snap back into reality.

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Proving that yesterday’s bighorn sheep encounter wasn’t just a fluke, we ran into them again… over and over.  🙂

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I’m always fascinated with wildlife when I get to photograph them from their viewpoint, like in this image below.  What an amazing place that they currently call their home.  I couldn’t help but wonder what this big guy was thinking too.

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OK, you know how your pets love to bask in the sunshine?  Well, these sheep are obviously no different.  LOL

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Another first for us, though admittedly not an great shot, was not just one, but two juvenile moose – hanging out together in the vast expanse of Lamar Valley.

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One of the most difficult wildlife encounters I’ve ever dealt with was the story of a bison who had unfortunately fallen through the ice into a pond not far from the road.  We watched it struggling in a life or death fashion to try to free itself by climbing out of the partially frozen pond.  We could hear it gasping for breathe with each attempt … so did the predators out there as well.

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This curious coyote arrived on scene to check it out.  At one point it sat down, waiting for an easy meal, but soon must have sensed the time wasn’t right yet and retreated.

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I photographed that poor bison for hours, praying beyond hope that it would emerge victorious.  Tom sensed my sadness and though he was stronger, I’m sure he felt sad as well.  He didn’t want to go back the next morning (poor guy didn’t want to deal with me upset yet another day), but I had to have closure.  Again I prayed that it would be successfully freed.  Worst yet, I feared that it might be still struggling.  Sadly, it had perished during the night and a coyote was doing its best to begin to feast upon it.  Such is nature’s way and the circle of life.  It’s a tough life out there for wildlife … for that matter for all of us.  It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever witnessed and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

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After that, I look at the bison differently … I know that sounds weird, but I do.

We encountered some younger bison learning how to jostle each other.  It’s all fun and games now, but one day it will be more about that status and superiority.

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These bison learn from a young age how to alleviate the many insect pests that congregate near their faces and in their fur.  A swift roll about on the dusty landscape is just what this bison’s doctor ordered.  LOL

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We did see wolf, but the sightings were mostly from afar.  The howling of the wolves was prevalent quite often and two of the packs intermingled at one point and were a cause for concern amongst the wolf-watchers.

Coyote sightings, a lone coyote each time, were pretty common as well and always entertaining as they scrounged around looking for a quick and easy meal.

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We were very fortunate that our days in the park, though a bit chilly, were quite sunny and beautiful.  The eastern entrance of the park, towards Cooke City was quite snowy also, so it did intermittently remind you that it was winter.

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Our last wildlife sighting while in Yellowstone was on our last evening.  To our surprise, a bull elk was grazing all by itself under the canopy of the trees.  Even more surprising was that it still had its antlers … and a fine rack at that.   Go figure.  With that sun setting and that gorgeous golden light being cast upon the landscape as it did, it was the perfect way to end our day … as well as our winter Yellowstone NP trip.

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Well, until next visit to Yellowstone we said our goodbyes.  Who knows what the next visit will bring ???  Now, off for some snowboarding and skiing!

Next up:  Antelope Island State Park

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

The Lucky Getaway Weekend

Sometimes it’s nice to get away … to see something or do something different … and that’s how this weekend started.  We decided to venture up to northern Florida and meet up with my daughter and son-in-law.  Of course, I did my research before I left and knew that the sandhill cranes were migrating through in numbers and hoped that they would be keeping company with another less frequent, but much loved, visitor.

So off I went in search of the sandhill cranes and sure enough … there he was … Whooping crane #9-13.  At this time, he was a 21-month old male on migration from WI.  Whooping cranes, Grus Americana, are an icon for endangered species everywhere and one of only 2 cranes that call North America home.  As recently as the1940s, there were only ~15 in existence!  Their decline in numbers were a result of habitat loss and over-hunting.  In 1967, they were placed on the Endangered Species list and through the work of many, including Operation Migration, they are making progress!

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This guy made his 2nd trip down to Florida and was hanging out amongst his cousin sandhill cranes in Alachua County.

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Their diet consists of plants, seeds, grains, small fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.

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Operation Migration assists in the migratory process of the cranes first migration and the banding of them with transmitters to track their whereabouts.  Each crane adorns its own branding of “jewelry” which provide that identification.

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Probably my favorite image I got while visiting up there was this one.  Reminds me of “hanging out with the gang at the water cooler”.  🙂

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It’s quite remarkable how well they get along with the sandhill cranes.

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Most times that I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph whooping cranes, they have been from an incredibly far distance, with the Florida heat radiating in waves from the hot earth.  This sighting was different … so close I could have a conversation with it  (who knows … maybe I did … LOL).

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Whooping cranes are the largest birds in North America and quite a bit bigger than their sandhill crane cousins.  They stand about 5′ tall, with a wingspan of greater than 7′, while the sandhills stand about 4′ tall.

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This was my buddy who I met while photographing the cranes.  He/she carried on quite a conversation of their own with me.  ~ MOOOOOO ~

After doing some chores up in the area, we set off for another favorite location of mine … Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just outside of Gainesville.  Usually we head out, walk the trails, see many species of birds, some snakes, lots of alligators, and maybe get a peek at distant horses or a bison or two.

On this day though, out of seemingly nowhere, we encountered a lone bison who was determined to share the trail with us.  🙂

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Being how it was too late to back out, we decided to respectfully stay put and let him show us which direction he wanted to venture in.  Of course, I was at that point thankful that I was carrying the landscape lens, as this was no situation for a long lens.  In the image below, if Tom were to have tried to retreat, he would have gone into the alligator-infested waters (oh my!).  LOL.

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After being quite indecisive about where the bison wanted to go, it finally decided that it would pass us, but not before we alerted other unsuspecting hikers heading its way.  They were sure glad that we did too.

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Grazing along the way … we finally parted ways.

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At that point, we decided to leave before it decided to come back in our direction.  Tom, aka “eagle eyes” spotted a lovely Wilson’s snipe resting in the wetlands along the trail.  Gosh, they are so beautiful.

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As we approached the sinkhole, we also came across a wonderful tri-colored heron just beginning to come into its colors.  All in all, it was a great getaway weekend and well worth the trip.  It’s not often that you can spend the morning with whooping cranes and in the afternoon share the trail with a bison … in Florida!  🙂

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Note:  For anyone that might be wondering … Whooping crane #9-13 completed his return migration to the north on April 22 (appropriately Earth Day) … another successful migration!  Yay!

Stay tuned for more “time away from home” in Florida.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

2012 Review: PART 5 – Family Reunion – Yellowstone, Tetons, & Zion NP

Barely unpacked from AK, I had a family reunion to get to out west.  See, we decided to gather up the gang – Kelli & Mitchell, my mom & her husband Murray, and us – to spend some time together out in the great outdoors, appreciating each other’s company, as well as the company of lots of wildlife and beautiful surroundings.  Tom & Kelli took a road trip out west, stopping along the way to get their mountain biking fix, and met us in Salt Lake City.  After a brief stop in SLC, we ventured out to Yellowstone NP & Great Teton NP.  To my surprise, we were a bit late for the explosion of fall colors that we had enjoyed 2 years ago – same time, same place.  Oh well, didn’t matter because the trip more than made up for the lack of fall colors by the abundance of wildlife.  Bears, moose, bison, wolves, coyotes, pronghorn, and elk were plentiful!  The weather was crispy cool, OK maybe even cold at times, but this Florida girl enjoyed it immensely.  Tom & I would get up really early every morning and shoot, while the family took in a bit more sleep.

Family reunion

Family reunion

Bison battling it out for superiority

Bison battling it out for superiority

Bull elk readying for the rut

Bull elk readying for the rut

After spending several days trying to track down the elk in the very early mornings, there’s a few things that I can remember as if it were just a moment ago ….

1.  The sound of the elk when they bugle.  If you haven’t heard that amazing sound, you need to google elk and listen to their call.  It’s one of the most amazing sounds that you will ever hear.  For literally miles and miles you can hear the echo within the vast wilderness of the landscape.  So soothing ….

2.  Another sound ….. see we ran across many sightings of coyotes – hunting in the fields, running to and fro ….. but on 2 occasions, we saw them run back to what I figured out afterwards must have been their den, most likely with a meal, and you could hear the yips of their young.  I’m not talking a yip or 2, I’m talking about 1-3 minutes of continuous calling out.  That is another sound that if you’ve never heard it, you should.  I wanted to tape it on my video in my camera, but I was paralyzed by the beauty of their sound.  Big time smiles after hearing that one!

Three generations

Three generations

Moulton Barn, Grand Tetons NP

Moulton Barn, Grand Tetons NP

Enjoying the view from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton NP

Enjoying the view from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton NP

Yellowstone NP, WY

Yellowstone NP, WY

Several days were also spent in and around Park City also, as Mitchell joined us for an extended weekend or so.  Then off towards AZ and NM we went – taking a few detours along the way – some intended, some not.  What a beautiful country we live in!  One of our unintended detours involved St. George (we won’t go into that one), but things happen for a reason and the detour turned into a visit to Zion NP – so incredibly beautiful and a treat from the summertime visit we did several years ago – much less crowded.

Looking up at the tall stand of aspens kissed by autumn

Looking up at the tall stand of aspens kissed by autumn

Paria, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, UT

Paria, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

While the beauty of the southwest was difficult to leave, we had a more definite destination.

Stay tuned for 2012 Review:  Part 6