Near Death Experience

A pair of grasshoppers sit on a plant next to a sooty grouse on the Deadhorse Creek Trail in Mount Rainier National Park in September 2014

I wonder if these two grasshoppers thought their end was near when this sooty grouse suddenly loomed large, as they are one of the insects grouse like to eat, but the bird paid them no heed as it sauntered through the mountain meadow. Taken in the fall of 2014 on my last visit to Mount Rainier National Park.

A Meal of Grasshoppers


I had been watching this chipmunk feeding near the trail in Mount Rainier National Park for quite a while when it straightened out its tail and began whipping it back and forth. I looked behind me, then checked the skies, but couldn’t see what had raised the alarm. There were some grouse feeding nearby that were partially obstructed but they had been there even longer than I had.

I soon got my answer when it ran over right in front of me and picked up a grasshopper that had been smashed underfoot by a hiker, then ran back to the big rocks to eat it. Even though I had been watching it for a while, I’m guessing the tail flashing was one last test to make sure I meant it no harm. When it was done eating, it actually ran between my legs and on down the trail.

I guess I passed the test.

A Meal of Grasshoppers


A hoary marmot collects a mouthful of grasses and flowers

A hoary marmot collects grasses and flowers late on a fall day in Mount Rainier National Park. I didn’t think it could add more without dropping what it already had, but I was wrong. After adding that last bit it was either satisfied with its collection, or felt unable to collect any more, and trundled off towards its den.

A hoary marmot with a mouthful of grasses and flowers

Dinner Time, Decision Time

A hoary marmot eats the leaves of wildflowers late in the day in Mount Rainier National Park

A hoary marmot eats the leaves of wildflowers late in the day in Mount Rainier National Park, taken soon after I arrived on my trip to the park last fall. I’ll be deciding within the next couple of weeks on my trip for this fall, the two major candidates are returning to Mount Rainier and/or Olympic National Park, or heading out to Yellowstone and possibly the Tetons. Also might look into Glacier National Park or taking several small trips so I could also hit the Oregon coast and the redwoods in California.

Usually it comes down to lodging availability, road construction, weather, how long it’s been since my last trip, and how much driving I feel up to. Sometimes I feel a particular pull to see certain types of wildlife, and at the moment the marmots and pikas of Mount Rainier are calling me back, even though I was there just last year. I didn’t see them as much as I would have liked, and it poured rain during much of the trip. Except it didn’t rain when I was in the Hoh Rain Forest like I wanted, so maybe the fifth visit will be the charm.

On the other hand, I haven’t been to Yellowstone in four years. The last trip wasn’t as much fun as other years, although a couple of days were two of my favorites of any trip, and even a lesser visit to the area is still a pretty great time.

The other little wrinkle this year is my cameras. My Canon 7D II and 100-400 II lens were both released too late last year for any major hiking trips, so it would be fun to try them out in the wildlife-heavy parks. I did cancel my pre-order for the new Sony A7R II, I would have been a part of the initial shipment but it was just too much expense to risk without waiting for more thorough reviews. If I had kept the order I’d lean towards Yellowstone, as the Sony can shoot lovely 4K video and I’ve long wanted to video the geothermal features there. It’s high-resolution full-frame sensor would also be fantastic for still shots, so I probably would have spent the entire week in Yellowstone and split my time between the scenery and the wildlife.

Strangely enough it’s the scenery of Yellowstone that is attracting me more this year than the wildlife, I should probably check myself for a fever.

I wouldn’t complain about a week of hiking in the Tetons either except I’m out of good hiking shape and all that elevation change while carrying the cameras might do me in. I love photographing the mountains at sunrise but I’ll want a better camera before making that a priority, the full-frame cameras are much better suited to that than the 7D.

The good news is these are all fun places to visit so there are no bad choices. It’s the planning I hate.

Strike While the Iron Is Hot

A Townsend's chipmunk pauses while eating a grasshopper

My first full day in Mount Rainier last year started off with a bit of rain but was sunny and warm most of the day, before it started raining buckets for the rest of my trip. This chipmunk was taking full advantage of the sunshine, and the hikers it brought in numbers, to fatten up for the coming winter by eating the many grasshoppers that people had crushed underfoot on the nearby trails.

Patience, Grasshopper

A Townsend's chipmunk eats a grasshopper in Mount Rainier National Park

I spent my first full day on this visit to Mount Rainier hiking the Skyline Trail and its various offshoots. While I had seen grouse and marmots, based on previous visits I was a bit surprised to not see more wildlife than I did. What I saw most were grasshoppers which were constantly hopping about the trails, many crushed underfoot from the mass of hikers on the previous day.

At the end of a hard day’s hiking I went back up to see if any marmots were out in the biggest colony near the trail, as they had been quite active the previous evening, but was sorry to see that they had all called it a day. I hiked a little further and was delighted to find this Townsend’s chipmunk eating what I assumed were some seeds on a boulder near the trail.

I was a little confused when, after watching it eat for some time, it started coming straight toward me. But it just grabbed some flattened grasshoppers near my shoes and hopped back up onto its boulder and ate them. It was then that I realized that most of this little section of the trail had been cleared of grasshoppers, and when I reviewed my pictures I understood why.

After a while it came back towards me, but this time hopped right between my legs and continued on down the trail. It had its dinner, and as the light faded, it was time for mine.