While on a visit to Ridgefield on a rainy Christmas in 2011, I accidentally took a short nap while in a pullout beside Rest Lake (I mean, given the name of the lake, hardly my fault) which meant I was lucky enough to be in the right position when driving past the meadow that I got to spend quite a while watching a coyote hunting voles in the rain. It’s what I loved about the auto tour, getting to watch animals behave naturally at relatively close distances without disturbing them.
These pictures are a bit bittersweet as while I got to watch the family at length multiple times that winter, my pictures from a couple of months later would be my last photos of coyotes at the refuge as they were shot to create a safer haven for the threatened Columbian white-tailed deer that were about to be transplanted. Thankfully the deer seemed to be establishing themselves by the time I had to say goodbye to the refuge so hopefully coyotes have been allowed back since.
I’m not sure the many Townsend’s voles in the meadows around the refuge missed the coyotes, although perhaps they didn’t notice given the wide variety of predators that ate them. It was always a little hard to watch through the big lens as one little life was snuffed out, even knowing it allowed another life to continue. I always hoped to photograph a vole on its own but I only ever managed to catch them when something else caught them first.
A moose cow walks through a dead forest at Yellowstone National Park. I find that pictures don’t properly convey just how large these creatures are. In this case I was standing at my car beside the road but in the Tetons I sometimes met them on the trails, I never had any close calls but the big bulls during the fall rut certainly demand your attention. I’m thankful for each time we met, it was always a special treat.
One of these American bison calves was enjoying playtime more than the other.
Fifteen years ago on a trip to Yellowstone, I found a colony of yellow-bellied marmots in rock formations on the Storm Point Trail. This marmot was standing to get a better look at its surroundings so I kneeled down to show the meadow between us with Yellowstone Lake beyond. I was a little nervous editing this picture for fear of a relapse, I have only just trained my brain to stop looking for non-existent marmots and pikas in the rock formations here in the Phoenix area!
With the sun dipping below the mountains, a white-tailed doe beds down in the Big Meadows area of Shenandoah National Park in June 2004.
The coyotes were active on this winter day in 2006, using the heavy fog as cover to hunt a variety of prey. This one made a half-hearted, almost playful, attempt at a great blue heron I had been photographing, later I saw one running across the meadow with a goose in its mouth.
A great blue heron takes a break from hunting voles in a meadow on a cold and foggy December morning in 2006.
One of my favorite rites of spring when we lived in the Northwest was listening to the savannah sparrows sing in the meadows. I met this one on an Easter morning 12 years ago, I had to wait a while to get the picture as it spent most of its time facing the other direction, singing to the other sparrows.
A female northern flicker searches for breakfast in a meadow on a rainy winter morning at Ridgefield in 2012. Given its widespread distribution across my country I wrongly assumed this would be the flicker I’d see most often in Arizona, but so far I’ve only seen the gilded flicker. To be fair I’ve only hiked in the desert, perhaps we’ll be reunited when I visit the forests. The two flickers are quite similar both in appearance and call, so in a way it feels like we were never separated.
A juvenile red-tailed hawk sits in a meadow in heavy fog at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. The telephoto lens is exaggerating the whiteout effect as it is picking up all the fog between my car and the distant hawk but it illustrates the point: for an animal that might normally hunt by soaring high above the meadow and looking for voles below, a thick fog changes the dynamic between predator and prey.
The fog didn’t have such an impact on an American bittern stalking the shoreline that winter morning as it looked and listened for small creatures both on the land and in the water. Sometimes it hunted by slowly walking up and down the shoreline, sometimes by standing still, but in either case the thick fog would not obscure the prey such a short distance away.