White Spots

A female elk nuzzles her calf in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park in July 2004

A mother nuzzles its white-spotted calf at sunrise near Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park. This was my first real visit to the park in the summer of 2004 and was taken on my last day in the park. Despite wanting to get up early every day during the visit, I only managed to do it on the last day. I also saw the most animals and got my best pictures, I lesson I didn’t forget. It seemed like Mother’s Day, as within a few minutes I saw mothers and young not only of elk but also bison, black bears, and moose.


A female juvenile northern harrier sits in a frosty meadow

I arrived at Ridgefield at sunrise but only had an hour before needing to head home to take our cats Sam and Emma to the vet. I thought the refuge would be fogged in given the heavy fog when I crossed the Columbia, but the refuge was clear and a lovely frost coated the meadows. I wanted to take advantage of the frost since it is not typical here, so I continued around the refuge until I found a good subject.

This female juvenile northern harrier was sitting in the large meadow at the end of the auto tour. I’d never gotten harrier pictures I’ve been happy with, so since she was a ways off I put the 2X teleconverter on my biggest lens and hoped for the best. She’s all puffed out in the cold looking a little larger than she is, and you can see the ring around her face that helps give harriers an owlish look. As she grows older, she will develop streaking down her chest and her eyes will turn from dark brown to yellow.

Fitful Sleep

An elk bull is mostly hidden apart from his antlers as he sleeps in the tall grasses of a meadow at Yellowstone National Park

There were several aspects I wanted to capture in this picture of an elk in Yellowstone National Park. There’s a slightly comical aspect in that the sleeping bull is almost invisible save for his antlers which stick up out of the tall grass and completely betray his presence. The bull isn’t really trying to hide, but I wondered if he wouldn’t have preferred at that moment to be able to just take the antlers off while he slept, if only so he could lay his head wherever and however he liked.

I also wanted to convey the exhaustion the bulls feel at the end of the rut. He slept most of the time I watched him, but couldn’t resist raising his head and answering the call whenever another bull bugled in the distance. Fortunately all of the people watching him kept their distance so he was able to rest in the quiet periods. A couple of weeks before I visited, one of the bulls had its neck snapped while it was sparring with one of the other bulls. These fights usually aren’t fatal, but add in disease, predators, and the long winter, and I do wonder how many of the animals I see will still be around come spring.