We Need To Talk

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Listen we need to talk. It’s about this clock thing, the setting it back an hour that you guys do every year when it starts to get cold. I know I’ve heard some humans talking about it as they walk by. How it makes it dark at 3:30 in the afternoon and it’s still dark when you get up in the morning. It really causes us a problem. See it doesn’t matter to us what your clock says. We get up when it’s light and we go to bed when its dark. It’s an agrarian thing. Unless of course we ‘ve been eaten by something during the night, then all bets are off.

I’ve got kids, three of them. Solenoid, Nodule and Edna, the triplets. Yeah I know, I was lucky, but even so that’s the last time I’m going out with that smooth talking buck from Loveland. The point is though, they’re all just one year old and don’t have the brains god gave a toaster, but they’re good kids. The problem is now that it’s night way early for you folks, you’re driving in the dark earlier, the visibility is dorked, and my goofy half-witted kids are standing on the side of the road, in the road, in the ditch ready to dart out whenever a synapse fires in their tiny little brains and you’re tooling along thinking about dinner or whatever and there’s my little ones in your lights.

Yes, the obvious answer is “Hey! don’t stand in the road.” There is an answer for that and it’s a function of what makes us Mule deer. We’re prey animals. We exist to feed other animals up the food chain. Cougars, they’re the really mean ones, Wolves, not too big a problem unless you live in Yellowstone, Wild dogs, a problem anywhere, and unfortunately you guys. Yes I know, you don’t start home with the idea of hunting and killing us, or even hitting us for that matter. Many of you don’t want to, just because of issues with your insurance companies. But because we are prey animals the safest places at night or the edge of it, dusk, are open spaces like meadows, those flat grassy places behind high schools with all the white lines on them, yards, yards are nice, and the open areas along the roads you guys use to get where you’re going. Shoulders, verges, bar ditches, medians, berms, especially at night, that’s when the creepy things are out to get us so it’s safer to be somewhere where we can see for along way.

I’ve been asked “Why then, do you run into the path of the oncoming traffic, I know you said your kids are dumb, but wouldn’t it be better instead to race back into the shadows of the forest, eh?”. Therein lies the very answer to that question. The forest isn’t safe at night. Safe from you maybe but not from the dark evil things that like to eat us. Some of you have also driven into the forest with what I believe has been the express notion of getting us, and if all those trees hadn’t stopped you, you would have. I don’t why you do that. The end result is still a broken vehicle and the same insurance issues, but you’re the smart ones, so we have to defer to your ultimate wisdom.

My little ones had a near death experience the other night by running out in front of this 18 wheeler. Luckily the driver was able to lock it up and not hit them. I asked them why they did that and their answer was, “the other side of the road was the only thing they could see in all that bright light so they went for it.” We don’t have the ability or the spatial recognition to judge the relative speed of an oncoming vehicle, especially in the dark, so our threat assessment is all screwed up and we become 100 lbs. of ground round before we can get out-of-the-way.

What’s the answer? Simple. Kill all the cougars, wolves, bears, and wild dogs so we can stay back in the woods. That would be cool. If that doesn’t work for you, slow down. Watch for those deer on highway signs. Did you know they were put there because a deer was killed there. We’re creatures of habit. One of us getting taken out doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been using that crossing since before a road was there.

Yes I’ll talk to the kids again. Nodule shows some promise, but the juries still out on Solenoid and Edna, so I don’t hold out much hope. But I will try. Meanwhile put yourself in my place. Cougars and wolves on one side. 3000 lb. unyielding metal monsters that wouldn’t recognize a Mule deer if it slammed through their radiators. Give us a break please. Seeya in the Spring when they put the clocks back to normal. If we make it. Ciao

Dog Days Of Summer



The dog days of summer are upon us, and no where is it more noticeable than in the hollows and valleys that crisscross Tower road in Yellowstone National Park. Dog days are the days of late summer usually between the last week of July until the middle of August, when the very air you breathe is hot, humid, and oppressive. It saps the vitality and enthusiasm for life right out of your body and leaves you just plain tired. And if the truth be known kind of cranky.

Actually up in Yellowstone, Dog days are a misnomer as there are very few dogs in the park, due to the fact that the wolves and bears like to eat them, so the bears fill in for them. This is Rosie. Rosie has been on display since early March, dutifully bringing out her twins, Virgil and Emma, so the tourists can see real live bears in the wild. The kids have been a handful and hardly notice the weather, Dog days or not, and fill up Rosie’s time with child management skills she has acquired over years and years of raising cubs.

Today’s a little different because she has just about reached her limit. Her teeth hurt, the bottom of her feet are sweating and she had decided to shave off her coat. She has sent the kids up a tree and told them it was quiet time and when they asked her when they could come back down she answered “Maybe in the Spring.” The oppressive air has weighed her down until she feels like she couldn’t move again in this lifetime. She’s been through this before but every year it gets a little tougher to deal with. This year has been particularly trying for some reason. Maybe its because she isn’t a spring chicken any more, or maybe it’s because it really is worse than usual. Anyway she needs to sit quietly, breath shallowly, and think about swimming across the Yellowstone river about a hundred times. Real slow. In fact she might just stop in the middle, it’s shallow there and take a nap. That would be good.

Bears, even Rosie, do not use calendars. They don’t know that there’s only a few more days maybe a long week or so and this will be all over. It will start to cool down, the trees will start to turn and they’ll have to get busy eating Miller Moths, grubs, grass and roadkill to fatten up. The mornings will be crisp and cool. An occasional early frost will rime the grass along the river banks and there’s the den to think about. Right now though that might as well be in the next century. It’s hot now. She may take a nap, and those kids better not come down if they know what’s good for them. Maybe it’ll be cooler tonight.

Monday Morning Blues

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This morning feels like Monday Morning Blues. After 10 days of standing out in the searing heat under a white-hot sun, photographing the Greeley Stampede rodeo, it was a relief to be back home and find The Institute grounds shrouded in a cool mist this morning. The temp up at the weather station located in the east tower is 58° as the dawn approaches and the dew point was enough to make your tennis shoes wet when you walked out to check on how the interns were faring.

There were a few smoldering fires in front of several of the tents down in tent city, or as everyone calls it, Internville, in the meadow below, so it looks like they may be up soon getting ready for the days activities but right now it’s pretty quiet. Even the bears are silent as they wander through the small tent city looking for something to eat.

Sometimes you need the gentle calmness of a day like this to change your perspective and allow you to decompress, a time kind of like Luke had, to get his mind right. That’s what makes The Institute special. It provides you with what ever you need. If you’re wound tight and need to reach your inner zen you can do that here. If you need the opposite and have to rev up so you can go out and do good things then that can be found here also.

A good way to get every one pointed in the same direction and up to speed is set the interns to locating and removing the rattlesnake population in the area. That always sets the tone for the day. It’s enjoyable to see them spread out in a long line beating the grass with rattlesnake whippy sticks and hear the call of “There it is! It’s a big one. Get the snake grabber over here before it gets away. OH, man it bit me!” and the gentle chuckles from the other interns who haven’t been bitten yet.

But the best times are when it’s quiet like this and the day hasn’t started yet. The birds are making their first morning noises. The tin roofs are making the creaking groaning sounds they make when there’s been a drastic temperature change, expanding and contracting to their own rhythm. There’s so much dew on the roof that you can hear it running in the rain gutters and dripping into the interns water collection barrel. As Director I walk around the deck in the morning, looking at the grounds, checking to see if any of the interns have escaped, deciding what monumental task we will choose for our next big earth-shaking project and I can almost hear the sound the mist makes as it bumps into the side of the main hall, the center of The Institute’s heart. This is what makes our time here special. Even if it is the Monday Morning Blues.

The image above is Moulton’s Barn in Grand Teton National Park. It gets the blues sometimes too.

Shuffles Lipinski


A conversation with Shuffles. Last weekend while on an ill-fated whirlwind trip to Yellowstone National Park to photograph some Peregrine Falcon chicks that were due to hatch and be photogenic, the visit sadly ended in frustration due to an unknown event that resulted in the parents abandoning the nest and the eggs within. We haven’t discovered what the event was yet but it resulted in one lone egg being left exposed in the nest. Since this changed our plans we decided to look up an old friend. We had a few moments to talk with Shuffles Lipinski a local resident of Grand Teton National Park.

If you enter Yellowstone from the south you have  to go through Grand Teton National Park to get there. Sometimes the Grand Tetons seems like the cross-eyed step child of Yellowstone, as it feels kind of like a door mat as tourists rush through to get to its older sister up north. It’s not though. They have plenty to offer in the way of scenery, such as big mountains that resemble a woman’s bosoms, and wildlife galore. There are Moose and Mulies, Elk and Canada Geese, Pelicans and bears. Plenty of bears. Like our friend pictured above. This is Shuffles Lipinski, a cinnamon colored black bear that can be seen on any given day hanging around where tourists can see him. Even though we were in a terrible hurry at the time to get up into Yellowstone to check the Peregrine nest we took a few moments to have a conversation with Shuffles. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

So Shuffles, Whatcha doing?

Just a runnin’ and a grinnin’.

What for?

I need to get up there where that tour bus is unloading them tourists.

We didn’t think you liked tourists.

I don’t. Hate ’em actually. But if I get up there and run around some and grin at them I’ll get points.

What do you mean you’ll get points?

Points. You get enough points and you get transferred up North. Get to play in the big show. Make a name for yourself. Get chicks. Free drinks at the club. Maybe a piece of the T-shirt business.

Really. Do all the bears want to do this ? Maybe that’s why we never see as many bears down here as we do up in Yellowstone.

Yup. You also get a number up there. Down here they still call you by your name. Up there if you’re cool you get a number. I want a number.

Note to readers: Yellowstone National Park is very proud, perhaps overly so, that they depersonalize their animals by giving them a number instead of a name, like Peaches, or “Kor, god of the fang”. That way they think people will get less attached to them, and not care when they get killed or worse, have to wear those tracking collars all the time. For instance if you ask a ranger or one of the bear guards they assign to each bear something like “Hey where’s Rosie? I haven’t seen her and the cubs lately.” they will give you a disgusted look and sternly but condescendingly, tell you “We don’t name our animals here in Yellowstone National Park, bear # 509 will be out shortly. You can wait over there behind that white line.” (‘you dumbass visitor’, being understood. We’re watching you now. Don’t make me talk to you again.) Returning to the interview.

So what’s wrong with your name? We like Shuffles, makes you more human and lovable, approachable even.

Yeah right. You approach me, I bite you. I get sent to the big house and get a tag stuck in my ear and then one in my other ear when I bite you again, and then its lights out bwana on the third time. You get the big sleep. No, I want the number. You get a number like 812 or something and people don’t know what to expect. You could be dangerous, you could be a stone cold killer just waiting for some bus rider to get close enough to take a selfie, people don’t know. You have a name like Horace or Shuffles, you don’t get the respect. Gotta have the respect, that ‘s what brings in the big bucks from people wanting to see the ‘bad’ bear. That’s what ups the T-shirt revenue, know what I mean?

Ok, got it. Listen we got to run. Got Peregrines and their chicks to shoot. Been a slice. Catch you later Shuffles.

Cool dude, listen, do me one, when you get up North tell the bear guys I growled at you and looked threatening. I gotta get out of here. I’m dying down here. Don’t tell ’em I bit anybody or anything just that I looked bad. Ok? Later brother. I owe you one.



Redtail Hawk 1 Rattlesnake 0


As they say out here in Colorado “The mail needed picking up” and since we occasionally get financial remuneration via snail mail and we haven’t had any interns able to pass the strict bonding requirements we have here at The Institute, it fell to the Director to go and get  the mail.

Our mail box is located down the five mile dirt road that gets you up and down from the mountain top The Institute is located on, to the modern one lane highway below. On the way down the ‘hill’ you run the chance of seeing wild animals being wild, such as turkeys walking around trying not to get eaten by the coyotes, elk in both male and female forms, mule deer of course, bears, just the black ones not the big grizzlies that roam further north, foxes, the red ones, the aforementioned coyotes, Eagles mostly Goldens but once in a while a bald one will fly by, and lots of birds. Everything from songbirds to grouse and now some Chukar. Hawks, falcons, pelicans flying by to get to somewhere where there is enough water, lots of migratory birds and our favorite species the Redtail hawk.

The Redtail is the hands down favorite because it does one really neat thing. It hunts, kills, and eats rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are what takes the fun out of running barefoot through the tall grass. Rattlesnakes bite. We had a neighbor near us, who was minding her own business doing absolutely nothing provoking, get bit and besides costing what a small Korean car costs it made her foot swell up to the size of your standard microwave oven. And she said it hurt too. A lot.

Most people in this country don’t like rattlesnakes. I mean, there’s a few that like them but they are not the majority by any means. People who don’t like them, the rattlesnakes not the people who do like them, generally hit them with a shovel until they’re dead. It is said by those folks who do like rattlesnakes that one of the reasons we should take these rattlesnakes close to our bosoms, are of the opinion that they do good by eating rodents, therefore let’s have them hang around doing that. Others say “Nope. Don’t think so. Gonna kill ’em”.  We believe that if they, the rattlesnakes, want to act that way they should do it way, and I mean way far away from where good American taxpaying citizens hang around. So there is a difference of opinion there.

It’s amazing that the Redtail hawk sides with the shovel smacking people and kill every one of those rattlers they see. They also pass this trait on to the young Redtail hawks by bringing home the snake, often still wriggling, for their little ones to eat. We at The Institute believe this is laudable behavior and compliment the Redtail parents on their good sense whenever we chance to speak with them.

The image above, which was taken just across the highway from our mailbox, shows the Redtail parent in the act of taking the rattlesnake it has just that moment caught, to a tall telephone pole where it would begin the process of making it not alive. Then it flew it back to the nest for the young to eat. We cheered and gave it the universal thumbs up gesture of approval before returning to sorting out the bills from the junk mail, then throwing the entire mess in the dumpster. I know, you’re saying if you’re just going to throw it all in the dumpster why bother sorting it out. We sort because every once in a while there is a check in there and then we’d have to go back and do dumpster diving which is not very dignified for a Director of a major Institute like ours to be doing. Which of course brings us to, if you’re looking for nominations for the “Most Useful Bird of the Year” award we heartily recommend Nature’s helper the Redtail hawk. Remember vote now and vote often. These birds need our support.

Through The Keyhole

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On this inspection tour of Yellowstone National Park one of the items on our checklist was to see how bears were doing. Were they prevalent. Were they happy. Did they have nice glossy coats, did they appear well fed. What was their disposition. Did they still have a predilection to eat foreign or domestic tourists who go too close, or flashed them with their flash cameras while they were busy doing bear stuff. Did they have the normal amount of offspring with them. This pertained mostly to the female bears as the male bears had the rather disturbing tendency to eat the cubs. We had many questions to answer and precious little time to ask them, as most bears are reluctant to be interviewed even if it’s for a good cause. So we tried to make the best use of our limited time with them.

We chose to limit our observations to free range bears and not include any of those in the various cages scattered around the boundaries of the park. Cages tend to change the personalities and physical characteristics of the bears, making them fat and goofy, performing stunts and behaviors that they normally would never do in the wild. You will never see a bear, either black or grizzly, we are not certain about Polar bears but since there aren’t any in the park it doesn’t matter, smoking a king-size mentholated cigarette in the wild. Come to think of it we have never seen a bear, either black or grizzly smoking one in a cage either, but the caged ones tend to do equally goofy things so the analogy, though weak and possibly irrelevant, still holds. The Institute has taken a strong position on this situation and that is we do not condone putting bears, or most any other living things in cages. If asked to do so, we just say no.

Access to bears is kind of tricky. Sometimes they will walk right up to you and rifle through your pockets looking for stray food items you might have left in one of your front pockets and other times they can be reclusive and non-communicative, ready to lash out and tear the legs off your tripod. This is when its best not to get too close, instead just call out your questions in a firm but distance voice.

As a recorder of bear behavior one must always have your camera ready even if it means photographing the bear through the keyhole, as it were. Just the because the bear is standoffish and reluctant to have its picture taken we all know that it is for its own good and if the image is Photoshopped properly the bear will come to accept it and perhaps even cherish it later on.

That’s what’s happening here. This was an uncooperative black bear that simply refused all offers of doing an interview as if it simply didn’t care that we had a job to do. Instead it chose to go off and stand behind some foliage. Foliage is the bane of all wildlife photographers. Bears know this and will often use foliage to screw up a picture-taking opportunity. They have the most uncanny ability to position themselves where errant pieces of foliage will obscure the more photogenic parts of their bodies, like their eyes or noses, or when they open their mouths to snarl a piece of branch or leaf will be right where it can goof up the picture the best. The bears take great delight in doing this and will lure the photographer into shooting it and then move itself into the worst position possible. Many times in the heat of the moment the photographer will not realize the wily bear has done this and doesn’t see how cleverly disruptive the bear was until they get back home and see their images on the computer and find that in every single one of the best pictures taken there is a piece of foliage where it shouldn’t be.

If you look really closely at the bear in the image above you will notice telltale laugh lines around its muzzle. These are caused by the bear knowing the frustration it has caused and it likes it. We were incredibly fortunate in this image to catch the bear just before it found a piece of foliage to get behind. But then we’re experts and have to win once in a while.

All in all the bears seem to be doing well and we were able to check off that item on our checklist. They were plentiful and we were fortunate enough to see and photograph two to three different bears a day.

In fact it was almost as if they wanted their pictures taken. Bears are mysterious creatures, you never know what’s going through their minds unless they’re attacking you, then it’s pretty clear. We had other items on our list and couldn’t spend all our time with bears so we left this bear and continued on our mission to completely inspect the park.

Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service it is included in the cost of admission. We know you don’t want to miss a minute of our fascinating but undocumented report.








You Don’t See That Every Day


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As our Inspection tour of Yellowstone National park proceeded in an orderly fashion we began inventorying the bears, both grizzly and black, the next step on our check list. This is a task we look forward to each year. We found that there were the appropriate number of each type scattered throughout the park and all seemed to be pulling their own weight.

At each new bear sighting we would release one of our costumed interns (see this post for details on costumed interns: http://www.bigshotsnow.com/yellowstone-passes-inspection/ ) to test the bears reaction to prey animals and sure enough the bear, mostly the grizzlies, would immediately approach the screaming intern and take the necessary action required.

This bear, who the park service refers to as bear #609 or something like that, because ‘they don’t name their animals’ according to one snooty ranger, but we refer to as Tyrone, reacted differently to our frantically struggling intern and obviously put off by the interns pitiful cries immediately jumped in the Yellowstone river. In all our years of inspecting Yellowstone we had never before seen a bear react this way. Like jump into the freaking river, you know? This was definitely irregular behavior and we are certainly going to include it in our report.

We had been following this bear for about two miles as it made its way over hill and dale observing it closely from a distance of about ¼ of a mile, noticing that it was acting in a manner that was out of character, or as we call it in scientific terms, ‘hinky’, for a grizzly bear. It would stop occasionally to sniff, then roll in a patch of wildflowers, always wriggling in obvious enjoyment. It passed by several yellow-bellied marmots, one of a grizzly’s favorite snacks in favor of nibbling tender grass shoots and the bark off an elderberry bush. We knew from previous sightings that grizzlies would often stop and lick shrubbery, even sometimes pulling the leaves off of the plant to eat them, but always they did this in a manner befitting the grizzly image, with much snarling and roaring, even shredding the bush with its razor-sharp claws.

Tyrone, or bear # 609 if you prefer like that condescending ranger, exhibited none of these traits. Even when we shoved the now crazed intern, the one dressed in the wounded elk calf costume, directly in his path, he simply stepped over him and continued on his way. It was then that we formed the startling new theory that quite possibly, almost assuredly, Tyrone was a Vegan. Now you’ve got to admit, you don’t see that every day.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, the intern, now past any form of coherence managed to wriggle out of his wounded elk calf costume and immediately began running down the highway towards Fishing Bridge where they have a phone and public transportation, presumably to bail on the program. There’s no way he’s getting paid as it clearly states in the contract he signed prior to the inspection trip, that all duties had to be fulfilled completely and professionally or you would not receive your salary, let alone any bonus for making it through alive. The screaming alone disqualified him, that ‘s unprofessional, even before he thought of bailing. We’ve had interns break and run before so we’ve got this locked up pretty tight contract-wise.

Of secondary importance, right after discovering that Tyrone was a Vegan, was the fact that here’s a grizzly bear, and a pretty big one too, swimming across the Yellowstone river. How cool is that? We just wish it had been one of the big butch grizzlies all full of raging bearliness instead of a leaf eating Vegan. But you can’t have everything. We saw it and now so did you, and like we said, you don’t see that every day.