2017 Summer Games Yellowstone National Park

Billy Lightpaw Middle weight contender for the Broad-jump – Summer Games Yellowstone National Park.

 

As long time readers of the BigShotsNow blog you know that every 4 years Yellowstone National Park holds the Summer Games in preparation for the Wildlife Olympics with entrants from around the globe. This year the games are being held in Yellowstone once again with venues at Gibbons Meadows, the Madison river, Hayden Valley, the LeHardy Rapids, the Lamar valley and the Blacktail Flats area.

This is always an incredible experience with visitors attending from all over the world. As usual most of the events are standing room only as tickets have been sold out for many of the big events for the last two years. However most events have roadside observation areas set up to accommodate the overflow crowds. Be prepared for Bear Jams, Wolf Jams, Buffalo Jams, Otter Jams and every other jam you can think of as the various contestants make their way to the different events, while those attending Yellowstone for the first time slam on their brakes, throw open all four doors where  applicable, and race out to greet and get their first up-close view of the different contestants, leaving their vehicles unattended and blocking the roadway. This impacts traffic bringing it to a standstill for hours. As this also usually results in the arrival of the First Responders stationed throughout the park to take care of the maimed and wounded that occur from way too close encounters with animals that are wild and have never heard of Disney, it takes awhile before the visitors cars can be impounded and hauled off to be shredded. Prepare for long waits depending on the popularity of the contestant being viewed.

This years games are truly spectacular with many new participants such as one of the real contenders in the light heavy-weight broad jump, Mr. Billy Lightpaw, here shown settling into his patented “Squat and Jump” starting position. Mr. Lightpaw also known as Billy the Bumper to his friends ,currently holds the amateur broad jumping record of 32′ 8″ set last fall at the pre-hibernation games outside of Ottawa and is considered to be a gold medal frontrunner. Notice the coiled spring like action of tucking his head in and rolling back on his powerful haunches prior to his launch. Simply incredible. This is why he’s a crowd favorite. This event has plenty of accessibility due to the wide open Hayden valley floor. Binoculars are highly recommended.

The Madison river will have a new event this year, in fact it’s the first time this event has been offered in the summer games and it is likely to be a huge crowd pleaser. It is the “Calf Drop” and it’s a doozy. There are no front-runners in this event due to the fact that only first time Buffalo mothers can enter. Those due to drop their calves during  the week of August 11th and August 22nd are automatically entered. As mentioned before there are no front-runners yet but the likelihood of twins and even in the rarest of circumstances triggering an automatic Gold medal, triplets, might be expected. There is a lot of interest in this event by the press and mothers around the world.

Another fun event for the whole family is being held at LeHardy Rapids this year. It’s the “Otter Fish Off'” and this event is one that ESPN has scheduled for prime time coverage. As you know from previous games this one is fast paced and exciting. Upstream at the top of the rapids, barrels of trout averaging 26″ to 41″ inches long and weighing up to 96 lbs.each are released to streak down the rapids where the contestants wait at the bottom. The Otter that gets the biggest fish with the least amount of personal  injury is scored on tenacity, conviviality, ferocity and good manners. This is a high interest event for the entire family and you may want to arrive a few days early to get a good seat.

The “Wolf Run” or “Elk Calf Take Down” is an event that is best watched on TV or the various Jumbo-trons set up along the highway as much of the action is out of sight due to the rugged terrain through the ponds and small streams in the heavily brushed area that is Blacktail Flats. This year we’ll have extra coverage as the various networks are employing their new “Wolf Drone” cameras which are able to follow the wolves as they run down the elk calves and drag them out of the buck brush where they like to hide. Odds on favorite this year is of course the Blacktail Flats Pack for their intimate knowledge of the area.

Gibbon meadows will again be the site of the contestants housing area, media outlets, Torch lighting, and the entrance and closing parades. A Special “I Paid A Lot Because I’m Special” Pass is needed to access this area. If you don’t already have one you might as well forget about it. There’s none left. Sorry. Seems like everybody is Special.

The Lamar valley is again host to one of the all time favorite events, “Buffalo Herding”. This event has been a staple of the Summer Games for as long as I have been making them up. It is not someone herding the Buffalo but instead the Buffalo proudly showing off their skill at being a herd member, their ability to ‘herd’ as it  were. There are synchronized marching exhibitions, where the different herds show off their ability to walk together with all four legs synchronized, which if you’ve never seen it before is mesmerizing. There is a herd bull “Bellowing” event where the different herd bulls get on opposite sides of the valley and bellow at each other until one runs away in shame. There is a new event this year where the herds travel along the valley floor with the newborns running alongside ( the little orange ones ) to see how long they can run with their tongues out. And last but not least the contest that pits the different herds against each other to show who can make the trip up the Gibbons Narrows to the meadows above the slowest. The resulting length of the traffic tie up from the buffalo jam decides the winner. Last years numbers to beat are eleven and a half miles and five hours to make the six-mile trek up from the bottom of the falls to the summer grazing. Everyone travels at Buffalo speed for this one.

These are just the highlights of the summer games there’s plenty more so start packing and head on up to Yellowstone for another amazing year of the Summer Games at Yellowstone National Park. We’ll look for you there.

Pancho and Lefty

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It is slowly turning to Spring up in Yellowstone, things are greening up, Pancho and Lefty are on  the prowl and that means Saturday night dances at the Long Tooth Saloon in Blacktail Flats. These two have just had a tough day of eating dead buffalo, laying around in the grass, drinking out of the pond, hanging out, talking crap, eating dead buffalo and deciding on how early they want to get to the dance tonight. They need to look sharp because everybody and I mean everybody is going to be there and if there is ever a chance of hooking up with some fox, I mean wolf, tonight’s the night.

Pancho is asking Lefty if he’s sure he wants to wear that collar as he might look like a total dweeb. He doesn’t want to get stiffed because his wingman looks like a dork. Lefty says It’s cool, back off and they’re on their way. It’s Saturday night in Yellowstone and things are going to get wild.

 

 

Sandhill Reeds

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Sandhill Cranes will nest almost anywhere. They have been seen nesting on tiny little islands on Floating Island lake in Yellowstone National Park, out in the middle of open fields and in the case of this one, in a field of reeds that make up a small wetlands in the Blacktail creek area.

Choosing a field of reeds doesn’t seem like an unusual place to nest until you factor in bad luck. Normally this Sandhill crane could count on brooding her eggs without mishap, unless an opportunistic coyote came along and tried for an easy meal. But what she didn’t know was her nesting place was in a natural crossing area for some of the parks main predators, a pack of wolves on one side and a black bear on the other. Blacktail flats sees a lot of animal movement. The blacktail pack of wolves moves through the area constantly and it is also a place black bears seem to like.

This day I was shooting the Blacktail pack of wolves devouring a buffalo carcass on her right and if you could look to her left there is a small pond like many that dot this Blacktail Flats area, which is out of the frame. Swimming across the pond was a good-sized black bear.

All of this activity was taking place in an area perhaps 300 yards across. First I’d shoot the wolves for a while then I’d swing the lens over to the pond with the bear in it and then back to the wolves again. As I made the traverse I noticed movement in my view finder and up pops this Sandhill crane who had the misfortune to put her nest in the middle of the wildlife freeway.

The bear was obviously hungry and spent his time rooting around digging in the ground for grubs, eating grass and slowly working his way towards the Sandhills nest. The wolves were too busy finishing off the buffalo carcass and hadn’t noticed the bear. If they had it would have been very likely they would have run right over the crane and her nest to run the bear off. Helping themselves to the crane and her eggs on the way. They don’t like to  share. But she never flinched or made any movement that gave away her position. The bear noticed the wolves, the wolves noticed the bear. The bear took off rather than deal with seven or eight wolves and the wolves stayed and finished off the carcass. And the Sandhill crane put her head back down and didn’t move a feather, and what could have been major drama was over as fast as it started.

It’s unusual to get that much wildlife activity in a small area like that but every once in a while the photographer gets lucky. So did the crane.

Wolf Pack

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I don’t know how many of you have ever seen a wolf pack up close other than scenes from TV or a movie, but it is an entirely different experience in person. Wild things look at you differently, they treat you differently, and unless you are an overt threat they don’t seem to care that you are a human. They are willing to co-exist with you as long as there is mutual respect. This pack is known as the Blacktail Flats pack as it includes the Blacktail flats area in the northern part of Yellowstone National park in it’s hunting range. The pack was fortunate to come across a buffalo carcass near one of the many ponds that are in the area and spent several days taking full advantage of this large meal. This photo shoot took place about 75 yards across a small pond on what turned out to be the last day they were there. That was because there wasn’t anything left to eat when they left late that evening. This grey kept a close watch as it came down for a drink.

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Since this pack had been feeding on this carcass for several days, they came and went as they felt like it. Occasionally most of the pack would be there and sometimes just one of them.

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The carcass is being whittled down by the constant feeding. They eat everything, from bits of the hide to breaking the bones open for marrow.

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Sometime the younger wolves need to be shown who the bull duck in the pond is. This is usually a short lesson.

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When they get down to the point where there is nothing left but the big main bones in the carcass it takes a little cooperation to get them separated. With both wolves pulling from opposite directions something finally gives and somebody gets a nice big juicy leg bone. That seems to be the end of the cooperative spirit as they don’t share well at that point.

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They have been eating a lot, almost non-stop, so every so often they take a break and go goof off. Its time to run, roll in the grass, teach the young to behave themselves and just generally work off some of that buffalo.

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Even when everyone else can not eat one more bite there is always one who can fit in a little more. After all they don’t know when the next meal is coming so one more bite can’t hurt.

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OK, enough fooling around, there is still some buffalo left so this job’s not done.

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The carcass is almost gone. You can see by their stomachs that they have been giving this their all. There were five wolves at the most on this kill during this shoot. There were more wolves in the pack but since all this was taking place in about two hours the entire pack wasn’t there. Supposedly there were anywhere from seven to as many as twelve wolves in this pack.

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It is very nearly done now. Some of the more experienced members of the pack are taking away pieces of the buffalo for eating later. All that remains is the hide and horns and blood stains in the grass.

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Starting from a fairly respectable amount of buffalo when the shoot first started there is little left. Some of the younger wolves will come back over the next day or so to glean what ever small parts were dropped and lick the grass. Hopefully the ravens and other scavengers will have missed some.

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The last wolf leaves with one more small meal and the feeding is over. It now a little past 8:00pm and very nearly dark, in fact we needed flashlights to get back to the cars. The originals of these images are very, very dark, so much so that without the miracle of Photoshop you would have a hard time making out any detail at all. The experience of sharing a meal (so to speak) with these wolves has been a once in a lifetime opportunity and simply incredible.