Eight Is Not Enough

Eight is not enough unless it’s Bighorn rams all in an unexpected bunch walking along highway 14 on a Friday afternoon. Then eight is plenty. I mean you can be greedy and ask for more but that is just plain selfish, eight is enough. They’re bunched up pretty good but look carefully and count and you’ll find eight good rams there amongst the ewes. They stayed tightly grouped like this. You could have dropped a net over the whole lot of them and got them all.

The rut is over, at least for this bunch it is. For those of you in the know the rut is when the rams get all chesty and full of themselves and believe that they are each God’s gift to the ewes and are the only ones fit to breed and gift the world with their progeny and will battle to the death with the other rams to prove it. But when it’s over and the fighting is done and the breeding is finished they’re all like “Dude! How you doing. Sorry ’bout that! You OK? Let’s go get a Pizza. No, I’m buying. You still got a headache, me too.” They’re all BFF, until next year that is, then it happens all over again.

This group of about fifteen animals appeared to be in really good shape. Healthy, well fed, alert. They’re not all that skittish, allowing people to be within 50-75′ before they begin moving off but they will bolt uphill at sudden movements of any observers. It may be stating the obvious but the rams are heavy bodied and have the very heavy horns and the ewes have smaller bodies with the small somewhat short horns. There is always one or more of the ewes on watch and the rams tend to stay on the outside of the herd but not always. The more at ease they are the less they appear to be in defense mode.

These guys were spotted on March 2 and it was in the 50’s in the mountains. What that means for an early spring is anybody’s guess with our nonexistent global warming happening, but whatever it is here’s your Bighorns. Enjoy.

Je Suis le Leap

Well the rut is over for this year for the Mule deer with the month the Lakota call Waníyetu Wi — Moon of the Rutting Deer, ending and the Wanícokan Wi — Moon When the Deer Sheds Their Antlers, just around the corner. With their duties over the mule deer bucks begin to gather together again, hanging out, forming small groups we call the Bachelor boys.

Deadly enemies a few weeks ago, now they’re best buds again, but because they still have their antlers they remain a little twitchy. There is still a lingering energy left over and although they no longer want to fight they feel the need to do something. That something is fence jumping. And jump they do, effortlessly, endlessly, leaping back and forth to dissipate that energy that permeates their muscles, until they wear down a little and can go back to grazing.

Coming home last night after shooting a pair of Golden Eagles until it was nearly too dark to see, I came across this mulie working off some of that excess energy in a pasture outside of town. It was actually too dark to shoot, I had the headlights on in my jeep, but through the magic of digital photography even images shot in near darkness can be made presentable enough to view. The graininess and softness is a by-product of this process. Think of it as a beauty mark. They’re certainly not Pulitzer material, but they do show the beauty and form of these magnificent creatures. Enjoy.

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Animal Portraits – Otters



I was walking down memory lane this morning when I found myself along the Madison river in Yellowstone. It was way back in 2005 and I had been hoping to see some elk cross the river. Elk crossing the river is always good shooting. Bulls stopping to thrash their antlers in the water, throwing spray into the air, bellowing, cows bunching up to wait him out before they cross behind him. This was September so the rut was in full force and there was always lots of action.

But there weren’t any elk. They had moved out to greener pastures and the river was empty. I was just getting ready to pack up and find something else to shoot when I heard a high-pitched squealing coming from downstream. It was a young otter that had gotten separated from its family and was crying desperately to be found. It was racing frantically back and forth along the bank, shooting out into the river, climbing everything it could find and continually calling out for the others to come find it. This was the beginning of a very good afternoon.

Now otters in Yellowstone are not rare. But they’re one of those animals that you never see. Not unless you’re lucky. You can spend your entire time hunting for them, chasing down rumors, staking out places where they’ve been and never see one. Then you’ll talk to someone who had been picnicking at one of the picnic sites along the river and they’re all “Oh yeah we saw them. They were fishing right in front of us. One of them caught this great big trout. It was really neat. There was like four of them.  You should have been here. ” Serendipity plays a very big part in Otter spotting.

Now any place along the river is prime otter territory but there are some places more prime than others. I just happened to be unknowingly at one of them at just the right time. There is a spot on the Madison that is called the “Log Jam”. It’s just a little ways upstream past 7 mile bridge in a wide shallow bend in the river. It’s shallower there than the areas above and below and consequently a perfect place for the logs and branches floating downstream to snag and pile up forming the log jam.

This is the otter equivalent of Disneyworld. They go absolutely gonzo nuts in a place like that. First off every part of the Log Jam in an E ticket ride, they crawl up on it, they dive off of it, they wrestle and toss each other into the river. They take naps on the larger logs that are warm from the sun, hang out, talk about their day, fight, play snuggle, goof off, and generally just be otters, plus there’s food all over the place. Trout are always under and around the logs and so are the otters, because the only thing they like better than playing and sleeping is eating.

The otter family wasn’t lost. They were just upstream of the log jam and the youngster was on the downstream side. After Mom heard the little one wailing she gave a few sharp barks and soon they were all reunited again. Thus began one of the most perfect afternoons in the entire history of Yellowstone, Photography, Otter watching and sublime happiness, ever. As if deciding to give this photographer a gift they spent the next several hours swimming back and forth between that Log Jam and the confluence of the Madison and Gibbon and Firehole rivers at the eastern end of the Madison valley. Maybe a distance of 5 or 6 miles. We, the otters and I, plus about a dozen other photographers that joined in, walked back and forth along that stretch of river until I had filled every storage card I had with me with otter pictures and the otters decided it was time to go somewhere else. Without a sound they suddenly turned and swam downstream faster than we could run and they were gone. In the nearly 10 years since that afternoon that I’ve been going to Yellowstone I have never duplicated that experience again.

Fortunately I have these images to remind me of that incredible afternoon. It’s not the same but it’s pretty darn good.





The Rut has started. It’s time to get back out there and start collecting cows. His antlers are in their prime and polished until the tines look like old Ivory. He’s in the best shape he’s been in for years. His coat is glossy, his voice is in good form and the cows are down at the other end of the meadow just waiting. He’s looked the new crop of young bulls over and he’s not worried. Yet he’s just not feeling it. It’s cool here in the afternoon shade of the aspen and although the nights have been cold it’s still hot during the day. It’s too soon to get all worked up.

Maybe he’ll let things get started before he joins the fray. Let some of the younger bulls do the work and gather up his cows before he goes out and runs them off. Or maybe he’ll just wait until he feels the need to go out and do battle again. Right now it feels pretty good to just stand here and watch the sunlight play over the long grass. He might even lie down here and just think about things for a while. That sounds like a plan, there’s plenty of time yet.


Life’s Surprises

The RutBegins-7click to enlarge

Shocked! That’s the word I was looking for. Every once in a while you run up against something that just smacks you right in the face. No warning, no by-your-leave just “Hey” and you catch one right in the old choppers. That’s what happened to me yesterday.

For a very long time I’ve been photographing the ‘Rut’ that happens every fall here in the mountains. That’s where the bulls, like the one you see above, get together and wage battle for the mating rights to replenish the herd and pass along their genes in the process. Every year they do this, it’s one of principal reasons they grow those huge antlers, I mean otherwise, why bother. And every year I’m there to photograph the event. Until this year that is.

This year commitments beyond my control have prevented me from being in my favorite spot, camera in hand, documenting the activities as I have for what seems like eons. I’ve known deep down in my soul that if ever I was unable to attend the rituals, they would simply postpone them until I could make it. But they didn’t! They went right the hell along and started them anyway. Holy Freaking Cow! This feels like such a betrayal. I am devastated and as you might imagine, upset. I’ve only been able to eat a few thousand calories per meal but luckily I have been able to keep those down. You can not begin to imagine the pain of knowing that there they are, those heartless uncaring bastard bull elk, going about their business as if it didn’t matter that I wasn’t there. What about all the times I was there and photographed them in all their glory then published the pictures bringing them great fame and riches they could never have obtained on their own, the miserable wretches. They don’t care, the “what have you done for me lately” attitude they’ve developed is just sickening.

Well, there it is then. It is what it is. I’m going up and make eleven pounds of spaghetti for breakfast and they won’t get a single bite the rat-bastards. They’ll be out there getting their cans kicked back and forth across the meadow and I’ll be here in my warm house eating spaghetti and laughing. So much for them, see if I vote for gun control.