My journey through the Northwest and Southwest National Parks in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the parks system was filled with so many wonders it was hard to blink. Every corner showcased another cornucopia of nature’s bounty, and while nature can sometimes be subtle, this time so much of what I saw practically stunned my senses. This holds true not only for the landscapes.
My readers know that earlier in the year I experienced one of the most life affirming experiences as I followed the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania (if you missed reading about this click here for the first of five posts). After seeing in person and up close for the first time unfettered lions, cheetah, elephants, giraffe, impala and a host of multicolored birds great and small in their natural habitat, you might think I’d be a little jaded about seeing the wild animals inhabiting our country. Not so.
Beginning with our first stop in Jackson Wyoming I was ready with my camera to photograph a momma moose and baby that often frequented the picturesque grounds. Alas, another WTDGAP moment, for the pair was never around when Lenore and I went “hunting.” What we did see was the first grouping of some pretty and comical birds. And I swear many of them actually posed for me:
Magpie – a relative of the crow, this raucous bird has a tail that is more than half the width of its entire body. Similar to the oxpeckers of Africa, magpies often alight on bison and cattle to pic off some juicy insects. True to the family, magpies are wicked smart, can use tools, organize into a mob to harass/attack other birds and can mimic other birds and even people.
Also in the crow family is the raven – a large, shiny blueblack bird also known for its intelligence and long memory, Our guides Dodge and Ford told us stories of ravens exacting revenge against humans who had antagonized them previously – sometimes years before. You can almost see them thinking:
As I have mentioned before, photographing birds is a very tricky business requiring patience and their movements are quick and well, flighty. Sometimes I have to settle for long shot, hoping that my zoom can bring a closer view. These were taken at the maximum zoom point:
Tern? Gull? Not sure about this one – you birders out there – help me out!
To give you some perspective here is the same gull without zoom:
My favorite new bird sighting occurred at Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park area in Washing State. I had noticed flashes of blue in the trees and on the ground but these birds are particularly shy and it took quite a bit of stalking, including turning down a hike in order to be effective. Here is the stellar jay:
In a rare moment for me I was actually totally unprepared for this next sighting. We had just begun our morning hike along the boardwalk adjoining Yellowstone’s Geyser Basin, my camera still in my backpack when I almost literally bumped into this fellow:
Mr. Bison was sitting so still – most likely trying to absorb some ground warmth in the chilly morning, that our whole entourage at first thought he was a prop! Nope – definitely real and a little too close for comfort. Our guide Dodge quietly but emphatically told us to back away and give Mr. Bison a wide berth. Fortunately for us he was more interested in getting warm so just eyed us as we passed by.
I had another close encounter when we stopped for a picnic lunch in a lightly wooded forest next to a wide pasture where we had spied a few bison lolling around. After lunch, I took a few steps beyond where we were sitting in the woods and then this:
Whoa. I backed up very slowly and rejoined the group. Once again I was lucky that the bison was too busy grazing and didn’t feel threatened by my approach.
One large fellow did take notice of me and since he was courting a female he was not happy about my perusal. What was fascinating was the fact that this time I was not near these two lovebirds – I was watching them through my zoom lens at full throttle. In addition I wasn’t even sure if the bison could see out of both eyes as one seemed rather red and opaque. Still it was a bit disconcerting to see the male bison give me the stink eye and more: