Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles & More

I’ve never been disappointed with my day trips to Loess Bluffs. Each offers different photo ops and surprises. I always get there before sunrise to catch the soft glow of the morning sun. However my first surprise came before sunrise.

For about 6 to 8 minutes I watched tens of thousands of these black birds flying by in a tube formation like you might have seen on a wild bird documentary.  It was an awesome sight to see.

I didn’t hear many geese which was a little unusual. Normally there are thousands of them but…..

What I did hear and see were these.
 

Yes, they are Trumpeter Swans! I don’t remember seeing as many all at one time. Monday’s survey count was 1,303 of them. You can tell by the dark and somewhat reddish background this photo was taken just as the sun was coming up.

The next surprise happened just as the sun broke the horizon.  This bird was causing quite a stir with its low passes as it was hunting.

It’s a Northern Harrier Hawk. They have facial disks much like owls. It’s believed that it helps them hear better. They use both their keen eyesight and their hearing to locate and catch their prey.

Of course there are Bald Eagles. By the Survey taken Monday, there were 167 immature and 44 adults. I’ll bet, I saw at least half of them if not more. It was great!

This is an immature Bald Eagle. Their heads and tail do not turn white until they are 4 to 5 years of age.

It’s always good to get them in flight but to watch them interact with one another is even better.

The adult and the left was eating a duck when the immature flew in next to it.  I thought I might see a little skirmish but the adult quickly finished its meal. It then made this gesture as if to say, “So There!”

It’s a real treat to watch them interact with each other when there’s food to be had.

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As you can see below, sometime they don’t give up too easily.
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The following photo is the one I like best.

YIKES!

Then, as the light got better, the swans looked even more beautiful.

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As you can see, the one on the right has been tagged.

Of course, those were not the only birds I saw.

How can you resist a red Norther Cardinal with a blue background?

I’m not 100% positive but I think this is a female Red-winged Blackbird.

A White-breasted Nuthatch

You’ve just got to photograph Red-tailed Hawks when you can!

The following Northern Harrier was just too accommodating. It continued to hunt close to me.

    

Ok, so I watched this eagle for an hour and twenty minutes hoping it would fly. I wanted to photograph it close-up on the wing. 

As you can see below, it was well worth the wait…..

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I was not disappointed!

It was a day filled with surprises but you know the biggest surprise of all was that I did not see a single mammal the entire day. Now, that is a first!  But you know what?  It was a great day for photographing the birds all the same.

I had a great time and hope you enjoyed the trip as well.

Thanks for coming by!

Bill

Grizzly #793 and Her Cubs

The past several years, I’ve gone to the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone in the fall after Labor Day. It’s when the color is spectacular and the crowds start to thin out. This year, I decided to go to the Tetons a week before Memorial Day. There should be fewer people then too but my main reason for going in the spring was to get photos of new-born elk, bison and moose. I knew I might be a week or so early. They often have their young the first week or so in June but what the heck. It might be the price to be paid to avoid the crowds.

As you may know from my previous post about the wolf, I was going to be in the park for just three days so I had to get very lucky.  Even though I had heard of two moose calves being born while I was there, I didn’t see either of them. I saw a lot of elk and bison but they had not calved yet. Locals were saying the harsh winter they had just gone through might have caused the animals to be a bit late having young this year. None the less, I was too early.

Well, getting a few reasonable shots of the wolf on the first evening was fantastic. However, what happened on day two more than made up for not seeing any elk, moose or bison young.

I was actually looking in an area where I had been told I might see a Great Grey Owl. They have long been on my list to photograph. To date, I’ve not had an opportunity to see or photograph one. That’s one reason to keep going back to the Parks. I was not on the main road so there was no traffic. Below, is what I was so very fortunate to see….

I had seen a black bear the day before at a bear jam along the main highway but this was different. Not only was it a Grizzly with cubs, there was not another person around. I was on a road the University of Wyoming researchers use. Two vehicles of researchers came by but they stopped for just a couple of minutes. There was NO Bear Jam! WOW!

I was there alone! While the bears were more than the required 100 yards away, I stayed in my car. Of course, that was for my safety but I also hoped she would not see me as a threat and just stay there for a while.

They have excellent sense of smell so there was no doubt she knew I was there.  She looked right at me several times. She continued to act normal and I was able to get these shots. These photos  have been cropped a bit but otherwise, this is what I saw and watched.

Here, she’s nursing the cubs.

She looked at me as she nursed them. Again, she didn’t seem to care that I was there. They nursed more than once during our time together.

She and the cubs slept. It was more like resting than sleeping. She had her eyes open most of the time but did close them from time to time to nap.

 

A couple of times she sat up and looked at me but would go right back down to rest. All total, they probably rested for about 30-35 minutes.

Look at the claws on that little one!

One cub was more adventurous than the other. It moved around more and climbed on mom. However, they both stayed very close to mom the entire time.

Here, she looked at me and started to yawn.

She must have found me to be boring. Right after yawning, she laid down. The cubs laid on her back. They stayed that way for about ten minutes. She may have been trying to prevent them from nursing.

After her nap, she and the cubs wandered away.

She and her cubs stayed there for 55 minutes before they wandered off. I was extremely lucky to spend that time alone with them while watching and recording their natural behavior. I don’t think it gets any better than that.

I wanted to know which bear this was so I went to Colter Bay to see if the rangers there could identify her.  At first, they thought it was the famous bear #399 who also has two cubs. I thought she had them last year so they would be larger than these two. These were born this year. The rangers weren’t sure so they asked their bear expert, Justin Schwabedissen, to look at my pictures. He would know.

Well, Justin recognized me from the fall where we had been together with a black bear and her two cubs. (After reading this post, click on this link. It will get you to last fall’s post of Mom Bear & Cubs ( http://imagesbybilla.com/?p=1638 ))

He looked at my photos and said, “Oh my gosh, that’s not 399. That’s 793, Blondie.” No one has reported seeing her with cubs. I was the first and had documented proof. He asked for a couple of photos for his files. Of course I obliged.  Now, how very cool is that?

He also gave me this information about her. She was captured in 2014. At that time, she weighed 220 pounds. (she looks a lot heavier than that now) They estimated her to be 6-7 years old at that time.  They put the tags in her ears and attached a radio collar which has since come off. She had three cubs in 2014 but lost all three in 2015, most likely to a big male.  There were no known cubs in 2016. So, this was very exciting.

Below, is my favorite photo of them together.

This is my favorite of her looking right at me.

I have to say, that was one of the best wildlife experience I’ve had to date. To be able to watch a Grizzly with her cubs just being natural for 55 minutes with no one else around well, I just cannot think anything better…..

I hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for stopping by.

Bill

That Wolf is Too Close!

I left Kansas City around 3:00 am on my 16 hour journey to the Grand Teton National Park. I wanted to get there before dark. This trip was to be only three days in the park so an extra hour or so of good light would be great even if I was tired.  Just before sundown is often a good time to spot wildlife.
After checking in at the motel in Jackson Hole, there was about an hour of light left before sundown.  I headed out to one of my favorite spots. I was a little disappointed because the sun had already gone down behind the mountains making it quite dark in the area.

It blended in so well that I almost missed it. It was the movement that caught my eye. At first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I stopped my car and then pulled off the narrow road. Park rules state that we must be no closer than 100 yards to wolves or bears. It was only about 35 – 40 yards off the road. It seem to be eating something or parts of something.

I thought the light was too dark to get decent shots so, I stayed in my car and just watched it for several minutes. I knew there were wolves in the park but had not seen any on my previous trips. This was special!

I decided, what the heck! I’ll give it a try to take a couple of shots. Perhaps I can brighten them up in Lightroom.  All these photos have been cropped and edited so you can enjoy what I saw.

As you can see, it didn’t seem to be concerned that I was there.  Several people drove by but no one saw it. However, once I put my camera in view, people started to stop. Yes, I was the start of a “Wolf Jam”.

People didn’t just stop, they started getting out of their cars!  This wolf was too close to do that!

Two young people started walking toward it with their phones to get a picture. I yelled at them to get back in their car. They were way too close!

As you can see, the wolf was not too happy!

Fortunately, it turned and walked away.

As the wolf went away, I was both glad and sad. I was glad to see the wolf  and that no one got hurt. If someone had gotten hurt most likely, it would have been the demise of the wolf. It would have only been protecting its food but….

I was sad  the people had gotten out of their cars rather than staying put and just watching the wolf in its natural environment. Sometimes it’s best to just enjoy the moment. We can’t always get the picture. Memories can last a very long time.

I learned later from the rangers that the pack had killed an elk in that area the day before. The rangers relocated the elk carcass to an undisclosed location because it was too close to the road. They moved it for the safety of the wolves and the people. Evidently, the wolf had come back for some remains that were probably left.

Well, that was my first evening in the Grand Teton National Park. I hope you enjoyed the photos.

There will soon be another blog about my time with a Grizzly and her two cubs so stay tuned.

Thanks for stopping by!

Bill