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.


As you can see below, sometime they don’t give up too easily.

The following photo is the one I like best.


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


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…..


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!


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 ( ))

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.


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!


Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge… a day trip (3/1/2017)

Wednesday, I was able to sneak away and spend the day at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. I really didn’t know what to expect because I normally visit in the fall during the geese and duck migration.  I’ve gone at other times and always manage to come away with some photos but I’ve not gone this late in the winter.

The first critter I saw was a barred owl but it was too dark and it was too fast for me to get a shot….. Darn! I had to remind myself that I should “just enjoy the moment.” Which I did, reluctantly.

Not to be disappointed though, look who’s peeking out of the nest. At first I didn’t see anything in the nest. A train came by then all of a sudden it looked out. I was quite lucky to be there at the right time.  I stayed only a few minutes because I never want to disturb nesting. I drove by the nest several times throughout the day but that was the only time I saw it peeking out.

I always love it when the animal I’m photographing doesn’t  know I’m there. It affords getting a glimpse into their normal daily lives.

This coyote was hunting and at first didn’t notice me. However, they have excellent hearing. After a couple of clicks, it knew I was there.

It quickly went on its way. I was hoping it would stop and turn around as they often do to see if it was being followed.  It did but in tall grass where I couldn’t get clear a shot of it.

The next critter I saw seem to be happily dancing along the side of the road.  It really looked like it was dancing. I was surprised to see it because they are nocturnal. It brought a smile to my face as I watched it dancing along.

This eagle looked so majestic, that I couldn’t resist taking its picture.

Then, it made a gesture as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”

Even our National Symbol gets an itch now and then!

They must have been tired!  This is the first time I’ve been able to get this close to them without them getting nervous and flying away.  Too Cool!

This was the second coyote I saw. However, it saw me first. While butt shots are rude, this was the only shot I was able to get as it quickly moved away.

This might have been what it was hunting. Can you see it?

Now, I’m sure you can see it. There were two of them. While they have excellent hearing, I don’t think they knew I was there. I watched them for a few minutes as they slowly walked by.

Nope! This is not the same opossum. Now I knew it was a luck day. You hardly ever see one in the daylight, but two?  How cool is that?

This one didn’t seem as happy as the other one and didn’t want anything to do with me so I just took a couple of quick shots and moved on.

Just as the sun was going down, all of a sudden, hundreds of thousands of red-winged black birds appeared. There were hundreds of them perched in all the nearby trees while the sky was fill with them flying in all directions. I have never seen so many at one time.

You can tell by the soft golden glow of the light that the sun was almost down. This flock  landed on the ground close to me.

This is an enlargement of the center of the previous photo. Like the ducks and geese, I just don’t know how they avoid mid-air collisions when they all start to fly at the same time. It was really awesome to see.

Well that was my day at the refuge. I saw other animals which were to fast for me to photograph.  There were a variety of hawks, including a northern harrier, that barred owl and of course, there are always deer. All in all, I think it was a good day.

For the locals, it’s really not that far to go and visit. From my house in Overland Park, it takes an hour and a half to get there. I hope you’ve enjoyed my day adventure at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge and perhaps, visit it yourself.

Thanks for stopping by!


Squaw Creek / Loess Bluffs Bald Eagles

As many of you may know, the name of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge has been changed to Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge. It was done after much debate and input from several Native American tribes. It seems, the word squaw has a derogatory meaning for many of them. This change has in no way taken anything away from this wonderful place but makes it better for all who love it.

From this time forward, all my post with photos taken here will be listed under the new name. That being said, I hope you enjoy these photos. Some are new.  Some are from times past but I hope you enjoy seeing them again.

December 12, 2016 was a very good day for eagle watching. There were so many in the tree that I couldn’t fit them all in photo below. There were also several  flying around in the same location at the same time.

Good day for Bald Eagles, 12/12/16

They were coming from all angles!

Coming at you!

The next series are of the same bird in flight as it was flying around with some of the others.

Getting lift!
Just taking to the sky
Flying by

At a certain time of the year, you may get lucky and see them on the nest. When I do, I never stay long because I don’t want to cause them any stress which may interfere with their well-being or nesting.


After viewing this one for a few minutes, he flew over me to the pond behind me. He gather nesting material, then flew close to me as he brought the mud and grass to the nest. I’m reasonably sure it was the male because he seemed to be the smaller of the two. Most of the time, adult female raptors are larger than males.

Building a home
I hope she likes the new furniture!

I call this photo “The Couple”. One was squawking. The other was just not paying attention.

I’m not listening!

I was lucky to get these three together. They look to be of 3 different ages. The one on the left is at least 4 to 5 years old. Their heads and tails turn white around 4 to 5 years of age. The one on the far right might be a little unique. I haven’t seen many with so much white on their breast and legs.

The look of three different ages.

Just another couple hanging out together!

Hanging out together!

Time to rest and just look around!

Just looking around!

A series of one taking off.

Getting ready to take flight!
One Giant Leap!
Almost there

Please don’t be too ruffled about the name change. I think it represents the area well and it’s kind of catchy! The eagles don’t seem to mind.

Ruffled but not because of the name change.

I never get tired of photographing our National Symbol. They are so majestic! I hope you come to Loess Bluffs during the fall migration to see them. If you like seeing lots of water fowl and eagles, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Bye for now!

Thanks for stopping by!


Bear Spray or Not!

According to a survey of 8,281 people at Yellowstone done between years 2011 and 2014, only 52% of backpackers carried bear spray. Only 13% of day hikers carried bear spray and less than 1% of boardwalk hikers carried bear spray.

So, should you carry bear spray? Well, below are two pictures of Sawmill Pond. The first one is looking at it from the north. The second is looking at it from the south. It is below a rather large turn-out that is very popular. As you can see, it’s a beautiful place. Most people get out of their car to see if any animals are there at or in the pond. Some will even take short hikes. My previous post, Mama Bear & Cubs, was about this very spot.

Sawmill Pond looking North
Sawmill Pond looking South
Sawmill Pond looking North
Sawmill Pond looking North

A day or two before Mama Bear & Cubs, I was there when a large group of people had stopped to view this beautiful spot. What they didn’t see or know at first was this…

Can you see it?
Can you see it?

Well, maybe now….

Still a little hard to see
Still a little hard to see

Now, I’m sure you can see it.

Coming into view
Coming into view

There should be no doubt now!

Yes, it's a black bear!
Yes, it’s a black bear!

As I mentioned, most people were looking at the pond. This bear was on the hill behind them. It was only about 125 or so yards away!

By itself, but very big!
By itself, but very big!

Now, it wasn’t coming toward us and it seemed to be by itself so I don’t think we were in any danger but…….

The point is, you never know from where they may come. Even in places that seem safe with a lot of people around, they could show up. The entire area is their habitat and their home. We are the intruders.

This bear posed no threat. After getting a drink, it went back up the mountain.

So, should we carry bear spray? Well, I think it would be safe to say the authorities think we should.  “Studies show that bear spray is more than 90 percent effective in stopping an aggressive bear, especially when combined with the park’s other safety recommendations” Click the link below for more info.

I know that it’s an individual decision, but I can tell you this. I don’t leave my car in any area except town without my bear spray.

This is their home!
This is their home!

Always be safe!

Thanks for coming by!



Mama Bear & Cubs

At the northern end of Moose Wilson Road in the Grand Teton Nation Park, there is a special place I often go to very early in the morning. I try to go there an hour or so before sunset as well. There’s a large pull-out area for cars to park. Directly below the parking area is Sawmill Pond. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen moose, elk, osprey fishing, six different black bears and a variety of ducks and other animals in that area. I keep missing the Great Grey Owl though!

It’s well-marked with a sign that states that this area is frequented by bears and your safety cannot be guaranteed. Most people stop and stay just a few minutes especially if they don’t see an animal right away. Some will hike a short distance from the parking area while a few of us will hike a mile or so along the ridge. I like to do it an hour or so before sundown because the sun is in a perfect spot should I see elk or moose.

Two weeks ago I hiked out there a little more than an hour before sundown. I had heard three elk bugling and was hoping to get a good environmental shot of at least one of them.  After about an hour, one of them showed himself and I got this shot. I got lucky again!

Bull Elk showing himself
Bull Elk showing himself

The sun was about a half hour from setting so I headed back. About 200 yards from the parking area, I saw a couple who were clearly in distress. The woman’s eyes were wide open and she was making gestures indicating a big bear and  two small bears were close by. The man was on his cell phone trying to explain in his broken english that they were in trouble because the bears had crossed the trail right in front of them. They were afraid to move and didn’t know what to do.

I told them they were safe with me. I had bear spray and would walk with them to their car. I knew this bear was not interested in us but trying to find food. We are not their prey. She was most likely looking for berries for herself and her cubs. The folks were quite relieved when we got to their car as they continued to thank me over and over again.

By that time, a ranger had come and of course, a horde of people showed up as well. As the ranger and I talked, I kept watch for the bear. I saw it coming toward us. Now, the next few pictures are not of the quality I would like but, I’m posting them anyway. You see, we had to keep moving back because she was coming towards us so it was a little tricky trying to get the shots I wanted. I was also trying to help the ranger with crowd control. (Well, that’s my excuse….. 😉)

Female Black Bear coming towards us
Female Black Bear coming towards us. The little bit of brown on the right is one of her cubs.

Here she is looking back to be sure they were following her.

Are you coming?
Are you coming?

This is a picture of her second cub. We noticed that it was limping and following at a slower pace.

I'm coming too!
I’m coming too!
Just hobbling along
Just hobbling along…..

Mom stopped coming toward us and decided to go back down to the pond area which is 35 yards below the parking area.

Coming out of the brush
Coming out of the brush

She continued to go along the edge of the pond right in front of us. While it was only about 35 yards away, the ranger felt we were safe as long as we stepped back just a bit.

She continued to go to our left towards a berry bush.

Hmmmm this may be good!
Hmmmm this may be good!

She then reached up to sample some of the berries.

That's about as high as I can reach.
That’s about as high as I can reach.

Cub #1, the non-injured one, climbed right up into the bush. It was fun to watch as it swayed around a bit. I was wondering if the small branches would support its weight. Well, they did and it did not fall.

I think there are some up here Mom!
I think there are some up here Mom!
Whoooo, it's a bit shaking up here!
Whoooo, it’s a bit shaking up here!
OK, now I've got it!
OK, now I’ve got it!

Soon, they seem to have their fill and started to move off behind the bush where we could no longer see them.

Time to move on...
Time to move on…

The next thing we noticed, mom was crossing the pond.

I wonder what's on the other side.
I wonder what’s on the other side.

A minute or so after mom made it across, cub #1 swam across too.

Just about there!
Just about there!
Made it!
Made it!

Well, where’s cub #2?.  It finally caught up to the area where mom and #1 had been but they were not in sight.

Hey guys! Where are you?
Hey guys! Where are you?

Soon #2 disappeared behind the berry bush. We couldn’t see it. All of a sudden, we heard it softly calling out to mom. It got a little louder and then even louder. It almost sounded like it was crying.  Saying, where are you MOM! Then it stopped. Next, we saw this.

They have got to be over here..... I hope!
They have to be over here….. I hope!

Yup! It swam across the pond in just about the same area as mom and #1 did.

As it got on the other side, mom came out from the trees to greet it.

Where have you been?
Where have you been?

She was there after all making sure #2 was safe and ok. She was being a really good Mom!

I was starting to worry about you, little one!
I was starting to worry about you, little one!

And then, they went off together into the woods.

Time to go find #1.
Time to go find #1.

Everyone was relieved to see them together again. I hope they find enough food to make it through the winter especially cub #2. If it does, with that drive to survive, it’s going to be an awesome adult bear.

I hope to see you next year little one!

Well, that’s my National Geographic experience for this year. I hope you enjoyed the trip with me.

Thanks for coming by!