One of the highlights of a recent visit to the Wakodahatchee Wetlands was observing the behavior of a pair of Black Necked Stilts as they protected their nest. One of the mated pair was always on patrol nearby and as soon as it perceived any threat it would squawk loudly and should the intruder not retreat it would harass it until it left. Size was of no concern as I observed it harassing a great egret which was easily 20 times it size until the egret finally flew off.
I observed the roosting bird for quite some time hoping to catch a glimpse of the eggs and after some time it raised up from the roost and spent a moment or two cleaning the nest and rearranging the eggs before sitting again. I obviously was not the only one enjoying the scene as once I moved away I could see a crowd of nature lovers and photographers near the vantage point.
I was surprised to see a nest in such an exposed location and could only guess that this was a young, inexperienced mated pair of stilts. I remember telling my fellow photographer that "i was surprised that a gator had not got them already" and sadly that came to pass. Two days after I took this photo it was reported that the nest was abandoned, both the eggs and birds were gone, and a small alligator was now resting on the island. I know it was a natural occurrence in Mother Nature's circle of life but it nonetheless saddens me that this story ended so abruptly.
Emerald Lake is a lake in the southern Yukon Territory, notable for its intense green color. It is located on the South Klondike Highway at kilometer 117.5 (mile 73.5), measured from Skagway, Alaska. The color derives from light reflecting off white deposits of marl, a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, at the bottom of the shallow waters.
In June 2009, I took a family sea/land vacation to Alaska. Earlier in the year I had decided that this was my last year as a working man and that I would be retiring before the holiday season. Knowing that I would need a hobby to fill my new found idle time and knowing that I planned on doing a lot of traveling, I decided to reenter the world of photography after a near 20 year hiatus. I purchased my first digital SLR, a Nikon D40, and began to reacquaint myself to the world of photography.
This trip to Alaska was my first challenge as a newbie photographer. During the cruise portion of our trip, the town of Skagway was one of our ports of call. The most popular excursions seemed to be the White Pass railway tour into the Yukon and the glacier tours, but we opted out of both of them. Taking the advice of a friend who had multiple Alaska cruises under her belt, we decided to go on our own self-guided auto tour into the nearby Yukon Territory.
We had reserved a car at the only rental agency in town (Avis) and headed up the South Klondike Highway towards the Yukon Territory at our own pace. The border crossing into Canada was no problem. A few questions and we were on our way. Our route paralleled the railroad tracks for most of the trip so we were seeing the same scenery as the RR passengers with one distinct advantage. We could......stop.... and spend some time at those scenic locations which caught our interest. Numerous lakes.... the town of Carcross... trading posts... wildlife... and even a small desert near Carcross.
For we photographers, that advantage made us forget about the comfort of the dome cars on the train. We were also able to spend triple the time and travel much further into the Yukon then those who opted for the train. Not only did we have the opportunity to stop for that magnificent scenery but we also could stop for wildlife and we did so for three grizzly encounters during our drive.
In fairness, I never heard any negative comments from my fellow passengers who opted for the White Pass Railroad but for photographers I truly believe that the freedom to stop and compose your photos is one factor which should weigh heavily on any decisions. I heartily recommend the self-guided tour by auto up the South Klondike highway into the Yukon for any passengers stopping in Skagway. It is also very economical as we were able to rent a vehicle for the four of us for near the same price as ONE train ticket.
We were returning from a day trip to Beartooth and a few miles before we reached Cooke City we ran into this grizzly with a cub nearly her size. What followed was the best grizzly encounter I have ever had in all my trips to Yellowstone/Tetons.
Rounding a corner on the highway we came upon a very large pullout with these two large bears searching for food in the nearby field. Sometimes as near as 50 ft and never more then 50 yds away, we spent the next hour photographing them before they went into the nearby forest to take a nap. After 15-20 minutes of shooting around other passengers and as they were completely ignoring us, I opened the door on the far side of the car and stepped out to get a shot over the hood. A half dozen shutter clicks and momma bear raised her head and looked me straight in the eye. I don't claim to have any paranormal senses but I did get her message loud and clear. I immediately slid back into my seat then closed the door and momma went back to her search for morsels in the grass. A few moments later I repositioned the vehicle so those formerly on the far side had the better shot.
Although it was a very large pullout, there were never more then a half dozen cars stopped at any one time. Surprisingly everyone behaved themselves and kept the noise levels down and nobody, other then myself, did anything stupid. I can only assume that since this was an isolated area off the beaten path that most of the traffic was locals with few tourists. In retrospect, this was the high point of our trip as far as shooting wildlife is concerned.
Few sights are more symbolic of the American frontier then the bison. The American bison is the largest terrestrial animal in North America. They are good swimmers and can cross rivers over half a mile (1 km) wide. They are nomadic grazers and travel in herds. The bulls leave the herds of females at two or three years of age, and join a male herd, which are generally smaller than female herds. Mature bulls rarely travel alone. Towards the end of the summer, for the reproductive season mixed sex herds are formed. During the rut, which lasts from June through August, the bulls will fight for dominance within the now commingled herds with the winners being rewarded with reproductive rights.
American bison are known for living in the Great Plains. The bison were nearly hunted to extinction in the latter half of the 19th century when an estimated 50 million bison were slaughtered for their hides and meat with only a few hundred surviving at the turn of the century. Now numbering close to 400K, most bison are now raised as domesticated livestock. The Yellowstone herds, numbering between 4-5K are one of the few wild herds still extant.
On a personal note, bison are one of my favorite subjects on my annual visits to Yellowstone. Yes, I like more stellar species such as grizzlies, foxes, wolves, etc., but I find the bison to be both interesting and photogenic and can spend hours observing a herd waiting for a behavior of interest to occur. They seldom disappoint me.
The Pronghorn is the fastest North American land animal, capable of sustained speeds of 40-50 mph and sprints up to 60mph. Speed is its main defense and no predator can catch a healthy adult pronghorn on the run. They are most at risk from predation as newborns when their mother hides them in the tall vegetation and guards them closely. Even so it is estimated some 30-40% of newborns fall victim to predators. At about three weeks of age the youngsters come out of hiding and begin foraging with several females, their offspring, and yearling females in nursery herds.
Often mistakenly called antelope, they are not of that family which is native to Africa and Asia. It is probably a tag that dates from observations noted during the Lewis and Clark expeditions. Once close to 40 million roamed North America, but the settlement of the west decreased their numbers to about 20k at the turn of the century. About 5000 reside in the Yellowstone area today.