yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Solfatara

Yup, still working my way through Yellowstone pics. These ones will not disappoint! No way in heck!

Solfatara is another fun site with tons of wetlands which are not too far from a trail. The trail is an absolute godsend because the forest is all downfall with sparse regrowth from previous burns so there’s a fair amount of hurdling involved. It takes about four days to survey the site so it’s gargantuan but extremely manageable.

Adding to my already impressive list of animal encounters this year, I saw the one creature I’ve been completely dying to see and it was waaaaay better than I’ve ever imagined it could be. Right at the start of the field season, I declared that if I saw a single, solitary river otter, even from a distance, than I could immediately go home a happy camper. That was my absolute #1 bucket list animal. And actually the second animal on my bucket list was a moose and you know how that turned out. (If you don’t, well, shame on you and then click here. Actually, click there anyways because I updated the photos.)

This was my third year surveying Solfatara and I’ve never seen an otter there but I heard through the Yellowstone grapevine that they’ve been hanging around those parts so my fingers were crossed. About halfway through our third survey day we got to a rather large pond/small lake. I began surveying first and about 1/4 of the way around a large brown creature plopped into the water only a few feet ahead of me. As you can tell from other posts, when I’m surveying a wetland, I’m not doing a great job of staying aware of my surroundings. That’s definitely something I need to work on because as you’ve read from the moose post, it’s gotten me into dangerously stupid situations.

Once I heard the plop, I froze and just waited for a second because whatever it was sounded rather large. As I stood at the waters edge, the adorable heads of not one but two river otters popped out of the water right there at my feet. I should have known something was up because I kept seeing spots where something(s) had been sunning itself along the edge and leaving behind half-eaten salamanders. I decided to start my surveys back up again so that I could give them some distance, but much to my surprise, they swam alongside me as I walked along the edge. Then my field partner got into the mix and they had to split their time between us.

Eventually, they found us boring and slid back on to the grassy edge to pose for pictures, perform their obviously well-rehearsed circus routine (which included laying on top of each other and then moving their heads in unison) and tying themselves into a knot and falling asleep. At the end of my survey, I decided to be a bit brazen and see how close I could get to them before they’d actually wake up. Well, it was only about ten feet. They poked their heads up at me, yawned and went back to bed. Its pretty sad when even an otter twosome finds you completely harmless.

Enjoy the pics! Aren’t they something!?!

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Adventures, Musings, yellowstone national park

Capturing Wonderland

The Yellowstone Park Foundation is having their 2nd Annual “Capturing Wonderland” photo contest and I thought I’d toss my hat into the ring. I only have a rinky-dink camera so I don’t achieve high quality photos but I thought even if I didn’t win, they may be able to use and enjoy my photos at some point. They have two categories–landscapes and wildlife–and I submitted something for both. I have great photos of bison and common landmarks, which I’m sure everyone has, so I tried to offer something they may not have seen many photos of before. Here are my entries (click on each pic to enjoy it in full size–especially if you want to see the otter’s adorable squishy lil face!):

Here's an otter contemplating a dip in the Yellowstone River.
Here’s an otter contemplating a dip in the Yellowstone River.
Yellowstone River
Where the River Meets the Sky. This is a view of the Fishing Bridge from the Howard Eaton Trail.

I haven’t a clue how to use Photoshop so I’m sure they could be a million times better. In fact, the landscape pic is too dark but I kinda dig it that way because the trees create a negative space where the sky and the glass-like water becomes the main focus. The only manipulation they’ve seen is the standard contrast/brightness/saturation you can use from the Microsoft photo gallery. I haven’t really bothered to learn Photoshop because I’m a true believer in the idea that what makes a good photo is the subject matter and being in the right place at the right time to capture it at its best.

In this day and age, there are many types of photography and it drives me nuts when they’re judged same way. I see it as boiling down to two vastly different approaches: There are photographers who patiently wait for magic to happen and there are photographers who make magic happen through creative editing. (Most are probably a mix of both at this point, however, I’m predominantly a waiter.) I’m not saying either is better or worse, I’m just saying they are very different approaches. Both are time-consuming and require talent, but one is more about having camera skills and the other is more about having computer skills. That’s basically why it drives me nuts when both are viewed as being the same. One should be considered fine art photography and the other should be considered fine art photo design. However, in this digital age, techniques have bled together making its difficult to determine where one begins and ends. Shew… got that off my chest. Okay, I’m stepping down off my soap box now.

Looking through all my photos was just what I needed to get me into the mood to travel back out to the wild west. Truthfully, a large part of me dreads it every year because I’m not a fan of driving for days on end. However, this year I left myself plenty of time to hike, camp and explore so hopefully it won’t be as painful.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: July 16th, 2013

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One of them about to dive in to look for its buddy.

I spent the bulk of my morning reading and writing. Then I decided to make the most of my last free day by planning a hike of some sort; that is until it started raining. So I waited out the rain by going to the Lake post office and the Lake Lodge for some brief internet use. I paid for one hour of internet and after five minutes it crashed. Typical. Just when I thought my luck couldn’t get any worse, my fishing pole exploded on me again on the first cast into Yellowstone Lake. I was so pissed, I just balled up the fishing line and lure in my fist and shoved the pole into the backseat of the car–hopefully never to be seen again so it won’t remind me of what an epic failure I am. To calm down I took a nice walk by the shore and sat for a while, watching the rainstorm move across the lake. After I’d sufficiently forgotten all about the fishing incident, I drove back to the dorm to see if Richard and Mardel made it back from the juju-laden Pelican Valley safely. They did but they had one heck of a time with the weather out there. Pelican Valley is a lovely area of Yellowstone but it’s chock full of bears and there’s a long history of bad things happening there. Plainly speaking, I don’t go there. Then it was off to Fishing Bridge to get one of those delicious no-bake cookies that I’m addicted to, rock in the rocking chair out front and people-watch, and then hike the Howard Eaton trail. Andrew and I joke that we should re-name the trails after people we know and respect. I mean, who the heck is Howard Eaton anyways? So we renamed the trail to the Wilfred Brimley trail. How that came about I’m not sure but the Wilfred Brimley trail certainly is one of the longest in Yellowstone so you will definitely need a large bowl of oatmeal before the hike. I began at the Fishing Bridge entrance and walked a few miles along the Yellowstone River. It was it lovely. There were a lot of pelicans, geese, diving birds (two of them got into a squabble over a fish in front of me…kind of amusing) and wait for it….wait for it… river otters! I have been telling people that my trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete unless I saw otters and I finally did! I was taking photos of a pelican by the shoreline when I spied a mother and daughter creeping towards me. I thought that was a little strange but I had a can of bear spray in my hand and was fully prepared to use it against this sketchy mother-daughter team. Come to find out, they were kindly bringing to my attention the two otters playing just to my left. Duh! The otters were very friendly and swam right up to them for some close-up pics. I was not so lucky but I still got to enjoy them from afar. They were so awesome–playing around, jumping onto and then diving off of rocks and logs, pressing their faces together above the water, hassling the geese until they flew off. They really seem to live a rather footloose and fancy free lifestyle. I went back to the dorm and instantly rubbed it in Andrew’s face by showing him my otter pics. He was almost literally green with envy.

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Fishing Bridge in the distance.

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Two river otters tangled into a ball goofing around.
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They are swimming by me.
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Two buffle heads fishing and fighting with one another.
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A white pelican.

Once I finished my victory dance, we caught up over a few beers and chatted with the two fly fishermen staying in the dorm for the week. One of the fly fishermen is from Lubbock, TX and the other used to live in Oklahoma (not too far from Lubbock) so we had a lot to talk about since I did amphibian surveys in the area. As all Texans seem to be, they were completely flabbergasted to hear that Texas has by far the most amphibians I’ve ever encountered (although that’s not saying too much since I haven’t surveyed a rainforest or anything like that). They’re all just in the ground waiting for it to rain and once it does…watch out! You will think it’s the end of days or something. The fly fishermen had a lot of interesting things to say about fishing in Yellowstone. They fish in the early morning and at night with downtime during the day to let the fish rest. When a fish is caught, the angler puts it into a bucket and hands it over to a researcher from Penn State. If it’s a rainbow trout or a cutthroat trout, their fin is clipped for a dna sample to test the hybridization between the two species. Cutthroats are considered native to the area and rainbows are introduced and thus not wanted. So it’s a cool little program that allows anglers to help out with research and they get to fish Yellowstone in the process. Apparently, there’s also another researcher who has radio telemetry units on some cutthroat in the Yellowstone River. They’ve found that cutthroat live in the river during the warmer months and then migrate into Yellowstone Lake in the winter only to be devoured by gigantic introduced lake trout. This has led to the almost complete decimation of the cutthroat population in Yellowstone Lake which, in turn, has led to the multi-million dollar campaign to exterminate lake trout. The fishermen aren’t sure where the northern Lamar population of cutthroat over-winter, perhaps they stay in the smaller lakes and fare much better. Just to bring this full circle, otters heavily depend on cutthroat. Lately, Yellowstone Lake otters have had to find dietary replacements such as amphibians and longnose suckers but those are obviously lower quality food sources. Additionally, researchers say that lake trout are not a suitable dietary replacement for cutthroat, although otters have been known to consume them. I presume it’s because of their size, their jaw strength, and their location in the water column which makes them more energetically expensive and possibly dangerous to catch. So it’s an interesting conundrum. Let me just say this, those adorable little river otters better stay away from my amphibians!