In honor of tonight’s MEGA MILLIONS Lottery drawing I bring you your very own jackpot if you will. That jackpot being a bonus post for the month! I know, I know, a cheap replacement for the millions you could have won with the real drawing, but hey, the likelihood of getting this post was a whole lot better than your odds of actually winning that thing anyway. Truth be told, one of the reasons for the extra post is due to the quality of this particular set of pictures. One of the professional photographers Linda and I enjoying listening to has a podcast we play on our longer road travels. In this podcast, Rick Sammon is always fond of saying “One blurry picture is a mistake, a hundred blurry pictures is a style”. Generally I laugh this off, but in this particular case I’m going with wholehearted truth. In a slight variation, these images are in the STYLE of high grain hand painted mural. Here is a perfect example of this.
What do you think, captivating brush strokes, complimentary colors and that “stand back 20 feet” appeal common in many classic paintings in art history. Any chance you are buying that? thought so. Now a little background. The first time Linda and I visited Yellowstone, we did not get the opportunity to see a single wolf while we were out there. Part of that is due to not making it out to Lamar Valley which is where these wonderful animals tend to hang out (or rather where they are most often viewed). This trip out we had a bold goal to leave with at least one sighting and if a miracle occurred, some photos. On the very first morning we headed out to Lamar Valley with our friends David and Dr. Giselle. There we were met with lots of people with spotting scopes trained on a far distance cluster of trees on the banks of the river – just below the confluence. Thanks to a friendly lady from the UK we learned that the Druid Pack had been in a 2 day standoff with an cow elk who had sought safety in the middle of the river. I cannot give you a good estimate of the distance that was from where we were at on the side of the road, but it was way too far for the Beast to pull in any detail at all. Some other visitors around us were more than happy to give us a look through their more powerful scopes (quite friendly people out there by the way). Sure enough, we could see the cow elk’s head and top of it’s back along with a couple of wolves taking random passes along the banks. I can’t imagine how stressful this was for the participants in the standoff not having eaten in two days in a struggle of life and death. I do not usually take sides in the natural wildlife food chains but it turns out that a group of ignorant tourists decided they have the right to. Later in the day, these idiots decided they would walk out near the standoff and have a bite to eat while watching the event. Well, guess what, both the elk and the wolves freaked out at this intrusion causing the end of the skirmish – the wolves abandoned the hunt and the elk made off. Now one would say that those people saved an elk, but those of us who understand that predators have to kill to feed themselves and their cubs consider this as even more days without nourishing the pack. While were making our final scans, a park ranger came by and informed us that this had happened and he was looking for the morons that walked out there… so we’re not the only ones upset about this (the UK lady wanted them banned from the park immediately).
So one of our goals had been met, we actually saw wolves – Yeah! But the story does not end there.
Hit the jump to read the rest of the goodness and the explanation for the shot above !
As the day was coming to a close we started our trek back to the hotel we were staying at. We had just passed Swan Lake – where we had taken Tundra Swan shots earlier (link here) when we noticed some movement out in the distance… in particular a black object moving at a pretty good pace across the brush. Linda pulled over at the nearest turn off and out came the Beast and the rest of the cameras we had between us. After relocating it in the glass, it became very apparent we were witnessing another wolf sighting and this time it was essentially the 4 of us and one other couple that had pulled off with their spotting scope. To say it was getting too dark for the Beast is an understatement. Luckily it was on the D7000 body so the ISO was cranked all the way up (minimally 3200 if not 6400) and the shutter speed was set as low as I was willing to go with a moving object and still give enough light for the f4 minimum. The 80-200 just didn’t have the reach to make it out there which is a bummer since it sports an f2.8 low end.
For reference, this is what we were dealing with and this went through some major lighting enhancements to pull it out of the blackness.
The black coloring of this wolf significantly helped in the initial locating, but after a little while we noticed that this wolf was actually following another that was further to the right. This one had the silver/gray coloring allowing it to blend nicely into the surroundings. Eventually, this lighter wolf came into better view.
Get out your easel and painting supplies (again, the original image is very very dark and enough noise to make the World Series jealous). These two wolves were on a mission to make it out of the valley and up into the foothills before nightfall. I ended up asking our UK lady friend twice what pack these were and I have managed to forget (twice) what their name was. Hell, I might as well zoom you in to see all the grainy goodness (ha).
Has a tail (check), has four legs (check), muzzle (check), got some beef on that torso (check), yes, I believe we have a wolf! Talk about hitting gold, not only did we see wolves, we managed to spot a couple of wolves that only 6 of us noticed at the time and … and .. and .. we now have pictures (not the best quality, but pictures none the less). I’m basically ecstatic to get some shots that you can tell is wolf but definitely left room for improvement on our next trip.
Surprisingly, we were not done yet. On our last afternoon there, we headed back to Lamar Valley because we had heard a pack had successfully made an elk kill about a mile further up from the confluence. We were on the other side of the park when we decided to head out there making our arrival once again late in the afternoon (actually much later as the sun was nearly down). I screwed up and couldn’t locate the kill right away so we wasted a ton of time having to backtrack before finally spotting the kill zone. With ISO through the roof and molasses shutter speed we came away with a couple of shots that almost look like wolves … as seen through cataracts.
For the curious, the dead elk is in the upper right (where the bird is heading). There were a lot more wolves at this sighting (all likely needed to take down their dinner). This shot at least has the wolf’s head out of the brush.
And for the finger painters out there, the rest of the pack…
There was absolutely no way to tell on the back of the camera’s LCD if we had made the shot or not since it looked essentially black. Clearly we left the gallery shots out there, but our goal of seeing the wolves was definitely met and we achieved our small miracle of getting some shots in the tin. Now that we know where they are and now that I have added a 1.4 teleconverter to the Beast (Tim the Tool Man grunts all around) I should have all the reach needed (lost an fstop, so we’ll have to get there a little earlier in the afternoon).
Hope you enjoyed this final set of the Wildlife of Yellowstone and thanks to everyone for putting up with all the photography posts this month. Oh, and I should probably extend big thanks to Nikon for producing the D7000 with much higher ISO ranges and to Adobe for providing excellent lighting and noise reduction capabilities in Lightroom.