A Bald Eagle circles in front of the Teton range to make a second attempt at the raft of coots floating in the lake below.
There are few things I find more visually striking than a red fox against the white snow. I found this fox as it was hunting for rodents under the snow. The fox will listen carefully for movement under the snow, turning its head back and forth to pin point the sound before leaping into the air and diving head first into the snow.
A slightly different view of the Teton Range...seen here from the western side towering over Idaho farmlands.
Lodgepole pine dominates the Greater Yellowstone landscape. The drastically varying heights of the trees are a poignant reminder of a powerful force in the ecosystem, that of fire. This remaining stand of trees high above the Madison River has always impressed me. These few trees somehow survived while everything around them burned to the ground. Though we feel a sense of loss after a major burn, fire is not necessarily a bad thing, nor does it get the last say when it comes to these trees.
The lodgepole pine is equipped to respond to fire in a remarkable way. Their secret is found in a condition called serotiny. Now that we got the fancy word out of the way, what does it even mean? Many of the female cones produced by lodgepole pine remain closed, until they are met with the extreme heat of a fire, at which time the cones open and disperse seeds all over the forest floor. This is why you see such a high density of young trees growing in areas that have previously burned. The smaller trees pictured in the foreground here are 30 years old! They have a long way to go before reaching the heights of their forbears.
The lodgepole pine, making up 80% of the Yellowstone forest, is remarkably resilient in its ability to grow in less than ideal conditions. Here, the poor conditions eventually took their toll. The wet and mineral laden sulfuric soil around hydrothermal features is a tough place to survive.
These trees are known as bobby socks trees because of the white section on the lower trunk which resembles bobby socks. As the trees absorb the water from hydrothermal runoff they also take in minerals. When the water evaporates, the minerals remain and turn the bottom of the trees white.
This was my last sighting of grizzly 399 and her two cubs for the season as she made the most of gut piles left over from hunters. It looks like she has denned up for the winter. She was the very first grizzly I saw and photographed. I grew up spending my summers in Jackson, and dreamed of seeing a grizzly from my earliest days, but it took a while. When I finally turned 16 and got my driver’s license I had a little bit more flexibility. With that I was able to go into the field on my own schedule and spend all the time I wanted waiting around. That was the summer I saw her. I remember the adrenaline and excitement like it was yesterday. She will always be very special to me, and I know there are many people who feel similarly.
A spirit bear snags a silver salmon. Biologists think the white coat makes them more successful when fishing. From the perspective of a fish looking through white water and upwards to the sky, it is a lot easier to detect a black coat, than a white one.
After snorkeling and successfully catching a Silver Salmon, a Spirit Bear shakes off his wet coat. It took me four trips to the Great Bear Rainforest before I had the privilege of photographing the Spirit Bear. It is a rare subspecies of black bear that lives only along the central and northern coast of BC. There are less than 400 Spirit bears in existence, making them one of the rarest bears on the planet.
Bald Eagles key in on waterfowl in the late fall just before the ice takes hold and the open water is gone in Grand Teton National Park. When I arrived at the lake with. I first noticed the group of Red Heads. I looked around a bit more, and I noticed this eagle perched low and just out of sight along the river. I knew it was a matter of time before it made an attempt for the ducks. An hour or so passed and the eagle launched into the air. Flying low and using the topography to its advantage, the eagle had the element of surprise. Even still, it wasn't enough, and after five or six unsuccessful dives the eagle gave up for the afternoon. Nonetheless, it was an adrenaline rush watching the whole event unfold.
As winter settles and temperatures reach -40 degrees, perhaps no animal is as well prepared to survive in this unforgiving climate.
The distinct shoulder hump on their back, which is actually a protruding muscle, allows them to function as a 1 ton, living snow plow. Unlike other ungulates, such as moose and elk, which scrape with their front feet to access food under the snow, bison use this muscle to rock their massive heads back and forth exposing grass and sedge buried under several feet of snow. Some bison will opt out on this “snow-plow” technique, preferring to graze alongside thermal features where the warm steam from geysers or hot springs melts the snow on the surrounding grass.
When violent winter storms hit, prompting other wildlife to seek shelter from the chilling wind and blinding snow, bison just plop down where they are and wait it out. Their winter coats are so thick and well insulated that the falling snow doesn’t even melt on their back. In a heavy snow, you can watch the largest land animal North America vanish before your eyes in a matter of moments.
I sat with this bull for a while recently as he browsed. This is largest moose I’ve seen this year. The light was pretty flat, but there was a brief 30 second window when the sun broke through and created a beautiful backlit scene against the falling snow....fortunately he picked that very moment to move to a new patch of bitterbrush
It’s hard to beat this high vantage point for watching storms roll in over the Tetons
A humpback whale dives to begin bubble-net feeding in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Two grizzly bear cubs watch and learn as mom fishes for salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Bubble-net feeding is a strategy requiring remarkable intelligence and teamwork. The lead whale lunges first and locates the fish, while the other whales follow taking the same formation each time. Once the fish are located, the lead whale begins blowing bubbles which functions as a net trapping the fish. Using vocalizations, the whales communicate when to blow more bubbles, and at what point to simultaneously rise to the surface with open mouths and swallow the fish.
“In the beginning of time, the world was white with ice and snow. The creator, Raven, came from heaven and made the world green as it is today. But he wanted to make something to remind the people of the beginning so they would be thankful for the lush and bountiful land of today. So, Raven made one in every ten black bears white to remind the people of a time when glaciers covered this land." Spirit Bear Lore of the Kitasoo Xai'xais First Nation
The Spirit Bear is a rare subspecies of black bear that lives only along the central and northern coast of BC. There are less than 400 Spirit bears in existence, making them one of the rarest bears on the planet. Spending several hours last week with this young male as he fished for salmon was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in the wild.
While the cow elk are busy raising their young, the bulls stick together in small bachelor herds. Thanks to the nutritious grazing opportunities summer provides, their antlers, covered in velvet, begin regrowing up to an inch per day.
The call of the Sandhill Crane is one of the most distinct and beautiful sounds in the Teton valley. Their return each the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each Spring signals the changing of the seasons.
Coyotes are perhaps one the most underestimated members of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This highly intelligent and adaptable specifies deserves a spotlight. Their success making a living on a harsh landscape is due to a remarkable resourcefulness. I recently watched a coyote over several hours fishing for trout in a river, ambushing waterfowl on the river bank, pouncing in the snow for small rodents, and stealing bites of bison from a recent wolf kill that the pack had left temporarily unattended. The variety of creative ways coyotes utilize to find food is impressive.
For the majority of the year most coyotes run solo, or in pairs as they raise pups, but in the winter it’s not uncommon to see them in packs with up to 5 or more members. This confidence in numbers allows them to take on larger prey, and maybe even to feel more secure as they traverse a winter landscape dominated by their larger not-so-tolerant relative, the wolf.
At first glance these slender weasels appear at a serious disadvantage when it comes to keeping warm in the winter. They have practically no body fat, and relatively little fur in their winter coats, but an ermine has several unique features and strategies to make up for it.
For one, their coat turns from brown to white each winter, allowing them to be nearly invisible as they move through a snow white landscape. Their tail has a black tip on the end, which functions as a decoy luring any potential predators to strike there, rather than a more vulnerable part of the body.
To make up for a lack of body fat and extra fur, they generate body heat with their cranked up metabolism. Essentially, they turn their body into a heater, eating up to 6 times a day. When ermines do take time to rest, it needs to be in an insulated location. The den of a chipmunk or vole they just killed fits the bill perfectly. Another tactic ermines are known to employ is actually lining the inside of a log or den with the fur of their victims to keep warm.
There is little question that the next species in my series of winter wildlife finds the most creative ways to have fun. Humans aren’t the only ones enthralled with the feeling of sliding on snow. While we use skis, boards, or sleds, river otters need look no further than their long and slender bodies. When on land, otters cover ground with a hop, hop, slide, hop, hop, slide movement pattern. Sliding on the snow and ice certainly allows them to travel more efficiently, but spend any time with otters and there’s no denying the routine is as much, if not more, for fun as it is for practicality.
Other than playful antics to keep their mind off the cold, otters have some impressive adaptations and strategies for winter survival. River otter’s lengthy guard hairs, and dense underfur, which traps insulating air, keeps them warm in extreme temperatures. On top of that, oil secreted from the sebaceous gland actually waterproofs their coat, preventing water from reaching their skin. To remain well insulated they must replace the air in their underfur after swimming, and they do this by rolling around in the snow, and yes, you’ve guessed it, playfully.
Since the water temperatures are warmer than the air, otters opt to spend more time underwater. They will often travel and hunt underneath the ice shelves which line the rivers and creeks during winter months. An otter may stay below the ice indefinitely by breathing in the air pockets trapped beneath the ice.