November 26, 2011

Snow Birds

YELLOWSTONE  - As winter settles in on the Greater Yellowstone Region, the snowbirds fly south either by wing or by motor coach. Those of us that are more grounded either by work, will, finance, perverse adrenalin addictions or a slavish dedication to the four seasons settle in and prepare for the curses and blessings of winter.

I grew up in San Luis Obispo California, where the weather hardly changes. In spring it greens up, in summer it turns brown again until February but the temperature rarely dips below 60 degrees and if the water in the garden hose freezes it is a talking point between neighbors. In summer, the thermometer rarely breaks 85 degrees. For many it is the perfect place.

When I was a teenager, I found out San Luis Obispo County was a tourist destination, and nothing could have surprised me more. How could that be, this place is so ordinary? I know, I had all the wisdom of a teenager! As a young adult I moved around a lot, all over California and Alaska, no moss grew under my feet as I lived as the metaphorical rolling stone. I sampled many places before the Greater Yellowstone captured me and wouldn’t let me go. I later concluded my wanderlust was satiated by the change of seasons and my wandering must have been an escape from the drudgery endlessly good weather.

Living in Alaska as a dog musher I decided I liked winter better than summer, which was when my sport of choice occurred, besides there was no mud nor mosquitoes during winter. My preference for winter continued when in my thirties when I moved to Jackson Hole, in the Greater Yellowstone, a skiing nirvana.

As I remained in the Greater Yellowstone season after season year after year, I learned I loved to see each season come, and I love to see each season go. As a photographer I marveled  how the landscape changes every several months and brings a new variety of subjects to my lens. Every season has its primary focus.

Springtime is for grizzly bears as this is the time when it is easier to find them. It is also time to photograph the landscape coming back to life from its long winter slumber. Summer is alive with leafy greenery, summer thunderstorms that bring drama to our landscape, and baby animals fill us with the awe of cute. Fall brings the drama of the breeding season of the mega fauna, elk, deer, moose etc, magnificent creatures fighting for the right to perpetuate their species.

In winter many mountain top dwellers come down to the valleys for the winter so we can get a look at them. Deep snow drives the bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats etc. to the lower elevations where it is easier to paw their way through the snow for a bite to eat.

Me out enjoying a fresh blanket of snow.
Winter also brings that beautiful blanket of snow. At the beginning of my first winter in Alaska I looked out at the snow covered landscape in a spot where it was valley and no mountains, As I looked I wondered, here we have the dull green of the trees, the white of the snow and the blue of the sky, why is this so pretty. My conclusion was despite the paucity of color or towering mountains the snow-covered landscape smoothed out all the rough edges and softened the look of everything bringing a pleasing ambiance that was different than the one before.

I’m older now and that snow shovel is heavier than it used to be. My driveway seems to have grown as exponentially long as my property tax bill large. Unfortunately, a snow blower costs about the same as a new lens and my propensity to never make my life easier, I always buy the lens or some such thing instead of the snow blower.  Skiing has less appeal as my agility leaves me short of what I once could do.

After moving away from my hometown I learned of its appeal as it is a stunning place, but sometimes you have to back away from something before you can see it.  I no longer prefer winter to summer, and I do play with the idea of a winter escape to southern Utah or northern Arizona. But, since I have neither wings nor a motor coach I will remain here with the less mobile and hole up like the grizzly bear except with frequent forays to capture the beauty that remains constant unlike the ambulatory mentality of man.

November 20, 2011

Yellowstone Pine Marten

American Marten, Pine Marten
Greater Yellowstone Pine Marten or American Marten
To By Pine Martin photos go to The Hole Picture Photo Gallery

Life is full of surprises; you will rarely find a grizzly bear photographer as thrilled as when they get the opportunity to photograph a Pine Marten or long tail weasel during the course of their pursuit of photographing grizzlies. Grizzlies are easy for them to find, to get the opportunity to photograph a Pine Marten or a weasel it is a rare event.
Pine Marten, American Marten
Greater Yellowstone's American Marten or Pine Marten as they are colloquially know around here is a North American member of the family Mustelidae (Martes americana). The name "Pine Marten" is derived from the common but distinct Eurasian species of Martes.

Pine Martens are cat-size and slender with long, dark, chestnut-brown fur and a bushy tail with a distinctive creamy-yellow throat. The tail is long and fluffy and is about half the length of its body. Their head is usually lighter in color than the rest of their body it has large rounded ears, a roughly triangular head and sharp nose. A big male American Marten will be 20 or so inches long and weigh around two to three pounds. Compared to other carnivores, Pine Marten population density is low for their body size.

Young Martens or kits are born around April. They will each adult size about three to four months of age although they don't really mature until they are about two years old. The mother will have two to three kits each time she has her babies. When they are born, the kits are naked, blind, and deaf. Life span: may reach 10 years or more in the of article

November 19, 2011

Jackson Hole's National Elk Refuge

Jackson Hole's National Elk Refuge

Bull Elk herd, National Elk Refulge, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Bull Elk herd, National Elk Refulge, Jackson Hole Wyoming
When the sun peaks over the Gros Ventre Mountains east of Jackson Hole, and its light creeps slowly across valley, light creeps over bundles of fur and antlers starting to stir from a cold winter night. As the sun reaches the base of the Grand Teton, orange and yellow light bathes the landscape and 6,000 wintering elk. By ten o'clock, adventurous visitors braving the winter cold venture out on the refuge in horse drawn sleighs to get an up close view of these majestic animals.

In the pre Columbian area elk ranged from the eastern states through central and western North America. They grazed the open prairies, mountain valleys, and foothills. As settlers pushed slowly westward, the distribution of the elk was rapidly reduced to the western mountains. By 1900, elk had disappeared from more than 90 percent of their original range.

When settlers arrived in Jackson Hole and homesteaded the valley in the 1880s, there may have been as many as 25,000 that wintered here. Establishment of farms and ranches displaced the elk from the traditional wintering areas and livestock competed for winter food, and hungry elk raided haystacks. The ranchers had to kill the elk if they wanted to stay in business.
In the early 1900s, severe winters with deep, crusted snow also took a serious toll on the wintering elk. In 1909 the ranchers and town folk of Jackson Hole appealed government to fund some land and a feeding program too save the diminishing elk herd. The refuge was created in 1912 as a result of public interest in the survival of the Jackson elk herd on about 1200 acres. The government has added to it over the years and today the Refuge consists 24,700 acres and is some of the last remaining elk winter range for the Jackson Hole Elk Herd. Prior to1916 Refuge was dotted with over 44 homesteads.

The refuge continues to preserve much of the remaining elk winter range in the valley, approximately one-quarter of the original Jackson Hole winter range. Elk stay on the refuge for approximately six months each winter.

Rest of article and more elk info

November 16, 2011

A few thoughts on Photography

As the sun turns out the lights on another day a central coast surfer makes good use of the last bit of daylight to find the perfect wave to propel himself home. As he watched wave after wave to pick the ones he wanted I wonder if he was cognizant of the outstanding optical phenomena going on all around him. For the surfer it is probably just another sunset, for the visiting photographer it is panoply of subjects on parade in front of the lens.

I wanted to take pictures of the evening light reflection in the wet sand of low tide so I slung my 500mm setup over my shoulder and set my short telephoto setup on the tripod and headed down the beach just shortly before sunset. I was constantly switching between the two. The 500 I would hand hold but I would use the arm on the tripod for a handy and quick support.

I would shoot couples walking and riding bicycles down the beach, I’d shoot them wide then switch to the 500mm. I’d shoot the grand scenic wide then wait for the mobile silhouette to move into the proper place. No shortage of subject matter here.

I moved to Jackson Hole Wyoming from California in 1987 because all the things I wanted to shoot were in the mountains and California's mountains were too crowded and although I spent much time living at the beach what I saw there was no longer special. I enjoyed the grand scene but the ebb and flow of fantastic photo fodder was lost on me.

It is amazing to me how even now I ignore what is right out my window because something better is 100 miles down the road where the grass is greener. The beautiful ubiquity around me shamefully I rarely see.

Yes I get plenty of good stuff in my area but I do feel like a slacker when I look at what my visiting photog buddies like Jeff Clow, Stephen Oachs, Jerry Patterson etc. produce in a short window of time on their visits. They as visitors with a limited window of time have to look closer and do a better job of “seeing” to make good use of their time. Consequently when I look at what they produce in my back yard it opens my eyes to some of what I have driven past of failed to seek out.