Often, the difference between getting a good look at an animal and Yellowstone and viewing it from afar can come down partly to luck…but also partly to knowing the subject enough to be in the right area and predict where it is moving.
The first “big” animal I saw on the last trip was a lone wolf in the Lamar Valley. A lot of people were piled in at a few turn-outs and scanning with spotting scopes. As I often do, I found a pull-out without anyone else in it at the time, although 1 other joined me. Another guest stopped by to ask if we had seen it yet and then zipped on to the next group down the road. We both were able to spot a lone elk running with something following it. We only saw it for a little and then it got lost behind a ridge. Ahnya and I decided to move down 2 pull-outs more near where the elk had been heading. It ended up further down than us, but as we watched we were able to have the wolf travel right along the river by us. As is the usual case with wolves in the Lamar, it was a little too far for a good shot with my lens, but at a decent viewing distance.
Driving back through the Elk Creek area ( near petrified tree) we saw a lot of cars and knew something was up. We got out and found a black bear in the bottom. As we talked to people we learned that another bear was just on the other side of some trees in the bottom. hey never did bump into each other, which may have been fun. While we watched those bears, a third one moved along somewhere to the right as we watched people stop on the road and look. From Tower to Hell Roaring is always a great place to see black bear.
From there we went back toward Mammoth. We probably could have seen some wolves at a kill, but i had promised Ahnya we would walk the self-guided trail as one of the things she needed for her junior ranger badge. Some things are more important than photography.
The next morning we were heading back by the blacktail ponds when we saw 2 antelope running very fast and far. Nothing was chasing them we could see, but we found a pull-out and watched. We did see where the kill people were staking out the night before was because of all the ravens on it plus 3 bald eagles in the area. Hardly anyone stopped, but we were rewarded with seeing 2 wolves come in for a while. They were far off, but we were able to hear them howl once.
Coming back from the bison shots in the Slough Creek area we were able to see a black bear and older cub cross the road just up from the Yellowstone picnic area.
After hiking the upper terrace and picking up Ahnya’s badge in Mammoth, we started toward home. We weren’t as lucky on the next bears as we got to the area just a little back from where they crossed the road. If we had been too much earlier we may have been past them, but a little late puts you at a further distance. This is why I think that being in an area a bear frequents, and crosses often, allows you to have a better chance of getting a closer/ good shot. You can watch the bears path and find a pull-out or wider shoulder that works best. Randomly driving until you find one, or people watching one, will often lead to more distant shots and does not give you time to strategize.
Just a little past Elk Antler Creek a mother and 2 older cubs crossed the road. We found a spot along the shoulder and joined the people watching them in the sage brush down below.
They decided to lie down in the sage, and many people left. This is where a 50/50 decision must be made. One instinct is to move on and find the next bear/wolf jam. Bear can nap for long times, and they were in the sage. How long do you wait and be patient, and when do you give up? I decided to stay, though. Here you have bear, whereas you may not see any if you drive on, or have a good spot to park, or be able to get any closer. I could also watch and learn their behavior and maybe have them cross back up the draw I was at the top of. Every now and then they would wake up and peak around.
Eventually they got up and moved on.
Based on the direction they were heading, a sleeping Ahnya and I moved down the road a little. They did come over the ridge and played on some snow.
After some more sleeping, the were moving parallel to the road again. I moved forward one last time and they ended up coming unseen over the hill above me. They crossed right behind my FJ. You would expect some great pictures, but this leads to my question of when you give up again. I have had to send my Nikon 70-300 in twice because of issues with the focus going out. Sometime earlier in the morning my lens had semi-jammed. I was able to get it moved to the 300 mm setting because if you are going to be stuck, it would make sense to be at the extreme zoom most of the time. I have a wide angle that overlaps to 105 for shorter shots.
I did not have time to switch when the bear came over. Since they were near, the focus started to do its old sticking trick. By the time i got it fixed they were more backlit on the horizon instead of lower with a dirt backdrop. The one that was lower and in the snow was too close for the 300 to get a full body shot, so I just got the front. Now I have to decide if I pay a little to have it fixed again, or call the lens a loss( except still using it for further shots where focus doesn’t stick) and buy a new lens. And if I do, do I stick with Nikon or give up on their quality and go with someone else. I am a little frustrated with the problems the lens has had and may give up on them and go with a Sigma or something, if I do get a new lens. What I don’t want to do is pay to have it fixed only to end up doing it again in a year or so- and totaling what a new lens would cost for an often malfunctioning lens.
Here are the better shots I did get after being patient and having the bears cross.
I’ll let you know what I decide on the lens issue. I like the 70-300 for horses because I can zoom out for close and still have enough reach at 300. For wolves and bears it would be nice to go with a longer lens though. I can’t afford what I would really want, but I could get a decent sigma for not too much.