SLC anomaly – Crook Mountain

It has been quite some time since I have written a blog post.  Part of this is due to moving last summer and getting the house ready to sell.  Another factor would be my dedication of time to a game called Ingress.  If you look it up and join, go Enlightened (green).  Last of all, while I did manage some trips to see horses or Yellowstone and even new places like Teddy Roosevelt, I ended up either just putting the pictures directly on or a lot have still not even been converted from NEF. They were ok, but I didn’t have much to say about them and have no internet ( just hotspot from my phone).

So here is the first post in a while and most of it will be pictures without much commentary.  For those that don’t follow ingress, it will mainly be at the start.  I will add that with more time this summer, I have been able to mix my trips in to include both Ingress, and photography and camping.  While most of the pictures in this post and the next will be wild horses, the trip was centered around an anomaly in SLC  (Enlightened won) in which I tried GoRuck Urban for the first time ( we won 4-0).  My path there allowed me to both see the things I enjoy and hit some remote portals to try and help prevent a field over SLC for the anomaly. At the same time 2 teammates were doing the same from southern Utah.  It ended up looking like rails, but we had no plan that I know of to field.

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The anchor under the M is at Baroil and an entrance to the Green Mountain horse herd.  I did not get on the closest roads to Green Mountain, so I did not see any horses in that stretch.  It comes out at Crooks Gap, where I turned up Crooks Mountain and was rewarded with both wildflowers and quite a few of the Crooks Mountain herd.

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Two Herds – Act 2

The second herd that I visited last week is pretty much the opposite of what I described in Act 1.  They are visited often.  In fact, when I first began driving by McCullough Peaks HMA I could see 2 vehicles plus an atv out on the two tracks , and I wasn’t planning on stopping.  When I got further up the road and saw some horses without anyone around, I did decide to drive back and see them.

While there are some wilder horses in McCullough, most are pretty calm around humans.  Even though I have only visited there for a few years, it definitely seems to me that they have changed a lot as a herd and are less wild than when I first visited.  There is a badlands area, but the horses are usually in the wide open with just grass and sage as a backdrop if you don’t catch them at water.  In the desert during the day, any distance is going have the heat waves cause soft pictures and you won’t be able to get a sharp focus. Don’t go in the heat of the day and expect really crisp shots from afar.

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Even though some are mostly calm around humans, there is a right way and a wrong way to interact with the horses.  The first thing to do with friendlier horses is to let them see you so that you don’t startle them. Once you have done this do not just walk right at them or into them.  I saw someone do this at Pryor Mountain a few years ago and while the horses didn’t run you could definitely see them change their pattern and try moving away from the person.  Let the horses be the ones to walk closer to you on their terms.  In this case, I moved around the horses in a large circle to get on the right side for the sun first.  In the first picture you will see the harsh contrast on the horse.  If the body is exposed right, the back while be washed out.  If the back is toned down, the body will be dark and lose detail.    In the second the lighting is much more even.  The horse was still a decent distance away for these, but I wanted to stress how much of a difference getting the sun in the right spot can make.

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Even with the sun on the right side, when it is higher in the sky you will still get shadows from the horses head if it isn’t turned just right.  This can require patience and waiting for a certain pose. It isn’t bad in the next shot, but you will notice more shadow on the front of the horse.

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The horses could watch me as I slowly made the arc around them to get the sun on the correct side. Instead of pushing in close to them, I just watched and eventually they decided to move by me.  They could have gone the other way, but I was lucky and they chose my way to move.  The one horse I can definitely identify from this group is Indian Paintbrush (last 2 in this set), but I think another one is Woya.  That would most likely make the bay Hudson Bay.  I think this is Moon Pie’s band, but finding pictures of them isn’t easy.

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Also hanging out with this band was the only horse that did seem bothered by me being around, but he wanted to follow the rest so he made his way by me.  He stopped long enough to make some faces.  I am pretty sure this is Booker Rose.

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I am not sure if the other horses in the area were one band, or some smaller ones that happened to be close to each other.  Utah and Shakira were together for sure.

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The next horse was most likely with them, but I don’t know for sure. I am including 2 pictures because it illustrates why I usually pick the shots with the horse looking at me even though most of the time they are eating.  In the first picture, you can tell there is a blaze, but not much detail.  In the second, you can tell that it isn’t just a straight star/blaze, but has a more unique pattern that should help with someone confirming the identity of the horse.  Neither of these pictures does a great job, but I will often wait until the horse is clear of any sagebrush so that feet can clearly be seen for socks/stockings/coronets.  This isn’t as easy as even grass can block the view, but usually with multiple pictures you can find shots of different feet and piece together the whole story.DSC_3831

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The reason I am not sure if the horse was with Utah and Shikira is that it was also as close to the next horse and interacted at one point ( the following picture was part of that), but this horse would not be Siska or Garth.  The only horses I could find pictures of close to it are either Major or Bridger, but I really don’t know.

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The last horse is actually the first horse I posted.  He seemed to be more of a bachelor, and I don’t know who he is.

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Don’t leave home without it

I have learned the hard way from past experiences that the times you don’t carry a camera are the times when you will see something uncommon.  A handful of the times that this proved true in the past seemed to come during archery season.  I didn’t want to carry extra weight, or maybe there was even extra scent on a neck strap that a deer or elk may catch. The main problem was that if I had my camera out it seemed to either bump something and make noise or it felt like it was going to be in the way of a clear draw and shot .   If I had it put in a pack, it probably wouldn’t get out in time to matter.  So I would hunt without it. After seeing hawks, coyote and a very easy-to-photograph badger, I decided that unless it was raining or not possible, I would always carry a camera.
Now that I have my newer D7000, I have started to carry my old D60 with the 70-300 mm lens on it while hunting.  It can fit perfectly over 1 shoulder and on my back if I am not carrying a backpack, or snugged against my chest if I am.  While the camera does not handle contrast well, it still takes ok pictures and if something were to happen to it, it is my back-up (although it is also Ahnya’s main camera).

This Saturday, while crossing bolder fields hunting elk in the area of Rhineheart Lake, I was fortunate to have a long-tailed weasel make an appearance.  Image

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Once I lost sight of this one, I kept moving along, and at another boulder field ran into another one in a tree.  I couldn’t get a picture of it before it got down.  

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What actually caught my attention when I first got to the rocks with the second one was a chipmunk, which later returned to the area under the tree the weasel was in to eat some pine cones.  I wonder if the weasel had been hunting the chipmunk for food.

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The weasel never re-appeared from the boulders to allow me a closer shot, but I considered my self lucky to have seen 2 in one day.  While the quality was not as good as if I had carried my D7000 ( and the focus speed would have helped), I was glad that I have learned to always carry a camera.

While driving back out there was another opportunity for some photos.  Unfortunately, I did not put the D7000 into the car Saturday morning, so the pictures were taken with the lesser D60 again.  They really illustrate the main shortcoming of it.  With a subject such as moose, either the body is exposed near right and the antlers get washed out, or the antlers are ok but the body is dark and black.  This happy guy was right near the Cross Creek campground and there was both a young cow(moose) and another that was one of the largest cows I have seen in the area.

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Even if you are just running down the road to the store, it probably can’t hurt to grab your camera and have it in the vehicle with you.  It’s better to have it and not need it than to see something spectacular and end up wishing you had taken the time to bring it.

Yellowstone (semi-) solitude

In getting ready for my cross-country trip, I never posted the Yellowstone part of my last local trip.  It is getting to the time of the season where I usually avoid Yellowstone as it swarms with visitors.  Yet even as the multitudes arrive, it is possible to enjoy some solitude while visiting the Yellowstone area.  One method is obviously to hike into the non-frequented backcountry.  With Malaki ( or any dog) you are not allowed to do a lot in Yellowstone, so this option is not as available to me as it would have been a year ago.

While you will not always find yourself alone, a second way to avoid the large crowds is to wake up early and travel away from the major attractions.  I entered the East entrance, which seems to get a lot less traffic than some of the others.  I was able to spend the early sunrise hours watching a bald eagle perched above Sylvan lake. The pictures do not do justice to the morning colors I got to view as I sat alone without one car passing as I watched. It was only about 10 minutes before it flew to the other side of the lake, but it felt much longer, in a good way.

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As I reached Sedge Bay to see if any bears were around there were a few more people, but not too many.  A beautiful rainbow emerged over the lake.  Even with my camera zoomed out as far as it can go I couldn’t capture the whole thing, but it  looked like it started right on the western shore and stopped on the eastern shore.  A little later I realized that my i-ad probably would have worked perfect for the wide angle I needed and I will have to keep both it and my phone (with a 12 mp camera) in mind for next time.Image

Another way to be less crowded at Yellowstone is to focus on some of the wildlife that is smaller and less sought after.  A bear, wolf, elk, moose etc is going to draw crowds.  Right near otter creek there were some people taking pictures of some large bull bison.  Along the Yellowstone River just across from it I was able to sit and snap some shots of a muskrat as it swam along the shore and then climbed into a fallen branch in front of me.

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Living in Wyoming, one of the last things I can do is travel to the areas just outside the park that often get passed by in the rush to get to the park.  While I am not sure if I will visit the park again until the fall, I can definitely see a visit to Ishawooa, or the sunlight basin area this summer.

While leaving the park I was able to find some ewes with lambs along the North Fork.  I think only 2 other people stopped to watch them the whole time I was there.  I have nothing more than a gut feeling, but I think there was a predator of some type just over the hill in the creek drainage.  2 of the ewes and their lambs went that way originally, but came back, quickly, to the right side and up over the rocks.  A third ewe went down along the ridge and kept looking down into the stream bottom.  She seemed a little stressed, as can be seen by the picture with her tongue out.  I wonder if she hadn’t had a lamb that was killed and she had the same motherly instinct to keep coming back and looking like the elk cows do.

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I leave you with this happy fellow-

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Spoiled, and loving it

After a rare Friday school day, Ahnya and I decided to run to Yellowstone for the weekend.  We camped Friday night at Big Game Campground and woke up early to make the drive to the park.  Somewhere before Elephant Head Lodge we ran across our first grizzly of the trip on the road.  It nonchalantly walked along until it decided to climb the hill on the North side. It was still a little dark, so the pictures are vibrant.

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In a way, that’s the story of the trip.  Various factors led to something just not being right each time, so I don’t think I got any good pictures in Yellowstone.  It was still early and dark.

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It was mid-day and the shadows were harsh.

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The sun was on the wrong side of the animal.  The sun would be on the right side, but with the haze from the heat the picture would still be soft at a distance.  The animal would be in the wrong position.  For the fox near the den at Yellowstone picnic area we probably could have waited a lot longer to get a better shot, but we stayed as long as Ahnya wanted and then got back to Malaki to move on.

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I actually didn’t even take many pictures considering how much we saw.  What was more important was the time we spent together and enjoying the experience.  I suppose if I lived far away and didn’t get to Yellowstone except once every couple of  years I would have taken more shots even if the conditions weren’t right, but we are spoiled and get to run over quite a few times each year.  While some people stop and see a bear or wolves and then move on, we can afford to sit and watch for hours if we want.

It has allowed me to learn a lot about the behavior of the animals, and how to use that to get in position for better shots at other times.  One example was the cow elk we saw in Haydn Valley.  I can not “know” for sure what had happened, but experience allows me to be fairly positive.  She was fairly near the road, so many people stopped and took a snapshot before moving on.  What they may not have noticed is her behavior.  I had seen it last year in Grand Teton.  She might move away at times, but she kept coming back to the same area, cautiously.  When we had first arrived there was a raven or 2 in that area. In all likelyhood this was a mother whose calf had been killed by a grizzly in the past day or so and her motherly instinct didn’t allow her to leave.

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We left Yellowstone about mid-day and decided to swing by the Pryors since 14A was open and about as quick as going to Greybull and up 14.  Sure, we might be a little spoiled that we can just stop by some of the places we do on a whim for a short time.

I didn’t see the main horses I wanted, mainly Demure or Greta.  Baja had moved all the way down from the top on the last trip to Cheyenne Flats now.

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Just above the flats we ran across some bachelors. It is still a while before they will be getting a harem of their own for most of them, but they are growing up.

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Garay had the most excitement of the horses I saw.  His little band was sort of sandwhiched between the bachelors as they moved down, Baja’s, Cloud’s, and Teton’s.  He was either moving to keep his mares away from the established stallions, playing in the mud puddles ( good to see they had some good rain) or chasing off the bachelors.

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Of course I had to take some pictures of Encore.

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I did find Jackson’s band, but they were in the brush so I couldn’t even see if everyone was there.  I didn’t see any new foals, but saw Nye and Niobrara move through gaps.

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The last horse I saw on BT was the poor, lonely Chino.  He has a bite mark right near his tail, but otherwise seems to be doing fine.

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I did some horses way out in the valley at the end of Turkey Flats.  If it had been just me, or on a day we weren’t heading home I would have trekked out to them.  I still wish I had, but I will be there again either after church tomorrow or on Monday with plenty of time to search around .Image

Decisions, and when to give up

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eventually they got up and moved on.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Perspective

Friday I had a great conversation with another photographer at the turn-out where Specimen Ridge trail begins.  I had pulled in because there were a few cars at the previous spot and a few past it.  I could see some one with a large lens hiking out in the field, so I wanted to stop and see what was going on from the near empty pull-out.  As I was scanning 2 photographers stopped and we began talking.  They said that a wolf had moved along the top of the ridge across from the Yellowstone picnic area, and a bear could be seen way off from further down the road.  They thought the man was hiking out to get pictures of an owl, but the owner of the other vehicle in the turn-out came back and said it was a red-tailed hawk nest.  While any nest with babies could yield a good shot, it wasn’t that exciting to hear it was a red-tailed hawk.

While one photographer went to get a shot of a blue bird, we began talking about how people from different areas can get excited by different animals that others could care less about.  Sure, almost everyone likes bears and wolves, but beyond a few “big” species it can vary.  One group stopped to ask what they were photographing across the road and  I think they were pulling out before he had finished “red-tailed ha…”.  He told me was taking pictures of eagles and his friends where he was were a little puzzled at why he wanted pictures of the flying rats.

It is something I think we all do.  We are so used to what is around us, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that so many other people don’t get to see the same things we do.  Not just for me here in Wyoming, but  no matter where you live there is probably something you take for granted that other people will travel to see.  The conversation made us reflect on the times we had wondered why someone was so excited to see an antelope(actually pronghorn).  They’re kind of everywhere…for us, but not for so much of the world.

How many times do I pass by elk, unless they have horns.

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Elk near Blacktail Ponds

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or a calf,

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or there is action like it is rolling,

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running,

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fighting,

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or crossing a river.

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True, I will not pass up a good shot no matter what the subject, so I am not saying there is not a satisfaction of making a good composition of any subject.   For example, I spent a little time trying to get the right reflection and light for some sandhill cranes ( which you can see by the thousands just over in Nebraska in the spring).  I didn’t get the shot I wanted, but there was effort put in.

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My thought is not that a photographer will pass up a good composition shot, just that we may not spend as much time on things we are used to seeing a lot and therefore don’t put ourselves in situations where we would see those shots as often.  Part of why I can get so many different shots of the horses is that I spend the largest proportion of my time with them.  The same would be true for bighorn sheep and Yellowstone bears (although they are still hard because of approachability) .

The first and last subjects of my Yellowstone portion of my trip helped to show me that not being so focused on finding one or two subjects can be very rewarding.  On my way through the Hayden Valley going North on Friday, I thought I saw something, possible a green heron, alongside a creek near the road.  A part of me said to keep going until I found a bear, wolf or something big.  This time I let the impulse to turn around win out and was rewarded with my first pictures of a bittern.  If i had gone looking for one in a swamp, I probably would have never found one.  Here I was just by the luck, or experience, of catching a form as I drove by and I had one pointing its head up and “hiding” as I took shot, stepped forward and repeated.

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 It was still standing there when I left.  No one stopped the whole time I was there, probably because they couldn’t see anything big I could be photographing; and I doubt anyone stopped the rest of the day.

The last photographs I took in Yellowstone were also of smaller river subjects.  Ahnya and I thought we saw an otter or muskrat along the creek and stopped to look.  We only saw one for a while and decided to move on when we thought it had left.  After watching the bears for hours we decided to check again.  It was in a slightly different location, but we were able to find the subject, a muskrat, again.  It may not be an “exciting” animal, but it is one we had to ourselves.

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We also saw a pretty wigeon nearby.

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I will still have subjects that are my main focus, and it’s not like i haven’t stopped to photograph “small” things like butterflies or birds in the past; but I think I will be more aware of the opportunities around me and not feel so “rushed” to find the more highly sought after subjects the next time I head out.

Who knows, maybe I’ll take picture of does, cows and pronghorn.  Maybe I won’t just take pictures of big rams or jumping sheep anymore, but will include some small rams or ewes.

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Maybe.