Posts tagged “animal

Swallow vertically

A tree swallow on barbed wire south of Cochrane.


Bald eagle in a tangle of branches

Whitehorse is home to bald eagles among many other birds – large and otherwise.  We found them on several occasions during our visit there last summer.  This one landed in these twisted branches and I was able to play with her framed by them.


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A red fox backlit in Bragg Creek


Happy holidays!

I hope you are enjoying time doing what you enjoy with those you love. We had an energetic start to the day with a dog’s temporary escape to visit the neighborhood, cleaning up from Santa’s whirlwind visit and enjoying the general madness. That’s given way to a relaxed afternoon with a gentle snowfall helping to set a calmer tone.

This white-winged crossbill was one of a mixed flock of finches, chickadees and nuthatches that I found hunting for seeds in a stretch of forest west of Bragg Creek yesterday. It was another energetic group and, looking back, seemed to be a little foreshadowing for this morning’s chaos. Looking forward, their community, cooperation and tolerance are some positive things to bring forward.


A surprising beauty

There is a book project that I’ve been invited to contribute some images for which saw me working through images from the Khutzeymateen and her wonderful grizzly bears this weekend.  Towards the end of the 2014 set, I found this one of a pigeon that had landed outside of the day room I rented between docking in Prince Rupert and flying out later that afternoon.  I had long forgotten about this image but I was struck by the beauty of this bird on today’s perusal.  Pigeon’s can be somewhat funny looking but I find this one to be rather charismatic.  The iridescence in the neck feathers grabs my attention first, but the pattern in the wing feathers holds it.


Chickadees in late afternoon sunshine

Through the winter, there are chickadees that hang out in my backyard.  On Sunday afternoon, I found a few of them pecking seeds out of the fresh snow below the feeder.

I took a few minutes to photograph them when the sun had dropped low enough to backlight them and the speckles of snow their pecking threw into the air.

A boreal chickadee came at the last and flitted about for a few seconds before flying off in a spray of glistening snow.


Loons on the lake in Banff National Park

I found a pair of common loons on the third Vermilion Lake in the Banff National Park on the weekend.  They were diving and skimming the water surface for food, enjoying the sunshine and paddling close to each other at different points.

The sunlight caught the iridescence in their feathers.  It is beautiful when the red eyes glow and the silky greens shimmer along their necks.


A long, cold (and worthwhile) wait

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The photograph above of the snowy owl in flight was taken late in the morning on February 11th.  This flight followed a long wait after some good early action.  The wait started with a feather cleaning session on an entrance gate which was interrupted by the approach of this truck which prompted the bird to fly to a more isolated spot.

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When the vehicle drew too close for the owl’s liking, she launched and flew along the fence line towards the sun.

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She didn’t go too far – landing on a post roughly 100 metres away.

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We were separated from the owl by a fence line of our own which ran parallel to hers and they were about 80 metres apart.  That distance was just fine for me and with a 500mm lens made the subject a reasonable size in the frame.  From where I was, the sun angle and the background were both far from ideal.  I walked along the fence line and found a new location which allowed for improvements in both areas.  I kept moving around now and then to change the scene.  The owl did not – she settled in and did not leave the post for a long time.  There was no way to know at that point, but it would be 2 hours and 38 minutes before the snowy would return to the air.

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The potential for a special moment – maybe a dive close to our line or a flight with the sunlight catching her eyes – kept eyes glued on her and fingers resting on the shutter buttons.  At a few different points, a drift of snow buntings buzzed past the owl as they flew to different spots around the field to forage.  For her part, the owl watched these comings and goings with minimal interest.  For me, these sorties were welcome bits of action.

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Along the way there was more preening, dozing and the occasional stretch.  The one below seemed like a yoga position and was one that she held for several seconds.  Maybe this was all a part of her morning meditation?

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Just before noon, the wings opened and she pulled her body down into a crouch.  She paused for a second and then pushed off into the air.

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The snowy flew along her fence line which allowed for a few nice photographs before she passed us, crossed the road and landed in the snow near the top of a small rise that was a couple of hundred metres away.  My fingers were aching from the cold so this was one of the rare times where I was no longer interested in continuing to shoot.  I was happy to get in the truck and get the heat going.

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Flying low on the prairies

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I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

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The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


Afield with a fox on the hunt

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(Click on the image to open a larger version)

I found this Red fox last weekend in Langdon, Alberta.  She was hunting mice in a farm field. alongside the highway.  A couple of times she came relatively close to the fence.  I really liked this image from one of these nearby encounters.  I’m heading there this afternoon to see if I can find her, or one of the three Snowy owls I saw last Sunday, again.


A phantom hunting in the snow

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5076

The snowstorm and the cold accompanying it were considerable the morning I watched this Great gray owl hunting west of Bragg Creek.  Neither one impeded her focus or her ability to hunt.  She caught three mice as they scurried beneath the snow.  The sharp eyes guiding her to great effect.  The descent above started with her perched in a branch.  Her head cocked at subtly different angles to range in before she flew.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5066

This strike proved unsuccessful as it appeared she came close but came away with nothing.  She looked at me for a second and then lifted off to alight on a post holding up the fence I was leaning against.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5092

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5093

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5103

A short regroup was over after a few minutes when she dove with her back to me, grabbed and returned with a mouse.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5125

That was swallowed quickly and she then retreated to another branch on the tree line behind the fence.  She flew along the forest’s edge between a couple of spots.  Which gave me a few good opportunities to shoot her in flight.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5215

She snagged another unfortunate creature as we approached noon and I left soon after that.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156


A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

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On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water.  This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are  present across North America.

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I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year.  That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet.  Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.

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Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

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It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek.  I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area.  In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country.  This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images.  Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed.  A beautiful creature.

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A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

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About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek.  The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.

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Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

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After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust.  Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.

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Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards.  He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.

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Alces alces in a Kananaskis snowstorm

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As dawn broke on a recent morning when I was up in Kananaskis, the skies were leaden and threatening to drop some form of precipitation.  It was cold and windy so it seemed an open question whether it would be rain, snow or a frozen mix of the two.  The weather foiled my plans for a sunrise shoot of Mount Kidd but made it an easy decision to drive further up the valley into the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  I passed a few White-tailed deer but did not see much else on the way up.  Apparently I had an appointment (unbeknownst to me at the time) with this wonderful family of moose.  They were standing around this marsh in plain view beside the turn off of the Kananaskis Lakes Trail up to the Upper Lake’s parking lot and trailhead.

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The calf stayed close to her mom but was not very shy.  Staring at me several times to satisfy her curiosity about what I was and whether I was something of interest or not.  The bull was hidden within a few trees at first so it was a great surprise when I saw his antlers first come into sight.

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When a snowplow passed by, its scoop loudly grinding against the asphalt, the young one was startled and ran a little ways off from the roadside.  Mom followed and they munched along as they slowly headed into the forest.

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The bull was a magnificent creature.  Healthy and very confident, neither the vehicles nor my presence made any impression on him.  He kept his eyes on any activity around him but was focused on grazing.  I watched him for the next hour as he moved between trees, bogs and little fields.  Their ability to blend in and disappear, despite their size, was observed many times and always surprises me.

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The storm’s intensity ebbed and flowed through the morning and the snow followed accordingly.  At times falling hard, at times almost stopping completely.  Along with adjusting the camera settings to drag the shutter and blur the snow’s motion or freeze the flakes in action, it was a great setting to photograph these moose in.

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The bull kept an eye on the family as they went into the trees and eventually followed them away from the marsh.  The encounter ended shortly thereafter but I would not ask for anything more.  It was a great day in Kananaskis.

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Bear scratching in Yellowstone

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Update: Following friendly inquiries by Morgan and John, I had a closer look at my photos of this bear and agree this is a female and not a male.  I always appreciate comments, corrections and questions – thank you both!  I have corrected the text below to refer to her rather than him (anthropomorphic license to some but one I consistently prefer to take).

I made my first foray into Yellowstone National Park last May and enjoyed exploring new terrain – of which there is much and varied.  The wildlife was abundant and I was lucky to have several encounters with bears that were fantastic.  One of these was with this Black bear in the Tower-Roosevelt area.  She had emerged into this clearing from a sheer cliff that leads down to the Yellowstone River (I would have loved to watch her scramble up the bank!)  She shook herself out as she walked across wet morning grass and stopped under this tree.  From the worn out ground under the tree, I think she and other bears frequent this spot often.  The bear raised up on her hind legs and proceeded to enjoy a back scratching session for a couple of minutes.

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With that important morning exercise completed, she shuffled through the grass munching on wildflowers before scrambling over a haphazard collection of fallen tree trunks.  The bear’s small vale was just below a river viewpoint pullout so she had drawn a large crowd by this point.  I enjoyed the quieter time earlier and left while she was still grazing amongst the deadfall.

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A heron fishing in silhouette

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Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow.  The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest.  In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.

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The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.

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Within a couple of minutes, a strike came.  The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish.  The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.

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Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.

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Walking through autumn

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This beautiful moose looked amazing in this autumn meadow.  Snow in Moraine Lake that morning, was rain lower in the valley.  This created a glow in the grass and a shine on her coat.

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She crossed the meadow slowly, grazing as she went along, before she slipped up into the forest.  I continued west along the Bow Valley Parkway and met up with a Grizzly to continue a particularly great day.

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A beast in the bushes

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When Kian and I left Jasper we headed home via Highway 93A, which runs parallel to the main road but was much quieter and proved to be a great start to the end of our boys weekend in the national park.

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We spotted this black bear almost a kilometre ahead and it was kind enough to wait by the roadside until we drew near.  When we pulled up beside, the bear had settled onto a Buffalo berry bush.  The berries were pulled free, the bear slowly moved forward and my son and I watched as the moments crawled past.  It was cool to share that experience with Kian.

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A family of Grizzly bears in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8002
This mother Grizzly bear brought her cubs down to this sage brush meadow on the Swan Lake Flat above Mammoth Hot Springs several times in the four days that I was in Yellowstone National Park.  Two of those walkabouts coincided with me being in the area so I was able to watch them for a couple of hours in total.  These photographs are from the first encounter in the evening on May 20th.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-7922

The twins were playful.  Carefree knowing their mother was watchful of the crowds that invariably developed along the Grand Loop Road as well as for any Grizzly males who might cross their path.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8030

The mother had a lot of character in her face, with a bit of a bend in her snout and lighter colouring in the fur in the outer disc.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8108

Both cubs tackled each other, bared their teeth and tried on attacks and defences back and forth.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8045

For the most part, momma didn’t mind but when they drifted too far away a huff from her would send them scrambling back to her side.  She was hungry and spent her time digging up roots but did play with them a little bit.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8154

Occasionally, the little bears would stop and watch the people watching them.  I wondered what they made of all of us hugging the edge of the road, lined up facing them.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8214

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8173

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8126

I watched the trio for an hour that evening.  With the shadows lengthening, they moved slowly away from the road into the rolling hills eventually melting into the plateau.  Before then, I took the opportunity to frame them in their surroundings.

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8249

Yellowstone Grizzly bear mom and cubs - © Christopher Martin-8258-2

 


A Heron in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9157

Great blue herons are a favourite bird of mine.  I was very happy when I spotted this one fishing along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park when I was there a few weeks ago.  I found a little shoulder off the road where I could park my car and I walked back to the small bridge I had just crossed.

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9123

The heron was stalking through the grass in the water, noted my presence with a slight turn of its head, and then continued.  A few minutes, three strikes and two fish later, it had moved closer and was now directly across the water from me.

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9132

Whether it was momentarily full, spooked by a particular vehicle crossing the bridge or just tired of me watching, it jumped into the air after ducking under the logs in front of it in the picture above.

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9143
I was in a great position to watch the strong wingbeats lift the heron.  I was already feeling lucky for first finding it along this beautiful river bend and then getting to photograph it fishing.  When it took flight and then banked overhead, I was able to get several nice flight shots and I felt my luck had doubled down on its own accord – and won!

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9147-2
Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9150

Yellowstone Great blue heron - © Christopher Martin-9153


A brief visit with a Barred owl

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0959
A friend and I spied this owl while on a short drive to scout out locations for a photo shoot.  This is my tenth year living in the Bragg Creek area and this was the first Barred owl that I have seen here.  It was the first time I have seen one in the wild anywhere for that matter.  It is an understatement to say I was excited!  The dark eyes are so striking compared to my familiarity with the glowing yellow eyes of the Great gray, Great horned and Snowy owls which I photograph throughout the year.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0948

The owl was perched in plain sight – the fast approaching dusk had dimmed the daylight which suited this mostly nocturnal hunter.  That made a fast shutter speed a challenge but that was a very minor challenge.  She flew from the post to a branch a couple of metres above the long grass edging the road.  Her head swivelled and angled as she searched for dinner.  Within a couple of minutes, she locked in and made a dive headlong into the greenery.  One dive, one strike and one kill.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0970-2

From down in the grass she shifted the field mouse to her beak and then flew up and in front of us, heading into a stand of trees on a small ridge.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0987

I lost her in the forest and the gloom but look forward to a follow-up encounter whenever it suits her.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0994


A Red fox in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9834

At the western edge of the Lamar Canyon at a small trailhead just above the river of the same name this fox was curled up under a sage bush.  A small crowd had gathered, and under the watchful eye of a park ranger, had their cameras trained on the  small patch of red visible between the gray-green branches and leaves.  Watching it from a slightly higher vantage point, I could see the ears pointed forward and hoped she was hunting.  Within a few minutes, she belly crawled forward a little and it was plain to see she was readying for a leap.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9833The grass and sage hid any rodents from my sight but not so for the fox. Or, at least through those large ears, their sound was not hidden.  When she did jump it was fast but she came up empty.  She dug anxiously around this bush and circled it several times but somehow the little creature made good on its escape.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9846

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9801

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9902With the meal gone, the fox looked up and seemed only then to realize the crowd to one side of her.  At that point, she lowered her head, ears and tail and sprinted past the people, crossed the road (where happily traffic had long been stopped) and sped up a hill through the underbrush, grabbing a rodent along the way.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9938

I went further up the road in the hopes of the fox reappearing down that way.  I guessed wrong but soon found that the fox had backtracked and went to a small hollow downhill from the original trailhead.  When I set up 35 yards away, she was laying low against another bush with her eyes, and ears, trained on a spot near a rock and some fallen trees.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9959

The weather in Yellowstone is always changing and while she waited sun gave way to rain pushed in by a strong wind, then snow, sun and clouds followed in quick succession.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9975

A lightning run got her on the spot stared at for the previous fifteen minutes in a flash.  This time she struck successfully and “wolfed” it down while her head was still hidden by the grass.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-9986

She stalked through the hillside again for a few more minutes.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-0006

She rubbed against a bush next.  I don’t know if that was to rub off scent or to pick up the sage.  Then she headed off through the scrub and grass.

Yellowstone Red Fox - © Christopher Martin-0032