My good friend Steve and I just completed a marathon drive through Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. I needed to go to Denver to pick up several boxes of items left to me from my Mother’s belongings. Steve, always one to enjoy an outing, agreed to go along to help with the driving. Truth be known, he did 90% of the driving and I enjoyed the view from the passenger seat. We laid out a loop route that would take us to some great locations for scenery and birds – Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City, Utah and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Oh yeah… the loop through Montana was purposeful and under the guise of delivering some stuff to Chad and Devri but we all know it was about seeing them and Kendyl again albeit briefly.
We left Steve’s house in Pasco, WA early on a Saturday morning with intent to get to Brigham City before sundown so we could tour the Bear River refuge for our first time. We made it to the refuge about 5:00PM and set out to drive the 12 mile auto tour route. Shortly into the loop we spotted the first group of birds foraging in a slough. We were both pretty stoked to see Black-necked stilts and White-faced ibis. There was another small group of 3 birds… two of one species that was unknown to us and a single Killdeer. We identified the mystery species as Solitary sandpipers… a species that neither of us had a clue about before. We also identified the ibis correctly after an initial (wrong) ID as “Black iblis” by me. Thanks very much goes to Sally Hill for confirming the IDs for us. All of these are photo life birds for me.
We drove on and quickly saw American avocets foraging in the same slough. I’ve always succeeded in missing the avocets at places like the Malheur refuge so I was really happy to see several of them within lens reach. Both Steve and I think that these birds are really pretty and interesting to watch as they moved about to eat. Yes, another photo life bird for me.
As we moved around the loop we saw many more stilts, ibis and avocets but did not see any more sandpipers. Open water disappeared for quite a distance and, logically, so did the birds. As we approached a rather large lake we once again picked up ibis but we started seeing both Clark’s and Western grebes too. I’ve seen and photographed these birds at Malheur before but still brought home several more images for the collection. One of these days Dianne and I will get to see the grebes dance and run on the water’s surface again. That behavior is actually on my photo bucket list.
As we moved along we saw a few American white pelicans within lens range so we stopped to put some glass on them. There was a substantial group of what we thought might be terns until we looked at the photos later. While there is one tern in the group (thanks again Sally Hill) we correctly identified the majority of the birds as Franklin’s gulls… another photo life bird.
The pelicans were wary and took off as the light began to fade. I grabbed a few passing shots at high ISO and was pleased to see that I actually got one frame where the bird is sharp and whole bird is in the frame. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to me to have a sharp eye on a bird and cut off a wing or leg in the frame’s edge. Every time out with the camera is a practice session for me.
We drove to Denver the next day to pick up the items that inspired the trip in the first place. It was nice to see my sister and her husband again and Steve enjoyed the time talking serious train talk with Stan, another serious train guy. Betsy and I sat and smiled and knodded politely.
The next day we headed to Pinedale, Wyoming to station ourselves for the next day’s journey through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We got into Pinedale with enough time to tour around a bit before dark. We were hoping to see a moose and Steve spotted one grazing in a marsh area. I tried to convince him that it was a horse until we stopped and took a good look. Moose are another species that have evaded me in the past. Dianne and I saw a mother and baby moose at great distance in the Tetons years ago. This was my first bull moose and I was happy with some of the photos even if he was just a young male and did not have the iconic antlers yet.
We also saw an osprey nest atop a power pole and pulled in to watch the adult fly off to hunt and retun without food for the anxious youngster at the nest.
We left Pinedale at about 5:00AM the next day and drove through fog and dark to get to Grand Teton National Park in time for sunrise. My goal was to be on Mormon Row by the famous barns at sunrise. A herd of buffalo spanning the road slowed us down and I began to fidget as I watched a band of low clouds forming across the midslope elevation of the Tetons. A cloud to the east was blocking the sun and I knew it would not be long until the place lit up. We stopped and took a few “safety” shots so that I’d have something even if it did not include the barn. Then Steve drove on through the bison as I tried to focus and shoot. Yes, we were close. The photo below is full frame… no cropping.
We got to the barns while the sun was still lurking behind the clouds to the east. Surprising to me, there were only a handful of other photographers in place. One guy commented that we must have slept in as we did not get there before technical sunrise like he must have. Whatever. We got there before the bright light hit the scene. We both took several shots in the subdued light and then repeated them once the sun came out in force. This is one of the iconic scenes in the Teton Park and I think the reason it is popular is that it just so damn pretty and “western”. It’s hard to beat, really.
We made one more stop before breakfast back in Jackson. As we drove into the area earlier we were tempted to stop at a location where there were about 20 people with cameras and binoculars. This is a typical scene any time that someone sees an animal. I noticed that none of the photographers were actively taking photos and asked (told?) Steve to keep going.. the barn light was coming. This time, as we were leaving, we saw a couple of people there but the crowd was gone. We pulled in and Steve immediately saw a huge bull moose browsing away. I grabbed the camera and tripod and we both set about taking photos. Steve was using a Canon point-and-shoot camera with a great zoom range and he was filling the frame with the moose. This is the best I could do with the 300mm lens and the camera set to DX sensor mode.
We made it to Bozeman in time for dinner after driving though Yellowstone National Park. I had anticipated numerous tourist traffic slowdowns… didn’t happen. We traveled alone much of the time. I had anticipated seeing bison and antelope and elk… didn’t happen. In our entire transect from south to north we saw two bison and one antelope as left through Gardiner. Go figure. My friend Barbara reported that she and her family had seen endless bison, sheep, elk and two wolves a few days before. This was her first trip into Yellowstone and, while I am envious of the wolf sighting, I could not be happier for her and her family. What a great introduction to Yellowstone they got.
So the trip ended after 3,143 miles on the car and several days with a good friend driving through some of the most interesting and beautiful parts of the west. We came back with new stories to share and images to remind us of how fortunate we Americans are to have public lands that support great ecosystems in spite of the pressures we place on them. Oh yeah, and I got to hug and play with Kendyl too. Can it get any better, really?