The Bear Truth

Photograph of a black bear Black bear on the move in Yellowstone National Park

With hundreds of thousands of photographs scattered across 6 or 7 hard drives, I often pull up image catalogs to mine them for stock photos.

Today, I opened up my “Bear” catalog to find a measly 100 or so photographs of bears I’ve taken over the past 15 years. None of which are all that good, so it looks like I won’t have a bear presence in the stock portfolios for a while.

I see bears a few times every year. Heck, I’ve had them walk through my yard in Red Feathers. The problem for me is that I don’t really go out looking for them. I just snap shots when I see them and have a camera with me.

Relying on targets of opportunity can generate an occasional stunning shot but as a strategy for accumulating a nice portfolio, it’s not going to achieve much in the way of tangible results. Perhaps one day, I’ll make a concerted effort to find the bears. For now, I’ll just pretend.

Today’s photo is a black bear that I spotted while sitting in a line of traffic in Yellowstone National Park. It was mid-day, the tourists were out in force and so were the park rangers. The bear seemed un-phased by the line of camera toting tourists gawking at him and continued his march across the hillside unabated. I tried to stay with him, at least until a park ranger broke up the party.

Darn Park Rangers

Feeding The Beast

Head Shot of a Mule Deer Doe
Mule Deer in Winter

 

Working on updating the stock portfolios today.  I call it “feeding the beast.”

I’ve found that uploading stock images on a regular basis, even in small quantities, seems to correlate with increased sales over time. With over 2,000 images online, the simple truth is that not all of my images have sold. Quite a few just sit there and though most will probably generate a few sales over time, I think the trick is to saturate the buyer with a variety of selections. The theory is that when someone looks for a particular type of image, it’s best to hog the screen with your photos. I’d rather they choose from one of my many shots than have to select one of mine from many other photographers offerings.

Feeding the beast, a term I’ve heard used by other stock photographers, helps to keep my images visible. It works. Sales from same month last year have been up over 300% on some agencies and have increased on all agencies, year over.

Until I get out to do more work, I’m in the office and feeding the beast.

A Loner’s Life

Photograph of a bull moose in the forest
Bull Moose – North Park, Colorado

For the most part, wildlife photography is a loner’s journey.

The physical connection between the wildlife photographer and photographic subject is symbiotic in many ways. One must learn to adapt to that relationship too.

Moose are social animals but seem to prefer their own company to that of others. Moose are unique subjects. They will hang out together at times. Good feeding conditions, breeding and some type of kinship with others of their type are gathering factors but they are more likely to be found on the move and alone. For the wildlife photographer, the same holds true. I enjoy the company of others but for the most part, I prefer to work alone.

My wife is quite supportive of my photography efforts but she’s not really into the “nature photography” thing with the same enthusiasm as I. If you’re a photographer, you’ve probably experienced this yourself. The travel companion is more often than not quickly bored with the adventure. Sitting alone in a vehicle without an internet connection or phone signal could be a factor. Perhaps it’s not enjoyable to watch some old guy trudging across the field in the rain. It’s a rare person who is willing to sacrifice their sleep and worldly conveniences to trek out into the wilderness with a photographer who is focused primarily on finding critters in the early morning mist.

Most times it’s just better to share the fruits of our labor. I imagine that a typical construction worker has to deal with the same thing. I’ve never heard of a carpenter taking their wife or girlfriend to work to watch them measuring and cutting lumber. It’s boring.

Moose on the other hand seem to like boring, so the photographer must learn to be bored in the same fashion as the loner animal. Other things factor in to this equation though.

The wildlife photographer’s work doesn’t hinge on the hard to alter habits of other humans when heading out into the field. Most of the adaptation comes from the photographer, not from the travel companion. While we still have to account for the presence of other people from time to time, to a large degree the other humans that are present are typically loners too. Our paths are simply crossing at a certain time and place.

Being of retirement age, I have the time to roam around alone in the back woods and mountain tops. My travel and photography plans are for the most part kept to weekdays and not weekends. For those still working a real job, their commitments in life relegate them to getting out on weekends. Though I will get out on a weekend, it’s not an option I give priority. As a matter of fact, I avoid weekends specifically to avoid the folks getting out on weekends. Too many people disrupt the shooting environment and the experience of being alone with the subject.

More than a few of my friends who are my age and older find their photographic comradery within the confines of camera and nature clubs. I’m not a group outing kind of guy though, I’m like a loner moose. My best photos come from working alone or with one other equally enthusiastic photographer. It’s never a personal thing when hatching a plan doesn’t work. We all have different needs and desires. Finding folks who are on the same wavelength isn’t an easy task.

So, I’m incubating another egg that will hatch into a lone adventure in the near future and there will be more after that. Like that lone moose, you may see me pass by from time to time, on my mission to get to some remote spot that I find delightful. But only if you get up early. I’ll typically be done working by 10:00 am and taking a nap by noon. I’ll share the photos with those who prefer to sleep in at a later time.

Being a loner isn’t lonely at all.

More Moose

Moose in the woods of Northern Colorado
Decisions Decisions

 

One of the odd-ball shots from last Friday morning.

It’s hard to take your finger off the shutter button while there is still room in the camera buffer.

It’s Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry

Photograph of a young bull moose on a forest road.
Young bull moose truck’n along a Northern Colorado forest road

 

As I sat and watched moose gathering the other morning, I was thinking about the paths of life that led me to this spot in the mountains and I came to the realization that in many ways I was like my father.

My father was an avid hunter. He spent most of his life living in Kentucky and while I was growing up, one of his favorite pass-times was squirrel hunting. It’s a hillbilly way of life, but for him, getting out into the woods for those morning walks searching for squirrels was a constant thought and motivation.

As his health deteriorated following his cancer diagnosis, one of his wishes was to get back out to the woods just one more time before he died. In a small way, that thought kept him going. He managed to recover from surgery long enough to achieve that wish.

I came to the realization that I had inherited a similar passion. Hunting moose photographs in the mountains. I wish he could have lived longer and that I could have shared my world with him. He would have loved it. Fleeting thoughts, brought on by the joy of being out in the wilderness. Experiencing a connection with nature that many never get to experience while I rationalized my past life experiences and the parallels to my place in the world these days.

My thoughts were interrupted by a moose walking along the road directly towards me. A young bull, on his own path and mission to get to some unknown destination somewhere along the road into the woods behind me, he showed no concern for my presence in his path. As he approached, I followed him with my camera and was able to catch a satisfying sequence of photographs. Once he walked past me, I started the engine and moved on up the trail from which he came.

A bit up that road, about a quarter of a mile, I noticed a pickup truck parked along side the road near a lake where the moose were gathering. A few feet from that truck stood a man, my age, maybe older, and with him was a small dog on a leash. He was simply staring off into the woods at the moose and enjoying the scenery, 10 miles from the nearest paved road.

I pulled to the side of the dirt road near the man and stepped out to exchange a few thoughts about the scene we were both witnessing together alone in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to alert him to the presence of many moose and about being cautious with where he walked his dog, as moose consider dogs to be wolves, their mortal enemy.

As we spoke, he said to me. “This is my favorite place on earth. My father and I used to come to this place all the time.” His memories of past times were strong and had never left him. Within a few moments of us striking a conversation, he began tearing up and became emotional. “I wish he could be here with me to see this today.” he said. I told him that I understood the feeling and shared the same reverence for this spot in the mountains. He tried to continue the conversation, but I could tell that I caught him at a moment of silent contemplation and that his emotions had taken hold of him. I was intruding.

He was slightly embarrassed and apologized for crying about his memories. I shook his hand and gave him a big smile. “Brother, I fully understand. I love this place too and it’s those fond memories of the past that help keep things in perspective.” I said.

I wished him well and apologized for intruding into his private thoughts along that isolated mountain road.

I smiled with understanding when he said “It’s okay, I just get emotional when I come out here. I miss sharing this with my dad. Pay no mind to me.”

It was time to wrap up the morning adventure so I kept driving along the road towards the the highway. Within a short distance, my thoughts drifted back to my father and the kinship the stranger and I shared in that moment. Profound thoughts concerning the encounter overwhelmed me. My eyes moistened up and I had to pull off the road long enough to clear the slow forming tears from my eyes. Sharing that moment with the man in the wilderness had overwhelmed him and me both.

The beauty and serenity of being alone in the wilderness in what has to be one of the most magnificent places in the world has a way to taking hold of your thoughts. For a few brief moments that morning my long deceased father sat with me in that truck. The awesomeness of the experience can’t be measured, it’s too profound.

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Munching Moose Monday

Photograph of a moose feeding in a lake.
Shiras Bull Moose in a Colorado Mountain Lake

 

For a few years I was lucky enough to find a boat-load of moose hanging out in a particular lake in Northern Colorado. This was one of the first images I made after that discovery.

When moose find a good grassy bottom water hole, they munch like mad. The grass in his mouth and the water dripping from his head make for a perfect combination.

Moose activity is heating up. After the July 4th holiday, I begin working full swing. With any luck, I’ll find more moose in this lake this July and August.

 

Why Did The Moose Cross The Road?

Cow and calf strolling through the woods. Shiras Moose – Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

 

Life these days are about finding simple pleasures.

Earlier this week I ventured out to find the local moose at sunrise, as I normally do when I’m at the cabin. The primary activity lately has been from a couple of cows and their calves. There’s one cow that has twins and she keeps them fairly tucked away in the woods. Closer to the village, a mother and her single calf have been frequenting the woods near my place and it hasn’t been difficult to find them in short order.

Still sipping coffee, I made a quick run to the two areas I felt most likely to find the critters, and after about 10 minutes of poking around with no luck, I elected to go to a third location on the other side of the village in hopes they might be lingering in the open.

Much to my surprise, I’m driving along the road towards my place when I spot the obvious silhouette of the mother moose standing in the middle of the road at the intersection of my street and the main highway. She was standing in the road looking back over her shoulder off to my right at the side of the road where her calf was trying to get over a fence to join her.

Moose Cow and Calf crossing a highway.
Leading her calf across the road near my cabin.

I could almost hear her talking to the calf. “Come on, just jump over the fence and lets get going”  The calf was anxious and made it through the fence with little effort. Momma moose then proceeds across the road with calf in tow, into the field near my house, where they stop to browse the bushes for a quick breakfast snack.  I pulled off to the side of the dirt road leading to my cabin and sat and watched. The sun still wasn’t up but it was getting lighter by the moment. The dawn sunshine hit the field beyond the pair and began its slow creep toward the two. A few moments of browsing and they were done. Mother moose decided to take the calf into the woods in the direction of my cabin so I pulled the SUV off the roadside and drove on down the road running parallel to them. By now they had vanished into the woods. I know those woods quite well and there’s a marshy pond on the far side of the woods they were moving through so I figured I’d just drive on down the road to where that pond was and see if they were anywhere to be found.

As I crept along the dirt road near the pond, the two were coming through the woods directly towards me. I stopped and fired off a few frames from the Nikon D810 as they crested the small hill above the pond, almost directly in front of me.

Mother moose didn’t blink and eye and she led her calf right to me and across the road into the woods behind my cabin.  The end result, I got a good 30-40 minutes of early morning camera time in close proximity to these two lovely neighbors.

Why did the moose cross the road?

So I could get photos.

The Watering Hole

Moose calf at a watering hole near Red Feather Lakes, CO
Shiras Moose Calf – Red Feather Lakes

I’ve been photographing a moose cow and calf most of this Spring and early Summer in the area around the village. There’s a particular water-hole near the village where all manner of wild creatures come to slurp and it’s a good place to watch for activity.

It’s difficult for the moose to find good habitat east of the village, as the area begins transforming from mountain forest to open brush and range land. Moose will move through but they are seldom found in numbers. This makes the forest surrounding the village a good congregation point. The moose come in to the area, browse around. The cows and calves have a good range of feeding in a non hostile environment. The bulls are a different story. They seem to have more of a wandering spirit. They move into the area but seem to eventually move back to the higher country to the west where there is a lot more forest to explore.

Goals and Milestones

Photograph of a Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Hunting in the Shallows.

I’m in a contemplative mood this morning so this post is going to be a little more from the heart. Hope you don’t mind the ramblings of a man who is trying to grow old gracefully.

I’ve rationalized just about every aspect of my life over the years, justifying to myself and to others, my reason for existing, my motivations, my mistakes and my successes. Most of those rationalizations bring me back to who I really am as a person and the self realizations that spring from these ever changing thoughts. I reckon that I’m not unique in this regard.

One thing I’ve rationalized as an important aspect of my life is always finding something to look forward to. My most depressing moments have been in times when I felt there was nothing to accomplish and my motivations in life have generally been based on this simple self observance.

As I’ve grown older, my motivations have seen an obvious shift and an overall simplification of what I believe to be the things I want to do to stay happy and stay engaged with life in a positive way. Simplify, simplify, simplify. I find that word to be the main pivot point of my thinking.

Of course, everything isn’t going to be simple. I don’t shrink from complicated things, my mind won’t allow that, but I always find a way to trim away the fat of what I consider meaningless attachments to anything I do. As time grows shorter for me, not wasting that time on life’s baggage seems to be goal.

Long gone are my aspirations of fame and fortune. I served my country, I did my corporate ladder climb to middle management, I’ve married and divorced and remarried and friends and family have changed over and over again. No regrets, but there is still a candle burning in my soul and that candle is used to light my next path in life as it always has in the past, with a low, flickering flame that can’t be extinguished by the actions of someone else.

Find something to look forward to. That is the simplified thought that drives me from day to day, and I have indeed found a way of having something to look forward to doing. Simple things usually.

After a lifetime of ambition and service to my employment masters, I started a small photography business and I’ve successfully kept it alive for over 12 years. I’ll continue to keep it alive as long as I’m physically able to do it.

My secret of keeping motivated is that I always find something in photography to look forward to doing.

Well, today I’ve reached another small goal, a small milestone and set a new goal and milestone to replace it.

The goal I set for myself in 2018 was to have at least 2,000 images on sale at the stock agencies before the end of the year. Nothing monumental in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it’s an accomplishment. This morning I had my 2,000th stock image approved and it’s now online with the others. It won’t make much money over time, maybe five or ten dollars a year if I’m lucky. But, when  I look at what it cost me to take that 2,000th photograph, it adds up to about 3 dollars in gasoline and one hour of my time. I’m certain that I’ll profit for having taken the time to look forward to that next photograph. The next photograph has value beyond the few pennies it will make me. It keeps me motivated, it keeps me engaged and it pays for itself in the long run. What could be more simple than that?

Today’s photograph is of a great blue heron. It’s my 2,000th accepted stock photo and I’m quite proud of it.

Today, I’m sharing it with you too.

Insights From The Moose Whisperer

Photograph of moose calf at a watering hole
Moose calf at a watering hole

Something I learned many years ago was how to find moose.

For the average person a moose sighting is more or less coincidental to their being in the right place at the right time. Moose do move around a lot and are not afraid to be in the vicinity of human populations, though their tolerance to staying in populated areas is limited by the quality of the food they find there and their perceived threat from that population. That means, you may find moose hanging out somewhere for a while but eventually they will move on to an area they are more comfortable with.

I don’t rely on reported moose sightings for finding moose. I may hear about moose hanging out here or there, but I don’t make it a point to chase sightings. It simply doesn’t work on a consistent basis.

The best way to find moose consistently is to understand their movement patterns and their preferences for food, terrain and climate.

One unwavering observation I have made is that moose don’t like warm temperatures. By warm, I mean temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of my photographs are taken in cooler weather, usually below 65 degrees and where it’s colder there will generally be more moose to be found. In Colorado that means, for the most part, higher elevations.

Not that moose are all that willing to move into rugged rocky mountain sides, no, they like higher altitude areas that meet their requirements for food, water and such. High mountain valleys, meadows, streams, lakes and marshy areas with dense forest in the vicinity is their preferred habitat.

Most of my moose hunting is in the mountains of North-central Colorado above 8,000 feet altitude. A colloquial term is “the high country.”

I look for certain characteristics in the land such as riparian areas with lush vegetation along a river or stream, high altitude lakes near dense forests and with lots of marsh. Moose love to be wet. Thickets of willows along streams in valleys, areas of low human population density. This is where moose like to be. Moose like weather that isn’t really good weather for photography. Rain, cloudy and cool. For the average tourist, these aren’t the conditions to plan a trip around, but I’ve found the wettest, coolest days are usually the best days.

Finding moose isn’t difficult if you look for them in the right places at the right time with the right conditions. For this reason, I seldom give consideration to the predicted weather conditions, hoping it’s going to be a nice day.

The best approach I’ve come up with is to identify the types of areas the moose prefer and then examine the area on foot to the extent possible. I look for signs of moose activity. Hoof prints near the shores of lakes and ponds, moose poop. Yeah, moose poop is a good indicator, the more fresh poop you can find, the more moose you’ll find in the area. Moose poop is fairly unique among ungulates. Deer and elk have smaller, rounder feces. Cattle, well, if you’ve ever been near cattle, you’ll know about “cow pies.” Moose poop is usually darker and larger than other deer species. It doesn’t always look the same either. Learning to identify the different types of animal scat is of benefit. I can tell moose poop from bear poop, or elk poop quite easily, but if you don’t have that knowledge, you’ll be guessing.

Another thing I look for is bedding areas. A tell-tale sign of moose in the area is finding a large area of flattened grass near a stream or woods. When I say large area, I’m talking about a spot that can be up to 6 feet in diameter. Usually, there are more than one bedding spots in the same area. Moose are social animals and they will often sleep together in small numbers, in close proximity and finding several bed-down spots in the same area is a very good sign. This brings up the obvious point that finding large, fresh bedding spots with fresh moose poop nearby would be an optimal observation.

Once you’ve identified the moose spots, you can plan your photography. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to hunt down the moose, as they are quite aware of humans when present. Sneaking up on a moose is not an easy task and could be a dangerous proposition. Surprising and/or annoying a moose is not a smart thing to do. Keep a safe distance, 50 meters or so. Moose are tolerant of the presence of humans, but they are short tempered animals and can get quite angry with humans when provoked. Moose are not predators though. They won’t hunt you down and try to hurt you. They just want you to go away and if you become obnoxious to their sensibility, they will have no qualms about threatening you and even attacking you. I consider any moose moving towards me making eye contact to be a moose attack in progress. Their eyesight is poor so often they’ll sense your presence and move towards you to identify you. Once they get close enough to confirm their suspicions, they’ll decide if you are a threat or not and act accordingly. Never approach a moose. Be particularly wary of cows with a calf. Cows are more dangerous as they will defend their calf without warning.

I’ve found it better to plan a return to the spot that gets me near moose territory before sunrise. Moose are most active in the early part of the day. Right before sunrise and for the next couple of hours after sunrise. On foul weather days, moose will be more active as the day progresses, but on sunny or warmer days, the moose will generally retreat to the shade of a forest by 9 or 10 AM. Be there before the moose is the best plan. Let them come to you. Choose a spot, get there early and quietly and don’t make noise once in position. Plan your shots and let the moose move in to your scene.

Colorado’s moose population is expanding and from what I’ve observed the overall population is healthy. From time-to-time, I come across an injured animal or one that appears to be a little too thin for the season. A good indicator though is the number of calves that are born each year. Another measuring stick seems to be the number of twin calves observed. The theory goes, the better the feeding conditions, the better the overall health and that leads to a higher rate of twins being born each Spring.

Getting accurate counts are difficult. Colorado Parks & Wildlife don’t consider moose to be a top priority for research and management and as a result the number of scientists/biologists studying the animal is not very high. Other big game animals get the money and attention, as wildlife management is primarily focused on hunting and not on the ecology of the species.  CPW does a fairly good job of managing the large populations of game animals though.

I’ll share more of my moose photography insights in future articles, so check in with me from time to time.

If you’re hungry for moose, let me know. I do photo tours in moose country every summer and I’ve never not found moose. They don’t call me “The Moose Whisperer” for nothing.