People often ask how I find the wildlife that I photograph. It’s a combination of honed observational skills, preplanning, and luck. It’s hard to learn the intricacies of microhabitats and animal routines in a few days. The people who know put a lot of time into obtaining that knowledge. Fortunately, there are shortcuts for the short-term visitor. Whenever I arrive in a new place, I’m anxious to see all the things all at once. I can’t be everywhere when the light is good or when the wildlife is likely to be active. I find that once I settle in and let come what may, then I have the magic moments. There’s no forcing it (as much as I might want to try). I remind myself of the sage words of Morgan King, “What is meant for you cannot pass you by.”
Here are my top tips for finding wildlife in Yellowstone.
1. Get up early
The rangers like to say that most people are in the Park between 10am and 5pm, while the vast majority of wildlife is active earlier and later than that. Sunrise is about 5:30am and doesn’t set until 9:30pm in early June. That’s a long time to be out. I was heading into the park by 5am (although some photo tours head out at 4am to be ” in location” at sunrise!). That makes for long days. Rest mid-day at a pullout (bring a pillow and eye mask) or go back to your room.
2. Follow the Fanatics
Yellowstone Wolfwatchers and Natural Habitat Adventures, among others, have boldly logoed vans and buses. They are dedicated to finding wolves and wildlife for their clients. There is no shortage of solo proprietors taking people on wildlife safaris in the park. They drive logoed SUVs. These folks all have radios and know what’s going on all over the park. If they’re pulled out and looking through spotting scopes, there is something to see. It could be an eagle or a grizzly bear six miles away, or it could be spectacular. Pull off the road to find out, don’t stop in the lane to try to figure it out.
3. Get the Local Intel
Before leaving home, subscribe to Yellowstone Reports. For $35/year you’ll get daily, detailed wolf reports, grizzly bear sightings, and a smattering of other wildlife sightings badger den, bighorn sheep, black bears, raptor nests, unique waterfowl, and more). It’s fun to follow the drama from home, too.
4. Stalk Wildlife Photographer Tours/Workshops Pages
Where are they going? When are they going? What are they seeing? I chose early June for my spring wildlife trip because that’s when all of the professional photographers host their Spring Wildlife in Yellowstone tours. Bonus – it’s before the busy summer season gets going, so there are far fewer people and vehicles. Follow photographers whose images you like on social media and pay attention to when they go places.
4. Pay Attention to Areas Marked “No Parking”
When watchable wildlife is frequenting an area, crowd control kicks in. Rangers and volunteers keep traffic moving and make sure wildlife has the space they need. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. In Yellowstone, that’s the go-to for finding wildlife: look for other people looking at things. However, the animals are often there when the crowds aren’t. They’re just a little harder to see. So if you come across traffic cones along the side of the road (preventing people from stopping) or temporary “no parking” signs, find a safe place to pull off and look a little closer.
5. Talk with People
Most of the people behind big cameras and spotting scopes are happy to share their passion. If you’re genuinely interested in wildlife and their stories, like-minded people will share their experiences. “Have you seen the otters at Trout Lake?” “There’s been a lot of moose near the northeast entrance.” We like to share our passion. Even some private tour guides will spontaneously offer information. “Did you see the grizzly bears on the ridge in front of us?” The more people know the more they care. Spread the word.
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The whole aim of this blog is to share my experiences and explorations in nature. The articles here provide a good knowledge base for your own exploration. Where to go, when to go, what to look for. You don’t need to be a photographer to enjoy immersion in nature. See you out there!
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