Yellowstone: Wildlife

I’ll be honest, this part of the Yellowstone tour is probably the most boring one, as I simply do not have any good pictures. I know, it is a shame and it really sucks that I couldn’t capture anything good after coming back from Yellowstone, where wildlife is abundant and all over the place.

Ultimately, I wanted to capture nice images of wolves, black and grizzly bears, foxes, coyotes, various birds (eagles, hawks, owls, etc) and so on and so forth. I’m not sure if it was the hot weather, too many people or just bad luck, but we just didn’t see much wildlife at all. Sure there were deer, elk, bison and some mountain birds…but I have seen them all in Colorado and I can capture them close right here pretty much any time of the year. I read various booklets, asked rangers and other people and still was not able to see anything special.

Let’s start with raptors. Basically, raptors are abundant and can be found everywhere in the park. If you drive along the lakes and rivers, you will most definitely spot Ospreys and Bald Eagles. Ospreys are everywhere and I saw at least 10 of them, whereas Bald Eagles are somewhat rare (only saw a couple).

Wildlife #1

NIKON D300 @ 550mm, ISO 450, 1/1600, f/5.6

Wildlife #3

NIKON D700 @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/2500, f/4.0

The below image of the bald eagle has an unfortunate story. While I was photographing a hot spring by a river at slow shutter speeds and wide lens, apparently an osprey snatched a fish right in front of me and I didn’t even see it. Most likely I was looking into the viewfinder and not paying attention to what was going on around me. Then, two bald eagles showed up from nowhere and started fighting with the osprey to take away its lunch. All of this was happening right above my head, while I had no idea. At one point I heard my wife yell and I thought she was calling me back. When I looked at Hilola, I saw her pointing her finger at the sky. I looked up and saw two raptors fighting with each other. Without hesitation, I immediately ran to the parking lot to grab my long lens. By the time I got back, the osprey was already high in the air and the bald eagle was having a hard time catching up. They were both rising high and were already far away from each other, so I went after the bald eagle and took some pictures. It was an overcast day and because of the contrast between the cloudy sky and dark feathers of the bird, the image came out underexposed (I was shooting in spot-metering mode, pointing the center focus at the bird). It turned out that Hilola called me several times from the very beginning, but I simply didn’t hear her because of the noisy river. Worst of all, right before getting out of the car, I thought about taking the long lens with me, but since we stopped to check out some hot springs, I thought that I wouldn’t need it and that it would be better to stay light without the extra gear. Stupid me, I should have taken the lens along from the start! I hate when I miss such rare opportunities. And this is not the first time stuff like this is happening to me!

Wildlife #4

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/4.0

There were so many different types of hawks at Yellowstone, that I lost my count. Just to name a few: Red-tailed Hawk (below), Cooper’s Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk and Northern Harrier were all seen at least once each.

Wildlife #14

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/4.0

Wildlife #16

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 220, 1/1000, f/4.0

I saw this pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Lamar Valley, while we were looking for wolves and bears.

Wildlife #5

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/4.0

Smaller birds were all over Yellowstone. I didn’t have much time to do some real birding, but I saw a lot of different types of sparrows and finches, mountain bluebirds, robins, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, clark’s nutcrackers, chickadees and swallows. Most of these would show up in our camping area and would be pretty active in the morning.

American Goldfinch:

Wildlife #20

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 360, 1/1000, f/5.6

Mountain Bluebird:

Wildlife #19

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 250, 1/1000, f/4.0

Greater Sage-Grouse is pretty common in the park, especially in mountainous open areas:

Wildlife #17

NIKON D300 @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/640, f/5.6

Wildlife #18

NIKON D300 @ 330mm, ISO 220, 1/1000, f/4.0

I didn’t see many smaller mammals except the usual chipmunks and squirrels. The below creature looks like a ground squirrel, but I’m not entirely sure.

Wildlife #15

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/4.0

This ugly lizard-like creature visited us right after the rain in the dark. After Kamola stepped on it, we thought it was dead, but it wasn’t – it was just playing dead. This nasty lizard was soft and yucky and I definitely did not want to deal with it. So, without touching it, I snapped a quick photo with an on-camera flash and let it continue its journey.

Wildlife #8

NIKON D700 @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/125, f/10.0

Pronghorns and deer were everywhere. The below deer was captured several feet away from our camping spot.

Wildlife #2

NIKON D700 @ 350mm, ISO 200, 1/400, f/4.0

Wildlife #13

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 400, 1/640, f/4.0

Obviously, you haven’t seen Yellowstone if you haven’t seen Bison. These guys are everywhere and are probably the most common large animal in the park.

Male Bison:

Wildlife #12

NIKON D300 @ 200mm, ISO 400, 1/160, f/4.0

Female Bison:

Wildlife #11

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 400, 1/200, f/4.0

Male and Female watching after a newly born youngster:

Wildlife #10

NIKON D300 @ 650mm, ISO 400, 1/100, f/6.7

Let’s talk about wolves and bears now – the main attraction of Yellowstone. I was encouraged by other photographers that saw bears and wolves in Yellowstone and were able to capture them during hunts and feasts. I had a lot of expectations and thought that spotting wolves and bears would be very easy…well, I was wrong! Again, not sure if it had something to do the time of the year, temperatures or my luck, but we only saw wolves twice after sunset and a black bear once. Nothing close enough to photograph in good quality! We were fasting during the last 4 days of the trip and we would wake up early in the morning every day and head out to see bears and wolves, but without much success. We drove through Lamar Valley (which is well-known for wolf and bear sightings) at least 3-4 times and checked out the Hayden Valley every day.

The following photograph of a wolf pack was captured early in the morning in Lamar Valley. The pack was hunting deer on the top of the mountain and they were so far away that I couldn’t capture the details of the hunt. It was a cloudy day on top of that, so it was almost impossible to capture any interesting images.

Wildlife #9

NIKON D300 @ 650mm, ISO 400, 1/400, f/6.7

The following black wolf was captured in Hayden Valley. He was so far away that I had to shoot with a 2x teleconverter and had to crop the image for you to be able to see him:

Wildlife #6

NIKON D300 @ 650mm, ISO 400, 1/500, f/6.7

Same here with the black bear. He was too far away and it was raining when we spotted him. I had to crank up my ISO and shoot on a tripod to bring at least some clarity to the picture:

Wildlife #7

NIKON D300 @ 400mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/4.0

Despite the mediocre wildlife experience in Yellowstone, I’m looking forward for better opportunities in the future. I hope you enjoyed viewing these crappy images :)


  1. 1) Kolobok
    September 11, 2009 at 2:06 am

    Nice shots, love the bisons and the bear!
    Fourth eagle from the top, he has caught something, hasn’t he?

    • September 11, 2009 at 10:09 am

      Thank you Kolobok! The fourth image from the top is a Red-tailed Hawk and I captured the image as he was taking off from a tree…

  2. 2) Kolobok
    September 11, 2009 at 3:49 am

    P.S. Next time grab a walkie talkie, so you can communicate with Hilola if she sees anything special! :))

    • September 11, 2009 at 10:10 am

      Kolobok, I don’t think I would have heard the walkie talkie either…like I said above, the river was just too loud :)

  3. 3) Avaz Ibragimov
    September 12, 2009 at 1:18 am

    yeah, crap :)

  4. 4) Avaz Ibragimov
    September 12, 2009 at 1:21 am

    and would you sort the comments in a way that the oldest comments appear first?

  5. 5) Michael K.
    January 23, 2010 at 6:13 am

    I eulogize the valuable post you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and have my kids check up here recurrently. I am quite sure they will study lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

    • June 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Michael, I somehow missed your comment and forgot to reply to it, I apologize for that.

      Thank you for your feedback, I really appreciate it. Please let me know if you have any questions.

  6. 6) Deny
    August 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I realize this is an old post but nice pics, the “nasty lizard” is a Tiger Salamander which are amphibious and explains the slimy skin =)

  7. 7) Monte
    July 13, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Another late post but I just wanted to add that the eagle/osprey behaviour you witnessed is actually quite common. If you had the time to return to this spot and be patient the same scenario would have played out again and again.

    The eagles often perch in trees directly in the ospreys flight path between the nest and fishing spot. When the osprey is returning to the nest with the food for their young the eagle is waiting. The osprey is generally too fast but occasionally the eagle forces the osprey to drop the fish.

    On the other hand, when the osprey is going out to the fishing spot it will often dive bomb the perched eagle to make it leave its perch. I have witnessed this scenario play out many times. It is unfortunately a very difficult scene to capture in photos as it usually occurs fairly high up and at speed.

  8. 8) Charles
    August 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Some very nice images here, Nasim, particularly of the launching Red-tail and the osprey. The bird you identify here as a Cooper’s Hawk is actually a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (distinguished here from Cooper’s by the narrower tail bands, distinctive marks on leading edge of each wing, and separation of fairly distinctive “belly band” from breast). The birds you identified as sage-grouse are dusky grouse (formerly called blue grouse), which are, indeed, fairly common in Yellowstone, though often overlooked by many visitors. I hope you visit the Greater Yellowstone area again with even better wildlife-viewing. May is usually a very productive month. If you do visit in May, be sure to drop by Cody for the annual Spring into Yellowstone Wildlife Festival, and visit Cody’s Draper Natural History Museum – it’s the perfect primer for Yellowstone wildlife and ecology.

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <i> <s>