Encounters are the stories behind some of my photos (mostly the limited editions). Whether the encounter came from a great surprise when things suddenly changed (my Cliff Cougar) or nature rewarding my patience with a good shot (Bobcat and Moose), I hope you can feel what I felt encountering the wild!
I spotted the family of mountain goats on a treacherous cliff face. I wanted some action shots of them climbing so I scrambled up some of the splendidly rugged terrain until I was almost as high as them, about 150 yards away. After I set up my telephoto gear & got them sighted in, I set my exposure and started firing away. Shortly thereafter a cougar exploded over a fallen tree above the goats, shattering branches, legs kicking wildly and slid ten feet down the cliff. He caught his footing, coiled his huge hind legs and sprang towards the goats, his tail spinning like a propeller. The puma’s gaze was fixed on the smaller of two billy goats, just feet from his target the lion was startled by the larger billy who made a courageous attempt to ram the cat to his doom. Head down, horns ready, the goat leapt forward all four hooves leaving the rock. The lion caught him in mid air with a blow to the side of his face (just before this shot). The two billies were across the cliff face in an instant, limestone crumbling and crackling down to the ground. The shaken goats reached barely accessible ledges and waited for the great cat to make the next move. After some intense staredowns, and carefully considered calculations, the lion slowly stalked away, disappearing amongst mountain laurels and junipers.
Bobcat & Moose
I was alerted by a golden eagle of an adult cow moose carcass. There were large bobcat tracks everywehere. The next morning I selected a spot amongst some boulders about 55 feet from the moose, got comfortable (sort of), set my camera to a suitable exposure than switched it off and shoved it under my camoflauged coat to conserve battery. After an hour a coyote tenatively approached but took off without so much as a mouthfull. Ten or fifteen minutes later something leapt up on a boulder behind some lodgepoles 65 feet from where I sat, for an instant I thought the coyote had scurried up on the rock but as soon as the animal moved again I could tell it was of the feline order. The cat leapt down & then slowly, cautiosly moving over to the moose, he paused in a sunbeam, sat down,faced the sun, closed his eyes and appeared to smile. After soaking up some rays the bobcat walked over to the carcass. Meanwhile still struggling to breathe silently, I switched my camera on while slipping it out from under my coat. The camera made a slight electronic whirring as the lens extended, the cat froze. I clicked a few shots, the bobcat heard the small click of the shutter, he walked around the moose and the tree that were between us. I did not so much as blink, he sat down and stared right at me. I had time to take five more shots at two varying perspectives, before the cat took off, stopping to have one last look at me as he left.
While hiking in the highlands of the Bob, A Grizzly discoverd me in an unlikely place—on a cliff!
The distance between us seemed relatively safe, and I took a few shots with my telephoto set-up. But he was close enough to hear the sound of the camera, and came toward me to investigate. As he approached, I calmly said, “Hello, Bear” to let him know I was there, and make clear that I was not a mountain goat. That had always worked well with other bears. With this griz, not so much. He headed straight for me.
I took several more shots before he briefly disappeared behind some rocks. As I switched to a hand-held lens, he reappeared much closer. I quickly unsnapped my bear spray and placed the telephoto-tripod set-up right behind me, at the edge of the cliff.
The bear advanced until he was directly above me, staring down from no more than 15 feet away. While taking more photos, I tried the soft spoken approach again. “Hey, bear, I’m a person!” At that moment, I saw the saliva start to flow, and he began looking for a way to negotiate the 8-to-10 foot drop to where I stood.
Communication Plan B was definitely in order. I suddenly shouted loudly (BAKLAVA!!! or something like that) and raised my arms up swiftly. The griz took off sprinting up the narrow cliff side trail. After about 50 yards, he stopped for one look back, then galloped up over the ridge.
Denali National Park, 6 million acres of some of the most incredible land there is. Studies have shown @ 3-9 wolves per 1000km haunt that immense landscape. Wolves have incredible stamina, and are well built to live in the often harsh environment, in fact harsh winters with deep snow help wolf numbers.