Photojournal - 30 August 2012


On Monday, Dorothy and I got up in the late morning and made our way from Bozeman towards Gardiner (both in Montana). We had decided not to revisit the little dudes at the Greycliff Prarie Dog Town State Park; from our trip the day before, I knew that mid-morning light would be the best for the shooting situation there, and we were already past that time. I was more than happy to have seen them and knew that other good photo opportunities would probably present themselves.

It was only a couple of hours drive to Gardiner and the gate into Yellowstone. Our trip passed uneventfully, although we did stop at a rest area once before Gardiner. At the rest stop, there were a lot of grasshoppers in the grass at the side of the pavement, and I took a few photos of them.

Here's one of my shots, showing a well-camouflaged hopper with beautiful blue-green hind femurs. I always like finding bold colors where I don't expect them.


Well, I did know that colorful hind femurs are common in grasshoppers, so it wasn't quite so unexpected, but it was still delightful. Unfortunately, I don't know my hoppers all that well, and that color (and the rest of the photo) wasn't enough for me to identify the species. The experts tell me this one is a Kiowa Grasshopper (Trachyrhachys kiowa). It's a pretty beast.

While at the rest stop, I took a few landscapes with my wide-angle lens, tilting it upward to flatten out the landscape and make the clouds more of an element. In this one I was interested in the central mountain, the one with the parallel gullies carved into its face. My first thought was to use a telephoto to capture just the mountains and gullies, but the compositions I could've gotten seemed uninteresting. With the wide-angle, I had to set that mountain back in the composition, and use it simply as one element in the overall photo.


I liked the result. The clouds and the foreground did end up making the creviced mountain the focal point of the photo, but not in a completely overwhelming way..

And here's a picture taken at about a 90-degree angle to the last one,. Here the clouds seemed more dramatic so I gave them more room.


A short time after our stop we found ourselves in Gardiner. We again stopped, this time for a snack and to browse in a store or two. I had a Cafe Affogato: vanilla ice cream with a shot of expresso poured over it. Just what I needed in the western summer heat.

We next proceeded through the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone Park. It took only another ten minutes or so to arrive at the Mammoth Hot Springs complex, which is where we were to stay. At the complex, there is a hotel, cabins, a couple of restaurants, a post office, various park offices and housing. In short, it's a small village.

We were to stay in a cabin for the week. We picked up our cabin keys and unloaded our luggage. Our cabin had a porch that faced a courtyard complete with trees, rocks, and a lawn.

I sat on one of the porch chairs and very quickly realized that I needed my camera. There were some little dudes on the other side of the courtyard. And one of them had scored a saltine.


A quick peek at a field guide verified what I suspected—these dudes were Uinta Ground Squirrels. Uinta is pronounced YEW-in-ta like in the question: "You inta ground squirrels?" They're handsome little dudes, always wanting to show off their good side.

Well, some of them are, at least. Others are regal and aloof.  

Either way, they're quite entertaining.

My eyes were pulled from the entertainment when I followed some motion and found a butterfly stopped in the grass. This is the rather common Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice). I don't normally see sulfurs around the lower mainland, so this one was a treat even if it was common.


I sat around reading for a bit, then took out my wide-angle for some framing shots. Here's one of the cabins across the road from our cabin. The one in the middle is a duplex (like ours) and the one on the right looks to be a single. These folks had road-facing porches, which seemed not as pleasant as having the courtyard-facing ones. We counted ourselves lucky.

The wide-angle distorts things a little, and so the hill behind these cabins looks shorter in this photo than it does in real life.

And here's a shot down the street, showing several other cabins and the cliffs beyond.  

The cabins were small, each with a couple of double beds with very little room to maneuver between or beside them. In addition, there was a sink and a small washroom with shower and commode. For Dorothy and me, such a room was comfortable. For a family of four, it was cramped.

Our cabin came with an occupant, who I duly photographed. Neither I nor the experts I consult have come up with a definitive determination of the species, but I lean towards calling this a Mouse Moth (Amphipyra tragopoginis).


Mouse Moths are an introduced species in North America. They like running away when threatened, as opposed to flying away. Sadly, I did not know this at the time, so I didn't end up testing this behaviour, which could've settled the identity question. Curiously, Mouse Moths are widespread in Canada but not reported much from the lower 48.

I ended up back out on the porch. We spent most of the late afternoon sitting around, waiting. Waiting for dinnertime, and waiting for the arrival of my brother and his family, with whom we were to join up for the next few days. I kept one eye peeled for interesting happenings, and sprang up when I saw a couple of Black-billed Magpies across the courtyard. They were flying between the ground and the top of one of the cabins. Here's one of them.

I got that photo after walking across the lawn; on my way back I found a little dude peering into a hollow underneath the porch of one of the cabins. I know that squirrels like holes and hollows, but that seemed like a scary place for a squirrel to go. I advised him against proceeding.  
He listened politely to my reasoning,  
but then just looked at me as if I had said something totally bizarre.  

He then scurried off, but happily he went to a squirrel-hole rather than under a porch. So I was at least relieved, but still bewildered by why he gave me the strange look.

That was soon forgotten, though, as I sat in the afternoon heat on the porch reading a novel. I was roused from my book once, by a Western Tanager peeking at me from a tree.


Eventually, my brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces arrived, and we spent some time in greeting and in tomatoless catching-up.

After an ample allowance for unpacking and resting, the six of us started walking across the courtyard headed for the dining hall at which we were to have dinner.

At that moment, my niece Sydney exhibited a classic behaviour specifically designed to grate upon the nerves of loving uncles everywhere: she started repeatedly shrieking at the top of her lungs. I winced and was about to roll my eyes and give Dorothy that "oh my god, is it going to be a week or so of this?" look, when I realized what my dear niece was shrieking. It was a single word. That word was interesting. That word was snake.

I instantly dropped all supposed irritation and replaced it with admiration and gratefulness. Then I dashed for my cabin, which contained my camera. For indeed, there was a snake.


He was a biggish snake, too, and he stayed in the open for a few minutes, which is more of an opportunity than I've had on any other wild snake. (I really should get out and find more snakes. It'd be good for me.)

This snake was a Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi), and he was over a meter long and had a cross-section bigger than my wrist. He travelled along the side of a cabin, and then to its front. Here I caught him with his head and neck upon the cabin's porch.

He slithered along without puttling any more of himself on the porch, and I caught a few head-on photos of him in the sun. Here's one of them, along with a detail of his head.  

I do love a good forked tongue.

The Bullsnake is a subspecies of the Gopher Snake, which has a wide range across North America.

Gopher is itself a confusing term; it is technically used for Pocket Gophers (family Geomyidae), but it is also used colloquially for any small burrowing rodents, such as Ground Squirrels and Prarie Dogs (family Sciuridae). I'd therefore guess that Gopher Snakes are named for their tendency to prey on the little dudes.

So this guy was bad news. Not only that, he was bad news checking out a hollow beneath a porch.

I was thankful that I had advised a squirrel away from just such a hole, for, after looking, this often-preys-on-squirrels snake headed straight into the hole.  

I had been worried, but at this point, I had an epiphany. I became all warm and happy inside; I was divinely blessed. For in this moment, I realized that the hollow in question was not under my porch, nor was it under my brother's. It was under someone else's porch. So I was going to be able to sleep that night.

Well, anyhow, I hope that I have not bored you with my drawn-out narrative of this lazy summer day; that has certainly not been my intent. But even if you were getting a bit impatient with it, you need not worry any longer, for this is the end of my tale.


The rest of the day passed without photographic incident.

The adoring uncle,


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