I’ve never been a morning person, but there are major advantages to rising before the sun when it comes to wildlife photography, usually in the form of fewer people and more animals. This summer, with our new 100-400mm lens, we arrived at Rocky Mountain Arsenal before dawn and were pleasantly surprised with what we found.
We started the morning shooting the sunrise over a large, still pond not far into the park. I was eager to get some long exposures with my new Haida 15-stop filter, so I spent about twenty minutes with our 18mm at this spot.
Then we hopped in the car and went searching for bison.
We’d driven through the park the previous afternoon but hadn’t seen a single bison, so I was pretty excited when we soon found two. They moved slowly, grazing in the sun, while birds hovered around eating bugs off their backs.
The bison area of Rocky Mountain Arsenal requires that you stay in your vehicle, so once they wandered out of view we continued. Then, in the distance, we saw an entire herd!
We inched along in our vehicle as they moved parallel to the road we were driving, but not ten minutes later they were crossing the road around us. We were in the middle of the herd!
We watched as baby bison calves playfully frolicked haphazardly around, stopping for a morning snack until their tolerant mothers urged them forward to keep up with their herd.
It was everything I’d hoped our Yellowstone trip (two years before) would be — maybe better — with far fewer people and much less of a drive to find them.
One of the largest male bison brought up the rear of the herd. He stood in the road for several minutes, moving forward only after the last stragglers had safely crossed and bringing our magical morning with the herd to a satisfying close.
Bison weren’t the only animals we found at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. We spotted several prairie dogs along the roadsides, and birds were also easy to find throughout the park. It took me about twenty minutes of patient observing before I managed to get the only owl we spotted in focus when he swooped down for his prey.
An Important Closing Message
Tucked away in my amazing memories of this place is an extremely sad one. As we drove out of the park on our first afternoon visiting, we came upon a dead prairie dog in the road — one of two that I’d photographed on the way in. The one still alive was curiously inspecting the death of his neighbor from his mound near the road. I’d watched them cutely calling to each other, as prairie dogs do, just one hour earlier, and now the poor little fellow was dead. And I’d seen more than one vehicle driving too fast on our visits here in these animals’ home, a place that’s supposed to be a refuge for them.
So I’m closing this post with a simple request. If you visit this or any other public wildlife refuge, please respect the animals, especially by not exceeding the speed limit. Don’t drive too fast to stop for crossing wildlife.
Keep to the limit and keep your eyes on the road, so animals can be safe in the place they call home. 🙂