While validating 2020 mileage for tax purposes, I'm revisiting each of the folders of photos I captured in 2020; there are 116 of them. Each folder represents one day's worth of photography work.
My photography work days could be classified as nice, good, great, and outstanding.
September 25, 2020 was one of those outstanding days. I photographed a highly unusually-marked Yellow-Bellied Marmot, the American Pika looking ridiculously cuter than usual
and Rocky Mountain Goats of various genders and ages, too.
I also got a chance to do some really fun 4x4-ing with a creek-crossing. I stopped there to photograph the little creek's waterfalls, too.
Small Waterfall in Autumn
That was an outstanding day.
As I think about the habitat destruction resulting from wildfires, I can't help but wonder whether the animals I've photographed in locations impacted by wildfires have been able to make it through alive. I hope so. I've lately seen many anecdotal reports on social media of people spotting birds and/or animals they don't normally see in their areas, leading people to believe those fauna have fled the fires. These reports give me hope.
In July, I photographed this young Moose on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). His/her mother was nearby as they browsed vegetation. They crossed a small road, and even though Mom and kiddo were moving quickly to get out of the open, this little one wasn't able to resist a quick nibble on some tender greenery.
Although I resist anthropomorphizing my subjects, I couldn't help but imagine a little mischief behind that twinkle in my young friend's eye. I hope to see these two again very soon.
One way to help the Grand Lake area, which is adjacent to the western entrance of RMNP and whose human population was displaced during evacuation, is to donate to the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund.
Canon 5D Mark IV + 100-400 mm lens
Focal length: 400 mm
The Big Thompson river flows through this vast and verdant valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. It's breathtakingly beautiful.
Until I visited Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) for the first time in 2009, I'd never seen anything so magnificent in terms of beauty and scale as this valley. Even more amazing was, at certain times of day, the valley teemed with dozens of Elk! I was awestruck.
This week, this area has been impacted by wildfire. The park just got a significant amount of snowfall in the last day or two, but that won't be enough to put out all the fires. I'm not sure what the area looks like yet. Since the valley is mostly grasses and is irrigated by the watershed / river's flow, I am hopeful it will recover fairly quickly.
Canon 5D Mark IV + 600 mm lens
Wildfires are a big thing in the western states. They have their own season, people who live in the western states expect them, but naturally hope their impact will be minimal. This year has, and continues to be, an extraordinarily terrible year for wildfires. In Colorado, by this time of year, wildfire season is usually well on its way out, but 2020 just keeps on delivering. :(
In the last few months, wildfires have torched hundreds of thousands of acres and in the last few days, destroyed some of the most beautiful, wildlife-rich, most-touristed, and well-loved areas of the state: Granby, Grand Lake, and Estes Park. Perhaps most shockingly for locals and visitors from all over the world, even Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is under siege from the west side and may soon be from the east as well. The whole park -- 415 SQUARE MILES -- is CLOSED right now. While the entire park isn't on fire, I was astonished to see its closure and one of the reports I read today said that the Visitor's Center on the western / Grand Lake side of the park was destroyed by the fire!
Of course, while property damage is disastrous for humans, habitat damage is positively catastrophic for wildlife. My heart breaks for the terrible toll the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat is taking on our precious wildlife. I decided I would do something to honor the wildlife I photographed in that area this year.
With the pandemic limiting travel, I spent quite a bit of time in all of these areas over the last few months as Governor Polis loosened travel restrictions. In Summer, I visited the Granby and Grand Lake areas, stopping into the west side of RMNP to photograph beautiful Elk in velvet:
In the coming days, I'll feature more beautiful wildlife I photographed this year in the areas now being decimated by wildfires. In the meantime, I hope you will consider donating to assist people and animals impacted by the fires. The Red Cross is currently supporting people displaced by the wildfires.
Canon 5D Mark IV + 600 mm lens
In my last post, I discovered there is an entire research team dedicated to researching Yellow Bellied Marmots. Good thing, because I needed help solving a Marmot mystery that had even stumped the Marmot Whisperer, my most avid Marmot photography friend.
What looks different to you from the other Marmots I shared this week? If the tail is what caught your attention, you got it, too!!! I'd never seen a Marmot with a ringed tail before; all the ones I'd seen before were solid color! This was a unique pattern and I had to know more. Was there some kind of star-crossed forbidden love story between a Marmot and Raccoon behind that ringed tail???
I sought the expertise of Dr. Dan Blumstein, who leads the team of researchers studying Yellow Bellied Marmots. I felt a little silly reaching out to a scientist because I thought he would certainly find my question utterly pedestrian, but I had to know what was up with the ringed tail. Dr. Blumstein was delightfully enthusiastic about my question as we exchanged Marmot stories and pics via email. I had only managed to capture two photos that showed this Marmot's tail, but with just that, Dr. Blumstein graciously answered my questions to the best of his knowledge.
Dr. Blumstein shared, "Looks like a natural artifact of moulting…getting a new coat of fur. Which they do in July/August where we are...sometimes we see stripes when the wind blows a bit but I too have never seen anything like this." Not only did Dr. Blumstein give me the much-needed answer I sought, but the fact that he had never seen anything like this made my day! I was sure he would have dozens of photos of Marmots with ringed tails, but it turns out, even to a Marmot researcher with years of field experience, this was unique!
In addition, he shared more knowledge with me about how to discern gender and age among Marmots, indicating this one was a healthy yearling female; he said the males' noses are more "robust". He also said he concluded this girl was a yearling because "Older animals look a little more 'worn'".
As I later perused the RMBL Marmot research team's instagram, I noticed another moulting Marmots, which helped further my understanding of how the ringed tail developed. Here's an example in this adorable video, during which you can see one of the Marmots has a striped back:
I wonder, since moult happens in July/August and my photo was taken September 25th, whether this beautiful Marmot will retain her special tail for the rest of her life? Since she has already shed a coat of fur this year and grown in her Winter coat, it makes sense to me that she'll still have it next Spring when she awakens from hibernation and up until the next moult. I'll check in with her early next year and let you know!
Canon 5D Mark IV + 600 mm lens
Grateful appreciation to Dr. Blumstein and his research team. Also, thank goodness for science and scientists. :) Here's one more adorable photo from the Marmot Project researchers!