Here we go again… another bear attack.

So there has been another Grizzly bear attack in the Rocky Mountain West, and thankfully this time the person attacked lived to tell the tale. Not only did he tell the tale, but he posted a video of the aftermath on his Facebook page.

The person, Todd Orr, was hiking in the Madison Range near Ennis, Montana, when a sow grizzly with cubs attacked him. He had bear spray and he used it. But the bear was determined to protect her young and after the initial attack, she followed Orr back on the trail and attacked him again.

As human populations expand into unfamiliar territory, violent encounters with extant and expanding wildlife populations are going to increase. As those conflicts increase, the calls for people to stay out of “the bear’s home” in the first place also increase. It happened when Lance Crosby was attacked and killed in Yellowstone last summer, and it’s happening again with Mr. Orr.

I’ll let the social media pundits debate what Mr. Orr may have done wrong and whether the attack was defensive or predatory, but from my perspective Orr did everything right.  Of more concern to me is the underlying theme that emerges when incidents like this happen.

For some reason, whenever wildlife conflicts happen, whether it’s bears, mountain lions, bison, or even smaller animals, there is an instant reaction on social media that the person “deserved to be attacked” because he or she had no business being in the wild.

This short-sighted perspective insists that humans don’t belong in the wilderness… and certainly not alone in the wilderness.

Well, I’m here to say that not only do some of us belong in the wilderness, but we need to be there. Spending time alone in the wilderness can be a truly transformative experience for people who are used to concrete and glass.

Thankfully, conservation history is replete with humans who recognized the value and necessity of a true wilderness experience.

People like John Muir, John Burroughs, Horace Kephart, George Washington Sears, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigurd Olson, Aldo Leopold, and the many unsung others worked tirelessly on behalf of wilderness specifically because they knew it intimately. That intimacy came from many weeks, months, and sometimes even years of solitude in wild places. They saw those places vanishing and in need of protection.

And those same people all knew very well that wild places can be dangerous places. That’s part of their allure.

We only have those few small, precious remnants of wilderness today because people with vision and determination were allowed to go there alone and see the value of wild land. To call for human exclusion is to call for the end of wilderness.

You can read Mr. Orr’s full and graphic account of the attack on Facebook here:

A Fishing Trip

A little Brown bear cub gives fishing a try under mom’s watchful eye, at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska.

"Please, please, please, can I go fishing with you?"
“Please, please, please, can I go fishing with you?”

A cub goes fishing at Brooks Falls.

“Now, be careful. The current is strong and the rocks are slippery…”

...especially that rock right there!
“…especially that rock right there!”

Oops, too late.

“I hope no one saw that!”

“Now, what did I just tell you!?!”

Maybe I'll just stay here with sis and lick my wounds.
“Fine, I’ll just stay here with sis and lick my wounds…”

“…and leave the fishing to mom and dad… for now!” The End.



Country that just demands to be canoed.

I spent much of last week cruising the Boreal forests and lakes in far northern Minnesota, in places that just beg for a canoe and a paddle.  I took a kayak and a paddle instead.

Mostly I went there to fish and ruminate – election years do that to me –  but I can’t go anywhere without a camera, just in case.

While I didn’t catch a lot of fish, there were enough. And there were critters I don’t get to see very often in my home country of scrub oak barrens and white pine.

Very pregnant cow moose wearing a telemetry collar.

I camped next to beautiful little lake with no one else around and one morning I woke up to see a moose swimming out to a little island in the lake. When she got out of the water I could see she was wearing a radio telemetry collar, and she appeared very pregnant.

I suppose she swam to that island to give birth. Islands are just a little bit safer for newborns in this land of hungry black bears and gray wolves. Anyway, that why I think she was there. Minnesota moose are having a tough time right now, so I hope she is successful in raising a calf or two this year.

I also saw three Pine martens in a 24 hour period, but none paused long enough to have their photo taken. I stumbled along through the spruce bogs trying to keep up with them, but that’s an impossibly tall order for this old man.

Male spruce grouse.

I did photograph a couple of Spruce grouse, one male and one female, but the lighting wasn’t very good for the male, I’m afraid.

Oh well.

There were lots of Snowshoe hares, all wearing their summer coats of brown.

Varying (Snowshoe) hare, summer coat.

Just their feet kept the white fur of winter. I found part of one unlucky hare that had been a recent meal for a… I don’t know… the romantic in me wants it to be a Lynx. It could be, they live there with the hares.

Male ruffed grouse displaying.

There were too many ruffed grouse to count, the males all busy proving why they’re called “ruffed grouse.”


I also came across a Sharp-shinned hawk that was busy consuming a very long-tailed rodent of some kind. He gulped it down in a hurry when I arrived, and flew off to parts unknown. I know how he felt. I’ve gulped down too many meals in a hurry – very few of them were rodent though… so far as I know.

Sharp-shinned hawk with a long-tailed rodent (possibly a Forest jumping mouse.)
Sharp-shinned hawk with a long-tailed rodent (possibly a Woodland jumping mouse.)

Delisting Isn’t a Dirty Word

This has been bugging for some time, and since this is Endangered Species Day, I think I’ll get something off my chest. And believe me, I’m not directing this at any particular group, or even species. It just needs addressing.

“Delisting”, as in removing animals from the Endangered Species List, is not a dirty word.

Lately, many, many people and organizations are throwing it around as a pejorative, or sometimes even a profanity.

It’s not.

I certainly hope that endangered species like this Black-footed ferret can be “delisted” someday soon.

Animals are not added to the list to provide sacrosanct and perpetual protection of a particular species. They are added to the ESA list to protect them until they recover to a carefully considered level of self-sustainability, and then they’re removed from the list – AKA “de-listed.”

Every time someone throws the word “delisting”into conversation, certain people turn beet red and steam billows out of their ears. You see them at rallies carrying signs demanding a stop to “delisting.”

Apparently, those who hate the word haven’t paused to consider that delisting is, in fact, the ultimate goal of every Endangered Species Act (ESA) animal story.

That’s right. Every single species of endangered critter placed on that list is put there with the implied hope that it one day can recover to the point that it can be removed from the list.

“The goal of an Endangered Species Act listing is to recover a species to self-sustaining, viable populations that no longer need protection.”(Source: NPS.Gov)

The pertinent part of the 1975 Act is this:

(f)(1) RECOVERY PLANS.—The Secretary shall develop and implement plans (hereinafter in this subsection referred to as “recovery plans”) for the conservation and survival of endangered species and threatened species listed pursuant to this section, unless he finds that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. The Secretary, in developing and implementing recovery plans, shall, to the maximum extent practicable…

(B) incorporate in each plan—

(ii) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination, in accordance with the provisions of this section, that the species be removed from the list;

Indeed, there are only a few ways I know of for a species to be removed from the ESA list:

One is extinction – certainly not an outcome any reasonable person wants.

And a species can be removed if it was originally added in error (i.e . new information is discovered or there was a Taxonomic revision.)

The best way to leave the list is for population goals to be met, or hopefully, exceeded. That is formally known as “recovery.” And that’s not just a good thing, it’s the thing everyone is working for – or should be.

In other words, delisting due to recovery is proof positive of a wildlife success story.

I understand that some of us are passionate about our wildlife, but please pick another word to express your displeasure. I like the word “delisting.”

The Accidental Baiter

I accidentally baited an owl today.

Since, in the past, I have steadfastly and openly refused to bait owls for photographic purposes, (see Of Mice and Owls), I’m feeling a little guilty about this.

Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t feel guilty at all, since:

  •  I didn’t know the owl was there.
  •  I wasn’t carrying a camera at the time.
  •  The “bait” was a stainless steel hex nut.

So here’s the story, winnowed down to the barest details, since it’s really not that interesting.

I was trying to fix a fishing reel that hasn’t worked quite right in about two years.

After I generally made things worse by attempting a repair which involved many tiny parts and lots of profanity, I figured I should test the reel.

Barred owl
A Hungry and confused Barred owl.

I put new fishing line on the reel, strung the line through the guides on the rod, and tied a stainless steel hex nut to the line so I could test my surgical skills. The nut was handy and weighed about 1/4 ounce, near as I could figure – just the right weight to simulate a small fishing lure.

I heaved the nut down the driveway and it bounced in the sand. I began retrieving the surrogate lure and all was well. Damn reel worked like a champ.

Then a barred owl pounced on the nut and wouldn’t let go. I swear this is true.

I had no idea their was an owl nearby, although to be fair I should have; they’re here every year.

Anyway, she hung on, but thankfully didn’t try to fly away with the nut. That would have gotten sporty real quick. Instead she just sat there holding on until I scolded her like you would a naughty puppy. “No, no, no…”

The owl eventually let go and flew up to a perch about 20 feet away, and she stayed there long enough for me to grab my camera.

That’s her in the photo, still trying to figure out what the hell that was all about.

That’s all.

A Baker’s Dozen: My Favorite Wildlife Images of 2015

By Keith R. Crowley

Posting my personal favorites from the past twelve months is a new tradition I look forward to at the end of each year.

For one thing, it reminds me of all the fascinating places I’ve been and wonderful wild things I’ve seen in the past twelve months. For another, it gives me a chance to share some backstories, and to explain why certain images are special to me.

I’ve cut back the selection this year to thirteen images. But if you do want to see further highlights from the year, including additional foxes, wolves, grizzlies, owls, albino deer, (and even a couple of landscapes!) please check out the full “Best of 2015” gallery by clicking here. I’m proud of all 48 images in that gallery, so please take a look.

And, of course, I would truly appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends and families.

2015 Wildlife Favorites –  in the order taken:

870F – This is a bittersweet photo and a reminder about the real “wild life”. This old Yellowstone wolf, research #870F, had lived a tough 7 years in the park. When I got there in January, she had recently been chewed up and spit out of her pack, literally, where she once had been the alpha female. On this day she crossed my path, then slowly ambled up a hillside and laid down – tired and sore from just being a wild wolf. As it turned out, she only lived a few more weeks after this photo was taken. She died alone deep in the Yellowstone back country, injured and unable to feed herself. Most Yellowstone wolves die by other wolves, and rarely is it pretty. Nature is a cruel mistress, and this photo is especially poignant for me because on this day, as I photographed this once-formidable predator, I knew it would be the last time. (More images from this encounter can be seen here.)

Synchronicity – The juxtaposition of the subjects is what appeals to me most about this image. Golden light reflecting off a hillside in the background, and a Golden Eagle perched alongside the tiny, spring fed pond on a frosty morning, just seemed “right” to me. The pond, by the way, was full of trout, which may explain the eagle’s attraction to it. While Bald eagles are notorious fish eaters, occasionally Golden eagles will actively hunt them, too.

Sky Walker – I was busy looking at the reflection of the clouds in this shallow tidal bay in south Florida when a Tri-colored heron walked into the shot. Lucky. I knew I was going to like this one as I clicked the shutter. And, I discovered by accident, if you flip this image vertically, it still looks pretty good!

Flying Kites – The bird I went to Florida looking for in March was this one, the Swallow-tailed Kite. These gorgeous raptors were very elusive for me and it wasn’t until the last day that I managed to find a nesting site. Once I located that, it was only a matter of waiting for the adults to come and go with whatever they managed to catch – in this case a frog. I wish I would have found them sooner in the trip – one day wasn’t enough – but I was glad to have found them at all, and thrilled that they were in the air almost continually.

Deep, Dark Forest – Thousands of miles away from the mangrove swamps of southern Florida, Spring was also arriving in Wyoming. By early May, when this shot was taken, the bull elk are already starting to regrow their massive antlers. This shot is all about the mood for me. The sun had just risen and the back lit bulls seemed almost like mythical creatures emerging from the deep, dark forest.

Hang On, Here We Go – Actually, this Common loon is just stretching it’s wings. But it looks like she’s getting ready to take off with her chick on her back. In fact, at the end of this stretch the little chick was unceremoniously dumped off her back, but it climbed right back on to continue the ride. I took a lot of baby loon photos this year, but this one is by far my favorite! The Latin name for Common loons is Gavia immer, which is a wonderful taxonomic designation. It sounds like poetry to me and fits the birds so well.

Septet – As I mentioned in the preamble, 2015 was the year of the fox, partially by design, but mostly by happy accident. The Swift foxes pictured here were the designed part of the fox encounters. I’d been planning to photograph the amazing, tiny foxes for several years and this year it finally came together. This particular photo probably isn’t the “best” fox  image I captured, but in it there are SEVEN swifties, mama (peering over the head of the closest foxlet) and six kits. It’s my favorite memory from this particular den site. In keeping with the previous photo’s caption, I’ll tell you that the Latin name for Swifts is Vulpes velox, which is another wonderful scientific name (when so many are less than poetic.)

Playmates – Shortly before I left to photograph the Swift foxes, I learned about a Red fox den in my home state of Wisconsin. By time I got there, the kits were half grown and very active. Well, two of the three little ones were very active. One kit preferred to sit and watch as the other two – these two – practiced being foxes.

Super Fox – Almost unbelievably, while I was photographing the red fox den in Wisconsin, a friend told me about a Gray fox den nearby. Since I didn’t have a single good Gray fox photo, I left the Reds and spent the next few weeks photographing the two adult and three young Grays. What I was truly hoping to get was a photograph of a Gray in a tree. With cat-like retractable claws, they are the only member of the dog family that regularly climbs trees, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before the little ones started exploring the area around the den and learning how to climb. It took 12 days of waiting, but eventually one climbed way up into a crab apple tree and stayed there long enough for me to photograph it. (You can see that shot by clicking here. ) With that mission accomplished, I spent the next week trying to get a clean shot of a running kit. By the time they get this big, they move so fast it’s hard to describe. I have dozens of soft images of them tearing around. Then I got this one – the one and only truly clean, in-focus shot I managed. I love that the kit is in full flight, too. In the end I came away with hundreds of really fine shots of the whole group of grays. It was a long process, but so well worth it!  By the way, in Latin Gray foxess are Urocyon cinereogenteus, (so now you know why I like Gavia immer and Vulpes velox so much.)

Zen Buck – One afternoon I came across this handsome mule deer buck bedded in an old forest at the top of a mountain. With light rain falling and a cool breeze blowing through the timber, I spent a couple hours with this buck. Watching him breath and doze and just “be” was a deep and pastoral experience for me… very much zen. (I also made a short You Tube video of the experience you can see by clicking here.)

Smile – 2015 was a great year for Grizzlies. I have so many shots of the big bears from Spring and Fall, that I still haven’t sorted through them all. It’s an embarrassment of Griz riches, and by waiting until the light got good before he started moving around, this huge boar was perhaps the most cooperative bear of all. And it didn’t hurt that I was there with some good friends!

Spread – My stated goal at the beginning of the year was to photograph large mule deer bucks. Last year, I was a hair away from having a major national magazine cover photo, (they even sent me a mock-up of the cover using my photo) but I lost out because the buck just wasn’t quite mature enough. So I spent some quality time this fall looking for the really big guys. This one will do…

Landing Gear – We’ll call this the Baker’s Dozen photo. Image #13 was an unexpected bonus for me while I was photographing mule deer, so I’ll make it a bonus here, too. Kestrels have been frustratingly difficult for me to capture, but while I was waiting for a large mule deer buck to reappear from a thicket, this one brought a meadow vole near me and consumed it. When he finished eating, he moved over to a perch even nearer to me. Maybe I was trying too hard. Anyway, thank you, Mr. Kestrel!

PLEASE SHARE this shortlink if you liked this post:

If you would like to see these images in larger, hi-res versions, along with 35 other images that just missed out of the favorites list, click this link: Best_of_2015

And have a great 2016 everyone!

All words and images ©2015 Copyright Keith R. Crowley. All rights reserved. No reproduction or distribution in any form without prior written authorization.






Mule Deer Zen

Stressed out?

Then enjoy these two minutes of zen, courtesy of a large mule deer buck, a quiet sub-alpine forest, and a rainy day in the Tetons.

Be sure to watch in HD for the maximum calming effect.