Grand Teton National Park: Day 3
August 17, 2011

Here began my quest to wake up early and see the sunrise. My drooping eyelids slowly opened at 5:30 as I inched my way out from under the warm and comfortable bedding. With little concern for the included breakfast I was missing, I was out on the way to the Teton Park Road. Shortly inside the park, I saw two pairs of female elk and their young crossing the road. With almost no light, photographing them was not an option and I carefully proceeded.

The previous day I had found a location that looked promising in providing a colorful landscape for a sunrise. At 38 degrees Fahrenheit, I had no mosquitoes to worry about. The setup took little time despite my shivering hands and I awaited the first light. Colors spilled over the peaks of the mountain range as the sun climbed up from behind me. Slowly, the landscape began to brighten, first at the base of the range and later in the forest creating contrasty shadows. Unlike the first day here, there were no clouds to be seen in the sky, and it gradually appeared as a pure gradient of gray and blue.

I rushed off to see if I could make use of the morning light somewhere else. I returned to Jenny Lake where there had been so many birds. The parking lot was empty and instead of laughing and shouting, I could only hear the constant breeze and avian calls from within the forest. A few minutes into the hike, I realized my ability to photograph animals on this side of the lake was almost nonexistent due its position in the shadow of the sunrise.

With the park map in hand I looked north to places unvisited. There were bays and lakes and ponds that I thought would be great for exploring wildlife and maybe even some landscapes. The closest stop was Christian Pond, just east of Jackson Lake. The path was unpopular, and for a while there were no other hikers or horseback riders. I watched an Uinta ground squirrel scrounge about stuffing itself with the vegetation. Unlike its relative, the California ground squirrel, it lacked a bushy tail and resembled a tiny otter as it stood on its hind legs.

About me an uncountable number of swallows zipped by. I had attempted photographing their flight so many times before with little success due to the speed, small structure and erratic flight patterns. Instead I photographed the ones sitting in the trees. With squirrels and tree swallows photographed, I moved up the ridge to finally see the pond. Fighting the increased mosquito density, I looked about the standing water. A family of lesser scaup waded through the shallow marsh and a great blue heron flew along the opposite shore. Overall, it was slightly disappointing but the day was still early and I could still explore another area. Above me flew birds of prey. First a red-tailed hawk, and then an osprey, most likely from Two Oceans Lake, carefully surveyed the area for a meal.

I left and headed home for siesta. It was hot and I was exhausted from the early morning departure. Before I knew it, I was back up and at it again. This time, I returned to Oxbow Bend. Instead of staying up at the road-level turnout, I took the unpaved path to the river access at Cattleman's Bridge Site. The area was a prime spot for viewing wildlife, especially birds. With that said, photographing the wildlife was at times like spotting Waldo. Patience was greatly rewarded, and many times I sat through droughts in sightings. River otters lived here, but even through a constant focus on the river, I did not spot any. In contrast, birds frequented the area and I managed to see a great blue heron, mallards, double-crested cormorants, female common mergansers, killdeer, osprey and a juvenile bald eagle. The biggest attraction was the bald eagle and its antics. Occasionally it flew from tree to tree, somewhat ungracefully. At one point, it flew down to the riverbank and danced around trying to settle comfortably. Slowly it inched its way down to the water and took a drink. On the way back up to the trees, it spread its mottled feathers and skimmed along the water getting its wing tips and talons slightly wet.

This was a wonderful sighting, since I had never seen a wild bald eagle in such close proximity. Despite the excellent opportunity to photograph, the situation exceeded the my abilities and the equipment's reach. The eagle was too far, and the evening was too dark to dependably meter for a good exposure.

The cloudless sunrise was insufficient, and once again, I needed to wake up early with hopes of a more colorful sunrise.