“Patience young grasshopper” may have been a Shoalin catchphrase on Kung Fu but no truer words could have been spoken to a Yellowstone photographer. More times than I care to remember I was lured away from a potential great opportunity by the promise of something better somewhere else. While watching a sleeping bear way too far off to photograph, I left because someone just saw wolves a mile away only to find out I missed the wolves and returned to find out the bear got up and walked right towards the hoards of photographers that didn’t bite. Of course they all like to show me what I missed on the backs of their cameras. The lesson I’ve taken away from this is if you have an animal you’d like to photograph in your sights, don’t leave until it does.
This precise situation couldn’t have been more apparent than waiting for a bobcat last Friday along the Madison River in Yellowstone. When we arrived visitors had seen the cat cruising the riverbank and duck into a logjam. If you watched with binoculars you could occasionally see it’s mask in the darkness. Even with a 500mm lens I could not make out the ghost cat. So as a group of photographers we set up to wait and wait we did. We arrived around 9am and waded into the sea of filmmakers, photographers and anxious onlookers to find a spot to set up.
Eventually most of the visitors were bored and cold with hopes of seeing more of the park so they moved on. Our core group was all still extremely stoked to know there was a bobcat across the river from us and finally we had the pullout to ourselves. Several times waterfowl swam upstream and close to the bobcat’s lair. The tension was palpable. Every finger was on the shutter and if this cat launched it would sound like Wimbledon with all the shutter clicks. But alas, nothing happened. The ducks swam clueless to what almost happened and the photographers exhaled laughing to each other what an incredible shot that would have been.
Driving in we had heard about and located an elk carcass in the Madison River that was thought to be a wolf kill. Stalking the scene and new snow we found fresh wolf tracks all along the road. This could be an amazing opportunity if the wolves returned but we had bobcat on the brain. As the hours ticked by with no bobcat we wondered if we should move and go look for wolves or possibly the larger bobcat in the area. Maybe he was on the carcass in the river right now! Why are we sitting here freezing and looking at a logjam when a bobcat is perched on the ribcage of an elk in the Madison River with wolves circling and bald eagles screeching??? The temptation to leave was maddening but we were a solid crew of veteran Yellowstone photographers and the consensus was, “There’s a bobcat in there, we stay!”
Six hours into the wait it was time to leave. No bobcat. The inevitable was setting in. We had stood here all day staring into a hole we really weren’t sure anymore held a bobcat. We were already on overtime for our coach and our driver had stalled as long as he could. Had we deluded ourselves? Had we wished so hard we animated a piece of driftwood in a logjam? Our feet were beyond cold, our backs hurt terribly and our very sanity was at question.
Then it happened.