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Photographing nesting birds in Yellowstone with Dan Hartman

During my time in Yellowstone this summer I spent a week in the Beartooth Mountains with local wildlife expert, photographer and film maker Dan Hartman.

Dan and his wife Cindy are both expert photographers and have provided photographs, film footage and on the  ground advice to National  Geographic, BBC and many others documentary film makers.



Prior to our visit Dan had been out checking some of his favourite nest sites on the wooded foothills of the Beartooth Mountain range, to see who had taken up residence where. The area is dotted with  aspen trees which are ideal for tree nesting birds such as Woodpeckers and Flickers and many smaller birds reuse the old holes providing lots of photographic opportunities.

We stayed in Cooke City, the gateway to the northeast of the park and favoured location for wolf watchers. It also marks the start of the iconic Beartooth Highway, the most scenic road in USA.

It is here Dan and Cindy live and run their gallery, sharing their home with local wildlife and perhaps the worlds most famous pine martins.

It was early starts everyday with breakfast at the Bearclaw bakery ( http://bearclawsalesandservice.com/bearclaw-bakery/ ) setting up on our chosen nest site just after dawn. Despite being summer the early mornings were cold and often frosty.

The nesting birds we were watching consisted of a number of sites and included Northern Flickers, Downy woodpeckers, Hairy woodpeckers, Red Napped Sapsuckers, Williamson Sapsuckers, Mountain Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and Wrens.

There was of course plenty of other wildlife all around and a brief afternoon hike one day revealed exactly how close we had been sitting to a Grizzly bear’s bed and food stash…way too close.

Photographic technique wise, the camera was set on a tripod with a cable release and focused on the chosen nesting hole, at an aperture of about 7.1 , speed of anything from 800-2000/sec to capture the bird in flight and auto ISO to maintain the aperture and speed settings. I also used the Nikons AF-S feature with group AF. (I can throughly recommend an ebook entitled Secrets of the Nikon Auto focus by Steve Perry which explains in depth how to master the system )


Other essentials were a cheap camping chair, food, drink, bear spray and insect repellent and  mosquito head net.

It wasn’t long before we became accustomed to the routes and calls of the parent birds as they flew to and from the nests to feed their chicks, leading to a mad scramble to get of the chair to take some photos.

Having a chair was fantastic, sitting half way up a mountain in the Yellowstone wilderness in the warm summer sun watching the world go by,  with various birds, deer, squirrels and Chipmunks going about their daily business around us.

Red Naped Sapsucker

American Wren

Mountain Bluebird


Tree Swallow

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker


Williamson Sapsucker


Wales based photographer. Outdoors, nature, wildlife, travel

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