Sandra Lee Photography: Blog en-us (C) Sandra Lee Photography 1992-2024 (Sandra Lee Photography) Tue, 21 Sep 2021 07:59:00 GMT Tue, 21 Sep 2021 07:59:00 GMT Sandra Lee Photography: Blog 120 120 A Short Wildlife Conservation Story - Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) Most people take for granted that someone else will “take care of it.” If you see a piece of trash do you pick it up? Most likely. But if you see a parking lot full of trash what do you do? Hopefully you move what you can into a trash receptacle but the percentages that you will spend the time begin to diminish.

When it comes to wildlife issues, odds are even less. The average person may not have the resources or ability. Enter, the wildlife biologist, a sagacious ecologist and an intern who dreams of a career in the field of wildlife conservation. (Oh yes, mix in the concerned photographer, who wishes she had majored in biology instead of psychology a long time ago.) Now you have a dedicated team ready for action.

Badlands National Park, SD                                "Captured: The prairie dog team at work"                                     © Sandy Zelasko,

While at Badlands National Park this past June, I had the opportunity to insert myself into a black-tailed prairie dog study. I photographed one such team who were gathering information on the relationship of plagues and prairie dogs at a colony in the park.

Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD
                              "Prairie dogs are measured and given ear tags"                      © Sandy Zelasko,       

As you may or may not know, these resourceful rodents are a keystone species in the recovery of specific habitats across the western United States. They are prey for the endangered black-footed ferret, various raptors, furtive coyotes and the occasional bobcat. Abandoned burrows supply homes for species like the burrowing owl and rattlesnake. Overall, they can alert experts to the health our grasslands.

    Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD
       "Using an anesthetizing chamber, researchers sedate a prairie dog before counting fleas"        © Sandy Zelasko,

Prairie dogs have many postures and an extensive vocabulary which they use to alert the colony when a predator is near.  Colonies, or towns, consist of a family group and are technically called coteries. An adult male and 3-4 adult females make up a group and protect their territory from predators including prairie dogs from other coteries. This has been the norm for centuries when bison roamed the plains.

Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD   Badlands National Park, SD

             "Weight and measurements are carefully recorded and ear tags are added to both ears"      © Sandy Zelasko,

But there are different points of view on the subject of prairie dogs. Most ranchers despise them. Burrows pose a threat to their cattle who may randomly step into a hole and break a leg. In the past (and to some extent today), prairie dog habitats were destroyed to make room for more cattle. The conversion of rangeland to cropland is another devastating blow to prairie dog towns and the ecology of the Great Plains.

            Badlands National Park, SD
                                                   "The release (applause)"                  © Sandy Zelasko,

Today, dedicated parties are trying to bridge the gap by securing open spaces, educating farmers to restore prairies and giving wildlife a chance once again to call these places home. Even though I don’t know the outcome of the plague study, I rest knowing that a team of researchers are working hard to determine answers and suggest appropriate actions to keep prairie dogs safe in their habitats for future generations.

(Sandra Lee Photography) dakota dogs lee photography prairie sandra sandy south Wildlife zelasko Tue, 21 Sep 2021 07:52:25 GMT
Wind River Photographers Retreat 2021 August has been a whirlwind of a month and it's nice to be home reviewing images from the first ever Wind River Photographers Retreat held in Dubois, Wyoming, August 8-14, 2021. I was honored to be part of the experience and looking forward to next year's event.


Dubois, Wyoming          "Horses & Wrangler, Ranch Shoot"                                                                                     © Sandy Zelasko,

Participants were inspired by the scenic Wind River Range which surrounded their log cabin lodging experience at the historic, and newly renovated, Wyoming Game & Fish Whiskey Mountain Wildlife Conservation Camp. Our chef, Connie, delivered absolutely delicious meals which kept us fueled for the activities offered at this all inclusive retreat.

Whiskey Mountain Conservation map Dubois, Wyoming               "Whiskey Mountain Wildlife Conservation Camp, Wind River Mountains"                    © Sandy Zelasko,

From wildflower displays to granite pinnacles and an array of shooting opportunities in between, the participant's schedule was complete. In addition, educational speakers gave us wonderful presentations. We learned about Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the history of Torrey Valley, how ancient civilizations would create arrowheads by flint knapping, about planning your next extreme adventure, visiting Yellowstone National Park and how to tie flys!

Your leaders, Bill Sincavage and myself, held image review sessions and a Q & A meetup for those interested in diving deep into discussing an array of photo topics. Participants had an amazing experience, learned new photography skills, had a week to create and made life-long friends. Camaraderie was evident and everlasting.

If interested in the 2022 Wind River Photographers Retreat please contact The National Bighorn Sheep Center HERE.
Or send me an email HERE. We'd love to see you in Wyoming!

Below are just a sampling of images I was able to catch during the retreat. Please enjoy.

Union Pass, Dubois, Wyoming   "Instructor Bill Sincavage & participant Peggy Hoadley discussing how to photograph the scene"      © Sandy Zelasko,

Mountainman, Dubois, Wyoming Mountainman                 "Participant Karen Bard & model Joe Brandl"      © Sandy Zelasko                                     "Model Joe Brandl"  © Sandy Zelasko

Dubois, Wyoming        Coyote, Dubois, Wyoming           Red-shafted northern flicker, Wyoming

              "Picket pens, lone coyote and red-shafted flicker pose for the camera"                 © Sandy Zelasko,         Osprey, Dubois, Wyoming                                                 "Osprey Family"                                         © Sandy Zelasko,

Wind River Mountains      Petroglyphs, Dubois, Wyoming

            "Scene from Falls Campground and Petroglyphs at historic Ring Lake Ranch"        © Sandy Zelasko,             

  Fly fishing, Torrey Basin          Fly fishing, Torrey Basin

               "Organizer and model Sara Bridge modeling a roll cast for the participants".           © Sandy Zelasko,

Friday night rodeo, Dubois, Wyoming      Thistle, Grand Teton NP      Dubois, Wyoming

          "Dubois' Friday Night Rodeo, ladybug on thistle & Cowboy Cody with Steamboat"        © Sandy Zelasko,

Wind River Photographers Retreat, Dubois, Wyoming                      "Participants from the inaugural Wind River Photographers Retreat, 2021"          © Sandy Zelasko,

Thanks for viewing!
Please leave a comment and share. Don't be bashful and join us in 2022 for the next Wind River Photographers Retreat.

(Sandra Lee Photography) (Sandra (Sandy (Wind Dubois Lee nature Photography) Range) retreat River USA wildlife workshop. Wyoming Zelasko) Mon, 20 Sep 2021 21:21:18 GMT
South Dakota's Photographic Jewels Of all 50 states, the least visited would be the Dakotas making them a great way to get away from the crowds, for photographers and adventurers alike. In this blog post you will read about many of the popular locations that call South Dakota their home. Often described as the Mount Rushmore State, possibilities are endless. From vast sunflower fields, historic grain elevators to the stone busts of past U.S. presidents, South Dakota offers its charm to any photograph willing to take the journey.

To read more about the Sunshine State click on this LINK for the article first published in the July 2021 issue of the PSA Journal.

     Abondoned grain towers along railroad tracks       South Dakota/North Dakota with Irene Hinke-Sacilotto, Sept 2016.

     Badlands National Park, South Dakota

(Sandra Lee Photography) conservation photography sandra lee photography sandy zelasko south dakota wildlife Sat, 31 Jul 2021 03:56:13 GMT
The Salton Sea Persists: A Photography Destination If you have ever wondered about the Salton Sea then you might start here. Located in Southern California, just north of the Mexico border, the Salton Sea is in transition. Once, abundant birds visited its shorelines on their migratory routes via the Pacific Flyway. Birders and photographers from around the world would come to witness the spectacle and marvel at the many piscivorous birds, shore birds and waterfowl. Today, things are changing due to environmental and political issues.

Winter is the best time to plan a visit. The weather is pleasant, days are short and wildlife can be found high and low. Just don't delay! The Salton Sea still affords the savvy photographer outstanding images and conservation stories.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of the PSA Journal. Enjoy by clicking on this LINK.

Salton Sea, Riverside/Imperial County, California         Salton Sea, Riverside/Imperial County, California

Imperial Valley Dec 2014

(Sandra Lee Photography) birds conservation story salton sea sandra lee photography sandy zelasko wildlife Sat, 31 Jul 2021 03:00:46 GMT
Spring in Yellowstone 2019 - The Short Report! SPRING IN YELLOWSTONE 2019 - The Short Report!

As planned, we landed in our RV spot May 1st ready to rush into the park, but instead treated ourselves to a quiet evening discussing our strategy for the next morning. As I recall, a 4:30 AM wake up was mentioned. UGH. The bane of this wildlife photographer. 

RV CampingRV CampingYellowstone NP, RV camping.    Our May Home!                                                                                                                                     ©Sandy Zelasko,

Oh my, where did all the people come from? I did not expect the crowds already. The famous Obsidian Sow and her three cubs of this year (coy) were seen north of Roaring Mountain. The family became a main attraction for the rest of the month. Stories spread that rangers had blocked off the area but that didn’t stop bear followers as they continued to make runs past the coned off zone hoping to get a glimpse. Then the tragic news came, the cubs became separated from their mom when a large boar (male bear) entered the scene. Momma bear finally reappeared days later but sadly with only two of her cubs.

Grizzly familyGrizzly familyGrizzly family, Yellowstone NP, Montana
      Obsidian Sow with Cubs of the Year                                                                                                ©Sandy Zelasko,

It is tough being a sow and trying to protect your cubs from all the dangers out there. Male bears will try and kill cubs if it gives them a chance to mate with a female. Fast flowing rivers, swollen with spring run-off, speeding vehicles and natural causes all claim the lives of grizzly bears in the park. Please respect the speed limit, maximum 45 mph unless otherwise posted.

More bear news! I made the drive, through the construction at Fishing Bridge, to the Lake Butte area looking for another well-known bear Raspberry and her cub, Snow, who was “kicked out” to be on her own last year. Cubs are typically born in January or February and emerge in the spring. But after two more years, grizzly mothers will strongly embolden their offspring to seek out their own territory. She has taught them all they need to know and is ready to breed again.  

Without much of a search, I found Raspberry meandering the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The “Bear Brigade” (volunteers who are trained to control wildlife watching crowds) had everyone under control and we were allowed to watch, from a respectful distance, as Raspberry followed the shoreline then cross the highway for an even better view. Magical! 

RaspberryRaspberryGrizzly bear, Yellowstone NP

      Raspberry on the Prowl                                                                                                                      ©Sandy Zelasko,

While at the southeastern part of the park, I decided to try my hand at finding the elusive great grey owls I’d heard were near Bridge Bay Campground. No success. I gave it a couple more tries during the month only finding other photographers scouting for the same.

On multiple days, near the Canyon intersection, you could count on a crowd watching a couple coyote mousing in a still snow-covered meadow. Someone down the road exclaimed they were watching a wolf. That happens more often than not. Wolves, along with bears, have become the popular species to see in the park. But this time a coyote was stealing the show. 

Coyote SearchingCoyote SearchingCoyote, Yellowstone NP, Montana

      Coyote Searching for a Meal                                                                                               ©Sandy Zelasko,

Most trips to Yellowstone you can count on seeing Harlequin ducks at LeHardys Rapids. Harlequins, an arctic sea duck, use Yellowstone as their southernmost breeding ground and this year about 30 of them were seen just off the boardwalk. Well worth carrying gear, including a tripod, and finding a spot along the icy path to photograph them. Photographers try their hand at slow shutter speeds with a sleeping (or very still) duck. Makes for a pleasing effect with silky water flowing all around the bird. But on this day, I couldn’t resist the chance to show some of their breeding behavior in the turbulent white water on the Yellowstone River.  

Harlequin DucksHarlequin DucksHarlequin ducks, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

      Harlequin Ducks in Pursuit                                                                                                                ©Sandy Zelasko,

I’d been dreaming about spending the entire month in the park and found this May’s schedule open enough to do it. Among other things, I previsualized baby bison playing in Hayden Valley and all the images I was going to make. Oh, was I wrong! It was too early for bison to be in Hayden. Darn, I failed to do my homework on this one. Plan B, look elsewhere. So, I did and found families spread all over the park. Not necessarily in the usually places but rather safely tucked from view close to edges of forested areas. Every once in a while, I’d get lucky and an image presented itself.   

Bison at PlayBison at PlayBison, Yellowstone NP

      Baby Bison at Play                                                                                                           ©Sandy Zelasko,

Exploring Yellowstone in May was full of lessons. Would I do it again? Yes, of course! Despite the early crowds, there were considerably less people then you’ll find in July or even September. The weather was comfortable and storms snuck up on us most days providing dramatic light for photography.

This blog article is by no means a comprehensive collection of all the wildlife to be seen in Yellowstone in May. Yellow-bellied marmots, acorn woodpeckers, black bear cubs, baby geese, pronghorn, badgers and moose are just a few others to mention. I am considering leading a workshop in May 2020. If interested, drop an email or follow and watch the “Workshops” page for more information. 

Happy snapping, Sandy


(Sandra Lee Photography) Tue, 02 Jul 2019 04:00:15 GMT