Wildlife Hotspot: Sedge Bay
Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. Our goal is to help you get the shot in order to rekindle your love for nature; to enable you to become inspired by wildlife; and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Yellowstone National Park’s Sedge Bay
It’s always suggested that if you have one day in Yellowstone and you want to see wildlife, go to Lamar Valley.
Don’t. Go to Sedge Bay.
Lamar Valley is a spectacular and your odds of seeing large herds of elk, bison and pronghorn is a given. You’ll also have a good chance of seeing grizzlies and wolves – through scopes, several miles away.
Sedge Bay, however, is almost a secret gem within Yellowstone. It generates less traffic than many other park roads, especially in the early morning, and while not as expansive or ecologically diverse as Lamar, it offers the best chance for photographing grizzly bears.
Stretching from Steamboat Point to Lake Butte Overlook on Yellowstone’s East Entrance Road that travels from Fishing Bridge to Cody, Sedge Bay backs onto Pelican Valley – home to the densest grizzly bear population in the Lower 48.
The entire road from Fishing Bridge to the East Gate and out towards Cody, for at least the first ten miles, is excellent grizzly habitat. And in some years, locations like Mary Bay, Sylvan Lake and Pahaska (just outside the park) are as good as Sedge Bay for sightings.
But this spot is consistent year-in, year-out and, usually when you see a bear, you’re seeing it reasonably close.
Famous bears like Blaze and Hobo make this habitat part of their territory, as do roughly 12 other bears (give or take, based on what individuals survived the winter and how many new cubs have been born this year).
Most of the bears you will encounter in Sedge Bay are somewhat habituated to humans, meaning that they are accustom to people and, if you stop to photograph the animals, you’re less likely to impact their day-to-day habits. In fact, some bears, like Blaze, use the proximity to the road as a protection measure when raising cubs from the considerably bigger boars that roam Pelican Valley, a few miles to the north.
Of course this is all a delicate balancing act in keeping the bears wild and the people safe, but most of the bear management team based out of Yellowstone’s Lake Ranger Station are some of the most reasonable you will encounter in the park.
One bear that has been seen most frequently in Sedge Bay over the last several years – and might be seen this year with her first set of cubs – is Raspberry, one of Blaze’s former cubs.
Of every grizzly bear I’ve been lucky enough to photograph, she easily has the most wonderful demeanour of any of them. She constantly appears to have a smile on her face. (More on Raspberry in another post.)
Of course, what makes Sedge Bay so wonderful as a wildlife photography hotspot is that while you await a grizzly bear, you can amuse yourself with other excellent subjects.
Common Sedge Bay inhabitants range from the always entertaining yellow-bellied marmot (this, in fact, is the best location I know of to photographic marmot young)…
…to bold hunters like coyotes…
…to birds of prey such as eagles.
It’s also a location where I’ve had my best luck with wolf photography in the park (which might speak more to the time I spend in Sedge Bay looking for grizzlies, as most others suggest Lamar and Hayden Valleys are better – and I don’t disagree).
And if you just have one of those days where you can’t find any animals to photograph, it’s a setting that begets excellent landscape images as well, with great light constantly providing new opportunities for photos.
In my experience, mornings are better than evenings and while I would encourage you to drive the entire East Entrance road if you have the time, do focus in on Sedge Bay.
But make sure you don’t give up if you strike out after one pass. Stay and wait. Busy yourself with marmots or other subjects or just sit and watch from either end of Sedge, where you have a good vantage point of most of the bay.
There are no guarantees in wildlife photography, but spending a day in Sedge Bay will considerably increase your odds of seeing bears and other creatures at close range.
Location: Between Steamboat Point and Lake Butte Overlook on Yellowstone’s East Gate Road
Accessibility: By road west from Cody, WY and east of Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park
Primary Photographic Focus: Grizzly bears
Secondary Photographic Focus: Coyotes, bison, mule deer, marmots, eagles (bald and golden), osprey, red-tailed hawks and occasionally wolves and otters
Best Time: 5-8am; 7-10pm
Season: May, June and very early July
– The entire road from the turn off to Fishing Bridge to several miles outside of Yellowstone’s East Gate is fantastic for wildlife.
– If you’re able to reach Sedge Bay before first light, you’ll have better odds of seeing bears.
– Lighting is usually good, but be prepared for lingering shadows in the morning.
– Frequently you’ll be forced to photograph from your vehicle as bears do get close to the road.
– If you want to sit and wait for wildlife, choose either the east end of the Steamboat Point pull-off or the last pull-off on the east end of Sedge Bay – these will give you the best vantage points.
Tags: cody, east entrance, fishing bridge, grizzly bears, hobo, lake yellowstone, national parks, nature, photography, raspberry, sedge bay, simon jackson, wildlife hotspots, yellowstone