Wildlife Hotspot: Yellowstone’s LeHardy Rapids
Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help 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 LeHardy Rapids
In Yellowstone National Park, south of Hayden Valley and north of Fishing Bridge on the Grand Loop Road is a small boardwalk that parallels the Yellowstone River. This is LeHardy Rapids, our focus for this month’s wildlife hotspot.
The relatively narrow cascade three miles north of Yellowstone Lake is where scientists believe the actual lake ends and the river begins. But for tourists, it has become a popular spot to watch trout rest in small pools before leaping over the rapids in their quest to spawn upstream.
If you’re into fish jumping, this is a location for you. But the fish are only part of what makes this location unique to photographers.
Every year, when the trout begin to spawn, pelicans arrive to feast on the fish.
Though the birds can be found throughout Yellowstone, this is the one location where we have been able to consistently see them, as well as photograph them at close range.
From the boardwalk, you can view pelicans floating and flying in and out of the rapids, but the best location for pelican photography, we think, is where the the wooden boardwalk ends at the river’s edge and turns to dirt. In this spot, you can be at eye level with pelicans given the access to the water’s edge and you can also draw a straight line to a large rock about a quarter of the way into the Yellowstone River.
The rock is a common resting spot for pelicans and a frequent diving location for the birds fishing activities.
Whether it is one specific pelican or many pelicans following a similar pattern, I’m not sure, but each year I’ve found a pelican using this rock for what can only be described as a bird version of tubing (for it is a very poor hunting effort).
The birds will fly to this rock or land on the water just in front of it…
…and drift downstream toward Hayden Valley. They must reach a certain location and determine the ride is over, as they will fly back to the rock and repeat the entire process again. What makes it unique is that you can set your watch by their return flight (roughly every 20 minutes).
And LeHardy isn’t only famous for pelicans.
In fact, this hotspot has become a destination for photographers mainly due to the visablity of harlequin ducks.
Admittedly, neither of us are big on birds, but it’s hard not to love the compelling markings of this duck species.
Though typically a coastal bird, the harlequin’s migrate inland in the spring and, as they tend to do, gravitate to fast moving waters – like the Yellowstone at LeHardy.
Yellowstone is believed to be the southern most inland location for viewing the ducks and spring is the consensus time for finding them in and around the rapids. But for whatever reason, our luck has always been good over the last several summers, enabling us to get good quality images of harlequins as late as July 10th.
Most photographers we know suggest visiting LeHardy Rapids in the afternoon, but our luck has always come in the early morning or late afternoon. One perk if you visit early? You might have a shot at finding a grizzly or black bear walking the shoreline.
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Accessibility: Boardwalk is off of the Yellowstone Grand Loop Road, just south of Hayden Valley and north of Fishing Bridge
Photographic Focus: Pelicans & Harlequin Ducks
Best Time: Before 8am and 2-4pm
Season: Spring/Early Summer
– Many photographers comment that the harlequin ducks disappear by late May, but we’ve had great success with them in early July.
– Where the boardwalk ends and becomes a dirt path is an ideal location to photograph both ducks and pelicans.
– Though 2-4 in the afternoon is considered good light for LeHardy Rapids, we’re partial to the early morning, though it will be dark. By 8am, you will be shooting into the light.
– Mostly, we’ve found that pelicans will fly into LeHardy Rapids from the north and, at some point, will land on or around the boulder near the end of the wooden boardwalk.
– As this area is good bear habitat, be sure to bring your bear spray. It’s always worth being extra careful.
Purchase images from LeHardy Rapids:
Tags: ducks, ghost bear photography, lehardy rapids, national parks, pelican, simon jackson, wildlife hotspots, wildlife photography, wyoming, yellowstone