Ashleigh Scully Photography: Blog en-us (C) Ashleigh Scully Photography [email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Mon, 26 Dec 2022 20:52:00 GMT Mon, 26 Dec 2022 20:52:00 GMT Ashleigh Scully Photography: Blog 120 120 2022 Update Hi all!

It has been a while since I've updated my website, but here is a recap on the last few years :

I am now 20 years old. I'm a junior at Texas Christian University (TCU). I was recruited when I was 16 to be on their Division 1 Equestrian team and have been competing with them for almost three years now. I was an All-American my freshman year and due to remaining NCAA eligibility from the pandemic, I have the opportunity to stay a 5th year to compete at TCU. I am majoring in English and minoring in Creative Writing, also taking classes in Communications and Astrophysics/Astronomy. For my 5th year I will be applying for the Accelerated Master's Degree in English. Through this, I hope to attain the tools I need to become a successful photojournalist and writer out of school. 

School has kept me busy these last couple years and because of this I have had to put my love for photography on hold. I have spent my college summers backpacking, working and traveling. This past summer I finished up my advanced scuba certifications, specializing in drift diving, night diving, fish identification and advanced free diving. Now I have the qualifications to photograph underwater :)

With all of my undergraduate courses completed, and my Master's application coming soon, I am focusing primarily on applying writing skills to my photography. This summer (2023) I will be traveling to Zambia to learn and work for a conservation group, and Svalbard, Norway, where I hope to learn and capture how our actions as a species are affecting arctic wildlife. 

When I'm not in Texas at school, or New Jersey at home, I am often found in Wyoming, where my family will be moving in the next couple of years. Most of you know me for my photos of foxes, owls and bears. I hope that in the upcoming years my education and photography can help me become a voice for conservation efforts in our rapidly changing world.


[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Mon, 26 Dec 2022 20:51:28 GMT
2017: A Year to Remember 2017 was an unforgettable year for me as a photographer, filled with adventures, personal achievements/celebrations and of course, making new friends. Detailed below is a summary of this busy yet thrilling year, one that I will always remember and one that was filled with memories of special places, people and wild subjects. A very big thanks to my family and my parents, and to Jess Findlay, Connor Stefanison, Melissa Groo, Todd Gustafson, Henry Holdsworth, and the Freligh family for following along, lending advice and being such supportive friends. I also want to thank those that have inspired me through their work for wildlife, including the teams at the Teton Raptor Center and Panthera's Teton Cougar Project. Also thank you to friends Amy Shutt and Lisa Robertson, for including me in your plans to bring awareness to our wild canids (and felids!). :) 

My 2017 started off with a trip to Tanzania with my Mom for a photography workshop with good friends Melissa Groo and new friend Todd Gustafson. I had always hoped to be able to do a workshop with Melissa, and to do it in Africa made it such a special experience for me. We spent some days in Tarangire, Ndutu, Serengeti, and the Ngorogoro Crater. My favorite subject was the cheetah. We found over 20 of them, including many mothers with their cubs. It was such an incredible experience being able to observe the behaviors of so many animals for the first time. I also got a chance to see one of the most beautiful lesser-known cats in the world, the serval, on a few occasions. Elephants, leopards, giraffes and hyenas were also very exciting to see, as was watching the lions hunt in their prides! The people on this trip were so nice and fun and they definitely made the experience more memorable for me.

In March, I received some thrilling news from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I won the 11-14 year-old category with my image of a red fox stuck in the snow in Yellowstone, and also placed a runner-up image of a sow and cub brown bear in the same category. I had earned a runner-up in this category in 2015, with my red fox family photo "Mama's Back", and I really enjoyed the experience of being in London for the ceremony and meeting many of my peers and heroes. I couldn't believe that I was now invited back! I felt so thankful and fortunate and couldn't wait for the October event in London. 

In April, I stopped by the Paul Nicklen Gallery in New York City to see my friends Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen. The line was out the door and down the block! Their photos look amazing on display in their gallery. Cristina and Paul were the judges of the Por el Planeta Conservation Photography Competition in 2015, and I have kept in touch with them ever since. They are both very inspirational to me and I hope one day that I can photograph with them. If you are in the New York area, please make sure to stop by their gallery in Soho!

During the month of May, I spent alot of time photographing a family of screech owls that had occupied a nestbox in our backyard. We have about 4-5 nestboxes on our property, and it's always a pleasure to know that one of them was chosen for nesting by these amazing little raptors. It wasn't until all of the owlets had fledged and we could count them that we realized that there were 5 chicks raised in the nestbox - a record for us! It was so thrilling to search my backyard for these tiny little owls. Fun, but very hard at times! They blend in so well. I am so fortunate to have been able to photograph and watch a whole family of screeches thrive in my own backyard. What a treat that was!

At the end of the month, I received a phone call from Steve Freligh, the Director of Nature's Best Photography magazine, who told me that I had won the Youth Wildlife Photographer of the Year title in the 2017 Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice International Photography Awards. The winning image was another brown bear image, this one of two cubs wrestling in the sedge grasses. The Nature's Best competition was always one that I hoped to win. I was a Highly Honored winner in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and I was so appreciative of the Freligh family and everyone at Nature's Best for including me in their award ceremonies over the years, and displaying several of my photos in the Smithsonian in their amazing gallery displays. To win though, meant so much more, as I knew that I could better connect with other young photographers now, and ultimately inspire the next wave of youth conservation-minded nature photographers. I am also very honored to have won an award in the name of Windland Smith Rice, a special person who cared deeply about her subjects and loved the Tetons as I do. I am looking forward to watching other young nature photographers have an opportunity to shine in this competition!

In late June, I left with my Dad for British Columbia to do a photography workshop with two of my friends, Jess Findlay and Connor Stefanison. Jess and Connor have been supporters of my work for many years, and I was really excited to finally get to shoot with two of the best young photographers in the world. We spent a week photographing loons, various other waterfowl and my favorite subject, the great gray owl. Our days were from 5am - 9pm, with maybe a nap sometime mid-day. The forests and lakes in British Columbia are some of the most beautiful that I've ever seen, and the wildlife opportunities were incredible. Most of all though, I had a great time with two of the nicest young photographers that you will ever meet. Jess and Connor are very inspirational to me, due to their passion, hard work and creativity, and I am looking forward to doing another workshop with them soon. If you have booked a trip with them, prepare to have fun and a lot of success! After the loon workshop, we drove to visit my friends the Launsteins, who were kind enough to show us around their neck of the woods: Waterton Lakes National Park. We spent a few days with them and enjoyed seeing grizzly bears, black bears, moose and owls. It was such a fun-filled week being able to spend so much time shooting with friends! I’m glad I was able to learn something new from each of them.

(with Connor Stefanison)

(with Jess Findlay)

In July, I flew to Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, where I was a student in the 2017 NANPA High School Scholarship Program. This program chooses ten High School students to learn nature photography from leaders in the field. We photographed some of the local wildlife and also pushed our individual comfort zones by trying new and innovative techniques. I met alot of other youth photographers and had a blast! My instructors were Kika Tuff, Morgan Heim and Andrew Snyder. They were all so fun and helpful! I would recommend this program to any young person interested in nature photography. I had so much fun at NANPA I still talk about it all the time! I learned so much and tried so many new techniques and am proud to have improved my photography skills a little more. I am so thankful to NANPA and the many supporters that make this program possible.

In August, I had a photography exhibition at a gallery in Vermont at the Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Machester. This was a new experience for me, and I chose a gallery/printer in my hometown that was very helpful with prepping files and handling acrylic mounting. The best part was that proceeds from my sales were going to the World Wildlife Fund. This made all of the hard work worth it for me! The exhibition was a huge success and I really enjoyed meeting customers and talking to them about my stories from the field. I am super excited that they were the first gallery I have displayed my work in!

In September, I was asked to take over the Instagram account of Adobe Lightroom for their "Rising Stars" campaign. Adobe's agency had emailed me earlier in the summer with the news. For the takeover, I selected a few of my favorite images along with related stories, and also shared some editing tips. This was a great honor for me, and also gave me a good platform to raise awareness for some of the subjects that I care so much about. As my friend Cristina Mittermeier once told me, "Never turn down an opportunity to speak up for wildlife". Adobe gave me that chance, and I'm grateful for it.

In October, I visited Wyoming with my family during a school break. The fall is one of the best times of the year to see Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park. On this trip, I took a day trip into the field with my good friend and mentor Henry Holdsworth for a day. We drove around looking for moose and bears, talking and laughing as we usually do. Henry has meant a lot to me, and I credit him for much of my success as a young photographer. A day later, I met Jeff Hogan who did a brief film session with me for the Nature's Best ceremony. I had heard alot about Jeff during my time in the field with the Teton Cougar Project. Jeff has created many of the nature films that you may see on TV today, including alot of natural history footage from the Tetons and Yellowstone for the BBC and National Geographic. What an awesome guy and so fun!

(with Henry Holdsworth)

Later in October, I traveled to London for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. The ceremony took place at London's Natural History Museum, in the great hall beneath a giant blue whale skeleton called "Hope". At the ceremony, I had a great time meeting so many other photographers from all over the world, including many of the other young photographers that were also recognized. I gave a short speech after receiving my 11-14 award, and then did an interview for NHM Live, answering questions about my winning photo. Later, I got a chance to tour the exhibit and answer questions from members of the global press. I was really pleased to see how many conservation-minded images were recognized this year, especially those by Brent Stirton (overall winner) and Justin Hofman (seahorse riding a cotton swab). I spent time talking to as many photographers as possible, and was especially excited to talk with Brent, whom I had met in 2015. Photojournalists like Brent spent so much time in the field in often very dangerous places to return with very powerful and important images. I was so happy for him when he was announced as the Grand Prize winner, and even happier knowing that the plight of rhinos and the ivory trade would get more exposure. All of the other photographers gave me such great advice and I look forward to applying it to my future work.

Two nights after the awards ceremony, I joined David Lloyd and Aaron "Bertie" Gekoski (both category winners) on stage to present our images and stories in a private event for the Natural History Museum's members. I had always admired David's work from afar, but after speaking with him personally, and hearing his speech about the difference between a picture and a portrait, made me appreciate his talent and caring and thoughtful style even more. Bertie's spirit and passion were infectious and I hope that we can work on a project together some day. The event was hosted by the amazing Roz Kidman Cox, editor of the WPY portfolio book and other publications, and former BBC Wildlife Magazine editor for 23 years and WPY judge for 32 years. Roz was such a pleasure to be around and so kind, fun and helpful. She is hopeful that young photographers will continue to enter WPY and other international competitions worldwide.

(Bertie, me, David and Roz at the 2017 WPY Member's Evening)

In November, I had 3 events that shaped this busy month. The first was a gallery exhibition at the 70 South Gallery in Morristown, NJ, my hometown. 70 South exhibits the work of a local high school student each month, and I was the first student exhibitor to present wildlife art. The gallery was very helpful in preparing my images and choosing mats and frames for the display. I had a separate event where I had the chance to meet and talk with gallery customers during an informal Q&A. It was cool to see so many of my favorite images on the walls of 70 South! I am so glad to be able to exhibit my work so close to home!

The next event in November was the Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Photography Awards, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. When I arrived at the exhibit, Jeff Hogan's short film about me was playing on a TV screen in the gallery space. It was so cool to see the finished product and it looked great! On one wall nearby was a tall vertical image showing several frames of my leaping fox sequence (which had won the Yellowstone Forever Youth award), and on another wall, a huge acrylic print of my Nature's Best winning bear cub image. The entire gallery looked beautiful! That night, I was introduced on stage by my good friend and last year's Youth winner, David Rosenzweig. I had an opportunity to give a short speech and then I enjoyed the rest of the evening talking with other photographers. It was great to see Jackson Hole photographer Steve Mattheis there (who is so talented and so much fun!), as well as my friend Amy Shutt and many members of the International League of Conservation Photographers. The Freligh family did an amazing job with the exhibit and the awards ceremony, and I am going to make sure that I inspire more young photographers to enter this awesome competition. One thing that makes the Nature's Best Awards so special to me is that they are named after a Jackson, WY female photographer, Windland Smith. I never got the chance to meet Windland, but I know many people who did, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be recognized by a competition in her name. I hope to honor her by continuing to support wildlife non-profits in the Tetons which she loved so much.

(Giving my acceptance speech at the 2017 Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Photography Awards)

(Thanking my good friend, David Rosenzweig, 2016 Youth Photographer of the Year)

(Doing a short interview after the awards ceremony)

Finally, I wrapped up November with a visit from a new friend of mine, whose family has been an inspiration to me since I was really young. Robert Irwin and his mom, Terrie came to visit me in NJ while Robert was in town to film the Jimmy Fallon show. I took them to the Great Swamp and to The Raptor Trust, two of my favorite places near my home. We walked in the woods and talked about wildlife, and their life back home in Australia. They were so kind and humble, and I am really glad to have met them. Robert is a very talented wildlife photographer and an amazing ambassador for wildlife. I hope to visit with him at the Australia Zoo sometime soon.

December was a month of closure for me, having wrapped up most of my photography commitments. In the middle of the month, I took a Saturday to explore a local beach in New Jersey for snowy owls with my good friend and gifted photographer Carolina Fraser. Carolina and I had a great time looking for snowy owls (we found one!) and I really hope to be able to photograph with her more in the future. During December, I also finally had time to complete a big goal of mine for the year - a children's book about great gray owls. The book, "Growing up Great Gray", was the result of many years of great gray owl photography in the Tetons, and included alot of shots taken with Jess and Connor in B.C. The book could not have been done without the help of Jaymi Heimbuch, who assisted me with editing, time management and lots and lots of good advice! Thanks Jaymi!  The book is self-published and my hope is to donate the proceeds of the book sales to the Teton Raptor Center located in Wilson, WY. I have spent many hours in the field with TRC biologists learning about great grays, and this is my way of paying them back and helping their research and awareness efforts. In late December, I had a book signing at the Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson, WY. I am proud to say we sold a lot of books and all the money went towards the TRC program. The coolest thing about the event was that Taiga, an educational great gray at TRC, got to hang out with me the entire time. Taiga is the lone surviving owlet from a nest that was predated on by a black bear. Having Taiga there made all of my work on the book worthwhile!

(me, Jessie, and Taiga, TRC's educational great gray owl)

And finally, what could possibly wrap up such a busy and thrilling year for a wildlife photographer better than a visit by one of my biggest nemesis subjects, a species that I've only ever heard, and always hoped to find? One late December morning, I woke up to find a northern saw-whet owl roosting peacefully in a spruce tree in our Wyoming backyard. Finding this owl was the icing on my 2017 cake. It also put it all in perspective for me, too. Standing there with my tripod and watching this little owl sleeping through the sounds of mobbing chickadees and the chill of blowing winter wind, made me realize that my entire year was all about moments like this. It feels awesome to be rewarded for my work, to see it hang on museum and gallery walls, shared on social media, and used for conservation purposes. But in the end, a quiet moment with a wildlife subject, whether it's a playful brown bear, a calling loon, a hungry red fox, a cheetah cub or even this sleepy little owl, is what it's all about for me. And I hope that 2018 brings more moments like this.

Thanks for following along and for all of your support! Best wishes in 2018,


[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:09:53 GMT
My Ten Best of 2016 I had some exciting photo adventures in 2016, including an amazing trip to Lake Clark National Park, AK and a few vacations to Wyoming. I was focused this year on capturing unique behavior and trying to add to my portfolio of fur-bearers for a presentation that I gave in Jackson Hole this fall to benefit Wyoming Untrapped, which works very hard on trapping reform in Wyoming. I had many outings searching for my favorite subject, the great gray owl, and also had a memorable experience with Panthera's Teton Cougar Project. Scroll down to see which images were my favorites, not just because of the images, but because of what the experience taking them meant to me. 

"Leap of Faith"

A red fox at the top of its arc, leaping for prey buried deep underneath the frozen snowpack of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

"Mama's Little Shadow"

An Alaskan brown bear cub sticks close to its mother in the sedge grass flats of Lake Clark National Park, AK, as hungry male bears roam the forest edges looking for an opportunity.

"Napping Marten"

An american marten snoozes on a pine branch in our backyard near Jackson Hole, WY. I had always looked for martens in and around Yellowstone over the past few winters but only ever found tracks. I could not believe that one was hunting in our yard for a week during this holiday season.

"Snack Break"

An adult great gray owl gets ready to swallow a meadow vole from a perch near Jackson Hole, WY.

"Double Trouble"

A pair of western coyotes along the edge of the Madison River listen nervously to a disturbance far off in the trees, near a recent elk kill, in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

"Mama's Boy"

A brown bear spring cub boldly stands its ground near its mother during a break from clamming on the flats of Lake Clark National Park, AK.

"Blending Right In"

A great gray owlet, recently fledged from its nearby nest, chooses an ideal spot to roost during the most challenging time of its life, when it must learn to hunt for itself and avoid predators, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"First Sunrise"

Red fox kit siblings take a break from playing outside of their den site to take in the early morning sunrise in my backyard, Morristown, NJ.

"Prepare to Launch"

As the autumn leaves fall on an October day in Grand Teton National Park, WY, an adult great gray owl hones in on the sounds of its prey and prepares to launch an attack.

"Eyes of Innocence"

A mountain lion kitten waits patiently for its mother to return to their den site in a dense willow thicket in Wyoming. Despite only taking a handful of quick shots with really low lighting conditions, this experience was by far the highlight of my photography career. Thanks to the generosity of my Facebook followers, I was able to sell copies of this photograph and in turn raised over $3,000 for a WY mountain lion research team to continue their efforts studying this magnificent animal.

[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Tue, 03 Jan 2017 00:49:10 GMT
Red Fox Mousing Series, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park This is a sequence that I took this past winter (February, 2016) of a female red fox mousing in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. It was a cold and overcast morning and it was the third day of my trip. We hadn't seen a fox until we climbed a hill and looked up ahead of us in the road. This vixen was hunting right next to the road. We drove up near her and waited. She left and walked out into an open field. I watched her and waited until she started listening closely to the ground in front of her. This is what happened next:


1. She tilted her head a few times trying to pinpoint her prey. A red fox has incredible hearing.


2. Once she knew something was there, she focused on the exact spot and got ready to jump. 


3. She was now ready to spring. I was braced on a beanbag in a car window and I moved the lens up a bit here from the last shot. I don't remember doing it but I was now worried that I didn't have enough room at the top of the frame if she jumped.


4. She uses her forelegs to push up and then her back legs give her the spring. She is still looking at her target.


5. I don't know if I ever would have had enough shutter speed in this low light to freeze this frame perfectly. It shows how focused she still is on where the prey is.


6. There is a subtle shadow of where she used to be. She's on her way to the top of the leap, still looking at where she should land.


7. This is the highest point of the leap. I love the shape of her body and how determined she is.


8. She is on her way down now and is tucking her back legs in a bit.


9. Here she is becoming more streamlined and the forelegs are folding up tightly under her chin. There is no turning back now!


10. This is one of my favorites from the sequence. She is like an arrow, focused and straight dropping out of the sky to pin a vole under the snow below.


11. OK. Ouch. This has to hurt a little bit, especially if there's crust on the snow surface. I think the nose breaks the snow first and then the front paws follow to widen the hole.


12. There is a lot of fox under the snow now. Who knows what is going on under there??


13. This is the straightest she extended herself on the landing. She held herself like this for a few seconds. I think she was feeling around for the vole or maybe scratching deeper with her paws.


14. After the landing, my buffer was about full, so I reset my AF point and recomposed for what she would do next. This is my favorite of the series. Im pretty sure she stayed down there for almost 15 seconds. That's a long time.


15. Here she is starting to push herself backwards out of the hole. I was curious to see if she caught her prey!


16. I still can't tell if there's a vole in her mouth. I was impressed that she was able to back out of that hole with just her forelegs. She shook off some snow from her face...


17. and I can now tell that she missed her target. At least she doesn't look too disappointed...


18. well, maybe a lot disappointed :(


19. This is the last shot that I took of her, as she trotted off to find another meal. She looks more determined in this photo. I never saw her again.


[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:29:29 GMT
My Ten Best of 2015 This was harder than I thought! I have so many that I like but I chose these 10 because of what they mean to me and the stories behind them. I have left out some of my award-winning photos, even though they were photographed in 2015, so that I could share some newer images. You can see all of my award-winning photos in my Gallery.

Winter SlumberA red fox napping in the woods of Grand Teton National Park, WY

"Winter Slumber"
A Red Fox naps beneath a bent pine trunk on a snowy bank in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Meadow HunterA Great Gray Owl perches on an old aspen branch while looking for meadow voles for its fledglings nearby.

"Meadow Hunter"
A Great Gray Owl perches on an old aspen branch while hunting meadow voles for its nearby fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Lady of the LakeA Red Fox pauses to listen for the sounds of mice under the snow on Yellowstone Lake near Fishing Bridge.

"Lady of the Lake"
A Red Fox pauses to listen for the sounds of mice under the snow on Yellowstone Lake near Fishing Bridge.

Silent SentryA Great Gray Owl rests on an aspen branch in the late afternoon light near its three calling fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Silent Sentry"
A Great Gray Owl rests on an aspen branch in the late afternoon light near its three calling fledglings in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

All Ruffled UpA Great Horned Owl ruffles its feathers for warmth on a cold day at the edge of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Millington, NJ.

"All Ruffled Up"
A Great Horned Owl ruffles its feathers for warmth on a cold day at the edge of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Millington, NJ.

What's the Matter, Momma?A Red Fox Kit greets its injured mother in a field near my home, after their den was disturbed by a bulldozer.

"What's the Matter, Momma?"
A Red Fox Kit greets its injured mother in a field near my home, after their den was disturbed by a bulldozer.

Owlet in PinesA Great Gray Owlet sits near the end of a pine branch patiently awaiting the return of its parent, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Owlet in Pines"
A Great Gray Owlet sits near the end of a pine branch patiently awaiting the return of its parent, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Teton MooseA young Bull Moose strides across the sagebrush flats in front of the lower Tetons, searching for bitter bush on a -20 degree morning in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Teton Moose"
A young Bull Moose strides across the sagebrush flats in front of the lower Tetons, searching for bitter brush on a -20 degree morning in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

Thank You, Screech OwlA rufous-morph Eastern Screech Owl looks out from the cavity of a Sycamore Tree near my home in NJ. My photos of this owl won a couple of awards in 2015, including Nature's Best Youth Highly Honored (18 and under), and 1st place in the Por el Planeta Nature, Wilidlife & Conservation Photography competition (11-14 year old). This photo is of the last time I saw this owl, and it makes me wonder how it is doing. I hope it's safe.

"Thank You, Screech Owl"

A rufous-morph Eastern Screech Owl looks out from the cavity of a Sycamore Tree near my home in NJ. 

My photos of this owl won a couple of awards in 2015, including Nature's Best Youth Highly Honored (18 and under), and 1st place in the Por el Planeta Nature, Wilidlife & Conservation Photography competition (11-14 year old).

This photo is of the last time I saw this owl, and it makes me wonder how it is doing. I hope it's safe.

Alone in the MeadowA Red Fox mother rests in a field of wildflowers while her kits play nearby, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

"Alone in the Meadow"
A Red Fox mother rests in a field of wildflowers while her kits play nearby, in Grand Teton National Park, WY.

[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Wed, 06 Jan 2016 17:39:53 GMT
A Day in the Field with Teton Cougar Project

The barks of her rescued hound dog, Thor, let Michelle Peziol know that my Dad and I had arrived at the Teton Cougar Project office in Kelly, Wyoming. It was a cold, sunny morning and Michelle, a Project Manager with TCP, waved through the office door and invited us inside. The office was covered in photographs, charts and lists of data of the local Mountain Lion populations. Big computer monitors on the tables showed maps with hotspots and pinpoints of the lions being studied. We sat down and talked to Michelle about the work the TCP team is doing and I was so excited to be there.

The month before, I had written a post on Facebook about Mountain Lions. I talked about meeting Steve Winter at the Por el Planeta Nature, Wildlife and Conservation Photography Competition in Mexico City, and about all of the work Steve has done on the world's big cats. I talked about how important it is to have empathy for big predators and that many may be misunderstood. My friend Lisa Robertson from Wyoming Untrapped saw my blog post and sent it to Mark Elbroch, Science Director of Panthera's Puma programs, like TCP. Mark invited me out for a day in the field to investigate kill sites. I couldn't believe it!

Talking with Michelle was an incredible experience. She was so nice and very smart. I learned about the technology that TCP uses to study Cougars, and how they track them using GPS collars. Some of these collars are heavy, and newer, lighter models are needed to help, especially with grown kittens. Some of the collars even drop off automatically after a year or so. We looked at the monitors and saw the paths that some Cougars had taken in the past week. Mostly they circled around in a territory, sometimes stopping to sleep. But other paths showed a lot of time spent in a very small area. Michelle was pretty sure those areas were kill sites, where a Cougar had taken down an elk or deer and was feeding. 

It was hard to talk about the Mountain Lions and not feel emotional about their situation. Recently, I had seen a documentary on National Geographic about some Cougars in this area of Wyoming. They are called F61, F51, and M85. F61 and F51 are mothers, and M85 is a male. The documentary is based on these three mountain lions, and how successful F61 was in raising her two kittens (more on her later!). However, F51 and M85 have a different story. F51 was known as the “hippie mom” and was known for being a very loving and energetic mother. F51 had just lost 2 kittens, so due to stress, she started moving her remaining two kittens. She entered an area which used to be occupied by M29, a male, but this Cougar had been shot by hunters, and another male, M85, was now in his territory. As soon as their paths crossed, F51 was assumed to have attacked M85 possibly in defense of her kittens, and the bigger, stronger, male mountain lion killed her, leaving her two kittens orphaned. Michelle told us some more information about what happened to these two kittens and their fates. F51’s two kittens struggled to survive with many threats including wolves, bears and humans. They split up for awhile and they lost each other for about 2 weeks, until eventually reuniting. Unfortunately, one kitten died of starvation, while the other one survived for longer, feeding on grasshoppers, rotten carcasses, and really anything she could find, until one day she found a porcupine. She successfully killed this porcupine, but some quills found their way into her body, and eventually killed her. This story broke my heart. F51 had three litters in her lifetime. Two kittens from her first litter may still be alive. All 7 kittens from her last two litters died before they became adults.

As I was walking around the room, my eye caught a poster hanging up by the back door. It was the Teton Cougar Project family tree, and it was color coded, noting all of the Cougars studied since 1993. Red meant predation, or killed by another mountain lion or any other animal, blue was unknown, white was still alive, and the last color was orange. Orange meant killed by humans. Michelle explained that there are many different challenges that Cougars face: weather, hunting, wolves/bears, etc. I learned about how hard it is for a Cougar kitten to survive to adulthood. In fact, TCP's studies show that Cougar kitten mortality is higher than was thought before. I can't believe how difficult it must be for the people who work so hard studying these animals to find out that they were either killed by hunters or died of other causes. I tried to keep my mind off of this.

Michelle noticed that F61’s tracking collar had shown a lot of activity in a certain area, and we decided to go outside to check it out. It would be a long drive and hike, so I had to be prepared. We drove for awhile and then got out to snowshoe a couple of miles up into the mountains. On the way to the “kill,” we stopped at some older Mountain Lion cached kills from 9 months, to a year ago. These kills were an elk calf, and a white-tailed deer. Michelle found the white-tailed deer kill due to its white tail sticking out of the ground. However, the only things left of these two carcasses now were an elk calf leg, and some deer hair.

  A Cross Fox hunts along a snowy slope.A Cross Fox hunts along a snowy slope.

During our hike, Michelle told me about all of the wildlife she has seen in this area, including wolves, foxes, coyotes, bighorn sheep, elk and many species of raptor. Above us, a bald eagle perched on a cliff. I could see some elk high up on a snowy hillside. Ravens called back and forth in the cottonwoods behind us and I wondered if they had found something. There were animal tracks in the snow all around us. As we kept snowshoeing, Michelle spotted a cross fox trotting up on the cliffs above. I stopped and took some photos, and the fox moved on. It was my first time seeing a cross fox!

To get to the second old kill site, we had to climb higher. The 9 month old elk calf carcass was on a high slope a little ways from where the cross fox was. It was buried in snow. Mountain Lion kills are very important to many other scavengers including coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, martens, ravens, magpies, eagles, and even smaller animals. Looking up at the hillside I could imagine the Cougar leaping down from a rock onto this elk calf. Just like the last kill site, there was a hill nearby, something the Mountain Lion can use to its advantage when hunting. 

Michelle used her GPS to pinpoint the activity of F61 again. She pointed straight up. We drank some water and started climbing again, this time up a steep slope covered in rocks and snow. From here we could see the entire valley, the forested hillsides and the river flowing and winding way below. We stopped on a ridge and noticed a trail of tracks in the snow - there was a mix of wolf, fox, and coyote tracks, but no sign of Mountain Lion tracks. From there, we looked straight down at a pine forest, and the GPS led us right down there. After sliding over small pine trees, falling a ton of times, and getting snow in my back, sleeves, and gloves, we finally made it to the bottom, where we found even more activity. We started to see bits of hair scattered in the snow, until Michelle pointed to an elk calf carcass less than 100 feet away. It was pretty cleaned out, resting in a small gulley surrounded by brush. The head was intact along with the legs and hide. Some ribs had been broken off and taken away. The Cougar had probably eaten the organs first, followed by the muscle. The blood is an important nutrient source, too. 

We noticed where F61 had first cached the elk, scraping sticks and snow into a pile on top of it, and then where she had dragged it further down the slope. As I walked closer, we found magpie tracks, fox tracks, and coyote tracks. I even found some marten scat. But what really caught my eye was this huge, disgusting, brown lump next to the carcass, frozen to the ground. It was the rumen from the elk's stomach. Michelle explained what this was and how it contained all of the grass and vegetation the elk ate. I was so curious and disgusted, that I kept asking questions about this lump. She said how it was inside the elks stomach, and how it was basically a huge scat...and that was the end of that conversation! Michelle also talked about how bears scavenge on these “lumps” and thats why bears may smell so bad. She also said how Mountain Lions don't smell bad because they sleep on sage or pine, and so they may smell like a Christmas tree. :-) Michelle had to fill out a sheet asking what the habitat was, what animals scavenged on it, what trees were around the elk, and how much of it was eaten. All of the muscle and organs were gone, so the rest was just a little meat, bones, and hair. F61 had left it about 3-4 days before we got there.

We searched around the kill site and found lots of clues, including some Mountain Lion scat, but I wanted to find a print. The snow was deep and it was shadowy, so it was difficult to find some. But luckily, we had Michelle with us. Michelle is an expert tracker. She was the first woman in North America to score a 100% on the Tracker Certification! Woohoo!! Michelle spotted some prints and we followed them for a bit. It was amazing to see how close the tracks came to trees and brush, and Michelle explained how big cats "slink" their way through the woods, using obstacles as protection and screening. Leaving the site, we saw more wolf tracks surrounding the area. Mountain Lions and wolves usually keep their distance, but wolves may try to drive Mountain Lions away if they ever cross paths. We headed back out after I took one last look around, trying to imagine what happened here to this young elk right around Christmas day. Maybe the Cougar had jumped out of a tree? Maybe it lay hidden in some deadfall, waiting for the elk to pass? Maybe it was a wild chase down the hillside?

As we slid down another snowy hill leading us back to the river, there were a couple or ravens and an eagle sitting on something that looked really small from where we were. The ravens were up in a tree and the eagle was standing on the thin ice right next to the rushing river, sitting on some kind of meat. As we got closer, the eagle flew away, letting us get close to the mysterious carcass. Thoughts ran through my mind.. Beaver? Otter? Nope. It was another elk. But, not a kill of wolves. This elk had drowned in the river and became frozen on the riverbank. The circle of life continued deep in the Gros Ventre backcountry. 

After eating an entire pack of Honey Stingers for energy, we snowshoed back to the truck, listening to Michelle tell more stories about her awesome experience with Cougars. I kept looking above me in the pines across the river, and the rocky cliffs above me, hoping and wondering if F61 or another Cougar was up there somewhere, sleeping, or watching us. I wondered if it had kittens that were playing somewhere nearby, their spotted coats hopefully keeping them safe from predators. We spotted some mule deer crossing the river below us, but that was it - no more wildlife to be seen. Pretty soon I was folded up again in the back seat of the truck, on our way back to the office. I had a lot of information to think about, and I knew that night I would dream of Mountain Lions. I was tired.

I have a lot of respect for people like Mark, Michelle and their team that work so hard, every day, to collect data about an animal that not enough facts are known about. The longest running Mountain Lion project, TCP provides critical information on Mountain Lion survival, breeding and mortality and most importantly through their video and photo captures, data on the social behavior of these predators. The more we can learn about Mountain Lions, the more we can help protect them and make sure that they have a future.

Thank you, Teton Cougar Project for this awesome opportunity and I hope that you can continue adding to your Cougar "Family Tree". I will see you soon!! 

For more information on the Teton Cougar Project, please visit these links. I hope that you will take the time to learn more about these amazing creatures, and support TCP with their important studies:

[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Sun, 03 Jan 2016 22:05:52 GMT
In Search of the Barred Owl There are over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. One of them, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, is very close to my home. It was the first designated wilderness area within the Department of the Interior, having been saved from development (the Post Authority wanted it to be an airport!). It is a beautiful place with lots of open fields, swampy marshes and flowing creeks.

The Great Swamp is right in the migration path of many bird species that move in the winter down along the eastern coast. I’ve seen rough-legged hawks and many other raptors there as well, including northern harriers, kestrels and merlins. But my favorite bird to find there, the Barred Owl, is a year-round resident, and is usually very difficult to find. The Great Swamp is the perfect home for Barred Owls. These owls need dense woods and they like wet, marshy environments, which supply some of their preferred foods including frogs and crayfish. I am lucky that Barred Owls live in the Swamp, and that they are close to home. But I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find them, much less photograph them.

When I was 9 years old I saw my first Barred Owl fly out of the woods and land on a branch just as the sun was setting. Over the years I've seen the same behavior in about the same place. I've learned a lot about the behavior of these owls, and in the process have understood how to plan, prepare for and take advantage of photographing them. Even though I don't have the absolute best photos of them, I understand that these owls live under some pressure of refuge visitors and traffic, and most often stay out of sight. Because of this, I enjoy every opportunity I get to see them, and if I can photograph them then it's even better.

The first barred Owl I ever saw and photographed, taken when I was 9, hand-held my a car window with a Sony a55 and a small Tamron telephoto.

(The first Barred Owl I ever saw and photographed, taken when I was 9 from a car window with a Sony A55 and a small Tamron telephoto lens)


The easiest time of the year to find an owl is in the winter. There are two reasons for this. First, the leaves are off the trees so you can see them more easily. Second, owls are preparing for nesting season and they may be more vocal than normal. If you live near woods you may hear an owl at night hooting. Sometimes you’ll hear a response from another owl. These conversations may either be mates trying to connect or they can be arguments between different owls over a territory.

For my owl planning, I first try to remember where I saw an owl the previous year. This is a good tip. Owls can mate for life, and if their nesting location is good, they will return to it. So if you saw an owl in one spot during the winter, if it survived the year, you could see it there again.

Second, I schedule time to make it happen, either in the morning or late afternoon. 


I have a busy schedule after school. Usually I have a lot of homework, or I have other activities. I try to prepare for a photography outing in advance by choosing a day when my Dad can drive me after school to the Swamp. Once I have the day chosen, I keep an eye on the weather. Sometimes overcast can be good because it can give an even, soft light. Blue sky winter days can make the daylight last a little longer, though, and if you do see an owl, it will give you a chance to photograph it with some catchlight in its eyes. Basically any weather but rain works!

This is my photography gear checklist for when I’m going after a Barred Owl:

1. Longest lens possible plus a teleconverter

When I do see an owl, it can be really far away, so I need to be prepared for that. I also understand that the light could be poor, so I can take the teleconverter off to get a wider aperture if I need to.

2. Beanbag

This has been an important camera gear accessory for me. I fill mine with rice or dried beans. I sit in the backseat and roll the window down and drape the beanbag. We drive around slowly until I am ready to shoot something, then I raise my lens up onto the beanbag for stability. I do this very slowly to not cause the subject any stress. I usually leave Image Stabilizer on my lens when I do this just in case.

3. Shorter lens

Sometimes the owl may be close and I need a shorter lens. I could also use it in lower light, like if you have a f/2.8 lens.

4. Tripod

I haven’t had to use one yet, because Barred Owls might spook if you open the car door. But just in case it’s good to have one. You never know what else you might see.

5. Snack


6. Camera bag (cards, batteries, lens cleaning kit)

Usually in the winter I only have ½ hour of shooting time available so I almost never have to change a battery or card. But I feel better about having it with me anyway.

(Sometimes you need to keep an open mind and consider that its best to photograph an owl from further away, to show more of its environment.)


Because Barred Owls are mostly crepuscular (they hunt between dusk and dawn), some people think it's difficult to find and photograph them, due to the lack of light. But I think the opposite, because dawn and dusk can provide the best, warm light if you can get it. It is also the time when owls are most active.

In the winter, one day a week my Dad picks me up from school and we first drive around to our favorite screech owl roost spots. Then we head to the Swamp, trying to get there by 4pm. I know I will have until 4:30 before the light really gets too dark. We drive slowly down a road with the windows down. He looks on one side and I look on the other. Sometimes I just fall asleep and he looks on both sides J.

Like other owls, Barred Owls like to roost up against a tree trunk of an evergreen – something that is full and offers protection and privacy. We look in these trees first. They are the easiest to find because all the other trees with be leafless. Then we look along exposed branches, trying to pick out football shapes in the tangle of branches.


Once we spot an owl, I raise my lens to the beanbag and look through the viewfinder to see if there are branches in the way. If there are, I ask my Dad to move forward or reverse to get a better angle. We are whispering at this point. Once I’ve found the spot, my Dad stops and he turns the car off to reduce vibration and keep quiet.

I used to shoot in Manual for most of my wildlife photography but I’ve since learned that Aperture Priority mode for stationary subjects really works best. I know I need my widest aperture if the subject is in the woods, so after setting it, I then dial in my ISO and try to have a shutter speed of at least 250, but sometimes that's not always possible. Owls rarely sit perfectly still. At this time of day they are becoming active and their heads are constantly pivoting left and right. Wind may also blow their feathers. Or they may blink. I try for the highest shutter speed possible while at the same time trying to keep my ISO as high as I can too.

Once I have my settings, I will compose in the camera and move my AF sensor point to one of the owl’s eyes. Then I’ll lean my face in tight to the eyecup and rest my left arm and hand up on top of the lens to steady it and reduce vibration. My arms aren't very long or heavy but I think it helps a little.

(Laying your arm onto the lens will stabilize and limit vibration)

I try to get as many shots as I can but pay careful attention to how the owl is behaving. If it looks alarmed or bothered I will quietly move on.  Sometimes I’ll also sit and wait to see if it flies to a roost in better light! You should always try to look for different angles too, you never know what kind of opening in the branches or composition will be available to you unless you move around a little bit.

(In Aperture Priority, I may adjust the exposure compensation depending on the light.)

I hope you’ve learned something from my experiences photographing Barred Owls!


[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Ashleigh Scully Photography In Search of the Barred Owl Fri, 13 Feb 2015 18:43:12 GMT
My Photography Mentors, Friends and Heroes I decided to write about something which all young wildlife photographers need: a mentor to help teach, encourage and challenge, too. I am very lucky to have met a lot of very talented and nice people either photographing with, or by sharing images and critiques online. There are also a lot of photographers whom I’ve only met really briefly that I look up to. I’ve tried including them all here.

1. Mentors

Sherb Naulty

Sherb is a nature photographer based in New Jersey. He has been a great mentor and friend to me since I met him many years ago at my school. He has helped me a lot with my workflow and also my photography. Sherb wants me to shoot more landscapes and I’m sure one day I will :). I have a lot of great memories of shooting red foxes with Sherb in my backyard! You can learn more about Sherb here:

Henry Holdsworth

Henry is a nature photographer based in Jackson, WY. He owns a gallery called Wild by Nature Gallery. I was in his gallery one day and I told him I am a wildlife photographer, too. He asked “With your iPhone?” And I said “No”, and I showed him my Flickr site. Ever since, he has taken me photographing around Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. Henry is an awesome friend and we have a lot of fun together photographing. He also wants me to shoot landscapes more. I would rather find Great Gray Owls and Mountain Lions! Poor Henry! :) You can learn more about Henry, his gallery, photos and guiding service here:

2. Flickr Friends

Flickr is a free photography hosting service from Yahoo. You can upload your photos and then you can meet other people and comment on their images and favorite their shots. It’s has been a fun way to meet other photographers and also learn about different styles and compositions. My Flickr friends are really important to me because they are very supportive and they will tell me honestly what they think of my photos.

3. Photography Heroes

Kim Heacox

Kim Heacox was my guide during a National Geographic expedition to Alaska when I was 8 years old. I remember how nice he was to me and how interested he was in Alaska and how much he cared about the environment there. I try to keep in touch with him and once a year I get a note from him encouraging me to think differently and be creative.

Thomas Mangelsen

I met Thomas Mangelsen while I was photographing Great Gray Owls in Jackson, WY during the Government Shutdown in October, 2013. We photographed right next to each other for two afternoons. He was incredibly friendly and very supportive of my interest in photography. This summer I bumped into him again in Grand Teton while we were photographing Grizzly 760 and he recognized me and we talked for awhile. I love his passion for wildlife and how he stands up for animals’ rights. He is an amazing photographer but also cares a lot about his subjects. You can learn more about Thomas here:

Joel Sartore

I met Joel Sartore while we was touring through my hometown to talk about his National Geographic projects. He has been working on a project to document endangered species. He is a really funny guy and his photos are very unique. He came to my school after his show to see my wildlife photography exhibit. I love that he focuses on animals which need our help the most. You can learn more about Joel here:

Paul Nicklen

Paul Nicklen is another National Geographic photographer that I met during a tour of his speaking events in my hometown. Paul is an accomplished underwater photographer. He has taken incredible shots of penguins and leopard seals in really super cold conditions. He also did a project for NatGeo on the Spirit Bear and the coastal wolves of British Columbia. I like his adventurous spirit. You can learn more about Paul here:

Melissa Groo

I met Melissa after she came to my house this summer to photograph red foxes in my yard. Unfortunately the fox kits had already moved on and we had really bad weather, but we had a lot of fun together photographing horse colts and just hanging out! She is a very dedicated wildlife conservationist who has worked a lot with elephants. I like that Melissa cares more about the safety of her subjects than she does getting the shot. She is awesome!

You can learn more about Melissa Groo here:

Jess Findlay

Jess was one of my first Flickr friends and he is an amazingly talented young wildlife photographer from B.C. He has won lots of awards for his work. I have one of his barred owl photos in my room. I really like Jess’s style it’s very different and it inspires me to think about my composition naturally in the camera, using elements in the image to draw attention to the subject.  You can learn more about Jess here:

M Jackson

M was our expedition leader on a recent family trip to Alaska. She knows a lot about climate change and glaciers. I had a lot of fun with M on our trip and she taught me to use photography to tell stories. Photos can connect people if there’s a story and a message, and they can also bring positive change. You can learn more about M here:







[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) Thu, 06 Nov 2014 22:03:18 GMT
Of Owls and Roads  

A Great Gray Owl hunts in tall grass alongside a road in Wyoming.
(A Great Gray Owl hunts in tall grass alongside a road in Wyoming)
Last Fall I photographed a pair of Great Gray Owls along a road in Wyoming. It was a magical experience following them around along fence rails and roadsides watching them hunting, sleeping and preening. One was a larger owl (female) and the other smaller (male). I watched how they focused on prey in the grasses completely ignoring the people and photographers around them, and I watched as they flew close to and just over the road to other perches. I didn't think too much about their behavior around the road until I got home a week later and read my email. I found out one of the Great Grays had been hit by a car and was killed the week after I left.
I felt terrible. This beautiful wild animal that I had spent so much time with was now gone. And the worst part was that I couldn't believe it would fly into the path of a car! Why would it do that? 
​A month or so after that my Dad found an Eastern Screech Owl (rufous) dead on the road by our house. It had been hit by a car. My Dad remembered seeing it on the road in his headlights at that very spot even last summer. It must have had a favorite roosting spot near the street. After having watched a Screech Owl family fledge from one of my nest boxes last Spring and I photographed them in town, I felt terrible again, just like with the Great Gray. But I still didn't understand why this was happening. So I decided to read about it. Here is what I learned...
There are many reasons why owls get hit by cars. And not just owls. Alot of birds get hit by cars. Birds that eat roadkill, like Crows and Vultures are victims many times. But why owls, which hunt at night and only eat live prey and should be able to notice car headlights? Wouldn't headlights scare them? Apparently not enough, and here's why I think so...
My top 5 reasons why owls get hit by cars:
1. There is lots of prey along roads
  • We litter a lot. This could attract mice, rats and voles to the grassy sections just off the road. Because owls are so focused on their prey items when hunting, they don't look both ways before flying into or across the road.
  • We use street lights and lamps. This could attract moths, bats and other prey.
  • We keep the grass along roads trimmed so snow can be plowed and rain runoff can collect and maintenance vehicles have room. This grass is home for a lot of creatures that owls eat.
2. We drive too fast
  • Now we know there's a lot of prey near the roads. So, if we drive too fast and an owl is hunting near that road, it doesn't have time to react to the car! :(
3. Owls fly differently
  • Most owls have a flight pattern that isn't straight. It's up and down a lot. This means that an owl may think he has room to clear a car but isn't used to avoiding moving objects and can't time his wingbeats. This is just my guess.
4. Owls don't use the Drive-Thru
  • Most owls I've seen capture prey don't grab it on the fly and take off with it right away. They pounce on it, make sure they have a good grip and then take off, especially in the snow. So an owl may be on the road a few seconds longer than other raptors.
5. There isn't enough food
  • Wait this doesn't make sense with number 1, or does it? What I mean is maybe where the owls usually hunt in the woods or edges of meadows there may be a shortage of voles or field mice so they move somewhere else. And the sides of roads is a pretty good place as I said in number 1.

OK so now that we know that what can we do about it?

1. Remember where you see them and show some respect!

  • If you have ever had an owl fly in front of your car on a road you drive on normally, you should remember that spot and try to drive more slowly there. Owls especially in the Spring are in the breeding season and will be close to a nest site so where you see them you may see them again sometime soon.

2. Help out any way you can

  • I know a road in Wyoming that has a lot of Great Grays on it and someone made some cool owl crossing signs out of metal, just like the Moose signs they have out there. These signs remind drivers that owls may be around at anytime. This would be a good idea in places where there are alot of owls and car strikes, like with Barn Owls in Britain.

3. Know what to do if it happens to you

  • If you hit an owl with your car, you should call your local raptor rehabilitation center and follow their instructions. Do not try to pick the owl up. If you have a towel and a box or something like that you could put that on the owl and then try to pick it up. But only after you talk to the raptor rehab place. And if the owl is definitely dead, then you have to leave it alone. Taking a dead owl off the road is not allowed.

Well I hope you learned something. If you have a local Raptor Rehabilitation Center near where you live you should visit it and learn more about this. Also, support them however you can. Most of the owls in these centers are there because of car strikes!

What do you think? How do you think we can help owls avoid collisions with our cars?

[email protected] (Ashleigh Scully Photography) owls and roads Tue, 15 Apr 2014 02:10:39 GMT