Did you hear something?

Neil Patrick Healy

When 20-year Gardiner resident Brandi Nichols got a new pan tilt zoom security camera two years ago, she decided to leave it in the grass of her backyard overnight and see what happened. When she went out the next morning and saw it tipped over, she looked through the images to see what it captured.

“We went and looked and all you saw was just a giant bear claw in the stills,” she said.

Switching from still photos to video, Nichols put the camera out in the grass the next night and captured a full-grown grizzly bear strolling through her backyard.

Nichols, a passionate photographer, found a new way to practice her hobby, and with Gardiner being at the mouth of Yellowstone National Park, it was an opportunity to get visual perspective on the animals that frequent her backyard.

She quickly discovered her yard was like a set piece from “Bambi”, capturing interactions between a skunk and a deer, raccoons scurrying across the lawn to get to her fence, an elk drinking out of a water bowl, foxes hunting, a pygmy owl fighting a blue jay and a deer getting his face up close and personal with the lens.

“It’s really neat to see the animals behave and watch them,” Nichols said. “It’s in my backyard, but it’s still natural behavior. I’m seeing what I’d see if they didn’t know I was there. That’s pretty incredible to me because you see a lot of interaction that you just wouldn’t dream would ever happen.”

When Nichols goes through the video of her animal neighbors from the night before, she pauses the video and takes a simple screenshot. She shares her videos with anyone who’s interested, but she mostly posts her findings on some of the Gardiner community pages on Facebook.

“Personally, I just like to share my photos,” Nichols said. “I like to let people see what’s out there, I like to let the person who has never once seen an elk get the feeling they’re right next to it and watch them spar and groom their young. It’s incredible.”

The videos have also helped people in Gardiner be aware of just how much wildlife is around them and to act accordingly.

“There are people that move here that have no clue,” Nichols said. “They can’t imagine there’d be a bear or something dangerous in their yard, so when I do see something I post it in the community page to make everyone aware that they need to make noise (when they go outside). They don’t want to surprise certain animals — they want them to know they’re there.”

Nichols is content with photography being a hobby rather than being a job, not wanting to stress about getting the next great shot. Instead, she’ll be checking for the next time animals frequent her yard when the sun goes down and the rest of the town is asleep.

“All I’m missing is a wolf and a big horn sheep,” she said.