Monday, October 6, 2008

Yellowstone Report - Day 5 & 6

Contrary to yesterday, the weather today (Monday) was great. Crisp, clear and cool in the morning. No action from the NE entrance until the Lamar Valley where the Druids were out again. Only 8 were visible this time, but they were running around and chasing each other and having a good old time.

At one point the wolves gathered together and howled...That is such a great sound as it echoes through the valley!

At 8:45 we had to pack up and move on because we had a hike to get to. We made a short stop for this shot from the pullout towards the Petrified Tree:

Elk Creek

We met some friends and had a great hike past Lost Lake and about halfway to Calcite Springs before we retraced our steps a bit and exited by Roosevelt. We had talked about turning around a few times, but the weather was perfect and we were having fun.

Here are some shots from the hike:



The hike took us well beyond Noon, so we headed to Mammoth to have lunch. After that, we parted ways and headed down to Sheepeaters to see if any pika were out. No luck there even though the sun was shining. Too bad. No pikas this trip...

We headed back towards Tower. Since Blacktail Plateau Drive was closed, we decided to park at the exit and walk up a ways. No mammals, but I find the trees in that area very interesting:

Dead Tree

The scenary in little America was amazing...:

Typical Scene in Yellowstone

Outside of seeing 6 more druids as the sun set in the Lamar, there was no other action the rest of that day unfortunately. But, we woke up at the crack of dawn the next day to hit the Lamar at Sunrise. I never get tired of fall colors mixed in with snow:


And, of course, the Druids were out again. This time we saw 15 of them playing, running, howling, and having a good old time. After they headed up the valley, we continued on to Slough Creek. Down at the bottom pullout, there was only one other car. Turns out they had 5 wolves scoped at the base of the hill where the Sloughs denned last spring. Not being experts, we didn't know if these were the Sloughs or not, but we made that assumption. After they disappeared, we headed to Elk Creek looking for moose. We got there just in time to see the backend of one disappear into the trees. It was even too quick for a patented Moose Backside picture..oh well.

Since we needed to return our scope and check out, we head back toward the Lamar. We found two last uses for our scope.

The first was those 5 wolves again. This time they were on a ridge just above the river in Little America. They gathered on the ridge and howled for us. Simply Beautiful! I really need to save up some money to buy a scope and camera for digiscoping...

The second was a nice sized Grizzly cruising down the riverbed in the Lamar. After enduring a mind numbing 1/2 hour bison jam at Trout Lake, we checked out of our cabin and headed back into the park for the last time... :(

We took a quick trip up to Mount Washburn for one last attempt to find bears. No luck with bears, but the mountain cooperated:

Mount Washburn

We spotted a bald eagle flying over the area near the self guided trail, but not much else until Mammoth. #6 was relaxing so I took an opportunity to snap off some shots:

Bull Elk

Obviously, this guy was tuckered out. There is nothing like a hard nap after the rut:
Dang women, wore me out...

We left the park sad, but exhilerated from another great trip. We decided to take Old Yellowstone road out instead of 89. We saw 44 pronghorn between Gardiner and Corwin Springs on that road. I guess they knew cold weather was coming since they were already in their wintering grounds.

Thanks for coming along for this trip report ride. We are already contemplating a May trip... :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Yellowstone Report - Day 4

We saw all types of weather today; rain, sun, clouds and snow. Just what you would expect in the fall. We moved accommodations to Silvergate so we hit the Lamar Valley at first light.

Scopes were out everywhere and we quickly learned that all 21 members of the Druid pack were around. Apparently, they had chased an elk into the river and were watching it from a nearby ridge. Eventually, all 21 came out onto the valley floor and slowly made their way towards the elk that was still in the river. We watched 2 wolves through the scope as they swam across the river to surround the cow elk. We expected some action. However, the elk held its ground and didn't run. That probably saved her life. The wolves weren't interested in going after her in the river and they eventually moved down the valley.

All in all, it was an exciting experience to watch and we had never seen so many wolves at once. A great start to the day.

We ventured over Dunraven and down into the Hayden Valley. We noticed a bald eagle in a tree across the river and put the scope on it for a while. Such a pretty bird and the first one of our trip.

We continued on to the Lake Overlook with stops to look for otters at Pelican Creek, but still no luck. Patches of rain were everywhere and the view from the overlook was great:

Yellowstone Lake

We also spotted a bald eagle soaring high above us.

Back over Dunraven and a quick stop at Tower for a "bio break". Spontaneously, we decided to walk up to the campground. Up there we saw 11 bighorn on the hillside and a few bison that had occupied some of the now vacant campsites.

Since the day had been kinda of slow, we decided to go where we could guarantee some wildlife sightings. So, we headed off to Barronette for another round of "scope a goat".

On the way through the Lamar, we ran into a lone pronghorn. After avoiding the cars already pulled over, he ran towards us and leaped across the the road. I love watching them run:


At Barronette, we scoped 10 goats (including a kid) in 10 minutes. They are great fun to watch (note to selves...must go to Glacier National Park).

With the remaining light of the day, we ventured off to find moose at Elk Creek. On the way, a jam at Slough Creek made us stop. No, not wolves, it was a Grizzly instead. Pretty far up the hill but the scope brought it in large and clear. Nice...

At Elk Creek we had no luck finding moose, but we did find a rainbow:

Elk Creek Rainbow

So, the day started with wolves, ended with a grizzly, and had eagles, bighorn sheep, and Mt goats in between. Pretty darn sweet. Time to go to bed and do it all again tomorrow. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Yellowstone Report - Day 3

Well, the weather turned for the worse today (Saturday). It was rainy or overcast most of the day. Maybe this would bring more wildlife out. Today, we decided to take the western route out of Gardiner towards Sheepeaters. No critters were scurrying around the rocks, but we did see a nice elk by Indian Creek. Since, I was driving, I made Karen take the picture. I think it is darn good considering she takes maybe one picture a year.

Karen's Elk

We headed over to Canyon from Norris and then down into the Hayden Valley. There were a bunch of cars pulled out and we learned that there was a kill with a bunch Grizzlies. We pulled out the scope but really couldn't get a good view. After some debate, we decided to walk closer. There were about 10 people on a hill about 3/4 from the road. So, we hiked out and spent a while watching 3 grizzlies. It was great. The weather made for average photos, but you get the idea:

Grizzlies on a kill

From there we went back to the Lake, Fishing Bridge, and Pelican Creek (looking for otters), but came up empty besides this young bison:


Back through the Hayden Valley, people had pulled over and were looking off into the hills. Turned out some wolves were in sight. So, out came the scope and we got to see 7 wolves in the tree line (6 greys and a black). No wolf experts were there to ID the pack but looking back on it, that was probably the Mollie Pack.

We continued on through the Hayden and there were now at least 30 people out looking at the Grizzlies on the kill and the rangers had moved the vantage point back a few hundred yards so our earlier decision to walk out there was a good one.

On the way back through canyon, we had our best coyote encounter of the trip. This coyote seemed to have its full winter coat already and knew how to blend into the surroundings:


The last major sighting of the day happened as we approached Elk Creek. A nice sized bull moose was about to cross the road and head up the valley past the exit to Blacktail Plateau.

Have you ever had one of the pictures that you thought that lighting was good, the composition was good, the background was good and the focus was good.

The only problem was that the animal was camera shy. Here is that photo:

The business end of a moose

He never did want to face the camera so that is the best shot I could get.

Anyway, it did seem that the cooler weather provided some better opportunities for us today. We saw everything that Yellowstone consistently has to offer in one day outside of a black bear.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yellowstone Report - Day 2

We started out before dawn again today. Today's goal was to head down to the Lake and then over to Grand Prismatic in hopes that the sun was out.

We took Blacktail Plateau again, but spotted no animals. So, a sunrise picture will have to suffice:
Elk Creed Sunrise

We saw the usual assortment of elk and mule deer on the way down to the Lake. No major action in the Hayden, at Fishing Bridge or Mary Bay. Hmmm....maybe our luck is changing for the worse.

So, we continued on to the lake overlook. We had never been up here before and decided to take a look. We caught the attention of this guy on the way up:
White Tailed Buck

The view from the overlook is great. Especially all the old trees nearby:
Yellowstone Overlook View

On towards West Thumb where we had a coyote encounter. This guy was really blond and moving pretty quickly.

Finally, we reached the parking lot for Fairy Falls and headed out to see Grand Prismatic from a higher vantage point.

Ever since reading about this vantage point on Y-Net, I have wanted to see it for myself.

But, the weather never cooperated until today. It was worth the wait:

Grand Prismatic

Grand Prismatic

After the hike we headed back to Gardiner the long way (Norris to Canyon to Lamar to Mammoth) but the wildlife stayed hidden besides the assorted bison, elk and this cooperative pronghorn:



The day ended with another moose sighting just before Floating Island lake, but the distance and darkness didn't make for a great photo.

All in all, another great day despite the lack of wildlife and it beats working!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Yellowstone Report - Day 1

After reading the multitude of reports about a "slow" fall this year in Yellowstone when it comes to wildlife, our expectations were a lowered a bit this trip. But, we have always had good luck and we hoped that it would continue.

After a late night arrival in Gardiner, we got up early and hit the park before sunrise. Blacktail Plateau Drive was open so we decided to take it as the sun crested above the horizon. This was a wise decision since we had our first encounter on this road. One of the moose from Elk Creek was hiding out along the road:

Hidden Moose

Unfortunately, this moose was moving pretty fast and that was the only shot I got off before he disappeared up the hill. However, the excitement wasn't over. A few hundred yards further we got out of the car to survey the fall color and scan the hillside. We spotted a black bear on the opposite hill but he too didn't stick around long. No decent picture, but it looked like our luck was holding since we knew not many people had seen black bears recently.

We continued down Blacktail Plateau Drive until we got to the portion that overlooked Elk Creek. We noticed cars stopped coming down the hill and followed their stares to a moose in the trees. Then, we saw another moose coming up the hill towards the road. So, we got in the car and drove down to the main road, parked and hopped out of the car.

We were just in time to see him cross the road:

3 Moose and a Black Bear before 9AM...welcome to Yellowstone!

Since we needed to pick up our rented scope, we headed to Silvergate. With scope in hand we headed back towards the Lamar Valley. Now, if you had a scope in this part of the park, what is the first thing you would do?. Yup, that's right, time for some "scope-a-goat" at Barronette. We only managed to see 3 goats as they grazed the cliffs nibbling the small plants in their paths. But, we always enjoy watching them navigate around the cliffs.

On to the Lamar where where, I couldn't pass up some tree and landscape shots:
Lamar Valley


In the afternoon, we headed down to Hayden to see if there was some action there, but we came up empty accept for this cooperative Gray Jay:
Gary Jay

As the afternoon turned into evening, we went up to Tower to continue our search for black bears. They were all over this place in May so there HAD to be some..right?...wrong. We saw no black bears at Tower. In fact, that morning black bear was the only one we would see all week.

We did run into the resident herd of Bighorn Sheep at Tower as they munched on grass near Rainy Lake:
Bighorn Sheep

So, our first day was done. But, it was action packed so after a good dinner at Pedalinos, we hit the sack with high expectations for tomorrow.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yellowstone - May 26, 2008

It was our last day and we still hadn't seen Rosie and we only had a brief glimpse of the cubs, so we knew that this needed to be our focus today. We started out early again and really hoped that we would see our beautiful fox again, but no luck today.

We did have a great moose encounter at warm springs though. This was the best looking moose of the whole trip since it hadn't started to shed its winter coat yet:
After Breakfast Moose

We stopped at the elk carcass in Lamar and scoped a black wolf on the carcass. The sage brush made visibility tough so we only stayed for a few minutes since we were on Rosie watch.

On to Tower where 2 black bears were loitering but still no Rosie. This was our 3rd YNP trip and we had never seen anything of interest around Rainy Lake, so we got into the habit of calling it "Nothing Lake". Well, we can't say that anymore thanks to this bear:
Black Bear

After Tower, we decided to head back to scout for badger since it seemed like we were the only ones in the park that hadn't see one...But, no luck there. However, we did spy a small group of cars at the Wrecker pullout. We thought it might be the wolf watchers so we pulled in to take a look. Turns out there were some grizzly bears on the hills far away and some wolves but we never saw the wolves. Bill and Peggy were there as well so we chatted a while. Just as we were about to leave, Bill spotted some bighorn sheep coming over a nearby hill. It turns out that this was a group of about 9 male bighorns. We had never seen the rams before so it was really fun to watch these guys hangout and practice their dueling skills:
Bighorn rams

The concensus was that they weren't full adults yet and were just playing around. A few minutes into this show, a group of females came into view and really got the attention of these "teenage" males:
Hey check out the horns on that one!

So, what do you think this group of testosterone filled teenage rams did next?...Yup, just like a flashback to freshmen year of high school, they turned around and ran away:
Oh my god, does she like me...?

After this scene unfolded, we heard there was a Harlequin duck down on a rock by the river, so we proceeded to turn our attention that way. The duck was indeed down there but too far away for decent pictures. But, it was our first Harlequin duck sighting and they are really pretty.

Next we headed to Swan Lake and Sheepeaters after a lunch stop in Mammoth. We saw both a Marmot and Pika at Sheepeaters but they weren't being photogenic and the weather was starting to go bad so we headed back. Just out of Mammoth on a large gnoll before the bridge, there was a group of 10 or so more rams. These appeared to be full size adults but the weather was so crappy that we didn't get out of the car for a closer look. 30+ bighorn in a matter of hours was pretty good though.

The weather started to break as we hit Roosevelt, so we went on to Tower to see if Rosie was out. As we passed "her" meadow we saw a bunch of Y-Netters and Helene said that Rosie was there and just went down over the side out of sight. DOH! We had missed her! Since the crowd had dispersed we proceeded to sit and stake out the meadow since most people thought she would come back. We waited 2 hours and she didn't come back.

We needed to get our scope back to Silvergate so we reluctantly left and headed back to the cabin. After a not so quick transaction at the General Store in Silvergate to pay for the scope and a bite to eat in our cabin, we headed back out. There were a lot of scopes set up on the elk carcass so we stopped. A light colored wolf was really going at the carcass. Pulling it, tearing at it, etc. Finally, the wolf got what it wanted and trotted off with this huge leg in its mouth. This was pretty cool to see. It was getting late now so we rushed back to Tower only to see a plethora of Y-Netters and other long lenses at Rosie's meadow. She was out! We parked at Calcite and rushed back down only to hear that she disappeared again into the fallen trees... Had we timed this completely wrong yet again???

Well, luckily, after a few more minutes of waiting, Rosie and the cubs headed back out into the meadow and we spent the next 2+ hours watching her and the frolicking cubs.
Bear hug

It was tough light so we didn't get too many really good shots but the experience was worth a million. Just as darkness was starting to take command of the evening and after many of the Y-Netters were packing up to get some warm food she decided to nurse the cubs in plain sight. Wow, this was so awesome to watch:
High energy meal

Boy, that must have been some energy drink those cubs had because they proceeded to put on a show until it was just about too dark to see. Our last day was now complete and we journeyed back to the cabin with big grins on our faces :)

The next day, we woke up with only a few hours in the park to enjoy. But, we didn't have to leave our cabin for the first sighting. Guess who wanted to join us for breakfast:
Before Breakfast Moose

After packing the car, we headed out to Lamar and saw some Mt Goats on Barronette, another wolf on the elk carcass, and a black bear near soda butte. Our journey to Mammoth and on to Bozeman had two great highlights. The first was a group of bison and some very hyper "Normans". They were so cute running around in circles at high speed chasing each other:
Can't catch me!

The final highlight was the cranes at Floating Island. We passed them during a "shift change" and the ceremony was reminiscent of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (although, the cranes showed more emotion :) )
Sandhill Cranes

As sad as we were as we passed under the arch, we were also happy because this trip provided us with many firsts such as foxes, marmots, beavers, male Bighorns, our closest wolf encounter so far (still not close enough though), Rosie and the cubs, and of course all the other babies that come in the springtime. Despite the weather, this was another great trip to YNP and the Tetons. I am sure we will be back, but not soon enough.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yellowstone - May 25, 2008

Well up early again and out by 6AM. We hit the area in which we saw the fox yesterday at about the same time. What are the odds that we would see it again? Turns out they were pretty good:
Still looking foxy

In the Lamar valley we were able to scope a grizzly with two cubs and another one further down the valley but too far for pictures. There was also a coyote that crossed the road in front of us and shot into the brush. So, we stopped to see if we could find it, but all we could find was this little guy trying to get as high as he could to also scout for the coyote:
I smell you Mr. coyote, I just can't see you

Next we headed to Tower to find Rosie. There was a huge jam just before the YS picnic area all looking towards the meadow with the small lake on the right side. As we got out of the car we could hear the occasional high pitched squeal and another low grunt. Turns out a black bear had found a baby elk. The bear had moved behind a rock and we really couldn't see him. We ran into a bunch of Y-netters on the scene but I think we missed most of the show.

With nothing to see, we decided to hike the YS picnic area trail. On the way up the trail we looked over into the meadow and could now see the black bear behind the rock, so it was still there.

This hike turned out to be great and full of wildlife. Here are some pictures from the hike:
Marmot Rocking Out
Bighorn Sheep

During the hike we could see 2 different black bears across the way at Tower and we greedily hoped it wasn't another Rosie show since we were missing it.

We could also see a group of bighorns with lambs that were climbing just below the calcite overlook:
Bighorn Family

After the hike we headed to Tower but all the bears disappeared. So, we drove back out to Lamar and saw a bunch of coyotes near hitching post. One was chasing a deer and the deer managed to escape by swimming across the river which was moving pretty good:
Thank you Acme power hooves

The day ended with beavers at confluence, Mt Goats at Pebble Creek (one with baby) and more scoped bears. Not a great picture day, but a great day none the less :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yellowstone - May 24, 2008

Saturday brought overcase skies and on and off rain for most of the day. So, we spent almost the entire day cruising the park.

This day proved once again why we love staying in Silvergate. After entering the park we immediately saw a moose in the warm springs area but it wasn't a good photo op. Then, just before the Barronette pullout at about 6AM we were lucky enough to spend about 5 minutes with the best looking fox I had ever seen (even in pictures). Unfortunately, the low light coupled with my budding photography skills don't do this fox justice. It was beautiful!
One good looking Red Fox

Then, a little ways up the road, we ran into another moose. He was off to the side of the road behind some trees, when we slowed down he proceeded to walk down a few yards and then cross the street. I think we might have unintentionally startled him a bit so we just sat in the car waiting to see what he would do. He proceeded to get on the road, turn his head to look at us, lift a back leg, and take a leak. And, I think he did this to send us a message. It was really quite funny.
This is what I think of you

We proceeded to stop at the Barronette pullout and scope some Mt. Goats. We have gotten pretty good at spotting them even with the snow on the cliffs.

So, in review, we haven't even hit the Pebble Creek area and we already have sighted 2 moose, 1 fox and a few Mt. Goats all before 6:30AM. Now that sure beats working!!

On to the confluence where we stopped to see if the beaver were out and they sure were. It was breakfast time:
Mmmm twigs

Next we encountered a forming jam just before the speciman ridge area. Turns out a lone black wolf was in the meadow. I couldn't get a shot clear enough to see the eyes, but it was our closest wolf encounter to date which was really exciting.
Black Wolf

I wrote in my notes for this day that we saw pronghorn all over the place and I have to admit that of our 3 YNP trips, this one provided a whole lot more pronghorn sightings. I hope their numbers are increasing.

Later on we stopped at Tower to see if Rosie was out but she wasn't. So we scanned the opposite cliffs for bighorn and saw these two:
Bighorn Sheep

Not very impressive until you see the big picture as to where they were:
Where's Waldo?

These bighorn sure can climb (and no sherpas needed)

We drove up to Mammoth and then stopped in at Swan Lake to find a lone dark wolf across the lake. While it wasn't close enough for pictures we could see him really well in the scope and he was howling. I love the ability to see the wolf howl and then hear it a second or two later...such an awesome experience.

The day ended with a trip to Sheepeaters to check in on the Marmots. We ended up seeing a Marmot and a Pika (too elusive for photos) and this very cooperative chipmonk:

The day ended early due to bad weather so we actually had real food for dinner at the restaurant in Silvergate (which was tasty by the way) instead of the campbell's soup we had been having too often for dinner on this trip.