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.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Yellowstone - May 23, 2008

Well, this was our first full day in Yellowstone so we set the alarm for 5AM to be sure we were out relatively early. We always get up early and stay out late on vacation because we figure we can sleep when we get home.

Coming in from Silvergate we didn't see any special wildlife until just after Slough creek. Here we ran into 4 coyotes, 2 of which seemed like juveniles. Signs are all over the place about reporting any aggressive coyote behavior but these 4 were just fine. Here is one of the adults:


We made a quick stop at the Yellowstone bridge to see that the black bear was still finding something to eat on that old bison carcass. I guess he wasn't too picky. We headed up to Floating Island to check on the cranes. Still no hatchling (does anyone know if the eggs have hatched yet?), but we did see and hear an interesting display as a swan landed on the lake which caused both cranes (No, not Frasier and Niles) to go berserk. I guess they were worried that the Swan was a threat. In any case, they made quite a racket. But, I love listening to the cranes so it was a cool experience. Maybe one of these days I will buy a recorder to capture the sounds of Yellowstone since they can be as awesome as the sights.

On to Tower for, hopefully, a Rosie sighting, but we only saw other black bears and not her. The sun was out so we decided to get some exercise since we pretty much sat on our butts the day before. So, we drove down to Hellroaring. Maureen must have seen our Y-Net magnet because they followed us in and introduced themselves. After some quick conversation we proceeded to walk to the bridge and back. Besides a bunch of wildflowers, mule deer, and birds, the Ground Squirrels were out in force. Including this one that seemed to be collecting materials for a nest:
I would say hello, but my mouth is full

After the hike we contined on to Mammoth for a naughty lunch (Can one become addicted to the Western Chicken sandwiches...?). Then we headed to Sheepeaters to look for Marmots and Pikas. Not only did we see this overly friendly Marmot but we also ran into Jim and Cathy and had a good long conversation about everything Yellowstone.
Yellow Bellied Marmot

We went back to tower and encountered our first Rosie jam. Many other Y-Netters were there as well but she and the cubs were up the hill a ways and hidden by trees for the most part so I only got partial cub shots.

As we were leaving, Karen spotted a bighorn across the canyon and after further inspection we saw it had a baby. It was a long way off, but it was our first bighorn baby sighting. We ran into Bart and Monique as we were taking pictures so we introduced ourselves and chatted before parting ways.

We drove on to Slough Creek where we were able to scope some wolves and meet Gary (Garwar). We talked to someone who mentioned they saw a Badger. We ended up telling Bill and Peggy about the location and joined them for some cross county exploring in search of the elusive Badger. We saw no signs, but I do think we brought back two ticks from this cross country trek. :( Since I refused to go away without any pictures, I took this one of geese on the little pond up there.
Don't call me Canadian!

We returned twice more to that sight (between the YS bridge and Roosevelt) during our trip and saw no signs of badger.

We stopped in Little America to enjoy some bison activity and "Norman" watching. At one point, a herd got spooked and started sprinting towards the road. They can move pretty fast and I don't think this picture does the moment justice. All the motorists were smart enought to stay way back from sprinting bison.
Run for your lives...

Also, in Little America we saw some pronghorn sparring which was fun to watch but they grew tired quickly.

The day ended with spotting some beavers at the confluence and some Mountain Goat spotting on Mt Barronette. So, all in all another great day in parkidise!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grand Teton & YNP - May 22, 2008

Well, today was get away day as we needed to say goodbye to the Tetons and move on to Silvergate for the rest of our trip. Unfortunately, we woke up to a lot of snow but that sure didn't stop the wildlife.

Our local moose was still at the pond near the dam, but this time his setting was somewhat whiter:
Snowy Moose

We ended up seeing another moose at oxbow and a bunch of coyotes outside the Moran entrance where it looked like winter had regained its grip:
Winter Wonderland

Before heading off to Yellowstone, we had to stop at Oxbow Bend for one last look at what has to be one of the best views in the World:
Oxbow Bend

And what makes this view so good is that you can turn one way and see the above and turn another way and see this:
Oxbow Bend part Deux

The drive in to Yellowstone was uneventful and thankfully they opened the roads that had been closed the night before so we were able to make decent time. Besides a few more coyote sightings we really didn't see anything of note until we reached Tower (It was our first chance to see Rosie and the cubs so we drove straight there, but no luck). We did see our first Yellowstone Marmot though. I think we interupted his lunch:
Mmmmm Grass

The rest of the day consisted of the usual sightings in Yellowstone. We did stop to watch a black bear eathing under the YS Bridge. Is it just me, or does he look angry at the interruption?
Don't bother me, I am eating

Through out the day we were very happy to see all the new born bison after the tough winter that they had. We affectionately refer to all newborn bison as "Norman" (remember City Slickers?). We had to have seen 3 to 4 different herds all with close to 10 "Normans". They were really fun to watch. Hopefully, they will recover in the coming years:

The day ended with scoping our first wolves of the trip at Slough Creek which was very exciting but we hoped to see some close enough to photograph before the trip was over. All in all, despite the weather, it was a great day and it sure beats working!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grand Teton - May 20 & 21, 2008

Well, we woke up Tuesday to another beautiful day. We knew this weather wouldn't last because the forecast was for rain and snow for the foreseeable future. I wanted to get some sunrise shots of the barns (it is a must and I didn't have any) plus we were hoping that Schwabachers Landing would be open.

So, we headed out towards Oxbow Bend and encountered two moose at the pond just before the dam (there was almost always a moose here each time we passed). The sun hadn't come up at Oxbow yet so we continued past and headed south from the Moran entrance. On the way down, we saw our first pronghorn and they posed long enough for this shot:
Pronghorn and the Tetons

On to the barns for some morning shots:
Moulton Barn

Schwabachers Landing was still closed to cars, but we knew that this was our last chance to see it in good weather so we parked outside the gate and walked down. I am really happy we did this because we had the place to ourselves on an exquisite day. That will probably never happen again. We saw muskrat, goldeneyes, cinnamon teals (who insisted on rippling the water for my reflection shots) and hawks. But, of course, we were there for the views:
Schwabachers Landing

Our decision to walk down was a good one because as we were wrapping up, we heard the sound of heavy machinery and saw the first car at the bathrooms. Yup, they opened up the road down. Oh well, we had it to ourselves for a while at least. We headed back to the lodge for some food.

Since "walking the road" paid off before, we decided to walk up Signal Mountain after breakfast since that road was also still closed. That hike was enjoyable but less rewarding. We saw lots of birds but no mammals. Also, the snow on the road stopped us short of the summit. I did manage to get this shot from the lake area on the way up:
Great Blue Heron

We wanted to see some elk calves so we headed down to the reserve to see if any were there....but none were. We decided to go back via Gros Ventre Rd. We pulled over after spotted a bull moose across the river. After walking down a ways to get a clear shot I looked down at our side of the river to see this:
Moose Family

A mama moose and two yearlings. Probably the same ones that others have seen in this area. Hopefully, their coats will grow in quickly...

The last highlight of the day was a tremendous spot by Karen. As we were driving about 50 MPH headed towards the Moran entrance. She yelled for me to stop because she thought she saw a marmot in a tree. Well, we had never seen a marmot before but me, in my infinite wisdom, proclaimed that marmots live in rocks not trees so she couldn't have seen one. However, she insisted so we turned around and headed back. And...she was right (After 13 years of marriage, you would think I would have realized this already). This marmot had made a home in a hollowed out tree. We were really excited to see our first marmot and never expected to see it in the Tetons in a tree:

Needless to say, after that spot, I turned around whenever Karen thought she saw something and it did pay off more than once.

The day ended with a moose at Oxbow to make it a new record of a 7 moose day.

The next day was pretty much a rainout. We saw a young grizzly near Oxbow:

Then we met some fellow Y-Netters and chatted for a bit. One of them told us about the fox den in Jackson so we now knew how the rest of our day would go.

We waited for the fox for almost two hours in the drizzle and cold (thank goodness it wasn't windy). Since this was our last day in the Tetons and seeing a fox would be a first for us, we knew we would stick it out. Sure enough, we were eventually rewarded with a wet vixen and a glimpse of a kit:

Foxy Lady

It was a great end to the day. We were able to cross off two of our trip goals in one day...a marmot and a fox. The glimpse of the fox kit was gravy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Grand Teton - May 19, 2008

This was a glorious day weather wise. I actually regretted not packing any shorts. It was clear and in the 70's and just beautiful.

The day started out with a sunrise trip to Oxbow Bend where we had some good views but spotted no wildlife. So, we went off to Pacific Creek road to see if the moose and beaver were still around.

As we approached the lodge area we saw this guy as busy as a, well... beaver fixing part of the dam:

After watching the beaver for a while, we headed to the Colter Bay visitor center to see if the Rangers knew of any open trails. It turns out that only the Taggert Lake trail and the trail behind the visitor center were hikable according to the Rangers. So, we set off walking behind the visitor center which we had never done before. Let me tell you that this was a glorious walk with the sounds of osprey and geese serenading us as we stared in awe at views like this:
Colter Bay

The hike was great and we only had to dodge a few areas of snow. Well, we weren't done with hiking for the day so we set off for Taggert Lake to take another trail we hadn't taken before. It turns out that the last 1/4 mile was on snow and ice. Without walking sticks, we didn't want to risk slipping and falling on our first full day. So, we turned back. But, this hike did reveal a hidden secret in the snow:

After dinner, we returned to the Oxbow Area and saw 3 moose from the dike next to the dam. This one coorporated pretty good, albeit against a tough background:
After Dinner Moose

We ended up seeing 5 moose today which is our record to date. So, that coupled with the perfect weather, and the fact that we were able to burn off some of the Signal Mountain grub we stuffed ourselves with, made for another great day.

PS - My wife thinks the Blackberry Margarita at the Signal Mountain Lodge is the world's best drink now...