Monday, May 18, 2009

Grand Teton - May 17 & 18, 2009

We were up and out by 6AM today because I wanted the required sunrise shots at Oxbow. The sunrise was good, but not great. But, of course Oxbow Bend was still beautiful.

We decided to drive some roads today that we hadn’t tried in previous trips. First stop was Buffalo Ranch road which winds through some great scenery and some populated areas just outside the official park boundaries. We spotted some beaver, muskrat and a close osprey nest but not much else. I did like some of the early morning color:

Sage Brush

We went back to Oxbow for some mid morning shots which is one of my favorite times. I had pre-envisioned creating a pano of Oxbow that we could frame and hang (either one picture or broken up into 3 or 4 separate ones). Here’s a contender for that framing but I have more to consider as well:

Oxbow Bend Pano

Upon leaving Oxbow we spotted a coyote as we drove towards Signal Mountain. Morning is not the best time to drive up Signal Mountain since the best views are east as opposed to west towards the Tetons, but the trip was worth while since we saw two (one at each upper viewpoint) displaying Blue Grouse:

Male Blue Grouse

Displaying Male Blue Grouse

Not only was the display fun to watch, but the low rumbling noise they made was unexpected. They must have large “woofers” to get such low bass.

We decided to walk out the dirt road by Oxbow again because we thought the prospect of seeing some wildlife was good. About a 100 yards in, our decision was validated. A moose was bedded down not five feet off the road. This one was collared and didn’t seem to mind us walking quietly by it at all:

Resting Moose

We also spotted another coyote, which turned tail and disappeared the moment he saw us, and some circling bald eagles. Our friend the moose was still there on the walk back and appeared to be sleeping or resting very soundly.

Off to Antelope Flats where we spotted another coyote near the Teton Science School. We decided to head towards the small creek where we saw all the moose the night before on the off chance that they were still there. Unfortunately, all 8 moose weren’t still there. But, 6 of them were! Imagine spending time watching moose grazing peacefully in a stream with the magnificent backdrop of the Tetons. It was truly a great experience that was hard to capture perfectly by the camera:

Wading Moose

Grand Teton Moose

The rest of the day was spent trolling the Moose-Wilson road and other areas of the park where we saw more moose, beaver and muskrat. A great last full day to end our trip.

The next morning we made one last visit to Oxbow Bend before leaving the park. Our friend the bedded down moose from the day before was there to say goodbye:

Moose Closeup

On the way back towards Twin Falls, ID we decided to take a detour to visit the cranes at Grays Lake NWR in Idaho. While the drive getting there was really pretty and peaceful, the lake itself was just about bone dry. We saw about a dozen Sandhill Cranes and some White-Faced Ibis, but all at a distance with the exception of this one:

Sandhill Crane

All in all, we had another great trip. Yellowstone and Grand Teton never disappoint and are a nature lovers dream. Once again, we saw all kinds of wildlife, encountered new behaviors we hadn’t seen before, and experienced all sorts of weather. The trip back was long but we managed to find 45 states and 5 Canadian provinces in the license plate game during the trip, if anyone saw Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, North Dakota, or Deleware let us know…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Yellowstone - May 16, 2009

We awoke to perfectly clear skies and were out of Gardiner by 7:15AM. We had a long drive to the Tetons today but wanted to enjoy the drive as much as possible. As we approached Mammoth, we spotted bighorn sheep on both sides of the roads up on the cliffs.

As we approached the Nymph Lake area north of Norris, we saw a few cars pulled over and figured it was a bear. Much to our surprise, it was a wolf and elk standoff. The wolves had chased an elk and it made a temporary escape to a small island in the lake. The wolves apparently weren't interested in swimming out to challenge the elk just yet so they rested and waited. In this shot you can see the elk on the far left of the frame and 1 black and 1 gray wolf on the right:


Here's a closeup of the wolves:

Black and Gray Wolf

We later learned from reading other people's reports, that the elk was taken down that evening so it was good that we didn't wait around too long.

The drive to Canyon and through the Hayden Valley were uneventful. We turned left at Fishing Bridge and headed out towards Steamboat Point. At Sedge Bay we encountered a grizzly jam. The grizzly had wandered up the hill too far away for pictures but it was nice to finally see a grizzly in this part of the park.

Further down the road, we spotted a marmot sunning itself. I couldn't pass up this photo opportunity:

Yellow-bellied Marmot

We also spotted a bunch of merganzers and a muskrat in a roadside pond. For a brief moment, we thought I might be our first Yellowstone otter, but it was just a muskrat.

As we left the lake area, a bald eagle flew over our heads as if to wish us farewell. It is always hard leaving Yellowstone, but the fact that the Tetons were next made this particular goodbye easier.

After experiencing some delays and lots of bumps, gravel, and dirt due to road construction, we finally made it to Signal Mountain Lodge for lunch. After lunch, we headed out to Oxbow Bend and had our first Teton moose sighting in the pond past Oxbow Bend. The afternoon lighting conditions didn't make for great photos. So, we decided to hike the old road by Oxbow Bend since it was closed to cars. We saw lots of waterfowl back there including mallards, pelicans, cormorants and these merganzers:

The Flying Merganzers

After dinner at the lodge, we headed out to Morman Row and Antelope Creek to take in the sunset. While we did end up having a great sunset, the highlight was finding 9 moose. 8 of which were all congregated around a small stream. At a distance, we were sure these shapes were bison because "there are too many to be moose". But, we were wrong:

Moose Dinner Party

Did I mention that the sunset was nice as well:

Teton Sunset

A 10 moose day, not too shabby. I wonder if they will still be around in the morning...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yellowstone - May 15, 2009

We were out by 6:30AM today since it was our last full day in Yellowstone. We headed out towards the Lamar Valley and encountered a trio of coyotes in Little America that seemed to be fighting over something. They were too far away to get good pictures but it was interesting behavior to watch as they postured and growled at one another.

Since we hadn't seen a ton of wolves this trip, we made it a point this morning to look for them. We didn't wait long as we saw a gray from scoping distance on Jasper Bench. Further down the Lamar, the scopes were out and the regular wolf watcher vehicles were all parked together. All the scopes were pointed at 5 members of the Druid pack that, we were told, were returning from an unsuccesful hunting trip. Of the five, three were black and more easily seen as the small pack trotted through the sage on a nearby hill. Soon, they disappeared behind a large hill and we ventured on.

Out by Soda Butte, the female grizzly and cubs were visible in the distance as well as a big male across the valley from the female and cubs. Back to Little America and we found another grizzly that had taken a bison calf. The bear was really visible through the scope but soon hunkered down behind some rocks to eat.

We decided to take a late morning hike at the Yellowstone Picnic Area. We have had good luck with wildlife in the past on this trail. This hike lived up to expectations as we saw multiple osprey on nests, tons of mountain bluebirds, a lone coyote and two cooperative bighorn ewes:

Bighorn Ewe

We also heard, then saw, this Mountain Chickadee:

Mountain Chickadee

We worked up an appetite during the hike and headed to Mammoth to the just opened grill. A Western Chicken sandwich and fries were calling my name and they didn't disappoint. We also found the bison mothers and calves that we had seen the evening before entering Mammoth. They were all sprawled out on the green grass sleeping in the mid-day sun.

One Tuckered Bison Calf

One Tuckered Calf

After lunch, we headed to Tower and found a black bear but we moved on since it wasn't in good light. The male bighorn will still hanging out around the Yellowstone Picnic Area. This one was having problems getting his lunch in his mouth:

Bighorn Ram Having Problems with Lunch

We spotted another grizzly on the way to the Lamar Valley and yet another coyote near Soda Butte. We had apparently just missed this coyote chasing off a black wolf. We hung around a bit at Soda Butte, but neither returned.

We needed to return our rental scope so we headed to Silvergate hoping to find some moose. We decided to drive towards Cooke City after dropping off the scope since we had heard others mention moose sightings between the two towns. We didn't even get out of Silvergate before encountering this one in the evening light:

Silvergate Moose

We spent about a half hour watching this moose graze before we headed back to Gardiner to call it a day. Back in Little America, we found this bison just "itching" to get rid of its winter coat:

"This winter coat is itching..."

Besides more bighorn between Mammoth and Gardiner, the drive home was uneventful. All in all, another great day in parkidise.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yellowstone - May 14, 2009

Day 5 couldn't have started any better. Just on the outskirts of Mammoth, we happened upon this grazing grizzly.

Foraging Grizzly

Grizzly Bear

This was a beautiful bear, but it was venturing too close to town. The Rangers showed up, ushered us into our cars, and hazed the grizzly using cracker shells or maybe just firing into the air. The grizzly took off running at full speed. It is awesome to watch a grizzly run. They are so much faster than you would expect.

In Little America, we spotted two more grizzly bears. One was male and one was female but they weren't together. In fact, once the female got wind of the male, she made a hasty retreat in the opposite direction. Having the rental scope sure did help bring these "brown dots" into full focus.

Venturing on into the Lamar Valley we spotted another grizzly headed up the hill away from the road. 4 grizzlies and it wasn't even 8AM yet. The last few days had been a bit windy and we wanted to get a hike in before the winds returned, so we quickly journeyed on to Trout Lake.

The hike was pretty uneventful. The lake was still mostly frozen over which meant the waterfowl had to congregate close to one end. That did make the photo op of these Barrow's Goldeneyes possible though.

Barrow's Goldeneye Pair

After hiking, we headed up to scope Barronette and found 4 mountain goats, but no babies. We are probably a few weeks early to spot them unfortunately. On the way back through the Lamar Valley, we had yet another grizzly sighting from the Footbridge pullout, a coyote at the confluence, and this view also from the confluence area.

Lamar Landscape

At the entrance to the Lamar, the same grizzly that we had spied earlier, was still on the hill. However, this time he was just sitting on some shale surveying the valley. No one saw it but us and through the scope we could really take in its details. This was one plump grizzly for so early in the season and really blond as well. A terrific looking bear.

We were headed to Mammoth for lunch. On the way, we spotted coyotes at Slough Creek and near the self-guided trail. After lunch, we hiked up to through the Tower Campground which was still closed but workers were up there preparing it for the season so no wildlife was around.

So, we went back out to the Lamar where we saw 4 more coyotes, a black bear across from Soda Butte, a bald eagle, and a couple unexpected bighorn sheep on the hill above the confluence. Just past Soda Butte, we ran into the mother grizzly and two yearlings again. They were still too far away for decent pictures but we enjoyed watching them through the scope. Since the scope was out, we scanned the cliffs and found 8 bighorns on the mountain across from the hitching post pullout. We were looking for goats, but bighorn was all we found.

On the way back home, a group of bison mothers and calves were headed towards Mammoth. It was great fun watching the little ones.

Baby Bison


After a late dinner, we hit the sack and planned to start off early the next day since it was our last full day in Yellowstone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yellowstone - May 13, 2009

We woke up to clear skies today and quickly headed into the park to put the troubles of yesterday behind us. We made it all the way to the Yellowstone bridge before seeing something significant. The black bear was back and was working its way up the slope. It looked intent on crossing the bridge so I assumed it was the same bear we had seen a few days earlier. With the pullout so close to the edge of the bridge I was able to get some nice close ups from the car before the bear headed across the bridge.

Black Bear Closeup

As we headed through the Lamar Valley we spotted a grizzly at scope distance and had a close encounter with a coyote that crossed the road. Further on we spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree watching the river and another coyote near Soda Butte. Snow was still on the ground in the Lamar which made grazing a bit harder for these pronghorn.


Since the skies were clear today, we wanted to finish what we started yesterday so we headed back towards Mammoth intent and heading down to the Hayden Valley. We made a quick stop at Hellroaring to find pika and we were in luck.


After lunch in Mammoth, we headed down towards Norris. We passed Norris and continued over the pass to Canyon. We tried to find the location of our slight detour from the day before but the snow had retreated a lot and everything looked different. We stopped at Canyon to take in the view from some of the overlooks. It was spectacular.

Canyon of the Yellowstone

Venturing on, the Hayden looked beautiful as it was still mostly covered in snow. At Mud Volcano we stopped to watch a coyote in the snow. We were hoping it would start mousing and we weren't disappointed.

Mousing Coyote

We continue down to fishing bridge and all the way to the Lake Overlook hoping to find grizzly but we only found a lone coyote, tons of elk, and more bison. Incidently, this is our 5th trip to the park in 3 years and we have never seen as many elk. There were everywhere. The bison and pronghorn also seemed to have good populations and that is good news for the park.

On the way back towards Canyon we decided to stop at Le Hardy Rapids hoping to find the elusive Harlequin Ducks that everyone but us seems to see here. The 2 ft of snow on the boardwalk made the footing tricky but we made our way down to the rapids and the slippery trip was well worth it.

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin in Flight

As the evening wore on, we found ourselves in Mammoth with a desire to stretch our legs a bit. We had spent a ton of hours in the car this trip and hadn't done much hiking. With the Upper Terrace road closed to traffic (for an extended period by the looks of it) we decided to hike it. While there weren't a whole lot of photo ops, I didn't manage to take this one of Canary Springs I believe.

Upper Terrace Vista - Mammoth

As the sun set, we headed back to Gardiner for dinner. Today was another great day in the park and yesterday's troubles were quickly a distant memory.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yellowstone - May 11 & 12, 2009

I am lumping two days into one report for reasons that will become apparent if you read on.

We were pretty tired so we slept in a bit and didn't leave Gardiner until 7AM. We spotted a bald eagle on the way to Mammoth near the Boiling River. Just before Blacktail Plateau Drive we had marmot sightings. They were on the side of the road. We pulled off to get some shots and one did cooperate long enough to get a couple photos:

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Not 1/4 mile later we had a red fox sighting. It was on the shoulder of the road and then trotted down to a meadow as we stopped. I only got a few shots in before it lept away spooked by additional cars. I didn't realize it until after looking at the picture, but the fox was loosing its winter coat tail first:

Red Fox

We were headed to Silvergate to pick up our rental scope so we cruised through the Lamar Valley. The weather was perfect and the valley was full of bison, elk and the occaision pronghorn. The conditions were so nice, I couldn't pass up this reflection shot:

Lamar Reflection

The only major sighting in the Lamar was a Coyote at the Footbridge parking lot that quickly ran away before I could get the camera out. We picked up our scope and headed to Barronette for a round of "Scope-a-goat". This would prove very challenging given the large amounts of snow on all the cliffs but we did manage to find 2 bighorn sheep high up on the cliffs across from Barronette. We stopped near Pebble Creek and finally saw 1 mountain goat from there. But, the light was perfect for landscapes and I couldn't pass this one up:

Pebble Creek

At the Yellowstone River bridge we had a black bear encounter. Ranger John was there and did a really good job balancing people with the bear. He correctly predicted that the bear would come up and cross the bridge. But, I managed one or two nice shots before it crossed and disappeared back down to the river:

Black Bear

Later, we spotted another black bear at Elk Creek and yet another near Roosevelt. We only had a glimpse of one last fall but had seen 6 in about a day so far this trip.

After lunch, we headed back out to the Lamar to look for wolves. We were in luck. Two black wolves were easily visible from Hitching Post. Only one was visible at first but after it howled for a while, the second showed up and then a bit later a third one showed up. The end of day light was really good and the animals seemed to cooperate nicely:

Female Pronghorn

ElK on Alert


But, the highlight of the day occurred around 8:30PM has we passed Blacktail Pond. A shape crossed the road ahead of us and stopped to look at us as we stopped to look at it. Even in the dying light, we could see it was a beautiful gray wolf and was our closest wolf encounter to date. After a few seconds, it moved on but I did get a couple keeper shots in the low light including this one (the D300 and VR lens saved this picture):

Gray Wolf at Dusk

Tuesday started out well enough. We wanted to head to the Hayden Valley so we were out early. The weather was overcast but didn't look too bad. We hit the Canyon area and the snow started to come down lightly. We didn't know how long it would last and didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the park if they closed the road from Canyon to Norris (which was closed last May during similar weather). So, we decided to head back to Norris. Bad idea. The snow just dumped and I am sure the temperature dropped a lot. Even though we were driving slowly, we lost traction coming down the first steep hill. A couple swerves later and we were in a snowbank and some small trees. No injuries at all but the 4Runner was stuck. It took 7 hours to extract the car, get it towed to Gardiner since it didn't look driveable, and have it serviced.

In retrospect, there are a few things we should have done differently including just waiting out the storm in Canyon. So, we will handle the same situation differently next time. The good news is that just after we climbed out of the car following the initial crash, a pine martin ran across the road, not once, but twice. Since the bills are $850 and climbing, that has turned out to be one expensive pine martin sighting.

The even better news is that the Tire Iron in Gardiner gave the car the OK to continue. Besides some body damage and a broken blinker, we were good to go. So, we were back out in the park at 4PM having lost 8 hours on our stupid adventure. We spotted a black bear at Phantom Lake and a lone black wolf past Hitching Post. But, what really salvaged this day was seeing the mother grizzly and two yearling cubs frolicking across the valley near Soda Butte. The yearlings were racing around the mother and playing with each other. It was very entertaining but the experience was cut short by yet more snow, so we made a long and cautious drive back home and called it a day.

No pictures worth posting for today.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Yellowstone - May 10, 2009

Today was day 2 of our 14 hour roadtrip. The first day of driving from Northern CA to Twin Falls Idaho is not very exciting. In fact, the only excitement we had was when we would pass a car with a license plate we didn't have yet. Thank goodness for the license plate kept us going.

But, the drive on day 2 is much nicer. We even saw some Marmots outside Twin Falls. After picking up sandwiches at Ernie's in W. Yellowstone, we entered the park.

The further towards Madison we got, the more things like cubicles, commutes, meetings, and deadlines disappeared from our minds. Both elk and bison were plentiful along the river to Madison. Just before Roaring Mountain we had our first jam. A Ranger was onsite so we guessed correctly that this was a bear jam. A grizzly was foraging in a meadow and we watched it for about 1/2 hour before moving on.

Right before Mammoth we stopped in the Hoodoos to look for pika. I did see one but it was too far away for a picture so I took a landscape instead:

Hoodoo Overlook

After checking in at the Absaroka and dumping our stuff, we headed out towards Tower. At Elk creek, we spotted our first black bear and at the lower meadow on the way to Tower, we spotted our second:

Black Bear

On to the Lamar Valley where we had many bison, elk and pronghorn. Among them was a grizzly nibbling grass in the middle of the valley. We continued on past Soda Butte and into Round Prairie where we saw our first moose of the trip:


As we headed back through the Lamar Valley again, we spotted two coyotes running together. At the Yellowstone picnic area, we had a really cool encounter with male bighorn sheep. We had seen some last May but not this close. And they were very cooperative for photos:

Bighorn Rams

Bighorn Ram

The sun was starting to go down now, so we headed back to Gardiner. As we went through Mammoth there was just enough light to see a black bear wandering on the hill behind the hotel.

Although, we only had a half day in the park, it was a good half day. The 14 hours of driving was well worth it already.