Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yellowstone - May 24 & 25, 2010

Another morning waking up to mid twenty degree temperatures at 6AM. At this point, we were actually looking forward to the summer heat back home. Once again, we were rewarded by moose at Warm Springs. This time, there were two:

We decided to make an early morning stop at Mt. Baronette in hopes of scoping some goats again. There was still quite a bit of snow on the cliff faces, but we did manage to spot six goats before the cold made us push on.

At Slough creek, we decided to stop to see of the wolves were out, but they weren't out around the den. However, we did have a good sized grizzly come trotting down the hill only a few hundred yards away from all the wolf watchers. I don't think many of them saw it, but once the grizzly saw them, it took off running in the opposite direction. I never get tired of seeing grizzlies run. They are amazingly fast.

There was a lone black bear at Tower, but the mother and cub weren't out. We also struck out once again at Hellroaring for our daily weasel stakeout. However, at Mammoth the owls were out once again and one of the owlets was testing its wings:

After lunch, we headed off to Petrified Tree to take a hike. Right after the turn out, we were rewarded with a nice encounter with a bull moose:

While looking at this bull moose, a cow moose and yearling were half hidden high up the hill. We got some decent looks at them, but since they were headed towards the hiking trail, we decided to quickly park and start the hike in hopes of a better look which we got:

The hike to Lost lake was short but nice. At the lake, I spotted some movement in the sage. It was a fox and it was moving quickly up the hill. Since this was the first fox sighting this trip, we decided to follow the fox up the ridge in hopes of getting a better look. The ridge was steeper than it looked though. We had to stop a couple times to catch our breath and by the time we reached the top, the fox was long gone. At least we had a fox sighting albeit a brief one.

After the hike, we headed to the Lamar Valley. On the way, we passed a running bison and calf right before the Yellowstone river bride. We crossed the bridge and got out hoping that they might follow us across. We were in luck, not only did they cross the bridge after only a brief hesitation but they ran across it:

Lucky for them they stayed under the speed limit the whole time:

Once in the Lamar Valley we stumbled across a couple photographers staking out an area where a badger had been seen an hour earlier. This was too good to pass up, so we joined the stakeout. Twice that afternoon we would stakeout this area but both times we came up empty and disappointed. As we headed home, we spotted a black bear in the Lamar Valley so at least we ended the day with a good spot.

The next day was our last in the park since we had a late afternoon flight back home. We got out of bed to good news and bad news. The good news was that it was a downright balmy 29 degrees out. The bad news was that there was two inches of snow on the ground and more coming down. After packing up and cleaning the snow off the car, we said our farewell to the cabin and left Silver Gate for the last time. Due to the road conditions (no plough yet) we drove extra slowly. No moose at Warm Springs today, but we did see one just after Thunderer.

The snow lessened by the time we reached the Lamar Valley and the temperature rose. Just passed the confluence, we saw a huge bird in a nearby tree. We stopped to inspect and it turned out to be a beautiful Golden Eagle. This was a first for us and a good last day spot. The eagle just wanted to sit and enjoy the day but a raven would have nothing of it and harassed the eagle until it just couldn't take it anymore:

Even the bison calves took notice of this:

We drove on towards Tower and spotted a black bear which just crossed the road behind us at Slough Creek and another on Specimen Ridge. There were also 5 bighorn at the Yellowstone Picnic Area. The mother and cub at Tower weren't out so we decided to head back towards the Lamar and stakeout the badger area again.

On the way, a group of photographers suddenly pulled off the road at the entrance to the Lamar Valley and yanked out all their big lenses. We pulled over and spotted an osprey, but that was a lot of fuss for an osprey. We scanned the area around the river bank thinking that maybe a bear was down there. Suddenly, I say movement in the water. Otters! Four river otters to be precise and they were swimming upstream against the strong current. This was another first for us in Yellowstone.

Since nobody was staking out the badger area, we continued up to Round Prairie for one last loop through the Lamar. At Soda Butte, some folks were out with scopes. But, due to the lack of parking we just drove past. A few hundred yards past them, something brown, furry, and low to the ground ran across the road. What the heck was that!?...it looked like the world's largest marmot but that can't be!? I hit the brakes and we looked right just in time to see a...BADGER! I left the car running in the middle of the road (which is perfectly legal for the first time you see a badger...right?) and shot out of the car for a few pictures. The badger quickly disappeared down a hole which gave me time to grab the tripod and Karen time to scoot into the drivers seat and move the car somewhat off the road. We didn't have much time because the badger popped out of the hole, looked our way a couple times and disappeared over the small ridge. Luckily, my camera was ready:

What a great last day! Our 3rd "first" of the day and the badger sighting pretty much made the whole trip for me.

Since time was running short now, we quickly left the park, returned the scope and grabbed some lunch. We decided to head towards the airport via the Old Yellowstone Road to see what might be out there. Along with the 100+ mule deer, we spotted our 4th "first" of the day. A pronghorn and baby were in a field next to the road and the baby must have less than a week old:

We had a lot of fun watching the baby start to run and wish we could have stayed longer.

Wow! What a day and what a great way to end the trip. Once again, Yellowstone and Grand Teton never fail to deliver. This was our 6th trip and was one of the best. Eventhough this wasn't a great trip for pictures, we took away lots of great memories, had 4 firsts for us, and met lots of great people. It will only be a matter of time before we are back.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yellowstone - May 23, 2010

It was a clear and a cold 25 degrees when we set out in the morning at 6:30AM. Our goal today was to try to get some good shots of the black bear and cub near Tower. But, we took our time getting there and were rewarded by spotting a black bear on Specimen Ridge and the usual assortment of bison, elk, and pronghorn that fill the Lamar Valley each day.

We got to Tower and were greeted by lots of people with lots of big lenses. Despite my obvious lens inadequecies and the lack of close parking spots, we decided to park at Tower and walk "a half mile" back to see what all the fuss was about.

We were glad we did since both bears were only about 50 yards off the road sleeping:

While we waited for them to wake up we chatted with the many familiar faces of folks that we had met in the park multiple times before. After about an hour and a half of waiting, the bears showed signs of waking so the chatting stopped and the picture taking began. Despite the low light and lack of a tripod, I managed to get a few decent shots:

Next, we headed off to Hellroaring since we heard a weasel had been spotted there. We staked out the mountain of rocks at Hellroaring hoping to spot the weasel but we didn't have any luck. However, the pika were out and about and they are always fun to listen to and watch:

We hit up Mammoth again for lunch (how many western chicken sandwiches can I eat on one trip?....a lot!). After lunch, we decided to burn off some calories by finally hiking the Hoodoo Trail. We had tried to hike this trail twice before during previous trips. The first time we turned around after less than 1/2 mile due to the wonderful sounds of wolves howling across Swan Lake Flats and the second time we turned around because there was too much snow. This time, we made the whole hike and were rewarded with some nice views and a few critters:

As we were coming down from the top of the Hoodoos Trail, we spotted a jam of people on Swan Lake Flats. We sped up the pace a bit once a couple hikers we passed said that the jam was caused by a fox. But, by the time we got into the car and up the road, both the fox and jam of people were gone.

Next stop was once again Hellroaring to see if we could find the weasel. On the way, the grizzly sow and 4 cubs near Mammoth were out, but we didn't stop due to the MASS of people everywhere. We did see two of the bears from the car. At Hellroaring, there was no weasel again this time, but we did have a few minutes with a Mountain Bluebird at its nest:

And some Shooting Stars:

Dunraven Pass was once again open, so we headed up to see what might be out in the snow. Thanks to some friendly folks at a turnout, we were able to scope a really nice looking blond grizzly high up on a ridge. On the way back to Silver Gate we spotted a black bear with two small cubs across the Lamar Valley. One of the cubs was cinnamon colored and we had great fun watching them chase each other and get up on their hind legs for some play boxing. This was a great way to end the day for us.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yellowstone - May 21 & 22, 2010

After a great night's sleep in our absolutely quiet cabin in Silver Gate, we were up and out at 6AM as usual. We were greeted by more COLD; 27 degrees accordingly to our rental car. Since neither the roads nor the car were icy, we set out right away to look for wildlife. We didn't have to wait long as we spied a really good looking moose at Warm Springs just inside the NE entrance:

As we drove down into the Lamar Valley, the temperature dropped to 20 degrees. This was by far the coldest morning of the trip. But, thankfully, the skies were clear so we didn't have to worry about any bad weather for now. At the confluence, we looked for the cow and juvenile moose that we saw the day before. The youngster was out but mom was nowhere to be seen.

Once again, the bison herds were everywhere which was good to see. There seemed to be more calves than in past years and they weren't camera shy at all:

Since today was the day that Dunraven pass was set to open, we headed in that direction right away. Before we got to Tower there was a small "jam" that we assumed was for the bighorn sheep that frequent the area. But, after a quick inquiry, we learned that a black bear and cub were in the area. They were too far away for decent pictures, but the little guy sure was cute. We knew we needed to check in regularly to see if they moved any closer to the road.

While Dunraven pass was really pretty and still covered in deep snow, we didn't see any critters on the pass. So, we looped around and headed to Mammoth for an early lunch. But, before lunch we stopped to check out the Great-horned owl nest in the area and were lucky enough to see one of the three owlets next to momma:

The afternoon was spent touring the northern end of the park where we spotted a small group of bull elk. This fall, their antlers will be really impressive:

We also stopped at Slough Creek and were able to spot one black wolf near the den site using our scope. Apparently, the wolves and pups come out pretty regularly in the early AM so we made a mental note to come back tomorrow.

At Calcite Springs, we heard about a bighorn that had just given birth so we stopped to take a look. They were a long way off across the canyon but still visible:

After a nice hike at Trout Lake which revealed nothing but some water fowl, we made one last pass through the Lamar and spotted a mother grizzly and cub across the valley. Once again, our rented scope came in handy as we watched them for a while before returning home and calling it a night.

The next day was warmer (31 degrees at 6AM), but that was due to cloud cover which brought snow. We woke up to less then an inch but decided to sleep in a bit anyway. Once we were up, I spotted two moose right behind the cabin. But, they moved off quickly before Karen could even pop out of bed to take a look. We spotted another one at Warm Springs on our way into the park.

In the Lamar Valley near Soda Butte, there was only a little snow on the ground and one "road hogging" bison:

We reached the Hitching Post turnout to hear that we just missed a black wolf that was running through the valley. We stopped to scan for a while but no luck. So, we headed to Slough Creek to look for more wolves. Here, we were in luck. The pups were out of the den and some adult wolves were with them as well. Using the scope, we were able to watch 3 pups and 2 adults for a while. This was only our second time being able to see wolf pups and it was great to see.

After standing in the cold and wind for a while, we decided to warm up in the car and head to Tower to see if the black bear and cub were out. Since there was a medium sized group of people at the overlook near Tower, we concluded that they bears were indeed out. They were still pretty far away but we got some nice looks at them through the scope. And, we weren't the only ones watching the bears. A very friendly bighorn was nibbling grass nearby and posing for closeups:

After a while with the bears, we decided to head towards Mammoth since the snow had closed Dunraven again. On the way, we saw another black bear at Rainy Lake, a coyote at Tower Junction, a moose at Elk Creek, and another black bear near Floating Island lake. But, all were too far away for good pictures.

At Mammoth, we stopped to check in on the owls but the owlets weren't being very cooperative. However, this little Mountain Cottontail was:

After lunch, we decided to head towards Norris to look for the grizzly bears that had been spotted along that stretch of the road. A quick bio break at Sheepeaters rewarded us with some nice marmot encounters but we struck out with any grizzly sightings:

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful for photography, but we did spot a coyote in Little America, a grizzly sow and cub of the year on specimen ridge, and had a quick fly by and scream of a peregrin falcon at Calcite Springs. Thankfully, the weather was pretty good today but the forecast was grim for the next few days. We capped off the day with a nice dinner out at the Login Cabin Cafe in Silver Gate (a nice break from the soup and bread we typically have for dinner in the park). Apparently, a black bear just crossed the road right after we entered the cafe. We never think to worry about bears in Silver Gate but that goes to show you that you must always be alert.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grand Teton & Yellowstone - May 20, 2010

Our last morning in Grand Teton started out COLD. 26 degrees to be precise when we headed out at about 5:45AM. There was a little cloud cover and some morning mist which made for some great pictures with the tetons as the back drop. Here's a panorama shot of Jackson Lake and the tetons:

Here's one at Oxbow Bend at sunrise:

We spotted a couple coyotes at the Cunningham Cabin where the view from outside was spectacular:

The view from inside was nice as well:

We stopped at the Snake River Overlook and the pro photographer taking pictures via a camera hung from a helium baloon couldn't distract us from this view:

At Schwabachers Landing the beavers had built a couple impressive dams and a huge lodge:

We spotted a couple moose at Blacktail Ponds Overlook. But, once again the view was hard to ignore:

We saw another coyote at Antelope Flats along with a Bald Eagle and this moose near Dornan's:

After breakfast, we made a quick loop up to Oxbow Bend where we spotted a bald eagle, and stopped to talk to a photographer standing in the rain. A grizzly had taken down an elk calf on the hill and he was waiting to see what happened. Since the bear wasn't visible and the rain was coming down pretty good, we decided to push on and head back to Yellowstone.

The trip up to Yellowstone was uneventful until we came down past the hoodoos outside of Mammoth. In the meadow down below I spotted a running grizzly and lots of cubs. We pulled off at the next pullout and ended up seeing the grizzly sow and 4 cubs that had been spotted in the area. They were a long way off, but it was still very special to see this rare sighting. Hopefully, all the cubs will make it. If so, that is one good grizzly mom. (Over the course of the next few days, the bears hung out in that area and created a monster mass of onlookers that was just about the biggest we have seen in Yellowstone.) Just before Mammoth, there was a black bear napping in the woods. It attracted quite a crowd as well so we didn't stop.

Next, we stopped at the Hellroaring parking lot to look for pika but a black bear pretty much got all our attention:

We pressed on through the Lamar Valley where bison and calves were everywhere:

We saw two more moose at the confluence. It was a cow moose and a juvenile that we would see in that area again. Just past Icebox canyon we spotted yet another moose. This was a bull moose who was starting to re-grow his antlers:

Before reaching our cabin in Silver Gate, we stopped to scope some Mountain Goats at Mt. Baronette. We only saw two but I am sure there were more. It's tough to see off-white dots on a cliff face covered in patches of white snow. It was late when we arrived at the cabin so we just called it a day. As we were eating dinner, we got a call from the cabin's owner who was next door, stating that their were 2 moose in front of the cabin. It was a great day considering we saw 8 moose and 7 bears let alone the great morning views and the usual wildlife suspects. Ho hum, another perfect day in Yellowstone and Grand Teton.