Thursday, June 6, 2013

Yellowstone - Day 5

We were up at 5AM and out by 6:30AM again today but it was 20 degrees colder than yesterday because the skies were clear.  We had no moose at all this morning on the way into the Lamar Valley so our first stop was at the upper pullout to scope the coyote den.  There were 3 adults out but only 1 pup.  The coyotes were calling to each other by yelping and howling which was fun to hear. Next we pressed on to Slough Creek where throngs of people were out with scopes.  There was a kill high up on the mountain and two bears hanging around; a Black Bear and a Grizzly.  It turns out that we had just missed the Grizzly Bear chasing the Black Bear off the kill.  Oh well.  Even with the scope, the carcass was really far away and the Grizzly was not much more than a brown blob so we didn’t stick around too long.

In Little America we ran into our buddy Max who was leading a week long photo workshop.  Check out for great photos and workshops.

At Hellroaring we struck out with Pikas again despite the sun being out today.  We did find some Yellow-pine Chipmunks that were happy to pose for pictures.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk

I was determined to get some Pika shots and video today so we decided to head to Sheepeaters.  We got all the way past Mammoth to Sheepeaters without seeing anything of note.  To top it off, there were no Pikas at Sheepeaters either although there were Marmots and various Squirrels.

We met a guy there who claimed to have been guiding people in the area for 40 years.  He mentioned that he witnessed some Pine Martens hunting and catching Pika there about a 1 ½ years ago and that he hadn’t seen any Pika since.  That was a disappointing thing to hear and was likely true because everyone we talked with during the week had no luck with Pikas at either Hellroaring or Sheepeaters.

Begging Magpie at Mammoth. "No, I am not giving you any food!":
Black-billed Magpie

After a hot lunch at the Grill in Mammoth (Hmmmm Western Chicken Sandwich…yum!), we headed back toward the Lamar Valley.  On the way, we had a coyote on the road near Lava Creek but nothing else the whole way.  After sitting on our butts all day, we decided to hike up to Trout Lake to look for Otters.  We knew the afternoon wasn’t the best time for this but we needed an excuse to get some exercise.  As expected, there was really no wildlife at all out at the lake or at the nearby Buck lake.  The only excitement at all was Karen slipping and falling hard on her butt.  But even that was short lived as she sprung back up quickly and “walked it off”…

Trout Lake:
Trout Lake

We had gotten a tip about a Great Gray owl being seen in the woods near the NE entrance.  So with little to go on we decided to bushwack it into the back country a bit hoping that the bird would call and give away its hiding position. After crossing bogs, walking up hills and down hills, and vaulting more downed trees than we could count we struck out with the owl.  We did see our first ever White-winged Crossbill so that was cool.

Next we took about a 1 hour drive up the Beartooth highway (our first time ever).  Boy, it is a very pretty drive.  We decided that we needed to spend more time on this drive and reserved a future day for this.  We went to the Log Cabin Café in Silver Gate for an early dinner which had been good in the past.  It was good again and we recommended it for dinner. Try the trout and moose tracks ice cream (served separately of course).

Back on the road we saw a lone coyote at what had been described as a 2nd den site in the Lamar Valley.  It sure did look like there was a hole by where the coyote was but we looked here every time we passed for the rest of the trip and never saw another coyote so who knows if it was really another den site or not.  At the YPA we learned we had just missed a badger dart down into the fox den.  We waited for a while but it never came back out.

On the way back towards Silver Gate we stopped to check out a couple of Pronghorn that were lying down in Little America just in case there was a baby with them.  As we were watching them bask in the glow of the setting sun, we heard a wolf howl close by.  No matter how many times we hear it, it’s hard to beat the wonderful sound of a wolf howl.  So, we hung out a bit longer just in case the howling continued.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted movement parallel to the road and moving towards us.  It was a Gray Wolf and it was coming closer.  For 10 minutes we were able to watch the wolf ambling slowly along about 50 yards away without anyone else around us.  It was truly magical. 

Gray Wolf:
Gray Wolf

In some interesting animal behavior, the Pronghorn we were watching initially got up and bolted away when the wolf made an appearance.  But then they came back and headed right towards the wolf in full alarm mode which for Pronghorn means flared butt hair! (I am sure there is a scientific name for this but it probably wouldn’t be as funny).  Then some nearby bison also got in alarm mode and headed towards the wolf.  The wolf ignored them all and continued walking slowly until it went up over a small hill and out of sight.

Alarmed Pronghorn and Bison:
Bison and Pronghorn Alert to Wolf's Presence

What an awesome experience!

It was getting dark now so we headed home rather quickly but the day had one more encounter in store for us.  At Warm Creek we saw eye shine along the road. As we got closer we realized it was a Red Fox but it was on the other side of the car from me so I couldn’t attempt a low light picture.  We passed the fox, made a quick U-turn and headed back down the road.  Just as we got up to the fox again it crossed the road…damn no photo op!  OK,  we will just pass the fox again, make a quick U-turn and try again.  So, that is what we did.  But the fox must have anticipated this because the darn thing crossed the road a third time right as we were approaching it.  Due to some cars approaching from behind and not wanted to torment the fox like it was tormenting me we gave up and headed home.

Another great day!

Daily Highlights:
  • 6 coyotes (1 pup)
  • 1 Grizzly
  • 1 Black Bear
  • 1 Wolf
  • 1 Red Fox

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