Sunday, June 2, 2013

Yellowstone - Day 8

Today was our last full day and we had a lot of things planned.  We wanted to head up the Beartooth highway in morning light to get some better pictures and we wanted to maximize our time trying to find fox kits.  With the latter goal in mind, we had used some of our local contacts to hire a guide.  The guide knew of a different fox den and a likely place for a Great Gray owl.  Today could be a great day!

We were out a bit later at 7AM today because we wanted to stakeout the fox den site from last night for a while and we heard that the kits weren’t active first thing in the morning.  We hung out until 8AM until one of the photographers from the night before stopped by for a chat.  As it turns out, the kits were spotted at 6:30AM so we “just missed” them again.  After waiting a bit longer we decided to head up the Beartooth.  Driving East a little bit later in the morning turned out to be a good thing since the sun had risen enough so that it wasn’t blinding us as we drove.  Besides checking out some new territory, the Beartooth was our last hope of finding Pikas.  The only people that had seen any Pikas had seen them along the Beartooth and we had a general idea of where to look.  The drive along the Beartooth was spectacular.

Beartooth Highway View

Beartooth Lake

Beartooth Wildlife

We did see some wildlife along the way including multiple Yellow-bellied Marmots:

Yellow-bellied Marmot

We stopped at all the pullouts that were near good Pika habitat.   I got out at each of them and scanned for movement as long as I could (it was cold AND windy) but we saw nothing.  Finally, Karen got a glimpse of one but it disappeared before I could see it.  By this point, we had run out of good Pika Habitat so we continued up the Beartooth admiring the scenery.

We turned around before Red Lodge because we had Fox Kits to find.  On the way back down, we repeated the process of stopping at all the turnouts and scanning for movement until my fingers turned numb (Did I mention that it was cold?).  Finally, this process paid off.  I spied a Pika down on the rocks and beckoned Karen out of the warm car (only MY fingers were the ones getting numb). The Pika darted from rock to rock but was too far away for decent pictures and the wind prevented us from hearing it’s cool “Eeeeeeee” call.  Our Pika mission was finally accomplished although I had hoped for a closer experience.

After enjoying more sandwiches at Buns and Beds in Cooke City, we staked out the fox den for a while but no kits made an appearance.  We then headed into the park for a few hours.  As luck would have it, “Hot Ranger” was manning the entrance booth as we entered the NE gate which was obviously a good omen.  In the Lamar Valley, one coyote pup was hanging around the entrance to the den.  We saw a Black Bear at the Yellowstone River Bridge and another at Elk Creek.  The second might have had a cub but we didn’t see it.  

Black Bear Eating

On the way back to Silver Gate we stopped in to check out the Golden Eagle nest at Slough Creek.  Both parents were around and we got a good look at the chick as well.  We also saw two coyote pups out and about around the den site in the Lamar Valley.

We met our guide at around 5PM.  The plan was to look for a Great Gray owl that was making appearances at this time of day along the Beartooth.  So, off we went.  The light along the Beartooth was great but the owl didn’t make an appearance.  On the way back to Cooke City, we did happen across a nice Red Fox

Red Fox

It was still light enough for us to go check out another fox den site that the guide knew about and we are so glad that we did.  Not only did we see all three kits for a while, one of them entertained us for at least an hour.  We watched this kit as it played with bark, practiced pouncing and digging and even saw it catch some bugs and a worm.  The latter was especially nice to see given that these foxes were orphans.  Their mother had recently been killed by a car and the father had long ago left the den site. 

Red Fox Kit

Red Fox Kit Posing

Red Fox Kit Checking Me Out

These darling little kits will need to grow up very fast if they want to survive.  We were so excited to get great looks at our first fox kits but heartbroken at the same time knowing that these kits faced long odds at survival.  For now the neighbors are helping to feed them and we hope that is enough.

After a great experience like that we celebrated by having dinner with our guide and his girlfriend at the Log Cabin Café where we made plans to meet up tomorrow early to continue our search for a Great Gray owl.

Today’s highlights:
  • 4 Red Fox (3 Kits)
  • 3 Golden Eagles (1 chick)
  • 2 Black Bears
  • 2 Coyotes (2 pups)
  • 2 Pika

No comments: