Thursday, May 19, 2016

Yellowstone Day 4 - May 2016

The weather forecast for today looked great. In fact, this turned out to be the best weather day of the trip.  So, we took advantage of it by getting out pretty early.  Of course, our plan to hit the Lamar Valley early was quickly thwarted by our first Bison jam of the trip:

Bison Jam

Once these lumbering beasts hit the road, they have an uncanny ability to slow down even more.  And, I swear that they know exactly what they are doing because many times they will look at you sitting in your car and just stop right in the middle of road.  There's no grass there...why are they stopping?  Just to F&$@ with us, that's why.

One of the great benefits of staying in Silver Gate is that not only can you reach the Lamar Valley very quickly, but you also have the sun at your back making the awesome expanse of the valley look even better:

Soda Butte Bison

Early Morning Bison

Yup, the Bison were out in numbers and that included lots of little red doggies:
Red Dog

We stopped at Petrified Tree just in time to see a Red Fox on a distant hill, but it disappeared before we got a chance to take any decent photos.  There were also 3 photographers at the pullout with huge lenses and we noticed them the day before but didn't think much about this. But, two days in a row seemed to be too much of a coincidence. Thinking that they must be staking out something (a Fox den?) I asked one of them what they were waiting for.  His not so friendly response was that they were shooting Mountain Bluebirds.  Say what?  All that hardware two days in a row for Mountain Bluebirds?  We were suspicious and were sure that there was something better in the area that they just didn't want to become public knowledge.  So, we made a mental note to check in here as often as possible.

We continued on to Mammoth and stopped to check out the annual Great Horned Owl nest.  The nest itself is huge and it's hard to tell where it stops and the tree begins.  We were lucky enough to spot a couple owlets and an adult:

Great Horned Owl and Chick

Working our way around to the West side of Yellowstone, we made the requisite stop at Sheepeaters to look for Pika but once again came up empty there.  We did spot another Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel:
Goldern Mantled Ground Squirrel

Even though the Hayden Valley has never really provided any good wildlife sightings for us over the years, we headed that way just in case our luck would change.  It didn't.  Besides scoping a Grizzly that was a long ways away, Hayden Valley was pretty empty.

At Le Hardy rapids, there were only two Harlequin Ducks and both were pretty far away so there are no good pictures to show.  We did see our first American Dipper there though...

We continued on to Lake and once again saw absolutely nothing.  So, after a pretty tame morning we headed back North not knowing that our luck was about to change in a big way.

On the way back towards Mammoth, we decided to join the group of folks at Twin Lakes waiting for the Grizzly sow and two cubs to show up. A boar Grizzly had killed the 3rd cub recently and the sow was consciously staying near the road and people to try to thwart the boar in the future.  Apparently, they were out earlier and the consensus was that they were lounging a few hundred yards away in the trees.  So, we waiting about an hour and a half and chatted with all the only nice folks doing the same.  All of sudden a lady said "I just saw the cubs".  So just like that, all conversations ended abruptly, tripods were grabbed and people started claiming their viewing points.

I guessed right that they would come out into one of the more grassy areas so I was in good position to enjoy them for almost an hour.  I ended up taking 100's of pictures but will only share a few:

Grizzly with Cubs

Grazing Grizzly

The sow was collared which detracted from the photos a bit, but the play of the cubs certainly made up for it:

At one point, one of the cubs came up to its mom, stood on its hind legs and seem to give her a little kiss...
Grizzly with Cubs

A Kiss

Of course, the cubs were great fun to watch but mama was pretty impressive herself:
Mama Grizzly

Grizzly Bear

Look at those claws:
Look at Those Claws

And, here is a final shot of the cubs to wrap up one of our best bear experiences ever:
Look Who's Taller

As you can imagine, during all of that the area had become a zoo of people.  The ranger did a great job backing people up in stages as the bears got closer to the road but eventually the crowds just got too much for us. Why people think they need to run in front of a line of photographers to take pictures with their cell phones is beyond me.  If it wasn't for all of my 6' 4" frame and maxed out tripod height I wouldn't have been able to get many of the above pictures.  Anyway, after one too many over excited tourists, we made our escape very efficiently as more buses joined the fray.  

But, the bear and cub experiences didn't end there.  Back at Petrified Tree, a Black Bear and yearling were resting at the tree line and then decided it was time to get up and forage from some chow:
Resting Black Bears

Mama and Yearling

At Tower, yet another Black Bear with cubs was out:
Mama Black Bear

Mama and Cubs

As the day's light ended, we head back towards Silver Gate.  There was still a Black Bear on the carcass that we watched yesterday. We also spotted a couple Coyotes in the Lamar and another in Round Prairie.  To top it off, the Moose and yearling were out between Silver Gate and Cooke City again.

And so ended a day that started out weak but finished really strong. We haven't had too many 10+ bear days in Yellowstone and with half of those being cubs we think this was one of our best days ever in the Park.

Today's main sightings:
- 6 Black Bears
- 4 Grizzly Bears
- 3 Great Horned Owls
- 3 Coyotes
- 2 Moose

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