Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Yellowstone Day 5 - May 2016

After yesterday's great day, we easily woke up early today hoping for more of the same.  Once again, with the sun at our backs, the Lamar Valley provided some great scenery:

Soda Butte Creek

Winding Through the Lamar

We stopped at Slough Creek to check out the wolf den and were able to see only one adult hanging around.

At Little America we had some close elk:
Rocky Mountain Elk

We passed the carcass and noticed a Black Bear was still hanging around.  Not sure if it was the same one taking great advantage of this easy meal or not.

Just before the Yellowstone River bridge, we stopped at the Wrecker pullout to scan for anything.  This was a good choice since we could see down to the bridge from here and noticed our paths would have been blocked for a bit:
Why Did the Bison Cross the Bridge?

At Tower Junction there was a back lit Coyote scanning for food:
Backlit Coyote

After seeing the Fox and small group of pro photogs at Petrified Tree yesterday, we headed back there again skipping the chance to see Bears at Tower.  Low and behold, the group of photographers was there again.  We were now positive that they were waiting for something besides Mountain Bluebirds.  So, we stopped in the pullout, set up my gear and waited with them.  During the course of this wait we struck up a conversation with the photographers and learned that they in fact were shooting Mountain Bluebirds.  They felt that the light here was great and so were the perches.  Turns out they can make more money selling Bluebird photos then bear and other large mega fauna that garner much more attention.  Oops...we sure were wrong in our suspicions.

They then proceeded to talk about the fox in the area and how it has a hunting pattern it likes to follow.  So, we waited a while for the fox and sure enough it showed up soon after and proceeded to take the exact route that the photographers had said it would.  This turned out to be a great fox experience and we owe it all to these folks.

Hunting Fox:
Hunting Red Fox

What a blond looking Red Fox:
Red Fox

Red Fox Listening

After watching the Fox until it disappeared over a nearby hill, another bystander pointed out a Black Bear and two COY (Cubs of the Year) way up on a ridge.  That sure was a productive stop.  Plus, it allowed us to complete a "Three Dog Day".

Next, we headed to Hellroaring to continue our search for Pika and this time we had much better luck with them and other critters.

Yellow-bellied Marmot:
Yellow-bellied Marmot

American Pika (AKA"The Cute One"):
American Pika

We ended up seeing 3 Pika and listening to their very cool calls.

We wanted to grab sandwiches in Cooke City for lunch again today so we headed back in that direction in time to see both a Coyote and Black Bear around Roosevelt.  We did take a quick detour up to Tower and ran into a major bear jam.  A Black Bear with two COY was out and we were arriving seemingly after everyone else in the park.  So, after being spoiled with bears lately, we decided to forego this experience and continue on our way.

After eating some more tasty Buns and Beds sandwiches we decided to head East up the Beartooth Hwy.  During the drive, we enjoyed some nice scenery and had a Black Bear all to ourselves as it crossed the road and ventured down the hill:
Beartooth Highway Black Bear

Once we were back in the park we played "scope-a-goat" at Mt Barronette again yielding 7 Mountain Goats. That might be our biggest haul ever here.

After pretty much just sitting or standing for the previous 4 days, we decided that we needed to hike a bit.  So, we got out at Pebble Creek and walked up that trail for a while.  Not only did we burn a few calories (very few since we turned around after 1/2 hour) but we also saw a few critters.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk:
Yellow-pine Chipmunk

Red Squirrel:
Red Squirrel

Back at Tower, we saw two separate Black Bears out but no cubs could be seen so we moved on to Petrified Tree looking for the Fox again (Yes, we were bear spoiled this trip).  We did manage to see a Fox a long way off but we couldn't be sure if it was the same one or not.  It was too far for pictures but I did manage to get a shot of wildlife that this pullout is now infamous for...

Mountain Bluebird Pair

Karen also made a great Moose sighting far up on the ridge that was just another tree trunk to the naked eye.  That continued our streak of seeing at least one Moose everyday.

We made a quick stop at Hellroaring and saw one Pika near the parking lot.  Then we headed back towards home.  We had a decent Coyote sighting just before Slough Creek and we thought that would be it for the day as we drove along towards the end of the Lamar Valley.  Suddenly Karen said "Wolf!...Black Wolf!".  So, we pulled into the Hitching Post parking lot to take a look.  Sure, enough there was a black wolf hanging out in the dying sunlight.  We watched as it started to howl.  Its howl was answered by a Gray Wolf that soon joined it:

Lamar Canyon Pack Wolves

Watching and hearing wolves howl is a awesome experience and at the moment we were the only two people enjoying this.  A car pulled up behind us and it turned out to be a member of the wolf team.  He proceeded to identify the wolves as 2 of the 4 remaining Lamar Canyon pack.  Specifically, the black was 993 and the gray was 965.  Unfortunately, they both have mange and the other two females likely do as well. It doesn't look good for the future of this pack.  It was apparently common for these males to hang out in this spot across the road from the den site too scared to cross during daylight.  So, they howl for the females.  At this point we were joined by two more wolf enthusiasts and the wolf team member left.  So, it was just the 4 of us enjoying the howling.

But, instead of attracting the females, the howls brought in something else...a Grizzly. It came down the far ridge  and headed straight for the wolves. It probably thought they were howling due to being on a kill.  As the Grizzly approached the wolves, we didn't know what would happen.  But, the wolves didn't seem bothered at all and let the Grizzly get to only a few feet away.  After sniffing around and realizing that there was no carcass, the Grizzly moved on and crossed the river.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Crossing 1

Grizzly Crossing 2

Grizzly Crossing 3

Even the power of the Grizzly bowed to the force of the water as it was swept about 10 yards down stream before making land and giving a huge shake to dry off:
Grizzly Shake

What a great end to a fantastic experience with the wolves and Grizzly.  While photos didn't do it justice, our two companions did take video through their scope which you can see from their Facebook post:

Another great day in Yellowstone and the last sighting of the day allowed us to actually accomplish the rare "Three Dog Night"....But, alas we didn't see any Bullfrogs named Jeremiah.

Critter Log:
- 10+ Black Bear
- 7 Mountain Goats
- 4 Pika
- 3 Wolves
- 2 Coyote
- 1 Grizzly
- 1 Moose
- 1+ Fox (not sure if we saw the same one twice or not)

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