Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Yellowstone Day 6 - May 2016

Other than Day 4, the weather was more miss than hit this trip and today was no exception. It was cold, gray and rainy most of the day. But, that didn't stop us from hitting the roads early and didn't stop the wildlife from going about their lives.

As a matter of fact, we didn't have to wait long for our first Bear sighting.  We had just entered the NE entrance and were cruising along toward the Lamar Valley when we spotted a bear in the road up ahead.  We both thought it was "just" a Black Bear (boy, were we spoiled this week).  Before we could get close, the bear walked off the road and into the trees. As we got to the spot it disappeared, we looked into the trees only to see a good sized Grizzly looking right back at us.  It was maybe 20 feet from us and it was looking directly at us.  It was quite a humbling experience to look into the eyes of a Grizzly.  Such beauty mixed with such power.

Unfortunately, I had failed to remove my polarizing filter from my "ready" camera and between that and the low lighting conditions the pictures of the moment aren't clear.  But, the memories are outstanding:

Early Morning Grizzly

If you find yourself 20 feet from a Grizzly, I hope you too are in a car.

In the Lamar Valley, the Bison were out in full force.  Sometimes, its tough to get a decent picture of multiple Bison even though they are everywhere, but I like this one because it shows many generations of Bison:
Bison Generations

There was another Great Horned Owl nest that we stopped by today.  This one was built into a small niche in some cliffs near the western entrance to the Lamar Valley.  It was a bit far for pictures. But, we saw all three chicks clearly on multiple stops during the week. We never did see an adult though.

After moving through the Lamar we finally saw an adult Osprey at the nest.  So, we stopped to take a look:
Osprey and Chick

We passed Elk Creek and noticed that the cinnamon Black Bear was once again lazily eating grass in the area but it was a bit far for pictures and the jam was well formed by now.  So, we passed it by and headed to Hellroaring to look for one of our favorite little critters...the American Pika.

As we neared the rock pile where was saw Pika previously, we could hear at least one calling but none were visible. So, I took that opportunity to answer nature's call.  When I got back I asked Karen (who was on guard duty) if there was any action.  "Nope"...she said.  I took one look at the rock pile and exclaimed "Weasel!"... (Guess who got "the look" at that point).

After more fruitless efforts to see a Long-tailed Weasel at Point Reyes than we care to count, here was one right in front of us and we enjoyed the whole experience all by ourselves.

Now, for those that don't know, a Long-tailed Weasel is quick...very quick.  This Weasel was in hunting mode.  So, he was really moving.  As the Weasel darted from rock to rock, the Pika alarm calls rang out.  There turned out to be more Pika in the rocks than we thought.  The Weasel would dart into one hole in the rocks and out another.  So, following his movements proved to be very tough.

Initially, the best shots I could get were of a light brown blur:
Long-tailed Weasel Hunting

Long-tailed Weasel AKA

But, once in a while, the Weasel would stop and take inventory of his surroundings.  It was during these all too brief pauses that I was able to get a few decent photos:
Long-tailed Weasel Pause


You might notice that I referred to the Weasel as "He".  There were two very obvious reasons for this...
It's a Boy!

It was so much fun to watch him.  His boundless energy was amazing...

Ready to Pounce:
Get Ready to Pounce


With one last great look, the Weasel shot into a gap in the rocks and never came back out...

Hmmm...not over there.

While most of this was going on, I had one oblivious Pika hanging out about 10 feet from me just grazing away on the nearby grass:
The Pika Was Victorious

American Pika

As far as we could tell, all the Pika made it safely through today's hunt. But, with such a nimble predator, it might only be a matter of time.

The afternoon was much tamer than the morning.  This was partly due to thunderstorms that let loose with heavy rain.  During a brief dry spell, we did manage to see one of the few male Elk of the trip:
Elk with Velvet Antlers

There was an adult Black Bear in a tree near Hellroaring as we passed through again and the Cinnamon Black Bear was busy (or not so busy) eating grass at Elk Creek still.

An American Robin posed nicely for us at one point as well:
American Robin

As we headed out the NE entrance for an early dinner back at the cabin, a Moose pair was hanging out nibbling on what they could find near the creek:
Moose Pair

After dinner, we headed back into the park.  We scoped two Mountain Goats at Mt. Barronette and then spotted a lone moose at Lower Barronette as we continued into the Lamar Valley.  The Bison viewing was really good as we found them in the middle of their evening mini migration out of the valley, across the road, and into the hills:

Bison Nursing

Red Doggy

Stop Pushing Mom!
Bison with Calf

As we got to the highest pullout in the Lamar, we stopped to scan the area from this great vantage point.  Looking back the way we came we could still see the Bison crossing the road:
Lamar Valley

We continued on towards Slough Creek and stopped to check out the 3 owlets who were still visible in their cliff nest.  At the wolf den we scoped 3 pups just outside the den and managed to spot a Grizzly not too far from the wolf den but it was moving away from it.  We also spotted a Beaver right before it slipped into Slough Creek.

On our way back through the Lamar, we saw some stopped cars and followed their binoculars to....

A black wolf (part of the Mollies pack):
Black Wolf

The wolf was just trotting along when it stopped to check something out. Turns out it was sniffing around what remained of a recent Bison carcass.  It almost seemed like it was playing with the bones at one point.  Even though it was quite dark by now, I managed to get a photo to remember the scene:

Black Wolf Inspecting Old Bones

All of a sudden, a Bison came over to the wolf and charged it.  I don't think it liked the wolf hanging around the carcass.  This was yet another example that maybe Bison are a bit more intelligent than we give them credit for.  For the next half an hour, we watched the Bison chase the wolf around.  The wolf seemed to think it was a game and would run in a circle around the Bison and back to the bones.  It was a ton of fun to watch this behavior.  The first Bison was eventually joined by a couple more but they couldn't stop the wolf from playing the "circle game".  Here's a video that shows a bit of this behavior.  We ended up watching this until it was too dark to see.

What a great day it was.  It started with a Long-tailed Weasel and ended with more great late evening wolf behavior.

Today's critter count:
- 5+ Pika
- 4 Wolves
- 4 Black Bear
- 3 Moose
- 3 Owls
- 2 Grizzly Bear
- 2 Mountain Goats
- 1 Beaver
- 1 very cool Long-tailed Weasel

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