Spring In Yellowstone

While computer problems continue to plague my efforts to share with you all the fun adventures I've been enjoying in my 'off' season, I WILL plog ahead. And, although it has been a bit since my visit to Yellowstone, the scene hasn't changed much. Sure, there are more Bison babies on the ground - some dead, some still born (particularly, I believe, in the Madison herd), and the snow is starting to abate, but things are improving very very slowly this spring.

As a result we have actually seen more animals OUTSIDE of the Park this spring than inside - but that is for the next post. Today we'll focus on what we did see in the Park on a cool, mostly sunny day in April.

Snow remained front and center this spring in Yellowstone. Of course that came as no surprise as it has been the main feature everywhere around the Park as well. As a result, however, animals sightings were down. Nonetheless, we managed to catch a few things out and about. In fact, for fun, we had the kids keep track of what we saw. Thus I can report (with at least some degree of accuracy) our six hour trek revealed:

1 Bald Eagle

1 Black-Capped Chickadee

1 Clark's Nutcracker

2 Sandhill Cranes

3 Trumpeter Swans

At least 3 Magpies

4 Robins

4 Rocky Mountain Bluebirds

11 Hawks (primarily Red-Tail)

12 (or more) Ravens

27 (probably more) Ducks

Numerous Canadian Geese - they recorded 43 but we saw at least double that number

1 Rock Chuck

1 Moose

2 Coyotes

14 Big Horn Sheep

17 Elk

271 (at least) Bison

The day started with the birds. We spotted this Red Tail Hawk perched in a tree beside one of the first pullouts along the Madison River which had been plowed open.

Shortly thereafter we found one of the three trumpeter swans seen that day. This one was feeding close to the shore and didn't seem to mind posing for a few photos.

Next came this pair of Common Mergansers, the female of the pair looking like she was enduring a bad hair day! We noted numerous other ducks that day - mostly Mergansers, Mallards and, I believe, a few Scaups.

As we broke into the more open areas along the river, we began to see the Bison. They were scattered across the mostly snow-covered meadows obviously hungry and in poor condition, obviously wondering what had happened to the warmer weather which should have been accompanying the longer days.

The meadows were all cropped close to the ground leaving little vegetation to capture the sun's rays and turn them into nourishing, life-giving green grass. In fact, I have heard these 'overgrazed pastures' are slowly turning to weed beds with few native species still in place. Certainly the Bison in the Madison River drainage appeared to be in danger of losing this year's (and perhaps next year's) calf crops due to poor condition. Sad - but that may actually prove helpful in controlling the over-grazing issues in the long term.

Even the elk looked worn and weary. I'm not sure why an elk would choose to winter in the Park - and these animals certainly appear to have done so. Most of the local elk head to the Madison Valley for the winter. Next time I will post some photos of these animals. They have wintered well, in spite of the heavy snow and slow spring. The Park-wintering beasts, however, looked pretty heart breaking.

The coyotes have been quite bold this spring. I suspect it isn't easy finding food with all the snow. As a result we have seen them on nearly every outting - and that with wolves sighted here and there as well. Typically wolves are said to be hard on the coyote population. Whether true or not, the coyotes have been quite visible this spring. This particular fellow was hunting along the Madison.

At Madison Junction we made the choice to turn northward. Typically the northern route has produced more frequent and varied wildlife sightings in the spring. Thus we chose to forego the 'known' Bison along the Old Faithful route and head for Mammoth.

As we began our decent from the pristine snow-covered meadow set against its pure white mountain peak backdrop to the warmer (and thus less snowy) valley around Mammoth, we traversed what I consider to be the most interesting piece of road in the Park. The Golden Gate stands as an engineering feat which had its origins much earlier than one might expect.

Even today the road is impressive as it swings out over the steep hillside and hugs the huge yellow-gold rocks. So, I guess I could honestly say we traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge that day!

The bison living on the Park's north end were in much better condition than those along the Madison. Certainly it had much to do with the lower elevation which resulted in less snow and for a shorter duration. However, even here this changed quickly as we once again climbed - this time toward the Lamar Valley.

The 'finds' of the day appeared on this, the final segment of our trip. A young moose - a rare sight in post-fire Yellowstone - browsed along the road as we approached the Bison Ranch in the Lamar. While moose are regular visitors in our Centennial Valley world, it was encouraging to see one in the Park. Perhaps, 20 plus years post-fire, their food source is once again returning.

Just across the road we spotted a small band of Big Horn Sheep. Like the moose, Big Horn Sheep are not a rare sight in our 'world'. As I will share next time, we have enjoyed several good photo opps of them this spring. While they disappear into the high country in the summer, winter sightings in the area are the norm. However, spotting these rams in the Park was not a normal occurance for us.

Thus while we did not see a wolf or a bear (although we had seen an untouched dead elk in the Madison River on our way in - and, when we passed by about six hours later something large had obviously been feeding on it - thus we certainly missed a bear or wolf, probably a bear), we enjoyed two other 'rarish' animals this trip.

Living near such a national treasure definitely has its benefits. We are not 'Park crazy' (i.e. we do not live and breathe for time in the Park). After all, we live in the Centennial Valley - a place which in many ways rivals the Park in its untouched beauty and wild nature. Nonethless, we do enjoy having such immediate access to the other special place in our neighborhood!

Lady of the Lake

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