Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wildlife in Yellowstone

We spent last week in Yellowstone National Park. This wasn't our typical trip. There was some minimal hiking, but otherwise, it was mostly riding in vans, looking for wildlife, and watching said wildlife in scopes. It was an amazing trip. When we visited Yellowstone in 2015, we did a one-day guided wildlife watching trip with a company called The Wild Side Wolf Tours (we paid for our trip). We had a great time and learned a lot from our guide, but it was August, which is not the best time to see wolves or grizzly bears. We saw other animals, but our guide said we really needed to come back in winter for a week-long tour. So, last week, we did and he was completely right.

We had ten people plus our guides, which was a good number (and it was a good group!). We spent our days in the park and there were fascinating talks in the evenings after dinner. The tour itself was three days, but another guest asked if Michael and I wanted to go in with her on an additional day. We decided that spending more time in the park was preferable to spending that time in Bozeman. Don't get me wrong, Bozeman is a lovely town, but I am always going to choose to spend time in the great outdoors vs. spending time in town.

All said and done, we saw about a dozen individual wolves from three different packs (Junction Butte, Lamar Valley, and the 8 Mile Subgroup) on three out of four days. On two of the days, we saw wolf tracks and spots where they had marked their territory on the side of the road. On our last day, we were able to follow their tracks up over ridges with the scopes, but we never actually spotted any of the animals. We also saw, over the course of the week: bighorn sheep, lots of bison, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope, mule, deer, bald eagles, golden eagles, mountain goats, coyotes, pine martens, and foxes.

Michael and I spent couple of days in Bozeman before meeting our group and going to Yellowstone. The first afternoon in the park, the group took a quick trip to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was really neat to see it in the snow and without millions of our closest friends.
One of the terraces above Canary Spring.
Looking north towards Mammoth.
Green terraces on one of the lower springs. That really is the color!

The next three days, we started our morning at 5:45 at a little restaurant near our hotel. By 6:30 a.m., we were all in the vans, headed for the Lamar Valley to see if we could find wolves.
The temperatures never made it much above 20 degrees all week. On our first day in Lamar Valley, they struggled to get out of negative numbers. The picture above is the temperature at 8:15 a.m.

What follows is wildlife and scenery pictures from four days in Lamar Valley.
 Sunrise from the Lamar Valley.
 A bison cow near where we were watching wolves.
Setting up scopes to watch the Junction Butte Pack of wolves feeding on a carcass.
On our first day in the valley, we did a short hike from Yellowstone Picnic Area up onto a ridge above the Lamar River Narrows. We had a great view from the top of the ridge and there were animal tracks everywhere.
 Looking out over the Lamar River.
 Mountain Lion tracks. I should have put something in the photo for scale. The track itself is about the size of my palm.
 A thermal area on the Lamar River.
 A collared bison cow.
One night we walked around the town of Gardiner, which is where we were staying. We came across two young elk sparring and pushing each other around. They didn't pay much attention to us, but every now and then, they would stop and watch traffic on the main road.
There really are wolves in this picture! Four of them! Our third day, we got to see the Junction Butte Pack again. This was the closest we ever got to them. The view through the scopes was pretty good, though. They were a lot closer than our earlier sighting and they were playing in the snow.  We were able to observe them for close to an hour (maybe? It seemed like a long time). One nice thing about The Wild Side: They had enough scopes for everyone, so we all got to spend as much time as we wanted watching the wolves without worrying that others weren't getting an opportunity to watch the animals. Not every company does that.
 Bighorn Sheep working it for the camera. We had a theory
 Another view of a very photogenic Bighorn Sheep.
 The Lamar River on a gray morning.
 On our last official day with the whole group, we got to do a short walk up Pebble Creek Canyon. So pretty!
 Another view of the canyon.
 Pebble Creek under a lot of snow.
Pine Martens! These guys are members of the weasel family and they move fast (which is why it isn't the sharpest picture)
We saw a number of coyotes on the trip. There is actually one in this photo. It blends into the sagebrush really well. See if you can find it.
On our last day in Montana, we drove around the valley around Bozeman as much as our little two-wheel drive rental car would allow. This farm was in the hills near Bridger Bowl Ski Area.

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