Max’s Trip Report: Days 12 & 13
More gray, more snow, more of the same. Details are beginning to blur since so many of these days feature the same conditions and few standout sightings. Jenn and I caught our daily moose fix with the cow and yearling on the north side of the road at Warm Creek. We passed through the Lamar and Little America, encountering very little oncoming traffic. At Roosevelt we learned why. The road was closed heading west from Roosevelt Junction.
I was tempted to hike up the road to check on the sow and cinnamon cubs from the evening before, but decided instead to wait out the snow plows. In the meantime, a couple drivers made the bizarre decision to ignore the ROAD CLOSED signs and the cones laid out across the road, and started driving up the road anyway. The rangers pounced immediately. By the sound of it, one of the carloads had been stuck there the night before, when the rangers had explained the issue with the road conditions, and they still opted to plow through and make a run for it. When we left the scene, they were pulled over and were getting away with a severe tongue-lashing, at the very least (Their decision was even more strange considering they had only made it to Hellroaring two hours later, and Mammoth four hours later… they were obviously not in a hurry, so why try to sneak through???).
With some time to kill waiting for the road to open, we made the rounds, where I recorded quite a bit of video and even tried some time lapses. I literally spent time watching snow melt. There were several pairs of sandhill cranes popping up in places, but few were within photo range.
At last we detected an increase in traffic, and correctly assumed the road had opened. We lunched at Lava Creek (brief dipper sighting) and continued west toward Gardiner where I had to take care of some errands. On the way, we stopped at Mammoth to check the owls. The nest seemed empty… the family was likely bedded down in the cold. However, I did manage to find the second adult owl perched in the “Christmas” tree across the road. It was visible through a nice opening and was perched fairly low, so we got a nice view (even though the owl did look a bit wet and bedraggled).
After concluding our Gardiner business, we drove the Boundary Road. Not knowing where the pronghorn fawn had been seen, I was hoping we’d see it or other offspring there. We did spy some pronghorn, but no little ones. On the plus side, we came across a herd of elk, including a cow with a calf. This may well have been the same herd that was based inside the park entrance a couple days back, and the same calf that had just been born then.
There were a few deer along the road, some meadowlarks singing and tons of bluebirds swarming. We eventually connected back to the main highway at Corwin Springs and returned to the park. I pulled over fairly quickly after spying a couple broods of Canada goslings. The two goose families took turns napping, grazing and getting a drink from the river.
After that, our somewhat mellow day came to a quiet close, though we did finally get a visit from one of our local foxes back in Silver Gate (which didn’t pause for pictures after I jumped outside with the camera).
Flying solo today meant hitting the road a bit early. Once again it was snowing in Silver Gate, though the temps promised rain at some point in the park. It was something of a laid back exploration, and I took some time out to show a friend from a visiting film crew a couple potential wildlife spots before he headed off to find bear cubs at Mammoth. I struggled with the decision to either follow him west or stick around the east side and perhaps even try Trout Lake again (hopefully a bit earlier in the morning than our last hike there).
I chose the east side, and made my way back toward Trout Lake. While I was stopped at Hitching Post, I ran into some Canadian acquaintances who are in the park, and we got to chatting. A bit too long as it turned out… I barely saw a black wolf running across the road up ahead. We had just missed the Lamar Canyons approaching and crossing the road just around the bend!
We pulled up in time to see the wolf I spotted (754 or 755, probably) catching up to the rest of the pack, which was on the far hillside putting fear into some bison and elk. It wasn’t until I saw photos from others this evening that I realized that we had missed a golden opportunity not unlike my earlier wolf/road encounter 10 days ago.
After all the chatting and excitement, I was “late” for my Trout Lake hike. Though otters don’t keep a set schedule, I wasn’t sure that later in the morning was the best time to go, but I wanted to get up there anyway and see if there was at least any more sign of activity.
On that front I was in luck. There was a lot more scat on the far side of the lake than last time, so at least one otter continues to be active there. However, I didn’t see them. There were also an abnormally high number of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about the shore. A hike next door showed that Buck Lake was back to normal (quiet), so I returned to Trout Lake and prepared to leave. That’s when I discovered a bizarre sight.
A bird (a young robin or thrush, perhaps?) had obviously swallowed a fishing lure, and the line had become tangled in a tree branch. It was dangling in mid-air, unable to escape. By the time I approached it, the bird had fluttered up onto the branch and was lying still. I looked for a way to potentially free it, but the branch was too high and hanging too far out over the water to reach. Even if I had my utility tool with me, I certainly didn’t have a ladder. Crud. I had to leave the poor bird where it was.
Lunch in Little America preceded further adventures to the west. At Calcite Springs I at last spotted the peregrine falcon nest on the south side of the Canyon that some Y-Net readers had tipped me off to (thank you!). The falcon was barely peeking out, not quite ready to pose for photos.
Later, I again ran into my Canuck friends at Petrified Tree, so I suggested showing them the sapsucker (and perhaps pika) activity at Hellroaring. We had some success, first watching the sapsuckers work the tree bark for a bit–a nuthatch joined in briefly–before we moved on to wait out a pika that had been calling out nearby. Eventually, it peeked out right in front of us, allowing my friends to get some shots.
My drive continued west, where I stopped at Blacktail to photograph some ducklings. That’s when Bill and Peggy showed up. I felt that I had really been wandering a bit aimlessly at that point, so I was more than happy to follow their lead… which of course took me back to the east again. Around this time, I got a rare glimpse of something truly special: blue sky! Perhaps our winter conditions were finally giving way to some occasionally spring-like weather? I had my fingers crossed.
We arrived at the Petrified Tree to discover a fox just leaving the parking lot. It sprinted up the steep hill at the end of the lot, so there was no chance for photos. Next stop: Slough Creek. We drove all the way to the end before turning back. Several raptors were flying overhead, and I finally stopped when a golden eagle glided up toward the nearby hills, not far from where they used to nest in past years. We watched as the eagle was harassed by a raven for a while. Kestrels flew by, magpies called, pronghorn grazed nearby. And then it happened.
Sunshine! Real, honest-to-goodness sunshine and warmth. Amazing how a sunbreak after several consecutive days of gray can change everything. I’m from Seattle. I should know.
At that moment I felt we were standing in the most beautiful spot in the park. For at least a half hour we just stood around, soaking in the views, watching birds and hoping like heck that a badger would show up. The badger never came, but a mysterious text message appeared on B&P’s phone signaling Happy Hour at Slough Creek. And then we gazed into the distance and spotted Helene and Rene, who had just texted the invitation.
So Happy Hour came and went, but thankfully the sun decided to stay out a bit longer. We all piled into our cars and caravanned back to the Tower Road. At Rainy Lake, the black momma bear was out in the meadow in some nice afternoon light, but the ranger was only allowing slow drive-by shooting. No stops, and the cubs weren’t visible anyway. At Calcite, we stopped to scope the peregrine nest (only a bird butt was showing). Afterward there was debate about continuing westward or returning quickly to Lamar Canyon, where an “animal jam” had been reported on the radio. I chose to head east, since that was the way home. The rest chose home as well, which was in Gardiner, so we parted ways.
I figured out that I made the right decision rather quickly. Just after crossing the Yellowstone River bridge, I spied a raven divebombing a furry critter near the canyon edge below Wrecker. I pulled over and snatched my 500mm lens, before rushing over to identify the object of the raven’s attention.
Unfortunately, I had not grabbed my tripod, so I couldn’t do much in terms of setting up or really following the badger all that far, but it was a nice way to end an improved day in the park.
Well, I thought it was the end. About a mile from home I realized that I was in for my first mooseless day in some time. On cue, a young moose crossed the road as I passed through the park exit. And for good measure, I pulled into our driveway to see another moose grazing in the meadow on our property. Chalk up yet another multi-moose day.
Dunraven? Tomorrow?? Please???