Max’s Magical Mystery Tour continued, with the ultimate goal lying waaay south at Old Faithful. Thankfully, my guests were understanding and tolerant enough to allow for an earlier wake-up call so we could hunt for critters on the way west and south.We were out the door by 6, and sightings began almost immediately. Some mule deer have been hanging out near Silver Gate and were having breakfast along the highway as we drove out. A short ways into the park, we spied a moose through the trees. I thought it may be the cow we saw the previous evening, but was soon proven wrong when we spied the cow and calf in the meadow at Warm Creek.
At Round Prairie we found Dave C., who was shooting three more moose up near the aspens. A black wolf was on a carcass at the Confluence, but there were no bears at Tower. Next stop: Hellroaring, where I wanted to show my mom and her friend what a pika looked like. The moment I stepped out of the car, I spied a slender brown shape dashing across the upper rock pile. Last time this happened, a weasel was hunting through the rocks, but vanished before I could even grab my camera. This time it was a marten! I’d only seen three martens in the park before, and all of them were viewed through the windshield as they dashed across the road in front of my car.
This time, I scrambled for my camera and fired off a couple of distant shots before the marten bolted out of sight. My first Yellowstone marten photo is better than no Yellowstone marten photo, and even leaves room for improvement.
We did get a nice cooperative pika after that as well. At times it ventured into the grass to forage, producing some great full frame shots. Hooray for Hellroaring!
Our tour continued to Mammoth, where we checked out the owl nest, and then southward to the major geyser basins. We stopped at Midway and Black Sand Basins before hitting Old Faithful. The big attraction was quite late, erupting 10-15 minutes after the 20 minute window that had been estimated. I was secretly hoping we’d be privileged to see the rarest of rare sights: Old Faithful not blowing its top… but instead we had to be subjected to a beautiful eruption on a sunny afternoon.
Our trip back north was eventful, with 6 grizzly bears sighted between Gibbon Meadows and Swan Lake Flats. It culminated in another sighting of Quad Mom and her brood of course, though once again they were heading the wrong direction.
Today I was finally free to pursue my own interests. As an added bonus, I got to drag Jenn into the car for the morning session. It was wet and cold, so initially we weren’t too optimistic about our prospects. More deer outside Silver Gate, a grizzly at Ice Box Canyon, and though our momma and calf moose were nowhere in sight, Dave’s three moose were once again on the hillside at Round Prairie.
We drove about for a while, seeing little in the way of activity unless you count falling raindrops. On our way back through Little America, a small herd of seven or eight pronghorns were sprinting at full speed across the road. We pulled over and I set up to try and get a few shots of the retreating group when Jenn cried “Wolf!” Sure enough, a light gray wolf had appeared over the small hill to the south, undoubtedly the cause of the pronghorns’ flight.
The gray paused and then walked down into the open meadow near the road. It was a nice close sighting, and I managed to get a few hand-held shots before it veered back away from us and worked its way back over the hill. At that point a second wolf, a collared black, appeared in the distance. The pair decided to settle down and have a howl fest. We would occasionally see them standing, then sitting back down, then howling again and repeating the process several times. After about an hour of this, we chose to move on.
Down toward the bridge construction area we drove, and here I opted for a badger hunt. Chris had mentioned spotting his badger down in that area yesterday, so I let Jenn nap in the car while I ventured out into the flats. I decided to start on the Specimen side of the road, since there were a few large holes in sight up on the hills there. While I walked uphill beyond the construction zone, a large herd of bison was sneaking its way across the road behind me. The majority of the herd jogged uphill and well past me to the west. However, two small splinter groups opted to switch things up. One group, full of little red dogs, simply stopped on the crest of the hillside that I was exploring, to my left. The other group ambled over to the construction area to my right. The classic pincer move! I was effectively trapped.
There was a gap in between the groups, and I was tempted to split the difference and walk through, but it seemed like every time I took a step in a certain direction, the bison took two steps to make me feel uncomfortable enough to turn back and rethink things. This happened several times, and in the meantime I spied Dave and others watching me bob and weave from the parking lot. I’m sure it was quite entertaining.
Finally I made up my mind to go the long way around. I managed to skirt the remnants of the herd and eventually made it back to the parking lot. Oh, by the way… no badgers.
After I arrived in one piece, we all chatted in the parking lot for a bit (except for Jenn, still snoozing away in the car). We noted that cars were beginning to pile up along the road closer and closer to our position, and we speculated that the wolves were on the move. Dave’s friend Bill spied the collared black from earlier high up on the hillside. Word was that these were Mollies wolves, and this one sure looked like it was eying several little red snacks in the meadows below. And that’s when I spotted a darker black shape trotting down near the construction area… where I had just recently been trapped. Another wolf was approaching quickly!
Everyone scrambled for cameras as this new wolf kept coming. We thought maybe it was going for the road, but it actually angled right at us without pausing. Finally, it walked onto the road, maybe 30 yards from where we were standing. It paused in the middle of the concrete, sizing up the huge herd of bison north of the road. But not for long. It went into a trot again… once again right at us. Soon, it was only a couple yards away.
I looked back to see if Jenn was taking part in any of the excitement. Nope. Zzzzzzz. I knew I’d probably be in trouble if I didn’t do something soon, so I scrambled back to the car and frantically knocked on the window. She awoke in time to see the black run by less than 10 feet from her window.
The black wolf crossed the road to take in the bison from another angle. I happened to look back in time to spy the light gray wolf from earlier in the morning as it too came down the hill and joined the black on the north side of the road. The wolves paid absolutely no heed to their human audience during the whole sequence.
The pair seemed to make several mental calculations before they finally decided they couldn’t tackle the herd on their own. There was a brief pause for socialization, as the black struck a submissive pose.
Then they moved back to the south and disappeared over the hill. Wow… that’s one nice way to spend a morning.
Hard to say much else about the rest of the day that could hold a candle to that. Other sightings included a small grizzly at Pebble Creek, eared grebes at Floating Island Lake, a grouse in the woods near the Hellroaring lot and a lone cinnamon bear at Rainy Lake. Still no cubs.
I’ve had a great time these last few days chatting with friends old and new. It’s always one of the highlights of May. Looking forward to seeing what Day 4 has in store.
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