by Max on Tue May 22, 2012 6:37 pm
Jenn was starting to feel under the weather, so she stayed in on this particular morning, but my friend Brian (who’s visiting for a few days) was happy to take her spot after spending the entire previous day indoors. It was another sunny day, and as has become the norm on this trip, one of the first major sightings involved moose. The bulls that had previously been on the hillside in Round Prairie were down in the willows near the road. The sun rose over the mountains as we arrived, giving us a great view of these giants as they munched on their veggies.The rest of the morning drive was fairly quiet, possibly highlighted by the somewhat odd sight of a red-tailed hawk on the ground at the Roosevelt ranger station… or perhaps the adorable bison calves frolicking near the road in the morning light.
We returned to the eastern Lamar to meet at the Trout Lake lot for a group hike organized by someone who will not be named… since he didn’t show up! I was hoping to check out the lake for signs of otters anyway, so we were more than happy to make the trek up the hill with Terry and Nina B., as well as Helene and Rene. The lake is thoroughly thawed out, as expected, but we didn’t see any otters. However, we found some recent scat, so they may well be around at this point.
Terry, Brian and I decided to walk up to nearby Buck Lake, a tradition that never yields any sightings of note for me… until yesterday. Coming around the bend of the lake, Brian stopped suddenly and spied a cinnamon black bear foraging near the shore. It looked to be a good-sized bear, and we got a nice view from the hillside above.
After the hike, we returned to Silver Gate for lunch. Jenn again remained behind for the afternoon drive, so Brian and I headed back out on our own. We passed two cow moose nestled down in front of one of the cabins near the highway on the edge of town. I hoped that was just the start of a bevy of afternoon sightings, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps the heat of the day (into the seventies) had sent critters into hiding.
We drove all the way to Sheepeater Cliff, hoping for at least a bear. Our one stop along the way involved the Yellowstone Picnic Area fox, which once again displayed a magical ability to vanish at just the right moment. No photos this time. Once we reached Sheepeater, we got out to the explore the extended rock wall to the left of the parking lot, but there was hardly a peep from any wildlife. Except for back at the parking lot of course, where some seemingly-habituated chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels were scrambling about, often quite close.
On the way home, we found Little America to be teeming with bison. There had to be at least 60-80 little red dogs in view as part of one large herd. It was nice to spend a little more time photographing and filming these cuties before we turned in.
If yesterday seemed a bit too hot, today was definitely too wet! The forecast called for foul weather, and unfortunately it held up. Today had to be one of the wettest days I’ve ever spent in the park.
I was alone for the morning drive, which also meant a slightly earlier start. The Round Prairie moose were back on the hillside in their customary spot. I entered the Lamar and passed the usual gatherings of wolf watchers, but it wasn’t until I made it halfway through the valley that I was able to spy some abnormal activity out on the other side of the river. I pulled over and spied several wolf-like shapes surrounding a bison in the distance. By the time I had set up my camera, the wolves had given up, but they appeared to be moving on to their next target.
It was the Mollies, with as many as 12 wolves being sighted by onlookers. And they were on a mission! The wolves traveled eastward, sniffing out seemingly every small group and herd of bison along the way. As they churned through the valley, I leapfrogged ahead, stopping at each pullout where I thought I might get a better view of the hunt. The wolves were definitely too far out for decent photos, especially with the rain and mist, so I spent a considerable amount of time trying to record video footage.
The Mollies reached all the way to the eastern edge of the valley, visible from the hillside above the Confluence, but then reversed course and once again headed west. They continued to test and probe various bison, either aiming for calves or surrounding lone adults, but with little success. And they always maintained a healthy distance from the ever-increasing mob of onlookers on the road.
The whole sequence lasted an hour or two, and it was starting to get pretty cold and miserable outside, so I left to complete a short, fruitless drive along the rest of the northern road before heading home. I had to get back to prep for a big breakfast, especially since Jenn was fully out of commission today. Thankfully (or unfortunately for them perhaps), Bill and Peggy were the first folks to walk through the door… and they were immediately enlisted to help me in the kitchen for the following hour. I wasn’t sure how many folks that we had managed to track down would show up this morning, but as it turned out we had a pretty big group thanks to the lousy weather. So everyone was able to dry out for a couple hours, eat and relax (see Dick and Maureen’s post in Photo for footage). It’s amazing to see how many great friends we’ve made in the park over the years. It was definitely the highlight of the day.
After everyone trickled back onto the road, Brian and I were the last ones back into the park. We were following Kevin and Laurie when they pulled over near Footbridge. I thought that there might be a wolf in the creek again on the old carcass, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Kevin had spied a wolf, but it was crossing the water and on its way toward the road, possibly to the Lamar Canyons’ den site(?). It was a black with a collar, so I assumed it to be either 755M or 754M. He moved with a slight limp, but still made good time fording the creek and racing uphill and past the road.
As for the rest of the day, it was literally washed out. The heavy rain rendered wildlife viewing useless, so instead we opted to undertake a few wet hikes. We made it up to Lost Creek Falls, down to the confluence of the Yellowstone and Lamar Rivers from Wrecker and down the hillside to the river from the Yellowstone Picnic Area. When things are going slowly from the road, it’s nice to take advantage of a little spare time to explore some new areas, so today was not a complete loss.
By the time we were finished, we were both soaked through, so it was time to return home a bit early.
Last I heard, the forecast called for more moisture, so we may have to exercise a little patience over the next few days.
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