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June 13 - July 12th
Posted: Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:46 am
Sad to say that this was one of the most disappointing and, probably, the most disturbing Yellowstone trip that I have ever had. Only saw one grizzly sub-adult, a few black bears and a black sow with 2 cubs... all in the Tower/Slough Creek areas. Checked out Floating Island and Phantom Lakes and the ponds in the Tower/SC areas several different times with little or no success. The only bird I saw was a yellow-headed black bird. Only saw a couple of ducks at Floating Island Lake (an American Coot and a male mallard)...no Sandhill Cranes or geese, and only one merganser on Slough Creek!! Didn't see a single bird's nest at our camp site or along the Creek. Saw one coyote on the road between Mammoth and Tower and another chasing down a Uinta in the Slough Creek Meadow. But I couldn't find a single badger or otter anywhere. Talked to several different people who had hiked up to Trout and Buck Lakes and they hadn't seen the otters either. So what's going on in the Park? Granted, the water levels in the rivers and streams were unusually high this spring and still are. And, the runoff still isn't over. But high water usually doesn't affect waterfowl, ducks and birds so dramatically. But this year, I think it did. When you couple the decline of the cutthroat trout population in the Park with the negative effects of high water, I think that the entire Greater Yellowstone ecosystem suffered this year. I'm not an ornithologist but I suspect this is why we had geese, ducks and turtles in our front yard and why I was shocked to see 2 bald eagles swooping down, trying to killing ducks on Swan Lake last year. Reportedly, the bald eagles have also been killing Trumpeter Swans (offspring) this spring.
Cutthroat trout sustains a wide variety of different Yellowstone animal and bird species. And when they're starving, they'll likely do whatever is necessary to survive...even it means killing another wildlife species, IMHO. So what kind of animal species typically have fish in their diets? Birds of prey (eagles and osprey), ducks, bears and otters, to name but a few. Coyotes are scavengers and will eat just about anything that's dead...ditto for badgers. So here's the question. Is the decline of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout population having a negative impact on the ability of some Yellowstone wildlife species to survive? What do you think, based on your own wildlife observations and sightings over the past few years?
Re: June 13 - July 12th
Posted: Sun Jul 15, 2018 4:42 pm
For more info related to my trip observations and concerns about the harmful effects of high water, and the link to the declining native cutthroat trout population and the lack of birds, ducks and birds of prey spotted in Yellowstone in June and July, please read this recent July article published by National Geographic. Here's the link: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/envi ... e-animals/
Re: June 13 - July 12th
Posted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 8:08 pm
The trophic cascade caused by the introduction of the lake trout has been in effect for years. It's not something that just popped up this season... it's just that more articles are finally being written about it now. Eagles were killing cygnets going back several years (you notice the park service has finally introduced older trumpeter cygnets into the park the last several seasons in Hayden Valley), and of course, we know the bears have been going after elk calves much more compared to several decades ago (in part because they don't fish nearly as much).
You may have had bad luck this time, but that's highly unlikely to be a result of some sudden spike in fish-alternative-related predation.
Re: June 13 - July 12th
Posted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:18 pm
Max, you may want to re-read my post. I did not say that the declining cutthroat population was the only reason for the lack of my wildlife and bird sightings on my recent Park trip. But, IMO, it was a contributing factor. This year, I think that the high water level, probably contributed more than anything to the fewer sightings that I had. I saw several bird nests that had either been abandoned or that had been destroyed by the heavy rain and hail late this spring. But I also think that the lower cutthroat population in the Park may had a negative domino effect on the Park's ecosystem over the years. And it's going to take time for the Yellowstone ecosystem to fully recover. When the wolves were re-introduced in 1995 to Yellowstone, the following year the Yellowstone coyote population dropped dramatically. Check with Bob Landis....that's what I did in 1996 and he confirmed my observation. The same thing happened in our local area. Many coyotes got sick, developed mange, and subsequently died the following winter from starvation. The coyotes were no longer the main predator in the Park. It took a while for the coyotes to learn how to adapt to the presence of wolves as competitors but the coyotes appear to be recovering, slowly, but surely, just like the cutthroats....saw two coyotes this trip but the number of sightings was, definitely, lower than in previous years. The bighorn sheep did not look overly healthy either. The ewes that I saw over by the Yellowstone Picnic Area this year were very frail and some of the ewes appeared to have mange, from their necks down to their shoulders...not a good sign.
I've been following the decline of the cutthroat population in the Park ever since I first started fly fishing the Yellowstone waters in 1978. And I've filled out more Yellowstone angler survey reports than I could ever recount. I also live along the Stillwater River (in the extended protective zone of Yellowstone) which shares the same headwaters as Slough Creek. Both areas have very similar ecosystems. In an effort to help the Yellowstone cutthroats recover, the Yellowstone Fisheries Dept. partnered with MT Fish and Wildlife in a joint project around 2007. A number of high alpine lakes in the Beartooth Mountains, not far from my home, were sterilized (all the brook trout were killed with poison). The lakes were then restocked with fingerling cutthroat trout, with the hope that they would swim down into the Slough Creek drainage in the Park, spawn and multiply. I didn't support the project at the time because I didn't feel that it was ethical to kill one fish species to save another. But I also didn't want to see the Yellowstone fishery die. Back in the 80's, hubby and I had no problems, whatsoever, catching and releasing over 400 trout (rainbows, cutthroats and hybrids) on our 2-week vacations in Yellowstone. After that, the pure cutthroat numbers, kept going down. This year, I wasn't able to fish due to some health problems. Hubby didn't catch many fish, but the cutthroats that he caught, were huge 15"+ monsters, fat, sassy and healthy. A friend of mine told me a week ago that he caught a big cutthroat on almost every cast while he was camped and fishing in the third meadow, above Slough Creek. So, hopefully, the cutthroat population is finally beginning to recover. This is great news for Yellowstone anglers. But it's also taken several years just to get to the point where we can even fish for cutthroats again. So, Max, while I respect your opinion, please do not assume that I know nothing about the decline of the Yellowstone cutthroat population or anything about it's impact on Yellowstone wildlife. After making 2 trips annually to the Park since 1978 and having lived in the GYE since 1979, believe it or not, I've learned quite a bit about Yellowstone, its wildlife and its ecosystem and will continue to learn about wildlife and their behavior and habitat as long as I'm able!
Re: June 13 - July 12th
Posted: Thu Jul 19, 2018 12:08 am
The way you worded your post you sure made it sound like the bad luck you suffered this particular season may have been due in large part to the fish issues. If you had been describing a prolonged period over the last several years, the reasoning would have made a lot more sense, but in this case your lack of sightings and encounters was one particular, waterlogged month.
Though you had trouble with otters this time, they were actually more active in the Lamar and seen much more frequently this winter than in recent years. The food is there, but perhaps it's just a cycle in which the NE otters are focusing on different territory. We've also been hearing about more otter activity on the Madison in recent years, so there are probably different family dynamics at play every few years with these families. And that doesn't count incidents like the coyote killing otters at Trout a decade or so ago (2006 maybe?), which left the lake devoid of otter activity for a year or two.
There's no question the wet conditions do have a great effect on viewing from year to year, and I think there's more to that in terms of the bad luck you've described and which we've all suffered to some extent. We've seen it with owls, for example. 2016 was a great owl year in the GYE, but the heavy snows at the end of the year and resulting melt waterlogged many of the hunting areas the park owls use, so 2017 ended up being a really poor year in terms of owl sightings (for a number of species).