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Yellowstone June 2011


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Yellowstone 2011




I was keen to go somewhere completely different for wildlife, having spent quite a lot of time in warmer climes. So I started to look into a guided trip to Yellowstone. However, it soon became apparent that the variety of trips on offer was somewhat lacking and somewhat expensive, with Yellowstone set up primarily for self driving. So I stumbled across Yellowstone.net and posted there for advice.


This is how I found Abbie. We had planned to meet up in London before our trip to get to know each other, but for various reasons it just didnt pan out. So we didnt actually meet up until we both arrived at the airport. But I couldnt have asked for a better travelling companion and I hope that Abbie feels the same way! The first interesting thing I discovered about Abbie is that, Abbie isnt her real name, rather a nom de plume. Thats okay, I said, most of my close friends know me as Kat, a nickname I picked up at University.


After a few difficulties with our boarding cards, and having survived the rather rigorous security requirements at immigration, we arrived into Bozeman on time at 22.25 after a long flight from Manchester UK. We picked up the hire car and, after a little hiccup, trying to work out why we couldnt get the damn thing into gear ( turns out the foot brake needs to be depressed), a few sins in the car park had Abbie confidently driving the vehicle on the wrong side of the road.


We stayed at the Days Inn and Suite in Bozeman, which was comfortable enough and had the added benefit of free Wi-Fi access. Our plan to stay in Cooke City, just outside the North-East entrance to the park with easy access to the Lamar Valley had been scuppered due to a rock fall. So we quickly rebooked our first couple of nights stay in Gardner, at a Super 8 motel just outside the North entrance instead.


Abbie sheepishly introduced me to Boris and Jayjay, two little plush toys a bison and wolf, respectively, who would be our lucky mascots for the duration of the trip. Smiling, I then pulled out a slightly bigger plush tiger toy, who has been my regular travelling companion for a number of years. I think we knew then that we were both as mad as each other!


Boris and JayJay


320 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




P6062194 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Day 1 – 1st June A Tale of Two Marmots


We were up at 08.00 and stopped off at a Walmart to pick up some snacks and drinks for the days ahead. On our journey we encountered our first pronghorn, leaping across the interstate. We then headed on through Gardner towards the North entrance to Yellowstone Park. After stopping at the entrance gate to purchase our entry permit $25 for the week, we were in the park by about 10.00 am. We stopped at the Yellowstone Foundation Bookshop so that I could purchase a field guide to the area’s birds.


We then drove down to Mammoth Hot Springs one of the main rest camps. Elk congregate here on the lush grass and with it being birthing season, many of the females looked about ready to pop. For today, we didn’t stop for a look at the hot springs, but instead headed out to the Blacktail Plateau for a reccie to see how far we could get before the road block.


A few distant bison were sighted, Abbie advised not to bother photographing these as we would see many more soon enough. Given the high elevation of Yellowstone and the fact that it is landlocked, birdlife was understandably fairly sparse, but about on a par with moorland in the Scottish highlands. A sandhill crane was seen at Blacktail Ponds as well as a few ducks including Barrow’s goldeneye and lesser scaup. The first raptor came in the form of that icon of American might, the bald eagle. But all were too distant to get anything more than a record shot.




P1460639 Gardner entrance gate to Yellowstone by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460641 Blacktail Lakes by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019665 Yellow-rumped warbler by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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After establishing where the road was closed, we headed back out of the valley towards Mammoth and then from there drove down into Haydon Valley. After scanning the vista for any signs of predators and drawing a blank, we moved on through Indian Ponds, Pelican Creek and down towards Mary Bay. At Mary Bay we stopped to photograph a pair of ravens in a spruce tree with another photographer. A couple of people also put us on to a bald eagle sitting on a nest at a fair distance, with only its head visible.


The people we chatted to also mentioned the chance of otters, so we went to look for them between Mary Bay and Sedge Bay. Whilst we didn’t find any otters, we enjoyed watching a pair of yellow-bellied marmots, which we christened “Randy” and “Blondie” on account of Randy’s behaviour and Blondie’s pelage. Randy and Blondie, were initially quite skittish, keeping their distance from us. They mated several times, and scampered about amongst the boulders. Then after a while Randy retired down a hole and Blondie took to sunbathing on a rock. Over time, she proved to be very confiding as we edged closer and closer to her.



P6019747 Blondie and Randy the Yellow-bellied Marmots by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019791 Yellow-bellied Marmot by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019771 Yellow-bellied Marmot by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019822 Yellow-bellied Marmot by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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After spending some time with the marmots, we headed back toward Haydon Valley. There were several mountain bluebirds foraging along the side of the road and American robins were frequently seen. A bird I easily recognised, having twitched one locally in the UK was a white-crowned sparrow. Nice additions to the raptors list were an osprey and several red-tailed hawks seen soaring.



P6019823 Bear pawprint by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019850 White-crowned Sparrow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019878 American Robin by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6019886 Osprey by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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The scenery and contrast between different elevations was impressive. In some areas the snow was still drift-thick on the ground, in Mammoth, it was springtime. We saw another couple of Bison and then at Pelican Creek, some distance away, was a coyote mousing in the snow. We watched him from the road until he was lost to view, at which point we moved on.


At Haydon, a small crowd had gathered to watch a very distant grizzly bear, our first for the trip. Again, we watched with bins and scope for a while and took a few record shots, just in case this was to be our best sighting of grizzly.


Finally we came upon our first road hazard, a bison jam! A herd of bison were quite happily trotting down the road ahead of some vehicles following slowly behind them. We slowed to let them pass and then carried on towards Mammoth. As it was now getting quite late, we stopped to photograph an elk with a young fawn before heading back to our hotel.


We had a late meal in a local restaurant before sorting through our photos ready for the next day.




P6029919 Coyote mousing by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6029961 Elk by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6029970 Elk by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Day 2 2nd June Life and death in Hell Roaring

We were on the road by 0530 and drove out to Lamar as the road block had been cleared. At Dortothy’s Knoll we stopped to watch a distant black bear close to a carcass on which four grizzlies had been feeding in a small copse of trees on Jasper Bench. A telescope was needed to see anything more than a few blobs in the distance though. Abbie introduced me to Kevin the “Bearman” who they had used as a guide on their first visit to the park. We chatted and watched the activity on the bench for quite some time before moving on.



067 Grizzly and black bears on carcass at Jasper Bench Lamar by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6029994 Bucking bison! by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We found the wolfers at Slough (pronounced slew) Creek and Abbie quickly pointed out the local celebs, rick with his radio telemetry gear, Cathy and Laurie, regular wolf watchers and reporters. She also pointed out some local features including Bobs knob a local name for a small hill overlooking the valley. Rick informed us that he had a strong telemetry signal from one of the Lamar pack. Sadly, they didnt see fit to put in an appearance. So after a while they gave up and moved on.


We drove further down the valley to a parking area called the Hitching Post where a loo is conveniently sited. A flock of cliff swallows seemed to be choosing this as their nest site, so we spent a short while photographing them in the golden light. Raptors were again in evidence, soaring above the valley, including a juvenile bald eagle, golden eagle and red-tailed hawks.


As we headed back up the valley, we stopped again at Dorothy’s Knoll to see what activity was going on at the carcass. This time, two grizzlies could be seen frolicking together in the snow. Then the black bear also put in an appearance, as did a coyote who stole a chance for a meal whilst the bears were away.



P6020013 Cliff swallows building nests on a loo.. by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



090 Pair of grizzlies in the snow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



091 Pair of grizzlies tumbling in the snow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



082 Coyote and black bears on carcass at Jasper Bench Lamar by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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At Tower, a couple of photographers had set up cameras and seemed to be focused on a hole in a wooden signpost. It turned out to be a pair of bluebirds had made a nest in the hole. I was able to capture a nice shot of them too.


At the aptly named Elk Creek, we came upon a group of people watching a newborn elk which was only minutes old. We watched her take her first few tentative steps and then settle down next to mum. A little while later, mum got up and began to clean herself up as the little one tried to nurse for the very first time.



109 Elk and newborn fawn by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020250 Mountain Bluebirds at Tower. by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We went on to Mammoth and this time Abbie dropped me off to explore the terraces while she went to the gift shop. Some of the boardwalks were sadly closed due to recent geothermal activity. I was still able to explore part of the complex though. I also found what I initially thought was a snowshoe hare in its summer coat huddled in a small crater, but after seeking expert advice it turned out to be the much rarer white tailed jack rabbit, a real find for Yellowstone! A killdeer was also seen.



P1460647 White-tailed Jack Rabbit by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460664 Mammoth Hot Springs by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460666 View of Mammoth from the terraces by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460671 Travertine at Mammoth terraces by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460677 White-tailed Jack Rabbit by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Abbie suggested she show me the West Yellowstone road so we drove out to Madison. Abbie and Richard had camped at Madison so we stopped here for a while, as Abbie mentioned it was a good site to photograph uinta ground squirrels. Whilst sunny, it was also quite breezy and there were not that many squirrels out and about. However, we did finally find a couple who posed well for photos. We also found a few pretty flowers to focus on.


P1460693 Liberty Cap by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020363 Waterfall by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020375 Chipping sparrow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020393 Uinta Ground Squirrel by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020396 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020399 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Wonderful stuff. I think I'm a bit addicted to trip reports! :D

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After having a wander, we were on the road again, driving towards West Yellowstone entrance. Just before Yellowstone Drive, we came across a lovely big herd of bison in a rather picturesque wetland area. We watched them for quite a while as they came down to drink and then travelled along the side of the marsh past our vehicle. The little bison calves, known colloquially as “red dogs” entertained us with their frolicking games.



P6020062 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020118 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020407 Red dog Bison calf by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020378 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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A few scenic bison shots:



P6020159 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020176 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020173 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020193 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020195 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020196 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020228 Bison by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We then began our journey back with a view to ending up at Lamar by late afternoon/evening. We stopped for another coyote between Wraith Falls and Blacktail Lakes.



P6020343 Pronghorn by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020347 Pronghorn by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020432 Coyote by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020449 Coyote by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6020461 Coyote by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Later on, we were witness to something extraordinary. Just after Yellowstone Picnic on the way to Lamar, around the Junction Butte area, a crowd had already gathered to watch two black bears. Before we arrived, one had apparently been taking a dip in the pond on the left hand side of the road. When we arrived, they were in the trees on the other side of the road and rangers were there directing traffic. We were told the bears looked like they were going to cross the road. At first we only saw the one bear, who seemed content ambling about eating grass.



P6020470 Petrified tree by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030488 Black bear by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030496 Black bear by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030501 Black bear scratching against a tree by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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But then, all hell broke loose! One of the bears must have seen or smelled the baby elk and like a shot, she was after it! The elk screamed and tried to get away, but after a short chase the fawn was downed. The fawn was crying as it was dragged a short distance by its captor. Then a second larger bear appeared, set on stealing the prize for himself. In the confusion the terrified baby elk tried to make a break for freedom. But alas, there was no happy ending for this fawn.



P6030515 Black bear catches the elk fawn after a short chase by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030522 Black bears fight over posession of the fawn by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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The larger bear quickly recaptured the fawn and brought it to a fallen tree where he left it splayed over the trunk like some butcher's counter. He seemed to be trying to decide whether to have rump or sirloin. He almost appeared to lose interest in the fawn for a brief moment. But then the bear grabbed it by the neck and dragged it away to a more secluded spot, probably concerned about the other bears in the area. The elk was still mewling pitifully as it was dragged through the trees.


The crowd of people watched the events unfold, stood next to me was a mother with a daughter who must have been around ten years old. After about twenty minutes of hearing these pitiful cries, the mother turned to her daughter and said it was over, the fawn was dead. But then it cried again. I ruefully remarked, “not quite!” as the child buried her head in her mother’s chest.


Finally, mercifully, after what seemed like an age, the squealing stopped as the bear devoured his meal. He crossed the road after eating his fill, leaving the distraught and tearful group of onlookers to disperse and reflect on what we had just witnessed. Meanwhile two other black bears were still lurking in the trees..




P6030529 Rump or Sirloin? by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030533 He Seemed to loose interest by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030536 But then the bear grabbed it by the neck and dragged it away to a more secluded spot. by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030539 Black Bear by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030547 Black bear crossed the road by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Back in the Lamar Valley and quite late (around 7:15pm) a golden eagle was merrily plucking away at a goose or duck that it had 'body barged' out of the sky. The really big lenses were already in the field on tripods as we tried to get in a good position to photograph the eagle feeding. It was great that the action was so close to the road.


Our last sighting was of a very distant grizzly bear.


P6030569 Golden eagle on a duck by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



To be continued....

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Wonderful stuff. I think I'm a bit addicted to trip reports! :D


Thanks Twaffle! Lunch break is over, more to come later.

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Great report. I really like the Yellowstone/Teton area, and you had great sightings.

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Thanks Pangolin. I was actually a lot more impressed with Yellowstone than I was expecting to be. It has also really inspired me to get my art materials out again. Sometimes not capturing something on camera can help to inspire other creative outlets as you will come to see as you read on.. Sadly I'm out tonight so you'll all have to wait for the next installment. :D

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So glad you've found the time to write the report, Jo. Beautiful photos, as always. Like twaffle, I think I'm getting addicted to these reports. I have a 3PM work deadline and I can't seem tear myself away from Yellowstone and Mana Pools :)

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Thanks! I might have another trip report to write before the year is out. We will see. :D


Day 3 June 3rd Grizzly weather and grizzly bears

We met some nice people the day before who advised us of a confiding grizzly bear seen in the vicinity of Mary Bay and Sedge Bay, which had been regularly sighted the past few mornings close to the road. So we decided to make this our priority for the morning.


The weather was not as pleasant as the previous day. It was bitterly cold and threatening to snow. First we spotted a bald eagle soaring near the nest site and then as we rounded to corner between Mary Bay and Sedge Bay, there he was, just as described, out on the hill grazing on the short grass. We watched and photographed him for about twenty minutes as he slowly made his way towards Sedge Bay. A few half hearted snow flurries made photographing him quite challenging, with fingers going numb, despite wearing gloves. Several shots came out blurred. The bear stopped by some fallen trees for a scratch and was then soon lost to view as he meandered through the tree trunks into a dip.




P6030583 Mary Bay Grizzly by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030654 Mary Bay Grizzly by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030662 Mary Bay Grizzly by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030684 Mary Bay Grizzly by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030700 Mary Bay Grizzly by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Lovely stuff! Yellowstone is an amazing place - I was there in June too! Small world...


You were so fortunate (if that's the right word), to witness a black bear making a kill. I expect there are many regular yellowstone visitors who've never seen anything like it. What a sighting!

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Having enjoyed an eventful early morning, we went on to Fishing Bridge to have something hot to drink and to peruse the gift shop. At Haydon Valley we then came upon another crowd watching a very distant sow grizzly and two cubs up on a ridge playing in the snow. This grizzly originally had four cubs but lost two, but of the four, the runt surprised everyone by surviving his larger siblings!


Birds seen included osprey, American white pelican back at Haydon, great blue heron and bufflehead, as well as the pretty western meadowlark.


P6030726 Lesser Scaup by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030746 Great Blue Heron by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030767 Raven by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030785 Raven by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030798 American Widgeon by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P6030804 Savannah Sparrow by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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