Friday, May 20, 2022
Snow dusted the mountains and grounds around the cabins this morning. It was 28º. Throughout the day the temperature rose and fell; one minute the sun would be out; the next, clouds would roll in. Snow drifted through the air, even while the sun was shining, and the icy wind was almost intolerable at times. Another day when I was glad I brought insulated pants.
When we reached Soda Butte Valley, a bull moose was grazing on the slopes just west of Trout Lake. The roads were strangely quiet and there wasn’t a peep on the radio. We wondered if everyone had moved west and found something exciting, or if nothing at all was happening. We drove through Lamar and down to Slough where the natal den was quiet. A gray wolf came out of the den onto the “porch” but no puppies. A little later another gray adult and a black adult appeared at the entrance and wound their way through the sage to bed in in the grassy area at the foot of the slope.
We went back and forth between the two dens, but since there wasn’t much activity we drove back to Lamar Valley straight into a bear jam. A grizzly sow and her cubs were trying to cross the road just north of Coyote and Dorothy’s. The rangers handled the situation beautifully, blocking the road in both directions to allow the bears to cross. Tim grabbed his camera and jumped out of the car to take photographs while I stayed in the car, leaving me with a front-row view of the bears as they walked across the road. The bear family loped into the sloping meadows between Fisherman’s and Coyote where they continued foraging as crowds watched.
Snow was falling heavily so we pulled into a turnout at Round Prairie for a while and watched a sandhill crane peck for insects in the meadow before returning to Soda Butte. We’ve seen a few sandhill cranes this trip, mostly in the southern part of the park, but no nests or colts. At a nearby turnout, a group of photographers kept watch over a moose carcass lying just across Soda Butte Creek. A wolf and a black bear visited the carcass just before daylight, but left before crowds began to gather. There was only a slim chance that another animal would show up at this time of day so we decided to check on the coyote den.
The five coyote puppies are a delight to watch. They are about four to six weeks old now and are getting around well, boldly exploring the sage around the den and climbing up the slope. Today they wrestled with each other, sometimes sliding back into the den entrance, or being pushed into it, and crawling out. An adult, probably the pups’ mother, suddenly appeared trotting in from the east and climbed the slope straight to where a pronghorn buck was rubbing his antlers against a bush. She probably didn’t want the pronghorn anywhere near the den, the coyote stalked the pronghorn who was not at all intimidated. The buck chased the coyote and coyote chased the buck, the interaction lasting about 15 minutes before the coyote and buck went their separate ways in opposite directions. The mother coyote continued across the slope and sat down several yards above the den. Two pups crawled up through the sage to greet her, but she sent the little adventurers back to the den with some inaudible language. Seeing that the pups had obeyed, she turned and climbed up the slope and over the ridge. We are still wondering if the coyotes will move the pups given all the excitement around the den.
After a short hike along the Yellowstone River, we spent the rest of the day driving through Lamar Valley and Little America. Bison and their little red calves are everywhere. The calves are especially entertaining as they run around, bucking and chasing each other. Pronghorns bound across the sagebrush flats. One morning a group of bucks played and sparred along Slough Creek. They chased each other in and out of the water and up and down the banks of Slough Creek. We haven’t seen any pronghorn fawns yet; it is probably too early.
On the way back to the cabin, we spotted a black bear foraging across from Soda Butte Picnic area. We’ve seen quite a few black bears this trip. This afternoon a black bear and cinnamon phase black bear grazed near Rainy Lake and another black bear foraged in the meadows near the Roosevelt corrals. We have yet to see a fox which seems unusual, but the foxes must be staying close to their dens.