Watching Wildlife in Yellowstone One Week in Spring

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Day 1

Sunday, May 12, 2024

            Last week’s snow has almost melted.  The 2-6 inches that closed I-90 and roads in Yellowstone is now patches of snow and dustings of white on mountains.  In some places, like the mountains across from the cabin, a layer of white blankets the peaks, shining in the morning sun and glowing mysteriously in moonlight. 

            The first thing we did when we entered the Park was look for the great horned owl nest in Mammoth.  Last spring we missed the owlets, but this year one of the adults and two fuzzy chicks stared at us from the center of the tall pine.  The female was deep in the jumble of twigs, only her huge yellow eyes and tufted ears visible.  The two owlets are large, off-white fuzzy ovals with their mother’s yellow eyes.  They stare out of the nest with expressions of disbelief.  There are actually three owlets, but only two were visible.  While we watched, a large bird flew out of the tall pine, probably the male.  It was an auspicious beginning to this trip and hopefully a good omen. 

            We made a quick tour of the Park, driving up to Swan Lake Flats where we found a pair of swans floating at the grassy edge of the lake and a sandhill crane.  At Blacktail Ponds a grizzly sow and her two 2-year-old cubs tore pieces from a carcass, alternating with covering it with dirt.  This is the third spring for these cubs and the sow will likely send them on their way.  In the meantime, they stick close to their mother and even try to nurse.  The sow growls and jumps away. 

            At Tower Junction, across from the ranger station, another grizzly is walking across the meadows where a herd of bull bison graze.  We stopped at Slough Creek to check on the Junction Butte Pack’s den, but the sun at late afternoon made it difficult to see anything.  This year 907F, the alpha female, has denned once again in the sage den.  She is 11 years old now, and denned late – around April 27 – so it’s unlikely we’ll see puppies.  There is another den, the natal den at Slough, but I’m not sure if there is another litter.  907F was seen carrying a pup from that den to the sage den before we arrived in the Park.

            Today was a full day.  We left the cabin late, about 8:30 a.m.  I love the way the mountains look in the morning, the snow glistening in the sun.  As we approached Barronette Peak, a beautiful fox trotted toward us, straight down the center of the road.  His coat was a luxurious red and tan and he had black socks and markings.  As we slowed down it looked like he would veer off the road into the woods, but he kept going past us down the middle of the road. 

            There was a large crowd at Hitching Post and the Confluence with cars filling most of the pullouts.  As we passed the Confluence, we could see a gray wolf weaving in between the willows heading towards the river banks.  After parking we found a gray wolf deep in the sage flats above the river.  The wolf was hard to see, only its head showing at times as it moved through the sage.  We then spotted a second gray wolf bedded in the sage.  The two wolves stayed together for a short while until the lighter gray of the two moved back through the sage and down the river banks to a carcass hidden behind a pile of logs and brush.  The wolf was partially hidden as it tore pieces of an old carcass and then climbed the river banks, returning to join the other gray. 

            The Mollie Pack has been in Lamar Valley recently, which is strange.  The Mollies usually make a brief appearance in winter, if at all, but this spring 9 or 10 Mollies appeared and stayed for a couple of weeks.  These two grays are most likely part of that pack.  We are glad to see Mollies after many years of not seeing them, but with the Junction Butte and Shrimp Lake Packs nearby, we do not want to witness any wolf conflicts.

            We continued on through Lamar Valley, stopping at Dorothy’s where people were looking in all directions.  We were happily surprised to find out this is where a coyote den with puppies are, in the flats below Dorothy’s.  I counted five puppies, but there are more, at least six.  They are tiny gray balls of fur that run all over the sage and jump on each other.  They swarm their mother when she stands up, falling over each other. 

            While we were watching the coyotes, Tim spotted a dark grizzly on Jasper Bench and someone else spotted a moose in the flats below Amethyst Creek.  Something may have spooked it, because all of a sudden it began running in circles.  Also visible from Dorothy’s is a bald eagle’s nest which has been occupied for years.  Today a bald eagle sat in the nest, her white head and black body so striking.  I thought I saw a chick, but then thought it’s too early.  Later this afternoon we looked again, and two fuzzy eaglets lifted their heads and pecked at each other. 

            There are two other nests that are occupied, the osprey nest in Lamar Canyon and a golden eagle nest along Slough Creek Road.  The osprey was in her nest while her mate perched on a branch next to the nest.  This is a very reliable pair we’ve watched for many years, but unfortunately, we are not here when the chicks hatch.  The golden eagle nest was not occupied last year.  Today, the female was deep in the nest, raising her head only briefly.  She rose and spread her wings once, bending down as if feeding on something, and then settled back in the nest. 

            The bear at Tower Junction settled in today, grazing and grubbing right next to bison bulls.  The bear looked small compared to some of the huge bulls.  Visitors lined the road watching and a ranger warned that this bear is very unpredictable, which sent some people reatreating to their cars. 

             We spent the afternoon going back and forth between Tower and Lamar, watching the bear, big horn sheep and the coyote puppies again.  On the way back to the cabin we saw the fox again near Barronette Peak and a second fox along the road not far from Pebble Creek.  Neither feared the road, or people, and there is concern they are begging for food. 


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