Friday 16 June 2017

Yellowstone National Park part 1 .......

Buffalo crossing river

Thurs 8th June
We left Grand Teton National Park and headed up the 50 odd miles North to Yellowstone National Park.
Stopped a couple of times in the snow as we went over the Continental Divide …again…seems to be a thing with travelling in the Rockies!
Arrived at Bridge Bay campground on the Yellowstone Lake and at 7800 feet, fortunately we’d pre-booked for 4 nights so the “Campground Full” notice didn’t apply to us!
After a bit of lunch we drove out to Fishing Bridge and out to Pelican Creek where we’d seen otters in the past. None this time but some good birds, Buffleheads galore, Lesser Scaup and Green-winged Teal.
Also lots of mozzies!
We then headed north and into the Hayden Valley where we saw several buffalo amongst the hot springs and elk dotted around in the open meadows.
There were a load of people on the rise above the river and when we enquired what was going on, we were told there had been 2 of a pack of 4 wolves seen there the previous evening.
So we found somewhere to park and got out the camping chairs, binoculars and telescope and sat in the sun until about 8:30 pm. We saw an elk and its new calf come running out of the forest and thought it may be a pre-cursor to a wolf hunt but nothing happened.
We watched a buffalo swim across the fast flowing river and also spotted a Sandhill Crane but still no wolves!
Headed back to the campground and barbecued a couple of thick steaks and ate them in the dark around the campfire.
Fri 9th June
We left the campground fairly late this morning at about 9:30 and headed North through Dunraven Pass and over Mount Washburn .
Stopped a few times on the mountain to look for wildlife but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
We then dropped down the other side to Tower/Roosevelt junction as we’d heard that there was a Black bear with cubs in the area.
There were a couple of places where we’d seen black bears on previous visits along the road from Tower to Mammoth so we drove over that way but didn’t find any.
We then thought we’d head down the Lamar valley for a few hours and within minutes of turning down the road from tower we encountered a lot of people beside the high road bridge over the Yellowstone River.
Sure enough this is where the bears were and a Park Ranger had stopped the traffic across the bridge as it seemed they were climbing up the steep side of the ravine toward the road.
I got a few photos as they came up onto the road, a female Black bear with 2 cubs.
I was thinking that they would just cross the road and carry on down the side of the river but No! They wanted to cross the river not the road so they set off across the bridge with cars stopped about halfway and people watching at either end.
People were pretty good and gave them plenty of space and they left the road at the other end of the bridge to continue foraging up on the high ridge on the opposite side of the river from us.
We continued down the Lamar valley and had lunch parked up near the Ranger office halfway along the valley.
After watching a couple of large herds of buffalo with several youngsters we made our return to Tower but met the crowd and the bears a few hundred yards from our previous encounter.
This time we parked on the side of the road and I sussed out where I thought they were going and set up my camera on the tripod and waited a few minutes before I was rewarded with some great views of both Mum and her cubs. Frame filling images in good light, although it wasn’t long before the crowd picked up on their whereabouts and came to join me.
We left them to it then as despite the bears treating the whole thing with total disdain it had become a bit of a circus.
As we drove back towards the campground it started to rain and it gradually became heavier so it was food indoors tonight from a tin of beef stew and a chance to edit a few photos (that means DELETE lots!)

Black bear crossing river..the easy way!

Black bear and cubs using the bridge over the Lamar river

Saturday 10th June.
We stopped a short distance from the campground at the thermal area of mud volcanoes for a look at all the steam vents coming from the centre of the earth. One has even erupted through the tarmac of the car park!
We tried to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at Artists Point but it was so busy that we couldn’t find a space to park the camper so we went on over to the Brink of the Falls where the Yellowstone river thunders over the falls and into the canyon below. Very impressive and helped by the fact that the river is in flood at the moment so plenty of water being forced into a small gap and over the falls.
From Canyon we drove across to Norris to check out the campground there as we will need a new site on Monday. It looked good and is a “first come, first served” site so we’ll aim to get there late on Monday morning.
We had lunch watching a few buffalo graze in the water meadows at Norris and also watched an Osprey hover above and a Mountain Bluebird feeding next to the camper.
We the headed down to Madison Junction and West towards the West entrance, to a place where we’d been lucky with seeing otters back in 2015.
Unbelievably as we left the main road onto a little riverside loop I thought I saw a tree branch rolling downstream. Closer inspection revealed 2 otters fishing in the fast flowing torrent. It has been very windy all day today and the water was quite rippled and turbulent so picking them out was difficult at first. After a while I got to the shoreline with my camera and watched the hunting for several minutes and got a few photos as well. They were slowly heading downstream so we drove to another pullout area about a half mile further down but never saw them again.
We then headed back toward Madison campground area where there was a large herd of buffalo grazing in the meadows on the far side of the river.
There were a lot of people there watching but we managed to squeeze the camper into a parking space and watched the herd. There were lots of young calves with their mothers and a few young bulls and what seemed like one senior bull.
After a short while the dominant bull decided to swim across the river to the meadow by the road and proceeded to swim directly towards me and my camera. When he was about 2/3 of the way across I thought it best to make myself scarce so I moved back towards the trees and the road. This was only the start as most of the herd then decided to follow and most of the calves were helped across by the mothers swimming alongside and upstream of them to protect them from the fast flowing current. This was some of the best photography I’d done for a long time and I took a lot of images, both close up and landscape shots of the herd in the environment.
When we arrived back at Bridge Bay it was about 6:30 so we had some bacon on the BBQ and baked spuds via the microwave (all mod cons in these campers!).
After tea I took a stroll around the campground trails down to the shore of the Yellowstone Lake. Here I found a young Elk buck that we’d spotted earlier.
I took a few photos but I was very close and on my own and he was unsure so I let him carry on grazing on the shoreline willow scrub. At one time he went into the water to access the willows and then decided to have a good old dance and frolic in the water with legs in the air and water splashing all around. Great to see although at about 8 pm in the evening and amongst trees the light was pretty poor and I had to push the ISO of the camera and over expose for the lake in the background. Not my best but still quite a pleasant experience being that close to an Elk.

Upper Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Buffal and calf crossing the river
Buffalo calf on the other side of the river

Sunday 11th June.
We left the campground and looked in at Fishing Bridge to fill up with fuel… very expensive here compared to the outskirts of Denver  $2:77 compared to $2:13 per gallon (not litre as at home!).
Picked up some food items and headed over to checkout Pelican Creek before heading off for the day. Remarkably there was a Pelican in at Pelican Creek! An American White Pelican and also thanks to Linda for spotting a Belted kingfisher!
We then headed up past Canyon and over Dunraven pass and Mount Washburn toward Tower / Roosevelt junction.
We stopped for coffee just after the summit and watched and photographed 3 Hoary Marmots lazing about on the rocks waiting for the sun to come out.
Dropped down the mountain and took the turning down into the Lamar valley.
There were some large herds of buffalo in various places down through the valley and when we had past Slough Creek we came across several people with binos, scopes & cameras. Guessing they were looking for Wolves we tried to park but there was no space on the side of the road so we drove on another ¼ mile and pulled off at a layby.
I got our telescope out on the tripod and scanned the area near the buffalo and ‘lo and behold’ 6 Wolves out in the open with several playing around and a couple wearing radio tracking collars.
We watched them for about half an hour and saw them playing, scratching and generally relaxing before one of the light coloured ones with a collar started off toward the buffalo. They all followed in a ragged line with the last one carrying quite a bad limp.
The buffalo weren’t the least bit bothered, despite them having a few youngsters amongst the group.
We eventually lost sight of the wolves as they went into the sage brush beyond the herd and you had to wonder if they’d already eaten and were just sussing out their territory.
We then headed farther down the Lamar valley just past Soda Butte Creek and pulled out for a spot of lunch.
I got the telescope trained on the nearby mountain and managed to count at least 9 white Mountain Goats on ledges and also 3 of those had new born kids with them.
When we got back to Tower we saw the black bear female with the 2 cubs lazing under a tree in a meadow. I took a few photos but they were having a lazy Sunday!
One good thing was that the Park Ranger watching over the bears showed me the nest of a pair of Great Horned Owls with 3 sizeable owlets in it. I got a few photos but it was always distant and I understand it is being monitored by the Park Service so little chance of getting much closer.
As we passed back through the Hayden Valley to Bridge Bay there were a few “buffalo jams” and one “elk jam” but we did pull out and watch a pair of adult plumage Bald Eagles sitting on a bluff above the Yellowstone River calling like crazy. Whilst watching them Linda spotted a Coyote, her second for the day… but not one photographable yet!
Back to the campground and BBQ’d pork steaks with macaroni!
Also had a White-crowned Sparrow perched on the wood around the picnic table!

The wolves give the buffalo a bit of space

Monday 12th June
We left the Bridge Bay campground this morning after a night of thunderstorms and heavy rain.
The morning however was fine with good sunshine so we stopped off at the South rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to get a few photos of the falls from Artists Point.
It was very busy with bus after bus of oriental tourists all wishing to do a “selfie” in front of the waterfall!
We then drove across to Norris and booked in at the campground there for a couple of nights. We were lucky and got a great site down next to the water meadows. There has been a bear on the site quite a bit lately so I’m keeping the camera ready.
As we parked up on our site Linda spotted a Northern flicker, a large woodpecker for those not in the know! It was nesting in a tree just at the end of our pitch and I got a few shots of its head sticking out of the nest hole.
We went on a drive up to Mammoth in the afternoon, then round to tower where we passed the black bear family lazing in a meadow and then on up to Canyon to pick up some more food and drinks.
I’d been in shorts and tee shirt all day but it suddenly started to snow as we came through Dunraven Pass and continued into the evening.
I had to abandon plans to barbeque and instead ate scrambled eggs in the camper whilst the snow came down heavily and we watched the couple in the next door site struggling to upright their gazebo in the snow. Pleased we aren’t tenting like them!

Snowing like crazy on the 12th June!!!!