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Yellowstone Fall 2015 Trip Report, Days 9 – 12 (October 4 – 7)

Day 9, October 4

We officially wrapped up mine and Zack’s group tour, so we returned our clients to Bozeman.  Thanks again to this group for such a fun tour.  Stay tuned to the blog for client photos from this trip!


Day 10, October 5

Ah, it felt good to sleep in.  When I finally entered the park late in the morning, there was still quite a bit of low-lying fog and clouds.  It was cool, but comfortable.  I stopped at Hellroaring for the first time on this trip and photographed a blue grouse in the parking lot.

Blue grouse

Pikas were very active as well.  I always hope to see a weasel or marten here (as I have in the past), but it didn’t happen today.  While I was watching pikas, red squirrels chirped and gathered food, and a hairy woodpecker tapped on a nearby tree.

I continued east.  No bears around, and I made it all the way to the Lamar before things perked up.  A coyote was hunting in its usual spot just west of the Institute, but I stopped for the far bison on the hillsides above the valley floor.  Some golden cottonwoods made for an interesting “filter.”

Autumn bison

The weather was really lovely by this time, but I had to get up to Silver Gate to drop stuff at our cabin, which will be my home for the rest of the trip.  I settled in for the remainder of the afternoon.


Day 11, October 6

The plan for Tuesday was to hike Mt. Washburn in the morning.  It has long been my favorite hike, but I hadn’t actually hiked it since 2007!  I had a good excuse this time.  I was testing out a new photo pack (review forthcoming), and figured Washburn would be the perfect test.

Well, plans were waylaid a bit after I received a message from Linda saying the Wapiti Pack had made a kill close to Canyon Junction on Monday.  A potential wolf sighting at close range takes priority over a hike, I’d say, so I woke up a bit earlier than planned and went down to Canyon.  The carcass had been dragged out further from the road overnight (rangers insisted it wasn’t them, and presumed a bear had been in), and I set up to wait with numerous photographers and wolf watchers.

It was cold.  Luckily, Heidi arrived in the HotCocoaMobile, and had just the thing to warm me up.  No wolves appeared, though there were a couple false alarms and the elk out in the meadow were spooked by something at one point.

Eventually, we were all surprised to see a grizzly bear appear magically with the carcass, a further 50 yards from where we thought the carcass had been dragged (based on the raven activity).  The bear tugged and fought with the dead elk.  It was so far away that I only shot a bit of video for fun and then left.

It was time to fit in the Washburn hike.  The weather was nice.  Due to the late start, there was very little wildlife, but I did have one surprise: a pygmy owl!  Just as with my spring pygmy encounters, this one gave itself away by calling.  Unfortunately, it flew away as I was struggling to free my gear from the photo pack (more comments on that frustration in the eventually pack review).  Still, a cool find.

Managed to complete the hike, which was slightly more difficult than I remember it being eight years ago. 😉

Following lunch, I returned to Silver Gate to take care of errands for the rest of the day.


Day 12, October 7

I had a one day private tour scheduled for today, which meant a very early wake up call.  Juan and Nina’s main goals were wolves and bears, but they were “up for just about anything” (which I love to hear).  Because they are staying on for a couple of extra days, my goal was to cover as much of the park’s wildlife hot spots as possible to give them a lay of the land and see what we could find.

We went south first.  The Canyon carcass had disappeared, so we continued toward Hayden.  A number of bull elk were near the road about a mile south of the junction.  Hayden Valley itself was very quiet.  The swans were a fair distance away, and we only saw one bison.  That was pretty much it.  I drove to Mary Bay so my clients could see the grizz on the elk carcass.  It was actually much more active than earlier in the week, standing up and moving around as it was eating breakfast.  Though still a fair distance away, it was a much better photo op with a distinct, awake subject rather than a food-coma-ridden lump.

We covered ground all the way to Sylvan Lake (no Raspberry or foxes) before backtracking.  From there we went south along the lake, stopping at a few spots that had great gray owl potential.  No dice.

All the way back through Hayden, and then I wanted to stop at one more potential owl spot north of Canyon.  Wouldn’t you know it, this one paid off!  I found my first great gray in over two years.

great gray owl

When I first came across it, the owl was very skittish.  It flew several times as I just stood in place, so I note the general direction of its flight and returned to the vehicle to get Juan and Nina.  We ventured back into the woods and I managed to find the owl again.  It had perched high up in the trees and seemed much more comfortable.  Studying the tail feathers, it was apparent this was a juvenile (which could also explain the lighter-than-normal coloration), which was probably why it spooked so badly when it first saw me.

We shot for about ten minutes before heading back to the car for lunch.  At the parking lot sat a woman who’d heard of our sighting but couldn’t catch up to us.  She claimed the great gray was her favorite owl, but she’d never seen one.  So while my clients settled in for lunch I took her back and helped her get her first wild great gray photos.

The afternoon is a bit of a blur, but we covered Dunraven, Hellroaring (saw pikas, but didn’t get photos), Little America and the Lamar.  Overall it was a very fun day with a lovely couple.  Hopefully the experience set up Juan and Nina for some great sightings the next two days before they move on to the Tetons.


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