Select a page

Yellowstone Spring Trip Report, Days 4 – 5

June 2, 2024

It was client pickup day on Sunday, so not much to report. I drove through the park at a steady pace, and though I allowed for a little extra time, didn’t stop for any wildlife sightings. I probably definitely spent more time dodging tourists on the road than animals. Funny how more and more it seems the big manly trucks are the ones that have the hardest time pulling all the way off the road. Allergic to Grass and Dirt is not something I see Ford and GM advertising as much as they apparently should.

In the eastern Lamar, a grizzly family worked their way out into the valley floor. There was a black bear near Floating Island Lake, followed quickly by a cinnamon black past Hellroaring. Just a bit farther west, a moose cow and calf attracted attention in the forest. Not bad activity for a late morning drive!

I managed to round up the crew in Bozeman over the next few hours. This group is made up solely of past tour clients. While I enjoy meeting and mixing in fresh faces on my trips, there’s something comforting about traveling with folks who are at ease smacking me on the back of the head when I start to doze off at the wheel.

We returned to Gardiner, our home base for the tour, and were greeted in the parking lot by a pair of lovely Western Tanagers. Hopefully that’s a good sign for the coming week!

 

June 3, 2024

Day One… where to go? Since the weather forecast was iffy at best for today, I opted to forgo any potential sunrise destinations in favor of the normally-reliable northeast corner. Since I’m accompanied by seasoned pros, we loaded the vehicle in a timely and efficient manner and were on the road five minutes early.

Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the front gate before 5am, and it was actually manned by a ranger checking passes. Fortunately, I have my act together and was permitted to enter the park (in exchange for leaving two guests at the gate, to be picked up at the end of the day 1).

The skies were dark and threatening. It wasn’t wet, yet. But rain seemed inevitable. The three different weather services my guests consulted predicted rain arriving sometime between 9am and 3pm. In other words, typical Yellowstone.

I had no particular destination in mind, but an initial drive to the northeast usually involves at least a cursory search for black bears. We traveled up the Tower Road. Nothing around Calcite Springs, and I began to turn around (knowing the Lamar invited other potential sightings). But I paused before turning downhill. The bears had been seen more recently up past Tower. So why not make a quick run up there?

Good call. We arrived to find a black bear grazing near the road, across from a pullout. Occasionally she’d glance over the horizon, where I snapped a photo or two out the car window.

American Black Bear

I assumed this was the sow I was looking for. So where were the cubs? Normally this early in the morning, they’re hidden up a tree somewhere. A quick search confirmed my suspicions. They were high up a tall conifer on our side of the road. Too high for anything but an occasional glimpse of a silhouette. We’d have to wait if we hoped to get a clear view closer to eye level.

In the meantime, Mom crossed the road and came right by our vehicle. My guests snapped video and pics with their phones as she went by our windows. The sow continued up toward the cub tree. Would this be the moment…?

No. She continued grazing uphill. The cubs stayed in the penthouse.

With Mom now on the opposite side of the tree from us, in a more wide open meadow, I decided to change our position. We parked a little further up the road on the opposite side and settled in. She forged a path through the grass up, up and away. Eventually she disappeared behind a stand of trees. The cubs remained on the same set of branches, napping.

Then the rain came. Other visitors came and went. A ranger arrived. The bear circled back around, and once again approached the tree. The cubs, however, stayed put. They ventured onto branches on either side of the tree, but never went up or down.

The ranger did a great job managing the situation. When the bear approached the grassy shoulder, a toot from the air horn sent her back up the hill a few steps and away from any potential collisions with passing cars. He kept folks moving and established clear boundaries for visitors to watch from both above and below the area.

Ultimately we put in three hours with the bears before we finally gave up. I was a bit surprised they didn’t descend for a morning meal earlier, but I imagine the rain didn’t help. We heard later that the cubs did come down soon after we left, though most folks had cleared out.

A stakeout is an odd way to start a tour. Normally we scavenge for sightings. Would the timing ultimately work out for us? I figured that wouldn’t factor into our next stop. I’d received some intel on an owl sighting, so we headed there next to check on it.

On the way we stopped at Calcite Springs, where folks were eyeing some bighorn sheep across the canyon. Was one of them my severely pregnant ewe from a couple days back? Quite possibly, because one of the ewes did have a small lamb following her around.

Bighorn lamb

On to the owl location. It was a long shot, though if the owl was around it was unlikely to move any time soon. The intel was of an undetermined age, and the location was somewhat ambiguous. And this was an uncommon owl.

So things played out about the way one might expect. We struck out. Fortunately, we had pikas nearby. And we quickly found them. I filed away a reminder to tell my group about the time many, many years ago when I came to this spot to look for a weasel… and it showed up right when I pulled up. I failed to get pictures that day, but eventually I also saw a marten at that spot a couple years later. So all these years I haven’t really visited for pikas. Rather I come hoping to see the animals that want to eat the pikas.

Some other visitors walked down to see what we were photographing, so we pointed out the pikas. That’s when one of them spotted something that was decidedly not a pika.

Long-tailed Weasel

What a beautiful long-tailed weasel. It looked big (by weasel standards) and healthy, with a handsome lighter brown coat and vibrant yellow beneath. Everyone managed to come away with a few shots as it scampered briskly into and across the rocks. Earlier in this trip I had been thinking about how it had been a while since I got a nice summer long-tailed weasel (I’ve had better luck in winter lately, when they’re easier to spot). So this was a score. I guess the timing worked out after all.

Long-tailed Weasel

We were back on the road and heading northeast. Time to check on badgers, moose, foxes, and such. Unfortunately, the rain returned, seemingly for good. We made it all the way to Silver Gate, where we hid in one of my cabins for lunch. Afterward, we popped up the road a short ways to see if there was any bear activity outside of Cooke. No luck (later I learned there were mating grizzlies somewhere up that way in the afternoon).

Back in the park, the weather dampened my optimism, but fortunately this group is pretty chill and we’re all willing and ready to accept anything that comes our way (e.g., surprise weasels). We had not yet explored the last pocket of the northeast, where I knew of at least one thing I could show them.

As we’re driving along, Client April declared, “there should be an owl in these trees.” I stopped about fifteen seconds later to show them said owl.

Great Horned Owlet

Now, before you start thinking April conjures owls at will and try to book her for your next party, please know that I was planning on showing them this exact owl (and, I hoped, the adult, which was not around… perhaps staying dry under better cover?). Honest.

An owl was on their wish list, so that is checked off. A wolverine was also on the list, and we checked that off earlier in the morning (the big M on his sweatshirt was visible from a mile away). But we’ll continue to look for more of both.

By this time it was only mid-afternoon. The skies looked more friendly all of a sudden, and we drove west. In Little America, a crowd was watching… a pronghorn with twins! Our first fawns of the season (and for one client, her first “live” fawn after a previous, somewhat gruesome sighting). Unfortunately, we had to park some distance away, and Mom was soon moving into the sage with her little ones before we could get within photo range.

As we approached Roosevelt, I was feeling better about the weather, and opted for a very long detour to take us back to Gardiner. I hoped we’d luck into a bear sighting or two down on the west side of the park. But this meant traveling over Dunraven Pass, driving the thrilling Canyon-Norris stretch, and then turning back northward.

It became apparent as we crested Dunraven that the weather was not actually getting better. In fact, it was worsening. We cut through a consistent drizzle the rest of the way. No bears, no stops, except for a sudden rainbow above Mammoth.

Tomorrow and the rest of the week are supposed to be better, if you believe those sketchy Yellowstone forecasts. But for now, as I write this, the rain is coming down again and the skies are rumbling overhead.

Notes:

  1. Not really.

1 Comment

  1. Reny June 8, 2024 Reply

    I’m pretty sure your clients will be glad with all the things you’re showing them.

    ” the thrilling Canyon-Norris stretch”………..ha ha ha, I told one of my friends this last week about that part of the park.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*