Monday, 25 May 2015

The most famous national park - Part 2

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone is so large that you need to spend time in different areas. During our first year we came in the south gate from the Grand Tetons and stayed at Grant Village, then moved up to Tower Fall so that we could visit the Lamar and Tower area, then Norris to see the western side of the park.

view from our campsite

This year after Fishing Bridge, we moved up to Mammoth where we have stayed numerous times before. Our favourite campsite wasn't available, so we stayed in another for one night and moved the next day. The campground is full every night, and when we went to renew our site, they had taken the envelopes away to stop people stealing other people's campsites!

Feeding time

While we mainly saw grizzly, bison and elk down in the middle area of Yellowstone, up here at the Mammoth/Tower/Lamar Valley area, there is a lot more variety of animals. In one day we saw bison, elk, pronghorn, red fox, badger, black bears, grizzly bears and moose. On other days we saw big horn sheep, deer, great horned owls with chicks and wolves. None of the Bison have had calves down in the Canyon area but they have up here where it's warmer. When I commented that we hadn't seen any coyotes, I was told that the wolves have reduced the number of coyotes in the park, which might account for the increase in pronghorn, deer and red fox. There are a lot more elk here this year too. But I'm sure the hunters would not agree as they blame the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone for the reduced numbers - nothing to do with the fact that they may have hunted too many!

Sow with one of her COY's
There are about five groups of people in the park: the wolf people, the photographers, the hikers, the tourists and the rangers. The wolf people spend all day looking through theirs scopes looking for wolves, which more often than not, are only tiny specks on the hillside. They don't like the photographers and complain about them to the rangers, I'm not sure why. Each to their own, while they are doing that, it means they are not wherever we are, so it's a bonus! We don't like the tourists because they stop in the middle of the road creating traffic jams. There are nice rangers and painful ones, you learn which ones to avoid.

the COY's are so cute
There are twenty black bears and cubs this year within a two mile radius of Tower; a record number. 7 yearlings (one year old), 5 COY's (cubs of the year - born this year) and 8 adults. No-one names the bears up here, except for the descendent of Rosie, who also gets called Rosie. She got her name from the red ear tags she had, like ruby earrings. We saw four sows with cubs in one day, then none of them for a few days afterwards, it's just luck. I much prefer grizzly as they are more playful. When black bears become yearlings they become lawn mowers, they just graze all day long which makes a pretty boring photo. When they are COY's, they will play. One COY that didn't have any siblings had to make do with himself, so he would grab onto a dead branch and swing his body along it like he was moving along a monkey bar, it was so funny to watch. A sow may mate with several males during a short estrus period and therefore the cubs from the same litter may have different fathers. One of the sows has a black cub and a cinnamon cub, so one father may have been cinnamon and the other black.
the cinnamon COY's

We have never have much luck with Grizzlies up in the Lamar but this time we saw a sow with three cubs. She had been right in front of people before we arrived and then moved up the valley. We saw her again the next day, still a fair distance but we got to see a wolf approach her. She ran him off. He came back, She ran him off again. Then he decided he wasn't going to get anywhere and left.

the wolf approaching the grizzly to get her cubs who are behind her a few yards
Towards the end of our stay we got sick of the crowds and headed for the backcountry, with our bear spray of course. It's so peaceful away from the traffic jams, the sage bush has a fragrant aroma when you brush by it and there are many types of pretty wildflowers out at this time of year. And no, we didn't need our bear spray.

First time we have seen baby moose

Photographing the animals is obviously our primary reason for coming here, but catching up with friends we have met on past visits and meeting new ones is also a highlight. Every year we learn more things about the area, whether it's about the animals themselves, the ecology or where places are. It's great if someone tells you where a wildlife sighting is, it's another to know where on earth they are talking about. Someone asked us the other day where the hitching post was, like many places it's not on any map or even signposted. We knew where it was because on our first trip, the wolves used to cross there at daylight and we used to go and see them. Some of places to become familiar with are: Rainey Lake, Floating Island, Petrified Tree, Phantom Lake, Little America, Picnic ground, Lamar (valley), Slough (slew) Creek, Pebble Creek, Soda Butte, Hell Roaring, Blacktail, Specimen trail, Swan Lake Flats, and Sheepeater Cliffs.

We had a fantastic day with this fox

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