Sunday, June 29, 2014

Yellowstone: Tower, Lamar Valley, Mount Washburn, and Specimen Ridge.

My brother and I woke up early one morning to head out to Lamar Valley and look for wolves at a bison carcass a ranger had told us about.  Unfortunately my excellent navigation skills took us right past the turn for Lamar Valley and we ended up driving pretty far south before realizing my mistake.  We did find lots of black bears during this misadventure.

Eventually we made it to Lamar Valley and to the bison carcass we had heard about.  A grizzly had just finished up and was running in the opposite direction.  We overhead a guy say he had just seen wolves at a second bison carcass a few miles up the road.  We jumped back in the car and drove up there.

But we missed the wolves.  Instead the carcass was hosting a coyote and about forty ravens.  As we watched someone pointed out a grizzly bear slowly approaching the carcass. 

Eventually the grizzly arrived at the bison and begin ripping out chunks.  The coyote retreated to a safer distance but would occasionally sneak in and grab some meat.  It was too far for good photos but here's a digiscoped iphone shot anyway...

We watched as the grizzly stuffed himself till full, then wandered back up the hill.  The coyote stuffed himself also, before wandering away.  Later in the day we came back with the rest of the family and a couple of Bald Eagles were getting their share.  Good stuff.

After that excitement my brother and I decided to check out Mount Washburn in hopes of finding some bighorn sheep.  We followed the trail towards the top but only made it about halfway due to time constraints.  It was a beautiful hike though...

The sun disappeared and dark scary clouds rolled in, adding some spice to the hike. 

We missed the sheep, but found some other good wildlife...

 Clark's Nutcracker

Vesper Sparrow

 Badger!!  (Life mammal!)

Coyote, along the road on the way back to Tower

After meeting up with the rest of the family for lunch, we all headed to Tower Fall.  There's a nice little hike down to the river from the parking area where this Western Tanager was ridiculously accommodating...

There were Spotted Sandpipers along the river, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Chipping Sparrows in the trees, Mountain Chickadees and White-crowned Sparrows in the parking lot.  Not terrible for there being a billion people there. 

The next day we drove back towards Tower with stops at some other little falls before arriving at the Specimen Ridge trailhead.

                      Prairie Smoke

We stopped near the Petrified Tree turnoff to see what was causing a major traffic jam.  Oh you know, just black bears having sex. 

By Tower Junction, bison were hosting Brown-headed Cowbirds...

We finally made it to the Specimen Ridge trail and got started, hoping again for bighorn sheep.  The trail offers nice views of the Yellowstone River, kind of across the river from where Tower Fall is located.

I was walking a bit ahead and as I crested a hill I saw a couple of little orange heads sticking up...

Red foxes!!  (another life mammal!)

 Note the nice wound on this guy's snout

This pair of foxes was completely unconcerned with me.  I was surprised but then realized they had bigger things to worry about- there were also a bunch of bighorn sheep nearby!

The sheep did not seem to like the foxes being around, and we watched one sheep chase one along the rocky cliffside.  The foxes disappeared soon after, probably into a nearby den.

The sheep began to get comfortable, some right in the middle of the trail, and we decided it was a good place to turn around. 

That ends this portion of my trip.  One more post to come from the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  Good times!!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Yellowstone: Old Faithful & Lower Falls

Our first few nights at Yellowstone we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn (the brown building above), located next to, you guessed it, Old Faithful geyser (steaming on the left above).  The inn itself is a pretty cool building, over a hundred years old.  There were plenty of trails and boardwalks around to explore, with plenty of birds and critters to keep me entertained.

Yellow-bellied marmots

 American Dipper

 Awkward chipmunk pose

 Cassin's Finch

 Mountain Bluebird

 Old Faithful

 Solitary Geyser

 Violet-green Swallow


While staying here we did lots of little trips to other spots around the southern part of the park, like the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  This area is called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and like the real Grand Canyon, it feels a bit surreal when you're looking at it.

View from the top of Lower Falls

 Lower Falls
Stairs down to a viewing deck at Lower Falls

 On the drive back to Old Faithful we stopped to peep on some bison families...

And one last one from a drive-by another day:

Good times!  More to come.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Grand Teton NP.

While staying at Yellowstone, I woke up early one morning and drove down to Grand Teton to try for a couple of birds.  The drive down was a bit nerve-wracking at times, with snow falling and occasional deer and elk lurking on the side of the road.  I made it to the top of Signal Mountain by dawn, as directed, but no Dusky Grouse were to be found.

The views were nice, though, and a Townsend's Solitaire kept me company.  I drove back down the mountain and headed south along the main road, stopping to peep on some elk.

I eventually made it to Moose-Wilson Road which is known for Great Gray Owls.  I found none, but it was a birdy road with lots of small trails and areas to explore. 

Gray Catbird

Red-naped Sapsucker nest 


 Hairy Woodpeckers

Black-headed Grosbeaks

When I drove back up the road towards the main road I found a bunch of people clearly looking at something interesting.  Moose!  This female gave the best looks while her young hid in thick brush nearby. 

That was about it for Grand Teton.  Yellowstone coming soon!