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Late spring trip May 31-June 6

Posted: Wed Jun 27, 2018 9:53 pm
by Dorothy
This is quite late, but figured I should give a report of my trip, as I have so enjoyed others taking the time to do it. I'll try to keep it as short as I can, since it's a bit out of date. But here goes.

This was a very "you just missed it" trip, had some really wild weather through a bunch of it, but we still saw a lot and really enjoyed ourselves! Not a very "bear-y" trip compared to what everyone else was talking about, but still saw several bears ... one in a rather fun and weird experience we've never had before.

My sister and I set out quite early on May 31, heading toward Gardiner. As we got near the turnoff to Highway 20, we decided we'd try to find the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area that Max mentioned in one of his posts. We had a few minutes and it had sounded interesting (and when looked up, didn't seem like it would take too much of our Yellowstone time. Found it quite easily and had a grand time (did take some of our Yellowstone time, but it was by choice, as we were having a great time). Saw lots of pretty ducks, a bald eagle, a gorgeous Great Blue Heron, nice hawks, pied billed grebe, yellow-headed blackbird, white-faced ibis, swallows of various colors, other shorebirds, muskrats, western tanager that posed nicely for us ... lots of really fun stuff. Most fun was an American Bittern. We'd seen some a couple of them before, but always in yellow/brown rushes or reeds where they would stick their necks up and try to look like a stick -- and they were very hard to see. But this one happened to be in the middle of a very green patch of grass. It walked along VERRRRRYYYY slowly, pausing to stick it's neck up with the message, "I am a stick, you cannot see me..." except we could, very clearly, among the green. We chuckled and enjoyed the show. A very cool place we'd love to revisit. VERY quiet, but lots of things to see.

Continued on to West Yellowstone and headed up toward Gardiner. No grizzly on the Madison side, really saw very little heading up toward Norris -- one sandhill crane out in a meadow. Decided to head up toward the construction to see if the grizzlies that had been hanging around near the Norris end of the construction were around, but saw nothing. The lakes, however, were gorgeous. By the time we figured we were not going to see the bears, we were in the line for the construction and figured, what the hey, can't be that bad ... but it was! Yucky, muddy, long, bumpy -- we made very sure we did not go through it again. Nothing to see on the other side, either, but we did catch the owlets in Mammoth once we got there. Very cute. Decided to head straight down toward Lamar (we'd check into our hotel in Gardiner later). There was a nice black bear in the spot we tend to call the "bear hammock" -- just a ways north of Floating Island, where there are two big pullouts (one on either side of the road) in a little flat area. We've seen bears there almost every year, and this year was no different. Not a huge bear jam, and a chance to get our "we saw a bear" box checked off quickly! Nice big elk herd on the side of the hill near Petrified Tree, and a beautiful red fox hunting near the Yellowstone picnic area.It was getting late by now, but we kept saying we'd go just a little further into Lamar and THEN turn around and head back. Lots of bison, the osprey nest with ospreys in residence. Finally we decided to go as far as Pebble Creek campground and then turn around. Nothing (other than a nice hawk) on the way, nothing but bison at Round Prairie -- turned into the campground parking area and figured we'd just turn around, but as we were about to turn right and head back toward Roosevelt, we noticed a car that had crossed the bridge the other way had its brake lights on, so we turned left instead and headed toward the car to see what they were seeing (it was getting dark, but still light enough to see things). The car actually turned around and headed back toward the bridge, so we did, too ... and yes, there among the trees and water was a moose! Yay! We went slowly past (the pullout where we turned around was up the road a ways) and figured well, we've seen a moose, we'll just head on back to check in ... when my sister said she thought she MIGHT have seen something near the moose, a little something. We turned around in the parking lot and headed back up. From the opposite side of the road we were not sure there was anything there but the big moose, but when we turned around and came back ... YES, there was a tiny little baby moose following its mom! We have wanted to see a really baby baby moose for a long time, and this one couldn't have been very old -- it was very tiny and still wobbly on its little legs. Sooooooo very cute. Followed mom back toward the water and actually waded into the water with her before they both disappeared into the trees. We were jubilant! Wish I could post some of the photos I got, but you'll just have to trust me on this, it was a very cute little moose! Didn't get checked into our hotel until after 10:30 p.m., but it was very worth it!

Next couple of days we dodged rain, hail, wind and some sun ... but it didn't stop us from seeing thing (in fact, many people seemed to leave the park when the weather got bad, so it was not very crowded some times!). Tried Sheepeater Cliff a couple of times but only managed to see one or two marmots (not much sun, pretty cold, they weren't very active), along with some golden mantled groundsquirels. Got around the upper terrace drive (always love to see how many birds we can see, and there were lots of pretty ones). The owlets were always cute (and we saw the adults one evening in two different trees). Caught the Calcite sow once -- she was asleep under a tree and so we parked and waited with the crowd. Finally, down the tree came a tiny cub! (Everyone said there were two cubs, but I only ever saw one following her around and playing under the tree with her -- could have been a second while they were under the tree in the shade, but I couldn't make it out). Anyway, a lot of fun playing around with cub up and down the tree, up and down and around mom, finally running out from under the tree and into the sunlight. Cub was up and down trees (we could see it out on the branches many times) and once climbed out on very slender limbs near the ground -- it kept going further and further out onto the tiny limbs (very near the ground) and finally fell out of the tree onto mom and onto the ground. SO cute! We never really saw Rosie and the triplets -- one time she was across the road from Rainy Lake and down a bit -- we caught sight of her, but the rangers were hazing her back from the road. Weren't letting people to walk down from the pullout to see her. We drove past a couple of times, spotted the cubs once, and that had to do for us. Others said they saw her lots of times, but that was it for us. Did see the golden eagle nest (and the eagles) at Slough Creek. The badger den, of course, moved the day before we got there. People saw lots of moose at Round Prairie and bears at Petrified Tree, but other than the mama/baby moose our first night, nothing for us. Guess we got quality rather than quantity! :) Nothing much down in Hayden when we went -- one lone Harlequin pair down at LeHardy, lots of bison, some elk, some pronghorn, trumpeter swans at various places in Hayden and Lamar.

One VERY cool experience -- saw a couple of pronghorn just a ways down from the Trout Lake trailhead -- pulled over to watch and pretty soon two TINY babies popped up. They tottered around and about, sometimes nursing, sometime running back and forth, sometimes lying down. Just SO cute! Again, don't think they were very old -- still unsteady on their tiny toothpick legs. What an experience, just watching them go around and under and away from and back to mom. Also saw a nice fox trotting along the road and a couple of coyotes trotting up along the hillside in Lamar at various times. The wolf den at Slough apparently moved shortly after we got there -- heard about people seeing wolves, but never saw any ourselves. Did catch Castle geyser going off (and Old Faithful) on a trip down to that area. Coming down from Dunraven once we saw a cinnamon black bear down in a gully where we often see bears. Parked down the hill in a pullout and walked back up to where we could look down (well, I hiked up, sister's legs were giving her problems). The bear was browsing but kept looking back toward the trees. Sure enough, waiting long enough and here came a tiny little cinnamon cub! They stayed over by the trees, mostly, with not much of an angle to see them, but once the cub walked along a long and mama came over -- it sat up on its hind legs and batted at her face, and she kissed him! Really gave him a kiss. Just so cute! Saw another mom black bear with two tiny cubs (this wasn't a grizzly trip for us ... only griz we saw were way up on the side of the hills in Lamar) heading up a hillside near the "bear hammock" -- heading out into the sage flats. Cubs were VERY tiny and following mom quite close. Really fun and cute! Saw what appeared to be a boar in that same area later in the day, which may be why mama was heading the other direction earlier in the day. Saw a nice bull elk with an already nice-sized rack, another beautiful western tanager, another sandhill crane, cute little red dogs ... just lots of things.

Then there was our last day in Yellowstone -- Saturday morning. Decided to try Sheepeater one more time, since the sun was shining. Got over there and we were all alone (it was quite early) and we sat and watched and eventually saw a couple of marmots, a pretty red squirrel, some lovely birds. Decided to walk up the trail a few yards to see if there were more marmots up further. More rocks, but no more marmots. I started back toward the car (we hadn't gone more that 10-20 yards, I'd say), and my sis was following on the other trail. As I neared the picnic area, I saw a streak of brown running around the rockwall -- I said to my sister that hey, there was a marmot, but by the time I said it, I realized it wasn't a marmot -- too big for a marmot and it ran ... like a bear! I told my sister there was a bear in the picnic area, and the impression was it was small, so maybe a cub, which would mean a mother around somewhere. I said we probably needed to get into the car (which was only a few yards away by then. As I got closer to the car, I could see around the cliff and there was a big black bear there ... I told sis there was the mom and let's get in the car. We did, and the bear emerged, and it was the cinnamon bear I'd seen originally (it looked black in the shadows), a pretty good sized bear, but not huge. It was a bit skittish. We stayed in the car as it came out into the picnic area, then dashed back, then came out into the open, then dashed back ... then went over to the toilet building and tried like anything to get into it, nudging the door, up on its hind legs to try to find a way in ... we were having such a great time just watching. It finally headed down the road. We watched it go, figuring it was going either across the water or up into the trees. We watched the marmots (which had emerged once the bear left) and then headed down the road to see if the bear was still visible. And it WAS still there, first on the water side, then it crossed the road and up into the trees. We spent quite a bit of time, all alone, watching the bear as it dug under a log, got up on the log and walked along it, etc. SO much fun. A service truck came along (must admit we were parked in the middle of the road, as nobody was there), so we moved, but did come back just to see if it was still there. It was. Someone passed us as we were turning around and we TRIED to signal that there was a bear around, but we figured they'd see if right along the road. But they didn't! We watched a little longer, until it wandered toward the tree line, then went down to the picnic area where the folks were just getting out of the car. They hadn't noticed the bear! They got back in their car to see if the bear was still there. We hung around the marmots for a while longer then went back down -- bear wasn't there. We heard later it had been hanging around Sheepeater for a while (and after), but we didn't know that until after. Had never seen a bear near Sheepeater -- and will likely never see another like that! No grizzlies at Swan Lake flats (where there had been several times), but we did get the cinnamon at Sheepeater!

Headed down to Grand Teton from there ... will include that report later. This is all I can handle in one sitting!

Re: Late spring trip May 31-June 6

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 10:33 am
by Mike
Sounds like a great trip Dorothy,seeing baby pronghorns is a great sighting,mother pronghorns are so good at hiding their young in the sage.if you had been in the park earlier when the bear activity was higher you would not have seen the baby pronghorns or the baby moose.That is always the trade off on when to visit.This does seem to be the year of the moose,saw more this year than any year in the last 20 years and to see a newborn is just so special.Hope you got to see a grizz or two when you got to the Tetons.Thanks for sharing your trip

Re: Late spring trip May 31-June 6

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 11:03 am
by lah
Fun report. You saw lots of stuff I didn't a few days earlier. I saw a number of black bears and the badger babies but not the variety that you saw. Happy for you.

Re: Late spring trip May 31-June 6

Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:32 pm
by Dorothy
Thanks, lah and Mike. We DID see a lot and have some really great experiences. The Park always gives generously, just in different ways each trip. That's why we just have to keep going back. It's always different, yet the same beautiful place.

Anyway, on to Grand Teton. Well, actually, first we tried the hike to Trout Lake. It had been so muddy and stormy the other days that we didn't dare try, but Saturday late morning was pretty nice and the lower part of the trail didn't look TOO bad, so we took our walking sticks and stuffed the cameras in a backpack and started out. Those who said it was an "easy" hike (with just some steep parts at first) are obviously not old ladies with repaired hips or knees and unrepaired hips or knees that still hurt! :) Actually, I did pretty well, but my sister's hips started acting up as we climbed up and up and up. Her "new" knees did fine, but the "old" hips didn't. It was, however, a really beautiful hike up (we just stopped to rest a lot) and we did make it to the lake. Sis stayed up top and just looked down on Trout Lake (she was afraid she wouldn't be able to climb back up if she walked down the rather steep path to the lake after the already steep hike). I walked down and and walked partway around the lake. It was absolutely gorgeous, peaceful and clear. Some ducks on the lake, some bison about halfway around near the trail. I only got about 1/3 of the way around and decided I better head back so as not to leave sis alone too long (we still had a long drive down to Teton). No otters, no moose, but a beautiful lake (mirror-like) and I was so glad to get up there. Next time, maybe, all the way around and even over to Buck Lake.

Then, on to Teton. Merganzers, buffleheads and pelicans on the way through Hayden. Did go out to Lake Butte overlook, but no grizzlies. No grizzlies at Pilgrim Creek or up near Colter as we came down. Got to Moose Wilson around 8 p.m. or so and decided a quick trip up there before heading down to the hotel. It was gorgeous, as usual, but didn't really see much by way of wildlife. it was getting a bit dusky as we got to the Lawrence Rockafeller preserve and I figured to turn around there and go back, but as I was getting ready to turn around, spotted something in the meadow by the road, so turned in rather than turning around. Some elk in the meadow (one a fairly nice-looking bull), so watched for a moment as they moved on and decided to go on down and turn around in the parking lot. GREAT DECISION! Got to the parking lot and there was a mama moose with a year-old calf browsing in the middle of the parking lot area. Only 3-4 cars there, so we pulled into a parking place and watched for at least half-and-hour or more as they moved from the lower to the upper part of the browsing area and then moved toward the willows and started into the trees. SUCH fun! On the way back, as it was near dark, noticed a bird light on the side of an aspen along the road. It landed on the trunk, not a branch, then disappeared into a hole. We figured maybe a woodpecker or flicker or kestrel. We marked which tree it was and decided to check it out the next day.

The next day we made a quick trip out to Miller's Butte (had never been to the Elk Refuge before -- looked like an interesting area to try again) and also went out to the Swan Pond and saw several swans and a nice hawk. Went around Gros Ventre and spotted a bull moose laying down among the trees. Back up to the "grizzly" area, but no grizzlies. Stopped by Oxbow as it was getting dark (we've never had much luck at Oxbow). This time did spot a couple of beavers swimming around. They ducked under many times and we only got a few glimpses of heads (and once or twice tails), but nice to see. A nice herd of elk on the way back to the hotel.

A nice hawk (Swainson'S?) the next morning around Gros Ventre, and elk, ground squirrels and deer along Moose-Wilson and Murie. And FLOWERS. Soooo gorgeous. There was beautiful flowers up in Yellowstone, but the lupine were out in Teton and it was amazingly beautiful! Spent a lot of time back-and-forth between the "grizzly" area (really missed being able to actually go up Pilgrim Creek Road, but understood there were water issues), Moose-Wilson and Gros Ventre/Antelope Flats ... didn't get much animal action, but the scenery was beautiful. Went up a ways in the canyon to the Shane Cabin for a few photos. Caught some really nice birds that posed nicely for us, a few deer. Stopped at Jenny Lake to decide on either the ferry across and a walk to Inspiration Point or a scenic boat trip. Got to the boat dock just a half-hour or so after a mother bear and three cubs had crossed the bridge. Sigh! Decided on the scenic trip the next day (hadn't had good luck with walks and sis's legs this trip), and headed back out to check on bears and such. Nothing going with the grizzlies, although we DID find that Two Ocean Lake road was open, so we went up there (always have liked that little road). Nothing going animal-wise. Back to Moose Wilson and ... after checking out "the tree" we were both sure was the one the bird had gone into we finally struck gold. A flicker flew in an clung to the side ... of a DIFFERENT tree, above a hole. We watched for quite a while (got a couple more bird shots, too) before we decided we'd bothered him enough and moved on. We were SURE it was the other tree he'd gone into (and when we came back later and checked out the other tree, there WAS a hole there, too -- maybe a bachelor pad where he goes for the night? :) ).

Next morning back up Moose Wilson and back down ... to spot a moose on the side of the hillside. AND, there was a year-old calf. Possibly the same pair we'd seen earlier. Still, we pulled back into a nice pullout and walked down the road a ways to watch. Mom and baby browsed for a while, moving the opposite way from where we were, which was fine. A couple other cars came along -- we pointed out what was saw and suggested the pullout, and soon we had a group of 8-10 people standing on the opposite side of the road as the moose browsed. Eventually, baby (then mom) crossed the road down the way from us and went into the willows (amazing how those great big, dark animals can simply disappear in a few willows -- you'd never know they were there). Lovely viewing time, with everyone standing back, letting the moose do their thing, and yet enjoying the moment.

Decided to try Lupine Meadows before our noon scenic boat trip. LOVED the lupines -- so beautiful. At the trailheard ran across some folks in their folding chairs watching the hillside -- said there had been 2-3 different bears up there during the morning, dipping in and out of the trees. Some pronghorn (that looked VERY pregnant) were in the sage flats. We watched a while and caught a quick glimpse or two of one bear, but had to move on. As we were returning, saw a nice bull moose browsing in sage flats (a nice, moose-y morning!). We watched him from a pullout for a while -- he was in no hurry to return to the willows. Finally had to leave to head to Jenny Lake. I had to park WAY out but made it in time (and had a nice time taking pictures of a pretty yellow bird as we waited). The boat trip was lovely, great views, a knowledgeable guide -- we really enjoyed it. Back up to the grizzly area, but no luck. The grizzlies just weren't there for us this trip! (And then we find out that during the afternoon when we were looking for griz in the upper part of the park a WOLF crossed the road on Mormon Row -- we'd been around there MANY times looking for wolves, and it chooses the time when we're in the upper part -- GRRRR!). A final turn around Moose Wilson caught the mom/year-old baby moose again -- we watched for a bit then left the space for others who hadn't spent 30 minutes with them earlier in the day!

Then goodbye to Teton (and thanks -- we ALWAYS enjoy our stay!) and down to Pinedale, where we planned to stay the night before taking a turn around Seedskadee before heading home -- we love that place, too (lots of good animal/bird chances and basically all to yourself!). Caught a really nice bald eagle along the way -- really big and gorgeous in a tree. A couple of trumpeter swans flying by -- wow, they are SO big! Swans and pelican at Fontenelle, and a prairie dog as we turned in toward Dodge Bottoms -- a herd of pronghorn, too.At Dodge Bottoms a nice bluebird posing AND a VERY cooperative Kestrel pair -- I finally got some good Kestrel pictures! A young golden eagle as we turned into the next drive and a Great Blue Heron rookery with some young barely visible. Stopped at the visitor's center and then around to the drive around the "other side" of the river. Wanted to check out the bald eagle nest and the three chicks that were tiny little things the last time we were there were now hulking black birds (with a parent there too) waiting for food from the other parent. Hoping for some moose, but no such luck. But WERE lucky with spotting nests -- a nest with tiny little ones in it -- a big hawk, I think, perhaps a Swainson's? A Great Horned Owl's nest with two chicks and a parent. One chick hid behind the other mostly, but the bolder one was staring at us. Another bald eagle nest (which we'd spotted when we came before and wanted to check out), and it had two hulking chicks with a parent. A really good view, as it was in the top of a dead tree. SUCH fun! One more turn around the other drives, more of the kestrel, some sage grouse hens (yay!) and ... a moose browsing in the willows near the river! Hurrah! A pretty good tally for just a few hours before we had to head home. Still, we didn't get home until nearly 10 p.m. -- it's just too hard to leave (and that's true of each park -- we just can't leave!).

Another great trip and again, the parks surprised us, thrilled us, frustrated us and gave us a lot of wonderful memories. Just can't wait to get back!