Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Specialty bird of the Beartooth

The Beartooth Highway connects Yellowstone's NE entrance to the rest of the world.  It would arguably get my vote for the most scenic stretch of road in the continental U.S.  And while that would be enough for most people to go, birders have another reason.  It's one of the better places to find Black Rosy-finch.

Ginger and I struck out on this bird when we drove here in the pre-kid era, but we had success on this day.  The birds were calling like snow buntings and I was looking around for birds in the air when she spotted the birds down-slope.  I had been hoping that a gray juvenile wouldn't be my only view of the species and was in luck, the parent was in attendance.
  You wouldn't think a black and pink bird would blend in that well, at least not until you see their black lichen-encrusted pink granite habitat.

The kids were more impressed by another denizen of the rocks, a pika

There were fewer butterflies here than Mt Washburn but a Milbert's Tortoiseshell wandered past.

The flowers were just crazy in some of the alpine meadows though.

It'd be a fun place to go back to.

Friday, August 25, 2017

the biggest deer and the littlest

Since the fires burned much of the mature spruce forest that the moose browse in the winter there's apparently only about 300 moose left in Yellowstone, similar to the number of grizzly bears.  I'd mostly given up on seeing one but on the last morning Ginger spotted one bedded down by the side of the road.

 She had 2 calves bedded down a few feet away.  I was surprised an animal the size of a moose would have twins but I suppose bears generally do too.
 After about 20 minutes she led them away.

Much smaller than the moose calves were these mule deer fawns, the only mule deer of the trip. They'd bounded across the road about 10 miles earlier.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

a feeding Pelican

Yellowstone is a pretty good place to see White Pelicans.  I'm not sure if they breed in the park or just forage there and then commute out but most trips there I've seen them.

I assumed this was a one-year-old bird based on the dark feathers on the back of the head, but a quick review of Sibley shows all adults have that mid-summer.

When actively feeding it seemed to adopt an (obese ungainly) Green Heron-like crouch as it swam slowly.
 It would lunge forward,
 and bury pretty much its whole face in the water before more slowly extracting its prey

I never got a glimpse of what it was catching, but they went down pretty quickly...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

the Prairie Goat

Pronghorn are one of my favorite western animals.  Technically goats, rather than antelope, they still remind me of photos of African gazelles.

We watched two of the rams half-heartedly sparring.

There was a small herd of pronghorn that would hang around just outside of Gardiner where we were staying.  These were mostly does and kids.

Nothing says Yellowstone quite like animals going through their baseline behavior in the middle of the road.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Grouse and leps on Mt Washburn

One of the hikes I've done most frequently in Yellowstone is the trail up to the firewatch station on Mt Washburn.  It's a little under 3 miles up and almost entirely above the treeline.

Most of the Dusky Grouse I've seen in my life have been along this trail.

The scattered stands of trees that extended up some of the sheltered gullies held some concentrations of other western songbirds, first a female Cassin's Finch,

As well as some little flocks that were mostly young Audubon's Warblers mixed with Mountain Chickadees.

Really though the alpine wildflowers (and butterflies that went along with them were the highlight of this trail).

This is Colorado Alpine, a butterfly only found above the treeline in the central Rockies:

Milbert's Tortoiseshell gets my vote for most impressive North American lep.  It can be found in Michigan but I've only seen it in the Rockies.

This is Phoebus Parnassian, my first parnassian of any kind.

Fritillaries are pretty common out west.  I think the first one is Callippe and the second is Zerene, but both could be wrong.

Painted Lady can be certainly be found in Michigan, but not usually in a bed of lupine.

Finally on the butterfly front I think this is Christina's Sulphur (though the pics of the underwing are more important from an ID standpoint)

A couple other pics that don't even have butterflies on them...

If you want a sense of scale of the place, the fire station is the little blurry dot on the highest point to the left of Ginger's shoulder...

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Geyser basin livin'

You'd think that a geyser basin would be a pretty intense place to be flying around what with the boiling water and aresenic laden springs (some of which were filled with a skim of dead bugs).  But, that didn't stop a number of birds from going about their business in a pretty extreme environment.

These western tanagers had the easiest time of it.  They were just in some of the brush around the parking lot of one of the basins.

The adult male looks to be about 1 year old based on somewhat limited orange on the and quite faded brown flight feathers.

This mountain bluebird went one step farther.
 It went down to drink from what had to be a pretty salty source.

Of course if you don't want to drink the salt water you can always live in a salt cavern.

Finally a young killdeer who felt that the runoff from another one of the features in Mammoth was the place to find bugs.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wolves and Elk and Bears oh my.

Well I'm back.  July was a bit of a slow period even before taking the family to Yellowstone, but I'm back now.  Hopefully will even get a few local birds in but we'll see what migration brings.

I've been fortunate enough to visit Yellowstone several times over my life.  The very first trip my parents took me on was to Yellowstone when I was 4 years old, well before the fires that changed the park.  We went back when I was in grade school soon after the fires.  Ginger and I went back about 15 years ago as the second growth thrived.  But whether the spruce stands were primeval or in second growth however, elk were a constant.  This time?  We saw just one bull, and aside from some cows in the town next to Mammoth, just this bull.  He was a nice one though.

Why didn't we see many elk?  Well, one reason was the next creature, one I've never seen before outside of a zoo.
It's pretty distant admittedly.  Gray Wolves have been re-introduced to Yellowstone.  They're monitored pretty heavily and most if not all are radio-collared.  We drove out the Lamar Valley on our first morning and pretty quickly found a line of people with scopes and pick-up trucks with long radio antennae.  There were 4 wolves sheltering in the shadow of the big rock, occasionally they would stand and circle out.

A herd of buffalo went past, you can see the big herd bull walking out towards the wolves screening the herd somewhat.
The wolves stayed put and the bison ambled unconcernedly past.

Dense clusters of roadside people (and harried rangers herding the tourists) revealed the next two animals.
A (brown morph) Black Bear was resting deep in a roadside thicket.  I never would have seen it, likely even if I'd walked past yards away.  It would sometimes stick its head up, but for the most part we watched it just rest in the thicket.  When we went past that afternoon the crowds were still there; it had been content to rest all day.

Ten miles to the south we spotted rangers walking purposefully out of trucks with scopes looking again about a mile away.  This time it was a Grizzly.  It was a speck in a far meadow, but as we headed back to the hotel that night it had moved to within about a quarter mile of the road.
 The hump of the shoulder is visible above, the somewhat scooped in face below.  Black Bears lack the hump and the snout projects more or less straight out from the forehead.

I would have been pretty happy to see one bear over the course of the week and wasn't at all sure we'd find a wolf; we'd found all three the first day!