Friday, June 08, 2007

A Bear-y Good Day

And yes, I'm ashamed of the title. With the snow last night, the road over Mt. Washburn was closed, so our trolling-for-wildlife headed from Canyon to Norris and then North to Mammoth Hot Springs. About midway between Norris and Hot Springs, we ran into a rapidly developing Bear-Jam, with the two rangers giving contradictory orders. Mary Ann got a photo, and then was told to go back to the car. She was steamed, because of perceived unfair treatment, but when we drove off, we got another sighting of the grizzly and she was able to get additional shots.

On to Mammoth, we proceeded to Tower Falls, intending to eat there and to view the Great Horned Owl nest in a broken tree, visible from the parking lot. Unfortunately, there was little to no food at Tower, so we drove back (prompted in great part by the report Mary Ann had of an even better Great Horned Owl nest next to the Administration building. And it was, with mother and two chicks, right in the middle of town.

We ate and then drove back down the western side of the Yellowstone Great Loop road. Mary Ann wanted to check on the Coyote den she'd photographed before, so we headed that direction, but not before stopping to see a Red Fox climbing a hill, and then Mary Ann noticed a herd of elk acting spooked. Stopping to check, yes, there was another grizzly.

After bear-watching again, we finally arrived, only to find that the Coyote mother had just recently relocated her collection of 9 active youngsters a few hundred feet north of the original den, in a location a little harder for predators to see. Mary Ann set up on the roadside with the other photographers and spent an hour or so taking their pictures, and helping other viewers locate the active little pups. I spent most of the time adding the second-to-last chapter of my current time-travel novel.

After the coyotes, north again, in a race to get back to Mammoth to capture the owls in better lighting. So much for that idea. Just as we dropped out of the valley, into the canyon leading to the springs, we stopped to take pictures of the falls, but instead she was captivated by the raven's nest on the canyon cliff, with three little black young ones. Finally, as the light shifted, we went to Mammoth. The light was indeed better at the owl's nest, but only one little one was visible, and he was asleep.

Now, with light fading, we had to make the route back to camp. Mt. Washburn road was now open, with having had so much luck on the Mammoth to Norris road today, we returned that route. It started out uneventful, but as we approached Norris, there was a small herd of Buffalo, with three calfs, grazing right next to the road (with an appropriately scenic backdrop). "Big lens" she cried, hopping out to unlash the tripod from the bicycle rack on the back of the Jeep. I pulled the heavy lens bag (an 800mm Sigma) and she set up beside the car. She snapped several shots, but neglected to notice that the herd was heading in our direction. When one large beast with its large functioning horns came up close enough to touch, she crawled back into the Jeep, worried about her camera and lens right out there where a privacy loving buffalo could make it's political statement. But the beast had other issues to worry about, like grazing, and crossing the bridge. We moved on.

Reaching Hayden valley, we were closing in on a full day, and we were both tired. Then as the sunset was moving into twilight, there was another bear, right beside the road. I did a bat-turn, but the bear slid down the bank, and swam across the river. (But Mary Ann got the photos.)

Finally, turning into the Fishing Bridge area, there were small glowing eyes beside the road. A showshoe hare waited until we were close before scampering off. I complained, "Won't these animals leave us alone. We'll never get home."

And that was, roughly, our day, leaving out a half-dozen other sightings of various birds and a few other coyotes. The alarm clock is set for something horrible like 5 A.M., so I'd better close this entry and get to bed.

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