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Trip Report ~ Bear, Bird, and Wolf Sightings ~ by Paul Gore

16 April - 06 Jun 2012




Cinnamon Teal © Copyright All Rights Reserved Paul Gore

~ April 2012 ~

Monday - 16 April

Elk on driveway by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Temperature 49 degrees, weather blustery and shows storms to the west.

It was a long journey from Fort Lauderdale to Bozeman with a powerful front stretching from Louisiana to Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Killer tornados were frequent. All we saw on the plane trip north was white undercast. The plane from St. Paul was delayed 2 hours and I reached Bozeman three minutes after Sonny Bass my first fellow traveler who came by the route through Salt Lake. Sonny and I go way back to swamp tromp days in the Fahkahatchee Big Cypress area of South Florida. This is his third trip to Yellowstone but actually the first with some pretty good camera equipment. Now retired from the Everglades Park, Sonny has time to travel and see the many woods he loves.

I learned several years past not to take camera equipment on the plane but to UPS ship it ahead. That might sound a trifle extravagant but bear in mind that I am the source for all the lenses and support equipment for three people coming out over the next six weeks. We picked up the packed camera gear at Bozeman Camera and headed to the Park. A very uneventful trip, it was. As usual the fields and roads were speckled with hundreds of deer and elk. Our arrival in Gardiner was a bit sad. More “for sale” signs than last year were everywhere in Paradise Valley. The nation-wide depression has not spared “Parkadise.” The wind picked up as we arrived and blowing dust was a problem. The snow was almost gone in Gardiner but visible at 700 feet higher than our elevation. Deer and elk were in the front, side and back yard and all along the roads in Gardiner.




Tuesday - 17 April

Snowy Bison by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

The day begins with the sound of running water in the apartment gutters. It is raining, overcast, and generally gloomy. The day's chores need be done which includes prepping the car for the first excursion and setting up the blinds in the yard for photography. This is a most unpleasant task in the damp of the day. Because of the inclement weather we decide to make the first day trip a short one to scout out what was going on. John's trip report of his journey from West to Gardiner encouraged us to head south. Big mistake! That road is still closed leaving unexplained how John managed it but that is none of our business so we decided to head east toward Lamar. In total that also was non-productive. Rain/sleet/snow/hail/ and about every form of precipitation fell, blew, drifted, stuck, and swirled with winds of 25-30 mph. The one thing they all had in common was wet and rendered photography difficult. But not to worry there were few opportunities. By 1:00 the snow was coming down heavy and coated the buffalo with white. They looked like chocolate cupcakes with white frosting. The roads were lightly trafficked. At one point we went 35 minutes without seeing another car. Lava Creek was muddy, Lamar was pretty vacant and two wet bedraggled red-tailed hawks looked like pathetic panhandlers sitting in tree tops at Yellowstone picnic.

By 3:00 PM we decided to return to Gardiner after a short visit with Rick McIntrye. He was tracking radio signals at Black Tail Plateau. We learned that a grizzly was sighted in Lamar but we couldn't muster the enthusiasm to go back. A short distance later we came around a bend and there in the middle of the road was a black bear ambling down the center lane. That had to be the smallest bear jam of the new season. Three cars, one bear, looking at one another in the cold and damp. For a long time. A very long time.

The snow fall picked up again, the wind increased and the temperature dropped a surprising 7 degrees in about two minutes. It hovered at 33 all the way back to Gardiner. The solution for that is a stop at the Town Café/bar. It was good to see Mike the bartender again and we shared news of the previous winter-life. By the time we left there the sky was blue, the wind died down, and the temperature was up to 55. We concluded the day by checking the town sights to see what and when was opening. The bird migration is minimal. We saw very few bluebirds, a small number of juncos, and few robins.

The weather map shows a very complicated interaction for the coming two days. We shall see. The strong coming north winds will probably delay the migration. Reports we hear from Jackson Hole say the same thing.




Wednesday - 18 April

Temperature 43 degrees, weather blustery and storms to the west.

This day, as we watch an endless stream of snow/rain/sleet showers roll over Gardiner we elected to go to Emigrant to check out a flock of Wood Ducks in the pond in back of the Sinclair gas station. Guess the dinosaur ate them as there were none. We probably should have known better as a flock of Wood Ducks is like five up days on the Dow Jones….it ain't going to happen. Nevertheless the trip was wet and pleasant. Kestrels are now appearing with regularity and red tail hawks soar over head probably sharing photos of their vacation in the Yucatan. We took the scenic drive down and the high speed highway back and encountered the typical pods of elk, deer, and black angus.

Following a backyard shoot of hundreds of pine siskin and a few cheeky pigeons we loaded up for major trip to Lamar and journey along the north road again. The drive was quiet and lonely and beautiful all the way to Cooke City. The UPS truck was all that assured us there was civilization somewhere out there. How beautiful is that? The vigor of his hand wave was proof of his lonely drive.

Cooke City / Silver Gate brought more sad news. “Bed & Buns” is up for sale and the owners are moving to Texas. And sadder still is the news that Joan Hicks Humiston, (Best Pies by Joan of Soda Butte Inn) passed away on Good Friday. She was afflicted with many illnesses and her passing was taken as a good by the small community of Cooke City. We will not be sending key limes to her anymore. She walks in the orchard of the Lord. And everywhere we look we see luxury vacation homes for sale.

The buffalo continue their movement eastward into toward Lamar. Many are at Roosevelt and a few at Little America. Bluebirds are few and far between and Robins are occasional. Tree Swallows are just a figment of your imagination. Golden Mantle ground squirrels are lazy and a few have yet to win at checkers with motor vehicles. The highway is populated with their crushed bodies. As a mark of respect we always swerve to avoid making them one with the asphalt. Is that silly? Dead is dead I suppose but by leaving some remains perhaps a coyote or raven can have dinner.

The Lamar River bridge is moving along as fast as the three men we see daily can go. Probably by 2015 it might be ready. The truth be told they are at the cement and steel time and temperature is all important. From what we see the new bridge will be impressive.

And talk about a lazy wet day—Rick and the wolfies were nowhere to be seen. I guess even the wolves sit down in this weather. For lack of entertainment and few pictures to edit we visited the Mine Shaft to drink and gamble. Oh, you demon rum! We went down the road to perdition and lost our savings to Patty and Scott and many others of the locals. Woe is us!

Tomorrow bodes well. Clearing. So sayeth the weatherman.


Thursday - 19 April

Pine Grosbeak by Paul Gore ~ © Copyright Paul Gore All Rights Reserved

Temperature 31 degrees / frost no wind clear sky.

Finally nature has smiled and presented a most delightful day. The west side of the Park is not yet opened so we journey over to Lamar. Phantom Lake is still dry and evidences a slide being corrected by maintenance. No sightings or reports of Great Gray Owls but we did discover a Pine Grosbeak. Friendly enough creature. George Washington Carver instructs me that “If you love anything enough, it will talk with you.”

In his book Listening to Nature Joseph Cornell observes that “Nature will express itself uniquely within the animal you observe if you become quiet in attitude and mind. The very essence of the animal comes forth as you watch movement, glances, preening, songs, and all that makes the creature. It is becoming one with the creature and thus with Nature and thus within yourself.” I think very hard on the expression I mean you no harm and hope that the bird sees-senses-hears this plea or prayer. It does. And we talk with one another. My day is fulfilled.

So there in the cold of the frosty morning we discuss such great weighty matters as the quality of bird food, the mild winter, the windless days with no clouds, the migration and the creature's hopes to find a mate raise a few babies and become a part of the circle of life. These are very important matters to a Grosbeak. And on this day at this place they are important to me. We say goodbye and each is off to the affairs of the day.

As the day progresses the clouds move in again and snow showers fall with a regularity that would catch you even on the short hike to Wraith Falls. As we return to Gardiner through Lamar there is a gaggle of cars and people busily engaged in watching some wolves on Druid Peak. There they say, is number such and such. The one with the radio collar. There is excitement and joy in their voices. The wolf they see is certified by 20 some years of study, endless reports and thousands of dollars of research money.

I am happy for them, but not the wolf. People still want to shoot them and the wolf is imprinted with a radio collar for its freedom. In some respects it might even be similar to an ankle bracelet in the human kingdom. Are you really free if someone is tracking your every public and private movement?

I wonder if these good people ever talk with the wolf. I wonder if maybe the Grosbeak doesn't have the better part of the bargain. No one collars them, studies them, or spends enough money on them to buy a pizza at KBar. I'll ask Mr. Carver that when we meet in the peanut field in the sky.





Friday - 20 April

Coyote eating Elk Carrion by Paul Gore © Copyright Paul Gore All Rights Reserved

Overcast 43 degrees and blustery wind.

The land that stretches out before us at Swan Flat is cold, damp, and spotted with small pools of water forming tiny puddles up to mid-size marshes. Like the famous Appaloosa horse of the Nez Perce horse the land is dappled with blotches of white upon a base of brown. Or is it brown upon a base of white? No matter. In either case it is a land awaiting the promise of spring which is foretold by the increasing number of service trucks and the stream of cars coming northward from the West Yellowstone but denied by the leaden sky and chilly west wind. The west side of the Park is open and the slumber of the winter land awakens. The serenity and mystery of the natural world competes with the majesty of Bunsen Peak and Electric Mountain. Reluctantly they give up their snow mantles to the rushing creeks that cataract spill into the various tributaries that eventually join into the this-year—peaceful Yellowstone.

A coyote was finishing the remains of a small elk at China Gardens. This was the first carrion we have found. Some people say that the Park is diligently moving dead remains away from the road for crowd. We don't believe that since there are that many people here yet and the carcass only lasts three days at most. The coyote was very nervous as the body was strong with smell of wolf and in the middle of sage brush—perfect concealment for marauding wolves.

I believe it was John Muir that once said “look up, look down, look all around for the beauty of Nature.” That was the mantra of the day as we journeyed south toward the Gibbon, the Madison and Firehole rivers. It was a day of reading, how would we say, between the lines of the book of nature for there were no birds or mammals. But their stories were told in the scat, paw prints, and signs in the snow. It was a book of yesterday, perhaps only minutes ago, but a story nonetheless that the land is not barren—just not visible. How true the adage that Nature reveals her beauty to those that have no time to stare. We must learn to not stare but instead to experience.

A grizzly sow breaks our reverie as she grubs for dormant ground squirrels, roots and other bear delicacies. She works the meadows of the bend in the road south of Solfatara and entertains a cluster of people with an assortment of objects seemingly affixed to their arms. In days gone past there were photographers with cameras and lenses. Now there are portable telephones, ipads, some cameras and various small digi-cameras raised high and low to photograph the rear end of a bear whose head is buried in the wet meadow soil. You know the business end of the bear is diligently at work as a stream of dirt is shooting out from under her in a cascade that would be the envy of a badger. The sleeping ground squirrel is about to serve its purpose on earth and end its dormancy with an eternal sleep. How casually the humans watch the circle of life while speaking in the digital language of the present; white balance, ISO, megapixels, circle of confusion, depth of field, fps, F-stop, shutter speed. “Imagine”, says one watcher, “my camera can shoot up to 1/4000 of a second!” The bear beats that by a wide margin as she flips the ground squirrel into the air and closes her jaws upon it.

We pass on, looking up and down and all around at Nature. The cluster of observers of life and death are nature. The bear is nature. The ground squirrel was nature in one form and soon will continue in another form. I am nature.

Is it odd that we end our journey at Ernie's in West Yellowstone just in time to cut a deal on the last cinnamon roll? Around us other patrons speak of trout season, what makes a good fly, did you see the bear, does Lamar have more animals than the Madison. We half expect T.S. Elliot and J.Alfred Prufrock to enter and ask “Is the theatre really dead?” The question would fit right into the non-directive congenial banter of the diners.

Yellowstone, early spring.


Saturday - 21 April

45 degrees and clear.

The Gardiner, Yellowstone and Lamar rivers are rising with the thaw and rain. The rivers are turbulent and muddy brown. No more the quiet hiss of passing water flowing to the Missouri. Now it is noisy, spilling over itself and splashing with increasing energy against rocks and trees in the river beds. New cuts on roadside trees evidence the remains of dead standing timber that gave it up after some two decades since the fire of 88. The sapsuckers and woodpeckers will have to search out new homes. We examined a few of the downed trees and found it remarkable the number of bird cavities. Even in their fire-dead existence the trees produced shelter to the birds.

This evening we were graced with a wonderful dinner, companionship, and educational conversation with the new Superintendant of Natural Resource and his family. David Halloc is his name and he comes to Yellowstone from the Everglades. The visit also afforded a close up look at the Army Barracks that serve as housing for Park Administrators. One thing for certain the houses are well built and feature designs not seen too often in the modern ranch style homes. Sonny and David are all yoke mates from the Everglades and the evening was somewhat nostalgic as David learned what became of old friends. For sonny and I it was the delight of hearing the problems and some solutions of the YNP area. It is indeed a complex issue since it draws in ranchers, cattle, sheep, American Indians, snowmobiles, and a million or more people. None of that do we have in the Everglades. You can read more on this man and his job in the Yellowstone Association magazine.


Sunday - 22 April

The day of return to Florida was softened for Sonny since he has awaiting a trip to Colombia and also the Dry Tortugas. Nice work for retirement. Twenty five years to learn, twenty five to earn, and now 25 years to discern. Nevertheless, the departure is a sad day. We go way back, Sonny and I. So far in fact and the acquaintance was so gentle we are hard pressed to note how and when it all happened. We recall it all began in the Fahkahatchee State Preserve in Collier County. We refer to it as a swamp tromp as we cataloged the many orchids in that very unique part of Florida wilderness. Now, here we are 7000 feet higher and much drier photographing buffalo and elk. Is that so strange? Not when you consider that a good part of the productive business of Gardiner is now owned by people from Atlanta and Florida. The south is coming to Yellowstone and they mean to stay, play, and become part of the fabric of this place.

Sonny and I end our time together in a blind on a blustery late afternoon awaiting the pheasant. The pheasant is an exceedingly handsome bird with a voice that would scare a banshee. The males come to the feeder every evening to display and court. This day they look us over, walk carefully back and forth and detect something that keeps them from coming close. What? We'll never know. But after an hour and thirty minutes we decided to call it quits and leave the blind to a flurry of starling, blackbird and mallard duck wings. The pungent smell of the last statement in life made by a skunk on the adjacent highway wafts through the evening air. In the distance the pheasant flutter wings and crow their hoarse calls mocking us as we leave. We can hear but can't see them. But they can see us.

Lady Linda, a retired botanist is arriving and brings a new outlook. Actually a down look as her interests begin at the ground and segue to the microscope. Moss, lichen, fungus, trees and bushes watch out. Here comes Linda. Her arrival was supposed to be at 11:30 PM from Minneapolis/Saint Paul on Delta. Now there is friendship. I staged my arrival for 11:15 PM so that I could view the new improved Bozeman airport. I got there 10 minutes after she arrived. Delta doesn't mess around. The plane was near empty, Linda said, and when the last of 25 passengers was aboard, bang they shut the door and that plane was en route. Forget the clock. Move it!

Late night at Bozeman airport is a life experience. Families with sleeping babies, returning soldiers and a Norman Rockwellian atmosphere that is pure America and devoid of the tension, armed guards, and blaring public address systems. It is the night shift that supports and makes visits to Yellowstone so wonderful. As we drove into Bozeman from Belgrade we were paced by a very long freight train hauling coal westward to Seattle. These monsters of mercantile move west full and return east empty. The required horn blares at crossings are the legendary lonesome whistle calls of Johnny Cash music. The sequence and timing of the sounds are well known to railroad men and grown-up model railroaders. And as a fact, genuine model railroaders never do grow up. They just pretend.


Monday - 23 April

Broken clouds and numerous thunderstorms in all directions.

It is unseemly warm. For the locals it is about time, for us visitors it's WHHHHAAATTTTT? We didn't pay big bucks to be 82 degrees.

Linda is a botanist and insect lover. Her life passion and work in Collier County Florida centered on the little guys that are the fang and claw of two inch size or less. If ever you fall to the ground and your head is on mother earth looking sideways she will explain in great detail what it is you see within six inches of your eyes. What's worse, she will explain what it is that sees you. I never think about that much as I depend on my hiking boots to keep me at a respectful distance from all that stuff.

As with all my guests, on arrival we stop at Bozeman Camera to visit. My job is to see that the short visits to the Park produce the most and best recording experience. Generally the visitors seek telephoto equipment for purchase or rental. Not so in this case. We look at close up lenses. Lenses that can focus at one inch or less. I get this feeling that I am about to see the Park in a whole new light or at least distance.

Sadly we learn the news that Vans Grocery store (next door to Bozeman Camera) is closing and all the employees are laid off. It seems the problem is a little of the competition from the big chain stores but also a domestic situation with the owners. In either event acquiring provisions at Vans Grocery was almost an iconic experience. Now, it passes and Bozeman Camera may well be the anchor tenant.

But she plays the game well and went catatonic on the drive through Yellowstone Valley. After seeing several hundred deer, elk, and scores of hawks she was almost speechless almost. Intermittent rain and squally winds accompanied us to Gardiner.


Tuesday - 24 April

Clearing and colder. 41 degrees.

The buffalo and migrating elk are now through Mammoth and into Little America and the west end of Lamar Valley. There are reports of a few buffalo calves but we have seen none. Antelope are abundant, in view and entertain the growing number of visitors. We still see very few robins, no bluebirds, tree swallows or much else. Even the ubiquitous juncos are lost, late or went elsewhere.

Phantom Lake is dry and was the location for the first bear sighting for Linda. It was a small black bear that really did more walking than food hunting. A recent rock slide left the road covered with stones and dust that swirled in the blustery wind.

Ouzels are appearing along all the streams and rivers and support the theory that maybe the migration is on. The red-tailed hawks are now present at their nest at the head of the area know as Little America. There was also another black bear with a peculiar habit of walking ten feet or so and then laying down to rest. And that was where the day got interesting.

A ranger appeared and asked us (all six) to move back to 300 yards from the black bear. In short, return to the road. I found that somewhat amazing. The geography of the situation was a knoll about 75 feet higher than the draw to the south. The six photographers were regulars that come yearly, one was Bear Man who we see often. There was order decorum and quiet conversation. The bear moved west to east at a slow lazy pace. The distance to the bear was a measured 250 yards. To the slight east (the direction of the bear was heading) hikers were moving up the Specimen Ridge trail. As noted all the photographers were on a prominent rise of 75 feet higher than the bear.

The group dispersed and we followed the ranger down the road to where she was tracking buffalo with radio telemetry. A quiet discussion followed. The ranger did what she thought she had to do and than revealed something we never knew. Seems the new rules for 2012 is everyone stays on the road....the times they are “achanging.” The bear could care less it walked west to east for another mile. The ranger's job was tracking buffalo and a collared one was several miles north of the road at Little America and had no time to monitor the situation. Her assistant was pleasant and both ladies enjoyed their jobs and had earned their “stripes” with school and working up the ladder. But now, here, we found ourselves with more ambiguity than a Supreme Court dealing with O'Bama Care. Why does a bear walking in a lazy stroll parallel to a group of spectators at a distance of 250 yards precipitate a call to move back another 50 yards to a road? And why was the Specimen Ridge Trail not closed if there was a present danger? And why weren't the hikers on the trail that were ahead of the bear not recalled to leave the area? There is slowly developing a rule as well as code of enforcement that seems to search for the lowest common denominator to justify enforcement. For instance: Thirty professional biologists in the company of one mother with two children in strollers could be asked to move an incredible distance from a bear since the mother may be attacked and could not help herself or children. It is a matter of inconvenience to ask just the mother to withdraw and spare the scientists so everyone has to move. And if you are hiking even closer yet to the bear but out of hearing of the ranger, you are immune to the new order and only have to abide by the printed regulation of 100 yards. This will surely result in people watching what group they associate with or staying away from earshot of rangers.

As Linda pointed out we wouldn't have these problems if we stuck to insects, amoeba, lichen and moss. Cute!

Our visit to Silver Gate was depressing. At 11:45 AM we were the first customer at the Bed and Bun. The last 6 miles of Beartooth is yet to be plowed and between the Montana DOT, the Wyoming DOT, The National Park Service and several other agencies the job is not done.

We returned to Lava Creek to await a threatening rain storm complete with lightning and rain that fell above us but never reached us as it became "virga". In meteorology, virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground. At high altitudes the precipitation falls mainly as ice crystals before melting and finally evaporating; this is usually due to compressional heating, because the air pressure increases closer to the ground. In North America, it is commonly seen in the West. Virga can cause varying weather effects, because as rain is changed from liquid to vapor form, it removes heat from the air due to the high heat of vaporization of water. In some instances, these pockets of colder air can descend rapidly, creating a dry microburst which can be extremely hazardous to aviation. Conversely, precipitation evaporating at high altitude can compressionally heat as it falls, and result in a gusty downburst which may substantially and rapidly warm the surface temperature. This fairly rare phenomenon, a heat burst, also tends to be of exceedingly dry air. A very interesting phenomenon. We experienced the wind bursts but no rain. (Material drawn from Wikipedia).


Wednesday - 25 April

44 degrees, clear and sunny.

“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes..”

It was a cool windless day of idle waiting at a picnic site for something of photographic interest to happen. By the measure of the day a dark eyed junco would have been a spectacular success. Instead she drove up and somewhat hurriedly parked and approached. Neatly attired in what could be described as African chic outfit of many pockets and tabs but definitely functional slacks and casual blouse jacket combo she looked very much the part of the lady on safari. She approached with a mild urgency one that suggests the person is about to ask the inane question of whatcha see?

“Are you the man that was taking pictures of the buffalo in the rain this morning?”, she inquired. Now there was a switch that was as disabling as it was confusing.

Her build was slight and she carried herself with an air of confidence that suggested she was not only comfortable with her surroundings but the world as well. Her face was framed with dark hair that seemed to match her eyes. The eyes held a certain aspect that seemed to say she had seen more in the world than she ever wished but yet she searched. They were not sad eyes. They were eyes of great anticipation and at the same time a slight expectation that here was yet another disappointment. Her comfort level with the surroundings, the question and approach to a complete stranger presented a complexion that brought to my mind George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron's poem. “She walks in beauty.”

Even if I wasn't the man in the rain I wanted very much to be or even to have been. Since I had no prospects of dark eyed junco and the day had been such an otherwise total strike-out that even my Nikon couldn't remember what to do when I pushed the shutter release I decided to answer her perfectly logical question with a perfectly logical answer.

Which buffalo?

She warmed up immediately. She approved of my sick humor and I liked the cut of her jib. Out came the note pad and pencil from one of many pockets in her travel attire and it was all business. Having a remote connection with the newspaper industry I immediately recognized the signs. I was standing on the cusp of an interview.

Alexandra was her name and she is a reporter for the United Nations and writes for Que, a French based periodical that often explores worldly events. Yellowstone National Park was the story line for May or maybe June. The man in the rain taking pictures of buffalo was to be the hook. Now why would someone stand in the rain to take pictures of a buffalo? Probably for the same reason we drink French wine. We have nothing better to do and it makes us feel so very good.

I still have enough integrity left in me not to deceive people especially inquiring reporters that project an air of confidence. So I admitted that I was not the person. And that left me with a slightly depressed feeling that somehow we would never get to page two in this interlude. But although the gods of photography had abandoned me not so for the gods of life experiences. Alexandra considered her great misfortune of not finding the right photographer as naught. She eyed my Nikon, now snoring loudly, and the tripod and 500mm lens and calculated that I would do. She described who she was and what her assignment was to spend three days in the Park and write a piece about why people come to the Park. I told her that surely that must be the most disgusting assignment she ever had. “No”, she replied, “my visit to Bosnia and Kosovo during the war was”. That shut me up rather quickly. In short order we had two reporters, one attractive, alert, and on a lead, the other older perhaps wiser and trying to recall the rules of engagement from a memory dimmed by two score and ten years. My photo companion Linda, who had grown tired of looking for lichen, moss, amoeba and the like, joined in and soon we were having such fun. One thing led to another and we found ourselves at Rosie's for buffalo meatloaf and wine. She learned the secrets of why people come to Yellowstone and Linda and I learned the secrets of the United Nations, war, and death and destruction. It would be safe to say that it was a tie as to who learned more that evening. The evening concluded.

As we left and exchanged our “au revoirs” I looked at Alexandra and said, “You know, Alexandra, you are now part of the story of people that come to Yellowstone.” A smile graced her countenance and she walked away in beauty into the night.


Thursday - 26 April

Pika by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

41 degrees leaden sky with a bonded prediction of rain.

Just the kind of day to go Pika Peeking. Pikas (also once known as pica) are small rabbit like creatures native to cold climates. Most species live on rocky mountain sides, where there are numerous crevices to shelter in, although some also construct crude burrows. They are a small mammal, with short limbs, plump bodies, rounded ears, and short tail. The name pika is used for any member of the Ochotonidae, a family within the order of lagomorphs which also includes rabbits and hares. It is also known as the "whistling hare" due to its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow. You don't hear much about pika as they have no devoted group of scientist and citizen scientists following and plotting their every move. I am inordinately in love with these little guys and was fearful that I might not see them because of the high temperatures. Pika are lovers of cold weather and do not ravage, maim kill or devour other creatures. Sort of like me. They live life in a gentle way, out of sight, behind the scenes.

Well, finally the weather changed and out came two pikas. You could hardly find a stony rock slide that didn't just quiver with their activities if you slowed down to under 50 mph. When you have a 500 mm lens trained on a pika and it is looking right at you all you can imagine is Alfred E. Newman from the comic book Mad Magazine. Some people tell me that zuck-zuck from Cinderella is more appropriate likeness. Not so. There is no denying that “What me worry?” look of Newman.

The benign nature of these creatures and the fact that no mobs of seekers crowd around them made for a delightful morning of pika photography and being one with nature. Linda, my photo companion, raised her enthusiasm from the level of Lichens those confusing fungi that are an odd collection of three types of organism coming from three different kingdoms to join in the fun. We were so pleased with the event that we acted kindly to people that stopped to inquire. Most got out of their cars and walked over with a look of curiosity and expectation on their faces. “What is it you see?” They would ask politely. “We are pika peeking,” we respond. “I don't see anything”, they would say with growing curiosity. “Watch that small fat rock there move,” I would state. “Oh my gosh,” they exclaim, “It's a rat.” “No ma'am”, I would respond defensively, “it's a member of the rabbit family.” But too late, they were already backing away from us cautiously and eyeing the distance to their car.

Pika just get no respect. So, here's to you pika, the little guys of Yellowstone.




Friday - 27 April

38 degrees, rain and snow.

How does one wax eloquent about low overcast and intermittent rain and snow all day? It was such a day. The Gibbon, Firehole, Madison, Lamar and adjacent feeder creeks, streams and rivulets are running strong and full and very muddy. From our residence on Granite and Hellroaring we rarely can see the Electric Peak and most often not even across the Yellowstone. Deer and elk are ruminating in the front and side yard and pine siskin quarrel at the several feeders. The robins don't have to dunk their nesting grass clumps in the bird bath as the consistent rain and snow keep the grass sufficiently wet. It appears that they have a nest in a juniper thirty feet to our west.

Richard Louv has published another book following his best seller “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.” The new book is “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE” (Algonquin Press, Chapel Hill). In the book he advocates a summons home to the natural order, the nature principle and a call to move from the almost total adherence to technology. This is no call for humming crystals, dooms day prophets or the like. Instead he argues that every day our relationship with nature, or the lack of it, influences our lives our survival or thrival will require a transformative framework for that relationship It is he says a reunion of humans with nature. That doesn't mean that you have to immerse yourself into Yellowstone since nature can be found everywhere we look for it or better yet are available to it. My companion these last 7 days is a biologist and loves the critters and things even littler than me. As I observe her crawling on the forest floor among the sage, juniper, lodgepole and aspen I suspect that you could at random pick a square yard of earth and she could lecture a semester on it. “Not so”, says she. “Two semesters.” Cheeky woman that Linda.

At any rate, Louv entertains me in this event of inclement weather and renews the calls of Wendell Berry, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Anne Dillard, Rachel Carson and the hundreds of prophets that have literally written on the subway walls of our lives that we are doing it wrong.

How do we get message through? I suppose that we text it on our cell phones.


Saturday - 28 April

Tree Swallows at Dailey Lake by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

38 degrees rain and snow.

The continued overcast and intermittent rain and snow are made tolerable by the fact that there is little or no wind and besides, as Chief Joseph is reported to have said "We are content to let things remain as the Great Spirit has made them." It is the season and we immerse ourselves into it taking pleasure and growth from every nuance of the weather and the land. At the moment that means wet and cold with a plethora of birds.

And speaking of birds an Evening Grosbeak appeared today giving us encouragement that many new species will be arriving shortly. And speaking of new species we were graced today with visits from Steve Torrey (yes Virginia Photodude is alive and well) as well as Richard Pontius Ph.D. from Weber State College in Salt Lake. Each in their own unique way alters and illuminates our time and as Walter Cronkite would say, "we are there." We share the hospitality of our camp and they move on leaving us with news, opinions, and expectations of the next meeting.

The comings and going of these many and diverse people reminds me very much of rendezvous of early American legend and lore. Friends separate for a year to trap and hunt and then return to renew acquaintances and find out who is still alive. Remember in the Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson when Redford comes on the frozen stiff body of Hatchet Jack with a note pinned on his chest telling the reader that the Hawkins rifle is to the finder and it was a fine gun because it kilt the bear what kilt me. Now just how accepting is that? Put simply, content to let things remain as the Great Spirit has made them. And that is the point; these many people coming to Yellowstone may be grieving, looking to make money, looking to find themselves, wanting to renew their spirits, and myriad other reasons. But each meets and greets old friends and then moves on. Springtime in Yellowstone is to me a great big rendezvous in life. How warm it would be to have all my family and friends here at one time in a colossal camp spread out around Gardiner.

This late afternoon we braved the snow and rain and revisited Dailey Lake, about 27.5 miles north of Gardiner on the inner scenic road. As it was last time, the lake is covered with nymphs and May Flies only this time there were thousands of Tree Swallows scooping them up. Everywhere Tree Swallows, dipping, zooming, fighting, feeding or just sitting on any object that didn't move. The sun, rain, and road conspired to assure us that we could not get the proper angle to photograph them properly so the experience (same as last year) remains in our memories. I think I should like to build a fence on the north side of the road so that the birds face into sun on the accessible side of the road.

While at Dailey Lake we heard a Great Grey owl call from trees up the slope to the north and witnessed a Northern Harrier make several unsuccessful passes to grab a swallow.

Lunch was at the Chop and Steak restaurant in Livingston. The famous diner is in the middle of the marshalling yard for train assembly going east or west. We spent some time watching a load being assembled and when it departed amidst a thunderous roar of three engines in the front four in the middle and three at the end we counted 92 cars. You go America! That was fun. So were's the crab stuffed mushrooms and apple cobbler.

We returned to Gardiner watching deer feeding along the fence lines and content to let things be as the Great Spirit made them.




Sunday - 29 April

Pheasant by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Overcast 54 degrees no wind.

Today was an uneventful trip to take guest 2, Linda back to Bozeman and pick up guest 3 Carol. The sadness of taking one person to leave is only slightly offset by the joy of yet another person coming to see the sights of Yellowstone. The great expectation of new-arrival-person is a great expectation that I share vicariously. And always, the crossover, of the person leaving sharing what they saw, felt, experienced with the newcomer. We usually conduct that service at Stacey's diner in Gallatin Gateway Valley. This time we rushed dinner a bit since we were going to set Linda up with a pheasant shoot from a blind and best sun time was 6:00 PM. We did. She did and it was all over in 30 minutes. She leaves Montana with 30 more pictures than she expected.

And while she was watching the pheasant a white tail deer was watching her. And all about 2 miles from a major highway and commercial district. There is something about Bozeman that is just so attractive.

Carol and I returned to Gardiner down Yellowstone Valley threading our way through pods of elk, deer, and some antelope, plus a troupe of Mountain Sheep in numbers slightly less than Biblical proportions. We missed nothing for the day as rain and snow flurries pestered Gardiniers. That's the bad news. The good news is more precipitation is expected on the morrow.




Monday - 30 April

Mountain Sheep by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Overcast 46 degrees scudding clouds.

In Florida, a land far away and seemingly a time long ago, today's low overcast with increasing winds from the southeast would set old timers to think that a blow is a comin. The trip out to Tower was strangely quiet with no traffic coming at us. That usually means a bear or wolf jam which, as expected, showed up at Little America. The talk seemed to center on a Agate in companionship with the Mollies. The significance of this eludes me. If wolves can't get along with one another, what hope is there for humanity? At any rate it was such a major event that cars were all along the road and by geometric triangulation you could pinpoint where to look with binoculars. The cars were parked so irregular and were so great in number that photodude would have an open and shut case for aggravating the powers-to-be. But, the people were quiet, studious, having a good time, and no one was injured. And that, is probably more than can be expected come mid-June

All that we could accomplish was a photo session with some pretty scruffy looking Rocky Mountain sheep. In spring they shed their winter garments and this group looked like some school boys were learning sheep shearing. But, they are part of the Park and to everything there is a season. Besides, in the absence of my dear friend Linda, now returned to rainy Florida, I wanted to show her that Lichen Looking is still going on. Hey Linda, this one is for you

Then what? Why it rained again. Big time heavy.




~ May 2012 ~

Tuesday - 01 May

Antelope chasing a Coyote by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Overcast 46 degrees scudding clouds.

C is for Carol, coyote, confusion, clouds and calamity.

It was a pleasant surprise that the day dawned with blue sky, light wind and 46 degrees. The persistence of 46 degrees is a bit of a mystery. I checked the thermometer in boiling water and it is accurate. So, until proven otherwise, like a good pilot I will rely on my instruments.

Here is how it all comes together. Carol is now in town following Sonny and Linda which means nothing to most people but I wanted to get their credit lines in. So Carol was sitting right front seat as we climbed the hill to Mammoth. On time, on schedule, at the China Garden comes along two beautiful coyotes. Carol, being a twenty year veteran of this drill has her Nikon on her lap with lens attached. And that is about as far as preparation goes. But in short order amongst much confusion, a slight amount of cursing (but certainly not enough to be unbecoming a lady) she gets the lens trained on the coyote and sees nothing. As they say in south Florida, NADA! I suggested she try taking the lens cap off. As I remind all my friends and a few enemies, my job is to get you within 100 yards of the subject. The rest is up to you. Well, to get to the Reader's Digest version of the story she gets the pictures and then some. But they are not posted here today and she needs to copyright them and submit them to NatGeo. Right.

Moving ahead to Tower the sky is still blue but we see dark, foreboding clouds in the northeast. From the vehicles that pass us we are quite certain that it is snowing in Cooke City/Silver Gate. Snow on the vehicles looks to be 6 inches deep. We pass the wolfies assembled at Slough Creek watching the life blood ebb from an elk thrashing on the ground as its entrails are disemboweled. Death, they say is but a passing, the tragedy lies in waste. Judging from the number of wolves set upon this poor bull elk waste was not about to be an issue. The throngs of wolf watchers were nicely parked in the bathroom parking lot and also strung out in both directions along the road. Any ranger wanting them to park with both wheels outside the white lines would be asking them to destroy the sage habitat. But it wouldn't make any difference anyway as most all of them had circumnavigated the road closed sign and were in route to the top of Bob's Knoll and a few more adventurous northward along the road. How would a ranger ever track them all down? I mused upon the event. Life and death are very much a part of the wilderness but there is something seemingly grotesques or obscene about so many people crowding with telescopic equipment to see every slash and tear and record to the second when the protoplasm of the elk becomes one with the wolf or the ground. By tomorrow there will be cleaned bones and coyotes, eagles, ravens and a coterie of camp followers will be finishing the task. And by Friday, even a scarab beetle will be hard pressed to find a place to lay its eggs.

We thought that to be the picture show for the day. But alas, not so. For 15 miles further ahead we find a panicked pod of antelope running to and fro while being harassed by a dynamic duo of coyotes. Now here was a feature worth viewing. Question; if two coyotes set upon 7 antelope where does the smart money go? We could hardly believe that sequence and wouldn't dare talk about it now except that Conn. Joe was on the scene blasting away with his mighty Canon. It was smoking! He got great pictures even the antelope hooking the coyote. Just as we pulled up to catch the action the dark clouds to the northeast magically move right over us and down came rain and snow. Well, now Carol used to be in the Air Force and I am no timid creature myself. But this really aggravated us to the point of exploring expletives. All of which, in respect of John's page are duly deleted.

The chase, hunt, play, whatever went on for 30 minutes and the antelopes claimed the field in victory. One picture shows the finally rout.

Then onward to Cooke City where it was snowing big time so we returned through snow, ice, rain, and sleet to Gardiner. They say weather is highly variable here. That, I believe is the master of understatement.


Wednesday - 02 May

Grizzly Bear by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Overcast 46 degrees scudding clouds.

We received a call from Dana, the photographer for the article in the French magazine mentioned in an earlier report. She wanted to meet and get some more data as well as some set ups for pictures for the story. The interesting thing is that Dana never met Alexandra and both are working independently. The editors in Paris bring both work products together for the final result. This evening we got together with Dana at Rosie's. Dana was a bit out of sorts at the dinner as she took a hike up Specimen Ridge to get the feel for the area and had the great good fortune to run into a black bear that approached her with the obvious intent of doing her no good for free.

Now, having met her, I know that Dana is a resourceful young lady and she has been in the field for many years. No shrinking violet this gal. So she readies her bear spray and has her thumb on the safety and begins as dignified a retreat as possible to the car which is the obligatory 300 yards away from her. Problem is, it's her that is supposed to be that distance from the bear, not the car from her. Winded, a bit shaken and her hair out of place she reaches safety and the bear diverts to searching for roots and bulbs which all bears know taste much better that humans.

Meantime, Carol and I are returning from a totally fruitless drive down to West Yellowstone, no birds, no animals, no sun, and worst of all no cinnamon buns at Ernies! Bummer. The gods of photographer finally smiled on us on the return and we came across the afternoon 2:00 PM matinee of the grizzly at the meadow several miles north of Norris. This bear is now so regular that it probably will soon be featured in the Park bulletin. I wish I had the parking concession at this meadow. Cars were everywhere most of them where they weren't supposed to be. The best show was not the bear but the tourists. Several of them just stopped the car got out with the engine running and left the car in the middle of the road. As the bear meandered down the meadow drivers and auto became separated farther and farther. Eventually a food supplier of one sort or another took umbrage at the mess and began to honk his horn which apparently jolted the budding nature photographers back to their senses and they all ran back to move their cars busy chattering in Japanese. They were having such fun.

As regular as this bear is the setup, or location, is terrible. It is snow dappled meadow with bright green grass mottled in with snow patches. The fall offs in most places is steep and there is a narrow passage at one point where the land on both sides of the roads rises above eyesight. A small stream cuts through the lower meadow while the upper meadow is a slope of a gentle grade. The sun from the east ruins eastward pictures and the shooting to the west is usually a down shot which doesn't give dignity to the features of the bear. The best angle is shoot to the north or to the west while down in the meadow. Well, that isn't about to happen this year.

We moved along a fairly dry road and enjoyed the tail wind of 25 mph. By the time we reached Swan Lake Flats the wind was up to a gusty 35 mph and snow and rain was again falling or should I say driving sideways. The trumpeter swan on the flooded lake meadow had its head totally under water and we debated if that is how it avoided the obnoxious wind. A pair of shoveler ducks circled twice and with some difficulty settled down with a bit of a tumble as they hit the water. A Northern Harrier afforded some entertainment as it came into the area. This master of flight that often skims marshes about 10 feet off the ground was really having trouble with the wind. When it tried to hover it was pushed backwards by the high winds and the adjustment for the buffeting winds kept its wings rocking back and forth. Then, when it wheeled and turned downwind it rocket ahead a hundred feet or so in no time. You could sense that it wasn't going to have a good hunt this day.

After dinner we escorted Dana to several of the local establishments and briefed her on the fine art of bar-hopping in Gardiner. Which is very easy to do. Hopping that is, not briefing as each bar has its own ambiance that is a mixture of poor ventilation, regular patrons and the quality of the booze that is flowing. As we all know beer doesn't have an aroma but scotch, whiskey and French fries do. The Town Café was one stop and the entire crew from the laundry for Xanterra was there and Dana was the best thing that happened to those guys in a week. She beguiled them with small talk all the time getting pictures for the story line and cajoling releases from them. Mike the bartender watched with amusement. Carol and I just sipped a Heineken and watched a pro at work.

After leaving the Town Café we went to the Mine Shaft and introduced Dana to the card table. Now having a woman photograph at a poker table is like having a woman aboard a sailing ship. Just plain bad news. Those earlier mariners knew how it works. As I shoveled money out in steady losses Carol raked it in with steady wins. Momma would not have been happy with me since she, being shanty Irish, taught me all I know about poker. If you come to Yellowstone, you have to visit the Yellowstone Inn and the poker table. It is not at all like the glitzed TV charade. No Clint Eastwood stares, no stupid hats and shirts, no chewing on toothpicks or faux hushed whispers of announcers wondering if California Jack is going to draw to an inside straight while hired extras holler and scream go for it. Just ordinary people that work ordinary lives to support the ordinary people that come to Yellowstone. There is the story.


Thursday - 03 May

Mountain Blue Bird by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

39 degrees very high cirrus overcast.

This is one of those days that we just love for photography. The still wind, high overcast gives an even light with no turbulence in the air. The light measuring is constant and white balance set to overcast makes great pictures. We tested that theory again at Pika Peek, (our spelling) our name for the location where those cute little Alfred E. Newman look alikes abound. A cool morning makes the pika very active. They simply hate heat and as Al Gore might imagine a pika in main street USA would be a very uncomfortable truth.

The birds are beginning to move through and into Yellowstone. Bluebirds are very frequent, swallows are still active and many robins are already incubating eggs. Ducks, however, are still rare but Lark Sparrows are not uncommon. Woodpeckers and sapsuckers are drumming which is a delightful sound. Did you know that you can tell the species of woodpecker by the tattoo they make on hollow trees? It's all in the frequency, rhythm, and pauses. How's that for woodsy folklore?

As we journey eastward this morning toward Lamar Valley we stopped at Phantom Lake which has filled and emptied twice since we arrived. There was a modest gathering neatly parked along the pull outs and the people included Dale and Elva, photographers and artist extraordinaire, Gary and Judy from back east in Indiana, Pat the waiter from Rosie's, and several others not known to us. A grizzly was foraging on the south side of the lake well below the tree line so it was an easy shoot. The overcast kept shadows to a minimum. Dana drove up in the middle of our photo rendezvous and joined the party. She moved discreetly and with courtesy among all the photographers photographing them for her writer's story line. She wistfully wished she had some of the equipment that we had so that she too could photograph the bear. Had she a Nikon, I would have gladly loaned her my 600 mm. I'm always such a sucker for wistful wishes of lovely ladies.

In short order we concluded that since we now had the other end of the bear things were not looking so good and almost as a pack we bid adieu and each of us went our own way. Carol and I lunched at Little America and despite the fact we brought raw eggs and not the hard boiled ones it was pleasant. The words of the psalm came to my mind as I pondered the ins and outs of the past three weeks.

“O Israel, don't set your eyes on things beyond you. Still your soul and come to the quiet.” John Michael Talbot, the Franciscan monk has a song on that theme that really takes great wisdom and joins it with a great voice and guitar chords.

The mountains then awoke and sneezed on us with micro-burst wind gusts, pelting rain and some light snow. At 36 degrees it was a battle of science should it rain or snow. No matter, we had a good day with Pica, bluebirds, bears and raw eggs. We returned early to Gardiner and sadly noted that one of the leaning trees at Lava Creek was felled by the wind. It had been sagging badly for some time and when Sonny was here two weeks past we commented that probably by June it would be down. It narrowly missed the bridge and came to rest about two feet off the water level so there was no water flow blockage. Probably within a fortnight it will be sliced and diced by the maintenance crew as it is truly an attractive nuisance for some dimple darling to try to cross and plunge into the frigid raging torrents of Lave Creek and be swept into the Missouri. At least that is the way I would plead the case were I representing the plaintiffs.

We left the quiet.


Friday - 04 May

Grizzly Bear Sow with two cubs by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Clear 44 degrees

The dawn has come and we are practically blinded by the rising sun. There are many things to bet upon in life, football, baseball, etc. But the thought occurs to me that Nevada might have a risk center for two good days in a row at Yellowstone in April and May. Here is number one. What is the probability of tomorrow being sunny? I'd say 1 in a thousand.

But the sun is up, our spirits are up and the market is down 168 points is there more one could want. How about a grizzly? Yup! There she be quad-mom and two cubs strolling across Swan Lake Flats. Come let's stroll-oll-oll-oll stroll across the sage. I say come let's stroll. With utter destain and indifference brought on by complete faith in the Federal Registry and Federal statutes old momma just flaunts herself in front of a legion of photographers and one happy ranger with the big iron on his hip. It seemed like a good time to test out my own big iron so out comes the 600 mm on my brand new Sirui tri-pod. (By the way, check this new pod out. It is much lighter than the Gitzo and rated up to 44 lbs) It seems somewhat odd watching the bears stroll through sage. Yet much of the early Americana Spanish art work shows riders encountering bears on the sage prairie. The fun was in riding them down with lances. In my mind that rates just a bit higher in cruelty than rooster fighting.

Leaving the scene we journeyed to Fishing Bridge which was a complete waste of gas in all respects on the way down. It was a carbon footprint 32 miles long and 8 feet wide. Part two will go into the trip back. Our one discovery, now pay attention to this dear reader in Salt Lake/Jackson, the Le Hardy rapids boardwalk is actually available to walk on. No problem EXCEPT, and that is a big except, the area is now totally closed for bear protection. More details hopefully will follow on that. But, there is no bad consequence since LeHardy is in flood mode now and all the middle river rocks are under water.

And speaking of bear closure, the count of closed areas is rather high. More and more of the Park is closed to protect wolves and bears each year. It makes me think that Yellowstone will soon approach Denali. Just kindly get on the bus and hang out the window for your pictures. And soon after that, just watch Blue Planet.

Somewhat disappointed we strolled back toward Mammoth. And the fun began.

White Wolf by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

The return from the somewhat vacant fishing bridge area was dull and rather monotonous until .3 miles north of the Otter Creek confluence. A group of four vans and cars were ahead of us and the day was so sunny and pleasant that we saw no reason to break the wagon train. Besides, we learned a Yellowstone trick years back. Never be first. Let the first car spot the event, brake, and you slow down and get the parking space they just passed.

Thus it was so. What at first sight was an animal much like a coyote, many of which have been spotted to date, turned out to be a white wolf. A lone white wolf trotting along the Yellowstone river bed from south to north. Now that was a pleasant experience.




Saturday - 05 May

The full Moon has a reputation for trouble. It raises high tides, it makes dogs howl, it wakes you up in the middle of the night with beams of moonlight stealing through drapes. If a moonbeam wakes you up on the night of May 5th, 2012, you might want to get out of bed and take a look. This May's full Moon is a “super Moon,” as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2012. So says NASA.

The scientific term for the phenomenon is “perigee moon.” Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon's orbit seem extra big and bright.

Such is the case on May 5th at 11:34 PM Eastern Daylight Time when the Moon reaches perigee. Only one minute later, the Moon will line up with Earth and the sun to become brilliantly full. The timing is almost perfect. However, the gods of space may set up the great perfect celestial event but the gods of Yellowstone always conspire against the clear star filled sky. At sunset a great overcast set up Gardiner and the Park. Total oblivion spattered with rain and light snow. And, we discovered a fox den and decided early this afternoon to visit it and drew the attention of the Montana Wildlife officer. Just a no-good rotten bad day. Why are you parked on the edge of the state highway looking at those cattle? Ahhhhh, we re looking for fox dens? Got a better story? Ahh we thought we'd rustle all 500 cows and calves and put them into the back of our suburban. But they won't fit, will they?

Now we're getting somewhere. What we have here is a failure to communicate. It was a nice enough encounter. He learned about fox dens and we learned about cattle rustlers. Seems they aren't too popular out here. Just before the moon sank behind Electric Peak the clouds parted, the sky cleared and the temperature plunged. You could almost hear the frost forming. The temperature at 4:00 PM was down to 27 degrees and still moving downward.


Sunday - 06 May

Bluebirds Nesting by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Clear sky, 25 degrees, heavy frost.

If exploitation represents a refusal of God's gifts and despotism a rebellion against God's rule, then environmental problems are problems of personal sin. It follows, says Oliver O. Donovan, that the reestablishment of a proper relationship between humankind and creation depends upon the redemption of that image. (Resurrection and Moral Order, Eerdmans, 2002). Judging from the tire tracks left in the sand on the upper terrace one could surmise that there are some people whose image is in sore need of redemption. Since there is no grass or even weed growth on the impoverished soil of the Upper Terrace just acres of junipers struggling to survive in a stark and bleak environment the spin-off car tire marks will remain for years. The Bozeman, Chisholm and other wagon train trails stand centuries later as testimony to great people blazing paths for settlers and cattle drives. These desecrating tire marks stand as testimony to mental midgets with IQ's slightly lower than their tire pressure.

The Upper Terrace is wonderful place to overlook Mammoth and view the town of Gardiner the Eastward Road to Lamar Valley and the work of creation now several thousand years old and still growing. Most people are enamored of the horizon spectacle and many see in the crystalline deposits a graceful cliff note version of the titanic geothermal forces lying beneath their feet. And many artists marvel at how just a charcoal stick or several lead pencils are all that is required to sketch the twisted and misshapen tree trunks of juniper trees scalded to their death of the eons. Shades of grey and black with occasional blotches of green on trees that refuse to give up that great fight for survival make this area a artist s dream.

The area is traversed by an occasional black or grizzly bear and one man told me he watched a fox trot through the area several years past. There are no marmots, no picas, and only a few golden mantled ground squirrels. But the birds, oh my, are there ever. When the migration is on the birds flood into this area and grace every barren tree with color and song. Today I watched bluebirds nest building, (see photo) saw chickadees engaged in their usual quarrels, many pine siskin, juncos, ravens, Lark sparrows, Chipping sparrows, and my first ever white-breasted nuthatch. And that is a lifer. For any Audubon devotees out there, make it a point to visit the upper Terrace between 6:00-10:30 AM in spring. The narrow twisted road slows traffic to a crawl and there are many pullouts to sit with camera or binocular and take your time viewing. And there are no crowds. There is solitude broken only by the bickering of chickadees, the tattoo of woodpeckers drumming on silent dead trees, the mindless songs of the rosy finch, the nasal ancks call of the nuthatch, and the cheerful chirping of robins. The poets tell us that Nature reveals her beauty only to those that have no time to stare. This time, this place, Upper Terrace, May 2012 she made an exception. And I thank her.

And, if that was not enough, on our trip down the hill we came to the quad-mom grizzly with two of her cubs that were feeding across from the Mammoth horse Corral. If you know Mammoth you know how close that is to main tourist gathering part of the North entrance. Rangers were omni-present, the crowds were respectful and the bears performed their grubbing routine. Which isn't going to win any award on Dancing with The Stars. But it is a Dog-and-pony show of sorts. And come to think of it, the bears would probably rather have a dog or pony in place of grubs. As we enjoyed the view and mostly the little children a black suburban wheeled in the great parking area and a stern voice intoned, “Are all four wheels outside the white lines?” My sense of humor played into the gambit and I raised my hands and shouted you got me ranger, you got me, I'm 2 microns over the white line. It was David Hallac, newly appointed Chief of Yellowstone Center for Resources. He was traveling down to Fishing Bridge with the family and couldn't resist saying howdy to a fellow Floridian.

The temperature remained at 27 degrees but the bright sun and no wind made being outside quite pleasant. We broke out one of the hand-warmer packages and found them rather useful when taking pictures with ungloved hands. As the sun set we hoped for a moonrise but no good on that request. Mother Nature gave a tart “Don't get pushy reply and planted another overcast in the East.”


Monday - 07 May

CUT virgin by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Clear sky, 25 degrees, heavy frost.

A beautiful day to go searching for fox or coyote den in Paradise Valley. We found none but we found religion.....of sorts.

The Church Universal Triumphant (CUT) is very much a part of the Yellowstone Environs. You can't miss the golden tower, wire enclosed encampment of the south side of the Yellowstone River about 7 miles outside of Gardiner. In 1981, the organization purchased a 12,000-acre property in Montana on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park. The organization moved its headquarters to Montana in 1986.

The church became well known during the late 1980s when it predicted the possibility of nuclear war at the end of that decade. Members were urged to prepare by building fallout shelters and supplying them with food and other necessities. The predicted date of the nuclear war was April 23, 1990. When nuclear war failed to occur, the leader Elizabeth Prophet claimed that the community had averted the war through their prayers. Some adherents were left in debt or bankruptcy. Since then church membership has fallen in the United States. However, the CUT remains a significant presence in the area of its headquarters, and centers continue to be active in large cities across the nation. During this period, international membership has grown significantly. With its decline in U.S. membership and changes in employment laws for non-profit organizations, the church was forced to downsize its headquarters staff in the late 1990s and the first years of the 2000s. In July 1996 Elizabeth Clare Prophet handed over the day-to-day running of the organization to a new president and board of directors, who oversaw this major restructuring of operations at the church headquarters. Portions of the Cultic Camp were sold to the U.S. government as part of a complex sale and land-exchange agreement. A second large property that had been purchased in 1983 was sold on the open market, along with other smaller landholdings.

CUT building by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

During the late 80s and early 90s, articles and letters critical of the church were published in the local newspapers of the Livingston Enterprise and the Bozeman Chronicle. The newspaper articles frequently labeled Church Universal and Triumphant as being a cult. The church has usually been labeled a cult by both religious and secular groups. Several of the letters were written by former Church members who raised lawsuits against the church.[2] Controversy in the 1990s also emerged when it was discovered the Church Universal and Triumphant was amassing a very large cache of weapons. This discovery seemed to be at odds with the Church Universal and Triumphant's message to outsiders as a place of peace and harmony. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, state, and local law enforcement agencies subsequently investigated this area and found the Church Universal and Triumphant's Leaders, including Elisabeth Clare Prophet's husband, to have been complicit in obtaining and hoarding weapons. Due to health reasons, Prophet retired in 1999. She died in 2009.

In case you can't see the compound across the Yellowstone look for the Lighthouse Restaurant along the highway. Than look south. And a short distance from the restaurant there is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that at first appears as a highway marker for a place of a car death. It isn't. It is on CUT land.

The compound as viewed from the highway into Gardiner. The tower glows gold when the sun hits it the right way.

Some of the land is now part of Yellowstone to control buffalo from escaping into Montana proper where they are gunned down by hunters.




Tuesday - 08 May

Clear sky, 29 degrees, heavy frost.

Bison by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Yet a third day of clear sky and frost. No more den searches this day we returned to the Upper Terrace to watch for bears, wolves or migrant birds. We saw many siskins, Rosies, Chipping Sparrows, and several Williamson's Sapsuckers. Bluebirds abounded. Dana the photographer for the GEO story stopped by to say goodbye as she returns to Colorado to file her picture.

The people of Spring Yellowstone; they should all be given honorary membership in the Loons. Not one of them wouldn't be welcome at my campfire. But they are a fiercely independent people, each secure in their pursuits and driven by no need to share. They doesn't mean they wouldn't. Just ask. Meantime they mind their own business, take pictures, meet on the road and part with a casualness that is right out of Jeremiah Johnson when Del Cue played by Stefan Gierasch, bids goodby to Robert Redford playing Jeremiah Johnson: Watch your topknot, says Del cue as he rides off with a full head of hair eschewing his baldness for a more aggressive face to life with the Native Americans of the area. Yep, says Jeremiah, and you watch yours.

Wandering around Yellowstone often brings moments of great humor. We came upon these two buffalo head to head, not moving, very quiet. Were they playing scissor-paper-rock, checking for heads wins, passing secrets or what. Than we heard their whisper grunts: Listen now, you break to your right and attack the driver door, I'll take the suburban head on, and when the ranger comes we'll claim he hit us. Got it? Check. On the count of three now, one, two, .. We backed up at flank speed.




Wednesday - 09 May

46 degrees.

Meadowlark by Gary from Indiana © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Yet another beautiful day in the morning but the wind shifted to the southwest rising temperatures to 67 by noon. As if on signal the vendor for flowers appeared at the grocery store and baskets of pansy are hanging all around town. We had hopes that the midge/mayfly explosion at Dailey Lake would have persisted so we traveled the 27.5 miles (from the fire station northward on the scenic road) to the turn off entrance. The 8 miles to the lake along a dusty but well graded road offered many sights of bluebirds some tree swallows, Lark sparrows, Savannah sparrows, Northern harrier, and Red-shafted woodpeckers. When we reached the lake we found it devoid of any tree swallows. Another insect appeared and coated the car and us by the thousands. They are very small and not troublesome except as they coat the lens of the camera and you can't take pictures through them. In short, this trip was a bust. Insects of this sort have a very short life span so we will probably wait until next week to return. Gary (a photo companion from Indiana) was riding shotgun while I maneuvered the vehicle for best sun/picture angles). He captured this stunning picture of a meadowlark which has given permission to exhibit here.

The wind increased in velocity as we exited the backwoods into the thriving metropolitan community of Emigrant. There is a small marsh area about 100 yards south the flashing light that is always a guarantee of yellow-headed blackbirds. The birds beat up on red-winged blackbirds, vocalize noisily with a peculiar yannnnnk call that resembles a police car beeping you from behind on the highway, and display for their mates in an upside down can-can dance. With wings ruffled and tail elevated they tip downward yannnnnnk and shake themselves. Quite amusing. As we watched the avian burlesque, two muskrats swam past in a liquid languid display of mammalian talent. They probably were not interested in the quality of the show or musical accompaniment. The wind increased and the cameras rocked on the tripods to the point where not even Canon IS could stabilize. The saving grace was that the wind was from the southwest so as the trucks and cars raced past at twice the legal speed the blowout of dust was swept away from us.

We returned to Gardiner and drove up the Jardine Road to the forestry land area and found a pair of Barrow's Golden eyes floating on a small pond. Otherwise than that Jardine was not very productive. I can strongly recommend it as a viewpoint to picture Gardiner as well as the entrance road into the park. It makes a grand panorama view.




Thursday - 10 May

Ouzel Nest by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Very fast moving cold front 46 degrees down to 34 quickly.

As we loaded the car this early AM we could see the lowering ceiling toward the west. Our plan was to head toward Pebble Creek, Round Prairie and area looking for pipits, killdeer, and sparrows. We were delayed by two wolf jams, three bear jams, and an antelope jam. By the time we reached Pebble Creek (an hour and 15 minutes), it was snowing. So much for the bird search. We decided then to visit Jan and Joe at Bed n Buns. It was a pleasant farewell for Carol who won't see them again although she promised to look for them at the Super bowl in 2013. Joe, as you know, is slightly addicted to the Steelers.

Rain/frozen rain persisted on the road back. Temperature was down to 34 but the previous day warmth assured us the black ice was not to be a problem. The ouzel is back again at Lava Creek but showing little enthusiasm for nest building. {Picture shows nest a day before the collapse} As we sat and watched the picnickers that occupied all the tables most with dogs and little kids I came to the realization of the great truth that cowboys learn early on: DON'T DRINK FROM THE CREEK DOWNSTREAM FROM THE CATTLE. Well, same said for downstream on Lava Creek. Food products, dog droppings and much else went into the stream. Surely there is an opening for a V.I.P to guard this pretty area? Maybe not, after all, it's just the home of a bird.

Late this afternoon the sky cleared and was all blue. Now that was a fast cold front. We head back out to Paradise Valley, sometimes referred to as Yellowstone Valley to search for coyote, badger, and fox dens. Several promising leads ended up at naught. Nevertheless this area offers much more potential that the Park since the search and find doesn't generate a jam as it does at say, Little America, Hitching Post etc. And that got me to thinking, does it matter where the badger, fox, coyote are? Can anyone tell from the picture that it was within or without the Park.




Friday - 11 May

Barrows Goldeneye by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

46 degrees: high overcast.

Across the street from the Cenex Gas station owned and operated by Scott and Patty there is road that rises at a steep incline. It passes the trailer park at the top of the first ledge and then continues with switchbacks to Jardine and some very scenic sights. In that area there is a small pond with picnic tables and on the pond are several very compliant Barrow's Goldeneyes. The trees are filled with Yellowrumped warblers. We spent a good part of the day at the pond just relaxing, enjoying the clearing weather and experimenting with the camera equipment. The BGEs just watched, probably wondering what we were doing. The picture speaks the story.




Saturday - 12 May

41 degrees clear sky: turning warm.

No news. Just a pleasant five hour drive to Jackson trailing three faint hearts that insisted on driving at 30 mph and left no room between them to effect a pass. Snow is still deep at the southgate. If the kids want to see snow take them there. Jackson Lake is frozen but melting. Gibbons meadow is flooded and the rivers are all running wide and deep and swift. Once you get to Flagg Ranch the snow disappears. High temperatures of 75 degree will speed the process. Jackson now shows signs of the recession. Many marginal businesses are gone. Flat Creek has two ducks and two swans. Animal life is sparse and bird activity is significantly down from last year. We could find nothing to photograph. Still, a pleasant trip.


Sunday - 13 May

Grizzly bear sow with three cubs by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

23 degrees clear sky.

There is a real range war, here in Jackson Wyoming. Much like the plot of B grade westerns in the 40-50s. The Rangers trying to control the people from crowding the bears and the bears from eating the people. Tourists from the Orient who come by bus loads and are poorly supervised mix with professional photographers trying to get the best shots for selling during the coming summer season. A real bad mix when you have a spectacular year for bears and cubs at Oxbow, Pilgrim Creek, Pacific Creek, Cattleman's bridge, and Jenny Lake drive. Some people have taken to being protectors of the bears and resent tourists as well as photographers-they holler and shout instructions as if they are Park staff. A few are so cynical that as they yell at the hoi polloi they squeeze off a few pictures themselves. Rangers want peace in the valley, some photographers want the picture and don't care what they have to do to get it. Other photographers say just enforce the rule evenly. If Johnny can go into the woods following the mamma bear and doesn't get ticketed why can't everybody do it? And cliques are developing. As soon as a bear is spotted the word goes out by each group to their groupie leader by text messages or phone in a system far more sophisticated than exhibited at Yellowstone. It is marvelous how it all works. Within 10 minutes of a bear sighting the crowd grows from 5 people to 75 and as each new person arrives they go directly to their groupie leader who really isn't a leader at all. He/She is just in the know, usually lives in Jackson, and goes about his/her business, quietly and professionally. But the groupies go where he/she walks, sets up for pictures, etc. If you are not from here, of here, or know about here, you are left feeling totally left out. And if you are not on the sacred call list you find yourself sitting at Oxbow Bend while everyone else is getting pictures of this and that grizzly or black bear with cubs three miles away. Lamar/Little America can't compete with this group down at Grand Teton because they don't have the telephone text message lines. At Lamar the lesser groupies use a single radio channel and have to wait for clear time to speak. The distance is usually 5-7 miles at best. Here at GT the telephone lets people call 20-45 miles and bring in their confederates. Quite a sight to see in operation.

Cinnamon Black bear cub by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Another thing different here is the Wildlife Brigade (WB). These are uniformed usually summer employees that direct traffic and keep parked cars outside the white line. They don't pack iron on their hip and can't give a ticket but they do have a radio and can have a full ranger in your face in about 5 minutes. Some of the WB are still in college and don't know much about the biology of bears. They just follow the rule given to them and make sure you do too. If you consider the situation where a professional photographer pulling down $250,000 a year and is 60 years old is approached by an 18 year old and told to get down off the top of his car, well, you get the picture even if they don't.

Overall, so far, the discipline has been good but the in-fighting between groups is heating up. We saw two sets of bears today and both were worth writing about.

The first mom bear was with three cubs, two her own and one she adopted from another mother bear (Which is a phenomenon). The quad was at Christian Lake by Jackson Lake Lodge. We were ambling down Pilgrim Creek Road, just out an about, when a high speed car approached us and the driver, who knew us, shouted Christian Lake quick. We know the site well and felt that something big was happening. When we got there some 15 people were there photographing mother Grizzly with her two+1 cubs. They were also telephoning 15 other people who telephoned 15 others, etc. In short order Chris, the ranking ranger and Lillian his Wildlife Brigade rep were very busy keeping order. As each new person arrived they aligned with the group that was theirs. You didn't need a guide-on or flag. They all knew who was one of theirs. And the alignments can be, like young love, very fickle. A person would go to group B and some of the people could be heard muttering last week she was with so and so. And as soon as the deemed leader of the group moved so did all the followers. In one case the bear was deep in willows and the deemed leader took his equipment and moved 45 feet northerly. Immediately some 35 other photographers did likewise with no spoken word. As it turned out they guessed wrong and the bear passed to a position that favored where everyone started. Much to the glee and merriment of the other deemed leaders who now held superior positions and weren't about to open a hole and share space.

So here is how I see it. The cattlemen are fighting with the sodbusters and I drive up with a herd of sheep and say, "I got no dog in this fight I just want to pasture my sheep". Well, if you know anything about range wars you know how popular that made me. Pick a side stranger or you get shot from both directions.

Time to move my sheep to part 3.

We left the Christian Lake display after the bears retired into deeper woods and headed for Jenny Lake Drive looking for the rare white winged crossbill prominently featured in the Jackson Hole News. We found no bird but we came on a black bear with two cubs in a beautiful meadow with gorgeous dead trees and some stone. And only one photographer was present. We settled in politely and had a wonderful 2 hour photo session that was eventually ruined by a tourist bus that spilled out 50 Japanese visitors. That is okay. I love to see them enjoy America. What wasn't okay was the dumb bus driver parking his bus in the middle of Jenny Lake Drive. Ever been there? Nothing moved until all 70 people were back in the bus. Meantime the driver vented his air brakes and compressors scaring the dickens out of the bear and her cubs. Oh well, two hours was enough time. As we drove away we could see that no groupies ever showed up. They were never called. Sheepherders are not held in high esteem.


Monday - 14 May

Gosling by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

35 degrees clear/smog.

Smoke from wood burning fireplaces in Jackson Hole lies near the ground trapped by a high pressure system. Although the sky is cloudless, visibility is limited and the atmospherics are terrible from a photography perspective. We wandered the valley until checkout time and found not much of interest except a flock of violet-green swallows came into the Elk Refuge area. We watched their antics for a while and then our attention was drawn to a lone Canada Goose gosling swimming by itself. It couldn't have been older than 5 days. Goose eggs are supposed to hatch within a short time of each other and geese, as is the case with chickens, can sustain themselves for about 3-4 days from a food source they acquire from within the egg itself. (That is why the poultry industry can ship chicks for up to 5 days from hatching) In the case of our poor goose baby, the hatching process probably took too long and mom left the nest with her brood leaving little orphan Annie behind. Once they separate, she doesn't know them. She and the other baby geese will attack the orphan driving it away.

In short. This was going to be one dead goose before the week was out.

We left Jackson, in the geographic area of Jackson Hole to a strange event. A flock of Purple-green swallows descended on the visitor center. We photographed them until 10:30 AM and then packed to leave. Some of the conclusions we arrived at: Rustic Inn at the town entrance will give Spring Creek a run for the money, Flat Creek Inn is down to no gas, closed convenience store, no internet, limited help after hours be prepared to do it alone if you stay there, the Cadillac diner (with its ugly purple rock front and sushi and calamari is out of business as is Polo, Coldwater Creek, about 4 fudge stores, Jedediah Sourdough, and many other stores. The locals, though, they are hanging in there. I guess if you winter 10 feet of snow and minus 32 degrees a recession is as nothing. A paltry few bison, antelope and several elk watched us leave.

The trip from Jackson Hole to Mammoth is 153 miles at average of 40 mph is about 4 hour drive. There was no activity when we left JH. None. No birds, no bears, not even a ground squirrel. The snow as still deep at the south end of the Park and the Lake is thawing rapidly in the 70 degree days. Our goal was LeHardy Rapids so it was no bother there were no signs of wildlife for some 65 miles. Just a curious observation. Where are the birds? Where is the migration?

LeHardy Rapids is now open and the Harlequins were in their usual vaudeville act. Some tourists from Belgium were there and speaking only French. I told them the ducks were Harlequins. They responded Harleguin? I motion with hands down my face as to apply makeup and did a little dance jig and point to the birds. Ah, they say Harlequin. (A comic dramatic character featured in the Italian commedia dell'arte and the English harlequinade, usually shown wearing multicolored diamond-patterned tights and a black mask). Then they all commenced to enjoy these delightful little birds as they plied the turbulent water and occasionally took up positions on the rocks in the rapids. Merci beaucoup, merci the Belgians exclaim as they take their leave. I took the hand of the lady in the group and kissed it lightly in true French style. Au revoir, madame I say. She smiles charmed and looks back over her shoulder as they depart for their motorcycles. Another place and yet another time I would have kept the mandatory 100 yards from this group with their leather black jackets, tattoos, ear rings, and bandanas. But leaving bias, prejudice, and racism aside is easy at LeHardy Rapids. The simple delight of these visitors to America reinforced my deep feeling that people watching is as good a pursuit here as scoping wildlife.

We hurried back to Mammoth but our escapade as LeHardy matched us up with a grizzly bear trying to cross at Grizzly Meadow (what we now call it since it is near to Grizzly Lake). It was a scene right from Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. Cars were stopped, scattered and askew. It was pandemonium. Several self appointed protectors were trying to herd the people back 100 yards but to no avail as half didn't speak English and the other half could care less. One man in particular with his dutiful female friend were within 20 yards of the bear must have had a wide angle lens. The bear climbed a hill and than came down to cross the road. Now real panic. It crossed the road and then headed back to where we were parked enjoying this mix of the Science Fiction The Thing plus The Day the Earth Stood Still and Godzilla Gone Hyper. People all over the place, running away, some running to as they wanted to know what was scaring everybody. Food supply trucks were stopped, three huge tour buses were also adding to the mix as were 5 separate Wildlife Tours of degree of professional or another. We just sat and waited and applied the biology of the situation. Where the bear was heading was a very steep all pine hill. Where we were was all water and grass and down hill and unobstructed. We calculated that the bear would come our way. In due course the bear passed abeam of our position which was in a pull off. For those still loyal readers he is the obligatory bear picture. I believe it was Confucius that said, "All things come to one who waits."


Tuesday - 15 May

Harlequin Duck by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

30 degrees clear.

The visit to LeHardy Rapids was an exciting show. There was good sun at 2:30 PM, no wind, the boardwalk was cleared and dry. The river was full and running rapidly but the Harlequin ducks were having a safe time feeding and riding the rapids. We spent some time there and remembered the previous 5 years of frustration of not being able to get pictures of these unusual duck. Now the frustration is over.




Wednesday - 16 May

Grizzly bear sow with cubs by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

High cirrus overcast as weak low pressure passes over Northern Wyoming.

If there is any certainty in Yellowstone this year it is that the quad-mom as she is called, the sow grizzly with 2 of 4 cubs with her, will appear with what is now gently referred to as monotonous regularity on Swan Lake Flats. Old timers take positions at dawn (5:10 AM) all along the road and by 6:30 AM there are 40-50 cars in a pre-bear jam. Then the sow and the cubs come ambling down or around or wherever they spent the night and the daily dog and pony show begins. Or should we say bear and people show? She has stayed in the area now for over a week and moves slowly westward each morning. You can time her pace as the 200mm, then 300mm, then 400mm, then 600mm lens all come down and the telescopes come out. At 400 yards most all camera people fold it up but the telescope people are still in the game. As the watchers move on to breakfast or lunch as the case may be the rangers go back on patrol. And within two hours people that are not in the know drive by and wonder who or what pounded the sage along the road into oblivion.

Control has been mixed. In this location control is very easy as the flats are all sage and there is no sneaking out. On this particular day we found quad-mom with cubs on a mound of dirt that some say was once a coyote den now vacated. These events are always a chance to met and greet friends and acquaintances. I often reflect how nearly akin to rendezvous these gatherings are. Everyone gets a chance to mingle, view new equipment, try other people's equipment and have minor contests of how sharp is your picture compared to mine. I walked the line today (about 50 feet long) cantoring peanuts, popcorn, crackerjack, 1.4, 1.7 extenders, telephotos of 500, 600, 800 mm.

The Flat is still flooded and only a few ducks and several Sandhill cranes are on it.




Thursday - 17 May

Cinnamon Teal by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Carol's last photo day in the Park so we decided to go someplace and just sit. And wait. And see what happens. We did at what is known to old loonies as Bluebird Tree lake. Sure enough. Things happened. A trio of cinnamon teal flew in and challenged the mallards right to this very small pond. The back and forth fight between the mallards and the teal was only occasionally interrupted by the battle between the two male teals. It was some two hours we were there and in short order a large crowd assembled because there must be a wolf there why else would anybody stop? We used every phrase in our book to answer the obnoxious car-stop-window-down-rude-inquiry-whatcha see? It got so bad with about 8 cars parked that finally I pulled out all the stops and said, I'll tell you when you get out of the car. That sent most away cursing but a few came over and enjoyed the beauty of the battle. In short order they were caught up in the tension of the moment as ducks paddled back and forth. The teal really needed to combine their efforts against the larger mallards but they were so preoccupied with their menage-a-trois they couldn't work out a coalition.

A van full of Asain visitors, complete with yelling people and slamming doors ended this interlude. Why do they always yell and scream at each other? Don't they walk quietly in their woods in China and Japan?

On the way back to Gardiner we stopped by Lava Creek and found the ouzel had rebuilt the nest for the third time! The creek was running so high that all the typical perches on the south side were overflowed so the birds used the north side creek. We found them there walking the water for worms and mayflies. We also found many yellow-rump warbler and wonder of wonders a red-naped woodpecker. A simply great conclusion for Carol's last day. Even the arrival of Lazuli buntings couldn't outshine the woodpecker and the warbler and the cinnamon teal.




Friday - 18 May

Overcast rain 49 degrees.

Rain began this early morning and continued all day and all the way into Bozeman. This is departure day for Carol. Her flight leaves early Saturday. We entertained ourselves watching the crop fields pass by and questioning each other as to the best picture, the best event, the most entertaining people and other such nonsense that keeps the embers of memory from fading. Carol had over 2,300 pictures and many were of new species of birds, different situations with mammals, and some scenic. We dropped off equipment at UPS, took some cameras in for quick cleaning at Bozeman Camera and then went lake-looking.

The Bozeman area has many habitats in the various subdivisions and several can yield astounding results if you go looking. For instance, the one off of Davis Street that had red-necked grebe. This bird is shy, migrates alone or in small groups, and remains very quiet. Shipley Bird Guide says it sleeps a lot. We can affirm that as we spent 70 minutes waiting for the bird to wake up and put its head up. It remained at 130 meters for our whole visit. The picture is terrible so it is not displayed. For this boy from deep south the land of red-necks finding a red-necked grebe is a lifer, as they say in bird watcher lingo.


Saturday - 19 May

Red-necked grebe by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

34 degrees clear.

Carol left this morning to return to rain drenched Florida and Ellie came in on the 1:15 PM from Minneapolis St. Paul. Carol's trip was highlighted with excellent weather and the discovery of several new species of birds as well as a plethora of bears grizzly and black. We renewed acquaintances of old friends and met new ones. We met a virtual United Nations of people from Japan, China, Scotland, New Zealand and all points from around the world. It was truly rewarding and enlightening.

Ellie now arrives filled with expectations and excitement and suspecting ever so slightly that these trip reports are high hyperbole and fun filled fantasy. But, as with Christmas, you never want to doubt the dreams and so Ellie holds to the firm and holy that yes indeed this is a land of excitement and magic and although wolves are now highly predictable and marked by circling airplanes and lines of wolfies with great telescopes all other appearances of coyotes, deer, moose, bear, badger and hundreds of birds is ruled by the gods of serendipity. As the old nursery song goes: If you go down to the woods today, you re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today, you'd better go in disguise. For every bear that every there was will gather there for certain because today is the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Saturday starts out cold and clear, about 37 degrees with no wind. As Carol's plane climbs out over the Ramada Ltd at 7th and I-80 I reload the car with photo equipment to continue to search for the unusual and I am not disappointed. I relocate the Red-necked grebe and secure some astonishing pictures of this Pacific podicipediae. So here I sit by a marshy lake in Bozeman, Carol is winging her way to Minnesota, Ellie is landing in Atlanta and I have filled a memory cache with several hundred pictures. People and places.

As nice as the morning as bad is the afternoon. Lowerng ceilings, high winds sweep across Bozeman. Gray flowing skirts of virga in all directions with several actually reaching the ground as light precipitation. Not enough to water a weed but enough to penetrate an O-ring on a camera lens. Such a frustration. This afternoon was to be pheasant-shoot Saturday. Alas, not to be this day. So we close shop early acknowledging that Mother Nature rules the vagaries of the weather and return to Gardiner. The return was Paradise Valley typical. Black angus lowing in the fields, farmers plowing and planting and all ignoring the light rain.



Sunday - 20 May

Lazuli bunting by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

39 degrees clear in the morning cloudy afternoon.

Serendib, also spelled Serendip, Arabic Sarandîb, is the name for the island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The name, Arabic in origin, was recorded in use at least as early as AD 361 and for a time gained considerable currency in the West. It is best known to speakers of English through the word serendipity, invented in the 18th century by the English man of letters Horace Walpole on the inspiration of a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes often made discoveries by chance. A well travelled Turkish friend of mine told me once that serendipity was really rooted in the island name as it was a port of call for trading ships in the area. And when they stopped there for what we now know as R&R good things happened to the sailors. They would beg the captain to take them to the serendip to experience the natives, their beverages and of course their trade goods.

Well, can't say much about trade goods on the island but today was serendipity in the sense of good things happening unexpectedly. Our early morning trip to the upper terrace produced immediately a white tailed deer that walked casually by where we parked. After that, bring on the bluebirds in great and friendly numbers. Zippity do dah, zippity yay, my oh my what a wonderful day. Right out of Song of the South. Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird were on our shoulder, figuratively of course, since you can't be within 25 yards of a bird in Yellowstone. And if that wasn't enough to make you eat fudge along came chipping sparrows and what we believe was a jack rabbit. Can we take any more. Let's gamble and go up on Swan Lake Flat where quad grizzly mom was busy with her two cubs a thousand yards or so from the road. Boring. So we left Swan Lake and headed on to Floating Island Lake where we find a flock of eared grebe and several ruddy ducks tearing up the lake and each other. The grebes were actually with 59 feet of the road but as soon as we set up for some great pictures terrific winds hit the area. We estimated them at 35 gusting rather violently to 45. So much for grebes and ruddy ducks. Gambling on serendipity we returned westward to Mammoth and lo! We come across a cinnamon phase black bear square in the middle of the meadow at Phantom Lake. Now, would you believe 6 tenths of a mile of photographers lined up along the road? There must have been over 125 people with cars and buses scattered everywhere. And no ranger. And there was order and decorum.

I once saw a bobcat jump into a flock of ducks with no particular aim or expertise. Just jumped in the middle of the ducks and hoped that the melee would produce something. I thought about that as we threaded our way through the traffic and people jam. If that bear simply charged the scramble of cars and people would have generated a frightful mess of broken bones, cameras, and cars.

Before heading down to Mammoth for lunch we visited the hoodoos and watched green-violet swallows setting up nests in the vertical rock ledges. That marks the fist time I ever have seen that. Usually they use the columnar basalt cliffs at Tower. Lunch at Mammoth was yet more serendipity as there were only 8 people having lunch. The waiter had no idea where everybody was. And then, finally home very early as Ellie was tired, there sits a flock of Lazuli buntings at the bird feeders waiting dinner. As we watched a perfectly nothing solar eclipse we photographed these colorful yet quarrelsome little buntings and practiced flash, fill flash, and focal plane flash.

The end to a serendipitous day.


Monday - 21 May

Female Williamson Sapsucker by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Clear 49 degrees.

In days gone past three score there used to be a definition that stated that ambivalence is your mother in law going over the cliff in your brand new Cadillac. That certainly is now politically inappropriate and I don't know many people that even have or care a lot about Cadillac. That stated, today the password is ambivalence. The weather is nice, cold and clear. Visibility is badly deteriorated. It looks more the Smoky Mountains than Yellowstone. A pall lies over the land. It is one of those days that photographers refer to as bad atmospheric. In short, don't shoot far out as no camera or glass is going to work. Remember that country song titled "The Gambler". The great line "You got to know when to hold them and when to fold them." Today was a fold-em day for anything beyond 110 feet.

With that in mind we journeyed to Roosevelt where Ellie lost her Maui Jim sunglasses in the port-o-lets. She put them on the shelf and forgot to retrieve them. I was optimistic that somebody would turn them in. That just shows you how much I know about Maui Jim sunglasses. We turned around on discovery of the loss and sure enough the glasses were gone. Gloomy, we went back to the original destination of Tower and found swallows at 210 feet distance. Nothing else. On the return we did find a small quiet group at Calcite Spring Falls standing patiently with cameras pointing at a tree. Now that is my kind of action. A bird jam!

The Williamson Sapsucker was excavating in a dead tree. How very, very nice. The sun was bad, the lay out worse but it was opportunity and it was up to us to solve the math, the lens, the white balance, and all the techy things so much fun in photography.

While we waited for photo ops we met a delightful Russian couple now employed at UCLA in molecular-biology. Then comes an Israeli couple schooled in physics. Then up comes Joseph Conrad, no not that one-he is dead. Joe is Ph.D. is physics now retired. Ellie (MA in nursing) and I (BA, JD, LLM, and MTheo) just looked at each other and knew instinctively to keep our mouths shut. Well sir, the conversation ranged all over the universe and was quite exciting and fulfilling. Occasionally a spectator would shout, Here comes the woodpecker and we would return to our senses and mission.

Cute birds, the Williamson sapsucker. It has a strange call, almost mammalian. Something akin to a dinosaur scream. And it drills the most fascinating rectangular holes in trees that have a lay out of about 8 across and 40 down. Later it returns to feast on the sap as well as the insects drawn to the sap. The rectangular holes look like a checkerboard. As we stood in rapt awe of the scientific conversation around us the sapsucker did what they do best this time of year excavated a nest hole. Here was pause to reflect, especially in light of the events of the world, an Israeli couple conversing with a Russian couple hired by an American University with some kibitzing on the side from a physicist. And 20 feet away, a sapsucker pitching wood chips out of a new nest hole. The conversation was respectful, bridging several languages, and genuinely stimulating to all. The United Nations should have been there.

We returned to Gardiner in silent mutual respect for the experience, passing black bears at Rainey Lake, Eared Grebes at Floating Island, and thousands upon thousands of larkspur and buttercups.

We stopped at Tower Ranger station and met up with John Kerr for the first time this season. Collette, the former chief ranger here was also there conversing with John. Collette is now retired. Like an old fire horse, the retired rangers just can t leave.

And no one turned in the Maui Jim sunglasses. Did we have a good day? Yes and No.


Tuesday - 22 May

Great Horned Owl by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

51 degrees overcast steady rain.

Our day could best be described in movie titles such as “Great Expectations”, “Bad Day at Black Rock”, “The High and the Mighty”, “High Noon”, “It Only Hurts For A Little While”, “Lonely Street”.

Although it was overcast, there was no wind and our goal was pika peeking and owl pictures at Mammoth. All the way the twisting and turns as the land rises to Mammoth we expressed our excitement and great expectation that such a dark day would surely bring out the pika (that don't like heat). But first The Great Horned Owl.

We reached the usual position for photography of this oft photographed owl in the residential area of Mammoth and found 6 other photogs assembled in a quiet respectful line. The rising sun cast a gorgeous golden light on this veteran of motherhood and celebrity living regurgitating. Camera out, 500mm fixed on tripod, swing to sight, acquire focus ..yep. You've seen this movie before. Probably read the book, own the CD and DVD, and had a sneak preview of the sequel. Down comes the rain. As in Florida tropical. The clouds were stacked high and mighty full of rain and sitting on top of Yellowstone.

It may be raining at Mammoth, but perhaps on Swan Lake Flats things could be different. No. As a matter of fact, worse. And worse yet at Lava Creek, Tower, Little America and all the other places of beauty. It was simply a bad day at black rock which is what we call that particular rock formation at the east end of Little American by the large parking area for Specimen Ridge Trail. Regulars to the Loon kingdom know this cupcake like rock with chocolate frosting. Newbies will have to discover it. And if you can't find it, see your ophthalmologist. As one of my guests once exclaimed, Golly, it must have been dropped by a woolly mammoth no bison could leave that cupcake.

At noon, actually high noon, but who could tell it was so dark and raining so heavy. It was as if the sun took the day off. We returned back to Gardiner along a vacant road passing deserted outposts of the wolfies. No telescopes today. You would need thermal imager to see 25 feet out. People often say that the weather is highly variable here which has certain apologetic overtones. I see it as a massive example of understatement. If one comes in Spring expect winter and Spring to be locked in a titanic battle complete with front shifting, occlusions, sorties, and eventually total surrender by winter to summer Except for a few snow and frost raids guerilla actions in July.

Surrender to the elements and back to Gardiner along lonely streets to work Elements in Adobe on pictures of sunny days of the past. In short order we became believers that it only hurts for a little while as we screened grosbeaks, quad-mom, brown bison babies, and all the delights of the past month.

Say goodnight Gracie.


Wednesday - 23 May

Steller's Jay by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

The Nikon D3 failed today after a complex set of circumstances that resulted in an overloaded cache, a shutter trip that wouldn't stop until I pulled the battery. The backup 300s carried the day and we got some great photos of Evening Grosbeak, red fox, Steller Jays, and a potpourri of other small birds. About the time we experienced the camera failure the sky clouded over and snow began to fall. The prediction was 7 inches of Wednesday and 12 more on Thursday. We had so much wanted to drive the Beartooth Highway but not under these conditions. The locals are very much frustrated because it now appears that their Memorial Day will be a wash out. Or snow out as the case may be. We wanted to lunch and say goodbye to Joe and Jan at Bed n Bun since it could be they will be gone next year. Their place is for sale.

Ice Box Canyon will, likely as not, never thaw this summer the way things are going. It isn't as much snow as last year just persistent rain and snow that simply won't quit.

At eventide we dined with Gary and Judith Norris who will be leaving for Indiana shortly. Elva and Dale Pualson our field companions slipped quietly out of town already. Elva's work can be seen at http://www.elvafieldnotes.blogspot.com/. She is good friends with Elizabeth Smith at http://www.lizardart.com/. Ms Smith is known to her contemporary Linda Weinland who was here several weeks past. It all seems to go round and round. I have watched Elva work in the field. She is a master. But crowds of tourists with noisy buses and gigantic camper trailers distress her so she and her husband depart before the summer crunch begins.




Thursday - 24 May

46 degrees / overcast mixed rain and snow.

Today we drove into Bozeman, a delightful 77 mile trip with one caution light and one red-light. Despite the heavy rains over the last three days the ranchers are running sprinklers. All the way through Paradise Valley we could see snow squalls. Some were a mile or so wide others maybe 3-10 miles wide. Each time we passed into and out of one the temperature would change 7 degrees within a mile dropping down to 35. When we emerged, the temperature would rise to 42, snow and rain showers in all quadrants.

Marshall at Bozeman Camera did a quick check of the faulty D3 and it was back in business in 29 minutes. We also took the time to have him calibrate all the lenses to all the cameras. Marshall has a new interior mechanical rig that does an outstanding job. Keep that in mind if you go to Bozeman. Pay a few bucks and get your telephoto adjusted by fine tuning.

We checked on the red-necked grebe and found her safe and sound but the nest is now floating as a result of all the rain. Just before sunset we took pictures of the pheasant that live within 20 blocks of 7th Avenue. It is amazing the wildlife in and around Bozeman metropolitan area.


Friday - 25 May

Ellie in the Snow at Gardiner, Montana by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Yet another snow down day with predictions of two more to come. Bozeman has rain turning to snow. Mammoth is snow with accumulation beginning. At Swan Lake Flat the fog is so thick that visibility was down to three cars lengths. Wind is strong from the south about 25 mph. The wind abated at midnight and the snow came down in soft gentle wet flakes that coated trees, wires, cars and anything that didn't stand still in 7 inches of what appeared to be vanilla frosting. Slowly the branches sagged and bowed their tops in abject surrender and contrition for daring to believe that spring had come. We had hoped for better weather now we will settle for getting out of the Park for our scheduled visit to Jackson Hole.

Some people, like Ellie, obviously don't understand the gravity of the situation!




Saturday - 26 May

Snow 2 in Gardiner, Montana by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

34 degrees and snow with fog.

Actually it was not so much fog as it was the bottoms of the snowing overcast that was thirty feet above our car. Gardiner and Mammoth were a winter wonderland. Everything had 7 inches of snow; handrails, garbage cans, trees, cars, stop signs. Everything sported a top hat of white. As cars came to stop signs and braked the entire white top would slid forward covering the windshield. Plop!

It was a tortuous trip to Jackson once they cleared the road of a truck accident on Swan Lake Flats.

At Jackson Lake the rain abated but resumed at Jackson city limits. Bummer!

The que at Swan Lake was so long that we didn't dare stop for pictures.




Sunday - 27 May

Overcast, fog, snow, rain.

Great Gray Owl by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

A large upper level low has enveloped the Idaho, Montana, Wyoming area and the jet stream has come due south from Canada dipping down the length of Idaho then curving back up to the east side of Wyoming. The net effect of the this unusual behavior is to push very cold air into Yellowstone Jackson Hole while drawing up extremely hot air into Iowa, Nebraska, Dakota. The wrap around of this moist hot air is keeping the area totally sodden with rain and fog while places like Chicago are having record heat (100 degree) waves. The blessing is that there is no wind here in Jackson Hole. And the birds are being grounded. Photography is awkward at best and treacherous at worst. Water and snow are dropping from trees, eaves, and leaves and keeping the equipment dry and fog-lens-free is almost impossible.

Cinnamon ducks came into the Flat Creek viewing area as did red headed ducks. The swallows are scooping up may fly and midge insects from atop the water, skimming the surface at mere inches. Even coots and ducks are ducking the swallows. We visited friends in Jackson and got some backyard pictures of Brewer's Blackbirds, Brown Headed Blackbirds, Western Tanagers, Bullock's Orioles, Lazuli Buntings, a variety of yet unidentified hummingbirds in less than ideal conditions. Poor light and numbing cold resulted in pictures obtained the old fashioned way: WE EARNED THEM.

The fog and snow was so bad we abandoned any hope of going to find bear targets as you couldn't get a picture over 30 feet from wherever you stood. But the alternatives of watching TV or leaving Jackson were totally unacceptable. Ellie hasn't been to Jackson in many years so we opted to tour Wilson Scenic Road and no sooner were we three miles down that often productive drive when we came upon the elusive Great Gray Owl. Standing on a stump. Eye level. Twenty five feet from the car window. Eating a vole. And the snow stopped. How exciting is that! It was a perfect grey card all the way around. Guess where we stayed for an hour. It was absolutely the best setup I have ever had and we filled the memory card with so many digital memories that it lost its mind. I have searched for this bird for thirty years and only saw one once while horse back riding 15 years past.

Following that little escapade we pushed our luck and returned to Flat Creek to find red-headed ducks and were soundly punished by Mother Nature for our ingratitude. The wind came up, the snow and rain came down and the fog settled even lower. Dan M met us there and we exchanged logs of the day before he took leave and went to work. Only than did we quit to watch Memorial Day Oldies on the television.

Now we wait to see if this complicated weather patterns moves east and gives us some sunlight.

Thank you Mother Nature, for gifting us with the Great Gray.




Monday - 28 May

Trumpeter Swams by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

32 degrees, overcast, rain and snow.

The trip back from the town of Jackson in the geographic area called Jackson Hole was uneventful. Flat Creek was overcast dark and the red-headed ducks were over 200 feet away. The baby goslings of two weeks past are grown and fending well in the small pond by the Forestry Service welcome station. The antler auction is finished, the Bar-B-Que cook off complete and the Mountain Man rendezvous moved on. Now Jackson can get back to the serious business of making money and today is as good a day as any. All stores are open.

Jenny Lake Scenic Drive (not to be overlooked if you come here) was silent, wet, and peopled only by several bus loads of Asians who were enjoying the panorama of the Tetons.

South Yellowstone was still snow covered but the roads dry and cleared. As the trip continued toward Lake the snow dissipated gradually. LeHardy Rapids still has no Harlequin Ducks but the water is high and running rapidly. All the standing stones are over washed with turbulent waves of rushing water. Such a pity when for the first time in 5 years the boardwalk is ice and snow free that the ducks have left.

The surprise on return to Mammoth was that the 7 inches of snow is completely gone. One would not even know that the area was blanketed three days past with snow and ice that broke many branches and felled trees.

The trip was so uneventful on return that the last pictures in the camera were the Trumpeter Swans at the Teton Science School breeding pond west of the Jackson High School. This is a must see if you are a birder.




Tuesday - 29 May

Chipping sparrow by Paul Gore © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Typical, 49 degrees clear, overcast rain by noon.

We were pleased and surprised by the presence of Bullock Orioles, Green-sided Towhee, Western Tanager, Harris sparrow, scores of Pine Siskins, Lazuli Buntings, wrens of several varieties, and a Swainson's Thrush around the bird feeders. It was a remarkable commotion with birds flying in all directions. Periodically the Magpie, the Bad Boys of this neighborhood would push in to take charge.

We received news that Dunraven Pass was finally open. Ellie hasn't been there in over a decade so we set out to see what was new. But first a stop at Calcite Springs to get shots of flowers and the nesting Williamson's Sapsucker. The crowds were light because of the presence of a mother bear and cub of the year at Rainy Lake. During our flower shoot a Chipping Sparrow dropped down beside us and grabbed a tasty bug. It was both big and tasty as it took the sparrow some time to ingest it. Audubon warblers were chasing one another all around the boardwalk and two mule deer ambled past. Overhead the osprey gave what we considered cries of joy that finally the sun was out and surely this must be spring.

Joseph Conrad aka J-canoe retired chemist appeared and beguiled us with stories of his frolic and detours on his retirement. We made plans for dinner.

We journeyed to the top of Mount Washburn which still had deep snow aside the road. Dark clouds were looming in the west with a promise of yet another sour day. That should shut the osprey up! Within the hour down came more rain. But we were blessed. At 52 degrees, there was no snow.

Joseph came to our quarters and we talked cameras and shop while taking pictures of the birds around the feeders. We were entertained and thrilled for 2 hours by the action and then concluded the day with dinner at Rosie's.




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