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Trip Report ~ Bear and Loon Sightings ~ by Frank Smith

20 April 2012

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

~ April 2012 ~

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

Friday - 20 April

I am dedicating this trip report to greywolf, who had to sit at the North Entrance, watching an endless parade of Yellowstone Loons entering the park on Opening Day. She is a good sport!

I, like many others, am in the habit of checking out the rim ice collar that "surrounds" Black Growler and other vents at Norris Geyser Basin on Opening Day each year. I was surprised this year to find the smallest deposition that I have ever seen, including all those drought years in the 2000s.

My other habit is seeing how Constant Geyser and its companions are doing. Constant was not generating bursts between 5 and 12 feet in height, like I have grown used to observing. Instead, it was doing a small "boil" of 2 to 3 inches, which lasted a full four minutes. Unlike what we have seen the past several years, Fireball and Arsenic were not doing anything. The overall water flow in the basin seemed much lower than what I have grown to expect at this time of year.

Like others have mentioned, there is considerably less snow remaining on the west side of the park. It was a surprise, because although we had a markedly dry and warm winter in Bozeman, in December and January, more typical winter weather arrived in February. The skiing improved dramatically, and most indices showed most river drainages at or just below normal moisture for the season.

As mentioned in my previous post, we saw Randall's vehicle in the parking lot at Norris.

After departing Norris, we continued south, amazed at how much bare ground we were seeing in the Gibbon Canyon and beyond. John Uhler was not exaggerating last weekend.

We skipped the customary stop to check on Fountain Geyser, and hurried on to Old Faithful. We did notice Great Fountain Geyser in eruption as we crossed Tangled Creek.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

We made our first stop at Old Faithful at the Geyser Grill for lunch. We were just getting seated, when Roadie showed up. KenT and his two buddies were right behind her. We discovered we had missed Beehive. Apparently, there was quite an assemblage of Loons on hand for that show, including Jakeman and friend (Diane, if I remember correctly), the "Wisconsin Cheeseheads" (TYT, Angela, and Derek), and the four we encountered at the Geyser Grill.

After lunch, we went over to the Visitor Education Center, checked on any potential big shows imminent, and caught an eruption of Old Faithful. We decided to return north, and detour east to Canyon.

Finally, we were seeing snow depths that appeared more normal, particularly on Blanding Hill. We stopped at Canyon Village for our first ice cream dessert of the season. Thankfully, the little freezer at the small general store was fully stocked! In a classic piece of "deja vu", Roadie, KenT, and his friends showed up shortly after we got there. Actually, this was "double deja vu". On Opening Day 2011, we ran into KenT at Canyon Village, just after getting our initial ice cream of the season!

The entire group departed Canyon Village, and proceeded south. We were surprised to see the temporary road closure where the North Rim Drive leaves the Grand Loop Road. At the time we had no clue why the section from there to the Chittenden Bridge was closed, but we were to find out that evening, via the NPS press release.

We stopped at Lookout Point, and walked to the upper lookout. This time of year, the trail to the lower lookout is always closed. It is way dangerous, still covered with ice and snow.

As you can see in the photo, the inverted snow cone we often see in late winter or early spring is mostly eroded, or may not have been there in the first place.

I don't remember seeing so much fragmentation of the rime ice field on either side of the falls on Opening Day in past years. It may be partially due to a number of very unseasonably warm "spikes" in the weather this past 3 or 4 weeks.

With the road to Artist Point inaccessible, all the visitor traffic was concentrated on North Rim Drive. It was surprising how many people were aggregated at Lookout Point. There were quite a few foreign languages being spoken, which was somewhat surprising for so early in the season.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

Anyone who has tried to take group portraits of a group of Yellowstone Loons knows how much it can resemble "herding cats or earthworms". I took 3 shots, and not one of them has all 5 individuals facing the camera. At least, this shot got 4 out of 5. One of KenT's friends is looking into the canyon. Of course, anyone who has stood at Lookout Point knows there are so many visual attractions.

I decided to start a separate thread for a series of images of the perennial grizzly that has been frequenting the Brickyard/Obsidian Creek/Roaring Mountain area each spring for the last 3 years, so I will commence that forthwith.

Friday - 20 April ~ Opening Day Grizzly

This is the third consecutive spring that I have observed this particular bear in the vicinity of the Brickyard, a mile or so north or Roaring Mountain. I have only seen it in the spring. Two years ago, I suspected it was an immature, emancipated female. Last year, I maintained that perspective. The bear is not large in size. After seeing it again on Friday, I'm scratching my head. Everyone at the bear jam was referring to it as a "he", even a long time Yellowstone ranger, who was working the jam. I don't know what to think.

There has been much conjecture as to whether this bear might be the offspring of famous grizzly 264. Given its comfort level around the road and hordes of visitors, as well as its relatively small size, I think there is a good chance. A smaller bear would be smart to avoid the territories of the larger bears to the west in the Gallatin Range or those to the east in the Washburn Range.

I'm going to put this little tidbit right here, strictly because I just remembered it from over a week ago. Apparently, there was a case of bear on bear lethal violence on the Upper Terrace Loop at Mammoth a few weeks ago. I was told it was a large black bear doing in a much smaller one. I have a new appreciation for how incredible it is that "Rosie's Runt" survived the winter by itself back in 1997/1998. That little grey critter was out grazing one evening in the summer of 1998, a few miles up the road above the Tower Store. It was so small, even at that point, it looked like a cub of the year.

Sorry for the sidebar. Now back to our story:

Apparently, this bear had been napping off and on before our arrival. According to those who were there before us, the bear had put on an exhibition of ursine strength by knocking a tree down. I took the first shot as the griz was heading toward a large snowfield.

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

This is all prelude to what the bear did next. I don't know if the snow, and the cold feet, were a trigger mechanism, or not.

What I did not see, as I was photographing the bear, was that it was answering nature's call. Maybe my eyesight is fading.

I have tried to recall instances where a cold shock, such as one might get by walking into a snow field, triggered this type of response in me, but either it has not happened, or the memories were erased by aliens or the CIA.

I was having a merry old time, photographing this griz, while someone nearby was telling somebody else about how long this bear had been urinating. To hear him tell it, this had been going on for many minutes. I was not in a position to argue the point, because I had not noticed the behavior in the first place! In fact, initially, I was wondering what this guy was talking about.

It was shortly after this event that I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around, and was looking at the lower torso of a rather tall guy. It was none other than TYT, who is a foot taller than I, and was standing on the pavement, a good foot or two higher than the shoulder I was hanging out on. Angela joined him, and we had a good chat. I introduced Jane to both of them.

After wandering around on the snow, and digging here and there for something to eat, the bear moved a bit south, and returned to bare ground.

Obviously, this bear is not overly concerned about its proximity to the road!

Eventually, the bear seemed to find something of interest. I figured it was something to eat.

To my surprise, the object of the bear's attention proved to be trash, most likely a plastic bag from some retail store.

At the time, I didn't realize the potential significance of the action. It was only later that I remembered that elements of the annual Earth Day celebration had already commenced that day. This bear was doing his or her part!

Like I said earlier, this bear does not seem to be the least bit nervous about being so close to the road!

So, that's it for Opening Day 2012 for Jane and I. We did get to observe some sandhill cranes on Swan Lake Flat, but the photos are not worthy of being posted here.

On Saturday, I did one of my favorite early spring hikes, up the north ridge of Mount Everts. It was the usual wildlife extravaganza, as numerous ungulate species are migrating back into Yellowstone for the bounty that summer brings. I hope to post a report on that activity later this week.

Here's hoping those of you who read this report and others on the events of this past weekend get a chance to enjoy Yellowstone this season. It is shaping up to be another great one!

Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved Yellowstone Grizzly Bear taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Frank Smith All Rights Reserved

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