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Trip Report ~ Bear and Wolf Sightings ~ by Randal Horobik

03 May 2012

Yellowstone Coyote taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Randal W. Horobik All Rights Reserved

~ May 2012 ~

Yellowstone Coyote taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Randal W. Horobik All Rights Reserved

Thursday - 03 May

I posted earlier that I had been informed Colter Pass had been opened. Naturally, I had to investigate for is quite open, meaning my park access time is now less than 2 hours to Lamar Valley. Booyah!

It was sunny to the east of the park, but we were greeted in the early afternoon with gentle rain just before reaching Cooke City. A quick stop for milkshakes, a sandwich to go and the latest scuttle on wildlife sightings and we were in. The sprinkles eased coming through Ice Box Canyon. We hit our first traffic on the corner immediately west of the Pebble Creed Campground entrance, 5 to 6 vehicles and a park ranger off to the side of the road staring up the draw that runs to the west/northwest. We had been told both moose and a grizzly bear had been hanging out in this area lately. Since a ranger was around, I'm going to assume it was the bear half of that either/or that we were a smidge late in getting to see. Everyone was in departure mode with scopes being packed, camera gear being stowed, etc.

We continued on and, once again, I could have hiked the Trout Lake trail in solitude had I wished. Today was not a hiking day though...we were on a mission to locate bison babies if we could, and if anything else dared to venture within lens distance, that was fine as well.

There were 4 or 5 cars stopped at the Hitching Post pullout. We'd been told at Cooke there was a kill between there and the river and that a lot of the lunch traffic had spoken eagerly of hoping there'd be some excitement at it tonight. There was nothing, prompting me into the Yellowstone version of Lets Make a Deal -- do you sit on a sure thing and hope something comes to it, or do you risk it for what might be waiting ahead around corner No. 2? Today, it was corner No. 2.

We stopped at 2-3 pullouts heading down the Lamar and came up empty on baby bison -- lots of bison, just no babies that we saw. And a random smattering of pronghorn here and there. Slough Creek was devoid of vehicles, so it was through the construction zone at the bridge...and that's when things began to get interesting. Coming up the hill and around the corner west of the bridge and emerging into Little America there was an audience of 6-8 cars stopped on either side of the highway. Some of the folks had cameras and stares fixed to the north/northeast. The western end of the traffic jam had scopes and binoculars trained to the southwest. We pulled off the road at the western end and I disembarked from the car to see what the source of the duality was.

I saw some ravens and surmised there was probably a kill and trained my binoculars in the general direction, but was blocked by a small rise. Walking back down the highway to get a clearer line of sight, a kind woman invited me to look into her scope and tell her what I saw.

What I saw were three wolves bedded down under some trees on the hillside. She informed me they'd killed a bison calf and had been feeding, but had retreated back into the trees. I was informed they were members of the Mollies and that there were probably several more "up there," she said making a sweeping gesture at the forest canopy. Considering the personalized plate on the vehicle she was standing next to read "DruidPk" I saw zero reason to doubt her. After excusing myself for a moment to relay the approximate tree location back to my wife and kids so they could draw a bead on things as well, I went back to continue the conversation.

I'm not sure how long we spoke, but eventually it dawned on me to inquire about the folks at the eastern end of the wildlife jam -- the ones not staring up at a tree-covered hillside. What were they looking at? "Oh, they're watching for the grizzly that just crossed the road not that long ago." Yes, once again, we had missed an encounter with a griz by a matter of minutes. We watched the wolves for a while and she volunteered that there had been a griz with two cubs of the year (COY) hanging out in that general area as well, but that they hadn't been sighted for the last couple of days and may have moved on. I thanked her for allowing me to use her scope, the conversation and bid her a good day as we continued west.

Yellowstone Bison taken Spring 2012 ~ © Copyright Randal W. Horobik All Rights Reserved

We found our quest for the day at the Boulder pulloff. There were roughly 30 bison, and it was a great case-study in bison behavior. There was bellowing. There were a couple rolling in the mud. There were a couple newborns nursing and probably a half dozen more that were trying to keep up with mom in that amusingly clumsy trot-hop-gallop that bison calves possess. We happily enjoyed having the pullout to ourselves as we shot numerous photos trying to do justice to the young carefree lives toddling along before us. Eventually, the entire group drifted far enough back from the road that they were out of camera range (at least MY camera range). That meant it was time to call Westward Ho! and continue down the road.

Approaching Specimen Ridge, there were five pronghorn hanging out very tight to the highway. I expected them to bolt as I slowed down, pronghorn being skittish creatures in my experience. These were anything but. In fact, they hardly reacted as I stopped the vehicle so the kids could get an up-close view of the creatures they normally only see as a white rear end sproinging off into the distance as we drive through Wyoming.

A half-dozen bighorns were walking amongst the trees between the Specimen trailhead and the Yellowstone picnic area. With an evil-ish looking dark grey cloud immediately to the west and the vehicle clock ticking past 5:00 p.m., we decided to make that our turnaround point. I also wanted to head back to the long pullout just before the construction zone, just in case the griz that had crossed the road was lumbering down to the river.

As we got back toward the construction zone, I knew I was right on the money. A roadside parking jam of 7-8 cars had materialized where none had been on the way in. Our griz was out a couple hundred yards from the road, but near enough that a pair of binoculars provided quite a show at the good-sized animal as it lumbered through marshy areas and occasionally snuffed the ground. We watched for quite some time until he wandered off and resumed our homeward trek.

The myriad of bison in Lamar Valley that we had encountered were in the process of moving up from the valley floor onto the hillside for the night. This meant a very slow go of things as we yielded to all cross-traffic, including the pair that felt it necessary to scuffle some 30 feet or so in front of us in the center of the highway. I imagined how the conversation with my insurance adjustor would go should they get too wrapped up in their proceedings to notice my car. Somewhere in here, the dark cloud overtook us and the rains resumed.

As we returned to Hitching Post, the crowd of cars had doubled, so I pulled in again. Nothing was happening, although some photographers were talking shop. I think the subject was whether or not to turn off image stabilization if you're shooting a bird from a tripod. I was quickly reminded that, while I sometimes grab a decent image, I am but a neophyte when it comes to the realm of photography and cameras, and likely shall always be. Round Prairie was empty and we made our way back home over the Chief Joseph, enjoying the sun, which punched through, hitting the sheer rock faces along the drive with the low evening angle. Overall, we were amazed at how much the snow has melted back over the last two weeks, especially knowing that portions of the area were supposedly slammed this past weekend with snowfall. Spring is coming quickly, even to the upper reaches of the Northeast corner.

The East Entrance opens at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow...not sure when I'll be free to head in and get my first look at Sylvan Pass, the lake and Hayden Valley this year. Maybe tomorrow afternoon...maybe Sunday. Peace to all!

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Sightings and Trip Report are from the North and Northeast Area of Yellowstone

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