In Loving Memory Of My Son, Bridger Lowery

Bridger Evan Lowery, 14, of Lolo Montana, born April 16, 2001, joined his little brother, Colter, in heaven on October 9, 2015 following a sudden and devastating illness, complicated by arterial damage that occurred in a procedure during his hospitalization.

Bridger was a young man of varied interests – and when he devoted himself to an interest, he became encyclopedic about it. As a little boy, that interest was dinosaurs. He knew the name and period of them all, and if he ever saw a toy dinosaur that wasn’t correct – an upright t-rex, for example – Bridger would be most critical of that inaccuracy. Bridger was never afraid to share his opinion, even with authorities. He was a fan of Montana’s famous paleontologist Jack Horner, but not a fan of Mr. Horner’s stated theory that t-rex was a scavenger, and, upon a chance encounter with Jack Horner downstairs at the Museum of the Rockies, he told Mr. Horner so in no uncertain terms.

Bridger’s interests changed over the years. A few years ago, his mission was to memorize as many digits after the decimal point in Pi (3.14159…) as he could. That Halloween, when trick-or-treating, his mom was taken aback to hear him reciting Pi (all the way out past 64 digits before applause drowned him out) on a doorstep. An older boy passed by Bridger’s mom saying “Lady, your kid is a genius.” His mom learned that the home was owned by a math teacher who was demanding that trick-or-treaters state a math fact.

Bridger was a warm, loving and affectionate young man. Bridger loved teaching, caring for and playing with younger children – especially his beloved cousin, Retta (Loretta Rose La Salle).

He loved every minute of the time he was able to spend with his cousins Abby and Henry Powers-Lowery, his cousins Elisha and Reannan Malcom as well as his Cronk cousins and extended Lowrey family cousins. His parents were always very proud to receive compliments on how wonderful Bridger was with the littles.

Bridger loved spending time with his grandparents – shopping trips with his Grandma Martha and Grandma Kay,     staying  for weeks with his grandparents in Anaconda, playing on the floor with his Papa David, and trips to the shooting range and off-roading with his Papa Leo in Papa Leo’s 1964 Willys Kaiser. He loved attending our semi-annual Lowrey Family Reunions.

Bridger was a fencer, active in the Missoula Fencing Association, and competed in a Montana Youth Cup tournament at the Missoula Fencing Association just days before he fell ill. Bridger competed in the foil events. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was also a huge fan of The Princess Bride (the movie and the novel).
Bridger aspired to join the Navy and held the members of the US Armed Services in very high regard. Bridger was also very keen to join the Freemasons. On our family travels, he always made sure that a stop by a Masonic Temple was on the agenda, and last summer he was thrilled to see the incredible Masonic Temple in Philadelphia and pointed out every Masonic symbol at other historic sites, such as Valley Forge.

Bridger was a gamer and a YouTuber. Of late, his favorite game was Destiny, and when he was at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Bungie, the makers of Destiny, learned of his condition and sent him a collection of Destiny swag that he would have treasured and which we will treasure for what it would have meant to him. He spent many hours playing video games and sometimes recording his game play, with commentary, which he posted on YouTube and often live-streamed. He played online with his friends, and his shouts and laughter would echo through the house. In one of those videos, recorded 5 months ago, for reasons we will never know, Bridger said he wanted to be buried wearing a suit like James Bond – the Sean Connery James Bond – the best James Bond. Seattle Children’s hospital has kindly provided that suit. His other stated desires were to be buried with his treasured Razer Kraken headphones, which were always on his head or around his neck, and his PS4. That his iPod Touch would be in his hand is a given. We are sure there is no lag, no trolls, and no game hacker/glitcher cheaters where he is playing now.

One of Bridger’s videos:  Assault On Dragon Keep Part 2

Bridger joins his grandfather David Lowery, his brother Colter Lowery, and his much loved dogs, Brutus and Cooper, and leaves behind his heartbroken parents, Matthew Lowery and Katie La Salle-Lowery of Lolo, his grandmother Martha Lowery of Missoula, his grandparents Leo and Kay La Salle of Anaconda, his uncle and aunt David and Susan Lowery of Missoula, his aunts Ann Lowery and Allison Powers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, his Buntie (aunt) Stacy La Salle of Anaconda, his cousin Loretta La Salle of Anaconda, his cousins Abigail Powers-Lowery and Henry Powers-Lowery of Cambridge, Massachusetts, cousins Elisha and Reannan Malcom of Anaconda, his God-parents Cody and Blakely Phillips of St. Ignatius, many much loved great aunts and uncles, extended cousins, several “honorary” uncles, and a wonderful group of buddies.


Bridger’s family is grateful for the love and support they received during his hospitalization and continue to receive from family and friends both local and around the world.

Suggested recipients of memorial contributions are the Bridger Lowery Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Missoula Fencing Association (, Masonic Charities (, or to the children’s charity of donor’s choice. Also, if you are able to donate blood products, please do so. Bridger received over 40 units of blood products in the effort to save his life.


Kudos for Yellowstone Campground Host Ray

Letter sent to the Yellowstone NPS office:

I am a frequent Yellowstone camper.  I’m accustomed to feeling compelled to “tutor” campers around me on just about every trip due to garbage, food, coolers, gray water catch basins for pop-up campers, etc. being left out when not in use or overnight, and other bear country (or just clean camp) basics.  I’ve often found unattended campfires left by departing campers that I’ve put out (several times during the extreme fire danger of September 2012 at Lewis Lake CG, I put out unattended campfires – fires that kicked up after campers departed without drowning their fires).

When I arrived at the Tower CG on Monday June 9, 2014, I was greeted at the entrance by the host Ray.  Ray delivered a little welcome and “here are the things you need to know” speech.  I was grinning through it and Ray, seeing my expression, said ” you might already know all this but it’s my job.”  I wasn’t grinning with chagrin at the lecture or the lack of necessity of it in my case, I was grinning because I was very pleased that all arrivals were being greeted with that information.  That’s great!

Ray made regular rounds around the campground, visiting with campers and advising them in a friendly and helpful way.  For the first time in ages, I didn’t feel the need to advise people about putting things away. Ray had it well covered and, having been informed from the get-go, people were keeping things tidy.

In all the times I’ve camped in Yellowstone, I’ve never been greeted at the CG entrance with information like that.  There have been occasions that I’ve seen CG hosts making the rounds and talking to and advising people, but those have been the exception, not the norm.  I’ve never seen a CG host walking around helping campers with information like Ray did so very well.  I spent 3 days at Norris before moving to Tower and never even saw a campground host.

Ray was present and helpful, without ever being intrusive. When Ray made his final rounds on his last day at Tower, I thanked him in person for the wonderful job he was doing, but I want to let the Park Service know (you probably already do) what a great host Ray is.  I think he would be a great mentor for others hosts as well as campers.

The Perils Of Growing Up Wild

On the evening Friday, June 6, the first day of my most recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, after the sun had set and the light was fading fast, I came upon a grizzly sow and cub along the Gibbon River.  I was very happy to see them, but my delight was tempered by the fear that I was seeing the mother of triplets – and that she was down to one cub.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching and photographing the duo.

young mama grizzly bear and her cub

She’s a young mother, and seems a bit, well… clueless.  Seeming, even, at times, to lose track of the cub.

“Where’s my cub?”

grizzly bear sow standing on elevated log with cub beneath, looking behind her for cub

“I’m down here, Mama!”

grizzly bear cub reachs up for his mama on an elevated log above him

“Oh!  There you are!”

mama grizzly bear looking down at her cub that is beneath the elevated log on which she stands

a grizzly bear mama on an elevated log reaches down to her cub beneath her

Eventually mama and cub disappeared from view into trees.
The next morning I returned to that area in hopes that they might be back in view.  They were!  Excuse the poor quality of some of the following photos.  The sun wasn’t up yet and there was very little light.  The photos tell a story, though, and so are included.

I watched them from along the road across the river.

mama and cub grizzly bears

When they started to amble down toward the river, I predicted that they would cross the river and come up the near bank and cross the road right where I was standing.  So, I walked back to where I had parked my car in a pullout and got in the car, then pulled down the road, stopping short of where I predicted they would cross the river and, ultimately, the road.

grizzly bear sow & cub along the Gibbon River

Mama bear entered the river without pause and proceeded across, while her cub hesitated on the far shore.

grizzly bear sow crossing Gibbon River while cub hesitates on far shore

a grizzly bear cub hesitates to follow his mother in a crossing of the Gibbon River

When mama bear was about halfway across the river, the cub emitted a rasping barky yelp.  Mama bear turned back and encouraged him with a huff.

mama grizzly bear encouraging her cub to follow her across the Gibbon River

The cub tentatively entered the river, beginning his perilous swim across.

grizzly bear cub swimming across the Gibbon River

While mama bear was able to walk through the river, the cub had to swim.

mama grizzly bear walking through river with cub following behind swimming

About halfway across the river, the cub got caught in the current and emitted a squeal of distress, at which mama bear turned to look back.

grizzly bear cub caught in the current of the Gibbon River

The cub continued to be swept downstream by the current.  Mama bear stood for a better look.

mama grizzly bear stands up to look as her cub is swept downstream in the current of the Gibbon River

Then she charged into the river.

Mama bear rushes back into the river to render assistance to her cub, which had got caught in the current and was being swept downstream.

There are no photos of the following moments for two reasons:  1)  I didn’t want to photograph the loss of the cub.  My heart was in my throat.  2)  My view was soon obscured by trees along the near shore in the bend of the river – in the rapids.

I drove down the road to the pullout downstream, wishing so very hard that I’d see a rescue and not a cub lost.  Somehow, the cub made it to shore.  I can’t tell you if he managed it on his own or if his mama rendered assistance.  I saw them emerging from the trees and heading up the bank.  I drove back toward them, then pulled over on the opposite side of the road and remained in my car for the following photos.

The cub was visibly trembling and I could hear him whimpering – cold?  tired? scared? hungry?  All of the above?
grizzly bear mama and cub seeking comfort

He huddled close to mama and emulated her in taking some mouthfuls of grass, only to spit them out.  I hoped she’d nurse him, not just for my viewing pleasure, but also for his comfort.

grizzly bear cub, cold, wet, tired and scared after a river crossing in which he was almost swept away, huddles near his mama
But, no, she ambled around, nonchalantly, seemingly unaffected by her cub’s evident distress.

grizzly bear mama - seeminly unaffected by her cub's distress

What’s a cub to do if mama won’t give him a “hug?”  Hug a tree, I guess.

wet grizzly bear cub hugging a log

With each passing moment, he seemed to recover from his ordeal and gain confidence.

grizzly bear cub recovering from a traumatice river crossing

grizzly bear cub standing on log

After a few minutes, the bears came right down to the opposite side of the road and mama was munching on grass.  No photos of that as I was busy – cars were approaching and the bears were right on the edge of the road.  I was busy vigorously waving out my window for the drivers to slow down or stop.  One other vehicle had stopped when I first spotted the bears and watched for a few minutes, but they had left before the river crossing.  So, from then until this point, I had been the only observer.  The noise of the first hard braking truck’s arrival prompted mama bear to decide it was time to exit the roadway, and the pair went up the steep bank and over the ridge into the timber.  While I was sorry to see them go, I was glad to see them departing the hazards of river and road.

I never saw them again during my 9 day visit, though I looked for them every day.  I hope that cub survives the learning curve of a mother that several photographers and bear watchers have surmised is inexperienced at motherhood – a supposition that I can’t argue with.   As I had feared when I watched them, this is, indeed, the mama grizzly bear that came out of hibernation with three cubs.  How the other two were lost I don’t think anyone can say for sure.  I haven’t heard of any eye witnesses.  Based on what I witnessed, and knowing that they’ve been crossing back and forth across that river, which has been swollen by snow melt runoff and precipitation at times, I can certainly theorize that the other two suffered the fate that this cub so very nearly did.

Who Says Mondays Can’t Be Great?

I had a day in the field Monday.  Well, sorta.  My photography day began at our bedroom window, which looks out on a feeder that has been frequented by evening grosbeaks every morning for the last week.

A male (front left) and female (back right) evening grosbeak
Next, re-visited the Lolo Creek burned area to see if I could get photos of a male black-backed woodpecker to go along with the previously captured photos of a female.
Mission accomplished!

male black-backed woodpecker flaking bark off the scorched bark of a fire killed tree along Lolo Creek.

Next stop, Council Grove State Park, just outside of Missoula, where I’ve known of a great horned owl with three young for weeks, but had not yet visited.  More success.  I won’t always publicly share nest locations, but this is no secret and these owls are staying high enough to be reasonably safe from intrusion.

great horned owlet

I then headed north to visit some birding spots in the Mission Valley and make my first trip over Red Sleep Mountain at the National Bison Range.
My first trip through the Bison Range was enjoyable for the scenery and for adding more birds to my day (and year) list, but no photo opportunities.

I wanted my second trip through the Bison Range to be timed somewhat later, so I decided to prowl around county roads in the Mission Valley.  Good thing for this gal I was not just looking for birds, but also paying attention to the road.  She crossed right in front of me, requiring me to hit the brakes hard to avoid hitting her.  She rewarding me for that by showing me her teeth.  Right…???  Okay, maybe she was warning me not to trespass any closer to her den.  I stayed in the car.  Den location won’t be publicly posted.

A badger at a den site keeps a wary eye on potential trespassers

A badger at a den site keeps a wary eye on potential trespasser

A badger at a den site keeps a wary eye on potential trespasser

Upon leaving her, and rounding a corner, I had to hit my brakes hard again, this time to avoid hitting a killdeer chick.

killdeer chick

Back at the Bison Range, atop Red Sleep Mountain, I spent some time observing a pair of mating American kestrels in a snag with the Mission Mountains as backdrop.  They copulated moments after this photo.

pair of courting American kestrels

Post copulation, the female sounded scolded the male…

A female American kestrel gives her mate a piece of her mind

…seeming to drive her mate into a “yes, dear” submissive pose (yes, terrible anthropomorphizing)

A male kestrel appears to bow his head in submission to his mate's nagging (see previous photo)

…in actuality, he was looking for something  – and found just what he was looking for.  He dove off the snag and immediately returned with a vole that he gave to his demanding mate.  I was just able to see that action that occurred behind a tree from where I was.  She then returned to the snag to eat the gift vole.

female American kestrel with a vole delivered to her by her mate

After some time, I moved on, enjoying the gorgeous scenery as I crawled down Red Sleep Mountain.

The slope of Red Sleep Mountain at the National Bison Range blanketed with arrowleaf balsamroot against the backdrop of the Mission Mountains

What a Monday!  As for the birding aspect, I finished the day with 54 species.

  • Evening Grosbeak    Back Yard  – Deck feeder
  • Rock Pigeon    Lolo
  • Black-billed Magpie    Lolo
  • American Robin    Lolo
  • European Starling    Hwy 12
  • Western Bluebird    Hwy 12
  • Canada Goose    Hwy 12
  • Tree Swallow    Hwy 12
  • Common Raven    Hwy 12
  • American Crow    Hwy 12
  • American Kestrel    Hwy 12
  • Mourning Dove    Hwy 12
  • Mallard    Hwy 12
  • Mountain Bluebird    Lolo Creek burn area
  • Black-backed Woodpecker    Lolo Creek burn area
  • Northern Flicker    Lolo Creek burn area
  • Dark-eyed Junco    Hwy 12
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow    Hwy 12
  • Steller’s Jay    Hwy 12
  • Red-winged Blackbird    Hwy 12
  • Belted Kingfisher    Hwy 12
  • Great Blue Heron    Kona Ranch Rd
  • Barn Swallow    Primrose Lane
  • Lewis’s Woodpecker    Council Grove State Park
  • House Wren    Council Grove State Park
  • Common Grackle    Deschamps Ln
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird    Deschamps Ln
  • Northern Harrier    Deschamps Ln
  • Western Kingbird    Deschamps Ln
  • Western Meadowlark    Deschamps Ln
  • Red-tailed Hawk    Arlee
  • American Coot    Ninepipes
  • Ring-billed Gull    Ninepipes
  • Western Grebe    Ninepipes
  • Red-necked Grebe    Ninepipes
  • Double-crested Cormorant    Ninepipes
  • Trumpeter Swan    Ninepipes
  • Gadwall    Ninepipes
  • Northern Pintail    Ninepipe Ln.
  • American Avocet    Ninepipe Ln.
  • Cinnamon Teal    Ninepipe Ln.
  • Marsh Wren    Logan Rd
  • Western Kingbird    Logan Rd
  • Great Horned Owl    West Post Creek Rd
  • Brown-headed Cowbird    West Post Creek Rd
  • Downy Woodpecker    Moiese Store
  • House Sparrow    Moiese Store
  • Wood Duck    National Bison Range
  • Vaux’s Swift    National Bison Range
  • Brewer’s Blackbird    National Bison Range
  • Vesper Sparrow    National Bison Range
  • American Goldfinch    Moiese Store
  • Killdeer    Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley
  • Mourning Dove    Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley
  • Ring-necked Pheasant    Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley
  • Spotted Towhee    National Bison Range

I’ve been back to re-visit the great horned owls.  Yesterday, during my lunch break, I saw the same juvenile with an adult.

great horned owl adult and owlet

In the evening, I returned again.  The owlet above was in precisely the same spot.  In another nearby tree, way up, a sibling was being fed by a parent.  During my lunch break today, I returned again.  The one owlet seems not to have moved in over 24 hours.  I wasn’t able to find either sibling, but did find one adult on the feeding branch of last night.

more photos: and and




Evening Grosbeak

Back Yard - Deck feeder

Rock Pigeon


Black-billed Magpie


American Robin


European Starling

Hwy 12

Western Bluebird

Hwy 12

Canada Goose

Hwy 12

Tree Swallow

Hwy 12

Common Raven

Hwy 12

American Crow

Hwy 12

American Kestrel

Hwy 12

Mourning Dove

Hwy 12


Hwy 12

Mountain Bluebird

Lolo Creek burn area

Black-backed Woodpecker

Lolo Creek burn area

Northern Flicker

Lolo Creek burn area

Dark-eyed Junco

Hwy 12

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Hwy 12

Steller’s Jay

Hwy 12

Red-winged Blackbird

Hwy 12

Belted Kingfisher

Hwy 12

Great Blue Heron

Kona Ranch Rd

Barn Swallow

Primrose Lane

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Council Grove State Park

House Wren

Council Grove State Park

Common Grackle

Deschamps Ln

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Deschamps Ln

Northern Harrier

Deschamps Ln

Western Kingbird

Deschamps Ln

Western Meadowlark

Deschamps Ln

Red-tailed Hawk


American Coot


Ring-billed Gull


Western Grebe


Red-necked Grebe


Double-crested Cormorant


Trumpeter Swan




Northern Pintail

Ninepipe Ln.

American Avocet

Ninepipe Ln.

Cinnamon Teal

Ninepipe Ln.

Marsh Wren

Logan Rd

Western Kingbird

Logan Rd

Great Horned Owl

West Post Creek Rd

Brown-headed Cowbird

West Post Creek Rd

Downy Woodpecker

Moiese Store

House Sparrow

Moiese Store

Wood Duck

National Bison Range

Vaux’s Swift

National Bison Range

Brewer’s Blackbird

National Bison Range

Vesper Sparrow

National Bison Range

American Goldfinch

Moiese Store


Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley

Mourning Dove

Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley

Ring-necked Pheasant

Gallagher Rd – Mission Valley

Spotted Towhee

National Bison Range

Dead Trees Make Great Homes

forest service sign explaining the value of dead fallen trees in streams

I haven’t posted about my the rest of my April Yellowstone weekend.  I’ve been playing outside instead.  Yesterday evening I took a drive up Lolo Creek.  I stopped in a burned area to look for morels.  I didn’t find any morels, but I did find something maybe better – a pair of black-backed woodpeckers.  I could hear the noises of woodpeckers at work.  Finding the bird themselves (black birds on scorched black tree trunks) was a matter of following my ears.  Yesterday, I found the a male first, and, shortly thereafter, a female.  It was dark and gloomy, being late in the evening of a rainy day.  I returned this evening hoping to catch some photos in better light.  I met partial success.  This evening, I found the female, but not the male.  I guess I’ll have to try again!

Black-backed woodpeckers are an uncommon-to-rare woodpecker that are “burnt-forest specialists.”  They feed on beetles that are found in burned trees, by flaking the burned bark off of charred tree trunks.

black-backed woodpecker, female, flaking charred bark off burned tree trunk

female black-backed woodpecker flaking fire blackened bark off of a burned tree trunk

The are in which I found them has several trees that have some bark flaked off, and some that have been extensively debarked – and a few tree trunks with the “dead trees make great homes” signs as above.
charred tree trunk with bark flaked off by black-backed woodpeckers hunting beetles

Yesterday evening, I observed the pair boring holes in one of the tree trunks – excavating nest cavities, perhaps?  I hope so.  Dead trees do make great homes, not just for fish, but for many bird species, too.

more photos here:

Yellowstone – April 25, 2014

When 2014 began, I had a New Year’s Resolution to get back to making regular posts here on this blog. That resolution went the way of most New Year’s Resolutions. Better late than never, though, right? With this post, I hope to get back on track.

I had a long weekend camping trip in Yellowstone planned for April 25-27, as I missed “opening weekend” the prior week.   As the weekend approached, I reconsidered. The weather forecast was not favorable. I don’t mind tent camping in rain & snow, but rain and snow, particularly rain, also often means dark gloomy days. Of course, that type of weather can also make for icy roads, another consideration. In the end, I followed through with my plans, and I am glad I did.

I arrived at the Mammoth Camp Ground around 10:30 on Thursday evening and pitched my tent in a light rainfall. Throughout the night, there was intermittent rain and wind. I love the sound of rain falling on the tent.

I left camp before sunrise Friday morning and headed south, into the interior of the Park, which has only been open to vehicles for a week. I traveled slowly, both due to road conditions (wet/snow-covered/slushy/frozen slush/ice) and to make frequent stops to search for critters. The road was icy, but I pretty much had it all to myself. After a while, I come upon another traveler. He had his camera on tripod aimed into the trees near Artist Paint Pots. I crawled past him, looking where his lens was aimed. A pine marten! Whoop! That, all by itself, would make it a great trip, as a pine marten has been on my wish list.

I parked in the turnout to Artist Paint Pots (which was plowed like a pullout, not like a road) and tried to tip-toe down and across the road to the other visitor (who turned out to be fellow Ynetter Robert Warrin), without spooking the pine marten.   Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!   Walking on frozen slush makes quiet walking impossible. I’d take a few steps, pause, wait, then take a few more steps. I didn’t want to ruin it for the guy who was there first, but I did want to get close enough for photos. When I was next him, I didn’t see the pine marten at first. I whispered “Oh, no! Did I spook it?” He answered that it was still there. YES! The pine marten, though aware of us, certainly, didn’t seem particularly worried, though it was alert to passing cars. When a third person tried to approach on foot while a loud diesel truck simultaneously decelerated, though, it was game over.

pine marten perched horizontally in tree branches

pine marten climbing a tree trunk

pine marten laying on tree branch, with front end peaking out from behind tree trunk


A few hours into my trip, and I was thoroughly delighted.  If I saw nothing else for the rest of the weekend, I’d be going home satisfied.  Yellowstone had more treats in store for me, though.

I proceeded south to Madison Junction then turned west to check along the Madison River to check out the West Entrance Road for my first time this spring.  I didn’t see anything noteworthy, though I did see the remnants of a wolf kill on a sandbar island from several days prior.

I next drove into the Upper Geyser Basin, and found it to be a ghost town.  I literally saw NO ONE.

Along the Firehole River, both southbound and then northbound again, I saw several osprey.

osprey perched atop a dead tree in a geyser basin in a snow storm

Somewhere along Obsidian Creek I enjoyed some interaction between two sandhill cranes.

a sandhill crane in flight approach to another sandhill crane

The one there first didn’t seem to appreciate the arrival of the second, as it immediately departed upon the arrival of the newcomer.

an apparently unwelcome sandhill crane flies in to land near another

Okay, time to visit the Northern Range.  I didn’t see anything noteworthy until the curve in the road between Wrecker and the Yellowstone Picnic Area, where a friendly fellow who lives in Gardiner, and whose name I can never remember (DARN IT!) flagged me down where he was watching a badger.   Unfortunately, the badger didn’t stick around for more than a second or two, but that was long enough for me to observe and admire his beautiful thick winter coat.

badger digging

I stuck around, hoping the badger would make another appearance, despite several passers by telling me there was a bear at the picnic area.  I eventually gave up on the badger and proceeded to the picnic area, where a black bear was browsing on grass.  I watched him for a few minutes and chatted with Ranger Dooley and other visitors, but never even took a photo.  I guess a black bear butt (which is what was pointed in our direction) didn’t seem that appealing after the earlier treats.

How ’bout that!  I had a pine marten and a badger before my first bear of the year!  An auspicious beginning to the season!

more photos here>>

Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Last Installment

This entry is for June 15 & 16, 2013.

Day 9 was my last full day in the Park.

I had heard that the Blacktail Plateau Rd had opened the day before, so that was among the first things on my agenda for this day.

So, I headed north from the Norris CG.  It was quite cold on this morning, with freezing fog.  I stopped near the Indian Creek CG for some photos of the fog on Obsidian Creek (still no griz triplet family, by the way).

Morning Fog Along Obsidian Creek 2

Morning Fog Along Obsidian Creek 3

By the time I got to the Mammoth Upper Terrace drive, I was predicting a day of extreme temperature shift.  It was a chilly 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sun was rapidly burning off the fog.

A female mountain bluebird was puffed up in the cold, but soaking up the morning rays.

A female mountain bluebird perch atop the apex of a juniper

I took two trips through Blacktail Plateau Drive.  On the first, I saw a nursery herd of cow elk with lots of calves.  The were quite skittish.

I also saw my first ruffed grouse of the year.  I’ve been hearing their deep, subterranean sounding, rumbling drumming (reminiscent of a Harley being fired up underground) everywhere I go, but had not been able to lay eyes on any this year until this.

Townsend’s Daisies were blooming throughout the plateau, sometimes amongst cushion phlox.

Townsend daises and cushion phlox

On the Elk Creek side of the plateau, I saw a small bull moose (perhaps the same one as seen at Petrified Tree several days before – it’s the same area and it looked about the same) and a black bear.

On my second trip through, a badger cross the road in front of the car that was ahead of me on the road.  That visitor and I both followed the badger on foot, about 300 yards away from the road, to its den.  We both approached the den very slowly, stopping every few feet.  I stopped 25 yards or more shy of the den.  The same can’t be said of the other photographer.   He got down on the ground and slid closer and closer.  His proximity was such that the badger kept a close eye on him, but it didn’t hole up – at least not until another photographer joined me where I stood and the closest photographer stood up to move away.  In any event, we enjoyed a good long visit with it.

Badger at Den - Blacktail Plateau 10

badger at den

The next badger I saw on that day, just a short time later at the Antelope Aspen grove area, had a den only about 10 yards away from the main road, but seemed pretty relaxed despite its proximity to the road, traffic, and lots of onlookers and photographers, napping atop the den mound, grooming, etc.

badger laying on den mound

badger sitting atop den mound

Next on the agenda was a return visit to Trout Lake for another try for the trout lake otters.  This time, I set myself a limit of three hours to be spent there.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a guardian on the cut log bridge over the outlet of the lake – a bull snake.

bull snake on a trail bridge

On this visit, I spent more time at the shady outlet end of the lake, enjoying the abundant wildflowers, such as this sugar bowl, while waiting for an otter appearance.

sugar bowl wild flower

After a couple hours of waiting, with no otters, I moved to the inlet end of the lake.  Whereas a week previously there had been trout visible in the lake, but none in the inlet, on this occasion there were dozens in the inlet.  So, I found myself photographing fish again.  If anyone had told me that I’d spend more time photographing fish than bears on this trip, I would have scoffed.  Now I’m thinking that photographing fish is so much fun that I need an underwater camera.

I enjoyed the almost abstract quality of the trout in the shallow water, sometimes camouflaged on the pebbled creek bottom.

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the inlet of Trout Lake, blending in with the streambed stones in an almost abstract fashion

The water there is shallow enough that the fish are exposed, at times, as they pass over shallow spots.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout skim over the pebbled stream bed in the shallow water of Trout Lake's inlet

But, no otters or other critters were taking advantage of the easy pickings. I overstayed the 3 hours I had allotted for this visit to Trout Lake but eventually made my way back around the lake, stopping for this tattered mourning cloak butterfly.

A tattered mourning cloak butterfly

Back to camp for my last night in the tent…

81 degrees was the high temperature that I observed that day.  21 was the lowest.  60 degree temperature swing.

The following morning I slept in a little bit so that the noise of my breaking camp and loading up would be made after quiet hours ended at 6:00am.  Nonetheless, I was on the road by about 6:30, making my final round trip north, then back south again, along Obsidian Creek to look for the grizzly triplet family.  I hoped the family that welcomed me to the Park for this trip would see me off, but no such luck.

This bull bison with Electric Peak as backdrop was more gracious.

bull bison with Electric Peak as backdrop

I never noticed before that, from this angle, Electric Peak’s outline is that of a bull bison.

Really… I never would have noticed it if they weren’t lined up so, but the outlines of Electric Peak and a bull bison are remarkably similar. See it?

head low on shoulders
hump – peak
sloping back

I exited the Park at West Yellowstone and went past Henry’s Lake and then toward the Centennial Valley.  I don’t recommend that route for passenger cars.  For the most part, the dirt road was fine.  However, there were some heavily rutted sections that would be utterly impassable to passenger cars if wet and muddy.  I was able to skirt one such section and get through others without event, but I was carefully negotiating my way through one such hazard (in my Toyota Camry Hybrid), riding on the top of the ruts, when I came over a rise to find the ruts were diagonally cut by a washout.  From where I was, there was no way out but through.   I scraped my car’s bottom though that section.  Ouch!  I haven’t heard any noises and there is no evident damage, but that’s the kind of thing that can do some real damage.   It would have been possible to tear a passenger car apart on those ruts if they weren’t navigated right or if a person got unlucky.   Knowing what I know now, I won’t take a passenger car on the road between Henry’s Lake and the Red Rocks Lake NWR.  The road between the Red Rock Lakes NWR office and Monida is an “improved” dirt road and fine for passenger cars.

I didn’t have much time to do any real birding, but I did enjoy some great looks at Swainson’s hawks and, of course, the scenery is great.

I did some searching north of Dillon, MT for a burrowing owl nest, but the harsh light and mirage about killed my eyes scoping, and I was not met with success.  I’ll have to make another trip there to look for burrowing owls.  It was time to continue home and get the car unloaded and for me to get a much needed shower.

The trip galleries with more photos from the trip are here:

Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Part 4

This entry is for June 14 & 15, 2013.

On Day 8, I returned to LeHardy Rapids to try for more leaping Yellowstone cutthroat trout at LeHardy Rapids with better light. I’m pleased with the results.

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout, wearing the ruby tones of the spawning season, makes a leap upstream at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout, wearing the ruby tones of the spawning season, makes a leap upstream at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

I don’t think he was as pleased with his success as I was with mine.

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout, wearing the ruby tones of the spawning season, makes a leap upstream at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

I would estimate that the ratio of unsuccessful attempts to successful attempts was about 5:1.  Two techniques were employed – jumps, as illustrated above, and shimmying over the rocks but below the surface of the water, as below.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout attempting to shimmy up the rapids at LeHardy Rapids

In this video both techniques are demonstrated – neither successfully.

In this video, one leaper is successful, and one is not. Please pardon the shakes – a heavy footed person walked by on the boardwalk.

Some leap higher than others – and they are the ones that generally clear the obstacle.

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout, wearing the ruby tones of the spawning season, makes a leap upstream at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

Meanwhile, an American dipper kept living up to his species name, dipping for aquatic insects.

An American dipper living up to his name, as they so often do, dipping its head into the water for aquatic insects.

Other than a disappearing bear butt at the Fishing Bridge intersection, LeHardy Rapids action pretty much sums up the day.

Day 9 was my geyser day. Any time I spend more than a few days in the Park I spend the better part of one day in the geyser basins.

I started out at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, where the colors are always so incredible.

A scene from the West Thumb Geyser basin, along the shore of Yellowstone Lake

A scene from the West Thumb Geyser basin, along the shore of Yellowstone Lake

On the boardwalk, I came across a man bitterly balling out his wife about the bitter cold, as though it were her fault. He finds 40′s in summer ridiculous “it’s June, the middle of summer, for crying out loud.” No, I did not tell him that it is June – spring, and in the Rockies, for crying out loud. With Summer Solstice being a full week off, it was hardly the “middle of summer.” It was a pleasantly crisp spring morning.

Next up: the Upper Geyser Basin.
I had a bit of time before the next eruption of a predictable geyser, so I walked around the basin for a bit.

Chromatic Spring colors the surrounding area with colorful thermophile life

Chromatic Pool above and below.

Chromatic Spring colors the surrounding area with colorful thermophile life

I was struck by the reflected copper tones of the Anemone Geysers (with the Old Faithful Inn and the Snow Lodge in the background).

Anemone Geysers (Big & Little or North and South) shine with copper tones with Old Faithful Geyser, the Old Faithful Inn and the Snow Lodge visible in the background

I watched an eruption of Grand Geyser then waited for Beehive to perform. While waiting for Beehive, I enjoyed visiting with, for the second time on this trip, Steven Bumgardner, of Yosemite Nature Notes fame. If you haven’t watched any of his videos, you should. Awesome work. He was in Yellowstone working on a series of videos from Yellowstone similar to the Yosemite series. He is working as an NPS volunteer and his work will be in the public domain when complete to entertain and enlighten the public for years to come.

As I waited for Beehive to erupt, I came to agree with the man I encountered on the boardwalk at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. It WAS bitter cold. I wasn’t as cold as poor people who had the misfortune to watch Beehive from the lower viewing platform, though. The wind changed direction just at eruption time and blasted them with spray. Bitter cold wind…. *shivers*

There was pretty crappy light and sky for those two eruptions, so I’m not posting any photos of those.

At the end of Beehive’s eruption, Castle Geyser started to play. Castle Geyser has a good long eruption period (something like a 20 minute water phase plus a 20 minute steam phase), so I took my time walking over there. By the time I got there, the last black cloud was east of the cone and the sun low in the western sky was shining on the plume.

Castle Geyser performs against a storm dark sky with sunlight illuminating the water and steam of the eruption

Castle Geyser performs against a storm dark sky with sunlight illuminating the water and steam of the eruption

Visitors even got a rainbow out of the deal.

Castle Geyser performs against a storm dark sky with sunlight illuminating the water and steam of the eruption

I stopped with a view overlooking the Midway Geyser Basin to watch as the sun sunk behind plumes of steam as I ate dinner (a hot meal on a cold evening with no time invested in making it, as it heated as I drove in the RoadPro Stove – no this is not a paid endorsement).

Then I made a pass through Firehole Lake Drive. When I came out of the timber and could see the Fountain Paintpots area, I was greeted with an incredible sunset.

What a note on which to end the day!

Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Part 3

This entry is for June 12 & 13, 2013.

Day 6 began much as the previous days, with a thorough slow check of the area along Obsidian Creek for the grizzly triplet family. Once again, they didn’t present themselves.

Once again, Electric Peak was looking particularly lovely, this time with mist/fog imparting a dreamy feel to the morning.

Electric Peak on a misty morning

I traveled through the Northern Range as far as Slough Creek, from where I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the first thunder boomer of the day.  My wish for weather had been granted!  I was pleased with that development, but I kept the fact that I had wished for weather under wraps around other visitors who were less pleased with the change.  I cruised as far east as Pebble Creek or thereabouts, but the Hayden Valley was tugging at me, so I turned back for Roosevelt and then up and over Dunraven Pass.

I cruised south through the Hayden Valley, as one thunder boomer after another blew through.
I turned east again at Fishing Bridge.  In the last few years I’ve done well, particularly in spring, with grizzlies along the East Entrance Road.  So, once again, I headed east.

There was a handsome full curl Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ram with broomed horns on Sylvan Pass.

A full curl ram with broomed horns on Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone National Park

Once again, the Hayden Valley was tugging and me, so when I got back to the Fishing Bridge junction, I turned north.

I had already visited the harlequin ducks at LeHardy Rapids, but as I was approaching that area on this pass, so was a black thunder cloud.  I decided to use that black cloud to allow me to do some long exposures to smooth the water, hoping the ducks would hold still as statues to cooperate with my plans.  They were rather fidgety, but I got what I was after.

These delightfully colorful ducks spend their winters in the pounding surf and crashing waves of the rocky coastlines of the Pacific Ocean and their summers in the thundering white water of fast flowing streams of the Pacific Northwest, some as far east as LeHardy Rapids in Yellowstone National Park.

After dumping a good downpour on us (us being the ducks and me – it seems no one else wanted to be out in that weather), the black cloud passed, allowing the sun to shine.  The ducks got more active, and I quickly changed my camera settings for faster exposures.

A harlequin duck in his fancy breeding plumage in flight

A harlequin duck in his fancy breeding plumage in flight

I do so adore those fancy ducks!

On my previous visit to LeHardy Rapids, I had checked for spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout jumping the rapids and had seen none.  A few days had passed, so I decided to check that out before leaving.  I’m glad I did.  They were just starting to jump.  The jumps were few and far between, but the spawn was starting.

An American dipper (water ouzel, if you prefer) was actively foraging around the rapids and distracting me from the fish.

American dipper with an insect in its beak

American Dipper with an insect in its beak

When the dipper flew off, presumably to take his catch to his nest, I focused my attention back on the Yellowstone cutthroat trout who were getting a jump on the spawning season.

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout gets a jump start on the seasonal spawn, one of the earliest to run the LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout gets a jump start on the seasonal spawn, one of the earliest to run the LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

A Yellowstone cutthroat trout gets a jump start on the seasonal spawn, one of the earliest to run the LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River

While I was standing with my camera on tripod and my finger on the shutter button, waiting for the next jump, I was appalled to hear a woman tell everyone around (the downpour was over so people were out again) that those are the fish that the Park Service wants people to kill. “No,” I said. “These are Yellowstone cutthroat trout. They are natives. The fish that are catch-and-kill are the introduced lake trout. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are protected. They are catch and release.”

“You’ve got it backwards,” she insisted. “They are hurting the lake trout population.”

Okay, normally I let people who insist on thinking a coyote is a wolf or a black bear is a grizzly or whatever hold on to their misconceptions – if they insist. However, since she was telling people that the Park Service wants these fish killed, I thought it was important to get it right.

“No, ma’am,” I said. “These are YELLOWSTONE (emphasizing that word) cutthroat trout. They are native. The lake trout were introduced. They were initially planted at Lewis Lake by the National Park Service, back in the day that such things were done for the entertainment of anglers. However, some were illegally transported and planted in Yellowstone Lake in the late 80′s, which was populated with NATIVE YELLOWSTONE cutthroat trout, a species on which 43 other organisms in the ecosystem depend – ospreys, bald eagles, bears just to name a few. They are even important to elk because if they are eliminated as a food source, bears might prey more on elk calves. They are a keystone species. YELLOWSTONE cutthroat trout are catch and release, where fishing is permitted. It is not permitted at this spot. The non-native lake trout prey on YELLOWSTONE cutthroat trout and do not fill the same ecological niche, as they inhabit deeper water where they are less available to other organisms. Where fishing is permitted, they are catch and kill. The Park Service is employing gill netting and electro-shocking spawing beds to reduce the non-native lake trout population that is decimating the native YELLOWSTONE cutthroat trout population.”

I emphasized the word YELLOWSTONE every time I said ‘Yellowstone cutthroat trout’ and included much additional information, hoping that depth of information would be persuasive.

A Ranger came shortly thereafter and I told him about the exchange. I told him that I think I ultimately convinced her, and am pretty sure I did convince those around here, but I wish he had been there earlier to lend his “authority” to the debate.

On my way back to camp at the Norris CG, I came upon a massive rolling bear jam – but no one was blocking the road.  Cars were leapfrogging from one pullout to the next, following the northward progress of a dark grizzly bear.  I was hopeful it might be the obsidian black grizzly bear that had been seen for several days from the Grizzly Overlook the previous September.  I put the scope on it and saw it was a dark griz, made darker by being wet, but not the obsidian black one.  This one had a brown snout and some variation in the color of his coat.  A young boy digiscoped some video of the griz using my scope and his iPad mini and declared “I can’t wait to go back to school and show this to my friends!”  His big brother seemed a big disgusted “We just got out of school last week!”  Both boys were thrilled by the close look afforded by the scope and were very enthusiastic and polite and expressed profuse thanks.

There was a break in the weather and clear sky overhead that I predicted would last long enough for me to cook a rib-eye steak on the Coleman propane stove.  I stopped at the Nez Perce picnic area.  After all, I didn’t want a repeat of my rib-eye/raven misadventure at the Norris CG from a year prior.  Well, this turned out to be a misadventure of a different sort.  It took for-damn-ever (an hour and a half, to be precise) to bring a cup and a half of water for my pasta side dish to come to a boil, by which time the next storm was incoming.  Grrr!!!!  I put the pan of pasta in the trunk, put the rib-eye in the RoadPro stove and pulled out.  I stopped at the Otter Creek picnic area to check on my steak.  It was overdone (I like medium-rare to rare and it was medium to well), but still quite tasty.  RoadPro to the rescue!  That darn Coleman stove might never see the light of day again.

Day 7 was a pretty quiet day as far as wildlife sightings are concerned, but it was, nonetheless, a very pretty day.  I started out, once again, with a double round trip through the grizzly triplet family’s range, with the the same results as the preceding days.

I took a trip through the Mammoth Upper Terraces Drive and stopped to watch a browsing white-tailed jackrabbit (which is really a hare, rather than a rabbit) wearing his summer coat.  White-tailed jackrabbits, like snowshoe hares, have a winter coat of white for camouflage in the snow, and a brown coat in summer.  I had initially misidentified this hare as a snowshoe.  Max Waugh suggested it was a white-tailed jackrabbit.  I wonder how many white-tailed rabbits I’ve assumed to be snowshoe hares in the past.  Always happy to learn!

A white-tailed jackrabbit hare is his (or her) summer coat

At “Antelope Aspens” (that’s my name for the spot because pronghorn antelope are so often present) I stopped to enjoy the view.

What should I see there, but…  a pronghorn antelope fawn, bedded down and well camouflaged.  Other people were stopped to watch a herd of agitated cow elk and didn’t even notice this fawn.  It being so close to the road, and yet far enough that silly iPad camera people would stomp up to it, I didn’t bring any attention to it.  In the photo, it doesn’t appear to be all that well camouflaged, but in situ it appeared, at first glance, to be the turned-earth mound around a ground squirrel hole, which abound at that spot.

Along Slough Creek I stopped to watch a Cassin’s finch dining on dandelion seeds (one of several species I observed enjoying that common delicacy).

Cassin's Finch Dining on Dandelion Seeds

I traveled as far east as the Warm Creek picnic area (just west of the Silvergate Entrance).  There, I stopped a few moments to enjoy Barronette Peak as a thin whispy cloud drifted by.

Headed back west, the Lamar Valley was living up to its “American Serengeti” moniker, with bison strung out in great numbers all through the valley.

Back at “Antelope Aspens,” a badger that was moving from one spot to another, furiously digging holes, had attracted a good crowd.  I noted that there were bitterroot flowers a week or two from bloom there on the west facing slope, so if you are there later in June, check them out.

I headed over Dunraven Pass for another visit to the Hayden Valley.  As the afternoon progressed, more thunder storms moved in.

The storms were flowing in a northerly direction.  I stopped and just watched them flow by for a while.  Here, 90 minutes are compressed into 11 seconds. I had intended to shoot a longer timelapse, but after 90 minutes I felt compelled to move on…


Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Part 2

This entry is for June 10 & 11, 2013.

I started out the day by driving north from the Norris CG as far as the Golden Gate, back south again to a bit south of the Twin Lakes, back north again as far as Golden Gate and then south again to Norris Junction.  I used every pullout, crawled along the road (no one else was on it pre-sunrise, after all), walked out on paths to the lakes, etc., looking for the griz triplet family.  Okay, 2 slow round trips through that area with no luck was enough.  I turned east and headed up the Norris-Canyon Rd., taking the Virginia Cascades Route.

I stopped at the meadow above Virginia Cascades and took a good look throughout the meadow and the timber edge.  I just know some time I’m going to see something special wildlife there, but it wasn’t this morning.  The view is always a good one, though.

I stopped at the Grizzly Overlook in the Hayden Valley to see what the wolves might be up to.  The alpha female was bedded down, while a mangy yearling was being thoroughly harried by a male northern harrier.  I suspected the harriers had a nest nearby.  Sure enough, the wolf stopped to investigate a mound on the ground (norther harriers are  ground nesters).  The distance being great, and grass and sage obscuring the view, I couldn’t see any chicks and/or if the wolf did anything at the mound, but the harrying by the harrier intensified.  The harrier harried the wolf away from the mound, and then up the ridge, diving and swooping at the head of the wolf, keeping him on his guard and occasionally dancing in circles.

I turned east at Fishing Bridge and went up and over Sylvan Pass.

On the east side of Sylvan Pass, at a pullout with a pit vault, I saw a pair of marmots moving their offspring to a new den.  One adult stayed at the den while the other transported the young.  The marmot in charge of transport was road-wise.  He (I think it was the male) would stop and check for cars before crossing the road.

A yellow-bellied marmot carries its offspring from one den to a new one on Yellowstone's Sylvan Pass.

A yellow-belled marmot glistening golden in morning sunlight on Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone National Park

On my way back west I stopped to admire these handsome common mergansers at Sylvan Lake.

Next, I paid a visit to LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley to check out the harlequin ducks that I love so much.

two male and one female harlequin duck at LeHardy Rapids - female launching off a rock

Upon my departure from LeHardy Rapids, I continued north and then up over Dunraven for a visit to the Northern Range.  Next stop was to check out the golden eagle nest on the cliff through the scope from Slough Creek Rd.  I could see white fluff and one face, but couldn’t tell if there was more than one check.  I wish them a successful nesting season.  I didn’t stay long.

I had not been up Beartooth Pass in while, so that was next on the agenda.

a scenic view of mountains from Beartooth Pass

About the time I reached Beartooth Lake, it was getting blustery and, I realized, rather late in the day.  So, that was my turnaround point.

Next up:  a grizzly sow with three cubs-of-the-year, watched through the scope from the pull out east of the Soda Butte Geyser cone.  I watched them for 30 minutes or so before continuing west toward camp.

Along the way, I saw a small bull moose at Petrified Tree.  Rutt?  or Tuke?  There are two young bull moose that hang out around the Petrified Tree / Elk Creek area or along the Blacktail Plateau Road (all the same area) that I have referred to as Rutt and Tuke.  I would imagine this fellow is one of that pair.  In years past, there has also been the “Big Dude,” a much larger bull moose.  I have not seen him in a while.  I hope he is still around.

Continuing west, I saw a black bear with a cinnamon colored cub of the year at Floating Island Lake.  I stopped there and exercised my shutter finger, but the light was terrible (they were in the shade) and the distance too great, so…  I put a single-serving piece of Stouffer’s frozen lasagna in the RoadPro stove so dinner would be ready when I arrived at camp.

I think I fell asleep the very moment my head hit the pillow.

On the morning of June 11, I repeated the two trips along the range of the grizzly with three cubs-of-the-year along Obsidian Creek before, once again, heading for the Hayden Valley.

It was a beautifully misty morning on the Yellowstone River.

A dreamy misty foggy morning in the predawn pink glow of the minutes before sunrise along the Yellowstone River as it makes its way through the Hayden Valley

At Fishing Bridge, I turned east for another trip along the East Entrance Road to look for griz.  At Indian Pond, there was a grizzly, which Sandy Sisti of Wild At Heart Images and I eventually tentatively determined to be Blaze.  Blaze (presumably) was on an elk calf carcass, with a hopeful coyote in attendance.  I enjoyed visiting with Sandy.  We both bemoaned the too-hot temperatures and cloudlessness of the preceding few days, and expressed hopes for some weather to roll in.

I drove up Sylvan Pass as far as the pullout from which I had observed the marmots moving their offspring previously and made a stop there to see if there was any activity there.  Being none, I turned around and headed back west.

When I arrived back at Indian Pond, the grizzly and the coyote were no longer present, but the mother of the elk calf that Blaze had taken earlier in the morning was at the spot on which her calf had been killed.  She was sniffing around the “scene of the crime,” giving voice to distressed bugles, and chasing ravens off.  It was a poignant scene.

I turned south when I got back to the Grand Loop Road.  I stopped along Gull Point Drive to admire the reflections of the trees and whispy clouds mirrored on the smooth-as-glass water on the west side of the causeway.

Reflections of the trees on the small water of Yellowstone Lake (on the other side of the causeway along Gull Point Drive).

Then I headed north and over Dunraven Pass for another visit to the Northern Range.  Coming out of the Lamar Narrows, I saw a great many people watching an elk cow that was spinning in circles.  Everyone was hoping for an imminent delivery of a calf.  I soon determined, however, that that was not the case.  Besides being too skinny for a soon-to-be-mother, this cow did not have a bagged out udder ready to nurse.  She was in distress – extreme distress.  There was much speculation about what was going on. I heard a theory that she’d been struck by a vehicle. I heard a theory that she had a neurological condition. Here’s what is known: she came down the slope (a steep one, at that) spinning around and stumbling, as is seen in this video. You can see a bulge on the side of her neck. A circular wound exposing flesh under her chin is concealed by her posture. The wounds were visible when she stood still if she was in the right posture.

My theory: she was in shock following whatever injury causing event she suffered, which, for what it’s worth, based on the fact that she came down the slope in this condition, I believe more likely occurred away from the road and was, thus, not a vehicle strike.

As time went one, the pace of her spinning slowed, her tongue hung out and the collapses became more frequent.  At one point, instead of merely collapsing, she fell over backward, in almost a backflip, and landed with her legs sticking straight up in the air.  She remained in that position for some time, and I and those near me were certain that was the end.  We settled in for the wait to see what predator/scavenger would find her.

But, then…  she got up.  She stopped spinning.  She started making her way, albeit with the stumbling, wavering gait of a drunk, off toward the east and tracking up the slope, stopping to graze along the way.  I was astounded.  This cow elk, for whom death seemed imminent just a short time before, seemed to be making a recovery.  Coming out of shock, perhaps?

About that time, 5 Rangers showed up and walked into the field toward her, presumably to investigate and determine if intervention might be appropriate (as in the case of a vehicle strike).

A team of Rangers heads out to investigate and possibly intervene in the fate of the distressed cow elk of the previous 3 videos.

Minute by minute, she gained strength, picked up speed, and moved away from the Rangers.  When last I saw her, she had put a mile or more between herself and the Rangers and was disappearing behind a ridge.  Is that the end of her story, a happy ending?  I can’t say.  Once she was out of view, I departed.  She was certainly still in a weakened state and would have been vulnerable to predators.  In any event, I can’t help but admire her spirit and will to live and wish her well.  When I drove past that spot again a few hours later, the area was vacant of elk, predators, Rangers and visitors.

From there, back to camp, I was in one traffic jam after another where there were black bears and people stopping on the road, first at Elk Creek, then at Phantom Lake, and last a cinnamon black bear across the canyon just barely east of the Blacktail Plateau Rd. entrance.  I was always just in time to see disappearing bear butts.