Yellowstone May 17, 2012

Thursday was one of those days in the Park where I was constantly delighted by wildlife encounters.

My first encounter was with a small black bear sow with small-for-their-age second spring cubs.  They were immediately roadside near Elk Creek.  It was fairly early in the morning (6:00am), so there was only about a dozen of us present and, while we were closer than is technically legal, no one left the roadway, no one disturbed the bears, and when mama bear moved toward the road, the small crowd, without a word needing to be said by anyone, cleared the road to allow the family to casually cross the road.  I wish that it always worked out that way.

After the bear family moved into the sagebrush on the east side of the road and out of sight, I continued eastward then took a little jaunt up Slough Creek, in part to check for wildflowers.  I wasn’t the only one looking for wild flowers.

Along Slough Creek Road, I spotted a red-naped sapsucker (a first for me this year).  He had the sun behind him making photos impossible, so I walked up the hill to try to get on the other side of him.  I was unsuccessful in that endeavor (I got on the other side but then he stayed concealed in tree branches).  However, while waiting to see if I might get a photo of him, I noticed a mountain chickadee flying back and forth between a broken stump and a live tree.  I moved toward the stump and enjoyed watching him excavating a nest cavity.

Next I saw a black bear from the Petrified Tree parking lot, but too far for photos.  The next bears I saw were also too far away for photos, but I enjoyed watching the playful antics of the two surviving cubs of Quad Mom – a grizzly sow who had FOUR cubs two springs ago.  As per usual, they were seen at Swan Lake Flat.

I headed next for LeHardy Rapids, being eager to see the harlequin ducks.  I enjoyed watching and photographing them for a couple hours.  The possessive displays of some of the males were quite entertaining. I wish I could have heard the vocalizations over the roar of the rapids

As an aside… last year, to get to see the harlequin ducks at LeHardy Rapids on May 20, I strapped on snow shoes to walk on snow 4-5 feet deep. This year I could have worn flip-flops (assuming I actually owned a pair, which I do not).  In fact, ground that was buried under several feet of snow this time last year is now blanketed with western springbeauty flowers.

Also on Slough Creek Road, I enjoyed a small nursery herd of bison.

Next I saw a spooky (but which I mean not habituated) black bear north of Roaring Mountain.  Thanks to a brief hail storm, he became a polka dot bear.

Just about 1 mile further north, there was what I learned later is a 5 year old female grizzly bear grazing on grass and digging roots.

Two Law Enforcement Officer Rangers were doing a great job there of letting people enjoy observing the bear while keeping the road clear of obstructions.  Thanks, guys!

The Quad Mom Trio Family was still visible at Swan Lake Flat as I passed by once more to make another jaunt as far as Roosevelt Junction.

On Blacktail Plateau I was amused to watch a Clark’s nutcracker harassing a red-tailed hawk.  It was a very acrobatic and vocal display.

At Elk Creek I spotted a black bear with shedding reddish fur and a healing wound on his back.  A few people stopped to see what I was looking at and thought I was imagining things as they could not see the bear in the burned deadfall and fallen trees there.  He wasn’t always this camouflaged, but this photo demonstrates the potential difficulty in seeing him.

Heading back west to return to the camp site at Mammoth (where my friend, Dave Cowell, ever so graciously invited me to pitch my tent at his site, as the campground was full), I saw a couple of bull bison play-sparring near Floating Island Lake.

I arrived back at camp that evening tired and happy and enjoyed a couple beers and good company while downloading the days’ photos to hard drives.

More photos & videos from the day are here:

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