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.

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