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…

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