Yellowstone May 28, 2012

My sister, Stacy, and I started Memorial Day with a run through the Northern Range.  The only critters of note were a mama mallard and her brood of ducklings.

Then we made a trip to the hotel to help the rest of the big family crew load up.  On our way back up Gardner Canyon, we saw an osprey keeping a keen eye on the river.

We were somewhat disappointed to find LeHardy Rapids vacant of harlequin ducks, but there were common mergansers on an island.  Some of them seemed to be having an intense discussion.  Wish I could have heard.

So far, it had been a day for the birds.  Good thing I’m fond of birds.

We either had excellent timing in arriving at the Upper Geyser Basin or terrible timing, as Beehive Geyser was erupting as we were pulling into the Old Faithful Inn parking lot and Castle Geyser and Grand Geyser were both erupting as we headed their direction.  However, Grand Geyser had had its initial grand bursts and Castle Geyser was in its steam phase.  Castle Geyser remains my favorite geyser, owing to its distinctive cone and colorful bacteria mat (although it is currently less colorful than I am accustomed to)

Great blue herons, osprey and fly fishermen were all fishing the Firehole River on this lovely day.

An expectant cow elk grazed on lush grass along the same river.

But…  we had been deprived of mammal babies.  Stacy suggested visiting a pika likely spot and we joked about finding a baby pika.  We arrived at a jumbled rock slope to look for pika.  As we got to the rocks, Stacy suggested we go sit on some flat boulders of which she knew.  I casually said “no,” then, before Stacy might think I was just being contrary, “there’s a pika right there.”

We enjoyed photographing the pika, of which there were several.  Frequently, they would visit thorny flowering bushes, which they seemed to find delectable.

I don’t know what the flowering bushes were.  Do you?

Then our joking laughter about finding a baby pika turned to delighted laughter.  Baby pika!  A few of them!

I know some might wonder “how can you tell it’s a baby?”

It was about 1/4 – 1/3 the size of the adults, it still has some blue to the eyes, and its vocalizations were different. There were 2 babies that we saw and another that we heard and could see it jiggling a little bush, so we knew where it was (but we didn’t walk up the rocks or try to flush it out).

This was a first for me, so I looked up baby pika.

“Gestation lasts about 30 days. Two to five altricial young are born. This means the baby pikas are born relatively undeveloped, requiring large amounts of parental care. In fact, newborn pikas are completely dependent upon their mother for 18 days. The first litter is weaned at 3-4 weeks. A second litter is sometimes produced, but the young pikas are not weaned until the next spring. Pikas reach full size in about three months. Their lifespan is three years.”

source: … n_pika.htm

Sounds like first-litter babies get a raw deal to me.

We paid our Memorial Day respects to the grave site of Mattie S. Culver.

I think the grave marker is in remarkably good condition for its age.  Whoever keeps lichen from chewing it up is doing a wonderful job.

One of the few marked graves in Yellowstone outside of the Mammoth Hot Springs area is that of Mattie S. Culver, age 30, who died of childbirth at the hotel on March 2, 1889. Mrs. Culver was the wife of the hotel’s winter keeper, E. C. Culver. Because of frozen ground at the time, Culver’s body was stored in two end-to-end barrels outside the hotel until spring. Adelaide Child, the wife of the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company president Harry W. Childe ,ensured a proper burial, memorial and fenced in tombstone near the hotel. The grave is visible today a few 100 feet (30 m) west of the Nez Perce Picnic Area.

The hotel referred to was one of a pair of hotels near the confluence of the Firehole River and Nez Perce creek — Marshall’s Hotel and the Firehole Hotel.  Both had been razed by 1895.


More photos from the day here:

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