2013-12-23

Yellowstone is like a zoo (but better)

Jess and I only spent a few days in Montana, but they were awesome. See http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/12/theres-cold-and-theres-cold.html and http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/12/buffalo-field-campaign-bfc.html

On our way to the North gate of Yellowstone park we passed a group of bighorn sheep! Sadly, I lack photos. Just down the road from them was a bighorn sheep crossing sign - apparently they didn't get the memo.

Our plan was to go to Yellowstone for the Volcanic activity. We figured we'd seen buffalo and such. We didn't have time to really hike around for a few days like we normally would, and we figured we wouldn't just pass a Wolf while driving around or something.

Well, we quickly found the Buffalo, a lot of them:


But we also saw Mule deer (no pictures), and Elk:

 

Most ridiculously though, we DID just drive by a wolf! The photo is bad enough that I won't bother posting it. A couple of days prior we'd seen what we thought was a wolf, after seeing a wolf I'm pretty confident that was a Coyote. You will never mistake a wolf for a Coyote, the whole body-build is different, and while I expected a large animal they are larger than I expected.




Right after we got into the park we decided to go on a short hike down to the steaming river near the entrance. We saw some Coyote's up on the hills and were following all of the cool tracks. Soon we found these. My first thought was wolf, but then I thought no way it's too huge! But no, this is one of the most distinctly canid tracks I've ever seen. Check out those oblong toes, the narrow foot (relatively speaking), the small surface area of the main pad, and those huge non-retractable claws!

In fact if you look closely their is no meltout at all. And in fact there was significant hoar frost the night prior from the steaming river nearby making it look smaller than it really is if anything. It had snowed the day before, and given the quantity of frost these tracks were almost certainly less than 24 hours old

These prints were all leading away from the river. When we got to the river there was a kill out on the ice. It had a femur that could only have belonged to a cow or a Buffalo, given the location it had to be Buffalo. The joint was enormous. We scared off a coyote that was feeding off the few remaining bits of the carcass. This is clearly where the wolves were coming from. A few ravens and magpies were picking on the carcass as well.

Later actually, while looking at the Volcanic springs we watched a Magpie chase down, kill, and eat a small songbird. I had no idea they were THAT carnivorous.



We're pretty sure this was a mother bird, it's chick (verging on juvinile) was yelling at it the whole time from a nearby tree



And just after this we saw our first snowshoe hare. Sadly, no photos of that one either.

So, apparently if you want to see wildlife like... in the wild... and you don't want to walk very far or sleep in the woods, go to Yellowstone. It was great seeing this many animals where you could see the animal right *there* and look at the print it had JUST left in the snow. My ability to identify all these animals (and anything related) made a huge jump.

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