Sunday, June 27, 2010

Your Mission: Find a Face or Name a Flower

It's peregrine falcon fledge week back in Duluth, and although I'm keeping up with events via email (2 males have left the nest box for nearby roofs, 1 female and 1 male still at the box), I'm missing the excitement of being there wandering around and searching with binoculars and scopes. And for all the glory of Yellowstone, I still miss The Lake.

I was first on the list for a chance at a seat on the Saturday bus around the park, but when the morning rolled around I didn't feel any enthusiasm for spending the day on a bus with tourists and didn't bother checking to see if I could get on. I definitely want to get to Lake Yellowstone some time, but I really don't care if I ever make it to Old Faithful.

I learned a new word this week--touron. That's a combination of tourist and moron. Not to suggest that there is a complete overlap between the two categories; just enough for someone to coin a word. The National Park Service would never use such a word of course, but they do have a page of videos designed to discourage touron behavior. From elk ramming cars to bison goring people, it's all there for your viewing pleasure.

The urge to walk longer distances is building and threatening to overcome my desire to continue lounging in a room of my very own. Next weekend I'm signed up for a 10 mile group hike to a lake and a peak. Today I considered walking the 5 mile dirt road to Gardiner (the nearby town--population 850) but it's uphill coming back and I was afraid the market might be closed on Sunday. Not that I wanted to buy anything in particular; I just felt like a trip to the big city. That uphill return trip supposedly used to keep the soldiers here from getting too drunk in town. I'm going to try to make a trip to Bozeman in a couple weeks to open another new bank account and gorge myself with quality restaurant food.

Anyway, missing the falcons and listening to three Patty Griffin cds made me get off my butt to look for the owls late this afternoon and take a local hike. I found a couple owls, and I think in some of these photos they're looking at or away from each other but I can't be completely sure.



















I enjoyed walking around the terraces and walked along the upper road for the first time which made for a nice walk although I was bear-clapping at times when there wasn't a car in sight. I'll save the landscapes for another day, but here's a bouquet of flowers to hold you over.





The next one has a visitor.





Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trout Lake

According to my field guide, this is an antler bush.



Wait, there's an elk attached! I didn't actually realize antlers got so large so early in the year. This guy looks like a contender for passing on his genes.



It's been a busy week here in Yellowstone. I took a ranger led tour around the old fort--that ended with the owl photos I posted a couple days ago. I went to a couple of the slide shows which are presented nightly in the hotel--the most interesting one showed the history of the Mammoth area. My office used to be an ice cream parlor/barber shop and the area where I live used to be home to stage coaches.


One day at work, word spread that there were bears on the hillside above the building and everyone rushed to the back door to watch a cinnamon colored mom with two black cubs. A collective "Awww" went up from the crowd as one cub scampered through a wide open area.

And last night I went on a YCERP trip to Trout Lake. Elsewhere on the internet, you can find lots of photos of otters there, but I didn't see any so don't hold your breath.

Here's a shot of the steering wheel with a bison leading the oncoming traffic. This is very common here, but since I'm not in vehicles very often this was the first time I've actually witnessed it. At one point he turned his head and stared at the car behind a
s if to ask, "Why are you following me?" It was very funny. At least he stayed in his own lane.



Of all the photos I've shown you from Yellowstone, this one certainly doesn't look very dramatic, does it?



A pretty little scene taken from a steep hill across the road. So why were there fifty people with spotting scopes on the hill?

Well, you can't see any of them, but out in the area past those two trees, there be wolves. Three of them. And two pronghorn. And on rocks among the trees on the far side of the open area, wolf pups playing and waiting for dinner. Dinner wasn't served while I was there, but it was fascinating to watch the wolves moving gradually toward us as the pronghorn seemingly indifferently
moved from left to right.

Wildflowers are busily blooming right now. Clearly (it's a joke, people!), I didn't put much effort into photographing them, but here are some for variety's sake.





Trout Lake is at the top of a steep climb. Here's a view of the trail.



I'm sorry, I mean a view from the trail.

Happy trails.





Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great Horned Owl(et)s

These neighbors live just across the street. No wonder the ground squirrels are nervous.









Saturday, June 19, 2010

In the Evenings

Friday I took a nice little camera-free walk after work, about a mile down to the corral with stunning views in the distance. I think I've given up trying to identify anything with the field guide I have which just has a photo and very brief description of each species, usually 4 or 5 per page. But I saw a bird flying with a lovely coppery color underneath.

I came back through the terraces where I saw a chipmunk, smaller than I'm used to seeing, nibbling on an apple core, a killdeer eating in the shallow water near Palette Spring, and a slim 3 or 4 foot snake slithering under the boardwalk. Then I poked my head up the beginning of the Beaver Ponds trail, past the bear silhouette and warnings on the trailhead sign. I didn't see any in person, but a grizzly was shot and killed this morning about five miles away from the park's east entrance. The bear had killed a man Thursday, a few hours after being trapped and tranquilized by researchers.

If you'd like to see some photos of the locally famous grizzly with four cubs (and also a badger family among other critters) who I saw on my first day here, there are some great photos here and here and probably in other topics there. I disagree (to say the least) with many of the opinions which get expressed in some topics there (such as Sea Shepherd being called ecoterrorists--I think it would be more appropriate to refer to the many rodeos around here as ecoterrorism), but that's a great site to keep up with what's going on here.

The elk had left civilization for a couple days, but they were returning just as I reached the dorm Friday evening. There were several adults with several young, and the calves were frisky. Cavorting. Frolicking. Gamboling. Getting up on their back legs and sparring with each other. I watched for quite a while before heading in to get the camera. When I came back out they were all lying down except this one who soon joined them.



Tonight there was a double rainbow just before 8:00 as I wandered waiting for the employee pub to open. It was my first time there and I only bought a pizza--nothing spectacular but it's nice to have the option. I just wish they opened earlier.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Side of the Road

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera to our highway cleanup this morning. It would have been an interesting collection of photos, but I probably wouldn't have picked up much trash. I was easily enough distracted as it was.

The plants which surround me here have me feeling like a stranger in a strange land. One pretty yellow flower caught my attention. Working from my inadequate and only field guide, it might have been the Pale Mountain Dandelion. And a cactus! I was walking along the road looking at cactus. This sort of thing just didn't happen in Minnesota and Massachusetts. It was a really lovely cactus too, some sort of Prickly-pear.

On the less lovely side, I found an upside down mousetrap which turned out to have the remains of a mouse attached. And a deer leg with most of the flesh gone. No other parts of the body nearby so I assume this had been left here recently by a predator.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yellow Matter Custard Dripping from a Dead Dog's Eye

That pretty much sums up my appearance at the moment, as I've developed a case of the conjunctivitis which has been going around here. The doctor I saw yesterday said he'd contacted Public Health last week because he'd never seen such a large outbreak.

It got my second eye overnight so now I'm blurry on both
sides and taking my second sick day while only at the beginning of my third week here. It's frustrating because usually the only sick days I took were mental health days, and at this early point I'm still actually enjoying having a good job to go to.

But the magic drops do seem to be helping a bit already as my worst eye has improved from swollen to baggy. I'm hoping to go to work tomorrow because we're scheduled to do a highway cleanup in the morning.

Here's a photo from a couple weeks ago to give you the layout of my little village. You'll probably have to click it larger to see anything I'm writing about.



The many small buildings on the left are cabins for tourists. The three large buildings along the road from left to right are the general store, the restaurants, and the hotel. The larger building behind them is half the office where I work and half the employee recreation hall for everything from basketball to bingo, but more importantly where you can sign up to go on events like hikes and trips to nearby towns or the whitewater rafting trip a couple coworkers took Saturday. My dorm is the dark grey building to the right and behind the hotel.

I'm signed up for a short hike next week at Trout Lake which comes after another drive through the Lamar Valley, and hopefully will do this hike to Cascade Lake and Observation Peak the week after.

The many orange roofed buildings on the right are the old Fort Yellowstone. The first of those buildings is the Visitor's Center where the rangers answer questions all day long. Yesterday I asked one if running from Elk was actually a good idea; she said it would be her first choice. So far, I've been able to simply walk away from them with them following but making no effort to actually catch me. Maybe humans running simply stimulates them to run after the humans. Do Elk have a predatory instinct? Certainly they wouldn't have any trouble overtaking and trampling a person if they actually wanted to do that. From what I've seen and heard so far, it seems all they do is trap people somewhere without actually trying to hurt them once they're trapped.

In the yard of the building next to the Visitor's Center is a tree with a Great Horned Owl's nest. And just outside the door where I work is a tree with several Magpie nests. I'll try to get some photos of these soon.

Earlier on the road from Gardiner and not seen in the photo are the campground and more houses where I think the rangers and other folks live.

None of the books I've been reading are candidates for review here although The Tiger by John Vaillant has some interesting material mixed in with a lot of history of Russia and human lives. Maybe there will be something good in the Vine newsletters this week and next.

Just this morning I learned of a book which sounds interesting--Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells. Here's Amazon's blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
More food but also disease, craziness, and anomie resulted from the agricultural revolution, according to this diffuse meditation on progress and its discontents. Wells (The Journey of Man), a geneticist, anthropologist, and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, voices misgivings about the breakthrough to farming 10,000 years ago, spurred by climate change. The food supply was more stable, but caused populations to explode; epidemics flourished because of overcrowding and proximity to farm animals; despotic governments emerged to organize agricultural production; and warfare erupted over farming settlements. Then came urbanism and modernity, which clashed even more intensely with our nomadic hunter-gatherer nature. Nowadays, Wells contends, we are both stultified and overstimulated, cut off from the land and alienated from one other, resulting in mental illness and violent fundamentalism. Wells gives readers an engaging rundown of the science that reconstructs the prehistoric past, but he loses focus in trying to connect that past to every contemporary issue from obesity to global warming, and his solution is unconvincingly simple: Want less. B&w photos.

I learn of many interesting books from Publisher's Weekly, but the reviews always seem to have a mainstream cultural bias which I have to ignore. Of course, I guess I pretty much have to do that every hour of every day.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Scenes from the Sickbed

My plan for this weekend was to try to get a seat on the Yellowstone in a Day bus tour so that I could go see Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake for the first time, and/or hike the Beaver Ponds Trail which ends just behind my dorm. Unfortunately as I sat at work Friday afternoon I felt myself having a relapse of the cold I haven't shaken yet. I was in bed by 7 that night, didn't get up until 9 Saturday morning, and didn't leave the room until I went to dinner that evening. Fortunately I don't have to go far to enjoy nature here--it comes to me. All the photos in this post were taken through my window as I sat on my bed.

Here's one of the calves which are sprouting up all over and causing people to run for their lives.



When I headed out to lunch today, I was directed to make a wide circle around one very irritable elk who'd been chasing people all morning. The person who told me also said he'd been jumping up on cars to get away.

After lunch, I was feeling well enough to at least make it up to the top of this hill which marks the end of the Beaver Ponds Trail.



It's a nice view up there (hell, it's a nice view everywhere here) from a wide open meadow. I couldn't help wondering what would happen if there were elk or bison standing there as I crested the hill since I often see them there.

Aha, calf and cow have decided to go behind this building. This will be important later.



They weren't the only elk around; there were two much closer enjoying the grass.



My, what a tasty dandelion!



Don't make fun of my antlers--they'll get bigger!



Watching all this with me were the ground squirrels. I believe the closest burrow has five young--here are four of them with mom.



One second, they're all looking around; a second later there's a noise and they're back in the ground.



About this time, a guy left the dorm carrying an electric guitar. He saw the two elk on the lawn and moved far to the left to walk close to the next building. Little did he know who was on the other side of that building . . .

As he reached the far end, I saw him look to the left and start running with an elk hot on his trail. Interesting, I thought--will he risk his guitar to save himself? He stopped for a moment, looked back, and the elk also stopped a couple feet from him. He took off again and she pinned him to a fence. Some people started yelling which distracted the elk and he made his escape. Unfortunately, all this was at too much of an angle for me to be able to photograph it. And I can't say I picked up any tips on escaping. You never know which door to go out or who'll be waiting for you when you do, but you certainly pay more attention to what's going on around you.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adventures with Elk, Spring Edition

That calf and mom from yesterday's photos have been plopped down right outside the windows of my dorm's lounge all day. Or maybe it's a different calf and mom, but the ones from the photos aren't there anymore. Do you know what happens when mama Elk don't like people walking near their calves?

Before we get to that, let's look at a couple other local residents. Here we have a bird on a pole. The coloration looks like a Tree Swallow, although a little chunkier than the photo in my field guide. And of course the tail is on the other side of the pole.



If you ever come to Mammoth, you'll see more of one species of animal than any other. And that species will be the Uinta Ground Squirrel. The holes they live in cover almost as much of the lawns as the Elk and Buffalo dung do. I can picture the horror on the faces of suburbanites with highly manicured lawns.The squirrels give off a high pitched chitter whenever you walk near them, and considering they're pretty much everywhere, you hear a lot of high pitched chittering whenever you're outside.



I was ready to go out early this morning when I saw an Elk right outside, so I headed for a different door. This put me farther away from the one I'd seen, but within sight of a couple more. They were a reasonable distance away and in the opposite direction from where I was going so I didn't pay them much attention. Until I was walking and heard a sound behind me I'd never heard before. I thought of it as sort of a whinny, but on the internet it's referred to as a mew. I turned and saw an Elk following me. I kept walking, she kept following. It wasn't an all out chase like a few other people experienced this morning, but I was definitely being escorted out of the area. I look forward to things really getting interesting in September when the rut is going on. Check out the photo links on this Yellowstone press release from a couple years ago.

You probably think I'm exaggerating when I tell you Elk are right outside the building. Let me show you.



See? Right outside the building!

In that last photo, you can't see what's on the other side of the Elk right outside the building. Look again.





Yes, they're right outside the building! I took those photos through the window at lunch, staying farther away from the window than it might appear. When I got back after work, sheets had been hung over the windows to thwart the gawkers like me. Someone in a position of authority has been directing foot traffic all day, and traffic cones are blocking cars from the area. Folks actually do try to treat the world with respect here and it's really a pleasure to see.

It doesn't always work out that way though. Sunday night, there was a hit and run collision in the park which took the life of a yearling Grizzly. Apparently, based on tracks, mom and sibling Griz were there at the time also. I hope they're in hot pursuit of that vehicle.

Baby steps.

Monday, June 7, 2010

First Trip to Lamar Valley

Last evening I was able to tag along on one of the bus tours my employer offers to guests--it's not easy for employees to nab one of these free seats, but it's a nice perk if you do. This was a wildlife focused tour out through the Lamar Valley, considered one of the best areas in the park, and lasted about four hours. Although I saw many critters, I didn't get one good photo because of either distance or movement. Maybe one blur is worth ten words.

Our first stop was at Floating Island Lake which is right next to the road and not very big but hosted a wide variety of birds. Here are a very few.

Sandhill cranes had a nest there and we were told the adults had just chased off a coyote.



Special delivery. I only have one limited field guide to the area. I'm not sure who this is. . . scaup or coot, maybe?



A ruddy duck with blue bill, much bluer than it appears here.



Probably the highlight of the trip was a black bear sleeping by the raging Yellowstone River. The long bridge over the river was lined with people watching and photographing.





With all the rain and snow melt going on, I've heard several people talking about different rivers being higher than they'd ever seen them. Near the end of the outward half of the trip we came to a spot where Soda Butte Creek had undercut half the road.

I saw my first of many pronghorn, and later my first mule deer.



I was so amazed to notice a flower in the midst of all the vastness, I blurred it also. Larkspur, possibly?



There is a wolf den up these hills near the road to Slough Creek campground. Many people watched; some even claimed to see wolves. Not me.



A buffalo through the bus window. We passed several herds with young calves mixed in, but they're considered so common the bus doesn't even slow down.



At Tower Falls, you can see peregrine falcon and osprey nests, and sometimes mountain goats.



These trips go twice daily in the early morning and evening, so I hope I'll be able to catch a weekend bus again before I leave and have better luck with photos if I do. I've now traveled most of the road mileage in the northern part of the park, most of the upper circle of the figure eight which is made by the park roads. People, including me, make fun of people who come here and never go far from the roads, but if you are going to stay near roads, these are some mighty fine roads to stay near.

A few more scenes along the way.