Wildlife, Yellowstone National Park
Bison clean their hides by rolling in the dust. They often roll in the same location, over and over, killing off the grass in that area, causing a shallow, saucer like depression of dirt or sand. In the early spring, however, the moisture from the snow and early rains may have caused the grass to grow back within these depressions. When this happens, the grasses within the circular area are greener than the grasses without, another indication that you are looking at a buffalo wallow. These depressions may also collect standing water during heavy rains, in an otherwise dry landscape, briefly creating water sources for other animals and birds in the area
Fondest memory: I have seen very few buffalo wallows in Yellowstone, however, I have seen large numbers in Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park in North Dakota. I was surprised one September day when I spotted what looked like a buffalo wallow right next to our 5th wheel trailer in Bridge Bay Campground. But could there be a wallow in the middle of a busy campground? Surely I must be mistaken, or was I? Later in the evening as it began to grow dark, a herd of about 32 bison came up from Yellowstone Lake and began moving through the campground. On their way, I saw two different bison stop to roll in the wallow right next to where we were camped. What a surprise!
View my video, Buffalo Wallow and Gentle Sparing to watch one of these bison wallowing, as well as to see a brief sparing.
Favorite thing: If you have spent much time in a large city, you are familiar with traffic jams. Well, in Yellowstone National Park you may experience a Buffalo Jam. In September when we were in the park we were in two buffalo jams. Luckily we were in the front, I say luckily, because these can last for quite a while, and at least we could enjoy watching them as we crept along. What happens is that a group of buffalo decides that the best route of travel is the road; you are now stuck behind them until they decide to vacate this route. The jam can be a large herd, or only one animal. The first jam that we were in was only 3 bulls, but they had our lane closed off. We couldn’t pass for a couple of reasons; first you would have to CRAWL past them, as they can suddenly lurch in front of you. Secondly the people in the other lane were only thinking of themselves, and their interest in looking at the buffalo. So in this lane people would actually stop, stare, and take a photo before slowly moving on. Because of this the other lane was piled up with stop and go traffic, so even if you wanted to try creeping around them you couldn’t. The next jam we were in was a herd of around 75 buffalo, again taking up our entire lane, and causing stop and go traffic in the on coming lane as people stopped for their photos. So if you are in the front, just try to enjoy the view, as the buffalo move at their own pace. If you are in the other lane, remember that if you stop you are just adding to the effects of the jam. If you are way behind, you will probably wonder what is happening, and this may be your cause, and if you are lucky you will eventually be able to see what is causing the slow traffic.
Wolves are one of the most misunderstood animals in the wild. Many people are afraid of wolves and think they will readily attack humans. I call this the Little Red Riding Hood syndrome, as many children grew up with stories and nursery rhymes that portrayed wolves as "big and bad." In reality wolves are shy and much more afraid of us than we need to be of them. Wolves have become a big draw in Yellowstone, with people coming from all over the world, hoping to see one.
So you think you’ve seen a wolf, or have you? Both coyotes and wolves can be seen in Yellowstone. First off, wolves tend to stay away from the roads, where coyotes can readily be seen along roads. Thus, if the animal you see is running down a road or next to the road, it is most likely a coyote. Sometimes people are unsure which they are viewing, especially if it is a larger than average coyote, or a smaller than average wolf. Usually, however, a wolf is much larger than a coyote. According to the Princeton Field guide, wolves tend to range in size from about 50 to 121 pounds, and coyotes range in size from 15 to 44 lbs. If the animal is running or moving at a lope, the tail can be a clue. Coyotes generally hold their tails in a position lower than their back bones, often even low to the ground; where wolves usually hold their tails straight out, in a higher, horizontal to the ground position. Wolves range in color from white to black, but are most commonly gray with a black tipped tail. In Yellowstone wolves are commonly gray to black. Coyotes are never black, so if the animal you are watching is large and black, you can positively identify it as a wolf. Coyotes usually range in color from gray to reddish gray and may have rusty legs, feet, and ears. The shape and size of the ears are a distinguishing feature that may help you with your identification. Wolves have broad faces, with ears that are somewhat rounded and look somewhat small compared to the size of their heads. Coyotes have narrower heads, with large pointed ears. The snouts of wolves are broad and blunt, while the snouts of coyotes are longer and thinner.
So what animal do you see in the 2ond photo? The people standing beside me were excited to see a wolf. But was it a wolf? Notice the distinctive reddish color on the legs and behind the ears, the ears are pointed and large looking, the nose is slim, and moving at a lope its tail is held below its backbone. After you decide, move down the bottom of this paragraph for the answer.
What is it?
What is it?
What is it?
It is a coyote! Did you get it right?
Fondest memory: In late May we traveled to Yellowstone for a two day trip with Cody’s Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s Draper Museum of Natural History. On the second day, we got up at 4:00 AM to observe a wolf den. We set up our spotting scopes in an area that the museum’s curator knew would give us a view of the den, although at first we couldn‘t see it. Then suddenly the mother wolf popped out of a spot on slope we were looking at! Now we could see where the den was. She stood for a while, then looked inside the den, then reentered the den, then came out, stood or laid for a while, then looked in, then disappeared inside, etc. for a number of times. Eventually she made her way down the hill, where we spotted an adult black male wolf. As we watched her, we could see that she had two pups with her, and briefly nursed one. This has been my favorite wolf observation.
Although you can see wildlife anywhere you go in Yellowstone, there are some common areas that are known for this activity. In marshy areas along rivers you may spot moose, and in grasslands you may find elk and bison (buffalo). You will find a meadow between Madison and Norris where we usually see buffalo. Wolves also sometime frequent this area, although we have never seen any along this route.
Our favorite wildlife viewing area is Lamar Valley, which you can drive all year. Located along the northern part of the park you can often see elk and bison in the area, in fact this is the winter range for these two large animals. This is also a good area to look for wolves, coyote, bison, antelope, bears, bighorn sheep, moose, and foxes. I have to warn you, however, even though this is a wonderful place to see wildlife, there have been times we have driven it and seen nothing more than a few bison.
Many people find Hayden Valley as an ideal place to look for wildlife, and this is also one of our favorite places, second, only to Lamar Valley. Here the road follows the Yellowstone river and you may see such grazing animals as elk, moose, and bison. Waterfowl such as ducks and white pelicans can often be seen in the marshy areas along Hayden Valley. Stop at turnoffs that allow you to look across open land. Get out your scopes and binoculars, you may be able to see moose, bison, and once and a while grizzly bears. My favorite viewing in Hayden, was watching a family of 5 otters swimming back and forth in the river. Occasionally running on shore briefly, before diving back into the water, giving us a clear view of this group, composed of two adults with three almost
My other photos will show you examples of the wildlife you may see while visiting the park.
Fondest memory: In the fall of 2004 we drove up to Yellowstone by way of the Chief Joseph hwy to the NW entrance. Our entrance is the East gate, but we can also get to the park by this somewhat longer route, entering through the North East Gate. I love the drive, and think it is one of the most beautiful in the nation. We went to the park for one reason that day, drive Lamar Valley looking for wildlife. For this reason, the North East Gate was the best gate to enter Yellowstone from. We had more sightings that day than I had even hoped for. We saw an osprey and 2 immature eagles (I couldn't decide if they were bald or golden). We then spotted a few antelope and a couple of buffalo herds. One herd had 200 or more individuals in it. We saw a lot of people with scopes up on a hill near a known area where the Druid Wolf pack hangs out, so we grabbed our scope and climbed the hill. Way off in the distance the pack was lying in the grass. When they were completely down you could not see them, but as you watched one would pop up into a sitting position for a time. I saw one roll over with his feet in the air. Later a lone wolf, also off in the distance, came trotting across the prairie toward the group. As we traveled the valley we also spotted a black bear and a coyote. After turning around and heading back to the NE gate we stopped at a high vertical rocky mountain where a few ribbon falls can be seen slipping down its steep face. There were a couple of women out searching the rocks and cliffs with their scope. They had spotted some white mountain goats. We set up our scope and found a small group high up on a ledge, then as we panned we found some others. Altogether we counted 7 white mountain goats. One of the women then spotted a bighorn sheep high on the side of the mountain. This was a huge ram. He was lying on a narrow ledge looking straight down, so that it seemed like he was staring right at us. What a wonderful day!
My mom read aloud to us quite a bit when we were traveling. Two of the books she read were
Cubby in Wonderland, and Cubby Returns by Frances Joyce Farnsworth.
These books are still available and you can get both of them on CD.
CUBBY IN WONDERLAND by Frances Joyce Farnsworth (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1932). An illustrated children's fiction classic, first published in 1932 as part of the National Parks and Monuments Series, and later revised in 1958. Cubby and mama bear take a journey from their cave in the Tetons to Yellowstone. In the park they meet and learn more about other animals and the strange ways of the two-footed tribe. This is the story of their adventure.
Fondest memory: This is one of my fondest memories of Yellowstone because it gave me an understanding of the park in the form of a story.
Among the topics discussed were the algae that made the water of the hot springs terraces colored, beaver dams and houses, otters, pelicans and moose.
Favorite thing: One of my most favorite memories of Yellowstone is being in a parade of bison. It was so amazing. We had been driving in Yellowstone stopping each time we saw bison along the way but they were always so far away, we didn't really want to get too close or disturb them. Then the next thing we know, we are driving in the middle of their walk. It was so amazing. We had our windows down and we could (if we wanted to, but we didn't just in case) stick our hand out and pet the bison. It was the early summer, so some of the bison were shedding and their tufts of fur would fall of and we could catch it in our hands. It was an amazing experience. They are so used to all of the cars, so it was nothing to them. It was quite a nice surprise to be driving along with the bison. I know that some people were quite upset at having to drive so slow (really stop and go). Some people just stopped when they saw somewhere to get off. But there were others, like us, who just kept driving along withthem until we reached our destination. If this happens to you, I definitely recommend taking the drive. However, I think it is important to remember that this is their home and they should have the right of way. We stopped to allow them to get in front of us, so they could be all together and we tried to respect their needs when we could tell what they were. We didn't have any problems with the bison and it was such an amazing treat.
Outnumbering any other animal species in the park, Elk are everywhere, you will no doubt see many of these animals during your visit. Over 30,000 of these animals spend there summers in the park, 15,000 stay for the winter months.
I encountered these animals so many times, it's hard to pick a favorite experience. Elk were the first animals I saw after being in Yellowstone for all of 15 minutes. We saw them again the next day, 3 bull elk grazing in a field, we saw more later on when traveling the Virginia Cascade road. We saw a lone Bull Elk wading in the Firehole River. From a vantage point of up above on a mountainside, we watched a bull elk who was losing his velvet, scrape his antlers on trees and forage for food along the waters edge. Our last memorable encounter (there have been many I did not mention) was when we visited the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Two does and a young bull were wandering though the springs. It was so picturesque!
2006 September Trip
The mating call of the Elk, or bugle, is one of the eeriest sounds I have ever heard. Fall is rutting season so Yellowstone echoed with their calls throughout the our time here. I loved the sound, I also loved to see the mating ritual that went on between a big bull elk and his harem of ladies. Lots of charging, chasing and tongue flicking. :)
Favorite thing: Word on the street in Yellowstone was that there was a Bison carcass in Hayden Valley. Where there is a carcass, there are bears and wolves.... so off we went. As we hiked to the hilltop where the other hundred photographers and nature lovers were staked out, this big fella came down from the hills for a bite to eat. He was able to have quite a bit of a meal with only crows for company before, like lightning, a lady grizzly came tearing down the mountain at top speed. He being either a fraidy cat or a gentleman, graciously stepped aside so that she could have a bite. Meanwhile...the Hayden Valley Wolf Pack was gathering up on the ridge...now this was their kill and they wanted it back., so with their snow white Alpha female in the lead, they raced down the hill and took over the remnants of the carcass with hardly a scuffle with the lady bear. We watched this episode for hours until the light had almost completely faded. It was a live version of the discovery channel. Truly Amazing.
Favorite thing: As you tour the park by car watch out for any places where other cars have stopped – especially where you least expect it. That’s a very good sign that something interesting is happening, usually involving wildlife. We were thrilled to see this young grizzly on one such occasion. A park ranger was keen to move the traffic along but I managed to grab this shot before we had to drive on. Another time I was less fortunate – we saw a magnificent elk just by the road but before I could point the camera the woman in the car in front decided she’d get out – and of course the elk fled.
We had many, many encounters with Black Bears on our Sept 06 trip. About six of them were hanging out on a hillside on the Cayon/tower stretch of the Loop road. We stopped to see them every day. They were always up to something, climbing trees, ripping down branches, and eating, they were always eating(almost time for hibernation I suppose)
Fondest memory: I just loved watching the mama bear and her 2 little cubs climbing trees. What a memorable experience!
We didn't see any Bighorn Sheep on our first visit in August of 05, but on our Sept. 06 trip we saw plenty! Our first encounter with these guys was on the Canyon/Tower stretch of the Loop road. It was just past dusk and I had a hard time figuring out what they were until we drove up just next to them.
The best viewing of the bighorns was on our way out of the northeast entrance towards Gardiner.
We pulled over to spot ablout fifteen of these guys on a hilltop.
They like rocky, mountainous terrain, so look for these guys on hillsides.
Favorite thing: I found that the most consistant area in Yellowstone to see elk is right in the middle of Mammoth Hot Springs Village. The elk are attracted to the lawns in the village, and can be seen in front of the hotel, near the Hot Springs, at Fort Yellowstone, on the median along the road by the Post Office. If fact, just about anywhere. They're not completetly predictable. So you can't say that at 5PM daily they'll be in front of the Terrace Grill. But, we stayed at the Mammoth Cabins for 4 nights, and every day we found elk grazing somewhere in the village. Plus, it seemed like most evenings just before sunset, many of the elk started up the old Gardner Road and went to the plateau overlooking the area.
Favorite thing: If the weather is bad take a ride around the park and see what wildlife you come upon. Even if you aren't necessarily looking for wildlife, it will definately find you! We came upon this guy, on a drive up to Canyon Village.
We saw Coyotes in 2 spots in Yellowstone. The first time, we spotted a lone coyote in Hayden Valley, not far from the Nez Pierce picnic area. The second was far more exciting! We saw an entire family of Coyotes, Mom, dad and 5 little cubs. We were on our Photo Safari driving along in the area between the Fishing Bridge and the East Entrance, right along Mary Bay. Our guide had mentioned there was a family living in the area. I was the first to spot one. Soon they all emerged. We spent some time with them, They never approached too closely, but they watched our big yellow motorcoach from a distance.
Fondest memory: Some of my favorite photographs are of these little pups. It was wonderful to see them playing and flocking in the wildflowers.
Moose are just about my favorite animal on the planet. When planning our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks I would ask everyone who had visited "did you see a moose?" About 90% of the responses was yes, so I thought my odds were pretty good. Well, in all I saw 7 moose! 4 in Grand Teton, 3 in Yellowstone. 1 Bull Moose, 4 ladies and 2 babies. How exciting!
These gorgeous creatures are usually solitary animals, exceptions to that rule are during mating season and when a mother is with her calf. They like water plants so look for them munching on willows near rivers and lakes.
Fondest memory: This momma moose is having an evening snack in a little pond not far from the loop road. Just before this photo was taken her baby had stepped out of the pond.