Wildlife, Yellowstone National Park
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!
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.
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.
American Bison, also known as Buffalo are so prevalent in the park you may start to take them for granted. When you see people stopped on the side of the road you generally are curious, when you find out it is Bison they are stopping to see your response may be "Oh just more Buffalo..."
Lou and I would try and snap ourselves out of this train of thought. I mean they really are incredible animals.
The Herd that roams Yellowstone Park has been in the area since prehistoric times. There are thousands of them! They are the only truly wild Buffalo left.
Some of the herd has been killed in effort to protect livestock from a disease called brucellosis. This disease causes immature birth with cattle. In winter, the bison will travel outside of the park searching for lower ground to keep warm. The ranchers fear that the buffalo will come into contact with their cattle and transfer the disease to them. There are not a lot of cattle that even graze very close to the park. There is a bill in the works to protect the Buffalo. If you'd like, take a look at the links to sign a petition in favor of the bill, and to look at the bill itself.
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.
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. :)
Earlier in the day when we had stopped at a lookoff in Gallatin National Forest, I had commented to Lou that I would really like to see a Pronghorn Antelope. Only a few hours later my wish would come true.
The word Antelope just seems so exotic. I hear antelope and I picture African plains. Strange to think there are some in America! With the Abilty to run over 45 miles per hour, they are definately america's fastest land animal.
There is a small here of these lovely creatures in the park. Our photo guide told us that the population was dwindling and the rangers were
concerned about inbreeding. I hope they recover. They are just gorgeous.
Fondest memory: Spotting this guy up on a hillside while driving down the one way Beartooth Plateau drive. I was so excited to see him.
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.
Favorite thing: Oh the adorable Yellow Bellied Marmot! I was so happy to get a chance to see this little fella. He must have been out for a last minute snack just before he turned in for hibernation. They start their hibernation in late summer and don't emerge again until May. The Marmot is related to the woodchuck, it's approximately the same size. They like high elevations and make there burrows near rocks so they can climb on top and use them as lookout towers.
If you never leave the park road -- regardless of what national park you're visiting -- you'll get a taste of what the park has to offer. Yellowstone is no different. You can drive through forests, through mountain passes, along endless plains, alongside mighty rivers, next to charming waterfalls, and especially through wildlife habitats extraordinaire.
The park road follows a figure 8 and reaches every quarter of the park. Sometimes however a certain segment is closed, requiring the motorist to take three-quarters of the loop on a road that is already overwhelmed with bumper-to-bumper traffic. In May 1995, the road from Canyon to Tower was closed. In July 2000 it was open, and our first acquaintance yielded a family of three black bears (a sow and two cubs) alongside Antelope Creek (which is also a favorite with grizzlies).
Ask rangers at the numerous visitor centers where wildlife are known to concentrate. There are no guarantees, but probabilities are better in specific areas of the park. When you concentrate on a specific theater, chances are you will eventually encounter the wildlife you are seeking.
Fondest memory: Yellowstone has more wildlife than any other park in the lower 48 states. Traveling the park road will encounter a great range of wildlife and topography. Some of the greatest natural spectacles are just a few steps from the road.
Wildlife have the right-of-way in the national parks, and with such a preponderance at Yellowstone, chances are that, once or twice during your visit, they will come too close for comfort.
Do not be surprised if you leave your car and are suddenly confronted by a moose. Do not be surprised if your car is stalled in a long train of crawling motorists, only to have a train of buffalo suddenly divide the column. Do not forget that a buffalo rising from its dust bath is still capable of running 30 mph.
Fondest memory: Sometimes you don't have to work to find the animals. As often as not, they will work to find you.
Favorite thing: Like I've already said, animals have the right of way in all cases, especially the buffaloes, which might be the match for your compact or economy cars. Buffaloes have been known to cross in single file directly between the tightly-packed bumpers of stalled traffic. Do NOT take any chances. Not everyone has seen a buffalo before or perhaps ones this close, so not everyone is using their smarts when they pause to study one. Be aware that buffaloes can outrun you and are quicker than they appear. If the park bulletins about annual gorings didn't startle you, confronting a handful of these creatures up close will likely restore your respect for their size and speed.
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.
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.
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.