Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day Three in Yellowstone - Becoming a "Track Star!"

Here's the latest WCC Yellowstone report from Diane Bentivegna of National WolfWatcher Coalition. I think she's hooked!

Day Three in Yellowstone by Diane Bentivegna

Why did the coyote cross the road?
Yellowstone! The name conjures up fascinating visions of bubbling hot springs and thundering geysers, towering waterfalls and crystal clear lakes. If these thermal features were the only major attraction in the Park, they would be more than enough to secure Yellowstone’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest preserves. But there is another dimension to the wonders of Yellowstone; its vast expanses are home to an incredible array of North American wildlife.
Throughout this incredible journey, WCC adventurers continued to observe herds of herbivores like bison and elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and mule deer found from sagebrush deserts to high alpine meadows. We also were impressed by an equally amazing collection of carnivores like gray wolves, coyotes, brown bears and black bears. As a matter of fact, our third day included several sightings of black bears with their young cubs and a young grizzly who fed on a carcass surrounded by a pack of five coyotes which waited patiently to eat its leftovers.
We also observed some “winged wonders” like osprey, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, ravens, western tanagers, northern flickers, swallows, white pelicans, black-billed magpies and the beautiful Mountain Bluebirds which were all welcomed signs that winter finally lost its grip on Yellowstone’s northern range.
Equally as exciting, the group took a two mile hike to observe one of the first wolf dens used by the infamous Female 09 in the “Little America” section of the park during the early days of wolf reintroduction in the 1990’s. During this experience, we were accompanied by Dr. Jim Halfpenny, wildlife biologist and expert in wolf tracking and Dr. Nathan Varley, wildlife and wolf biologist, who gave interesting talks about all aspects of wolf pack life - then and now. During our stay in “Little America,” we also observed a vast array of bones, antlers and other natural specimens which told a fascinating historical account of the life and legacy of the wildlife which called this part of the park their distinct territory.
To conclude our day in the field, the WCC educational team, along with McNeil McGregor, a former educational specialist for the US National Park Service and currently working with Dr. Nathan Varley’s Wild Side Tours, escorted us to the Mammoth Hot Springs – one of the park’s most dynamic hydro-thermal areas. At Mammoth, a network of fractures in the landscape form a “plumbing system” that allows hot water from underground to reach the surface. The water comes from rain and snow falling on the surrounding mountains and seeping deep into the earth where it is heated. Microorganisms create tapestries of rich color where hot water flows among terraces of yellow, orange, brown and green hues. These images were “living sculptures” – constantly changing!
Tomorrow morning, we rendezvous in the Lamar Valley to marvel at the myriad of Yellowstone wildlife before concluding our adventure – albeit reluctantly. We hope, of course, to observe our wolves one last time – for it is the wolf, an iconic symbol of the wilderness, that keeps us hopeful that Yellowstone and all wild lands will continue to benefit from the unique role it plays in balancing ecosystems where they roam freely. As wolfwatchers, we will recall our fond memories of the Lamar Canyon pack with an awe-inspiring wonder and excitement until we see them again…hopefully soon.

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