Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day One in Yellowstone: A Three Dog Day!



Over the weekend we received our first Yellowstone report from Wolf Conservation Center's Alex Spitzer. It appears the WCC's Spring Yellowstone Adventure was off to a snowy start! Big thanks to Alex for sharing his experience and photos!

Settling In
Our morning started off pretty casually. Everyone had flown in the day/night before to avoid outrageous ticket prices so there was no rush to get things together. We all awoke the surprise of snow; in fact it was snowing sideways with all of the wind blowing around. Nathan Varley met us at the Best Western in Bozeman, MT and we started our drive to Gardiner, MT, the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The drive was a bit rough with all of the wind, however, the valley made for some great photo opportunities. We stopped along the way to have some lunch in Livingston, before arriving in Gardiner. Once we got into town, Nathan took us for a quick tour, before letting us settle in at the motel. We used this bit of free time to go explore the town, despite the heavy snow and very cold temperatures. What better way to get used to the temperature?

Day One
What an interesting morning. We awoke to find a good two inches of snow had fallen overnight in Gardiner, which means even more in the park. When we left at 5am, the roads were covered and there was almost no visibility. Luckily, when we arrived at the park entrance, we found the gates were open. Apparently though, Mammoth Hot Springs had already put away the snow plows so the roads were a bit rough. During the earliest part of the morning there wasn’t much to see until we arrived at Slough Creek..

We saw three grizzly bears a good distance away, a large herd of bison, and some pronghorns that were trying to sneak by behind us. After spending a bit of time at the creek, we noticed the large herd of bison had started running at full speed toward us. There was no real concern since they were probably over a mile away, however, after about 10 minutes they were approaching a stones throw distance from us.


As everyone became to grab their scopes and get out of the way, the herd made one final turn and went up a hill away from us. After everyone settled down a bit, we started looking around for what may have been spooking the bison, and in the far far distance we saw our first two Yellowstone wolves, Big Blaze and a black female from the Mollies pack that he has been with lately. Needless to say, we spent a good deal of time looking for small glimpses of either of these two wolves.

After awhile of not seeing them, we packed up and started heading back down the road to Little America Flats where we heard rumors that Big Blaze had moved to. As it turns out, the rumors were correct and spent a good bit more time watching both Big Blaze and the black wolf. Through our spotting scopes we could see Big Blaze howling and a few seconds later, we heard the amazing sound of a wild wolf howl. After Big Blaze once again disappeared we were amazed to see a coyote go running across the landscape not to far from us. We were in awe, but it was time to head back.

The final stop we made was to see some pronghorns and bighorn sheep. They were really cool to see but the thing that really got everyone’s attention was a red fox that was posing nicely on a rock next to some campgrounds. We were all amazed to have the seen all three canids in Yellowstone Nation Park on the first day. Linda Thurston proclaimed it a “three dog day”.

Our final event for the day was to meet with Bob Landis, an Emmy award winning wildlife cinematographer who has created films such as Rise of the Black Wolf. Bob showed us some rough cuts of things that he has been recording over the last year including some of the interesting behavior being exhibited by the Mollies pack as they spread throughout the park. Off to bed in anticipation of what tomorrow may bring.

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