I get a little bit of a late start this morning, which turns into a blessing as you shall see.
At first light I reach Round Prairrie, the only one on the road. In the wide meadow I see two dark shapes that are not bison. I slow down. Bears! Aha! A courting pair I suspect. I stop in the empty road and reach for my binoculars.
Just then the bear closest to the road lifts its head as if noticing my car, then glances behind itself, towards the second bear. Suddenly this first bear shoots up on his hind legs, then drops back to all fours, bursting into a gallop. It runs across the meadow towards the road and I can confirm it's a black bear as it bolts up the slope, across the road and up the hill on the other side, disappearing into the trees, not pausing to look back. Hmm, I think to myself, I wonder what the other bear said or did or smelled like to make this one reject it so clearly? I reach for my binocs and look out to the river line at the second bear. He is still there, nose to the ground. "Whoa!" I suddenly say out loud.
That bear is a grizzly!
Now I understand the action of the first bear. They were not a courting pair! In fact, I think that the black bear didn't know there was a griz behind it until it I saw it stand up. I think my stopping in the road may have saved that poor black bear's life! Blackie may not have lifted his head and gotten a whiff of eau-du-grizzly if I had not come along when I did. At least I will always believe thus. When I first saw them, the two bears seemed awfully close - less than 100 yards apart. I think blackie may be sitting up in a sturdy tree re-reading the Park regulations about remaining proper distance from a griz. LOL
There is STILL no-one else on the road in either direction so I watch this mini-drama all by myself in the gorgeous early morning. The grizzly wanders along the riverbank, sniffing and pawing every once in a while. Truth is, he may not have cared about the black bear. He's looking for elk calves. After a while, the grizzly splashes across the river and ambles back to the trees.
So now I head west, listening to the growning birdsong. The chorus here is like no-where else on earth - so varied and rich and full and joyous!
I have noticed as I drive in the dark early mornings that there are birds that seem to be sitting at the edge of the road, only to fly out right in front of the car as I pass. I think they are robins. I suppose they are after bugs. Can anyone clue me in about this?
I see a spotted mule deer fawn on the side of the road at Trout Lake - I probably just missed seeing its mom as it disappears into cover.
My next stop is Dorothy's, where I find Laurie and Gerry and a bunch of other wolfers. There is a large bison herd in the meadow at the base of Cardiac Hill. Lots of moms with babies. Listening to them grunt and moo and grumble is so nice. While we are scoping, looking for wolves the herd begins to cross the road. We bunch up close to our cars as we are slowly surrounded by bison. I move Layla closer to Blue Su and watch the animals come close to the logs, intent on using them to scratch. The bison are shedding profusely and I bet the warmer temps make those shaggy coats more annoying than ever. They want that extra hair OFF already!
One very pretty young cow uses the log closest to us (Laurie, Gerry and me). She is cautious but determined. We watch her and smile and make no threatening moves. With our cars and the logs for protection and knowning that my comrades are as interested in calm observance as I am, I find it really nice being this close to them. We snap photos every once in a while, and watch. A mom with a little orange calf comes close, too.
We watch for signs of aggression as the other bison cross but nothing bad happens. Once the herd is fully on the river side of the road everyone can relax, both bison and humans.
Three wolves are spotted on the north side of road below Secret Passage - I aim Layla in that direction and see a fleeting glimpse of a black wolf body - not even the whole animal. These three wolves are glimpsed from time to time crossing to the east, but I never see any of them again. I do see a bald eagle in a tree near the river.
I find the antelope and smile when I see she still has her fawn. The grizzly sow with three appears again and I enjoy watching those babies romp and play. They are high up and far away, but fairly easy to see. One cub seems to want to stay close to mom while the other two prefer to rough-house with each other. Lower down I watch a trio of coyotes get close to a bison calf. The brave little calf charges the canids and they scatter - clearly not expecting that response! Mom looks up and the calf comes sprinting back to her. I think it scared itself with its own boldness!
All the while the bison are grunting the geese are honking, too. It's quite an animal concert!
I notice a coyote in stalking posture. I watch it quite a while but never see what it sees or what it's stalking. Eventually it gives up and just trots off. I watch young bison practicing for the rut. They run and wheel and butt heads. It's amazing how agile these heavy creatures actually are.
I take a drive down to the confluence and boil some water for coffee. While I'm here I see two bison cross the river. One stops with all four feet submerged, the water up to its belly. He just stands there as if easing some pain he has been putting up with for a while. He looks nice. Every so often he lowers his massive head to drink.
We hear a report of some unethical photographers who had snuck up on the coyote den. Other people at the pullout saw them, took photos of them and later, photos of their car when they walked back to it. A Ranger is on his way now. And there is another report that a second group of unethical photographers snuck down to the Agate's rendezvous sight, causing the alpha female a great deal of stress. They were caught, too.
Gerry and Kat and I take a bushwack hike toward the Slough campground to get some exercise and to see if we can find the golden eagle nest people have been talking about. Along the way we see bison and a coyote and best of all, we find two yellow-headed blackbirds perched in the high reeds around a small pond. I usually see them at Floating Island Lake but not this year. Kat has never heard their distinctive song nor seen them so it is fun to show them to her.
And we DO find the golden eagle nest - it's still in the same place where it was first shown to me by Doug Dance. We see find the two adults and then realize that there are two chicks in the nest! Two little white scrawny things! One parent is on the nest and the other is perched on a rock high above. Cool!
And we have a laugh when I am looking at Slough Creek and call out "elk running" only to have it turn out to be a duck....swimming (!) Ah, the power of the imagination!
We walk back to our cars and head to the Institute for a special sneak-peek screening of Bob Landis' "three dog" film called "The Valley of the Wolves". It is a real treat to see his wonderful work and I am sure it will be an instant classic for wolf fans. It is scheduled to air on PBS in November as part of "Nature". Note: I am so late in publishing this report, Bob's film has already aired. It is truly magnificent - and available for purchase through PBS. Anyone who likes wolves, coyotes, foxes or bears will want to see this film.
And now, alas, the time has come for me to leave Lamar. It's gotten really hot all of a sudden so I walk over and soak my head in Rose Creek. Ahhh, what a lovely feeling that is! Goodbye beautiful Lamar. I say goodbye to my Loon friends and head west.
After a farewell visit with Allison I leave the Park and head north, enjoying every last look at horses and foals and wide open spaces. I even like looking at the cows! I take Trail Creek road and see a red-tailed hawk and a pair of black-tailed deer. One leaps gracefully over a fence, while the other slides under it. By the time I get back to Bozeman it's risen to 87 degrees!
Another wonderful trip is over. The next time I find myself in Yellowstone I will be heading to Fairyland!
Today I saw: antelope (including a fawn), 5 grizzly bears (including 3 coy), 1 black bear, 2 yellow-headed black birds, bison (and calves), 5 coyotes, 4 mule deer (including a fawn), 1 bald eagle, 4 golden eagles (including two chicks), elk, geese, a hawk, kamikaze robins, 1 glimpse of a Slough wolf, 6 Loons and the spirit of Allison.
I finish the evening at Outback where I meet Mark R and his parents, and Ballpark Frank. I think this is my last encounter with Loons, until I get on the plane and find that my seat-mates are Camille and Tim! We couldn't have planned it better! It turns out to be fortuitous in several ways because our plane ends up being diverted due to a big thunderstorm. We are delayed so long that when we finally get to Minneapolis, we both have missed our connecting flights, and there are no other planes available to us. So we are forced to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express. Well, misery loves company, and the three of us have a nice dinner together instead of grumbling and complaining!
We finally say goodbye to each other in the airport on Sunday and have no further mishaps! Thanks Camille and Tim - it sure would not have been as fun without you!