Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Grey's Lake Refuge, Father’s Day 2017

We took a day off from our busy schedule, (we are getting ready for Alpine Mountain Days, our first big show of the summer), and headed to Grey's Lake Wildlife Refuge. It was established to provide a refuge for sand hill cranes but also provides a place for the summers breeding season of other birds.
Each year seems to give us a different view of the refuge. This year, as we approached the refuge large flocks of white faced ibis dominated the sky. They were the bird of the year and we found them at many places along the side of the refuge roads.
Their iridescent plumage is especially bright during breeding season, along with the white face stripe, and so we stopped often to watch them feed and to try to take images of them in flight. Their long-curved bills and trailing legs make them so distinctive during their flight.
At another place, we also spotted two different looking birds, also with long curved beaks. They were brown colored and large waders which Renita quickly identified as long billed curlews. The long-billed curlews are having difficulties with habitat loss, but here they have a sanctuary.
Red tailed hawks soared above us and you really must marvel when you think about their fantastic eyesight that allows them to see prey from such a height. We never got close enough for a great image but our binoculars, we have Canon image stabilized ones, allow us to easily watch birds in flight.
At one point the road is surrounded by flooded marsh and that place is dominated by yellow headed blackbirds. Their golden fathered neck and head makes them so distinctive when compared to any other bird. In flight, you can easily see the white wing bands, along with the yellow head and shoulders.
Red wing blackbirds also are in the area and woe to you if you get to close to their nest as they will go into attack mode! Flocks of seagulls fed on insects above the marsh and there were places where the road had been repaired from this springs flooding.
We did see many sand hill cranes, and at one spot we saw two cow elk being shadowed by a pair of cranes. Another place on the road loop usually holds deer and we were rewarded to see a beautiful black tailed deer growing a massive set of antlers.
It had shed its winter coat and the bucks new summer coat glistened in the morning sun. The deer are in some aspens groves that mark the end of the road loop and too soon we reached the highway.
Stopping at a roadside campground we met a family form Ireland who mentioned that they had just driven from Las Vegas and loved the cool Idaho temperatures. Taking a short walk we enjoyed the spring flowers.
As we drove back to Star Valley, we noticed that a trout stream, Tin Cup, was clearing and would soon be fishable. Maybe this year we will buy an Idaho nonresident license. It sure gets expensive buying licenses in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, and perhaps Idaho. I used to golf a lot so I just compare the cost verses the greens fees.

It was a beautiful day with lots of birds, wildlife, and mountains. After spending five months along the Gulf Coast, we do so love the mountains. Clear skies

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Chief Joseph Highway and The Buffalo Bill Center of the West

It was time to leave Yellowstone, and we had decided to go back to Star Valley by a different route. Never having driven the Chief Joseph Highway, (named for Chief Joseph and his band of fleeing Nez Pierce Indians), we first drove to Silver City and then turned onto the highway heading southwest to Cody.
Following the Shoshone river, we drove parallel to it’s beautiful and steep canyon. At one point in the drive, we passed a place where half the highway had collapsed into the abyss. A single lane was still open and so we could continue to Dead Indian Pass. This was named for the brave member of the band who, dying requested to be left behind.
Descending the pass, there is a forty-foot limit to vehicles, we finished the stunning drive to Cody, Wyoming. Just west of the city lies Buffalo Bill State Park and we could find a campsite for ten dollars a night, (it would have been twenty dollars for a nonresident. It was along the large reservoir and was dry camping, meaning no water or electricity).
It had been twenty years since we had last been to the Buffalo Bill Center of The West, and the next morning we returned to Cody. There are five museums at the center and of interest for us was the Firearms Museum and the Western Art Museum.
During college, I had worked a variety of jobs and at one point I worked for two years checkering gun stocks and forearms of various shotguns, (in that position I had also traveled to trap shoots, including the Grand National held at Vandalia, Ohio). The main interest at the museum was, for me anyway, to view inlays into the wood and metal inscribed receivers of the guns.
Inside the Museum we walked past beautiful artistic examples of such inlays. Often the artists had used ivory, colorful rosewoods, and ebony to name just a few. They had also carved and added many different figures made of gold silver, and even platinum, (one of the problems with such inlays was that they had to be able to withstand the recoil of the gun firing.
Besides the stunning guns there was a fully stocked inscribers workbench. We recognized many of the same jeweler’s tools we use ourselves. Of course, we enjoyed the beautiful craftmanship and we enjoyed our time at that museum.
Inside the museum we ate a brief lunch and then toured the Western Art Museum. Besides the many paintings by Russell, Remington, and others, (we both prefer Russell’s work), there were numerous examples of castings. Years ago, we had the chance to view the bronze foundry located in Lander, Wyoming and so we appreciated the different techniques used, (among other casts, the Lander foundry cast the Jaguar statues at the Carolina Panthers Football Stadium).
Another painting I enjoyed was the painting by a native American Indian who had painted Custer’s Last Stand from the Indian viewpoint. It contrasted sharply with the romanticized, and historically wrong legends of Custer’s last Stand.
On the way back to our vehicle, we walked through the Natural History Museum which even had examples of fossils and rocks! What could be a better to end our day! We only had time to visit three of the five museum complexes and   for us anyway, this center is a must stop place. If you are ever in the area be sure to visit the world-famous Buffalo Bill Center of The West Museums. Clear skies

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Renita's Story, Day Four in Yellowstone, May 30, 2017

Here’s Renita’s story of what she saw, in her own words.

Omg! What a phenomenal day we had today, our last today in Yellowstone! What we saw today was the highlight of our trip, in fact it is the highlight of all our trips to Yellowstone!
We were sitting at Slough Creek, in Lamar Valley, watching the Wolf Den with our binoculars and telescope waiting to see the wolves, (five adults and five pups make up the pack) There were several people there. I was looking through my binoculars when all of a sudden I saw five animals running from the den area.
At first I thought it was the five wolves but then I was realized what I was seeing was a grizzly bear, (big bruin), being chased from the den by four of the wolves from the pack! I screamed, “There they are”!
When I saw there was a grizzly bear, I screamed, “It’s a bear! It’s a grizzly bear! They are chasing a grizzly!” They chased the bear up the hill The grizzly ran into some evergreen trees with the wolves following.
The grizzly came out of the trees and ran for his life! The four wolves sauntered back down toward the den! And then right after, “the chase”, we saw a pup nursing right outside the den! I was way too excited to even think about taking pictures, (and I wanted to be sure I saw the entire thing unfold).
Mark was busy with the telescope… but another person did get a picture of, “the chase”, and is going to email it to us! We will never forget the experience! The best was saved for the last! It was the best day of this trip and the best day of all our trips to Yellowstone! I am still getting goosebumps!

So I was focusing the telescope on the den and missed the chase. I did see three of the wolves returning to the den and I did see the bear running full speed over the mountainside like it was still being chased . No pictures but our three hundred mm lens wouldn’t have gotten anything at that distance.
We waited the entire day and never saw the wolves again. We did see bald eagles, a coyote and a buffalo bison that walked twenty feet away. We never saw it as we were focusing on the den. We also got to see a badger digging out ground squirrels, and a herd of big horn sheep grazing above the den.

Sandhill cranes waded in a closed off oxbow bend and a black tailed doe fed among the grassy banks.
Later in the day another person spotted a black bear peering from the edge of the black forest.
Oh and a research plane decorated with antennas for tracking the wolves flew overhead. What a day, what a day! From now on we will probably spend our time in Yellowstone by taking a den stand. Clear skies

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yellowstone Wolves: Day Three

The next morning, we decided to return to the Slough Creek Pack. Arriving we found a large crowd of people had already gathered in the parking lot and scopes of all sizes were lined up on the two dens. Setting up our scope we waited for the wolves to return from the hunt.
Constantly glassing the mountainside, I spotted a wolf running along the ridge. Telling the others that I had seen a wolf, I followed it down the steep slope toward the den. It met two other wolves coming from the left and then paused as it was surrounded by the pups.
The pups immediately demanded food and for a brief minute she paused before retreating to a place out of sight. It happened so fast that Renita never did see the pups. We continued to glass the den area but the wolves had decided that it was nap time and we never saw them again that day.
Another person told us that there were three wolves feeding near Pebble Creek and so we drove up the Lamar Valley toward the east entrance and the town of Silver Gate. As we parked in the lot we saw that there were some people standing and glassing from the bridge.
Renita went to join them and then turned to wave me over. You could see two black wolves, part of the Pebble Creek Pack, working their way downstream. They separated and then the one found a carcass partially submerged in the river. It pulled the remains onto the bank and then began to rip and tear meat from the bones.
It hadn’t feed very long before two coyotes arrived and they tried to drive the wolf from the food. The large black wolf grabbed the carcass and looking back at the coyotes carried the rib cage the while running away from the river.
Finding a safe spot, it fed and of course ravens showed up. The wolf paused several times from its meal to drive away the pesky birds. At last it had its fill and walking a bit further it laid down.  We continued to watch both wolves until they finally disappeared into the tree line.
The show was over for the day and so after viewing a herd of mountain goats we headed back to our campsite. On the drive back, Renita said she was disappointed at not seeing the pups and so we planned to return to Slough Creek for our last day in Yellowstone.

The drive of course involved the usual bear jam and a new jam where three Bighorn ewes were grazing in a tree covered slope alongside the road. Finally reaching camp we saw that our picnic table now showed its top in the snow drifts. Nothing like spring camping in Yellowstone! Clear skies

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Yellowstone National Park, Days 1 and 2, May 2017

The forecast was for snow, but we had made our Yellowstone National Park reservations in January so we loaded our slide in camper and headed north. Sure enough, it snowed hard but most of it melted and as we neared Canyon Campground it finally stopped.
The campsite had been shoveled out by employees and we just fit! Still we were surrounded by up to three feet of snow and it was a freezing night. The next morning, we awoke to sunny blue skies, and after a cup of coffee and reheated egg sandwiches headed for the Lamar valley.
 Our first bear jam occurred just after Tower Canyon where a sow black bear and her two cubs had taken residence. Staying close to the road it was obvious that the mother bear had learned how to protect her cubs. The females will stay close to the roads as the people frighten off the larger male bears. They will kill the cubs, if given the chance, so that they will have the opportunity to breed.
Winding through the traffic we quickly reached Tower Junction. Passing a coyote, we saw six during our four days, we headed toward Slough Creek in hopes of seeing the Slough Creek Wolf Pack. They have a den that is located about a mile away and we had brought our Celestron telescope in hopes of seeing the pack and their pups.
We had just missed them, but at least they were still in the den. Several helpful wolf watchers showed us the location of the two dens and told us the wolves had moved the pups to the upper den. When large bull bison had moved to near the lower den and the wolves decided that the simplest answer was to move the pups farther away.
Others told us that the wolves were resting on the other side of a small hill and so we never did see the wolves on our first day. We did see bison, bald eagles, and a curious coyote who had little fear of the wolf watchers.
In fact, one of the persons brought their small dog out. The dog let out a yip and the coyote turned its head to the small pet. Several people told the dog owner to put the dog away as the coyote would take it if it had a chance.
On the way back to our campsite, the bears were still putting on a show. The bear jam had grown quite large and we sat in a line of traffic for about a half an hour before we saw them. The rest of the trip was uneventful, if you ignore the ever-present elk, hot springs, and beautiful scenery. Clear skies

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day Two, Bear Watching In Grand Teton National Park

We left the grizzly bear grazing contented alongside the highway and headed down to Grand Teton National Park, (the next day a video has been posted of the female being visited by a large male grizzly and the two bears having sex alongside the highway) Regardless I am not posting any link as this is a family blog.
Our goal was to travel to Pilgrim Creek, looking for bear 399 and her two new cubs. She had her cub killed last year by a hit and run driver, inside the park. This year she showed up with two small fifty pound cubs and she is staying hidden as any males will kill the cubs.
She remained hidden from us but we did see a small herd of elk. They were cow elk and they had their calves hidden, but it is obvious that she must be hunting elk calves along with fishing for spawning cutthroat trout.
Parking for lunch we ate and went for a short walk. I spotted a martin running across a field but never got an image of the large weasel like animal. Martins are larger than weasels and it’s the only one I have ever seen. It could also have been a fisher so I need to put this disclaimer in the blog.
Our next stop was up Pacific Creek. There were the usual vehicles taking parking spots where bears have been seen before. The roads were closed to Ocean lake and to the National Forest Trailhead but we didn’t know if it was because of snow or because of grizzlies in both areas. It’s another area where elk cows give birth and where grizzlies and wolves prey on the young elk.
Heading back home we crossed Antelope Flats, when George yelled out coyote. Braking he pulled over as the coyote sauntered across the busy road.
Reaching the other side, it paused and looked at us before turning its attention to moussing! It never did pounce as we watched but it certainly had heard prey.
As we nearly reached Alpine, Wyoming I spotted a lone mountain goat on the cliff above the road! It grazed a bit before laying down for an afternoon siesta. It had been an exceptional day of watching Wyoming wildlife. Tomorrow we are heading to Yellowstone National Park as we have heard reports of wolves and more bears.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Great Wildlife Day in the Tetons, Bears and Elk, and More! (Part 1)

We just got unpacked, (mostly), when our friends George and Val came over to say hello. They then invited us to spend the next day searching for bears In Grand Teton National Park. Even though rocks were calling me, (we work rock into cabochons and jewelry), we quickly agreed!
The next morning, we got an early start, about eight thirty, and headed for the park. Its only about fifty miles away. Of course, we had to stop in Jackson at the Bunnery where we purchased the best sticky buns we have ever tasted.
Armed for a close encounter with bears we ate the buns on the way into the park. As we passed a buffalo herd I spotted an animal and George pulled over. It was a huge grizzly boar! We watched, from a safe distance as it grazed on grass, unconcerned about the minor traffic jam.
As more cars stopped, we pointed out the bear and one man told us of a bear up near Togetee Pass. He said the bear was just ten minutes above the Blackrock Ranger station and was grazing in the ditch. Deciding to go looking for bear number two we headed up the pass.
Seeing a car stopped we slowed down and there it was! Our second grizzly of the day! It was completely unconcerned with the four cars and slowly grazed toward us. You usually think of grizzlies as carnivores but they are omnivores, and often feed on the new spring grass.
It neared us as it grazed and ended up about twenty feet away! Of course, we were inside the truck and we were all holding our breath at the incredible close contact! Now we have been close to a brown bear in Alaska but this is the closest we have ever been in the lower forty-eight
Even though the bear wore a collar and an ear tag, it obviously had never tasted human food and so it ignored the vehicles. If you are ever close to a bear, remember that a fed bear is a dead bear! Once used to human food it will eventually cause so many problems it will become dangerous and it will be killed.
The bear finally started to graze back to where it stared and so we turned around and headed back into the park. The State of Wyoming has announced that it will hold a grizzly bear season and my question to the hunter that will kill this bear is. Will you mount the bear with its collar and ear tag, (The bear was outside the park)?
I do hope that next fall’s hunters will only be allowed to harvest problem bears. They are killed when they develop a taste for fresh cows and sheep and endanger people. Having lived in Wyoming for forty years, I do understand the problem faced by the expanding bear population. According to the latest count a population of seven hundred to a thousand now exist in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its surrounding area

Time to get off the pulpit. Heading back into the park we next turned north at Moran Junction in hopes of scoring a trifecta, three bears in one day! We first drove to Pilgrim c\Creek but that’s for the second part of this blog! To be continued oh and Clear skies