Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Hiking the String Lake and Grand View Trails, Two more Days in the GTNP

On the first day we did take a short hike along the Grand Viewpoint trail. It is about one point seven miles, one way, and has an elevation gain of about five hundred and ninety-one feet. As it was our first hike of the year, we cut it short and never reached the point. Still it was a good easy day, and we did see two new life birds for us, a dusky flycatcher and a Pink sided Dark Eyed Junco. The Junco was a subspecies, so it does not count on the life list, but it was a new subspecies for us. It is always neat to see a new bird.
The second day we returned the Park planning to hike the String Lake Trail. It is supposed to be a three point seven-mile-long trail and was labeled an easy hike. We had heard that a sow bear and her cub were spotted along the trail and so, besides our heavy cameras, we caried a lunch and our cans of bear spray. Normally the parking lot is so full that you have to park quite far away but as it was early, we found a spot right by the bathrooms. We did not really know what to expect and I did something really dumb, I should have taken a picture of the trail maps on my phone but didn't.
Still, it started off easy and we took out time as we were birding. At the south end of String Lake, it empties into Jenny Lake.
A nice sturdy bridge crossed the outlet and we continued on our way. There were signs posted at the trail junctions and we turned north along the west side of Sting Lake. We had to walk though some patches of snow and as we expected there would be more when we walked through the shady east slopes.
At one point we looked down on the lake and spotted a beaver lodge. A little further and a family passed up. The father told us that there was more snow ahead, which we already knew, so we continued on. Looking across the lake we figured we had gone halfway around, (we were mistaken), and so we pushed on.
The trail climbed up and the patches of snow got deeper but it was pretty solid, and we only punched through the crust a few times. The trial continued to climb, and we had to stop. A marmot posed on a boulder and Renita got a picture.
After spending five months at sea level, it takes a while, for our bodies to adjust. The patches of snow got longer and at one chute, we had to cross a debris field of broken trees and snow where an avalanche had thundered down.
Past the avalanche, we hiked in the shade and the snow became deeper, but the trail was still passable. We finally reached the upper end of String Lake. Leigh Lake was visible to the south, and there was a good bridge,
allowing us to cross the outlet. We were still eight tenths of a mile from the trailhead. Stopping we took pictures of the avalanche.
We could see where it had run out after leaving the chute. Reaching our car, we loaded our gear we next drove north looking for bears but never did spot any, (we were told by a friend that Park Rangers were using their sirens to scare the bears away from the road). Our final stop was at the Moose-Wilson pond. Hiking along a trail we saw numerous black headed grosbeaks.
They were oblivious to us and even perched ten feet away.
Yellow warblers. Pine siskins, a red breasted nuthatch,
a mountain chickadee, and a Red-Naped Sapsucker were easily to photograph and at one point a sandhill crane sat on a nest.
As it stood up, we could see the chicks and that one egg still had not hatched. Before I could get a picture, it sat back down so we moved on. Barb showed us how to use Merlin’s voice recorder and it said it heard an orange crowned warbler, and a dusky flycatcher but we never did see it
. It was getting late, and we left the park driving back to Star Valley. Another day without bears but another day of great birding. Its so much fun to share the day with friends. Clear skies

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Friends, Bears, and Birds A day in Grand Teton National Park

Our friends Dan and Barb arrived here for a two month stay. They were excited to be here and hoped to see, and take pictures, of grizzly bears. The next day we took off early, well not to early, and picked them up. Renita and I had talked it over and decided the best bet was to head to Pilgrim Creek and the Colter Bay area. Its an area where we frequently see bears. We did tell them that while we often see them, it not an everyday thing.
Driving to our first spot there were not any bears present, but a coyote did not mind us as it hunted for ground squirrels. It crossed the road in front of us and we watched as it stopped and then ran after one, finally catching it and swallowing it whole. No bears appeared so we drove to our next two spots but again no bears. Turning around we headed south and did spot elk at Willow Flats. The elk move into the willows to calve, and one can sometimes spot a grizzly bear, or black bear, hunting the newborn elk calves.
It was a few weeks early as the elk usually calf in late May or early June. They hide their newborns in the thick willow stands where the scentless calf lay motionless as the bears try to spot them. If the calf moves or tries to run, it is easy prey for the hungry bears. We next drove to small lake below the dam. No sign of bears but there were quite a few birds. Barb and Dan have become avid birders and we both took pictures of hooded mergansers, tree swallows, mallards, and a Clarks Nutcracker. The Clarks Nutcracker was a new bird for their life list. It posed in a nearby tree top and then flew to another perch, (I captured a picture of it in flight). The bird looks similar to another jay, a gray jay but does not have the grey’s black eye swipe.
Crossing the dam, we headed to the Potholes and again no bears! From there our next stop was at the Oxbow Parking lot. Several days before, we had watched 399 and her cubs digging for grubs. Since then, 399 met a boar and drove the cubs off, so they are on their own! It is a dangerous time for the sub adults and if people feed them, they will be euthanized. Many suspect that none of the famous bear cubs will survive this first year. Remember a fed bear is a dead bear. After eating lunch at the Oxbow, we next headed up to Towgotee Pass. Last year a grizzly and her cubs had become problems and hazed from the roadside, (If you do go there do not park alongside the road as you may be ticketed, with a two hundred and fifty dollar fine. Barb spotted a fox!
There are pull off parking lots where you can safely stop. Just be sure to stay away from the bears and follow the directions of the ambassador bear teams. Be super nice to these people as they are trying to save the bears lives, and yours. It is a busy highway with many speeding cars, trucks, and semis!
Our final stop for the day was along the Moose-Wilson Road where We never did see any bears, but we did see lots of birds. It was good to see how Barb and Dan turned the day into a birding day as they saw and photographed many new life birds.
One was a Cedar Waxwing and in the parking lot an aggressive mountain blue bird perched on cars. It also attacked its own image in several of the car’s mirrors. Clear skies

Monday, May 16, 2022

Mother’s Day Bears Grand Teton National Park 2022

Each year Renita chooses what she wants to do on Mother’s Day. I knew in advance that her choice would be a trip to Grand Teton National Park. We had spotted grizzly 399 and her cubs in mid-April and we hoped to see her with her four cubs before she kicked them out.
We made the short drive, (fifty-two miles), to Grand Teton National Park. Entering at the Moose Entrance Station, we drove along the park road. At the potholes we stopped to change drivers and I got our cameras setup. We didn’t see any bear sign as we drove to the dam. Next we stopped at the boat launch below the dam where an osprey was fishing. Two other photographers told us his mate was sitting on a nearby nest and he was providing the breakfast of fresh trout.
The osprey was oblivious to us and scanned the pond. Hoovering at one spot he dropped his claws and dove down, rising with a nice fish!
Righting the fish to a headfirst position he flew low and disappeared over the willows. Leaving the boat ramp, we headed further north looking for bears.
Crossing Pilgrim Creek we saw a long line of parked cars, a sure sign of a bear jam. Quickly spotting a lone grizzly Renita parked the car and grabbing our cameras we crossed the road.
The bear was about a hundred and fifty yards away, which is a safe distance.
She, as we were told later, was a five-year-old daughter of Blondie, turned in our direction and started to walk towards us! Backing away we kept a safe distance and she stopped to smell the ground seeking a meal.
We had seen her before, four years ago as she had used a telephone post as a back scratcher. Turning she headed toward the road where the bear management team opened a corridor for her to cross. Looking both ways she ran across the road and disappeared into the trees. We both got some shots of her before she turned into the woods.
While watching her, Renita asked one of the park interpreters if she knew the whereabouts of 399. She shared with Renita that 399 and her cubs had been sighted by the Oxbow Turnout. As soon as we neared that turnout, we could see another bear jam of parked cars. It was 399 and her four cubs were out in a field digging for grubs.
They were along ways away, four hundred yards plus, but we still took many pictures, as one never knows if the bears will approach the road. Renita wanted to stay and hope for closer pictures, and she was right!
The bears turned toward the road and so we drove to the next turnout, parked, and walked to a point where we could see them.
We had to take pictures through dense brush, but we still got some good pictures of then hunting for food. One was digging quite a hole and on a future trip we plan on walking over to see how deep it had dug.
We spent the rest of the afternoon watching them. The next day 399 kicked her cubs out and headed into the woods with a large boar grizzly.
It was time for the next stage in the sub adult’s life, hopefully they will avoid the temptation of human food. If not, they will be trapped, and euthanized. We did hear that grizzly 610 had been spotted with three new coys, cubs of the year. Lat year, she had kicked out her cubs but both were fed by idiots, and were later euthanized. They were both beautiful bears and last year we wrote a blog of our encounter, near Colter Bay. A fed bear is a dead bear! We know of at least thirteen more grizzlies that have been spotted and so we can’t wait to head back to the park. Clear skies

Friday, May 13, 2022

Lake Como, Montana

We loved it at Hamilton, but it was time to head back to Wyoming. Eric and Jen had wanted to take us to Lake Como, but the weather had been bad. The kids were both back to work and it finally cleared so Renita packed us a lunch, and we made the short drive to the lake. It did not take long for us to drive the short distance and when we got there, we found that the roads were typical forest service roads. The first one we drove up had large rocks poking through the roadbed. Deciding to be cautious, our car did not have a skid plate, and we returned to the dam area.
As soon as we stopped, we saw a woodpecker and returned to the car to get our cameras. We followed the sounds and both of us got good shots of a hairy woodpecker.
Next a tee swallow perched atop a barren tree and following that bird, another, a red breasted nuthatch, worked its way down an aspen tree and posed for a picture.
Another bird landed on the ground and let us take its picture, this time it was a white breasted nuthatch.
After a few more steps and we spotted a savannah sparrow. Or at least that is what we thought it was, (we are weak on sparrow identification). There were others walking the trails and we passed a large fire scarred log that had been a food source for an unknown animal.
It had torn huge chunks out of the wood looking for grubs. While there can be an occasional grizzly here, we guessed it was a black bear. Returning to the car we drove to the other side of the lake. Walking along the edge of the water, an American Avocet bobbed its head and called, hoping for a female.
It did not really care about us and allowed us to get close. The male avocet was in its breeding colors, during the winter they are mostly white with a few brown markings. Walking along the shoreline I posed for a picture.
Chipmunks came out and begged for food, but we do not feed wild animals!
Buffalo head ducks paddled by, and a common loon dove for fish. Driving up the road to a camping area the road dead ended and we turned around stopping at a picnic table for lunch. As we ate lunch,a western bluebird lit on a tree branch begging for its picture to be taken.
The sun came out and lazed away the rest of the afternoon. The next day we would drive back to Star Valley, Wyoming where we have our fifth wheel rv set up on our rv lot. We will stay there fort here for the summer fishing, photographing wildlife, playing pickle ball, and exploring the area. Of course, we will work on making cabochons, preparing for this summer and next winter’s shows. Clear skies.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Visiting Jen and Eric in Hamilton, Montana

Our daughter and her husband moved from sunny Florida to the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. They were tired of the crowds, traffic jams. Months long red tides. It was quite a move from an area that has millions of people to a city of four thousand. They had a problem finding a place to live and so they rented a Vrbo. Another place came up and they moved into work housing at a much cheaper price. There was time left on the Vrbo and so they invited us to stay there for free. It was perfect timing as our place in Star Valley was not yet open.
Jen had warned us that as soon as we arrived a flock of chickens would come rushing up and demand that we feed them. We both laughed as we watched their wobbly run from the chicken coop to our vehicle. Jen had provided us with breadcrumbs, which the chickens gobbled up, (this turned into a daily occurrence/ritual).
The next day the kids, (they will always be kids), took us for a drive into the Bitterroot Mountains. Elk grazed in the pastures and bighorn sheep fed on high pastures, before later coming down to the road, to lick salt on the highway.
Both are into fitness and hiking and so we took a short hike. The next day Eric drove us to The Metcalf Wildlife Refuge. There we took a longer hike and enjoyed the warm temperatures and birding opportunities. Right away we got a picture of an American Goldfinch singing from the top if a tall tree.
A savannah sparrow serenaded us, and we spotted a western bluebird. As we neared the Bitterroot River, an osprey flew over and two mallards jumped from a small pond. Buffalo Head ducks worked the other bank of the river and at one-point turkeys paraded in their spring display ritual. The highlight of the hike was when we neared three red tail hawks.
They were each perched atop a tall ponderosa pine tree and were calling one another. They all flew from their perches and circled as as they competed for a female’s attention, (The shot was just after the hawk took off and is the best hawk picture I have ever taken).
After the hike we stopped at a large antique store, but I was not impressed with the few rocks they had for sale. We also stopped at an antique store. They did offer a couple of stone axe heads but with no provenance, they were just rocks with grooves and overpriced. A third day we walked the downtown area. Shopping is definitely not Erics favorite thing but at one farm store chickens were for sale and Jen gazed long fully at the little chicks, hm. The kids are in the process of building a new house on an acre of land and we think a flock of chickens may be in their future. Enough for now. It is snowing here in Wyoming so we will finish writing about our visit in the next blog. Clear skies