Winter is not a season, it’s a celebration.
Melissa had another wonderful educator workshop to Yellowstone last month with plenty of extraordinary sightings including a Pygmy Owl, Ermine, and a Bobcat feeding on a Mule Deer carcass (jealous, me??). We planned for her to take some time off afterward and have some friends join us for a week in our favorite winter wonderland. I went out a few days before that group arrived so we could scout things out and hang out with some our friends that live near the park. I’ll post some of our highlights here and add another post on our friend’s group trip next time.
Snow amounts were a little more than in some of my previous trips. The slopes surrounding Lamar Valley were stunning under a brilliant blue sky (click photos to enlarge)
Pronghorn, and many other ungulates, migrate to lower elevations near Gardiner (the north entrance to the park) in winter. This year has seen huge numbers of Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and Pronghorn congregate in the sagebrush flats along the Yellowstone River. The drive along the Old Yellowstone Trail between Corwin Springs and Gardiner yielded great views of large numbers of animals.
One of many Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep rams hanging out on the Old Yellowstone Trail. Though the peak of their rut is in December, this guy was pursuing a ewe in this classic pose.
A nice bull Elk has pawed through the snow to feed on grass. Melissa noticed that Elk feeding pits typically had sharper edges and little mini-cliffs to them compared to the more jumbled bulldozed appearance where Bison use their massive heads to plow through the snow.
This same Elk hung around Phantom Lake throughout the duration of our trip, seen here browsing on willow twigs just below the road. He caused several traffic jams during our stay.
A small herd of Rocky Mountain Goats on the slopes of Barronette Peak in the northeastern part of the park. This peak is the best place to find this non-native species, but snow cover can make it challenging. Photo taken with an iPhone mounted to a spotting scope.
A light snow (ice crystals really) was creating a diamond-like dusting in the sky behind us while watching the goats
— Melissa’s educator workshop did not see wolves during their trip, so we felt a little guilty finding members of the Rescue Creek pack during our first couple of days. We heard howls and then a nearby guide shared that he had seen them surround a bison and perhaps take it down This was at a distance of about 2 miles through a spotting scope. The carcass seemed to be down in a ravine and the wolves would periodically come up to the ridge line where they were visible.
Another scope/iPhone video…
— On one of our many trips through Lamar Valley, we spotted a Raven about 1/4 mile out from the road acting oddly – jumping up and flapping its wings, and then grabbing at something in the snow. It turned out to be a dead duck. We could only guess as to how the duck ended up so far from the river – perhaps an eagle dropped it?
Melissa had discovered a new snowshoe hike near Pebble Creek in her workshop. We snowshoed in one afternoon and were rewarded with some wonderful surprises…
An American Thee-toed Woodpecker was busy pecking away at the bark of a conifer searching for insects and seemed oblivious to our presence. This, and the Black-backed Woodpecker, differ from all other North American woodpecker species in having only three toes (instead of four) and lacking red feathers. This woodpecker is associated closely with spruce forests and nests farther north than any other North American woodpecker. I can’t recall seeing this species before so this was a treat.
The highlight of this hike for me was when we paused to watch some birds and we both heard a noise behind us. I thought it was some ice cracking on the nearby stream edge, but Melissa quickly spotted the source – a nice bull Moose.
He was feeding on aspen branches, reaching high to snap off twig tips.
He then stuck his enormous snout into the snow and pulled up some hidden vegetation.
While we watched the one bull, I spotted another coming down the hill and headed our way. This was another bull that had recently dropped its antlers (most drop them in December and January). You can see the whitish pedicel where one of the antlers was attached to the skull. We stayed still and this moose walked across the path where we were headed and wandered off into the trees. We slowly snowshoed along the trail and the first bull eventually made his way behind us to join the other moose.
— I’ll leave you with some video shot by Melissa of this magnificent bull Moose browsing on aspen twigs – a privilege to witness such wild beauty.
Beautiful photos and what amazing sightings. Yellowstone is a special place, for sure.
Thanks, Deb. More on our adventure coming in a few days!
Looking forward to that!
Beautiful material. Thank you for enriching my day. Blessings.
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Great adventure thanks for the videos.
Wonderful photos and video, Mike! I look forward to hearing stories and seeing more photos and movies! Laurie
Lovely photos and video! Every year when I see Melissa’s trip being advertised in the NCEE listserv, I wish I could participate! I am planning a trip to Yellowstone and Jackson this September after many years of wishing.
That’s great, Carrie…you’ll love it.
a wonderful adventure!
Looks like you had a great trip! We go there every couple of years but never in the winter. So much to see…
You should consider a winter trip…a magical time of year.