I just finished instructing a three day class at the Institute titled "Yellowstone prepares for Winter". Of all the classes I've taught over the years, this was the most complete group I've ever had. Not a slacker among them, and as it turned out, we needed that fortitude.
Day 1 began on the heels of the worst early winter snowstorm in 25 years. The heavy wet snow ripped hundreds of limbs from trees, all over the park. As we hiked into a beaver lodge in Chinese Gardens, two trees had limbs crash to the ground as we walked by.
We had hoped to see if the beavers had muddied up their lodge (which would then freeze like concrete) in preparation for winter. But the lodge and dam were buried in 8" of snow. We did pass by a nice bull elk that appeared to have it's nose injured in the just finished rut and had a bald eagle fly low just above us.
Day 2 The storm continued, so we headed to my cabin to watch winter birds. Along the way, we stopped to check on the work of beavers at the Confluence. While we were examining what appeared to be the beginning of a dam, an ermine suddely appeared below us. For the next ten minutes, the little fella hunted the snow covered rocks lining the bank. On to the east, we came upon a coyote pup yapping to some unseen companion to the north. At Pebble Creek a family of coyotes hunted in Round Prairie.
We spent the afternoon hiking to a bear den last used in 2012. Along the way we examined a large bighorn ram skull. It seemed every douglas fir we passed had several limbs laying on the ground brought down by the heavy snow. On the way home, we observed hundred of elk migrating out of Lamar Valley.
Day 3 Still spitting snow and colder. We returned to my cabin for a program. Along the way we watched a pair of golden eagles. Hopefully I even got a shot for the Eagle book. Late morning we climbed up through the snow to the pika colony above our house. We were able to see the grass piles put up by the little pikas, but the weather kept them hidden in the rocks. There were tracks of marten, ermine and foxes criss-crossing the snow covered colony.
For the most part, we accomplished what we wanted. As usual, it was the unexpected wildlife sightings that really made the class special.