Yellowstone Reports

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Guest Writer

Joe Allen
by Dan Hartman

Oct. 4, 2019

August Trip Report-Yellowstone Never Disappoints

Earth Spirit Educational Services, a small, western New York non-profit environmental education organization travels to Yellowstone and the Beartooth Mountains twice a year, in August and December.  Our mission is to experientially educate and inspire outdoor oriented adults to the wonders of the Rocky Mountain West.   This is a report from two days of our August 2019 excursion. 

August 16, 0530. Lamar Valley, Dorothy’s Pullout 

A very large bull bison, dead from injuries while sparring with rivals during the rut, is spotted by our group’s “super spotter” in the dim light of dawn and familiar ground fog in the Lamar Valley.  It is about 500m away. Having much experience with “carcass watching,” we train our scopes on the fallen warrior.  Like has happened countless times before, we expect “feeding frenzy greatness” here today.  But nothing! All day-nothing! So, we decided to hike up to the Rose Creek wolf pen, reliving the wolf re-introductory past.  Never disappointed by Yellowstone, we spot myriads of small mammals, birds and attempt to identify many of the plants along the trail. There are several places along the trail and creek where the aspens and cottonwoods have regrown, presenting us with a mixed-age stand, brimming with a stratified diversity of birds.  As with tradition, we dunk our heads in Rose Creek. 

August 17, 0515.  Lamar Valley near the Buffalo Ranch

Moonlit morning, quiet, one other “watcher” at our pullout.  As we set up our scopes, we are interrupted by growls, grunts and other “bear sounds” coming from near the river’s edge; we train our eyes on where we remembered the deceased bison.  Too dark.  We occasionally get a whiff of the dead bison, having “cured” in the previous day’s heat.  We’re looking southward toward the bison, the wind, along with the “fragrance” of death, is gently blowing in our faces.  I instruct several in our group to keep an eye out behind us, up into the hills to our backs.  Being downwind from the carcass is not necessarily a safe place.  At around 0535, there is just enough light to discern the carcass where we see three grizzlies, each vying for a time to scavenge at the bison.  As light becomes brighter, two of the grizzlies wander across the Lamar River and uphill from the carcass.  We glass westward and see the “Slough Creek Grizzly” sow with her two blondish cubs.  She is moving judiciously, sensing the presence of large boars in the area.  Eventually, she makes her way to the carcass occupied by a large boar griz.  To our great surprise, he allows her and her cubs to snack on the bison. As we watch the cautiously feeding cubs, several members of the Junction Butte wolf pack appear, patiently waiting to feed, not willing to attempt dissuading the four bears. The boar then appears to have lost patience with the sow and cubs.  Mutual growls and body posturing send the sow and cubs on their way.  The boar, too, gorged on the bison meat, soon leaves, allowing the wolves to move in and feed leisurely on the ripened carcass, pulling off large chunks and “savoring the goodness” a short distance away.  Almost as soon as they arrive, they leave, allowing coyotes, who were observed up the hill to move in. As always it seems, the ravens and magpies relentlessly sneak in for a morsel. Finding a carcass of a fallen ungulate is always a “plus” when looking for predators in Yellowstone.  From wildlife spotting on the Beartooth with Dan, to fly fishing on the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, to breakfasts at the Roosevelt, to osprey and otter watching along the Lamar, to sitting through bison jams, to raptor watching in the canyons, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem never disappoints.