Yellowstone Off SeasonRemember the little things
by Dan Hartman
Dec. 8, 2019What a great time to be in Yellowstone! We're between seasons, meaning visitation is as low as it gets all year.
Home projects and appointments gave us reason to drive thru the Park on three occassions last week. We saw the wildlife one would expect and hope for.
Wolves close and far. We watched the little bison calf struggle in the watery pit at Black-tail Ponds on Monday, and watched the wolves clean up on Wednesday.
Coyotes seemed to be abundant, as are foxes. Another good year for moose. Bull elk at Phantom. Mule deer buck near Hell Roaring. Lots of bison still in the valley. Eagles, both bald and golden. Bighorn and pronghorn up north.
But to be honest, spotting northern shrikes, townsends solitaires, dippers and flocks of waxwings and rosey finches got me just as excited. I even enjoyed watching a little muskrat.
Back when I first got started in photography, I was determined to cover the birds and mammals most people never noticed. The weasels and martens, little owls and hawks. Deep forest birds and alpine mammals, like pikas, mountain goats and pipits.
Problem was, I soon found people didn't relate to this type of wildlife. To make a living I photographed more well known wildlife like moose, elk, bears, and wolves, once they returned to Yellowstone.
Well, it's now been some 35 years and I've found myself returning more and more to the birds and mammals that got me excited in the beginning. difference is, now people seem to be interested in what I am doing. I'm not sure if it's just my passion or have people developed a wider view of wildlife.
Case in point, our book titled, "Pika Country" will be out early next year. Five years ago publishers felt there wasn't enough interest.
I personally feel every species story is one that needs to be heard. If we don't pay attention to the little things, we won't notice when they are gone.
So when I spotted a tiny pygmy owl near the high bridge, it made me smile. I hadn't seen a pygmy in the park since 2016. That year I was finding them almost every time I drove through. I figured I know of 6-10 nesting locations. So what made them disappear? Weather? Too dry? To much snow? Lack of prey? That seems unlikely since the little owls can attack both small mammals and small birds.
Hopefully 2016 was a boom and quite often that is followed by a recession. Now hopefully they are on their way back.
Soda Butte Moose
Mule Deer Buck
High Bridge Pygmy Owl