trip report day 8

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    Posted by michael in tucson ( on October 03, 2005 at 15:12:27:

    In Reply to: Finally, ancient trip report done Day 7 posted by michael in tucson on October 03, 2005 at 15:09:04:

    6-5-05 Day 8

    I’m on my own this AM, and the day begins in strong ungulate fashion. Four mule deer, two does and two yearlings, greet me as I open the cabin door. Three more are waiting near the park entrance, again all does. I stop in the gathering light to watch a cow moose at Warm Creek. A little further west there is two big bull moose, nearly in the same spot that we saw the moose cow and calf last night. These guys already have some very impressive antlers, some of the biggest I have seen this time of year. I stop and watch as they work their way through the vegetation, carefully picking out only those pieces that they want this morning. In the relative safety of the car, I consider the size of these animals and review in my brain, do not ever hit one with a car. Further west in the large meadow along Soda Butte Creek, there is again a large herd of cow and yearling elk. Several of the male yearlings are already sporting single tine antlers. Just past the Pebble Creek Trailhead eleven mule deer does and yearlings cross single file in front of me. The big bull elk are out at the west end of Round Prairie, moving through the foggy mist near the tree line. I stop again as three heavily antlered bull elk cross the road in front of me in Soda Butte East. The ungulate parade concludes with a large herd of bison cows, calves and yearlings crossing the road in front of me just west of the confluence. I roll down the window, relax and listen to bison vocalizations.

    At Slough I climb the hill and find Emily and Mike. Not much wolf action so far but they have been watching a grizzly sow with two yearling cubs. The bears are working their way downhill and going up the creek. It appears that the bears are looking for elk calves. The sow stands up on her back legs several times checking out the area. I lose sight of the sow and one cub, but can follow their progress with the other cub. They are moving toward the campground. Now, I loose sight of all three bears but I can track them by watching all of the cars stop along the road. Lots of people are getting out and viewing. The bears are on one side of the creek and the people on the other. From my vantage point on the hill, it looks like a lot of people getting pretty close to a grizz with cubs.

    Since I can’t see the bears, I quickly grow tired of watching people watching bears and go back to looking for wolves. Only the alpha female is currently visible and she is resting. While watching the alpha female I also check on the bears, and they are now visible. They have moved further from the people and I can easily watch them with the scope. The sow is carrying a dead elk calf and the cubs are following. She drops the calf and moves away giving the cubs a chance to feed. They get started immediately. One cub grabs the calf by the head and the other grabs onto the hindquarters. Elk legs bobble around in the scope as the cubs begin to eat. The sow has sat down on a nearby hillside keeping an eye on both the cubs and probably the people. There is activity at the wolf den site, so I swing the scope back there.

    At first three pups are visible and then it is an explosion of puppies. The alpha female is in the middle of it all and she has brought a bone with her. I am able to count eleven puppies as they swarm around “mom”, or at least the mom of some of them. She now leads the pups up the hill to the crescent rock. After stopping to play with each other and any other “toy” they can find they again follow the alpha female up the hill toward the diagonal forest. This is a route I have watched them traverse before. There are two other adults, now also visible, a black yearling and a gray yearling. It is time for me to head back to Silver Gate, but first another look at the bears. The cubs are still eating. There is a large raptor in a tree nearby, it looks like a hawk, and there is a golden eagle on the ground near one of the cubs as it feeds. As I leave at 8:35, both the bears and wolves are still in sight and active. The drive back is quiet. I stop and pick up Karlie and Hayden and we go to breakfast at the Beartooth Café.

    After breakfast everyone wants to head into the park so off we go. Yesterday, while visiting with some people at Baronnette Peak, they told me about the colony of pikas they had seen at Soda Butte cone. While I was skeptical of the info, we decided to stop and check it out. As expected it was a colony of Uinta ground squirrels, but for Hayden it didn’t really matter, he had a great time with the squirrels. For some adults the ground squirrels are ubiquitous, even if they are a key to the food web, not so for the young children. For the kids they remain just plain fun. So all you adults take some time and watch the ground squirrels, if nothing else you might get to hear a child laugh. What could be better? We also explored the backside of the cone, and viewed the big dark cave area. Hayden made me promise that next year we will bring a big flashlight so that we can see into the cave.

    In Little America, we pull over to watch a large herd of bison cows, young bison and calves. The windows come down so that we can listen and watch. This is one of Hayden’s favorite Yellowstone experiences and he lets us know what is happening, especially with the red dogs. We decide to go and walk the Self-Guiding Nature Trail. We have seen ground squirrels here before so off we go. Near Phantom Lake we stop for a short time and watch a lone black phase black bear. There are quite a few people but the bear just goes about its business looking for food. There are only a few ground squirrels at the beginning of the boardwalk for the nature trail, but Hayden is having a great time anyway. He has us read all of the information boards to him, and insists on walking the entire boardwalk, even the short loops. There are lots of birds to watch and the occasional ground squirrel appears and disappears to his delight. About half way through the walk, we find some ladybugs and Hayden lets one of them slowly walk around on him. Near the end of the trail we spot a ground squirrel with three small babies. I have seen lots of Uinta ground squirrels in Yellowstone, but this is the first time I have seen babies. We want to stay and watch longer but it is now windy and getting ready to rain. Hayden was able to walk the entire trail, quite an accomplishment.

    By now we could all use a nap, so we head back toward the cabin. Along Elk Creek we spot some white tail deer, the first we have seen this year. It is raining as we drive through the Lamar. At Warm Creek a cow moose is standing in the rain as she eats. At the cabin we all take a needed nap.

    After our naps we head to Cooke City for dinner. Not much is open. We end up at Buns and Beds and have some excellent barbecue and sandwiches. By the time we get back to Silver Gate it is again raining and looks very stormy. We decide to stay in and start to pack for tomorrow, when we leave the northern range and head to the southern part of the park for a couple of days. I get bored with packing quickly and set up the scope to look for sheep and goats in the mountains around Silver Gate.

    I find two sheep, a ewe and probably a yearling. They are on the same mountain where I watched sheep yesterday and I believe that they are two of the same sheep. There is some distance between them so I swing back and forth and then I get a surprise. A tiny lamb stands up next to the ewe and starts nursing. If this is the same ewe from yesterday, she did not have the lamb. I am watching a tiny newborn. It’s exciting. I get Karlie so she can watch and wish that Hayden could see it, but when I hold him up to the scope, no luck. I do share the find and scope with a father and his two sons, who are from Argentina. They are as excited as I am. The lamb finishes nursing and begins to run, jump and bounce all over the rock face. At times I find myself, actually holding my breath because I am sure the lamb is going to fall and die. Thankfully, it does not. It does wear itself out and has to lie down for a bit, and then it is back up and running. The mother spends all of this time contentedly eating. I watch until it is too dark to see anymore, pack up the scope and go inside to make a picnic lunch for tomorrow. I finish helping Karlie with packing up and then it is time for bed. Tomorrow morning will be my last in Lamar for another year.

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