I leave Bozeman at 8AM. Itís a gorgeous 62 degrees.
The plan is for me to meet Doug Dance and his mom, Helen, in Gardiner around 1PM. I have mostly clear skies, a few clouds forming in the east. Itís very green this time of year, and everything is astonishingly beautiful.
The scenery is spectacular along the way, and the river looks high Ė itís been a long time since Iíve seen the area in the blush of green up.
I see horses in pastures, llamas, lush grass; willows are exploding with leaves, and the mountains look beautiful with lots of snow up top. Many ponds of standing water. My first wildlife are pronghorn just north of Yankee Jim.
Stopped at Wildflour Bakery (thank you, Becky & Chloe!) and hear a meadowlark! Iím through the arch at 9:38, my fastest time ever. The Gardiner River is higher than I have EVER seen it. Just roaring down.
I visit with Allison. I see the usual elk in Mammoth and lots of people. As I approach the High Bridge I see lots of cars stopped, so I join them. Turns out to be a bear sighting! In fact, itís the bear called Quad mom because she had four cubs of the year, three years ago. This year she has three little darlings. I get out my scope and have a wonderful time watching her. She and her cubbies roam here and there, over the rolling hills where I have often seen elk. Hmm, she could be looking for calves I suppose.
Her cubs follow her but also find time for wrestling. Several cubs climb a tree; one in particular goes pretty high up, now he canít figure out how to get down so he just drops and lands on a sibling. Oh! That didnít go over very well. Lots of squabbling and shrieking.
I watch this bear family for over an hour and then mom sits down to nurse them. Awww. How sweet! I share my scope of course. Afterwards, she flops down on her side and the little ones curl up with her, napping, too.
I head further east and stop at Blacktail Ponds to listen to the yellow headed black birds (4). I also see geese, a meadowlark, lots of bison and a stalking coyote.
The Park is busy, but not quite as crowded as I had prepared myself for. Last time I was her was in March, when itís quite empty! At the moment there is a third lake here (or maybe thatís normal Ė I have usually only seen two). I see many bison babies, and some of the adults seem to have sinter on them, which turns their coats gray. Most are quite shaggy, in the midst of losing their winter coats.
I head back west and find the bears are still asleep. I watch a bit, then go on to Gardiner and check in at the Super 8. Once that is complete, I head over to the Inn to see Doug.
I hear about their adventures since Saturday, when we had dinner in Chico with Kevin (Veronica had to back out due to an unfortunate stomach flu). We also saw Frank A there - on his way for a soak after a hike. Doug shows me many new images on his computer which he hopes to use for his latest book Ė he thinks he will call it The Magic of Yellowstone. He takes such gorgeous photos!
By prior arrangement, I follow him through the Park towards Sheepeater Cliffs. He wants me to see an area just off the beaten path where he has found pikas. Alas, none of them show up while we are there, but we do find skeeters aplenty!
When we return to the picnic area we find the resident marmots playing their usual game of peek-a-boo. We also see a golden-mantled ground squirrel (different from a chipmunk) and a least chipmunk. Then we see two flying critters neither of us have ever seen in the park, a pidgeon (yes) and a bat. Not sure what kind, but small.
There is still a lot of snow in Swan Lake Flats and itís quite windy. At the big turnout we find geese, ducks, elk and several sandhill cranes. This is their nesting time. Both Antler and Electric look very nice with their bright snow caps and green sides.
For dinner tonight we try something new Ė the Lighthouse restaurant, originally run by the Church Universal & Triumphant. Not any more, though. The food was very good Ė Iíd call it Asian fusion. The waiters are all Ukranians without the slightest idea how to be waiters but still friendly and good-hearted and the price was reasonable.
We decide to head east to see what we can see. On our way through Mammoth, Doug points out a female elk with antler stubs. Hmmm. At Undine falls we see a mule deer doe and yearling. The yearling is quite small and very cute.
Iím pleased to see the amount of water in the Park at this time of year. Phantom Lake is actually a Lake! Christmas Bear is a lake. Floating Island Lake isÖwell of course. We see another mule deer family on the lakeshore there, and Doug points out a Sandhill crane nest in the reedy lake to the east. Itís hard to spot but I finally see it.
There are ponds at Junction Butte, Curve lot and Boulder Pond pullout. We stop in Little America a while to watch a bison herd. Doug was hoping to shoot some bison calf action but unfortunately, they all seem pooped. We see some pronghorn, too.
Itís 64 degrees but for some reason feels a LOT colder.
We are now heading back west, watching a great sunset as we go. We have a black bear off the road at Elk Creek, causing quite a jam! At Christmas bear there is a beautiful bull elk in velvet, and four more mule deer at Wraith Falls. We arrive back in Gardiner and I check in at the Super 8 for the night.
TODAY I SAW: a bat, a black bear, 4 yellow-headed blackbirds, 4 grizzlies (including 3 coy), bison, a least chipmunk, 1 coyote, 5 sandhill cranes, mule deer, ducks, elk, geese, 2 marmots, a meadowlark, a pigeon, pronghorn, a golden-mantled ground squirrel, and the spirit of Allison.