Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Part 2: First day in Yellowstone National Park - The day of the mammals!

With rising excitement, we set off on our holiday within a holiday!! We had packed smaller bags with various assortments of clothing as we had no idea what the weather would bring! Gloves, scarf, hat and swimwear (just in case we wanted to have a swim in the boiling river!) none of which were required. It was a fairly short drive considering we would be crossing states from Montana to Wyoming. Our journey was wonderfully picturesque with snowcapped mountains surrounding us all the way. As we zoomed along the freeway or interstate or whatever you call it, we saw many birds of prey perched on fence posts. If in the UK, these would most likely be buzzards, however these could have been a number of species.

By the time we arrived at the entrance the weather was warm and I was not dressed appropriately - black jeans! We all got out and set up the self timer on the camera so we could have a group photo with the sign...

After driving for only 10 minutes we encountered our first American bison! We had read quite a bit about the mammals and birds which we were likely to see but we didn't realise that we would see quite so many animals! Some of the bison were huge! There are many signs warning visitors that bison, bears and wolves are dangerous and the distance you should keep from these wild creatures.

American bison (Bison bison)

We carried on driving from Mammoth Hot Springs towards Tower Roosevelt and stopped at several pull in points along the way. Other birds and mammals we saw and which I managed to photograph include....

Canada geese (Bránta canadénsis)

Elk (Cervus canadensis)

Red-tailed hawk (Búteo jamaicénsis)

Barrow's goldeneye (Bucéphala albéola)
Either a Uinta ground squirrel or a Wyoming ground squirrel (Urocitellus armatus/Urocitellus elegans)
Other sightings included yellow-bellied marmots, mule deer, pronghorn, mallard, american coot, common raven, black-billed magpie and a bird of prey which I am pretty sure was a swainson's hawk.

We had been travelling along this splendid route for quite a while, avoiding bison and their calves as we went. Once we reached Tower Roosevelt we carried on Eastwards along the Lamar valley. It was along this stretch of road that we noticed a lot of people standing with binoculars, scopes and cameras all pointing in one direction. We stopped and asked what they were looking at. I couldn't believe my ears when he said "a mother grizzly and her one year old cubs"!!! He said that they had just gone out of sight but he had his scope positioned on a bald eagle nest! I was soo happy! We all had a look through his scope and I found a landmark nearby and pointed my camera in that direction. It was really far away and my 300mm lens wasn't really up to the job. I had circled the bald eagle nest in the photo below.

Two bald eagles (Haliaéetus leucocéphalus)

Then all of a sudden someone spotted the grizzly bears!! Bill focused his scope on the mother and cubs and let everyone look! This was possibly one of the best days of my life!! As the 3 bears meandered down the slope towards the river I managed to find them using my bins. Eventually they were close enough to see with our bare eyes! The photos I managed to take below are quite heavily cropped but I think you can see fairly clearly that they are indeed grizzlys :)

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is also known as the silvertip bear or the North American brown bear and is a subspecies of the brown bear

This was taken at focal length 300mm so it shows how far away they were from us

Ground squirrel wondering what we are all looking at!

Chloe, James, Mum and Auntie all watching the fabulous bears!
 After a bit the bears turned around and headed back up the ridge. We had a final look at the bald eagles and headed on our way. Time was getting on and we needed to get to the cabin before it got dark so we stopped at the spot in the photo below and turned around.

Chloe took over the driving so James could have a nap. However his nap didn't last long... all of a sudden Mum shouted "moose!!!" and James woke up with a fright! Chloe reversed (very safely) back to a parking point (Soda Butte Creek) and we quickly and quietly walked back to the area it was spotted. Moose are very secretive creatures that manage to stay well camouflaged given their size.

Cow moose (Alces alces) hiding behind a very young, small tree!
Whilst crouching down hoping the moose would move into an area where I could get a better photograph of it, a small bird bobbed along the edge of the stream and then dipped into the water. An American dipper!!

American dipper (Cínclus mexicánus)
The light was beginning to fade so once again we tried to head in the direction of the north entrance at Gardiner, from which our cabin was about 20 minutes away. This was easier said than done. We picked the same time of day to travel down to lower ground as the bison were on their way to higher ground to find an area to sleep for the night. They were passing within a foot of the car and we were terrified the huge males would head-butt our vehicle! They caused quite a hold up of cars.

Bison adult and calf once they had moved out of the road

Once we had overcome this hurdle we seemed to be making some headway until.... Black bears!!! People were standing at the side of the road with their scopes and cameras and as I glanced up at the slope thick with trees I saw them! Chloe did another great job at speedily finding somewhere to pull over and we jumped out and had fantastic views of a mother with her year old cub. Could this day have got any better?!! Well we could have seen wolves too, but that is just being greedy!

American black bear (Ursus americanus) lens focal length 300mm so we were pretty close!

The sun started to set behind the huge mountains as we wound our way to our cabin. The Yellowstone river glimmered pink and orange in the evening sun. It wasn't an easy drive up the steep uneven road and at a few points it seemed like we were driving over the edge, but we made it there in one piece and WOW what a view from our balcony! The day had blown all our expectations and we were really excited to see what the next two days would bring!

To finish this instalment I shall share a few of the landscape and other general photos from the day :)

Window shot whilst driving to YNP

The ridge where we saw the grizzly bear mother and cubs

The view from our cabin balcony at dusk

That concludes my round up of day 1 at Yellowstone, come back soon to discover what else this fantastic place had to offer!! 


  1. :) we were pretty astounded!! The following days had a lot to live up to!

  2. Have you got more !? Looks like one amazing trip, and you got a hell of a lot done in the time you had!

    P.s. like the new lay-out :)

    1. I have indeed! I think that is always the way when you only have a short time somewhere - pack as much in as possible!!

      Thanks, thought it needed a change :)