Friday, 17 May 2013

Part 3: Day 2 at YNP - Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin

We awoke fairly early to bright blue skies and stunning views!! I stepped outside onto the balcony with my pyjamas on and wasn't the least bit chilly. My ears were filled with foreign bird song and my eyes were indulged with a spectacular panoramic landscape.

I created this using an on-line site which incorporated 3 of my photos

The tap water stunk of sulphur so we all put off showering etc for as long as possible! In the mean time I spent some time watching a hawk that was sat in a tree the other side of the cabin. It was just that little bit too far away to get a clear shot. After some deliberation we decided it was probably another red-tailed hawk which seem to be as common as kestrels around here! It sat on its perch until we set off for YNP once again! However before we headed off, Mum and Auntie cooked us scrambled egg for breakfast in order to keep us going! While this was happening I spotted a small browny coloured bird atop a tree a fair distance away. It helpfully started preening, revealing a blue underwing and rump. I instantly knew this was a female Mountain Bluebird! Before this trip and before studying the Birds of North America book, we had probably thought a bluebird to be somewhat fictional! I called Mum and Auntie out to have a look and they both agreed that my classification was correct. Then a small grey coloured bird flitted down and perched on a bush right in front of us! I took a few quick photos so I could identify this bird later as my Auntie simultaneously noticed a male mountain bluebird! These are much more impressive than the females I am afraid to say. I used the time it took to drive to Yellowstone to try and identify the mystery grey coloured bird. There were a number of birds it looked similar to but none which exactly fitted the bill. I have left it until today to do a bit more research and I have found that it was a Townsend's Solitaire!! 

Red-tailed hawk

Female mountain bluebird (Siália currucoídes)
Male mountain bluebird (Siália currucoídes)

Male mountain bluebird

Townsend's solitaire (Myadéstes tównsendi)
Townsend's solitaire

Townsend's solitaire

 Our first stop of the day was Mammoth Hot Springs. This is an area that was created thousands of years ago by hot spring water cooling and depositing calcium carbonate over this hilly terrain. The substance which was formed is called travertine and hot springs still run over this surface. The hot water that trickles down the side of this incredible structures originates from Norris Geyser Basin after passing underground via a fault line. This fault line runs though limestone and this is the source of the calcium carbonate which forms the travertine. Many of the pools are tinted in various colours which is due to different algae being present in warm water.

Okay geography lesson over, here are a few photos of this interesting geological area...

We saw this beautiful violet-green swallow as we were walking to the next hot spring walkway. (The photos don't really do it justice!)

Violet-green swallow (Tachycinéta thalassína)

Palette Spring

We saw a small bird previous to this part of the walkway but it was scared away by noisy tourists, luckily we encountered it again. At first it looked a bit like an elongated ringed plover. After referring to Auntie Ruth's trusty bird book I identified it immediately as a Killdeer.

Killdeer (Charádrius vocíferus)


Killdeer feeding


On route from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Geyser Basin we made a stop or two on the way...

Common raven (Córvus córax)

Common raven on its perch

Snow and Sagebrush sp.

Our first encounter with a smelly, bubbling, sulphur spring!

We arrived at the Norris area and set off on one of the self-guided walks. If I were to describe the walk in three words they would be smelly, fascinating and peculiar!!

The information board described this bizarre terrain nicely: "You are close to a world of heat and gases where microorganisms live in such massive numbers they add colour to the landscape. This strange, beautiful place is on the edge of a giant volcano - the Yellowstone Volcano - one of the largest on earth."

We made our way around and these are some of the highlights:

Emerald Spring

The Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser, however the last time it erupted to its full height, of over 300 feet, was May 2005. The geysers in the Norris basin are well known for being unpredictable so any of them could erupt at any time.

Steamboat Geyser - We witnessed small bursts of steam and boiling hot water

Cistern Spring

Blue mud steam vent

Porcelain Basin

From the Norris area we carried on driving to find the Artist's paint pots. We had decided that we were not going to drive down to Old Faithful. This iconic geyser erupts reliably once every 90 minutes (+/- a few minutes) and although it is the most well known geyser in Yellowstone we had heard that it wasn't the most impressive! One day when I return to this amazing place I may go and decide for myself, but because we had a limited amount of time we wanted to do different things, rather than the obvious things.

Artist's Paintpot

Orange and red 'paint'

Gloopy white 'paint'

 We were all starting to feel a bit peckish so we headed back along the road we came. We pulled in a couple of places as usual, and this landscape just looked so wonderfully colourful that I had to get a snap of it. There were a couple of other people there, who said they were keeping an eye out for a beaver who had a lodge on the edge of the river. I had a look with my bins... and blow me down I spotted it!!! I just quickly got a photo of it before it swam further along and out of sight. It was a shame it didn't stick around for longer!

Spot the North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)

Spot the Beaver lodge!!

We carried on our way again, constantly taking in our surroundings and keeping our eyes peeled for birds, bears and bighorn sheep! Mum caught a glimpse of a couple of large birds flapping around in the marshy area. Chloe, once again did a fantastic job of screeching to a halt and finding a place to pull over! We stayed in the car and bird watched through the open window! After watching them for 5 minutes or so and taking a few photos, we carried on in the direction of Gardiner. My Mum, Auntie and I flicked through the book and came to the conclusion that they were Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill cranes (Grús canadénsis)

Sandhill cranes

We stopped for a bite to eat at the Iron horse Bar and Grille in Gardiner before going to the shop to get a few supplies and then heading back to the cabin.

Another day packed full of marvellous landscapes and unexpected wildlife. I settled down that evening with a bottle of Bridgeport Blue Heron Pale Ale while I wrote up the days activities in my diary. Perfect!

I hope you have enjoyed reading the 3rd part of my amazing trip, pop back soon for the final instalment and see what our last day had to offer!


  1. Absolutely fascinating!

    What hasnt that place got!? Some wonderful photos Lou, of what looks to be a wonderful place! Putting it on my places to visit list!

    I love the bluebird - it does not look real!


  2. It has EVERYTHING!! You should! I am certainly planning to go back!