|Clark's nutcracker (Nucífraga columbiána)|
|Female mountain bluebird collecting nesting material|
|Male mountain bluebird - from this photo it is difficult to see how blue he is against the blue sky!|
After delicious pancakes we packed up the car and said goodbye to our lovely, homely cabin. The resident red-tailed hawk moved from its perch and circled above us briefly before we went on our way.
|Red-tailed hawk plus surprise bank or tree swallow. Not clear enough to identify.|
We stood and admired this fantastic waterfall for a while and wondered if the huge snow shelf in the bottom left of the photo might be on the brink of collapse. We pondered whether people watched it 24/7 to capture the moment when this huge hunk of snow dramatically plunged into the river below!!
Unfortunately our time was limited and we decided to make our way back to the car. Before we reached the path a large dark flapping bird caught our attention. It was perched atop a tall column of rock on what appeared to be a rather precariously built nest. This was not just any nest. It was in fact the nest of an Osprey!!!!
|Osprey on nest in red circle. Photo taken at focal length 70mm|
|Osprey (Pandíon haliáetus)|
Person 1: What do you think they are watching?
Person 2: It's just a rock.
Well silly people, more fool you!
We carried on to the car and had our lunch then set off towards Yellowstone lake. We briefly stopped at Artist's point which looked back towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I noticed a large bird of prey soaring in the valley and after following it with my bins I decided it was an Osprey. Maybe it was the same one from the nest, or the other half of the pair. I was just delighted that I had seen one in flight too!!
We drove through The Hayden Valley, an area known for wildlife. The road wound alongside the Yellowstone river, creating a wonderfully picturesque drive. The more of this vast place we saw, the more it made me sad that we were leaving in a few hours.
|Meandering Yellowstone River|
One bird that we really hoped to see while we were away was an Osprey and we were banking on our sighting being around the lake. Luckily we were fortunate enough to see them at Canyon, otherwise we would have gone home slightly, only slightly, disappointed. We hoped to walk one of the self guided trails near the lake, however the road was still shut, as were a few of the more remote ones, due to snow and road repairs. The walk was around Pelican creek and the guide told of pelicans, great blue herons, ospreys and other water loving birds. Anyway we carried on driving a little way and drove in the direction of the lake. When we saw it we understood why the roads and walks weren't open... the lake was still completely frozen over!!
|Our first view of the Yellowstone lake.... Frozen! Still!!|
We were a bit naughty and ignored the sign just so we could go nearer the edge and see the lake more clearly. I set off to walk through the snow expecting it to be a couple of inches thick. I was wrong. Would have been a classic 'you've been framed' moment as the snow was knee deep and I fell over in it. Snow in my walking boot brrrrr!!
|Unidentified flying ducks|
With a long drive back to Billings, the time came to say goodbye to this wonderful wilderness. Our wildlife sightings for the trip were ones which will never be forgotten and the drive back towards Gardiner still brought us more surprises! After drinking the delicious Blue Heron pale ale I had kind of hoped we might see a great blue heron... I spotted one just as we turned a corner and once again Chloe made a swift U-turn and drove back the other way and parked up. I crept down the verge and there it was!! I was ecstatic! I crept a little closer so I could see this beautiful bird a little closer. I had nearly given up hope of seeing this bird. I am glad I kept my eyes peeled!!
|Great blue heron (Árdea heródias)|
As we drove past otter creek James spotted one! Another addition to our mammals list! We stopped to have a little look. Wasn't as shy as our otters over here. Another bird which we had hoped to see was the Trumpeter swan and when mum spotted some swan sized birds Chloe parked up again. the light wasn't great and they were all facing the wrong way! I took a few photos which I hoped I could use to identify when we got home. I have decided that they were indeed Trumpeter swans so another great bird to add to our list!
|North American river otter (Lontra canadensis)|
|Trumpeter Swan (Cýgnus buccinátor)|
Before we reached Gardiner, one last species of mammal was sighted by Auntie Clare high up on the steep sides of the rocky foothill. This species Mum and Auntie had been looking out for the entire trip. It was of course the Bighorn Sheep. Their horns weren't at their largest but they still looked impressive.
|Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)|
We sadly left the park for the last time and made the 2 hour journey back to Billings. We stopped off to have dinner and then went back to the hotel. We flew home the next day.
That concludes my series of blog posts about the most amazing trip to Billings and Yellowstone National Park. We never expected to see so much in the time we were there, so all our expectations were exceeded!
Special thanks to James and Chloe who drove us everywhere!