Friday, September 7, 2007

Of Goshawks and Wolves

[Black wolf, September 6, 2007, a member of the Agate Creek pack, Yellowstone National Park. Click to enlarge all photos. Photo by Don Freiday - digiscoped at 20 power.]

The NJAS Greater Yellowstone Ecosytem tour continues - though we have seen no Say's Phoebes, in fact we haven't found a single flycatcher of any description. They all seem to have cleared out of the high country. But other species have been occupying the tour's attention. . .

On Thursday we began our day with a rainy, misty drive east and then north along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. An immature Northern Goshawk emerged from the dense woods in front of us as we drove, perched briefly, and disappeared like the ghosts goshawks are. Remarkably, not a mile farther on an adult goshawk sped across the road, showing gray a little darker than one might expect thanks to the rain. Unfortunately, not all participants were able to glimpse this forest predator.

A Brown Creeper entertained us during our rest stop at Fishing Creek, as did an unfortunately tame Coyote. We drove up the Hayden Valley, pausing at length below LeHardy Rapids to watch a very cooperative American Dipper as well as two adult and one immature Bald Eagles and a flotilla of fishing Common Mergansers. LeHardy's Harlequin Ducks seemed to have left for their wintering grounds on the Pacific Coast.

[This Mountain Bluebird watched us watching 7 of the members of the Agate Creek wolf pack. Photo by Don Freiday.]

After viewing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from several points, we pressed on to Mount Washburn, scanning for mammals and rewarded by Steller's Jays, western Red-tailed Hawks, and numerous Clark's Nutcrackers. On the south slope of Mount Washburn we hit paydirt in the form of the Agate Creek wolf pack - remarkably, we could see several wolves naked eye, CLOSE in wolf terms. A big black wolf crossed the valley below us, and at least 7 other animals including a white wolf slept under pines across the valley. Bull and cow elk were visible in the distance, as well. This was a true trip highlight.

Tower Falls held no Bighorn Sheep, but a sleeping Mule Deer and a close Steller's Jay were consolations. As we closed in on the Lamar Valley, we watched and photographed a Red Fox hunting in a meadow.

[Huge grizzly, probably a male, foraging in the Lamar Valley, September 7, 2007. Digiscoped at 20 power by Don Freiday.]

The Lamar Valley needed no consolations at all. After pausing to view and photograph a marvelous Pronghorn buck, we paused at an overlook and found a pack of five Coyotes hunting together. We spotted a huge Grizzly and an attending crowd of watchers farther up the valley, and watched this magnificent animal from a respectful distance for quite some time. A rest stop at Pebble Creek yielded two Golden Eagles soaring over the ridge framing the north side of the valley, and farther east we located two Mountain Goats gleaming white on the gray cliffs.

We reached Cooke City a little after 6 p.m. - perhaps "city" should be in quotes since there is only one main street - where we dined at Soda Butte Lodge, where the saying "if you're in cow country, eat cow" was never more apt. I remarked that living in Cape May might spoil one on seafood, but it is fine indeed to enjoy a good steak now and again!

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