My first trip out west – 2002 – The Fauna

Trying to get in a post a day can sometime be daunting, especially if doing anything more than pointing at a link, or writing a couple of paragraphs.  But, the topic merits some exploration . . . 

The scenery is nice and all, but the main reason people visit Yellowstone is for the animals.

P-Dog Doing Diddly

P-Dog Diddly Squat

Nope; this ain’t one of them.  This happens to be a Prairie Dog from the Reptile Gardens just outside Rapid City, SD.  But I so wanted to use that caption that I had to use him here.

This does is the first Elk we saw when we entered Yellowstone

This doe is the first Elk we saw when we entered Yellowstone

Yellowstone is an incredible place for observing wildlife.  What makes it so is the integration of a well-maintained road system.  Within the park itself a roadway system forms a figure eight, and shooting off from that are roads to each of the cardinal points.  I won’t dwell on the description of the park areas.  Those interested can readily find much more than I could provide here by doing a simple Google search (or your search engine of choice).

The well-designed infrastructure means one need not leave their car to observe all sorts of animals.  And in fact, there are rear orifices who stop in the middle of the road and block traffic while they snap a picture of an animal.  It would not even bother me much if they were doing it right, but from watching them (while silently cursing their inbred ancestors) I know they are inconveniencing other to take what will obviously be a shitty picture.

One of the few instances a guy can say "Nice rack!!" and not come off like a jerk.

One of the few instances a guy can say "Nice rack!!" and not come off like a jerk.

So, in the interest of education in what should be self-obvious, I will briefly talk about the etiquette when driving inside the park.  Odds are every few miles there will be an animal within sight of the road.  Sometime even on the road, and you need to know how to react.

Nice rack!!  (wolf-whistle)

Nice rack!! (wolf-whistle)

Disperser’s advice to mental midgets:

1) It should be obvious, but DON’T &%$@* SPEED.  If you are in a hurry, come back some other time.  And remember, the animals have the right of way.

2) Don’t ^%$@ hold up traffic.  If you want to go slow, pull over when someone is behind you.

<breathe in . . . breathe out . . . 1 . 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.8.9.10 . . . OK . . . >

3) If you see an animal, don’t slam on your brakes; you can always do a u-turn and come back.  First and foremost find a safe place to pull off the road.

4) Do pull off the road; the roads are pretty good, and there’s usually room to pull off.

5) If an animal is about, and there are already a lot of cars parked, be willing to walk; don’t be a dick and double park.

6) Be considerate of others that were there before you; don’t shove your way in front.  Chances are you will have plenty of opportunity to see the animal as they move about.

Black Bear photographed from a bridge

Black Bear photographed from a bridge

For example, this bear was below a bridge.  People were two deep right above him.  I just noted where he was heading, moved there, and waited until he got where I parked myself No more than 5 minutes or so.  By the way, there is a nice series of pictures of this bear in the SmugMug gallery . . . not that many will go there to look.

But this brings me to another thing I can share about the park.  You are going to see a crap-load of buffalo.

One of the many herds of buffalo

One of the many herds of buffalo

You can tell new-comers to the park . . . they are stopped to see buffalo.

Next, you will see a slightly lesser crap-load of Elk.  This makes stopping for them a bit more sense (but not much), especially if they are bugling.

Trolling for chicks

Trolling for chicks

You are going to see few bears . . . you should stop to look at them.

Only a few shots of this bear, as he was already leaving the area

Only a few shots of this bear, as he was already leaving the area

Especially if it’s a grizzly . . .

Not excellent shots, but passable

Not excellent shots, but passable

And you should always stop for a moose (or two) . . .

Two of them . . . it was a nice thing to see

Two of them . . . it was a nice thing to see

This time out we did not see any wolves, but you always stop for those as well.  These days the packs are doing well.  You won’t get close, so have binoculars.  Good binoculars.

I also stop for coyotes.  The story of this fellow is told later on.

To this day this guy is the best coyote I ever saw

To this day this guy is the best coyote I ever saw

And, me being me, I stop for birds as well . . .

This is a Western Jay, a.k.a. Gray Jay, a.k.a. Camp Robber Bird

This is a Western Jay, a.k.a. Gray Jay, a.k.a. Camp Robber Bird

Stellar's Jay . . . my first

Stellar's Jay . . . my first

I thought this was a Jay of some kind, but it's a Clark's Nutcracker

I thought this was a Jay of some kind, but it's a Clark's Nutcracker

OK, this is the part of the post where I relate a couple of nice things that happened.

Buffalo coming down the hill to sip on the Madison River

Buffalo coming down the hill to sip on the Madison River

One morning, on our way in from West Yellowstone, I took a one mile side road called Riverside Road.  It leaves and rejoins 20, and while 20 follows the Madison River, Riverside Drive drops down right near the water.

As we are driving, we see a group of buffalo making their way down the hill forming the backdrop to the other shore.  Now, I know I said you see a lot of buffalo, but they are not usually doing anything.  These were moving.

Buffalo drinking, and more coming down the hill

Buffalo drinking, and more coming down the hill

Soon a bunch were in the river (it’s very shallow), and more were coming down the hill.  They just kept coming.

They covered about a quarter mile of the shore, fanning out as they came over the hill

They covered about a quarter mile of the shore, fanning out as they came over the hill

As more entered the water, those that were already in the river moved closer to us . . .

This guy was more than half-way into the river, and he kept looking toward us

This guy was more than half-way into the river, and he kept looking toward us

I thought prudence was best, and we backed off a bit.  At one point we moved the car because I was unsure why the normally disinterested beasts would register our presence at all.

After a while the first-comers began to head back up the hill

After a while the first-comers began to head back up the hill

The show lasted about a half hour, then some of the buffalo headed back up the hill, and the rest actually got on 20 and walked along the road to a field about a quarter mile away.  A long line of cars followed them at a very leisurely pace.

The mythical Water Elk

The mythical Water Elk

I am not sure it it was the evening of the same day, but on the way back to West Yellowstone (driving on 20, following the turns of the Madison River), we came across a male and six females wading in the river.

These Elks showed no interest in leaving the water

These Elks showed no interest in leaving the water

It was the end of the day, and I was running out of space on my memory card.  I had to switch to shooting JPGs, and hence the different feel to the pictures.  OK, so maybe no one else notices, but I do.  The’re still nice pictures, especially since the sun came out from behind the clouds.

c'mere babe; it's that time of year

c'mere babe; it's that time of year

What?  You got a better line?

What? You got a better line?

She's giving him the "come hither" look . . . or the "Oh no you don't" look.

She's either giving him the "come hither" look . . . or the "Oh no you don't" look.

We had gone a couple of times to what were supposed to be choice moose viewing areas, and had no luck.  One of the evenings we were heading out when we saw a bunch of cars parked.  Parked, but no people around.  We stopped as well, and looked around.  A lady was walking over a hill heading back to her car.  Before she even got close she pointed behind her and yelled out, “Moose!”.

Moose rump

Moose rump

It was about a 400 yard walk, but we came to as best a moose setting as we could have hoped.  The earlier shot already let you know there were two.  We got pretty close to this guy precisely because he was more intent on the female than us photographers.

"Go away, kid!  Can't you see I'm working here?"

"Go away, kid! Can't you see I'm working here?"

Although at one point he did seem to take notice of a guy that was trying to get a shot to his side.  I kept a reasonable distance.  Eventually he followed the female, who by then had moved a distance away.

"Where are you, honey? I'm wading for you!" - - sometimes I crack me up

"Where are you, honey? I'm wading for you!" - - sometimes I crack me up

We had to cut the trip short because a snow storm was threatening to close the exits to the park.  I had asked this fellow who worked at one of the concession stands where one might have a good chance of seeing a grizzly.  He mentioned the place, and we headed there with very little hope.

Old Griz

Old Griz

But no, chance smiled on us, and we were the first to come up on this old guys walking by the road.  The lighting was awful, and I did not use a tripod, so many of the pictures are less then optimal (quality-wise), but we did see a Grizzly less than a hundred feet from us.  Neat.

He did not seem to notice us

He did not seem to notice us

Within a few minutes there were 3-4 more cars, and a few minutes after that a ranger stopped and directed people back from where the bear was looking for food.  I wish the pictures would have been better, but still, it was a neat experience.

On the way back to the hotel (we were staying at Yellowstone lodge for the last two evenings), I stopped to get a shot of a bird on a tree.  Still inside the car, I took a couple of pictures, and was about to roll up the window when I notice this guy right across the road.

The healthiest and best-looking coyote I have ever seen

The healthiest and best-looking coyote I have ever seen

He just sat there, looking at me.  I snapped away.

The closest I ever got to a coyote

The closest I ever got to a coyote

I love the setting, the snow falling, the background is just fuzzy enough, and the animal is beautiful . . . I am happy.

There are almost one hundred (100) photos in the SmugMug gallery, all annotated.  For those interested, click on any of the pictures or RIGHT HERE.  Thanks for reading.

Much closer than I liked

Much closer than I liked

About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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10 Responses to My first trip out west – 2002 – The Fauna

  1. Love your stories and commentary. Your rules of etiquette can definitely be applied to the national parks in Africa I have visited. There is always some loser messing up perfect shots for others! Your coyote shots are amazing…i have photo envy! keep up the great work :)

    Like

  2. I agree the comentary made me smile! Thank you for the “trip”.

    Like

  3. m5son (mike) says:

    Great write up and photos. Since I live in Colorado, I have been to Yellowstone at least 5 times but have never managed the kind of photos you presented here. Well done. Great coyote.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      I’ll let you in on a secret . . . I hire animal models to pose for me.

      Seriously, I’ve been lucky both times I’ve been to Yellowstone (I plan to do a post of our 2007 trip sometime in the near future; first I have to finish posting the 2002 pictures). Then again, I go in the fall, after labor day, and just before many of the facilities close for the winter. I wonder if less people means more chances to see wildlife.

      Like

  4. AnnMarie says:

    Thanks for the virtual trip! Really enjoyed the beauty of the flora and fauna of Yellowstone and your ‘flowery’ advice. There are many excellent shots but I must praise those of the coyote! What an exceptional specimen of his species!!!

    Like

  5. Wonderful post. I can’t imagine seeing so many interesting animals!

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  6. We might have some strange and unique animals here in Australia but none have the stature and beauty of these magnificent creatures.

    Like

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