Monday, November 1, 2010

Yellowstone Adventures

On a recent October afternoon the Center Director, Darcie Vallant, and I traveled through Yellowstone to a conference on the far side of the Park. I felt immensely lucky to be commuting through one of the most spectacular places in North America on my way to a conference about connecting people with nature. We had ample opportunities to connect with nature ourselves as we traveled along Soda Butte Creek, the Lamar River, and the Madison River on the way over to West Yellowstone.

Not more than one hundred meters from the road along the Soda Butte Creek, our first big sighting was a grizzly bear. Grizzly bears are identifiable by their dish-shaped face and hump on the shoulders. Both grizzly and black bears can be a multitude of colors, from brown to black to cinnamon. See if you can notice the shoulder hump in the photo below.

If you get close enough to either bear (which I don't recommend!), you will also observe that grizzly bears have much longer claws. These are used to dig for tubers and grubs. Black bears' shorter, curved claws are made for climbing trees. Grizzly and black bears have similar diets, though black bears don't generally forage for tubers. They are both omnivores, meaning that they eat both animals and plants. Their diet consists of elk, bison, roots, berries, white bark pine seeds and insects.

The Lamar Valley was full of herds of bison, surrounded by cottonwood trees that were at the peak of fall color. A lone coyote was hunting just west of the Lamar Ranger Station. We observed while s/he tilted its head back and forth, listening for the sound of mice beneath the soil. We were not lucky enough to get to see this coyote pounce and capture its prey.

We didn't see any elk until we pulled into Mammoth and met the resident
herd that feeds on the pristine green lawns in front of Officer's Row. Here we also ran into herds of tourists that were photographing the elk. One majestic bull elk sat in watch over his harem, a group of roughly 20 cow elk. At this time of year, during the rut, a male elk participates in mating behaviors such as sparring with other males with his antlers and bugling. Bugling both attracts females and proclaims a male's dominance over other males. To hear an elk bugle is a magical experience. It is a combination of whistling, bellowing, and grunting. The whistling noise is made by air passing over the elk's ivories ("the bugling teeth").
Evening is the best time to hear the elk bugle. We saw a few more bull elk, surrounded by females, as we continued westward. The mating season, or rut, lasts for 1 - 2 months each fall and is currently at its peak.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Nice to be taken away to that wonderful scene, if just for a moment! That is an incredible place..... Lamar Valley holds special Slough Creek Pack memories for me.