There are two things that are pretty common in Yellowstone during the spring. Almost everywhere we went we saw herds of bison and large flocks of mountain bluebirds, all of them searching out areas in the park where the snow had either completely disappeared or was just about to. The spring thaw and green-up was in full swing which made for prime feeding grounds. The bison were chomping down on tiny stems of green grass wherever they could find it and when that wasn’t available or was covered over in fresh snow, they resorted to winter-killed, high roughage stalks of grass. Bison have lots of character and this one seemed to want to go for a hillbilly look and I must say, pulled it off better than anyone else I have seen try.
It wasn’t until watching the bluebirds for some time that it became clear they were relying on by-products of bison to help them survive the first few months of spring. In March and early April there aren’t as many insects to feed on. But as it turns out, buried within and under old bison patties are lots of overwintering insect larvae. With their keen eyesight, the bluebirds snatched these insects up as they emerged from the dried-up dung. Other times they would use the piles as perches to get a better vantage point to spot their next meal.
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is a another person’s treasure! To some, this might diminish the image of these beautiful birds, but without them we would suffer even more from the torture of biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks and other pesky insects. So for me it adds another level of appreciation since doing all of this dirty work and still looking good can’t be easy. With that I will end on a high note with one last photo that showcases just how spectacular and stunning these birds really are.
Whether scratching an itch, trying to remove flies and ticks, showing off during the rut, or just for fun, bison seem to get lots of enjoyment and satisfaction from rolling around in the dirt. This youngster spent several minutes having a great time getting dusted up before racing off to rejoin the herd.
It will be great to see these beasts back in Banff National Park in the near future.
The trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t get a chance to photograph wolves. On the second morning we lucked out and came across the Junction Butte pack. We had seen them the day before but through a spotting scope since they were a few kilometers from the road. Overnight the pack must have traveled a fair distance, but as luck would have it they were right next to the road. This one was slowly making its way through the sage brush right past a herd of adult bison. The bison clearly knew how to behave around the wolves as they stood their ground and just stared at the wolves who quickly determined that they should keep going. As the sun crested the hill, this wolf paused for a few seconds to see where the rest of the pack had gone giving me the perfect opportunity to get a few photos.
While enjoying a picnic near the Yellowstone river, this Northern flicker flew past and landed on a nearby dead tree. Flickers never stick around for more than a few seconds, so I knew I had to be quick if I wanted to get any photos of it. Thankfully, I had left me camera right beside me so as I grabbed it I rolled onto my stomach, propped the camera against my camera bag and fired off a few frames before it was gone. I find flickers one of the hardest birds to get decent photographs of, so I was pleased that this on turned out OK.
Scalding hot water cascades down a self-made rock feature. The water carries dissolved silica from underground streams. When the water evaporates, the silica is deposited on surfaces, hardens and forms sinter (aka geyserite) that creates these rock formations. Naive animals (including people) will sometimes be tempted to get too close to or actually into these hot pools to escape the extreme cold weather, often resulting in dire consequences.
The early morning light created beautiful soft colours on the bison’s coat and off of the small bushes in the background.
A coyote launches into the air in what appears to be an attempt to catch its shadow. While it wasn’t successful at that, a few split seconds later it was feasting on a vole!
I have been casually trying for a while now to get a decent photo of a wild pronghorn with no luck. Apparently all it takes is a quick trip to Yellowstone, where there are pronghorn everywhere you look when first entering the north gate. Even better was that many of them were curious when I was laying on the ground and they started to walk towards me to investigate.
Yellowstone was full of bluebirds. I have only seen parents and offspring together before, but during this trip there were flocks of over 20 birds. This handsome male perched on a branch right next to the road which made it very easy for me. He didn’t seem to be bothered and continued to eye up the landscape for unsuspecting insects.