In Yellowstone National Park, much of the wildlife is hidden from view. You have to look carefully to find the animals and sometimes they will reveal themselves to you.
Elk in the Lamar Valley are hidden as they blend into the landscape traveling along a ridge top.
However, when they cross a pond they are revealed. The splashing water draws your attention and their pale colored rumps make you take notice of them.
From a distance, this just looks like two lumps in a field. Sandhill cranes’ plumage helps them stay hidden from view.
However, when they raise their head and you see their distinctive silhouette and red cap, they are revealed.
Pronghorn have bars of white on their coats that somehow help them stay hidden from view. These two does are wandering near the river’s edge.
However, when you see them close up, their markings are clearly revealed.
Sometimes all you see are tiny specks in the distance. You try to zoom in as close as you can with your lens but they still remain hidden. The white arrow in this fuzzy photo is pointing at two grizzly bears hundreds of yards away.
However, these magnificent creatures are revealed when you visit a place that helps conserve them. This image was taken at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. I don’t think I would want to be that close to a grizzly on a trail so I will settle for this view. 😉
We saw this red fox in Yellowstone National Park in June of this year. This is the Rocky Mountain subspecies, Vulpes vulpes macroura.
The red fox is not seen often in the park because they are nocturnal and they blend into their preferred habitats along the edges of meadows and forests. The females nurse their kits during late spring and this may have been a female out looking for food. Foxes usually use dens created by other animals.
We were fortunate to see a female with kits on another spring visit to Yellowstone. Litter size averages four to eight kits. Vixens gives birth in late March to April. Both parents care for the young through their first few months of their life.
When wolves were introduced into the park, many coyotes were eliminated by the wolves and this may have caused an increase in the number of foxes. Coyotes prefer sagebrush and open meadow habitat and hunt more by day so they don’t compete as much with foxes.
The red fox is the smallest dog-like mammal in the park. The males weigh 11-12 pounds and the females weigh 10 pounds. They average 43 inches in length. Most foxes live 3-7 years but in Yellowstone can live up to 11 years.
Foxes can have a wide variety of coat colors–from red to black. Their thick tail aids in balance and they use them to signal to other foxes. Foxes wrap their tail around themselves in cold weather to help them stay warm.
Red foxes have a varied diet. They feed on voles, mice, rabbits, birds, amphibians, eggs, carrion, and some plants. Animals that prey on foxes include cougars, wolves, and coyotes.
Video of a flying red fox
Here’s a National Geographic video of a fox hunting in the winter. They have extremely good hearing and listen for animals beneath the snow. When they sense prey, they pounce or “fly” to catch it under the snow. Flying Red Fox
I was glad I was inside my car when I saw these bison coming right at us. Some people think they are calm and tame like a domestic cow. They’re not! Bulls weigh up to 2,000 pounds and cows weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Since they can run up to 30 miles per hour, it’s best to keep your distance.
Here’s a group of elk making their way through a small lake in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park. A peaceful scene is mirrored in the lake. However, the elk are in an area where several wolf packs live.
Did you know that the environment is changing in a positive way since reintroducing wolves? To see a fascinating video about this, click How Wolves Change Rivers.
I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”
“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.
A park is born
Evidence shows ancient peoples lived in Yellowstone Country 11,000 years ago. European Americans began exploring the lands in the early 1800’s. Teams of explorers brought back tales of wonder of this unique environment. Their work was supported by images created by artists Thomas Moran and Henry W. Elliot and photographer William Henry Jackson. The park was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Additional protections for the park and its wildlife were instituted in 1894 when congress passed the National Park Protection Act – now known as the Lacey Act.
President Theodore Roosevelt had a love of the land and he was instrumental in making sure many natural areas were preserved. His quote above reflects the importance of preserving wild places so that all may enjoy them “in perpetuity.”
Landscapes – large and small
Here are photos of some special landscapes.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
And more of spectacular hot springs and other features.
And don’t forget to notice the tiny landscapes beneath your feet.
And of course the wildlife.
Yellowstone National Park gets visitors from all over the world. 4,116,524 people visited in 2017.
May we all continue to safeguard and preserve its scenery, forests, and wild creatures.
Sometimes an artist’s greatest wish is that others will be able to see the emotion and spirit of a place in their work. I hope you can feel some of what I was trying to capture in this photo from Yellowstone National Park.
Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious. Corin Nemec
I have always had a special feeling about Spasmodic Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Why? I think part of it has to do with the interesting name. Check out this short video and watch for the butterfly that tempts fate.
Eruptions from this geyser range from a few inches to 20 feet in height. The time between eruptions varies but is usually in the range of 1-3 hours. Spasmodic Geyser has a temperature of 198° F. This geyser was named by Geologist A.C. Peale when he was doing work with the 1878 Hayden survey team. Peale chose this name due to the geyser’s erratic behavior.
Here’s a picture of bison in Yellowstone National Park. Happy 4th of July from our new national mammal in the U.S., the bison. Their scientific name is Bison bison bison. If only all scientific names were that easy!
Bison are a conservation success story. Due to over-hunting in the late 1800’s, their population was down to a few hundred animals. As a result of the conservation strategies employed by President Theodore Roosevelt and like-minded individuals, the bison were able to make a dramatic comeback.
Here’s a link to a U.S. Department of the Interior page that has 15 interesting facts about them – Bison
Hmmm…a predominantly pink woodpecker named after a famous early American explorer and a wily relative of the crow named after his partner. That might make for an interesting bit of writing. I started to research the topic.
Little did I know there was controversy linked to the plants and animals “discovered” on the Lewis and Clark expedition. The expedition supposedly discovered 178 plants and 122+ animals previously unknown to science. Or did they?
Other sources say they “encountered” or “reported” certain wildlife and plants. Due to discussions as to the accuracy of previously published lists, one recent list is divided into two sections: Discovered (for the first time by European Americans) and Described. Some of the flora and fauna species had been discovered in other parts of North America (or the world) prior to the time of the expedition while others had been a part of native people’s life for many years.
I am lucky to have seen many of the wildlife species that Lewis and Clark discovered and described. Here is a quiz that includes pictures of wildlife encountered on the expedition.
Did the Lewis & Clark expedition Discover them or Describe them? The answers are at the end of the quiz.
His twittering voice kept leading me on through the wilderness. It seemed like every time I raised my binoculars to my eyes, he would make a quick getaway.
I followed him on winding trails bordered by bubbling and spouting geysers. He flitted through pine forests doused by thunderstorms. Gusts of wind kept pushing him just out of my reach.
Finally, finally, I came eye to eye with the mysterious beast. A Yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni. This pint-sized songbird perched in the tree and stared at me as if he was shouting, “Ollie, Ollie in come free!” Our game of hide and seek was over and he stayed in plain sight on his home base.
The tree clung to the side of a cliff overlooking Tower Fall. The little bird had lead me to an important spot in Yellowstone National Park.
In 1871 the U.S. Geological Survey sent an exploratory expedition to the Yellowstone area. Artist Thomas Moran was a member of the team and he painted a picture of the falls that showed the public one of the area’s natural wonders. William Henry Jackson was also part of the expedition and he took black and white photographs of the area. Due to the Moran paintings, Jackson photographs, and the observations of early explorers, the area was designated as the world’s first national park in 1872. Moran’s colorful paintings were instrumental in convincing Congress to preserve the region.
So you might say that this twittering bird had lead me to the place where a short message – in the form of an image of the falls – saved the land for generations to come. It was like a “tweet” in its time that was seen by thousands.
It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with a phrase that means “final appearance.”
At one time the population of the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, was thought to be down to fewer than 70 birds. They were just steps away from their swan song. The birds were overhunted and their feathers were used to adorn hats and make writing quills while their skins were used to make powder puffs. They were also hunted for their meat and eggs.
In 1932 the last known remnants of the population lived near Yellowstone National Park. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to help save the Trumpeter Swan. The Refuge is in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The photo above is of a Trumpeter Swan I saw last summer in Yellowstone National Park. Threats such as lead poisoning and habitat loss still exist but the current population in North America is over 46,000. See…conservation can be a success!
Here in Central Oregon steps are being taken to ensure their survival. At theSunriver Nature Centerin Sunriver, Oregon, a potential mate for the resident Trumpeter Swan was introducedlast summer. After a somewhat rocky start, the pair bonded with each other and it’s hoped they will produce many offspring in the future. There was a story in the Bend Bulletin about the pair and you can read it here: Swans Find Love in Sunriver.
I recently went on a Deschutes Land Trust hike just west of Bend, OR to learn about fire ecology. The area we hiked in is known as the Skyline Forest. There were fires in this vicinity in 2010 and 2014 and together they burned about 6,000 acres. The area is currently privately owned but the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to acquire it.
Our guide, Pete Caligiuri with The Nature Conservancy, informed us that this area has about the steepest environmental gradient in the world. In the Cascade Mountains the precipitation can be as high as 160 inches per year while less than 25 miles away, it can be as low as 10 inches per year. Plants respond to the extreme amount of variability in this gradient. In the past, fire and moisture limited the number of trees in the forest. Now there can be as many as 800-900 trees per acre in this area.
Lots of shrubs in the understory
We looked around to see how many large stumps left over from timber harvesting we could see. There weren’t many at all. At one time this forest had the trees much more widely spaced. We noticed the high number of young trees with branches reaching down closer to the ground. There was also a thick growth of underbrush that included bitterbrush and manzanita. The forest floor was covered with pine needles and fallen branches. The closer spacing, higher number of shrubs, and accumulation of litter on the forest floor makes this forest more vulnerable to fire.
Changes have occurred in local forests due to fire management practices, tree harvesting, and grazing of livestock.
Fires were suppressed instead of being used as a management tool. Every tree that germinated was considered important. In a normal fire cycle here, there are fires every 7-35 years – depending on the moisture gradient.
This was the area with the highest harvest rate of Ponderosa pine in the country for a while. The largest trees were cut first and the result was that younger, less fire-resistant trees flourished and crowded the landscape.
About three million sheep grazed in this area until the 1930’s when livestock grazing became a less popular industry. Cattle could graze on Deschutes National Forest lands until the 1990’s.
After the fire
After fires, the plants that begin to grow can be broken down into five categories. Invaders, such as fireweed, are adaptable and take advantage of the changed environment. We saw fireweed and thistle near the trail. Evaders, such as Ceanothus, can burn above ground but be adapted to sprout when the conditions improve. Ceanothus seed can sit dormant for up to 100 years. We saw quite a bit of Ceanothus and manzanita in this fire-affected area. Avoidersinclude plants such as mountain hemlock, Western white pine, and western juniper. They are not well adapted to tolerating a fire but if they avoid the hottest part of a fire, they may survive. Resistors, such as Ponderosa pine, have special adaptations such as thick bark that allow them to survive a fire. Ponderosa pine can also cast seeds up to 300 feet away. Endurers, like aspen, can sprout from their roots after the fire has passed. The aspen in this area is sprouting like crazy since it no longer has the competition for light that it had before the fire.
Aspen are loving the new conditions after the fire
Due to long term changes in climate, some areas are changing from forested to non-forested habitats. Some habitats will only become drier over time. The warmer temperatures can also benefit the pine beetle and other insects that can destroy trees. We may experience more precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow and this will have long term consequences.
Five years ago several people from diverse backgrounds got together to form the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The group is working together to improve the health of local forests in a way that will benefit the needs of the community. For example, a land owner in a forested environment will have different needs than someone who just goes to the forest to recreate. The group is trying to work on active restoration before a fire rather than after it.
There are several ways people are trying to do a better job of managing forested lands. Homeowners that follow some of the guidelines suggested by the Firewise program have a better chance of protecting their homes from wildfires. Development could be limited in forested environments. The acres could be used to preserve and grow trees rather than houses. The Deschutes Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy are a couple of organizations that work towards preserving land in this area.
One of the management tools used today is prescribed, or controlled, burns. Forests used to be “messy” with some areas affected by localized fires, windstorms and other weather events, and insect infestations while other areas remained relatively untouched. The litter layer and understory beneath the trees was managed by these events. Now, due to fire suppression, too much litter and too many trees and shrubs per acre have accumulated. Remember Smokey the Bear saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? Since fires are used as a management tool now, it’s been changed to “Only you can prevent wildfires”. Many people do not understand the concept of prescribed burns and do not like seeing and smelling the smoke from them. Prescribed burns, along with selective cutting and other tools, can reduce the chances of severe fires.
Ponderosa pine & aspen
Due to the magnitude of acres burned in recent fires, less money is going into forest management since more is going into fighting fires. It only makes sense to have funds to fight fires come from the same funding source that manages other types of natural disaster events. It also makes sense to put more money into research so that we are better equipped to do what we can to manage wildfires based on the best available data. Okay, I’m jumping off of my soapbox for now.
Yellowstone forest growth after fires
I visited Yellowstone National Park this summer and try to go there every other year. In 1988, I was saddened to see firsthand the effect the big fires had on the land. The fires burned nearly 800,000 acres – more than a third of the park property. After decades of fire suppression, the area was long past due for fire. The fires burned in a patchy sort of way as a fire would do in nature. The National Park Service was criticized at the time for not putting out all of the fires but fires are a part of the cycle of nature. I knew the park plants would regenerate eventually and that the habitats would end up being a mosaic rather than a monoculture. Some of the trees in Yellowstone are slow growing so the changes may not be apparent for quite a while. I close this post with a shot-through-the-window-during-a-storm photo from Yellowstone that shows a healthy forest coming back after the fire. Fire equals destruction, but it also equals a new beginning.