yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Blacktail Plateau Drive

Blacktail Plateau 1

Welcome to Disneyland people! This site was another first for me and I certainly hope it’s not my last. Honestly, as soon as we parked our car and started hiking, we had elk bounding across our path and birds were perched on our shoulders singing Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah. I felt like I was in a cartoon. We followed a great horned owl flying from tree to tree along with its tubby two fledglings. This blew me away because I’ve never encountered an owl in the daytime before and a great horned at that!

Our first wetland was occupied by a bison herd so we had to work around them as best we could. They were less than thrilled so they begrudgingly decided to move on about halfway through my survey. This was a bummer for me because everything is better with bison, including field work. As the mass migration was taking place, a few folks on horseback came down into the valley to chat with us while we surveyed. We must really be a site for people to behold. Here they are in the backcountry taking in the beautiful rolling hills of Yellowstone, never expecting to see another human soul, and two little girls with nets and waders pop out from the middle of a bison herd grazing in a wetland. Surprise!!!

Not only was the hiking and the wildlife viewing spectacular, the surveying wasn’t too shabby either. A few of the wetlands were absolutely filled to the brim with salamanders. No complaints there. The last wetland was an extremely large wet meadow comprised of tall, sharp grass which sliced my skin with every net swipe. Not cool. That’s a lot of pain just to find nothing but that’s how the job goes sometimes. The one rather neat thing about that meadow was that the substrate was comprised of itty-bitty fresh water clams. I kid you not. I’ve never seen anything like it in Yellowstone. Until further inspection, they looked like small pebbles. I told my field partner to examine the substrate and she agreed that I wasn’t totally out of my mind. Later, I told my supervisor what I’d seen and in all of her decades working in the area she’s never heard of anything like it. Thus, I’m not sure if someone slipped me some crack or not but at least my field partner was right there with me.

As you will discover from my blog, we survey a lot of Blacktail sites: Blacktail Pond, Blacktail Plateau, Blacktail something-or-other. These areas are in the northern part of the Park which includes a harrowing, pants-pooping trip over Dunraven Pass to get to. Usually, I’m frazzled and in need of medication and new pair of undies by the time we arrive at our destination. It’s certainly worth the trip though.

In all seriousness, this is where the rubber meets the road for climate change. Here, wetland loss is measurable and can be witnessed from year to year. People can argue the causes all they want but unless they have their head completely in the sand, they can’t deny that climate change is happening. This year Andy, Kenda and crew installed some data loggers in a few Blacktail wetlands to measure how rapidly this is all taking place. Time will tell but for now the future remains uncertain for the amphibians in this area. If only it was as easy as gathering them all into a large knapsack and releasing them somewhere safe. One can dream…

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The adult great horned owl in the trees.
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A garter snake sunning and eating all my tadpoles…jerk!
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This fawn and its mama were hanging out on the road as we drove to the site. Look at it scamper. So darn cute! I just want to pinch it! Pinch…Pinch.
yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Storm Point

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From Indian Pond, to forest, to meadow, to dunes, to lakeside and back again. Storm Point is a super slice of heaven.
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A glorious view of the mountains from the shore of the largest high-altitude lake in the lower 48, Yellowstone Lake.

Storm Point is my absolute favorite hiking trail in Yellowstone. It’s short, non-strenuous, easy to get to and the views are breathtaking. Additionally, I always have interesting animal encounters here. Last year it was an overly-friendly squirrel doing vaudeville, complete with a top hat and cane, right there at my feet. This year was no different. I witnessed a nail-biter of a marmot squabble during my walk. As I approached the rocky cliff pictured above, an older couple warned me that there was a marmot scuffle in progress so I grabbed some popcorn and pulled up a seat (or stump in my case). There was indeed an argument of some sort taking place and I caught the tail end (oooh no pun intended). The triumphant winner is pictured here:

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Sorry for the animal scavenger hunt here. I promise, if you look hard enough, you’ll see the critter peeking out through the dead limbs on the ground…with a satisfied smirk on its face.

The other marmot was sent packing and scurried up the dunes to nurse its pride on a large rock.

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Can you see the pouty face on the rock there?
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Here’s a closer look at the little fella. That, my friends, is the look of defeat. Poor thing. We all win some and lose some, in seemingly equal measure.

Then I literally ran into a rabbit. Yup, tripped right over it. Apparently, it has the right-of-way on the trail? Is this a rule I was not aware of?

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Yet another animal scavenger hunt! Camouflaged against a tree, you’ll see the little scalywag when I’m not running over it.

Then as I approached Indian Pond, right at dusk, I watched the deer graze around the edges and even saw one swim from one end to the other. Ahh… the wonders of nature never cease to amaze. We are all blessed to live in a world where we can witness such things. Don’t take any of it for granted.

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yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Indian Pond

Indian Pond. Home to a ton of toad tadpoles and many, but not as many, spotted frog tads.
Indian Pond. Home to a ton of toad tadpoles and many, but not as many, spotted frog tads.
Boreal toad tadpoles have this very characteristic behavior of clustering together. They're also very curious. Just dip a finger into the water and they'll swim right over and check you out.
I wasn’t kidding about the tons of toad tads!
Muskrat in Indian Pond
A muskrat tooling around the pond. This is the first muskrat I’ve seen in Yellowstone.
Indian Pond
Indian Pond at dusk. I actually watched a deer swim from one end of the pond to the other. It looked exhausting. That’s another first for me. Up until now, I didn’t really know that deer were keen on swimming.
Adventures

Recent Travels: Syracuse

I’m going to split this post up into a few bite-sized chunks so it’s not photos galore so anticipate enjoying a few more photo-heavy posts in your near future.

These last few days have all been about enjoying friends, family and all that my location has to offer. A few days ago my mum, Ling Ling, and I took the short drive to Syracuse to enjoy the Central New York Regional Market and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. The regional market is easily the largest I’ve ever been to. I’m so accustomed to vending at my mini-market in Saugerties that by comparison this one is absolutely ginormous! You can literally find everything: from handmade pasta, bread, cheese and veggie burgers to dog bones to herbs & flowers to kitchen tools to dvds to soap to clothes to wine & beer (Good Nature Brewing’s American Brown Ale is the stuff of dreams.)….you get the point. It’s a wonderland! Sorry I didn’t get photos but it was just too overwhelming for me to even try.

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is always an enjoyable visit. During the summer of 1995, I worked as their veterinary technician extern and was offered the zoo vet tech position after I graduated (I turned them down because at the time they had a policy that all park employees had to live in the county and living in that big of a city was not my cup of tea). They fixed the zoo up since the last time I visited and let me tell you that the grounds and buildings are looking gorgeous! Plus, my sweet Asian elephants now have a brand-spankin’ new enclosure and exercise yard. It’s always nice to return to a place and see that it’s improved with time. I can’t say that in a lot of cases. Here are some photos for you to enjoy…

myself as an explorer
I’m safari ready.

White-lipped deer
lion

lion
Lazy lion
radiated tortoise
Chow time for the radiated tortoise.

Asian elephants
Asian elephants
Asian elephants

Some of you may be uncomfortable with zoo photos or the idea of zoos and I get that. Believe me, I had misgivings about working at a zoo for a little while but all zoos and situations are not created equal. I don’t enjoy petting zoos and I completely detest circuses. These exist merely for the enjoyment of humankind which I think is absolutely sick. Profit always seems to trump the health & happiness of the animals in these situations. On the other hand, most zoos participate in captive breeding programs, support native-habitat conservation efforts and serve to educate the public. That’s the difference. The more I know and the more we continue to pillage and plunder our natural world, the more I realize that zoos and refuges are the only and last hope for many species. Sad but true. I wish they weren’t necessary, but if people continue to cut down forests and poach the endangered, zoos will be the last place most species will be allowed to exist without threat. I hate that I even have to write that sentence. It’s shameful.