yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: Mary Bay

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My field partner and I had fantastic luck this year with finding the unfindable. Seriously. Just like the salamanders hanging out in the Observation wetland, Mary Bay was even more of an unexpected surprise. There are only a handful of wetlands in the Park that have all four amphibian species and we were able to add Mary Bay to that list…it took us a few tries though.

The bottom portion of Mary Bay is filled with small thermal pools that dry up quickly and one very large pond that is so mucky around the edge that you can barely survey it. It’s actually pretty gross in there because it’s all filled with animal poo. The geese (as you can see in the photo above) and swans fill the wetland up. In fact, everything likes to poo in there. I’ve never seen so much tadpole poo in my life. I was scooping up large clumps of it. Heck, I even had to take a station break and go in the trees nearby. That never happens. Hailey’s Comet is more common.There’s just something very bowel releasing about the place. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that one scientist in the Park is convinced that if Yellowstone erupts, Mary Bay will be ground zero. Coincidence? I think not!

This is our annual July 4th survey. It’s usually scheduled for a half day and always takes a full day. Oh Mary Bay… The smaller sites were finished quickly because most had already dried up. The puddle-sized ones were bursting forth with tadpoles, adults still calling and attempting to lay even more eggs and metamorphs pouring out onto the dry ground. It was glorious. By the time we hit the Bay of Poo, the sky opened up and completely drenched us. Not the best way to begin an 1.5 hour survey! Because of the quicksand shoreline we were both only able to survey a small portion of the wetland. Despite this, we were convinced that we had seen spotted frog tadpoles, a load of chorus frog tadpoles, two fleeting salamander larvae and no toad tadpoles.

Later on, I spoke to Deb about what we’d seen and she mentioned being surprised that toad tadpoles are never found there because it’s thermal and they dig that scene. I began to question my amphibian identification skills at that point because, in retrospect, the thousands of small, dark tads clumped together along the shoreline seemed like they could have been toads. Toad tadpoles love to hang out in large congregations and are very curious. They won’t swim away when you approach them. In fact, they’ll usually swim right over to see what’s up. Other species definitely don’t act this way. At the time, we just couldn’t get that close to really tell for sure. So since we were returning in a few days to survey the dreaded upper sites, I agreed to give Poo Bay another looksee. Well, low-and-behold after much heated debate, we determined that the clumps of spotted frog tads were in fact, toads. By the hundreds! Thus, we were able to add Poo Bay to our small list of sites containing every amphibian species in the Park.

Surveying in Yellowstone is definitely like a box of chocolates…just not as tasty.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: July 4th, 2013


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Oh Mary Bay…what can I say. This was the only wetland so far to have completely turned my stomach. Mary Bay is a large pond/lake that is just filled to the brim with waterfowl turds. Each year it gets a little smaller and I know why: it’s being filled in with poo. We could only survey a small portion of the perimeter because the ground was so unstable. When we did manage to dip a net, it was always filled to the brim with bird doo-doo (and also few chorus frog tadpoles and one dead salamander larvae). The rest of the sites around Mary Bay were thermal and completely dried up. Since we were close to the road and a prime internet spot, people parked in the pull-offs and watched us survey. This included the Wisconsonian-forest ecologist-trouble-makers who relished the opportunity to heckle us from their truck. Jerks! Since most of the wetlands were dry in previous years, we had assumed that we would finish quickly. Hah! Hah…hah! Well, you know all about how our assumptions turn out by now. I had a self-imposed end time of 2 pm because I had to drive to Jackson Hole to see the 4th of July fireworks. So we finished the bay sites within two hours and hustled up the ridge to survey the other sites. Oh, I should mention, right before our ridge hustle, I literally came four feet from running head first into a solitary male bison. He was hanging out in a thermal area just over a little hill. I was running to catch up with Andrew, crested the hill and there was big boy bison standing right in my blind spot. We were literally face to face. He seemed delighted to see me and was not alarmed at all. I, on the other hand, nearly shat myself and ran away. I looked back and he seemed disappointed in my reaction, like he was lonely and looking forward to sharing his little thermal pool with me.

I caught up with Andrew and it was onward and upward. On the map and gps there seemed to be an obvious trail to the sites but that was soooo not the case when we crested the ridge. The trail looked like tornado alley. It was a never-ending sea of mature downed trees that we had to climb over. It took hours to get to and from each wetland and it was painful. Here is what I want to write in the field notes for future surveyors: Upper Mary Bay–You will get shived more times than a prison yard scuffle. No joke. My legs are now a cut-up, bloody, and bruised mess. Every step through that site was painful. A rainstorm rolled in during our last few surveys but it was a welcome reprieve from the brutal heat. And our last few sites were rather pleasant. We followed well-traveled game trails to the wetlands and the lush forest suddenly felt like we were in the Pacific Northwest. A few of the wetlands that were dry in previous years, were the size of small puddles but they were overflowing with near metamorph chorus frogs. They had tiny little arms and legs but still had their large tadpole tails. They were adorable! Once our last site (which was dry) was finished we followed a game trail out and it was easy-going. What took us several hours to hike on the way in took us only a few minutes to hike on the way out. Let that be a lesson to you, always take the game trails. You may end up in a bear den or exactly where you want to be, either way, it’s better than being in a jail yard situation.

Luckily, I was finished by 2 pm and was on my way to Jackson. The fireworks were great. The company was great. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The one thing I learned from my weekend though was to never, ever, try to find a spur of the moment campsite or hotel anywhere near Yellowstone, the Tetons or Jackson Hole during the 4th of July. You either have to plan way in advance or just give up. The rest of my weekend was spent with someone I absolutely adore. He drove over seven hours to come visit lil ole me, which was way more than I would have ever expected from him. I played tour guide (which I failed at for the most part) and the weather was absolute crap at times but it was a lot of fun.