Yellowstone National Park, is mainly situated in Wyoming, but also extends minimally into Montana and Idaho. While I’ve visited Yellowstone many times in the winter, summer, or fall … I had never been there during the spring season. Earlier this year, with the company of our good friends Jen and Travis, we decided to do just that. I have always said that I feel Yellowstone is one of the most diverse of the national parks of the US. I’ve often referred to it as the “Disneyland” of parks … with lakes, canyons, thermal grounds, hot springs, geysers, valleys, and of course, many species of wildlife.
In the spring, there are less crowds, milder temperatures, emerging grasslands, and wildlife, including the US National Mammal … the American Bison.
During my winter visit to Yellowstone, I had almost no chance of finding a bear, for they were hibernating in their dens at that time. So, being the bear fanatic that I am, they were high on my list to find and photograph. It wasn’t long before we found them too. However, these were mostly black bears for us on this trip. This big one seemed to be enjoying its lunch of greens. :-)Whether black bears or brown bears, the sighting and photograph is always so much more special when eye contact is made.Visiting in the springtime does have its unique advantages including getting to see the spring babies. Believe it or not, but this was the first time that I had photographed the young “red dogs”. They were just too cute!They would take advantage every time that they could find their mama standing still to nurse on them, all the while keeping its eye on us. Have you ever seen a baby bison nurse? Well, it may look all peaceful in this image, but it’s quite an ordeal. The newbie nursing peacefully for a short time, then rams its head into its moms underside in order for the milk to come out better. Tom would give a few sympathy pain expressions for the mom every time that the young ones punched. LOLThey call them red dogs due to the coloration they possess when they’re newborn. Clearly not the traditional bison color.It was adorable how closely they stayed to moms side most of the time. The protection of the herd is critical for their survival.Once in a while they would meet up with another young one in the herd and appear to greet each other … often followed up with some running around together and a few head wrestling moments.When there are bison around, there are almost always some birds hitchhiking a ride or using their backs as a landing strip. LOL. Never did it seem to even phase the bison.Though bison are the most abundant large mammal in the park, there are also many more species, including the pronghorn antelope.I don’t think that I need to tell you how much we squealed with delight when we spotted our first baby pronghorn of the day, which coincidentally, was our first and only. It was a bit too early for the babies and we were so ecstatic that this momma had hers a bit earlier. It was by far just the cutest thing ever … such a sweet adorable face, wobbly legs, and it could race around impressingly fast.The bighorn sheep ewes were also spotted on our first day. OK, so they weren’t the most photogenic subjects I’ve ever shot, with their scruffy spring coat, but hey, we found them grazing on the hillside and they were posing, so why not? OK, so back to some more black bears … this momma sow was spotted near the base of a tree, not far from us. We wondered what was going on because she seemed so alert to her surroundings.Then we spotted her cub … way up at the top of a very tall tree. I wish I took an image to show just how high up it was. To me, it looked like one of those “witches broom” deformities in the tree, but alas, it was this adorable cub.The story went that there was a boar (or two) cruising around the area where the sow and her cub were grazing, so she sent her cub up. At one point, we could see the boar in two different places, but couldn’t be sure if it was the same one. I couldn’t believe the patience of the sow and cub and how skilled it was to remain there safely. That’s about when it climbed up to literally the tip top….We readied our gear, knowing that it went up of course to come down. Nope, that cub curled itself over the point of the tree top and remained for quite some more time. This was all during some rainfall and windy conditions. I was nervous for the little one, yet couldn’t look away. After mom gave it the “all’s clear” call, it began its descent.It skillfully hung on to the tree circumference as it went down … slow and steady.Along the way, it would savor some insects for some extra nourishment, maybe even lick a few raindrops perhaps.Every so often a break was taken on a convenient branch. The sow below was getting quite impatient and as it got within her “standing on her hind legs” grapse, she tugged on it and made the arrival on the ground and by her side a quicker one. Such an adorable experience to witness. Those bears have amazing instincts for survival. A boar in the area would most likely try to mate with her and kill the cub in the process. They were both safe and it was a great morning for sure.When we were visiting Yellowstone earlier this winter, we had so many coyote sightings (including one with them mating). I was quite surprised that we didn’t see as many on this spring visit. We did however have one at a very close range that was rolling around … and around … and around paying absolutely no attention to us as we photographed.
As I said, this coyote knew that we were there, but was preoccupied in what it was doing. When it left the area, we walked over to figure out what it was rolling in and saw nothing. Must have been simply marking its territory. Such a cool experience.Remember, I’m no expert birder, so when I saw this guy, I took images and asked for identification later. We knew that it was a woodpecker by its behavior of incessant pecking, but didn’t know the species. It turned out to be, as many of you might already know, the American Three-Toed Woodpecker. They lack the inner hind toe on each foot and breed further north than any other American woodpecker. How fun to see.While photographing the woodpecker who visited with us, we stumbled upon another visitor. A gorgeous bull elk arrived and grazed on the hillside right next to us. He already started growing its antlers, which were all covered in velvet. He still was in the process of shedding his winter coat as well, so he looked a bit scruffy too.Just before we exited the park on that day, we came across our first elk babies of the trip. they were a bit higher than us on the hillside, so a great shot would have to wait for another day, but it was adorable to see them kiss nose to nose in a tender moment. Got to love those spots too. :-)
So our trip to Yellowstone NP in the spring was off to a great start. Before I end this post, I wanted to share with everyone what I didn’t expect in May in Yellowstone … the weather that we were treated to. We had weather that wasn’t that much different than our winter visit … rain, hail, sleet, clouds, and snow! Hayden Valley couldn’t be accessed on several days because Dunraven Pass was closed due to snow and icy conditions. (Note: Please pardon these through the windshield images, but I wanted to share the wather shots)Of course, all we had to do was turn a corner and we had sunshine and blue skies as well. Got to love the variety of weather conditions that we had. :-)
Next up: More from Yellowstone NP
© 2016 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy