New Birds

One of the interesting things for me, when I visit a part of the country that I have never been to before, is the possibility of seeing a new species of birds. The recent trip to Yellowstone was not a bird watching trip, but I can't help but look at birds. I suspect that Tammy would argue that I was doing plenty of bird watching, but the focus on this trip was touring and sight-seeing (including maybe seeing a new bird or two).

On the first day of our trip, after we arrived in Salt Lake City, we took the afternoon to explore Antelope Island. To get to the island, you have to drive along this long causeway out into the lake. As we began along the causeway, I realized what a spectacular bird watching destination it was. There were shore birds on both sides of the road, and it was difficult not stopping and scanning each and every bird.

I did stop a couple times to look and take some pictures. Here are a couple of the photos. The first photo is of an American Avocet, with his odd up-turned bill. I have seen this species before, but they are so neat looking that I always have to stop and look whenever I see one. The second photo is of a Long-billed Curlew, also with an odd bill, but his is long (hence the name) and downward curved. This was the first time I had ever seen this species (and the real reason I stopped to look to see what else might be around).

American Avocet
Long-billed Curlew


Before I switch over to bird photos, I figured I would post one more mammal of the four-legged variety. A few days back I shared a photo of a cow and calf moose running away from our car in Bear Lake NWR, but this is a full grown male moose. He's big, and gots large antlers!

We spotted this creature in Grand Teton National Park. Much the same as Yellowstone, the large number of pulled over cars, and the presence of park rangers to keep the traffic moving and people a safe distance away from the animal, was our indicator that we might want to stop and check things out. There was a nice crowd of folks standing behind the park ranger, many with camera in hand, taking photos of this giant.

Tammy and I gingerly walked into the group, taking care not to get in anyone's photographic line of sight. Then we proceeded to take our own pictures. Mine were of the moose, but Tammy's were of the back of the head of a first class jack-ass. Someone else did not have the same courtesy as Tammy and I, and they planted themselves right in front of Tammy as she took her first picture. And then the moose laid down in the grass, becoming nearly invisible (believe it or not...that huge thing really did become just a discussion once he laid could not see him). Tammy was just a "tad annoyed" until she heard some other woman complain about the same guy. Then she became quite steamed. That guy, of course, was like the moose, and now nowhere to be seen.

So, despite the frustration it may cause Tammy, here is my shot of that big male moose. And if that rude photo-op dude happens to read this, you were lucky to not get a slap in the face. And next time, watch where you are walking!

Big Moose


I was expecting to eventually see a pika, but I really did not know what one looked like. I was thinking it was mouse-like (although it is more closely related to a rabbit), but really did not know how large one would be, nor whether it would be shy and run away, or just ignore me. When Tammy and I hiked around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, I got my answers.

When we startled this pika, it immediately ran for cover into the underbrush. And then immediately ran back out to the rock it was on when we first saw it. It would run and hide, and then just as quickly come back out. At one point I thought it might check out my boots. Unfortunately for this particular pika, he has a nice juicy tick right between his eyes. Maybe he kept running back out because he wanted me to pull that thing out?



Another fairly common mammal of Yellowstone National Park is the Pronghorn. This animal is often called a "Pronghorn Antelope" (including by me, up until I wrote this blog post), but according to Wikipedia, it is not really an antelope at all.

One afternoon, Tammy and I decided to hike a trail that started in the Yellowstone Picnic Area (in the northeast corner of the park), and paralleled the Yellowstone River Canyon for a couple of miles. It was a beautiful hike, even though I was not exceptionally comfortable hiking along a nearly 500 foot drop. I personally decided that a new trail, about 5 feet further away from the canyon, but otherwise exactly parallel to the existing trail, would be better suited for my needs. When we got to the point where trail headed away from the canyon, however, we had beautiful views of a shallower section of the canyon, known as Bannock Ford, part of the Bannock Trail (photo #1).

After we turned away from the canyon and began the second half of the loop, we came across three Pronghorn that were chilling out in the meadow. We spooked them, but they did not just run away (photos #2 and #3). They acted nervous, and the male of the bunch kept making this sneezing noise, something that Tammy and I both interpreted as "don't come any closer". We obliged, and simply took photos until the Pronghorn moved away from the trail.

Bannock Ford

You Should Call This Elk "Sir"

Seeing elk in Yellowstone National Park is nearly as easy as seeing bison. The elk do not get in the way nearly as much as the bison do, but they are still found near the roads often enough, causing people to slow down or stop in order to get a better look or a photo. There was one place in particular, however, where the elk caused no shortage of angst for the park staff: Mammoth Hot Springs.

I do not know if it is the time of year, or if it is all the manicured green grass, but the little oasis of Mammoth, located on the north side of the park, has its own elk herd. To be more precise, it has one dominant stag, 15 to 20 cows that are part of his "harem", and one or two or three other stags who are looking to get in on some "cow action". The dominant stag, by the way, is the jealous type, and likes to share with no one.

Since the elk are so accessible to us humans in Mammoth, the park rangers have a constant struggle on their hands. The humans must stay back 25 yards or so from the herd, no matter where the herd happens to wander. So the park rangers are often times acting as this giant circle of traffic cops, telling people to back up, move along, watch out or whatever is necessary to keep us humans safe from that herd. Or, to be more precise, safe from that jealous dominant stag. Apparently, even a human who gets between him and one of his harem might spark his ire. Some unlucky (or stupid?) people end up on the wrong end of those antlers.

Of course, Tammy and I were part of the throng of people being herded by the park rangers as they worked to keep the human herd and the elk herd from intermingling. We were in Mammoth to grab some lunch, so we took the opportunity to take pictures of the elk. And we were lucky. Another male elk came sneaking in and was trying to "make friends" with some of the cows. When the dominant stag noticed the interloper, the chase was on. Out with the interloper! The fourth picture below gives a pretty good indication of just how large that dominant stag actually is. The interloper had no choice but to run. After the interloper had been dispatched, the dominant male came back to his harem, herded them into an even closer bunch than before, made that bugle noise that male elk make during the fall, and rubbed his antlers all over the ground. I guess in the world of elk, all that stuff means "Not in my house!".

Master of the Herd
Hopeful Male Elk
Hopeful Male Elk
Dominant Male Elk

Mr. Cuddly

Apparently I have this inclination to give animals cute names that are the exact opposite of their true nature. Earlier this summer I named a turtle "Mr. Speedy". Now I am calling a Grizzly Bear "Mr. Cuddly".

On Wednesday of last week, Tammy and I decided to drive out to Lamar Valley within Yellowstone National Park. The road within the park that leads to the park's northeast entrance takes you through Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley was billed as an excellent location to see wildlife, including bears and wolves. Since Tammy and I were staying in West Yellowstone, and Lamar Valley was on the opposite side of the park (about a 70 mile drive), and the wildlife in Lamar Valley is best found at sunrise, we had a very early start.

It was worth it. We did see a Grizzly Bear. I had to use my spotting scope, cranked up to 60x magnification, in order to get a good look. The other folks who were stopped at the same pull-out were thankful that I had my scope. I tried to digiscope a photo through my scope, but the light was just too low at 60x magnification. The first picture below was taken with my 100-400mm lens all the way out to 400mm. That little black dot in the center of the picture is the grizzly :-)

We also briefly saw a pair of wolves. They were present, right next to the grizzly, for just a few seconds, and then they disappeared. No one could relocate them after that, and there was no time at all to get a photo. That was the only wolf sighting I had during this trip. Other large mammals within Lamar Valley include the more abundant American Bison, and Pronghorn Antelope.

Ironically, as we were driving out of Lamar Valley, on our way to Mammoth for some lunch, we ran into a huge traffic jam. It was caused by another grizzly, who was very near the road. There were lots of stopped cars, and people out of their cars taking photos. We were lucky because we arrived at the traffic jam right behind a park ranger. The park ranger began telling people to move their cars, and to get back into their cars, and to use the official pull-outs instead of just stopping anywhere they pleased. This meant that we got to drive through the area immediately, as the traffic jam cleared, and Tammy got a couple choice photo opportunities from the passenger seat (including a couple with my #2 below). We then pulled over at a nearby "official" pull-out, and I snapped a few more photos using my 100-400mm lens (photos #3 and #4).

[edit: corrected mileage for drive to Lamar and added link to Google map]

Distant Grizzly
Roadside Grizzly
Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear

These Bison Sure Look Like Buffalo

I knew that we would see bison on our trip out west. There is a herd located on Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, and I was fairly sure we would see one or two in Yellowstone. In reality, you are pretty likely to literally drive into a bison in Yellowstone if you are not paying attention.

When we first entered the park, we thought the bison were so cool, and would slow down or stop to gawk and take photos, thinking we were seeing the best bison photo opportunities ever. I am sure we annoyed some folks who were in cars behind us. Towards the end of our trip, however, we realized that bison were very common, and we began to scoff at the other tourists who were stopping for every little bit of bison that they noticed while driving through the park.

One of the deceiving things about bison is how dangerous they are. They seem very docile, slow and pretty dopey. Statistics from Yellowstone National Park, however, record a different tale: bison charge a human an average of five times a year, compared to a bear attacking a human an average of only one time a year. That difference is probably driven by how many more bison you see (vs. the number of bears you see), and the misperception that bison are not really dangerous animals (which causes people to get way too close to bison).

Tammy and I were also wondering if there was a difference between a bison and a buffalo. The technical biological answer is "yes", but when it comes to American history, the answer is "no". That is because when early American settlers found these large bovines, they called them buffalo in error, because they were similar to Water Buffalo from the far east. In reality, the American Buffalo is really an American Bison.

Here are a selection of my favorite bison photos from the Yellowstone trip. All of these were taken from inside our car. If I were on foot and this close to these bison, I would have deserved any abuse that the bison elected to dish out.

American Bison on Road
Bison Have The Right-of-Way
American Bison

From the "Kicking Myself" department

Today Tammy and I took a short hike adjacent to Yellowstone Lake. The very beginning of the hike, however passed through a field of low scrub, and next to a small pond that contained a few rafts of ducks. After we were done with the hike, I grabbed my scope so that I could attempt to identify the ducks in that small pond, and Tammy waited for me in the car.

I had been puzzling over the ducks with no clear identification for about five minutes, when I looked back towards the car. That is when I saw two dogs running free, coming out of the small lot where our car (and several others) were parked. And then I realized that they were not some one's pets, but two Coyote. The two Coyote kept trotting toward me as I watched them with interest. One eventually angled off to the small pond I had been watching, while the other kept heading my way, apparently oblivious (or uncaring) to my presence. My curiosity actually shifted to a bit of concern as I imagined this wild dog discovering me and not liking me one bit. I actually clapped my hands to make sure the Coyote knew I was there, but he did not react at all.

Just before I had to worry about my next move, however, the closer of the two Coyote stopped and stared at the ground. He had detected something that caught his interest. He was probably 50 feet away from me. He eventually did this jump/dive move like he was pouncing on something. I remember the dog I had while growing up doing the exact same thing when he was pursuing a mole in our backyard. When the Coyote came up with some critter in his mouth that, two chomps later, was swallowed whole, I was kicking myself because my camera was in the car with Tammy. Note to self: always carry your camera in Yellowstone because you never know what you might see.

I was saved from having to worry about the Coyote being any closer because another person was walking about with their Chihuahua, and the Chihuahua was not on a leash. The two Coyote had come back together and both had noticed the Chihuahua, and were not happy. The man who owned the Chihuahua apparently realized his best friend was about to become a meal, because he quickly put his dog on a short leash.

Luckily, the Coyote both decided to move on, leaving me with a nice memory but no picture, and the Chihuahua owner the opportunity to ponder the virtues of keeping his pet on a leash.

Even though I did not capture a photo of this particular Coyote, and its quick meal, here is a photo that I managed to grab on Antelope Island of a Coyote as it ran into the cover of tall grass. The one on Antelope Island was much much farther away than the one I saw today.

Coyote in Grass

Moose Running Scared

As I mentioned in my Sunday Drive post, Tammy and I stopped at Bear Lake NWR to do some bird watching. We got there around lunch time and had the place to ourselves. There were plenty of birds to be seen, but eventually the time of day started to press on us since we had about three more hours of driving to go. So we began to drive out of the reserve.

The roads in the preserve are all gravel, with plenty of washboards, so we really could not go that fast. As we drove towards the exit, however, Tammy and I were both startled by something rather large and furry running out of the weeds ahead and to the right of the car. Our drive out of the park had spooked a momma moose and her calf, and they were even more startled by our presence than we were of theirs. I managed to get the car stopped in time to snap a few photos through the passenger side window, which Tammy had graciously rolled down.

Startled Moose


A Chukar is a chicken like bird that can be found in the western part of the country, but especially around Nevada and Utah. This species, however, is not native to the Americas. It is actually from Pakistan, and was brought to the United States as a game bird. Eventually, however, enough of the birds survived the hunters to establish a breeding population, making them a legitimate North American species.

This picture was taken on Saturday while Tammy and I hiked a short trail on Antelope Island. On a side note, the free Internet that I am enjoying in West Yellowstone is a tad slow, so the pictures I took yesterday are still getting uploaded to my Phanfare account. I have a whole new batch of pictures that I took today that I have not even started to upload tonight. At this rate, my blog posts will still be including photos from this week when Thanksgiving rolls around.


Sunday Drive

Tammy and I arrived in Salt Lake City yesterday around noon without issue. After spending the afternoon exploring Antelope Island, located in the Great Salt Lake, we then set our thoughts on today's activities.

Today was nothing more than a nice Sunday Drive. It was nearly 400 miles long, but when you have all Sunday, who cares. The drive took us north from Salt Lake City, Utah to West Yellowstone, Montana. On the way we drove the Logan Canyon Scenic Drive, stopped at Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge for some bird watching (and a momma and baby moose), drove through parts of Idaho and Wyoming, and generally saw lots of mountains and wide open, see-for-forever plains. Yes, today was a four state, 392 mile, Sunday drive.

Google recently simplified the process of embedding Google maps in other web sites, including blogs. So, when I printed the directions for today's drive, I was able to get the code to embed it in this post. I have taken about 400 pictures between yesterday and today, but have not gone through them yet to find nice ones to share.

View Larger Map

Mister Mantis Says Safe Travels

With a wink and a nod, this Praying Mantis seems to be wishing Tammy and I safe travels. We depart this morning for Yellowstone National Park, via Salt Lake City and a nice Sunday drive. The weather in Yellowstone appears to be a bit sketchy this coming week, with highs in the 50s on the "warm" days. There is a chance of rain every day we will be there, and even a few mentions of snow showers.

But I don't care about cool, wet weather. Tammy and I have the appropriate clothes for that. I am looking forward to grand views, large mammals that do not want to play with us, maybe a few birds, geothermal features, and waterfalls. Of course, I will be attempting to take a lot of pictures (weather permitting), and posting the good or interesting ones in this blog as quickly as my fatigue and Internet connection allow.

Regarding Mister Mantis, he was found in Tammy's backyard a few weeks back. I am not sure whether his eyes are normal (his left "pupil" appears to be much smaller than his right "pupil"), or if he has some type of abnormality.

Praying Mantis

Even More Bugs

My last post showed you several butterflies that I saw on the Doyles River Loop. This post has photos of three more bugs that I ran across.
1. A bee carrying a load of pollen.
2. A Water Strider located in a pool below the Doyles River Upper Falls.
3. A Green Stink Bug found near the Doyles River Lower Falls.

Bee With Pollen
Water Strider
Green Stink Bug

Butterflies of Doyles River Loop

If you hike anywhere in Shenandoah during the month of August, you will see lots of butterflies. Our recent hike on the Doyles River Loop was no exception. I managed to get photographs of four different species of butterfly on the hike:
1. Spicebush Swallowtail.
2. Great Spangled Fritillary.
3. Silver-spotted Skipper. Not a very good photo.
4. Hackberry Emperor. Tammy is the hand model.

Spicebush Swallowtail
Great Spangled Fritillary
Silver-spotted Skipper
Hackberry Emperor

Doyles River Loop

A couple weeks back Tammy and I hiked Doyles River Loop in Shenandoah. We actually hiked a variant that began at Browns Gap instead of the Doyles River Overlook. This variant hike was described as being 2 miles shorter than the real hike of 7.8 miles. At the end of the hike, however, my GPS said we had hiked 7.3 miles, only half a mile less instead of the predicted two miles less. So either we took a wrong turn, my GPS is screwy, or the book was wrong. I am voting on #3.

Despite the additional mileage, this was a great hike. It was a warm day and we finished very tired, but there were good things to be seen the entire hike. For example, as I mentioned above, the variant hike began at Browns Gap, following the old Browns Gap Turnpike down the mountain. It is now a fire road for the park, but it was originally constructed by the Brown family to move produce. During the Civil War, however, it was used by Stonewall Jackson to move troops. A little ways down the old road, there was a clearing on the left side where someone had taken care to preserve a grave marker. There is no date on the marker, but the individual, one William H. Howard, succumbed to something on this road and was laid to rest here. According to the marker (and this web page), he was in Company F ("The Fluvanna Hornets"), of the 44th Virginia Infantry, of the Confederate States Army.

Eventually the old turnpike crosses the Doyles River Trail. We turned right on it and followed it down, past a couple "could have been nice" waterfalls until it turned into Jones Run Trail and began to ascend. This took us back up the mountain, again past several "waiting for rain" waterfalls, until we got to the Appalachian Trail. We then followed the Appalachian Trail back to the car at Browns Gap.

The number of significant waterfalls on this hike makes it something to return to at some point in the future. On this day, there just was not very much water flowing in the streams. A couple of the waterfalls were just rock walls with no water. In the future, when the weather has not been so dry, a return trip should allow us to see water falling.

Here are a couple of photos from the start of the hike. The first shows the sign for "Brown Gap". All the books, and online maps, show this as "Browns Gap", but the sign on the Skyline Drive did not include the "s" on "Brown" for some reason. The second photo is of the grave marker I described above.

Brown Gap Sign
William H. Howard Grave Marker