Happy to be here: Cowboy

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A journaling prompt for the first of May was “Describe a moment from today you want to remember always.”

Here’s what I wrote (which I entered under C in my yearly photo book):

COWBOY

1 MAY 2015: Norris Geyser Basin
He was startled to feel hands on his shoulders, but it’s not the first time this type of thing has happened. You see, he usually wears a cowboy hat simply because it covers more than a baseball cap. And he looks good in a cowboy hat. This makes him a target for the ‘classic’ western shots taken by those visiting here from the far east. Today, it seems a gal with white make-up on her face, lovely curly hair and a gorgeous silk kimono – a geisha? – took a shine to him, taking photos of him and finally, sitting down next to him and, after speaking some Japanese and pointing to her cell phone, she handed her cell phone to a friend to take her photo of her sitting next to a cowboy. But then the others in the tour group got bolder including this one that put her hands on his shoulders, to have her photo taken with him. I smiled again, knowing I married a tourist attraction.

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This moment got me thinking back to other visitors to Yellowstone that stand out in memory as being completely delighted to be here. There are lots of them. This year, I plan to really look for these – as another type of mindfulness – and a way to keep the focus for me away from those who just don’t get it. Watch for more of these to come.

Photos used here were edited in part using Rad Lab (affiliate link)

Thanks for your support

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The moisture has finally come. Rain, sometimes snow, and lately, lots of fog have filled the days here. So grateful for the moisture in any form. The worries of a horrid fire season have been squelched. The outlook from earlier this month should look even better at this point.

But the clouds will eventually part and I’ll be drawn outside much more. One of my goals for this blog (and Geyser Watch as well as SnowMoon Photography), is to get regular, ideally nearly daily posts up. Some will be short, others longer. But each post can take up to an hour or more to craft. All of it costs money.

I’ve considered shutting down this blog over the past few months since it’s really not bringing in much money to support itself. But documenting life is a passion of mine, and I don’t want to shut it down. So things need to change.

To that end, and with the shift of our business to Wyoming made, you’ll start seeing affiliate links here on the blog and a shift to making this a better business. So, if you follow a link, say, to a product on Amazon, and you make a purchase (that item or any other), the business will receive a small portion of that sale. There’s no extra cost to you, but it will help me bring more posts here to this blog and my other blogs without having to spend time on other income generating efforts that, honestly, get in the way of creating posts.

You can help also support a more constant stream of content from the Greater Yellowstone area as well as more examples in my various Field Journals by purchasing photo prints or products, or items in my Etsy Shop.

Thanks so much for your support!

Bears and Bison

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First we had this incident with the black bears on the bridge.

The Park Service responded with a fabulous video about what to do at a bear jam. The only thing they left out was that if this had been a grizzly bear sow with three cubs, it likely wouldn’t have ended quite so peacefully.

Yesterday, a teen was gored by a bison near Old Faithful who was 3 to 6 feet away and turned her back.

Part of the problem is that the wildlife in Yellowstone seems almost tame. But this isn’t a zoo.

The Park Service is not here to guarantee you a safe visit. People burn themselves in thermal features (is it really that hot? Yes. Try boiling some water on the stove and then consider sticking your finger in it – that’s cooler than some of the hot springs in Yellowstone. No? Sure you don’t want to try it?). The wildlife can attack when threatened or not given a path to escape. Most animals don’t want to confront you. If you give them a way out, they’ll usually take it.

These two were making noises to try and get this bison to stand up for a photo. I stayed back as the bison quickly responded by rolling a few times, then standing and looking at these two. Simply that action was enough for me to have a way out should they escalate the situation. I tried to get their attention, but they only glanced over at me and ignored my shaking head, and said something to each other in a foreign language and laughed.

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The rules are to stay 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from other wildlife.

Do you even know how far that is? Can you estimate how far away something is?

Estimating distance is a skill that can be developed. And there’s an app for that!

I’ve been playing around with a measuring app from the App store: Easy Measure and a more complex one: Theodolite.

I don’t have an android phone, but Smart Measure looks like it should be able to measure distance as well as the height of that eruption of Old Faithful.

Start your vacation before you head to Yellowstone: If you’ve got kids, this is a great summer or home school project. Get them started on building the skill of estimating distances, and starting to teach them how to be safe when outdoors with wildlife around.

And you know the animals in Yellowstone are wild…I saw this bison a few years back and would have loved to know more about that battle wound.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park after an encounter where he lost part of a horn now covered in blood

Species Account: Chukar

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It seems we have a pair of Chukars looking to set up housekeeping near the house. For the past couple of days, they’ve circled our house and a neighbor’s house. This morning the male (just slightly larger) kept watch while the female fed just behind our house. So fun to have the living room as a huge and very comfortable wildlife blind.

We’ve started to just walk Rhad in the front yard to make the back feel safer for these two and have gotten after him for starting to chase them. He can do ‘Rabbit Patrol’ but these aren’t rabbits.

And with the chance they might nest nearby, I’m excited to start a new Species Account for Chukars in my Field Journal. In it I’ll add details we observe as well as some research as it’s nice to have all of that in one location. More to come on these two as we watch them a bit more.

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Ice Out at Yellowstone Lake

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On my way back home after a day of watching Ledge Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin (4 May 2015), I was delighted to find the ice finally flowing out from the Lake and under Fishing Bridge. But this is early. Scary early with how dry it is already. But this past week at home we received .27″ of rain one night and the next week or so has snow and rain in the forecast most every day (figures — we have a multi-family garage sale/estate sale happening tomorrow & Saturday).

The ice flowing along, though, had me turn around and park to walk out for a short video to share this moment with you.

Yellowstone Lake Ice Out 2015-05-04 17.56.19 from Janet White on Vimeo.

Lots more to come – and lots of updates to do on the phenology page. Hope to get to all of it soon.

Phenology Update for Late April

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I’m not quite sure what birds arrived yesterday, (I’m still learning the ones that make the sagebrush steppe their summer home), but this morning when taking Rhad out,the air was filled with their sweet singing. Over the past couple of weeks, it’s been a gradual shift, but this morning, with the dawn chorus in full gear, it feels like Spring is here.

On the 16th, we had a good 10″ of heavy wet snow that disappeared almost within a day. That’s the moisture we’ve needed. Since then, we’ve had bits of snow and rain. Winters often average out, and while we still may have fire issues this summer, at least the snow pack in the high country is a bit better.

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The snow melts and soaks in to give the grass a good jump start. Yellow dots can now show in the green with the first dandelions coming out down low in the valley and slowly working their way up. And the small yellow violas are out as well. I even found some white loco weed with a good set of blooms already out in a sheltered location near the house.

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The deer are still hanging around, but they wander much more now with the green grass emerging in earnest, moving slowly across the hillsides each morning and afternoon. The boys are starting to show their new set of antlers. A report from at least a week ago came in to say the elk in Sunlight had been blazing a trail through the snow along the path that takes them over to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

Also got a report that the osprey are back on the nest at Half Moon Bay near Buffalo Bill Reservoir.We had seen some bird there, strongly suspecting it was an Osprey, but without binoculars and a stop, we weren’t fully certain. The Pelicans are seen many days, but not all, so it’s hard to say if they are migrants or the summer residents, but usually three to five are there when we see them.

The Western Bluebirds calling our yard home for the summer were seen mating about a week ago, not long after we stopped seeing nest material being brought in.

And on the human phenology, we’ve noticed a sharp uptick in the traffic – and motorhomes are more common on the roads. The travelers and summer residents are returning. The East Gate to Yellowstone opens up on Friday, and it’s good to see at least a few people seem to be starting their vacations here in Cody. Smart folks – a week in Cody is about right to see much of what’s here.

We’re looking forward to trying out the restaurants again this year along the North Fork. Last year The Trail Shop had a good cook and we visited it a few times, and we had neighbors reporting that Shoshone Lodge also had good food. I’ll be sure to report what we find this year.

Phenology Report – Early April 2015

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This week we’ve dipped back into winter, and I’m glad for it simply because we need the moisture. We had 4″ of snow on the 6th and 1″ on the 4th. Not much, but each snowfall melts to show just a bit more green. The day before a storm moves in, we often have glorious weather that gets us itching to get outside more.

This has been an incredibly mild winter here and most everywhere I’ve gone in town, people are already talking about the hard summer we’ll face if we end up with a dry spring as well. That, and the consequences of a mild winter – ticks and voles.

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The ticks are thicker than I’ve seen in many years – making me choose walks that take me down the middle of a road. But on April 2, arriving like superheros, the Gray-capped Rosy-Finches showed up by the hundreds. The worked the sagebrush, flying over, and I’m hoping – eating the ticks. They would fly in and a few would land, the next landing in front of them, then more landing in front of those – looking like they a giant rolling cloud. Or perhaps a sticky roller – picking up the ticks along the way. They moved in a few times and pretty much covered the area around here – so I’m hopeful that they knocked the ticks down at least a bit. I’ve been seeing them every day or two, so the food supply must be enough to support them.

I’ve also noticed birds following the deer and the elk around – magpies in particular – jumping up and picking off what I assume are ticks. I saw some cowbirds lining a horse’s back in a pasture on the valley floor, so they are back.

The voles are starting to filter into more and more discussions I hear in town. They are thriving and lawns are suffering. The voles are bringing in the raccoons who can dig some pretty large holes going after them as a meal. Between this and the high deer population in town, it might be a lean summer for gardens. After doing a lot of research, my mom and others are resorting to gassing the little buggers.

Before this snow came in, we had a few amazing days of warmth and little wind. We even touched in the 70s out here. I had a chance to simply sit outside for a bit and read in the sun – gathering in a bit of Vitamin D. The plan for the day was to crunch out some work on the computer, but it seems a Canadian Goose hit a power line and the power was out for three hours. Delightful break, but I’m sorry the Goose had to sacrifice him/herself to get it. I also saw my first butterflies as well as some mayflies, thanks to that break.

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The bluebirds seem to have sorted out who is going to live where this summer. The pair who won our at our nest box visit every morning and evening, but are gone for much of the day, but the nest building has begun and they are increasingly busy at that task.

One morning this past week, a Kestrel flew by and landed on the fence for a few minutes – the pointed wings shooting past the window caught my attention more than anything. It stayed long enough for me to grab the binoculars and spend a minute or so just appreciating the colors and beautiful markings on it since it was too far away for a photo. I’ve heard they are a sign of a healthy environment, and it is a pretty complete ecosystem around here.

The grouse should be strutting on their leks each morning now, but we’ve yet to get up early to head out to watch them. We’ve especially kept an eye out here near the house because we’ve flushed grouse on numerous occasions, but now that we’re specifically looking for them, we’ve not seen them. And we need to plan a trip to a Sage Grouse lek as well.

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The rabbits around our house are also thriving – it’s not uncommon to look out and easily see a half dozen out eating the fresh green grass or sitting against a wind break of some sort, soaking in the warmth. That brought a Golden Eagle in to hunt close to the house one morning, but unfortunately, we didn’t get many shots – just don’t have better lenses, but it was amazing to see this bird up close in the early morning light.

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And on Easter morning, a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk spent his time looking for an Easter bunny breakfast. And he had a tag-along Clark’s Nutcracker. Wherever the hawk landed, the nutcracker was a fence pole away. Maybe the nutcrackers are nesting somewhere nearby.

In the last week of March, we heard that someone in the area watched a moose swim across Buffalo Bill Reservoir to the dust abatement dike on the North Fork side, climb up and then settle down for a nap. Also a Grizzly Bear walked all the way down Green Creek to valley floor. A neighbor also reported seeing tracks on a road above their house – so they are out and about.

 

Western Thatching Ants

2015-03-29 11.26While on a walk today, Mike and I noticed an ant mound with the inhabitants covering the top. I snapped a photo and looked them up. They are Western Thatching Ants. A neighbor said they’ve been out on warm days for a few weeks now, but this was our first time noticing them.

After reading and watching a couple of videos, I’ll have to keep an eye on them for birds – and steer clear of them – don’t really want to get bit.

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Here are some of the sites that helped me to learn more:

http://www.naturenorth.com/summer/Ants/Thatching_Ants.html

https://www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/western-thatch-ant.cfm

Elk are on the move

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Just a quick phenology note to say the elk are starting to be seen in new locations as compared to even a few weeks ago. Sometimes we’re seeing them in large bands, but also now in smaller ones. The other day by the Wapiti Post Office, there were four of them standing just as close together as they could. This morning, a larger group seems to be down behind the School.

Somewhere recently I heard about an article saying that while there are fewer elk around due to wolf predation, the ones that remain are tough and mean – getting much better at defending themselves. The group seen above didn’t stay very long – incredibly alert, someone out walking a dog at least a quarter mile away from them was enough for them to turn and move over the hill.

The deer are also moving a bit differently around here – so the migration is underway.

Phenology Report: Mid March 2015

21 MAR 2015 - Ishawooa Horse Head on Southf Fork  near Cody, WY

21 MAR 2015 – Ishawooa Horse Head on Southf Fork near Cody, WY

Spring is coming early here – and the low snowpack is a concern to many. Already the Ishawooa horse’s head on South Fork is clearly showing. The horse’s reins hanging down will eventually melt enough to ‘break.’ This is used as an indication of when the highest runoff is over and the mountain passes are clear enough to travel. Compare this year (above) on March 21 to last year (below) on June 15:

15 JUNE 2014 - Ishawooa Horse Head

15 JUNE 2014 – Ishawooa Horse Head

In fact, even a drive up to Pahaska, near the East Gate of Yellowstone had hardly any snow. For those of you who know the area, we didn’t even see any snow or ice on the banks of the river until we were almost to Kitty Creek.

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But today as I type this, we’ve had bit of snow and it’s still snowing up higher – and more is in the forecast. I’m always happy to see snow or rain out here – thankful for the moisture.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebirds have returned for the summer.

As for the birds returning, the Bluebirds are back – and in our little pocket of houses, each has at least one bluebird nesting box and the birds are battle out where they will live for the next few months. We have a pair that has been busy protecting their claim on the bird box behind our house. The Mountain Bluebirds returned on March 10 to most of the greater Yellowstone area. That was also the day a report came in of Sandhill Cranes over on South Fork outside of Cody. Since then we’ve seen them as well.

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Sandhill Cranes flying overhead on 21 Mar 2015

On a drive around the area, we spotted three bison on North Fork – all plodding their way west toward the park.

A bull bison that spent the winter east of Yellowstone

Bison seen along the North Fork of the Shoshone River 21 March 2015

And we saw numerous bands of Bighorn Sheep in the lower part of the North Fork – most were ewes, but a few rams were in the mix as well.

Two Bighorn rams keeping to the edge of the road along the North Fork Highway

Two Bighorn rams keeping to the edge of the road along the North Fork Highway

The mule deer bucks in the area have mostly lost their antlers – I did notice one large buck rubbing his head in the sagebrush as his new set of antlers is starting to come in. Must be similar to cutting teeth.

All along the North Fork, the aspen had their catkins nearly fully out. The Cottonwoods are getting ready to follow with the buds on all the trees quite swollen. We did stop by Newton Spring Picnic Area and noticed the Gooseberry bushes are already sending out leaves. Looking down at the base of the bunch grass in the area, there’s more and more green showing. Dandelions have their first leaves out, but no blossoms yet.

In town, the lilac bushes are starting to send out their leaves and I spot crocuses and daffodils blooming in a few yards.

So spring is well on its way here in the Cody area, but I’m glad to see winter hanging on for a bit to give us a bit more snowpack.

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You can see more of my Yellowstone Phenology Notes here and be sure to check out my other sites/blogs – SnowMoon Photography and Geyser Watch.

And make time to get outside yourself and enjoy watching spring arrive in your area!