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Phenology Report for Late May 2015

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It’s raining again this morning. Over the past week, we’ve had around 2″of rain fall – one day giving us a full 1/2″. Talking with neighbors, they say that May is often the wettest month – with either lots of snow or rain. But they also agree that this is an unusual amount.

So that means the snowpack is back in the high country and the hills are greening up like crazy. That should keep the fire season at bay some.

About a week ago, I noticed the Western Bluebirds going in and out of the nest box in our yard more often. I do believe the chicks have hatched. Mike spotted a Western Tanager last week near Buffalo Bill Reservoir. We’re also seeing tons of Chipping Sparrows, and the Horned Larks are back as are the hummingbirds. At a neighbor’s house we watched some Calliopes feeding.

And a Kestrel shows up usually once or twice a day here to hunt – they are such beautiful birds. I’ve actually seen three or four on the power lines between the Wapiti Post Office and the Yellowstone Valley Inn when going back and forth to town.

The Chukars have not been seen for a few days here at our house – need to ask the neighbor if she’s seen them. But the Golden Eagles are back to hunting around the houses here – and we think we’ve found their nest, but it’s a bit far to see very well with binoculars. At some point we need to invest in a really good spotting scope.

Most of the deer are gone at this point – but a couple of them keep occasionally showing up, but nothing like we saw earlier in the month. Many are down lower on the valley bottom. The bucks have their antlers about half way up their ears at this point. We did see an unfortunate car vs deer incident the other evening – nobody won. The deer (looked pregnant) didn’t make it and the car looked pretty much totaled, but the people looked ok. Someone from Illinois most likely on their way to Yellowstone. A plot twist they didn’t expect.

They are reworking the road between the Wapiti School and the National Forest to try and mitigate this some – sloping the shoulders much more to make them easier to see. Next year they plan to work on the section from the School to the Post Office. The waits aren’t too bad now that the tourist season is in full swing.

Neighbors heading into Yellowstone report seeing lots of wildlife – bears at Mary Bay and Mt. Washburn, moose around Pahaska, elk and deer, and of course, bison.

Flowers are blooming – had a whole bunch of Arrowleaf Balsamroot on our property ready to bloom, but the deer came through one night and nipped off most every single blossom. Also seen have been Flax, Nuttall’s Viola (the little yellow ones), Evening Primrose, Indian Paintbrush, Larkspur, and Northern Sweetvetch. I need to get out to a few spots to do a check (such as at Sylvan Lake and Cub Creek for Glacier Lilies).

In town, the crabapple and apple blossoms as well as the lilacs were not very good this year. The dry winter took its toll on the plants. But this rain should help the garden perennials out. Heard that Northern Gardens hasn’t been very busy with the colder and wet weather – once the weather warms up, I’d bet they’d sell out quickly. Now is a better time to get there with a good selection. While we don’t have a yard here, I do want to pick up a few plants for a couple of containers. Hoping to get in before the weather breaks.

And summer does appear to be on the horizon of the weather forecast with a prediction of at least partly sunny and temps in the 60s starting for next weekend.

I apologize for the lack of photos here – overdid it with various work and my right shoulder seized completely on Friday night. Back to at least being able to type on the ipad here.

Be Outside | Let Nature Refresh You

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

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!

Hello March!

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March is here and I’m constantly scanning the sagebrush around our house, and the fences when driving into town for that flash of blue (the photo above, though, was taken last June). This tenth week of the year is about when the Mountain Bluebirds begin to arrive in the greater Yellowstone region. At first there will be one or two, but then the rest soon join in large flocks. I’ve already seen a Loggerhead Shrike looking for mice in the sagebrush – that was the first one to return. Also, the eagles should be working on their nest. The local pair of Golden eagles have been seen around here regularly and on carcasses in the area and should be working on their nest soon – if not already.

The deer are no longer as grey as they were – some are turning quite brown and the does are growing rounder with one or two babies growing inside. Many of the bucks have lost their antlers already. The bull elk, though, still have theirs for now. We can see them hanging out on top of a mountain across from us with the spotting scope – and when the light is right, those large racks amazingly show up.

If you’ve ever thought of keeping a nature notebook, March is a great time to start. Starting with phenology (observations of the rhythm of the seasons) is an easy entry point to getting yourself outside more.

Earlier this year, I decided to combine my phenology notebook and my field journal – dividing it up by weeks, and using one of my smaller notebooks with pocket pages and paper to keep track of things. In it there are pages to just quickly jot down with a pen a small observation, and for more formal field journal entries, I usually use the pocket pages. I like the loose-leaf, 3-binder so I can add in things as needed – but any notebook will do. Sometimes the more informal it is, the easier it is to start. Find something that works for you.

 

Ravens Dance and a bit more phenology

Raven Behavior 4 Jan 2015

Been meaning to get this bit of phenology up – at least of the ravens in the area. I watched this pair through binoculars for a good five minutes – two steps to the left, then one would bow and display and the other would return the bow. Then it was two more steps to the left. By the time I grabbed and moved the spotting scope to get some photos, the one here on the left was beginning to lose interest in the dance. I’ve not seen a lot of flight dances by them yet, but this was fun to watch.

We’ve been watching the Golden Eagles as well – but no visits that we’ve seen yet to their nest on the cliffs above us. On calm nights, we can still hear owls calling out their territory hootings. A pair from pretty much north of us, and a single return call to the west.

A neighbor reported his first deer shed from this year – about an 8″ spike antler.

Had another windstorm come through – a chinook that melted the snow, and pretty much did in the solid ice building on Buffalo Bill Reservoir much to the ice fishermen’s disgust. Calm, sunny and cold today, though, so perhaps the ice will make a solid return.

Sorry for the lack of regular posts – just a nose/grindstone thing. Lots of projects seeing attention – a few new products coming to the store soon as well.

UPDATE: The Golden eagles were seen close together this evening, and swooping and dancing in the air. Fun to watch.

Phenology Report 20 Dec 2014

Today we wait for the next snowstorm to move in here on the North Fork of the Shoshone – east of Yellowstone. We can see it’s already snowing in the park, which is a good thing. The east gate opens up on the 22nd for the winter season with Gary Fales Outfitting being the one to contact for information on heading into the park this winter from the Cody side.

We had a good warm spell that melted much of the snow here and left us with some beautiful wind-free winter days. Snow moved in on the 14th and left us a “hard-working 1/2″ (as a neighbor called the 5-6” or so we ended up with when less than an inch was predicted). The day after the storm was cold, but also wind-free, and pulled me outside to take some photos. The frost clung to nearly everything, and the fog would cut off views except for single spires at times.

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We watched a Northern Goshawk just barely miss a rabbit lunch just a few feet from our front deck. We had seen a hawk around the area in the distance, but never when we had the binoculars handy to see what type of hawk it might be – all we could really see was the lighter colored underbelly.

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Also this past week, we started to hear a duet being sung where only a solo Great Horned Owl had been heard before. Courting season for them appears to have begun.

On another fabulous winter day this week, we went with a friend out to hike around in the forest – and saw deer, a couple of Bighorn Sheep that heard us chatting and headed over the far ridge. Also saw at least one set of elk tracks mixed in with the deer tracks. It felt so good to get outside and away from unpacking boxes. The rut is winding down, but patches of blood were found from an apparent tussle between two of them that didn’t leave much of a trail. It always amazes me how quickly they can clot up.

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We got a report that Sunshine Reservoir over by Meeteetse had a brave ice fisherman testing it – the ice was reported to only be 2-3″ thick at this point.  The water levels at Buffalo Bill Reservoir are up a bit – just at the overflow level of the dust abatement dike where we’ve seen fishermen and bald eagles over the past week or so. Also have seen golden eagles in that same area when driving to town to do some Christmas errands. On the warm, calm days, we even saw a couple of boats out on the water there.

Photographer, Sandi Sisti has found a bull moose or two up farther toward Yellowstone, and as usual has captured some great shots.

Here in Wapiti, some neighbors have spotted wolves, likely from the Absaroka Pack in the past week or so. We’ve kept our eyes out for them, but haven’t seen or heard them. Also, we heard via hunters that the elk normally seen between Meeteetse and Cody are being kept up on Carter Mountain by the wolves in that area.

The snowstorm moving in today is supposed to stay for the rest of the week and give us a strong shot of having a white Christmas. Have a great week!

Phenology Update: 17 Oct 2014

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We are deep into fall here – the trees are past their peak and the winds are starting to pick up more. The temperatures are still warm at times, but it takes the days a bit longer to warm up than in past weeks.

Bears have reached hyperphagia – when they eat nearly all day long to pack on the pounds before hibernation. I noticed two weeks ago that the number of bear sightings in Yellowstone suddenly picked up almost overnight. The park closes in a couple of weeks and we hope to find a bit of time to head in to look for Grizzly Bears and to check on a couple of geyser basins as well.

We’ll have to keep a closer eye at home as well. A neighbor building a house not far from us stopped by this afternoon to let us know a large (500-600 lb estimated) grizzly gruffed at (and possibly bluff charged – Mike and I remember this differently) the workers there this morning. I’ve noticed Rhad has stuck closer to me the past couple of mornings when we go out together for his morning business. I’ve checked outside before heading and haven’t seen anything, but I think I’ll check a little closer for the next month or so and carry bear spray. We’ll also set up the trail cam to see if it catches anything other than rabbits.

It is harder to catch the last sightings than the firsts. But I’ve been at least working to track the bluebirds and pelicans. With nearly daily trips to town for this or that we need in our own winter preparations, I’ve been able to keep track to the pelicans on Buffalo Bill Reservoir. While most have left, one pair still remains. The number of gulls has dropped this week as well.

Last Monday (13 Oct 2014), I saw three Mountain bluebirds. I’m still keeping an eye out for them, but this trio may have been the last for this year. I’ll look forward to seeing them again next spring.

We set up the trail cam in my mom’s backyard as she was having nightly visitors that emptied out one of her bird feeders. Turns out it was racoons. She’s changed the way the feeder was supported in hopes they won’t be able to reach it now. Time will tell. We kept the camera on them for a couple of nights and learned they showed up around midnight and kept showing up until about 5 AM. Definitely not the guest she wishes to host.

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We’re also starting to see some elk high on the mountains across the valley from us and have heard they’re starting to move in above us. This is the wintering grounds for elk, deer and bighorn sheep that often spend their summers in Yellowstone. Last year with the hard winter we saw an amazing number of elk along the Northfork of the Shoshone River. It will be interesting to see what happens this winter. The elk herd that was along the river earlier has moved out – a couple of successful hunters left two gut piles in a field which pushed them out. While some might object to that, it’s actually a healthy thing for the herd.

It looks like we have at least another week of glorious fall weather here. I’ll be posting if we see anything interesting on the trail cam.

 


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