Monday, December 31, 2012

The Lone Black Wolf - Yellowstone Reflections

A lone black wolf crosses the Lamar Valley
It starts as a black spot. No, actually, it starts as a bunch of cars on the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park and people looking through binoculars and scopes over the open Lamar Valley. So we stop, of course. And look. And shyly ask. With scraps of information shared in hushed tones and magnified glances, the black spot gradually turns into a wolf with four legs slowly moving across the wide river plain. A black wolf following its sharp nose, stopping, looking around, then moving on.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bighorn Sheep or Mountain Goat?- Yellowstone Reflections

Bighorn sheep climbing slopes high above the historic Roosevelt Arch of Yellowstone National Park
We saw a group of female and juvenile bighorn sheep browsing on the steep slopes above the Gardiner River canyon near the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Bighorn sheep, especially females with young, prefer steep, open slopes where their nimbleness gives them the advantage to escape predators.

Still, they are cautious. As the group of approximately 15 ewes and lambs moved across the slope, the first adult would check over the edge.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Scenic Interlude - Yellowstone Reflections

Dead Indian Pass, Wyoming
Just a reminder that the Greater Yellowstone Area is rich in scenic vistas, history and geology in addition to all the wildlife which depend on and shape the same landscape.

This is part of a series of posts on wildlife observed in Yellowstone National Park in September 2012. To see more posts, select "Yellowstone" in the Sightings box in the right column.

Reconnoitering Wolf - Yellowstone Reflections

Wolf reconnoitering a pond in Yellowstone National Park.
On our second day in Yellowstone, we saw our second wolf. After stopping at Lake Butte Overlook to check out a story about the islands of Yellowstone Lake, we continued on our merry, chatty way when suddenly a wolf appeared on the side of the road.

It was loping along at a good pace, crossed the road, and as I popped out of the car, it headed down a ravine.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pronghorn Antelope - Yellowstone Reflections

Pronghorn antelope in Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park
Lamar Valley is a wide river plain of glacier-strewn sediments and grasses, so Lamar Valley is a land of herds and grazing animals, pronghorn antelopes and bison, flocks of sandhill cranes and Canada geese.

From the distance in September in Yellowstone National Park, I enjoyed spotting the white rumps of the pronghorn antelopes in the wide vistas of Lamar Valley. First I would see one white rump in the binoculars and then check for the oddly-shaped horns, head in profile and chest; then I would spot another white-rumped pronghorn; then many, even without the binocs.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Collared Coyote - Yellowstone Reflections

Coyote in Yellowstone National Park - collared and ear tagged
A few days later, we were cruising the Northeast Entrance Road along Soda Butte Creek around dusk hoping for a view of the Lamar Canyon wolf pack and their pups when instead a collared coyote popped up. It had a radio collar and a bright pink tag on its right ear.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

First Wolf - Yellowstone Reflections

A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park showing the wolf's broad face and white hairs around the mouth.
We arrived in Yellowstone National Park on the first of September in a thunderstorm and put our tents up in blowing rain. The first day was a good day for collecting information at the Visitor Centers and reacquainting ourselves with the lay of the land. By 7 pm, the Lion Hunter and I were leisurely driving the Grand Loop Road east of Madison discussing careers in biology when we saw signs of wildlife - a traffic jam.

The Lion Hunter said, "Wolf. Get out!" and without thinking, I obeyed. I grabbed my binoculars and camera and walked along the top of the river bank. I didn't see anything but studied where the crowd of people were looking between the pine branches. Then I saw movement on the other side of the river and suddenly I was looking at my first wolf ever. Its fur was streaked with white but somehow it looked young to me.

Yellowstone Reflections

Yellowstone National Park - sky, land, water. life.
I've decided to try something different in the next few days - share wildlife photos from Yellowstone National Park. The Dipper Ranch blog is primarily about natural history in the Santa Cruz Mountains located on the central coast of California, especially sightings and seasonal changes on the Dipper Ranch, my home. Over time, I've added my reflections on living and working as a park biologist in these natural areas.

This summer, I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park where I was saw an extraordinary amount of wildlife - amazingly, we saw wolves four times. Under the guidance of a wildlife biologist friend, I learned about animal interactions in the Yellowstone environment. I've read about Yellowstone ecology and wolf reintroduction since then, but I've got a lot more to learn.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The King of Walnuts

The California mountain kingsnake has been elected by popular vote to be the Dipper Ranch snake featured on the 2012 Dipper Ranch walnut label. Thank you readers for your votes and delightful comments. I can see that you relish the diversity of snakes in our California coastal mountains as much as I do.

NEWS FLASH - I've seen two more snakes since November 18th when I predicted the California nightsnake would be my last 2012 snake sighting on the Dipper Ranch. The snakes should be tucked away in their winter beds by now, right? Until a series of intense storms shook things up in late November. At times, the rain was falling so hard that the slopes became super-saturated and slipped and oozed beneath themselves.