Spring Visitors

All things considered, May is the best month to visit Yellowstone.  Wildlife activity – including all the newborns – is unmatched.  The weather is unpredictable but generally pretty mild.  And the crowds aren’t nearly as oppressive as they become after Memorial Day.  With that in mind, Marie and I encouraged family and friends to visit us this May, and we were glad to have a few takers.

First up was my buddy David, a friend since high school, who came for a few days in the first half of the month.  Despite unseasonably cold, snowy weather, we had a great time and managed to find just about all the wildlife we hoped for – grizzlies, black bears, wolves, foxes, coyotes, moose (in our back yard as well as the park), bighorn sheep, mountain goats, a badger, elk, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, marmots, and all kinds of birds.


Badger Resting on a Dirt Pile


Badger with a Dead Bird


Moose Mom and Calf on Mother’s Day


Mini-Mom’s Daughter in May Snow


Mini-Mom’s Daughter with Snow on Her Nose


Mini-Mom’s Daughter Walking in May Snow


Black Wolf in Snowy Round Prairie Landscape


Moose Mom and Calf in May Snow


Killdeer by Tower Junction


Marmot on a Snowy May Afternoon


David frequently mentioned his desire to not be eaten by a bear, so I was surprised that he seemed to throw caution to the wind when we encountered our first roadside grizzly.  Standing alongside a group of people that included park rangers, we were watching a grizzly forage near Roaring Mountain when the bear started walking towards us.  Surprisingly quickly we were no longer maintaining a safe distance.  “We’re too close,” I said, backing away.


Grizzly Approaching through the Trees


David, kneeling at the roadside, calmly continued watching the bear through binoculars.  My mind jumped briefly to what it would be like to call David’s wife and parents with the news that their risk-averse husband/son had in fact been eaten by a grizzly.  But one of the rangers, unhappy that the bear was approaching a road full of people, loudly cocked his shotgun and fired a noisemaker into the air, which sent the startled animal running back into the woods.


Grizzly Peeking through the Trees


Our next visitor, my mom, arrived soon after David left.  She brought warmer weather and even better wildlife luck.  In addition to seeing everything I saw with David, my mom and I spotted baby wolf pups (a first for both of us, but too far away for photos), baby coyote pups (also a first), and a peregrine falcon flying overhead (too fast for photos).  “Please inform David that I saw all the animals he did and more,” my mom said with a big smile on her face.


Fox with Marmot Roadkill


Ruddy Duck on Floating Island Lake


Mom Feeding CJ


Geese in Flight at Floating Island Lake


Cinnamon Black Bear in Late Light


Red Fox Finishing a Mousing Pounce


Moose by Warm Creek Willows


The appearance of coyote puppies was an unexpected surprise.  The coyote mom dug her den on a hillside near Soda Butte, close enough to see well with binoculars, and on the last morning of my mom’s visit we spotted all five of her puppies out playing.


Two Coyote Pups Outside Their Den



Having a coyote den that close to the road was too good to last.  A few days after we first saw the puppies, an irresponsible photographer apparently decided he needed to position himself much too close to the den and alarmed the mom so badly that she relocated her pups.  The vast majority of Yellowstone visitors are conscientious and respectful, but with over four million people passing through the park each year it only takes a tiny percentage of bad apples to all but guarantee a steady flow of problematic behavior.

Our third visitor, Marie’s son Aidan, arrived a few days after my mom left.  Aidan is planning to spend the entire summer with us in Silver Gate before joining the Air Force in the fall.  It’s always fun to have Aidan around, and as the weather improves it’s especially nice that he’s usually up for hiking and exploring new places.


Aidan on the Trail to Trout Lake


Black Wolf on a Picked-Over Carcass


Black Bear Grazing Near Rainy Lake


Black Bear COY Peeking Out of a Tree


Black Bear Mom by Calcite Springs


Red Fox Mousing Jump in May


One of my favorite animals to see is the pine marten, but they’ve proven to be a lot more elusive than I expected.  Back in January of last year Marie and I saw one when we checked out the cabin in Silver Gate that we eventually bought, and that gave us the impression that we’d find pine martens pretty regularly in our yard.  Instead I’ve only caught fleeting glimpses of them inside Yellowstone, never long enough for a photo.  But towards the end of May I finally found a marten kind enough to stand still for a few seconds.


Young PM in a Snowy Tree


Young Pine Marten Peaking through Branches


Overall the wildlife watching around here has been outstanding in May, made even better because we’ve been able to share it with David, my mom, and now Aidan.

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