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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.