Midwinter Wildlife

After the excitement of the recent Great Gray Owl visit, my wildlife sightings slowed down quite a bit.  Foxes were a notable exception.  They started appearing more often, both inside Yellowstone and around Silver Gate (including our yard).  One morning I was lucky enough to catch a fox hopping on a snow bank in front of the park’s Northeast Entrance sign, a shot I’d been hoping to get.


Red Fox Leaving Yellowstone National Park


Red Fox in the Snow at the NE Entrance Gate


A little later I ran into a fox just off Silver Gate’s main road.  It climbed up a snow pile, sat there for a while, and then slid down the snow on its belly like a schoolkid sledding.  I laughed out loud.  It was the first time I’d ever seen a fox do that.


Lazy Fox Snowslide


Red Fox on a Snow Pile in Silver Gate


Shortly after that I experienced another first when I noticed a fox standing near two moose not far from our home.  Before then I’d never managed to get a fox and a moose in the same photo.


Hermione with the Twins in Downtown Silver Gate


Deep Windblown Snow in Silver Gate


Around that same time I was shoveling snow in our driveway in the pre-dawn dark when a curious fox trotted over to watch.  The fox jumped up on a mound of snow at the end of our driveway and sat there until I finished.  There wasn’t enough light for a good shot with my big camera, but I did capture the moment with my phone.


Red Fox Helping Me Shovel Our Driveway


On New Year’s Eve day I was out before dawn clearing snow from our driveway again, this time with our snow blower.  I was almost done when a large dark shape rose up about ten feet away – a good-sized bull moose that must have bedded down there for the night.  The columns of snow I’d been blowing on his back apparently hadn’t fazed him.  I darted inside for my camera, and only when I returned did I realize the moose wasn’t alone – another bull and a cow emerged from the snow as well.  The three moose spent some time grazing on the willows in our yard before moving on down the creek.


Moose Grazing in Our Yard on New Year’s Eve Morning


Red Fox Mousing in New Year’s Eve Snow


In early January two bull moose paraded right through the middle of Silver Gate, stopping occasionally to play-fight.  Bulls shed their antlers this time of year, so I was happy to get a few more shots before they were all bare-headed.


Moose About to Lock Antlers in Snowy Downtown Silver Gate


Bald Eagle Perched in Mid-January


Two Moose Calves Bedded Down in Silver Gate


One morning in mid-January I stopped at the Confluence area of Yellowstone to watch a pair of Golden Eagles.  One of the eagles had landed in a tree across the river – something I rarely see – so I shouldered my big lens and tripod and walked over for some photos.  Deby, a photographer friend, was already taking shots just ahead of me, and an eager tour group was coming up from behind.  I stopped to set up my camera when CRACK, one of the legs of my heavy carbon fiber tripod snapped right off.  I looked up to see the eagle flying back to the hillside behind us, possibly spooked by my embarrassing equipment malfunction.  Ugh, I hate being that guy…

As I fumbled with my broken tripod, a guide driving by stopped to let us know that he’d seen an otter pop up downstream, heading our way.  Sure enough – a few minutes later the lone otter appeared and hopped right up on the icy riverbank.  I hadn’t seen an otter in weeks and naturally this was the moment one decided to show up.  Awkwardly I did my best to get a few shots despite my tripod’s missing leg.


Lone Otter Rolling on Lamar River Ice


Every day since Christmas I’ve been doing what I call my “Marten Walk,” which just means that after I get back from driving into Yellowstone I (and sometimes Marie) walk from our place down along some back roads where in the past I’ve seen pine martens.  The scenery is always beautiful, and I’m slowly learning how to interpret the wildlife tracks in the snow, but over the past month I’ve spotted exactly zero martens on those walks.  Wildlife watching is often boom or bust, and so far my Marten Walks have definitely been a bust.

My luck was much better one morning in late January.  As I drove through Round Prairie, about 20 minutes after leaving our home, I passed a photographer named Josh that I’d been seeing in the park regularly.  Josh was standing at a pullout gazing intently into the distance.  There were moose out there, but they’d been around pretty much every morning for almost two months and wouldn’t have interested Josh.  So I stopped and used binoculars to scan the horizon.  There at the other end of the clearing was a long line of wolves, ant-sized to the naked eye but clearly visible with binoculars.

We counted at least 20 wolves, which meant it had to have been the Junction Butte pack, Yellowstone’s largest.  They wove in and out of the tree line while heading south at a relaxed pace.  When they stopped to howl the sound echoed off the mountains to the west and seemed to completely envelop us.  It was among the most most haunting howling sessions I’d ever heard.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

At one point most of the pack walked single-file down a snowy hillside.  The wolves were mostly too far away for good photos, but I did get a video of them howling on the hill.




Black Wolf Howling in the Snow at Round Prairie


Moose Watching a Wolf Pass By


Along with most of the Yellowstone regulars I know, I’ve been describing this January as a slow month for wildlife watching.  But when “slow” still means moose, foxes, bald eagles, golden eagles, bighorn sheep, coyotes, elk, bison, an otter, and a morning with the largest wolf pack in the park, I’ll refrain from complaining.


Coyote in Deep Snow by Tower Junction


Red Fox at the Edge of Our Backyard


Early Sun on Fog Behind Frosted Cottonwoods


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