Signs of Spring

Winter finally gave way to spring in Yellowstone.  Many of the traditional signs appeared all at once in late April.  Within the same week I spotted my first red dogs (baby bison), sandhill cranes, blue birds, and robins.  Bears emerged from their dens, including the black bear mom with two cubs-of-the-year that hibernated near Tower Junction.  Ospreys returned to their nest in Lamar Canyon.  Enough snow melted that I could hike up to Trout Lake without snowshoes.


My First Red Dog of 2023


Young Grizzly Walking in Lamar Valley


Fox Finishing Mousing Dive by Warm Creek


The road from Tower Junction to Tower Fall in Yellowstone remained closed to cars until May 12th, and before it opened I spent several mornings using the road as a hiking trail, hoping to find the black bears that frequent that area this time of year.  I did see bears around, unsurprisingly, but the real highlight was running across a short-tailed weasel by Rainy Lake.  I was returning from the Calcite Springs overlook when I noticed a quick flash of white by the side of the road ahead of me.  Guessing it was a bird, I hurried up to investigate but found nothing white other than a small rock.  Is that what I’d seen?  As I stood staring at the ground a tiny white head suddenly popped up from a half-hidden hole in the dirt.


Weasel Popping Up for a Look Around


I’d been wondering when short-tailed weasels transition from their white winter (ermine) coats to their light brown summer coats, and here was the answer:  right about now.  The weasel’s coat was still mostly white, but with little dark spots on its face and larger patches of brown on its back.  For over an hour it darted around, vanished, appeared again, and generally seemed torn between curiosity and wariness.  Weasels are so quick and ethereal that they almost seem unreal.


Weasel Leaning Out of Its Burrow


Short-tailed Weasel by Rainy Lake


The road to Tower Fall didn’t open to cars until 8am on May 12th, so early that morning I took advantage of my last chance to have the area (mostly) to myself.  On the way back from the Calcite Springs overlook I ran into one other person on the road, a fellow photographer, and we both stopped to watch two black bears sleeping near Rainy Lake.  The bears eventually woke up and ambled stiffly down to a flat grassy area below the road.  “We’d better enjoy this while we can,” I told the other photographer, “because it’s about to get really crowded.”

At 8:01am on the dot a line of cars appeared, and within ten minutes the road was packed with people.  I initially thought the two bears we were watching might be siblings, but after they started wrestling in a way that became increasingly flirtatious we decided they must be a courting couple.  “It’s two or three weeks early for that,” said one of the park volunteers that arrived to manage the crowd, “but I guess you never know.”


Black Bears Flirting Near Tower Junction



Black Bear Taking a Dip in a Muddy Pool


Black Bear Shaking in a Muddy Pool


Coyote Hunting Rodents in Early May


Eagle on a Waterlogged Lamar River Carcass


Back by the Calcite Springs overlook the next morning there were two yearling black bear cubs sleeping in a tree while their mom napped on the ground below.  Instead of waiting for the bears to wake up I decided to head back through Lamar Valley and hike up to Trout Lake.  When I first arrived at the lake I saw what I thought was a duck swimming just offshore, but the shape looked a little unusual so I took a closer look through my camera.  An otter!  I’d heard many stories of people seeing otters at Trout Lake, but this was a first for me.

The otter was carrying a fish in its mouth as it swam towards a half-submerged grass-covered log on the southern side of the lake.  I walked over and saw that the fish had been left on the log, but the otter had disappeared.  I should have kept my camera pointed right at the fish, of course, but instead I looked down for just a second to check my settings – and predictably that’s when the otter popped up to snatch its meal before immediately vanishing again.  I missed the picture-perfect moment.

Kicking myself, I expected the otter had gone away for good.  But a few minutes later it graciously decided to hop back up on the log to eat the fish, which looked so deteriorated and smelled so bad that I figured it must have been a dead one the otter scavenged from the bottom of the lake.


Otter at Trout Lake Eating a Trout


After finishing off the fish the otter headed back out, found another one, and brought it back to the log for another stinky feast.


Otter Emerging from Murky Lake


Otter Eating a Trout at Trout Lake



Red Dog Walking Underneath Mom


Portrait of a Bighorn Sheep by Yellowstone Picnic


I returned to the Calcite Springs overlook the next morning and finally got a good look at the two yearling black bear cubs.  They foraged near their mom, climbed a couple of trees, and seemed totally uninterested in the crowd of people watching their every move from the road.


Black Bear Yearling Cub by Calcite Springs


Black Bear Mom and Cub on Mother’s Day 2023


Does This Tree Make My Butt Look Fat?


Black Bear Mom Near Calcite Springs Overlook


I have to admit that spring’s arrival was a real relief.  Six months of cold and snow left me and Marie with a mild case of cabin fever.  At the same time, though, the seasons here are always a trade-off.  The warmer weather feels fantastic, but visiting Yellowstone is less fun when it’s packed with people.


Young Moose at Jill and Greg’s


Grizzly Bear at Pebble Creek


Young Bull Moose Above Trout Lake

4 thoughts on “Signs of Spring

  1. Ah, your “Signs of Spring” post was just what I needed! I love seeing the Word Press message on my e-mail that lets me know you have posted your narrative and photos. I’m packing, anxious to get home. My son is opening for me this weekend. I’m not far behind. It will be great to see you guys again! Take care.-wendy

    Liked by 1 person

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