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Bozeman, MT and Yellowstone National Park - Part II
September-October 2021

While on the east side of the park, we walked along LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River. It was a reliable place to see Harlequin Ducks in the park. We spotted two ducks easily holding station amongst the rapidly moving waters. Occasionally one of the ducks dove under the water to resurface right next to its partner. Also near the rapids, American Dippers fed along the peacefully calm waters edge. While Common Mergansers plunged in the rapids in search of trout.

We stopped along Yellowstone Lake (also the site of many deaths and missing persons presumed dead). This impressive large lake remains fairly cold even during the summer, which is a contributing factor for many deaths (in addition to the sudden summer storms that roll through and capsize boats). On the edge of the lake, West Thumb is a beautiful, less visited, small basin of pools, mud pots and geysers. In the area, we hiked a couple of short trails out to Pelican Creek and Storm Point. Both trails were enjoyable paths through lodgepole pine forest with views over Yellowstone Lake. 

The main reason we spent the day around the east side of the park was the chance to see a Great Gray Owl that had been patrolling the meadows in the evening around Fishing Bridge. We struck out on seeing the owl, but we weren't the only ones. There were many cars staked out alongside the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare and beautiful owl. We all left disappointed. 

For the remainder of our stay at Yellowstone, we had reserved a campsite at Slough Creek next to the Lamar Valley, one of our favorite places in the park. We had camped at Slough Creek in the fall during our last stay so knew to expect the cold and had hopes of seeing wolves again. The campground was pretty much as I had remembered it, but a few of the campsites were removed (which made spacing really nice). The campsites dotted the edge of Slough Creek framed with Ponderosa pine and golden meadows. One annoying thing about the campground was the large number of cars "touring" the campground. I don't think they were looking for a camping spot. Rather they were looking for wildlife and for some reason thought that driving through the campground (which is a deadend) would be productive. So during the day and evenings many cars would drive (too fast) up and back through the campground as evident by the amount of dust on my sleeping bag in the evenings. The last time we stayed at the campground, a grizzly bear had just visited (ransacked?) the sites and a ranger visited all the campers each evening to ensure they were complying with bear-country camping. We complied with all the protocols again:  no toiletries in the tent, no leaving anything including water containers out, etc. We even were spitting our toothpaste into a yogurt container to empty into the pit toilet. Yet I was horrified to watch the campers in the next site chuck their dishwater out next to the creek. Aside from that, the campground was wonderful: bison grazed across the creek, a dipper sang from the waters edge, and peaceful nights were full of shining stars and galaxies above.

During our stay near the Lamar Valley, we spent many hours at dawn and dusk parked along the side of the road. We soaked in the sights of bison herds grazing and wallowing in the dirt, pronghorn running through the sage, and the single coyote loping across the plains. Often there was a concentration of cars along the side of a specific stretch of road. The wolf watchers hoped to catch a glimpse of the pack going out in the morning or returning to the den in the evening. We saw a pack of 5 wolves early one morning - 3 gray and 2 black walking down the valley. On a separate afternoon visit to the Lamar, another tourist told us of a single wolf that had just walked through. Through my spotting scope, I managed to spot the single wolf walk in the shadows of the aspen groves across the valley. All the wolf sightings were a great distance away, but still exciting to see. Tired of herding together with the tourist crowd, we spent one morning watching the wildlife in the early dawn light along Slough Creek. From a distance away, we heard the distinct howl of a wolf, which was quickly answered and covered up with the yips of a coyote. We never spotted the howling wolf, but it was special to hear it's howl.
In addition to the side of the road wildlife watching, we hiked several trails in the area. We spent one day hiking up the Slough Creek trail, going 8 miles up to the WY-MT border. The trail hugged one side of the Slough Creek Valley, passing through golden meadows, into thickets of orange aspen, and skirting stands of lodgepole pines. Bison herds stretched out across the valley floor. White-tailed deer scattered at our approach. Tor managed to spot a single black bear on the hillside across the valley - probably a good 5 miles away. It wasn't much to look at, but the black dot moved and had a distinct bear shape. Clark's Nutcrackers called from the treetops. Several disinterested female Ruffed Grouse clambered in the aspen branches to graze buds and bugs while a male was in full display down below trying in vain to impress. A group of Canada Jays hunted the edge of the meadows. It made me wonder how much of this has changed over the past 200 years. Maybe not much (other than the effects of climate change and pollution...). 

We also hiked the Lost Lake loop, where we watched several old bison bulls pee and roll in the dirt. Along the Yellowstone River ridge trail, we viewed Calcite Springs, admired the smooth cliff formations of the narrows, and caught glimpses of the river below. There were really no bad trails in Yellowstone. Even if there's no wildlife at the time, there's always the enchantment and beauty of the environment to absorb.

Before leaving the park, we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs, which looked much drier than we remembered. Some of the dryness of the springs was seasonal influence, but there has been a trend to it drying up due to - yes, I'm going to say it - climate change. While leaving the park through the north entrance, we saw several Bighorn Sheep resting in the shade above the road. This brought our ungulate total to 7 (big horned sheep, elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, pronghorn, mountain goat) for the trip. Not a bad way to close out the trip.

Also not a bad way to end the trip is to walk out of the park non-scalded by geothermally boiling water or gored by a wild animal. (I really do recommend reading Death in Yellowstone before going to Yellowstone). 

Post-script: One day after our visit to Yellowstone, a woman jumped into a hot springs in an attempt to save her dog. The dog died. The woman received severe burns to most of her body and has been in medically induced coma last as I write this 3 weeks after the incident.

Return to Part I of Yellowstone 2021


Pictures (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

Near Fairy Lake, a female Three-toed Woodpecker flakes the bark of a Douglas Fir
A male bison makes his presence known among the herd
An American Dipper feeds in the Yellowstone River


Return to Part I of Yellowstone 2021

Canada Goose Y
Trumpeter Swan Y: Swan and Yellowstone Lakes
Gadwall Y: Yellowstone Lake
Mallard Y
Lesser Scaup Y: Yellowstone Lake
Harlequin Duck Y: LeHardy Rapids
Bufflehead Y: Yellowstone Lake
Barrow's Goldeneye Y: Yellowstone Lake
Hooded Merganser Y: Yellowstone Lake
Common Merganser Y: LeHardy Rapids
Ruffed Grouse T,SC
Horned Grebe FL
Mourning Dove SC
American Coot Y: Yellowstone Lake
Killdeer Y: Mammoth Hot Springs
peep sp. Y
Osprey Y
Golden Eagle BB
Northern Harrier Y,SC
Cooper's Hawk T,BB,FL,Y
Bald Eagle Y
Red-tailed Hawk BB,Y
Ferruginous Hawk BB
Belted Kingfisher Y
American Three-toed Woodpecker FL
Downy Woodpecker T
Hairy Woodpecker FL,Y,SC
Northern Flicker T,FL,Y
American Kestrel BB,Y
Canada Jay FL,Y,SC
Steller's Jay T,FL,SC
Black-billed Magpie T,FL,Y,SC
Clark's Nutcracker BB,FL,Y,SC
Common Raven T,BB,FL,Y
Black-capped Chickadee T
Mountain Chickadee T,BB,FL,Y,SC
Ruby-crowned Kinglet T,Y
Golden-crowned Kinglet BB
Red-breasted Nuthatch T,BB,FL,Y,SC
White-breasted Nuthatch Y
Brown Creeper Y,SC
Rock Wren BB
American Dipper FL,Y
European Starling Y,SC
Townsend's Solitaire T,Y
Hermit Thrush FL,SC
American Robin T,BB,FL,Y,SC
Cedar Waxwing T
Evening Grosbeak T,FL
Red Crossbill Y
Pine Siskin BB,FL
American Goldfinch Y
Dark-eyed Junco T,Y, FL
White-crowned Sparrow T,BB,FL
Song Sparrow T
Lincoln's Sparrow T
Western Meadowlark T, Y
Brewer's Blackbird Y: Old Faithful
Common Grackle Y: Lamar Valley
Yellow-rumped Warbler T,BB,Y
Mountain Goat Y
Big Horn Sheep Y
Moose T
Bison Y
Pronghorn Y
Elk T, Y
White-tailed Deer T, Y
Mule Deer T, Y
Black Bear Y
Gray Wolf Y
Coyote T, Y
Yellow-bellied Marmot Y
Nuttall's Cottontail T, Y
Red Squirrel T, Y
Least Chipmunk T, Y
Columbia Spotted Frog T
Boreal Toadpoles FL
Mourning Cloak Y
California Tortiseshell Y
Clouded Sulphur Y
Red Admirable T
Stripped Meadowhawk Y

T: Timberline Valley, Bozeman, MT
BB: Bridger Bowl and Ridge Trail, Boxeman, MT
FL: Fairy Lake Trail, Bozeman, MT
Y: Yellowstone National Park, WY
SC: Yellowstone NP--Slough Creek Trail


Return to Part I of Yellowstone 2021

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page updated: 10/17/21