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       Day 4 May 22th, 2016

Sunday, May 22th, 2016
Mammoth Hot Springs, Montana

    We expected to wake up to rain and even snow this morning, but there are patches of blue in the sky. NO rain, and 39 degrees - not as cold as expected. It's such a relief to begin the day on a dry note.
   As we head toward Little America, a coyote dashes across the road near Lava Creek, an encouraging sign that the coyote population is looking up. Our first stop is Slough Creek where a crowd scans the skyline on the south side of the road looking for a black wolf near the crystal drainage. We never find it, though we look diligently. No one is home at the Junction Butte den, or they are very well hidden.
   Someone mentions a black wolf on a bison carcass visible from the Institute, so we rush to Lamar Valley. The carcass is across the river on a bench above the line of cottonwoods. Ravens flutter up and down, revealing its location. A black wolf and a coyote circle each other, pushing each other away from the carcass. The coyote seems to have the upper hand; the black wolf slinks around, its tail tucked between its legs. A second coyote moves in, harassing the wolf who bares his teeth. No one knows who this wolf is - perhaps a disperser from the Mollies who are still around. Someone says it's an uncollared yearling, so hard to tell, but he has been seen before and is always alone. Black wolf finally beds in the sage away from the carcass and the coyotes take over.
   Back at the Junction den the puppies are out, spilling over the ledge from the den into the rocks and brush below. I count four black and three gray, tiny balls of fur, rolling over each other, swatting, and tumbling. Strangely there are no adults in sight. The sandhill crane is still on her nest, this time facing away from us. Completely camouflaged, her muted brown and white feathers blend in perfectly with the straw colored willows.
   Driving up Tower Road we pass a black bear foraging near Rainy Lake. There are too many cars to park so we drove on past Calcite. The peregrine falcon has chosen a new nest on a ledge directly below one of the turnouts, almost straight down the rock cliffs. Her white head and gray body can be seen inching out from the crevice. One of the black bears has two coy this year. The trees and deadfall hide them as the cubs climb over logs following their mother. I have to sit on the road and peer between branches and under logs. I manage to see all three at one point or another, even as a cub scurries up a tree, before the ranger sends us all away from the road.
   Last night we hunted for fox in the rocks and sage near the Gardiner Bridge, and today we simply turn into Petrified Tree to find a fox hunting in the deadfall and grass - long blonde fur, a striking appearance. Easy to spot with that coat. Zigzaging among the logs, it pounces on a ground squirrel; then crisscrosses the slopes and trots over the hill. Another visitor tells us about a red fox at Yellowstone Picnic area, where we just left. That fox is bedded deep in the tall grass and sage next to the trailhead, surrounded by photographers and visitors. Her fur is bright red orange and she has a long slender nose. Her ears move up and down as she listens for voles and ground squirrels beneath the earth. When she finally begins hunting, her every move is followed by the photographers. She runs into a meadow across the road and is chased out back across the road.
   It begins to drizzle, then snow. Fat, sleety drops cover the windshield. The temperature goes up and down all day from 39 to 33 to 41 to 35, back to 40, then 50 and back to 40. Fronts move through or we drive through. The sun stays out long enough to squeeze in a short hike along Obsidian Creek. We stop to watch two young bull elk, their antlers only a few inches high. They have almost lost their winter coats, their fur covered with white tufts. Snow begins to fall while we watch, pelting us and the elk with tiny grains of white.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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Yellowstone Experiences 2016