Friday, June 25, 2010

The Black Bear at Floating Island Lake

INTRODUCTION: The pair of sandhill cranes that nest at Floating Island Lake, Yellowstone National Park, has been a treat for us for several years. We were first aware of the pair in 1998 and 1999 when they nested in the marshy swale just over the rise from Floating Island Lake. In 1999 year wolves killed an elk just a few feet from their nest. The cranes deserted. The next four years they nested in the thick bulrushes at the far inlet of Floating Island Lake. Years of drought have stranded most of the bulrushes onto dry ground. In 2004 the cranes moved to a tiny spot in the center of the pond. They harvested bushels of aquatic muck and have gradually built a little nesting island. The continued dropping of the water table has enhanced this little island. It is very exposed and offers wonderful viewing , near enough to see an egg pip, yet is far enough we don’t disturb them from the road’s pullout.

Of course I can’t be sure we’ve watched the same two cranes all these years, but I do know that for several years it has been the same female. Her inside toe on her left foot is broken and very distinctive. I look for it each year. And books tell me cranes stay mated until one dies and they can live twenty years or more.

April 21, 2010

What a revolting development! A lot of snow and ice has melted during the past two days. Now we see an elk carcass is emerging from the ice and right next to where the Floating Island cranes have nested for several years. The skin on the carcass has been opened, but I think a lot of meat is left. The cranes are nearby, feeding on the sage slope just east of the pond.

April 24

The carcass that has been moved to the talus slope that reaches down to the far edge of the pond. Friends watched a black bear swim it to shore a couple of days ago and today the carcass is pulled up onto the talus slope behind the pond. A good sized black bear sleeps nearby.

April 25

The bear naps near the elk carcass. He is a sleepy fellow and only occasionally raises his head. I bet he has a full tummy.

He finally wakes up and spends about 15 minutes grooming – a little scratching and a lot of licking. It’s a rather slim bear, but glossy.

Its snowing when he finally goes back to his carcass for a meal.
Snowing hard. The bear goes under a Douglas fir to settle down. It looks like a lumpy, steep bed, but the old tree offers protection from the weather.

About 12:30 our two cranes flew to the slope east of Floating Island Lake. They foraged on the sage slope and disappeared over the knoll.

April 26

Black bear sleeps on the carcass – an elk leg sticking out near its nose and parts red and brown under its rump. Both a raven and the collared coyote feed on the scraps. No sign of the cranes. Usually they have laid their first egg by now. We suspect the bear’s presence is disturbing their nesting.


  1. It sounds like this area is like your backyard. How interesting that you can id the crane with the odd toe. Love the sketches of the black bear. I didn't know they would sleep on their cache of food. Ha.. I wonder if it is a young one? I guess we will never know. An acquaintance of mine studied bears in AK for several years.

  2. Your sketches ALWAYS make me stop in to see the 100 Paintings Blog. And I always say, of course it is Elva. Just LOVE your blog - thank you.

  3. You had me wondering how you could positively ID the cranes—quite a clever way to do it!

    The black and white studies (almost) make me forget that bears are well, carnivores at minimum and quite dangerous at the most. Incredible work as always, Elva. You keep it real when my tendency is to think, "awww, how cute!"