Sunday, June 10, 2012
I’m back! I really haven’t been busy mowing my lawn for the past two months as my last post suggested. But I have been busy photographing, sketching and writing. Dale and I just spent about six weeks in Yellowstone and another week at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Central Oregon. Day after day we have been doing what this blog is all about, i.e. “An artist watching nature and nature watching me.”
We’ve been making a springtime trip to Yellowstone since 1995. The first year we stayed only five days, but it whetted our appetite for a longer stay. Since Dale’s retirement in 1996 we’ve come for several weeks each spring. At first we camped and stayed in May. Then we found we can rent a little cabin during the off season and arrive even earlier.
Each year we arrive in Yellowstone full of anticipation. How much snow will there be? Did the animals winter well? Will we see a great grey owl? Part of each spring will be filled with events we expect; snow squalls, newborn bison calves, sandhill cranes bugling, wolves, reconnecting with good friends .... and each springs brings something new and another chapter in various ongoing sagas.
We drive into the park on April 12. A year ago the park was still deep in snow -- snowfall way above average. This year we are amazed at how little snow there is. The mountain tops will have snow for several more weeks, but the valleys of the northern range are already bare. Blacktail Ponds and Floating Island Lake are both thawed! There are even little peeks of grass as far as we go today, to the eastern end of Little America. We’ve never seen spring so advanced at this time of year.
There was heavy winter kill a year ago, but this year the elk and bison look to be in good shape, very little indication of boney ribs showing through their winter pelt. Last year’s dried ground cover is thicker and fuller than we usually see. Until last year, Yellowstone had been suffering from a decade long drought. The heavy snowfall during the 2010-11 winter filled many small ponds that had been bone dry. This year they still hold water -- but will they still later on in the summer? Precipitation during the 2011-12 winter was, once again, below average.
At this time of year only the highway through the northern range of Yellowstone is open, between Gardiner, Montana and Cooke City. In the park only one half of one campground is open. Gradually more and more roads will open, but for now we savor the solitude Yellowstone has to offer. We eat a late lunch at Blacktail Ponds. One snow squall and then another passes through. Blustery. A patch of sun reaches the distant mountains briefly. Fresh white snow flashes white against the dark sky. Another squall smothers the mountain in grayness.
On our first day we get a glimpse of the Mollie wolf pack, a nice look at a large grizzly walking the edge of the Lamar River, and an encounter with a raven.
The raven flew to a nearby Douglas fir when we parked at Hellroaring overlook. The raven is one of the glossiest I have seen. She is perched at eye level about 50 feet away. The raven fluffs her full head, bows and makes the knocking sound typical of female ravens. She preens, talks and preens some more. One of her calls is very quiet -- little soft chorus frog songs! We’ve never heard that call before -- a good way to start our