The last two weeks of April in Yellowstone feel more like late winter than spring. Gradually the snow pack melts and ponds have more and more water around their edges. Several species of birds arrived early: many species of ducks, sandhill cranes, robins, mountain bluebirds, Townsend’s solitaires. Other birds are just arriving in late April: ruby-crowned kinglets, swallows, more ducks, and a few hardy shorebirds. Many of the spring birds will wait another month: western tanagers, most of the warblers, flycatchers.
By most people’s standards we arrive too early. But we like the solitude that comes with our early arrival and is all too elusive later on. Plus watching spring unfold is a treat. Both Dale and I grew up in Wisconsin. I may not miss all those months of winter, but I do appreciate a nice taste of winter when we first arrive in Yellowstone.
I always feel as though the first marmot I spot is the first one out of hibernation, but in my heart I know they’ve been poking their heads out on nice days before we arrive. Our first sighting was on April 16. Two marmots were sitting on a tumble of rocks just west of Blacktail Loop Rd. I caught the near one grooming and he froze -- “Maybe she didn’t see me.” I’m of the philosophy that many critters relax more quickly if it is obvious I am in a mellow mood …. So I sing. I’ve got a tin ear, but the marmots don’t seem to mind. They peered down at me from their rocky abode and pretty soon were looking happy again. So far the marmots have avoided getting their toes in the snow, so they must just pop out of the rocks for a look-about. As soon as there is a little grass along the roadside, they’ll be scurrying for safety when we drive by.
Another treat that same day is the moose gods were kind to us. The marshy willow patch just above Phantom Lake has been harboring a cow moose and two calves. We wonder if the smaller is a yearling and the larger possibly a two year old. The size difference could just be the difference between their sexes. The boy calf is much larger.
I spotted one as we drove by. We turned around and found a place to park. Soon I saw the second, and then Mama came out of the woods. The three browsed on clumps of willow that are scattered though out the marsh. The moose never browsed one willow for very long. They wandered from one to another, sometimes getting quite close to us. I could dear twigs crunching as they chewed and could even hear quiet talking between them. They sort of mumble to each other.
Sometimes the crust held the moose and sometimes they broke through. They crunched and munched for at least an hour. Finally Mama and the girl calf lay down and the boy calf kept on grazing.