Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Yellowstone in Winter: part 2

Flushed with our success of day one, we happily attended the pre-briefing for the rest of our stay, a 3 day wildlife viewing tour led by a former Park Ranger, Anastasia.  We saw an incredible amount throughout our 3 days, here are some of the highlights (not really in reverse order, but definitely ending with #1)...

- Bison up close and personal, blocking the roads a few times, banging heads and generally looking massive.  The guys have much bigger horns than the girls and giant woolly afro hair-dos, although its the ladeez that rule the roost.  Seeing them in the falling snow was not just a bit like being in a David Attenborough doc.  

- Beaver casually swimming down a tributary of the Yellowstone River.  Our first sighting outside of Vancouver and apparently a first for our guide in the park.

- Lots of lovely fluffy coyotes, on the hills, in the long grass and, best of all, watching them listen intently for mice under the deep snow and then leaping through to catch them.

- Huge amounts of elk, every wolf's favourite fast food on hooves, all around the park... which means you also get to see elks after the chase.  Not quite so pretty, but good to see not much goes to waste.

- Pronghorn 'antelope' venturing outside the park (pretty brave considering you can buy guns on pretty much every main street and there ain't much else to do 'cept hunt)

Basically an African Savannah
- Wolves, wolves and more wolves:  After our initial success we thought it would be pretty easy to spot them, but the next couple of times they were about half a mile away, only really visible through telescopes.  But on our last afternoon, news of a kill near the roadside reached us.  Despite it being New Year's Eve, we headed to bed early (after a hot tub in the falling snow) and met the another couple from the group (who were both super nice and happen to live in North Vancouver) at 6.30am the following morning.  We headed to the river and gazed at the hillside in the pitch dark straining to catch a glimpse of a furry canine.  After an hour we were losing hope, but then we saw them, wolves on the ridge.  We watched them lounge around after their late night dinner of elk for over 30 minutes only a couple of hundred metres away. So entrancing that we all forgot to take photos!

-  But even that wasn't the #1 highlight.  On our second day, as we stopped at a regular wolf watching haunt we noticed everyone was even more silent than usual.  As soon as we got outside we realised why; the magical sound of a pack of wolves just off the road in the woods, howling in unison.  Much more mournful than we imagined it might be (partly as they may have been trying to cross the road!) and you could clearly hear the different wolves 'voices' at different pitches.  Magic. 

All in all, an immensely good trip.  We're returning in the summer on our road trip round the Western States so let us know if you want to come along for the second look!  

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