GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

All posts tagged elk

Looking back at 2016’s Find Your Park campaign

Categories: Park environs, Wildlife
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Elk Grand Tetons

Elk in a Teton meadow

One of the best aspects of the #FindYourPark campaign promoted by the national parks for the National Park Service centennial last year was the chance it afforded for experts to reminisce and share their expertise on particular parks in the system. Janet did so for Yellowstone National Park last April, in a guest post for the University of Nebraska Press blog called “From the Desk of Janet Chapple.” Another fun one, this time from the other national park in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Grand Teton National Park, was submitted by Bruce Smith, a wildlife manager and scientist. You can read all about the 60-mile migrations of the Jackson elk herd and the tribulations of trumpeter swans here: “From the Desk of Bruce Smith.”

Which is your favorite national park and why? Leave us a comment.

Photo credit: NPS.

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Where Can I See Animals in Yellowstone Park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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Many visitors to Yellowstone go with the primary goal of seeing wild animals. And some go only to view the wolves of Lamar Valley with spotting scopes and binoculars.

Back before the first edition of Yellowstone Treasures was published, and thinking it might be helpful to such visitors using my guidebook, I worked with my mapmaker, Linton Brown, to place animal and bird icons in likely places on our fourteen maps that show the park’s roads. The idea for this came from my model, the Haynes Guides, which my family used when I was a child. Here’s a sample of the maps in Yellowstone Treasures.

Screen Shot Map 21sm

A critical but helpful Amazon.com reviewer, Benjamin Day, wrote in 2015: “ . . . your dinner hour is the dinner hour of the animals, and low light is the best time to see the extraordinary animals that live here.” He also suggested the guidebook could include “a driving tour along the Madison, or the Lamar Valley, or Hayden Valley, near sunset, when we experienced the most amazing Elk, Bison and Grizzly shows.”

The trouble is that Yellowstone is not a zoo and the charismatic megafauna (as some tongue-in-cheek naturalists have dubbed the big animals) may roam anywhere they choose. The vast majority of park territory is not near the roads, but I had seen animals without going into the backcountry during my many visits to the park. I asked Linton to put icons in those locations. Much later, I was amused when another reviewer commented how he had enjoyed using the guidebook, and said, “she even shows where the animals are”!

No guarantees, but using our maps may give you a better than average chance of fulfilling your dream of seeing bison and elk. With luck, you may even see bears, bighorn sheep—and my favorite, the beautiful pronghorn antelope.

Screen Shot_Pronghorn

In our fifth edition we cannot add driving tours for animal “shows,” as Mr. Day suggested. That would take pages and pages, and it’s already a big book. But we can direct you to use and enjoy our maps.

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What are the different species of mammals in Yellowstone Park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Wildlife
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On the website Quora.com, someone recently asked about the mammals one sees in Yellowstone Park, so I tried my hand at an answer. I’m not a real animal person, being more enamored with things that stay in one place like geysers, hot springs, flowers, lakes, waterfalls, and mountains, yet I have personally seen all but the rarer animals in my many visits to Yellowstone.

The big mammals—sometimes called “charismatic megafauna” with tongue in cheek—are the bison (around 4000 currently), the elk (8,000 to 10,000), the moose (very scarce, and more often seen in neighboring Grand Teton National Park), and both grizzly and black bear (several hundred of each).

The gray wolf population is hovering around 100. Mule deer are much more common than white-tailed deer. Then there’s the pronghorn (commonly but incorrectly called antelope)—my favorite animal for being so beautiful, graceful, and fast. Their population fluctuates around a couple of hundred seen in northern Yellowstone, as are bighorn sheep.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn

Coyotes are very common, less so the red foxes and mountain goats (the latter considered to be migrants to the park). Mountain lions, bobcats, and especially lynx are there but almost never seen.

Small carnivores you might see include badgers, river otters, and raccoons. Then there are the most common rodents: yellow-bellied marmots, Uinta ground squirrels, muskrats, red squirrels, and the tiny pikas or coneys. Beaver have become more numerous in recent years.

Pika

Pika

And this is just a sampling. There are many smaller mammals like voles, mice, bats, and shrews.

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Guest Post by Rita Reining, a nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found hiking the hills around her home in Oakland, CA and serves as a docent in the Natural Sciences Gallery of the Oakland Museum of California.

When my friend Ellen and I decided to sign up for Wolf Week—a five-day course presented by the Yellowstone Association at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch the last week in March—I had no idea of the adventure that was in store.

After dinner on our first evening the instructors gave out a picture and a short bio of a wolf living on the North Range of the park to each pair of participants. Each couple presented their wolf information to the group. We learned about the 11 different packs in the park, but we concentrated on the eight packs that currently call the North Range home. The specific wolves we learned about all have radio collars. The wolves generally don’t have names but are known by their number. Also, we learned a little of the genealogy of the wolves, many of whom are descendants of the Druid pack which were the original wolves introduced to Yellowstone in 1995. We felt a bit better acquainted with specific wolves and the packs that we might encounter.

The next morning (and for the following two mornings) we were up at 5 AM in order to be on the bus to start looking for the wolves before sun-up. We drove to the Little America area where we came upon a group of people with spotting scopes focused on the Junction Butte (JB) pack about one-half mile away up the hillside enjoying the remains of an elk brought down a couple of days earlier. We quickly set up our scopes to observe our first wild wolves of this trip. It was so exciting!

As we watched them, I was surprised that their behavior was quite sociable. When we arrived, the big gray alpha male, 911M, was eating. A bit later the alpha female, 970F, and then two other females settled in to feed. No snarling or fighting such as I had expected. When it seemed that all had had their fill, the pack began to howl. First one, then another, then everyone. Each wolf has its own tone and voice. It was an exhilarating chorus. From across the way, more howling was heard. This was by the Prospect Peak pack (PP). The JBs evidently did not want to interact with the PPs and they ran up the hill and disappeared over the ridge.
Wolf March 2015 by Rita Reining
There are several groups of dedicated wolf watchers. First there are those who are associated with The Wolf Project, consisting of teams who follow all the packs in the park. Then there are the rangers, photographers, bloggers, and local residents who are out every day recording and reporting what they see. All seem to be connected by radio, and we relied on this communication every day in order to follow the wolves.

Thus, we learned that there was wolf activity in the Lamar Valley. This time we watched a gray pup of the Lamar Canyon (LC) pack busy at an old bison carcass. Soon the black alpha female, 926F, walked by, stopped for a moment by the carcass and continued on her way, followed by another black pup.

We followed 926F and her six pups’ activities during our wolf week. The picture above was taken by Jane Morse, a fellow participant, and this wolf looks very much like 926F. The stories about 926F made our observations all the more interesting.

About ten days before we arrived in Yellowstone, the LC alpha male was killed by the PPs. (The highest cause of wolf deaths is by other wolves.) The larger PP pack encountered the smaller LC pack. The reason for the PP aggression is unknown, but as they were advancing on the LCs, all the LCs ran away except the alpha male. He stood his ground as the PPs edged closer, and then he turned and ran away in the opposite direction from the rest of his pack. Unfortunately the PPs caught and attacked him, leaving him for dead. 926F came back and lay by him as he died.

Now 926F had become the leader of the LC pack, consisting only of a pregnant 926F and her six yearling pups. She was solely responsible for getting food for herself and her pups. Wolves only begin to learn to hunt after their first year. 926F will need a new mate. All the wolf watchers were concerned for the future of the LC pack. 926F would be denning soon to have her new pups. Mother wolves do not leave the den until the pups can be left without her for a short time. Usually the alpha male stays near her, and he and other members of the pack bring her food. The LC wolves were in danger of starving, since the yearling pups were useless as hunters.

The next morning we saw a deer carcass in the ditch by the road. It had been hit by a car the night before. Here was a free meal, and 926F walked right by a small herd of bighorn sheep to get to the carcass. But she ran off when the rangers came to move the carcass away from the road for the safety of the wolves as well as to avoid a traffic jam. As soon as the rangers left, a golden eagle, some magpies, and a coyote returned to the carcass. But, 926F wasn’t going to let the lesser beings take food away from her and her pups, so about noon she came and dragged the carcass into the woods.

On the final morning in the field we went back to where we had last seen 926F. We had only just left the bus when we heard her howling. Shortly, her pups joined in. The howling had the bighorn sheep across the road on high alert, but we couldn’t spot any of the wolves. About a half hour later, we saw them crossing the ridge under a cliff. A lone bull elk was standing at attention on an outcropping as they passed by him within 100 yards. The pack seemed to ignore him. Two elk were on top of the cliff, on alert, scanning in opposite directions. Just then we saw one of the pups approaching the elk. Both elk turned and faced the wolf. The wolf got to about 50 feet from the elk, stopped, backed up a couple of paces and gave the elk a wide berth as he walked around them. Then we saw him walking toward the elk from uphill. He more or less repeated his previous approach from below, then walked away. Maybe he was just practicing for future hunts. This was the closest we came to seeing any real drama on this trip.

The pack was moving west, so we went west to the other side of the ridge. We spotted the pack bedded down at the edge of the woods. After a while they began to move around. I watched as one of the pups laid on his back in the snow rolling back and forth, just like my dog does. Making wolf “angels”?

Then 926F must have given some signal. She started moving west again at a determined pace with the pups following. We watched until they were out of sight.

All too soon our week at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch ended. We left Yellowstone hoping to sign up in the future for another exciting and interesting course with the Yellowstone Association. Also, I was wondering what the future would be for 926F.

Post script for 926F: Shortly after my visit, four adult males from another pack joined the LCs. The wolf watchers were optimistic that 926F would choose her alpha male from one of them and, with the yearling pups, have a sustainable pack. It was not to be. As of a month after I left Yellowstone, I learned that 926F was now alone. Her yearlings were gone and so were all four of the males. The last I heard, 926F had not yet gone to den. She is very lean but has managed so far to survive on her own. Her saga continues.

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“The Wild Lab” of Yellowstone Park

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Science, Wildlife
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Today I’m thinking about Yellowstone’s animals, the “charismatic megafauna”—an expression that makes me smile. And I’m anticipating being able to present my first-ever guest blog, by my friend Rita Reining. Rita took part in a late season wolf-watching seminar this winter given by the Yellowstone Institute. Their next winter’s classes are not yet listed but will be up by August or September.

YT174 copy
Wolf picture from “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 351

Awaiting her article, I’ll pass on some thoughts inspired by a Science Magazine article, “Lessons from the Wild Lab,” March 20, 2015, pages 1302–7.

A video circulating on the Web a few months ago attributed recent changes in Yellowstone’s environment to the reintroduction of gray wolves, beginning in 1995. The video seemed to claim that the observed changes, all the way through the animal and plant kingdoms to the re-channeling of rivers, were due to predation on elk by wolves. However, according to writer Virginia Morell from Yellowstone, scientists disagree as to whether or not the coming of the wolves was the only trigger for observed changes “in species from elk to coyotes to willows to bison to beavers.” She cites cougars, grizzly bears, and drought as partners in the park’s transformation.

Wolves and cougars were both extirpated by the early 1930s. Coyotes, however, have been protected from 1936 on—a discrimination in the ruling that I have never understood, since these smaller canids can also prey on animals as large as deer or (very occasionally) elk and have even been known to attack humans.

In addition to the larger predators, Douglas W. Smith, the Yellowstone Wolf Project leader, who has studied wolves for more than three decades, says that smaller predators and humans should be factored in to the great depletion of the elk herd since wolves came to the park.

Here are a few megafauna statistics from Morell’s article:

Elk:
1994, more than 19,000 in the northern range of Yellowstone
2008, just over 6,000

Cougars (known in the park):
1972, almost none
1995, estimated at 15 to 20
2015, estimated at about 35, a “natural experiment,” according to Morell, “but they are
rarely seen and do not howl”

Bison:
1997 (after slaughter of 1,000), about 1,600
2004, over 4,000
2014, 4,900

Beaver colonies:
2014, 12 (but the
park website
) gives 112 beaver colonies in 2011.)*

Wolves:
1994, none
2013, 95 in the park; 34 on the northern range

Human visitors:
2014: 3.6 million.

– – – – –
*From the NPS Yellowstone website: “The increase [in beavers] has occurred throughout the park and is likely related to the resurgence in willow since the late 1990s, at least on the northern range, and possibly in the park interior.”

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Navigating around yellowstonetreasures.com

Categories: Geysers, On the Web, Wildlife
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You might like to know how to make the most of your visits to yellowstonetreasures.com, so I’ve decided to provide you with a sort of navigational post.

First, on the home page, by clicking on the white bar below the row of pictures at the top, you can move across the page and find seven different pictures. Then, clicking on any one of the pictures or on the descriptions below them takes you to a page related in one way or another to the home page picture. For instance, clicking on the elk gives you a detailed article about the resident elk herd at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Also on the home page, moving your cursor across the top yellow strip to click on Author Blog, you will find the page with our current posts (most written by Author Janet, but some by Editor and Publisher Beth). At the top right of this page is a search box where you can enter a word and come up with all the blog posts and pages (or nuggets) covering that subject here since May of 2009. I just put in the word “bears” and found 18 posts and 8 nuggets discussing grizzlies and black bears. A search for “geysers” brought up 28 posts and 24 nuggets.

On every single page of the website, you can find things another way by scrolling down and entering your search word in the Search box at the bottom right.

One further search aid you might find helpful while you are on either the main Nuggets or Author Blog pages, is the Categories and Archives boxes at the lower right.

Happy navigating in 2015!

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Why not plan a fall trip to the park?

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Trip planning, Wildlife
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aspens in autumn

Aspens turn golden in the fall.

Does it make sense to visit Yellowstone in the autumn months? Of course! Fall is short but wonderful in Yellowstone National Park. The month of September and part of October make up Yellowstone’s autumn; because of the high altitude, after about mid October there are likely to be more snowy days than warm ones.

Autumn is when the bull elk are bugling their unearthly sounds to assert their dominance over the area (and over the cows), bears are coming to the lower altitudes to forage for the foods they need to gorge on before hibernation, and the aspen trees are turning golden. Best of all, the visitors have thinned out remarkably.

Planned road construction

But this year you really need to take two road closures into account when you plan your trip. It helps to look at the maps I link to at the bottom of this post to see how much of a detour you may need to take.

Road closure no. 1

The road linking Old Faithful with West Thumb and Grant Village will be closed for the season starting 6 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, so the bridge at Isa Lake can be removed and replaced.

This road closure will require visitors traveling between the South Entrance and Old Faithful or West Yellowstone to detour through Fishing Bridge Junction and Canyon, increasing the travel time by approximately two hours.

Despite the closure, visitors will still be able to drive south from Old Faithful as far as the trailhead to Lone Star Geyser and north from West Thumb Junction to access the DeLacy Creek trailhead.

Road closure no. 2

In addition, the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris will be closed due to construction from 11 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, until 7 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30.

During this closure, travel between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris will require a detour through Tower Junction and Canyon, a drive of approximately 90 minutes. Visitors traveling between Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone should plan on the trip taking approximately two and a half hours.

See “Construction Work to Result in Yellowstone Road Closures after Labor Day” on the National Park Service website for more.
—Editor Beth

CREDIT: The photo is by Leslie Kilduff.

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The Yellowstone grizzly bear’s chances for survival

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The question of whether or not the grizzly bear should be removed from the Endangered Species List is still being studied. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team will present its report December 11 in Missoula, MT. Grizzlies may not really be at risk, their report says, since the bears do not depend greatly on the now-relatively-scarce whitebark pine nuts for late-season food preparing them for hibernation, as many knowledgeable people have asserted. Instead, they are turning more to meat and foraging at lower elevations than previously. “A 75 percent reduction in whitebark numbers since 2002 isn’t cause for worry,” states the study’s report.

But other bear experts disagree that the grizzly population is out of danger. A retired bear biologist stated that three of the bears’ four main sources of food have declined recently: “We’ve got catastrophic loss of whitebark pine, catastrophic loss of cutthroat trout, and major declines in numbers of elk. [Only] army cutworm moths are hanging in there,” he told the Jackson (WY) News and Guide.

For my money, it looks like this bear population of Greater Yellowstone, which is variously stated as between 600 and 700-plus individuals, is not out of danger yet. The entire article by Mike Koshmrl is called “Pine Decline OK for Grizzly.”

No posts from me next week, since I’ll be attending the American Geophysical Union annual meeting to learn more about new research pertaining to Yellowstone.

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Head count for lovers of Yellowstone’s charismatic megafauna

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In case the expression “charismatic megafauna” is not in your everyday vocabulary—it refers to the big wild animals that attract many people to Yellowstone.

Late summer is a good time to take stock of what lives in the park, so I’ve dug around a bit and found some recent head counts for the biggest and most interesting wild animals.

Curiously, the bison—that iconic beast that was nearly wiped out by hide-hunters by the beginning of the 1900s and again slaughtered by the hundreds in recent years for different reasons—in late 2013 probably has more hooves-on-the-ground than the elk. This in spite of elk numbers being up around the high 30,000s when I began paying attention (in 1995). This year’s count of bison is around 4,600, while elk are estimated at about 4,000.

Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area are estimated at 718 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while in the same area wolves may number about 500, but with only about 80 in the park proper. A large factor in the present small number of wolves has been their delisting and subsequent hunting in 2012-13: 203 killed in Idaho, 179 in Montana, and 73 in Wyoming (which had a shorter hunting season).

You’ll find related posts about elk and wolves in my June 7 and June 13 posts this past summer.

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Late Season Visits to Yellowstone Park, 2013

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You can count on fewer people on the roads and at all the major features in Yellowstone now that most schools have begun. Here’s what a mid summer eruption of Old Faithful Geyser looked like from Observation Point— a delightful short hike above Upper Geyser Basin. From now until the park closes for its autumn break, you won’t find those tremendous crowds, even around the world’s most famous geyser. (Click on the picture to see the crowds circling the geyser.)

Old Faithful from Observation Point

Bears are now fattening for their winter hibernation, bull elk are rounding up their harems and bugling to show their dominance, and bison are in their rutting season. Nights are already beginning to be colder, and it could snow at any time. Remember, Yellowstone’s minimum elevation is about 6,200 feet (1,900 m).

All park roads and most facilities are open into early November every year (barring a possible closure due to fire). Road closure dates have not yet been announced as of late August.

Campgrounds close between September 2 and November 3, hotels and cabins between Sept. 22 and Oct. 20.

For NPS-operated campgrounds, see:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/camping-in-yellowstone.htm.

For Xanterra-operated campgrounds, hotels, and cabins, see the Xanterra website or call 307-344-7311.

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