Naturalist’s View

Yellowstone Association, a non-profit partner of the National Park Service, is dedicated to educating us all on this amazing place called Yellowstone National Park. They offer seminars on a wide range of topics at their Yellowstone Institute, located at Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Not only do we get to learn surprising and interesting things about this vast land, but we get to stay at an historic location in the Serengeti of the West, Lamar Valley in the Northern Tier of Yellowstone. What an adventure today as our seminar group heads up into the mountains to see the only remaining wolf pens used for the 1995-96 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. Come, explore with us.sign-3

This seminar is about honing your naturalist skills. We are examining just about every natural thing we find along the trail. We’ll be looking at not only animals, but plants, trees, bugs, tracks, rocks–well you get the idea–all of nature that adds its particular beauty to this glorious environment called Yellowstone.

Walking up behind the the Buffalo Ranch, we cross Rose Creek and head out on the trail that looks like a double track wagon road. However, we don’t get far when we politely walk out into the sage to give this bull bison the right of way!bison-5858It is the beginning of their rut or mating season, making them more unpredictable than usual. They may look big and slow, but don’t be fooled. They can run faster than we can sprint and can get to 35mph in seconds. One ton of solid muscle.  We’ll just wait over here a minute.

This is Rose Creek. Behind us the creek splits into three creeks all flowing into the Lamar River on the other side of the valley. The beautiful green grasses and flowers bleed into the arid sage environment higher up the hillsides.rose creek-We come across the remains of a possible winter kill, a bull elk. Ken, our instructor, is checking for gnaw marks on the antlers. Nothing is wasted in nature, and in this case various animals gnaw the bones “feasting” on the calcium.elk bones-5861Time to head up into the mountains. Amazing all the gorgeous flowers. Bright pink fireweed, white yarrow, and yellow goldenrod.walk up-5893-2One thing I’ve learned in Yellowstone, always turn around. The views just never quit: Lamar Valley. I hope we stay ahead of the storm.lamar valley-

The flowers are just gorgeous. Hot pink sticky geranium, purple/blue harebells, sage-colored rabbitbrush encircling fleabane with their yellow centers, white yarrow, and yellow goldenrod–what a smoke in the summer and from which it gets its name . . .praire smoke-5901. . . but in the spring it looks very different (taken last May). Not sure which I like better.Praire_Smoke_geum_triflorum-6896Here we are at the old wolf pen, still standing but showing its age. Let’s sit and have lunch inside the enclosure.

In 1995, 14 wolves were transported from the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and held here for ten weeks to acclimate to Yellowstone in three wolf pens located in the region. These were the first wolves to be released into the park. You can read a short history of the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone Insider and Wolf Restoration from the Park Service. There are many resources available about this controversial issue. People are still arguing about the wolves, but the environment has become healthier since their return, as discussed in The Wildlife News.pen-As we have lunch, we are serenaded by a Lazuli Bunting who loves sitting at the very top of a tree, as do other buntings, and  . . .lazuli bunting-5904

. . . we enjoy the wild Wood’s roses still in bloom at these higher elevations.roses-5906With lunch over we’ll walk a bit further. Again we are surrounded with the most beautiful fields of wildflowers. Now we have paintbrush added to the palette, both red and salmon colors to contribute their rhythm to the hillside. There are 22 species of paintbrush in the region, but because they hybridize with each other, it can get very confusing. Well, we do know for sure they are a type of paintbrush and today we are enjoying these in particular.paintbrush-5930The sun is still out, but let’s keep an eye on the sky. The weather can change quickly in Yellowstone and it is a good thing we brought along our rain gear.clouds-Surprise! Popping up on a rock not far away a Blue Grouse. These birds, only found in the western mountains, are slow moving and inconspicuous and can be rather tame. Mostly found on the ground, they will take refuge and forage in trees particularly in winter when there is deep snow cover. The males can weigh up to three pounds, the female two and under.

Blue Grouse migrate in an unusual way. They tend to just move uphill, a change of altitude rather than longitude (heading north or south). They don’t often travel far to their winter habitat and many times they walk between their winter and summer homes. They do often seem like they’d rather walk than fly. If you approach them they will run until they have no choice but to fly off. If you flush them on a hike, though, they will scare you almost to death with the flurry and noise as they take grouse-5912Grouse may be best known for their amazing courting display (taken mid June on Blacktail Plateau). Strutting around with this beautiful and colorful display. The females are, of course, playing hard to grouse-5412We come upon some very pale Sticky Geranium. Usually they are hot pink and even magenta, but these are sweet pink. Why “sticky” geranium? If you touch the stems or leaves they basically stick to you thanks to a sticky substance they produce to catch insects making this plant insectivorous–traps and digests insects. Luckily we are too big for their sticky trap.sticky geranium-5946There are many butterflies, but few who sit long enough for a picture. Here is a Purplish Copper butterfly taking a long rest. Copper butterflies (Lycaenidae) make up the second largest family of butterflies worldwide. This must be a female because the male has an iridescent purple sheen on his wings, hence their name.purplish cooper butterfly-5956Well, it is about time to head back to the Buffalo Ranch. It doesn’t seem possible, but I think the flowers are even more beautiful heading down. Stalks of bright pink fireweed, white yarrow and a variety of yellow flowers; goldenrod, goldenpea, biscuitroot, tansy. We better watch the sky. We could get wet before we get back.wildflower hill-Heading down the hill we have a wonderful view of the Lamar River running south to north through Lamar Valley. See all the bison?Lamar Valley-5972-5972Back at Rose Creek it is starting to rain. Well, thank goodness for amazing high tech rain gear these days.rose creek-5879-Let’s sing in the rain as we head to the bunkhouse for dinner! Looking at the world as a naturalist certainly makes you pay attention to amazing details, interconnections, and the abundance of life’s dependence on life. What a great day! Until next time . . .


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