TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Wyoming & Montana

Monday 4th - Sunday 17th June 2001


Leaders:
Peg Abbott, Montana
Mike Read, Hampshire

DAILY DIARY

Monday 4th June

The flight from Heathrow to Newark (the second New York airport) went really smoothly. We were on time taking off and just a little early landing. Our three-hour stop over at Newark enabled a little time looking to the skies outside and we did manage a few bird sightings ............... of House Sparrow, European Starling and Barn Swallow. These are, of course, three species we could have seen at home.

Soon things were going to take a turn for the worse. As we set off down the runway on the next stage of our journey (to Denver), there was a loud bang and the aircraft suddenly decelerated. This turned out to be a possible bird strike in one of the engines and we were soon back at the terminal building. We just managed to make arrangements for an onward flight in time so we hurried on to another aircraft. There were two/three problems:- we were taking off much later than we should have been; we were heading for Chicago rather than Denver; and we had no idea where our luggage was heading if in fact it was going anywhere!!

 

Less than an hour after landing in Chicago we were on a flight to Denver (after some further ticketing adjustments!) with the promise of a flight to Billings the following day.We spent the night in the Days Inn a short drive from the airport and just one tantalising flight away from the start of the tour.

 

Tuesday 5th June

Woke to songs of Red-winged Blackbirds and Meadowlark (from 03.00 hrs!) and then, after breakfast, we saw American Robin, Western Kingbirds, a Killdeer and a passing Red-tailed Hawk before heading for the airport to catch an 08.45 flight to Billings. At the airport a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows dashed about feeding on passing insects and a Great Blue Heron flapped lazily past.

Denver is nicknamed the 'mile high city' because it stands at about 6000 ft. above sea level, and we took off from there at about 9 a.m. The prairies were spread out below us as we flew to Billings where we were met by Peg Abbott ......... and nearly all of our luggage. After a fairly brief visit to the hotel, we headed towards Molt to enjoy the day birding on some of the plains of Montana.

A pond not far from Billings had a number of Yellow-headed Blackbirds singing in the reeds and a group of Cliff Swallows feeding overhead and another pond held a pair of Canada Geese with a family of goslings.

 

Nearer to Molt, roadside fences frequently held Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds and Western Meadowlarks and there were a few American Kestrels and Red-tailed Hawks to be seen.

 

After lunch in Molt, we drove some of the local dirt roads and were soon looking at Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Horned Larks while a male Northern Harrier drifted over a nearby hill. A somewhat distant Prairie Falcon flew past but sadly not everyone saw it. Until now we had been seeing lots of Uina Ground Squirrels but when we paused to look over a White-tailed Prairie Dog town, with plenty of animals present, our main objective was to find Burrowing Owl. In the end we must have seen probably 4 though they were rather distant and through an increasingly difficult heat haze.

 

A small group of trees was worth investigation and among the birds found were Yellow Warbler, Gray Catbird, Willow Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike and a Western Warbling Vireo.

 

At another location, an Upland Sandpiper was the main prize but there was also a Killdeer present. A short walk on some prairie was good for more Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks plus a host of flowers including the Montana state flower, Bitter Root. As we topped a small rise, our first Coyote ran from its resting place and soon disappeared over a rise never to be seen again. One final stop before Billings added a Western Wood-Pewee and it also sparked some discussion regarding the identity of a raptor sat on a nearby nest. The main problem here was that we could only see the top half of its head and despite long consultations of the field guides, no one could really decide if it was a Red-tailed or a Swainson's Hawk.

 

Wednesday 6th June

Before setting out for Yellowstone National Park, we thought that it was wise to try for a few more 'prairie' species. On our way towards Broadview, a brief pause at the Billings overlook produced another brief view of a Prairie Falcon and there were plenty of American Crows to be seen. On a pool near Broadview there were at least 6 American Avocets, 4 Wilson's Phalaropes, a dozen or more Gadwall and an elusive pair of Blue-winged Teals.

 

On some prairie near Broadview we saw Horned Larks, Rufous-collared & McCown's Longspurs with the latter species appearing to be the most numerous. About a mile further on, three Great Horned Owls (one adult & two flying chicks) were sheltering. Sadly the adult bird flew off quite rapidly but the young were very co-operative and allowed excellent views.

 

We returned to Billings for a visit to Two Moon Park where we had excellent views of the usually skulking Yellow-breasted Chat, a Swainsons Hawk flew over and amongst the lush riparian trees and bushes we also found House Wren, Downy Woodpecker and Yellow Warbler, while Tree, Bank & Northern Rough-winged Swallows hawked for insects over the river. We made one final stop in Billings at the corner of 32nd and Parkhill where an Eastern Screech-Owl peered at us from its day-roosting tree.

 

After collecting our luggage from the hotel we set out from Billings and stopped at Riverside Park in Laurel for lunch. A Northern Flicker fed quite openly on the grass, Double-crested Cormorants flew over and a Lazuli Bunting sang from nearby scrub.

 

As we continued our journey westwards along the Yellowstone River we see little except a lone Osprey clinging to the top of a telegraph pole in fairly strong winds. After pausing in Livingstone for a short while, we began heading south towards Yellowstone. Along the Yellowstone River was another Osprey and a number of Common Mergansers (our Goosanders) and one female had a large brood of ducklings.

 

Once inside Yellowstone National Park, everyone's expectations of seeing wildlife increases but little is seen during the drive to Mammoth Terraces where we are ready for an early dinner. As we later begin the journey towards Cooke a Coyote is on the roadside and immediately afterwards we see our first Elk. After pausing at a fine viewpoint to admire the late evening sunshine, we head onwards with occasionally more Elk and our first Bison. In the Lamar Valley we stop where a group of people are watching a female Grizzly Bear with two cubs but they are at some distance up on a hillside. There are also lots more Bison, a few Pronghorns and a super sunset. A little further on, more people direct us to 4 Gray Wolves in the gathering gloom of dusk. This completes a fabulous day's wildlife watching and we finish the journey to Cooke City and our motel.

 

Thursday 7th June

We breakfast at 07.30 with Violet-green Swallows flying around the 'village'. American Robins are frequent while occasional Yellow-rumped Warblers can be seen in the pines.

 

Today will be spent to the east of Yellowstone National Park on the road up to, and beyond Bear Tooth Pass. A couple of stops in the pine forests enables us to hear Orange-crowned Warbler and we also get excellent views of Three-toed Woodpecker as well as hearing a second one drumming.

 

At a viewpoint over a river to Pilot & Index Peaks we add Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hammond's Flycatcher & Cordilleran Flycatcher as well as Western Tanager & Chipping Sparrow

 

Close to Bear Tooth Pass, a pause to admire the splendid views sees us adding Northern Goshawk, a brief fly-by, American Pipit and Rosy Finch to the growing list though the view of the latter species was rather brief and unsatisfactory. Due to strong, cold winds (only to be expected at over 10000 feet above sea level!!) we eat lunch inside the minibus and watch Yellow-bellied Marmots as we do so. As we finish lunch, a bird lands not far away. Binoculars are focussed on a female Rosy Finch which satisfies most people but then a group of over a dozen join her and this includes many fine males.

Beyond the pass at viewpoint, a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel is very confiding, a Pika scuttles across the scree slopes and a couple of Clark's Nutcrackers perch on the tops of pines some distance below us.

A walk up the track to look over Island Lake sees us looking at another Clark's Nutcracker and a Spotted Sandpiper flew in to a bay hidden by conifers.

As we head back towards Cooke City, a female Moose has a 10-day old calf in tow and a little further on a Great Gray Owl lands on a tree a few yards from the road. This delays us a little but we reach Cooke with time to change before heading out for dinner.

 

Friday 8th June

Today we make an early start to head for the Lamar Valley in the hope of seeing more Gray Wolves. On the way we see two male and two female Moose and one cow has a calf. There are also many Elk among the trees. By about 6 a.m. we are parked near the den of Druid pack and over time see at least nine Wolves and at one time hear them calling their long, drawn out howls; a most eerie and moving moment. After the Wolf activity ends we drove further along the valley searching for Bears without success though many have been seen earlier in the morning. There were plenty of Bison and Elk to entertain us and we also saw Sage Thrasher, Bald Eagle and 2 Bighorn Sheep.

 

We moved to Slough Creek for breakfast and on the way in a couple of pools held Gadwalls, American Wigeon and Cinnamon Teal. At the breakfast site we saw Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Spotted Sandpiper, Red Crossbill, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Osprey, Golden Eagle and some Western Tanagers. As we leave the area, a Sora crossed one of the duck pools and spends time preening among the reedy fringe.

 

Close to the bridge over the Yellowstone River, a female Black Bear and two cubs are being watched by a fair sized crowd, which we join. A few minutes later they are spooked by a door-slam. The cubs climb separate trees and then descend and run off over the hill.

 

Further on at Floating Island Lake there is a good array of birds including a Green-winged Teal, some Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaups, a female Bufflehead, a Ruddy Duck, and numerous Yellow-headed Blackbirds. We pause at one more lake where there are 5 American Avocets, 4 Wilson's Phalaropes and a Killdeer before completing the journey to Mammoth Hot Springs where we enjoy the terraced hot springs and other thermal features.

 

During the return journey we pause at the falls in Lamar Canyon and see an Osprey on its nest where the Lamar Valley begins to open out.

 

After an early evening meal, a few head off out again to the Lamar Valley in the hope of seeing bears; sadly none are found. However, we do see eight Sandhill Cranes (our first of the tour). Thunder begins to echo around the mountains as hammerhead clouds darken the skies. Soon the valley is has a stark contrast between black clouds emptying their rain and shafts of sunlight illuminating tree-clad ridges and Bison herds on the grasslands. To add to the experience, a glorious and intense double rainbow arched its way from one side of the valley to the other.

 

Saturday 9th June

The optional early start to hunt for wolves and bears drew most of the group though some preferred the 'meet you for breakfast' option. On the way in to Yellowstone National Park we saw one Moose, a few Mule Deer and many Elk among the pines plus Bison and Pronghorns when we reached the open part of the Lamar Valley. After a while at the west end of the valley, we found a female Grizzly Bear with two playful cubs but they are soon lost to view in dead ground. We moved east and saw a male Grizzly high on some slopes and then paused at the car park where we had seen all of the wolves the previous day. No wolves had been seen that morning but as we stood there, two Sandhill Cranes flew low overhead. On the way back to Cooke City, a short walk at Pebble Creek Camp Ground added two Cassin's Finches to our list.

 

Close to the motel we saw at least two Red Crossbills and a Stellers Jay before we set off for other parts of the park.

 

On a cliff just inside the Park we saw seven Mountain Goats and four Big Horn Sheep, then in the forest a Ruffed Grouse was almost reluctant to leave the side of the road.

 

We paused at the Lamar River Canyon in an unsuccessful search for birds but we had great views of the rushing river. After lunch at Roosevelt Lodge, we moved to Tower Falls where we saw an American Dipper feeding and then it returned to its nest. Two Ospreys circled over the end of the valley while Violet-green Swallows and a couple of White-throated Swifts flew around over the tree tops.

 

We passed Mount Washburn and saw the devastation caused by the 'big burn' of 1988 in which nearly 30% of the Park burned over a 3-month period. A Swainson's Hawk drifted past showing an optimism for the regeneration of some of the area. A walk at a campground a little further on had us walking on carpets of flowers and watching Least Chipmunk and Mountain Chickadee.

 

A walk at Yellowstone's Grand Canyon a little later began with a Clark's Nutcracker watching from a tree at the edge of the car park. Many Ravens flew over the area and three Osprey nests each with incubating female were clearly visible; one nest was visited by a male as we watched. This ended our wildlife watching for the day and we soon checked in to our lodge accommodation and had a fine evening meal.

 

Sunday 10th June

After a relaxed breakfast, we began our birding next to Dunraven Lodge where we watched two Pine Grosbeaks as the female spent some time collecting nesting material. The male was not of the usual colour but of the rusty-headed race. A pair of Mountain Bluebirds was nesting in an old woodpecker nest hole in a telegraph pole.

 

A walk at the Upper Yellowstone Falls proved interesting with two Dippers, two Ospreys, a passing Swainson's Hawk, numerous Cliff Swallows, at least 20 Barrows Goldeneyes, a pair of Buffleheads and a few Ring-billed Gulls.

Later, in the Hayden Valley an adult Bald Eagle flew over the river then further on, a Golden Eagle (perhaps three years old) seemed to be searching for an unwary ground squirrel. A Coyote seemed to be after the same kind of meal as it hunted close to the road and a herd of about 50 Bison with many young were settling down for a siesta. A Peregrine gave excellent views as it circled low overhead.

 

At the southern end of the Hayden Valley we visited the Mud Geysers, which included the Dragons Mouth Spring. Then it was on to the Le Hardy Rapids for lunch. Dipper, Ring Bill Gull, Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron and seven American White Pelicans were amongst the birds seen.

 

On a pool beside Yellowstone Lake, six American Avocets and a Clark's Grebe were amongst the birds and at the next pool we added Ring-billed & California Gulls, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redheads and Horned Grebe

At Sylvan Lake we had really good views of Barrow's Goldeneyes, and we then drove up to Sylvan Pass but saw nothing new. We returned to a viewpoint where there were views over Yellowstone Lake to the Tetons, which gave us a small taster of things to come.

 

During the return to Lake, we stopped for a view over some riverside meadows and there were a few Elk to be seen and a Western Grebe was on one of the waterways.

We had dinner at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel then made frequent stops during the return journey to search for bears. Sadly we are unsuccessful though do see over 200 Bison, many Elk, Cinnamon, Blue-winged & Green-winged Teals, 2 Sandhill Cranes, a White Pelican and a Beaver.

 

Monday 11th June

Another early start sees us heading for the Hayden Valley at 05.30. There are plenty of Elk, Bison & a few Mule Deer as we begin the journey and along the Yellowstone River there are good groups of Barrows Goldeneyes, two Sandhill Cranes and a Green-winged Teal. At one place where the road crosses a small bridge, dozens of Cliff Swallows are collecting mud to refurbish a previous years nest or build a new one. A Muskrat is seen to swim away up stream and provides a good contrast with yesterday's Beaver.

 

Our search for bears continues without success but from one lay-by, we can view two more Sandhill Cranes & two Coyotes. From here we walked up a gentle slope to get better views over the western slopes of the valley. Savannah, Brewers and Vesper Sparrows were scattered amongst the sagebrush and there must have been 300 Bison and similar numbers of Elk grazing the grasslands, which were spread out before us. Eventually a female Grizzly Bear with two cubs was spotted on a distant hillside. We managed three brief views of them as they kept disappearing into dead ground and then into some forest. Sounds will also be remembered from this walk as we heard a fair amount of howling from some Coyotes, and at least four were seen. As we returned to the minibus, a group of female Elks were hesitating to cross the river because their calves were still quite small.

 

During the return journey to Canyon we again paused to look at the Cliff Swallows and found that there are hundreds nesting below the bridge and there were five Black-necked Stilts wading in the river.

We leave Canyon after breakfast and once again drive through the Hayden Valley to Lake and take the road to Gull Point where, appropriately enough, we find a California Gull and a couple of Least Chipmunks among the boulders. Two Double-crested Cormorants were diving just offshore.

 

At West Thumb Geyser Basin there are one or two Pine Grosbeaks and a Red-breasted Nuthatch around the car park area. As we walked around the various thermal features, an Osprey flew along the shores of Yellowstone Lake and there were two Willets resting on a rock.

 

As we headed on towards Old Faithful for lunch, we crossed the Continental Divide twice at 8391' and 8262'. We saw Old Faithful erupt at 2.45 and Castle Geyser very shortly afterwards. We then walked to other thermal features including Grotto, Beauty Pool and Morning Glory Pool and then saw Lioness and Beehive Geysers erupting. We also stopped briefly at Midway Geyser Basin for Grand Prismatic Spring. There was a large herd of Bison along the Madison River and a pool held a few ducks but nothing unusual. We completed the journey to West Yellowstone in good time for dinner.

 

Tuesday 12th June

An unplanned early return to town shortly after our journey to Red Rocks Lakes had begun proved beneficial when we found a large flock of birds around a feeder. There were perhaps 60 Red Crossbills, 15 Cassin's Finches, a dozen Pine Siskins, four Chipping Sparrows, three American Robins, two Western Wood Pewees and no, not a partridge in a pear tree, but a female Mountain Bluebird on a fence post.

 

The shore area of Hegben Lake held a few Buffleheads and Lesser Scaups as we passed and among the nearby housing were four or five Western Tanagers, some Western Wood-Pewees, a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, Tree Swallows in nest boxes, Sandhill Cranes in the meadows and we also had excellent views of a Red-tailed Hawk and an American Kestrel.

 

The dirt road we ere now travelling was a little muddy in places and as we reached the high point of the road, we took a walk among some mixed forest where we found two or three Western Warbling Vireos, Chipping Sparrows and a House Wren.

During the drive to the refuge we had good views of an Osprey and of a Swainson's Hawk. At Red Rocks Lake NWR itself we saw Brewers Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Sandhill Cranes, three Long-billed Curlews, an Eastern Kingbird and a male Moose running across open ground in an effort to reach the cover of nearby trees.

 

After lunch at a picnic site another short walk was sufficient to find Lincoln's Sparrow, a Least Flycatcher, a pair of Black-capped Chickadees and a Gray Catbird. As we began a scan of the Upper Lake, a Peregrine was circling with prey held in its talons. It could be watched as it began plucking its hapless victim and feathers floated towards the water below.

 

As rain began to fall, birds on the lake included three Caspian Terns, Franklin's & California Gulls, Clark's, Western & Horned Grebes, Canvasback and American Coots. By the time these species had been identified, the rain was falling so heavily that we decided to abandon birding for the day. We boarded the minibus in the midst of a deluge and reluctantly began to head for West Yellowstone. However, after driving only a mile or two, the skies behind us began to brighten considerably. We promptly turned around and as the rain stopped completely, we paused in a piece of woodland in the hope that birds had begun feeding. At first we did not see the Cooper's Hawk that watched us disembark from the bus but once we found it, we were amazed at how approachable it seemed to be.

 

On a small pond, the presence of four Trumpeter Swans suggested that these individuals had not yet started to nest. Further on about 250 Franklin's Gulls were feeding over some grassland and beyond them, a lone Whooping Crane fed fairly close to a pair of Sandhill Cranes. At the visitor centre, we had a brief look at the displays before checking the local bushes (please don't make up your own jokes here!). The Golden-winged Warbler that was found proved very elusive; but then again, it really should have been many, many miles further east as it was way out of its normal range.

 

At Lower Red Rock Lake there were 5-6 White-faced Ibis, 6 Trumpeter Swans, 2 Black-crowned Night-Herons, American White Pelicans, Double crested Cormorants, 6 American Avocets, 3 Willets, 25 Wilson's Phalaropes, 2-3 Northern Harriers. Ducks were also well represented with Ruddy, Shoveler, Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Redheads, Lesser Scaup and Buffleheads. On the grasslands Horned Larks, Savannah, Brewer's & Vesper Sparrows were numerous as were Yellow-headed Blackbirds. By the time we left the dirt roads of Red Rocks N W R after what turned out to be a fabulous days' birding, were we in the dirtiest vehicle in the history of Travelling Naturalist tours?

 

Wednesday 13th June

Today we woke to a fair covering of snow with perhaps 4 - 6 inches on the cars and our minibus! However, the town roads were clear and we decided to leave at 10.15 a.m. to head for the Grand Teton area via low ground in Idaho as the high passes in Yellowstone were closed.

 

A stop by part of the Snake River produced Violet-green, Tree and Cliff Swallows and our first Forsters Tern. All were trying to find some kind of sustenance in the continuing heavy snow.

 

At Harriman State Park, a Black-crowned Night-Heron was the first good bird but in such poor conditions, other birds had moved to the water side in an effort to find insects. These included a fair number of Western Wood Pewees. Also there were Franklin's Gulls, Pied -billed Grebe, Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Yellow Headed Blackbirds, a very vocal Marsh Wren, Western Tanager, Sandhill Cranes, Lincoln's & Song Sparrows, 25 White Pelicans, Northern Flicker, 2 Black Terns, a drumming Snipe and 2 Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Just before lunch in Ashton, we made a brief stop at the Henrys Fork of the Snake River where we found Townsend's Solitaire, 2 or 3 Ospreys (including one on a nest), 2 or 3 Yellow Warblers and a Caspian Tern which soon disappeared off along the river.

 

A fortuitous meeting over lunch had the local town sheriff suggesting an alternative route to the one we had planned to get to the Jackson Lake Lodge. Along the road towards Grassy Lake, there were lots of Mountain Bluebirds and American Robins to begin with and the latter species continued for many miles. At Indian Lake, a Common Loon (Great Northern Diver to British Birders) made the snowy, dirt road worth all the effort.

 

Further on, a Pine Squirrel was a pleasant surprise and past Grassy Lake a Swainson's Thrush obliged by hopping along the road in front of us. This was the final new bird of the day and the journey turned out to be a highly successful bird drive.

 

Thursday 14th June

Our day began with a walk near Jackson Lake Lodge. There was plenty to see including Lazuli Bunting, 10 Moose, a Wilson's Warbler, two Black-headed Grosbeaks, Sandhill Cranes, an Osprey, a Northern Harrier, a Dusky Flycatcher plus Fox & Lincoln's Sparrows. There were also two species of 'woodpeckers' nesting less than four feet apart, Northern Flicker and Red-naped Sapsucker.

After our walk we drove past Jackson Lake Dam where a Turkey Vulture seemed to be walking an aerial tightrope while an Osprey and some White Pelicans seemed to be after the same prey but they were obviously employing very different techniques to obtain them. Many pairs of Cliff Swallows were nesting on the Jackson Lake Dam.

Immediately after lunch at String Lake we took a walk along the waterway and found a nesting pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. A Hairy Woodpecker and a Red-naped Sapsucker were also seen. At Lupine Meadows perhaps as many as five Townsend's Solitaires proved to be quite approachable and we had really good views of two male Lazuli Buntings. A female Pronghorn was joined by two tiny 'fawns' as we watched and, surrounded by Lupines, this provided a very touching scene. A Calliope Hummingbird gave prolonged though somewhat distant views. A pair of Sharp-shinned Hawks must have been nesting nearby as brief views of first a female and then a male were obtained. A further walk at Taggart Lake Trail Head produced nothing new and so we returned to our accommodation and, after an evening meal, we all settled to a good nights sleep.

 

Friday 15th June

For the first time during our visit, early this morning the top of the Tetons could be seen. Out in the willows in front of the Lodge there were good numbers of Mule Deer and Elk but not a single Moose to be seen. Sandhill Cranes, Pronghorn and Coyote were seen in other areas. We left Jackson Lake Lodge after a fine buffet breakfast and before setting out southwards, we paid a visit to Colter Bay & India Museum. The exhibits at the museum were most informative while on the nearby lake there were White Pelicans as well as California and Ring-billed Gulls.

Each time we passed Jackson Lake Dam there were Ospreys present and we suspected that they were having more luck at catching fish than the anglers lined up beneath the dam. From Signal Mountain we had the expected excellent views of the Tetons. The bonus was that Peg, alert and knowledgeable as ever, managed to find us three or four Green-tailed Towhees to add to the list. Further along the road, a female Blue Grouse attracted our attention but we were amassed when a male sidled down the bank and crossed the road in a full display. After that, it continued to display for a full 8 - 10 minutes within a few feet of the admiring group. A further 3 female Blue Grouse were seen before we left the area.

 

During our picnic lunch at the Oxbow Bend two more Ospreys, three Turkey Vultures and a Spotted Sandpiper all flew past. During our journey towards Jackson Hole we paused to take in views over the Oxbow Bend and form where Ansel Adams took his famous photo of the Tetons. In the town square at Jackson Hole 7 Cedar Waxwings were feeding on berries on one of the shrubs. At early dinner we saw a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird in display flight.

Following that we had a fabulous 21/2 hour river trip with a wealth of wildlife to be seen. Amongst the highlights were Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Cranes, Mule Deer, Moose, 6+ Beavers, Common Nighthawk, five Otters, Bank Swallows, Belted Kingfisher and, of course, Spotted Sandpipers & Common Mergansers.

 

Saturday 16th June

The sun rose over Sleeping Indian Mountain at about 6 a.m. Clear skies allowed the temperature to rise and we were soon out enjoying the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds that were visiting the motel's feeders. At 08.15, all bags were loaded and we climbed into the minibus for a quick visit to the river at the edge of Jackson. Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were most noticeable and there were also a few ducks present. The hoped for Belted Kingfisher was no where to be seen so Peg turned around and immediately, there was the required bird perched on the power cables. After good views for everyone, we headed for the airport passing a pair of Trumpeter Swans and our final Coyote, we checked in and were soon enjoying a good breakfast before our flight.

 

All three flights to take us back to Heathrow were more or less on schedule and the tour finished on the morning of Sunday 17th June.

 

SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Birds

Common Loon/Gt Northern Diver Just a single bird at Indian Lake on 13th.

Pied-billed Grebe Again, just a single sighting of a bird at Harriman State Park on 13th.

Eared (Black-necked) Grebe A single bird on a pool near Yellowstone Lake on 10th and at least 15 seen on Red Rocks Lake on 12th

Western Grebe Seen at the same two locations as the previous species and there were 3 on Grassy Lake on 13th.

Clark's Grebe Just a single bird seen on a pool beside Yellowstone Lake on 10th.

Double-crested Cormorant The first ones were about 8 at Laurel on the 6th where birds were obviously following the course of the Yellowstone River. Also seen on 5 days from 11th.

American White Pelican Seen on 6 consecutive days from 10th. There were at least 50 at Red Rocks Lake N W R on 12th.

Great Blue Heron Our first was near Denver Airport on 5th and we saw one or two on 8 other days

Black-crowned Night-Heron 2 flying at the dam of Lower Red Rock Lake on 12th and a single bird at Harriman State Park the following day.

Trumpeter Swan 2 on 6th outside Yellowstone National Park then none until a single bird on 11th on the Madison River. The following day there were at least 10 at Red Rocks Lake NWR, we also saw 2 in the Grand Teton National Park on 14th and finally 4 near Jackson Hole on 15th.

Ruddy Duck Seen on 8th in the Lamar Valley, at Hegben Lake and Red Rocks NWR on 12th and at Harriman State Park on 13th.

Canada Goose Seen on 9 days.

American Wigeon The first was in the Lamar Valley on 8th. Then seen on 6 successive days from 10th.

Gadwall Quite common at times on suitable pools and rivers: seen on 9 days.

Green-winged Teal Small numbers seen on 7 days with the first 2 near Broadview on 6th.

Mallard Common: seen on 9 days.

Northern Pintail A single bird seen at Island Lake (east of Cooke City) on 7th and about 20 at Red Rocks Lake on 12th.

Blue-winged Teal 2 on a pool near Broadview on 6th and also seen on 10th near Yellowstone Lake.

Cinnamon Teal The first was a single bird on a pool in the Lamar Valley on 8th. The species was then seen on 6 consecutive days from 10th.

Northern Shoveler A single bird near Yellowstone Lake on 10th plus a few at Red Rocks Lake on 12th.

Canvasback Just seen at Red Rocks Lake on 12th.

Redhead At least 10 on a pool by Yellowstone Lake on 10th and also seen at Red Rocks Lake on 12th and Harriman State Park on 13th.

Ring-necked Duck Noted on 5 days, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th & 15th.

Lesser Scaup The first were 4 on 8th on a pool in the Lamar Valley after which they were seen on 6 consecutive days from 10th.

Bufflehead 2 on 8th on a pool in the Lamar Valley then many were seen on 4 consecutive days from 10th.

Barrow's Goldeneye Many on the Yellowstone River and Lake on 10th, 11th &12th.

Common Merganser (Goosander) Commonly seen from 6th; many of the females had broods of young.

Turkey Vulture At least 2 in the Molt area on 5th, a single bird near Broadview on 6th, single birds also on 13thand 14th and finally 3 over the Snake River during lunch (ours!) on 15th.

Osprey Small numbers seen on 9 days in widely spaced locations.

Bald Eagle Seen on 3 days, in the Lamar Valley on 8th, in the Hayden Valley (2) on 10th and at least 4 during the river trip on 15th.

Northern Harrier The best views were of at least 2 birds, a male and a female, near Molt on 5th. Also seen on 6th, 12th (4) and 14th.

Sharp-shinned Hawk A presumed pair seen at Lupine Meadows on 14th was the only sighting.

Cooper's Hawk Just a single, excellent sighting of a rather tame bird near Red Rock Lake on 12th.

Northern Goshawk A brief view of one over high, open mountainous terrain at Bear Tooth pass on 7th.

Swainson's Hawk Seen most days.

Red-tailed Hawk Seen every day except 4th and 10th.

Golden Eagle One over Slough Creek on 8th and a sub adult bird over the Hayden Valley 2 days later.

American Kestrel The best quantities were on the prairies on 5th and 6th but also seen in smaller numbers on 7 other days.

Prairie Falcon As its name implies, this species as only seen over the prairies on 5th and 6th with distant views on the first day and very brief views on the second.

Peregrine 2 excellent sightings: one repeatedly drifting low overhead on in the Hayden Valley on 10th followed by one carrying and plucking prey as it circled over the Upper Red Rock Lake on 12th.

Blue Grouse We had remarkably good views of a displaying male and 4 females on Signal Mountain on 15th; they were right on the roadside and the male even paraded across the road in full display at one time!

Ruffed Grouse Just a single bird seen amongst the coniferous forest not far from the Northeast Entrance on 9th.

Grey Partridge 3 near Molt on 5th was he only sighting.

Pheasant Just a single bird near Molt on 5th.

Sandhill Crane Seen every day from 8th with some really good views including in the Lamar Valley on 9th and during the boat trip on 15th especially.

Whooping Crane A single bid close to Red Rock Lake on 12th was a very pleasant surprise.

Sora Just a single sighting of a bird crossing and then bathing and preening among the vegetation at the side of a pond in Slough Creek on 8th.

American Coot Noted on 6 days.

American Avocet 6 on 6th near Broadview, 5 near the Yellowstone River on 8th, then seen on 10th and 11th in the Hayden Valley and on 12 at Red Rocks Lake.

Killdeer Seen most days.

Upland Sandpiper Just a single sighting of this elusive species near Molt on 5th.

Long-billed Curlew At least 8 near Molt on 5th and then a further 3 on 12th near Red Rocks Lake.

Spotted Sandpiper Seen every day from 7th onwards.

Willet 2 at the West Thumb Geyser Basin on 11th and a further 3 in a pool beside the dam at Lower Red Rocks Lake the following day.

Wilson's Phalarope The first were at least 4 on a pool near Broadview then also seen on 4 other days with the largest quantity seen at Red Rocks Lake on 12th.

Common Snipe Heard on 7th then odd 1s and 2s heard and seen on 4 days after that.

California Gull Seen every day from 10th in small numbers including on Yellowstone Lake and at Red Rocks Lake.

Ring-billed Gull Seen on 5 days from 10th.

Franklin's Gull Over 1000 seen at Red Rocks Lake on 12th and perhaps 100 seen on the Snake River and at Harriman S P the following day in heavy snow.

Forster's Tern At least 2 seen along the Henry's Fork Snake River during heavy snow on 13th.

Black Tern 2 seen briefly at Harriman S P on 13th.

Caspian Tern 3 at Red Rocks Lakes NWR on 12th then one on the Henry's Fork Snake River near Ashton the following day.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Just noted on 5th and 6th in the Billings area.

Mourning Dove Plenty seen in the prairies on 5th & 6th then not seen in Yellowstone N P. 2 near Hegben on 12th and also seen on 13th and 15th.

Eastern Screech-Owl Just a single sighting of a bird day-roosting in a tree at the corner of two streets in Billings on 6th.

Great-horned Owl An adult (briefly) and two well-grown chicks west of Broadview on 6th.

Great Grey Owl Just a single bird amongst the pines on the slopes of Bear Tooth Mountain on 7th.

Burrowing Owl At least 4 in a Prairie Dog town close to Molt on 5th.

Tengmalm's (Boreal) Owl Heard but sadly not seen during our stay at Canyon deep in the heart of Yellowstone.

Common Nighthawk Just one somewhat distant individual seen during our evening boat ride on 15th.

White-throated Swift One or two seen at Tower Falls on 9th.

Calliope Hummingbird One, possibly two at Red Rocks Lake on 12th and another at Lupine Meadows on 14th.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird The distinctive buzzing flight of this species was heard on 14th and 15th before a male was seen in a display flight during the pre boat trip dinner. Then there were at least 2 females coming to the feeders outside our motel before we left for the airport on 16th.

Belted Kingfisher One seen as a silhouette during the river trip on 15th then a slight detour before heading to the airport the following morning produced much better views.

Red-naped Sapsucker A nesting pair found close to the Jackson Lake Lodge on 14th and a further bird seen the following day at Lupine Meadows.

Downy Woodpecker 2 beside the Yellowstone River during lunch in Laurel on 6th.

Hairy Woodpecker Noted on 6th, 7th, 14th &15th with 4 birds on 14th at a variety of locations in Grand Teton National Park.

Three-toed Woodpecker One watched at very close range and another heard nearby on the wooded slopes of Bear Tooth Mountain on 7th and another seen on 13th.

Northern Flicker Seen every day except 4th, 5th and 11th. The sightings included a pair nesting about four feet away from the active nest of a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers .... in the same tree.

Western Wood-Pewee A good trip for this species. We saw at least 3 in Molt area on 5th then there were plenty every day from 12th onwards.

Willow Flycatcher 2 in the Molt area on 5th and a single bird the following day were our only sightings.

Least Flycatcher 2 at Red Rocks Lake N W R on 12th

Hammond's Flycatcher The first was amongst woodlands on the way up to Bear Tooth Pass on 7th then seen on the next 2 days.

American Dusky Flycatcher Seen on 8th at Slough Creek and then seen on 14th & 15th.

Cordilleran Flycatcher Only seen on 8th though we had heard one the previous day.

Say's Phoebe 4 in the vicinity of Molt on 5th were the only ones seen.

Western Kingbird Fair numbers seen in the prairie areas on 5th & 6th, but then not seen again.

Eastern Kingbird Many seen in the prairie areas on 5th & 6th where they were usually to be found in pairs. The only other sighting was a single bird seen near Hegben on 12th.

Shore (Horned) Lark As with the previous 2 species we saw many in the prairies close to Billings on 5th, 6th and one on 7th. This included birds that were nesting building. We also saw a few on 12th & 13th near Red Rocks Lake and Ashton respectively and finally, as we boarded the plane at Denver airport on 16th, there was one wandering about there despite the baggage handlers etc.

Tree Swallow First seen on 6th in Two Moon Park in Billings and then seen from 12th for 4 consecutive days.

Violet-green Swallow Seen on 8 days from 7th; common.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Seen on 7 consecutive days from 5th and then again on 15th during the evening boat trip.

Bank Swallow This species is the same as our Sand Martin. We only saw it on 2 days, 6th at Two Moon Park and on 15th during the evening boat trip.

Barn Swallow Relatively common on 4 of the 5 days on which we saw it (5th, 6th, 10th, 13th and 15th).

Cliff Swallow The most commonly encountered member of the Swallows. We saw them on 9 days but perhaps the most memorable encounter was when we paused in the Hayden Valley to look at their nests under a small bridge. Rather than the expected dozens, there were hundreds of nests, many of which were under refurbishment as could be seen by the dark, fresh mud.

American Pipit Only seen on 7th on the high ground near Bear Tooth Pass, where the species was quite numerous.

Loggerhead Shrike Just 2 encountered in the Molt area on 5th.

Cedar Waxwing Not seen until 15th when at least 7 were found in the gardens in the centre of Jackson Hole!

American Dipper The first was at Tower Falls on 9th and then the following day we saw at least 3 along the Yellowstone River in the Canyon and at the Lettardy Rapids.

Marsh Wren Just a single bird well seen at Harriman State Park on 13th. This bird was mostly engaged in territorial song despite the heavy snow.

House Wren Singles seen on 5th & 6th close to Billings and on 12th at Red Rocks Lake NWR.

Gray Catbird 3 seen in the Molt area on 5th, then also seen on 6th and 12th but perhaps the best views were reserved for 14th & 15th when we saw them near the Jackson Lake Lodge.

Sage Thrasher Heard on 6th and 11th but well seen in the Lamar Valley on 8th and 9th.

Mountain Bluebird This lovely species was regularly seen every day from 7th onwards except on 9th. It was noticeable that during the snow on 13th, many had moved back to lower ground and were flocking together.

Townsend's Solitaire First encountered on 13th in snow at the Henry's Fork Snake River. Then at lest 6 were seen the following day at Lupine Meadows and we also saw some on 15th.

Swainson's Thrush The first were seen as we moved from West Yellowstone to the Grand Teton area on 13th. We then saw some on each of the following 2 days.

Hermit Thrush Only seen on 14th at Lupine Meadows.

American Robin Seen every day from 5th.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Noted on 7th, 8th and 9th in the eastern portion of Yellowstone National Park.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet More common than the previous species. Not only did we encounter them on the same days as its Golden-crowned cousin but we also saw them on 4 days from 12th.

Black-capped Chickadee Single birds seen on 5th & 6th then also seen on 12th and 14th.

Mountain Chickadee Seen on 8 days from 7th though not recorded on 12th.

Red-breasted Nuthatch Seen on 5 days with the best views being reserved for the Amphitheatre at Colter Bay on 15th where one was investigating the boarded building and also the preceding day at String Lake were we found a nest.

Brown Creeper Just a single bird seen on 7th in the woods towards Bear Tooth Pass.

Black-billed Magpie Noted on 9 days.

Steller's Jay Just a single bird seen on a bird table in Cooke City on 9th.

Gray Jay 3 on 7th east of Cooke City, 1 on 9th at Canyon, also seen on 14th and 15th.

Clark's Nutcracker As expected, seen in the coniferous areas from 7th onwards, with the best views being reserved for the car park at the Yellowstone Falls close to Canyon village.

American Crow At least 10 near the Billings 'overlook' on 6th and then not seen from 12th when we recorded the species for 4 successive days.

Common Raven Seen every day from 5th.

European Starling Seen on 8 days mostly close to inhabited areas.

Fox Sparrow Only noted amongst the willows close to Jackson Lake Lodge on 14th.

Song Sparrow At least 1 on 6th at Two Moon Park in Billings and then seen on 13th, 14th and 15th in the Grand Teton N.P.

Lincoln's Sparrow Seen on 7th out towards Bear Tooth Pass and then from 12th onwards at various locations.

White-crowned Sparrow Seen at various locations from 10th to 13th and on 15th.

Dark-eyed Junco Seen every day from 7th onwards.

Savannah Sparrow Seen on 8 days; 5th, 6th then 8th to 13th.

Chipping Sparrow Seen every day from 7th onwards, except 10th, usually in its preferred pinewood habitat.

Brewer's Sparrow Heard on 6th and 7th then finally seen on 8th in the Lamar Valley. Also seen on 11th, 12th and 14th.

Vesper Sparrow Noted on 6 days.

Lark Sparrow Just a single sighting on 5th fairly close to Molt

Green-tailed Towhee We made numerous attempts to find this species and in the end we found at least 4 on Signal Mountain on 15th.

Spotted Towhee Just a single male seen singing from the top of a pine below the Billings 'overlook' on 6th.

Chestnut-collared Longspur Well seen on 5th near Molt and close to Broadview the following day.

McCown's Longspur After considerable searches the previous day when we found none, this elusive sought after species was eventually located near Broadview on 6th.

Black-headed Grosbeak Two well seen amongst the willow scrub below Jackson Lake Lodge on 14th.

Lazuli Bunting This gorgeous looking bird was first seen in Laurel on 6th when a male was singing in the riverside park after lunch. A second more obliging male was at Lupine Meadows on 14th and everyone had really good views of this individual.

Western Tanager The first was on 7th on the way to Bear Tooth Pass. The following day we saw at least 5 in the eastern part of Yellowstone N.P. and we also saw them on 4 consecutive days from 12th. Perhaps the strangest sighting was to have good views of one of these brightly coloured summer visitors in Harrison State Park in heavy snow on 13th.

Golden-winged Warbler One close to the visitor centre at Red Rock Lakes NWR on 12th was most unexpected, as the bird was many miles outside of its usual more easterly range.

Orange-crowned Warbler Heard singing on 7th up towards Bear Tooth Pass but sadly not seen.

Yellow Warbler This brightly coloured bird with a song somewhat reminiscent of the European Willow Warbler (at times!) was frequently seen on 9 days.

Yellow-rumped Warbler Seen every day from 7th onwards.

Common Yellowthroat Singletons of this 'Lone Ranger' of the bird world were seen on 8th at Slough Creek and on 15th in the scrub below Jackson Lake Lodge where one had been heard the previous day.

American Redstart A female not far from Molt on 5th was our only sighting.

Wilson's Warbler Only seen on 14th in the willow scrub below Jackson Lake Lodge.

Western Warbling Vireo Relatively common; noted on 8 days.

Pine Siskin Seen from 7th onwards amongst just about all of the pine forests.

Lesser Goldfinch Seen on 14th and 15th close to Jackson Lake Lodge.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch At least a dozen seen on Bear Tooth Pass on 7th

Black Rosy-Finch Also seen on Bear Tooth Pass on 7th though in small numbers than the previous species.

Cassin's Finch Two, probably a pair, seen at Pebble Creek Camp Ground on 9th. This was followed by about 15, including some superbly coloured males, visiting a bird table in West Yellowstone on 12th and the species was also seen on 13th and 14th.

Common (Red) Crossbill One seen briefly at Slough Creek on 8th and two by our motel in Cooke City the following morning were sadly not seen by everyone. However, the 60 or so in West Yellowstone on 12th were greatly enjoyed by everyone as the fed in pines and on bird tables with the previous species.

Pine Grosbeak Two well seen by everyone as the female collected nesting material beside our lodge at Canyon village on 10th. Also glimpsed there the following day.

House Sparrow Only seen on 4th, 5th and 6th in 'built-up' areas including at airports on 4th and near grain silos at Molt the following day.

Bullock's Oriole 3 close to Molt on 5th and another in Laurel, during lunch, the following day.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Seen wherever there was cat-tail (reedmace) edged pools or lakes. Recorded every day from 5th onwards, except 7th.

Red-winged Blackbird Commonly seen every day except 4th and 7th.

Western Meadowlark Seen on 7 days whenever we were in grassland/scrub habitats.

Common Grackle Seen in Laurel on 6th and on 13th in snow!

Brewer's Blackbird Seen on 8 days.

Brown-headed Cowbird Seen every day except 4th and 7th.

 

Mammals

Gray Wolf Following our evening meal at Mammoth on 6th, we drove through the Lamar Valley in the gathering gloom of late evening and saw 4 Wolves but this was eclipsed by the 11 that we saw in the same area early on the morning of 8th. The howling of the Wolves early that morning will live long in the memory!

Red Fox Just a single sighting near a pool close to Broadview on 6th.

Coyote A good number of sightings on 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th with at least 6 on 11th including some 'yapping' disputes between residents and visitors in the Hayden Valley.

River Otter A female with two well grown young, then 2 full sized individuals were seen during our evening river trip in the Tetons on 15th: superb!

Black Bear A female and two cubs were seen at close range beside the road near Roosevelt Lodge on 8th. There was the usual 'Bear Jam' along the roadside.

Grizzly Bear As with the Gray Wolves, we saw a distant female with 2 cubs in the gathering gloom on 6th. Early on 9th we found another female with 2 playful cubs in the Lamar Valley and then a large male a few miles further along. Finally we saw a female and yet another 2 cubs in the Haden Valley early on 11th.

Moose A female with a calf on the slopes as we returned from Bear Tooth Pass on 7th gave the best views though we did see more of this species on 8th, 9th and 12th to 15th. The 14th produced the most sightings with at least 11 spread throughout the willows beneath Jackson Lake Lodge.

Elk Numerous in Yellowstone from 6th to 11th and also seen on 14th, 15th and 16th.

Mule Deer Seen every day from 5th to 15th except 12th.

White-tailed Deer Seen on 6th between Livingstone and Yellowstone N.P. and then seen on 12th near Red Rocks Lake NWR.

Pronghorn At least 60 seen on 5th in the Billings/Molt area then seen most days after that when we were in unforested areas. The most endearing sighting was a female with 2 small young amongst the flowers at Lupine Meadows on 14th.

American Bison Numerous in the broad, open, grassy valleys (Lamar & Haden) with in excess of 700 seen on 11th alone.

Mountain Goat At least 7 seen on cliffs as we drove from Cooke City into Yellowstone on 9th

Bighorn Sheep 4 on 8th and another 4 on 9th to the west of Cooke City.

Richardson Ground Squirrel Just seen on 12th at Red Rocks Lake NWR.

Uinta Ground Squirrel Seen most days.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel A single one was seen on 7th near Bear Tooth Pass and we also encountered the species on 11th.

American Red Squirrel Seen most days from 6th onwards.

Pine Squirrel (Chickaree) Seen on 13th along the Grassy Lake Road and also on 15th at Colter Bay.

Least Chipmunk This delightful creature was seen on 6 days with perhaps the best views on 9th.

Uinta Chipmunk Two seen on 7th near Bear Tooth Pass.

Yellow-bellied Marmot 2 on 6th in the Lamar Valley, at least 10 on 7th at Bear Tooth Pass; also seen the following day and heard on 11th and 14th.

White-tailed Prairie Dog As expected, only seen on the prairie areas near Molt on 5th and near Broadview on 6th.

American Beaver A single one in the Hayden Valley on 10th was overshadowed by at least 6 during our evening river trip on 15th.

Muskrat Just a single sighting in the Hayden Valley on 11th.

Pika At least 3 amongst scree boulders 'beyond' Bear Tooth Pass on 7th.

Audubon's Cottontail Just a single one in the Molt area on 5th.

Mountain Cottontail Seen twice; on 6th and 8th both times in the Lamar Valley.

 

 

Each person on this tour will have their own special memories of a great visit to some very special places. Yellowstone National Park, the first national park ever, gave us views of wolves, bears and bison, eagles, cranes and geysers. Add to this (and so much more) the wonderful scenery and light and you come to the conclusion that nothing could be better. And then you end up with some time in the Grand Teton National Park where the views to the Teton Mountain range are just SPECTACULAR!

 

We packed so much into the tour that it is difficult to remember that it all began with a visit to the prairies close to Billings where we saw a whole range of birds including McCown's Longspur, a species that many a keen birder in the U. S. A. still does not have on his list. And we also saw both species of Rosy-Finch and many other keenly sought-after birds and we ended up seeing 160 species overall plus 28 mammals.

The whole tour was superbly led by Peg Abbott who knew where to find just about everything and got us in the right place at the right time to see it all.

The views of the Teton Range combined with another clear-sky day made everyone very reluctant to board the plane at Jackson airport ...................... so let's all do it again some time!!!

Mike Read


© The Travelling Naturalist 2001