TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
Monday 2 - Sunday 15 June 2003
Monday 2nd June
The flight departure was on time but soon after take off, we were reminded that Newark, our first destination, was 5 hours behind British time. So many of us were seeing our second 5.15 a.m. of the day!
The flight went smoothly and after a slightly firm landing at Newark, we cleared US immigration without too much trouble and were then assisted from the baggage reclaim towards our departure gate for Denver.
Another flight passed and at Denver airport we had a while to wait before heading on to Billings. This gave us the opportunity to do a little birding from the terminal building and during this time we did see House Sparrows and European Starling ....... so nothing exciting there then! However, further away were a few hirundines flying around catching insects. These included Northern Rough-winged Swallow and possibly Violet-green Swallows although we could not be sure of the latter species. Also in the distance were three buzzard-type hawks but we never did get good enough views to identify them. The other thing of interest at Denver airport was a hefty electrical storm that slightly delayed our boarding of the flight to Billings.
However, we were only a few minutes late leaving and as darkness fell, we landed at Billings, were met by Peg Abbott and made something of a dash for our hotel ......... and BED! After all, some of us had now been awake for about 24 hours.
Tuesday 3rd June
The day began rather early for some, as our body clocks had not had a chance to convert to U.S. time yet. After a somewhat erratic room service breakfast schedule, we headed towards Molt.
There were Western Kingbirds as we drove through the outer suburbs of Billings as well as a couple of American Crows. At one place on the open prairie we stopped to view a hawk on a fence post and immediately began to add other species. The most surprising bird here, in a relatively treeless location, was a Red-headed Woodpecker. This bird perched on a roadside telegraph pole and some shorter posts and was well seen by everyone. Eastern Kingbirds were hanging about on the fences in pairs; Vesper Sparrows were fairly frequent, as were Richardson's Ground-Squirrel and Pronghorns. An adult Golden Eagle sat on a distant post and a Turkey Vulture flew past. Oh, and the hawk? That was a Swainson's Hawk.
In the small town of Molt, we took a dirt road and after a couple of pauses to look at birds like Grey Partridge, American Robin, Killdeer and a sub adult Ferruginous Hawk, we pulled up at a Black-tailed Prairie Dog 'town' and took time to look around. The prizes here were 4 Burrowing Owls. a few Chestnut-collared Longspurs and a pair of Common Ravens nesting on a double telegraph pole.
As we drove a little further, a Say's Phoebe was fly-catching around an open sided barn. We reached a shallow pool where a number of passing waders were feeding. Most numerous was American Avocet (20-ish) but also present were Marbled Godwits, Willets, Wilson's Phalaropes and Long-billed Curlews. The latter species breed in the area. Four different ducks were found and these were Mallard, Gadwall, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals. Nearby, we were watching an Upland Sandpiper when a Common Nighthawk flew around briefly and a Desert Cottontail disappeared into some longer grass.
At an area of trees and bushes, Western Kingbirds, Yellow Warblers and a House Wren were seen as were a pair of American Robins who had recently fledged young. During a circuitous route back to Molt for lunch we added American Kestrel and White-tailed Jackrabbit to the list.
As we finished lunch, there were more Yellow Warblers in a nearby garden where a House Finch was visiting a feeder. We then drove to the town of Broadview and during the journey we saw a Red Fox and lots of Pronghorns, a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and we had a brief glimpse of an American Badger. A sub adult Golden Eagle was perched on a roadside telegraph pole but it took off when another vehicle passed it.
Near Broadview a pair of Northern Harriers drifted around for a short while before disappearing over a ridge and then we spent some time watching for, and eventually securing good views of McCown's Longspur, a special species to see. Further along the road we took a short walk near some trees and a couple of buildings. Here, another Common Nighthawk flew around and a Western Wood Pewee perched on an open twig although they both only put in brief appearances. More obliging was the pair of Bullock's Orioles feeding in a deciduous tree. Best of all at this location was a pair of Great Horned Owls which were well watched through binoculars and 'scopes. The journey back to the hotel was only interrupted by the wishes of some to get more than just passing views of Pronghorns with young.
Wednesday 4th June
As we assembled for our early morning visit to Two Moon Park, a White-throated Swift flew around briefly. A group of Canada Geese and a couple of Great Blue Herons flew over during the short drive. At the Park, we were greeted by a Black-capped Chickadee and very soon found 2 Yellow-breasted Chats. Northern Flicker and Gray Catbird both proved a bit elusive but one of the many Tree Swallows posed beautifully and allowed everyone to see it well. Along the Yellowstone River itself, more Great Blue Herons were seen as was a Spotted Sandpiper and some Mallards. Western Wood Pewee and House Wren were both seen in the scrub and as we made our way towards our picnic breakfast spot, an American Goldfinch was seen by some of the group.
As Peg prepared the breakfast, we heard a Pheasant call, we saw a Black-headed Grosbeak and a fine male Lazuli Bunting sang nearby. Our time at this spot was completed when 7 American Goldfinches perched on some dead twigs above us. Their brilliant yellow plumage stood out well against the clear blue sky and the group was completed when one flew off and was immediately replaced by a male Yellow Warbler.
After breakfast we began our journey towards Cooke City on the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park. On a lake beside the I 90, there was a group of about 20 Common Mergansers (Goosanders). Near Columbus we left the main highway and were soon exploring a dirt road. A Golden Eagle was perched on a distant hill and a pair of Rock Wrens were on a craggy area close to the road. At the same location 2 Loggerhead Shrikes were on a tree but were a little lost in the heat haze.
As we drove onwards, a pleasant surprise came by way of a couple of Wild Turkeys walking along the edge of a field and further on, a Black-headed Grosbeak flew across the road. A couple of fence posts held Common Snipes and while watching one of these fly off, 2 Sandhill Cranes were found standing in deep vegetation. Later, another pair of Cranes were seeing off a Red Fox and we then noticed that the Cranes had 2 chicks.
At Red Lodge we had intended to have a picnic lunch beside the river but as we pulled up and instantly found an American Dipper, it began to spot with rain. As very black clouds were threatening, a restaurant lunch seemed the sensible option however, as soon as we had placed our order, the rain stopped again! As we left town a brief excursion along 18th Street had us looking at some feeders in a garden and here we added Pine Siskins, Red Crossbills, a Cassin's Finch and an American Goldfinch.
Townsend's Solitaire, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Hammond's Flycatcher were all seen during a brief pause at Custer National Forest before we began the serious climb towards the Bear Tooth Pass. At Rock Creek Vista Point we were greeted by Clark's Nutcracker and in the end we saw about 20. When we looked over the car park wall, 5 Bighorn Sheep strolled off into the pines. Soon after as we walked towards the viewpoint, a Northern Goshawk went dashing past and 3 or 4 Mountain Chickadees moved through the pines where another Townsend's Solitaire was perched. Across the valley, a line of 8 Elk were feeding as they made their way across a grassy slope and a Golden-mantled Ground-squirrel put in a very brief appearance beside the car park.
Just after the highest point of Bear Tooth Pass, we began to see a few American Pipits but we still had the 'treat of the day' to come. A handful of Rosy-Finches appeared and drifted past the point at which we had hastily parked. Soon more and more appeared and passed us with many coming close enough to differentiate between the Black Rosy-Finch and their Gray-crowned cousins. In all, we reckoned that we saw about 250: a fabulous total of these rather rare species!
As we headed onwards, we saw a male Mountain Bluebird, a couple of Yellow-bellied Marmots and a female Moose before we reached Cooke City, our final destination for the day.
Thursday 5th June
We had a slightly later start today and after breakfast, a drive past a house with feeders produced a Broad-tailed Hummingbird and nearby we found White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. As we headed towards Yellowstone National Park a Mule Deer was close to the road.
We drove on into the park and a male Mountain Bluebird was perched on some short stems of vegetation while a pair of Lesser Scaup were on a pool. At the wolf lookout point, we saw a black Wolf almost immediately and another two soon afterwards though they were somewhat distant. From the same place we also added Elk, Bison, Coyote, Spotted Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal and Barrow's Goldeneye.
Further along where the Lamar River comes close to the road, another Coyote (this one being collared) was scavenging from an Elk carcass and nearby were a few waders and ducks including Killdeer and Common Merganser (Goosander) while a pair of Sandhill Cranes were nearby. Another short drive and we were taking a walk towards a group of trees. There were numerous flowers to be seen as well as breeding Bank and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. A group of Pronghorns were grazing in the distance and a House Wren sang quite frequently .... until we tried to see it! During this walk we also saw three species of Sparrow and these were Lincoln's, Brewer's and Vesper.
We paid a brief visit to the Petrified Tree and we saw a Least Chipmunk. At Floating Island Lake there were numerous Yellow-headed Blackbirds singing their tuneless songs and a couple of Common Ravens seemed to be 'loitering with intent' (no, I don't mean they were under canvas!). For such a small body of water, ducks were quite well represented with small numbers of Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead present.
We made it to Mammoth in time for Peg's scheduled minibus change over (her bus had severe air conditioner problems) however, the exchange vehicle was much smaller than was sensible for us to accept. We kept the larger bus and vowed not to use the air conditioner! Whilst all of this was happening, we did see 2 Great Horned Owl chicks which had recently fledged.
We moved out of town and had our picnic lunch down by the river and just before eating, a quick search had us looking a Lazuli Bunting and Common Yellowthroat. During the meal, an Osprey flew around and was obviously seeking its own lunch and a Morning Cloak (Camberwell Beauty) butterfly flew past.
At the upper Mammoth hot springs, a Chipping Sparrow was well seen and a group of 6 Coyote cubs caused some identification problems for the man who was filming them and this was transmitted to the leaders! However, the cubs certainly made entertaining watching.
On the way back towards Cooke City, we paused at Blacktail Ponds and the birds seen there included Lesser Scaup, Cinnamon Teals and Ring-necked Ducks. Passerines were represented by Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Cliff Swallows and there were three types of 'wader' namely Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope.
Onwards through the Lamar Valley we saw the usual Bison, Elk and a Coyote. Near Silver Gate we paused to watch and photograph a Moose and an American Red Squirrel ran across a log.
After our evening meal, we visited Dan and Cindy Hartman for a showing of some of his lovely slides and while we were there, we added another species of mammal to our list namely a Flying Squirrel, which was visiting one of Dan's feeders.
Friday 6th June
Following an early breakfast, we headed for the Lamar Valley but before we reached there, we found first a pair then a single male Harlequin Duck. We watched the pair for a while; he stood guard while she fed. She is dull brown and very well camouflaged, he is brighter hues of blue and brick red with white lines.
We then head onwards and are soon looking at the rear end of a Black Bear as it wanders off through a group of pines and is soon lost to view in dead ground. Less than a mile further on, a Grizzly Bear, perhaps a 3- or 4-year-old individual, is walking around very close to the road. This bear also disappears in to dead ground but as this is only a few yards away and is beneath the riverbank, we stay and wait. It soon reappears, crosses the road a few yards in front of us, wanders up the bank, comes back to the road and starts to sniff around for a while before eventually crossing the river and heading off. As one bus watches it go, the other bus heads onwards and almost immediately sees another Grizzly Bear. Unfortunately, this individual is lost to view by the time bus two arrives.
From the wolf watching point, we have views of a somewhat distant black Gray Wolf and then a little later a second individual is seen but also is very distant. Both disappear into pine forest and after a while, we head onwards through the Lamar Valley. We pass lots of Bison, Elk and a few Pronghorns and just before reaching the Lamar Canyon, we pull in to scan around. We begin to discuss the prospects of seeing a Bald Eagle sometime and suddenly, one appears just overhead! There is much excitement as we watch it at such close quarters and as it drifts off in one direction, we find a second individual perched on a fallen branch in the river. The first bird then drifts across and lands on a nest that we had been told of but had not found until now.
Our good fortune continued at Slough Creek where we spent some time overlooking an area of oxbow lakes and marshes. Species seen here included American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Great Blue Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, California Gull, Bufflehead, Barrow's Goldeneye, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal. Perhaps the most prized birds here were the 2 Trumpeter Swans on a distant part of the area. However, we must have looked rather strange as we stood surveying all of these species in the light rain that was now falling. We were birding under the cover of a number of umbrellas!
A little further on we took a short walk. We headed along a trail through some conifer woods and it was still raining as we set out. Our good luck continued as bird after bird revealed itself to us. A Cordilleran Flycatcher was well seen close to the parking area and a lone pine held Red-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee and a pair of Western Tanagers. Further along we saw two species of woodpecker namely Red-naped Sapsucker and Hairy Woodpecker and a further two species of 'flycatcher'; Western Wood Pewee and Olive-sided Flycatcher. The latter species was easily identified when it was giving its 'quick, three beers' call. MacGillivray's Warbler was a good find and we also saw a host of other birds during this walk including Western Warbling Vireo, Red Crossbills, Brown Creeper and a Cassin's Finch. To complete our sightings here we added a Douglas Squirrel.
As we drove back through the Lamar Valley there were the usual Bisons, Elk, Pronghorns and Uinta Ground-Squirrel plus a couple of Coyotes.
During lunch, a male Harlequin Duck flew past along the river and when Alison walked a short distance away from the group to take a photo, she would not believe the 'look behind you' calls from Mike. He had obviously cried 'wolf' once too often but on this occasion it was not a wolf but a Coyote that eventually encouraged Alison to hasten her steps back to the group.
As we drove back to Cooke City, we paused to check Baronette Peak and here we found 8 Mountain Goats. After a short break at Dan Hartman's gallery (for some retail therapy) and at our hotel, we drove the road towards Bear Tooth Pass. We enjoyed the views towards Index and Pilot Peaks and then spent some time searching unsuccessfully for Great Grey Owl. However, we did have excellent views of a Red-tailed Hawk and there were lots of Shooting Star flowers to be admired.
We returned to the Alpine Motel and then drove to Silver Gate for an early dinner. An information leaflet in the Log Cabin Cafe quoted the fact that the 'town' (for some surprising reason they were not calling it a city!) had a summer population of 75 ....... including Moose!!
We then drove up into the Lamar Valley once again and there, on one of the shallows where it had been earlier in the day, a male Harlequin Duck was loafing about watching the birders go by. From the wolf look-out car park we could see a couple of Bighorn Sheep but no wolves. Further along near the ranger station, we see 5 Gray Wolves (of which 4 are black) walking along the top of a ridge and they eventually disappear into dead ground and are lost to view. We returned to Cooke City seeing the Harlequin Duck, 2 Mule Deer and many Elk as we go.
Saturday 7th June
After a relatively leisurely start to the day, we leave Cooke City at 8.05 a.m. and head into Yellowstone National Park once more. We pause for a brief walk at the Warm Springs Picnic Area but only see birds like Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Our next stop, at the Pebble Creek Campground was a little more productive with Western Warbling Vireo; Lincoln's Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-breasted Nuthatch and the ever-present American Robin amongst the species seen.
As we drove through the Lamar Valley, a very fox-like Coyote ran across the road just in front of us. Bison and Elk were frequently seen and we also saw a Bald Eagle and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks. At Slough Creek we had good views of a Common Snipe and from the same marshy area we heard a Sora calling. On a cliff close to the marsh, a large nest held 2 Golden Eagle chicks and high on a lofty ridge above, an adult bird kept watch for possible danger. There were numerous ducks on the pools and it was great to be watching a Cinnamon Teal as we ate our cinnamon buns! There was one other excellent bird at this location, a Prairie Falcon that flew around just overhead before disappearing into the distance.
We soon moved on and our next pause was at Calcite Springs where numerous awkwardly parked vehicles suggested something special. We were not disappointed as the assembled crowds were watching a 2-year-old Black Bear, at fairly close quarters, and strangely enough, this too was cinnamon coloured (although, we should really be calling it 'honey' coloured). After spending some time watching this individual, we dragged ourselves away and took a look over the nearby gorge. Here we found a couple of Ospreys including one on a nest, and also a Peregrine, which was brooding small young. On a flat grassy area across the gorge, 6 Bighorn Sheep were grazing and then settled down for a rest while a Hairy Woodpecker was in the trees just above us.
At Tower Falls it seems that some of the lower path had been washed away as we could not walk as close to the bottom of the falls as we had done on the previous tour. At this location, birds took lower priority but we did see another 3 Ospreys, a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Beside the roaring Yellowstone River, a few adult Canada Geese were shepherding their various broods of young.
Due to a road closure, we could not drive to Canyon Village via the Dunraven Pass so we headed towards Mammoth and had our picnic lunch beside Lava Creek. Afterwards, we passed the Mammoth Hot Springs and drove up to Swan Lake where there were a few wildfowl and a pair of Sandhill Cranes.
We completed the drive after a visit to the Norris Geysir Basin where we saw Ravens and Mountain Bluebirds as well as the various geothermal features, and were soon settling in to Dunraven Lodge at Canyon Village. This was followed by an evening meal as Violet-green Swallows and Cliff Swallows flew around over the car park.
Sunday 8th June
Our day began much as the previous one had ended: Violet-green and Cliff Swallows ............... and a meal! The only extra birds were a couple of Mountain Bluebirds. Just a short distance along the road towards the Hayden Valley, we took a walk into an area of woods where we saw 3 Mule Deer, a female Elk with twin young, Bison, Mountain Chickadees, and a Brown Creeper. In one or two places, bright yellow Trout Lilies carpeted the ground.
As we left the areas, the people in the leading minibus glimpsed a Pine Marten which ran across the road but it was only seen very briefly and not relocated. Further along the road, a couple of Bison and two magnificent Elk bulls (we call them 'Stags' in the true English speaking homeland!) were very close to the road and the latter provided good photographic opportunities.
Along the Yellowstone River there was a group of 15 Barrow's Goldeneyes and many of the males were displaying to the few females that were present. At the Allen Creek pullout ........ oops, sorry, I mean lay-by, there were many Bison and Elk to be seen in the distance. Many of the Elk had fairly small young in tow and these provided great entertainment. A couple of American White Pelicans drifted along the river past the Elk and there were also Spotted Sandpipers, American Wigeon, Gadwall and a Great Blue Heron to be seen. Shortly after a Bald Eagle had flown past us, a Belted Kingfisher flew across the road, hovered over a pond briefly before re-crossing the road and landing on a riverside tree stump. This gave everyone good opportunities for telescope views.
At the Mud Volcano area we stopped to view the mud pools and other features and life became a little complicated when two extremely large Bison came wandering across the car park (and believe me, when you are only just the other side of a vehicle to two snorting Bison, they were extremely large weren't they Elizabeth?). They seemed a little confused. Should they take the boardwalk or should they just watch the people from where they were? After a little hesitancy, they decided on the latter course of action and seemed to get bored fairly quickly. Soon, they sauntered back in the direction from where they had come. Obviously their attention span for watching people is much shorter than the attention span of the people who watch Bison!
At the Le Hardy Rapids, a nice group of Goosanders were resting on a small island and an American Dipper put in a brief appearance. Even briefer was the fly-past of 4 Harlequin Ducks (3 males and a female) which were later seen to fly down river in the opposite direction. Also to be seen here were a number of Yellowstone Cut-throat Trout which were moving up river to spawn.
We drove to Yellowstone Lake and paid a brief pre lunch visit to the Fishing Bridge. A small group of Common Goldeneyes were constantly diving for food and a group of White Pelicans showed their clumsy-looking skills at diving in to the river from low altitude. A Clark's Nutcracker flew past and a Sandhill Crane strolled along the riverbank.
At the Lake Hotel, where we had lunch, we saw more White Pelicans and added Red-breasted Merganser to the list when a male was swimming a short distance off shore.
Indian Pond was our first destination after another opportunity to add pounds to our weight (!) and here we found a group of Canada Geese and a couple of Wilson's Phalaropes. Closer to Steamboat Point were plenty of ducks including Barrow's Goldeneyes, Bufflehead and Scaup and, beside a small pond, two Bison were happily rolling in the dust. The nearby trees held a Northern Flicker which then flew down and settled quite close to he group.
The drive back to Canyon had us seeing many of the same species as we saw on the outward journey but 'extras' included Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey and a dark phase Swainson's Hawk. After a short pause at our rooms, we went out to overlook the canyon formed by the Yellowstone River. Here we had very close views of Ravens and a Least Chipmunk as well as more distant views of Ospreys, which were nesting on cliffs and rocky stacks. This completed our watching for the day.
Monday 9th June
As we went to breakfast at 8 a.m., the usual Violet-green Swallows were flying around the car park area. We departed around 9.10 and there were the usual Bison and Elk scattered here and there through the Lamar Valley. Cliff Swallows flew from under most bridges we crossed and the Yellowstone River held feeding Barrow's Goldeneyes and a few other ducks. On the banks, groups of Canada Geese, many with young were grazing on the lush vegetation and a Great Blue Heron flapped its way lazily along.
We stopped at Elk Antler Creek and scanned around for various things. There were numerous Cliff Swallows nesting under the bridge and their wonderfully constructed nests could easily be seen. In the pool across the road, a pair of Mallard seemed to be dabbling quite contentedly while out on the Yellowstone River, a few Buffleheads were diving for food and a couple of White Pelicans swam along at some distance. Well beyond the river, Elk were grazing and just as we were about to leave, a couple of bull Bisons walked over the nearby hill and encouraged a speedy withdrawal. However, other passing motorists were quite keen to get views of the Bisons too. As we were about to leave, one animal decided that it would be to its infinite benefit to roll in some dusty soil. In an effort to secure better views for everyone in the bus, Mike reversed and swung around to be more sideways-on, but unfortunately his backwards progress was abruptly halted by a Honda Civic!! After half an hour of exchanging details, we were eventually able to progress on our way.
Beside the Yellowstone Lake we took Gull Point Drive and were soon looking at 3 Double-crested Cormorants, a few Buffleheads plus Barrow's Goldeneyes, Lesser Scaup and American Wigeon. Before we reached the West Thumb Geyser Basin, we saw a flotilla of 44 Barrow's Goldeneyes and in another bay there was a California Gull, a Killdeer and among the usual ducks there were 2 Greater Scaups. Unfortunately, the geyser walks were closed due to a recent, mild 'bear attack' and so we headed onwards.
As we arrived in the Old Faithful area, Beehive Geyser was erupting and we watched this from the roadside. We drove on in towards the parking area and the crowds gathered around Old Faithful suggested an imminent eruption there. We just made it in time! Mike then dashed to secure tables for lunch and following another fine repast; we went outside and watched Old Faithful do its thing all over again.
We walked to Castle Geyser and then around the boardwalk past numerous other thermal features including to Grotto Geyser. Some of the faster walkers in the group went on towards the Morning Glory Pool while others made their way back to the minibuses as rain was threatening. During the walk the wildlife we encountered included a couple of resting Bison, 3 or 4 Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels, White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Those that had walked to Morning Glory reported that they had seen Oblong Geyser erupting as they walked back.
The journey onwards went quite quickly as we were on a more major route and after crossing the Continental Divide a couple of times, we reached the Maddison River valley and began our descent towards West Yellowstone. At one point, there were some broad meadows bisected by a river meander. Here a large herd of Bison were feeding beside a convenient large lay-by so we paused for an extended period of watching. Many of the cows had small calves in tow and it was a delight to spend time watching these at close quarters. A couple of adolescent males seemed intent on pushing each other around in a head to head encounter but the best watching was when many of them decided to cross the river itself.
Cows with calves were the most entertaining. The water was not deep enough to cause the females any problems but some of the young found the going difficult but, in the end, they all crossed safely. On reaching the far bank, many of the calves seemed intent on celebrating and they began to dash here and there and were still gambolling about as we eventually left.
Further on, we made another pause to view a marshy meander in the Maddison River and here some Elk were resting on a drier piece of meadow. A pair of Tundra Swans were breeding here and we were told by Peg that they rarely succeed in raising young as they are usually are taken by a Coyote. Sure enough, there on the far bank of the river was a Coyote which wandered along and eventually lay down for a rest. It then became surprisingly difficult to see. The final 'find' at this location was a Bald Eagle sat on a nest in a dead pine. Further along the road, another Eagle's nest was much closer to the road and despite not stopping, we could easily see one of the adults perched on the edge of the nest preening.
After a brief pause in West Yellowstone we completed the journey to our night's lodgings seeing a couple of Swainson's Hawks on the way. At Pine Lodge, the accommodation was as they described in the brochure, 'rustic', but there were plenty of birds to be seen including Violet-green and Cliff Swallows and an Osprey flew along in mild display, carrying a fish to complete the day's watching.
Tuesday 10th June
A pre breakfast stroll produced sightings of American Crow, a female Bufflehead on the river and hundreds of Cliff Swallow nests on the adjacent road bridge amongst many other things. Sandhill Cranes called from nearby but remained unseen.
Following obvious disquiet about the accommodation, including from the leaders, Peg had managed to secure better rooms at the Angler's Lodge at Henry's Fork just a few miles further along and our first duty after breakfast was to relocate our luggage there. Once this was completed, we set off for Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
The drive produced many good sightings and this included an American Beaver when Peg took a wrong turning. (Keep taking the wrong turnings Peg!). Mountain Bluebirds were frequent on roadside fence posts and a White-tailed Deer ran off as we approached. A surprising find was a Northern Mockingbird as we turned on to the dirt road and at the same location we had good views of a Northern Flicker. We also saw a few Swainson's Hawks which were perhaps trying to catch some of the numerous Uinta Ground-Squirrels some of which seemed intent on becoming of the sub species horizontalis as they ran across the road in front of us.
Just before the sign for the Continental Divide on the Idaho - Montana border, we decided on a short walk in some mixed aspen/conifer woods. This proved beneficial as we immediately began to see birds. Western Warbling Vireo and Mountain Chickadee were the first two species and these were quickly followed by Least Flycatcher and Red-breasted Nuthatch. The latter bird allowed a very close approach as it hung from a slender pine twig feeding. The drumming sounds made by a Hairy Woodpecker suggested a much larger bird. Whilst we watched this bird, another woodpecker arrived and at first we assumed it was a female. However, it turned out to be a Northern Three-toed Woodpecker that fed fairly close to us. Another woodpecker arrived! This time it was a female Three-toed and this was rapidly proved when the pair of them indulged in doing what it takes to make more woodpeckers!!
After a few more miles of creating our own little dust storms, we pulled the busses up at a ruined farmhouse. The hardships that the early occupants had to endure can only be imagined. A Rock Wren sang from the jumble of rocks nearby and a Mountain Bluebird perched on the roof of the old building. From here we could see some Sandhill Cranes out on the lower lying land and as we moved on, we could see a Bald Eagle's nest out in a lake side conifer wood; the nest was obviously occupied.
Down by the lake shore there were numerous birds in the bushes and trees and these included Least and Willow Flycatchers, a female Black-headed Grosbeak and a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Out on the lake, a host of waterfowl included Trumpeter Swans, White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Redheads, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Black-necked and Western Grebes. A Black-crowned Night-Heron landed in the bushes at the waterside and, nearby, a Broad-tailed Hummingbird perched briefly on the uppermost twigs of an aspen.
Near the visitor centre, a couple of feeders were attracting numerous birds including some Pine Siskins, a pair of Cassin's Finches and about a dozen Evening Grosbeaks. We also had the opportunity to watch a couple of videos about the National Wildlife Refuge system.
On the journey out to the Lower Lake, there was a group of Pronghorns with a youngster among them. An Elk with a very young calf took some time crossing the road just ahead of us and they made directly for a wooded hollow where perhaps the calf would be safe while the female went off to feed. At our first viewpoint overlooking the Lower Lake, we could see numerous Franklin's Gulls and Forster's Terns through the heat haze while the general shapes and colours of White Pelicans and White-faced Ibis, both seen at a fair distance, made them relatively easy to identify.
At a shallow pool, 3 Willets (2 in summer plumage), a group of American Avocets, 3 or 4 Killdeer and a Snipe were seen alongside spinning Wilson's Phalaropes and a couple of Northern Shovelers. A pair of Northern Pintails were further out on the water and beyond them, Yellow-headed Blackbirds could be seen in the tops of the vegetation.
On the way back, we took a brief walk in a little aspen grove where a pair of Ravens obviously had a nest and a male American Kestrel posed beautifully for telescope views. The return journey produced lots of views of Swainson's Hawks, American Kestrels, Mountain Bluebirds and a male Northern Harrier amongst many other things.
Back at the Angler's Lodge we enjoyed a fine evening meal before heading off for a well-earned night's sleep.
Wednesday 11th June
Before and during the wait for this morning's breakfast, birds were easy to find especially as we ended up with window seats at our tables! A Caspian Tern regularly flew up and down the river just outside, as did an Osprey or two. A Bald Eagle perched in a riverside tree and every time the osprey passed, it took a few dives at the Eagle to try and discourage its presence. In the end, it was the Tern that encouraged the Eagle to move! Other breakfast time birds included Goosanders, Spotted Sandpipers, 3 Sandhill Cranes and a Northern Flicker.
Our first outing of the day was to Harriman State Park but just before we got there, a couple of grebes on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River encouraged our attention. They turned out to be Western Grebes, which we had seen the previous day. Other sightings here included Caspian Tern, American Wigeon and Goosanders but the most entertaining species was Osprey.
In all we saw 4 individuals and one of these caught a fish in some rapidly flowing water. As it paused at the water surface while it ensured a firm grip, a second Osprey gave it a mild 'dive bomb' but it was only when it tried to take off that we realised that it had latched on to a very large fish. It turned out to be far too large for the bird to lift clear of the water. Following a lengthy struggle, it managed to pull the fish to some shallows and after a longish rest, it began to eat it on the spot. We eventually managed to drag ourselves away from the entertainment and re-crossed the road back towards the minibuses when a Western Wandering Garter Snake gave one of the group something of a scare! A few photos later and we were heading into Harriman State Park.
Silver Lake was our first stop and here there was lots to see. As we pulled up, a Pied-billed Grebe was close to the road. This was the first of five species of Grebe that were present, the others being Clark's, Western, Horned (Black-necked) and Red-necked. It was the latter species that caused Peg Abbott the most excitement, as this bird was most unexpected. A Great Blue Heron put in a brief appearance and was well seen by everyone but the Belted Kingfisher that just flew past, was only seen by a select few.
A distant Black Tern (or was it two?), flew around in the company of large numbers of Ring-billed and Franklin's Gulls and an occasional Osprey drifted over from the nearby river. Also seen to 'drift over' was a Golden Eagle which was being mobbed by two Ravens. Amongst the trees were some Song Sparrows, a Western Wood Pewee and a couple of Cedar Waxwings and among the cattails, a couple of Marsh Wrens were well seen.
We ate our picnic lunch overlooking the Henry's Fork of the Snake River and managed to Green-winged and Cinnamon Teals to the day list and while we ate, we saw Bald Eagle, Osprey and a couple of Swainson's Hawks in the air together and shortly afterwards, a Red-tailed Hawk drifted past.
We returned to the hotel for an hour and a half of rest before setting off for Earthquake Lake some miles to the south-east of us. We arrived just in time for the final brief talk of the day. This turned out to be a rather humorous account of a serious disaster; the largest quake in the Rockies up to that time. Many people lost their lives when half a mountain slid in to the valley below. After the talk, we were able to look up to the crags above and see at least 5 Mountain Goats and Douglas had a close encounter with a Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel. On towards Hebgen Lake we paused at Beaver Ponds and were pleasantly surprised to see a Beaver out in broad daylight. Also at this location was a close Sandhill Crane sat on a nest, a female Barrow's Goldeneye with at least 10 tiny, young ducklings and two Soras that, judging by their less than secretive ways, were clearly exhibitionists.
Hebgen Lake itself was a bit of a disappointment although we did see a Turkey Vulture and numerous Ospreys there as well as a few ducks and grebes. We paid one more brief visit to Beaver Ponds on the way back before fitting blinkers to the drivers; time was getting on and we had a long journey back to the hotel before dinner.
Thursday 12th June
As we ate breakfast, an Osprey and a few Common Mergansers were seen along the river but soon we were on our way towards Grand Tetons National Park. A little beyond the town of Ashton, we took the 'scenic route' and began the climb towards our destination.
A Swainson's Hawk caused a pause and in some Aspen woods, a short walk along the road produced Western Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler and House Wren while in the distance we could hear the calling of some Sandhill Cranes. We reached a ridge where we had good views over some low-elevation woodland to the 'back' of the Tetons and a couple of Willow Flycatchers highlighted some of the identification problems of this difficult group. A Northern Flicker was well seen and a Cedar Waxwing perched in a distant tree. However, as soon as a Northern Goshawk put in an appearance, the other birds seemed to disappear! As the hawk drifted away, things seemed to improve and just before we set off, a Green-tailed Towhee sang from a tree below us.
We reached Indian Lake where there was much to see. In the surrounding trees were Yellow Warbler, Lincoln's Sparrow, a Red-naped Sapsucker and two more Cedar Waxwings. The lake was also productive with a Black-necked Stilt standing on a Beaver Lodge. A pair of Cinnamon Teals and 2 Sandhill Cranes fed at the water's edge beyond a nesting Trumpeter Swan as an Osprey carrying a large fish flew up from the surface of the lake. The best bird here though had to be the Great Northern Diver that remained elusive for some time before spending quite a time out in full view.
Further on we paused for our picnic lunch. We anticipated a relaxing pause with plenty of time to make selection after selection. But we reckoned without two things! Mozzies. There were hundreds flying around and pestering us in the warm, calm weather. And the second thing? Well, how can I put it? A Grizzly Bear had proved a couple of days earlier, that they do do it in the woods! Mind you, it had made considerable efforts to get in to the adjacent rest room. The outer walls had been gnawed off and there were huge paw marks and muddy fur marks all over the door. In the end, it was the mozzies that won the day and we ate the fastest picnic of the whole tour.
Soon after we began the onward journey, a male Sharp-shinned Hawk dashed across the road and was soon lost from view. There was nothing to see on Grassy Lake and soon we were back out on to a tarred road and looking over a small bay of Jackson Lake. From our viewpoint we could see a range of birds including White Pelicans, Clark's and Western Grebes, some Canada Geese and a pair of Trumpeter Swans. In the nearby scrub there were a couple of Willow Flycatchers and a Broad-tailed Hummingbird to be seen.
A short drive took us to the Oxbow Bend in the Snake River from where we could see a couple of Ospreys, our first Fox Sparrow of the tour, a Muskrat swam past and 3 Moose fed in a pool just across the river. Another short drive saw us checking in to Signal Mountain Lodge and after a while of making ourselves at home, we strolled across to the restaurant for an early evening meal. This was to enable us to be ready for our evening raft trip.
While we ate, Barn and Cliff Swallows were constantly present and a few White Pelicans were out on the lake. After dinner, we set off for Moose and saw about 8 Pronghorns and 2 Swainson's Hawks on the way. We were then driven from Moose to the starting point for the river trip and after the usual safety briefing, we boarded two different rubber dinghies and set off down the river.
During the course of the journey, those in the first boat saw numerous things including lots of Bank Swallows (Sand Martins), American Robins, Mountain Bluebirds, Common Mergansers, Spotted Sandpipers and an American Dipper. Mammals featured well and among those seen were numerous Elk, some with fairly small young, a Moose with a youngster in tow and at least 4 Beavers. Those in the second boat, having received information from us, took a different channel at one point and this added a pair of Harlequin Ducks and an extra Moose or two to their list.
The drive back to Signal Mountain Lodge was only interrupted by occasional sightings of wildlife with one group of 3 Elk being a little too close for comfort!
Friday 13th June
Before breakfast we headed up Signal Mountain to catch a few early birds. A Lincoln's Sparrow was singing well and there were a few Red Crossbills feeding in the tops of the pines. We heard White-breasted Nuthatch calling while Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes were singing. A fine male Lazuli Bunting drew attention to its lovely plumage by singing from the top of a low tree. Best birds of this early morning foray though had to be the three male Blue Grouse. The first one was calling and displaying right on the roadside and was totally oblivious to our admiring stares. In the end, everyone had absolutely brilliant views as it stood on a succession of dead logs with its tail fanned. The as we walked out to the viewpoint, 2 sub adult males strolled through the undergrowth close to the trail.
After returning to the Lodge for breakfast, we drove out towards String Lake but paused at the 'Mount Moran Scenic Turnout' where a short walk revealed Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows as well as a Green-tailed Towhee. At String Lake itself, Lincoln's Sparrow, Clark's Nutcracker, Western Tanager and Brown Creeper were among the birds seen while a Pika was busily collecting vegetation for its winter 'hay' stocks.
As we admired the lake itself from a viewpoint car park, rain swept down from the mountains and we were soon watching the rain from inside the busses. By the time we reached Lupine Meadows area, the rain had eased and soon stopped (thankfully for the couple who were getting married beside the car park and with the Tetons as a backdrop) and so we set out for a short walk. A couple of fine male Mule Deer, complete with growing antlers in velvet, made for cover as we approached as did a Coyote that may have had a den somewhere judging by its reluctance to leave. Another Lazuli Bunting was watched for a while before we heard Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Pine Siskin with the latter bird flying past us. But our best finds of the walk were still to come. Next, a Calliope Hummingbird, fairly unusual for this area, was perched amongst some bushes. This bird enabled excellent 'scope views at almost the closest focussing distance. Eventually it moved off and as we looked back towards the lower slopes of the Tetons, a female Moose wandered past with her year-old youngster and we then realised that she also had a very young calf with her. We continued to watch them until Peg told us that she had found a Grizzly Bear. Our first reaction was to check all around in case it was walking through the bushes towards us! Then we looked at Peg and saw she was looking high up on the mountain slopes; that was where the bear was. Even through a telescope it looked distant but we all enjoyed the views of our final bear of the tour.
It was now time to head back to Signal Mountain Lodge to allow a little time for packing before dinner. Later, as we enjoyed an excellent dinner, we had a panoramic view to the mountains and we were able to admire the ever-changing scene as clouds filled in and blotted out the mountains. Rain swept past and then the clouds parted ..... and the sun came out. Soon, low clouds were obscuring the lower slopes with the high peaks towering above and so it continued for the rest of the evening, it was almost breathtaking.
But further packing and bed eventually dragged us away. After all, we did have a rather early start the next morning.
Saturday 14th June
We left the Signal Mountain Lodge at 5.30 a.m. and made a leisurely drive to Jackson airport for our 07.50 flight. The Tetons were mostly hidden by cloud but as we drove, we were given tantalising glimpses of a peak here or a ridge there until the sun peeked over the opposite horizon and took our attention. We gazed at our final Pronghorns and Elk before reaching the airport in good time and once we had all checked in, we went through and had some breakfast.
Then it was time to head through to the departure lounge and we were a little surprised to even have our shoes x-rayed! As we taxied towards our take-off point, a Great Blue Heron flew past and gave us our last bird for Wyoming. Shortly after take off, we were able to look back and see the snow-capped Tetons standing serenely above the low-lying cloud. Above the peaks was nothing but blue sky.
We landed at Denver and from the plane and from the terminal building we could see Great Blue Heron, Red Fox, Moose, Elk, Arctic Hare, Grizzly Bear, Racoon and Brown Pelican. Great wildlife watching but unfortunately they were all photographs on the tail fins of Frontier Airlines planes!
The onward journey went smoothly and early the next morning (Sunday 15th June & UK time) we touched down at Heathrow and after locating our luggage, we bade our farewells before heading homewards to see if we could get our body clocks to re adjust to British time.
Common Loon/Gt Northern Diver Just a single bird at Indian Lake on 12th
Pied-billed Grebe A single bird was at Silver Lake in the Herriman State Park on 11th
Eared (Bl-necked) Grebe About 120 at Red Rocks NWR on 10th and 3 at Silver Lake the following day
Western Grebe At least 15 at Red Rocks NWR on 10th then seen on the following two days
Clark's Grebe First identified at Silver Lake on 11th then seen on 12th on the way to Grand Teton National Park
Red-necked Grebe One, possibly 2 at Silver Lake on11th
Double-crested Cormorant Noted on 7 days
American White Pelican First seen on 8th and then for the following 5 days
Great Blue Heron Seen on 7 days with the highest day total being 9 on 10th near the Snake River
Black-crowned Night-Heron One seen briefly on 4th at Two Moon Park and another, this time well seen by everyone, at Red Rocks Lake on 10th
White-faced Ibis At least 3, possibly 5 seen at Red Rocks NWR on 10th
Trumpeter Swan 2 on 6th at Slough Creek, 2 on 9th in the Maddison Valley then about 15 at Red Rocks NWR on 10th. Also seen on 11th and 12th.
Ruddy Duck Fairly frequent with sightings on at least 4 days
Canada Goose Seen every day except 3rd
American Wigeon Noted on 6 days in small numbers
Gadwall Seen on 7 days with the most being 5 on 10th at Red Rocks NWR
Green-winged Teal Seen in small numbers (usually just singles or pairs) on 5 days
Mallard Seen every full day
Northern Pintail Just a female & 2 males seen at Lower Red Rock Lake on on10th
Blue-winged Teal 1 on 3rd near Molt, 1 on 6th & 7th at Slough Creek
Cinnamon Teal Noted on 7 days with at least 18 on 10th at Red Rocks Lakes NWR
Northern Shoveler 3 on 6th at Slough Creek were the first then seen on 3 consecutive days from 10th
Redhead At least 6 at Red Rocks Lakes NWR on 10th and also seen on 11th at Silver Lake
Ring-necked Duck Seen on 8 consecutive days from 5th
Lesser Scaup Seen on 8 consecutive days from 5th
Greater Scaup Just a couple seen on Yellowstone Lake on 9th
Bufflehead Seen on 8 consecutive days from 5th
Common Goldeneye 3 seen feeding near Fisherman's Bridge on 8th
Barrow's Goldeneye Seen on 9 consecutive days from 5th
Harlequin Duck 3 in the Lamar Valley on 6th, a male and 3 females at Le Hardy Rapids on 8th and 2 on the Jackson River on 12th; a very good year for this elusive species
Common Merganser (Goosander) Seen on 9 consecutive days from 5th
Red-breasted Merganser Just a single male seen on Yellowstone Lake on 8th
Turkey Vulture 4 on 3rd & 1 on 4th near Billings then not seen again until 11th when 1 was close to Hebgen Lake. Also seen on the way to Grand Teton on 12th and from Signal Mountain on 13th
Osprey The first was seen on 5th in the Lamar Valley and from 7th onwards we frequently encountered the species with at least 14 on 11th and this included 4 in the same binocular field of view at Harriman State Park
Bald Eagle Small numbers seen every day from 6th onwards
Northern Harrier A pair were close to Broadview on 3rd and the only other sighting was a male close to Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Sharp-shinned Hawk The only sighting was a brief view of a male that dashed across the track in front of the second minibus during the journey to Grand Teton on 12th
Northern Goshawk Two sightings. 1 briefly at Rock Creek Vista Point (near Bear Tooth Pass) on 4th and another on the way to Grand Teton on12th
Ferruginous Hawk 5 seen on the prairies on 3rd then not seen again
Swainson's Hawk 6 seen on the prairies on 3rd then seen on 5 consecutive days from 8th
Red-tailed Hawk Seen every day
Golden Eagle Seen on the prairies on 3rd and 4th then seen nesting at Slough Creek on 7th (2 chicks and 1 adult) and finally, 1 high over Harriman State Park on11th
American Kestrel Seen on 7 days
Prairie Falcon Just one well seen at Slough Creek on 7th
Peregrine Falcon An adult seen at a nest with 2 chicks near Calcite Springs on 7th
Wild Turkey 2 seen walking along the edge of a field near Columbus
Blue Grouse 3 different males seen on 13th at Signal Mountain. The mature male gave us fabulous views as it displayed beside the road
Grey Partridge 2 seen near Molt on 3rd
(Common) Pheasant seen on 3rd and heard on 4th near Billings
Sandhill Crane Seen on 9 days; some were breeding and some were apparently not breeding though most were seen in pairs. One pair seen on 4th definitely had 2 young chicks.
Sora Heard on 7th at Slough Creek and then 2 were well seen at Beaver Lake on 11th
American Coot Seen on 9 days from 5th
American Avocet About 25 on a pool near Molt on 3rd, 1 near Billings on 4th and 15 on 10th at Red Rocks Lake NWR
Black-necked Stilt A single bird seen at Indian Lake on 12th
Killdeer Seen every day, except 8th and 13th, in small numbers
Long-billed Curlew 6 seen near Molt on 3rd where they breed then a single seen on 11th near West Yellowstone
Upland Sandpiper 2 seen near Molt on 3rd
Spotted Sandpiper Commonly seen from 5th
Willet 4 on a pool near Molt on 3rd and 3 on 10th at Red Rocks Lake NWR
Wilson's Phalarope 8 near Molt on 3rd, 4 on 5th at Blacktail Ponds, 8 at Swan Lake on 7th and 10 at Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Common Snipe Seen or heard on 6 days from 4th - 10th
Ring-billed Gull Seen on 5 days from 8th
California Gull Seen on 6 consecutive days from 8th
Franklin's Gull At least 80 at Red Rocks Lake on 10th and then a similar quantity, perhaps more, at Harriman State Park on 11th
Forster's Tern At least 3 at Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th and about 25 at Harriman the following day
Black Tern 1, possibly 2 seen at Harriman State Park on 11th
Caspian Tern Seen on 3 consecutive days from 10th at Island Park
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Just seen on 3 days
Mourning Dove Seen on 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th & 12th
Great Horned Owl 2 near Broadview on 3rd and 2 recently fledged young at Mammoth on 5th
Burrowing Owl At least 4 near Molt on 3rd
Common Nighthawk 1 near Molt and another near Broadview on 3rd
White-throated Swift 1 seen over the hotel car park in Billings on 4th was the only sighting
Calliope Hummingbird 1 seen near Lupine Meadows on 13th
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Seen at Cooke City on 5th, Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th and beside Jackson Lake on 12th
Black-chinned Hummingbird 2 seen displaying at Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Belted Kingfisher 1 on 8th in the Hayden Valley, 1 0n 11th at Harriman State Park and 2 during the Snake River raft trip on 12th
Williamson's Sapsucker 2 well seen on 6th at Slough Creek
Red-naped Sapsucker 2 at Slough Creek on 6th and another at Indian Lake on 12th
Red-headed Woodpecker A single bird on 3rd near Billings was well seen by everyone as it was in an almost treeless area
Downy Woodpecker Just a single sighting on Signal Mountain on 13th
Hairy Woodpecker Noted on 5 days in 1s and 2s
Three-toed Woodpecker A pair were seen on the way to Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Northern Flicker Noted on 7 days in widely spaced locations
Western Wood-Pewee First seen near Broadview on 3rd then seen on a further 6 days
Willow Flycatcher Seen on 10th at Red Rocks Lake NWR and then on 12th beside Jackson Lake
Least Flycatcher Seen on 10th at Red Rocks Lake NWR and on 12th during the journey to Grand Teton
Hammond's Flycatcher A single bird seen on 4th at Custer National Forest then seen again on 13th on Signal Mountain
American Dusky Flycatcher Seen on 10th on the way to Red Rocks Lake
Olive-sided Flycatcher 2 at Slough creek on 6th then heard on the way to Red Rocks Lake on 10th and finally 1 on 13th on Signal Mountain
Cordilleran Flycatcher First seen on 6th at Slough Creek and then seen on 10th and 13th
Say's Phoebe At least 2 seen near Molt on 3rd
Western Kingbird Seen on 3rd and 4th on the prairie areas and not seen again until 12th on the way to Grand Teton
Eastern Kingbird Commonly seen on 3rd and 4th in the prairie areas and then a couple were seen on 11th by one member of the group
Shore (Horned) Lark Very numerous on the prairies on 3rd & 4th and then just a single sighting on 10th on the way to Red Rocks Lake
Tree Swallow Seen every day except 3rd and 8th
Violet-green Swallow Seen every day except 3rd and 4th
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Probably seen at Denver airport on 2nd then seen on 5th and 4 consecutive days from10th
Bank Swallow Seen on 4th & 5th and then on 3 consecutive days from 10th
Barn Swallow First seen on 3rd near Billings then seen on 7 other days
Cliff Swallow Seen every day except 4th
American Pipit At least 10 seen near Bear Tooth Pass on 4th
Loggerhead Shrike 2 on 3rd near Molt and a further 2 near Columbus on 4th
Cedar Waxwing 3 on 11th at Harriman State Park and 2 the following day during the drive to the Tetons
American Dipper 1 on 4th at Red Lodge then seen on 6th, 7th & 8th in Yellowstone and finally 2 during the raft ride on the Snake River on 12th
Marsh Wren Heard on 10th at Red Rocks Lake and then 2 were well seen at Harriman State Park on 11th
House Wren Seen on 5 days
Rock Wren 2 on 4th near Columbus and also heard on 10th at Red Rocks Lake
Grey Catbird 1 on 3rd near Molt, 1 at Two Moons Park on 4th and 1 at Red Rocks Lake on 10th
Northern Mockingbird A single bird was unexpectedly seen on the way to Red Rocks Lake on 10th
Mountain Bluebird This lovely species was seen on 8 days
Townsend's Solitaire 4 on 4th on the way to Bear Tooth Pass and a single on Signal Mountain on 13th were the only sightings
Swainson's Thrush Glimpsed on 7th, 10th and 12th and heard at Signal Mountain on 13th
Hermit Thrush Just heard on Signal Mountain on 13th
American Robin Seen every day
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Seen every day from 5th onwards
Black-capped Chickadee Seen at Two Moons Park on 4th and at Red Rocks Lake on 10th
Mountain Chickadee Seen on 8 days, a frequent species
Red-breasted Nuthatch Seen or heard on 5 days with the best views being on the way to Red Rocks Lake on 10th
Brown Creeper Seen on 6th at Slough Creek, on 8th near Canyon Lodge and on 13th at String Lake
(Black-billed) Magpie Seen every day
Steller's Jay A single bird was seen on 5th at Cooke City and we had further singletons on each of the following days
Gray Jay 2 on 6th near Silvergate was the only sighting
Clark's Nutcracker Seen or heard every day from 4th onwards with the most being at Rock Creek Vista Point where we saw at least 15 on 4th
American Crow Seen on 7 days, excluding 5th - 8th, in small numbers
Common Raven Seen every day
Common (European) Starling Seen every day except 13th
McCown's Longspur About 10 individuals seen on 3rd near Broadview
Chestnut-collared Longspur Many seen on the prairies near Molt and Broadview on 3rd
Fox Sparrow 1 singing male near the Oxbow on 12th and another on Signal Mountain the following day
Song Sparrow 3 on 11th at Silver Lake in Harriman State Park and also seen the following day on the way to the Tetons
Lincoln's Sparrow First seen on 5th in the Lamar Valley and then seen on 7th, 12th and 13th
White-crowned Sparrow Seen every day from 4th
Dark-eyed Junco Seen every day from 5th
Savannah Sparrow Seen on 3rd near Molt and then seen on 3 consecutive days from 8th
Chipping Sparrow Noted on 8 days
Brewer's Sparrow Noted on 5 days
Vesper Sparrow First seen near Billings on 3rd then seen on 5th 10th and 13th
Green-tailed Towhee First seen beyond Ashton on 12th and then we saw two on Signal Mountain the following day
Black-headed Grosbeak 2 on 4th at Two Moons Park and 2 females on 10th at Red Rocks Lake NWR
Evening Grosbeak At least 12 coming to a feeder at Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Lark Bunting Numerous on 3rd on the prairies
Lazuli Bunting 3 at Two Moons Park on 4th, 1 near Mammoth on 5th and 1 on 13th on Signal Mountain
Western Tanager 2 on 6th at Slough Creek were our first and then we saw them on 7th and then 4 consecutive days from 10th
Orange-crowned Warbler Just a single sighting at Signal Mountain Lodge on 13th
Yellow Warbler Commonly seen on 7 days
Yellow-rumped Warbler Commonly seen on 9 days
Common Yellowthroat Just a single male seen near Mammoth on 5th
McGillivray's Warbler Just a single bird seen at Slough Creek on 6th
Yellow-breasted Chat 2 seen at Two Moons Park near Billings on 6th
Western Warbling Vireo First noted on 6th at Slough Creek and then seen on a further 5 days
Pine Siskin 10 or more on feeders in Red Lodge on 4th and then seen or heard on 6 more days
American Goldfinch 1 near Billings on 3rd followed by 7 at Two Moons Park on 4th followed by another later that day at a feeder in Red Lodge
Gray-crowned Rosy-finch A good mixed flock of Rosy-Finches at Bear tooth Pass on 4th contained at least 50 of this species ...
Black Rosy-finch ... and perhaps as many as 200 of this species
Cassin's Finch 2 on 4th on a feeder in Red Lodge, 1 on 6th at Slough Creek then seen on 10th, 12th and 13th
House Finch 3 in Molt and another later that day near Broadview on 3rd, these were followed by 2 on 4th in Billings
Pine Grosbeak A single female seen at Dan Hartmans house on 6th
Common (Red) Crossbill At least 3 at a feeder in Red Lodge on 4th then seen or heard on 4 further days
House Sparrow Just noted on the first two days
Bullock's Oriole A pair was well seen on 3rd near Broadview
Yellow-headed Blackbird Noted on 6 days in Yellowstone NP and at Grand Teton usually in the rushes close to water
Red-winged Blackbird Common; seen every day
Western Meadowlark Seen or heard in good numbers on 3rd and 4th on the prairies and then in small numbers on a further 7 days
Common Grackle Seen on 3rd and 4th in or near Billings and then just seen on 9th near West Yellowstone
Brewer's Blackbird Noted on 7 days
Brown-headed Cowbird Noted on 8 days
Coyote Seen on 5 days with the most sightings being on 5th though this did include 5 cubs at a den at Mammoth
Gray Wolf 3 seen in the distance on 5th then 2 in the early morning and 5 in the evening on 6th with all sightings being in the Lamar Valley
Red Fox 1 seen between Molt and Broadview on 3rd and another seen being harassed by a couple of adult Sandhill cranes on 4th
Black Bear 1 seen to disappear into dead ground in the Lamar Valley early on 6th then a honey-coloured 2-year old individual was near Calcite Springs on 7th
Grizzly Bear 2 seen in the Lamar Valley, one of which was at very close quarters, on 6th and one seen high up on the slopes of the Tetons on 13th
American Badger One was glimpsed on 3rd as we drove from Molt to Broadview
Pine Marten One ran across the road near Canyon Village on 8th. It immediately disappeared in to an area of pines and was not seen again.
Moose 1 seen on 4th to the west of Bear Tooth Pass, 1 near Cooke City on 5th and another 2 in the edge of Yellowstone on 6th. In Grand Teton National Park, there were 3 at the Oxbow Bend and another 3, including a young calf, during the boat trip on the Snake River on 12th and finally, there was a female with a year-old and also a new born calf at Lupine Meadows on 13th
Elk Seen every day except 3rd with the most endearing sighting being of a female and a young calf crossing the road to Red Rocks Lake, an area where they are not normally seen
Mule Deer Seen every day except 10th and 11th in small numbers
White-tailed Deer Just a single sighting on 10th as we drove towards Red Rocks Lakes NWR
Pronghorn Seen every day except 8th. The most we saw in a single day was 3rd when a conservative estimate suggests we saw at least 120 on the prairies near Molt and Broadview
American Bison Seen on 5 consecutive days in Yellowstone from 5th, with about 180 on 9th. Also seen in Grand Teton National Park on 12th and 13th in smaller numbers.
Mountain Goat 7 on Baronette Peak on 6th and a further 5 near Earthquake Lake visitor Centre on 11th
Bighorn Sheep 5 on 4th at Rock Creek Vista Point, 2 on 6th in the Lamar Valley and 6 at Calcite Springs on 7th
American Red Squirrel Seen on 4 successive days in Yellowstone NP from 5th and a single sighting on Signal Mountain on 13th
Douglas Squirrel Just a single sighting at Slough Creek on 6th
Flying Squirrel One at Dan Hartman's home on 5th was only the second one Peg Abbott had seen
Yellow-bellied Marmot Seen most days, usually as singles, but on 4th we saw about 10 individuals during the drive from Billings to Cooke City. Perhaps the most unexpected incident with this species was to see one swimming across the river at Harriman State Park; it nearly made it out to an island .... then it turned back again for no apparent reason!
Black-tailed Prairie Dog Seen in good numbers on the prairies on 3rd and 4th
Uinta Ground Squirrel Commonly seen every day from 5th onwards
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel 2 at Rock Creek Vista Point on 4th were the first then also seen on 9th, 11th and 12th
Richardson's Ground Squirrel Just seen close to Billings on 3rd
Least Chipmunk Seen on 6 days in ones and twos
American Beaver First was a single animal seen as we were on the way to Red Rocks Lake on 10th and then seen the following day .... at Beaver Pond strangely enough! Finally, at least 5 were seen on the raft trip on the Snake River on 12th
Muskrat 2 on 8th in the Hayden Valley then 1 on 11th at Harriman State Park and 2 on 12th at Indian Lake
American Pika Just a single sighting of one collecting winter food near String Lake on 13th
Snowshoe Hare One seen on 13th in Grand Teton National Park
White-tailed Jack Rabbit One seen at Red Rocks Lake NWR on 10th
Desert Cottontail Seen on 3rd near Molt
The following plants were identified as far as possible from 'Plants of the Rocky Mountains' by Kershaw, MacKinnon and Pojhar (Lone Pine Publishing 1998) and 'Peterson Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Flowers' by Craighead, Craighead and Davies (Houghton Mifflin 1991)
Subalpine Fir Abies bifolia
Engelmann Spruce Picea engelmannii
Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta
Limber Pine Pinus flexilis
Whitebark Pine Pinus albicaulis
Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopulorum
Black Elderberry Sambucus racemosa
Bracted honeysuckle Lonicera involucrata
Mountain snowberry Symphoricarpos oreophilus
Mountain mahogany Cercocarpus montanus
Choke cherry Prunus virginiana
Saskatoon Amelanchier alnifolia
Shrubby Cinquefoil Pentaphylloides floribunda
Westerm Mountain Ash Sorbus scopularia
Creeping Oregon-grape Mahonia repens
Silverberry Eleagnus commuta
White Hyacinth Triteleia grandiflora
Common Camas Camassia quamash
Leopard Lily Fritillaria atropurpurea
Death Camas Zigadenus paniculatus
Glacier Lily, Dog's Tooth Violet Erythronium grandiflorum
Star-flowered False Soloman's Seal Maianthemum stellatum
Mountain Blue-eyed Grass Sisyrinchium montanum
Western Blue Flag Iris missouriensis
Coralroot Orchid Corallorhiza sp.
Buckwheat Eriogonum sp.
Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium
Primrose Oenothera heterantha
Western Spring Beauty Claytonia lanceolata
Field Chickweed Cerastium arvense
Small-flowered Woodland Star Lithophragma parviflora
Wild Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum
Globeflower Trollius laxus
Blue Clematis Clematis occidentalis
Leather flower Clematis hirsutissima
Western Meadowrue Thalictrum occidentale
Columbian Monkshood Aconitum columbianum
Low Larkspur Delphinium bicolor
Silky Lupine Lupinus sericeus
Pulse milk-vetch Astragalus tenellus
Round-leaved Yellow Violet Viola orbiculata
Bicknell's Geranium Geranium bicknellii
Leafy Spurge Euphorbia escula
Green Gentian Frasera speciosa
Fringed Gentian Gentiana detonsa
Blue Flax Linum lewisii
Moss Phlox Phlox hoodii
Scarlet Gilia Ipomopsis aggregata
Yellow Monkey Flower Mimulus guttatus
Yellow Lousewort Pedicularis sp.
Yellow Paintbrush Castilleja sp.
Mountain Bluebells Mertensia ciliata
Common Hounds-tongue Cynoglossum officinale
Lemonweed Lithospermum ruderale
Shootingstar Dodecatheon pulchellum
Common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Goat's Beard Tragopogon dubius
Pussytoes Antennaria sp.
Common Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Heart-leaved Arnica Arnica cordifolia
Arrow leaved Balsamroot Balsamorhiza sagittata
Northern Mule Ears Wyethia amplexicaulis
White Wyethia Wyethia helianthoides
Awnless Brome Bromus inermis
Common Cattail Typha latifolia
Rocky Mountain Cow-lily Nuphar lutea
During the tour the following species were definitely identified :-
Mourning Cloak (our Camberwell Beauty)
Other species of note were:-
Sphinx Moth seen at Signal Mountain Lodge on 12th & 13th
Yellowstone Cut-throat Trout seen at Le Hardy Rapids on 8th
Western Wandering Garter Snake seen just outside of Harriman State Park on 11th
With 165 species of birds and 30 species of mammals, this was an exciting tour to be on. The places were special and the food was abundant too.
We began on the prairies and were soon seeing unexpected or sought-after birds including Red-headed Woodpecker in a virtually treeless area and Great Horned Owls in a tree. But the most special species here has to be the McCown's Longspur, an infrequently encountered species even by keen American birders.
Yellowstone had Bears, Bison and Wolves among many, many more special species. Who will forget the Grizzly crossing the road just in front of us or the Bison snorting as it crossed the car park towards us, I certainly will not!
Then there was the magnificence of Grand Teton NP, the river trip with such stunning scenery, and as we watched our final Moose family of the tour, the call of "Grizzly Bear" from our local guide, Peg Abbott alerted us to yet one more piece of enjoyable viewing.
Peg was superb and seemed to know where to find everything. If she was unable to locate something, she knew someone who could help. The whole tour ran smoothly, with one minor exception, and that problem was soon sorted. Thank you Peg for making my job so easy.
And you, our clients, were great too. You 'ooo'd and 'ah'ed at all the right times and kept us on our toes by telling us what you wanted to see. I don't like to single out people from the group for any special mentions but on this occasion I must make an exception and give hearty thanks to Rosemary and Jane for compiling the flower list; without your help, there would have been no flower list at all!
I sincerely hope to see you again on future tours and for my part, I will do my best to ensure you have another equally enjoyable tour.