Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

Friday 18 June - Thursday 1 July 2004

Peg Abbott

Trip Diary

Friday, June 18

All arrived a little weary but happy to land in Billings, where we witnessed several members of the Crow Nation ceremonially greeting elders from another tribe, who had likely come for the ensuing reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn. We waited for luggage while gifts and words were exchanged. Nothing like a flavor of the American West right at the moment of arrival!

Saturday, June 19

We began our Montana birding adventure at the home of Helen Carlson, a local guide and well-known American Birding Association member. In her garden we had fine looks at House Wren, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Common Grackle and a just-fledged baby Catbird. Driving on to small lake by a golf course pond, we had scope views of Gadwall, and an elegant Western Grebe. To the delight of the group, a gaudy Yellow-headed Blackbird posed at close range, while several Killdeer called from the muddy shore. As we headed towards the prairie north of Billings, we stopped for fine views of American Kestrel, and our first mammal - a female Pronghorn, quite at home here on the prairie, and likely hiding her newborn young. Our route wound through groves of Ponderosa Pine that adorned the sandstone bluffs, eventually giving way to vast expanses of open country, both cultivated and wild. Near Molt, we had our first looks at Savannah Sparrow, and later Vesper Sparrow, which teed up on the fence posts for us to admire. Our first flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, was hunting in the grasses along with Western Meadowlark, abundant in this habitat. A real treat was four Burrowing Owls, perched on the mounds of an active Black-tailed Prairie Dog colony. We watched them fly, and got scope views of them running between the mounds. The next stop brought sightings of breeding-plumaged Chestnut-collared Longspur, which sang and displayed for brilliant viewing. Light rain began to fall, and as this stretch of road is clay, we quickly drove on to a more sheltered grove of trees, where we got looks at Western Kingbird, Yellow Warbler and more. Returning to town for a nice lunch at the Prairie Winds Café, we drove about the grain silos, and had striking views of Gray Partridge, two birds resting along the fence line.

A second sheltered windbreak with an adjacent small pond afforded us opportunity to see Great Horned Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Willet, and our first Red-tailed Hawk. We continued on to a section of original short grass prairie where the McCown's Longspur put on a great display. With patience we were all able to get on these little beauties. The day was calm and still, and we could pick them up by hearing the flight song, and watching for the butterfly like wing beat before they landed in the dense grass, amongst Black Angus cattle.

Our final stop was at bird feeders at the private home of a friend of Helen's, where we saw a couple of Pinyon Jay, perched boldly on a pine, and a flock of noisy Red (Common) Crossbill.

Sunday, June 20

Two Moon Park, along the Yellowstone River in Billings, was our morning destination. After picking up Helen, we walked the trail east along the river where we saw White-tailed Deer in the cottonwood habitat that lined the river. We found Spotted Sandpiper and sighted overhead, a squadron of American White Pelican and a flock of California Gull. Songbirds here were active, we strained our necks for views of Red-eyed Vireo, directly overhead, Wilson's and Yellow Warblers, House Wren and a favorite of the group: the Yellow-breasted Chat. After a picnic breakfast where we were visited by Cedar Waxwing, we returned to pack up our cases and head off to Yellowstone. There seemed to be a break in the weather, so Peg chose the scenic route over the Beartooth Mountains, a very high and wild plateau that is the realm of alpine birds.

Before climbing up into the mountains, our first stop was at a park along the Yellowstone River, where we had scope views of American Dipper, and excellent looks at Song Sparrow and Least Flycatcher, the latter attending a nest. We searched diligently for Bobolink among the fertile meadows, with no luck, but in doing so encountered our first Mountain Bluebird, and Black-headed Grosbeak - two really beautiful species. We had lunch outside at a local café, the Grizzly Bar, and ventured out on a small rural road where we encountered more White-tailed Deer at very close range, and a hunting female Northern Harrier. Clouds were building as we arrived at our first pullout with fantastic views of massive glacial carved valleys. Here we saw Yellow-bellied Marmot, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel and Clark's Nutcracker. Towards the top of the pass, at nearly 11,000 feet we encountered swirling clouds and corn-sized hail - not great weather for pursuing the Pika we heard calling! But we did see several Black Rosy Finches at close range, as well as Horned (Shore) Lark and American Pipit. We drove on to leave the clouds behind, and enjoy grand scenery of the Absaroka Mountains as we approached Cooke City, our home for the next three nights.

Monday, June 21

Yellowstone National Park was our destination today, and what a morning we had, exploring Lamar Valley and up Dunraven Pass as far as Calcite Springs. Several Townsend's Solitaire crossed the road as we passed through thick forests before entering the valley at Pelican Creek, where we sighted our first American Bison: several huge resting males. A Lincoln's Sparrow cooperatively came out in the same view. Soon after, near Soda Butte, we noticed cars parked on both sided of the road. Here we had our first view of Gray Wolf, two members of the Druid Peak pack that were hesitant to cross the road to the den site where the rest of the pack had gone. These were younger members of the pack, and they fed on what was left of a bison carcass lodged in the river. We got the scopes on them and watched for quite awhile. Sandhill Crane were calling and flying across the valley. Common Merganser (Goosander) and Green-winged Teal were in the quieter water while Barrow's Goldeneye worked the riffles at the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River. Near this junction we began to see herds of 100 - 200 American Bison, with dozens of young who raced about testing their agility and strength. Near Calcite Springs, we ran into an active group of songbirds, and a pair of Williamson's Sapsuckers, which attracted our attention. White-throated Swift flew near the canyon rim, joined by Violet-green Swallow, one pair of which we saw very close going in and out of a cavity nest. Both American Dusky Flycatcher and Cordilleran Flycatcher were active at this sight, and all got good views of Yellow-rumped Warbler. Red-breasted Nuthatch seemed particularly tame here; Clark's Nutcracker eyed us to see if we'd bring out a picnic. After an afternoon rest, several of us returned to Lamar Valley to take in the evening light and to look for wolves and bear; the latter proving up, as we had distant views of both Grizzly Bear, with young and a lone Black Bear. As we watched the Black Bear, our options for moving closed for a while, as a large herd of American Bison proved to be an effective roadblock! We also saw a lovely Trumpeter Swan and many Canada Geese.

Tuesday, June 22

This morning we headed out early to try to see more Gray Wolf, and were richly rewarded by quite a drama, again near the river under the Druid den site. Here 5 of the Druid wolves were circling a determined Black Bear, which was not willing to give an inch to move off of its prize, another bison kill. For over an hour and a half, fortified by Peg's portable breakfast, we watched as the bear would charge and bat at the aggressive wolves, which would grab a bit of meat and trot away, only to return for another attempt. The wolves were restless and frustrated, but had no intention of giving up. The highlight of the morning, and for some of the trip, was to hear the rest of pack start up a good round of howling. They were high up on the mountain near the den site, and their comrades below returned the cry. Several times they erupted in howling; we all stood quiet, mesmerized. What luck we had had, starting with very close views of a Grizzly Bear, just inside the park and quite close to Cooke City! On to Antelope Creek, to scan once again for bear. Being a little higher in elevation, and greener with fresh new grass, we encountered several herds of American Elk, a group of bulls, and two groups of cows and calves. The flowers were lovely, and we enjoyed watching a young House Wren and a pair of Mountain Bluebirds as well. A strutting male Blue Grouse took the prize though - I think Christine took an entire roll of film on that one! At a picnic under dense spruce and fir, we were joined by an inquisitive Steller's Jay, which also posed for photos.

At a local feeder, we had quick views of Broad-tailed Hummingbird. This afternoon we made another pass at the Beartooth Mountains, joining Dan Hartman and his daughters Cassie and Kelly, who wanted to show us several nests near an aspen grove. A Downy Woodpecker pair was quite active upon our arrival, and Peg heard a strange sound which turned out to be a mother Ruffed Grouse and her two newly hatched young, wow! We watched Red-naped Sapsucker here, a pair of Pine Grosbeak, and Mountain Chickadee. In the alpine realm we had looks at American Pipit, Horned Lark, and another pair of Black Rosy Finch, but we were once again caught up in a local storm - snow and hail and rain combined, not ideal for birding! Through the mist we saw several Yellow-bellied Marmot, but soon turned tail to head for home, and lower elevations. Views were outstanding as we descended towards Cooke City, and at a photo viewpoint we had super looks at Townsend's Solitaire to end the day.

Wednesday, June 23

Today was a travel, moving on to Canyon and the interior of Yellowstone. Our route took us back through Lamar Valley where we had distant, but excellent looks at a very blond Grizzly Bear, near the site of yesterdays drama between wolf and bear. Mountain Bluebird flit about in the sage as we stopped for viewing a Bald Eagle on its nest, a great find of Ian's. Brewer's Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow were quite cooperative as well, though these little brown birds did not draw the oohs and ahs of the lovely Trumpeter Swan in a quiet area of the river below. We visited several ponds today, and got good looks at Pied-billed Grebe, Cinnamon Teal, Lesser Scaup and more. Osprey put on a good show near Tower Falls, and later we had splendid views of Red-tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle. Near Mammoth Hot Springs, we found two lovely species at a turn in the Gardiner River, Lazuli Bunting and Common Yellowthroat. We spent some time looking at thermal features at Mammoth Hot Springs, and enjoyed displays at the Visitor's Center and a good cup of coffee. On to Canyon, where our accommodations were located just behind the famous Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone.

Thursday, June 24

Our first stop was to take in the beauty of the magnificent Upper and Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. While the cameras were clicking, we had visits from both Gray Jay and Clark's Nutcracker, which made for a splendid comparison. Common Ravens also posed for photos, while Osprey, with chicks just fledged from two nests perched on canyon pinnacles, sailed with wings spread below us. A nice walk along the canyon rim brought us to Lookout Point, where we got scope views of a singing Swainson's Thrush. Christine got a quick look at White-throated Swift, while Mic closed in on photos of Violet-green Swallow at very close range, as they were busy collecting nest material. On to Hayden Valley, where two Coyote were working hard to feed on an American Bison carcass in the middle of Alum Creek, a winterkill only recently revealed as the spring runoff of the creek subsides. Rangers, seeing many Grizzly Bear tracks around it, and fearing it might come in just 100 yards off the road, were donning hip waders preparing to relocate it.

Christine spotted a mammal in the water, and with a thin wiggling tail it was identified as a Muskrat, a pair, feeding on aquatic vegetation. In the background literally hundreds of American Bison fed, and a group of Elk crossed the wide meandering Yellowstone River. Several pair of American Wigeon provided our first sight of this species. Canada Geese lolled about, taking in the sun on grassy banks of the river. We watched Cliff Swallows collecting mud for their nests, and then observed a huge colony of Rough-winged Swallow in a large cut bank of Trout Creek. Here we had singing Brewer's Sparrow, fine looks at American White Pelican, and an obliging Rock Wren trying to deliver a fine insect larva to it's newly fledged young. Polly spotted the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout trying to navigate LeHardy Rapids, and we all got fine looks at Ring-billed and California Gulls, along with Common Merganser (Goosander) loafing on a small island in the river.

At Fishing Bridge we had another great pairing for comparison, with scope views of Barrow's and Common Goldeneye side by side. Indeed it was a day for seeing Barrow's Goldeneye - Mic counted 44 drakes in one group in Mary's Bay! Lesser Scaup were the most abundant duck, but we also got scope views of Cinnamon Teal, Bufflehead (many, with males in particularly bright plumage), Redhead, Green-winged Teal and more. Coming back from our picnic lunch at Steamboat Point and the viewpoint at Lake Butte, we encountered a "bear jam", but early on, so parking was easy. So was setting up the scope on a young (2-3 yr. old) Grizzly Bear, which seemed intent on ripping up the far hillside, rolling huge rocks over like pebbles, and probing for some sweet plant. We watched him for a good 15 or 20 minutes, sharing the time with viewing a nesting pair of Bald Eagle, which posed quite well, and Jan spotted one of the adults take off in flight. We worked some additional duck ponds on the way home, and stopped on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, near the beautiful Lake Hotel, where a Western Grebe and a Red-breasted Merganser (Merganser) were keeping company as they dove and fed off the shore. Driving back we had to pass through several herds of American Bison, very close to the van on both sides of the road. A very dark plumaged Red-tailed Hawk flew overhead, signaling the end of another fine day.

Friday, June 25

We left Canyon this morning with an idea to have breakfast at Lake at the lovely historic hotel there. We passed big herds of American Bison in the sagebrush meadows and two fine Mule Deer bucks grazing close to the road near Lake. The Western Grebe was still at the point, and despite a brief but heavy rainstorm we were able to find a group of Greater Scaup, resting serenely through the downpour on a small pond adjacent to the windswept bay of Lake Yellowstone, where a Double-crested Cormorant bobbed in the waves with ease. In another bay we saw 60+ Eared Grebe (Black-necked) in rich breeding plumage, keeping company with a group of dapper Bufflehead. On up and over Craig Pass to the Upper Geyser Basin, where we walked to Morning Glory Pool, threading through dozens of thermal features, each unique. White-crowned Sparrow gave us excellent looks, as did Chipping Sparrow and Red-breasted Nuthatch, all at a nice low level in the small pines. A particularly bold Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel posed for us atop a tree stump, and a small group of Yellow-bellied Marmot munched on flowers oblivious to our presence. Best of all, we finally had great looks, including the waxen bright red crown patch, of Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a songster we had heard every day of our journey. We huddled under some larger trees as a thunderstorm blew through, and then quickly dried off in the sun, which came out in time to magnify the vivid colors of Morning Glory Pool. We waited quite a long time by Castle Geyser, which entertained us with spurts and splashes, but gave up the watch to be present when Old Faithful erupted. We enjoyed lunch in the historic Inn, and stayed for one more Old Faithful eruption as our first view had been from the distance. Flowers, including the rich blue Fringed Gentian, in the lush green meadows were quite fantastic and we photographed several new species.

We followed the Firehole and then the Madison Rivers, circumnavigating almost the entire loop road of the Park. Near Seven Mile Bridge, we stopped to check a Bald Eagle nest (fledged), and got wonderful scope views of a family of Sandhill Cranes with a large fluffy chick. Jan spotted a hunting Great Blue Heron that put on quite a show while Red-winged Blackbird sang from the reeds. A large group of American Elk with calves lounged in the sedge meadow; nice to see them rest after their long siege of winter.

We stopped at the Museum of the Yellowstone in the town of West Yellowstone, where we also enjoyed coffee and a little shopping. It began to rain heavily as we got in the van, and lighting stopped us from sorting further through a large flock of Pine Siskin and Red (Common) Crossbill for the elusive Cassin's Finches we hoped to add to our list. On to the Henry's Fork of the Snake and our most comfortable accommodations at Angler's Lodge right on the river. During our bird list and dinner, we added two species of terns: Caspian Tern and Forster's Tern, and had another look at Belted Kingfisher.

Saturday, June 26

Waking up in our rooms, right next to the river was delightful, with Forster's and Caspian Terns still wheeling around, a Western Wood Pewee flycatching from the bank, and Common Merganser (Goosander) feeding in the rills. Soon we were on our way to Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge on the western edge of the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Christine spotted a hawk on the utility pole, which turned out to be a Red-tailed Hawk that soon dropped down on prey. Several Long-billed Curlew were calling and flying about the meadow, where Pronghorn and Sandhill Crane were also present. At a Nature Conservancy site, we got our first good looks at Cassin's Finch on some feeders; indeed they were common for much of the rest of the day. American Kestrel, and a dark-phase Swainson's Hawks appeared on fence posts and phone wires, along with nesting Mountain Bluebird and Tree Swallow. Peg picked up on very agitated calls of American Robin, which along with Brewer's Blackbird were mobbing an immature Sharp-shinned Hawk which we got great scope views of. Nicely aligned with a house that had quite a few active bird feeders, we got lovely views here of both Black-headed and Evening Grosbeaks. The man of the house came out to see what we were looking at and invited us to take a trail into the aspen woods adjacent to his home. What a nice treat! We had a veritable bird explosion here, and the quality of sightings was excellent for Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Western Warbling Vireo and White-crowned Sparrow. We found nests of Red-naped Sapsucker and Downy Woodpecker, both with busy adults feeding young. Turkey Vulture soared above the trees, with one coming down to roost. A light phase adult Swainson's Hawk put on a good show, and a host of butterflies, including the Yellowstone endemic Hayden's Ringlet provided challenge. The flowers here were the best of the trip, literally filling the sagebrush meadows with scent and color. We had a field breakfast atop a flatbed trailer, taking in the views both near and far.

We then traveled on to the refuge, where the roads had dried enough from the previous night's rain to allow our passage. We drove to the far end, in case we got more rain, and were rewarded with seeing 5 River Otter who seemed quite curious about us, and stayed around for quite some time. A group of Franklin's Gulls would rise up and mob them if they got too close, and if they tried to pass under the bridge a host of Cliff Swallows would do the same. American Avocet and their half-sized chicks fed in a small marsh next to the river, and in this small pond we got our first looks at male and female Blue-winged Teal. A Canvasback drake was in a group of Redhead, Northern Pintail and other ducks, and in the riverside meadow we enjoyed our lunch, we saw several White-faced Ibis, one of which flew right over our heads! Turning into this area there were numerous fresh mounds, and Christine exclaimed Badger, just as we turned. The Badger had caught a Uinta Ground Squirrel, and ran in and out of the sage with it secure in its grip, likely heading to a den and hungry youngsters. In all we saw 90 species this day, in a remote and beautiful place.

Sunday, June 27

We had another outstanding morning at Harriman State Park, just a few minutes down the road from our hotel. Madeline finally got her wish with the sighting of a Moose, swimming across the pond. Peg was zooming the scope in on a Red-necked Grebe carrying a chick on its back and saw a big head crossing its path! We had fine looks at Pied-billed Grebe, and a real treat was seeing the yellow gapes and fuzzy plumage of baby Marsh Wrens being fed by parents in their hiding place in the reeds. Western Grebe and a good variety of ducks were a good review, and a Bald Eagle made several flights over the water. We had a picnic breakfast by an oxbow bend of the river, where American White Pelican and Barrow's Goldeneye were the major finds. At both places the calls of Sandhill Crane filled the air.

After returning to the hotel to pack up our cases, we started a real adventure crossing the very southern reaches of Yellowstone, still accessible only by a primitive road. Before starting on the Grassy Lake road, we took a side trip to see Upper and Lower Mesa Falls, a gorgeous area lush with vegetation due to the spray from the rushing river and falls. Cedar Waxwing and Western Warbling Vireo were singing from the trees. We found yet another Red-naped Sapsucker nest, artistically set in a leaning aspen. We could hear the young begging, and the attending parents must have been exhausted from the effort to feed them, judged by how often they came in. Above us a pair of Peregrine Falcon flew, the first for our trip. But the real highlight here, a life memory for all of us, was the excellent look at one hearty American Dipper. We first spotted a chick, which seemed precariously perched on a rock with much whitewash just above the lip of the falls. A parent bird came in and fed it, and satisfied, it flew awkwardly off to more security on the shoreline. But the adult stayed there, and continued to plunge into the incredible strong waters at the edge of the falls. It would hunker down flat on the bottom, presumably scraping large aquatic insects off the rock ledge. How it ever held on we don't know, but it would come up with food, either consume it or call for the young, and plunge right back in. What a remarkable little bird! We enjoyed the exhibits in the Visitor's Center here (Jan could not believe the actual size of a Grizzly Bear paw print÷). They had skins of the many of the local mammals, and another good plant identification book we badly needed to help sort out the incredible array of flowers blooming this verdant year.

We then set off to cross Yellowstone, and as dark clouds threatened, we stalled a bit by setting out lunch in a sagebrush meadow with a fine view of the backside of the Tetons. Polly, an avid picnic fan, was in her element, sitting on a cloth amid Scarlet Gilia, Lupine and Sage, staring off at all the beauty. Mic and Jan found us an American Goldfinch in bright plumage, but otherwise the bird world was quiet and we were content to take in the scenery, the bumps, and to stop in meadows filled with Wyethia and blooming Camasia (Camas Lily). The Wild Geranium were abundant on this route, as were Lupine. Indeed, this rugged back road, though challenging, provided our finest flower viewing of the trip. Special finds included wet-meadow loving Shooting Star and the odd-flowered Elephant's Head. We saw a Hairy Woodpecker, and more of the "regulars" but kept up our pace to get to Grand Teton National Park. At the bridge over the Snake River, Ian spotted a fly-by Common Nighthawk. Several gasps were heard as we rounded the bend for a full view of this unparallel mountain scenery. Our accommodations were most welcome after the long dusty road, but we were grateful to have seen such a floral show in a remote and peaceful part of the world.

Monday, June 28

Polly and Ernest had to leave us today, so Peg dropped them in Jackson and all the others enjoyed a sleep in. Mic and Jan were about early, getting good looks at many of the same birds we had spotted throughout the week. We walked for much of the morning, in willow habitat beside beautiful Jackson Lake, in full view of the mountains at all times. The flowers were a purple and yellow carpet, and we found bird life quite active. We got good looks at Catbird, Least Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, found a singing male Fox Sparrow, new for the trip. We had 3, possibly four pair of Red-naped Sapsucker and found another nest. Lincoln's Sparrow posed well as did the Song Sparrow. Osprey, Sandhill Crane and American White Pelican graced the air with flight, as did a soaring Red-tailed Hawk. We encountered some other birders who gave us a tip on a Great Gray Owl, but chose to wait until another day as our energies were fading a bit on a hot sunny day. We instead enjoyed lunch by the Oxbow Bend, and a short time in a mountain meadow, where we did encounter Olive-sided Flycatcher singing and had great looks again at two distinctive species, Green-tailed Towhee and Williamson's Sapsuckers (in a nest in an old Douglas Fir tree). A real treat was seeing a soaring Northern Goshawk, which was molting its tail, but otherwise put on a good showing of the necessary field marks. We had an early dinner on the deck at Dornan's, where a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird put on a great show, perching on the antenna of the roof! We boarded our rafts for the sunset river trip, which produced great views of American Beaver, and a huge bull Moose.

Tuesday, June 29

What could be finer than a beautiful day to enjoy in the Grand Teton National Park? Even if we did take the wrong trail, due to some very poor signing, as we searched for the elusive Great Gray Owl. Near Emma Matilda Lake we did enjoy seeing MacGillivray's Warbler, Western Tanager, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher and a huge raft of Common Merganser (Goosander), likely here post-breeding and likely to go into molt. We enjoyed lunch on the deck at Jackson Lake Lodge, with a full view of the mountains, and Cliff Swallows swirling about to entertain. Several Western Grebe were on the lake, but on this trip, despite Mic's fine efforts, we did not find the closely related Clark's Grebe. In the afternoon we did some sightseeing near String and Jenny Lakes, and walked a bit in some areas of sage, looking for a few more species. A very bold Mule Deer looked out at us from head-high blooming Green Gentian, a nice image to hold for this day.

Wednesday, June 30

Mist was on the Grand Teton Mountains as we drove, early in the morning to the airport in Jackson. We saw a herd of American Elk peacefully grazing, with Black-billed Magpie strolling about hoping for insects they'd kick up while feeding. It was time for our flock to disperse - what a great time, with extraordinary wildlife we had had in Yellowstone!

Species Lists


Common Loon (Great Northern Diver) a single bird, off a point near Lake, Yellowstone Lake

Pied-billed Grebe two locations: Blacktail Ponds, Yellowstone, Harriman Lake State Park, ID

Red-necked Grebe Henry's Lake, Harriman State Park, breeding pair with young

Eared (Black-necked) Grebe many, on western side of Yellowstone, Red Rock Lales (RRL) and Harriman

Western Grebe golf course pond Billings, and six other days, Yellowstone and west of Yellowstone

Double-crested Cormorant Yellowstone River near Billings, Yellowstone Lake, lakes west of the park

American White Pelican very common and widespread in Yellowstone

Great Blue Heron seen on six days, mostly lone birds

White-faced Ibis seen only at Red Rock Lakes, one flying directly overhead, gorgeous views

Trumpeter Swan seen on five days, Lamar and Hayden Valley Yellowstone

Ruddy Duck seen on three days, smaller lakes and ponds

Canada Goose seen on all but one day, large flocks with goslings

American Wigeon seen on three days, nice breeding plumage

Gadwall seen on seven days several pair at a time

Green-winged Teal some excellent close views, seen on five days

Mallard seen on eight days, mainly one or two pair

Northern Pintail this elegant duck seen only at Yellowstone Lake and Henry's Lake

Blue-winged Teal one furtive pair at Red Rock Lakes, again in the Teton's

Cinnamon Teal seen on four days, males in gorgeous breeding plumage

Northern Shoveler seen on two days, unmistakable

Canvasback seen only at Red Rock Lakes, and a quick look at that÷

Redhead Lake Yellowstone, Henry's Lake and Harriman

Ring-necked Duck seen only on the west side of the park this year, Henry's and Harriman

Greater Scaup very local near Yellowstone Lake, several pair

Lesser Scaup one of our most common ducks, seen on six days and in good number

Bufflehead stunning breeding plumage on males, first seen at the pond by the Grizzly Bear

Common Goldeneye only one individual, by Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone

Barrow's Goldeneye this handsome duck seen on eight days, in fast moving water very regular

Common Merganser (Goosander) also very common, and seen on seven days

Red-breasted Merganser one bird only, Yellowstone Lake

Turkey Vulture near Billings and at all locations west of the park

Osprey several nests, some great flight scenes, this bird is doing very well in Yellowstone

Bald Eagle three or four nests, some brilliant fly-overs, great birds!

Northern (Hen) Harrier one individual in the foothills of the Beartooths, 2nd sighting en route to Tetons

Sharp-shinned Hawk one immature being mobbed by songbirds, Henry's Lake

Northern Goshawk one individual in flight, molting tail

Swainson's Hawk great looks at both dark and light phase, esp. near agricultural lands

Red-tailed Hawk our most common raptor, seen daily

Ferruginous Hawk one distant bird perched - the prairie near Billings

Golden Eagle Seen on three days, great looks, flying and perched

American Kestrel seen on six days, good looks at both male and female

Prairie Falcon one bird on the prairie, likely near its nest

Peregrine Falcon two birds circling above the cliffs near Mesa Falls, ID

Blue Grouse incredible show up on Dunraven Pass (male) and a female on Signal Mtn. Tetons

Ruffed Grouse female with two just hatched chicks in apsen grove, en route up Beartooths

Grey Partridge two birds near the grain elevators, Molt

Ring-necked (Common) Pheasant several seen, but only near Billings

Sandhill Crane several pair seen, on nine days

American Coot seen on five days

American Avocet four near Billings in small pond, adult with young fuzzy chicks at Red Rock Lakes

Killdeer fairly common, seen on seven days

Long-billed Curlew great looks at this bird, and its heralding call. Prairie near Billings and Island Park

Spotted Sandpiper very common, seen all but our last day

Willet two individuals

Wilson's Phalarope great looks at pond near Billings, then again in Yellowstone

Wilson's Snipe seen flying near Yellowstone River, heard on four additional days

Ring-billed Gull Hayden Valley near LeHardy Rapids, in with larger California Gulls

California Gull seen on seven days, fairly common

Franklin's Gull first one seen at Lake, in Yellowstone, then common west of park

Forster's Tern Henry's Fork of the Snake and Red Rock Lakes, Harriman

Caspian Tern great views from our porches at Angler's Lodge!

Rock Pigeon urban areas

American Mourning Dove common on the prairie, and at lower elevations

Great Horned Owl seen in two windbreaks on the prairie

Burrowing Owl several seen in prairie dog colony on the prairie

Common Nighthawk seen on four days, most common in Tetons

White-throated Swift rather scarce this year compared to most, only fleeting glimpses near canyons/falls

Chimney Swift one quick look in Billings, from the 20th floor of our hotel while dining

Broad-tailed Hummingbird hard to find due to flower abundance, but great looks at Dornan's in Jackson

Belted Kingfisher always a treat to watch this agile hunter, seen on five days

Red-naped Sapsucker seen on five days, several nests found

Williamson's Sapsucker first seen near Calcite Springs, nest found near Goshawk sighting

Downy Woodpecker first seen on prairie, fairly regular after that, nest near Henry's Lake

Hairy Woodpecker Red Rock Lakes road, and Tetons

American Three-toed Woodpecker a nesting pair feeding young on road into Red Rock Lakes

Northern Flicker seen every day of our journey, several nests

Olive-sided Flycatcher seen on our last two days in Tetons, unmistakable call

Western Wood Pewee seen on six days, almost always at tops of trees, flycatching

Willow Flycatcher seen well near Jackson Lake Lodge, calling

Least Flycatcher nest found near foothills of Beartooths, again seen near Tetons

Hammond's Flycatcher seen and heard well by A.Three-toed Woodpecker nest

American Dusky Flycatcher seen and heard at several locations

Cordilleran Flycatcher seen near Calcite Springs

Say's Phoebe seen near abandoned buildings on the prairie

Western Kingbird common near Billings

Eastern Kingbird common near Billings, seen again west side of park

Horned (Shore) Lark seen on the prairie and high in the alpine zone

Tree Swallow most common interior Yellowstone and Tetons

Violet-green Swallow our most common swallow, seen all but the first day

Northern Rough-winged Swallow local, sand bank in Hayden Valley main location observed

Bank Swallow (Sand Martin) local, along Yellowstone River

Barn Swallow very common, seen most days

Cliff Swallow abundant where present, buildings and bridges

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit Excellent views our second day on the Beartooths, seen both alpine days

Loggerhead Shrike one bird only, at a small pond and windbreak on the prairie

Cedar Waxwing usually heard first, seen or heard on four days

American Dipper incredible , memorable views at the brink of Mesa Falls, also near Yellowstone River

Am. Rock Wren best seen in Hayden Valley, heard in Lamar, and seen again near Henry's Lake

Marsh Wren Harriman State Park, feeding chicks, cute! Also at RRL

House Wren seen on seven days

Grey Catbird seen near Billings, at Mesa Falls and Tetons

Brown Thrasher new to our list this year, a pair at a prairie windbreak

Mountain Bluebird seen all but two days, a great bird to see so faithfully!

Townsend's Solitaire best views at a rest stop on Beartooth Highway, seen on three days

Swainson's Thrush Great scope views perching on tree top near Canyon and the falls

Hermit Thrush heard only, flutes in the woods÷

American Robin seen every day, very common

Ruby-crowned Kinglet heard or seen most days

Black-capped Chickadee seen along major rivers, lower elevations

Mountain Chickadee seen most days in conifer forests and aspen groves

Red-breasted Nuthatch seen or heard on eight days

White-breasted Nuthatch one individual, Two Moon Park

Black-billed Magpie fairly common, seen on eight days

Steller's Jay seen on three days, best views at one of our picnics

Pinyon Jay seen near Billings

Gray Jay seen on two days, Yellowstone

Clark's Nutcracker heard and seen on seven days

American Crow seen on three days

Common Raven seen every day, found several nests

European (Common) Starling seen on five days, around buildings

McCown's Longspur flight song and great displaying birds, one sight on the prairie

Chestnut-collared Longspur prairie near Molt

Lark Bunting prairie near Molt

Fox Sparrow local, near Jackson Lake Lodge, Tetons

Song Sparrow seen on several locations associated with water usually

Lincoln's Sparrow great views Lamar Valley and again near Red Rock Lakes

White-crowned Sparrow seen on seven days, often singing

Dark-eyed Junco one of our more common birds

Savannah Sparrow another of our more common birds

Chipping Sparrow seen all but one day

Brewer's Sparrow common in sagebrush, great views near Eagle nest pulloff

Vesper Sparrow seen or heard on six days

Green-tailed Towhee great views near RRL and Tetons

Black-headed Grosbeak seen both in the wild and at feeders, lovely birds, showy males

Lazuli Bunting best seen near Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone

Western Tanager the most tropical looking of all our birds, seen on five days

Orange-crowned Warbler seen several times, mainly in aspen stands

Yellow Warbler seen on six days

Yellow-rumped Warbler our most common wood-warbler

Common Yellowthroat one seen near Gardiner,MT

MacGillivray's Warbler one bold male near Tower Falls, another near Emma Matilda Lake trailhead

Wilson's Warbler seen only in Billings

Yellow-breasted Chat great views at Two Moon Park

Red-eyed Vireo singing male at Two Moon Park,new for our list

Western Warbling Vireo seen or heard on five days

Pine Siskin seen on all but the prairie day

American Goldfinch seen in prairie windbreak, and on road on south end of Yellowstone at lunch

Black Rosy Finch seen very well in the high alpine of Beartooths

Cassin's Finch finally seen at wildlife viewing area in Island Park, then common next days

House Finch seen on three days, mainly near Billings

Pine Grosbeak seen at feeders in Cooke City and in the wild

Red (Common) Crossbill seen near Billings and on several days in Yellowstone

Evening Grosbeak seen on day on the way into Red Rock Lakes

House Sparrow three days, urban areas and farm buildings

Bullock's Oriole one quick view foothills of the Beartooths

Yellow-headed Blackbird seen on six days, one of the group's favorite birds

Red-winged Blackbird common near water

Western Meadowlark very common and vocal on the prairie and in sagebrush meadows of Yellowstone

Common Grackle common near Billings

Brewer's Blackbird more common as we climbed in elevation, in Yellowstone very common

Brown-headed Cowbird best when riding on American Bison, fairly common


Coyote several sightings, some at close range, in Yellowstone

Gray Wolf great views of Druid Wolf Pack on several occasions, including howling

Red Fox, Beartooth race one, sadly being fed in Cooke City

Black Bear several sightings, the most memorable that contending with wolves on a kill and the other very close young bear (likely 2 yr. Old) sighted by Jan

Grizzly Bear wonderful views at these powerful predators, at a long distance, but female with cubs of the year, with yearling cubs, and a blond race individual - striking

American Badger one seen running back to its den with food at Red Rock Lakes

River Otter great views of five very curious otter at Red Rock Lakes

American Elk common in higher elevations and along rivers in Yellowstone

Moose best views from our raft trip, others in Tetons

Mule Deer seen regularly throughout the trip

White-tailed Deer seen very close - a group in the Beartooth foothills

Pronghorn seen on the prairie, and often in Yellowstone

American Bison great herds, some even blocking the road, lots of calves, some huge bulls

Mountain Goat distant but good looks, including very young babies

Bighorn Sheep high on the cliffs, we saw two females with very young lambs

Meadow Vole seen on several occasions

American Red Squirrel common in forested areas

Fox Squirrel Two Moon Park, Billings

Yellow-bellied Marmot seen in Yellowstone near the geysers and also on Beartooth Pass

Black-tailed Prairie Dog colony out on the prairie, great to watch!

Uinta Ground Squirrel very common throughout Yellowstone and vicinity

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel beautiful views, almost too tame at times in Yellowstone

Richardson's Ground Squirrel prairie and Billings only

Least Chipmunk our most common chipmunk

Uinta Chipmunk seen on one day near Tower Falls

American Beaver great views swimming and on land from the rafts on the Snake River

Muskrat seen in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone and later near Tetons

American Pika heard both on Beartooth and in Tetons, hard to see through the snow!

Snowshoe Hare seen by Ian and Madeline next to the last morning before we left for the airport÷


Western Chorus Frog heard only, our only reptile÷


List kindly supplied by Mic Wells

Aphrodite Fritillary Speyeria aphrodite

Clouded Parnassian Parnassius clodius

Phoebus Parnassian Parnassius phoebus

Western Tiger Swallowtail Papilio rutulus

Pale Swallowtail Papilio eurymedon

Mustard White Pieris napi

Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines

Clouded Sulphur Colias philodice

Melissa Blue Lycoeides melissa

Lupine Blue Plejebus lupini

Hydaspe Fritillary Spearia hydaspe

Field Crescent (Fritillary) Physiodes campestris

Hoary Comma Polygonia gracilis

American Painted Lady Cynthia/Vanessa cardui

Milbert's Tortoiseshell Nymphalis milberti

Mourning Cloak (Camberwell Beauty) Nymphalis antiopa

American Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta

Weidermayer's Admiral Limentis weidermayerii

Heydon's Ringlet Caenonympha heydoni

Inornate Common Ringlet Caenonympha tullia

Monarch/Milkweed Danaus plexippus

Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus

Chequered Skipper Pyrgus ruralis

Two-banded Chequered Skipper Pyrgus myralis

Woodland Skipper Ochloides sylvanoides


Many thanks to Chris Milner for compiling the following plant list:

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 Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains' by Carl

Schreier (Homestead Publishing 2002).

Subalpine Fir Abies bifolia

Engelmann Spruce Picea engelmannii

Douglas Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii

Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta

Limber Pine Pinus flexilis

Whitebark Pine Pinus albicaulis

Black Cottonwood Populus trichocarpa

Narrow leaved Cottonwood Populus angustifolia

Quaking Aspen Populus tremuloides

Willow sp Salix sp

Common Juniper Juniperus communis

Rocky Mountain Juniper Juniperus scopulorum

Mountain Maple Acer glabrum

Golden Currant Ribes aureum

Black Elderberry Sambucus racemosa

Bracted Honeysuckle Lonicera involucrata

Mountain Snowberry Symphoricarpus oreophilus

Mountain Mahogany Cerocarpus montanus

Choke Cherry Prunus virginiana

Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia

Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus

Shrubby Cinquefoil Pentaphylloides floribunda

Woods Rose Rosa woodsii

Western Mountain Ash Sorbus scopulina

Silver Buffaloberry Shepherdia argentea

Creeping Oregon Grape Mahonia repens

Allium sp Allium sp

White Hyacinth Tritelia grandiflora

Blue Camas Camassia quamash

Wand Lily Zigdenus sp.

Glacier Lily Erythronium grandiflorum

Mountain Blue-eyed Grass Sisyrinchium montanum

Western Blue Flag Iris missouriensis

Cow Parsnip Heracleum lanatum

Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum

American Bistort Polygonum bistortes

Field Chickweed Cerastium arvense

White Campion Silene latifolia

Moss Campion Silene acaulis

Stonecrop Sedum sp.

Small-flowered Woodlandstar Lithophragma parviflora

Draba sp

Potentilla sp

Woodland Strawberry Fragaria vesca

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum

Marsh Marigold Caltha leptosepala

Pasqueflower Pulsatilla patens

Sugarbowl / Leatherflower Clematis hirsutissima

Yellow Columbine Aquilegia flavescens

Low Larkspur Delphinium bicolor

Tall Mountain Larkspur Delphinium glaucum

Silky Lupine Lupinus sericeus & others

Northern Sweet Vetch Hedysarum boreale

Nuttall's Violet Viola nuttalli

Sticky Purple Geranium Geranium viscosissimum

White Geranium Geranium richardsonii

Leafy Spurge Euphorbia escula

Green Gentian Frasera speciosa

Fringed Gentian Gentiana detonsa

Common Harebell Campanula rotundifolia

Blue Flax Linum lewisii

Rocky Mountain Phlox Phlox multiflora / ? Hoodii

Long leaved Phlox Phlox longifolia

Skypilot Polemonium viscosum

Showy Jacob's Ladder Polemonium pulcherrimum

Scarlet Gilia Ipomopsis aggregata

Yellow Monkey Flower Mimulus guttatus

Horsemint Agastache urticifolia

Penstemon sp inc. procerus, cyaneus, montanus, whippleanus

Bracted lousewort Pedicularis bracteosa

Elephanthead Pedicularis groenlandica

Yellow Paintbrush Castelleja sp

Scarlet (Common) Indian Paintbrush Catelleja miniata

Butter and Eggs Linum vulgaris

Alpine Forget-me-not Eritricheum nanum

Forset-me-not Myosotis sylvatica

Mountain Bluebells Mertensia ciliata

Stickseed Hachelia sp.

Common Hounds-tongue Cynoglossum officinale

Ballhead Waterleaf Hydrophyllum capitatum

Silver-leaved Scorpionweed Phacelia hastata

Pink Wintergreen Pyrola asarifolia

Shootingstar Dodecatheon pulchellum

Common Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Yellow Salsify Tragopogon dubius

Elk Thistle Cirsium scariosum

Rosy Pussytoes Antennaria microphylla

Yarrow Achillea millefolium

Pearl Everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea

Blanket flower Gaillardia aristata

Goldeneye Viguera multiflora

Heart-leaved Arnica Arnica cordifolia

Arrow-leaved Balsamroot Balsmaorhiza sagittata

Northern Mule Ears Wyethia amplexicaulis

White Wyethia Wyethia helianthoides

Yellow Water-lily Nuphar lutea

Browns Peony Paeonia brownii

Arrowleaf Groundsel Senecia triangularis

Various Aster / Erigeron sp.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004