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   Guided day with Wolftracker (www.wolftracker.com)

Since the introduction of Wolves back into the park in the mid 1990's, they have become one of the wildlife must sees in Yellowstone. However, they are still not great in numbers, and are generally difficult to see, often being in non accessible parts of the park from the road, or some distance away on the slopes. We decided to look for some assistance in this task and came across Wolftracker.com after a short search. They can organise anything from a day tour upwards, using a lot of expertise and knowledge in the park and its wildlife. While the cost is rather high at around $600 for the day, this is irrespective of the amount of people in the party, and the day we had with McNeil Lyons was certainly worth it. While wildlife cannot be guaranteed, we saw three dog species and both bears, and some excellent birds as almost incidentals in addition to this.

The day starts early, 5-5.30am, which is always the best time for this type of venture, and they prefer to pick up in Gardiner, since it lies next to the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, which is also the best area for wildlife. Our day, which went on until our return at 2.30pm, was wholly spent in the Blacktail Plateau Drive and Lamar Valley area. McNeil had planned to listen on the radio for any wolf sightings from others in the company, and had an idea of where he wanted to look. He also asked what our other preferences might be - the list was full! We had already passed a large herd of Elk on the outskirts of Mammoth, and picked up Sora on one of the roadside pools, when the message came through that Wolves had been seen at Slough Creek in the Lamar Valley. These were frequent visitors to a bison carcass, hidden on a distant hillside. After a short wait, we picked up a light and a dark Wolf around this spot, but two black Wolves from the same pack behind us were much closer on a nearby hillside. While waiting, Chipping & Brewer’s Sparrows tantalised from song posts in the sage brush.

Wolves Black Bear Mule Deer
2 black Wolves Black Bear Mule Deer
Brewer's Sparrow Sora
Brewer's Sparrow Sora

We then made our way to the Lamar Valley, where among the herds of Bison and occasional Pronghorn, we were shown a den on a nearby hillside which had 4 playful Coyote pups outside. Our return later would follow one of the parents trying for some Uinta Ground Squirrels. In the distance, on a high slope just below the snowline, telescopes could just pick out a mother Grizzly Bear with her 2 cubs. A Sage Thrasher was singing from the sage brush, and Brewer’s Sparrow from a nearby perch.

We were taken on a short half mile hike (upwards)to Trout and Buck Lakes, ostensibly to look for the possibility of otter feeding on the spawning trout. None put in a show, but it proved an excellent spot. Top billing was an adult brown coloured Black Bear slowly making its way through the tree covered glade near to where we stood. Buck lake held Green-winged Teal and female Barrow's Goldeneye. The birdlife around this glade was in constant song. Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Audubon's Warblers were commonplace, with a couple of male Western Tanagers plying to and fro. A single Mountain Chickadee was above Trout Lake, and perhaps bird of the locale should go to the male Williamson's Sapsucker which passed through.

After a fulfilling morning with brilliant wildlife and beautiful scenery, the return was made all the more pleasant with stops at an Osprey nest, handily placed just below our eyeline next to the river below, and a Golden Eagle nest, with chick on a cliff face. Finale entrants were a Red Fox which insisted on its very own fox jam when it stopped for a pee on the road, and Elk which also caused a jam as we crawled back through Mammoth. All in all an excellent day out. Many passers by also benefited from our finding various animals and birds, but they didn't have the full experience which we had, including the knowledge and enthusiasm of McNeil, our guide.

Lamar Valley Trout Lake Buck Lake
The Lamar Valley Trout Lake Buck Lake
Barrow's Goldeneye Chipping Sparrow Golden Eagle
Barrow's Goldeneye female Chipping Sparrow Golden Eagle
Western Tanager Williamson's Sapsucker Black Bear
Western Tanager Williamson's Sapsucker Black Bear
Red Fox Uinta Ground Squirrel Coyote
Red Fox Uinta Ground Squirrel Coyote

Having had such a good day, and with late afternoon still to spare, we decided to go back ourselves to the Lamar Valley to check on an American Badger site McNeil had pointed out. The omens and a good day were with us, since we chanced on a Coyote with food plying its way along the road not far from Mammoth Hot Springs. After passing the regulation bear jam at Elk Creek, where the mother and cubs were apparently still performing, we headed straight for the badger sett next to the road and just short of the Lamar River bridge. Fortune was indeed with us yet again. As we pulled up, the Badger exited the sett, and ran along the scrub in front of us, took the underpass route, and was seen hot footing its way behind us to what looked like alternative burrows. To cap the day, 2 Bighorn Sheep were on the rocks above the road just down from Mammoth Hot Springs, and 2 Mule Deer, only our second pair for the park, were quietly grazing in a front yard in Gardiner as we left our restaurant in the evening.

Red-tailed Hawk

American Badger

Black-billed Magpie

Red-tailed Hawk

American Badger

Black-Billed Magpie

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