When you're traveling in Yellowstone, the first question you get asked by fellow travelers is "So, what have you seen?" Don't be fooled; they're not asking about the scenery. In Yellowstone, "What have you seen?" really means "What animals have you seen?" The bigger, the better. The proper response is, of course, to rattle off a list of all the big game you've encountered in the park. Extra points for wolves, grizzlies, or a close encounter while hiking. It reminds me a bit of kids collecting baseball cards -- I have a Mark Maguire, a Johnny Damon, and so on -- with a whiff of both childlike excitement and competition to it.
Anyway, in the spirit of competition, which I never have been able to resist, here's my list. All photos were taken with my Canon Rebel XSi (pretty much the best Christmas / birthday present ever, from my awesome family), mostly with a 300mm zoom lens.
Black Bears. This was the first bear we saw. I spotted it right after Mike bragged that he was going to kick my ass at our who-can-spot-the-big-animals-first contest. (For the record, I totally won.)
ETA: I am told by my father that this bear is, in fact, a grizzly, and not a black bear. Apparently, you can tell by the hump in the shoulder area. So, I guess I saw both black bears AND grizzlies, after all :-)
Bald Eagles nesting! Almost as soon as we drove into the park, but I didn't get any good pictures.
Moose. One male, with a full set of antlers, plus several females, including one feeding with her baby right next to the trail while we were out hiking.
Who knew that baby moose were so darn cute?
Also, osprey nests aplenty. Their nests completely crack me up. Look at this:
How is it a good idea to build your nest like this, all exposed to the elements and other birds? Does the Osprey have any natural enemies? Also, this nest is built on top of a platform clearly man-made for this purpose. We think it's to keep them from nesting on top of telephone and electrical poles. Not so good if repair work needs to be done -- ospreys aren't the kindest birds ever.
Ravens, nesting on the side of a cliff
Bison Too freakin' many to count.
(FYI -- this picture was not taken with the zoom lens. They tell you to stay away from the Bison, but the damn bison aren't so great at staying away from you!) Honestly, we were really excited about the bison at first. But after about your 100th bison, they stop being so exciting. Well, except for the ones that walk right through your campsite:
And the ones that hold up traffic for several minutes. Look at that adorable baby! You can't see it in this photo, but he's looking very nervously at a line of about a dozen cars waiting for him to cross the road. Right after I took this picture, daddy came up behind junior and nudged him the rest of the way across the road.
Yellow Bellied Marmots, which make me laugh every single time I see one. There's something so . . . earnest about them.
Zillions of ground squirrels and chipmunks. I have no pictures of these, although one climbed right up on Mike's lap in an attempt to steal his granola bar one afternoon. Couldn't get my camera out fast enough to capture that Kodak moment.
A couple of garter snakes and a racer or two. Also no pictures. They move too fast. We didn't see any poisonous snakes, though, which is a good thing in my book. Mike has that quintessential boy quality of always wanting to touch things that are squirmy, slimy, and generally icky. And, I gotta say, there's a lot I'd do for my friends, but sucking the venom out of a snake bite is totally not on that list.
Great horned owls
Including a totally coo-worthy baby. Mama was nowhere to be seen with this little guy. Also, he was hanging around right underneath the owls we saw. Perhaps hoping for a baby to fall while it was learning to fly?
Beaver dams (the first I've ever seen). No beaver, sadly, although we stood and watched for a while, hoping to see one poke its head out.
We could also see where the beavers had been hard at work chewing down new trees. Ambitious little guys, huh?
Not pictured is the jumping mouse we found in our tent one night. I was too busy shrieking like the girl that I am to get my camera. I totally made Mike get in the tent and chase the little guy out.
Beyond that, we heard wolves from a distance while we were backpacking near the Lamar Valley, but we didn't see anything other than the entrance to a den. We also didn't see a grizzly. We DID see this, though:
I wanted to bring it home SO bad! I think next to Hawaii, where they threaten you with Pele's curse if you so much as think about taking any lava rock home with you, Yellowstone does the best job of anywhere of keeping people from taking stuff like this home. How is it even possible that this amazing skull is still out there and that no one has snuck it into their car by now?
Also, I'll tell you what. The wildlife certainly has right-of-way in Yellowstone, and they're not afraid to use it. In addition to the "bear jams" when someone spotted a distant animal and pulled over to see it, I saw wildlife crossing the road and stopping traffic many, many times while we were there.
It's sort of funny, though, that I write about the animals first, as they were not at all my favorite part of this trip. I mean, the first few times we saw a big animal, it was kind of exciting. And it would be impossible to go to Yellowstone and not have a lot of animal sightings, unlike other parks I've been in. But the thrill wore off fast for me. Later this week, on to our other adventures!