As all good wildlife people know it pays to be out early (and late), as that is often when animals or birds are most active in a place like Yellowstone National Park. And so, we left the hotel in the dark and pulled up at the picturesque spot of Swan Lake as the sky was blushed pink, signifying the arrival of dawn. It was a beautiful and tranquil scene; all was calm, save for a few ripples on the lake caused by the early morning movements of a pair of Trumpeter Swans disturbing the glassy surface of the water.
Few other animals were in evidence though, so, once dawn had made way for daytime, we continued on to a must-see site within the park…Old Faithful, the largest cone geyser in the World, which can reach over 130 feet on occasions. However, our progress to this explosive spot was halted when a classic Yellowstone sight blocked our way, and peaked our interest: a huddle of cars was stopped untidily on the roadside. In Yellowstone, this is often the easiest path to seeing wildlife; drive slowly, scouring the roads for human indications of other animals. This particular jam had been caused by a sow Grizzly Bear that had brought her cub up to the roadside to forage. Bears are busy at this time fattening up for the onset of winter, when they go into hibernation for the hardiest months. The car huddle was soon tidied up by a zealous park ranger (sadly they are often a little overzealous there), and we watched as the pair of bears slowly made their way out of sight of the road.
Arriving at Old Faithful, we found a series of seats (a permanent fixture) had been set up, not unlike a sporting event, for witnessing the geyser’s famously regular eruptions. We also found TV screens predicting when the next “performance” would be: 12:10pm. The geyser erupts every 70 minutes or so through the day, and while not quite as faithful as it used to be, it still remains predictable enough. On arriving at the site, well before the next spurt, we found the seating to be largely empty, but come midday, they were packed with hundreds of people; an expectant crowd, committed to the time that the screens had informed them of. This was proven to be pretty accurate, when Old Faithful went off within a few minutes of the scheduled time, an impressive sight greeted with all the delight of a sporting crowd, if a little quieter. No Mexican Waves were observed, but plenty of celebration ensued.
For lunch, we stopped off at a campsite, hoping for a Gray Jay or one of the park’s plentiful Clark’s Nutcrackers to come in and investigate our picnic spread, but instead just getting a murder of crows. Or more specifically, a pair of Common Ravens, seemingly one of the most abundant species in the park at this time, when many of the breeding species have vacated Yellowstone for the winter.
Much of the rest of our day was spent fruitlessly searching for another Great Grey Owl, at other hallowed spots in the park, with no reward. As we perused the park though we came upon the regular, quintessential scenes of mighty Bison grazing on the road verges, and kept our eyes out for other animals. We stopped in on a regular pair of Grizzly Bears at another spot, which had become so reliable, they have come to name the mother bear (“Strawberry”), although for some reason, the cub she was with bore no name. We ended the day outside the park, and in another state, for on leaving the park each day, we crossed out of Wyoming and back into Montana. Near the town of Gardiner, where we were staying, we checked in on a local pair of wild, orphaned Grizzly Bear cubs, which were fortunately feeding close to the road, as the day began to wane. On the way back to Gardiner, a recent roadside deer kill was being attended by America’s largest raptor, a Golden Eagle to close the day.