22 October 2016

Yellowstone…USA (8 Oct)

The word Yellowstone is widely revered amongst nature photographers. It has been called many things, among them the Serengeti of North America. Nowhere else on the continent can offer so many large mammals in a short time. Bison speckled with snow, the steely glare from a wolf pack, and the enormous headdress of a stag Elk in rutting season are commonplace images associated with Americas oldest park. And that, was the reason for our visit. Having not seen Black or Brown Bears, Wolf, Bison, or Bighorn Sheep, I had plentiful mammalian reasons for being there. On top of that was my primary target for the trip, the so-called Grey Ghost, or Phantom of the North; North Americas largest owl, the Great Grey. The Gandalf of Owl species

We flew into Bozeman, in the state of Montana, but soon after drove into neighboring Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park, which spans three different US states (Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho). Our arrival in Bozeman was spectacular in itself, as we looked down on the jagged contours of the Rockies as we descended by plane, and were further impressed by the wall of mountains dominating the horizon, as we walked out of the airport. A few hours later, we entered the park itself through the Roosevelt Arch, (near Gardiner), the final stones of which were laid down by the US president of the same name in 1903.
Just past the infamous arch, we began to see some of the abundant wildlife that Yellowstone is justifiably famous for: Pronghorns and Mule Sheep grazed nonchalantly nearby. Moving swiftly, and deeper into the park, we came upon a Yellowstone tradition - a gridlock of vehicles proclaiming the sighting of something special. We raced out of the car and were soon glassing a Black Bear snuffling through the pine-sullied understory. This was my first, and I somewhat arrogantly, thought this was the opening of the proverbial floodgates for the species for me. However, this ended up being the solitary sighting of our time there. A glance at a straw-coloured mountain meadow revealed some massive brown stains within it, which proved themselves to be our first gigantic Bison of the trip, an impressive and imposing beast that was to go on to feature daily.
Our day ended with a very fortuitous reunion with a very skilled nature photographer from Indiana (Jim Chagares), whom we had got to know through our many visits to Magee Marsh in Ohio. This was especially lucky, as Jim was already honed in on some key species of the park, after some four weeks on site, (and many years covering it before that). In particular, he floored me with jaw-dropping photos of a recently observed Great Grey Owl, which had my pulse racing and my complete attention! The photo came with a caveat though; the individual so dramatically portrayed within his photos had come to a sad end only days before, when it was hit by a passing car. We had heard this tragic news before we had arrived, and so were somewhat prepared for this unfortunate headline. Jim had better news though, as hed managed to home in on another ghost just that very evening, in a different spot, and quickly suggested hunting together for it the next day

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