With gorgeous scenery, fascinating geology, and a zoo’s worth of wildlife, a visit to Yellowstone National Park is always a delight. And in spite of the weather (cold, snow, and sleet on the first day of summer?!), last week’s trip was no exception.
Let me say up front that this was not a birding trip. I was camping (in a tent, mind you) with my daughter and my granddaughter. They didn’t want to get up early. (I don’t blame them—on the first morning, the thermometer read 26° F!) and the attention span of a five-year-old—even one as cooperative as Nora is—just isn’t conducive to hours in the field.
Last December, Nora announced that she wanted to see a geyser. We immediately made reservations, and barely squeezed into some of the last tent sites available for June. Most of the time, Yellowstone isn’t a spur-of-the-moment destination.
While our primary goal was satisfying a little girl’s curiosity, the park is full of wildlife, and I hoped to get at least some photos of something besides steam and hot water. We didn’t go looking, but as we drove from geyser basin to geyser basin, and waterfall to waterfall, the animals just appeared along the way.
There was a Killdeer probing the warm runoff from a hot spring, with an adorable youngster in tow.
American Robins were everywhere, clearly the most common species in the park. We woke to their melodious song every morning. They too were feeding young.
I was startled to discover a Western Tanager at Gibbon Falls, when the only lens I had with me was a wide angle. Still, it was close enough that I managed a few shots. And aptly named Swan Lake was home to a pair of Trumpeter Swans, although the keep out signs allowing the birds to nest in peace meant poor photos, even with a long lens.
Common Ravens soared overhead, black against the stormy sky. Brown-headed Cowbirds hung out at West Thumb.
A small flock of Chipping Sparrows gleaned for crumbs under our table, and one even briefly perched on my knee, hoping for a handout. Another mooch, this Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel at Sheepeater Cliff was obviously used to being fed.
We saw some elk, although not many, but no bears or moose.
And of course there were the herds of bison. For the most part, people were sensible enough to keep their distance. But on our last morning, I was heating water for tea when a huge male wandered right into our campsite! Passing between me (at the picnic table) and the tent, he munched some grass, then ambled across the road. How does one obey the 100 yard rule when they come to you?
What we enjoyed most, however, wasn’t the animals, or even Old Faithful impressive eruption. It was watching a wide-eyed five-year-old take it all in. At the end of the trip, we asked Nora what her favorite part was. I expected something about the animals or the geologic features, or maybe all the climbing she did on logs, rocks, and a basalt cliff. But no, what did she like best? The wildflowers!