Sunday, April 27, 2008

Coyotes and Carcasses

click photos to enlarge

Yesterday we departed on a trip to Yellowstone National Park for some wildlife and bird watching. We have looked forward to the trip for some time, although on more than one occasion we considered delaying it due to the high snowfall this winter. The Lamar Valley where we intend to spend much of the time is still buried in a couple feet of snow. We stuck with our original schedule.

The first day we leisurely travelled toward the park, stopping for some occasionally bird watching. We took a side trip to Centennial Marsh in Idaho where we observed a number of birds. Unfortunately we had to turn back after a third of the way in as the road was closed due to snow and water. In Island Park Idaho, we watch as a bald Eagle, then this Osprey flew overhead fishing the Henry's Fork.

 
Swans, Herons, and numerous other birds were on the river as well. We spent the night in West Yellowstone after visiting the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center for some up close photography (not highlighted here).

Early the next morning we headed into the Park. The first and most alarming sights were the skinniest Elk and Bison I have ever seen. This above average snow pack really took a toll. High snow pack is good for predators as the prey species get weaker. This balances out last year where the opposite occurred - low snow pack means that prey species are healthier and predators get less food.

A couple of miles inside the park we came upon an Elk carcass. It was fresh enough that no predators or scavengers had gotten to it yet. A few miles down the road we found this Bison carcass being visited by a Coyote and a Raven.

 
We would find a few more Bison carcasses and an Elk Carcass before noon. Each of the others visited by Coyotes, Ravens, and two had Bald Eagles as well.

Arriving on the Northern Range, the snow pack was a little lower and the animals looked a bit healthier. We still found a double carcass (one Bison and one Elk) here near a pond. I counted 45 Ravens and 1 Coyotes on the carcasses. There were many other ravens nearby, likely full from gorging themselves. We arrived at our camp site in Cooke City (the parking lot of the Alpine Motel!) to relax for a few hours before heading out tonight to see the focus of our journey, Wolves!

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