Friday, May 22, 2009

The Struggle for Existance

Here is a summary of our continued adventures in Yellowstone. The first part of the story is here - The Tyranny of Nature's Plan.

The flight of the Eagles. Tuesday evening present a spectacular showing of eagles. Our friends pointed out the Bald Eagle nest where we could see the new hatchlings. Within a one hour period we also witnessed a first year, second year, third year, and adult Bald Eagle flying overhead. Most visited the carcass in the Lamar Valley. These eagles were joined by a juvenile and adult Golden Eagle, numerous Red-tailed Hawks, and the ever present Ravens.

Swim for your life. Wednesday morning after watching the Agate wolf pack, we moved on to watch the Druid wolf pack. The alpha male, another adult, and two yearlings were just leaving yesterday’s carcass. We watched as they made their way up river. At one point the alpha male swam the raging river. The river is high and muddy, with trees floating down. He was swept far down stream. The other adult made it most of the way across before turning back. She just pulled herself out of the river when she was attacked by a lone elk. The elk probably had a calf hidden nearby. The wolf had no fight left and ran from the elk. The two yearlings also tried the river, but turned back as well. They decided to chase a small herd of elk, but they too were too worn to put up a real chase. All three wolves chose to dodge vehicles on the highway instead of taking another turn at the river. An afternoon hike along the rim of the Yellowstone River provided some great bird watching as we looked down on Osprey & White-throated Swifts as Mountain Bluebirds joined us on the ridge.

Yearling wolf splitting an elk herd.

Yearling Wolf from Druid Peak Pack.

Mountain Chickadee with some attitude!

Three’s a crowd. While at Dorothy’s Knoll in the Lamar Valley we looked up to see three wolves marching through the sage brush. Behind them were three coyotes chasing after them. Behind the coyotes was a large grizzly bear! All in the scope at the same time! My read is that the wolves were out on a hunt, the coyotes simply wanted them out of their territory, and the bear wanted to steal anything that the wolves took down. Grizzlies commonly steal carcasses that the wolves kill. As they made their way across the hillside, the bear had to stand up on two feet to see which way the wolves were headed and then run to catch up. He did this three times while we were watching. The last time the bear raised up he turned and ran in the other direction. The coyotes scattered. The wolves were in pursuit of the bear. They chased him up and over the ridge before returning to the valley. The coyotes tried to get the wolves to leave, but they were simply ignored. The wolves bedded down on the hillside and stayed there until dark, and who knows how much longer.

Pika (photo by Karyn).

Bloat and they will come. The action returned to the scene of the dead bison mentioned 5 days ago (in a previous blog post). The bison had died of unknown causes. Her calf stayed with her trying to nurse until finally dying of starvation. We were amazed that no animals had fed on the bison. Apparently coyotes had tried, but could not break open the carcass. That takes a wolf or a bear. After sitting in the sun long enough, it finally attracted the right attention. Apparently wolves were on the carcass last night and a grizzly this morning. We missed that, but got there in time to watch 5 wolves from the Blacktail Pack, including the famous wolf 302, having their fill (previous years blog posts mention wolf 302 and he is featured in a few National Geographic films on wolves). The pack looked thin and rough, they did not appear to be doing well. Later reflection would indicate that these wolves have mange. This puts them and their puppies at risk if they are not well fed. They were joined on the carcass by the ever present Ravens, a Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagles, a Golden Eagle, and some coyotes, but not all at the same time. One bison will feed a lot of mouths and more importantly a lot more puppies and chicks.

Blacktail wolf pack on Bison carcass.

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