Yellowstone – searching for bears [1/3]

Hannah Henshaw – NatureSpy Wildlife Biologist

In November 2012, the NatureSpy biologists started a quest to track bears in 3 of Americas most beautiful and historic National Parks.

The expedition began in Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first National Park spanning 3,472 square miles through three US states; Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, of which 80% is covered by forest and home to 62 species of mammals.

The Yellowstone NP entrance sign

The Yellowstone NP entrance sign

Both grizzly and black bears are not present in all 3 parks, with the former restricted in this case , to Yellowstone.

However grizzly bears typically begin their winter hibernation here in November with black bears denning a little later in December.

Beware bear attacks!

Beware bear attacks!

The sheer range and limited time spent at each park meant camera traps were not used, so our primary aim was to brush up on our tracking skills and hopefully catch a glimpse of a wild black bear.

After speaking to rangers about recent bear signs and sightings and being briefed on safety in bear country, we decided on two hikes in the park that seemed most likely to lead to our own bear encounter.

The first hike was a beautiful route that meandered through open meadow, streams and brooks leading to dense patches of pine forest.

Within minutes we saw one of the great American icons; the bald eagle, perched level with the tree line and soon after we spotted our first tracks, easily recognised in the fresh overnight snowfall; wolves.

Huge, fresh wolf tracks in the snow

Huge, fresh wolf tracks in the snow

We followed the tracks until they changed direction through rougher terrain off the trail into thick forest. As tempting as it was to follow, we didn’t know the area well enough and were new to hiking in this wilderness so stuck to our path.

We were rewarded and came across an incautious red squirrel, undisturbed by our close proximity, which highlighted the feeling of sanctuary in this place.

A squirrel is unperturbed by our presence

A squirrel is unperturbed by our presence

Unfortunately, there was no bear encounter but we did observe herds of ungulates; bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Nevertheless we carried on and encountered a variety of wildlife, most notably a lightning fast glimpse of a wolf pack (later found out to be the Canyon pack) and heard their soft foot fall and harrowing howls echo through the empty wilderness.

On our last afternoon in the park we did a game drive. One of the highlights was driving past a herd of bison travelling single file on the road coming towards us.

Bison On Road Yellowstone bears

Bison use the roads in Yellowstone

Many of the animals here use the public roads and trails as it is more energy efficient than ploughing through snow to make their own routes.

On the way back to our lodge when the chances of seeing new wildlife were getting slimmer, a movement in a roadside meadow caught our eye. A coyote.

A coyote out hunting Yellowstone

A coyote out hunting in Lamar Valley

With no other cars on the roads for miles we were able to watch him hunt and pounce in the snow, captivated, until he disappeared under the shadow of the mountain and out of sight.

Beaver Hike Mountain Yellowstone bears

Beaver Hike Mountain

During this off peak season we were lucky enough to virtually have the park to ourselves and although we didn’t catch a bear this time, we saw an abundance of wildlife and beautiful landscapes.

Yellowstone certainly didn’t disappoint.

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