2014US

A trip with friends: Jeff, John and Maz.  We had a relatively smooth flight to Denver (Colorado), picked up our  hire car and then drove to The Twin Owls Motel in Estes Park. Jet lag meant I got a very poor night's sleep.

3 August

Twin Owls Motel

Our wildlife watching began in the car park of the hotel and we all quickly got a new species under the belt with at least two Colorado chipmunks running around.

A yellow-rumped warbler was also seen.

A McDonald's breakfast was pretty grim but it did get me my first new bird a mountain chickadee.

Rocky Mountains National Park


Among the amazing scenery we saw several mammal species:

Two herds of elk were seen.


Yellow-bellied marmot was common, American pika less so and two golden-mantle ground squirrels were a new species for me. 

Perhaps best of all was a superb male moose, which we saw on the way out. It was our first experience of a 'wildlife jam'. Parking and viewing conditions were not great and the police were soon there. This was obviously an everyday experience for them and they ignored the rather dodgy parking. It is amazing how hidden such a large animal can be!


Lake Gamby

About ten American white pelicans.


The road to Rawlins

Birds seen included turkey vultures, Brewer's sparrow, sage thrashers

and golden eagle.


We also saw mule deer and our first pronghorns of the trip.

Arapaho Wildlife Refuge

This proved to be a very good detour from the main route.

Rodents provided the main source of interest.  There were lots of white-tailed prairie dogs.


Smaller numbers of Wyoming ground-squirrels were present


and two muskrats were seen, very distantly.


We also saw white-tailed deer and a few pronghorns.

Birds seen included: white pelicans, Canada geese, American wigeon, c.15 Wilson's phalaropes, pied-billed grebe, American coot, nesting black-necked grebes, American pipit, willet, nighthawk and kildeer.

At some point we moved into our second state of the trip: Wyoming.

The road to Rawlins

Birds of prey proved to be the highlight of the next leg of the trip with several Swaison's hawks being seen as well as good, but brief, views of a prairie falcon and two more golden eagles.

We also saw an adult and imm. red-naped sapsucker.


About twenty nighthawks were seen, showing that they often do not live up to their name as well as a few mourning doves and Brewer's blackbirds . Two mule deer provided the mammal interest. 

Checking into the hotel in Rawlins was rather time consuming due to the apparent insanity of the manager. Eventually we were successful and it was off for some uninspiring food and good beer. (The high quality of American beer was an eye-opener for me!)

4 August

Jeffrey's City

A cafe stop which turned out to be quite productive. Slightly different to a British city with a population of 58 (according to Wikipedia). The cafe should have been in a road movie, but was pleasant enough even if they did char the bacon beyond all recognition. I could live with that if I could have had a decent strength coffee.



After we had fulfilled our basic needs, to eat and get woefully inadequate supplies of caffeine, we starting looking around; we were in turned checked out by some locals. 

The highlight for me was a very co-operative nighthawk.


Other birds included Vesper's sparrow


Say's phoebe, lark bunting, sage thrashers, mourning doves, Swaison's hawks and mountain bluebirds.

A desert cotton tail


was wandering around the houses and a few pronghorns were seen in front of the cafe.

A few things were seen on the journey including: white-tailed deer, 3 mule deer, Wyoming ground squirrel, nighthawk, cliff swallow, Brewer's blackbird, Brewer's sparrow, red-shafted flicker, osprey, American robin and eastern kingfisher. 

Dubois

We had a couple of searches near a river, in between rain showers and booking into our hotel. A western terrestrial garter snake got our reptile list started. Mammal interest was provided by 6. rather distant, bighorn ship, 3 mule deer  and this, yet unidentified rabbit.

 
Birds seen included: red-sharfted flicker, osprey, American robin, eastern kingbird, American goldfinch, cliff swallow, violet-green swallow, western wood-pewee and spotted sandpiper.

Eating in Dubois seemed caused some confusion; we completely failed to get served in one place. Possibly they were having a private function; we never really worked it out. Eventually we ate at the Cowboy Cafe. I had a rather greasy fired prawns and fries. This was followed by blueberry pie to get rid of the taste. Ordering the latter proved to be somewhat problematical; we were divided by a mutual language! 

5 August

Breakfast at the Cowboy cafe proved to be somewhat easier and huge: three eggs, flat sausage, toast and hash browns. We also saw the first black-capped chickadee of the trip.

The journey to Jackson, and the Grand Tetons, was scenic and productive. 



The highlight was something that would later be a common sight: a herd of about 300 bison. Truly amazing on first viewing. Maz made the mistake of asking what the difference between a buffalo and a bison was. Three simultaneous answers of "You can't wash your hands in a buffalo." A red squirrel was a slightly less dramatic sight as were three Wyoming ground squirrels. Bird wise we saw: dark-eyed junco, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Copper's hawk, Clark's nutcracker, mountain chickadee, red crossbill, cliff swallows, American wigeon, raven and yellow warbler. Another western terrestrial garter snake was also seen.

Jackson

A lake on the edge of town held the rare site of two adult and 3 young trumpeter swans


as well as three sandhill cranes,

song sparrow, tree swallow. yellow-headed blackbird, ring-necked duck, red-winged blackbird, cedar waxwings


 and northern rough-winged swallow. 

Wilson - Teton Road

It was time to look for beavers. This proved to be successful but only after some pretty unsubtle comments to other searchers that staying in their cars and not talking in loud voices might help!



Even better was a superb great-grey owl on the way back.


We also saw another beaver here.

Also, during the evening, we saw song sparrow, wood duck, Barrow's goldeneye, yellow warbler and about then elk.

6 August

We were out in the dark to a site that we had been recommend for coyote. Sadly it was entirely free of wild dogs. We did see yellow warbler, warbling vireo, spotted sandpiper and lesser yellowlegs.

Two sandhill cranes and elk were seen while heading for String Lake where we saw a mother and two young mule deer. The former missing the end of her diagnostically black-tipped tail.



A bit of a frustrating day weather wise with a number of heavy showers.

Yellow pine chipmunk was a new species for the trip.


A paddle-tailed darner was our first identified dragonfly of the trip.


We spend quite a while on Antelope Flats photographing Unita ground squirrels


and mountain bluebirds; this is a young one.


Other wildlife around seen around the park included bison - sadly not as close as yesterday, chipping spparrow, dark-eyed junco, red-tailed hawk, Barrow's goldeneye, cinnamon teals, wood duck, mountain chickadee


and red-naped sapsucker.

At the lake near Jackson three yellow-headed blackbirds perched up. Superb birds but sadly far too distant for a decent photo.


Heavy rain disrupted the evening and we were soon sheltered in the Rustic Inn eating uninspiring food and drinking nice, but over-priced, beer.

7 August

Grand Teton NP

Another try in the same area as yesterday morning still failed to produce any coyotes. We a few birds including: Clark's nutcrackers (sadly rather distant), Wilson's warbler and pine siskin.


Jackson Lake

Four Californian gulls, willow flycatcher, yellow warbler and this rather confusing hummingbird. It's wings look long for broad-tailed but the rufous on the tail and the lack of white line above the lores would seem to match that species.


Yellowstone National Park

Almost unbelievably we had only just entered the park when there was a mass of cars and people: our first bear jam! It was caused by a male grizzly, complete with neck collar. The atmosphere was rather tarnished by the mass of people some of whom just appeared to be suicidal. The rangers were getting stressed; not surprising when you've got idiots who approach a large predator trying to take photos with their mobile, like this idiot here. He wasn't the worst!




Not much later we were stopped again seeing a female and a young grizzly up a hill. Unfortunately they were rather distant and it was now raining very heavily. In fact so heavily that we had to admit defeat and dive back in the car! 

It was then on to see Old Faithfull. A really impressive sight; we stayed for two showings.


We then headed towards the Lamar Valley seeing a very close bighorn sheep, c. 20 pronghorns and many hundreds of bison.


We were soon directed to the wolf watch point. We then join a crowd of people and after a while a black wolf appeared. This should have been the highlight of the trip. Unfortunately, using Google maps, John later worked out that it must have been 1.8 miles away. Sadly rather underwhelming! 

Travelling along the road, some other observers had seen another wolf. We leapt out of the car, but sadly it failed to show again. However we did see a, quite distant black bear, and ten sandhill cranes. 

Travelling back in the dark a huge appearing black wolf walked across the road. Frustratingly short - and certainly no chance of photos - but still superb. 

We booked into the hotel in Cooke City (in England it would be classed as a small town or a large village!) and rushed to the Beartooth Cafe, apparently the only place still open at the late time of 9, for food and a selection of beers. I was certainly feeling a mixture of elation and frustration.

8 August

Yellowstone

We were at the wolf site at first light. This time we saw a grey one. It was slightly closer and the light was better but it was still very disappointing. After a large , and much needed, breakfast the rest of the day was spent around the park. We concentrated on the area where we had seen the mother and young brown bears the previous day, but sadly had no luck.

The highlights were two separate female black bears seen with cubs. 


Sadly, some people really couldn't get the idea of giving the animals some distance! Not only risking their own safety but in once case clearly stopping the animals from crossing the road. 

The other mammal highlight was fourteen mountain goats. Sadly these were very distant. As well as the now familiar buffalo, white-tailed deer and pronghorns we saw a beaver swim across a river.

Birds included a superb male Lazuli bunting.


An imm. Cassin's finch was not particularly exciting but was a new species for me. 


Western tanager was exciting and a peregrine perched half way down a gorge meant exciting views were unavoidable. 


A prairie falcon also gave good views.

9 August

Up early again and off for another, unsuccessful, look at the spot where we'd seen brown bears. We did see distant Clark's nutcrackers and Cassin's finches. 

Breakfast/Lunch at Canyon gave us good views of least chipmunk.


We spent a while around the canyon area. The highlight was probably this very co-operative yellow-bellied marmot.


We tried some butterfly identification; this is a problem for us Brit.s used to a limited number of species.  I'm pretty sure this Edith's cooper.


But I am unsure what this fritillary was.



We also saw mule deer, brown creeper, osprey, yellow-rumped warbler, osprey, Cassin's finch and western tanager.


It was then back to the Lamar valley for golden eagle, bison jams and pronghorns.


10 August

Bear Tooth Pass



A more leisurely start as we headed out of the park to Bear Tooth Pass. Amazing scenery at heights of up to 3200m but a bit frustrating from a wildlife point of view. We'd hoped for rosy-finches but they totally eluded us. We did see grey jay and Clark's nutcracker but the former was brief and the latter brief and distant. 

White-crowned sparrow was considerably more co-operative.


As was this American pika.


It was a very nice day and there were several butterflies around. Sadly, I had limited success photographing them partly due to the problems chasing them at 3200m!

Rocky mountain parnassian


Milbert's tortoiseshell

We also saw yellow-dotted alpine.

Yellowstone NP

It was then back into the park. Before long we were watching a female harlequin and her three young. A bit later two American dippers were giving good views.



This prairie falcon was one of two seen.


Two black bears were seen but were rather distant and a western meadowlark was among the bird seen.

11 August

Trout Lake

Up early to look for otters. Sadly, we had no luck. Lots of paddle-shaped darner were flying around the lake and a cutthroat lake was in it. Yellow-rumped warbler and western tanager were also seen.

Lamar Valley

Two young wolves were seen but they were still frustratingly distant.

Hayden Valley

With our time almost over, we tried 'covering the ground' with the hope of seeing another brown bear. It was probably the best idea but it didn't work! Goosander, bufflehead and Barrow's goldeneye were seen.

Lamar Valley

We were now rather complacent about buffalo but these two fighting bulls were still awe inspiring. 


This western terrestial garter snake gave good views.


We also saw white pelican, goosander, bufflehead and two more - yes you've guessed it - distant wolves.

12 August

It was then a 400+ mile drive to Lead. The wildlife highlight of the journey was a flock of about hundred nighthawks, again, not living up to their name. 

We stopped at Little Bighorn .


It was quite a feeling being at such a legendary place but I still had half an eye put for wildlife especially after seeing this sign.


Sadly, we didn't see any rattlesnakes but we did see variegated fritillary which was a new species. 

It was nearly the last tourist spot of our lives. On leaving we had a car head straight towards us on our side of the road. My initial thoughts were that I was on the wrong side of the road, then I realised that I was right! 

Our next tourist spot was The Devil's Tower, of Close Encounters fame.

Then into another famous spot: Deadwood. Site of Wild Bill Hickok's death and site of the TV series. We actually stayed in the adjoining town of Lead.

After a quick game of suitcase racing - basically you sit on your wheeled suitcase and roll down the hill on it - before dinner at the very friendly Homesteak Chophouse, which had an old train inside it.

13 August

An early start. Three mule deer were seen near the hotel/ We made a couple of stops. The highlights were three belted kingfishers, red-breasted nuthatch and eastern cottontail.


We then went to the amazing Mount Rushmore. This famous monument was not a disappointment!




A mountain goat (with radio collar) and kid provided some wildlife interest.

With the temperature close to hundred fahrenheit we headed to the Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park


We spent a lot of time watching black-tailed prairie dogs.


We also saw western meadowlark. horned lark, red-headed woodpecker, vesper sparrow, rock wren, lark sparrow, bison and lots of bighorn sheep.

We waited for it to get dark. As it was getting dark, we had our first highlight a coyote. Rather distant but still good. We tried using nightscopes for a while and then tried driving around. This proved much more productive. I was driving and I had one of those 'have we just driven over something' feeling. I wasn't sure but we stopped and got out. I had but luckily it wasn't hurt and was a superb gopher snake. It did appear to have a slightly deformed mouth. 


A white-tailed rabbit ran across the road and then a swift fox - a top target species. 

It was getting late and we were getting very tired so we headed back. Shortly after getting on the road and I was back on the brakes. Another snake: even better a western rattlesnake.


14 August

Badlands National Park

A jack rabbit was seen in the pre-dawn dark. We spent a while photographing bighorn sheep.



A bison decided to use the fence posts near us to scratch. Birds included: wild turkey - a female with young - spotted towhee, western meadowlarks, Say's phoebe, horned larks, lark sparrows and red-headed woodpecker.

The journey to Kimball was livened up by a few birds of prey: northern harrier, Swaison's and red-tailed hawks.

However the highlight was 'Carhenge': a copy of Stonehedge made of cars! Apparently it was voted one of the top three 'quirky' sites in the USA. We had no idea we were going to pass it.


Kimball

We arrived at Kimball at a reasonable time and when we asked where to eat there seemed to be a very limited choice. The golf course was recommended. I had my reservations but we headed towards it doing some birding on the way and around the club house.

Several nighthawks were flying around but I was quite impressively unsuccessful at photographing them. Other birds included American goldfinch and a few desert cottontails were hopping around.

Despite my reservation the meal was actually one of the best of the trip.

15 August

Pawnee Grasslands

Among the hundreds of lark buntings, we found one of our target species: McCown's longspur.
 

Others birds included ferruginous hawk, 

Swaison's hawk, lark sparrow. Brewer's sparrow,  juvenile grasshopper sparrow


vesper sparrow, sage thrasher, horned lark, loggerhead shrike


northern harrier, western meadowlark, western kingbird, blue grosbeak, pronghorn and differential grasshopper.


We then started the journey to the airport making a quick stop on the way.

Jackson Reservoir

We were greeted by this Woodhouse's toad. The birding was mainly gulls and one tern. Lots of ring-billed gulls were present along with smaller numbers of California gulls.

 and a Franklin's gull.


Terns were represented by this Forster's.


Then, sadly, it was game over. A night at the airport before our morning flights.
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