Mississippi River Basin

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Field Notes

May 26 – June 3, 2008


May 26, 2008 – Bozeman MT

PM: Overcast
Bozeman (county seat of Gallatin Co.): Aerial views on landing of figure-eight loops of the Gallatin River and its tributaries flooding due to heaviest winter snowfall in a decade. Visited Powderhorn Outfitters on Main Street to photo trout flies that ranged from woolly buggers, mating Chernobyl ants and caddis (made of elk fur) to San Juan worms, no-see-um’s and small round pink “eggs” used in spawning season. Photo’d the fenced-off, flooding creek at Rouse and Olive Streets that was backed up as it entered a tunnel carrying the creek underground through town.

May 27, 2008 – River Valleys west of Bozeman MT

AM: Overcast
Madison River at I-90 overpass: Photo’d riparian habitat and one dead fish.
Missouri Headwaters State Park – confluence of Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson Rivers forming the Missouri River. Photo’d fisherman who catches invasive nonnative carp, rainbow and brown trout and northern pike which he throws on the ground for the birds. Any native cutthroat trout caught are released.
The Holcim Cement Kiln on the Missouri River immediately downstream of the three rivers’ confluence. Noted freight train activity. [Research on return revealed local controversy over the environmental impacts of cement processing, including burning of superfund site slag and tires as well as increased emissions of particulate matter.]

PM: partly cloudy
Jefferson River Basin: Drove south and west on Rte. 287 out of Three Forks (photo’d old car-body reinforced embankment, views of the Jefferson R. from Sappington Bridge). Continued on Rte. 2 through Jefferson River Valley (photo’d irrigation on farmland) past Lewis and Clark Caverns. Noted historic homestead with sod roof, an early form of a “green roof” due to lack of timber in the valley. Took Rte. 359 south (photo’d pronghorns grazing in farm fields) across the watershed divide between the Jefferson and Madison River Basins.
Madison River Basin: Rejoined Rte. 287 at Harrison, continuing south, upstream along the Madison River to Ennis through hilly, arid land used for farming and ranching. Photo’d farms with prime pastureland rich with hay at base of Madison Range and noted the Cedar Creek Alluvial Fan. Crossed Lyons Bridge over Madison River to observe and photo a preening flock of American white pelicans with fibrous pre-nesting plates on their upper mandibles. Followed Rte. 287 as it turned east into Gallatin County at the Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area. Photo’d Quake Lake (6 miles long, 190 ft. deep) formed by the August 17, 1959, earthquake (7.5 on the Richter Scale). Continued east to Rte. 191, observed the earthen Hebgen Dam and photo’d Lake Hebgen.
Gallatin River Basin: Followed Rte. 191 north and photo’d roadside billboard by LetBuffaloRoam.com sponsored by Patagonia Inc. and Buffalo Field Campaign. [Research on return revealed that this campaign strives to counteract MT’s livestock industry’s lobby to prevent migration of Yellowstone NP’s wild bison to lower elevation ranchland resulting in over 900 of Yellowstone’s remaining 3,500 wild, native bison being killed this year.] Continued downstream along the Gallatin River, passing through a southwestern sliver of Yellowstone N.P. Photo’d wetlands with scrub willow, other riparian flora and beaver lodges.

May 28, 2008 – To Yellowstone National Park

AM: Partly cloudy, rain.
Bozeman: Bought scope for wildlife viewing in Yellowstone NP.

PM: Partly cloudy, becoming sunny.
Yellowstone River Basin: Drove east from Bozeman to Livingstone (24 miles) on I-90 following the route Sacagawea used over Bozeman Pass (elevation 5819 ft.) as she led Lewis and Clark eastwards to the mouth of the Yellowstone River. Since 1884 this has served as a transcontinental railway route. At Livingston (county seat of Park Co.), after observing freight cars loaded with wood waste leaving R-Y Timber Inc., drove south on Rte. 89, upstream through the Yellowstone River flood plain. Noted irrigation of farmland and livestock pastures. (Livingston to Gardiner: 56 miles.)
Gardiner to Cooke City thru Yellowstone NP: Drove into the park’s North Entrance (N 45 01 46.39, W 110 42 31.32) through Teddy Roosevelt’s stone arch at Gardiner, the main entrance since 1880. Shortly after Mammoth Hot Springs, photo’d an elk with calf and crossed the 45th Parallel (halfway between Equator and North Pole). At Tower, headed east into the broad and open Lamar Valley and photo’d herds of bison, elk and the more solitary pronghorn. All looked moth-eaten in this molting season. Many bison calves. Continued along Lamar River and then its tributary Soda Butte Creek through Ice Box Canyon with heavy icicles hanging down its north-facing cliff, and out of the park’s Northeastern Entrance (N 45 00 12.09, W 110 00 04.62, elevation 7,365 ft) thru Silver Gate to Cooke City.

May 29, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Partly sunny, cool
Lamar Valley: Left Cooke City at 6 a.m. to arrive at Druid Peak Footbridge Pullout at 6:30 a.m. Observed 2 moose, 1 red fox on Chief Joseph Scenic Highway before going into the Park. From Druid Peak Footbridge Pullout, observed thru scope 2 grizzlies high up slope across Soda Butte Creek and a sandhill crane walking through snow. Photo’d coyote (western subspecies, larger than eastern subspecies) hunting ground squirrels, herds of elk and bison with calves, pronghorn, and female badger circling her den with pups.

PM: Sunny
Gardner River Valley from Mammoth to Gardiner: Observed through scope bighorn sheep on cliff east of road. Photo’d fallen Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) in Gardner River (in Montana). This is a northern desert zone that gets less than 15 inches of rain per year.
Yellowstone, Lamar and Soda Butte Creek Valleys: Observed through scope black bear with cubs across Yellowstone River and golden eagle chick in nest on cliff east of Slough Creek Road, black wolf crossing road toward Druid Peak from Footbridge Pullout area, and brindle wolf walking down valley from Footbridge Pullout area chased and chasing coyotes. Photo’d beaver carrying willow branch to lodge, old pump at Slough Creek campground, scenics of Soda Butte Creek, Abrasoka Range and Lamar Valley.

May 30, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Cloudy
West of Canyon Village: Left Cooke City by 4:15 a.m. to photo two wolves (a collared grey and a dark) on a previous day’s kill of a pregnant elk. After feeding and urinating on the carcass and nearby trees and a quick romp with somersaults on the hillside, the wolves departed. Two golden eagles (immature) came in after wolves left. Observed that the many ravens at this kill play a similar role to the vultures in Africa’s Mara River Basin. A coyote in field north of elk kill struggling to run on top of soft spring snow.

PM: Partly Cloudy, Hail, Rain
Fishing Bridge: Here a very quiet and broad Yellowstone River as it flows out of the north tip of Yellowstone Lake, with some remaining ice cover and edged with willow and lodge pole pine. Talked with Ranger about cutthroat trout population which he said seems to be stabilizing due to success of gillnetting the nonnative trout, per Dr. Doug Koel. 72,000 lake trout were removed last year, 270,000 over the last 13 years. They pierce the bladders of netted nonnative trout and drop them to the bottom of the lake. The ranger acknowledges this changes nutrient values in the lake, but apparently no one knows if it’s detrimental. Photo’d Yellowstone Lake.
Uncle Tom’s Point, Upper Yellowstone Falls: Photo’d scenics.
Artist Point, Lower Yellowstone Falls: Osprey circling just prior to hailstorm. Photo’d in beautiful, changing light.
Hayden Valley: Observed and photo’d a grizzly sow and cub just south of Trout Creek on Sulphur Mountain. A 2nd blond adult grizzly was also there, but no interaction. Many birds: including sandhill crane, great blue heron, osprey, bald eagle, Canada geese, raven, mountain bluebird and yellow-rumped warbler. Continuous and loud chorus of frogs.
Norris-Mammoth Road: Photo’d old beaver dam near Obsidian Cliffs which is now unidentifiable organic matter serving as a bridge across the valley, thus changing the stream and wetland dynamics. Beavers still active there. Photo’d willow growth on Gardner River at Sheepeater Cliff and flock of lesser scaup.

May 31, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Partly sunny, warmer
Beartooth Highway (Rt 212): Normally closed Oct. 15–May 30, but this year’s heavier than usual snowfall delayed the opening until today. Followed Clark’s Fork River and then headed up to the pass. Photo’d yellow-bellied marmots found amongst rocks at river’s edge, in roadside snow bank and poking up out of a hole in the highway tarmac. Photo’d snow pack and scenics of Beartooth Lake (snow and ice covered), Chain Lakes (also covered, 1/4 mile below pass approximately), stands of white bark pine in snow (noting their difference from lodge pole pines: multi-stem growth patterns and higher altitude range). Beartooth Pass, above the tree line, is within the Shoshone National Park with the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and Gallatin National Forest to the west. Photo’d snowboarders, kite-skiing, snowmobiling and picnicking.

PM: Sunny, partly cloudy
Pebble Creek: Photo’d braided channels (at bankfull) of this tributary of Soda Butte Creek which is a tributary of Lamar River which is a tributary of Yellowstone River. Also photo’d elk-browsed willow.
Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek Valleys: Observed with a scope 2 mountain goats on cliffs southeast of Soda Butte Creek, black bear on hillside south of Lamar River, and several adult wolves and 1 pup from the Slough Creek pack around their den (from Slough Creek Road). Photo’d elk with calf, mallards, and beaver in Slough Creek.

June 1, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Sunny, Warm, changing to Overcast
Soda Butte Creek Valley: Observed through scope, brindle wolf from Druid Pack across the Lamar River from the Footbridge Pullout.
Slough Creek Road: Observed through scope 2 adult wolves at the Slough Creek den and 3 elk grazing and lying down within 100 yards of den – no interaction. Photo’d wildflowers that opened in the last couple days of sun: dandelion, Arrowleaf balsamroot, purple larkspur, pink Prairie smoke and wild strawberry.
Lamar River Valley: Observed through scope a coyote bury ground squirrel by digging shallow hole and covering dead squirrel by pushing dirt with muzzle. Photo’d flooded, spring-fed creek near Tower Junction on Lamar Valley road where soil on upper bank was already dry and powdery; and Yellowstone River from atop bridge.

PM: Partly sunny
near Tower Junction and Petrified Tree: Photo’d forest in recovery from 1988’s high intensity crown fire.
Tower-Canyon Road: Just opened today after delay due to heavy winter snows. Photo’d trunks of pines from 1988 fire at base of Mt. Washburn (ele 10,243 ft) with Washburn Range in background. Photo’ed dead needles of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) that have been attacked by mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae).
Yellowstone Lake: Photo’d scenics of ice-covered lake (elevation 7733 ft) with Abrasoka Mountain Range in background.
West Thumb Geyser Basin: Photo’d elk in parking lot and the Ephedra, Perforated and Ledge hot springs. Observed muskrat in Yellowstone Lake.
Antelope Creek Valley: Observed from scope and photo’d from long distance mother elk in copse of aspens (Populus tremuloides) with a just-dropped newborn calf. After dusk, observed courting display of Northern Rockies Blue Grouse, inflating red neck sac while fluttering above ground in tight circular flight patterns. It strutted with head down, tail fanned, raised and undulating and wings dragged on the ground.

June 2, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Partly Cloudy
Lamar River Valley: Photo’d sunrise on mountain peaks and on Slough Creek. Observed through scope a wolf at Slough Creek den, 2 grizzlies on hillside above Soda Butte Creek from Footbridge Pullout, a lone black wolf in Lamar Valley (seen from Footbridge Pullout) which waded and swam across river to road and headed up to a den site by Druid Peak.

PM: Sunny, then hail and rain
Tower to Mammoth Hot Springs: Photo’d black bear digging for roots on east side of road near Petrified Tree, bull moose at Petrified Tree, female moose feeding in the lake’s edge with 2-day-old calf nearby crippled by a bison attack when calf wanted to play, and sandhill crane on nest on Floating Island Lake. Observed through scope 5 bighorn sheep on cliff north of Mammoth Hot Springs. On return south from Gardner, revisited the moose and calf on Floating Island Lake, both lying together in the rain.
Lamar River Valley: Observed through scope a grizzly on hillside just East of the Yellowstone Institute. Heard coyotes yipping near Footbridge Pullout. Photo’d ranger sign prohibiting this wolf territory to hikers as evidence of wilderness protection.

June 3, 2008 – Yellowstone National Park

AM: Sunny
Lamar River Valley: Heard 2 packs of coyotes yipping and wolves answering from across the valley. Photo’d a pack of 5 coyotes traveling east along Lamar River amongst cottonwoods. Photo’d elk still with calf at Slough Creek where observed 2 days ago.
Tower to Mammoth Hot Springs: At Floating Island Lake, photo’d 2 adult female moose: 1 feeding at lake’s edge and the other, seen previous day, lying with its crippled calf. In a possible sign of some improvement in the calf’s mobility, they had both moved 10 yards west of the previous day’s position. Photo’d 2 black bears (adult female and yearling) traveling together through 1988 burned forest and thru the scope observed them passing bison, 2 coyotes and a lighter brown black bear. Also observed 2 bighorn sheep on cliffs above Gardner River.

End of Expedition