Has it been a tough winter in Minnesota? Ja, sure ya betcha! Up near Lake Superior we had 84 days that were below zero, Eleven feet of snow, Minus 50 degree windchills, a couple days of minus 40 air temps, and snow on the ground until Mid May. In fact, when we left from Wrenshall on May 11, I still had snow in my ravine! So what’s a little more winter in Yellowstone? Temps ranged from 22 degrees to around 60 degrees, but there was still much residual snow from winter in the Hayden Valley. The Lamar Valley was snow free. It all depended on your elevation.

Sparky jump Hayden Valley snowbank Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7173 Twelve-foot high snow banks greeted us in several passes in the Hayden Valley on May 12th! I’m jumping as high as I can and nowhere near the top.

Mountain Bluebird on snow near Canyon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8187 Is there a more beautiful blue in Nature? The Mountain Bluebird actually seems to glow when seen in the right light. Though not technically iridescent, the blue color is created by tiny air pockets in the barbs of feathers which scatter incoming light. So we are seeing reflected light, not blue pigment in the feathers. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, braced on car window frame]

Hayden Valley spring snow Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7191 The Hayden Valley in mid May. Snow-covered and beautiful. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens, f10 at 1/400, handheld]

Ryan and Sparky Hayden Valley snowbank Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7170 Ryan Marshik and Sparky dwarfed by a twelve-foot snowbank in the Hayden Valley.

Sandhill Crane near Norris in snow Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6898Sandhill Cranes nest in the Park. We found this guy between Mammoth and Norris. I like how the S-curve of his neck matches the curving stream. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/6400 (not sure why I had such a high ISO…A mistake for sure), braced on car window frame]

Hoary Marmot Marmota caligota near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6935

Hoary Marmot juvenile Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_7498Juvenile Yellow-bellied Marmot. Adorable!

Hoary Marmot Marmota caligota near Norris Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6940 The three above are the very personable Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris), a mountain-dwelling rodent that lives in talus slopes and boulder fields of the western U.S. The closest they get to Minnesota is the Black Hills of South Dakota. Their cousin the Hoary Marmot is found in British Columbia and Washington state (Marmota caligota).

Marmots have a “harem-polygynous” mating system in which the male defends two or three mates at the same time. They hibernate from September to May, which explains why we never see them on our fall trips in late September or early October. They are omnivorous but eat mainly plant material supplementing with grasshoppers, bird’s eggs, etc. Each colony is 10-20 individuals. Marmots can live to 15 years! When alarmed they give a high-pitched whistle, which is how they got their nickname..”Whistle Pig.”

Great Horned Owl Mammoth Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8927 We found out that there is a Great Horned Owl nest near the natural history museum/visitor center at Mammoth…and it has been there for years. We just stumbled upon it when we saw a photographer shooting something and went to investigate. A Black-billed Magpie was mercilessly harassing the owl…from only a foot away! (I got some video). [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/1250, tripod]

Pronghorn buck between Mammoth and Tower Junction Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6826 Male Pronghorn just sitting around chewing its cud…literally. When I watched my video of this buck, you can see the wave in his neck as he regurgitates food into his mouth to chew again. [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f7.1 at 1/160, tripod]

Coyote close Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8180 It usually pays to stay out in the field until the sun goes down. We found this Coyote hunting the Hayden Valley sagebrush flats in golden light. He came quite close to me as this shot is barely cropped! [Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2000, Handheld]

Coyote leap Hayden Valley Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_8123 He made some magnificent leaps in order to break through the crusty snow to get at small rodents but all were too far away for good photos…but I did get some video and this HIGHLY cropped image.

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