This is the final part of wildlife watching at Yellowstone area.
Moose was among the last animals we saw on our trip, and it was harder to spot it than the rest. We didn't get to see it anywhere in Yellowstone, and were told that they are pretty common in Grand Teton.
After asking around in GTNP, we decided to go to Oxbow Bend Turnout around dusk to see if any moose show up. They weren't any there but when we were on our way back from Oxbow Bend to Colter Bay Village, we hit a traffic jam. Wondering which animal it would be this time, we went closer and bingo! It was a moose with it's calf. Moose is the tallest and largest deer-species, and it looked significantly bigger than it's cousins. It was taller than an elk, but shorter than a horse. It's face is kind of elongated, with it's chin protruding ahead. It's ears are also much bigger. To me, it looked like a cross between deer, horse and donkey.
Despite constant munching, the moose was very well aware of the commotion it's presence had caused and was quietly disappearing into the wetlands with it's calf in tow. The calf was barely visible in the high grassland.
Some more notable animals we saw in our trip are:
Pronghorn - We spotted one at dawn in Lamar Valley, in the midst of bisons. From a distance it appeared white in color, but it's skin is colored white and dark orange. This one's antlers are unique too, with one pair splitting into two pairs. This is one of the more beautiful deer species.
Least Chipmunk - We saw more than two kinds of chipmunks on our hike to the top of Mt. Washburn, but Least Chipmunk was the more often seen. I'll rate them second to Pika for the cuteness. Most of these chipmunks were scurrying around and eating. Some managed to come up close to ask for food, but we shushed them away.
Deer - We saw deer more than a few times at various places in Yellowstone. They were mostly seen at early dawn, when few vehicles are on the roads.
Bald Eagle - We spotted bald eagles twice, once in Lamar Valley and second time at Fishing Bridge in West Thumb. Both times they were sitting on a tree, looking around. They're easily noticeable because of their white head, yellow beak and white tail.
Osprey - Osprey was the first animal we saw in Yellowstone. Most of the Osprey nests are located at the tip of tallest dead tree near a water body (like a lake or waterfall). Via binoculars, we could see an Osprey feeding it's babies by stuffing food into their mouth. At another nest, an Osprey chick was learning to fly by flapping its wings.
Pelican - We saw a pelican before we knew what it was called. With their super long beaks and throat pouches, they are quite distinct from other birds. A group of them were hunting during dawn at a lake in Hayden Valley, and again a lone pelican was enjoying the serene lake at Oxbow Bend in GTNP.
At various places around the park, we also saw Gray Jay (aka camp robber), Black Billed Magpie (in Mt.Washburn) and Hawk (in Mud Volcano).
Tips to watch wildlife
- Invest in a good pair of binoculars. The joy you'll get from viewing distant animals more clearly is worth the cost.
- Your chance to watch animals doubles when they are around, which means dawn or dusk is ideal. We were told by the park rangers that 6.30-8.30 am and 7-9 pm are the best hours to spot any animal. That matches with when we saw most animals too.
- The places where we saw the most animals are Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. That does not mean you will see all animals there. Some animals like Pika prefer higher altitudes, so that's where you need to go to find them.
- Most of the birds we found were close to lakes and water bodies including bald eagle, osprey, hawk, pelican and cranes.
- Be alert and on the lookout for birds and animals. You'll spot more animals if you're looking and listening for them. It's very easy to miss animals as most of them are very well camouflaged.
- Grizzlies are found in lower elevations in late spring and early summer, as they get back from hibernation. As the bigger animals come to lower elevations for food, they push smaller animals like black bear further down closer to the road, which means there's a better chance of spotting them. If wildlife watching is your sole interest, the best time to plan your trip to Yellowstone or Grand Teton is late spring or early summer.
- Carry bear spray with you at all times, especially if you are going in a smaller group. We never encountered a bear during a hike, but it's best to be safe than sorry. The bear spray also allowed us to go on our hikes confidently.
- Do not feed any animal, including the smaller one's like chipmunks. Feeding animals makes them dependent on humans for food and survival, and prevents them from staying wild.
That's the end of my final post about wildlife in Yellowstone area. After visiting Yellowstone and seeing so many wild animals, I'm beyond impressed. This was the most surprising and delightful part of my trip, especially because it was completely unexpected. I love it!
What are your thoughts on wildlife watching? Where did you see the most wild animals?