Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grizzly Bears

Grizzly bears in the distance appeared as tiny dots in the Lamar Valley. We saw a bunch of people on a knoll looking up at Specimen Ridge through scopes; it was a guide who had spotted two mating grizzlies. It was true that through the scope one could make out two bears on top of each other, but not well enough to see their faces or really observe their activities with any level of detail; I was disappointed with how faaaaaar away they were. We later saw one across the valley and watched it through the scope as both a bison and a coyote moved well away from it as it lumbered along the far side of a river bank.

After a couple days we finally saw one close by the road, on the other side of some grass. The bear was stopping traffic for a long way up the valley so a Ranger was attempting to manage traffic, and every time the bear looked up all the cameras clicked madly. It was hard to get a photo because we were on the edge of the road with lots of traffic, packed with a lot of people, and the bear was in tall grass which often blocked the view or skewed the focus. But, he or she was closer than I had ever been to a bear and I enjoyed the experience anyway. I did not get super photos, but the best ones are here.

In the Hayden Valley, we saw two grizzlies high up in a gulch, and then again a little farther up valley. They were only visible with scopes. It was the Friday night before Labor Day Weekend and more people were flooding the park. They created a traffic jam to look at the bears, and many were making comments so stupid it was hard to enjoy looking at the bears, so that viewing was not as pleasant. But, still, it was nice to spot and watch bears, I just find scope watching hard on the eyes and not nearly as nice as sitting or standing and observing animal behavior over time.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Black Bears

Yellowstone is supposed to be good for bear viewing in the spring, and since I've not seen bears up close outside the zoo other than a few fleeting glances while camping or rafting, I was really hoping we'd see some this trip. We did, but at first only through a spotting scope a looooong ways away. We saw a black bear and her two cubs in the distance in the Lamar Valley. One of the cubs stuck close to her and one was always a long way off, very independent. I was disappointed they were so far away because I could not observe their behavior without eye strain, or see their faces. I was hoping we'd get a closer encounter, and we did.

We saw a black bear very close to the road, in a grassy depression, also in the Lamar Valley. I never got a great face shot, the one on the right is the best one of that series. The next day I think we probably saw the same bear a bit farther away as it was down the road from where our initial close sighting was. The best of that series is the photo on the left, as my digital zoom pics are slightly out of focus.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yellowstone Wildlife Viewing

Having been to Yellowstone most recently in winter (New Years 2008) we decided we'd go in Spring and see what wildlife we could see before high season began. The timing turned out well - we planned to leave as Memorial Day Weekend began and had several days of viewing before then. As we were leaving the line of cars to get into the park was so long we were really, really happy to be getting out then! So if you plan a trip, it might be a good idea to aim for the shoulder season of early spring or late fall, because the frustrations of dealing with cars and people really impact the pleasure of wildlife viewing.

If animals are your focus, plan to spend the most time in the Lamar Valley. The closest place to stay and be in the valley for early viewing at first light is Cook City, MT, which has a few (very few) places you can get a room. The second best option is Gardiner, MT near the north entrance, and the third choice would be West Yellowstone. This trip we were in Gardiner. We intended to spend most of our time in the Lamar Valley with a few trips to Hayden Valley. We ended up doing all the open roads in the park as their were road closures in two sections, making us take the long way around. By far the most wildlife was in the Lamar Valley with only a bit in Hayden and little to none elsewhere.

If you plan some hikes, beware that many trails are closed due to kills near the trails that attract bears, so check the ranger station for open trails, closures, and data on road closures - due to construction, flooding, or snow yet to be removed. The Tower to Canyon road is not open in early spring, fyi.

If at all possible, bring a camera, binoculars for all people traveling, a cooler of beverages so you don't have to stop/shop in the park, sunscreen (you'll burn fast at these elevations), fleece and gloves, etc. for warmth in the morning and evening when it is still frosty, and a spotting scope with tripod. We did not have a spotting scope but knew it was needed from a past trip, so we posted an ad on Craigslist and rented one for 10 days from a local guy for $25 - well worth it!!! There are things you simply cannot see without a scope, and the same is true for binoculars.

To see the best stuff, you have to get up early to be in the Lamar Valley at first light. That's your best chance to catch wolves, and to see large carnivores on a kill. That means getting up at 4am if you are in Gardiner, on the road by 4:30am - it takes an hour to get to the valley and first light is around 5:30am. If you stay in Cook City you can probably safely leave at 5:00am. In the area closest to Cook City, look for moose. They like the willows in that area, between the east end of the Lamar Valley and the east edge of the park. Coyotes are easily seen in the morning. Prarie dogs are in sagebrush everywhere if you sit still a minute and wait for them to appear. Look on the north side of the car whenever there is water near the car for beaver. Look at the treeline in the valley for black bears, and out in the open for grizzlies. Bears are often simply small dots, so without a scope you can't see them at all. Sometimes you can see one close but more often they are far away. Wolves can sometimes be seen with the eye or binoculars but a scope is often necessary there too. The second best time for viewing is in the evening from about 6pm to 9pm. During mid-day many of the animals are resting and most carnivores are inactive.

I'll be posting our favorite photos in the days and weeks to come. Overall it was a great trip - we were lucky enough to see wolves several times, several bears, baby bison (so cute!), lots of elk, deer and bison, tons of birds, as well as beaver, badger, prarie dogs, was very good.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Innovation to Protect Congo Gorillas

Mountain gorillas only survive in one tiny area on planet earth. That area is geo-politically divided into Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Uganda and Rwanda bring in a lot of tourist dollars to protect gorillas and gorilla tourism is a big part of the economy. Congo has a lot more trouble because it is generally considered not safe for tourism. So if a habituated gorilla travels from Rwanda and Uganda into Congo, it may not have the protection of rangers and there are a lot more risks: more poaching, more deforestation, etc.

I regularly read the blog of the Congo gorilla park. In the last six months they have lost at least two rangers who were killed in the line of duty protecting gorillas. They have rescued and gotten to a safe rehab facility baby chimps and baby gorillas that were in horrible conditions in captivity for the illegal pet trade. They have been driven from the park by rebels and retaken their ground. They have witnesses gorilla births and deaths, chronicled what gorillas they have seen, and started a very innovative program making briquettes and teaching villagers how to do so. The briquette program helps stop deforestation as people no longer have to cut trees for wood. They have worked hard on getting machines up and running which are very simple and teaching villagers how to use them, and why they should. Under the most adverse conditions, these people work to protect the park and the gorillas in it.

They have a new innovative program where for $15 a month you can sponsor a segment of the forest and keep it free from snares. I'm sponsoring Sector 69. I strongly encourage you to consider supporting a sector as well. The funds are needed and you know exactly how they are being used, to find a ranger to protect a specific area, and you will get documentation of the efforts in that area. The gorillas in Congo can't count on tourist dollars but they can count on mine. I have tremendous respect for the people sacrificing on the ground for their protection.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Fosters...

Here is the mother cat and the third of her three kittens. They need in a recession those are hard to find.

Foster Kittens Are Ready to Go

These kittens are fosters for the Idaho Humane Society. They got fixed today and are recovering quickly. All they need now is to find good permanent homes. They are happy, playful, energetic and adorable, like all kittens! These were well socialized when I got them and they have gotten even friendlier while here. Soon I'll post pics of their mom and sibling. If you know anyone interested they are on the website as of tomorrow and you can find them by searching for "Heather" as that will bring up all my foster listings.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jasper the Foster Aussie

Jasper has been with us about a month, after getting bailed out of a high-kill shelter in Paul, Idaho. Australian Shepherd Rescue took him in, and we foster for them as well as IHS. This particular dog is being sponsored by STAAR, Second Time Around Aussie Rescue. If you are interested, you can apply to adopt him on their website,

Most breeds have rescue groups dedicated to saving purebreds of that breed from shelters. If you really want a certain breed, breed rescue is a great way to go instead of a breeder. The world, sadly, does not need more dogs - there are too many now. So rather than make breeding profitable, consider breed rescue or your local shelter if you're considering a new pet.

Jasper is a fun dog for the most part. He is neutered and we helped him get over that and a subsequent infection. We got him eating again - he was skin and bones when he came. He and Simon LOVE to wrestle and they love to play together and often lay butt to butt. He loves rawhide chews, and he is quite smart. Hopefully he will find his forever home soon. If you know anyone in the market for a new dog who can handle having a very smart one, please let them know about Jasper! He knows basic obedience and is not hyper like some herding dogs. He has great energy though and would love a runner or someone who will exercise him regularly!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Lippizzaner Stallions

Lippizzaner Stallions are in Boise, at the Qwest arena, and I went to see them Saturday night. I saw them several years ago and it was an interesting show, so I decided to go again as long as they were here. It was much as I remembered it, and an enjoyable evening for the horse lover. These stallions were trained for cetain moves in battle, and one can see how they would come in handy, but it's amazing to think that there was a time when practically everyone knew how to ride and when there were many horses trained to such a high level. I wonder how few horses there are in the world compared to what there once were. The Lippizzaner Stallions have an interesting history and are beautiful to watch. Photography was allowed, though I only had my small camera so the photo quality isn't great. We did enjoy front row seats and so the horses were close enough to reach out and touch, which was quite cool.

Awesome undersea photos

Check out these fabulous underwater photos from National Georgraphic - every one is a wonder!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Parent's Choice? Hmmmm

A nice reader let me know that somehow this blog was nominated for a Nickelodean Parent's choice Award for best local blog in Boise. To vote, go to their website:

That's very kind of someone, so thanks for the nomination!