The 2014 Field Guides Yellowstone In Winter tour materialized into a wonderful experience, right up there as one of the best. 2014 also marked the 15th anniversary of our inception of the YIW tour. We think it offers a perfect Yellowstone winter experience, combining Yellowstone birds and mammals with the field experience of your guides, former rangers in the park.
Snow and cold are necessary for good wildlife viewing results, and we managed to have both. The lowest temperatures on this trip reached only -17F, but the conditions were amazing. We basically had eight days of incredibly unseasonable weather, and we can never recollect seeing Yellowstone so photogenic. The diamond dust (ice crystals) in the air slightly blocked out the direct sun, allowing for incredible shadows on the landscape. Some of us even got to see a rare phenomenon known as a fogbow or steambow, in others words an arch of steam surrounding the sun and mimicking a rainbow. We also found rare ice crystals that resembled bird feathers, hence the term "feather crystals." In spite of the mild conditions in the valleys, we ended up tallying 52 species of birds and 16 species of mammals, similar to our 2013 tallies. These are expected numbers for birds and slightly above expected numbers of mammals for a YIW tour. Bird highlights included super looks at three Prairie Falcons at separate locations. We also found two cooperative Merlins (both females, one taiga form of columbarius race and one prairie or Northern Great Plains form, richardsonii).
Additionally we found the following birds worthy of note: 130 Bohemian Waxwings, 56 American Dippers, and super looks at a total of 7 Red Crossbills on two separate occasions. Other highlight birds included one Canvasback and one Tundra Swan. Our biggest bird numbers were: 55 Trumpeter Swans, 180 Barrow's Goldeneyes, 210 Common Goldeneyes, 25 Golden Eagles, 70 Bald Eagles, 60 Rough-legged Hawks, 25 Red-tailed Hawks (which included one dark morph Harlan's), 140 Eurasian Collared-Doves, 48 Pinyon Jays, 45 Townsend's Solitaires, and 5 Pine Grosbeaks. And surprisingly, 4 Wild Turkeys in isolated Silver Gate, Montana, a first ever in this heavy snow area (they were being fed by locals).
We watched some wonderful wildlife behaviors as well: dozens of ravens attacking two adult Golden Eagles on the Madison River; close views of Red Crossbills at West Thumb; close-up views of diving dippers; a male otter surfacing in a thermal hole only to mark its territory; two Red Foxes hunting for voles.
Our mammal list was quite impressive: 2 Gray Wolves, 16 Coyotes, 700 Elk, 240 Mule Deer, 1100 White-tails, 140 Pronghorn, 2,000+ Bison, 1 White-tailed Jackrabbit, 2 Red Foxes, and 67 Bighorn Sheep. The rarest mammals on this tour were a NA River Otter, a Pine Marten, and two bull Moose (they are becoming a rarity). Very few groups came in contact with these last three species. Being at the right place at the right time helps immensely.
We saw very few visitors during our stay, in fact probably fewer than 800 people in YNP. Our group dynamics were fabulous, and the group jelled from the get go. We shared a lot of great experiences with wildlife, telling personal stories, and laughing. The wildlife was sensational, but the Yellowstone thermal features stole the show. Yellowstone continues to be a magical place in the winter, a wonderland like no other. Our Field Guides Yellowstone In Winter tour continues to be one of North America's best-kept secrets.
Thanks so much for traveling with us, and for letting us share with you this unique experience. Take good care until we meet again!
--Terry and Karen
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Totals for the tour: 52 bird taxa and 16 mammal taxa