Idle Thoughts

Survival …

It’s that time of the year again. It’s the depths of Yellowstone; it’s snow-coaches before dawn and after dusk; it’s
09/02/2014
It’s that time of the year again.

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It’s the depths of Yellowstone; it’s snow-coaches before dawn and after dusk; it’s bright sunshine, blizzards, brilliant sunrises, no sunrises; it’s expected and unexpected wildlife; it’s drama; it’s camaraderie and shared experience; but most of all … it’s cold, very cold.

We are heading out past the Trumpeter Swans on the Madison River for five days in the Yurt Camp again. There are pictures and a description of the camp from last year’s trip in a previous Idle Thought.

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On a pile of snow-covered logs in the edge of the Madison River, a Coyote with a downy under-feather stuck to its jaw is sniffing intently.

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Five of us watch with interest as he picks up a scent. Moving cautiously but determinedly, he steps carefully from the logs across a patch of icy water onto a rock and then to the road. With a wary eye on his watchers he crosses the road and starts on the track of whatever he smells as his next meal, with intense concentration he moves in a winding path, stopping occasionally to look around and sniff the air.

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Stopping at the base of a fir tree, he stretches himself such that he appears to be standing upright with his front paws extended into the lower branches. “That dog’s going to climb” one of the group announces to the derision of the rest of us, but climb he does! We watch in dumbstruck disbelief.

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Another of the group moves to the side and scans the higher reaches of the tree with binoculars, “there’s a Bobcat up the tree with something, looks like a Magpie”. Further disbelief, but there is! Not a Magpie though, a Merganser with bright red feet, yellow belly and lots of black and white feathers.

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With incredulity we watch the battle for breakfast play out. Using every anatomical feature at his disposal, he scrambles slowly up the fir, often with back legs dangling free; the bobcat hunkers down and grasps its prey harder; but eventually they meet. Coyote grabs Merganser, a struggle follows and then, tumbling over each other, all three fall from the tree in a flurry of fur and feathers. The outcome is not too difficult to predict, Coyote eats where he lands and Bobcat climbs a tree to watch malevolently.

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There are still only five of us watching the spectacle, but soon, large lenses begin to attract day-trip snowmobilers and snow-coachers, eventually hundreds over the several hours we remained to observe and photograph. We were asked what we were seeing, we explained, we were disbelieved. We heard tour guides explaining what was going on with not an ounce of veracity, indeed over the next few days we had others tell us of the remarkable goings-on on the Madison River, we smiled.

Eventually, Coyote sated wandered off, Bobcat came to the roadside and posed before heading back to his camouflaged blind to await another Merganser, Golden Eye or Trumpeter Swan.

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Indeed, four days later three Coyotes fought and took a Trumpeter Swan from a Bobcat – perhaps this one or perhaps the larger Bobcat we saw further downstream on our last day, which was also being stalked in its hunting grounds by a hungry Coyote, a Coyote with a large fresh bloody wound on its left ear.

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A Fairy Tale? A vivid imagination? Well, there is no need for sworn affidavits, five cameras do not lie! For another view take a look at Cindy's Blog.

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The next four days were a blur of 5.30am awakenings; extremes of weather; great companions; encounters with well adapted wildlife in it’s constant effort to survive; wonderful lighting; almost unbelievable scenery; frozen hands and feet; cheerful dinners, discussions, stories and poetry; and much more.

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My most memorable moment? Well, it could have been my glance at the thermometer on my 50 yard walk to the ‘Rest Rooms’ at 3.30am one morning, when the dial revealed the meeting of the Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales, a cool -40 whichever way you looked at it. It could have been, but it wasn’t!

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There were so many memorable moments: the Bobcat-Coyote match, my first close-up sighting of a Pine Marten, a herd of Bison ploughing down Alum Creek through virgin snow, the otters playing on the Yellowstone River whilst another Coyote watched intently from 20 yards away, a Wilson’s Snipe dodging around the small mounds of snow in a thermal run-off to stay out of our sight, the Trumpeter Swans flapping their wings in the sunlight, and much more.

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The whole experience was memorable, so memorable that I am breaking all Cindy’s Lightroom Rules by cherry-picking the images shown here to get this up. What else can I do, I haven’t even sorted the October and November images from South Africa yet. So, as there are no new albums in the Portfolio in immediate prospect, I just had to get this off my chest. I promise to do better in future.

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My sincere thanks to Cindy, Betty, Ross, Dan, Monica, Arden, Erica and all at the Yurt Camp, including our fellow guests.

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You should try it some day.
Idle Thoughts > Survival …