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It’s in your nature: Shrinking My Bucket List

I am a member of the great LAHS Class of 1971.

If you’re a bit proficient in math, its easy to figure out I’ll soon have spent ¾ of a century on this earth.

I also know that after three knee replacements and number four scheduled in a couple of weeks, I don’t know how many miles are left in these beat up legs of mine.

So, why not find a way to get some of those bucket list items checked off. I decided that I didn’t get to see enough of Yellowstone National Park last summer.

Three days isn’t enough time to “cover” a park that spans 3,418 square miles (a little smaller than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.)

I hardly “touched” any of the northern end of the park, so this year I flew into Bozeman, Montana, and drove to Gardiner, literally bordering the park.

The North Entrance is about a mile from town and is one of the five entrances into Yellowstone National Park.

The northern area of the park probably has the least of the thermal activity. Not that I don’t think geysers and vents and mud pots aren’t neat, but remember, I’m a nature nut. I had four complete days to explore, and after buying a can of “bear spray,” I was ready. I’m always hoping to add to my bird life list, and I had a goal to find a few new birds. I added four new ones.

On the first day, I found a one-way, dirt, narrow and twisty road called Blacktail Drive. I was seeing so much new terrain and wildlife that one day it took 4 ½ hours to travel the six miles, stopping, listening, and hiking narrow trails.

On my last day, I encountered a fresh one-inch snow covering. That seemed to “dampen” the birds’ singing or maybe it was the 35-degree temps and occasional flurries. A second trip on that loop hours later was more productive.

If you enjoy nature and the prospect of seeing beautiful vistas, snow-covered mountain peaks, sub-alpine habitats, grasslands, sagebrush, narrow canyons, rushing mountain streams, and amazing birds and animals I heartily recommend spending a few days in any of the park’s regions. If wildlife is your bag, as it is mine, spend a bunch of your time using the Park’s north entrance and “hit” the Lamar Valley. I’m sharing some photos of birds the Lamar Valley has to offer.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: The recent sixday heat wave caused many amphibians to seek refuge from the dangerous hot temperatures. They can go into a “hibernation” type mode in summer called: A. estivation B. echolocation C. sublimation D. couch potato mode

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: It is indeed true that to help a green frog, toad or bullfrog swallow their food, their eyes push down into the roof of the mouth to help push the food back to the glottis.

The Rocky Mountain cousin of our spectacular scarlet tanager is the Western tanager. I saw and heard them on each of the days I criss-crossed the northern areas of Yellowstone National Park. I saw them in the fir/spruce covered slopes and even in sage brush areas with few trees. They were very vocal in June much like our “scarlet.”
Another western version of one of our local birds is the green-tailed towhee. It was not very common in this region of the “park,” but seems to favor the sagebrush and low vegetation. Our eastern towhee is a bit larger.
Last year, I added many more birds to my life list, because I spent more time looking for waterfowl on Yellowstone Lake. However, the northern part of the “park” has many small ponds edged in cattails and reeds. Most of those ponds held the active and entertaining coots.
Also found feeding and cackling around these ponds is the western version of our red-winged blackbird, the yellow-headed blackbird. They are larger than the “redwings” and have that striking yellow head, nape and upper breast.
Although not a “life” bird for me, the first bird I sought on this trip was the mountain bluebird. They have much of the same habits as its eastern cousin but they live at much higher elevations. I observed some at elevations of about 9,000 feet. They too like open areas and this male was feeding in the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor area.
I didn't have to move at all when a black-billed magpie bullied in and took the same perch as the mountain bluebird. Magpies are about crow sized but have a butterfly type flight with their long tail flowing behind them. I saw most around visitor areas but they are scattered around this northern region in a variety of habitats.
While our local indigo buntings are a deep indigo color on their entire body, the lazuli bunting, Yellowstone's western bunting species, is lighter blue with a white belly/chest.
Maybe my “neatest” find was the dusky grouse. It is a little larger than our state bird, the ruffed grouse. It displays quite uniquely trying to attract a mate. I will add much more about this bird in a future column.
Expecting to find them along our seashores, the white pelicans do breed in the Yellowstone area. This pair was busy preening while perched on a stony little island in the Yellowstone River. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Sandhill cranes aren't numerous, but can be found at various areas of the park. I didn't see chicks with this pair, but a day earlier along the blacktail drive, “mom and dad crane” hustled their chicken-sized chicks to safety when I stopped to attempt photographing them.
While everyone back home was sweltering at the beginning of our long heat wave, I was treated to a fresh coating of snow on the morning of June 18, The car thermometer hovered around 34 or 35 degrees the first few hours that morning in the mountains. If you travel in June there, it's great for birds and wildlife sightings, but be prepared for some cold weather as well.
The Brewer's blackbird is Yellowstone's version of our grackles here in Pennsylvania and are rather common, especially near water sources. In good lighting, their black feathers have a neat iridescence.