Red Fox in Grand Teton

There are few things I find more visually striking than a red fox against the white snow. I found this fox as it was hunting for rodents under the snow. The fox will listen carefully for movement under the snow, turning its head back and forth to pin point the sound before leaping into the air and diving head first into the snow.

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Lodgepole Pine

Lodgepole pine dominates the Greater Yellowstone landscape. The drastically varying heights of the trees are a poignant reminder of a powerful force in the ecosystem, that of fire. This remaining stand of trees high above the Madison River has always impressed me. These few trees somehow survived while everything around them burned to the ground. Though we feel a sense of loss after a major burn, fire is not necessarily a bad thing, nor does it get the last say when it comes to these trees.

Lodgepole Pine

The lodgepole pine is equipped to respond to fire in a remarkable way. Their secret is found in a condition called serotiny. Now that we got the fancy word out of the way, what does it even mean? Many of the female cones produced by lodgepole pine remain closed, until they are met with the extreme heat of a fire, at which time the cones open and disperse seeds all over the forest floor. This is why you see such a high density of young trees growing in areas that have previously burned. The smaller trees pictured in the foreground here are 30 years old! They have a long way to go before reaching the heights of their forbears.

Yellowstone Fires

The lodgepole pine, making up 80% of the Yellowstone forest, is remarkably resilient in its ability to grow in less than ideal conditions. Here, the poor conditions eventually took their toll. The wet and mineral laden sulfuric soil around hydrothermal features is a tough place to survive. 

Yellowstone Thermal

These trees are known as bobby socks trees because of the white section on the lower trunk which resembles bobby socks. As the trees absorb the water from hydrothermal runoff they also take in minerals. When the water evaporates, the minerals remain and turn the bottom of the trees white. 

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Summer Elk Behavior

While the cow elk are busy raising their young, the bulls stick together in small bachelor herds. Thanks to the nutritious grazing opportunities summer provides, their antlers, covered in velvet, begin regrowing up to an inch per day.

Teton Elk
A cow elk walks the bank of the Madison River with her newborn calf.

A cow elk walks the bank of the Madison River with her newborn calf.

Two newborn elk calves prepare to cross the Madison river to join their mothers.

Two newborn elk calves prepare to cross the Madison river to join their mothers.

Winter Wildlife Feature III - River Otters

There is little question that the next species in my series of winter wildlife finds the most creative ways to have fun. Humans aren’t the only ones enthralled with the feeling of sliding on snow. While we use skis, boards, or sleds, river otters need look no further than their long and slender bodies. When on land, otters cover ground with a hop, hop, slide, hop, hop, slide movement pattern. Sliding on the snow and ice certainly allows them to travel more efficiently, but spend any time with otters and there’s no denying the routine is as much, if not more, for fun as it is for practicality. 

Yellowstone River Otters
River Otters Sliding


Other than playful antics to keep their mind off the cold, otters have some impressive adaptations and strategies for winter survival. River otter’s lengthy guard hairs, and dense underfur, which traps insulating air, keeps them warm in extreme temperatures. On top of that, oil secreted from the sebaceous gland actually waterproofs their coat, preventing water from reaching their skin. To remain well insulated they must replace the air in their underfur after swimming, and they do this by rolling around in the snow, and yes, you’ve guessed it, playfully. 
Since the water temperatures are warmer than the air, otters opt to spend more time underwater. They will often travel and hunt underneath the ice shelves which line the rivers and creeks during winter months. An otter may stay below the ice indefinitely by breathing in the air pockets trapped beneath the ice.

River Otter Swimming