Adventures in Yellowstone: Spring 2022

swalker

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Kevin, I have been a lover of nature all my life. I have spent a lot of time outdoors hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, and biking. It is my refuge. I did not know you had a career protecting special places. I would love to hear more about that!

For everyone else, thanks for all the feedback. I really appreciate it.

The next story I am going to share involves me being really careless!

Harlequin ducks are amazing. They are incredibly stout and breed in fast moving water.

I have read a book that claims there are no harlequin ducks in Yellowstone and never have been. Yet, I have observed harlequin ducks several times at the LeHardy rapids along the Yellowstone river in Yellowstone National Park.

The ducks arrive in early to mid spring and usually depart well before spring is over. During this time, the males are in their breeding plumage, which is spectacular.

There is a nice boardwalk that leads down to the Yellowstone river where the ducks can be viewed. That boardwalk has two entrances. When entering from the upstream entrance, there are several flights of stairs that must be negotiated. Obviously, that does not work with a wheelchair.

So, I use the downstream entrance, which requires me to negotiate a single-track trail, through and around mud puddles up onto and off of boardwalks, etc. I would guess it is about a quarter of a mile from the parking area to the viewing spot. Normally, it is not a challenging trail for the wheelchair.

Over recent years, one part of the trail has been eroded away. That spot is right at the transition from a boardwalk onto the dirt trail and the trail makes about a 90 degree turn to the right at that place. The transition from the boardwalk to the dirt trail has a drop of a few inches.

My wife and I went one day and arrived to view and photograph the harlequin ducks. Unfortunately, we arrived a bit after the best light was gone from the ducks. While negotiating the difficult spot in the trail described above, my wheelchair bottomed out on the transition from boardwalk to trail. The wheelchair's geometry is such that I suspected if I negotiated that bit going backwards I would probably make it with no problem. I filed that tidbit of information away in case I had an opportunity to view the ducks again.

A couple of days later, my wife had a medical issue and needed to stay back at the campground. I ventured forth on my own and decided to try to get to the ducks in better light.

I unloaded from the wheelchair van, put all the camera equipment in my lap, and headed out for the trail. When I got to the difficult part of the trail, I met a gentleman who let me know there was a black bear further up the road! Great! I knew where I would head after taking pictures of the ducks.

I turned the wheelchair around and headed backwards off the difficult transition while continuing to discuss bears with the kind gentleman. That was a mistake!

Remember that I mentioned the trail made a 90 degree turn and that the trail was washed out? Well. I got distracted and wound up backing my wheelchair off the trail! What a disaster. The wheelchair and I dropped about 3 vertical feet (close to a meter). I was sure the wheelchair was going to roll. I had all my camera equipment in my lap and could do nothing but hunker down and enjoy the ride!

The wheelchair and I finally came to a stop. Fortunately, the wheelchair stayed upright. I was in a real pickle. I could not get the camera gear out of my lap. I really could not do much of anything!

The kind gentleman immediately came to my aid and hoisted the camera equipment off my lap and set it on the bank. I was then able to extricate myself from the wheelchair (I can still stand, transfer, and walk a few steps). With his help, I was able to use the wheelchair controls to turn the wheelchair around so the drive wheels were on the downhill side. He then stood above the wheelchair and pulled really hard while I used the joystick to back the wheelchair up the bank. He did all the work, which was substantial. We eventually got the wheelchair back up onto the trail. I don't know how he managed to do that, but he did. The wheelchair weighs over 400 pounds!

During all this, we heard the dreadful sound of my camera equipment taking a tumble down the steep bank.

I got settled back into the wheelchair while he retrieved the camera equipment. It was pretty dirty and had a few dents in it. I thanked him for his help and then proceeded on to where I could view and photograph the ducks.

By the time I got to the ducks, the best light had once again left us for the day. I took quite a few pictures, mostly to test out the camera and lens. I will include some of those pictures in this post.

It was quite the adventure. I really enjoyed seeing the ducks
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, but I am not sure if I should do that trail again:).

When we got back from the trip I shipped the camera equipment to Nikon to have them repair it. The repairs were surprisingly extensive. I received the repaired equipment back a couple of days ago and it all looks as good as new.

So, that is my story of watching harlequin ducks in Yellowstone. I was pretty rattled by the whole episode, but in the end it was just a bit of extra adventure.

Steve
 

swalker

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There is a wonderful great blue heron rookery along the Yellowstone river near the Nez Perce Ford picnic area. In the springtime, the the many nests in the rookery are filled with chicks and adult great blue herons.

These are amazing birds that primarily catch fish and swallow them whole. They can swallow amazingly large fish and it is fascinating to watch them when they are feeding. They then fly back to their nest and regurgitate the fish to feed it to the chicks.

When feeding, great blue herons stand motionless in the water until a fish swims within reach. Then the heron will suddenly plunge its head into the water and grab the unsuspecting fish.

Over the years, I have spent many hours watching the adults feed in various parts of the Yellowstone river. One particular spot that is good for watching and taking pictures is where Elk Antler creek flows into the Yellowstone.

On this trip, I stopped by one evening and found a beautiful great blue heron feeding there. As always, it was great to watch. There is a pullout out that location, so I was able to get out the camera and take a few pictures.

It was great to spend some time with the heron. I watched it miss on many of its tries, but it did eventually catch a fish.

While I don't have any great pictures of the fish it caught, I thought I would share some of the pictures of it as it was fishing.

Steve


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ShiftKicker

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Fabulous pictures- as usual. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures.

What amazes me is that blue herons nest in trees. For some reason that just doesn't seem right to me- their long legs and large wingspan would make it very awkward to maneuver in foliage. We have a rookery in one of our local urban parks- which has expanded over the years and now extends over the tennis courts. As you can imagine, regurgitated fish and all manner of foul debris is flung from the nests onto the tennis courts. Despite the expected complaints, those courts are now usually blocked off so the herons can raise their babies in peace and tennis players' whites are safe from splatters.
 
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