Winter Ecology

dr. james halfpenny.jpg.jpgToday I played hooky from work--with the approval of my boss--and attended a Yellowstone Association class, Skis Across Yellowstone. Dr. James Halfpenny (Jim) taught the class and literally wrote the book on our subject matter--his Winter: An Ecological Handbook is one of the definitive works on winter ecology.

An amazing naturalist and educator with over a thirty-year history in Yellowstone and a global travel log to be envied, he also runs an ecology education center and museum in Gardiner that offers field courses in Yellowstone and around the world. I'm saving my pennies so I can attend his Polar Bears of the Arctic trip.

lamar buffalo ranch.jpg.jpgThe class returned me to my second favorite place on earth (Tuolumne Meadows being my first)--Lamar Valley. After a cozy night in my cabin, I arose early and joined the faithful wolf watching crew (with Rick and his yellow Xterra) at Slough Creek campground. I gazed at members of the Druid pack while they frolicked on Specimen Ridge. One wolf played with what appeared to be a discarded radio collar; another bantered with ravens. Before they trotted off into the forest the pack provided us with a farewell group howl. (Sorry-still no wolf photos--my scope adaptor for my camera is still on order).

After breakfast, Jim led the class on a delightful ski along the base of Barronette peak. We dug snowpits, took temperature and density measurements, and learned terms like depth hoar. I also enthusiastically volunteered to help with counting animal tracks using a really cool GPS device. We observed the tracks of multiple snowshoe hares, grouse, martens, coyotes, moose, and one snowshoer.

big horn sheep near roosevelt.jpg.jpgOn my return trip home I navigated several bison jams and stopped once more at Slough Creek to watch wolves. Near Roosevelt, I turned a corner and suddenly beheld a bighorn sheep not five feet from the road. My failed quest over the weekend had been suddenly realized. I parked the car and got my camera ready. He munched away, and considered me for only a moment before resuming his meal. With my naked eye I could count the ridges on his horns. I was mesmerized and sat on a rock for a half an hour simply watching him nibble forage.