Sunday, April 5, 2009

I spend too much time...

Far too many hours of my life are spent staring at Web cams. Some day, when I'm retired (psst! Economy! Pick up fast, will you please?!?), I can spend my time in situ, off my behind in front of my computer and on my feet in front of the land- and wildlife-scapes I love so much. I've mentioned several of my favorite Greater Yellowstone area Web cams before: the Henry's Fork cam with its periodic moose and bird sightings; the Corwin Springs cam pointed from outside Yellowstone National Park at Electric Peak that is within its borders; and the camera in the fire lookout on top of Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone (out of commission at the moment, until the snows melt and technicians can get up up to fix it). Others I keep a sharp eye on include many in the Grand Teton area. The scenery, often dramatic with mountain weather and light, is heart-lifting; the geology-in-the-making around Yellowstone's Old Faithful (the Upper Geyser Basin) is amazing. But the opportunity to observe wildlife, sitting here in Chicago glued to my chair, is the best thrill of all, at least until I can be there in body as well as spirit. The live streaming Old Faithful-Upper Geyser Basin cam, when unattended, is pointed at (drum roll) the Old Faithful geyser scinter cone, ever ready to catch an eruption. Happily, it is occasionally attended by alert operators in Yellowstone and elsewhere in the country, who can zoom, pan and tilt it. Once in a while we get lucky, and wildlife happens by when the cam is attended; David M recently posted a few minutes of a coyote's visit. In the last few days, friends who work at the UGB report a grizzly bear hanging out. Yesterday numbers of people saw it on the live streaming cam (while I was out doing errands, drat!) and one got this still capture.

These are the quiet weeks in Yellowstone. The gates have been closed to oversnow vehicles, and deep in the interior, park and concessionaire staff are readying for opening day, when the roads (at least those at lower elevations) open to auto traffic again. My friends who live in the area are champing at the bit for the day when they can again visit the heart of their favorite place on earth, April 17 this year. I, however, love the peace of the in-between season as viewed through the cams. Humans rarely come into view once snow mobile season has ended.
So what is the bear doing in this normally heavily touristed site? When grizzlies awaken from their winter snooze, they've very, very hungry. The easiest source of quick high quality nutrition is winter kill, mostly ungulates that didn't make it through the deprivations of the season, perfectly-preserved bear food thanks to persistent subfreezing temperatures. Because of the warmth of the ground and air, and thus the thin snow cover, ungulates such as bison and elk do well to spend the winters in there. In spite of the less harsh conditions in the thermal areas, though, come the end of winter there is still an attractive concentration of carrion. Some creatures just collapse from undernnutrition and exposure, and others slide into a boiling hot spring and cook to death.

Counting the days (51) until I can be there again to see for myself.

Thanks to the National Park Service for this wonderful reference photo (for the still cam).

1 comment:

  1. Neat post Veronica. In 1954 I was camped with my parents in the Upper Geyser Basin at the Old Faithful campground. Dump feeding bears and bear jams were the rule. I was old enough to be able wander on my own through the geyser area by my usually overcautious mother. I bought a book on geysers at the store, have treasured it ever since and remain as fascinated by Yellowstone to this day as that wide eyed boy I once was....