There are benefits and drawbacks to visiting Yellowstone at any given time of the year. There are many things I love about the fall, one of which is the beautiful winter coats that the mammals wear in preparation for the harsh winter. This coyote is a good example of the rich, full coats that the mammals put on as the weather gets colder. Combined with the weight they put on while food is plentiful, the animals are looking their best as the leaves turn golden.
On my visit to Yellowstone this fall, I came north from the Tetons and through the south entrance into the park. On the road between West Thumb and Bridge Bay, I noticed a small group of people gathered beside a large pullout. I pulled over as well and discovered they were watching a coyote in a field on the far side of a small pond. I took some pictures with a telephoto lens and was delighted to find a second coyote as well, although that one rarely showed itself. The rest of the folks soon left after both coyotes disappeared from sight and.
I waited for a bit to see if they would reappear, and thankfully one of them did. Not only did it come back into view, but it actually came down into the pond to hunt. It never caught anything, but it was fascinating to watch it walk on top of the small logs laying in the shallow water and then spring into the water after its prey.
I’ve seen coyotes hunt in fields on many occasions, but this was my first chance to see one work a pond like this. From a photography persepctive, It was also a nice chance to work with reflections, as the pond was fairly still. I’d normally prefer the coyote to be farther to the right in the image, to better balance the disturbed water at the left edge, but the background worked better from this perspective.
This theme of both photography and observation would continue during the entire Yellowstone visit — not only did I have a chance to take some nice pictures, but I also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time watching animal behavior as well. This was a particular delight for me, as its one of the things that keeps the park from feeling like nothing more than a natural amusement park.
In a world where might makes right, being small wouldn’t seem to have any advantages. Indeed, whenever the mother of this cub and its twin sensed danger from another adult bear in the area, she’d send the little ones scurrying up into the trees.
When it came time to feed, however, this little cub discovered its small size gave it an advantage. As they fatten themselves for the winter, one of the bears prime food sources is the nuts stored in the cone of the white pine. Bears scavenge the cones from the forest floor, they raid the caches of the red squirrels, they climb the trees to eat the cones in the trees, and they even knock off branches to get to the cones on smaller branches they can’t reach.
When the mother sent the two cubs into this tree, one stayed about half way up, but this one went straight to the top. Even after the other cub climbed down and began to wander with the mother, this one stayed up in the treetop, happy and content. If you look at the picture, it becomes obvious why. The larger bears couldn’t climb into the thin branches at the top of the tree, so this part still had plenty of pine cones, ripe for the picking for the adventurous cub.
Like a kid in a candy store, there were more cones at the treetop than the cub could possibly eat, but it stayed for quite some time, feasting on the pine cone treasure it had discovered.