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Unusual Wildlife Captures this spring

Yesterday I hiked to one of my trail camera sites planning on retiring the camera for the summer. Because our deer and elk migrate into the high country around Yellowstone starting in May, there is little action with large predators. Grizzly bears start to disappear around early July. On the east side of Yellowstone in the high elevation cirques of the Absarokas, moth sites feed the bears. Cougars are following our deer which make one of the longest migrations in the ecosystem. Wolves probably completed denning and will be taking their pups to rendezvous sites with a babysitter or two, while the other adults forage for food.

Cougar print
Cougar print at 10,000 feet early June in the Beartooths. Lions are following the migrating elk

So you can imagine my surprise when I looked at my camera videos. My newest male cougar is still hanging around, marking his territory with scrapes. He appears to have beat off another large male that has one eye, the other probably lost in a fight. One-eye was last seen at the end of March.

New male in the area. Notice he has eyeshine in both eyes, distinguishing him from One-Eye

Even more exciting, I caught a mating pair of grizzlies. By the time of the year, and the fact that these are two adults, you can be sure this video is a male following a female in estrus.

Large male grizzly. See video link for full story

In summer, when grizzlies disperse for high elevations, the black bears take over. Male black bears will make sure to display who is boss by tree rubbing, destroying cameras, and stomping which also puts down their scent. Interestingly, grizzlies know they are the real top of the food chain and could care less about cameras, although they do rub trees, both males and females. Here is a video of a grizzly female with two cubs spending time tree marking with her cubs following suit.

Mama Grizzly. See video link for story

On a very interesting note, I camera-captured two blonde animals this spring—a fox and a black bear—both fairly rare. To understand this in greater depth, I contacted Jim Halfpenny, well-known mammalogist and tracker. Jim told me he had never seen a fox this blonde, whether at fur sales or in the field. He thought maybe this fox could be a fur farm escapee, but in my inquiries we haven’t had a fox farm in the Big Horn Basin since 1996, plus I live in the high mountains next to Yellowstone so the mystery continues. In addition I’ve never had a fox show up at this location before. This little blonde red fox continued to visit this site over the course of several months, which adds to the mystery.

Blonde phase Red Fox. See the entire video via link above

The blonde phase black bear is also unusual around these parts. Halfpenny told me he had only seen one briefly around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and never as blonde as this one. Color phases of black bears are not unusual, but the blonde phase is the rarest. Here is a link to an interesting breakdown of color phases of black bears in North America. Although it is presented by a hunter, it is informative. I do NOT support any trophy hunting, but I encourage you to watch this for information. No actual hunting is in the video.

A large carnivore biologist who I showed the videos to had an interesting thought. “Wonder if this is a genetic expression due to the initiation of climate change,” he wrote me. Thinking outside the box leads to interesting possibilities.

Blonde phase Black Bear. See video via link above

Finally, my new book Shadow Landscape is now available on Amazon. These are stories of wildlife encounters I’ve wanted to tell for a long time. I appreciate all my readers and followers. Thanks for your interest in our iconic wildlife.