After a sound breakfast courtesy of Grumbles, chef extraordinaire and veteran environmental activist, we set off into the park along the south-side of Duck Creek. A convocation of ten bald eagles were settled on the frozen Hebgen Lake; feeding on fish or waterfowl too slow to escape the curtain of ice as it closed over the last remaining open water. Winter has arrived.
The hoar frost had formed thick on the trees. The mist from which it magically coalesced had only just cleared from Duck Creek which snakes through the willow into Hebgen Lake. A few remaining iridescent flakes sparkled in the air against a cloudless sky.
The earth seemed to shatter with every step; the ground encrusted with countless icy shards following the silent freeze of the night. We came across fresh wolf tracks, interspersed with elk prints. A game of 'cat and mouse' and clearly taken place during the night. We followed the wolf tracks for a time until they crossed the creek and disappeared. A buffalo grazed peacefully on the grassy slope across the valley, disinterested in our clumsy posse, tripping through the willow and pine.
Feeding into Duck Creek is Richard's Pond. Frosty inflorescences grew out of the ice like ghostly roses, pristine in the weak winter sun. We crouched low in the brush overlooking Richard's Pond and were rewarded for our stealth as two trumpeter swans flew just feet over our heads in steady formation, calling out to one another as if choreographing an aerial ballet.
Hiking back we heard an enormous crash in the creek. Upon further investigation, we concluded that a sheet of ice had succumbed to the sun's warmth and the creek's undercurrent, breaking free and being driven hard against other floes. We had half expected to find a moose standing knee-deep in the middle of the creek, its dreams of crossing with dry feet shattered.
As we approached the final leg of our journey, the huge bull bison seemed to have dematerialised, as they are very well able to do in a moment. However, buffalo always leave signs; in this case a young lodgepole, stripped of bark and covered in the downy fur of buffalos' undercoats.
In just three hours, we had seen, or seen recent evidence of; wolves, bison, otters, moose, elk and many smaller mammals, also trumpeters, bald eagles and osprey.
BFC volunteers spend every day immersing themselves in and protecting the wildness of the Greater Yellowstone, by fighting for some of the last remaining wild American bison.
~ Michael, BFC Volunteer