Yellowstone: July 16th, 2013

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A river otter! Yay!

I spent the bulk of my morning reading and writing. Then I decided to make the most of my last free day by planning a hike of some sort; that is until it started raining. So I waited out the rain by going to the Lake post office and the Lake Lodge for some brief internet use. I paid for one hour of internet and after five minutes it crashed. Typical. Just when I thought my luck couldn’t get any worse, my fishing pole exploded on me again on the first cast into Yellowstone Lake. I was so pissed, I just balled up the fishing line and lure in my fist and shoved the pole into the backseat of the car–hopefully never to be seen again so it won’t remind me of what an epic failure I am. To calm down I took a nice walk by the shore and sat for a while, watching the rainstorm move across the lake. After I’d sufficiently forgotten all about the fishing incident, I drove back to the dorm to see if Richard and Mardel made it back from the juju-laden Pelican Valley safely. They did but they had one heck of a time with the weather out there. Pelican Valley is a lovely area of Yellowstone but it’s chock full of bears and there’s a long history of bad things happening there. Plainly speaking, I don’t go there. Then it was off to Fishing Bridge to get one of those delicious no-bake cookies that I’m addicted to, rock in the rocking chair out front and people-watch, and then hike the Howard Eaton trail. Andrew and I joke that we should re-name the trails after people we know and respect. I mean, who the heck is Howard Eaton anyways? So we renamed the trail to the Wilfred Brimley trail. How that came about I’m not sure but the Wilfred Brimley trail certainly is one of the longest in Yellowstone so you will definitely need a large bowl of oatmeal before the hike. I began at the Fishing Bridge entrance and walked a few miles along the Yellowstone River. It was it lovely. There were a lot of pelicans, geese, diving birds (two of them got into a squabble over a fish in front of me…kind of amusing) and wait for it….wait for it… river otters! I have been telling people that my trip to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete unless I saw otters and I finally did! I was taking photos of a pelican by the shoreline when I spied a mother and daughter creeping towards me. I thought that was a little strange but I had a can of bear spray in my hand and was fully prepared to use it against this sketchy mother-daughter team. Come to find out, they were kindly brining to my attention the two otters playing just to my left. Duh! The otters were very friendly and swam right up to them for some close-up pics. I was not so lucky but I still got to enjoy them from afar. They were so awesome–playing around, jumping onto and then diving off of rocks and logs, pressing their faces together above the water, hassling the geese until they flew off. They really seem to live a rather footloose and fancy free lifestyle. I went back to the dorm and instantly rubbed it in Andrew’s face by showing him my otter pics. He was amost literally green with envy.

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Once I finished my victory dance, we caught up over a few beers and chatted with the two fly fishermen staying in the dorm for the week. One of the fly fishermen is from Lubbock, TX and the other used to live in Oklahoma (not too far from Lubbock) so we had a lot to talk about since I did amphibian surveys in the area. As all Texans seem to be, they were completely flabbergasted to hear that Texas has by far the most amphibians I’ve ever encountered (although that’s not saying too much since I haven’t surveyed a rainforest or anything like that). They’re all just in the ground waiting for it to rain and once it does…watch out! You will think it’s the end of days or something. The fly fishermen had a lot of interesting things to say about fishing in Yellowstone. They fish in the early morning and at night with downtime during the day to let the fish rest. When a fish is caught, the angler puts it into a bucket and hands it over to a researcher from Penn State. If it’s a rainbow trout or a cutthroat trout, their fin is clipped for a dna sample to test the hybridization between the two species. Cutthroats are considered native to the area and rainbows are introduced and thus not wanted. So it’s a cool little program that allows anglers to help out with research and they get to fish Yellowstone in the process. Apparently, there’s also another researcher who has radio telemetry units on some cutthroat in the Yellowstone River. They’ve found that cutthroat live in the river during the warmer months and then migrate into Yellowstone Lake in the winter only to be devoured by gigantic introduced lake trout. This has led to the almost complete decimation of the cutthroat population in Yellowstone Lake which, in turn, has led to the multi-million dollar campaign to exterminate lake trout. The fishermen aren’t sure where the northern Lamar population of cutthroat over-winter, perhaps they stay in the smaller lakes and fare much better. Just to bring this full circle, otters heavily depend on cutthroat. Lately, Yellowstone Lake otters have had to find dietary replacements such as amphibians and longnose suckers but those are obviously lower quality food sources. Additionally, researchers say that lake trout are not a suitable dietary replacement for cutthroat, although otters have been known to consume them. I presume it’s because of their size, their jaw strength, and their location in the water column which makes them more energetically expensive and possibly dangerous to catch. So it’s an interesting conundrum. Let me just say this, those adorable little river otters better stay away from my amphibians!

1 response to Yellowstone: July 16th, 2013

  1. Jess says:

    Wow, so interesting to learn more about the vicious cycle that is life. But, river otters – how cool! Great photos, by the way.

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