By JERRY PRICKETT
TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Sometimes it pays to have someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Waldo Montgomery of Belton was expertly spotting wildlife in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley one spring day, noting that he saw a coyote about a half a mile away.
My scope wasn’t working all that well — operator error extremely likely, but it never had “locked” properly. So as I looked with eyes not quite as clear as more youthful days, I noticed something nearby.
“There’s one right here,” I exclaimed, or at least thought I did. It may not have been too loud, because the coyote rambling about 10 feet in front of me didn’t seem to react in the least. He (I’m not really sure of the gender, but it was a bold coyote, not likely to be taking care of pups) walked on the other side of the wood barrier set at one of the roadside pullouts for nature watchers to stop. Then he went under the barrier, nonchalantly getting a couple steps closer to us while giving us little heed.
Waldo was able to get a wonderful photo of the coyote near a sign that explained to park visitors the differences between foxes, coyotes and wolves. It showed their sizes and explained about the three types of canines. Waldo posted: “Next to the sign is this real live coyote! How’s that for an attention-getter?!”
The coyote fit the billing perfectly.
He went down a well-worn path to the valley and looked downward, pausing for much longer to check out the sage and other cover downhill than he did for the apparently harmless humans by the road. Perhaps he checked us out longer before walking by. He didn’t want to be surprised by a wolf or a bear down the trail, but apparently had observed people at the park enough that he didn’t feel threatened.
Or maybe he wasn’t used to people who weren’t operating the long-distance spotting scopes.
That same location, I caught glimpses of some pronghorn antelope, including one either brave or not-so-bright one that decided to cross the Lamar River, running hard and fast with snow melt.
The photos show the antelope coming across, being slowly and surely pushed down the river. We don’t know if it got across because it went around the bend, but I’m hoping it did.
There were also some ravens, a common bird in Yellowstone known for keeping track of predators. “Follow the ravens” was a call for wolf watchers, because a flock would often mean a carcass, which often meant wolves.
With the Lamar Valley carcasses depleted and the Slough Valley den now seemingly abandoned, the search for wolves had taken on a more challenging aspect, even for a veteran complete with a wolf watchers radio like Waldo.
We would check the usual spots, with no wolf sightings but always manage at least one pleasant conversation with another wolf watcher.
Late in the day, Waldo was apologizing because we hadn’t seen any wolves that time out.
I smiled and laughed. It’s not every day you get such a closeup of a coyote, who live all across the country but are much more shy around here. He had previously described the adrenaline high of excitement he gets from seeing the wolves in the wild.
I compared his excitement to mine, and noted that while seeing the wolves was the highest level — kind of like the sign — the coyote experience was pretty good too.
“But if today was a wolfless day for us, there is always tomorrow,” Waldo later posted on Facebook. “Yellowstone never disappoints. Today was no exception. We saw coyotes!”
Next: Wild (or not) about wolves