One afternoon in Yellowstone National Park I wanted to hike, but I was on my own and the Park Service strongly recommends that people hike in groups of three or more for safety in grizzly bear country. So I settled for a solitary stroll on the boardwalk at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River.
The boardwalk was too short to soothe my wanderlust, but it provided an excellent view of the rapids, so I settled onto the grizzly-free deck to watch the river noisily leap over and surge around rocks. Even here, in this little byway where the Yellowstone River regains its tumbling nature after leaving Yellowstone Lake, the park offered a rich opportunity to view wildlife. Out of a curtain of splashing bubbles, a bright orange bill appeared above a lowrider feathered back.
|Pair of common mergansers surfing the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park|
It was a common merganser.
Another merganser appeared also charting an upstream course through the rapids. The pair took turns surfing standing waves and diving into churning pools. One would disappear underwater, then pop up on the other side of a rapid, and spin around briefly to check on the progress of its partner before heading into the next whitewater challenge.
|A common merganser thriving in the elements of Yellowstone National Park. By the large white wing patches, I think this surfing duo were adult males in eclipse plumage.|
Life-jacket orange feet on ducks surfing the Yellowstone River. That is how I would like to end this series of posts about our week in Yellowstone National Park in September 2012. Seeing so much wildlife, especially wolves, was exciting. But the merganser afternoon reminded me that biological diversity comes in all sizes and forms. Fitting together, affecting each other and constantly changing.
|Common mergansers resting on the edge of the Yellowstone River.|
The other night, I was reading Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone, and this passage brought it all back again: "As it looked up I could see its eyes, and they were magnificent, bright and burning. While a lot of animals in that sort of circumstance [being observed from a low-flying spotter plane] would be nearly overcome with fear, here was one tossing out a stare that seemed brimming with confidence. The wolf looked hard at us, following us with its gaze for a couple of seconds. Then it merely stepped away, back into its element."
This is the last of a ten-part series on wildlife observed in Yellowstone National Park in September 2012. To see the other posts, select "Yellowstone" in the Sightings box in the right column.
Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone, Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson, The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2005. This is the best book I have read so far about the gray wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park. It describes the steps biologists took in bringing in wolves from Canada and studying the subsequent establishment of many wolf packs. Every other chapter follows the life of an individual wolf, or at least as much as could be determined by Douglas Smith, the Yellowstone Wolf Project biologist and then project leader, through radio collars, observations from the air and on horseback, and all the other ways a biologist collects and shares information with fellow scientists and volunteers in a remote and rugged terrain like Yellowstone. The book is very well-written.