Looking for Spring 2019

As spring starts to arrive here in the Greater Yellowstone Area, I thought I’d share some of the notes I’ve taken along with thoughts about how I make it through a harder winter with little impatience by keeping a nature journal that uses the seasons as it’s structural base.

Trip observations from 10 March 2019:

The other day Mom and I both just needed to get out. We decided to at least head up the North Fork to see if there are bare patches of ground for the bluebirds to find food. Yes, there are a few bare patches. No bluebirds – just as we had suspected. In fact, no birds overall to speak of other than a few ravens flying in pairs and dancing on the wind.

We also spotted tons of deer and elk – they’ll eventually follow the melting snows as they head back into Yellowstone. I loved this shot that I got of a pair of mule deer does with Jim Mountain in the background. Doesn’t that front one look pregnant! This was taken near the B&B, Windmill Inn run by friends, Suzie and Rod Tripp. So good to head out like this and look for any signs of spring. We also spotted 3 bison at the UXU Ranch and a small band of bighorn sheep near Elephant Head Lodge.

Trip observations from 14 March 2019:

Yesterday we needed to head to Billings for a few things. Along the drive we saw dozens of hawks and eagles as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of Canada Geese. Among the hawks we could identify were red-tailed hawks, a rough-legged hawk and possibly a swainson’s hawk. Eagles were easier – many golden eagles and a half dozen or so bald eagles. The geese seemed to be in pairs more than a month ago. Most of the river crossings had open water except the Clarks Fork near Clark, WY and the Yellowstone River. I also spotted my first of the year (FOY) red-winged blackbird a few miles north of Bridger, MT.

In Billings, the piles of snow were rather impressive – they’ve had much more than we’ve gotten here in Cody. On our way out of town, I spotted a bird that looked like the right size and shape to be an Osprey on an Osprey nest, but it just seems too early for them to be back. So, I’m not counting that one yet. It could have been a hawk looking at it. That would make more sense.

Making it through a long winter

We’ve had another harder winter here, though this last storm stayed south of us. Checking the roads last night showed much of the southern and eastern half of Wyoming completely shut down. Bitter cold temperatures and lots of snow. I can handle a cold, white winter much better than a brown one. And I satisfy my need for color by working on my digital photo watercolors and photo collection in general. Processing last year’s summer photos always helps.

Waiting for spring becomes easier when you notice the more subtle signs that are already showing up. The snowstorms we’re getting have a much different feel to them than the ones that showed up in November and December. While they can dump a tremendous amount of moisture, they won’t stick around for months. I think it’s also safe to say that the bitter cold temperatures are done for the winter. The temperatures are rising into the 40s and the forecast says they may even tease us with possible 50s.

That means the snow is becoming the “magic snow” where it coats the ground in white and when it melts, it leaves a bit of green. Each snow enhances the grass’s ability to put on a bit more color. I love this time of year – even when we got the 3 feet or more of snow when I lived in Colorado. This is the beginning of spring – even if there’s a raging snowstorm going on.

Keep a “Nature Notes” Journal

Keeping a phenology notebook helps you learn to appreciate the depth and richness the seasonal changes bring to our lives. If you want to start a nature notebook or enrich what you’re doing to document the nature surrounding you, consider phenology as a structure to your journal. Just the dates and a sentence or two is all that you need. But it can be enhanced with photos and longer observations or journaling about the things you savor while outside.

One note added this week was the first official grizzly bear sighting in Yellowstone. I’ve heard there are lots of tracks being seen up the North Fork of the Shoshone (the road from Cody to Yellowstone’s east gate). Definitely a sign of spring! Sometimes my notes are just as simple as this. Each one alone isn’t much, but together they show a bigger picture of the nature around me. Love that. My next step is to take these observations, add them in on the respective date pages, print out photos to slip into page protectors. I’ll share a photo on Instagram when I get that done.

A simple phenology field journal page

SnowMoon Photography

Be Outside • Take Notes