Perhaps more than any other nature preserve in North America, Yellowstone National Park is known for its large mammals. On any of our guided hiking tours in the world’s first national park, our clients might see elk, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn or mountain goats. We occasionally view predators, too, including black and grizzly bear, gray wolf and coyote, plus red fox, bobcat, lynx and mountain lion, though I am aware of just two lynx sightings and one mountain lion sighting on Big Wild treks, these two cats being extremely secretive. Big avifauna includes sand-hill cranes, white pelicans, trumpeter swans, ravens, bald and golden eagles, great gray owls plus many other birds of prey. If you love big animals in big numbers, our Yellowstone hiking trips can’t be beat!
Nonetheless, in my opinion the little creatures define Yellowstone every bit as much as the mega-fauna. The noisy red squirrel is ubiquitous throughout the coniferous woods. Yellow Pine, Least and Uinta Chipmunks abound as do their Uinta and golden-mantled ground squirrel cousins. The aquatic mink and its terrestrial relative the American marten are two of my favorite members of the weasel family. I love bald eagles as much as anyone, sure. They are spectacular. But my favorite bird is the gray jay, formerly called the Canada jay and affectionately known as the “camp robber”. So graceful and silent are these robin-sized Corvids, as they swoosh through northern conifers from Alaska to Maine and across the northern tier, extending their range southward in the Rocky Mountains to Colorado. And they’ve earned their nickname around northern and high country campsites. In fact, I once had a gray jay snatch half a tortilla from right under my nose!
Then there are the crickets in the grassy meadows, the water voles along our sub-alpine streams, the northern pocket gophers churning up the sub-alpine meadows and all of the varied waterfowl that graces the lakes, ponds and wetlands. Not to mention the spring and summer symphony of songbirds. Indeed, Yellowstone is a land of many wonders and our guided hikes do provide an opportunity to see big animals, sometimes in great abundance. But don’t forget the little ones, for in many ways they also define the character of this magnificent landscape!