The Spotting Scope  



About The Spotting Scope


The Spotting Scope is a web site and blog dedicated to providing up to the minute information on wildlife viewing in the Greater Yellowstone Region. With constant input from wide ranging sources, we strive to give you current, factual details on where various species have been recently sited and what the best vantage points are to safely observe all the varied animals that live in the Yellowstone region. As part of our service we offer suggestions on safety and ettiquite as well as some instructional guides on wildlife identification and how to's on locating wildlife.

We know we can't cover everything that's going on in all areas of the park. So, if you have some information on sightings or suggestions on how we might improve our content, please let us know.


While you were out!!

NE Corner of Yellowstone:  Wolf activity was full of fits and starts.  This year was the first wolf hunting season for Wyoming. 

The Yellowstone wolves took a hard hit with 8 collared wolves killed, including the Alpha female and Beta male of the Lamar Canyon Pack.  This turn of events has essentially splintered the pack.  At least three of the pack females have joined forces with 2 HooDoo pack males.  The HooDoo pack is, historically, an out-of- the-Park pack.  This group of wolves has been spending the majority of its time outside the park boundaries. 

The former Alpha male (755M) of the Lamar Canyon Pack was a lone wolf for a time.  He has, in the early Spring, hooked up with 2 females of unknown origin. 

A Lamar Canyon 3 year old (Middle Grey) and a black yearling have recently come together and are spending time in the Confluence area.
Some members of this pack have not been seen in some time and we will have to wait and see what transpires.

The Canyon Pack ventured into the Gardiner area this Winter, but they spent MUCH less time there than in previous years.  The low snow level kept the elk more scattered than usual so I am sure they were able to find meals closer to their home range of the Hayden Valley.  When the beautiful white Alpha female was seen, her belly reported that she would, once again, give birth.

The Mollies have taken the hardest hit of all.  From the tough, aggressive pack of 19 last year, the pack has splintered into other packs and has basically disappeared. (Read More) 


Simple rules to make your experience the best.

Quiet. If you speak at a subdued level, you will often hear wolves, coyotes and the grunts of bison.
Be Aware of where you stand and who’s view you may obstruct.
Listen and Learn: You will meet people who have been watching and studying the animals for years.  One of the more aggravating things you can do is to argue with a semi pro about what it is you are looking at.

Ask Politely….But don’t be shy. Sometimes the wildlife is far in the distance. If you don’t have a good spotting scope, wildlife is often just small dots in a sea of brown. Wildlife watchers are usually more than happy to let you take a peek through their scope. However, resist the temptation to grab the eyepiece with your hand. Simply bring your eye up to the eyepiece and touch the scope as little as possible.
Park in spots that don’t obstruct traffic. When you block traffic, then everyone is forced to listen to another boring lecture by a ranger. ( continued)


Locating Wildlife in the Northeast Corner of Yellowstone National Park

Certainly the Northeast corner of Yellowstone is the single most bountiful area of North America for viewing large mammals in the wild.  The Lamar Valley is frequently called the Serengeti of North America and for good reason.  As we head toward the Lamar area from Tower-Roosevelt we first cross the Yellowstone River Bridge. After crossing, there is a pullout on the left, nicknamed “wrecker”.  Wrecker can be a good place to see bighorn sheep up close and personal. One afternoon in the summer, we watched a heard of rams and ewes wander around the parking lot and between cars for almost an hour.  Lot's of film got shot on that afternoon.

Another 1/4 mile East from Wrecker is a picnic area on the right – Yellowstone Picnic – We've seen black bear hanging out there as well as some elk and deer.  This is a good trail head heading up Specimen Ridge.   A moderate, non-technical hike, you will come across bison, big horn sheep and possibly a bear, so bring your bear spray with you.



East of Yellowstone Picnic we pass through “Boulder” and “Little America”, these areas are home to bison and pronghorn. Stopping in this area we point our optics at Specimen Ridge (on the right/south side of the road) we always hope to catch a glimpse of wolves, sheep or bear. Remember to look up high! Sometimes you will have a terrific silhouette at skyline!  (Read More)

How to Scope for Wildlife

I have often heard people say that they just do not see what I see when I offer them my spotting scope to see the wolf in the distance. What is the secret?

The first and best piece of advice I can give you is don't look for animals.

What??? Really???

Yes, absolutely. If you look through a scope, or a pair of binoculars, and try to see an animal, or rather an animal shape, you will often not see it.  First, the animals are completely camoflaged and blend into their environment.   And, part of the animal is often concealed by brush, trees or shadows.

Instead, you have to look for movement, color variation and something that is simply different from the surroundings. Once you've located a difference, you can try to hone in on specific animal features. The flash of white in a green sage meadow, the dark black shape on a brown rock face, the quick swish of gray between the trunks of cottonwood trees, the dirt being thrown up as a badger digs a den, as opposed to the badger itself.

(Read More)



One small animal you may see, albeit only for a second, is the Pika.  Most people think these small animals are rodents, actually they belong to the same family as rabbits, lagomorph.  Take a look at those ears and it’s a dead giveaway!  Pikas are 6 to 9 inches long and can weigh between 4 and 10 ounces.  These cute little mammals are most often seen running for their lives across the road.  I have to admit that, though I am an avid pika-avoider, there have been casualties. 

Pikas do not hibernate and are herbivores.  Before winter sets in they gather fresh grasses, lay them in stacks to dry and then move them to their burrows. They primarily eat grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss, and lichen. When they are in this “haying” process they can make 13 trips per hour to collect vegetation.  They seem to assess the nutritional value of available food and harvest accordingly.

Pikas have gnawing incisors, to break down the tough grass, but no canine teeth, which are used for tearing.  One similarity to rodents is that their teeth keep growing for as long as they live, this means they have to chew constantly so their teeth do not over-grow.  A female has 2 litters per year and these litters’ average 3 young each. Breeding takes place one month before the snow melts and the females are pregnant for about 30 days.


Boy Scout Photography
AKA - Be Prepared

We can discuss all the technical aspects of camera and lens selection, resolution, contrast, color saturation and image composition.  But there are many far simpler photography considerations that are fundamentally more important.  Subscribe to the Boy Scout rule of “Be Prepared”.  In other words, keep the camera in easy reach, make sure you have batteries (charged), mmory cards or film, a tripod if you’re using a zoom lens.  A camera which is only accessible by opening the hatchback of your rental car will see little use and might, in fact, put you in danger.  (If you are in the middle of a bison herd or near a bear or wolf, you do not want to get out of your car.)

Do you know how your camera works and how to use it?  Even the simplest digital camera today has  zoom, buttons, a settings menu a rotating wheel to select photographic mode.  What the heck do they do?  It would be wholly impractical to discuss the operation of even one medium priced camera here.  But, there is a wealth of information available on line in the form of operation manuals and photo instruction.  So, first, if you haven’t yet done it, get out your camera along with the instruction manual and take a few hundred sample photos of various subjects while changing the settings on the camera.  Take photos with front, back and side light.  Take low light photos, which is often what you’re faced with when out in the wild.  Honestly,I don’t know how to use every feature found on my Nikon D90….and I’m an engineer.  There are, however some simple controls you really should understand. (Read More)








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