Nature News from GYE #19 December 24, 2020

The night skies have been showing us eternal energy that seems boundless. When one thinks of infinity, the night sky shows us that concept. Some of the stars are constant and allowed travelers to navigate the great unknowns. Some bring us once in a lifetime light shows such as the recent alignment of Jupiter and Saturn. These starry skies bring us beauty on a clear night in these longest days of darkness.

Today, the day before Christmas, was a day to be outside and take in the season of winter. In Yellowstone, cold air temps can be one of the most limiting factors of survival. The coldest recorded temperature in YNP was -66 degrees along the Madison River. We’ve had plenty of nights with temps below zero, but it’s been a few decades since -66 degrees kind of cold. The hot springs present in much of the park offer some respite from the cold. One manifestation is open water in rivers receiving hot water runoff. Some of the rivers in Yellowstone never freeze!

Border of Yellowstone along Madison River
Open water highway and finding food on the bank

After the coldest of nights, one will still see open water in the morning. This open water serves as a refuge for waterfowl and mammals that eat fish (otters) and waterfowl (coyotes, bobcats). The open water can even serve as a passageway for the 4 legged when the snow piles too deep.

Today I celebrated with a ski by the Madison River. The Madison’s headwaters are the Firehole river, which receives much of the run off from 3 major geyser basins and the Gibbon River, which receives much of the runoff from the Norris Geyser basin. Warm springs and vents can be seen all along these two Rivers. For the first 20 or so miles as the Madison flows out of Yellowstone, it remains open even in the winter months.

Madison River today
Trumpeter Swan on the Madison River today. 2 dark colored cygnets accompanied this adult and I could hear them “trumpeting”

American Dipper, Sacajawea Audubon Society

The American Dipper is North America’s only aquatic songbird. They stay in these swift moving rivers all year long. An unusual technique of “swimming/flying” underwater allows them to hunt for invertebrates. Throughout the winter they battle for territories along these open waters. Males and females take part in all the fuss and they can be heard singing their beautiful dipper song much of the winter.

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the young Audubon Society suggested a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

Dec 27 will be the next CBC ( Christmas Bird Count) in which I’ll participate, This year is much different, of course, with no group gatherings before or after. We will submit our data virtually, but sure look forward to being out there looking and listening to “who” we might encounter that day.

Photo from my first Christmas Bird Count 7 years ago

For now wishing you peace for these last days of 2020. Leslie

As always, you can contact me at

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