Wildlife Hotspot: Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs
Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by wildlife and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Yellowstone National Park’s Mammoth Hot Springs
At Ghost Bear, we’re all about the counter-intuitive. We showcased wildlife mecca Hayden Valley as a landscape hotspot and for this month’s wildlife hotspot, we’re going to look at a an area usually regarded only for its landscape potential.
Mammoth Hot Springs is the first major tourist attraction once you enter Yellowstone from Gardiner through the famed north entrance.
Famous for its geothermal activity, below the terraces is a small park village, built around a hotel, a restaurant and a visitor centre. It’s also where many of the park’s employees live, with residences being found in the old army homes established around the turn of the century.
And though it is a place overrun with people in the summer, it is the single best location for photographing great horned owls.
We realize that great horned owls aren’t the most exciting species of all time, but we dare you to spend time at the Mammoth nest and not leave both entertained and photographically satisfied.
The nest has been active since at least 2008 and can be found three houses to the east from the visitor centre, along the road, in one of the large pine trees.
Most people believe that the morning, between eight and nine, is when light is best for photographing the owls in the nest. But once the fledglings start to move around, we’ve found the evenings can be even better (for sightings, at the very least).
The small grassy area beside the church, east of the visitor centre and the nest in Mammoth, is a popular spot for the fledglings to learn to fly and hunt.
And if you can’t find the owls, just listen. Their calls to each other more often than not give away their locations – as do the screams of the uinta ground squirrels they’re targeting.
It’s not hard to spend an entire day in Mammoth. The owls are often visible throughout the day and rangers are incredibly good about allowing people to walk amongst the homes to find their latest location to photograph the bird of prey.
But time spent watching the owls also means time spent waiting for the resident fox.
We believe that a red fox has recently built a den behind one of the private homes to the south of the owl nest and, over several days, we found the (presumed) male hunting squirrels right below where the great horned owls were perched.
The fields surrounding Mammoth also play home to one of Yellowstone’s most productive elk nurseries. Likely using the town to protect themselves from predators, such as grizzlies and wolves, the elk congregate every year in and around Mammoth. You can almost set your watch by their evening walk past the Liberty Cone.
And on the Upper Terrace Drive? Jackrabbits – a unique and fun creature to photograph and observe – can be found commonly.
All in all, Mammoth – for a quasi-townsite – is an exceptional melting pot of biodiversity. Come for the owls, but stay for the fox, elk and rabbits.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Accessibility: Pine tree three houses to the right of the Mammoth Visitor Centre
Photographic Focus: Great Horned Owl, Elk, Jackrabbit & Fox
Best Time: 8-9am & 7-8pm
– Though the great horned owl nest is one of the more reliable nests in Yellowstone, their departure from the area is more fluid. Once the young start to fledge, be sure to look at every pine tree on the same street, and in the neighbouring community of park employee housing.
– Mornings usually provide the best light for photographing the owls, but we have had better luck with dynamic sightings in the evenings, usually starting around 4 or 5pm.
– The owls are the main attraction, but don’t forget to search for jackrabbits on the Upper Terrace Drive and elk in the nursery that can be found within the townsite.
– The rangers are very good about allowing tourists to wander around the houses to photograph the owls.
– We’ve found a 400mm lens is ideal for photographing the owls.
Tags: ghost bear photography, great horned owls, hot springs, mammoth, national parks, nature, red fox, simon jackson, wildlife hotspots, wildlife photography, wyoming, yellowstone