Last May in Yellowstone National Park, I observed more bears in three days (14) than on any previous trips later in the season.

I spent hours in “bear traffic,” standing outside my vehicle while trying to spot and photograph the browns from various safe distances.

During one sighting involving a cinnamon-colored black bear and two cubs, I looked back across the highway and spotted a coyote trotting behind the mass of cars and people.


Coyote circling a closely guarded Yellowstone bear jam. Photo: ©Pete Thomas

I took a photo before turning around to face the bears. It wasn’t until a few hours later, while checking my footage, that I noticed another creature closely observing the coyote.

The image is posted above and a question for readers: How quickly can you spot the creature? (Answer below.)

Most photographers expressed only a passing interest in the coyote; they were laser focused on the bears.


Cinnamon colored black bear. Photo: ©Pete Thomas

Mama bear was big and her coat was shiny. She took a brief nap while her cubs climbed a tree and hid in the branches.

Some argued that she was a grizzly bear because she was not black like most black bears. Others noted that she had the face and pointed ears of a black bear, and lacked the telltale shoulder hump of a grizzly bear.

Nearly all spectators were outside their vehicles and some were breaking the park’s 100-yard distancing rule.


Mother black bear with her cubs. Photo: ©Pete Thomas

As more people moved closer to take better photos, the bear management team stopped the viewing session and ordered everyone to leave.

The tourists obeyed. But as often happens in Yellowstone, many returned within minutes of the bear management team leaving. I saw the new traffic jam forming after I turned around and passed the viewing area, then continued east toward Tower Roosevelt.

My luck continued when another mother black bear (with black fur) and two cubs emerged along the road, where they were feeding on grass.


Probably a ground squirrel watching the coyote. Photo: ©Pete Thomas

I photographed them for several minutes before a crowd began to gather, then continued east to Lamar Valley.

The coyote remained an afterthought until I returned to my hotel room in Gardiner. I almost ignored the image, but noticed the ground squirrel at the top of the frame, carefully watching the squirrel-eating coyote.

The squirrel is circled in red in the image posted above.

The story was originally published on For The Win

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