After a 38-year wildlife conservation career, Steve retired to start his own birding/wildlife-watching tour company (Merlin Birding and Nature Tours LLC). Steve’s intense passion for wildlife began in Yellowstone (in 1970) while serving as a short-order cook at Mammoth Hot Springs and spending every free minute exploring the park’s wild backcountry. Steve’s breadth of experience in the park, combined with his extensive knowledge of its wildlife and his commitment to public education and conservation of park resources will effectively serve any group wishing to learn more about and enjoy Yellowstone’s abundant and diverse wildlife and dramatic landscapes.
Beyond Yellowstone, Steve has led or co-led many National
Audubon Society, HawkWatch International, Montana Audubon
and Sacajawea Audubon birding/wildlife-watching tours in Montana, and to Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico's
Copper Canyon, Oaxaca & Baja California regions, and Veracruz. Steve grew
up in suburban Philadelphia, attended college in eastern Pennsylvania, and
received his Master's Degree in Wildlife Ecology at Utah State University.
Steve “Esh” Eshbaugh explored Yellowstone often as a botany student at University of Montana in the early 80’s. “Esh” served as a ranger-naturalist in the Canyon Area, offering weekly Canyon Rim Walks, campfire programs and manning the visitor center desk. He launched a nature tour company in 1997, often taking visitors through Yellowstone on one-day bus tours. The interpretation skills “Esh” learned that summer served him well in his 20-year interpretive writing career that included two national awards for his writing. “Esh” has led multiple trips overseas, but his true passion is exploring Yellowstone National Park and surrounding lands with visitors who might be experiencing such marvels for the first time in their lives.
Photo by Jocelyn Allen
Our itinerary is flexible, depending upon your interests and expectations for the day (as well as where we meet you). We can pick you up most anywhere you wish inside the park, or in Gardiner or West Yellowstone, or preferably in Bozeman (our base of operations). For the best wildlife viewing we will want to start very early in the morning – this will give us the best chance for seeing rare wildlife such as wolves and grizzly bears. Lamar Valley is the ideal place for early morning wildlife watching. Here, with any luck we can see most, if not all of Yellowstone’s large mammals. We shall search the Calcite Springs/Tower Falls area for black bears, nesting Peregrine Falcons, and Bighorn Sheep. The expansive grass-shrublands of Lamar Valley typically harbor large herds of bison (more commonly known as “buffalo”), often quite close to the road. This valley is also the best place for viewing both wolves and grizzly bears (especially before 9:00 AM). Toward the Northeast Entrance and Cook City there are often excellent viewing opportunities for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and possibly moose.
Photo by Jocelyn Allen
In addition to our one-day itinerary, on day two we’ll explore the lower loop of Yellowstone. Depending on the weather and how wildlife is reacting to conditions, we may adjust our travels. On day 2 we’ll visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and take in its dramatic Upper and Lower Falls. We’ll also venture to seldom-seen sights, like Cascade Falls and less-traveled viewing points throughout the canyon. After exploring Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon we’ll venture to Hayden Valley, known for its abundance of large mammals as well as a variety of waterbirds (including American White Pelican, Trumpeter Swan, Great Blue Heron and a variety of waterfowl species) using the Yellowstone River and adjacent wetlands. River otters are possible here, as are grizzlies and even wolves. A bit farther upstream LeHardy Rapids often provides a chance to enjoy spectacularly-colored Harlequin Ducks up close!
Photo by Daniel W. Mills, Jr.
As we continue our southern loop route we’ll stop at the Upper Geyser Basin. All visitors to Yellowstone should see Old Faithful erupt at least once. This geyser basin has many other thermal features sure to capture your imagination and sense of wonder. Appropriately named geysers like Riverside, Beehive, Grand and Castle all can erupt with startling force!
Farther along the route Midway Geyser Basin harbors the largest hot spring in the United States, the dramatically colorful Grand Prismatic Spring. The Fountain Paint Pots seem almost plucked out of a Dr. Seuss book, with bubbling mudpots performing a fascinating symphony of colorful mud tossed into the air right before your eyes. The possibilities are almost endless, and we will cater our trip to your interests and away from crowds whenever possible.
For visitors who stay three days or longer in the Yellowstone area, the possibilities are even more exciting! Norris Geyser Basin is the most active geyser basin in the world and provides an other-worldly landscape. Mammoth Hot Springs changes on a yearly basis, and the brightly-colored calcium carbonate deposits will delight any photographer.
A three-day itinerary also allows for some short-to-medium length hikes into Yellowstone’s backcountry. Perhaps your group will want to hike to the active Fire Lookout atop Mount Washburn? You could also choose to hike the Fairy Falls Trail for a memorable, “birds-eye” view of Grand Prismatic Spring. We will tailor our hikes to your specific interests.
One of the most magical parts of Yellowstone is that at any moment you can unexpectedly spot wildlife. We always practice safe viewing techniques to ensure than any critter encountered is safe for both the wildlife you’re viewing and for you!
Black Rosy Finch Photo by Robert Martinka
Merlin Birding and Nature Tours LLC is a fully licensed permittee for Yellowstone National Park.