I swear the posts will be more frequent! I have a job that is a long drive, long hours, blah blah blah. It’s a microbiologist position and I am helping the animals of the world (although some days it seems very obscure, not seeing my products used directly) but some days I just want to take pictures, brew beer, and play with the animals.
Anyway, here is a picture of a baby buffalo and its fuzzy mother. Taken at Hickory Hills Park near La Porte City Iowa (it’s OK if you don’t know where that is, I’m not sure if I do either). The park maintains a herd of buffalo and this little girl was born in May. Bison have a similar gestation time as humans, at 9 to 9 1/2 months.
Aside from the grizzly bear, the bison has the best scientific name: Bison bison. Simple, nice, straightforward. (Ursus acrtos horribilis is the grizzly bear’s, which I hope someday will be my hockey nickname).
In case you really wanted to see a wild buffalo picture (they look surprisingly like the managed ones) this guy is from Yellowstone. Yes, this was taken with a telephoto lens (100-400mm Canon) from inside a car. No way I would get within goring distance of these guys. Anything that big that can run 30mph and jump 6 feet is worth a safe distance.
He (she?) was rubbing his head on a utility box off of the main road on the Blacktail Plateau Drive. The Blacktail drive is amazing, with lots of wildlife (we saw a juvenile bear there our first year in the wooded area) and a mix of wildflower meadows and forest. It is a bit bumpy (dirt) but it’s OK to go slow (we have usually been the only people on the road). You can usually see herd animals here in the summer months, though we saw elk and buffalo there in early October as well.
Missing my sweet Marigold today. This was her on her adoption day, February 8, 2003.
So… yes, I am still here. I swear, I have more pictures and animal stories and nature goodness coming soon. But seriously it’s the playoffs and the Red Wings are kind of being awesome (and the Bruins too) so things may be spotty as I get preoccupied.
I’m going to ease back into things with a post about a coyote we saw in Yellowstone last fall. We pulled over to a turn off where everyone else was watching a grazing buffalo and noticed this little guy in a field near our car:
We had our husky mix, Kailie, with us on the trip (who, incidentally, does look like a white coyote. We put a red vest or her red backpack on her while hiking in areas where coyote hunting is allowed). This is her in Utah this past January, looking rather majestic:
As soon as Kai caught scent (and sight) of that coyote she started howling. As in we had to ask our friends in the car if it was her or the coyote making the noise. They assured us it was coming from the back hatch of our Element (which is an awesome travel vehicle by the way!)
Despite Kailie’s attempts at friendship or whatever she wanted, the coyote ignored her and proceeded to hunt. While we watched he caught at least 3 mice in quick succession.
I never realized before that the coyotes I’m used to, eastern coyotes (at least as far east as Michigan) are much larger than western coyotes. I read that this is because eastern coyotes interbred with Canadian wolves and developed a larger subspecies. In fact most coyotes in Ontario (close to where we lived in Michigan) have been found to be hybrids with wolves genetically. The coyotes I saw in Michigan were roughly the size of our Kailie, about 40-50 lbs. The western ones I saw in Montana were much smaller, probably 30 lbs and looked more fox-like. Coyotes do not interbreed with foxes as they do with wolves and even domestic dogs and will actually kill foxes as they occupy the same ecological niche.
He was really interesting to watch, and looked gorgeous in the afternoon sun. He put on a great show of hunting, so much more interesting than watching a buffalo graze. We did see his bigger, shier cousin later that evening. I apologize for the picture, this guy was SO spooky.
We turned a corner near Yellowstone Lake and there he was. He looked at us for less than a minute then disappeared in the woods. I was hoping to see a wolf in Yellowstone, and after 2 disappointing evenings scoping out the Lamar Valley (where there are several active wolf packs) I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen. But, then, this wolf appeared when we weren’t looking! I believe he was a juvenile. I wasn’t actually sure he was a wolf, but we showed the picture to a ranger who confirmed. He was quite a bit bigger than the coyote we saw. We did hear several wolf and coyote packs at night in the mountains near our cabin outside West Yellowstone. An amazing sound for certain.
We did also see, later in the week, a wolf hunting elk. We spotted 2 elk herds running in circles and making horrible noises. They circled the juveniles and protected them at the center of the herd. 2 male elk then gathered at a tree line (it was rutting season and they weren’t sparring so we knew something serious was going on) and we saw, briefly, what appeared to be a large black canine circling them. These were large, probably at least 12-point male elk. The wolf (I am assuming here) was in and out of the tree line so he was hard to see. It was dusk and our binoculars didn’t help to see much. After about 20 minutes or so the males rejoined their herds and wandered off so I think the wolf gave up. This did happen in the Lamar Valley which is THE place to see wolves in Yellowstone. It was also near where we saw 3 grizzly bears (more info coming in a later post!)
Here is some info from the NPS on the Yellowstone wolf packs: http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/wolves.htm. Our sighting was near the area of Mollie’s pack.
First off, thank you to all the veterans, active military and those that have lost their lives in service to our country. Since my work mainly focuses on animals I have to add in this link that has incredible pictures of war dogs. They are amazing! I hope the new trend continues where they are allowed to go home with their handlers after their service is finished, they deserve a good retirement.
Continuing on with the animals of Yellowstone series I thought bald eagles would be appropriate to post about on Memorial Day. We saw quite a few while we were there.
This was the first one we saw, we were driving out of the park and a huge line of cars was stopped and so many people had their cameras out. I thought it had to be a wolf or bear with that many people gawking. When I asked the guy next to me he pointed to a bald eagle with a huge smile on his face. Just about everyone out there had the same smile, I guess our national bird has that impact on people!
I really liked how he was silhouetted against the sky in such an eerie landscape with the remnant trees from the fire. It’s also a good scale for how large bald eagles are. I have dubbed this picture “The Sentinel” and it is one of my favorites. (Yes, it is available in my Etsy shop).
Here is is again without the dramatic lighting:
On the third day we were in Montana my husband and I went to the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana. It has been a refuge since 1923 (!) and it really beautiful, just near the Continental divide. We hardly saw anyone driving through, I guess everyone goes to Yellowstone instead. There are loops to drive on as in Yellowstone and we got out and walked around a bit too. There is a mix of valleys, hills and the mountains are all around. I guess if you go early enough moose are very common. We saw mule deer, pronghorns and beefalo (cows + buffalo = beefalo, they are domestic and wow are they huge!) but no moose. Maybe next time. A small lake is nestled in there too, we hiked around part of it and saw free range cattle, lots of hawks, bear tracks (bigger than my hand!) and a bald eagle.
Anyway, this guy circled us for a few minutes and was kind enough to let me get a few pictures. Look at that huge wingspan! Pteranodon indeed. (I’m not that far off, birds are really just little dinosaurs! Read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin and you will never look at birds the same way again either).
This spring in Iowa (a really warm spring, I won’t get that lucky again weather-wise) we had a lot of bald eagles migrate through near George Wyth State Park in Cedar Falls. They were diving and nesting right near the highway and I would see them every day driving by. I decided to take the pups on a walk to see them. Well, we only saw one in a tree. It was a juvenile, you can just see the white patches beginning to come in on her head.