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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: Natures Little Furry Friends

Although not as crowd drawing as the bears in Yellowstone & Grand Tetons I couldn’t help but give equal attention to the smaller little guys of the park; they are after all the food source of many of the parks larger animals. I was super lucky on this trip, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find three of the more elusive animals and I was successful. Lets dive in.

The coolest animal in this category by far was the badger. I had never seen one in the wild before and when I found one I found tons more. For over two hours I waited and watched the glen where people had been saying they have been seeing a badger and at last SUCCESS.

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MY FIRST SIGHTING OF AN AMERICAN BADGER

And what a success it was. I didn’t only see a badger, I saw a badger mother dig up a nest of ground squirrels and proceed to shuffle those squirrels back to her nest.

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AMERICAN BADGER CARRYING A MEAL BACK TO HER BABIES

By the time she had dug up the nest, which took another hour, there was a whole CROWD of onlookers and photographers. Although we couldn’t see the nest through the sage she did conveniently troop right across a meadow only 20 feet from where I was standing and I got some amazing shots. It was hilarious to all be talking and chatting trying to pass the time our eyes constantly on the glade until suddenly she was spotted. An excited hush would fall over us all and the shutters on those cameras didn’t stop for a second.

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THIS AMERICAN BADGER SURE DID DRAW A CROWD

I love the badgers striking black and white face but I was amazed by how short and slow they were and don’t even get me started at how funny it was to see her waddle around. Another thing I was amazed by was her claws... those things looked like they belong on an animal four times this badgers size. No wonder they are such phenomenal diggers.

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DONT TRY AND TANGLE WITH A BADGER FOR SURE

Through the two weeks I was in the parks I of course spent some time chatting with the people. They were a wealth of wildlife information and I found out just as much from them as I did from the rangers. Through my conversations with random people I had heard about a badger den and I went hunting for it. I found the large mound of dirt, what I thought could possibly be the entrance to the den, and I sat and waited. About three hours later (don’t worry I was also photoing other things in the area too while I was waiting) I saw a tiny head pop out. And then another. Mama and baby sunned and spent a few minutes sniffing around and then baby went back in the den and mama took off to hunt. Although I waited for an hour and a half mama didn’t return. Since I already had great photos of a badger mama carrying food I took off to the next sight.

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MAMA AND HER BADGER BABY

On one of the early mornings, as I was sitting shivering with cold waiting for a bear or wolf to hopefully appear I caught a ripple in the river below. I got super excited when it was an American Beaver. I crept closer slowly; the beaver kept diving down and bringing up something. Every time he dove down I took a few steps closer. He knew I was there of course but by going slowly I got pretty close.

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AMERICAN BEAVER

After he finished eating he took off right in front of me. I love how he sails through the water, he tilt his head up slightly to peek at me.

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AMERICAN BEAVER AT HOME IN THE WATER

I followed his little head around a bend and I was super excited when I saw what he was headed for, his lodge. I watched him for a while chopping branches and layering them on the lodge. It was also neat to see the tail of the beaver which is impossible to see when he is in the water.

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AMERICAN BEAVER BUILDING HIS LODGE

I had seen a pika once on national geographic. It is one of those animals that doesn’t get a ton of hype. For some reason I always imagined this animal about the size of a rabbit. When I found out there were pika in the mountain part of Yellowstone I was excited at the prospect of finding it. When I did manage to find a pika colony I was surprised how small they were.

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A TINY PIKA

Pika are only about 6-9 inches long with tiny little rounded ears and a short tail. They live primarily in cold climates on rocky mountain slopes which is just where I found them.

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PIKA

A pile of rocks from a landslide were in a jumble next to a rocky mountain. The rocks had obviously been there a long while because the lichen was thick. These animals create burrows in the crevices of those rocks.

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PIKA

On the opposite end of the spectrum the yellow bellied marmot was pretty big. I was thinking squirrel size but when I saw one I found out they are more the size of raccoons.

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YELLOW BELLIED MARMOT

It was hilarious to hear the high pitched whistle they gave when a predator was near. This whistle I found out later got them the nickname of ‘the whistling pig’. They would stand, whistle and then dart for their burrows.

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YELLOW BELLIED MARMOT DARTING FOR ITS BURROW

The last three animals I have seen a dozen times before. They are adorable and numerous but always on high alert for either people to drop some food or predators in the area. It must be hard to be that stressed out all the time, constantly on the lookout for something bigger than you trying to eat you.

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GOLDEN MANTLED GROUND SQUIRREL

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UNITA GROUND SQUIRREL

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RABBIT BUT NOT SURE WHICH KIND THE COLORING FROM WINTER TO SUMMER IS THROWING ME OFF

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

Aw, love the Badger Babies, and I've never even heard of a Pika before, thought I knew my American Animals better that that.

lilmansworld said...

nat geo lover myself :)

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