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Friday, June 10, 2011

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons: Those Large Grass Eaters

I almost titled this post ‘Buffalo, Buffalo and More Buffalo’ because nineteen times out of twenty if you saw an animal it was a buffalo... but then I thought that it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the Grazers for their heading to be all about buffalo. Seriously I cannot imagine a time when the buffalo were everywhere, now your populations are confined to spaces like Yellowstone. It was awesome to see buffalo all over the place.

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ONE OF THE MANY HERDS OF BUFFALO WITH YELLOWSTONE’S FAVOURITE GYSERS IN THE BACKGROUND

Buffalo, you are GINORMOUS and so primitive looking. Of course I have seen you before, when I was a young kid, but you just seem so much BIGGER now. I think I can say with some certainty that your size hasn’t changed but my perception of size has.

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THIS IS ONE OF MY FAV PHOTOS OF THE WHOLE TRIP

When I was a kid everything seemed large, chairs were too big, cars had to be climbed into, adults made me crane my neck up, my dad was the strongest biggest man in the world...but buffalo I see now your largeness then was just another thing bigger than me.

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Now that I am a grown woman, and probably because I was alone and therefore a little bit more cautious about being safe, you look HUGE.

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Not only were you making me speechless with your impressive size by the end of my trip you were pissing me off. I found out you are a bully and that I am sure you intentionally sit in the road just to screw with me. The limits of my patience were often tested when you would sit on the road, stare at me and just munch away on whatever grass you had hanging out between your teeth at the time. It was HIGHLY annoying.

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THE BUFFALO WERE ALWAYS ON THE ROAD

I found it odd that the females AND the males had horns. I was curious why and found out all kinds of things about horns and antlers from the rangers (which I will share later).

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There are signs everywhere about how short tempered and dangerous you are. People seem to stay away from the bears who are obviously dangerous but the buffalo people like to get close too. Like you are a favoured family pet I saw people walk right up. I took out the big lens and kept far away.

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Although I loved taking photos of the adults who look all big and intimidating the baby calves which were everywhere captured my heart.

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Some newborn and some only weeks old it was a riot to see them trotting after their mothers, playing with other young ones in the herd and being absolutely adorable.

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One thing we were warned about REPEATEDLY is to be very careful about getting between a calf and its mother. People have gotten hurt in the past and even cars had been gored by the temperamental bison mothers.

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I spent quite a bit of time near my car watching the calves and snapping adorable shots of them just being funny. I particularly like when one little calf started trying to eat the lichen off the rocks. He kept scraping his teeth and then flicking his head before going back again for more. Adorable!

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The other herd animals were much more elusive than the buffalo. I think the one I was most excited about was the moose. The Grand Teton National Park had a bunch of moose. In the two days I was there I saw a total of 6 moose.

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A YOUNG MALE MOOSE PROBABLY FOUR YEARS OLD

However the ten days I was at the Yellowstone National Park I didn’t see one moose. Confused as to why I talked to a ranger who said that the Tetons has a much better habitat for moose, they have more shallow water systems which the moose love.

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PERFECT MOOSE TERITORY ARE SHORT GRASSES AND SHALLOW WATER

Also with the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone the moose have flocked even more to the Tetons. I was thankful that I had been able to see both the male and a female with her young while I was in the Tetons. I spotted the mother and her baby off a bridge and immediately pulled over. A large crowd gathered in the hour mother and baby grazed before they got spooked and took off. The baby was so cute!

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MAMA AND HER TINY NEWBORN BABY ONLY DAYS OLD

Two years ago while visiting the Grand Canyon with Mr. Rogue we had a chance to see and photograph the next three animals on the list. However we were visiting in the fall and didn’t get to see the babies.

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PREGNANT ELK MAMA TAKING A BREAK

I kept seeing groups of males together OR groups of females and their young. When I had seen these animals two years ago fall was the rutting season and all the males and females were together. In spring or early summer like now the groups separate so that the males don’t hurt the adorable little babies.

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I FOUND A GROUP OF MALES SUNNING THEMSELVES THIER HORNS ARE GROWING FAST AND COVERED IN VELVET

I stopped off at the side of the road where two people were hovering at the side of the forest. A new tiny baby elk had just been born and was standing for the first time. Mom was busy licking her little baby clean and those adorable little spindly legs worked so fast. Within a half hour baby was clean and on his own two feet, even if those feet were a bit wobbly.

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MAMA AND HER HOUR OLD CALF

I wasn’t able to get the male Bighorn Sheep photo up close like I wanted. Those bad boys were always way off in the distance.

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A SMALL GROUP OF MALE BIGHORN SHEEP WERE SPOTTED WAY IN THE DISTANCE

I did however manage to stumble on a small group of females and their young. The poor Bighorn Sheep moms I think were the most raggedy looking and I felt bad for this mother and her splotchy spotted coat. Girl needs a makeover for SURE.

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And oh my goodness those tiny little bighorn sheep babies scrambling up those sheer cliffs made my heart stop a few times when they slipped. The mom would go back and forth showing the young one how to get from one area to another and then mom would look back expectantly. Most of the time those young ones would scamper after and one time I saw a mom push her kid. SCARY for sure little guy I wouldn’t want to try it either.

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I was surprised by how FEW mule deer I saw. For some reason I remember them as prevalent as the bison; maybe because in my childhood memories there were so many deer where I grew up in Michigan, at least many where we camped and up by grandma’s house.

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I was happy with the two shots that I did get of the deer but I thought it was very unusual to not see many. And there were sadly no babies. When I was making a list of what I wanted to see at the park I didn’t even put deer babies because I was expecting that was a given... just goes to show you that everything on a trip like this is a surprise.

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An animal I never remember seeing is the pronghorn. With its slightly tan body and its striking black and white face markings I felt like this animal could easily live in the African plains.

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These guys are FAST and are one of the speediest animals in North America. Running at 53 miles per hour it isn’t a wonder why the coyotes and wolves just trotted by them. These are NOT easy prey.

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Although I saw several pregnant pronghorn females I missed seeing any babies. Sadly I was just a bit too early in the season to catch a photo of any of the young.

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And you know until this trip I was never curious about the difference between a horn and an antler... all these photos prompted me to research the differences and now I can share that knowledge with you. This is another reason I love this blog, not only does it teach me new things about the world and myself all the time I can share all this random (probably never needed to save your life) facts.

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HORNS DISPLAYED AT THE YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK NATURE CENTER

But just in case this is the answer you need to give in order to save yourself from unnecessary doom here is the answer.

    WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HORN AND AN ANTLER?
”Antlers, on members of the deer family, are grown as an extension of the animal’s skull. They are true bone and are a single structure. They are generally found only on males. Antlers are shed each year.

Horns, found on pronghorn, bighorn sheep, bison and many ther bovine, are two-part structures. An interior of bone (also an extension of the skull) is covered by an exterior sheath grown by specialized hair follicles, as are your fingernails. In fact, your fingernails and the exterior sheath of horns are made of very similar materials. Horns are never shed and continue to grow throughout the animals life. The exception to this rule is the pronghorn which sheds and regrows its horn sheath each year.”

Written by the folks at the nature center in Yellowstone National Park.

2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

Great post, great photos. LOVE THE BABIES!!

lilmansworld said...

I feel wildlife should tell the paparazzi how to take photos. I mean there is so much to capture and you make it look so easy!

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