27 April 2015

W Is For Wildlife

During April, we're participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day (except Sundays), we’ll be doing an alphabet themed post starting with “A is for Adventurous” and ending with “Z is for Zinc”. We've got a theme for every letter sorted except for Y. If you have any ideas for the letter Y, please leave a comment or email.

One of the things we enjoyed most on our tour of some of the National Parks in the West was wildlife spotting. One of the first things we did before exploring each park was to find out what wildlife could be found there. Then the wildlife spotting began. Scott got just a little bit obsessive about it. Hard to imagine, but true. He really wanted to get a photo of each and every animal. Unfortunately, we never did see a bobcat, cougar or sidewinder. Personally, I was pretty chuffed about not seeing the sidewinder. I'm much happier seeing snakes in cages then out in the wild.

Here are some of the critters we saw and a few fun facts about them.


1 - Bison are one of those iconic American animals. You might know them better as buffalo, but they are only distantly related to the true buffalo (Asian water buffalo and African buffalo). 2 - Both male and female bison have horns, which I find weird. 3 - Buffalo burgers are delicious! You can easily find buffalo meat at grocery stores in the States - it's become very popular over the years here.  4 - Bison almost became extinct and were bred with cows in an effort to revive the population. The bison herd in Wind Cave National Park is genetically pure so some of their stock is sent outside of the park for cross-breeding purposes.

We saw this herd of bison at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.
1 - Elk is also known as wapiti, which means "white rump" in the Shawnee and Cree languages. 2 - People tell me that elk meat is delicious. I've only had it once and it was pretty rank. Scott swears it was just a bad cut of meat. He traded some salmon he caught for the elk and thinks he got the worse end of the deal. 3 - Don't mess with elk when they're rutting. When we were in the Grand Canyon, there were lots of warnings to keep you distance from elk, especially during the rutting season, as they can be quite dangerous. Didn't stop lots of idiots from standing right next to the elk there and taking pictures with their phones. 4 - Elks eat around 20 pounds of vegetation a day. I guess they don't have any problem with getting their 5 a day. 

Elk at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Elk at the South Rim, Grand Canyon. Taken from a safe distance.

1 - You can spot tarantulas crossing the roads during the autumn. The menfolk set off on a "march" in search of womenfolk and end up crossing the roads in places like the Mojave National Preserve. So you have to keep sharp to make sure you don't run over them. Which can be difficult at times as they don't show up on the roads too easily. Perhaps they should wear little florescent safety vests. I guess they would need special ones with eight armholes. 2 - If you get bitten by a tarantula, you won't die. It might not be pleasant, but you'll live. 3 - One of our guidebooks said that you could find tarantulas the size of softballs. Fortunately, the ones we saw were much smaller.

Tarantula spotted at the Mojave National Preserve.
1 - Coyote are opportunistic. They'll eat just about anything from berries to insects to small mammals. 2 - Coyotes are found in Native American lore, often depicted as the trickster who rebels against social convention. 3 - Coyotes mate for life. 4 - Their Latin name, Canis latrans, means barking dog.

Coyote spotted at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


1 - Bears scare the crap out of me (you can read more about my paranoia here.) 2 - American black bears can put on 30 pounds of fat prior to hibernating by eating around 20,000 calories a day (or the equivalent of 40 Big Macs). The bears hibernate for 3-5 months and don't eat or drink during that time. I wouldn't last a day. 3 - If bears get a taste of human food, then they'll continue to seek it out by breaking into cars, tents and cabins. Unfortunately, they can become aggressive and, in some cases, have to be put down. In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, they had to put down four bears during 2010. 4 - If a bear charges at you, don't run. Stand your ground, otherwise you may look like prey to the bear. Fortunately, I've never had to put this theory to the test.

Black bear spotted on the side of the Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park.

Bighorn Sheep 

1 - Bighorn sheep can go without water for up to five days. I guess its a handy adaptation if you're going to live in a desert environment. 2 - If you want to see bighorn sheep at Zion National Park, head for the eastern side of the park. The herd numbers around 500, so chances are you'll see one. If you're lucky, they'll stop and pose for you. 3 - Both male and female bighorn sheep have horns. Again, like the bison, I find this weird. I guess I always assumed only menfolk had horns, kind of like Adam's apples.

Bighorn sheep spotted in Zion National Park.

Another bighorn sheep spotted in Zion National Park. This guy stood there and posed for us for quite a while.
Bighorn sheep roaming around a campground at Custer State Park, South Dakota.

What is the most interesting wildlife you've spotted in your travels?

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  1. I live in Denver, so I've had frequent encounters with all of the wildlife you've mentioned, except the tarantulas (thank god!) Well - I'm not sure I've ever seen a bear "in person" but in the mountain towns and even in the suburbs close to the mountains, you have to have bear proof garbage cans or you're asking for trouble!

    Once when we were visiting South Dakota (can't remember which park) we left the car and went for a hike. Anyhow, as we were turning the final corner of the trail to return to our car we discovered to our horror that a herd of bison had taken up residence all around the vehicle! We weren't sure what to do, so we turned around and hiked for another hour, and when we came back they were gone!

    Mountain lions are pretty common here, but it's rare to see one - and generally not an encounter you want to have. They are known to attack people and pets, and there have been numerous cases of small children killed by them. So perhaps you're lucky you didn't see one!

    1. The first time I went camping ever was in North Dakota. I woke up in the morning to find a huge bison standing right outside our tent. Wow - that was something!

  2. Wonderful photos and interesting collection of animals. Can't say I miss most of them, especially the tarantulas. Interesting wildlife we have spotted - most of the ones you have here, plus in Australia I saw a wild platypus.

    1. I would LOVE to see a platypus! You're very lucky to have had that experience!

  3. I was camping out with my brothers in Little Yosemite valley when a mama bear and 2 cubs came sniffing around. We didn't move until they shuffled away.
    Have you seen the elephant seals near San Simeon? They deliver their young(called wieners) in February. Amazing sight.

    1. I don't think I've seen the elephant seals near San Simeon. Would be amazing! Glad I didn't have your bear encounter. They're interesting to see, but at a distance :-)

  4. I'm gasping in awe at these beautiful creatures--and at the beautiful photographs. There's something very magical about that coyote. It almost looks like you caught it mid-dance.

    Just lovely. A wonderful collection of facts and images to take with me into dreamland.

    1. The coyote was so cool to see! There were a lot of not-so-good photos of the coyote, but this one turned out really nice. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Beautiful photographs! I was just on a trip and regret not having a nice camera .. and photography skills to match haha! Your elk and bighorn sheep photos are my favorites.

    1. I think wildlife pictures involve a great deal of luck. They aren't exactly the most cooperative subjects in terms of posing for the camera. It takes a lot of snapping of photos to get a few where they turn out well.

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