Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wyoming's Serengeti

Yellowstone has many similarities to the Serengeti/Masai Mara ecosystems due to the large concentration of ungulates and their migrations patterns.  Although the number of migrants in Yellowstone is smaller, it is still a sight to enjoy.  The rainy and dry seasons, drive the migrations in East Africa; while in Yellowstone, the temperature changes between winter and summer are the forces that cause the migrations.  Above we have some buffaloes jumping a tributary of the Yellowstone River; you will see wildebeests jumping the Mara River in Kenya but in larger numbers.  

Due to the large numbers of visitors in both Yellowstone and East Africa, ways of controlling their impact in the ecosystems are very similar.  In Yellowstone, vehicular traffic is limited to the roads; this is a practice adopted in the recent past in the Seregenti, and to a more limited extends in the Masai Mara.  Off the road driving is not longer the rule in Africa.  Another phenomenon is the concentration of people/vehicles where an unusual animal sight is found or where a kill have occurred.

The lions of Yellowstone are the wolves and their cousins the coyotes.  There are also  bears as well as smaller ones as the badgers.  The wolves were recently reintroduced in the park and their presence has attracted a loyal group of trackers that spent endless hours recording their behavior.

I had visited this park in all seasons except for the winter; I do not handle cold temperatures well. Spring is probably the most exciting because of all the new life as well as the flowers abundantly present.  Of course, fall is also colorful because of the changes in foliage and the elks rutting season.  Summer…it is for the tourists.  Yellowstone is the Premier Park in the USA; there are animals, unusual landscapes to include geysers and waterfalls.  A place of wonders.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Camas National Wildlife Refuge

Driving north in Idaho I-15 towards the refuge, I saw this large six-pack that I could not pass.  Unfortunately they were silos camouflaged as beer cans; a refreshing sight after driving for hours.  This area of Idaho is mostly agricultural and yes, they do grow potatoes there.

Arriving late in the afternoon at the Refuge, it did not look too impressive, and as much of the West bodies of water this spring it was flooded.  It was established in 1937 as a breeding ground for waterfowl and as a resting stop for migrating birds.  My first sighting was the yellow-headed blackbirds, a new species for me.  They were all over the cat tail reeds displaying and raising a cacophony of sounds.  It was the breeding season and the males were trying to impress the girls and defending their territories.  In their behavior, they are very similar to their cousins the red-winged blackbirds.

The waterfowl were courting and some were already building their nests.  Others such as the coots had already hatched their chicks and were actively feeding them.  The cinnamon teals above, were also a new species for me, the males color could have not been better described; just the same color as the condiment.  The females, more practical, had a plumage that help them to blend with the reeds where them nest.

Another surprise for me were the male ruddy ducks, I had never seen them before in their breeding colors with those strong red feathers and the fabulous blue bills.  They are really funny to watch they pump their heads up and down when attracting the females.  Another peculiarity is that they make the water bubble in front of their chests by making a very low frequency sound (I assume since I could not hear any noise).   I have seen the similar bubbling of water done by alligators.  These small ducks are very aggressive and will not permit another male of any species to even look at their partner.   Jealous birds they are, wonder why?  The females are just plain Jane's, but then, I have no ruddy duck eyes.

The long billed wren was also very active settling territorial disputes and chanting to the world "do not trespass.  This bird I photographed earlier in the year in the east coast while involved in the same behavior.  It a fetish little bird.

Harriers were also very active flying over the marshes looking for prey.  These were already nesting among the reeds.  One evening, a male have caught a rodent (above) and flew towards its nest; on approach the female flew up from the nest and let go of the furry creature that was promptly captured in mid-air by the female.
Visiting Camas was very rewarding; at one time it was a farming area.  Some of the ruins of the original settlers are still visible, against the chocolate flood waters and the blue skies make a good departure image.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Above Clouds in Mount Evans

Mount Evans in Colorado, is the highest mountain in the USA whose peak that can be reached by road. Early in June, I drove up several times to the top at 14,150 feet to photograph the mountain goats and the Bighorn Sheep.  The first morning I suffered a slight case of altitude sickness but later on there were no further symptoms.  The weather was variable with complete cloud cover at times, strong winds and freezing point temperatures at the top.
The goats are easily approached or rather; they approach you at the Great House, the ruins at the peak.  It was a resort built in the 1930's that was destroyed in 1979; some said by fire, others by an explosion of a propane tank while it was refilled.

The goats were seen the first day at sunset and the next morning at sunrise, the sheep were never seen.  These are wild animals that are hunted during the fall, yet for some reason, they know that a certain times of the year humans are safe.

They come to the Great House to lick the salt applied to the sidewalks to melt the ice/snow, to prevent the two-legged animals from slipping and falling. While licking the salt, the goats are totally oblivious of people and they will come within arm reach. 
The mountain goats travel in families and my goal was to photograph newly born ones. But they were not brought to the Great House while I was there. Perhaps they were not born yet since this year had very long winter.  I found a similar situation with other species where new born were rarely seen during my 4,000 miles trip throughout the West that followed.

There are a few other animals to be seen just as the marmot above and an occasional raven at this time of the year.  At the lower attitudes mule deer and various smaller birds were seen, and at the entry to the park, hummingbirds were visiting the feeders.
The road to the top was spectacular but not as dangerous as those I have driven in Central and South America.  Two scenic stops come to mind, Echo Lake where several snow boarders were practicing their skills and the interpretative center near the Sequoia trees forest.  Some of the trees nearby are more than 2000 years old and they showed it.  The harsh weather sculptured the trees into very twisted and scared shapes.  These are a delight to photograph as the sun illuminates them at sunrise or sunset.