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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wild Wild West

Besides producing Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park is oh-so-famous for its amazing inventory of wildlife, and so is its beautiful neighbour, Grand Teton National Park.

Despite most of the parks being covered in snow still, we were lucky enough to spot quite a few free-ranging animals during our visit. Spring is supposedly the best time for animal sightings too, as that's when the bears come out of hibernation to forage for food, elk and deer return from their winter migrations and newborn spring babies are out frolicking amongst the herd. It helped that there was little vehicular traffic on the roads, so we could easily stop and ogle at the animals along, or even crossing the road right in front of us! I can't imagine how crowded the park and roads would be in summer.

Here are some of our favourite animal sightings, ranked in order of excitement level:

(1) GRIZZLY BEAR

In one of our previous blog entries, we mentioned getting snowed in while camping in Yellowstone. It didn't stop snowing the entire day, so the weather pretty much looked like this:

Heavy snowfall throughout the day

I had wet our entire supply of socks by walking through thick snow earlier that day and so was sitting in the RV in my bare feet. Then, all of the sudden, we noticed other vehicles slowing down along the river... and lo and behold, a grizzly was out hunting in the woods!!! I grabbed my camera and was about to jump out of the RV when I realised that I had no shoes on. My mind whirred: either I waste time putting on my shoes (which were still wet and icy cold anyway) and risk missing the bear or I run out into the thick snow in slippers....

This wasn't the time to get cold feet... or rather, it WAS the time! Out I went semi-barefoot in a flash and managed to catch the last glimpse of it moseying off into the woods. Wow. Really wow.

Go barefoot for bear? Sure!


(2) BISON & NEWBORN CALF

This was amazing, truly amazing. We were privileged enough to spot a female bison and her newborn calf in its trademarked orange coat. The calf must have been only a few hours old cos it didn't have the strength to get up on its feet yet, which it would learn to do so within a day.

Mother & Baby

And if that wasn't awe-inspiring enough, I noticed the mother straining to push... and something else was emerging from her hind end. I thought it could be another calf, but subsequent online research informed that bison have 1 calf per year on the average. So either this female was above the average breeding rate or I was just looking at semi-expelled placenta (Dan's number 1 phobia.)

Hips don't lie. So what's that in there?


(3) BISON HERD

We had just gotten to the Mammoth campground in north Yellowstone and were busy setting up camp. In the midst of minding our own business, we looked outside and saw a strange procession along the road:

Onward.... march!

The parking lot that we had chosen for our RV must have looked very appealing, for the herd started to cross the lawn and head right for us!

I don't recall whistling for them to come over!

I think one of them wanted to give us a ticket for parking in their spot... thank goodness we had pinned our camping permit on the post. So there!

Quit glaring. We were here first!

The experience of being surrounded by an entire herd of bison was quite something. We just watched from while they calmly went about chowing down on very long one-course dinner right under our dining room window.

We seemed to have parked at their favourite restaurant.

Not joining us for dinner, you guys? We're having beef, not bison.

The boss bison decided to freshen his palette with some other plants and moved off with his herd in check. They happily went off to surround some other campers in a flimsy little blue tent. Nevertheless, we didn't dare venture out of the RV to go to the loo for fear of bumping into a bison in the dark.



(4) BISON IN SNOW

I was hoping to catch sight of bison against a snowy background, cos I thought it would make a pretty nice picture. My wish came true.

Who needs snowshoes when you've got hooves.

The smartest bison is the who drinks from the stream - and pees into it - first.

Follow the leader... but don't drink right behind him, for goodness sake!

I like bison

(5) WOLF (PRINTS)

Well, okay, we didn't actually see wolves. But spotting and identifying the prints at Grand Teton was thrilling. I do wish that we could have seen one though.

Who goes here?

Solving the Mystery of the Unknown Prints

Aha!

(6) MULE DEER

Okay, deer are pretty mundane creatures to see after we've ranked them after 5 other more exciting park residents. But they were the first signs of wildlife we saw roaming freely in the park and were thrilled enough to get out of the RV and walk over to look at them up close.

Sitting pretty by the Madison River

Look at their cute white tushies!

Deer at our camp site. We admit that they were here first.

These sorta remind me of reindeer in the snow.


(7) RED-EYED BIRD

I haven't managed to find out what this little guy is. He was an exciting find simply because we didn't expect to find him sitting so snugly on a hotbed of geysers in Yellowstone. We wouldn't even have noticed him if not for him indignantly sqwaking for attention!

Okay, okay we see you. Don't have to see red over it.


There were a few other creatures we saw, like a brilliant little bluebird perched atop a pine and a group of moose (or meese, as Dan insists since "one goose, many geese") by the river. We saw many prints in the snow too, mostly of the hooved kind. Being in the beautiful wilderness of Grand Teton and Yellowstone was an unforgettable experience we which deeply appreciate. And we sincerely hope that everyone of you will be fortunate to experience the same.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.

- John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901

2 comments:

Christine said...

wow, & i thot one only gets to see amazing wild animals in the African safari!

Yi Lin said...

Yes, this is really amazing. Cos the animals are free to roam, not just within the park boundaries, but across long distances cos some of them migrate for winter and return in spring. And we didn't see silly people trying to feed the deer or anything. Everyone was very respectful and kept their distances and noise levels down. The parks services makes alot of effort in educating visitors on how to behave around animals, esp how to avoid bear attacks by keeping food out of sight. Cos once a bear attacks a human, the bear has to be put down. Very sad.

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