Wildlife Encounters

Animals we saw on our trip.

Special to: Travel as I Have Envisioned It Could Be

One of the things I was looking forward to on our trip was seeing, and hopefully photographing wild creatures. There were limited spotting opportunities traveling along Interstates and major highways, so, we did not see, nor did I expect to see many animals until we got out to Utah and later when we would be camping and spending serious time in parks.

Still to provide a complete list, I’ll begin with the geese we encountered at the Lions park in Atwood, Kansas.  I suspect these are resident geese, as opposed to migrating birds, especially since they had several goslings in the group. They also seemed quite acclimated to people, although they did not like that I approached them. When I did, they quickly rounded up the young ones and marched away, loudly.

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Geese in Atwood Park, Kansas

Of course, traveling through the west or Midwest, cattle and horses are common, but I am not including them.

We stopped at a wayside park in Kansas. I captured a sparrow-sized bird in a tree and got some good, close photos. I have been unable to identify it precisely. It could be the female of several species from grosbeaks to larger sparrows. Or it could have been a juvenile of other species. It was very patient while I snapped several photos.

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Sparrow-like Bird in a Roadside Park in Kansas

 

Our first sighting of true western animals was a heard of buffalo (bison) seen from US 36 as we cruised by on the highway. While I cannot be sure, I suspect this was a commercial herd of bison in fenced pasture land. Someone must be raising them for meat to supply all of those bison burgers and bison meatloaf on the menus (and that I ordered).

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Herd of Bison in Fenced Pasture in Eastern Colorado

The first truly “wild” creatures I saw were mule deer. I saw them walking down a campground road—tents and campers on either side—as I walked to the bathhouse (hence no camera/photos). So, while I am sure they were wild, they were certainly acclimated to people.

My first wild “capture” was a pronghorn antelope grazing along a park road in Bryce Canyon. I slowed as I grabbed the camera on the seat beside me, and pointed without looking through the viewfinder, and clicked off several shots, getting at least one printable copy.

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Pronghorn Antelope in Bryce Canyon National Park

The first day in Yellowstone, driving along a thickly wooded area, we spotted an elk—nearly stepping out in front of us. Not time for a photo, and really not a good view. We did see one other elk, grazing at some distance from a busy stretch of road, with nowhere to stop safely.

I spent some time watching two ravens gliding on updrafts along the high rim of Bryce Canyon. The entire time, I never saw them flap their wings—they were simply “surfing” the air currents above the canyon walls.

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Ravens sail on rising wind currents forced upward by the canyon walls

The first genuinely wild bison were seen in Yellowstone National Park. Grazing about 50 yards from a park road. Later that day, we saw two more crossing a road—and holding up traffic—elsewhere in the park.  We had a third sighting the day we were leaving the Yellowstone area, grazing along the shores of Lake Yellowstone.

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A lone Bison grazing along the river.

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We saw bison throughout the park. A good telephoto lens lets me get close without getting too close.

Of course, the persistent hope was to see and be able to photograph a bear. On our first day in Yellowstone, we came upon a group of cars pulled off to the side of the road—not in a parking area. That was a sign of something. Someone said something about a bear and pointed toward the trees, maybe 100 yards distant. Perhaps I saw something, and perhaps it was a bear, but as for a photo…well I have attended too many travel slide shows where someone says, “It is hard to see, but there is a bear there in those trees”—and the trees are so far away that they are not clear. No, I needed a definitive bear photo.

That photo opportunity occurred on the day we were leaving the Yellowstone area. Again, we saw a dozen or so cars stopped along a park road. We went around them to a legitimate pull-off and I planned walk back for possible photos. The bears were between the gaggle of people and the shore of a lake. As it was, there were two bears, a big sow and a half-grown cub, and they were taking their time coming in my direction.

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The Mama Bear

I waited until they got about 50 yards away and started taking photos about the same time a park ranger cautioned me to move back. I moved back at about the same pace as the bears were advancing, setting the tripod down every few steps to aim and shoot more photos. They may not be “National Geographic” quality photos, but there is no doubt that we saw bears!

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The Cub

During one stop in Yellowstone, I talked with a ranger, and asked him about moose in the park. He said he had seen everything but moose. They were not common in the park, so I mentally crossed “moose” of the bucket list for this trip. However, once we left the park on the way to Cody, Wyoming, we saw both a bull moose, and some miles later, a female (cow?) moose. Both provided photo opportunities—not ideal, but good enough.

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A young bull moose.

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Our second Moose of the day

Just after entering Badlands National Park, we passed a group of ewes and juvenile bighorn sheep grazing along the road. Traffic was busy, but I managed to shoot photos from the moving truck.

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A small group of Bighorn ewes and juvenile sheep grazed peacefully as we drove by. There were no Rams in this group.

Leaving Devils Tower National Monument, we stopped at the gift shop. Along the parking lot and the exit road there was a huge prairie dog town. They were willing subjects for photos, anticipating a snack in return. They squeaked (barked?) and stood as tall as they could to get attention. There was a bus load of international tourists behind us, and I suspect the prairie dogs there had a good meal (despite the “Do Not Feed the Prairie Dog” signs every fifty feet.

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One eager prairie dog took up his position at the edge of the parking area.

Oh, not sure this counts but we saw a jackalope in Wall, South Dakota!

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A human-sized jackalope for photos. Wall Drug is a major tourist destination. (Skipped the animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex.)

Perhaps someday, I will get a chance to go back for more photos.

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