Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Animal Sightings in Yellowstone

This was my 5th trip to Yellowstone and the animals did not disappoint! As you may have gathered from reading or even just glancing at my blog site, I love bison. I think they are just the coolest animals around. They appear stoic, inactive and to many folks downright boring, but if they want to, they can really turn it on. For example, an adult bison can high jump 5-6 feet without  a running start. They can horizontally jump 15 feet. They can run up to 30 mph (maybe even faster), and they can stop on a DIME without slowing down. They have lots of other cool behaviors especially related to the rut and fighting for mates. They are very protective of their young- Adam and I once saw a group of 5 bison surround a baby bison to shepherd it across the Firehole River. 

We had the opportunity to see many of these behaviors up close and personal on the snow coach ride from Mammoth to Old Faithful. As I mentioned in the Snow Coach Adventures post, the majority of the roads in Yellowstone are closed in winter so we took a 4 hour snow coach ride to and from Old Faithful. Since the large mammals tend to use the road to save energy during transit, we had many chances to get very close all from the safety of our snow coach. Most excitingly, we were able to be smack dab in the middle of a bison stampede!

We saw hundreds of bison along the way (there are 3500 in the park), and one group of about 30 decided it was time to go for a run right as we drove by them. They seemed to be running just for the joy of it (which I like to believe),  though it's likely that one of them got spooked for no good reason and the others followed. Bison are known to run for miles and miles at a time in response to perceived or actual threats. They do this less often in the winter because they need to conserve energy but Yellowstone, like the Midwest, is having a very mild winter so the young males were full of energy jumping on and fighting with each other. And running like the dickens. It was so so cool. Interestingly, it was virtually soundless because they were running on snow. I can only imagine how loud such a run would be in the summer!

Off they go! Coming towards the snow coach.

Taken through the windshield. We're surrounded by running bison at this point.

The bison on the left was hauling it, moving so fast, directly at
the snowmobilers. He ended up jumping around them aggressively
but no one was harmed. (I guess our bison friend dislikes snowmobiles
in Yellowstone as much as we do- NOISE POLLUTION.)

In addition to the bison, we saw plenty of pronghorns (the best marathoning animals in the world- no other species can run faster over the 26.2 mile distance, but humans are faster at ultra distances), elk, coyotes and even a small red fox.

The red fox was astutely spotted by my dad, it's amazing that he was able to catch it. The fox found a nice nook, walked in a circle, sat down, yawned, and then sat down for a nap. Like a cat, really.

A final comment about Yellowstone animals in the winter. While Adam and I have always had great luck spotting animals (we've seen at least 5 wolves in 3 different sightings) the snow cover in winter really emphasizes how many and how active the animals in the park are. There are footprints everywhere! You can get a good sense of who travelled where and how long ago which is fun to see. We called sites of particular activity a "wild rumpus". Yes the rumpus usually involves no more than large mammals eating grass but hey that's all the excitement they want in the harsh winter!

If you want to see more animal pictures or more Yellowstone pics in general, click on the Yellowstone 2012 slideshow in the upper right hand corner of my blog homepage. Enjoy!

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