There are two things that are pretty common in Yellowstone during the spring. Almost everywhere we went we saw herds of bison and large flocks of mountain bluebirds, all of them searching out areas in the park where the snow had either completely disappeared or was just about to. The spring thaw and green-up was in full swing which made for prime feeding grounds. The bison were chomping down on tiny stems of green grass wherever they could find it and when that wasn’t available or was covered over in fresh snow, they resorted to winter-killed, high roughage stalks of grass. Bison have lots of character and this one seemed to want to go for a hillbilly look and I must say, pulled it off better than anyone else I have seen try.
It wasn’t until watching the bluebirds for some time that it became clear they were relying on by-products of bison to help them survive the first few months of spring. In March and early April there aren’t as many insects to feed on. But as it turns out, buried within and under old bison patties are lots of overwintering insect larvae. With their keen eyesight, the bluebirds snatched these insects up as they emerged from the dried-up dung. Other times they would use the piles as perches to get a better vantage point to spot their next meal.
As the saying goes, one person’s trash is a another person’s treasure! To some, this might diminish the image of these beautiful birds, but without them we would suffer even more from the torture of biting flies, mosquitoes, ticks and other pesky insects. So for me it adds another level of appreciation since doing all of this dirty work and still looking good can’t be easy. With that I will end on a high note with one last photo that showcases just how spectacular and stunning these birds really are.
Whether scratching an itch, trying to remove flies and ticks, showing off during the rut, or just for fun, bison seem to get lots of enjoyment and satisfaction from rolling around in the dirt. This youngster spent several minutes having a great time getting dusted up before racing off to rejoin the herd.
It will be great to see these beasts back in Banff National Park in the near future.
Would you like to directly impact the future of a critically endangered species?
Currently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of determining if the Red Wolf Recovery Program will continue. This project has great personal significance to me, given that I was directly involved in efforts to save this species. In 2009, while working at Lincoln Park Zoo I flew from Chicago with four, 1 week old red wolf pups in a carry-on suitcase! We were head to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina to link up with biologists to cross-foster the captive born pups into wild red wolf dens to bolster the wild red wolf population.
Click here for my 2009 travel blog featured on Lincoln Park Zoo’s website with lots of photos.
This species is one of the most endangered carnivores in the world (only about 80-110 in the wild) and drastic measures were and are needed to save it. With the intensive conservation measures mentioned above the population is slowly increasing but more work is required.
If you feel that red wolves are worth saving, please send your comments, concerns, or information to the following e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Input needs to be provided by September 26th (next Friday)
Additional information on the Red Wolf Recovery Program can be found by clicking here.
Thanks for your support!
Under just the right conditions, thin layers of mud will crack and sometimes curled up into these shapes that look like tasty chocolate treats! I came across these neat formations while hiking along a stream in Arches National Park.
Having visited Arches National Park before, I wanted to explore some of the more remote areas on my trip in October. After a bit of a hike and a steep scramble up a sandstone formation, I came across this amazing cave with spectacular views over the valley below. The extra effort to get there was certainly well worth it.
I was recently down in Utah for work, but I had just enough time to take a quick detour to visit Arches National Park. Having been there once before I wanted to try something different. So after hiking to the famous Delicate Arch for the classic photos of it lit up by the setting sun, I stayed until after midnight to photograph it under the stars. With the help of one other photographer, the two of us used flashlights to ‘paint’ the arch in light while the other took photos. With several shooting stars and the Milky Way Galaxy shining brightly in the distance, it was a spectacular night to be out taking photos!
Two big horn sheep emerge from the fog to make their way up the aptly named Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Seemingly oblivious to our presence, a great blue heron stalks prey next to a marsh. It slowly moved in for the strike but came up empty on this attempt.
Spanish moss catch the last of the evening rays on this massive Live Oak tree at Paynes Prairie, Gainesville, Florida.
Hard to beat eating the best locally caught, grilled Mahi Mahi steak I have ever tasted, while sipping on a gin and tonic and watching brown pelicans and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins fishing in the inlet next to our table at the Dolphin View restaurant near New Smyrna, Florida.
On a recent trip down to Florida to attend a wonderful wedding and visit with some great friends, I was treated to being taken around to some local spots for some wildlife photography. This photo was taken near Gainesville about an hour before sunset. A few alligators were resting along the banks until this one slid into the calm water as fish ripple at the surface. With the sky reflecting off the water and the hyacinth appearing to float above the clouds the photo has a surreal look to me.
A willow ptarmigan kicks up snow as it bursts into flight to rejoin the rest of the nearby flock.
One of the other hardy species I came across on a daily basis in Denali where the willow ptarmigan. With their almost all white feathers apart from the red upper eyelashes and their black tails, they are sometimes hard to find. Fittingly, this one made its way through some willow bushes to browse on the freeze-dried leaves. These birds are quiet adaptable. When storms blow in or when predators are around they will fly into the snow and bury themselves beneath it to either wait out the storm or avoid being seen.