Yellowstone: Pronghorn

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The pronghorn, related to antelopes such as the gazelle or springbok, is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, reaching speeds up to 55 mph for a half mile. Although there are no antelope species native to North America, that didn’t stop millions of American school children from singing about pronghorns in the song “Home on the Range” about the American West:

Home, home on the range,

Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Males have larger, pronged horns than females. Like their African brethren, pronghorn hang out in fields of grass or low shrubs, where they can spot predators and run to safety. Pronghorn neared extinction a hundred years ago, but they have rebounded since then. There are several hundred pronghorn in Yellowstone.

Fawns are born in late May, and twins are common. In late June we saw these two fawns nursing.

pronghorn nursing two fawns
pronghorn nursing two fawns

Below, the male stands between the road and two females and two fawns, watching.

pronghorn family
pronghorn family

We saw these pronghorns near the Lamar River west of the Tower Junction. The Lamar River valley is noted for its wildlife. We drove through there on our first full day in Yellowstone, and we kept going back.

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Moremi, Day Two – Leopard and Impala

Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, which adjoins the Okavango Delta, can be swampy. These water birds are hunting for food.

great egret, yellow-billed stork, and African spoonbill
great egret, yellow-billed stork, and African spoonbill

This side-striped jackal paused briefly before trotting off.

side-striped jackal
side-striped jackal

We stopped to look at the mother blacksmith lapwing and her two babies. At first the babies were walking along the shore. Then the mother started squacking and the babies froze. The mother continued squacking while walking away from her babies. Based on the time codes from photos, the babies didn’t move for the four minutes — remarkable. We marveled at the discipline shown by the lapwing babies and noted that our children could learn something.

blacksmith lapwing
blacksmith lapwing family

This crimson-breasted shrike is out in the open.

crimson-breasted shrike
crimson-breasted shrike

As we approached Third Bridge, our guide stopped. Third Bridge is the wooden bridge on the other side of the water. The approach to the bridge is flooded, and the bridge is narrow, so he has to make sure he doesn’t swerve as he approaches the bridge, like the warden did yesterday. Otherwise, we’d wind up in the water under the bridge! Third Bridge is made of mopane logs, which are strong but not straight. The bridge surface isn’t uniform, so you have to drive carefully. The warning sign to slow down on top of the bridge, but hitting your brakes in the water could be tricky. We made it across the bridge.

Third Bridge
Third Bridge

We got more excitement just before lunch — a leopard in the brush.

leopard in the brush
leopard in the brush

The leopard is a young female, two or three years old, when she is first striking out on her own. She has to kill to eat, and she isn’t strong enough to drag an impala ( a medium-sized antelope) up a tree to protect her kill from stronger predators.

leopard returning to the kill
leopard standing over impala (click to enlarge)

She is standing over a male impala, which has a tan body and black, curved horns. Dominant male impala gather harems of females and wait for the females to enter estrus, reaching a peak during a full moon a month after our visit. Most male impalas are bachelors, hanging out alone, waiting for a female to wander by and stick around. For prey like impalas, there’s strength in numbers against predators, and this lone bachelor didn’t make it.

larger image
leopard crouching over its kill (click to enlarge)

Back at the camp, this goliath heron is the largest heron in Africa.

goliath heron
goliath heron

On our afternoon game drive we saw this woodland kingfisher.

woodland kingfisher
woodland kingfisher

Boat to Moremi Game Reserve

On our Botswana safari, we departed the Okavango Delta by boat to the Moremi Game Reserve.

In the morning we watched a team of swallows build a nest under the thatched roof of our cabin.

mud nest with lesser striped swallow
mud nest with lesser striped swallow

A swallow with mud in its mouth would land on the railing.

lesser striped swallow with mud for nest
lesser striped swallow with mud for nest

When the nest was free, the waiting bird would fly into the nest, turn around, stick its head out, deposit the mud onto the edge of the nest, and fly out to make room for the next swallow.

swallow putting mud on nest
swallow putting mud on nest

On the boat ride we saw these hadeda ibises.

hadeda ibis
hadeda ibis

Our guide explained how elephants eat tree bark, using their tusks to scrape bark off trees. Elephant tusks are powerful and sharp.

tree with bark stripped by elephants
tree with bark stripped by elephants

After landing at Moremi, we did a game drive to camp. These two elephants wrapped their trunks around each other.

elephants wrapping tusks
elephants wrapping trunks

In this swampy area, a yellow-billed stork is hunting for frogs and other small animals.

yellow-billed stork and egret
yellow-billed stork and egret

The stork spreads its wing to cast a shadow and make it easier to spot animals in the water.

stork hunting
stork hunting

We stopped for a herd of impalas, a kind of antelope, on the road. Two hundred meters later we arrived in camp.

impalas on the road
impalas on the road

In the camp our tents fronted on a lake, and in the distance ears were sticking out of the water. Our camp was next to a lake with hippos! The photo below was taken from near our tent — we had to stay within the camp. A hippo is exhaling, sending a puff of water vapor into the air like a whale. I’ve since read that explosive exhaling is a threat display, but we didn’t know this at the time. So we enjoyed the lake and hippos.

hippos at the Moremi camp
hippos at the Moremi camp

We did look around camp for grass. At night hippos graze on grass lawns at our lodge in the Okavango Delta. We were told to stay in our cabins until after sunrise. We heard hippos grunting from the grass area behind our cabin, and people saw hippo footprints on the sandy path by our cabin. On that day’s boat ride, we stopped at a remote island with a grassy interior that was mown down. Our guide confirmed that hippos keep the grass short.

A leopard and its kill

On our safari in February we drove far to the north for the day into Serengeti National Park, to see the great migration.  At 1:00 we saw dozens of vultures and storks congregating at this tree. These African storks eat meat, a far cry from our childhood image of a white stork delivering newborn babies.

dozens of vultures and storks
dozens of vultures and storks

A few minutes later, our guide stopped at the lone tree in the photo below. There’s a leopard nearby, and there might be a kill in the tree. No vehicles were parked here, a common indicator of animals. We all pulled out our binoculars and scanned the tree. This photo was taken at 120 mm focal length on a 40D, about 3 times magnification over the human eye. How our guide knew to stop at this tree is a mystery to me.

acacia tree with leopard kill
acacia tree with leopard kill

We finally saw some thin, brown legs hanging from a limb on the right side, half-way up the tree. The next photo, a tighter shot using a telephoto zoom lens at 380 mm, shows the kill more clearly. From the color of the legs, it looks like an antelope such as a gazelle or impala, probably an impala from the medium brown color.

leopard kill
leopard kill

Then we drove a half mile to a tree with a dozen or more land cruisers parked underneath. The leopard was in this second tree, away from its kill. After waiting for vehicles to leave, we finally had a clear view of the leopard.  This photo shows the leopard from head to tail, shot at 160 mm focal length.

leopard in tree
leopard in tree

Here’s a tighter shot of the leopard, at 380 mm.

tighter shot of leopard
tighter shot of leopard

Our guide explained that the leopard is clever, hiding the kill in one tree and hanging out in another tree. During the day, vehicles like ours will call attention to the leopard. Putting the kill in a tree ensures than hyenas won’t get to the kill. Using a tree with leaf cover hides the kill from dozens of vultures a few minutes away.

You have to be clever to survive in Africa. And our guide is just as clever to see all this as he drives, to show us, and to teach us so we can understand. Asante, Mzee.

To the Serengeti Camp

We drove all day from the Alamana Camp to the Serengeti Camp. In the morning we saw two kinds of antelope: a Coke’s hartebeest and a male impala.

Coke's hartebeest
Coke’s hartebeest
male impala
male impala

A group of giraffes were walking, and then they galloped past our parked trucks. These 3 photos were taken with a zoom lens at 135 mm, a short telephoto length. See the dust being kicked up in the third picture.

walking giraffes
walking giraffes
giraffes running
giraffes running
giraffes running with curved necks
giraffes running with curved necks

As we neared camp, a herd of elephants walked by.  Note that the baby is much smaller than the adult elephants.

elephant herd walking by
elephant herd walking by

Here’s a baby elephant nursing.

baby elephant nursing
baby elephant nursing

Close to sunset, we drove past an alkaline lake with various birds.

flamingos and 2 storks
flamingos and 2 storks
black-headed heron
black-headed heron
yellow-billed stork
yellow-billed stork

Bush walks

The Alamana camp is located on Maasai lands outside Serengeti National Park.  We may use open vehicles, go on bush walks, drive off-road, and do night game drives.  These activities are not permitted within the National Park.

The first morning we climbed into open vehicles to drive to a bush walk.  Lucas, a Maasai camp employee, is standing in front.  The open vehicle with three levels of seats facilitates game viewing and photography.

Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front
Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front

We did a game drive to a dry stream bed, where we did a bush walk. Noeli, a camp guide, led the the group and carried a loaded 416 caliber rifle. Lucas brought up the rear and carried a spear, the traditional Maasai weapon. We stayed close to Noeli, who carried the gun. He has used the rifle on bush walks, killing a charging hippo with a single shot from his bolt action rifle. No one asked if he would have had time for a second shot in case the first one only wounded the hippo. Remember, hippos kill more people than any other animal.

staying close to the guy with the rifle
staying close to the guy with the rifle

Noeli showed us a whistling thorn acacia, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some thorns have a bulbous base where ants live, entering and exiting through a hole. Wind causes some acacia bulbs to whistle as the wind passes the hole. If the acacia is disturbed, the ants crawl out and bite the animal eating the acacia. Although this acacia has long thorns, evidently the thorns aren’t enough to protect it against herbivores!

whistling thorn acacia
whistling thorn acacia

Noeli cut open a bulb.  Ants crawled out of the bulb and are biting his hand as he holds the bulb for this picture.  Noeli is one tough dude.

whistling thron acacia and biting ants
whistling thorn acacia and biting ants

Here’s a leopard tortoise, which has spots like a leopard.

leopard tortoise
leopard tortoise

To our surprise, Lucas pulled all this from his backpack, so we enjoyed coffee and cookies in the shade.

coffee on the bush walk
coffee on the bush walk

Driving back to camp we saw a male impala and his harem.

male impala
male impala
female impalas
female impalas

Near the camp, we saw one of the three Maasai camp guards.  Each guard is stationed on a kopje, a granite outcropping.

kopje with Maasai guard
kopje with Maasai guard

We did an evening bush walk after a much-needed siesta, .  A troop of baboons watched us from a kopje.  Baboons are a favorite food of leopards, so baboons stay vigilant.

baboon on kopje
baboon on kopje

We did a night game drive after dinner, but we didn’t see much. Day 1 in Alamana.