Yellowstone: Bison

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 American bison is the largest living mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Related to the cape buffalo and cattle, thundering herds of bison once roamed the US Great Plains, but they were almost driven to extinction by overhunting and disease.

This video of a herd of bison crossing the Lamar River shows us a glimpse of what used to be. Notice all the lighter-colored calves. This HD video was taken with a DLSR and a 400 mm lens, producing an 8x magnification, and the bison still look small. To get a better view, click the YouTube icon and select a larger size and bitrate.

Driving through Yellowstone’s Hayden River Valley, we stopped to watch bison near the road. The bison bull in the above photo walked in front by our parked car. In the above photo, the bull is walking toward the road filled with cars. He kept walking, and the oncoming cars stopped. Fifteen seconds later, he’s across the road. Between the cars forced to stop and tourists getting a better look and taking pictures, he brought traffic to a standstill.

bison bull crossing the road
bison bull crossing the road

And then a second bull walked up to the road.

second bull crossing the road
second bull crossing the road

As seen in this video, he stopped traffic, looked back at his herd, and nodded his head. They then crossed the road as he held up traffic. After they were all safely across, he finished crossing the road!

Notice the people in the video who approached the bison? From wikipedia, “Between 1980 and 1999, more than three times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were injured by bison than by bears. During this period, bison charged and injured 79 people, with injuries ranging from goring puncture wounds and broken bones to bruises and abrasions.” We filmed from inside our car.

Bison are faster than humans, they’re very strong, and they can be aggressive. This video catches the end of two bulls butting heads.

Here’s the dust wallow pit they were fighting for.

bison wallowing in dust
bison wallowing in dust (click to enlarge)

Despite their size and strength, bison are also prey. Looking across Yellowstone’s Lamar River where we had seen a wolf eating the remains of a bison the day before, we noticed a bouncing black object in the distance. Looking through binoculars, we saw that it’s a bison limping. The bison jerks up its head in order to take a step with its front legs — it appears that one of its front legs can’t take any weight. The bison is tired and rests occasionally. Not too hard to imagine what’s going to happen real soon…

On a happier note, here’s a pair of bison calves, a lighter color than adults.

baby bison
baby bison (click to enlarge)

And a mother nursing. The mother has a collar, probably to record where she goes.

collared bison nursing
collared bison nursing (click to enlarge)

This was our first visit to Yellowstone NP, and these are the first bison we’ve seen in the wild.

Most of the photos in this post were taken in the Hayden Valley, where we were able to get closer to the bison. In Yellowstone NP, we could only drive on roads, and there are very few roads. The road in the Hayden Valley runs through the center of the valley; bison do cross the road so you can get closer. The Lamar Valley road runs on the edge of the valley, and the bison are much farther away.

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.

Day 3 at Serengeti camp – wildebeests and cheetahs

Near our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve, this group of wildebeests walked along the alkaline lake in the early morning. Our guides had told us that with the recent rain, the grass would grow quickly and the herds would return. On our drive the day before, we had seen columns of wildebeests migrating toward camp.

wildebeests returning after the rains
wildebeests returning after the rains

This group has six adults and one baby. I expected more babies — by late February, the calving was complete. Our guide said that about 80% of the newborn wildebeests don’t survive the first year: approximately a quarter die in the first few months, a quarter die crossing the rivers west of the Serengeti, and a quarter die in the Masai Mara. The west and Masai Mara both have rivers with crocodiles. The western Serengeti rivers have the first crocodiles encountered by the young wildebeests, and wildebeests aren’t prepared for the river crossing. The crocodiles get much of their annual food from the migration, so they gather and wait.

We noticed there were a lot more flies than before. Had a thousand flies hitched a ride with every new wildebeest that migrated here? Our guide explained that flies lay eggs in the dung. When the eggs are moistened by rain, baby flies emerge. So the wildebeests migrating into the area didn’t cause more flies.  The recent rain triggered both the new grass (causing wildebeests to migrate into the area) and newborn flies hatching.

Driving on the savanna, we saw three cheetahs: a mother and two 1-year-old cheetahs.

cheetah mother of two
cheetah mother of two
two one-year-old cheetahs
two one-year-old cheetahs

We waited to see if they would hunt the nearby wildebeests and gazelles.  But they only hid in the tall grass, so we drove on. In the photo below, there’s a cheetah head sticking up on each side of the photo.

two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass
two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass

At noon we found a cheetah mother and four cubs with a gazelle kill. It was the same cheetah family we had seen two days earlier. Our guide compared the two cheetah families.  One family has four month-old cubs ; the second family has the two year-old cheetahs.  The family with the older children has fewer children. Is this normal? Some cubs will not survive their first year, despite the best care of the mother. Yes, half the cheetah cubs surviving their first year is normal. 😦

Back at camp we saw this marabou stork.  They’re large (up to 1.5 m tall) and not pretty.

marabou stork at camp
marabou stork at camp

On the evening game drive we saw a mother and baby striped hyena.

striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena baby nursing
striped hyena baby nursing

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