Critters of Wyoming

October 23, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The moose is the largest member of the deer family, weighing up to 1500 lbs. and standing 7 feet tall at the shoulder. Those facts sound impressive enough when you read them, but the actual in-person experience of being close to a moose is enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! Moose are enormous! That's why I used the longest telephoto lens I have to photograph this moose and her calf when I was in Grand Teton National Park in October. The calf loved to run ahead, causing me to scramble out of his way whenever he took off in a new direction. Perhaps I should mention that a 5 day old moose calf can already outrun a man, which gives a better idea of what I was up against. Fortunately, his mother took her time catching up with him. Although I was on high alert while the moose family and I shared the forest, I enjoyed watching the pair browse on willows as they made their way towards the Snake River.   Moose and CalfMoose and CalfA moose cow and her calf forage in the willows in the Teton valley. Calves stay with their mother until they're about a year and half old. The moose is the largest member of the deer family, males weighing up to 1500 pounds and standing 7 feet tall at the shoulder, with females about 1/3 smaller.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming




It's ironic that the only photos I have of pronghorn, the fastest North American land mammals, is when they're either lying down or standing still.  I was fortunate enough to see two of them race each other through the sagebrush. They're capable of maintaining speeds up to 65 mph and indeed moved so quickly as I watched, that at times it was hard for me to spot them. The pronghorn is commonly called the American antelope, but surprisingly, it's more closely related to the giraffe. In the photograph below, a pronghorn buck stands close to his fawn. He continued to get closer and closer to the fawn until I thought he might lick her, but at the last minute he found some prairie grass he wanted to eat just to her left. 

Pronghorn Buck and FawnPronghorn Buck and FawnA male pronghorn gets close to his fawn, both well-camouflaged in the prairie grass of the Teton valley. Pronghorns are the fastest North American land mammals, able to run up to speeds of 65 mph.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming


 I visited Yellowstone National Park during the same trip, mainly to photograph the bison.  I watched a large herd of bison grazing in the meadow near the Madison River. At first they were too far away to photograph, but then they began moving across the road to graze. The bison were so close that I wasn't able to leave my car safely, so I shot through the window to get this picture of the romantic couple below. October is the time of the mating season, or rut, for many of the mammals in the park, including deer, elk, pronghorn, bison and moose. Bison bulls express their interest in a female by what is called tending. The bull separates her from the herd and courts her. If a cow is not in the mood, she walks away and rejoins the herd. Here, the cow was content to receive the attentions of her suitor.


Bison CourtshipBison CourtshipA bison bull shows his interest in a female by separating her from the herd. If the bison cow is not interested, she will walk away from him. On this rainy afternoon at Yellowstone National Park, the pair stayed close together.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming





When I photographed Yellowstone National Park in the winter of 2014, I saw coyotes mainly at kill sites, scavenging an already downed animal, usually an elk. Since the introduction of wolves in the park in 1995, the coyote population has decreased by half. The coyotes who approach wolf kills frequently end up on the menu themselves. Wolves don't like sharing with coyotes, even though the two are closely related genetically. As a result of the decrease in coyotes, the pronghorn population has increased to healthy numbers. There's a balance in all of this.

 In October, I watched this coyote hunting in the prairie grass, alert to every sound and scent as he slowly walked through his territory.




Wildlife photography is very exciting and quite challenging.  Although both Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks have abundant wildlife, first you have to find them.  Many of the critters (yes, they really say that out here in the West) spend most of the daylight hours hidden in forested areas. To get these photos, I started well before sunup, when I would drive past the meadows looking for silhouettes of deer, elk, pronghorn, bison, bear and moose in predawn light. Once I spotted them, I had to determine if they were close enough to be in camera range and if not, whether they were grazing toward or away from my current position.  While it was easier to find large herds of animals, it still took me 3 days to find Yellowstone's biggest herd of bison amid the vast expanses of the park. Not only was it a lot of fun photographing wildlife, watching the animals roam free in their natural habitats was extremely gratifying to me. I plan to continue my wildlife photography adventures at Grand Teton National Park in the spring of 2017, when new wildlife babies arrive. 













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