Travel photography: USA
Wildlife - Big Game

December 4, 2016


No other animal symbolizes the essence of the North American Wilderness better than the Bison. One of the national animals of the US the Bison used to roam almost the entire continent in numbers of 30 to 60 million. In the early 1800 the mass destruction due to habitat loss and reckless hunting decreased the population to dwindling numbers, killing up to 2 million individuals per year. Within less than a hundred years there were only a meager 500-600 animals left. Those were saved by ranchers and used for breeding to keep the species from extinction. Crossbreeding with cattle occurred intentionally and accidentally which results in the fact that there are only few purebred bison left in the world.

After spotting a herd in the distance I hoped to get some pictures. Luckily I only waited a few minutes until a huge specimen walked by at a fairly short distance.

You can probably understand my excitement when the first Bison that I had ever seen in my life got in range. I was completely concentrated on shooting that bison when I saw some movement in the corner of my eye.

I looked over and saw this guy walking right towards me.

I was just able to get a few quick shots until he had almost reached my position. I just stood completely still and silent while he walked right past me, calmly and not the least bit interested in my presence. I can assure you that you can't assert the sheer size and mass of a fully grown 900 kg bison until you've seen one up close.

I would never have gone so close to not agitate him, but he walked up to me so I could get some impressive close-ups.
These images were taken in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge that is located in the outskirts of Denver. For a brief moment I had this magnificent sight of the Denver skyline with the wild bison in the foreground.
This photo was taken on a different opportunity and it shows a domesticated bison that is held for meat production. Bison meat contains significantly less fat and calories than beef and the additional herds increase genetic diversity.
Two coyotes on the hunt for ground squirrels.


Landscape in the Rocky Mountains. As beautiful as it is, you unfortunately should also notice the massive amount of dead trees. This is due to a massive epidemic of the mountain pine beetle that has damaged about 70% of the lodgepole pine population in Colorado.
The elk (note that it's called moose in North America) is the largest species in the deer family and also the only one that can graze under water. This picture was taken at the Beaver Ponds in Rocky Mountain National Park around noon. During the day and especially when the sun is at its highest point the light is not ideal for photography so I was hoping for the cow to return to her feeding spot later in the day so that I could get some shots in better light.
And she did! Notice the duckling on the first image.
This calf was really busy playing with the sapling.


The wapiti (note that it's called elk in North America what I find to be quite confusing) is the second largest species of deer. I was very lucky to catch this one in an ideal situation. The sun was already very low and provided some fantastic late afternoon light that gives this magnificent animal a very saturated copper color while at the same time the deep blue forested hill backdrop contrasts the main subject nicely. Probably my best image from the trip.
An older stag from a slightly different perspective.
Wapiti is a word from the language of the Shawnee that stands for 'white rump'. Grown stags can reach a body weight of over 300 kg.
With a last glance over the shoulder he disappeared behind the hill.

Mountain Goat

The mountain goat is actually closer related to the chamois than the goat. They are exceptional climbers that can ascend with a rate of 500 meters in 20 minutes.
A nanny with kid. Mountain goats have a two-layered coat. The thick undercoat is permanent and gets complemented by a wooly overcoat in the winter. The shedding of this overcoat for the brief summer is very well visible here.
Two kids playing on a rock. These two are about two months old. Mountain goats start running and climbing within hours of their birth.
The mountain goat is very well camouflaged not only in the snow but also between rocks in summertime. The primary predator is the cougar due to its size and agility in this steep and rocky habitat.
Most of the time is spent grazing to get a sufficient intake of nutrients from the scarce vegetation in their high-altitude environment.

To be continued…

There is still one more wildlife article to come later in this series but the next one deals with forest landscapes.

Thanks for reading!

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