Friday, December 11, 2015

Mammals of Denali

Alaska 2014 continued: 

I am determined to get this Alaska series done before 2016. I cannot handle the thought of being two years behind on this, tho admittedly there are other things I want to write about that are older than this trip. In any event, I have three more posts for Alaska, all of them in Denali National Park.

Considering we were only in Denali for about 12 hours, we saw a remarkable number of animals. And considering that the park and preserve total 6 MILLION acres, I was surprised by how many animals were near enough to the road to be easily visible.

We already visited the Dall sheep, which were literally so close to the bus I had to change lenses. We didn't see much more until we reached the Eielson Visitor Center, when I spotted a fairly tame Arctic ground squirrel munching on some tender leaves. Cute little things, they are one of only three mammals in Denali that hibernate over the winter. Smart!

Arctic ground squirrel
After our stop at the Eislson Visitor Center we started the drive back. The return trip proved much more fruitful for sightings. Odd, I thought, as it was now mid-day, but there you have it. This cow moose came up from a stream on our right. I can't recall now if she crossed the road in front of us or not, but at the very least she came within 30 feet of the bus.

Cow moose, shot thru the window.

There were lots of caribou along the route, with some once again quite close to the road. This cow watched the bus with interest.

Cow caribou watching us carefully

A small herd moved down the hillside from our left. This bull paused for a few nice shots.

A bit farther along we found this handsome fellow, by far the largest bull we saw on our trip.

Big bull caribou

According to Wikipedia, caribou bulls have the largest antler-to-body ratio of any animal in the deer family, and the second largest antlers after moose.

Someone spotted a red fox trotting along the road, and I managed a few shots through the window before he slipped off the road.

Red fox.
But one of the biggest treats of the tour was near the end of the ride, when we encountered this bull moose grazing to our left. He's either young, or his antlers have a long way to go. Either way, he was spectacular and, other than some VERY long-distance looks at two bulls in Yellowstone eight years ago, this is the only bull moose I've ever seen.

Bull moose about 50 feet from the bus. 

Such an impressive animal!

Next: BEARS!

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