Sunday, October 9, 2016

Travel: Wildlife

I love animals. In our travels, we have sometimes specifically scheduled wildlife viewing opportunities, but more often,  we have just stumbled on wildlife unexpectedly. In this post I am going to share some of my favorite spots for viewing wildlife and some of my favorite wildlife encounters. 

We've visited Yellowstone NP and Teton NP several times, but it has probably been 20 or more years ago. Yellowstone is one of the premier animal viewing venues in the world. We've seen moose, elk, bighorn sheep, bison, black bears and one grizzly bear in Yellowstone. I would like to get there again some day. 

In 2010, I visited an area in and near southeastern Joshua Tree National Park, a drive of about 1 1/2 hours from our home, at two week intervals, to see how the desert changed over short periods of time. I made seven trips there that year and have subsequently been back several times. I fell in love with the ever-changing desert flowers and found some spectacular wildlife, including a desert tortoise, chuckwallas, spiny lizards, zebra-tailed lizards, desert iguanas, leopard lizards, a Sonoran gopher snake and a speckled rattlesnake.
Desert tortoise in Joshua Tree NP.
Leopard lizard
Black-tailed jackrabbit
Desert iguana
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in southern Arizona, next to the Mexico border, is my favorite desert. We drove through it for the first time when our children were young and I've subsequently been back seven or eight times. This is a land of huge cactus, jagged mountains and stunning plains. Unfortunately, Mexican border immigration issues have turned it into somewhat of a battlefield and it is no longer possible to do overnight backpacking there. One of my favorite wildlife sightings ever, a gila monster, was found on a hike with scouts up Estes Canyon. In a hike with our young children, near Alamo Canyon, we walked toward an area with circling turkey vultures and stumbled on a huge group of javelina. I've seen multiple western diamond back rattlesnakes there, and one or two of those sightings were the only time I've ever really felt fear in seeing a rattlesnake. They were big and aggressive. Yet on another occasion with my two boys, backpacking in Alamo Canyon, we watched with wonder just a few feet away as a western diamondback slid along seemingly oblivious of us and swam across a small pool of water, another one of my favorite wildlife sightings. 
Gila monster in Estes Canyon
Western diamondback in Alamo Canyon
Turkey vulture in Organ Pipe Cactus NM
Over the years I've gone out to the desert in the evening near Palm Springs (Whitewater Canyon, Snow Canyon and Verbenia) to look for snakes. I've done it with my children and with friends. I've encountered red diamond rattlesnakes, sidewinder rattlesnakes, rosy boasglossy snakes, long-nosed snakes, a lyre snake, a shovel-nosed snake, a banded gecko, toads and tree frogs.
Sidewinder rattlesnake in Snow Canyon.
Red diamond rattlesnake
Over the course of about eight years I visited Colorado every summer, usually with my boys, to climb fourteeners. We had a spectacular visit to the top of Mt. Evans where we got very close to mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. We saw moose and ptarmigan near and on Mt. Bierstadt and  lots of ptarmigan on Mount Oxford. I saw an endangered boreal toad and a beautiful pine grosbeak near Mt. Yale and had a great view of a mountain goat and an encounter with a gray jay near Quandary Peak. I saw sooty grouse and a gray jay with Judy on Mt. Elbert and we've seen pronghorn antelope and mule deer in and around Buena Vista.
Mountain goat kid on Mt. Evans.
Rocky mountain bighorn sheep on Mt. Evans.
Boreal Toad near Mt. Yale.
Pine Grosbeak near Mt. Yale.
White-tailed ptarmigan on Mt. Oxford.
Gray Jay near Quandary Peak.
Mountain goat near Quandary Peak.
Pika near the summit of La Plata Peak.
Swainson's hawk in Colorado
Hiking in our local mountains I've encountered desert bighorn sheep on Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. Baldy multiple times, a bear on Mt. San Gorgonio, deer on Mt. San Jacinto and speckled rattlesnakes, collared lizards, horned lizards and a red racer in the area of Mission Creek Canyon and Whitewater Canyon.
Desert bighorn, Mt. Baldy
A young great horned owl
The hike to Mt. Timpanogas, just outside Provo, Utah, is a place where you can regularly see mountain goats and moose (near a lake on the Timpooneke Trail) on the same hike.

A hike up Henry's Fork to climb King's Peak, the tallest mountain in Utah, with my youngest brother, yielded great encounters with moose: large ones with huge antlers, cows and some babies. We also saw deer, a sharp-shinned hawk, pika, marmots and a coyote. 
Young moose in Henry's Fork, Utah
Least chipmunk in Henry's Fork
On drives up the California coast we've seen elephant seals, harbor seals, sea lions, cormorants and pelicans. On one of those drives we took kayaks up the Elkhorn Slough near Monterey with our children and saw sea otters and harbor seals.
California brown pelicans near San Simeon, California.
Elephant seal near San Simeon.
When the kids were young we took a trip to Washington State and British Columbia. We circled Olympic National Park and stopped at many of the attractions, such as Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Rain forest and Lake Quinault. In Lake Quinault we had what Judy describes as our "National Geographic moment" when we were walking carefully out into a field with tall grass that included a herd of Roosevelt elk. The elk in front of us and elk in other areas started to bugle back and forth to each other. It was haunting and beautiful. A magical moment for us as a family. Later we saw a black bear and black-tailed deer as we enjoyed seeing our first temperate rain forest. 
Roosevelt Elk near Lake Quinault.
Florida is a treasure trove for wildlife, particularly birds, turtles and alligators. Everglades NP, especially the Anhinga Trail, which we visited three times in the two days we were there, was a great place to see alligators, anhinga, black vultures, turtles and herons. Shark Valley is also a good place to see wildlife, walking or on the tram, but it is more crowded than the Anhinga Trail.
Anhinga in Everglades NP
Black vultures near the Anhinga Trail.
Florida Redbelly Turtle near Anhinga Trail.
American alligator in Everglades NP.
Great blue heron in the Everglades.
Wood stork in the Everglades.
White ibis in Everglades NP.
Merritt Island NWR, southeast of Orlando on the Atlantic Ocean, is a great spot to see herons, ospreys, ducks and other swamp birds, and alligators. It is the only place I've ever really seen a wild raccoon (I've seen them in residential areas at night where I live). Canaveral National Seashore, nearby, is a wonderful spot for shorebirds.
Osprey with fish at Merritt Island.
Raccoon in the swamp at Merritt Island.
Snowy egret at Merritt Island.
Ruddy turnstone at Canaveral NS
Sanderlings at Canaveral NS.
Willet at Canaveral NS
Northern pintails at Merritt Island.
The J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, near Fort Myers, on the Gulf Coast, is also a fantastic area for swamp and sea birds. I could have watched the pelicans for hours dive bombing into the water and coming up with fish.
Roseate spoonbill on Sanibel Island.
Eastern brown pelican at Sanibel Island.
Reddish egret at Sanibel Island.
Great white egret at Sanibel Island.
Little blue heron at Sanibel Island.
Another of my favorite wildlife experiences happened at Crystal River, northwest of Orlando, on the Gulf Coast. I took a boat out to spot manatees and was snorkeling in a murky area when I encountered a manatee face to face. It was so big, so close and so unexpected that the instant of that encounter is one that often replays in my mind.
Manatee at Crystal River. Photo taken with an underwater camera.
We've had other fun swamp experiences. In Louisiana, we took the Cajun Man Swamp Tour, about t0 miles outside Houma, where we took boats into the swamp and saw alligators. We also took the Honey Island Swamp Tour outside Slidell where we saw more alligators. In South Carolina, we took a row boat into the swamp in Cypress Gardens and saw alligators and turtles, including the yellow-bellied slider.
Yellow-bellied sliders in Cypress Gardens, South Carolina.
We visited Kyoto, Japan with Rachael, Nate and our newly minted granddaughter and walked among snow monkeys in Iwatayama Monkey Park.
Snow monkey or Japanese macaque
In the Peruvian rain forest we saw blue and gold macaws, hoatzins and bats near Lake Sandoval, saw a black caiman in the Madre de Dios River and had brown agoutis scampering around our netted sleeping quarters. We took a walk on suspended walkways in the rain canopy and saw the beautiful black-tailed trogon, a bird I'd never heard of before. We took a night walk into the jungle and witnessed fire ants, huge tarantulas, howler monkeys and a blunt-headed tree snake slithering through the branches of a tree.
Black-tailed trogon in Peruvian rain forest.
Blue and gold macaw
Blunt-headed tree snake an Peruvian Amazon.
Brown agouti
Eye-shine of black caiman in Madre de Dios.
Bats on tree near Lake Sandoval.
We took a dream trip several years ago to East Africa. In Mount Kenya NP we stayed in a hotel overlooking a water hole and were able to watch elephants and cape buffalo from our room balcony. We took a hike into the forest and saw colobus monkeys swinging around in the trees above us, another thrill for me.
Eastern black and white colobus money in Mt. Kenya NP
Bushbuck in Mt. Kenya NP.
East African epauletted fruit bat we saw at a stop on our way to Mt. Kenya.
Egyptian goose
In Buffalo Springs NR, perhaps my favorite of the spots we visited in Africa, we saw reticulated giraffes mingling with the beisa oryx, the long-necked gerenuk standing on its hind legs to reach for leaves in the trees, the desert warthog, the endangered Grevy's zebra, the yellow-necked spurfowl, the fascinating secretarybird, a bateleur eagle, herds of elephants, including a male that chased down a female near our vehicle where it consummated its ardor, Nile crocodiles, common waterbucks, Grant's gazelles and a huge Verreoux's eagle owl eating a genet in a tree.
Common waterbuck in Buffalo Springs.
Reticulated giraffes in Buffalo Springs.
Grevy zebra in Buffalo Springs.
African bush elephants in Buffalo Springs NR.
Desert warthog.
Beisa oryx in Buffalo Springs.
Grant's gazelle in Buffalo Springs.
Yellow-necked spurfowl.
Eastern pale chanting goshawk.
Red-billed hornbill
We stayed at a hotel in Shaba NR and saw a Nile monitor and a colorful superb starling (which really was superbly beautiful) right outside the front door of our room, a crocodile and sacred ibis near the river just a stone's throw from our room, and vervet monkeys roaming the grounds.
Superb starling
Nile crocodile with sacred ibis behind it, near our overnight cabin in Shaba NR.
In Lake Nakuru NP we had the thrill of seeing multiple white rhinos, flamingos out on the lake, the endangered Rothschild's giraffe, our first lion (a male), helmeted guinea fowl, and olive baboons climbing into the trees at dusk for the night.
White rhino in Lake Nakuru NP.
Helmeted guineafowl
Marabou stork with cape buffalo in background.
Olive baboon in Lake Nakuru NP
Masai Mara NR was a highlight. We saw multiple cheetahs, including one munching on a young waterbuck while it's mother looked on in distress and a hyena hid nearby scheming on how to snatch the waterbuck from the cheetah. We got wonderful views of lions, including multiple mothers with cubs, while we watched them hunt, and two lions munching on a downed zebra. A water hole full of hippos was fascinating and disgusting and Nile crocodiles congregated on a bank of the river gave the thought of ever entering that river a chill. We watched huge Masai giraffes battling each other with their huge necks, in a ritual called "necking." We took a night excursion with large searchlights on our vehicles and saw hippos wandering miles from the river and a rare sighting of an aardvark.
Lilac-breasted roller in Masai Mara.
Masai giraffes necking in Masai Mara.
Nile crocodiles
Mwanza flat-headed rock agama near our cabin in Masai Mara.
Defassa waterbuck with two Grant's zebras behind it, in Masai Mara.
Cheetah in the Masai Mara.
Verreaux's eagle owl during our night safari in Masai Mara.
Topi in Masai Mara.
In Serengeti NP we had encounters with tsetse flies and their bite really hurts. We saw more of the disgusting, absolutely fabulous hippos, saw a huge Nile monitor, a leopard laying on the limb of a tree and a mother hyena running by the base of that same tree with one of its young in its mouth, trying to save it from male hyenas that were trying to kill it. We saw Grant's zebras, mongoose, Masai giraffes, and more lions.
Banded mongoose in the Serengeti
Leopard in the Serengeti.
Central African warthogs in the Serengeti.
Mucky, dirty, big, beautiful, fascinating hippo in the Serengeti.
Thomson's gazelles in the Serengeti.
Impalas in the Serengeti.
Huge Nile monitor in the Serengeti.
Ruppell's griffin vulture in the Serengeti
White-backed vulture in the Serengeti feeding on a cape buffalo. 
In the Ngorongoro Crater we encountered herds of wildebeest, zebra and cape buffalo, lounging lions, snoozing hyenas, and one hyena that circled our vehicles. Hartebeest, crested cranes, ostriches, jackals and hippos were among the other animals featured in this natural stadium.
Crested crane in Ngorongoro Crater
Grant's zebras in Ngorongoro Crater.
Male lions
Red-billed oxpeckers on a cape buffalo in Ngorongoro Crater.
Hartebeest in Ngorongoro
Wildebeest in Ngorongoro
Cape buffalo in Ngorongoro
Spotted hyena in Ngorongoro
Speke's weaver 
Golden jackal
In Nairobi NP we went out on our own with the guide while the others in our group slept in. We were rewarded with our only eland sighting of the trip, mating lions and giraffes, hyrax and some fun birds.
Eland in Nairobi NP.
Rock hyrax in Nairobi NP.
Ostrich in Nairobi NP
Kori bustard in Nairobi NP
In Ghana, West Africa, we encountered the hooded vulture, pied crow, red bishop (a spectacular red weaver), and the beautiful red-headed rock agama lizard.
Red-headed rock agama in Elmina, Ghana.
Hooded vulture in Cape Coast.
South Dakota has some great places for wildlife. In Custer SP we saw elk, white tail deer, turkeys, bighorn sheep, many bison, prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope. I view Custer as a Yellowstone without the huge number of tourists. I really loved it there. In Badlands NP we saw many bighorn sheep, some bison and prairie dogs.
The most amazing, muscled, bison I've ever seen - in Custer State Park, South Dakota. 
Pronghorn antelope outside Badlands NP.
Black-tailed prairie dogs - Custer State Park.
White-tailed deer - Custer State Park.
Merriam's turkey - Custer State Park
Near the baptism site of Jesus on the Jordan River in Jordan, we viewed a huge beaver/rat-like nutria along the bank and then slide into the river.
Nutria near the Jordan River.
In the Boundary Water Canoe area of northern Minnesota we stumbled across a lone wolf in front of us on the trail about 30 yards. Its thick, beautiful, white coat tinged with black. It lingered just a second, before loping off into the trees. As we traveled into the Boundary Water Canoe area I saw a river otter running along the ground at some distance off the side of the road. I stopped the car and went to see if I could get a better look. I did not see the otter again, but did see my first snowshoe hare.
Snowshoe hare
We encountered Barbary macaques in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, near Azrou. Years earlier we saw them on the Rock of Gibralter, and Andrew had one sit on his shoulder.
Barbary Ape in Morocco
Several mornings at our riad in Marrakech, Morocco I got up early to watch the nesting white storks on the walls of the Badi Palace. It was nice to be able to spend several hours watching them mate, build nests, take flight and land. 
White storks in Marrakech
More recently, we took another dream trip to Alaska and drove through Denali NP, seeing caribou, grizzly bears, moose and Dall sheep.
Grizzly bear in Denali NP.
Caribou in Denali NP
We took an eight hour cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park and saw bald eagles, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, sea otters, puffins and humpback whales.
Bald eagle outside Seward, Alaska.
Harbor seals near Northwestern Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP.
We took a small boat out to Gull Island, off Homer, and saw a humpback whale, puffins, common murres and sea otters.
Horned puffin near Gull Island
Sea otter near Gull Island.
We took a float plane to Chichagoff Island to view brown bears and a float plane to Anan Bay to view black bears.
Black bear in Anan Bay
Brown bears on Chichagoff Island
In October 2016 we had an amazing encounter with bighorn sheep near Chelan, Washington, close to the Columbia River. A large group of males were rutting.
In the spring of 2017 I visited southern Arizona and northern Sonora and had some great encounters with wildlife. 
This red-tailed hog was water-logged after unusually heavy rains in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 
I watched a couple of Gila woodpeckers feeding their young holed up in a saguaro cactus. 
I had an encounter with a Gila monster in Estes Canyon.
Then in March we took a trip to the Caribbean. 
We saw lots of huge green iguanas on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. 
We found a number of different species of anole, including this St. Lucia anole, flashing its colorful dewlap.
Off Barbados, we swam with green sea turtles and saw a stingray nearby and these tarpons following it. 
There are other places I would love to go to see animals: Churchill, Manitoba for polar bears; Indonesia to see komodo dragons and orangutans; India to see tigers; the countries in southern Africa to see more African wildlife; Antarctica to see penguins; Australia to see kangaroos and other unique Australian wildlife; and the Galapagos Islands to see the marine iguanas and large tortoises. 


  1. You left out one of my favorites: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas. I know it's a zoo, but it's not your normal zoo! Lots and lots of good times pictured in this post. You really missed your calling in life. You should have been a naturalist.

  2. There's something thrilling about seeing an animal in its natural habitat. This is an impressive list of animals!