Tag Archives: caribou

Roadtrip Wildlife

A Pandemic Roadtrip: Day Four

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Prairie Dog on high alert

The fourth day of the drive back to Alaska took me to McLeod Lake on the famed Fraser River of British Columbia.

I was starting to see more wildlife now, and that always adds to the drive for me.  I was woefully unprepared for wildlife photography however, with a cell phone and the 120 shooter, a Kodak 66.  I made do, as best I could.

The first real sighting in BC was a moose.  I did not stop for a moose, nor did I later stop for a caribou.  I see them all the time, as it is.

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One of many black bear

I do not normally see a lot of black bear in Alaska, so I stopped to take pictures of a couple of them.  In all, black bear ruled the animal sighting roost: I spotted 17 along the road, all eating the lush grass, like the one in the picture.

This picture came about, mainly because I had spotted a lynx, which is an incredibly rare sighting along a road.  I hit reverse, but by the time I came to where I had seen the wary cat, it had made its way to the tree line.  Just 100 yards further on, was this black bear.  I hadn’t even made it out of second gear yet, so it didn’t take a lot of effort on my part to slow for it.

A pair of bison

Further on down the road, I came across a pair of bison. I would go on to spot several on this day. They really are magnificent beasts.

I did not see my first grizzly until the final day of my drive, after crossing into Alaska. It was a sow and her cub. The cub was absolutely adorable, as it stood on its hind legs in order to get a better look at me, or maybe my car. I did slow down in order to attempt to get a picture, but that action seemed to intrigue the mother a tad too much. She started to trot right over to my car, leaving her cub standing on the opposite shoulder. Since I was in a car that sat lower than she stood, and I had an open window for a clear view, I decided the picture wasn’t that important and released the clutch to move forward. The sow continued to trot, and I proceeded to engage second gear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Caribou

Alaska’s Big Five: 

 

Caribou are the only members of the deer family where both sexes grow antlers.  The bulls’ antlers are massive, but the cows’ are shorter and slight.  The hooves of caribou are large, concave and they spread out wide to support the animals on snow and tundra.  The hooves also act as paddles when swimming.

There are 32 herds of caribou in Alaska, with each herd occupying a distinct calving ground.  Calves are born in late May in Alaska’s Interior, and in early June in northern and southwestern Alaska.  The vast majority of calves are born as singles, but twins do happen, although rarely.  They weigh, on average, 13 pounds at birth, and grow quickly.  By 10-15 days after birth, the weight of a calf doubles.  A calf is running alongside its mother within hours of birth.

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Bull caribou will reach a weight of 350-400 pounds as an adult, although they can get as large as 700 pounds.  An adult cow caribou averages 175-225 pounds.  An average male lives to 7-8 years, while the females can live to 10 years.

Caribou can migrate huge distances between their summer and winter range.  The larger herds may migrate 400 miles between their two ranges, where a small herd may barely migrate at all.

The caribou population in Alaska is currently estimated at 750,000.  Their population can be cyclic, and can fluctuate widely in a rather short period of time.  The declines and increases in numbers can be extremely difficult to predict.  Predation, climate, weather, disease, population density and hunting can all have an effect on the caribou population.

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Caribou Crossing

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Driving out to the border, the wildlife viewing was excellent as usual.  I spotted several moose, flocks of grouse, and quite a few caribou.  I stopped for these three caribou to cross in front of me, and watched them make their way down the roadway slope to a frozen creek below.

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One solo caribou earlier in the day, had a harder time of it.  The snow was over belly deep, and I watched the animal from a long distance, as it determinably struggled to reach the road.  Once it did, it saw me coming, and I could feel its deflation, and hear its sigh of disgust.

The caribou went  across the road, considered hopping into the snow there, but then turned to clop down the frozen pavement.  I slowed down to a crawl, but still caught up with it.  The caribou looked me over as I came to a stop, then resigned to its fate, it crossed back to the side of the road it came from, and went back into the snow.  This caribou was stressed enough, so I didn’t  take its picture, I just drove on, with the caribou buried well past its haunches in powder.

In my rear view mirror, I could see another truck coming up, and so did the caribou.  I think it planned on coming back out onto the road once I left, but now it snowplowed its way back to the treeline where it came from when I first saw it.

No doubt, there are too many people in Alaska for that caribou’s liking.  Can’t say that I entirely blame it either.


No Vacancy

Caribou on Denali hillside
Photo credit: Denali National Park