Monday, April 27, 2015

W Is For Wildlife



During April, we're participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day (except Sundays), we’ll be doing an alphabet themed post starting with “A is for Adventurous” and ending with “Z is for Zinc”. We've got a theme for every letter sorted except for Y. If you have any ideas for the letter Y, please leave a comment or email.


One of the things we enjoyed most on our tour of some of the National Parks in the West was wildlife spotting. One of the first things we did before exploring each park was to find out what wildlife could be found there. Then the wildlife spotting began. Scott got just a little bit obsessive about it. Hard to imagine, but true. He really wanted to get a photo of each and every animal. Unfortunately, we never did see a bobcat, cougar or sidewinder. Personally, I was pretty chuffed about not seeing the sidewinder. I'm much happier seeing snakes in cages then out in the wild.

Here are some of the critters we saw and a few fun facts about them.

Bison

1 - Bison are one of those iconic American animals. You might know them better as buffalo, but they are only distantly related to the true buffalo (Asian water buffalo and African buffalo). 2 - Both male and female bison have horns, which I find weird. 3 - Buffalo burgers are delicious! You can easily find buffalo meat at grocery stores in the States - it's become very popular over the years here.  4 - Bison almost became extinct and were bred with cows in an effort to revive the population. The bison herd in Wind Cave National Park is genetically pure so some of their stock is sent outside of the park for cross-breeding purposes.

We saw this herd of bison at Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.
Elk
 
1 - Elk is also known as wapiti, which means "white rump" in the Shawnee and Cree languages. 2 - People tell me that elk meat is delicious. I've only had it once and it was pretty rank. Scott swears it was just a bad cut of meat. He traded some salmon he caught for the elk and thinks he got the worse end of the deal. 3 - Don't mess with elk when they're rutting. When we were in the Grand Canyon, there were lots of warnings to keep you distance from elk, especially during the rutting season, as they can be quite dangerous. Didn't stop lots of idiots from standing right next to the elk there and taking pictures with their phones. 4 - Elks eat around 20 pounds of vegetation a day. I guess they don't have any problem with getting their 5 a day. 


Elk at Custer State Park, South Dakota


Elk at the South Rim, Grand Canyon. Taken from a safe distance.
Tarantulas

1 - You can spot tarantulas crossing the roads during the autumn. The menfolk set off on a "march" in search of womenfolk and end up crossing the roads in places like the Mojave National Preserve. So you have to keep sharp to make sure you don't run over them. Which can be difficult at times as they don't show up on the roads too easily. Perhaps they should wear little florescent safety vests. I guess they would need special ones with eight armholes. 2 - If you get bitten by a tarantula, you won't die. It might not be pleasant, but you'll live. 3 - One of our guidebooks said that you could find tarantulas the size of softballs. Fortunately, the ones we saw were much smaller.

Tarantula spotted at the Mojave National Preserve.
Coyote  
1 - Coyote are opportunistic. They'll eat just about anything from berries to insects to small mammals. 2 - Coyotes are found in Native American lore, often depicted as the trickster who rebels against social convention. 3 - Coyotes mate for life. 4 - Their Latin name, Canis latrans, means barking dog.


Coyote spotted at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Bears

1 - Bears scare the crap out of me (you can read more about my paranoia here.) 2 - American black bears can put on 30 pounds of fat prior to hibernating by eating around 20,000 calories a day (or the equivalent of 40 Big Macs). The bears hibernate for 3-5 months and don't eat or drink during that time. I wouldn't last a day. 3 - If bears get a taste of human food, then they'll continue to seek it out by breaking into cars, tents and cabins. Unfortunately, they can become aggressive and, in some cases, have to be put down. In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, they had to put down four bears during 2010. 4 - If a bear charges at you, don't run. Stand your ground, otherwise you may look like prey to the bear. Fortunately, I've never had to put this theory to the test.


Black bear spotted on the side of the Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park.

Bighorn Sheep 

1 - Bighorn sheep can go without water for up to five days. I guess its a handy adaptation if you're going to live in a desert environment. 2 - If you want to see bighorn sheep at Zion National Park, head for the eastern side of the park. The herd numbers around 500, so chances are you'll see one. If you're lucky, they'll stop and pose for you. 3 - Both male and female bighorn sheep have horns. Again, like the bison, I find this weird. I guess I always assumed only menfolk had horns, kind of like Adam's apples.

Bighorn sheep spotted in Zion National Park.


Another bighorn sheep spotted in Zion National Park. This guy stood there and posed for us for quite a while.
Bighorn sheep roaming around a campground at Custer State Park, South Dakota.

What is the most interesting wildlife you've spotted in your travels?

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

V Is For Vultures & Other Nonsense {Manatee Springs State Park, Florida}



During April, we're participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Every day (except Sundays), we’ll be doing an alphabet themed post starting with “A is for Adventurous” and ending with “Z is for Zinc”. We've got a theme for every letter sorted except for Y. If you have any ideas for the letter Y, please leave a comment or email.

I’m a bit of a scaredy cat. Bears scare the crap out of me. Sharks scare the crap out of me. And now vultures scare the crap out of me.

One vulture on its own is bad enough, but when you get a gang of vultures, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. Pure evil. We ran into this gang of vultures at Manatee Springs State Park in Florida.

Vultures Manatee Springs

You can feel their beady eyes staring at you as they will you to stumble off of the boardwalk and into the swamp where an alligator can eat you. The vultures have a pact with the alligators. They fly fast and furiously at humans, causing them to lose their balance and tumble into the water. Then the alligators snap the humans in half and feast on them. But the gators always leave enough meat on the carcass for the vultures to finish off. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Boardwalk Manatee Springs

I wish they wouldn’t have signs like this one warning you about the alligators. I’d rather be oblivious to the fact they’re lurking out there. It kind of takes away from enjoying things when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder to see if an alligator is sneaking up on you.

Alligator Sign

The park used to be called Vulture Springs State Park, but it started to get a lot of bad PR with all of the vultures and alligators attacking the tourists, so the rangers had the clever idea to start calling it Manatee Springs State Park instead. Manatees are adorable and, more importantly, they’re harmless vegetarians. They have no interest in adding humans to their diet. 

If you aren’t a scaredy cat like me and don’t mind vultures and alligators, then Vulture Manatee Springs State Park is a great place for a visit. Located near Chiefland in northwestern Florida, the park is known for its first magnitude spring which draws the manatees to the area in the winter. They travel up a stream which connects the spring to the Lower Suwannee River and then bask in the warm water. People flock to the area to get a glimpse of the manatees and take lots of pictures. Usually, all they get is just the nose breaking the surface every few minutes for a breath of air. There is also free WiFi nearby which may possibly be more of a draw then the manatees for those of us tired of spending so much money on cellular data to keep up with our blogging.

Manatee Underwater

Manatee Nose2

If vultures, alligators and manatees aren’t your thing, then there is also a nice nature walk in the north part of the park. Pick up one of the trail guides and nominate someone to read aloud as you get to each marker. Pick someone who can do funny voices while reading about native trees. Better yet, pick someone who can act out a Monty Python skit while reading about native trees. Because sometimes these trail guides can get a little dry and a bit of silly humor goes a long way. I’ll leave you to guess which one of us does the Monty Python reenactments. Hint – it’s not me. What’s the secret to 20+ years of marriage – one person being silly and making the other person laugh. 

Anyhoo, back to some more pictures – this time from our nature walk. The numbering on the trail guide goes a little kitty-wampus about halfway through. So while we were looking at this Seminole hut, we were reading about native trees. A bit confusing. 

Seminole Hut Manatee Springs

Seminole Hut Manatee Springs2

I remember when I was a little girl, I got a Seminole Indian doll on one of our trips to Florida. I thought it was the neatest thing. I loved the colorful patchwork skirt that she wore.

Besides bringing back childhood memories, the best part of the nature trail is that we didn’t see any alligators. Scott kept hoping we would see one. He would have settled for a snake. Poor thing was disappointed.

Are you scared of any animals?

We kept an eye out for vultures and alligators at Manatee Springs State Park on 25-27 January 2015.

Want to follow along with our eccentric travel adventures? You can like us on Facebook, follow us via Google+ or add us to your Bloglovin' or Feedly feeds. We're also on Pinterest and Instagram. You can also sign up to get our posts via email - just submit your email address in the box on the right hand side of our blog page.