When I travel to areas where I know I will have an opportunity to photograph wildlife, I research the area and make a list of the species I want to try and find. The list I made for my trip to North and South Dakota consisted of a large mammal, a cute “dog”, an antelope and a large horned sheep. Lets see how I did.
The large mammal was the same American Bison or Buffalo I spent a day with back in January. This time the weather was eighty degrees warmer in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park with temperatures in the mid-60’s (Fahrenheit). The individual was a Bison bull who came around a rock formation near the road I was driving on. His size was impressive as he came within ten feet of the car I was photographing from.
Back in January, the cute Black-tailed Prairie Dogs were no where to be seen as they were safe and warm underground in their burrows. I certainly could not blame them. This time I saw large active towns of prairie dogs where there had been snowy wilderness eight months before. The prairie dogs were out and about forging for food with the sentinels on alert who would give an alarm if they sensed danger nearby.
Though technically not an antelope, the Pronghorn is often referred to as the only North American antelope. In reality, it is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae which fits the same ecological niche as those antelopes found in Africa but not a true antelope. I came upon the pair you see below as I was driving to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Pronghorns are fast and can turn on a dime often reaching speeds over 50 miles per hour (80 KPH). The buck at first tried to scare me off with snorts before herding the female in fast sprints in front of me. After coming back and forth a few times, they ran out over the grassland they live in.
I thought I would not find the large horned sheep. On the last day before leaving North Dakota, I visited the North unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park which lies about 75 miles northeast of where I encountered the bison and prairie dogs. I was looking out over a beautiful river bottomland from the Ox Bow Outlook when I spotted them. I first noticed many white rumps on top of a ridge. As I came closer, the large Bighorn Ram raised his head and there was no mistaking he was the head of the group of ewes. A younger male was nearby who may someday challenge the Ram but not on this day.
I felt very happy to have seen and photographed all the wonderful wildlife of the northern plains but I got an additional surprise when leaving the Mount Rushmore National Memorial parking facility. A nanny Mountain Goat and her kid where taking advantage of some of the plants in the landscaping. I got a nice close up of the little guy.