Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Nome, Alaska - Muskox
Locating the Muskoxen so quickly would not have happened without the help of one of my ranger friends (previously worked in Bearing Land Bridge National Park) who advised where they were normally seen. Never did I think that within three days we would be able to view/photograph them so close. Appropriate approach and patience paid off immensely for some stunning images.
Muskox are native only in the arctic areas of Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They have incredibly long fur coats (hair can be as long as 6 feet). They roam the tundra in search of their primary diet of willow, mosses and lichens (as seen by the calf and bull above). Muskoxen are survivors, who prehistorically have lived with the mastodons and mammoths and have survived hunters and climate changes which have caused other species to become extinct.
Muskox are a herd animal (groups usually 2-3 dozen) and are extremely social animals that maintain a strong family unit structure. This fact was obvious while viewing them. They are known to form a protective circle around their young when threatened, a behavior we did not observe. Above you can see females with young. The females’ horns do not extend completely over the forehead like the males (bottom 2 images).
As you can see with the above, the yearlings lack the head gear of the adults. On occasion you would see a yearling nurse.
The bulls are quite impressive. After resting in the tundra and when getting up to move, the entire herd always followed their lead. Looking close you can see the grooves in the horn with some battle damage.
The most fun viewing was certainly the calves. The cows have one calf every two years. Most were only a week or so old and were so adorable. On our last day two calves closely approached us wailing until the cow herded them up.
In addition to the Muskox, on our travels we were able to see a massive migration of caribou with calves and a moose cow with a calf.
Still hard to believe the things I’ve seen and done the last two seasons and realize how fortunate I am. The next post will be some of the amazing avian species photographed while traveling the few roads around Nome.