Mug shots — take 2

Birds and mammals seem to sense when you’re staring at them, willing them to stare back so you can get a great portrait with the glowing eyes looking right out of the frame.  It’s hard to achieve though, and mammals in particular resist eye contact, as that often is interpreted as a threat to them.  This is where telephoto magnification is essential, but even when I am quite a distance away, mammals just as often turn away as I raise the lens to focus.  Obviously their eyesight is a lot better than mine.

Common Loon-

A Common Loon emerged from a dive right in front of me providing a unique close-up of the detail in its feathers.

female Pileated Woodpecker

This female Pileated Woodpecker was so busy drilling into the tree, she didn’t notice (?) me walking closer to get my best shot.

european forest buffalo (wisent)-

A European forest buffalo (wisent) intent on eating and with no interest whatsoever in raising its head to make eye contact. I can see that they have long golden eyelashes though…

javelina-

Young Javelina crossing the road in front of our car near Portal, Arizona. Hairy beasts with long snouts, beady eyes, and stubby legs, not at all related to pigs (which evolved in Eurasia), but convergent in looks and habits.

mule deer-

Mule deer look like White-tailed deer (a different species) but have enormous ears, darker (blackish) tails, and darker gray fur. Usually found only in western North America plains, deserts, mountains, grasslands, etc.  Deer don’t see as well in the daytime as some more diurnal animals, and they often stare motionless for a few moments before bounding away or turning their back on the camera.

white-tailed buck-antler growth

Antler growth begins in the spring in White-tailed bucks. This looks like the start of what will grow into a large rack, and I wonder if this guy is the same animal as the one in the next photo.  I kept waiting for this guy to turn around and face me, but no…all I got was a side view.

white-tailed buck-antlers-

I’m behind a glass door and across two backyards from big buck, but he raises his head to look toward me when I tap on the window.

mexican wolf-at the Sonora desert museum, Tucson

A Mexican Wolf just barely raised its glance toward observers as it strolled through its pen in the Sonora desert museum in Tucson.  This is a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, but is on the verge of extinction in its native habitats in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern most Mexico due to loss of open hunting areas and predator removal.  Their fur coat has accents of black and white on the back and their under hair is yellower than that of the Gray Wolf.

mountain lion-

Big cats overheat quickly in the desert sun, as this one did pacing in its pen at the Sonora desert museum. Back in its cooler cave, panting, the puma/cougar/mountain lion finally raised its head and looked in my direction. Pumas are usually found in the mountains, but will venture into grasslands and even more arid desert habitat if there is sufficient game.

the wisent isn’t extinct…completely

The Wisent, or European bison, is a look-alike of the American bison, but its genetics tell a different story.

Wisent, European forest bison

Wisent, European forest bison, is really a grassland animal that takes refuge in the forest.

As the story goes, once upon a time between ice ages, steppe bison wandered the grasslands of Europe, Asia, and North America, traversing the Bering land bridge during glaciated times.  Cut off from Asia when sea levels rose, the steppe bison in North America underwent moderate changes to become the buffalo we recognize today, but then suffered huge declines in numbers when railroads through the central plains brought hunters that killed off huge numbers of them.

American bison

American bison in Wyoming

The steppe bison was also hunted extensively, and may have gone extinct from overhunting about 11,000 years ago.  But aurochs (European progenitor of cattle) and Steppe bison matings in Europe produced hybrids (now known as Wisent) that survived the hunting pressure, perhaps by retreating deep into the primeval forest.
European bison, Wisent

Wisent numbers also declined precipitously with settlement and expansion of agriculture in Europe, but a few remained in the small forest fragments, like the one near Bielowieza.

European bison, Wisent

Hybrids usually are less fit than their ancestors, largely because they are less fertile (e.g., mules), but in the case of the European bison hybrid, they appear to have survived both hunting pressure and the extreme cold of the interglacial periods better than their steppe bison ancestors, and retreated to the forest for protection.

How do we know this?  A fascinating study compared animals in cave art paintings with DNA fragments from bison remains of 15-50,000 years ago and found transitions in the DNA that coincided with animals represented in the cave art.  The animals represented during the coldest periods were the short horned, less humped at the shoulder, Wisent.**

Bison reserve, Bielowieza, Poland

The Bison reserve near Bielowieza has expansive enclosures for its animals, and lots of natural prairie grass for forage.

Captive breeding of Wisent at the Bison reserve just outside Bielowieza attempts to track genetic ancestry and propagate animals that could be released to the wild, but wild Wisent exist in small herds through the forest-grassland spaces in eastern Poland.  They are mighty hard to spot — judging from our early morning explorations of the area.

Bison reserve, Bielowieza, Poland

Bison reserve, Bielowieza, Poland

**http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-origin-of-european-bison-revealed-using-dna-and-cave-art-1.20822