Often called Fisher Hawk, white body plumage covers its breast, throat, and thighs. A dark mask surrounds its eyes, reddish/brown feathers cover its back and wings. Roughly twenty-four inches tall, its wings span five and six feet, a mid-sized but very efficient raptor.
Feeding almost exclusively on live fish, small mammals, and crustaceans, these winged hunters have extremely sharp eyesight and can distinguish between a six-inch fish and a six-inch stick lying in the water from hundreds of feet in the air. Ospreys always nest near water, and follow the waterways when migrating as well. This raptor species exists on every continent except Antarctica, although about seventy-five percent of breeding pairs worldwide nest in North America, and about half of those in the United States.
Ospreys lay from two to five eggs that hatch five to six weeks later. The young stay on the nest about two months, and then begin learning to fly and hunt. At four to six months, the northern ospreys migrate south for the winter. Osprey pairs do not migrate together, but often return to the same nest and the same partner during the mating season, although if a pair nests unsuccessfully for several years, they often separate and seek new mates.
Hovering above a body of water, an osprey spots fish swimming beneath the surface, then dive feet first into the water, grabbing the prey with powerful talons. It flies back to its nest or a perch, and eats or shares with its mate and young.
Rocky Mountain National Park
An amazing and beautiful mountain range rises above the greenest valleys and clearest lakes in the country. The epitome of paradise west for campers or hikers, the park sprawls across the mountain tops about seventy miles north of Denver, Colorado.
Travelers enjoy passive access to scenic views and prolific wildlife, but snow-covered peaks and bleak hillsides remain as rugged and inaccessible as any area in the states. For those hardy individuals that choose the back-country, hiking and biking trails run up and down the slopes, but these will not suit the squeamish. The trails require careful planning and experience in the back-country.
Ponderosa pine and juniper fill the sunny slopes, while Douglas fir blanket the northern face. Blue spruce decorates the steep stream banks, surrounded by dense stands of lodge pole pine, and graceful aspens.
Trail Ridge Road, a gravel base and extremely tight turns crosses a desolate stretch of alpine tundra that contains a distinct and varied collection of plants and animals that survive the harsh conditions. It’s worth the effort if your vehicle can manage the road. Elk and deer bask in the sunlight and graze the sparse vegetation, while the most magnificent cat in North America hides in the shadows awaiting its chance to eat. Moose, elk, deer, marmots, beaver, mountain lion and bighorn sheep find dinner and a home in the park. Wildflowers are abundant and the birds prolific. The diversity of ecosystems within the park presents wildlife and scenic viewing opportunities at every turn.
The park remains open all year, and cross-country skiing offers an alternate view of the snow-covered peaks that defies description. An incomparable visual feast for everyone who has a pair of eyes.
Desert Bighorn Sheep
Desert Bighorn is native to the deserts of the United States’ and this particular yearling ewe lives in Bighorn NWR in a lake which straddles the Montana / Wyoming border. Several females and young band together and graze, while the male band hangs out in separate groups most of the year until mating season arrives. Males fight for the right to father the next generation. Gestation lasts 150–180 days, and the lambs are usually born in late winter.
These critters walk and run on very flexible split hooves, allowing excellent grip for hillside grazing and rock climbing. Desert Bighorn wander all across the high desert areas of the western USA from Montana south to the Mojave, Death Valley, Sonoran Desert.
Stocky, heavy-bodied sheep, similar in size to mule deer, adults males weight in at 115 to 280 pounds, ewes a bit smaller. Their lifespan runs about fifteen or twenty years in the wild. Bighorns forms small male bands and female bands, and live very social lives.
Both genders develop horns soon after birth, and grow throughout life. Older rams have curling horns measuring over three feet long with more than one foot of circumference at the base. The ewes’ horns are much smaller and lighter and do not tend to curl. Both rams and ewes use their horns as tools to break open cactus, which they eat, as well as grasses, bush leaves and buds.
The desert bighorn has become well adapted to living in the desert heat and cold and, unlike most mammals, their body temperature can safely fluctuate several degrees. During the heat of the day, they often rest in the shade of trees and caves. Desert Bighorn adapted to survive for days and days with no water and dehydrate, then drink when they find it, and recover body hydration quickly.
Desert bighorn sheep biologically adapted to a desert mountain environment with little or no permanent water. Some may go without visiting water for weeks, gaining body moisture from food and occasional rainwater the collects in the rocky terrain. Bighorn can lose up to thirty percent of body weight and still survive. After finding and drinking water, they quickly recover.
Hoh Rain Forest, Washington
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