|A Few Ark Valley Mammals|
|Articles - BV Outdoors|
by: John AbdelnourAutumn is my favorite season. I love the cooler days, the beautiful splash of color across the mountainsides as the aspens give up on photosynthesis, the Friday night lights of the high school football games, the apple trees laden with fruit, and the random snowstorms that blow through, dropping a few inches then retreating until winter really sets in. Autumn is also the arrival time for snows in the high country, which means many of the larger game animals come down to find uncovered ground to graze. In the valley, we become more alert for deer and elk crossing the roads, pronghorn grazing fields nearby, and a host of other creatures lurking, gliding, running, calling, and swishing about. Following is a brief list of some of the mammals that you may have the opportunity to see in the valley.
Pronghorn -- Antilocapra americana
Just drive along the west side of the valley where the mountains meet the plains, and you will find an abundance of pronghorn – an antelope-like ungulate. These little guys are the fastest land mammal in North America (they’ve been clocked up to 61mph). They are also unique in that they shed their horns each year (like a deer would shed antlers) and grow them back by mid-summer. Both males and females grow horns, but the males have a little notch in theirs.
Wapiti or Elk -- Cervus Canadensis or Cervus elaphus
If you ever happen upon a nearby herd of elk, pause for a moment and just listen. From August into early winter, you may hear the bugling calls of males competing to attract females to their harem. The bugle sounds like a high-pitched scream that is beautiful and eerie at the same time. We have a few large herds of elk that summer up in the high country and work their way down into the valley in the fall. You can usually find them in large groups numbering up to several hundred on the plains beneath the Sawatch range.
Black Bear -- Ursus americanus
Get a good look if you can because these guys don’t hang around humans for long. Despite the name, the color of these bears may appear to be anywhere from cinnamon, brown, blond, to black. They can have a home range from 10 to 250 miles and inhabit stands of aspens in the mountains. Black bears will learn to eat natural foods, such as berries, nuts and insects, as they are taught to forage by their mothers. However, many bears in this area have become accustomed to going through trashcans and backpacks to find human food. Unfortunately, this can lead to tagging and removal (the first offense) and ultimately put down if the problem continues. Bears will be out for another month or so, finding as much food as they can before they begin to hibernate for the winter.
Fox -- Vulpes vulpes
Colorado has four species of fox: red, gray, swift and kit foxes. I’ve only had the opportunity to see red foxes. Usually it happens during a drive at night and you see a red animal streak across the road in your headlights. Sometimes they will parallel the road for a ways and you can get a good look at them.
Mule Deer -- Odocoileus hemionus
Deer have a mixed reputation around town. Folks with gorgeous yards of meticulously cultivated ornamental and edible vegetation curse the deer as they glide over six foot fences to graze the bouquet of goodness growing expressly for them near the house. Folks who drive frequently know that the deer are everywhere and that dawn and dusk seem to be the most dangerous times to be out. People feeding them has aided in their proliferation. Other folks love having the deer around town, arguing that a real deer in your yard is much more realistic than the plastic ones. Tourists love to photograph the deer, and for kids from cities, this could be their first “wild” deer encounter.
Mountain Lion -- Felis concolor
I’ve never had the opportunity to see a mountain lion, but I’ve heard their cry in the middle of the night and it raised the hair on the back of my neck. The scream is really unusual, almost human-like (which partly made it so eerie). They can weigh more than 130 pounds and are wonderful hunters (an adult eats a deer a week). Consider yourself lucky if you do see one as they are stealthy and generally steer clear of humans. Most will be found on the eastern side of the valley, as they like wooded areas and prairies better than full forests.
This list is truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wildlife in our area. For more information about the wildlife in and around Buena Vista, please visit Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Photos (top to bottom):
Elk - photo by Vickie Eberle
Red Fox - photo by Vickie Eberle
Pronghorn - photo by J. Abdelnour
Mule Deer - photo by A. Abdelnour
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