As a child who grew up reading Ranger Rick and watching Wild Kingdom, I cherish any wildlife I encounter. I’ve been lucky enough to live in Yellowstone, where I viewed charismatic mega-fauna on a daily basis, and now live near Yosemite, where the critters aren't as big but still really cool, but I also love seeing the tiny tadpoles swim in my backyard frog pond. This year has been filled with wonderful encounters, so as a way of saying Happy New Year, I share with you my 2011 top ten wildlife moments.
1. The remarkable life of Yellowstone wolf 495M: A friend of mine sponsored a radio collar in my name for 495M. When I lived in Yellowstone, I followed his adventures as the alpha male of Mollie’s Pack. He died this year, but had a remarkable life and got to live and die like a true wolf. You can read the full story here.
2. Zisa, the late bison calf in Yellowstone: Most bison give birth in late April through May, but this little guy came into the world in late fall—and faced many challenges in surviving the winter so young. He hung out near my home in Yellowstone and we all rooted for him and named him Zisa, the Lakota word for orange. Against all odds he survived the winter, but once he changed color to the traditional brown he was tough to track. NWF is working to restore bison to the Great Plains of Montana-read more about this great project.
3. Pika running over my foot: On a hike to Gaylor Lakes in Yosemite, I was standing at the shore of the lake and suddenly felt something scurry over my boot. I looked down and to my delight saw a pika hurrying away over the rocks. Very cool!
4. Two bald eagles in one day: I had never seen a bald eagle in the Sierra. So imagine my surprise when I encountered two in one day this winter—one perched along the bank of the Merced River and the other soaring over Tioga Pass in Yosemite.
5. Dancing penguins on Hollywood Blvd: Although Hollywood is known for its 'anything goes attitude,' it’s not often you see penguins dancing in the streets. During the premiere of Happy Feet 2, I had fun dancing with colorful penguins. The National Wildlife Federation teamed up with the movie to encourage people of all ages to take the steps necessary to protect amazing wildlife species such as penguins and wild places such as Antarctica.
6. Bighorn sheep in Anza-Borrego State Park: After a mere fifteen minutes upon entering Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, my friend Michelle started pointing and uttered something incomprehensible in her excitement. Finally, I made out the word “sheep” and pulled off the road as soon I could. To our delight, a herd of ewes and young lambs leapt up the rocks and gazed back at us as we stood watching their movements. Desert bighorn are rare to spot, and although the animals were once in abundance, the population in the park has decreased to less than 300.
7. Black bear in Tuolumne Meadows:The road to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite opened very late this year because of what seemed like a never-ending winter. During my first trip to Tuolumne in June, this black bear wandered out of the forest. I think he was hoping the long winter would end as well.
8. My backyard frog pond: My proudest accomplishment is being a mother to hundreds of tadpoles each year in my backyard frog pond (and in my NWF Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitatof course). I love watching the tiny frogs take their first steps out of the pond.
9. Misguided frog mating in Yosemite: During a spring hike in the Gaylor Lake Basin, I spent an hour listening to the music of pacific chorus frogs and watching some “misguided” mating attempts—see the video below for the full story.
10. Ranger Rick at the Ahwahnee Hotel: During the first meeting of NWF’s California Advisory Council, we had a special visitor—Ranger Rick came to Yosemite! Also in the photo, council member Jack Laws, the talented naturalist and author of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.
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