Animal behavior is fascinating. One of the behaviors that Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams exhibit is curling back their upper lip to expose their teeth, inhaling with nostrils closed, holding their head high, and staying still for several seconds. Bighorns have a gland in their mouths that can sense pheromones. I have witnessed this behavior when ewes are nearby and I have been told it is the way rams determine if a ewe is in estrus. This behavior is not limited to sheep. It is common behavior in lots of ungulates and even other kinds of mammals including big cats. And, it has a name. It is called the flehmen response and sometimes, the flehmen grimace. Flehmen is a German verb that means to bare the upper teeth and that word is derived from a Saxon-German word that means to grimace. The term for this behavior was coined in the 1930’s by a zoo keeper in Germany who observed the behavior in many different zoo mammals. There is apparently no English equivalent for this behavior so flehmen it is. It doesn’t really look like a grimace to me. The rams look more euphoric or enraptured than grimacing.
My parents were married in January of 1940 at my grandmother’s house in Alameda, California. Photographs from the event, all black and white or sepia, show my mother wearing an orchid corsage on her simple crocheted dress. When she passed away at age 97 six years ago, I discovered that orchid pressed between pieces of waxed paper in a small box. I suppose it was once white but it is now flat and sepia tone. I kept it and placed it between two sheets of glass. This is a photograph of a living Phalaenopsis Orchid that is actually yellow with reddish streaks. After creating a stacked image from 113 photographs the color seemed dull and uninteresting so I changed the picture control in Adobe Camera Raw from Standard to Charcoal which seems to mimic sepia tone photographs. The change instantly reminded me of my mother’s wedding corsage and I thought the sepia coloring made the image much more appealing.
Every season in Yellowstone has a decidedly different feel because of time of year, the weather, the color of the landscape, and which animals show themselves. It may seem as if the only ungulates we saw in Yellowstone National Park a couple of weeks ago were Bighorn Sheep but we saw and photographed Elk, Bison, and Pronghorn as well as Bighorns. Pronghorn are diminutive compared to Bison and Bighorn Sheep but they are the fastest land animal in North America. This year we encountered herds every day calmly grazing on the yellowing grasses. It was quite a contrast to last year at this time when we witnessed a pair of Coyotes take down a Pronghorn just a few feet from our van as the rest of the herd used their speed to distance themselves from their unfortunate mate. We watched, awestruck by this Serengeti-like drama without taking a photograph but it was something I’ll never forget. This year, the Pronghorn rarely seemed to be concerned about predators and were often curious about our presence but they returned to grazing as soon as their curiosity was satisfied.
It is pretty amazing how critters are colored to help them blend into their surroundings. The coat on this Red Fox in Yellowstone National Park is perfectly suited for its surroundings. The coat has every color in the meadow where it was hunting voles beneath the snow. The fox disappeared when it walked behind a shrub or through a stand of grasses.
We found the Bighorns outside of Yellowstone National Park along the Old Yellowstone Road. On our second morning, the sun was out and the sky was cloudless. The rams stuck together in small groups as the ewes and lambs grazed nearby. We eventually found and photographed eleven rams, most with large curls like this pair of rams. I shouldn’t anthropomorphize but I tend to do that. These rams appear to be discussing something, just talking it over.
Happy Thanksgiving! This is a Liquidambar leaf, from a tree also known as Sweet Gum. I found the leaf in the neighborhood on my walk one morning a few days ago. I thought it had an interesting shape but when I saw the resulting photograph I liked the leaf even more. I can see so many things in it. It could be a bird taking to wing, a cobra preparing to strike, or even a dragon. If you look long enough, you might even see a turkey, something apropos to today. I took this image with my newest lens, the Nikkor ZMC50mm Macro, using only ambient light. It is a focus stacked image created from 243 shots in HeliconFocus.
Those gigantic horns that a Rocky Mountain Bighorn ram carries weigh about 30 pounds. Their bodies are designed to carry the weight. We were so close to these sheep that my Nikon 500mm PF lens was almost too much lens. Had he moved much closer, he would have been out of focus. I was about fifteen feet away from the ram as he munched grasses on the edge of the road just outside of Yellowstone Nationaal Park. This mature ram’s horns show a bit of “brooming,” a term used to describe the frayed ends of the horns that results from wear and tear throughout their lives.
The spring lambs were just adorable earlier this month in Yellowstone. They stayed close to their mothers and sometimes were still trying to nurse although the ewes seemed not to be too pleased when the lambs tried. We were thrilled that we had played the game properly and so the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep came closer and closer to us, allowing us to get intimate shots. My Nikkor 500mm PF lens was too much glass for this scenario. At Moose’s suggestion, I carried my tiny NikonZ50 with the Nikkor Z70-200mm lens on a strap on my shoulder so I could quickly switch from my tripod mounted super telephoto lens to a wider angle lens. That’s what happened here. As this duo approached, they over-filled the frame with the 500mm lens so I was able to quickly pick up the smaller camera and lens and shoot seamlessly. Because the Z50 has a DX sensor, the 70-200mm lens becomes a 105-300mm lens which worked out perfectly for me. And, although the Z50 doesn’t have quite as robust an autofocus system as the Z6II, it managed to see past the grass and focus on the lamb’s eyes. I was concerned that it might struggle with that but it performed perfectly.
Ten of the eleven rams we photographed last week are in this shot as they lined up to nibble the grass. One of the younger Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams is having a little trouble finding space at the dinner table. He must be intimidated by those huge curls most of these rams are sporting.
When I watched this Rocky Mountain Bighorn lamb chewing on a discarded piece of wire from a downed fence line, I first thought it was tangled in it. But, I was assured that it was just playing and soon enough, the wire went from a plaything to an abandoned snarl. She’s not playing with fire after all, she’s playing with wire. Kids will be kids. Maybe I should say lambs will be lambs.