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BISON IN WYOMING
When it comes to setting sights on an animal in Yellowstone National Park, “it’s always an opportunistic kind of thing,” says Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, professor of biology at Northern Arizona University. But head to the Mammoth Hot Springs or Lamar Valley areas of the park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a herd of bison along the roadside. Snap-happy tourists, keep your distance! The stoic creatures, whose herds numbered in the thousands during the Old West era, are far from tame.
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PRAIRIE DOGS IN ARIZONA
Right off the urban trail system of Flagstaff, Ariz., is a thriving colony of prairie dogs that covers over three acres. Following self-guided tours along the city’s Foxglenn trail, visitors can see “America’s meerkats” frolicking above their burrows. “They spend a lot of time kissing each other,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff, who studies the colony. “They’re constantly playing with each other and running around.” But beware of prairie dog predators! “There are also coyotes and red-tailed hawks that come through,” he adds.
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ELEPHANT SEALS IN CALIFORNIA
Is that an elephant or a seal? It’s both – it’s an elephant seal! Characterized by their bulbous noses, these mammals make noises that sound “like they’re blowing into a tin can,” says Slobodchikoff. This time of year, visitors are more likely to catch the younger elephant seals along the beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore in California. At the elephant seal overlook near Chimney Rock, people can stop their cars and check out the funny-sounding marine animals.
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PELICANS IN TEXAS
“Birds are the thing to see” near Corpus Christi, Tex., says Slobodchikoff. Pelicans can be seen either in the water or flying above the water in a chain, looking out for their food of choice: Fish! When a fish is in sight, the pelicans “drop down like an arrow and – splash! – they’ve caught the fish,” says the professor.
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MANATEES IN FLORIDA
The clear ocean water down in Crystal River, Fla., provides perfect clarity for watching manatees. “They’re far more gentle than many other animals, and they tolerate humans reasonably well,” says Slobodchikoff. “They like the warmer water temperatures around some of these oceanic areas.” Visitors can opt to go manatee watching from aboard boats or get a little more personal snorkeling underwater.
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PEREGRINE FALCONS IN MAINE
From mid-May through August, join other birders at Acadia National Park in Maine and keep your eyes peeled on the high cliffs where these falcons typically nest. “Their diving speed can be 200 miles an hour and they can stop on a dime,” says Slobodchikoff. “It’s phenomenal.” And if you hear what sounds like a gunshot, don’t call the authorities quite yet. When the falcons come to a halt at such high speeds, “you can hear a pop as the wings fill up – it’s like a rifle shot!” he says.