We are now at the third in the series of Yellowstone (and Custer State Park) Ungulates… and if I remember correctly this will be the last in the set (unfortunately no moose were to be found on this trip). Similar to the Wapiti in the previous post (link here), these beasts are so large they have two names. Using once again my staple for all things researchy, I headed over to Wikipedia to get some details on these once common roamers of the Great Plains. Surprising to me, the name I usually use for them, Bison, is actually a newer name than Buffalo. I would have bet all my Double Jeopardy money on the reverse. This particular Bison appears upset that I didn’t know that.
Bison actually comes from the Greek work for ox-like (originating around 1635). On the other hand, the name Buffalo comes to us from French fur traders in the 1774 timeframe. Strangely enough, they failed to give the name Native Americans used for one of their dominant food sources. What appears to be one of those tragedies from a lack of conservation principles, these animals definitely took a hit from hunting practices (skin market driven more than food source) which just about drove them to extinction – Wikipedia also indicates that this was a US Army endorsed activity in order to impact the Native Indian living conditions. The good news is conservation efforts have been bringing them back and now listed as near threatened.
Linda and I have had the privilege of photographing these creatures at three wonderful places. You can fill all your digital cards up with Bison shots at either Yellowstone National Park or Custer State Park. They are so abundant there you eventually start ignoring them about halfway into the trip. I always joke that trips there start out with “oh oh a Bison” proceed to “wow, look at that one over there”, then “eh, let’s keep driving” and finally “hey, get the hell of the road so we can get to the wolves!” Now in truth, we may progress through this transition to disinterest at a faster rate than most. We actually live about 10 minutes from Wildlife Prairie Park which has a very nice collection of Bison and other native animals to the Great Plains. You can read more about that park on a previous post (link here). (looks like I already used the two name bit on that previous post – looks like I need to get some original material.)
Here is one of the local residents of Custer State Park.
Hit the jump to see the rest of the Bison collection.
Being late in the season, most of the bison had been rounded up and contained in their corrals. To regulate the herd and manage vaccinations etc. they have a bison drive within the park. At the time we were there, they had separated out a bunch of the calves in one large area and the bulls/cows in another. According to the literature we had they auction these off for food and livestock purposes. This allows them to maintain a herd level that the park can sustain and make sure they remain healthy. It would be quite interesting to see someone try to drive this next bull (guessing due to the size) anywhere it didn’t want to go.
This is the image I think of every time I see the instamatic owners using foot zoom to get pictures for their Facebook pages. Due to how docile they tend to appear while grazing on the land, people tend to get a false sense of security when around them. The elk racks tend to command a little more respect than the shorter (but sharper) horns of the bison but the general lumbering of the bison give an inaccurate sense they are slow. Quite the contrary. Imagine anywhere from 700 to 2,200 lbs (on average) heading your way with bad intentions at 35 to 40 mph. There is a reason why these creatures are considered one of the most dangerous animals in the parks and why the rangers are continually warning you to keep your distance! I witnessed a similarly large bull running across a parking lot the last time we were in Yellowstone and there is now no reason to have to explain this to me.
… but they can be so darn cute
Linda gets credit for the above shot. We were cruising through Custer when she noticed this calf rolling in the dirt. Truth be told it was probably less an act of play than an attempt to rid itself of flees and give a dust covering to help protect it from flies and ticks. This great shot does give a rare view of the underside of the hoof showing the two equally sized toes on each side. And then there are the cute bonding moments.
The Custer herd we were photographing were grazing in an area covered with a large nettle of some sort which was stuck all over the bison fur. Not having access to local barbershops I’m not exactly sure when and how these prickly pods ever make their way off – being that it was October shedding was not going to be the answer.
Here is another shot Linda obviously took. Another one of those huge bison that seem comfortable roaming around the heat vents at Yellowstone. There is a story with this particular shot.
First of all, the reason it is “obvious” that Linda shot this is not due to a particular style or technique but rather something much more simplistic. This is the shot she took right before it!
Yep, that’s me with The Beast safely taking pictures from the OTHER side of the bridge gate. David and Dr. Giselle are also with me, admiring the native wildlife in accordance with Ranger recommendations. But the photographer responsible for the last two shots (read Linda) doesn’t appear to be with these smart safety conscious park visitors. I wonder why that is since Linda was with us at the time (we had traveled up the path behind us to David and Dr. Giselle’s secret viewing area of the Grand Prismatic. Turns out Linda was too impatient and opted to WALK RIGHT THROUGH THE HERD to get to the parking lot… and now you know the rest of the story. For the curios out there I stayed behind to a) capture stunning pictures of the bison for the fans of my blog and b) I figured if she is going to take the risk of doing this I might as well go for a shot at winning America’s Funniest Videos. Once safely on the other side I went back to trying to get gallery shots.
On our last day at Yellowstone, the temperature plummeted and depending on the elevation up to a 4-5″ snowfall fell the night before. This left a nice frost layer on the lower elevations including the backs of the grazing bison. The camera was unable to pick up the nice shimmer effect this had on both the animals and landscape but at least we have the memories.
What is a LifeIntrigued blog entry without a picture of an animal with its tongue out (if you didn’t notice the trend of compositions with animals looking back across their bodies, surely you recognized the large number of animal shots with their tongues out). This one must have had a cold or trying to get some relief from all the buffalo chips in the area.
This shot provides additional validation of the inherent dangers those horns pose. It doesn’t take much thought as to why Yellowstone’s Mollie’s Wolf Pack produces the largest wolves being that they rely on Bison for their main food supply.
This is one of those images where I wish there was a mulligan. It was taken at the same place Linda took our picture above. The bison were coming down from the field to drink from the stream but they were directly between my glass and the sun providing a harsh situation. I was able to recover some of the detail, but should have done some hiking to see if another angle could be found.
Okay, time for some audience participation! (photos, facts and now interaction – what more could you possibly want in a blog post… except maybe nomograms). Anyway, once again Linda’s opinion will be withheld so as not to taint anyone’s perspective. Take a look at the shot below and then jump back to the second picture in this post.
Do you prefer the shot with the gap between the bison’s head and the tree or with it pressed directly against it? (and yes, these questions are all designed to assist in the selection for the upcoming photo competition season where I plan to maintain my NON-UB status for another year.)
Hope you enjoyed this last post in the ungulates series.. stay tuned for the next series which just might have some nasty claws
Oh, and as always, feel free to check out our Smugmug gallery to see all the pictures (link here)