Where the Buffalo Roam

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.

Continue reading Where the Buffalo Roam

So Big They Have Two Names

This is your heart … Thump …….. Thump……….. Thump ………… Thump ………… Thump. This is your heart when the month is nearly over and you have not met your blog quota ..Thump.Thump.Thump.Thump.Thump. Good thing a Boy Scout is always prepared (and for the record, by Boy Scout I mean the one month I actually lasted in that organization but hey, something sunk in.. that and hitch knots). Today’s subject is one of those animals you tend to stand there in awe over.  Are they capable of blinding speed, gifted jumping abilities or possibly grace in the water or sky? Not so much. To be honest I think it tends to bring back memories of our country’s heritage, a reminder of our past both good and bad.

If you are from the heartlands of America (with a slight lean to the West), you will recognize this animal as the Bison or the Buffalo depending on your history books. These hoofed animals are simply huge and can be seen quite far away as they move their bulk around the grasslands. These shots were actually taken at our local Wildlife Prairie Park (Edwards, Illinois) featuring animals historically native to the great plains.

Linda and I watched this particular animal stroll in from afar. It didn’t take us long to figure out the reason for soon after spotting it, we noticed the park workers spreading out the grain to our right. Another fine example of Pavlovian Training.  I have no idea how many times they eat a week, but clearly the number of buckets they were spreading around was not sufficient enough to fill up this guy, much less the rest of the herd that was following a little behind.  The next time I am at the park I’ll try to hunt someone down that can give me the full story on their eating habits.  It is possible this is just done as a treat to bring them closer to the public and the real feeding happens out in the back fields.  I’ll let you know what I find out.

One of my observations from numerous encounters while visiting the park and on various vacations out West is how calming these animals are. They never seem to be concerned about anything and go about their business pretty much oblivious to their surroundings. This is likely due to their size relative to their competing food chains, but those horns might make a few of the more aggressive predators a little squeamish. This doesn’t mean they are not keeping an eye on you.

Okay, sometimes they have to squint a little … but they are still open enough to size up your scrawny body. Oh, I just remembered one amazing scene we experience out in Yellowstone a couple of years ago. Linda and I were out on a trail snapping some pictures of elk and and few Bison that happened to be shading themselves under a grove of trees. All of sudden I heard a commotion in the parking lot several hundred feet away. Eventually I pinpointed the source. A huge buffalo was actually running across the parking lot somehow dodging the incoming cars and avoiding the parked one. Definitely not gazelle speed, but they can get moving far faster than previously expected. Just imagine that bulk moving at you… yikes, let’s hope they keep that docile gene.

They next time you have the pleasure of encountering one of these majestic creatures, take a few minutes to just enjoy the moment. Yes, I know they were a victim of America’s advancement and there is absolutely nothing you or I can do to change the past. Instead focus on the proud heritage of the creature and what it has come to stand for.  A great representation of how proud we are to call America our home.

And if you have a differing opinion of our country…. well, I can’t say it any better than this: