Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Yellowstone: Bison Love

I didn't just go to Yellowstone. I went to Yellowstone during bison mating season.

These enormous animals are the easiest critters to see inside the park. They are huge, there are a lot of them, and they aren't afraid of you. There are many places to see them, but the two places I heard as top recommendations for wildlife viewing were Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley. Hayden Valley was closer, so I went there.

Bison

A large herd of bison were hanging out right next to the road. And they were conveniently near a good parking area. A ranger was there to keep people away from the bison and, in his spare time, give us info about the bison.

As of mid-August, when I visited, the bison are just starting their mating season. Nobody's actually mating yet. Some males are starting to find females and hang out with them non-stop. Eventually, the females will go into heat and then everyone can do their thing. Here's one lovely couple, with the female in front and the male behind her:

Bison Couple

Here's another, also with the female in front, chewing her cud:

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This couple, eating. Again, the female is in front.

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And one more, this time with the male licking the female's rear end:

Ass Licking

These male bison make themselves super sexy in order to attract the ladies. They scent dust with pee and pheromones and then they roll in it. They also rub themselves on sagebrush, so they smell like that too. But these males with their ladies are not yet secure in their ability to mate. Because of other males, like this guy:

Bison

He's hanging out alone. Going for a swim, even.

Swimming

Wet Bison

Swan and Bison

The older males are not worrying about their chances to mate. They are pretty sure that when the time comes, it will all work out for them. So while the younger guys are lining up their future mates, the landscape is dotted with lone males who won't show up until later. They'll butt heads with the younger guys, and the winner gets the woman.

With so many bison laying around doing nothing mere feet away from me (although always at least the 25 yards you are required to stay away from them), it was easy to just hang around for a while trying to get the right photo. There was a very young bison, one the ranger called a "late drop" because it was born months later than bison generally give birth. He or she was still a "red dog" - that is, still the reddish color of young bison that the older juveniles had already lost.

Baby Bison

Baby Bison

Baby Bison

Here's an older juvenile, who was rolling around on the ground a bit.

Juvenile

And this dude, just hanging out:

Bad Fur Day

Then this bison walked up:

Bison

This guy was just walking slowly down the road, blocking a long line of traffic:

Traffic Jam

I can't confirm I was the required distance from him, because he passed right by me.

During the rest of my time in Yellowstone, I did not see bison that close up again, but I saw them all over the place. Sometimes a herd, sometimes just lone males. I did one hike in the Pelican Valley and a second short one along Alum Creek. There were male bison dotting the landscape in both places. By the way, bison poop is pretty unmistakable. You will never wonder "Which animal made that?" when you see it.

These are just some of the bison photos I took. If there's one thing to know about visiting Yellowstone, it is: Expect bison. You might have to work hard to see a grizzly, or a moose, or a wolf. But you won't have any trouble spotting the bison. And if you want some fascinating info about Yellowstone's bison, click here.

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