The symbol of abundance…….

So, last time folks I left you at a wee cliff-hanger with our “undulating ungulates”– well, fear not! Here is your dose of buffalo/North American bison (Bison bison).

The symbol of abundance……..(Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

Like I said last time, where do I start? From the literal start I guess, right? Very well my fabulous factions, so I shall! Once upon a time, in a place far, far away known as Mammoth Hot Springs I encountered quite the sight! Dusky as the night is dark, hearty as Henry the VIII, with a head like a blockade and horns as sharp as a Dragon’s Tongue! There, before me stood this great vigour, this power – a buffalo, the symbol of abundance………

Mammoth Hot Springs (Photo credit: ER Hobkirk).

Now thankfully, when I first saw the buffalo I was in the car! And what’s more, “symbol of abundance” is quite appropriate as these guys are indeed abundant! Everywhere you look in Yellowstone you will see buffalo. But, to observe the splendour of these great beasts ambling across the frozen wasteland, is to witness an event of admiration – even when they clumsily posthole through the snow and face-plant the ground (!) they are still a majestic site and display fascinating behaviour! For example, the buffalo have worked out that ‘man’-made roads are ideal for easily migrating through the vast wilderness of Yellowstone, which inevitably results in ‘traffic’ jams on the roads – i.e. rather large herds of buffalo leisurely meandering along the winding roads being closely followed by one or two automobiles! An inconvenience to many motorists, but to the buffalo it’s a means to conserve energy by not having to trudge (or posthole) through deep snow, and they can avoid predators such as the Mollie Pack wolves (more on these wolves later!); the wolves tend to stay away from humans, and thus tend to stay away from roads unless they HAVE to cross them (again more on this later!). I must admit though, it’s fairly nerve-racking driving in blizzards, on snow covered and ice-packed roads that over-look cliff edges, in the dark, when the buffalo are in formation along the road!! And that’s because in these wintery, dark conditions you literally cannot see the buffalo until you are right on top of them! Their coats are so dense that they seem to absorb the light of car headlights and so, you don’t even realise they are there until the last minute!! No collisions though I will add – just a couple of “wooahhh buffalo ahead!” moments……

Just a herd of buffalo along the road……(Photo credit: ER Hobkirk).

One thing I was told about the buffalo, is that they are so quiet when they move around, that they can easily sneak up on you without you knowing it! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? How on Earth can a beast that size possibly make little to no sound underfoot, when moving about – surely the ground would quiver!? Well, this is what I thought, despite being told that their lack of percussion was indeed fact, not fiction…..while observing the Junction Butte Pack wolves, with Rick McIntyre and his crew, I periodically scanned the landscape around us, keeping a look-out for these so-called twinkle-toed bovines, expecting to pick up obvious sightings of horned, brown fuzz balls approaching from a distance or at least the sound of ice breaking – but nothing – I went back to observing the wolves as they lay on a rocky outcrop together – a few minutes later I scanned again for the buffalo – nothing – back to the wolves watching them howl this time – scanned again for buffalo – again nothing – back to the wolves, and a sudden thought of “are these guys pulling my leg about the buffalo??” – BUT!! Just as that thought crossed my mind there behind us stood a great force!! A huge male buffalo standing right in front of us, staring straight at us, and he even brought a pal with him!! Now, you would expect my reaction, or the reaction of anyone to be one of retreat! To evade this great presence – well, no, I thought “quick! Camera!!” (actually, that’s a lie,  I initially thought “wow cool!!”) and then stood there grabbing a few pics of this buffalo, as he slowly turned away from us and proceeded to munch down a few wee shoots of grass!

Here’s the guy who snuck up on us while we were observing the wolves!! His pal can be seen in the background! (Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

The sneaky buffalo munching on some grass shoots! (Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

Stunning beast……..(Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

Speaking of male buffalo – as you may already know they will compete with each other for mating access to females during the rut – however, leading up to the rut young buffalo males will engage in mock battles – they will play fight with one another to test their strength and prepare themselves for actual contests over females! And this is what I had the pleasure to observe in Yellowstone – once the snow began to melt and new grass shoots appeared, giving the buffalo more energy, the young males began to tussle with one another……so, there I was sitting out on “Rick’s pull-out” (essentially a big hill) in the afternoon sun, gazing out across the land observing a spectacle of opulent grandeur as these males locked horns, and kicked dust high into the air – the dust would plume and disperse repeatedly as each buffalo spun round and round attempting to push its opponent away, like two giant sumo wrestlers! The aberrant sound of their horns clashing together accompanied by occasional grunts and snorts, sent chills down my spine…….sometimes a third-party male would attempt to join in the action by shoving his huge head right in the middle of the other two guys! And at the end of each ’bout’ the young males would joyfully throw some mighty back-kicks into the air before running off across the open flats together – it was absolutely amazing to observe this behaviour, in the land where it belongs.

Two young buffalo males tussling (Photo credit: ER Hobkirk).

Third-party male (background) coming in to join the action……(Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

…….though the other kids wouldn’t let him play in their games on this occasion – so, he wandered off (left of photo) poor lad……(Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

“When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard” – Lakota proverb

Slight bit of argy-bargy at the side of the road! At the side of the road is better than in the middle of the road!! (Photo credit: ER Hobkirk)

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2 responses to “The symbol of abundance…….

  1. Pingback: Wolf Mother | Researching Wolves·

  2. Pingback: Wolf Mother | Studying Seals·

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