Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bison Musings and Moose

Yellowstone National Park: May 7, 2010

Crispy and crunchy. Morning sun on frost crystals brightens the fresh snow. I’m being sprinkled with fairy dust; the frost that accumulated on the branches above me is now knocked free by the gentlest air movement and floats around me. If this was January we’d be thinking, “What a lovely day!” but it is May 7th. Where are the aspen buds unfurling and spring phlox?

A big bison bull comes plodding along, also well frosted. He pauses next to a slender Douglas fir to rub some of his shedding hair off. “Ahhhh,” he rubs his shoulder hard. “That feels so good! “ Rubbing brings down an avalanche of snow from boughs above. Now he sports gobs of snow along with the frost.

A moose! First of this trip. As we were nearing the Petrified tree turnoff Dale spotted a bull moose ambling through the snow. Big Guy. Still in winter coat and with velvet antlers. His long legs reach easily over the many downed logs left after the fires of 1988. He eats a mouthful of snow off a log before ambling on.

I get out of the car and Dale drives ahead. The moose continues at his own pace until a second person gets out of his car and jogs to get closer to the moose. The moose picks up his pace and crosses the road right where Dale parked. Dale shoots from the car, getting full frame head shots! But we do wish the other guy hadn’t been so pushy.

I spent most of the afternoon drawing bison:

After kicking up their heels and running in mad circles, the bison calves are worn out, ironed flat out in the afternoon sunshine. The warmth must feel wonderful after the days of cold. Forty degrees and out of the wind looks well appreciated. The snow that covered the valley this morning has melted off. The wind is blowing again, but the herd rests in a sheltered swale. A coyote hunts ground squirrels at the edge of the swale. We often see coyotes hanging around bison herds during calving season. Bison afterbirth is an easy meal.

One cow stands and nudges her calf onto its feet. It is one of the youngest calves. We can tell because its umbilical cord hasn’t broken off yet. I wonder if she wants to make sure the little fella gets a good drink before the herd moves on.

Not long afterwards there is a general waking up amongst the rest of the heard, accompanied by a lot of soft bison grunting. The eleven calves are getting sorted out, back with their own Mamas. Soon most are nursing.


  1. Applause, applause! Amazing photography, writing and sketching. Can't wait until the next post.

  2. You took me to such a lovely cool place on this 90F+ summer day. I could see the herd resting.

  3. Lovely sketches—both the art and the words! Love that head shot too!

  4. Thanks for the wonderful adventure, Elva! Beautifully observed and reported!