Bison Herd

Recently, Harland and I paid a visit to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in east central Kansas. We go there several times each year to see the nearly 11,000 acres of native grasses and wildflowers and to take lots of pictures. In October 2009, Tallgrass brought in a new reason for us to visit the preserve: a herd of bison. Thirteen head were brought in from the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.  On Mother’s Day 2010, a bison calf was born – the first calf to be born here in over 140 years. This May, a second calf was born, and 2 more are expected this summer. The plan is to grow the herd to 75 – 100 head. During a visit last summer, we caught sight of the herd from a distance and were thrilled. This year during our visit, I was hoping to see the herd a little bit closer.

So on a late afternoon a couple weeks ago, we walked the trail into the preserve under a stormy sky.  After a couple miles walking, we had not seen the herd, and were considering giving up when Harland caught sight of some dark objects on the western horizon. It was the herd about a mile away. We adjusted our camera backpacks, took a deep breath, and hiked toward them. As we approached, they looked at us each in turn, and then continued grazing.

We stopped. They moved closer.

A storm skirted to the north of us with frequent bursts of lightning flashing across the sky. Harland moved some distance away, set up his tripod and began to take pictures of the lightning.  I stayed where I was watching the bison. After a half hour,much to my surprise, the herd drifted towards me.  They seemed curious and looked at me thoughtfully.

As they continued to graze their way towards me, the herd split, half on one side of me,

the other half on the other side.

I was thrilled, and a little scared. I was a bison sandwich with the nearest one only about eight feet from me.

That’s me in the red shirt sitting on the ground.

Males weigh in at about 2000 pounds and stand about 6 feet at the shoulder. Females are 1000 pounds and 5 feet.  Both have horns.

They surrounded the baby calf most of the time, but I caught glimpes of it between their huge shaggy bodies.

Mama rested her chin protectively over her 1 month-old.

While they expressed little or no concern about me, I finally became nervous and backed some yards away.  They followed.  So I walked even further and finally they drifted away from me leisurely grazing on the endless supply of native grasses.

Harland crouched down into the grass and took some pictures of them too.

The sun set. The storm to the north moved further away. There was too little light to take any more pictures. In the twilight, the herd lay down to rest and take dust baths.  One drank from a puddle on the trail.

Harland and I packed up our camera equipment, said goodbye to the bison, and hiked the 3 – 4 miles back to the truck. It was nearly dark as we reached the end of the trail. Lightning bugs flew around us. We heard the surprised snort  of deer start at our approach and bound away.   It was after 10pm when we reached the truck. We were tired and sore. But as we drove home in the darkness my mind kept drifting back to the prairie and bison grazing around me. Was it real? I kept repeating to Harland as we drove along,

“I was surrounded by a herd of bison.”

“Yes, I know,” he replied.

And we smiled.

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————>  Friday: More pictures of the Baby Bison:  the close bond between her and mama, and close up shots of baby by herself. Plus a video.

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37 comments to Bison Herd

  • Kit

    What an incredible experience! This is terrifying, exquisite, frightening, and exhilarating all at the same time. Thank you for taking your readers along for this experience, Suzanne…you are wonderful!

  • Janet

    These pictures are just beautiful, and I two thousand miles away was thrilled and anxious for both of you. What courage to stay in the position when they were around you. Thanks again for the adventure.

  • Bob

    Elaine, you passed through Council Grove and didn’t give me a call?? I drive by that everyday, but have never stopped and looked around. It looks like I need to make a visit sometime soon. Awesome pictures as always!

  • I love these animals! I’ve only ever seen them at Custer, but would love to see them at Tallgrass. You were very brave to sit there among them, but you were rewarded with an amazing experience!

  • ks grandma

    Of all the superlatives that spring to mind regarding your photos and narrative of the experience, all I really want to ask is this: What do you use as a chigger deterrent?

  • Tina

    You scared and thrilled me at the same time!! Beautiful pics. And the caption for the Mama with her chin on the baby is “You just never mind the crazy lady in the red there you just stay here” You are so brave. I just can’t believe you did that, I would have been terrified.

    • Suzanne

      Thank you Tina. I probably should have been more scared than I was. Maybe it’s because we have cattle and I’m used to being around them.

  • Stephanie L

    As a AL native and a current E. TN resident – I frequent Cades Cove in Townsend, TN. I know that in the tall grass hides Mr. Copperhead snake (he hides in tall grass in both states). I couldn’t help but wonder, do you guys have snakes that hide in those tall grasses??? Or rattlers amongst the rocks? Your pictures are absolutely stunning and I have never visited your area. Maybe one day………but seriously, I have to know the snake threat?!?!?!

    • Suzanne

      As far as I know there aren’t any poisonous snakes in that part of the state but there are plenty of ticks and chiggers though. :)

      • Stephanie L

        Those pests I am more than familiar with – lol. Honestly, I just love looking at all the beautiful places you photograph. The landscape is just stunning. Thank you for sharing your journeys and life. I love the cows too (and kitty!).

  • Wow, and I was thrilled the other day, when a skipper landed on my camera, and when I held out a finger, it stepped on over to it. I don’t think I’d be as brave as you were. It’s probably best that you were, because your calmness may have kept the bison calm.

    You and your husband’s photos are awesome!

  • Marilyn

    What fun to read about your adventure! We love Tallgrass, don’t go as often as I would like. We take our chickens each Memorial weekend and turn them out in the cool chicken house for kids day! It is such fun. I have still not taken the bus tour into the prairie, think we will every year. Thank you for sharing our treasure here in our part of the country!

  • Kelly

    What a memorable experience! You are the only person I have ever heard of who made the opportunity to see bison up close. It’s so cool I don’t even know what to say!

  • Oh my goodness, they were close. What a wonderful opportunity for you, and some gorgeous photos to boot!

  • Nancy

    What a beautiful, beautiful post. I keep coming back again and again to see the pictures and let your description of the evening wash over me. Just beautiful. Thank you!

  • Sue, a Florida Farm Girl

    I’ve seen them up close, but only from inside a truck. Brave girl you are.

  • Doe of Mi.

    How exciting, wonderful, and scarey. I envy you.

  • Lynda

    What an awesome experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • I love their faces they looked so intent on figuring out what you were doing. Beautiful pictures!

  • Wow, what an experience! Such beautiful photos!! Yes, you are very, very brave. I was taught to fear the buffalo!! Ha Ha! Well, I do have experience at Yellowstone snowmobiling and the buffalo are right on the trail. They can get spooked by the snowmobiles, you must be cautious and ride by them slowly. I have seen a few up close and was very very nervous!!!! I’m sure your calm nature was very unthreatening to the buffalo. I’m happy for you that you had such an amazing, unexpected, beautiful experience. That is so cool!!

  • What an amazing experience! I can imagine how nervous that would make me, but what an experience!

  • Paula

    In a red shirt too! I have seen bison charge at people wearing red. I know it is an amazing experience…I was doing a vegetation transect, yep – nose down with butt up. All of a sudden, my eyes were staring into the eyes of an old bison bull who was causually walking and grazing. Two inches from his nose, I froze and did not move….he continued to graze along. My heart skipped a few beats. We now have one more baby bison on the preserve – a late one, born July 7. Last years baby and the two this year -all female. Just a note to everyone, bison are wild animals, be careful.

    • Suzanne

      Yes, somehow I’m always wearing a red shirt around livestock, although it’s not planned. Your encounter sounds so frightening. I don’t think I could have held still with him being that close.

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