Friday, April 22, 2011

Lingering Cautions

I could feel the fixed stare of several pairs of eyes as they closely followed me while I moved from the front end of my truck around to the back and even as I quickly climbed into the box. The stares remained set upon me for a couple more minutes while I readied my cameras for the morning's work. Completing my preparations, I turned one of the cameras around to study this wall of shaggy beasts firmly entrenched about 30 feet away.

The eyes belonged to a group of nervous bison cows, most of them mothers to calves no more than ten days old. Typically, the cows had encircled an area 20-30 feet wide in which were confined a half dozen of the little golden tykes - now mostly napping - to protect them from potential predators. As I panned my lens past each set of eyes, there could be little doubt as to the fate of any creature foolish enough to attempt entering this circle.

This procedure of "circling the wagons" has been in use by cows like these since the days of the last ice age, a time when North America was roamed by numerous and huge predators like the short-faced bear, saber-toothed cat and probably a cheetah as well, just to name a few. Nearly all of those ancient marauders became extinct during the close of that last ice epoch, leaving creatures like the wold and cougar as the only predatory threat to bison with most of that being confined to calves and sick or injured adults. And even that pressure has been severely reduced with wolves and cougars being mostly eliminated from habitats where bison are typically found nowadays.

But time has done little to dull a bison cow's instincts as is evident this morning with their lingering cautions, as they are still responsive to ghosts from the past. And I only have to recall my one negative encounter with a bison for further proof - the time I was chased by a new mother cow and ended up diving under an old fallen cottonwood tree to escape her wrath.

This morning will present to such danger however, as the cows relax and go about their business - caring for interacting with their young. And while seated safely in the box of my pickup truck, I can go about my business, which is creating images of the lives of these great creatures.

(above) After a nine month gestation, a cow usually goes off by herself to give birth and then keeps the calf protectively secluded for a couple of days while the two bond.

(left) The calves soon become restless from the seclusion and very curious of their surroundings, prompting the mothers to rejoin the herd with their newborn.

(above) As the calves join the herd with their mothers, they begin to form close ties with each other that also include the usual antics & play typical of all childhood.

(right) As is with most infants, everything becomes a plaything for a bison calf - even a dried stalk of grass from last summer.

(above) A bison herd is constantly on the move and the young calves quickly learn to keep pace with the rest as falling behind leaves them vulnerable to predators during their first weeks.

(left) This little bull calf stretches as he rises from a long morning nap taken within the safe confines of the circle of cows.

(above) Weighing about 60 pounds at birth, bison calves between now and the first snows of late autumn will gain about six times their current weight in preparation for winter survival.

(right) A worried mother cow steps in front of her calf to cast an eye of warning on the photographer as the curious youngster peeks from behind.

(above) With her recently born calf following along as best it can, this cow heads across the grasslands into the orange sky of a prairie sunset.

"What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected."

Chief Seattle



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