Thursday, September 13, 2012

Custer # 3

Tuesday found us, along with our RV neighbor, Susan, setting out on a morning jeep tour to see some of Custer State Park's bison herd, and hopefully other critters as well. We were not disappointed. Almost as soon as we left the parking lot, we spotted another covey of sharp-tailed grouse.  This one showed us his distinctive pointy tail.

Shortly after, we saw this nice pronghorn buck hanging out near the corrals where the buffalo will be penned. If you look closely, you can see that this fellow has been sparring for the ladies. There is a large wound on his upper right shoulder and his right horn is broken. I guess the other guy got the girls.

Driving across the souhern part of the park, we had beautiful views of the hills where the Custer SP bison range. 

Just out of reach of my camera lens, we saw this coyote standing watch by a prairie dog burrow...waiting for breakfast, I suppose.

And not long after, we located a sizable part of the bison herd. 

The animals we saw were mostly females with this year's calves. Mixed in were some of last year's calves (the ones with the straight horns) and some of the younger bulls (4-5 years old). 
Most of the mature bulls have already left the herd. They only stay with the females during the breeding season, which was mostly over in July. The rest of the time they spend alone.

A few of the cows had their calves late. You can tell the younger ones because they have reddish, curly coats.  We were told that the calves will shed their baby coats when they are 2-3 months old.  

However, because these calves were born late, their mothers will breed later than the others. This is why some of the younger bulls stay with the herd and are paying so much attention to them!   It's love, or maybe the perfume she's wearing!   They wouldn't get to first base if the senior bulls were still around, so they're hanging out with the girls and hoping to get lucky.

We were told that most of the senior herd sires are 7-10 years old. You can tell the ages of the bison by the number on the upper part of their right hip. This number is the last digit of their birth year. Cows usually remain with the herd until they are about 10 years old. The cow below has a "2" on her hip, indicating she was born in 2002,  She is 10 years old, no longer in her prime, and will likely be removed from the herd this fall.
As we were finishing our tour, we came across this large bull in another section of the park. We looked for a number, but he was unbranded. Our tour guide said that he was probably born after the roundup, and consequently was never branded. He estimated that this bull was likely about 10 years old.  He's quite a big boy by any standards.

As we were leaving the area where the bison were grazing, we came across this very handsome pronghorn buck. His good looks apparently weren't enough to attract any females, however. In spite of his efforts, like the buck we saw earlier, he too came away with only a scar to show for his efforts.  If you look closely you can see it on his right hip in the second photo. 

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