Monday, September 23, 2013

Living the Wild Life

When we come to Custer each year, there are certain rituals we observe.....special places we visit, and things we do.  Among these, we go fishing up the Grace Coolidge Walk-in area, and we drive the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop in both the early morning and the late afternoon.  This year, our first drive through the Wildlife Loop resulted in our encounter with the young coyote.  

We have since traveled the Loop both early and late.  In our early morning drive, we were fortunate to find lots of pronghorn antelope.  First, we saw this young buck marking his territory and polishing his horns (we assume) in the brush.  

He proudly rounded up his harem.  Unfortunately, he isn’t one of the bigger bucks we saw, and he will likely lose his ladies to a more senior buck later in the season.

And speaking of more senior bucks.....we came across this handsome fellow a few miles farther on.  He was driving this doe and her two almost-grow progeny before him...perhaps to his own harem.

And a little farther on, this nice buck was resting quietly beside the road, and close to the object of his affection....this lovely lady pronghorn.

On both the morning and afternoon drives, we saw bison and more bison, 

cows and their calves, 

including this very young calf.

We could tell his age not only by his size, but also by the red color of his coat.  The young bison lose their red “baby hair” at 3-4 months of age.  This little fellow was born late this year, and may have a hard time surviving the harsh South Dakota winter.

The pasture was also full of senior “herd bulls” courting the cows.  You can tell that this old fellow was born in 2004 by the “4” branded on his hip.  Normally herd bulls only remain in CSP for at most ten years.  This bull is in his ninth year, and nearing the end of his productive life.  

In addition to the large herbivores we saw on our drive, there were also many of these black-tailed prairie dogs.  They inhabit several large “towns” in the park and are a favorite with visitors.

In addition to the legitimate wildlife, the Park also has a thriving population of burros, or wild donkeys.  These critters are remnants of the burros originally used by prospectors and others who traveled in the Black Hills.  Not at all wild, these burros are expert at holding tourists hostage until they get a carrot, cracker or other treat.

This little fellow came up to get acquainted with us. He and Rue tentatively sniffed noses, then quickly parted when Rue screwed up her courage and barked loudly to warn him not to get too close!

That was right before Rue put her paw on the control and lowered the back window of the Tracker.  In a heartbeat, she sailed out out the window onto the road, not unlike Kota when she went after a pronghorn last year!  Fortunately we were stopped with a half-dozen or more other cars observing a group of bison beside the road.  John quickly stepped out and invited Rue to “load” and she hopped back into the Tracker.  We’re more careful about keeping the window lock on these days.

But these weren't our only encounters with "wild life."  On the way home from a shopping trip to Rapid City, we came upon this group of bighorn ewes and their almost-grown lambs grazing near one of the park's RV parking areas.

And then, driving through the park on the way to go fishing, we came around a corner and found several cars parked beside the road.  They were watching three bighorn rams posing on the rocks beside the road. 

Can you see him?

Look again.
As luck would have it, I had only a point-and-shoot camera with me at the time.  Although my camera couldn't capture every whisker, you can still appreciate the majesty of their surroundings and the regal bearing of these rams.

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