My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bison in Lust

One morning in mid July I walked out of the bunkhouse to hear a new sound.  It was the bellowing of of bull bison.  The rut was starting and the bison were in the Headquarters pasture, where the bulls love to posture, fight, and challenge roll in the  many wallows they have made.  This pasture is adjacent to the bunkhouse area, so we could see a lot of the action from the bunkhouse.

Challenge rolling

That week, we set up the Talk-to-a-Biologist program along the road where cars would want to stop anyway to see the action.  In between customers, I tried to document all the interesting stuff going on.

Bull keeping cow from other bulls and constantly smelling her
 Kelsey, the biology tech working the program with me, told me that mostly it's the young bulls that tend cows at first.  This means they cut a cow out of the herd and then keep her isolated.  Other bulls may come and challenge him for her. This tending actually brings the cows into estrus.  The older bulls are much better at knowing when the cows are in estrus and then move in on the young bulls and claim their cows.

Agitated bull with cow

So we had challenge rolling going on, chases of females by bulls,  one bull making another bull give up his wallow, and lots of bellowing and lip curling.  The lip curling allows the bull to smell through the roof of his mouth.

Bulls too young to mate practicing their moves

From a distance, the bellowing sounds almost like a really loud and deep  purr.. It can get louder as bulls challenge each other. But many bulls stand around singly and bellow or tend a cow and bellow.

The real deal with older bulls

The bulls  want most to mate with a dominate female and sometimes she gets chased a lot.  Her poor calf gets worn out, and sometimes separated for a while.

The lip curl

The bison have been moved to the next pasture and are now over two miles from the bunkhouse. I finally got to spend about an hour watching them Tuesday evening.  Many females are no longer being tended, so I think they have mated.  But I've yet to see that happen.  A pair of bulls tussled a few seconds very near the truck.  Several bulls came by tending females and bellowing. But nothing very exciting was happening and I've yet to see any heavy  duty fights.  If the bulls are very closely matched, they may fight a long time, but usually, the bulls are not all that close in size and age and one of them can intimidate the other without a fight.

Two bulls fight over a female

But Tuesday evening became more  and more magical.  After spending a hour close to a group of bison, I hiked up to High Point to look for a family of Lewis woodpeckers.  I didn't find them but enjoyed the setting sun on the Mission mountains and the panoramic views.  The sun going behind the mountains when I left to move on to Triskey Creek to put out my bee cups. But once again, I was detoured by over thirty bighorn sheep.  I ended up getting out of the truck and walking to the back bumper where I took pictures and enjoyed half of them.  The other half had crossed in front of the truck and were back lighted.

Big horn sheep hanging out by the auto tour road

Still more fun awaited.  I drove down the Triskey road - a bumpy two track - to put out my bee cups.  I stopped to open a gate, and  thought I saw a mule deer on the top of a golden mountain.  When I grabbed my camera, and took the beautiful composition, I found that it was an elk.

I have been wanting to continue to climb to the top of the hill, so did it.  The best news was that I  my step meter actually reported that I was doing aerobic exercise. I climbed and then walked around on the top of the mountain for ten minutes, then walked back down.  So I'm definitely getting my mountain legs.

Coming on around the loop auto tour to reach the bunkhouse, I was able to enjoy the lights of St. Ignatius.  This was the first time it's been dark enough to see them. I was also able to enjoy the last of the sunset, and the appearance of the evening star.  Then I got one last jolt when a bull elk raced across the road in front of me.  I barely missed hitting him.

The last of the sunset

 My morning treat was getting to visit with about forty people, including a man and his daughter from a town very near Houston and Galveston. I also talked to a lady  from Hempstead, a town a little north of Houston, Texas. Out topic was invasive species and I was able to interest the visitors by telling them how we have to work really hard and spend lots of money to keep the invasives from replacing the grass in the bison's pastures.

So yesterday was a very good day.