I'm jumping around from spring wildflowers to current times with pics of summer wildlife in South Dakota's Custer State Park. Whenever I visit the Black Hills, a drive through this top-rate state park is a must-do. Not only is the scenery outstanding (think granite spires and pine forests) it is also a wildlife photographer's dream with bison, antelope, burros, deer, elk, meadowlark, prairie dogs, and many others often visible from the park roads.
In early July, my parents drove me through the park to look for some of it's famous wildlife. In particular, Custer State Park is known for their large buffalo herd often found right next to the park's main entrance. But on this day, we didn't arrive until nearly noon, and the buffalo were already settled in for their midday nap. We only spotted one group - and they were way off in the distance. But I did roam around one of the prairie dog towns and a couple of brave little rodents posed for me.
|Early morning elk herd
In mid-July my entire family gathered for a reunion that had been delayed a year due to COVID. My hubby returned for the event, and after 3 weeks away it was wonderful to see him again. Always an early riser, he offered to take me back to Custer State Park one morning to try our wildlife-spotting luck.
|Morning light illuminates the bunny's ears
Turning onto the park's "Wildlife Loop" I began to get excited. My hope was that some of the buffalo herd would hang out right next to the road so I could get some closeups of the shaggy beasts. But first we stopped at a roadside pullout so I could photograph a meadowlark. The bird ended up being shy, flying out of camera range. However the stop wasn't entirely a bust. I did notice a cottontail rabbit munching away near the ditch. The bunny didn't mind this camera-wielding woman getting up close and personal, so I was able to get some nice shots.
|We found the buffalo!
Hubby drove for about 10 miles with no animals in sight. I was beginning to think we'd be skunked again, when our truck drove over a rise and there they were! Not only was the large buffalo herd concentrated on both sides of the road, they were also sauntering across it. And these beasts were so big, they definitely had the right-of-way.
|Buffalo have the right-of-way
Approaching the main herd, hubby had to stop his truck several times for road warrior buffalo. Of course we gave them lots of space, some of those beasts were gigantic! (Why did the buffalo cross the road? Because he could!)
I was happy to see lots of babies hanging out with their mothers. Although most of them had been born a couple of months ago, they were still awful cute. Some of the little ones were already sprouting tiny nubs on their heads, the beginnings of horns yet to grow. I also loved their orange-red color (did you know baby bison are sometimes referred to as "red dogs?")
|Here we come!
Of course, we didn't dare get out of our vehicle. Buffalo are wild beasts and extremely dangerous. Custer State Park literature warns visitors to keep their distance from all wildlife, but especially the bison. Every year there's one or two dumb tourists that get too close and are injured trying to get a selfie with the "fluffy cows."
All of these photographs were taken through the car window. At one point, several large male bison surrounded our truck. Talk about extreme close-ups! I hastily rolled up my window as one guy was right outside the door. We couldn't move for a short time, as our truck was totally hemmed in by the big guys. But when one buffalo started licking the side of hubby's pickup, he put it in drive and quickly rolled away.
|This big guy kept sticking out his tongue
Hubby spotted one male buffalo that was absolutely huge. He kept sticking out his tongue and emitting rude grunting noises. Not sure what that was all about, but it did make for some funny pictures!
After being delayed several times for various buffalo crossings, my hubby and I arrived at the Wildlife Station visitor center. Besides partaking of the restroom facilities, we also were able to watch several bison amble towards a water hole. A large fence provided protection from the beasts, enabling us to view the herd safely without being in our vehicle.
|Using a sign post to scratch an itch
This big boy used a sign post for scratching his itchy neck.
|My favorite image
After driving back and forth along the same one-mile stretch of road several times, my hubby noticed a nearby gravel road. Consulting the park map, we discovered it was possible to complete a loop using two of these minor roads. Since the main Wildlife Loop was getting busy with more tourists, we opted to try the road less traveled.
Right away we had an antelope family sighting, complete with a cute baby.
|Male antelope eating flowers
This male antelope was having a flowery snack.
|Content buffalo calf
The series of gravel roads finally led back to the Wildlife Loop. But before entering the main road again, we came across another large buffalo herd. These guys were right next to the road.
There were several mothers and calves and it was adorable to watch their interactions.
Not to mention some more opportunities for close ups of the babies.
|Tender moment between momma and baby
So now I know - if you want to see lots of wildlife in action, visit Custer State Park in the morning's wee hours. It's totally worth the early wake up alarm!
|Brave prairie dog
I'll close this post with pics of a couple fearless prairie dogs that didn't mind me sticking my long lens in their faces (well, I wasn't quite that close but I did get within a few feet and that's pretty good for these usually skittish little guys).
NEW EDIT: Has anyone else noticed that the "Reading List" tab on Blogger isn't working? Or is it just mine? This is how I've always gotten updates on the blogs I follow and as of yesterday it stopped working. I wonder if it has something to do with Feedburner closing up shop. Any advice my fellow bloggers can give would be appreciated!