Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Custer State Park's Wildlife Bonanza

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.

Big fella

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.

Friendly cottontail

Leaving our rental cabin at 5:30 am we made the drive to nearby Custer State Park.  Not only did I witness a lovely sunrise, upon entering the park we had our first wildlife sighting within 5 minutes.  My eagle-eyed hubby spotted a huge elk herd, complete with six cute babies!

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!)

Baby buffs

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.

Antelope family

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.

Shaggy beast

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).

Curious rodent

For anyone interested in wildlife photography, I highly recommend a visit to South Dakota's Custer State Park.

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!


  1. Hello,
    I would love to visit this park, the wildlife is amazing. Seeing the bison reminds of Yellowstone, these huge beast walking past our car grunting. The Antelope and Prairie Dogs are so cute. I hope you are recovered and back to normal! Have a great day!

  2. ...fabulous captures of nature.

  3. You are making the most of being there!

  4. You can't go wrong with a visit to Custer! Nice shots, I especially love the prairie darn cute!

  5. If we look, there is always an upside to a negative. So glad you have found so many. Extra time with all your family and now this sensational morning with the bison. The grass is so green and so wonderful to see so many grazing.

  6. I loved working there, even when the buffalo hung out in front of my house and I couldn't walk up to the visitor center to go to work!

  7. Amazing pictures. The Buffalo are huge and i would give them lots of respect.

  8. We once watched baby buffalo run around in a small captive herd. They bounced up and down on all four feet - so cute!

  9. Really great photos of the bison. I thknk I would be very nervous being so close to them even being in the car.

  10. Wow you got some great photographs!! I enjoyed them all!
    I still have my reading list and it was updated 8 hours ago. I use The Old Reader to read blogs, it works great for me it is free but takes a bit to set up if you follow lots of blogs I started with a few and added as I went:)

  11. I for one won't be approaching the big, cuddly cows; I'll just enjoy your wonderful photos. "Reading List" seems to be working OK for me, though some posts take a long while to appear.

  12. Beautiful captures of these creatures!

  13. You definitely got the best pictures in the park I've seen in a long time! Good eyes you two! I have many fond memories of that park as we spent a lot of time there growing up. Sherry in MT

  14. You took some awesome photos. The buffalo are nothing like the ones in Europe and we call yours Bison or American Bison. Not noticed a problem with my reading list though I keep missing yours so I have subscribed to it

  15. It has been almost ten years since our last visit to Custer State park and so I really enjoyed your photos! We were still living in NYC when we visited our son and DIL in Boulder and we drove up to sightsee. Custer was the first place I ever saw bison! We were so amazed by their size! we also saw wild burros and turkeys. It was such a wonderful park.


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