Buffalo — up close

Our first stop on this cross-country adventure was Cross Ranch in central North Dakota, a 5600 acre Nature Conservancy preserve.  Originally a large cattle ranch, this landscape of rolling hills and flat valley grasslands is being used to raise about 250 buffalo, along with supporting a diversity of prairie plants and animals. Bison at Cross Ranch, Washburn, North Dakota We saw Sage Grouse, a coyote, and an assortment of songbirds, but we came to see the big bruisers that cruise the ridge lines looking for the sweetest new sprouts to munch. I thought seeing a big herd from a distance was a thrill, but wasn’t prepared to meet them from just a few feet away, as our intrepid tour guide maneuvered his 4-wheel drive right up next to the herd. Hardly needed a telephoto for these shots. Bison at Cross Ranch, Washburn. North Dakota As is the case for many species of hoofed animals, buffalo females and their offspring (males only up to 2-3 yrs of age) make up the herd. Bulls hang out alone or in small stag groups and only join the herd during the rut, once a year. These calves were only about 2 months old. Bison at Cross Ranch, Washburn, North Dakota That’s not a brand on this female’s back — those are scars left by the feet of the male when he mounts her. Bison at Cross Ranch. Washburn, North Dakota They shed their heavy winter coat from the rear forward, but retain the dense fur around the neck and head into the summer, making them look even larger.

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