Contributing from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Red Dogs of Spring
Bison calves or “red dogs” are some of the most adorable babies that can be seen in Yellowstone. They’re born in the spring to mothers who sometimes look as if they’re going to keel over from starvation after the subzero winters of the park. This spring I felt left out because it seemed that my friends had all seen red dogs and I still had not seen one despite getting out into the park at least once a week. It was coming up on the last week of April and this time last year there had been fields of baby bison throughout the park. They must be imaginary because I haven’t seen one yet. Mikayla and I decide to go out to the Lamar Valley to hopefully see some rust-colored babies.
Photo from April 28, 2017
We hadn’t made it to the Tower-Roosevelt junction yet (east of Mammoth Hot Springs – the North Entrance and the Lamar) and a car has come to a nearly complete stop in the road. I grab my binoculars and look past the trees lining the road where I can see bison moving. They’re pretty far away and I can just make out little orange blobs of babies running after their mamas.
“YES! I’ve seen babies! They are real…”
I don’t even care how far away they are. I’ve seen them and I’m happy about it. And now it seems like the Yellowstone Gods have shined down upon us because there are babies everywhere. However, they’re all so far away that my biggest camera lens can’t pick up their faces.
“Pull over here so I can get a shot of this field of babies.”
I hated the photo so deleted it as soon as I got home (it was very similar to the cell phone shot above from 2017). After several hours, we decide to leave the Lamar and make our way back. We’ve passed Tower and were nearing what’s called Phantom Lake (so called that because in the winter/fall it’s a field of snow and grass but in the spring and summer it’s a lake created by snowmelt). Mikayla points to a pull-out ahead with two cars in it.
“What are they looking at?”
As close to the road as possible without actually being on the road: Mama and baby! This calf was only a few hours old and still had its umbilical cord attached. Thinking that she was going to park in the pullout, I made a move to open the door.
“Oh no. You’re getting the shot.”
Without actually stopping in the road (it’s illegal and nearly every tourist does it. Please don’t be that person), she cruised along just ahead of the bison and calf, so I could get photos. Eventually there was a pullout and mother nature blessed me with some great lighting.
Just a few weeks later, I had two cow bison with their calves in the alley behind my house. I was a total “tourist” and ran outside with my camera and stood across the street for nearly an hour while the bison hung out in my neighbor’s yard.
Even “in town,” at the North Entrance of the park you never know what you’ll see. Montana is always an adventure.
About the Author
Vanessa originally hails from Florida but moved out west to work as a park ranger in Montana after experiencing California's Yosemite National Park. She now works year-round in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.