Bison viewing in Grasslands National Park

Posted by on 15. June 2012 in Blog / Journal, Grasslands National Park | Comments Off on Bison viewing in Grasslands National Park

This post is coming with a slight delay – I have been quite busy preparing for the photography trip to Iceland.

In mid May I went to the Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan. After a week of rain, the vegetation was starting to look really green. There was so much moisture in the air that a thick layer of fog cloaked the Frenchman River Valley and provided some great photography opportunities. My buddy Larry captured me in action one morning, a tiny person in a vast open prairie.

Misty morning in Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park

Misty morning in Frenchman River valley © Larry Grenkow

In addition to new moisture, sloughs and dugouts were quite full of water remaining from last year. The prairie in the Park looked quite soaked and ready for the new growing season. If we get a prolonged period of warm weather, the flowers could be very nice this year. I plan to visit the park again in late June, to photograph early summer flowers and blooming cacti.

Prairie with wildflowers at 70 Mile Butte. Grasslands National Park

Prairie with spring wildflowers at 70 Mile Butte

One change I noticed in the park is the more frequent occurrence of plains bison along the main Ecotour road in the West Block. Parks Canada brought a small herd of bison to the West Block in December of 2005. Sixty calves and 11 yearlings were brought in from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta. The bison were kept in enclosure and fed to help them get used to the new home, and then released into the Park in May of 2006. The herd quickly adapted to the new environment and produced several calves the first year. The number of bison steadily increased to 116 in 2018, 190 in 2010, with the estimated herd size for the end of this year of around 325 animals.

Herd of plains bison grazing in Grasslands National Park

Herd of plains bison grazing near the prairie dog colony

The bison herd in the Grasslands National Park is large enough that park biologists expect to see the herd break into smaller groups. This might increase a chance for visitors to see the animals in a larger area of the West Block. I did see two small groups during my short stay in the Park. To control the spread of invasive plant species, Park managers have burnt several areas along the Ecotour road. The bison took advantage of the fresh grass regrowth, and could be seen frequently grazing in those spot. We spotted the first group near the black-tailed prairie dog colony closest to the north entrance to the West Block. This group was rather far and I need to use a long telephoto lens to capture a usable image. We saw the second group near the old Belza farmstead (right next to the new monstrous campground being build the park). Several males were grazing right next to the road and we had a chance to enjoy observing and photographing them. As an added bonus, we saw a coyote walk right behind the animals, respectfully keeping a safe distance.

Plains bison and coyote, Grasslands National Park

Bison and coyote, near the campground at Belza

If you have a chance to visit the Grasslands National Park this year, I would recommend that you come in early summer. You might be rewarded with a sight of blooming prairie wildflowers and photograph wild prairie bison in a natural setting. Be especially careful during the rutting season (from mid July to mid August) when bulls are more aggressive and unpredictable in behaviour. Check at the Visitor Information Centre in Val Marie for the most current information about the bison location in the Park.