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European Bison in Bialowieza Mist.
Views: 160774.1.2014 19:10:55
Where: Bialowieza, Poland

When: end of December 2013

Aim: European Bison in the winter

Equipment: Nikon D4, Nikon D800, Nikon 400/f2.8, Nikon 70-200/f4, Gitzo tripod, etc.

Participants: Bohdan Nemec, Ondrej Nagl, Jaromir Kaderabek


It's not any big adventure, this trip of ours to Polish Bialowieza, to see the European bison. Though it could be called "Face to Face with the Biggest Ox of Europe, or else In Hell of Bialowieza Wildwood", or something like that.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


But it's not a trip to a "pen", to a preserve, either, as had been my trip to available beautiful deer, but deer from the wildlife point of view in a pen and on steroids, to Jægersborg Dyrehave , Copenhagen. There is something special about photographing the European bison in Bialowieza NP after all. I give you a story as a comparison. You go with some friends to a zoo, to look at a newly created European Bison exhibit. You come with your suite to the fence where five or six European bison are grazing leisurely few steps away. You have your camera with you, as any good WL photographer should, of course. After short admiration of these animals which could weigh up to a ton, you wish to take an original photo of them, so you can boast in the evening on Facebook - what you did during the day, ate, blew your nose, felt great... You photo the bison through the fence, but it isn't quite the thing, that's for sure. You aren't such a champion who shoots with an arm outstretched, nor a zoo keeper. So to take a photo which wouldn't look like it was taken in a zoo when it's supposed to look like it's been taken in the wilderness is not really easy from behind the fence. And what's more, the fence really is a bother in the golden section you crave...and...and...whatever! What are you to do? A sudden idea strikes you, and you, one might say a bit rash, but the more so driven by the image of a perfect photo, climb the fence separating you from the bison. The suite standing on the correct side of the fence freezes for a second and then everyone according to their nature and their relationship to you - start to yell, some calling your name, with addition of "don't be stupid, come back", some are fishing their mobiles from their pockets (YouTube and so on).

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


This pretty describes our situation in Bialowieza, only lacking the audience. Luckily. And the fence is lacking! The principle remained, though. You are in the bison's territory, you can read so on the funny signs along the forest's tracks in Białowiezski Park Narodowy: „Uwaga! Krajina zubrow“ (Beware! There are Bison.) It depends on a free decision of the bison (and to be fair, also on yours a little) how the mutual encounter will end, what will you take from it. If it is a photo, or better still a good one, or none at all. The bison in general doesn't want to take anything from the encounter with you. That's an advantage, but you can't bet a hundred per cent on that. It could take something easily...

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


To make it clear, there are fences in Bialowieza. For scientific purposes, for the gene pool, and so on.

As I wrote in the beginning, we wanted to photo the bison in a forest. A bison in a field or in trampled mud round a fodder didn't tempt us, maybe only a bison in a tundrish habitat could be acceptable. But it should have mainly been a bison in snow. Literally. "Proper ox, cover'd in snow or frost." "In snowy oak forest." "Huge... from wildwood..." "I want the steam from its nostrils." That's how it should have been.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


All across Europe the winter in December 2013 looked more like a damp autumn with ground fog early in the morning and only locally freezing. The Bialowieza locality is about 200 metres above the sea level, and so it wasn't really supplied by large quantities of snow at that time, even though there normally is a slightly Russian climate (it is 5 km away from Belarus). But we aren't such dandies to say "gooosh! There's no snow, that sucks" and after roughly 1000 km on the way to turn back, when the conditions weren't exactly like we'd planned.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


The opportunists inside us said: "well, at least there's the fog, after all..." And the fog really was great. The dampness from the thawing snow condensed into fog every morning and it lasted till midday. And so on the first morning, shortly after we set from our camp, suddenly two bison emerged from the mist. We stood face to face with two enormous bulls.

Bearing in mind Jirotka's Saturnin (translator's note: Czech humoristic novel about a male servant and his master - a little similar to PG Wodehouse's Jeeves - who wanted to "correct" the obviously nonsensical stories in novels), and stories of "wildlife" photography on websites, it would be better to write: few hundred metres away from our dwelling, close to the last cottage, on a neglected meadow with bushes and pines there in the fog stood what seemed at the first glimpse two big cows, after a moment identified as European Bison (Bison bonasus bonasus) of the so called lowlands (Bialowiezian) line.

But that wouldn't be completely truthful and honest either. We were happy that the bison does exist, even outside the fence, and that we could take photos of it, and that there was at least the fog, which could add a bit of something extra to the pictures. And still there might even be the steam from the nostrils.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


It might seem that the bison doesn't have to be afraid of anything, due to its might, and so that it would be quite easy to get close to it. The bison is probably not afraid, but it keeps its distance. I don't mean escaping distance. Adult males two or three together as is their habit in the winter let you come quite near in a forest. And they won't run away, they only keep their distance in a by-the-way manner. In an open country, their distance from the disturber of their peace is bigger. And a herd with youngsters in an open country does keep the escaping distance and that can be 100 metres or more. Current weather adds to the length of this escaping distance too. Flurries of snow and freezing temperatures cause that the bison, a winter equipped giant, but a relatively shy animal, becomes considerably less shy. Therefore we gave up taking photos of bison herd in an open "autumn" country very soon.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


Photo shooting of bison in a forest is a different matter. It's the feeling. You walk slowly in a thin mixed oak forest covered in damp cold mist. It's quiet, not even the leaf litter under your feet rustling. You don't talk, and if you do, only in whisper. They must be somewhere around here, their tracks in the soft terrain are visible. But the bison are nowhere to be seen. And then suddenly (this time really) a little way ahead, definitely closer than you expected, there are two huge bison bulls. One of them is scratching its back against a fallen tree and the other is standing 20 metres away from you, staring you in the eye.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


The bison in a forest are admirably discreet and quiet. You don't expect that at all, especially if you consider their size. The clicking sound of shutters is the only disruptive moment of this encounter. However, even a very tentative and slow movement behind their "border", is the cause of the bison standing with their heads towards you with a clear message: "Uwaga! Krajina zubrow." So you back off a bit, for to take photo of your reflection in the bison's eye could be undoubtedly interesting and "really cool, dude", but you want to photo the animals in their natural behaviour and not in interaction with humans. When you get your courage back, you can't resist and anywhere possible you roll on the ground nearby...
"Perfect point of view is the basis of a good wildlife photo," to be sure.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


The bison in Bialowieza are resigned to the presence of humans, they live with it, but they are also free, enough to show their will, so in the national park they behave almost as naturally as they would in the wild. One of the symbols of ancient wild Europe, which is still possible to photo. Descendant of primeval oxen with veldt Bison blood in its veins who roamed Europe in the ice age. The shy giant of Europe. Animal which had lived and it's probably going to live again in the wilderness, maybe in Sumava too. I wouldn't have to go so far to get a photo of a bison.

European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


European bison. Bialowieza. Poland.


For those who have read as far as this and have enough of bison for the rest of their lives, I offer two more pictures, taken as a side effect of the bison oriented photo shoot in Poland.

White-tailed Eagle. Bialowieza. Poland.


European Buzzard. Bialowieza. Poland.



Bohdan Nemec, Pilsen, Czech Republic, January 2014

Translation by Tereza Nemcova, gwareth.tn@gmail.com
Comments on article 'European Bison in Bialowieza Mist.'
Comment 1-9 / 9
9.4.2014 11:26:02
šiky
nadhera.moc pěkný článek, super fotky.musel to být silný zážitek.
6.1.2014 20:36:39
Jirsa
Super fotky. Pěkná atmosféra. Líbí.
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6.1.2014 20:57:07
Bohdan Němec
Díky. Pochvala potěší.
5.1.2014 14:12:17
Jaromír Kadeřábek
Bohdane bylo mi ctí společně fotit s Tebou a Ondrou tyto majestátní zvířata.Hezky popsáno i nafoceno.Nelituji že jsme jeli a srandy jsme si užili:-)Už jsem dlouho nebrečel smíchy:-)
6.1.2014 21:01:48
Bohdan Němec
Jaromíre i já s vámi byl a fotil rád, a jel bych s vámi znovu. Škoda, že nejde popsat, čemu jsme se tak nařechtali. Mě taky tekly slzy smíchem, jako už několik let ne. :-D
5.1.2014 08:26:34
Jiří Míchal
Pěkné čtení a ještě lepší fotky, nenašel jsem snad jedinou, kterou by nečím nezaujala.
6.1.2014 20:53:19
Bohdan Němec
Díky, to rád slyším. Mělo to tak být.
4.1.2014 21:01:36
Michal Mašík
Pěkný fotky a fajn čtení. Na cestu asi vzít dostatek náhradního spodního prádla pro případ ... :-)
6.1.2014 20:50:46
Bohdan Němec
Díky. Nějaký ty spodky byly potřeba :-), ale přes hledáček vše vypadá jak v TV.
Comment 1-9 / 9