BIALOWIEZA NATIONAL PARK, 2015
The aim was very simple: to take a picture of a European bison that stands idly on a frosty day in the snow covered landscape and with that white cloud of air coming from his nostrils. A classic picture that would seem not such a problem. With few exceptions. You would need to have snow on the ground, frosty weather and, you guessed it, bisons. The first day I quickly realized that to achieve my goal I would need a miracle because the weather was that of an late autumn and bisons were gone.
“Networking is more important than we think”
They literally disappeared. The quick search of the bisons whereabouts proved that I would need to triple my efforts in order to find them. Is the fame of Polish bisons real or is it a myth? But even if I do find them, I would still need good weather. So I started first with my quest for bisons by calling my friend who called his friend who knew where the bisons could be. To make it even more complicated, the friend I called lived hundreds of kilometers away. But that did not matter. What really matters is the networking of people. Whatever can be said about networking cannot be overestimated. So after the first day I saw a small ray of light in terms of bisons whereabouts but I still did not know whom shall I call in terms of the weather.
Wow! The nearest bisons were c. 100km from the place where I was staying. And I think it is when you receive information like that, that you always face a wildlife photographer dilemma – how much can we sacrifice to take THAT picture? What amount of money, energy, and time sets the limit for a no-go decision? Whatever it is 100km for me was just right. I could handle it. Even in winter (that looked like autumn) , even with trudging all the equipment with me.
“The knowledge of the locals is priceless”
The local expert told me a lot about bisons’ behavior and their whereabouts. I also received a mini instruction of how to survive when for one reason or another they decide to charge towards us. ‘Stand still’ I heard. ‘Do not run’. Do not run?!? I asked myself silently. Is it possible at all? Well. Let’s see.
The bisons were in the field. The weather was still far from desired, so they grazed in the field of rape. But there was also another place where they fed – a haystack. Finally I saw them. The quest for bisons was rewarded. If it hadn’t been for my local guide I would have never guessed that bisons’ favourite place was the field of rape. But still I would need good frosty weather to take the picture I visualized and dreamed about..
We may read thousand of books about bisons, but it is when you see them eye to eye then you experience the magnificent power hidden in their bodies. ‘Do not run. Stand still’ was rolling in my head and I could do that easily because I was inside the car when three bisons were searching the area around. But even from the comfort of my place I could feel that fear can really paralyze.
“Learn about your subject from various sources”
It seemed that I was not the only one interested in bisons’ lives. One of the males I was observing had a radio transmitter hanging from his neck. It looked bizarre but I understand that scientists are seriously interested in discovering their habits. So was I.
For that reason I learned one significant lesson about bisons. Or, being précised, about their poo. The poo itself is like encyclopaedia. You can learn a lot about their diet, health, the herd, most of the vital facts. My local guide examined one we found and, like a trapper, was reading it translating information from the poo into human language. Brilliant.
The weather was still unfavourable for taking that dream picture. And at that point I employed my golden rule: plan B is as important as plan A. If it wasn’t good for bisons it must have been good for something else. I had brought with me sunflower seeds and lard. Now it was time for birds and the plan paid off. And I was able to take photos of some species I had never photographed before, Grey-headed woodpecker being one to name. So, after all it wasn’t that bad.
Eventually a couple of snowflakes fell down but it was far too few to create the setting for my dream picture. And then, while I was observing bisons in that unfortunate weather conditions, I had an idea of another picture, another photoBO (photoBO is a picture concept by Beyond Ordinary). In my imagination I saw a herd from above. Not so classic but by all means beautiful. In other words the failure in one area brought development in another.
“Get prepared for any possibility”
Undoubtedly good research is a must but there are factors we cannot predict or have influence on. The picture of bisons needs to be retaken. And I would need to visit the place once again. But Hey! This time I know more than I did the first time round. Who knows maybe another visit will bring pictures that go beyond my wildest imagination? And that is what I love about wildlife photography – it is unpredictable, full of twists, and evermore challenging.