I just returned from a trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in Iowa. Scott Moats, who has managed the preserve for 15 years, is one of my favorite people to work with. His ability to interact with people – especially his neighbors around the preserve – and his enthusiasm about his site and his work make him fun to be around. This week he’d organized a meeting of conservation professionals from around Iowa to talk about the ecology and implementation of prescribed fire. I enjoyed the chance to be a part of the group and learn from Iowans about fire – and prairies in general.
The Conservancy reintroduced bison to Broken Kettle in the fall of 2008, and I was able to be there as they came off the truck. Since then, I’ve tried to make it back up to visit them when I can. After our meeting on Thursday, we had some free time in the evening, so three other Conservancy employees and I struck out across the prairie on ATVs to find the bison.
Luck was with us. As we neared the gate to the bison pasture, the whole herd (or at least most of it) was standing right inside the gate. We watched and followed at a distance as they grazed and worked their way slowly up and down a couple of hills. I was hoping to get some photos, but the light was a little harsh – and then as the light started to get better (as the sun got lower) the bison moved so they were between me and the sun.
At one point, a small group of animals started grazing their way toward where our ATVs were parked. When they got close, they stopped grazing and wandered over to see us up close (I’m guessing). The four of us just sat quietly for the examination, and when they’d seen enough, they wandered off in the other direction.
I’d been photographing the bison with a long telephoto lens, but as they came closer, I switched to my wide-angle lens. The photo shown here was taken with that lens. It turned out to be the only keeper photo of the evening (tough light conditions to work with!). Right after the small group checked us out, the sun went behind a dark cloud and never reemerged.
Not a bad way to end a good day.