Photo of the Week – June 17, 2011

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.

Bison at The Nature Conservancy's Broken Kettle Grasslands in the northern Loess Hills of Iowa.

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.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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13 Responses to Photo of the Week – June 17, 2011

  1. Suzanne says:

    That is a really beautiful scene. With nothing manmade in sight t makes it easier to imagine the prairie landscape 200 years ago.

  2. Michael Scullin says:

    Shades of George Catlin. It was definitely worth the wait for the right moment..

  3. James C. Trager says:

    Fellow readers — Click on the photo for a bigger, sharper view. Well worth it!

  4. Mark Godfrey says:

    Chris – that is one of the best Bison photos I’ve seen in a long time, as well as a fine photo of Broken Kettle Grasslands. Can’t wait to get the digital file to make a print for the office (I’ll print one for you as well).

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks Mark. I’m just glad I got something to work in that light! It’s growing on me too. Would be glad to see a print of it. It’s about time to send you a batch of photos anyway…

  5. melmannphoto says:

    “Wandered over to see us up close…” Just how close? Wouldn’t that be a little nerve racking? Sort of like being checked out by a small bulldozer…..

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Not sure how close. 25-30 feet, maybe? They weren’t acting in any way but curious, though, so I wasn’t concerned. (They’re much faster than bulldozers!)

  6. Bernie Buchholz says:

    Scott does a fabulous job and the preserve is a beauty. Is there any research being conducted to measure the bisons’ impact?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Bernie,
      I know they are tracking some things (plants, butterflies, etc.) but don’t know the specifics. It’s a little tricky because the pastures that were combined to make the current bison area are a mishmash of pastures, some of which have a pretty extreme history of overgrazing. Comparing that mixture of sites to another mixture of sites outside the bison area could prove to be tricky.

  7. Teresa Mandevill says:

    Awesome photo!

  8. Eric Fowler says:

    Good to see some hills without cedars.

  9. Pingback: Is There Nature In Iowa? A Story of the Loess Hills | Modern Girl Walden

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