As I was preparing to post this blog, I received the latest installment of Ian Lunt’s blog, which gives very good advice to science bloggers about how to capture and hold an audience’s attention.  Ironically, I’d just been worrying that my new post wasn’t as pithy as it could be, and had even asked my kids to read it and tell me what they thought.  I didn’t actually change the post after reading Ian’s advice, but I did change the “headline” to make it more snappy.  I hope Ian approves…  (The fact remains, however, that the following post is really just a series of pictures I thought were nice, so feel free to skip it and find something more productive to do.  The only good news is that there’s very little text to slog through…  So, with that sales pitch – here you go!)

I’ve been going through more timelapse images from the Niobrara Valley Preserve recently.  There are numerous story lines from the cameras there, all of which tell a tale of recovery and resilience following the big wildfire in 2012.  In a smaller way, however, looking through the images also demonstrates how much the appearance of a site changes from day to day.

In this post, I’m showing seven images taken by the same camera, from the same perspective, but on different days and at different times through the 2014 season.  The camera that took the photos is mounted high atop a windmill at the south end of a 10,000 acre bison pasture.  These seven images of sandhill prairie span an eight month period.

January 8, 2014.  6pm.

January 8, 2014. 6pm.

February 5, 2014.  3pm.

February 5, 2014. 3pm.

April 5, 2014.  7pm.

April 5, 2014. 7pm.

May 17, 2014.  7:30pm.

May 17, 2014. 7:30pm.

July 24, 2014.  9pm.

July 24, 2014. 9pm.


August 15, 2014.  9:30am.

August 15, 2014. 9:30am.

August 15, 2014.  8pm.

August 15, 2014. 8pm.

All of us who visit someplace regularly recognize that it never looks exactly the same twice, but we usually compare what we see today with what we remember from an earlier time.  Timelapse photos allow us to record those variations and compare them side by side.

Ok, sure, the presence or absence of bison helps distinguish some of these photos from others, but bison are also a part of (and a driver of) the changing landscape at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  More to the point of this post, however, are the differences in the quality, direction, and intensity of light between photos; not to mention the varied appearances of the sky and the growth stage of the prairie vegetation.  The prairie can look starkly different even within the same day – as shown by the last two photos.

There are countless reasons a prairie changes in appearance from day to day, even from moment to moment.  More importantly, however, those changes should motivate us to get out and enjoy nature even more often.  After all, you never know what you’ll see!

As always, thanks to everyone at Moonshell Media for their help with this timelapse project.  


  1. Since moving to rural Kansas from an Indianapolis suburb last year, my husband and I find ourselves most surprised by the sky, especially in the fall. We have a lovely view of the Flint Hills from our home, but it’s the western sky at dusk that I mostly photograph. Although, I also enjoy seeing the cattle grazing, especially when the calves are playing.

    I do miss the more colorful fall foliage in Indiana, but I agree that the subtle changes of the prairie are lovely as well. I once read, I think in the National Geographic Flint Hills article, that the prairie requires closer inspection to see the diversity and beauty. I often think of that when people talk about the boring drive through Kansas on the way to Colorado. : )

    • Rebecca – we hear the same “boring” comments about traveling through Nebraska as well. I could take offense, but prefer to use those comments as a reminder that there’s still work to do in terms of getting people to appreciate the subtler beauty of prairies. Of course, most of I80 through Nebraska no longer runs through prairie, so I guess the corn board folks (and the Nebraska Tourism Board) are the ones who really need to worry…

  2. I’m glad you did a post showing bison. I’ve been meaning to tell you that the only red meat my son will eat is bison. It probably has something to do with your blog. I wonder if any of the bison meat we buy comes from prairies you manage. Even if I’m not indirectly supporting your work, I am happy that bison is healthier than other red meats.

  3. Hi Chris, thanks very much for sharing the link to my post about writing ecology blogs, I’m glad you liked it. You must be the last person on earth who I thought would need to read it :) I love your repeat photos, as they capture the dynamic beauty of landscapes so well. The light is fantastic in your middle photo above – I don’t think we get that kind of light where I live. Best wishes Ian

  4. Your comment about the effect of lighting on he priairie was perfectly illustrated to me when I was walking my prairie last weekend. When backlit, the seed heads of the prairie grasses this time of year seem to shimmer and glow, with gossamer threads of spider silk visibly trailing on the breeze. Look the other way, and the palette of color changes..the sunlit fire on the seed heads is replaced by the browns and auburns of the grasses themselves.

  5. You might already have thought about this, but you could sample a series of image frames and quantify bison distribution, abundance, and behavior within a specified portion of the image landscape through time.

  6. Fabulous title, Chris! (That’s all.)
    Just kidding. Cool pictures, too.

    I also want to resonate with the beauty of the prairie landscape and its big sky. I always feel a bit “cluttered in” when visiting big forests or mountains (or even looking west from my backyard), because of all the trees and geology in the way. By the way, I am for the first time (early in my 7th decade!) reading “My Ántonia”, and enjoying the frequent reference to the Nebraska prairiescape.


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