Photo of the Week – August 31, 2018

Earlier this week, we spent a few days collecting data at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  It was a quick trip up and back, but we still managed to see quite a bit of wildlife, including mule deer, pronghorn, grouse, lizards, monarch butterflies, lots of grasshoppers and bees, and much more.  We also found ourselves close to bison a few times, and I managed to get some decent photos of them.  Here is a selection of those bison shots.

The red calves we saw back in May have grown quite a bit, and have changed into a more standard bison color.

A yearling cow stares unflappably back at me…

After driving into a bunch of bison in our west pasture, we watched as one after another of them stopped and took a dust bath in the same spot, rolling around in a frankly ridiculous, but apparently effective manner.

More dust bathing…

I couldn’t quite convince my son that we have a two-headed bison at the Preserve now, but he had to look carefully at the photo before he was sure.

This big ol’ bull was off by himself and lying down in the grass as we drove by in the evening. He stood as we approached, looked us over, and then turned and walked away as if he couldn’t care less – which is probably accurate.

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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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6 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 31, 2018

  1. Chris, I work at Prairie State Park in southwest Missouri which has a herd of around 65 bison. The last several years we have had a cow that calves in October. This year we have had two calves in the last two weeks. Have you seen in your herd cows calving later in the year? I’m wondering if this is a more common occurrence, or something unique to our herd.
    Thank you and I really enjoy your blog.

  2. James C Trager says:

    Hi Chris:
    Lovely and fun bison photos and interpretive captions.
    The photos made me also wonder about the floristics of the grassland on which they live, as well as any other biotic surveys. Are those available somewhere?
    James

    • Chris Helzer says:

      We have some data, but not much on composition. Most research has focused more on commmunity-level changes due to bison/fire interactions, etc. You can go to UNL’s digital commons site online and search for niobrara valley preserve to find quite a few of those papers. However, we are collecting some data currently that will help answer your question (and our own questions), including some flowering plant surveys designed to quantify pollinator resources and how they change over time due to management treatments and seasonal changes. In general, the bison pastures have similar plant communities to the rest of our Sandhills pastures at the Niobrara Valleey Preserve. They are hugely variable across space because of the variable soil textures, slopes/aspect, and soil moisture associated with vegetated sand dunes, but they are dominated by warm-season grasses, with a good complement of upland sedges (esp. Carex heliophila) and cool-season grasses (Panicums, June grass, etc.).ambr Forb communities are dominated by species such as Helianthus pauciflorus and Helianthus petiolaris, Tradescantia, several Daleas, Amorpha, Ambrosia, Artemisia, and many more.

  3. Elizabeth Owens says:

    You take amazing pictures but I do have one question: Why does the lone bull’s left horn look odd? Is this a weird shadow or does he have an odd shaped horn?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Ha! I didn’t even notice that! I just went back and looked at several different RAW images from the day. What we’re seeing is a piece of dried grass that is stuck in the bison’s fur and pointing backward toward the horn. The light is catching it and it makes it look like it’s the edge of the horn, when it’s just a stem between the camera and the horn. Thanks for asking!

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