Photo of the Week – October 5, 2018

Bison are pretty tough.  At our Niobrara Valley Preserve, and at many other sites in the upper Great Plains, bison make it through the winter without any supplementary feed. They just eat cured grasses, grow a thick coat, and plow through snow and ice as needed.  Bison don’t need humans to help with calving, and they protect their babies very effectively from predators.  It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that animals like that would be completely unfazed by a little rain.

Yesterday, some of our Nebraska staff took a trip up to The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in the northern Loess Hills of Iowa.  Land steward James Baker led us on a very scenic hike before a band of cold rainy weather moved in.  We then piled into some trucks with James and Director of Stewardship Scott Moats and went to visit the resident bison herd.  The bison were peacefully grazing as we drove up, despite the pouring rain.  When we stopped, a small group came over to check us out. Here are a few photos of those rugged bison, who didn’t need to huddle in dry and heated pickups to stay comfortable.

P.S. In case you had any doubt about my nerd qualifications, here’s one more piece of evidence.  As I was working up these photos (in the backseat of a truck heading back to Nebraska) yesterday, I was looking closely at the streaks of rain captured by my camera.  Based on the size of a bison calf’s eye and the length of the rain streaks closest to those eyes, I estimated that my camera captured about an inch of raindrop fall during the 1/250 of a second the camera’s shutter was open.  Now, I’d want to do some actual measuring of bison calves’ eyes to check this, but based on that rough estimation, those raindrops were falling about 250 inches per second.  Now, if I convert that number to miles per hour, I get 14.2 mph.  A quick online search found that raindrops are estimated to fall at about 20 mph.  I was pretty close!!  I mean, given that I don’t really know how big a bison eye is or how close those raindrop streaks were to that eye…  (NERD)

This entry was posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

13 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – October 5, 2018

  1. Based on your estimate of speed, what is the diameter and mass of each rain drop from solving the terminal velocity formula? A professor of mine gave us this question on a quiz. I could not solve it because he expected us to assume a raindrop is a sphere. I failed the quiz. Ironically, a rain drop is not a sphere, but shaped more like a donut, and the calculation using the estimate that we were expected to make would have made the answer off by a considerable amount.

  2. The Atlas Storm of 2013, which killed hundreds of cattle in South Dakota and elsewhere on the plains, also killed many many buffalo owned by some of my neighbors, who are reluctant to admit the losses. Even bison can’t always take the weather.

  3. I so enjoy all your posts. However, recently they arrive with ads unrelated to your work…..why? It is very off putting. Thanks for some reply to this concern…

    • Hi Gay, sorry about that. I don’t have any control over the ads. They are added by WordPress, the commercial platform I use for the blog. I’m not sure what controls which ads are placed or when.

  4. You enchant me…if you ever get to Cape Breton Nova Scotia, look us up…we would house and treat you like royalty for the insights you give us and fellow nerd-ity. :)

  5. Ahhh! Another nerd! Btw, I saw two blue-eyed bees on my pitcher sage. Thanks for the insight. Made my life richer.

  6. Scott is son to Bob Moats retired conservation officer and a prairie guy who really set in motion my love for the prairie. Great people! glad you got to meet him!

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