Photo of the Week – October 31, 2019

This week, we worked on the first of our two annual bison roundups at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Our roundups allow us to manage herd size and also to vaccinate and put ID tags on the new calves we’re keeping in the herd. We were working the animals from our west herd this week, which live in a 12,000 acre pasture. Our staff had spent a month or so drawing them into a relatively small “trap pasture” and then we pushed them from there into the corral on Monday. During a break in the action, I took a few bison portraits while they milled around the corral, waiting for their turn to move through the alleys.

A young cow in the corral at our bison roundup.
A calf stares at the camera from inside the corral.
A relatively young bull in the corral.

After the bison were released back into the trap pasture, I drove slowly out among them to get some more photos. I was amazed at how calmly they reacted to my presence so shortly after they had been in the corral.

These bison had quite a day. They were brought into the corral at about 10 a.m. Shortly thereafter, they made their way through a labyrinth of alleys and then were released back into our trap pasture. This is a subset of the “keepers” that will soon be released back into their 12,000 acre main pasture.
I like the look the left bison is giving the one on the right. See next photo…
I’m pretty sure these are the same two bison as those in the above photo. They were walking next to each other when the one on the left (slightly larger of the two) suddenly turned on the other. It didn’t do anything other than spin around and make the other one jump out of the way, but it was a clear demonstration of dominance. A moment later, they were walking calmly along again.
You’d never know these bison had spent a couple hours in a corral. As soon as they were back out in the pasture, they went back to grazing calmly.
This was my favorite photo from this year’s west herd roundup. Bison look pretty different from below, don’t they? I took this photo with my cell phone by lying on my stomach and pointing the camera through a small gap between ground and the heavy steel panel along the edge of the pen.
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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.

14 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – October 31, 2019

  1. What do the bison eat in that pasture this time of year, Chris?
    I like the way the one in the last photo is looking down, right at your camera.

    • Great question. There is a lot of sun sedge (Carex heliophila) and some Kentucky bluegrass that is still green, but I think they persist for most of the winter on cured grasses. My understanding is that the shorter grasses (gramas, etc.) hold more of their nutrition than many of the taller grasses (big blue, indiangrass, etc.) but it still looks a lot like eating cardboard. And yes, the bison looks like she was looking at me. I hope she wasn’t, actually. I was trying to be surreptitious so as not to stress out the animals in the pen.

      • I have a story about an Arizona farmer who bought a single bull buffalo, just for show, but went through all the fences when he saw some ‘sexy’ hereford cows next door. Well you can guess the rest of the story and the struggle the farmer had to then sell and transport the bull out of his pasture! HAH!
        (should post warnings to ‘Amateurs”)

  2. Kudos to the staff who plan and conduct the event! I know some of the staff who do the same work on the Indiana bison herd. There is a lot of work that needs be done to round up the herd, manage the disputes, tag the new calves, do shots, etc. A long day’s work for the staff (after a lot of planning).

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your bison photos. I was at Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge in June, 2914; is it adjacent to Niobrara Valley Preserve? Is the bison herd at the Wildlife Refuge totally separate from the NC herds?

    • I’m not sure, Karen. I think at least some of those tribes are trying to find animals with the Wind Cave herd genetics, which we don’t have. At least in recent years, I don’t think any of our animals have gone to Tribes.

  4. Superb unusual look at eye location on a prey animal in your last photo, from 2018. What could you say about the angles of vision of bison – how far ahead and/or behind might there be binocular vision, or is it ever achieved? I am challenged with double vision these days and wonder how their brain might handle it – too bad they do not converse in human language to offer their comment…. just kidding. Chase

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