Photos of the Week – November 27, 2020

Today’s post includes a batch of photos I thought I’d already shared. In early November, I went up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve to help with some prescribed fires. I arrived a little before sunset the night before our first fire and drove into one of our bison pastures to see if I could find the herd. Luck was with me and I found a couple good-sized groups right away.

I positioned myself so the bison were between me and the sun and enjoyed about 30 minutes of bison-watching and photography before the light disappeared. The animals were very calm. In fact, they barely seemed to notice me as they moved slowly past the truck. This all happened on the eve of election day and the tranquility felt like medicine and a welcome escape from a lot of noise.

Nikon 28-300mm lens at 175mm. ISO 400, f/9 at 1/2500 sec.

The selection of photos from that night are shared in chronological order. As the sun got lower, the colors got warmer and the light less intense. After the sun dropped below the horizon, I stopped taking pictures, but I didn’t leave. I just sat and listened to the sounds of the bison crunching softly through the grass, punctuated by periodic gentle grunts, until they moved far enough away that I couldn’t hear them anymore. Then I started up the truck and drove back to the road.

Nikon 28-300mm lens at 300mm. ISO 400, f/11 at 1/4000 sec.
Nikon 28-300mm lens at 195mm. ISO 400, f/13 at 1/2000 sec.
Nikon 28-300mm lens at 240mm. ISO 400, f/13 at 1/3200 sec.

I posted some of the photos to my Instagram account, but apparently never got around to sharing them here. Instead, I ended up with a bunch of photos from the two fires we conducted that week and posted those instead. Actually, now seems like a pretty good time to post these. As I as going through the images and preparing to post them, I got to experience the sense of calm I felt on that night. I hope they’ll give you that same feeling.

Nikon 28-300mm lens at 220mm. ISO 400, f/13 at 1/400 sec.
Nikon 28-300mm lens at 110mm. ISO 400, f/9 at 1/1600 sec.
Nikon 28-300mm lens at 240mm. ISO 400, f/9 at 1/1000 sec.
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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.

10 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – November 27, 2020

  1. Had its soothing effect on me for sure. Guess I don’t have to tell you – you are a very lucky man — and it is a help to others that you share. Blessings throughout the holidays.

  2. Pingback: Photos of the Week – November 27, 2020 — The Prairie Ecologist – Pershspective

    • Yes, we have a few prairie dogs, though they are pretty limited by the topography. Prairie dogs like/need large flat areas, so the hills at our site mean we only have a few small towns in dune valleys or high flats.

      Prairie dogs certainly provide valuable habitat for many other creatures, including those that like short vegetation, those that use the burrows, and those that hunt/feed on prairie dogs. They also provide important growing conditions for some plant species. Bison, like cattle, enjoy grazing in prairie dog towns because the dogs keep vegetation cropped short and the regrowth from those grazed plants is very nutritious. At least it is to a point – sometimes a prairie dog town will eventually be taken over by less nutritious grasses and forbs because those species get an advantage over their cousins who are constantly being grazed. If/when that happens, bison/cattle don’t find the areas so attractive.

      Even in the best of situations, prairie dog towns definitely lower the overall quantity of forage available, which can cause problems for ranchers who can’t really afford to have large areas of their ranch producing significantly less forage for the cattle that support the operation.

      Summary: Ecologically, the presence of scattered prairie dog towns can really boost the diversity of a large grassland landscape. Unfortunately, the combination of financial issues and peer pressure (few ranchers want to put up with the scorn from their neighbors by allowing prairie dogs on their place) makes it hard to see a way to get them to become very widespread in the near future.

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