June 20, 2009

Bison and Rattlesnakes

Bison and Prairie Rattlesnakes often invoke images of the western plains far out west in Nebraska and South Dakota. At Broken Kettle Grasslands Iowans can get a taste of the west and see both Bison and rattlesnake. The Loess Hills here which I talked about in a previous post have many western species of plants and animals, some of which you may have to travel a hundred miles or more west in order find them again once you leave these prairies. Broken Kettle Grasslands is well known for a number of species with Bison, Black-billed Magpies, and Prairie Rattlesnakes capture most people's attention. It is also known as the largest grassland area in the state. The Nature Conservancy had it's annual meeting at this property that it owns and I made the 45 minute drive up to the grasslands to join in the fun all day today. They had field trips that gave me the opportunity to see the Bison and Prairie Rattlesnake.The day started out at Rattlesnake Knob (above) where Iowa's only known Prairie Rattlesnakes thrive. There are about 300 individuals there and I was lucky enough to see a few of them before the day was over. Dan Fogell, a university professor in Nebraska took a large group out to look for these reptiles. It was a bit scary to be tromping around a hill that these venomous snakes are supposedly common on. Every stick that somewhat resembled a rattlesnake and any noise that somewhat resembled a rattle seemed to turn into a rattlesnake in my mind, giving me an adrenaline rush from time to time. Thankfully Dan got us through without getting bitten, which means he has a perfect record of not having anyone being bitten by a dangerous snake under his guidance. He was worried about ruining his record today since he had such a large group.

We got to see one out on the knob thanks to the sharp eyes of one lady there. The first rattlesnake of any sort that I have ever seen in the wild is pictured below.
The rattlesnake was brought out of the net for pictures and better looks and then it was time to do research on it. Some of the snakes are implanted with a micro chip and this one is one of those snakes. All rattlesnakes that we saw were females and the one in these two photos is pregnant.
Besides the rattlesnakes I noticed this Yucca on the knob.
I also noticed my lifer Variegated Fritillary up there......
as well as my lifer Little Wood Satyr.
After that we went and listened to talks for a couple hours and had lunch which was obviously not as exciting as chasing rattlesnakes. When the talks were over some of the herpetologists (reptile and amphibian researchers) came out of the hills with another rattlesnake which I got great pictures of when they let her out of the bag.
This one looks ready to strike! They sure do make a neat noise with those rattles.
The Bison were next and so we drove to the pasture where they are kept. They locked them into a small pasture for easy viewing. When we got out of the bus the herpetologists found a Plains Leopard Frog which was a lifer for me. The frog was playing hard to catch so everyone was running around in the grass trying to find it. I was waiting to hear a loud crunching or squishing noise from the grass but luckily I didn't hear it which means no one stepped on him. The hump on his back I heard is not an injury even though it looks like something is wrong with it. It is just how they look when you hold them that way.
We saw the Bison from a distance but none of the pictures I got were that great. When we were riding in there I saw White Sage plants growing, which was another lifer for me. I also was glad to hear a Blue Grosbeak. An hour or two later four people including me drove up watch the Bison go back into the large pasture with the grassland conservationist Scott (he lives at and manages the prairie there), who is husband to a naturalist I know real well. We got to see the Bison even closer this time and I got some better photos. The male below was huge!The heard was awesome and it was neat to watch the bison calves in with the adults. When we were at the pasture I saw my life Regal Fritillary! It was a beautiful butterfly indeed. Earlier when we looked for them we just went on a small path on a wagon hooked to a tractor but Scott took us cross country in his truck which gave us an advantage. The herd of Bison is pictured below.
The day came to an end at 6 pm and I was glad to have had such a great time and to see so many things. I got 1 reptile, 1 amphibian, 3 butterfly, and 1 plant lifers for a total of 6 new species to add to my lists. No magpies were around but I still had a great time. Broken Kettle Grasslands is an amazing place made possible by the Nature Conservancy. It is a place worth visiting and exploring at least once and the Nature Conservancy is a great place to donate!


dAwN said...

Bravo! what a most fascinating day! I am always happy to see a young person so into nature! I just tweeted your post out to my twitter birdie friends!

J'ellen said...

Very eventful day for you, and hey I think the bison shots are good! Enjoyed reading this post; interesting.

Hayley said...

That sounds awesome! Wish I could have been there to see it all =)

Tucker L said...

Thanks for all the comments! It certainly was an awesome day.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations we also spotted a Little Wood Satyr over in Crex Meadows located in Wisconsin. Glad everyone was safe from the snakes.