Wild bison herd is seen in Indiana | a heartfelt progress life
MOROCCO, IND. The wild herd of bison on a prairie in northwest Indiana has nearly doubled. It started with 23 bison that The Nature Conservancy transported to its Kankakee Sands nature reserve in October last year. You gave birth to 10 calves this year – five bulls, five cows. Then in October another 10 arrived by trailer, which, like the original group, were pulled from the Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. They stormed into the reservation and mingled with their new herd of wool within minutes.
All survived. In fact, the young bulls have gained an extraordinary 200 to 300 pounds in the past year, says land manager Tony Capizzo, who manages the 1,050 acre property. He knows this because every bison was weighed and vaccinated in November. In contrast to the bison in Yellowstone, these receive a veterinarian visit.
The nature conservation authority brought them in because bisons are natural prairie farmers. They till the ground with their hooves, prune tree saplings with their horns, chew grass and carry seeds in their fur. You eat well here. The hardest grazed areas open up more space for wildflowers.
“There are no more of them,” says Capizzo of the wildflowers. “But what is there is more robust.”
This map shows the observation area where visitors to the Kankakee Sands Reserve can see the newly arrived wild bison.
Managers weren’t sure how the bison would get to the fern known as snake grass or scrub frenzy. This native plant grows well in moist, sandy soil but can become invasive if not kept in check, he says. The bison actually prefers to eat it. It’s high in protein and sugar and stays green all winter.
In addition, the herd is not big enough to fundamentally change the habitat so far. Controlled burns help proliferate prairie plants planted by The Nature Conservancy, along with herbicide treatment for exotic invasive plants.
When visiting the vet, the tail hairs of the bison were genetically examined. Herd managers want to minimize the risk of inbreeding, which makes them more prone to health problems, says Capizzo. So you are looking for diversity in the gene pool. That will help determine which herd they will kill, he says, which will not be done until it reaches 60 to 70 bison.
The Nature Conservancy reports that the Wind Cave animals descended from bison that the American Bison Society established in 1913 and brought them from the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The zoo had captured some surviving bison in order to preserve them as the once booming species was decimated by overhunting. On that day, ranchers raised cattle with bison because they thought it would make them disease resistant, require less food, and give birth to more calves. It went wrong. Fortunately, the Wind Cave Bison has so far been free of bovine DNA.
Visitors keep dropping by to see the Kankakee Sands bison. The instructors answer questions, usually on Friday afternoons and occasionally on Saturdays and Sundays. As a volunteer, you have no set hours. Public access remains the same. A path has been extended up a hill by about 50 meters for better visibility in winter.
Kankakee Sands is potentially a two-hour drive from South Bend, halfway between Lafayette and Merrillville, Indiana. However, it’s also worth stopping at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Game Sanctuary in Medaryville, Indiana to spot sandhill cranes during the fall migration – 13,475 of the lean birds were counted on December 5th. Their largest numbers are at sunrise and sunset.
Where is the bison observation area? It is near the Illinois border and west of Rensselaer, Indiana. From US 41, approximately 8 miles north of Morocco, Indiana, travel 1 mile west on County Road 400 North until you reach the next intersection. Turn left (south) on County Road West and travel half a mile until you see gravel and bison signs. Avoid looking at bison from the road unless you want an accident. Bring your binoculars. More information at nature.org/indianabison.
Sitting on a pine tree, the black-capped chickadee is one of the most frequently seen birds in the annual Christmas bird census. Photo provided
The oldest citizen science project in the world needs you. With expert bird watchers, join the National Audubon Society’s 118th Annual Christmas Bird Census, held Thursday through January 5th. You can meet them in the field at dawn and learn a thing or two. Or watch from the comfort of your home, keep an eye out for the bird feeders, or take a walk around your property. The count for each parish is a one-day snapshot of the species found. The data collected is used to track poultry trends that indicate the health of our habitats. You might be lucky enough to spy on a snowy owl on its way, preferably in the open field or on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Jody and Burne Miller of Edwardsburg scan the Elkhart River and American Park in Elkhart during last year’s Christmas bird count. Grandstand photo / JOSEPH DITS
• Saturday: South Bend. Covers the area that nearly reaches Osceola, Wyatt, Lakeville, and Lydick, but does not cross the border with Michigan. Register with Vic Riemenschneider at 574-272-8262 or [email protected]
• Saturday: Niles-Buchanan area. The field count has expired, but birdhouse counters can still register with naturalist Wendy Jones at 269-695-6491 or [email protected]
• Sunday: Berrien Springs / St. Joseph area. Register with the Love Creek County Park Nature Center at 269-471-2617 or [email protected]
• Tuesday: New Buffalo area. Register with the Love Creek County Park Nature Center at 269-471-2617 or [email protected]
• 30th of December: Elkhart County, from the state line south to Waterford Mills, and includes Bristol, Middlebury and Goshen. Meet at 7:30 am at the Ox Bow House Shelter in Ox Bow County Park, 23033 County Road 45, Dunlap. Register with Elkhart County Parks at 574-535-6458 or Ronda DeCaire at [email protected]
• December 31: North Liberty area including Fish Lake, Walkerton, and Potato Creek State Park. Register with Steve Sass at 574-340-9239 or [email protected]
• December 31: Sarett Nature Center in the Benton Harbor / Coloma area. Starts at 8 a.m. Register at 269-927-4832.
Volunteers keep an eye on the annual Christmas bird census held here in Elkhart County. Photo provided
Thanks to the snow and cold, the following will open: The Swiss Valley ski and snowboard area in Jones plans to open for the season on Friday at 3 p.m. George Wilson Park in Mishawaka opened for tubing on Sunday. Ice rinks have opened at the Merrifield Park ice rink in Mishawaka, the NIBCO Water & Ice Park in Elkhart and the John and Dede Howard Ice Arena in St. Joseph. Cross-country ski trails were groomed this week at the Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor and Love Creek County Park in the Berrien Center. St. Joseph County Parks will open tube, cross-country ski, and snowshoe rentals on December 26th, weather conditions permitting. You can find up-to-date information on conditions on the parks’ Facebook pages.