The WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups had a splendid treat in July of 2022 when we jointly visited Horn’s Prairie Grove Land Water Reserve (LWR) near Ramsey IL. This 40 acre patch represents part of the less than 1% of the remaining southern till plain prairie ecosystem that was nearly wiped from the planet due to land conversion for farming. Even better, about 30 acres are original “virgin” prairie, (the largest intact remnant prairie in IL) meaning these spots were never touched by the plow. Even better still, at this location there lies five different types of prairie habitat: seep/wetland, dry hillside, mesic, black soil and savanna.
The story of this land is interesting. The current owners, Keith and Patty Horn, purchased the land in 2001 as “junk land” from an old farmer who’s family had owned since the 1870s. They liked the fact that the majority of the land was in a “wild” state. The untouched 30 acres had been used as a wild hay field, being cut almost yearly. They had noticed some nice wildflowers in bloom but did not realize what they had until a few years into a wildlife habitat improvement plan that included periodic burning. Every year they noticed more and more species in bloom. They have sought help in identifying the plant species here and the current list is now at 619 species, including six native orchid species! Bravo to the Horns for identifying what they had and taking the steps to see their land improved. This remnant prairie could have been destroyed in the blink of an eye if it had fallen into the wrong hands.
Although most of us were simply thrilled to be in such high quality habitat, the primary purpose of the trip was to check out the arthropod life. Unfortunately, in late July, we were there on a truly miserable day of weather. The heat and humidity created a heat index that was well above the safety zone. This meant not many of us had the nerve to do a great deal of walking and searching, especially much after lunch time.
On a crisp and beautiful autumn morning this past Halloween, the WGNSS Nature Photo Group group enjoyed the rare occasion of visiting a relatively close St. Louis County location. Part of the St. Louis County Park system, Lone Elk Park has contained herds of elk and bison in some fashion since the original introduction in 1948. This is a beloved park that offers visitors up close looks at bison, elk, deer and other wildlife. Because of the constant visitors, the animals have no fear of humans and, therefore, are an easy subject for the nature photographer.
Due to the cooperative nature of these subjects, a long telephoto lens, typically needed for wildlife photography is not required here. However, it is a good idea to give these animals their space and use common sense to keep the proper safe distance or remain in your vehicle while photographing here. Always be aware of your surroundings and photograph in a group when possible.
I recommend a mid-range telephoto focal length – a zoom lens in the neighborhood of 100-400 mm is an ideal choice. Depending on available light, a support like a tripod or monopod may be needed. However, with modern cameras and their ability to provide acceptable results at high sensitivities, handholding is usually a viable option.
Because this is a nearby location, Lone Elk Park is a great spot to practice with wildlife while building a portfolio of a variety of images. Plan to visit during every season to include the greens of summer, the warm backgrounds associated with autumn and the snows (when available) of winter. Multiple visits will allow for photographing these animals at different life stages, such as when bull elk are in velvet in the summer or while bugling during the autumn rut. From time to time photographers have also been able to capture birthing of bison and elk and the subsequent play of the growing young. I hope to visit this location more frequently in the future.