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Author: Alyssa Nyberg, Kankakee Sands Efroymson Restoration

Alyssa Nyberg is the Native Plant Nursery manager and outreach coordinator for The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands Efroymson Restoration in Northwest Indiana, an 8,000-acre prairie restoration. She grew up in the Indianapolis area, and has been living and working in Newton County ever since she started her job with The Nature Conservancy 15 years ago. Alyssa loves living in Newton County with her husband and raising their children in this beautiful county with its small-town feel.

Bison have been grazing the prairies at Kankakee Sands for two and a half years now, and I still find them as intriguing and fascinating as the first day they arrived. Those stately thousand-pound beasts seem to calmly pass the day, but actually they are very hard at work…with their teeth!

The bison’s grazing habits are why we brought them to Kankakee Sands —to help rejuvenate our prairies by eating the grasses and sedges, allowing the flowering plants to thrive. More flowering plants means a more diverse prairie, which in turn attracts a greater variety of birds, insects and animals.

And those 32 teeth of the bison have been putting a world of hurt on scouring rush, one of our more challenging invasive plant species at Kankakee Sands.


I was standing out in a 400-acre wet prairie just north of our Kankakee Sand office, placidly harvesting seeds when I hear the crackling, sizzling Zzzzap! like the sound of an electrical circuit shorting out. With exactly zero electric lines running through that particular prairie, what could have made that sound? 

Then I noticed a large willow patch… and where there is a willow patch at Kankakee Sands, there may be a sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis) singing its electrical sounding song. 


“Hey, whattaya know, we got ourselves a cinnamon!” April and May are the typical calving months for our Kankakee Sand bison. So, you can imagine our utter shock and surprise when we saw a little red bison calf in the pasture this past November!

The first question that comes to mind is, “How did that happen?!” Well, we know how it happened.  The better question may be, “Why did that happen?”


Photo: Aphrodite butterflies on butterfly weed by Gus Nyberg

My mailbox is starting to fill with seed catalogs. Even though it is only February, my mind is already dreaming of a well weeded garden, overflowing with the ripest of fruit and not a garden pest within 40 miles. 

Oh! And I just know that this year my landscaping of native flowers and shrubs will bloom all through the spring, summer and fall, with nary a weed to be found. Sigh…maybe someday. 


Photo copyright Christopher Jordan

While visiting the east coast this past December, my family took an evening drive to a “Winter Wonderland.” For $18, we were able to drive through three miles of outdoor light displays. Holiday tunes played in time to the light display. The displays were made of silver, blue, red, green and gold lights welded to metal frames in the shapes of larger-than-life castles, horse drawn carriages, poinsettias, wreaths, snowmen, St. Nick, the Grinch, pine trees, leaping deer, dinosaurs and exploding volcanoes! 


It’s iffy whether or not you’ll see a wild turkey during a walk in the woods at this time of year. But it’s a surefire bet that you will see the striking, turkey tail fungus. For that, I’m always grateful. 

Turkey tail, Trametes versicolor, is one of the most common fungi growing on the sides of logs or trees.  It is a stalkless mushroom, called a shelf fungus, which looks much like a fan with scalloped edges.


Halloween decoration is in full swing. Ghosts, witches, and spiders are popping up everywhere. The prairies of Kankakee Sands seem decorated for the upcoming holiday too. All around are spider webs that glitter with the dew on these chilly fall mornings.

The most common spider that I see at Kankakee Sands during the months of September and October is Argiope aurantia, otherwise known as yellow and black garden spider, corn spider, zipper spider, writing spider, or black and yellow argiope.


Photo credit: Tall coreopsis with an orange sulfur butterfly, taken by Jeanette Jaskula.

Yellow does for September what orange does for October. It makes you feel that all is well and right, and that summer is coming to a close. The end-of-summer prairie is filled with many different hues of yellow. My favorite yellow is that of tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), now in bloom at Kankakee Sands.


During the months of June, July and early August, the Kankakee Sands prairies are aflutter with the stunning regal fritillary butterfly (Speyeria idalia). Though commonly seen at Kankakee Sands, regals are very rare elsewhere in Indiana.

Often referred to as “Flowers of the Sky”, these large, showy butterflies are easy to spot on the prairie. They are roughly the same size as monarch butterflies, four inches from wingtip to wingtip, and they’re strong fliers like monarchs, too. In fact, I’ve watched regals chase monarchs across the prairie, and watched monarchs chase regals. I’ve always wondered what would happen if they caught one another…


Photo by Donna Lucas.

I have had the honor of working at Kankakee Sands for the past 20 years. That’s 20 years of seeing some of the prettiest flowers on the planet carpet the prairie with their amazing color. Yet, each and every June I am stopped in my tracks on the day that the sand coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) begins to bloom. There it is, waving its bright yellow blossoms in the wind, sunshine on a stick.