Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a quiet habitat with a variety of wildlife and scenery. Located in Fort Calhoun on the eastern edge of Nebraska, a short 15-mile drive from Omaha on U.S. Highway 75, the area was once a collection of deposits from the Missouri River braided with eroded channels, the major one being Boyer Chute. In 1937, the chute was blocked to improve navigation along the Missouri River, which resulted in thousands of acres of destroyed natural habitat. In 1992, the refuge was founded in an effort to restore more than 4,000 acres of riparian woodland, tallgrass prairies and wetlands.
Nebraska’s climate can swing to the extremes—hot and humid in the summer and cold and windy in the winter. During the summer, be sure to pack water, a hat and sunscreen, as highs are normally in the 90s with lots of sun. In the winter, plan on dressing warm, as temperatures can dip well into the negative. The spring and fall months are generally mild, but bring a jacket, as temperatures can change suddenly.
Prior to photographing an area, I scout locations that I feel would be ideal in various weather conditions. I rely on several websites that provide me with local weather and cloud cover, so I can gauge when I should visit and what to expect.
When I arrive, I explore one small area with my camera, perfecting the composition and waiting for the light to change. For this image, I took several photographs and stayed for over an hour before this particular scene emerged. When capturing the expanse of the prairie with a dramatic sky, I use wide-angle lenses, either a Canon EF-S 10-22mm or a 17-40mm ƒ/4L. Out on the plains, a set of hard-step, graduated ND filters are a must to hold back the intensity of light in the sky and reveal details in the foreground. Here, I used a three-stop, hard-step graduated ND filter coupled with my 10-22mm lens.
When photographing wildlife on the refuge, I use a 300mm ƒ/4 lens usually coupled with a 1.4x teleconverter for maximum reach. I always carry a sturdy, tall tripod that extends beyond the shoulder-high prairie grass. My tripod head of choice is a Manfrotto 3265 Grip Action Ball Head, which allows me to quickly recompose my composition if the action changes.
Wildlife is abundant at Boyer Chute—red foxes, beavers, badgers, coyotes and turtles can be spotted at various times throughout the year. The early spring and late fall months bring the migratory season and a variety of birds visiting on their journey. Expect to see sandhill cranes, pelicans, mallards, Canada geese, spotted sandpipers, snow geese and herons.
Neutral-density filters are popular with landscape photographers for reducing light to slow shutter speeds. The longer capture time offers extended control over exposure and also provides motion-like effects like water, which can be subtly blurred for a dreamlike effect. B+W offers ND filters in strengths of one and two stops, ranging in diameter from 19mm to 77mm. Contact: B+W (Schneider Optics), (631) 761-5000, www.schneideroptics.com.
Late-afternoon thunderstorms are common in the spring months and can produce intense lighting followed by some dramatic light. During this time, a variety of wildflowers sprinkle color throughout the refuge while songbirds pepper the prairie. In winter, the chute normally freezes, creating an abstract of frozen ice patterns, while frost coats the prairie grass with a silvery sheen. Bald eagles often are seen flying high above the refuge, darting down for the occasional meal.
Contact: Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge, www.fws.gov/midwest/boyerchute.