Watching Wetland Water Levels – Timelapse Photography

It’s timelapse photography time again…  I downloaded more photos from the cameras at our restored wetland in the Platte River Prairies a couple weeks ago, and have been looking through the images for stories.  One theme that stood out in this batch was the variability of the water level in the wetland through time.

This wetland is directly connected to the water table, but is also supplied by a groundwater-fed stream that brings both rainwater and groundwater from about 25 miles west of us.  Platte River flows and irrigation pumping both influence the water table here in the Platte Valley, as does evapotranspiration by plants – and other factors.  It’s a complicated series of events and processes.  However, in general, we expect the water table to be relatively high in the spring and to decline as summer progresses.  I looked at photos from early June and early July (below) and that pattern of summer decline is apparent this year.

June 8, 2014

June 8, 2014.  A panoramic image created by merging photos from two adjacent timelapse cameras.

July 8, 2014

July 8, 2014.  You can click on each photo to see a larger/sharper version of it.

Seeing the pattern of water level rise and fall through weeks and months is interesting, and timelapse photography allows us to watch that pattern pretty easily.  However, it’s also interesting to look at shorter-duration patterns.  I shared one example of that back in December, with a series of images showing daily water level drops due to evapotranspiration.  Today, I’m sharing a second example of short-term water level changes – this time, it’s due to water coming downstream after a rain event.

In the early morning of June 21, 2014, a big storm system moved through our area, dumping between 2 and 4 inches of rain.  The map below shows the precipitation amounts from that storm.

This photo from http://water.weather.gov/precip/ shows rain amounts for our area on June 21.  The black arrow indicates the location of our wetland.

This image from the National Weather Service (http://water.weather.gov/precip/) shows rain amounts for our area on June 21. The black arrow indicates the location of our wetland.

Rainwater from the storm swelled the stream that flows into our wetland, but also created runoff flow throughout the watershed.  The Youtube video below shows the water level changes in our wetland through the day on June 21, 2014, starting at 7am and ending at 8pm.  The changing light conditions from image to image make it a little difficult to see, so you may have watch it several times to get the full effect.  The foreground, the green peninsula on the left, and the little island just left of center are all good landmarks to help see the water level change.

There’s nothing earth-shattering about stream or wetland water levels rising and falling after a big rain event.  On the other hand, it’s not often we get the opportunity to actually see it happen.  Timelapse photography gives us the opportunity to compress time and see natural processes from a different perspective.  For me, at least, that opportunity helps me better understand and appreciate the variability of the earth we live on.

As always, thanks to Moonshell Media for their help with this timelapse photography project.  If you’re interested in exploring timelapse photography for conservation purposes, you can contact them at 402 817 4313 or info@moonshellmedia.com.

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Photo of the Week – July 17, 2014

A couple weeks ago, I posted a photo of a sunset from the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  In the post, I talked about having to scramble to get into position for the photo before the color left the sky.  Barely a week later, I found myself in the same situation again…

This time, I was at home in the evening, playing an indoor game with my 13-year-old son.  A rainstorm passed through while we played, and as the storm was moving away, the sky started to light up in one of those Great Plains post-storm sunset spectacles.  Mammatus clouds abounded, along with lots of color and texture.  As my son and I enjoyed the view through the window, he told me I should really be out taking pictures.  I replied that I was perfectly happy enjoying the view with him, and that we were in the middle of a game.  A few minutes later, however, the sky was even more spectacular and, since he was insisting, I grabbed my camera and ran for it.

A sky like that deserved a decent foreground, and ideally, I wanted something that could reflect the light.  I jumped in the car and drove west toward the nearest wetland (9 miles away).  As I drove, I was watching the already-fading color and receding clouds through my rear-view mirror…  After what seemed like an hour-and-a-half, I finally reached the wetland and jumped out of the car.

Post-storm clouds over a wetland at Springer Waterfowl Production Area, west of Aurora, Nebraska.

Post-storm clouds over a wetland at Springer Waterfowl Production Area, west of Aurora, Nebraska.

I had time for about one photograph facing east (above) before the color in that part of the sky faded completely.  However, there was still a little color to the west, so I hopped over to a different wetland pool and tried to set something up in that direction.  I’d pulled on some knee-high rubber boots, which did me no good at all as I waded into thigh-high water…

Last light at Springer.

Last light at Springer.

I managed to shoot a few frames before the light disappeared, and then slogged my way back to the bank and dumped my boots out on the gravel road.  Then I squished my way back to the car and drove back home to have a shower.

 

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Longhorns on the Prairie

One of the great things about prairies – and nature in general – is that there is way more to discover than I’ll ever have time for.  Especially within the world of invertebrates, there is no shortage of species to learn about, and every one of them has a fascinating story.  During the last two weeks, I’ve started paying attention to longhorned flower beetles, a group of species I’d noticed before while looking for bees.  Not surprisingly, once I started really looking at them, I discovered that there are multiple species and that they are much more common than I’d realized.

This longhorned beetle is likely Typocerus confluens, according to Ted MacRae.  There were a couple different (but similar) species around the day I took these photos.

This longhorned beetle is likely Typocerus confluens, according to Ted MacRae, but he said there are others that look enough like it he can’t tell for sure from a photograph.   The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

These beetles belong to the “flower longhorn” group of insects (family Cerambycidae, subfamily Lepturinae).  Adult flower longhorns are largely diurnal (active during the day) and feed upon a wide variety of wildflowers.  When I started looking for information on longhorns, I turned to Ted MacRae, an entomologist and author of the fantastic blog, “Beetles in the Bush“.

Ted helped me identify the species I’d been able to photograph around here, and gave me some good information on what longhorns are all about.  Ted, by the way, has documented at least 229 species and subspecies of longhorn beetles in Missouri.  That information made me feel better about being unable to identify my photographed beetles myself, but also strikingly ignorant about a very diverse group of insects I’d never really noticed before.  (Such is the way it usually goes with insects.)

Ted thought this was probably Typocerus octonotatus, a common Great Plains species of longhorned beetles.

Ted thought this was probably Typocerus octonotatus, a common Great Plains species of longhorned beetles.  You might think it looks just like the T. confluens in the earlier photo, but look more closely at the color pattern…  I know, right?!   Helzer Family Prairie, near Stockham, Nebraska.

Flower longhorn beetles are named for their habit of feeding on wildflowers as adults.  As larvae, on the other hand, most longhorn beetles are wood-borers.  That includes many (most?) members of the Typocerus genus – the genus of beetles I’ve been seeing.  However, Ted says the larvae of many Typocerus species in the Great Plains are actually subterranean root feeders on prairie grasses.  That, of course, seems a much more sensible strategy for insects in landscapes with only widely scattered woodland habitats.

Face on.

A longhorned beetle with a face full of pollen.

Now that I’ve started to pay attention to longhorned flower beetles, I’ll probably never ignore them again.  That’s both a blessing and a curse.  I love learning about new species, but it makes prairie hikes go more slowly because the more species I recognize, the more there is to see.  If this keeps up, it’ll take me all day to walk 100 yards!

Thanks to reading this post, your mind has also been infected with the visual image of longhorn flower beetles.  The next time you walk through a prairie, you’ll likely spot more than one.  (You might want to budget just a little more time for that prairie walk, by the way – sorry about that!)

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Introducing the New Hubbard Fellows!

We have entered the second year of our Hubbard Fellowship program.  Eliza Perry and Anne Stine completed their Fellowships earlier this season, and we brought in two new Fellows, Jasmine and Dillon, on June 2nd.   They have seen and learned a lot in their first month or so with us, and have agreed to introduce themselves and share some of their early perspectives here in their first of many blog posts.  Dillon’s essay is first, followed by Jasmine’s.

Dillon Blankenship and Jasmine Cutter (with her new hat!) at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

 Dillon Blankenship is an Arkansas native and graduated from Hendrix College in 2012 with a B.A. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Studies.  He has studied native pollinators at The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in Oregon and has volunteered with TNC in Arkansas where he helped burn and monitor the effects of burning.  He earned a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 2012, and spent a year studying honey bees and hive management.  His travel took him to England, Wales, Tanzania, Egypt, India, Russia, and Germany. 

Growing up in northwest Arkansas I was always on the cusp of the Great Plains. My home was definitively in “the woods,” but we shared a property boundary with a neighbor’s herd of bison. I was so close, but I can’t say I had a lot of real contact with prairies until college when I took a summer research position with Oregon State University. They had me chasing native bees in diverse ecosystems across the state, but working on the 33,000 acre Zumwalt Prairie Preserve was, by far, the highlight. I was completely awestruck by the landscape’s expansiveness. Wildflowers stretched to the horizon and I marveled at how, despite the gently undulating hills and absence of trees, it was still possible to lose oneself.

While different from the prairie in eastern Oregon, I have thoroughly enjoyed the last five weeks in Wood River. I identify with the rural-ness out here and am consistently taken by the beauty of our prairie. Stewardship is rewarding work. When I chop a musk thistle or pull up poison hemlock I can see the immediate impact of my effort. I know these actions are a mere drop in the conservation bucket (and that there is often a sad, high possibility of another invader filling the spot I just opened with my spade), but applying my knowledge and skills to real management is something I have been craving for the last few years. I am excited to be in the fray of the conservation profession. Researchers come through with interesting projects, new conservation issues arise for discussion, and I get to be a part of it now. I am excited for all the new experiences and opportunities for professional development that await. Already, I have learned a lot – the depth with which I look across the landscape has probably quintupled. I am recognizing species that were completely foreign when I arrived and am beginning to make inferences about how the land is functioning and responding to the various pressures we place on it.

 

Jasmine and Dillon, along with intrepid volunteer, Sam Sommers (middle) work on some plant identification in the Platte River Prairies.

Jasmine and Dillon, along with intrepid volunteer, Sam Sommers (middle) work on some plant identification in the Platte River Prairies.

Jasmine Cutter grew up in Delaware but is a 2013 graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota.  She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and most recently was working as a research assistant in the Greater Yellowstone Area, surveying mountain goats and bighorn sheep.  Jasmine has conducted several pollinator surveys as a research assistant, and she has extensive experience as an interpretive educator when she served with Americorps at White Clay State Park in Delaware and with “Kids for Conservation” and the Science Olympiad in Minnesota. 

I first fell in love with prairies in Minnesota. At first I think I liked the novelty – that there could be a landscape that was grass, flowers, and sky – and no trees! As an east-coaster that was pretty crazy. Although there was plenty to see aboveground, I was awed when I first learned that the extent of prairie plants’ roots are often 2-3 times greater than what is visible above. I marveled that these huge root systems allow plants to regrow after fires, and to contribute to the regeneration and retention of nutrients. In addition, I was fascinated by the human aspect of how intentionally-set fires perpetuated the prairies, and how the agricultural productivity of the midwest (and great plains) has been enabled by the rich prairie soils.

For all of these reasons – aesthetic, ecological, cultural – I am excited to be in Nebraska. Already it’s hard to keep track of everything we’ve done. For the most part, we’ve been subduing musk thistles, but we’ve also been catching small mammals (cute photos to follow, I promise), tearing down windmills, learning our plants, cleaning ATVs, meeting TNC people from across the country, building bottomless tanks, hosting a field day, swabbing tadpoles, planting our garden, and learning how TNC functions. I am really excited to build competency in many areas that I currently know nothing about: livestock/grazing, vehicle and tool maintenance, driving large machines, and learning the nitty-gritty of how to plan and assess restoration projects. Although we have big shoes to fill, I’m also looking forward to this blog, and to a chance to hear from all you folks. I greatly value the comments that I have read on previous posts, and I know that they have enhanced my understanding of many topics – so please share your expertise and insights!

 

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Photo of the Week – July 10, 2014

When I was at the Niobrara Valley Preserve in late June, I did some macro photography, in addition to the sunset photo I showed last week.  Here are four photos from that trip.

Echinacea angustifolia

Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) is in the loamier soil along the edges of the river bluffs, but doesn’t seem to stray out into the sandhills to the south.

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Grasshopper on spiderwort

This grasshopper didn’t really my lens pointing at it, but wasn’t quite nervous enough to jump away.

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If I didn't know leadplant (Amorpha canescens) was a legume, I'd never guess by looking at the flowers.

If I didn’t know leadplant (Amorpha canescens) was a legume, I’d never guess by looking at the flowers.  Leadplant is one of the most common wildflowers in sandhills prairie.

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I keep seeing this caterpillar at different sites.  It must be pretty common - or maybe it just doesn't hide well.  Regardless, I enjoy taking portraits of it.

I think I keep seeing this caterpillar species (salt marsh caterpillar?) at different sites. It must be pretty common – or maybe it just doesn’t hide well. Alternatively, I’m mistakenly calling different species the same thing…  Regardless, I enjoy taking portraits of it.

 

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2014 Patch-Burn Grazing Meeting – Platte River Prairies, Nebraska

Curious about patch-burn grazing?  Want to get together with other grassland enthusiasts, ranchers, researchers, and wildlife managers and talk about a variety of ways to manage for diverse wildlife habitats and plant communities?  The annual Patch-Burn Grazing Meeting might just be for you.

Patch

A photo from the field tour of the 2013 Patch-Burn Grazing meeting in South Dakota/Minnesota.

This is an annual, and informal, gathering held at a different location each year.  This year, we get to host it here at the Platte River Prairies, so we’ll be sharing some of what we’ve learned (successes and failures) about managing prairies with various combinations of fire, grazing, haying, and other tools.  Discussion topics will also include potential differences between how patch-burn grazing works in southern vs. northern grasslands, whether/how it might work on Nebraska sandhills ranches, alternate methods for creating habitat diversity besides “traditional” patch-burn grazing, and some practical issues such as figuring stocking rate and dealing with livestock health issues.

The meeting will be held August 13 and 14 in Grand Island, Nebraska, with a tour on the 14th of our Platte River Prairies just to the west.  There is no registration fee, but food and lodging will be at your own expense.  If you’re interested in attending, you can see the agenda for the meeting here and the registration form here.  Registration is due July 20.

 

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Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Eliza’s (Sort of) Farewell

This is Eliza Perry’s final blog post as a Hubbard Fellow.  However, as you’ll see below, it is not the end of her employment with The Nature Conservancy.  Meanwhile, two new Fellows have moved in to fill the void left by Eliza and her fellow Fellow, Anne Stine.  Dillon and Jasmine will be introducing themselves to you shortly.

 From Eliza -

For me, Friday June 6th marked the last day of a wild ride—a totally unforeseen, extraordinary, defining year of my life. I had been stalking The Nature Conservancy’s employment website for weeks before this incredible opportunity popped up and I went for it with all I had. This has easily been the most fulfilling year of my life and I know I have learned a great deal more than I could have ever anticipated.

Eliza gave a presentation on her Fellowship year and accomplishments at the May Board Meeting of The Nature Conservancy's Nebraska Chapter.

Eliza gave a presentation on her Fellowship year and accomplishments at the May Board Meeting of The Nature Conservancy’s Nebraska Chapter.

Under normal circumstances, I would have documented every day of my last few weeks, taking upwards of a thousand photos in fourteen days. Tragically, I dropped my camera while filming our wetland restoration at night so words will have to suffice. Growing season is such a busy time for us, but I had to leave just as it was getting underway. Invasives like musk thistles and poison hemlock were becoming very apparent features in certain areas of our properties, and we use this early window to beat them back before they outrun us. I also got to hang out with and train the next class of Hubbard Fellows, which was an incredible privilege because maybe the best part of all this is knowing others will be able to experience something like my year at the Platte River Prairies.

I’m writing this with my feet dangling off a pier in my hometown, looking out on a view that I took for granted my whole life. But the blue ocean doesn’t feel like home right now because I’m missing the golden green oceans in Nebraska. I could not be more excited about the fact that I will be back to the Good Life in a few weeks to start in my new position with The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska as our Major Gifts Manager in Omaha! I am thrilled (and nervous) and convinced that there could not a better continuation of my journey in conservation. I’ll be entering the whole new world of fundraising alongside my favorite TNC chapter.

While rummaging around in my old bedroom after returning to Maine, I found letters I wrote in high school to lots of intangible, inanimate things during a peculiar phase in my journaling habit. The following is a sample of my letter to nature:

“Nature,  I just want you to BE there for all of time and forever, doing your thing as you see fit. I know I personally get in your way and so do billions of my peers, but what I plan to do is use my life to help keep you on track in at least my little corner of the world.”

While I might have worded that a little differently these days, it still perfectly describes why I am working in the field of conservation. I want Nebraska’s beauty to continue to exist and thrive because it must and because it ought to. Everyone in conservation has their own reasons for fighting the good (often steeply uphill) fight, but this past year has made it only more of a compulsion for me.

Eliza got experience

Prescribed fire was just one of the activities Eliza (left) gained experience with during her Fellowship year.

And boy was I in good company. As all of the visitors to this blog know, Chris Helzer is a marvel and an inspiration. His passion can sway some of the most staunchly opposing forces. I am still amazed I got to work with him and try to absorb some of his wisdom. The same goes for Nelson Winkel, land manager at the Platte River Prairies, who is truly my hero. The amount of work that each of them and all the other staff members at our chapter accomplish every day is astonishing. The fellowship is only one of innumerable things vying for their attention, but we were always given the support and guidance we needed to get ourselves working independently and well. This chapter, especially trustee Anne Hubbard whose generosity is the reason I just spent the year with TNC, recognizes the important voice that inexperienced aspiring conservationists can contribute to the cause of protecting and enhancing natural resources. Together we have pioneered a growing movement within the organization to provide professional development opportunities to young people so they can propel conservation forward.

Ending one chapter and beginning another always feels surreal and I tend to get extra sentimental. I am so proud to be a Hubbard Fellow. I feel fortunate beyond words to have spent the last twelve months with my mentors on the Platte River working for an organization that does so much good for the world and for Nebraska.

 

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Photo of the Week – July 3, 2014

I was back up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve last weekend.  The weather was beautiful, and so were the sandhills.  A few of us went exploring in the late evening, but the sun was hiding behind clouds, so photography wasn’t much of an option.  However, after we got back to headquarters, I glanced up and noticed the entire sky had turned almost blood red!  I grabbed my camera and the closest vehicle and raced up to my favorite vantage point.

The color was already starting fade a little by the time I arrived, so I quickly popped my wide angle lens on and looked around for some foreground to put in front of that sky.  I found a spot, set up the tripod and  ….the camera wouldn’t work.  Ack!!  It took me a few frantic moments to figure out that the lens hadn’t mounted correctly, and a few more to get it off and back on the right way.  By that time, much of the color had left the sky, but there was still enough to squeeze off about three photographs before it disappeared completely.

Here’s one of those three photographs…

Sunset over the Niobrara River.  The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Fading sunset over the Niobrara River. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Have a great Fourth of July!

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Oddballs or Innovators?

I spotted an upland sandpiper on top of a power pole last week.  In central Nebraska, that’s not really noteworthy – upland sandpipers are pretty common across much of the state.  They tend to nest in large open grasslands with short vegetation structure, and Nebraska has an abundance of that kind of habitat.  This particular sandpiper, however, was perched on a pole surrounded by what looked to be miles of contiguous cropland.  Seeing the sandpiper in that context got me thinking about how conservation scientists deal with patterns in data and, more particularly, the outliers that don’t fit those patterns.

This is not the upland sandpiper I saw surrounded by cornfields, but another one who was living where he was "supposed" to be living - in big open grasslands near Norden, Nebraska.

This is not the upland sandpiper I saw surrounded by cornfields, but another one who was living where he was “supposed” to be living – in big open grasslands near Norden, Nebraska.

My graduate research focused on grassland birds in fragmented prairies.  I categorized bird species by the size of prairie they tended to nest in.  Dickcissels and red-winged blackbirds seemed comfortable in really small prairies, grasshopper sparrows wanted a little more space, and bobolinks and upland sandpipers were usually in large prairies.  Now and then, of course, we’d find a bird in a prairie much smaller than it was “supposed” to be in.  An outlier.  I included those outliers in the data, and their behavior was averaged in with all the other sightings, but I treated them as an anomaly – not something important.  I wonder now if that was the right perspective.

As an ecologist, I see anomalies all the time.  Behaviors of plants or animals that don’t fit what I know – or think – to be the broad pattern of behavior of their species.  For example, during the spring migration of sandhill cranes, we tell visitors that cranes prefer to hang out in harvested fields or open treeless grasslands with short vegetation structure, but now and then we see a group of cranes feeding in tall grass beneath a grove of trees.  Plants can be surprising too.  Entire-leaf rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) and Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) typically grow in lowland sites in our Platte River Prairies, but occasionally, some individuals will establish on top of a sandy ridge.  As a third example, I pay close attention to what plant species cattle graze in our prairies.  Forage selection varies by season, but there are some plant species cattle just don’t like to eat – except now and then when I find a clearly-grazed patch of Canada goldenrod, tall dropseed, or some other plant cattle “don’t like”.

It’s easy to dismiss those odd observations as unimportant results of unique circumstances.  Maybe cranes sometimes find a food source so fantastic it overrides their discomfort with tall vegetation.  Rosinweed and milkvetch plants might colonize dry sandy areas because of a lack of competition, but they might not survive for long.  And who knows why cattle do what they do sometimes…?

We usually see rosinweed in lowland areas of our prairies, surrounded by other lowland tallgrass prairie plants.

We usually see rosinweed in lowland areas of our prairies, surrounded by other lowland tallgrass prairie plants.

An agronomist friend of mine has shown me photographs of upland sandpiper nests in crop fields he works with.  It’s not an unheard of phenomenon, but it’s not representative of how most upland sandpipers act.  The birds that nest in those crop fields may be birds that were less able to defend territories in more suitable habitat.  Alternatively, maybe those birds are pioneers, forging a new path for the survival of the species!

Rather than dismissing anomalies, maybe we should be pursuing them with as much energy as we spend looking for patterns.  In this rapidly changing world, individual plants and animals that can survive where others can’t might just hold the key to conservation success.  Maybe those individuals are adapting to conditions in ways others of their species haven’t.  If upland sandpipers could figure out how to nest successfully in crop fields, for example, that would open up a great deal of nesting habitat for a species that has largely disappeared from large areas of North America.  If rosinweed can adapt to a wider range of habitat types, that might be a pretty important strategy for its survival in the face of a rapidly changing climate.  Should we be looking harder for ways to identify and facilitate that kind of adaptation?

It’s a big, beautiful, complex world out there.  It’s tempting to categorize everything we see into tidy little bundles to and simplify that complexity.  Oddballs can make life difficult, after all.  On the other hand, Nikola Tesla, John Lennon, and Steve Jobs were pretty odd, but turned out to have pretty good ideas in the end.

Maybe outliers are noteworthy after all…

Posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Management, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants, Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Photo of the Week – June 27, 2014

A selection of photos from a prairie ecologist’s family vacation in the mountains of Colorado…

Rocky mountain stream.

A rocky mountain stream not far from the door of the cabin we stayed in last week.  South of Idaho Springs, Colorado.

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Slow shutterspeed

Since I don’t see fast flowing water (or rocks) very often in my part of Nebraska, I don’t often get to play with the old photography trick of using a slow shutterspeed to show the movement of the water.

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slow shutterspeed again

I spent way more time than I should have on the slow-shutterspeed-trick…

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Where the snow is coming from...

We got to climb high enough to see the melting snow that was feeding all those streams.  It was fun to think about the fact that the snow melt we were looking at would be flowing right past us in the Platte River when we got home.  Hell’s Hole Trail.

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Boys and I climbed up a ridge one evening.

One evening, the boys and I climbed up a ridge near our cabin just because it was there.

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John thinks he's funny

John thought it was funny to pretend he was clinging to the edge of a cliff.  (His feet are solidly on the rocks below.)

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Favorite part of mountains are above the tree line.

My favorite parts of the mountains are above treeline where I don’t feel so closed in.  Chief Mountain.

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Dan also likes

Daniel (and his brother) lobbied hard to climb Chief Mountain, even though we’d done the same hike only a year before.  The scenery WAS very nice…

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Bristlecone pine

Bristlecone pines are found only at very high elevations.  Both the live and dead ones are very picturesque.

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Summit lake near Mount Evans.

One cool evening, we dodged some light showers and took a short uphill hike from Summit lake near Mount Evans.  The scenery was enough to take your breath away – though the 13,000 foot elevation helped with that as well…  

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Mount Evans and Summit Lake.

A  panoramic view of Mount Evans and Summit Lake from the trail.

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Douglas fir cone.

Of course, despite the gorgeous scenery, many of my  favorite photos from the trip were close-ups.  Just as in prairies, close-up photography helps me see details I would otherwise have missed.  For example, did you know Douglas fir cone had these funny little trident-like appendages on them?

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Colorado spruce

A close-up of Colorado spruce needles.

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Venus's slipper orchid, aka Fairly slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa).

Venus’s slipper orchid, aka Fairly slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa).  My wife found several of these near our cabin.  After I photographed one, I looked it up in one of the field guides in the cabin.  My favorite quote from the guide was: “Although one of our smallest orchids, Venus’s slipper is the most exquisite, as well as the most elusive.”

It was great to spend a week in cooler weather and see some different landscapes, and I really enjoyed the concentrated time with my family.  Pine and spruce woodlands are very pretty, though the alpine meadows above them were certainly my favorites.  I can see how some people really enjoy living in the mountains.  However, while I like short trips to the mountains, I am always glad to get back home to the wide open landscape of the Nebraska prairie.

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