Frosty Morning Walk

We got our first real snow of the season last week.  Early Friday morning, I braved the icy roads and made it to our Platte River Prairies in time for a sunrise walk.  It was a beautiful morning.  The temperature was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but there was only a very slight breeze, so it didn’t feel cold – especially after walking through 2 foot snow drifts for a while.

Snowy prairie in the pre-dawn light.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Snowy prairie in the pre-dawn light. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

I walked across snow-covered prairie to one of our restored wetlands, where a dozen or so ducks flushed off a small bit of open water.  A real duck biologist would have been able to identify them by their calls, but their silhouettes against the pink horizon didn’t give me enough to go on.

Not much else was moving around.  I didn’t even see many tracks in the snow, apart from those of a few small birds that had been feeding on fallen seeds from sunflowers and prairie cordgrass.  I walked around the wetland as the sun came up, enjoying the quiet and taking some photos of frosty wetland plants.

Frost-covered wetland plants stick out from the ice on a frigid but pleasant winter morning.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Frost-covered wetland plants stick out from the ice on a frigid but pleasant winter morning. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

As I walked back to my vehicle, I thought I heard sandhill cranes calling in the distance, but I might have been imagining things.  There have been a few thousand cranes hanging around this winter, but I haven’t seen them for the last week or so.  An immature eagle flew overhead, flapping steadily as though it had somewhere to be and didn’t want to be late.  Just a few feet away, a meadowlark flushed out of the snow and flew about 30 yards to a short perch in the grass.  I bent down to see where it had come from and found a meadowlark-sized hole.  The hole led into a “den” formed by an air pocket in the snow beneath a clump of tall grass.  I took my glove off and put my hand down into the still-warm hiding place.

Eventually, I reached my parking place, shucked off my snow-crusted coveralls, and picked up my cell phone to join a conference call – only a few minutes late.  It was time to get back to work.

Here are a few more photos from the frozen wetland.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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3 Responses to Frosty Morning Walk

  1. Beautiful seasonal images!

  2. Myrna says:

    Thanks so much for such breath taking photos.I enjoy them so much.

  3. Sara says:

    Lovely light, and the frost on just one side of the plants is really neat to see.

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