Photo of the Week – October 24, 2013

I spent yesterday along the North Platte River, about 150 miles upstream (west) of our Platte River Prairies.  The wind picked up in the afternoon, and leaves from the cottonwood trees in the riparian woodland were dropping and blowing all around.

Cottonwood trees along a small side channel of the North Platte River near Sutherland, Nebraska.  The Nature Conservancy's Kelly Tract.

Cottonwood trees along a small side channel of the North Platte River near Sutherland, Nebraska.     The Nature Conservancy’s Kelly Tract.

I was driving much of the day and needed to stretch my legs, so I took an hour or so to walk along the river and through the adjacent savanna-like woodland.  The yellows of the cottonwood leaves blended nicely with the yellow of the grass beneath the trees, and both were set against a backdrop of sand and blue sky.  It was a pretty nice hike, and it was only begrudgingly that I finally folded myself back into the car to drive home.

Here are some more photos from the day:

A cottonwood savanna at The Nature Conservancy's Kelly Tract.

A cottonwood savanna at The Nature Conservancy’s Kelly Tract.

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A cottonwood leaf floats on a backwater pool of the river.

A cottonwood leaf floats on a backwater pool of the river.

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More of the savanna.

More of the savanna.

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And more.

And more.

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No matter how pretty the scenery is, my favorite photos from trips like this are almost always close-ups.

No matter how pretty the scenery is, my favorite photos from trips like this are almost always close-ups.

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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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17 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 24, 2013

  1. Mike says:

    Beautiful memeories are brought back by wonderful pictures like that. Growing in up in eastern NE allows me to totally enjoy the mental sounds and smells of the Cottonwood speckeled river bottoms in the fall. The thing I can’t do is teleport myself there with bow in hand to stalk the Whitetails of NE. Thanks Chris.

  2. Joanne says:

    I remember with fondness, the autumn leaves of the cottonwood trees ‘talking’ to each other before falling to the ground.

  3. Sue Coder Kagarise says:

    I get homesick each time I see your beautiful pictures!! Please keep them coming.

  4. John I. Blair says:

    I think cottonwoods are a key indicator of whether one is truly from the plains states. Most other places they are thought of as “trash trees” (like here in north Texas), but in Kansas, where I’m from, they are the state tree. To me they’re beautiful, although I do rather wish my next-door neighbor didn’t have one just across the fence from my yard (and from my air conditioner condenser with its easily clogged fins). The sound of their leaves “talking” is part of my prairie-born soul. Thanks for sharing all the beautiful photos.

  5. John I. Blair says:

    COTTONWOOD
    One side scarred from storms,
    It still stands tall, strong,
    Striving toward the day.

    Thousands of shining deltoid leaves
    Twirling loose on long stems
    Fill the air with rustling sound.

    Half-turned, ready
    To step into my car,
    I stop, feeling something –

    Something about the tree,
    A sense of semi-sentience,
    A notion that it knows I’m here.

    There’s no communication,
    No speech, no gestures;
    Just a presence, purposeful

    If purpose can be measured
    Over years, decades,
    Centuries.

    Unique in place, in past,
    This cottonwood has spirit, pride;
    It’s there in more than mere location.

    If I’d learned the language
    And could form the words that slowly,
    I’d say hello.

    ©2010 John I. Blair

  6. Patrick says:

    I’m curious Chris: do you run prescribed burns through these riparian forests?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Patrick – we have done one, but it’s been a long time ago. I’d like to do more, though it’s tricky with old cottonwoods like this because the dead portions of older trees will smolder long after the fire, so mop up is arduous…

  7. James McGee says:

    I have very ambivalent feelings toward the cottonwood. When I plant my sedges the cottonwood often takes over the area shading out the planting. This frustrates me. It is not the cottonwood’s fault. It is my own failure because I keep trying to change the inevitable. In contrast, I see old weathered cottonwoods like those at the Indiana Dunes and I find much to admire.
    I have seen many well respected ecologist treat trees deemed unconservative, like the cottonwood, as a weed to be destroyed. Yes, these trees are fast to colonize disturbed areas. This is their role. I see high quality areas where these “weed” trees have been removed and it is often the case that the Floristic Quality of the area appears to have been reduced by the action.
    Arborists have a mathematical formula that describes how the spacing of trees increases as a stand matures. This formula describes how stands of all species of trees change over time. Looking at Chris’ photos the stand of cottonwoods in the Kelly Tract has much to be admired. The spacing of the trees shows the great age of the stand.
    Sincerely,
    James

  8. savannagal says:

    I work in an office in downtown Chicago. All around me is gray, metal, concrete and glass – not to mention the stench of auto fumes and alley dumpsters. The trees and plants dotted along the sidewalks and street are in concrete boxes. The only birds I see are either European sparrows and pigeons, or dead migrants. I always look forward to the beautiful photos you post. They cheer me up in this drab atmosphere.

  9. Millie says:

    The photos of the cottonwood savanna reminded me that there are oak savannas near Chicago, as well as other types of natural areas:
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/keyword/oak-savanna – especially the article below:
    68,000 acres of Cook County wilderness, by bus and train

  10. Kathy Dewell says:

    Beautiful pictures!

  11. Chris, would you say the disturbance regime in this system is periodic flooding with intevening droughts in the the sitly soil. What havew you learned, a few years hence, from that cottonwood planting you did some years ago?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      There’s not much flooding as high up as those cottonwoods anymore. The flood that brought those trees in might have been the last one with the ability to create good cottonwood habitat. And there’s actually very little silt – it’s mostly sand on top of sand, with a little bit of organic matter in some places. Probably more of a sandy loam than anything.

      We have learned a great deal about cottonwood establishment on the Missouri. For example, rain is good for trees. Also, bigger cuttings work better than smaller ones. Weeds can shade out young trees. Lots of good lessons… Actually, I think we have figured out enough that we can take the idea to scale, which is the hope for the next several years – if we can get the funding to do so. We’ll be wrapping up the first stage of the project next summer and doing field days, etc., to share what we’ve learned. I’ll certainly post on the subject then, but contact me if you want to know more in the meantime.

      • James C. Trager says:

        Thanks. This is good for now. I’ll look forward to that future post.
        By the way, I’ve seen a cottonwood savanna that looks surprisingly like these Nebraska views along at a TNC preserve along the Kern River in California. I find it interesting the way plant associations replicate or nearly replicate themselves with the same or cognate species at far-flung locations.

        (Sorry about all the typos above. I should never post from the iPhone!)

  12. Jacob says:

    The water in the picture is very clear, as fi the leaf was hovering in midair.

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