Photo of the Week – September 30, 2011

This photo was taken in October of 2007 at The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands in Iowa.  The sun was going down as the moon was coming up – always a magical time for photographers. 

Moonrise over loess hill prairie at The Nature Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands – Iowa.

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I had to use a long telophoto lens to get the moon to appear as large in the photo as it actually looked that evening.  The technical trick was to get both the moon and the hillside in focus at the same time (the moon was quite a bit farther away than the hillside!). 

The Broken Kettle Grasslands sit at the north end of Iowa’s Loess Hills – a great tallgrass prairie landscape.  The Loess Hills of Iowa are a tremendous natural resource with some very nice prairie landscapes – along with plenty of threats, including woody plant encroachment and habitat fragmentation.

Interestingly, the Iowa’s Loess Hills get a lot more attention than Nebraska’s Loess Hills, which are 3 to 4 times (or more) the acreage.  That lack of recognition is likely due to the fact that the Nebraska Loess Hills largely sit between Nebraska’s Sandhills and Platte River, both of which are world-renowned ecological landscapes.  Nebraska’s hills are mixed-grass prairie, but have essentially the same soil type and topography as those in Iowa, along with some very nice prairie plant communities (in some places).  They also suffer from the same threats as the Iowa Loess Hills – especially rapid expansion eastern red cedar trees.  Even within Nebraska, few people are aware that there are Loess Hills in the state, let alone that those hills contain tremendous biological diversity.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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8 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 30, 2011

  1. Teresa Mandevill says:

    Truly – a magnificent pic!

  2. David says:

    How could anybody not want to protect a landscape like this?? Some day I need to head west and visit these places!

    David

  3. Dan Glomski says:

    Nice shot, Chris. Did you crop this photo?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Thanks Dan. No, I didn’t crop it. It was just a long lens shot, and I had to choose the hillside carefull, and get myself in position so that the moon was close enough to the grass to fit everything in.

  4. James C. Trager says:

    Tantalizing photos. As you say, I simply must visit.

  5. I would be interested in checking out any high-quality prairie remnants within the Nebraska Loess Hills. The swift tiger beetle (Cylindera celeripes) used to occur there abundantly but has not been seen in the state for nearly 100 years. It was recently rediscovered in hilltop prairies near Council Bluffs.

  6. Hi Chris – from what I’ve seen in the Loess Hills of Iowa and Missouri, the beetles seem to require remnants (I’ve never seen them in restored prairies) that are largely unaltered and have few invasives. I see higher numbers in unburned remnants with a history of haying and/or light grazing (which probably help because of the more open structure such practices create) and mechanical removal of woody growth and very low numbers in areas managed aggressively with fire. I have a paper in press (should appear in the next issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin) that discusses the beetle’s historical and present distribution along with possible strategies for conservation – I’ll send you a pdf when it comes out.

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