Photo of the Week – December 26, 2014

The sun finally reappeared this week after what seemed like a month of absence.  I figured the best way to celebrate the end of dreariness was a couple of prairie hikes. I started by wandering along a creek at our Platte River Prairies to see what the resident beaver family had been up to.  Green sunfish slipped in and out of hiding places in the deep pools behind beaver dams, but little else was moving in the water.  Later, the sound of frantic chirping turned my head in time to watch a sharp-shinned hawk just miss its prey.  I couldn’t tell what kind of bird the hawk was chasing because it didn’t stop flying until it was out of sight.  I also caught a quick glimpse of a small mouse scooting through the thatch, spotted a perched eagle in a far off tree and flushed a small flock of mallards from an backwater wetland.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

Later in the day, I stopped at our family prairie and roamed around until the sun went down.  As the sun dropped, its warm light illuminated the golden brown prairie and I managed to take a few photographs – something I’ve not done much of lately.  Here are a few of those photos.

A stiff goldenrod seed is stuck in the velcro-like hairs on the stem of a plant of the same species.  Helzer family prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

A stiff goldenrod seed is stuck in the velcro-like hairs on the stem of a plant of the same species. Helzer family prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

A Flodman's thistle (native species) stands out against the sky.

A Flodman’s thistle (native species) stands out against the sky.

The spiny beauty of Flodman's thistle seed heads.

The spiny beauty of Flodman’s thistle seed heads.

Tall dropseed (Sporobolus compositus) in golden prairie.

Tall dropseed (Sporobolus compositus) in golden light.

Stiff goldenrod

A stand of stiff goldenrod and mixed-grass prairie.

Happy Holidays, and best wishes for your New Year!

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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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9 Responses to Photo of the Week – December 26, 2014

  1. Very nice treatment and photos of a subject that I’m sure at times can be challenging when one is looking for those “Wow!” shots.

  2. Benny says:

    Beautiful photos Chris, thank you! :) I have always loved the peacefulness of the winter landscape. Wishing you a blessed holiday season and happy new year!

  3. Diane Trullinger says:

    Your pictures always remind me of how lucky I am to live in Nebraska. 3/4 mile from the Platte and two miles north of the clay hills. Great work!

  4. James McGee says:

    I was out at a restoration recently and noticed an interesting pattern. The areas that had not been burned recently contained almost no brown stems of grass. In contrast, along the trail in these areas there was a strip of tall and dense prairie grasses. This strip had been mowed most years, but apparently was not mowed this year. The result was thick luxurious grass in a strip only along the trails. Other areas that had been burned just last year had similarly thick stands of grass covering the entire burned area. It is interesting that as far as the grasses were concerned, mowing or burning lead to the same result.

    • James McGee says:

      What might be even more interesting about my above observation is how illogical the observation appears. Mowing, like grazing, defoliates the grass. If a manager wanted thicker grass then their first instinct would probably be to stop mowing, or grazing, it. This instinct is a common one in those seeking to protect rare species. The first thought of conservationists is to stop whatever is hurting that species. Only later is the importance of a process, like grazing or fire, realized when the rare species has disappeared and other species not adapted to the process overtake the area.

  5. James McGee says:

    Your post also reminded me that although Sporobolus compositus is found throughout large areas of the U.S. and Canada, this grass is rarely included in restorations. Have you established this grass in your restorations?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Yes, we include tall dropseed in all of our restoration seed mixes. It establishes very well and is a very important species in the parts of our sites with very low soil organic matter.

  6. Dan Liles says:

    Thank you for all of your insightful prairie information this year. Looking forward to next year.

  7. mccnmatt says:

    Gorgeous photos… Really lovely.

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