This post was written by Evan Barrientos, one of our Hubbard Fellows. Evan is a talented writer and photographer and I encourage you to check out his personal blog. If you would like to see more of his photographs, you can follow him on Facebook.
Last week started with beautifully warm weather. Plants, such as this Penstemon grandiflorus, were rapidly sending up tender leaves, eager to rebuild their energy reserves with the sun’s rays.
On a 60 degree Sunday, I was shocked to stumble upon an ant colony hectically rebuilding their nest.
I was repairing a bridge in a muddy part of the prairie on Monday when I noticed a couple puddles no bigger than iPhones. To my amazement, they were brimming with all sorts of life. I lay on my stomach and watched them for several minutes, but I probably could’ve spent an hour staring into them. It amazes me how much life a tiny scrape in the ground can contain, and how quickly that life materializes with a little bit of sun and water. How did so many minute creatures endure a freezing winter and explode so quickly with abundance? My guess is that they spent the winter as eggs in the soil and quickly hatched when the puddle filled with water. But with the very imminent threats of freezing or drying out, these critters must reproduce very quickly. Maybe that’s why they seemed so frantic. (I checked on the puddle yesterday and it was dry. I hope they got done what they needed to!)
While the warm weather ushered in many new species, it also encouraged the cranes to start leaving, sadly. As I watched the puddle critters, flocks of cranes circled on thermals high into the sky before catching southern winds and continuing on their journey north.
Of course, spring is fickle in nature. By Monday, a cold front produced a spectacular lightning storm that rolled over the prairie.
In the days following the storm, the temperature plunged. Cold mornings frosted the tender leaves of plants that had sprouted under more encouraging conditions just days before. I don’t know how plants and animals survive such unpredictable weather at such a vulnerable stage in their lives, yet somehow they do it year after year.