Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know about the big wildfire that swept across The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve back in 2012. One of the results of that fire was the death of almost all of the Preserve’s ponderosa pines on the bluffs north of the river. I’ve posted several times about the recovery of that portion of the site, which we are watching closely and learning from. We haven’t seen any new pines coming in yet, but grasses, sedges, wildflowers, and deciduous shrubs are all flourishing.
As new plants colonize the site, the old skeletons of pines and eastern red cedars are starting to break down. Some of those dead trees are tipping over completely, while others are breaking off further up the trunk. The result is a landscape that is a little more difficult to walk through (and dangerous on windy days), but one that is still very pretty. The gradual degradation of the tree skeletons is a necessary part of the recovery and transition of this area to a different ecological community. We think that pines will eventually recolonize the site, but it’s going to be many years before that happens to any great extent. In the meantime, there is a great abundance of wildlife, insects, and wildflowers living between the falling trees.
While up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve earlier this summer, I spent a little time wandering in, ruminating about, and photographing the area where the old trees are breaking down. Here is some of what I saw.
I’ve always enjoyed looking at the patterns I find in ponderosa pine park. It’s hard to resist photographing them. This last trip, I was seeing specific images in some of the patterns, so I photographed a few and present them here for your consideration. They are a kind of Rorschach test, I suppose. What images do you see?
I am surprised you didn’t post any pictures of woodpeckers. When the emerald ash borer killed all of our magnificent ash trees the pileated woodpecker started frequenting Northeastern Illinois. I am sure there must be woodpeckers on the dead Ponderosa pines at the Niobrara Preserve. The woodpeckers must be difficult to photograph.