Photo of the Week – August 11, 2016

I made a quick trip up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week.  As always, there was a treasure trove of unexpected finds.  Here are some of them.

Bison calves are growing fast. Their coats have darkened to match the adults, and their horns are starting to look like more than just little bumps.

Bison calves are growing fast. Their coats have darkened to match the adults, and their horns are starting to look like more than just little bumps.

Bison tend not to hang around wooded areas for shade, but they also like to rub on trees aggressively enough to keep them stunted or even kill them. This bull was one of several bison that had evidence of recent rubbing on eastern red cedar trees.

Bison tend not to hang around wooded areas for shade, but they also like to rub on trees aggressively enough to keep them stunted or even kill them. This bull was one of several bison I saw this week that had apparently been recently rubbing on eastern red cedar trees.  Good for them.

Robber flies are amazing predators and always fun to photograph, but this might be my favorite of all time. This gorgeous robber fly landed in a sand blowout and was consuming a leaf hopper.

Robber flies are amazing predators and always fun to photograph, but this might be my favorite of all time. This gorgeous robber fly landed in a sand blowout and was consuming a leaf hopper.

Sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii) is sometimes lumped with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and sometimes considered a separate species. I'm not entering that argument. However, sand bluestem (shown here) does tend to have much hairier flowers.

Sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii) is sometimes lumped with big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and sometimes considered a separate species. I’m not entering that argument. However, sand bluestem (shown here) does tend to have much hairier flowers.

How many of you noticed the small larva in the above photo?  I didn’t, until I was going through the photos on the computer the day after taking them.  Look below for a more close-up view of the larva.  You can see it at its original scale just to the left of the bottom left of the inset image.

Fly larva? Whatever it is, it sure is small. Wouldn't you love to know what it's doing there?

Fly larva? Whatever it is, it sure is small. Wouldn’t you love to know what it’s doing there?

This tumbleweed (Russian thistle, aka Salsola iberica) was lodged up against a fence in a big sand blowout.

This tumbleweed (Russian thistle, aka Salsola iberica) was lodged up against a fence in a big sand blowout.

This tiny pale bee (Perdita perpallida) is a specialist in prairie clovers (Dalea species) but I've only seen it on one species - Silky prairie clover (Dalea villosa)

This tiny pale bee (Perdita perpallida) is a specialist in prairie clovers but I’ve only seen it on one species – Silky prairie clover (Dalea villosa).  Its pale color helps it blend in very well. Thanks to Mike Arduser for ID and information.

What is more evocative of the Great Plains than bison grazing in a prairie dog town as the sun goes down over an expansive grassy landscape?

What is more evocative of the Great Plains than bison grazing in a prairie dog town as the sun goes down over an expansive grassy landscape? 

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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 – August 11, 2016

  1. John I. Blair says:

    To me that last photo, of the bison and the prairie dog burrow against the sunlight, is superb! Two icons of the prairie. I recently read a work about Meriwether Lewis. This could be a scene he would have viewed on his trip west. As you no doubt know, Lewis successfully sent a live prairie dog back to Washington for Thomas Jefferson and others to view — the first one they’d ever seen.

  2. ritaotis says:

    Wonderful photos – I love the little pale bee – she looks like a dancing doll.

  3. avanraaphorst says:

    I love reading these posts, and I often use them as an antidote for the negative political news that I encounter all too often during the day. Yay, prairie critters and plants! Chris Helzer for President!

  4. James McGee says:

    At Nachusa they have observed bison taking advantage of the shade from trees. When the heat index reaches 109 degrees F (in the shade) and an animal has a thick wool coat, shade must be very attractive.

  5. Noel Rose says:

    I love your photos and info. Thank you. Noel Rose

  6. Doug Garrison says:

    Chris,
    Awesome photos as always. The prairie dog/bison photo, is it a combination of dogs and bison that keep the vegetation so short? Wondering what the AUM equivalent of a prairie dog would be ;-). Guessing the extent of the dog town is limited by the amount of vegetation they can keep at this short of level? The bison are probably attracted here throughout the growing season as grass is constantly in the vegetative state.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      I think most of the vegetation is kept short by prairie dogs, and then – as you say – the bison are attracted to the regrowth. It seems like soils and topography limit the dog towns at NVP. The towns stop at the dunes and are just restricted to the flats and valleys.

  7. Pingback: Photo of the Week – August 11, 2016 — The Prairie Ecologist | The Great Plains Trail

  8. Katie Torpy says:

    Wonderful capture of the pale bee, Chris. Really enjoyed all of the photos. Excited to see it all in person come September.

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