Photo of the Week – September 7, 2017

The numerous wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada have been sending smoke out our way, especially earlier this week.  I got up early Monday morning to catch the sunrise, hoping a smoky haze would soften the light well into the morning and give me a good long opportunity for photography.  My plan only sort of worked…  The smoky haze was so thick, the sun was up for about 20 minutes before it finally got high and bright enough that I could even see it through the haze.

The sun finally showed up through the smoky haze about 20 minutes after sunrise.

Once I could see the sun, I still had to wait another hour or two before there was enough light to do much photography.  Not that it was painful to have to wander around our Platte River Prairies for a few hours, of course, but it was hard to see all kinds of interesting things and not have enough light to photograph them!  Now and then, the haze would clear enough that I could barely see my shadow – and I’d quickly grab my camera out of the bag and look for something to photograph before it darkened up again.

A grasshopper staring at me from its perch on stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida).

The grasshopper above and the bumblebee below were both photographed during those brief periods of brighter light.  Apart from those brief periods, the smoky haze kept things pretty dim until about 9:30 or 10am, when the light got really nice (still diffused, but by thinner haze, which created beautiful even light).

This bumblebee apparently spent the night on this dotted gayfeather flower (Liatris punctata).

When that gorgeous photography light finally arrived, I was walking around some restored wetlands and prairies we’d seeded in 2013.  There were quite a few flowers in the wetland sloughs we’d excavated and seeded in former cropland, and I enjoyed searching for some particularly photogenic examples.

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) in restored wetland.

Blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) in the same restored wetland slough.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was even more abundant than its blue cousin.

Alongside the restored wetlands, Maximilian sunflower was very abundant, and popular with pollinators – especially a horde of painted lady butterflies.

This was just one of hundreds (thousands?) of painted lady butterflies in the prairie.

I finally peeled myself away from the prairie and headed home, but the smoky light would have allowed me to keep photographing for most of the day (though the breeze was challenging).  By Tuesday, the wind had shifted directions, and we’ve had bright sunny days since, which limits photography to early mornings and late evenings.

This is the time of year when I start to feel an urgency to photograph as many flowers and insects as I can because I know they’re not going to be around much longer.  We had temperatures in the low 40’s (F) last night, and parts of Nebraska were forecast to have frost.  Hopefully, we’ll get at least a few more weeks of flowers before the first big freeze knocks most of them out for the 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.
This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants, Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 7, 2017

  1. lauraluh says:

    Great photos – as always. We are seeing a ton of painted ladies this year – more than I have ever seen in SD. Any idea what’s up with that?

  2. This was an especially nice issue of the blog-excellent photos. I also had lots of painted ladies in the back yard yesterday and today. I don’t remember seeing anything like this before.

  3. Pat says:

    Some of that haze made it all the way to Chicago last week. Not as bad as you’ve seen it, I’m sure.

  4. I’m glad someone’s enjoying our smoke. It’s friggin awful here in Oregon! Too much even for photography on some days.

  5. Gay Gilbert says:

    Thanks for the terrific photographs! You are an artist…..finding the beauty regardless of the smoke….love your blog…..

  6. The beauty of soft light, lovely images!

  7. Mary Grey says:

    I loved your photograph of the grasshopper. Grasshoppers fascinate me; they look like they were designed by an engineer and are produced on an assembly line somewhere…

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