Photo of the Week – November 10, 2017

I was back at the Niobrara Valley Preserve last week to help with a little bison work and a board meeting.  My wife was able to come with me, and we stayed an extra night so we could do some hiking Saturday morning before heading home.

A burned eastern redcedar overlooks a what is a majestic landscape, even during the dormant season.

Kim and I decided to hike up the bluffs north of the river where the 2012 wildfire transformed an overgrown savanna of pines and cedars into a burgeoning grassland/shrubland dotted with burned tree skeletons.  Autumn is well established along the Niobrara River, and there have already been several hard freezes and some light snows.  Despite that, we found plenty of color and texture to enjoy while we wandered, as well as a couple very pleasant surprises.

Smooth sumac and yucca are two of the more common plants north of the river, and both still provided color, though the sumac leaves had all fallen.

It’s fun to speculate about the series of events that led to this sumac leaflet becoming impaled on this yucca leaf.

One of the best discoveries of the day was the first ponderosa pine seedling I’ve seen since the 2012 fire.  It was right up on top of the ridge.  I’m hopeful that we’ll find more in the coming years.

As bark peels from pine skeletons, bark beetle galleries are revealed. Interestingly, I didn’t see any on eastern red cedar – only on pine.

We were shocked to find a little patch of Campanula (harebell) still in full bloom on November 4. It was sheltered in a fairly steep draw, but must have survived temperatures well below freezing several times during the last month.

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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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4 Responses to Photo of the Week – November 10, 2017

  1. Angela Anderson says:

    Chris,
    Always enjoy your posts, informed and thoughtful, thank you
    Angela Anderson

  2. Kathryn Kerr says:

    Thank you so much.

  3. James McGee says:

    I am fascinated by how the dead pines/cedars are falling over at the Niobrara Preserve.

    Where I live the wind rarely snaps off dead trees at the main trunk. The trees I have watched decompose lose their sapwood from smaller branches first, but the heartwood often remains longer and sticks out. It appears fungi, insects, and woodpeckers are responsible for weakening the wood and tearing it down piece by piece starting from smaller branches and eventually consuming larger ones.

  4. Isabel Cohen says:

    The harebell is exquisite!

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