Catching Up on Summer Photos

I spend most of my summers in the field, wandering around in prairies collecting data, making observations, and taking photos.  Lots and lots of photos.  So many photos that I only have time and space to post a small percentage of my favorites here on this blog.

This week, I’ve been going through my 2017 photos, trying to select a manageable number for my annual “Best Photos of” feature, which will be coming in the next week or two.  While doing that, I came across quite a few photos I really liked but haven’t posted yet.  Here is a batch of previously unposted images from the Niobrara Valley Preserve from this summer, along with some brief natural history notes.

A gorgeous northern leopard frog stares at me from the bank of the Niobrara Valley Preserve. I like this photo for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that my daughter spotted the frog while we were out exploring together.  The northern leopard frog can be distinguished from the plains leopard frog because the two lines on the back of the northern are continuous, and the lines on the plains leopard are broken.

We are trying to better understand the potential ecological values of short vegetation structure and exposed soil in the Nebraska Sandhills. It’s a set of habitat conditions most ranchers manage against, and we’re wondering what species might benefit from having a little more around.  If nothing else, the patterns found in wind-blown sand are aesthetically pleasing.

One species we know thrives with lots of bare sand is the Ord’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii). K-rat tracks are abundant in bare sand, distinguished by the relatively large size of the foot prints and the tail marks between them.

This was one of the first plains sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) to bloom this summer, but as the summer progressed, sunflower populations exploded, especially where we’d burned in the spring.

Ants appreciate the extrafloral nectar produced by plains sunflowers, and presumably help suppress numbers of herbivorous insects on those sunflowers – notwithstanding the well-armored weevil shown here.

Mating assassin bugs on a plains sunflower. These ambush predators are often seen hunting on the sunflowers as well, taking advantage of abundant insects in search of accessible and nutritious pollen and nectar.

The day’s last beams of sunlight stream across our public hiking trail above the Niobrara River back in June of this year.

As I prepare for the “Best Photos of” post coming up, please let me know if you have a favorite photo or two from the year.  It’s awfully hard for me narrow them down…

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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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10 Responses to Catching Up on Summer Photos

  1. Frogs and sunbursts, the beginning and the end! All of your photos are wonderful but those two are my favorites so far.

  2. Jill Haukos says:

    I’m inspired by your photos Chris! I’m looking forward to going through my photos for the year too.

  3. Linda Jarsky says:

    Of course, comes as no surprise, that the Niobrara sunset is my fave.
    Chris, have you any way of making any of these available as posters, prints, etc?
    I can’t be the first to suggest the coffee table genre, maybe in partnership w/TNC?

  4. Joanne says:

    Coffee table book Yes Please! Need to get back to the “hills” and hike that trail. A book on the table would be the next best thing.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Well, the thing with a coffee table book is that it costs an awful lot to publish. I’ve had discussions about it with publishers, but that kind of book rarely sells enough copies to pay for the printing costs, so unless someone wants to pony up a lot of money up front, I’ll probably just stick to the blog and other online formats… I do appreciate the kind words, though.

  5. Ed May says:

    HI Chris, that last picture in this series, the sunset, is beautiful and stunning. I would put it in my top 5 favorites of yours. Merry Christmas! >

  6. James C. Trager says:

    These are wonderful, Chris.
    By the way, the ants appear to be Myrmica americana, but I’d have to work on that weevil with them.
    And the assassin bugs are one of the “bee assassin” group, Apiomerus spissipes, I think.

  7. Hi Chris! I’ve just started a “Five Eyes” series where I choose five ‘eye’ shots from a particular photographer and put them in a post. May I choose five ‘eyes’ shots of yours to feature in a post? (The frog above would be good as one of them). As for favourites, I love the silhouetted spider on a yellow flower – also in ant in that same photo.

  8. Debra Beck says:

    The sunset at Niobrara State Park is one of my favorites so far.

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