Photo of the Week – June 9, 2018

This week’s featured photos include three small creatures.  One is a beetle (I have no idea which kind) that was barely visible to my naked eye.  A second is a nymph of a praying mantis – probably a Chinese mantis.  The third is the most exciting to me, which is a burrowing owl nesting in our Platte River Prairies this spring.

This tiny beetle was perched on one of the flowers of false gromwell, aka marbleseed (Onosmodium molle) last week.

A praying mantis nymph hunting on a milkweed plant.

I was able to get barely close enough to this owl for a photo by using my pickup as a photo blind. I still had to crop the image a little to make the owl as prominent as it is in the photo, but I wanted to stay far enough away that I didn’t discourage it from nesting.

Burrowing owls occupy burrows of other animals as nesting sites.  These tiny owls are about the same size as an American robin, but their wingspan can be up to 8 inches wider.  They have a fascinating habit of spreading animal dung around the entrance to their burrow to attract dung beetles – one of their favorite foods.

We usually see a few nesting pairs of burrowing owls up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve each year, and they can be found elsewhere in the Sandhills and western Nebraska, especially within prairie dog towns.  However, their populations are in decline across most of their continental range, and it’s uncommon to see them outside of landscapes of mostly intact grasslands.

In this case, this owl and its mate are using a badger hole for a nesting site.  As far as I know, this is the first burrowing owl pair that has nested in one of our Platte River Prairies during the 21 years I’ve been working here.  As you might expect, they are nesting in a site we burned this spring and that is being grazed fairly intensively by cattle.  On its own, this pair of owls doesn’t equate conservation success, but it’s one more piece of evidence that makes us feel good about our work.

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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 Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Photo of the Week – June 9, 2018

  1. fwnpat says:

    We have burrowing owls at Maddin
    Prairie near Colorado City TX. Native Prairies Association of Texas owns it. It is about 1000 acres. We have prairie dogs badgers and horned toads too! Thank you for your work Chris!

  2. pat says:

    Congratulations! Those owls are a great addition to your prairies. I hope they and their children will be around a long time.

  3. anastaciast says:

    That’s amazing that you have a burrowing owl! I am so happy that you were able to share a photo of it with us. Please don’t get me started on the benefits of prairie dog towns, because somebody somewhere will tell me about the evils of them. Cute pug pictures too. But Chris, I thought you had been in the business long enough to know that you never say, I don’t know what it is. You say oh look there’s a LBB! You sound more intelligent. Grand cheers!

  4. That’s great news about the owls!

    Suzanne

    >

  5. Rollie F Henkes says:

    Yes, great photo and story about the burrowing owl.

  6. Linda Jarsky says:

    Have I missed a report on the leg recovery? Hoping all’s well so you can get out as much as you want to be.
    Linda Jarsky

  7. Jonathan R Groelz says:

    Hi Chris,

    We had a pair of burrowing owls nesting in a badger hole in our pasture a few years back. Probably not long after I worked for you. I have no idea if they ever returned, it may have been fifteen years ago by now…

  8. Even with my 150-600 Sigma I seldom get close enough to any bird that some cropping isn’t required. One of my favorite birds!

  9. Patrick says:

    Encouraging news. Hope the badger leaves them be for the nesting season…

  10. HerbE says:

    The black leaf beetle may be Diabrotica cristata–a rootworm beetle that is a not a corn pest and often associated with remnant prairies–it apparently feeds on the roots of warm-season grasses. The margin of the wing covers and the dorsal margins of the thorax suggest that it could be this species. The posterior margin of the wing cover would help. Compare with some of the photos on bugguide.com.

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