Photo of the Week – August 16, 2018

I’ve been spending a lot of this summer at Lincoln Creek Prairie, right across town from my house.  Much of my time there has been spent working on my square meter photography project, but I’ve wandered a lot through the rest of the prairie as well.  Visiting the same site frequently always helps me appreciate the dynamic nature of prairies.  I get to track individual flower blossoms as they transform from buds to blossoms to seed heads, and watch insects move from larva/nymph stage to adult.

Last weekend,  for example, I visited the prairie two days in a row and spotted four different Chinese mantises  that had just emerged from their last molt, leaving their exoskeletons behind.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those exoskeletons before, let alone four over a two day period.  I’m guessing the skeletons don’t usually hang around long before they fall, dry up, and shrivel into obscurity – not necessarily in that order.

A Chinese mantid peers at me as I eased my camera toward it.  This one was photographed a few days before I found the exoskeletons and recently-molted adults.  

This is one of four shed mantis exoskeletons I found over a two day period.

One of my most exciting finds at Lincoln Creek this month was a small bee with gorgeous blue eyes.  It was a male Tetraloniella cressoniana – something I know only because I sent the photo to  Mike Arduser for identification.  I’ve photographed this species once before, back in 2009, and I wrote about it in a 2011 blog post.  The bee is noteworthy because it is very specialized in diet – feeding only on pitcher sage, aka blue sage (Salvia azurea).  Not coincidentally, that is the flower species in both pictures I have of this species.

Ever since learning about the species from Mike, I’d been hoping to see and photograph it again.  I finally got my wish last week, on a dewy morning at Lincoln Creek.  The bee was poised on a blue sage flower, probably waiting for the prairie to warm up and dry out enough that females would emerge from their nests.  I took quite a few shots of it as I gradually edged closer and closer, until it nearly filled the frame.  As soon as I got home, I fired off one of the photos to Mike, who enthusiastically identified it for me.

A male blue sage bee, which tolerantly allowed me to photograph it – only, I assume, because no females were available to chase.

Dewy mornings have always been favorite photographic opportunities for me, especially when the wind is calm.  Insects get trapped in dew drops, making them easy to photograph, and the entire prairie glistens and sparkles as the first light of the day hits it.  Photographing individual dew drops is always alluring, but rarely turns out very well for me – my macro lens doesn’t magnify them enough for my taste, and depth-of-field issues and slight breezes increase the technical difficulty significantly.  Now and then, however, I find the right situation.  That happened last week with a big droplet near a patch of sensitive briar flowers.

A dew drop and sensitive briar flower (Mimosa quadrivalvus) made a pretty combination.

Lincoln Creek Prairie has been a favorite spot of mine since I moved to town over 20 years ago.  It’s only about a mile from my house, and is a nice restored prairie with lots of flower and insect diversity.  The prairie is small and subdivided by tree lines and roads, but none of that really affects close-up photography.  Despite having made hundreds of trips to the prairie before this summer, though, I’m still finding new subject matter and making new observations – showcasing beautifully what prairies are all about.

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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 Photo of the Week – August 16, 2018

  1. shoreacres says:

    Everyone likes dew drop photos, and I’m no exception. This one’s lovely.

    But I was most interested in the blue sage bee. I went exploring, to see what else I could learn , and ended up reading about a Kansas City bee survey that was done with the guidance of one Mike Arduser. One thing led to another, and I found a video of a presentation on bees Mike made to the 7th Annual Agroforestry Symposium in Missouri. When I visited Diamond Grove prairie and the Burr Oak Woods nature preserve in June, both were awash in bees. Maybe next time I’ll know more about them.

    • matthew garrett says:

      Tagging along with Mike while we did the two year survey of bees on four remnants in KC was fascinating. An 8 acre remnant I manage at Shawnee Mission Park had 55 native bee species with one new to science that Mike is still working on! I can email the report to anyone interested.

      https://bridgingthegap.org/native-bee-species/

      • shoreacres says:

        First, I’d love to read the report. My email address is varnishgal at gmail.

        I grew up in Iowa, but had family in KC, so have a long history with the place. One of my earliest memories is escaping just before they closed the only open bridge in the 1951 flood. My first apartment was on North Main, and Swope Park was a favorite spot.

        Still, the great irony is that even in 2000-2006, when my mother lived just off Highway 7 in Blue Springs, I didn’t have a clue that Burr Oak Woods existed. I wasn’t interested then in native plants or pollinators. How things can change! Now, I can’t wait to go back in the fall for a visit, and some of the spots mentioned in your link will get some of my attention. My aunt lives only two miles from Burr Oaks, and I have a cousin just west of Ernie Miller Park.

        I have Michael Haddock’s Wildflowerse & Grasses of Kansas. Is there a field guide you’d recommend for insects? Or any other resources that might be useful in Kansas/Missouri?

        • matthew garrett says:

          We have an amazing remnant prairie at Ernie Miller worth a visit! Haddock’s book is pretty good. KS Wildflower and Weeds by Freeman, Haddock, and Bare is nice. A photographic guide to butterflies of the KC region by Betsy Betros is a nice local resource.

          • shoreacres says:

            I have that remnant prairie on my list for my next visit. And thanks for the recommends. I saw many butterflies I didn’t know when I was at Burr Oaks, including my first great spangled fritillary, so I especially appreciate knowing about Betsy Betros’s book. Both books will be in my library soon.

  2. Chronicallyundiagnosed says:

    All magnificent!

  3. Deborah Woracek says:

    What a beautiful bee on a favorite flower!

  4. I find your statement to be true and encourage naturalists, gardeners, and photographers to enjoy their local surrounds; look closely. I find native species of plants, insects, animals or birds will pop up in my yard often but sometime only once. A long desired orchid showed up between root buttresses of a sycamore to never be seen again. “Despite having made hundreds of trips to the prairie before this summer, though, I’m still finding new subject matter and making new observations – showcasing beautifully what prairies are all about.”

  5. I had never hear of a blue-eyed bee, but now I would like to find one myself! It is gorgeous.

  6. Pingback: Something Blue | The Prairie Ecologist

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