Photo of the Week – March 28, 2019

I photographed flowers this week! Ok, they were just flowers on the little speedwell plant (Veronica polita) that grows as a weed in our yard, but still. Flowers! My photography brain muscles were starting to atrophy and it was great to flex them a little.

Those flowers were a nice sign of spring. I’ve never understood why people point to the arrival of robins as a indication of spring since there are migratory flocks here during most of the winter, but it’s hard to argue with blooming flowers as a harbinger of seasonal change. It’ll be a while before most prairie flowers start to bloom, but the tiny blue blossoms in our garden are a great step in the right direction.

The other significant sign of spring in our yard this week was the big ol’ Woodhouse’s toad Kim spotted as she was cleaning up the landscaping around the edge of our house. The toad must have just recently emerged from its winter burrow because it still had dirt on top of its head. I was so excited to have a small animal to photograph that I took (no exaggeration) 270 photos of the toad as it sat cold and motionless in our yard. As a favor to you, I’ve winnowed that batch of photos down to the five that I’m including here. She’s just so pretty…

In this photo, you can see the nictitating membrane (a kind of transparent third eyelid) toads can use to protect their eyes from hazards.

Cooler temperatures, and maybe even a little snow this weekend, will set us back a little, but spring is still coming… In addition to the flowers and toad, Kim also heard chorus frogs calling this week. Oh, and of course, the Platte River is full of migratory sandhill cranes – here for their annual spring staging event. Before we know it, prairies will be greening up and we’ll start to see and hear all kinds of activity again. Just…another…few…weeks…?

This entry was posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

11 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – March 28, 2019

  1. Hm, didn’t know about Veronica polita, had to look it up. I had decided that the veronicas I have here in Kansas are V. persica, and I think I was correct.

    I love the pic of the toad that shows the houses from the perspective of the ground. The toad’s-eye view, I suppose.

    Robins are also present year-round in the Flint Hills. Turkey vultures are a good sign of spring. I have a friend who shaves his beard when the vultures come back. Then the burns begin, and so I also consider it a sign of spring when I see ashes raining from the sky.

  2. I laughed when I saw your speedwell photo – I took a very similar photo this weekend as I was working in my vegetable garden! When it comes to flowers at this time of year, it seems that beggars cannot be choosers.

  3. Our robins arrived last week in east-central ND, heralding spring, when the ground was still completely covered in snow. It’s only the banana belt that gets flowers so early! I love the toad, too. I have traumatic feelings every time I dig the soil in spring or fall. I stabbed a toad with a garden fork over 20 years ago…and I love them so much.
    When I was a kid, I ‘kept’ a toad for 2 years. I found a very large, one-eyed toad next to our garage in Wisconsin. I scooped out soil in a small trench, covered it with sticks, then leaves, then soil. I’d water it. The toad would sit in the entrance and I would bring it ants that I maneuvered on a stick ’til they walked to the end, and then point it at the toad. It snapped them up! I would pet her, poor thing. I always imagine they like it because of the way they press upward when touched. I’m sure they are just trying to get bigger to scare me off. My toad love it irrepressible.

    • Hi Linda, What affected sandhill crane migration most this year was the extended cold temperatures that kept the river frozen into early March and then had big chunks of ice flowing after that. Most of the cranes delayed their arrival for a few weeks because of that and I’m guessing we’ll have more cranes than usual in early April. The flooding caused cranes to shift roosting locations for a while because the sandbars in the river were covered with high water for a week or two. That wasn’t a big problem because there was lots of standing water in nearby meadows and fields, so cranes just roosted in those areas and still got the shallow water they need for overnight roosting. So, we saw some differences between this year and most past years, but it looked like the cranes and other birds adapted very well.

  4. Those photos are pure delight. I don’t often come across frogs or toads, but if I met this fellow, I’d go a little crazy with the camera, too. Down here in Texas, spring is in such full bloom it’s hard to keep up; it seems as though every day something new is appearing.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful toad photos! I love everything about toads! And having it so fresh out of its winter burrow that it still had dirt on its head was (if you will) the frosting on the cake.

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