Photos of the Week – December 21, 2019

About 6 months ago, I spent a nice morning at Lincoln Creek Prairie with my camera. Looking back at photos from that morning this week was a nice way to escape the dreary brown of winter. The vibrant color and activity of late June starkly contrasts with the dormant prairie in late December.

Sullivant’s milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) at Lincoln Creek Prairie back in June. This plant closely resembles common milkweed (A. syriaca) at first glance, but the leaves have no fuzz to them and a red midrib. In bloom, the inflorescence has the same general shape and color as common milkweed, but the five small hoods around the top of the flower are curved toward each other on Sullivant’s milkweed, as opposed to more upward facing hoods on common milkweed.

It’s not that prairies aren’t fun to visit in December, but much of the enjoyment comes from reading the signs of what happened last year and what is poised to occur in the next. As opposed to the dynamics of the growing season, not much changes or moves in a winter prairie. A few animals are active, of course – mostly birds foraging for remaining seeds on or beneath last year’s flowers, and a few voles and other small mammals scurrying along the ground. Those animals tend to match the browns of the prairie vegetation…

Now and then, a little frost or fresh snow pops up to accent the otherwise dull vegetation, and I rush out to enjoy the prairie’s new costume. I’ve had a few such opportunities this winter, but they’ve been brief. The coming week’s forecast doesn’t look like it’s going to bring much precipitation either, and temperatures are supposed to be mild. It’s hard to complain too much – Kim and I are planning some hiking time at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, and that weather will be nice for that. Hopefully, though, there will be a little frost in the morning too, at least?

Here are four photos I haven’t yet shared from late June of 2019. I hope they help brighten your day. Have a great holiday season, everyone!

A fly on goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubius)
Ants farming aphids on purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea). The ants feed on honeydew secreted by the aphids as they feed on plants. They also help keep predators away from the aphids.
A Dectes stem borer, aka soybean stem borer, (Dectes texanus), a species of longhorned beetle.
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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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