Photos of the Week – February 14, 2020

Today, I could be posting new photos from this week of ice bubbles and frozen bugs in the ice. Oh, I’ve got them. Don’t ever doubt that I’ve got them. I just wasn’t in the mood for cold weather closeups this morning. I gave a presentation yesterday on Nebraska’s ecosystems and it made me sentimental about my state. So, today, I’m posting a few miscellaneous photos of the Nebraska Sandhills, our state’s most iconic prairie landscape (but far from the only one). They made me feel good – I hope they do the same for you.

Hairy goldaster (Heterotheca villosa) anchors a diverse plant community that includes blazing stars, sage, sun sedge, sand bluestem, June grass, and many others.
A plains sunflower seedling (Helianthus petiolaris) in a patterned sand blowout.
Yucca (Yucca glauca) on a high perch, overlooks a vast landscape of vegetated sand dunes and wetlands/lakes.
Lakes of exposed groundwater between sand dunes help boost the already impressive biological diversity of the Sandhills region.
Tracks of a kangaroo rat, one of a community of animals that relies upon the open sand of ‘blowouts’ – wind erosion-created patches disliked by many ranchers but key to the ecological function of the landscape.
A profusion of plains sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) in 2013, filling an important ecological niche in year following the massive drought of 2012.
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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.

10 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – February 14, 2020

  1. Thanks for the sunny Sandhills photos – warms me up on this chilly, windy February morning! This prairie girl appreciates the views!!

  2. It’s obvious how much the hills in the photo with the Yucca glauca resemble our vegetation-covered beach dunes. Beyond that, I guess I’ve never fully grasped why ‘sandhill crane’ is such an appropriate name for the bird. Whoops!

  3. I’ve only visited the Sandhills twice, and both times for too short a spell. It would be great to spend a full growing season there. Looking forward to more of this Nebraska specialty in your weekly photo displays as the season progresses, Chris.

  4. Do you see any association between grazing animals and creation or persistence of sand blowouts? I ask because TNC’s Weaver Dunes preserve in MN does not have any grazing, and the active dunes are becoming fewer and fewer.
    I did some plant survey and seed collection there, as a contractor and volunteer.
    Joel Dunnette

    • Hi Joel, That’s a great question. There can be a connection, for sure, but in Nebraska, we’ve seen blowouts closing over the last decade or two, even in situations where managers are working hard to keep them open (including the use of intensive grazing). As a result, people here seem convinced that climate (especially precipitation) can be more important than disturbance for keeping those sandy areas open. I haven’t been to Weaver Dunes, so I can’t really comment on the situation there, but what you’re describing fits with the long-term pattern in Nebraska too.

  5. I grew up on a ranch in the sandhills….I love the pictures. It was like a visit home for me (from snowy cold Denver).

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