Photos of the Week – August 28, 2020

There’s been a layer of haze along the horizon in recent days. I don’t know how much of the haze is our normal August humidity and how much is wildfire smoke wafting in from other states. Regardless, hazy horizons make for fun photography in the morning and evening. Here is a selection of sun images from the last week.

Big bluestem and the morning sun at our family prairie. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 300mm. ISO 320, 1/8000 sec, f/6.3.
Stiff sunflower and sun at our prairie. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 185mm. ISO 320, 1/8000 sec, f/6.3.
Sunset over Niobrara River. The Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 70mm. ISO 500, 1/640 sec, f/16.
Sunset and dead pines. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 230mm. 1/400 sec, f/16.
Sunset at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 140mm. ISO 320, 1/80 sec f/16.
Sunrise over the Niobrara River. The Niobrara Valley Preserve. Photo with Mavic 2 drone.
Sunrise over the Niobrara River. The Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 18-300mm lens at 105mm. ISO 250, 1/125 sec, f/11.
Sunrise over the Niobrara River. The Niobrara Valley Preserve. Photo with Mavic 2 drone.
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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.

12 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – August 28, 2020

  1. These are lovely. Some years ago, Saharan dust along the coast gave us similar conditions — but we had palm trees and bayous to set off the light, rather than pines and a river.

  2. This set is gorgeous! The second from last photo shows how you caught the sun in the small piece of river towards the bottom of the image. I’m on your email list and look forward to your posts. Belated thanks for including the camera info. I have my own backyard wild-patch of flowers chosen for their history in prairies and have had daily joy discovering with eye and camera the varied life that I find in it. (Goldenrod currently is glowing yellow and today was covered with carpenter and bumble bees and blue-winged wasps and some very tiny flying things.) I have seen more and more people becoming interested, however, in this other world, and your website and your work help immensely to spread the information and the beauty, and the conservation of it.

  3. Pingback: Photos of the Week – August 28, 2020 — The Prairie Ecologist – Pershspective

  4. How intensively is the Niobrara preserve managed?
    My understanding is that historically lots of trees is a relative modern (withing last 150 or so years) modern occurrence in NE. What I’m getting at is would this area been relatively devoid of trees when the Pioneers first crossed the Prairies? If so any thoughts on returning to original condition?.


    • Great questions, requiring complicated answers. First, the Preserve is managed with prescribed fire, grazing (cattle and bison), and targeted herbicide application on invasive plants. Our staff at the Preserve, and others like me who help periodically, are very actively working to build and maintain the ecological resilience of the site. Suppressing tree and shrub encroachment is a big part of that management. You’re right that the prairies there probably have more trees and shrubs than they did 150 years ago, though they have a lot less than they did 15-20 years ago because we’ve been working hard on them (and had a big wildfire that helped too). Prior to 150 years ago, I’m sure trees and shrubs ebbed and flowed in abundance across the prairie hills in response to climate patterns and fire management by indigenous people. There isn’t really a single ‘natural’ state or ‘original condition’ that we are aiming for. We want to sustain the ecological function of the prairie landscape, allowing a high diversity of prairie species (plants, animals, microbes, etc.) to thrive and interact in ways allow the prairie to adapt to whatever conditions it has to face.

      In addition, the Niobrara Valley Preserve has several woodland communities near the river that are important ecological systems on their own. That includes bur oak and ponderosa pine savanna habitats on the dry south-facing slopes north of the river and deciduous woodlands on the shady north-facing slopes (with lots of groundwater-fed streams) south of the river. The photos in this post show those habitats, where trees are perfectly appropriate and important, based on the soils and other conditions. We’re trying to manage the density of trees in those areas to allow a diverse understory of herbaceous (non-woody) plants to thrive as well, but they are woodland communities, so the trees are definitely necessary. Currently, prescribed fire is a big strategy to maintain a tree density that allows a diverse understory community, but we’re also trying to deal with some really assertive(?) smooth sumac that would really like to be much more abundant in both our woodlands and prairies. That’s probably going to require some more aggressive techniques than just fire. We’re in the process of developing and testing those techniques now.

      I hope this answers your questions – thanks for asking them!

        • Various herbicide treatments, mostly. I don’t remember the details offhand. We’re dealing with patches that are several acres and more in size, and are in steep topography far from headquarters, so mowing isn’t really an option and burning at various seasons hasn’t shown any promise.

          • Basal bark application of 12 % a.i. triclopyr in oil to a length of stem equal to the stem’s diameter has worked well for me. This is the same method I learned from Bill Kleiman for treating bush honeysuckle. I just have to make sure there is no rain or snow for at least a day after the application. In areas where there is vegetation I don’t want to risk getting damaged by the triclopyr, I apply concentrated glyphosate to a frill around the stem. I’ve use 41 % a.i. glyphosate. Since you need to kill the roots of clonal species to stop sprouting using a lesser concentration would be risky.

          • I checked my records and the concentration I used on sumac clones was 18.6 % a.i. triclopyr ester in oil applied to a foot of stem length. This worked well, but I would probably try to use 12.2 % a.i. triclopyr now because I do not like how the more concentrated mix smelled. I could apply the 12.2 % mix to 18 inches of stem and get about the same amount of total herbicide applied. I did have some root sprouts develop around the edge of the clone so I would be hesitant to reduce the amount of herbicide I applied too much. In Nebraska you could probably get good control with less herbicide because the plants would be more stressed from less precipitation and drier conditions.


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