Photos of the Week – September 18, 2020

This week, I met up with producers Ethan Freese and Grant Reiner from Platte Basin Timelapse. They were gathering footage for a video project on Nebraska wetlands and we spent a couple hours wandering through and talking about The Nature Conservancy’s Derr Sandpit Wetland restoration project. My role was to walk around with my camera while wearing a microphone. I took some pictures, talked about the restoration project, and answered questions about wetlands and ecology in general. In other words, it was a very pleasant morning.

Hazy sunrise over a beaver pond at the Derr Sandpit Wetland. Tokina 11-20mm, ISO 320, 1/250 sec, f/8.

This is a wetland restoration project close to my heart. The restoration process took more than 10 years to complete, mostly because we had to piece the funding together bit by bit. Financial support came from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and even a memorial fund for my mom. That money helped us convert an old sand and gravel mining site to a beautiful mix of stream and wetland habitat.

We started with a long sandpit lake that had a stream entering at one end and flowing out the other. It was surrounded by trees and big piles of sand, and while it was a good place to catch catfish, the habitat value for most other wildlife was pretty limited. We took out the trees and pushed the sand piles into the water. When we were finally done, the stream flowed through the entire site once more, with multiple channels to choose from, depending on the whims of floods and beavers. There are also some isolated wetland pockets, designed to give tadpoles a place to grow up without having to dodge hungry fish.

Beggars-tick flowers (Bidens, sp) submerged in beaver-flooded pool. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, 1/60 sec, f/11.
Beggars-tick flower (Bidens, sp) submerged in beaver-flooded pool. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, 1/60 sec, f/11.

Today, while the site faces a continual inflow of invasive plants from upstream, it also provides a habitat for a wide variety of animals, including freshwater mussels, beavers, lots of water birds, dragonflies, and much more. I’m told it’s a hot spot for river otters as well, though I’m just taking others’ word for that. The plant community is no slouch either, featuring lots of grasses, sedges, and rushes, but also a nice seasoning of forbs like cardinal flower, blue lobelia, beggar-ticks, winged lythrum (Lythrum alatum) and many others. It’s a really special place, and not just because it hasn’t gone dry like most of its neighboring wetlands have during recent droughts.

It was really nice to spend a morning celebrating this particular wetland and its restoration process, along with other wetlands around the state. We talked briefly about the utilitarian values of wetlands (water filtration, space for floodwaters to spread out and slow down, etc.) but I tried to focus most on the fascinating communities of organisms that live in wetlands. I understand how people can view wetlands as stinky mosquito-ridden swamps, but I’d love a chance to tour a wetland with those same people and introduce them to some of the more interesting plants and animals living there. For now, photos will have to do. Here are some more photos from the morning.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

A band-winged grasshopper, well camouflaged on a sandbar left by this spring’s flooding. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/125 sec, f/16.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) …invasive but beautiful… Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/125 sec, f/16.
Variegated meadowhawk dragonfly. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec, f/16.
Orbweaver spider hiding on a blade of grass sticking up out of the water. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec, f/16.
Field mint (Mentha arvensis). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec, f/16.
Katydid on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/250 sec, f/14.
Grasshopper on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) near the above katydid. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/160 sec, f/16.
Some kind of big skinny fly? For now, I’ll call it the long-legged white-footed fly. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/160 sec, f/20.
Beggars-tick flowers on wetland edge. Nikon 10.5mm fish eye lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec, f/16.

Bonus Content:

If you’d like to see and read more about this wetland, here are a few links to older posts on the same site.

Some great trail camera videos by Karen Hemberger

Timelapse photos of the site from back around 2013

A story about a surprise excess of sludge that appeared during restoration

An update about the sludge as the site continued to mature

Lastly, here’s a feature on the site by Platte Basin Timelapse

This entry was posted in Uncategorized 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.

7 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – September 18, 2020

  1. So glad to read you are not removing the beavers from the habitat. Always fascinating to see them at work!

    thanks mark

    On Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 7:09 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” This week, I met up with producers Ethan Freese and > Grant Reiner from Platte Basin Timelapse. They were gathering footage for a > video project on Nebraska wetlands and we spent a couple hours wandering > through and talking about The Nature Conservancy’s D” >

  2. “I understand how people can view wetlands as stinky, mosquito- ridden swamps..”. Chris, you say you’d like to take them on a garden/wetland tour..
    I don’t have a macro or zoom camera to view the minutia of interesting bugs and plants, but do have an Extremely-Close Focusing Pentax binocular. It of course, zooms. This has helped me more easily appreciate my own native garden and the very small critters and plant life within without purchasing a camera with multiple lenses. I do get excited about the “wildlife” I find while I trudge around in the garden- much more than even my wife ! So, I still imagine it would be a challenge to turn on “non believers”. From a true believer..

  3. Without seeing more of the plant, the loosestrife photo looks like Winged loosestrife. Lythrum alatum. My research describes it as having a 4-angled stem. The flowers have six rose-pink petals textured like wrinkled tissue with a magenta central vein, which are fused at the base into a short tube. The flowers are borne singly or in pairs in the axils of the much reduced upper leaves. I was elated this summer to find this plant in Michigan where it has a 9 coefficient of conservatism.

    • Well, we do have both species here, but L. alatum generally has much smaller blossoms, as well as significantly smaller leaves, bracts, etc. This one was much bigger, matching what L. salicaria typically looks like. I won’t guarantee it, but I’m pretty confident. I will say that I wasn’t really studying the plant, just taking a quick photo, and that it looked like it has been browsed by deer, so regrowth from that might have been atypical in size…

PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.