Photos of the Week – January 29, 2021

We got about a foot of snow early this week. It’s a little more difficult to walk around in a prairie with snow that deep, especially without snow shoes (which I don’t have). The good thing is that, at least so far, the snow is still very fluffy. It’s a lot easier to walk through fluffy snow than crusty snow. With fluffy snow, you don’t have to lift your feet straight up out of the holes they made before swinging them forward. The biggest challenge with fluffy snow is to keep it out of your socks…

Ashley (Hubbard Fellow) and I met up on Wednesday to tramp around in the sandhills portion of the Platte River Prairies as the sun dropped toward the horizon. This her last official week as a Fellow, but she’s agreed to stick around for a couple more weeks to help train the two incoming Fellows who start on Monday. Our Wednesday evening hike was a nice opportunity to just explore – and photograph – together one last time before her Fellowship ends. I was only half thinking about photography, but managed to get a few reasonable shots anyway. Here are a few.

A gall (I think) on an unidentified plant just barely poking out of the snow. I’m pretty good with plant identification, but not good enough to ID this one from 1/2 inch of stem. At first I thought it might be a rose hip that just didn’t have much color, but I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of insect gall.
An empty stiff sunflower head catches the warm late day light. Last fall, this sunflower and its many colleagues provided a bounty of seeds for birds and small mammals to eat. All those seeds dropped, or were plucked out, long ago now.
Deer tracks (and bedding sites) were scattered across the prairie. Walking through deep snow has to be difficult for them too, though at least they have skinny little legs to pull through the fluff.
Photographing snowy prairie landscapes with clear blue skies can be difficult because a big empty space above a prairie is just not visually interesting. I tried to get low to the ground to get some vegetation (and the setting sun) to fill some of that empty space. …also I cropped this image to help even more…
This photo was taken just a few minutes after the one above, but look how much the light intensity changed. The first photo has sharply defined shadows and contrast between light and dark. The light in this image is much softer, reducing contrast substantially, even though the sun doesn’t look like it’s much lower in the sky. The bluish tone of the snow is very different too.
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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.

5 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – January 29, 2021

  1. This brings to mind an observation I made while up in Indiana two years ago. Heavy snows flatten the previous summer’s growth, making it much less prone to burning. On the Gulf Coast lightning fires are common in May and June despite the prairie being flush with green growth. It’s the previous year’s dead grass stalks (which don’t flower until July/August) that are dense and stick up above the green that carries the fire. Obviously something that doesn’t happen where snow flattens those stalks down.

    • i thought it was a capsule from something in the mallow family. Possibly it is from velvet leaf. Your explanation is more interesting.


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