Photos of the Week – February 18, 2021

As extremely frigid temperatures finally slipped away yesterday, the two new Hubbard Fellows (stay tuned for introductions next week) and I spent some time exploring restored prairie and wetlands. Our Platte River Prairies land steward, Cody, joined us for a while too. We had a grand old time wandering and discussing prairie ecology and restoration. When we came across a wetland slough that looked particularly attractive, we switched topics, got cameras out, and started talking about photography.

This half-frozen wetland slough held a mystery. What made the long trails through the snow and slushy ice? The trails were roughly 2 1/2 or 3 inches wide. None of the scenarios we discussed seemed to fit. Also, the edge of the wetland on the right side of this photo was the location for the frozen bubble images below. Nikon D7100 camera with Tokina 11-20mm lens @ 11mm. ISO 250, f/11, 1/500 sec.

I assume the the water in the slough was still mostly unfrozen because it was being actively fed by slowly flowing groundwater. Even so, after a week of temperatures hovering below zero, I was surprised to see patches of slush and open water.

As we neared the slough, we watched a pheasant sneak into a patch of cattails, hunched over and doing its best to avoid attention. For fun, I went over to see if I could flush it out, but the only result was that my feet got wet when I stomped into the cattails and punched right through the thin ice. Serves me right.

These frozen bubbles reminded me of pebbles in a mosaic. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/60.

Over the next half hour or so, the Fellows acquainted themselves with the camera, lenses, and tripod each was assigned as part of their fellowship. Trying to remain accessible for questions but giving them some space to experiment on their own, I started exploring the edge of the wetland with my own camera. Soon, I was kneeling down to photograph frozen bubbles floating in small patches of open, adding wet knees as a complement to my already soggy feet. Frozen bubbles though!

Frozen bubbles and crystals of snow/frost along the edge of the wetland. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/60.
More frozen bubbles, with a wetland rush as an accent. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/29, 1/50.
Here’s a lucky series. As I was photographing these bubbles, one of them popped and I was able to capture a timelapse of the event! Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/80.

I probably could have kept photographing frozen bubbles for another half hour or more, but we had more exploring to do. We did some winter plant identification, followed and tried to interpret tracks in the snow, discussed unexplained patterns of plant establishment across the site, and generally enjoyed tromping around in the deep snow. Goldenrod galls, leftover spirals of dodder flowers on sunflower stems, a cluster of deer bed sites, and tracks of sparrows around ragweed plants were just a few of our sightings. Toward the end of the hike, I got more of my body wet when I threw myself prone on the ground to photograph a cache of Canada wildrye seeds left by a foraging mouse of some kind. In other words, it was a great afternoon!

A mouse of some kind had been busily collecting (and maybe eating?) Canada wildrye seeds. This was one of two piles of seeds we found in the snow, surrounded by many many tracks. Tokina 11-20mm lens @ 11mm. ISO 250, f/22, 1/125 sec.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed stories this week about how they first encountered or fell in love with prairies. If you’d like to share, please add yours to the comment section of my previous post. Regardless of whether you include your own story, I’d encourage everyone to go back and what others wrote. I’ve enjoyed reading all of them. Thanks again.

Lastly, best wishes to all of you struggling with the cold this week. I hope your local temperatures are rising like ours are.

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.

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