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.
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.
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!
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!
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.