Photos of the Week – June 3, 2021

Next Friday, June 11, I’ll be part of an event called “Ask a Land Manager”, in which we’re inviting people to submit questions to a panel of prairie land managers. In addition to me, the panel will include Mary Miller with The Nature Conservancy’s Ordway Prairie (South Dakota) and two of our former Hubbard Fellows/current TNC land managers, Olivia Schouten (Indiana) and Eric Chien (Minnesota). It should be a lot of fun.

If you’d like to attend the event, you can register either here or through Facebook here. The event starts at noon Central and we’d love for you to ask questions ahead of time to make sure we can get you the best answers possible. If we run out of time to get to all the questions, we’ll try to follow up with you later.

In other news…

I’ve been waiting all season for the shell leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus). We knew it was going to be a banner year for them last fall when we saw all the young plants scattered around in the hills. This is a plant that loves disturbance and was ready to pop after a couple years of fairly intense grazing in the hillier parts of a restored sand prairie (that area is getting a full year off from grazing this year). I spent about an hour with these flowers earlier this week – here are some of the photos I got.

The Derr House can be seen in the background of this photo, taken along one of the hiking trails at the Platte River Prairies. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 400, 1/1000 sec at f/16.
Ready to bloom. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, 1/400 sec at f/9.
Gorgeous blossoms. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/400 sec at f/11.
Does anyone else think these flowers look like they have rib cages? Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, 1/100 sec at f/40.
Every part of the plant is pretty. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec at f/18.
Bumble bees are big fans of penstemon. I think this one is a brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis). Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/16.

Bumble bees seem to really like shell leaf penstemon. They crawl all the way inside to feed from each one and then back themselves out again before flying to the next flower. They’re difficult to photograph because they move so quickly and abort their flower visit if they see a photographer approaching. I managed a couple photos by waiting for a bee to go inside a flower and then running up and trying to capture a quick shot as it emerged. I ended up with a lot of fuzzy yellow and black blurs, but got a couple sharp images too.

Another bumble bee (still B. griseocollis, I think) on another flower. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/16.
It’s really hard to capture the abundance of this flower, but this photo gives you some idea. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/16.
This tiny spiderling was making its way between blossoms on a line of silk. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/400 sec at f/13.
This was the showstopper photo of the day (year?) for me. This crab spider retreated inside a flower to feed on a fly it captured and then posed nicely while I photographed it. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec at f/18.
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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.

9 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – June 3, 2021

  1. The take away lesson on the Penstomen is disturbance is not bad, in fact some plants rely on it.

    I had one of the same Penstomen pop up in the gravel laid down by the excavators when our driveway was put in. Without the gravel being brought in all the soil around here is probably too high a quality for it to last long term and there is no significant disturbances unless I create them. Where it came from is a mystery, I have never seen one in the wild anywhere around here. I’m hoping it’ll be back and spread this year. There is very little to no competition in the gravel right now. Sad that its long term survival is poor unless I manage for it. But on the other hand there are plants that can not tolerate disturbance, I’ll keep an eye out for them.

  2. I just found some Penstomen at a city park today and thought it was cool to just learn about it and then see it mentioned in today’s post

  3. Great photographs of shell-leaf penstemon! I saw and photographed it at Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, near Valetine NE Endagered in NE and US, June 29, 2014. My photograph of it is far from the stunning ones you took, but I was thrilled to see it; I had never heard of it until I used various sources to identify it.
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  4. Chris, That penstemon is really beautiful and that last photo of the spider is excellent. You should try to submit it to a contest. It’s really fabulous. I’ve photographed 3 crab spiders holding bees. In fact, I was trying to capture a bumble photo in Oregon w my phone for ID but they were so fast. Then I saw one holding still and after I looked at the photo, I realized the bee was still bc a crab spider was holding it!!

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