Photos of the Week – June 11, 2021

Last week, I shared photos from some big patches of shell leaf penstemon. This week, I’m sharing photos I took from some patches of prairie larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) just across the road. As I was collecting data from one of our restored prairies this week, I kept coming across patches of larkspur and it was hard not to stop and photograph both the flowers and all the creatures hanging around them.

While I was enjoying the larkspur patches, I also enjoyed thinking back to when that same site was a corn field. One of things I’m most proud of in my career has been the work I’ve done with prairie restoration. The site where these larkspur plants were growing was planted in 2002 with seeds from more than 200 species of prairie and wetland seeds. I harvested many of those seeds with my own hands and planted all of them myself on a cold winter day. Twenty years later, I get to wander around and watch bumblebees, crab spiders, jack rabbits, and many other creatures interacting with each other and the plant community that came from that seed.

Above, a crab spider is poised to ‘interact’ with smaller pollinators coming to visit this larkspur flower.

This bumble bee and its colleagues (American bumble bee, aka Bombus pensylvanicus) were so enamored of these flowers they mostly ignored my presence. They would land low on a plant and then work their way up the flower stalk, moving from blossom to blossom. Then they’d fly to the next plant – but they didn’t always land on it. The bees seemed to have a system for quickly evaluating whether the plant was one they wanted to hit. Were they somehow checking if other bees had already drained the nectar?

Evaluating the success of our restoration work involves much more, of course, than just enjoying the flowers, bees, and spiders within a planted area. The data I was collecting helps us track the plant diversity and success of individual plant species over long periods of time. Even more importantly, though, we’re trying to look at how well the restored prairie works to enlarge and reconnect the previously fragmented patches of remnant (unplowed) prairie adjacent to it. That’s the most important measure of success. We’re not trying to make flower gardens, we’re trying to defragment the landscape. (It’s still really cool to look at the flowers, bees, and spiders though.)

(Word Press is still not allowing me to add captions to photos. “We’re working on it…” So, I apologize for not adding the camera settings for these images as I usually do on my ‘Photos of the Week’ posts. All the photos here were taken with a 105mm macro lens except the last two, which were taken with a 10.5mm fisheye lens. I had to get within a couple inches of the bees with that fisheye lens, but they seemed completely absorbed in their work and didn’t shy away from me.)

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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 11, 2021

  1. Great photos, as always. My immediate thought is either those are tiny little flowers, or that is one good sized bumble bee!

  2. I believe you’re right in that pollinating insects can actually know if other bees have already drained the nectar; probably by sensing a change in the scent and/or color.
    It’s obvious when observing that bumble bees etc. don’t waste any time!

      • I ran into Chad G on Sunday and we talked about how gratifying it is to see your labors develop into such beautiful spots loaded with diversity, and how hard it is to describe that to interns because they weren’t around to see what the place used to look like. Do you find yourself with a series of “before” photos you routinely show interns and maybe naysayers to illustrate what changes have occurred over time at PRP to convince them this work is worth it?

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