Photos of the Week – October 8, 2021

Happy Friday, everyone! I wanted to start with another thank you to everyone who took the reader survey. As expected, the results were really helpful. I also really appreciate everyone who took the time to write additional comments – many were really touching and humbling.

Feel free to scroll quickly through these first few paragraphs, but I thought I’d quickly share a few high-level results, for anyone interested. First, 738 people responded – from 10 countries and 39 U.S. states. Unsurprisingly, Nebraska had the highest percentage of respondents (just under 20%) but Minnesota and Illinois were also high, followed by Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado. About half of you have been following the blog for at least 4 years, and more than 10% have been here longer than 7 years (Hi old friends!).

About 64% of respondents identified as either a landowner, land manager, or conservation professional. In addition, there were a lot of photographers, educators, and conservation volunteers, and ‘nature enthusiast’ was selected by over 85% of people (you could choose as many options as applied). When asked what you’d like to see more of, the top answers included stories about the natural history and ecology of prairies and species, as well as management and restoration information. That, in particular, was helpful to hear.

I gleaned much more from the results, but those are some of the highlights. Now, let’s get to photos…

Variegated meadowhawk dragonfly in dew. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/18 1/60 sec.

This week has brought some of the best weather of the year for my particular brand of prairie photography. Sunrise has come with calm winds and lots of dew, which means lots of stationary, sparkly insects, combined with the golden colors of autumn prairie. I got up for sunrise several times this week and was very glad I did. Today’s photos are all from Wednesday morning at the Platte River Prairies. Click on any photo to see a bigger version of it.

The same dragonfly in different light. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/18 1/125 sec

Right before the sun rose on Wednesday, I was scanning one of our restored prairies for anything that would look good backlit against the sun when it popped up. I was hoping for dragonflies and managed to find one just in time. It was a variegated meadowhawk – probably a migrant roosting overnight on its southward journey. I circled it several times as the light hit it, changing lenses and perspectives as I went. These are just a few of the resulting images.

This is one of my favorite shots of the year so far, I think. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 800, f/22, 1/400 sec.
Tokina 11-20mm lens @20mm. ISO 800, f/22, 1/250 sec.

After I ran out of ideas for photographing that dragonfly, I moved on, looking for more. Along the way, since I had still had my wide-angle lens on, I tried to capture the autumn prairie itself. At least I did until I started finding more insects…

Canada wild rye against the green/golden background of autumn prairie. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 800, f/18, 1/125 sec.
Pitcher sage and sunrise. Tokina 11-20mm lens @16mm. ISO 800, f/18, 1/250 sec.
More pitcher sage. Tokina 11-20mm lens @20mm. ISO 800, f/22, 1/250 sec.
I wasn’t exclusively photographing dragonflies. I also found spiders, bees, flies, stink bugs, and this tree cricket. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/16 1/200 sec.

Eventually, I found six more dragonflies, and stopped to photograph three of them. In addition to variegated meadowhawks, I found what I’m pretty sure are autumn meadowhawks. They are late season dragonflies and suspected of being migrants, but I don’t think that’s been confirmed yet. They sure are gorgeous.

Autumn meadowhawk (I think). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/14 1/100 sec.
Another autumn meadowhawk. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/16 1/200 sec.
Last shot of that final autumn meadowhawk. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, f/13 1/400 sec.

It’s getting to be the time of year when hard freezes are a possibility, so I feel a kind of low-level desperation to get out as much as I can before the dormant season starts. We’re trying to rake in as many seeds as we can too, so there are multiple reasons for me to be in the field a lot. I hope you’re all finding some time to enjoy the autumn wherever you are too (in at least 10 countries and 39 states, apparently!).

Be well.

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.

11 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – October 8, 2021

  1. It is well worth the click to see the bigger images. I remember taking several dew-kissed foliage shots in Boise a few years ago, and they are some of my most treasured images. Recently, I was birding one morning, and I spied a garden spider on her web, gilded with dew. I caught her and her creation with my bird camera. I will never get tired of these images. Thank you.

  2. Good timing! before the sun gets too high and the insects are still cold and slow. The dew on the first autumn meadow hawk pic looks like frost. Beautiful.

  3. Chris, I started reading your blog after the fire on TNC IN Brown county Nebraska. I am a neighbor of the nature Conservancy. You had cameras that we’re going to reveal time lapse of a drainage after the fire. I’d be very interested to see some of those photographs weeks months years after the fire. Our ranch, the TNT, across the river from the nature Conservancy suffered severely during the fire. We lost 90% of our timber.

  4. Hey there neighbor!

    We ran those timelapse cameras for about 3 or 4 years, so I don’t have anything really recent to share for photos from those cameras, but I’m sure you’re seeing similar things on your land to what we’re seeing on our areas north of the river. Lots of sumac spreading around, oaks resprouting well, not much pine regeneration, and now starting to see some cedars coming back. I’d be happy to send you recent photos from that area that aren’t timelapse images if you want – just let me know. You can email me directly at chelzer@tnc.org

    We’re trying to figure out how to get some of the pines back without allowing cedars to rampage back again, and how to balance the sumac growth so it doesn’t get big enough that we can’t burn through those slopes to control cedars. It’s an interesting set of challenges for sure! I hope you’re doing well and figuring out your own set of challenges too. Please reach out if you want to discuss ideas or just commiserate.

  5. Howdy Chris:
    Your favorite dragonfly photo was definitely mine, too.
    And thanks so much for that nicely crisp photo of the unsung tree cricket. That adjective is both a statement about how well known they are, and a bit of a pun. I wonder if we should make a quiz as to what’s punny about it?

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