Photos of the Week – January 21, 2022

It’s been an interesting week. One of the reasons is that my two-year-old parody Roadside Wildflower Guide (full of blurry wildflower photos) has caught people’s attention on social media again. Somebody on Twitter came across it and their tweet got picked up on Instagram and Facebook and shared many times. As a result, I’ve been fielding questions all week from people asking whether I’m planning to make the guide into a physical book (no), but also telling me how much they enjoy it (thank you!).

That one goofy project has gotten way more attention than anything else I’ve ever done. I’ve joked with people this week that when I’m dead and gone all my thoughtful conservation work and crisp close-up photography will be forgotten – I’ll just be remembered as ‘that guy with the blurry flower pictures’. I guess as long as I’m remembered, I should be happy?

Anyway, today’s post… At the very end of 2021, Kim and I spent a few quiet and blissfully isolated days at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. While there, I ventured out multiple times with my camera, mostly along the edges of the Niobrara River and some small tributary streams. Before I could share photos from that trip, I got excited about ice bubbles on the restored wetland at the Platte River Prairies and shared photos of those instead. As a result, today’s post has photos from several weeks ago. It’s a hodge podge of ice and frost images. I’m sorry they’re not more blurry. I hope you enjoy them anyway.

The Norden Chute. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 100, f/22, 1/13 sec.

The Norden Chute is a well-known local landmark on the Niobrara River, located just upstream of the Norden Bridge in the middle of the Niobrara Valley Preserve. The chute is gorgeous, but I’ve always struggled a little with photos of it. Compositionally, if you’re standing down by the chute, it’s hard for me to find a way to avoid the water flowing out of the edge of the frame, rather than into the frame. That tends to make the resulting photos seem a little out of balance. Here, above and below, are two examples of that. I still like the images, but maybe you can see what I mean. It would be ideal to stand on the other (south) side of the river, but there isn’t a great place to stand there and all the action (shallow flowing water and patterns) is on the north side. Oh well.

The Norden Chute. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 100, f/22, 1/13 sec.
Patterns in the ice along the edge of the Norden Chute. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/14, 1/80 sec.
Small chunks of ice in the mud near the Norden Chute. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/80 sec.

Here’s a very short video clip of the water going over the falls at the Chute. The cascading water, with rafts of ice in it, was really mesmerizing to watch. The video captures some of that feeling, but I spent a long time just staring at it in real life.

Ice and flowing water in a small stream. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/16, 1/100 sec.
More ice and flowing water – in a different stream. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/9, 1/320 sec.
Raccoon track and ice on a stream bank. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/11, 1/100 sec.
Frosty grass along the edge of a stream. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/14, 1/60 sec.
Accumulated frost above the water along the edge of a stream. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/13, 1/200 sec.

I took lots of photos of the little ‘Christmas trees’ of frost (above) on emergent vegetation along the edge of a small stream. The stream was strongly groundwater fed, and so wasn’t frozen over, but that warmer water and the cold air combined to make some pretty fantastic frost on plants in and along its banks.

Ice and open water on a small stream. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 500, f/18, 1/60 sec.
A small opening in the frozen Niobrara River. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 500, f/20, 1/640 sec.

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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.

15 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – January 21, 2022

  1. Ha! Both of my sons, independently, Tweeted about your book. They included me because of my work on the Piedmont Prairies of the Southeast.


    Johnny Randall, PhD
    Director of Conservation
    North Carolina Botanical Garden
    CB 3375
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Chapel Hill NC 27599
    Cell – 919-923-0100
    Office – 919-962-2380

  2. During the short days and long nights of the season, thank you for today’s wonderful photos. Also, I have wanted to thank you for awhile, but especially today, for the tone and style of your blog that shares information and knowledge, not with an absolutism that can result in dueling monologues, but instead with a willingness to listen to others that results in productive and interesting exchanges where differing opinions are respected, sometimes challenged, but not attacked.

  3. Thank you. Again. I am in the “preference for focused photos” camp…:)

    On Fri, Jan 21, 2022 at 4:00 PM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” It’s been an interesting week. One of the reasons > is that my two-year-old parody Roadside Wildflower Guide (full of blurry > wildflower photos) has caught people’s attention on social media again. > Somebody on Twitter came across it and their tweet got pi” >

  4. As I’ve gotten older, I have increasingly wondered, from the critters perspective, what the return on investment is for activities associated with “raising awareness”. Has it led to more living space for them, or will we continue to be plagued with the reality that, while we can appreciate the depictions of life, economic forces inevitably drive land use changes that diminish living space for the critters because it is considered “acceptable collateral damage”? The only thing that matters from the critters perspective is that they have space to thrive, and most don’t have that space now. What is the best path for expanding, protecting, and sustaining that space? Are we making progress? I wonder.

  5. Chris,
    As always, your photos are incredible and the places you work are amazing. Thanks for sharing. The Niobrara Valley Preserve is one of my favorite places and I have spent considerable time mesmerized by the Chute. I’ve always wondered if anyone has measured the progression of the chute upstream over time? I suppose if anyone is aware of that it would be you. Thanks for all you do.

    • Thanks, Chad. A great way to look at the Chute is on Google Earth. In 1993, the falls were basically under the bridge, so that gives you a feel for its movement over time. It’s fun to use the slider bar in Google Earth to watch it shift upstream!

  6. Especially like the one of the tiny leaning Christmas tree/accumulated frost above the water. There’s a story in that. On a side note, I found my toes feeling cold while viewing these icy pics. What sort of footwear keeps you toasty in these conditions?

    • Thanks Bonnie, I hope today’s post (just published) will make you feel warmer instead of colder!

      I have a pair of insulated and waterproof Keen hiking/work boots that keep me pretty well protected from cold and wet during the winter. They’re especially handy when I get careless while stepping across frozen creeks and shallow wetlands an punch through. As long as I’m not wet above the high ankle, it doesn’t ruin my whole day!


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