Photos of the Week – May 27, 2022

Here are some photos from last weekend. Spring is progressing quickly and early wildflowers are already producing seed.

The first two photos show woolly locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii) at our familiy prairie. There’s just one small patch of this species and I visit it every year to gauge its slow expansion. Some years it doesn’t bloom, or produces just a few flowers. This year is the biggest and most florally-abundant the patch has been. It’s still only about 3 feet in diameter, but progress is progress. I photographed the flowers with three different lenses but will restrict myself to just two of the images.

Woolly locoweed – Helzer family prairie. Nikon 18-300mm lens @300mm. ISO 500, f/9, 1/800 sec.

Watching this kind of incremental improvement in plant diversity and abundance is one of the most gratifying parts of restoring a site over many years. Other species are spreading across the site too (moving out of small unplowed remnants into the larger prairie, most of which was farmed and then reseeded to grass in 1962). Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre), prairie violet (Viola pedatifida), American vetch (Vicia americana) and ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) are four examples I’ve been watching so far this spring. Also, as an aside, I don’t believe I’ve ever typed the word ‘Sisyrinchium’ without having to look up the spelling. It’s very annoying.

Woolly locoweed – Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/200 sec.

Last weekend, I also made a morning visit to Gjerloff Prairie and caught up on the spring progression there. I saw quite a few bees, but didn’t photograph any of them, but did manage to photograph a few of the abundant flies (lots of different species). I played around for a while with a population scarlet gaura (Oenothera suffrutescens) – a species I’ve yet to find on our family prairie. The first photo below shows a backlit fly perched on top of the plant but also illustrates the cool feature of the flowers, which start out white and then turn red as they age.

Scarlet gaura at Gjerloff prairie. Not the newest flowers (top) that are white and the older wilting flowers that have turned red. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/9, 1/1000 sec.
Here’s another shot of scarlet gaura showing only the pink flower color. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/10, 1/3200 sec.
Tiny fly on a prairie ragwort flower (Packera plattensis). Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox dcr-250 macro attachment. ISO 320, f/16, 1/60 sec.

It was moderately breezy at Gjerloff prairie, which made flower photography a little challenging initially. As the sun rose higher, its brightness made things even more difficult. I spent a lot of time following the edges of the shadows cast by hills and photographed seed heads of ragwort and prairie dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata). The trick was to get the camera and tripod set up while the flowers/seeds were still in shadow and then take photos as the sunlight just started to kiss them and before it got too bright. Here are four of my favorites from that little game.

Prairie ragwort seeds. Nikon 105mm macro lens with Raynox dcr-250 macro attachment. ISO 320, f/16, 1/80 sec.
Prairie dandelion seed. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/80 sec.
More prairie dandelion seeds. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/125 sec.
Still more prairie dandelion seeds. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/18, 1/125 sec.

As I type this, I’m itching to get out to our family prairie on this Friday afternoon because I just bought some crop oil so I can do some basal bark treatment on a bunch of little honey locust trees that are starting to annoy me. I still haven’t figured out what birds are eating/moving those seeds around but I wish they’d stop it. Birds have to at least one vehicle for the seeds because a lot of the trees get started in fencelines where (presumably?) the birds are dropping or pooping them out. But what bird species are doing that? Bobwhites? The seeds are awfully big for songbirds.

Regardless, I’m off to fight back against the invasion. Enjoy your weekend!

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.

7 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – May 27, 2022

  1. Nice pics. Hey, at least ‘Sisyrincium’ is a scientific word. I have to look up ‘dachshund’ every time I use it, which is often, because I have two of them! Wishing you a good holiday weekend…

  2. Any granivorous or seed-eating bird, quail size or larger, could be eating those locust seeds. However, if a bird eats them as a food source, they would be ground up in the gizzard and no longer viable. It would need to be an animal large enough to eat the pods for energy and swallow the seeds whole, and have a digestive system that could pass the seeds undamaged. Cattle or bison would come to mind initially.

  3. Hey Chris,

    Your Sisyrinchium is missing an “h”. Didn’t want to point it out in your blog post comments.

    Take care, Suzanne Tuttle

    “It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.” – Cheryl Strayed ________________________________

  4. I saw some monarch butterflies yesterday (May 31). They were nectaring on my alternate leaved butterfly bush. It blooms only in this time of year, rather than in mid-summer. It’s not native and kind of a mess since you need old growth for the blooms. I only keep it for the monarchs because there is so little else for them at this time of year (north migration).

    What’s blooming in the prairies now that they would use for a nectar source?


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