Photos of the Week – May 11, 2023

I can feel the building momentum of spring. Wildflowers are becoming easier to find, landscapes are looking more green than brown, and we’ve even gotten a little rain.

Plant growth and blooming is still a few weeks behind what my brain tells me is ‘average’, assuming that means anything anymore. Weirdly, some of the grassland birds also seem slow to arrive. Upland sandpipers showed up last week and I finally saw my first grasshopper sparrow on Sunday. I’d been expecting to see both of those birds around the 3rd week of April. I have no explanation for why they might show up late. It’s not like they’re sending scouts ahead to check out the weather and growing conditions… Are they??

Regardless, the logjam seems to have broken and spring is now rushing forward.

I was at the Niobrara Valley Preserve for a very quick trip early this week. I gave the Fellows and Krystal, our new technician, a whirlwind tour of some preserve highlights. In about an hour, we saw bison, prairie dogs, and the view from the highest overlook above the river. I didn’t take any photos during that whole time. Sorry about that.

The next morning, though, I did manage a few shots of the Niobrara River as the light filtered through post-rain clouds.

Niobrara River and clouds at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 18-300mm lens @26mm. ISO 320, f/16, 1/160 sec.
Niobrara River and clouds at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Tamron 100-400mm lens @140mm. ISO 640, f/9, 1/400 sec.
Niobrara River, chairs, and clouds at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Nikon 18-300mm lens @30mm. ISO 320, f/16, 1/160 sec.


I also found a pincushion cactus about 20 steps away from the chairs in the above photo. It wasn’t blooming yet, but the spines almost looked like little flowers through the lens of my macro lens.

Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/60 sec.


On Wednesday, I snuck out to our family prairie for a quick check of the early grazing there. I was happy to see a coyote bouncing through the grass. I also heard a lot of thirteen-lined ground squirrels where cattle grazed most intensively last year, which should keep the badgers happy. Best of all, the reed canarygrass patches I sprayed last fall seem to have mostly died and the poison hemlock plants I spaded out last summer haven’t returned.

Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) was finishing up its flowering season and I saw more prairie violets (Viola pedatfiida) blooming than I think I’ve ever seen out there before. Four of those prairie violet plants were in the brand new prairie seeding we did last year, which was especially encouraging. Violet wood-sorrel (Oxalis violacea) was going strong in a few scattered patches and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) and woolly locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii) were just getting started.

Pussytoes and sky. Nikon 10.5 fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/160 sec.

I spent a little while scanning pussytoes for invertebrates. There were several little crab spiders hanging out on the flowers/seed heads. As always, I couldn’t pass up the chance to photograph them.

Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/11, 1/320 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/13, 1/250 sec.
Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/13, 1/1250 sec.

The other activity I noticed on the pussytoes flowers came in the form of (apparently?) foraging ants. I saw a couple different ants crawling up and down the flowers, sometimes multiple times. I couldn’t tell what they were looking for, if anything, and I don’t think I’ve noticed ants on pussytoes before. That doesn’t mean anything, of course, since plenty happens without me seeing it. I did wonder what the ants were searching for, though, and I don’t really have any answers.

Ant on pussytoes. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/11, 1/320 sec.
Another ant on pussytoes. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/13, 1/250 sec.

Prairie ragwort (Packera plattensis) just opened up this week and was starting to pull in some flies and other pollinators. And, of course, crab spiders were there too.

Prairie ragwort. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 640, f/11, 1/320 sec.
Crab spider and ragwort. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/14, 1/640 sec.
More ragwort. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 640, f/11, 1/1250 sec.

Fringed puccoon was still blooming, and seemed particularly abundant where cattle grazed last year. That might simply be because there was less vegetation to hide them. Either way, it was really nice to see them distributed across parts of the prairie that were farmed until being put back to grass in 1962. As I’ve talked about before, we’ve overseeded those areas over the years, and that’s slowly increasing plant diversity, but the puccoon is moving in on its own. Even better!

Fringed puccoon. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/500 sec.

Another season, another set of mysteries…

Why were the grasshopper sparrows so late to arrive? Why are prairie violets having such a good year in our prairie? What were those ants looking for on pussytoes flowers?

It’s going to be a good year.

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 11, 2023

  1. Hi Chris – Graet post as usual, really look forward to each. If I may ask – what was you treatment for the Reed Canary you mentioned last Fall? We have some troubling spots and I never seem to get an upper hand.

    Everything here is very late as well…we’re much further north (NW IA/SW MN border)…”think” I finally heard a Bobolink late yesterday – too windy and storm threatening today to verify yet.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Bruce,
      I’ve been using Clethodim for the last couple years and have been fairly happy with it. I’ve had good luck with Glyphosate too, but as the patches get smaller and more intermixed with other plants, I like Clethodim because it doesn’t kill sedges, rushes, or forbs. I’ve been treating in late September and have seen better luck (with both Clethodim and Glyphosate) with those fall treatments.

  2. I was pretty worried about the migrant birds late arrival this year. Been so very few of them too. Haven had any hummingbirds yet either. I did see a monarch butterfly today though!

  3. I just had to say that your beautiful photos of the Niobrara River remind me of the one selected for use in the USPS postage stamp issue, “Wild and Scenic Rivers” (2018). Thank you for all your work, in the field and on the blog!


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