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.)

Reminder – Land Manager Panel Discussion Tomorrow

This is just a quick reminder that we’ll be hosting a panel discussion of land managers from The Nature Conservancy tomorrow at noon Central. The panel will include Mary Miller from South Dakota, Eric Chien from Minnesota, and Olivia Schouten from Indiana, along with me. We will be answering audience questions and discussing land stewardship challenges.

If you’re interested, please register here. We’ve had quite a few questions submitted already, but if you want to submit one, you’re still welcome to do that. If we run out of time to get to all the submitted questions during the event, we’ll try to answer the rest later via email.

I hope to see you tomorrow!