Quality Time

I was at the Niobrara Valley Preserve for two different events last week.  The first was a fantastic two day meeting/tour with university scientists that defined the likely focus of our primary research effort over the next several years.  The second was much more impactful – I spent two days with my 17 year old son.  We didn’t have much of an agenda for the two days, other than to kayak the Niobrara River on day two.  Apart from that, we were free to wander the prairie, splash in the river, or just hang out anywhere and anytime we felt like it.  It was pretty glorious.

As we were driving into the Niobrara Valley Preserve, we spotted a small group of bison from the road and drove over to take a look.  They were hanging around a low area that was clearly a well-used dusting area.

We parked close by, sat quietly, and just watched them.  After a while, the bison got pretty comfortable with our presence, with several coming over to lick the mineral deposits (I assume) off the side of the truck.

John is the only one of our kids who hasn’t floated the Niobrara River, so that clearly needed to be remedied.  More importantly, I was really looking forward to spending some quality time with my son before he enters his senior year of high school and prepares to go off to college.  John and I have similar senses of humor, though he’s usually a little quicker off the mark than I am.  He’s also brilliant at math and engineering, knowledgeable and opinionated about current events, passionate about soccer, and has matured over the last few years into an independent and responsible human being.  I’m incredibly proud of him.  (Also, he will probably read this, so I’m saying only nice things about him.)

When we drove up to the small group of bison at the beginning of our visit to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, I was worrying about how to keep John engaged and happy during our two days.  He’s a kid who is comfortable in the outdoors, but not necessarily someone who seeks out or finds inner peace when surrounded by nature.  When I first asked him if he wanted to spend a couple days at NVP with me, he said, “sure, as long as we can DO things.”  No pressure, Dad…

After about ten minutes of bison watching, with just a little quiet conversation about what they were doing and why, we lapsed into a long silence.  Concerned that he was bored, I asked John if he wanted to move on to something else.  “No,” he replied, “I like bison.  We can stay for a while longer.”  About twenty minutes later, the bison started wandering off over the next hill, and we drove off in the opposite direction toward a prairie dog town.

After watching the bison, we decided to go check out a small prairie dog town along the south end of the bison pasture.

My typical experience with prairie dog towns is that I get to see lots of prairie dogs from a distance, but they disappear into their holes well before I get into easy visual range.  One of the few exceptions to that came a couple years ago when I visited this same prairie dog town with my daughter.  As we drove into the town last week, I assumed the worst, and my expectations were confirmed by the first twenty or so dogs we saw – each of which squeaked and dove into their burrows as we approached.

The twenty-first prairie dog, however, hesitated, and as we inched a little closer, stayed alert but aboveground, along with one of its pups.  We slide quietly to a stop and watched them for a little bit.  After a few minutes, I moved the truck up even closer so John could get some better photos with his phone, and while the pup got nervous and left, the mother stuck around.  While we sat there, we also spotted a burrowing owl and a fledgling horned lark.

Most prairie dogs dove for cover long before we got close, but this one stayed aboveground long enough for us to get a good look at it.

Usually, when I’m at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, I try to maximize every minute of my time.  It’s over four hours away from my home, so it’s an effort to get there, and I always feel pressured to get as much done as I can during each trip.  As a result, I rarely have time to just relax and take whatever comes.  After John and I finished watching bison and prairie dogs, and it was clear that John was enjoying the laid back trip, I began to relax and sink into the bliss of some agenda-less time with my kid.  We decided to go see if we could find a small creek to explore.

We found the spot where this little creek flowed right out of the sand and started on its way through a wooded draw and down to the Niobrara River.

On the way to find the creek, we ran across a bigger group of bison and decided to launch the drone and get some footage for my slowly-growing video library.  John is a fan of the drone, but we only flew it for a little while before we moved on.  After all, this wasn’t a work trip.  We eventually stopped along the edge of the bluffs above the river and walked down into a draw that looked like a good place to find a stream.  Sure enough, we started to hear flowing water as we descended, and we found a cold clear creek and walked upstream until we saw where it was seeping right out of the ground.

Later that evening, we met up with a couple other friends who happened to be at NVP at the same time, and the four of us splashed around in the river for a while before playing cards and going to bed.  It was a good first day, but the main reason John had come was to kayak the river, and we needed to get up (fairly) early the next day to beat the crowd to the water.

Finally – the part of the trip John was really waiting for.

The next morning, we got to Rock Barn Outfitters and got a ride upriver to our drop off point, where we slid the kayaks into the water.  It was a Friday, and I was a little concerned that we might have to weave through early weekend tubers sharing the river with us, but while the scattered campgrounds along the river were full of people, we spent five hours on the water without seeing any tubers, canoers, or other kayakers.  It was perfect.

I made John stop and walk up to see Stairstep Falls, one of many waterfalls on the north side of the river (on land owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy).

We floated about 14 miles in five hours, stopping a few times to hike, swim, or eat lunch.  During the entire trip, the Niobrara Valley Preserve was to our right, helping to give John a feel for the immense size of the 56,000 acre property.  In fact, we only saw about half of the Preserve’s river frontage that day.  As we slipped quietly downriver, we also saw quite a few bald eagles, along with great blue herons, spotted sandpipers, dragonflies, frogs, and other animals.

It wasn’t all quiet and contemplative nature watching, though.  There were also a few kayak races, which included quite a bit of pushing, shoving, and splashing.  In addition, John was really hoping to paddle through some rapids, and while I tried to temper his expectations, the river was running pretty high and we did manage to find a fair number of (mild) whitewater stretches.  We also found a nice, quiet, and relatively deep stretch of river where he hopped into the water and just floated/swam downstream while I held onto his kayak for him.  I think we checked all his boxes for the day.

This was one of many short stretches of mild whitewater.  Most were rough enough to splash a little water into the kayaks, but not really enough to do much else.

Toward the end of the trip, we went through the Egelhoff rapids, where the entire river squeezes tightly into a very narrow run.  We got out and scouted it ahead of time, and then decided it was safe enough to paddle through.  I went first and then got out to watch John come through.

This might have been the best part of the day – we just floated slowly through a deep and gentle stretch of river, with John cooling off and relaxing in the water while I babysat the kayaks and tried not to float too far ahead.

We had a pretty quiet ride home after we got off the river.  John, as usual, slept through most of it.  I was pretty tired too, but also grateful for the opportunity to share one of my favorite places with one of my favorite people. Hopefully, John will remember the trip fondly as he goes off to become an engineer.  And hopefully, he’ll come back and float the river with me again sometime.

If you’re interested in visiting the Niobrara River Valley, here’s a good website that describes the National Scenic River and some of the choices available.  While you’re there, you can stop and hike the public trail at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  We don’t (yet) offer public tours of the bison herd or prairie dog town, but the hiking trail (just south of the river bridge on the road between Johnstown and Norden) provides some great overlooks of the river, and a chance to wander through many of the different ecosystems found in the valley.

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2018 Grassland Restoration Network, September 5 and 6 – Register Now!

It’s time again for and annual Grassland Restoration Network – one of my favorites.  If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve read about the workshops and some of the lessons I’ve gleaned from them.   If you’re active in prairie restoration – especially as a strategy for conservation – you would probably enjoy attending.  This will be a rare year in which I won’t be able to make the workshop, which is a bummer, but it sounds like it will be a great one.  It’s being held September 5 and 6, and is hosted this year by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory – about an hour west of Chicago.

If you’re interested, you can read more details and find a link for registration HERE.

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Photo of the Week – July 13, 2018

You know how you can look at something for years and still not see every aspect of it?  I was walking through Lincoln Creek Prairie this week, stretching my legs after photographing for my square meter project, when I came upon a couple big patches of Illinois tick clover (Desmodium illinoense).  There weren’t any active flowers on the plants, and I was about ready to move on after just a quick glance when I spotted something white along one of the stems.  Upon a closer look, I could see it was a moth, and it seemed to be plastered up against the plant.

This white moth seemed to be stuck on the stem of this Illinois tick clover plant.

As I inspected the moth more closely, it was clearly dead, and appeared to be essentially glued to the stem.

Here is the same moth, photographed from a different angle. Here you can see the abdomen stuck to the stem, and the mess it apparently made as it struggled to escape.

Now, I’ve known that tick clover plants (and especially their seeds) can be sticky, but I always ascribed that to the tiny stiff (and sometimes hooked) hairs covering them.  I sure wouldn’t have thought those hairs could catch and hold an insect.  However, as I looked more closely at the hairs on this plant, there were little tiny droplets of clear sticky fluid at the tip of each hair.  How can I have spent 25 years or more looking at prairie plants and not noticed that?  I looked online and in my copy of the Flora of Nebraska book and didn’t find any reference to those droplets in either place, but surely other people know of this.  I’ll have to look harder.  In the meantime…

…as I looked at nearby plants, I saw lots more dead or dying insects glued to them.  The most common of those were lightning bugs, followed by Japanese beetles.

Lightning bugs were the most abundant of the insects I found stuck to tick clover stems. I must have seen at least 20 within a few minutes.

Japanese beetles (invasive species) were also a common victim of the sticky tick clover plants. This one appeared to have become stuck on a leaf, so I guess it’s not just the stems that have adhesive qualities.

I’ve written before about insects getting stuck to the bracts beneath thistle flowers and discussed the possibility that the sticky bracts helped keep ants and other non-flying nectar thieves from stealing floral resources.  Do tick clovers do the same thing?  If so, why haven’t I noticed?

This little gnat (midge? something else? I can’t see the antennae) was the smallest insect victim I found.  If you click on this photo you can zoom in and see the droplets on the tips of the hairs.

This mosquito lost its life when it apparently tried to take a rest break on this tick clover plant.

This picture-winged fly was still struggling when I found it.

I’m really curious to know if others have noticed insects losing their lives to tick clover plants, and whether or not it happens with other Desmodium species.  Does the plant produce the sticky droplets of liquid throughout its growth period, or just when it is flowering?  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

Thanks for any help.

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Field Day in the Platte River Prairies – July 21, 2018

If you’re in the area, please consider joining us at the Platte River Prairies on Saturday July 21 for a special event.  We’re combining our bi-weekly volunteer work day with our annual Field Day, during which participants can join a number of hikes and educational sessions.  You can help us harvest seed for our prairie restoration work or just enjoy the various session topics during the day – or both!  If you’d like to help harvest seed, it would be helpful to bring work gloves and heavy scissors/garden shears, but we will have supplies as well.

This event is free of charge and open to the public.  Please bring your own lunch, and RSVP by July 19th so that we have enough supplies.  RSVP and get directions from Mardell at mjasnowski@tnc.org or by phone at (402) 694-4191.

Here is a schedule for the day (subject to change):

Session Descriptions:

Seed Harvest – Help us with our prairie restoration efforts by hand-picking seeds.  These seeds will be used to enhance the plant diversity of prairies that have been degraded by a history of overgrazing and/or broadcast herbicide use.

Bird walk/dickcissel research talk – Join Chelsea Forehead, a UNO graduate student, on a walk through the prairies.  Learn about grassland bird ecology and identification, including Chelsea’s current research project on the interaction between brown-headed cowbirds, dickcissels, and perch site availability.

Prairie ecology tour – Chris Helzer will lead a hike through the prairie, discussing ecology, fire/grazing management, prairie restoration, and whatever the group stumbles upon during the walk.  The morning and afternoon hikes will pass through different habitats, so feel free to join both!

Insect sweep netting – Sweep netting in prairies is a lot like snorkeling in the ocean.  From the surface, you’d never know how much life is actually there.  Grab a net and discover (and learn about) the incredible diversity of invertebrates found in prairies.

Plant identification hike – Join Olivia Schouten (Hubbard Fellow) on a walk and learn how to identify common prairie plants.

Botanical/Landscape Sketching – Alex Brechbill (Hubbard Fellow) will lead a session in which participants will sketch, paint, or otherwise depict the landscape or portions of it.  Bring your own art supplies if you like, or we will provide some basic sketching supplies.

Abundant rainfall this year has brought on abundant wildflowers in the Platte River Prairies. Please come hike through the prairies with us on July 21.

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Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Olivia Contemplates Poop

This post is by Olivia Schouten, one of this year’s Hubbard Fellows.  In this post, she writes about the importance of bison and cattle dung in prairie ecosystems – a topic you might not think much about on a daily basis.

When walking through a prairie, or anywhere for that matter, I think most people tend to avoid piles of refuse left behind by critters. While not the most pleasant things to encounter, smell, or step in, scat is an essential part of any ecosystem that many creatures are more than happy to encounter, and in many cases specifically seek out.

While conducting flowering plant surveys at our Niobrara Valley Preserve, I walked through an area of the pasture recently visited by the bison herd and found a couple of organisms making use of the bison pies. First, I found an ornate box turtle square in my path, digging furiously into a half-dried bison pie. Its long, sharp claws efficiently broke away chunks of the pie, revealing to the turtle beetles and other invertebrates attracted to the scat for their own purposes. I think I even heard a crunch when the turtle found something tasty amongst the poo. Considering the number of piles left behind by the bison, I realized just how great a resource these bison pies are to animals like this turtle, as they attract a buffet for easy pickings.

This ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata) was busy digging in the bison poop when I found it, but once it noticed me hid away in its shell.  Photo by Olivia Schouten

Not long after moving on from the turtle, I found some critters making use of the actual bison scat. Dung beetles are iconic coprophages (excrement eaters), rolling their balls of poop along to feed their larvae, and we have several of our own species right here in Nebraska! These common tumblebugs (Canthon pilularius) had excavated a nice round ball of bison pie, ready to be transported!

This tumble bug was one of three diligently working to make this ball of dung. Photo by Olivia Schouten

Tumblebugs are just one of several species of scarab we have here in Nebraska that make use of animal excrement in much the same way. This colorful rainbow scarab (Phanaeus vindex) visited a cow pie here at the Platte River Prairies.

I managed to get a few pictures of this rainbow scarab before it decided it’d had enough of me and flew away.  Photo by Olivia Schouten

Here is a very short video clip of the box turtle and tumblebugs feeding.

So next time you come across a pile of poo, consider stopping for a look! You never know what interesting things you’ll find!

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Photo of the Week

Last week, I posted some drone photos of the Niobrara Valley Preserve from the air.  The sun popped out of the clouds just as it was nearing the horizon and provided some great light for those images.  As I was packing the drone away, I kept an eye on the sky, and it looked like there might be some nice post-sunset color on the way, so I scrambled up the hill to my favorite sunset spot at the Preserve.  For the most part, I get pretty easily bored by sunset photos, so it takes a pretty spectacular night to get my camera out of the bag.  That night qualified as spectacular.

Image #1. This was one of the first shots I took that night.  Tokina 12-28mm lens (at 12mm) ISO320, Aperture 16, Shutter 1/100.

Over about a 15 minute period, I worked back and forth across the top of a ridge overlooking the Niobrara River, trying various angles and perspectives.  The color and texture of the clouds was fantastic, but I knew the color would fade quickly.  After I got back and sorted through the images, I had a hard time narrowing down my favorites.  Nearly two weeks later, I still couldn’t decide on just one (or even two) shots to share with you.  Instead, I chose a selection of four images from various angles and with different lenses. If you have a strong favorite, feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.  At this point, I like all of them for different reasons.  I also like about 10 more, but I had to cut something…

I’m presenting these photos in the order they were taken.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that the color tone changed incrementally over the 15 minute period.  You might also notice that each successive photo was taken with a longer focal length.  Part of that was me playing with different ideas, but the color was also receding into a smaller and smaller portion of the sky, so I was matching that with focal length changes.

Image #2. Tokina 12-28mm lens (at 25mm). ISO 320, Aperture 7, Shutter 1/125.

Image #3. Tokina 12-28mm lens (at 28mm). ISO 320, Aperture 8, Shutter 1/80.

Image #4. Nikon 28-300mm lens (at 170mm). ISO 320, Aperture 7, Shutter 1/60.

It’s pretty hard not to take attractive photos at a place like the Niobrara Valley Preserve, especially when the sky does its part to add to the scenery.  One of the hardest parts of working up there is keeping my camera in its bag long enough to get some other work done!

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Square Meter of Prairie Project – June 2018

Another month has passed, and I’ve managed to carve out some more time staring at the little square meter of prairie I’m photographing this year.  In June, activity really picked up as lead plant (Amorpha canescens) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) started blooming within the plot.  However, there was plenty to photograph besides just those species and the many insects they attracted.  I continue to be inspired by the diversity of life I’m finding in a very small plot of land.  Hopefully, I can pass along some of that inspiration, both during these periodic updates and when I somehow assemble all of this at the end of the project.  Here are just a few of the photos taken during June within one single square meter of Lincoln Creek Prairie in Aurora, Nebraska.

I’ve seen quite a few beetles in the plot, including several different species during June. Thanks to Bugguide.net, this one has been identified as Coleothorpa dominicana, in case you’re interested.

This is a completely different gray beetle, and I don’t know what it is, but there were several in the plot late in June.

This beautiful orange beetle (Anomoea sp.) was on a lead plant flower, just as it was starting to bloom.

I don’t know what these little beetles are, but they’ve been in the plot every time I’ve visited during the last month or so. They were usually (maybe always?) on Maximilian sunflower.

I was really glad to see butterfly milkweed blooming. I assumed it would attract quite a few insects, both pollinators and insects that feed on the foliage. So far, I’ve actually seen very few insects on butterfly milkweed. Maybe that’ll change soon, but it’ll have to be quick because the flowering period is wrapping up.

The tiny blossoms of lead plant are especially beautiful when seen up close.

Mike Arduser informs me that this bee species is Andrena quintilus, a specialist feeder on lead plant.

This wasp was only a brief visitor to the plot, but it stuck around long enough to be photographed.

This long-horned beetle was eating the pollen, and probably other parts of the lead plant flowers.  While beetles like this can help pollinate flowers, they also damage them, so they’re probably not the intended audience from the flower’s standpoint.

During the last couple weeks, invasive Japanese beetles have invaded the prairie, including my little plot. This one was denuding a lead plant flower stalk.

At any one time, there must be close to 100 ants in my little plot, and there are several different species. This is one of the bigger ones.

About a week after I got my first ever photos of a lynx spider (not inside my plot, but nearby) I found this one INSIDE my plot, and it sat nicely for me.

There are lots of different fly species that hang around the plot, but this is one of the smallest.

Just a few minutes after I photographed the lynx spider, I spotted it again (or another just like it), this time with one of those tiny flies in tow.

This metallic-looking jumping spider ALMOST stayed in the same place long enough for a photo. Even at 1/125 second shutterpeed, I wasn’t able to freeze the movement of this quick little bugger.

About a week after missing the first jumping spider photo, I finally got the same (?) spider to sit still long enough to capture this image.

There are two milkweed plants in my plot -butterfly milkweed and common milkweed – but this long-horned milkweed beetle wasn’t on either of them. It was on Maximilian sunflower, at least when I saw it.

This might be my proudest capture of this project to date, but only because I’ve seen lots of pearl crescent butterflies come into and through my plot, but most of them took off well before I got within photo range. For this photo, I had to stalk very carefully (and get really lucky).

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Photo of the Week – June 29, 2018

We spent a productive week at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week, collecting a mountain of data.  Five of us spent our days scrambling across the Sandhills, counting flowering plants, quantifying milkweed populations, and estimating habitat cover.  As always, we got to observe far more than what we were focusing on for science.  We saw bald eagles, box turtles, a couple different snakes, pronghorn, mice, bird nests, families of northern bobwhites and sharp-tailed grouse, countless kinds of invertebrates, and much more.  It was an exhausting, but fulfilling week.

The science crew for this week. From left to right: Alex Brechbill and Olivia Schouten (Hubbard Fellows), Amanda Hefner (Conservation Assistant at NVP), and Katharine Hogan (former Hubbard Fellow and current PhD student at the U of Nebraska-Lincoln).

The above photo shows the kind of energy our crew had, though it was also taken just as the week was starting.  Hot sun, wet grass, and lots of massive poison ivy patches eventually knocked their enthusiasm down a notch or two, but we all still had a great time.  The crew certainly made me feel twice their age (which I am, for at least one of them), and not just because I’m still a little hobbled by my recovering ankle.  I appreciated their patience as they waited for me at the end of each sampling grid.

After each day of data collection, I spent the bulk of my evening time trying to build up an inventory of aerial photos and video with our drone.  I flew over the river, across open grasslands and prairie dog towns, and among herds of bison.  My post from earlier this week showed a small slice of just one evening’s imagery.  It’ll probably take me weeks or months to get through all the footage from the last several days, but I do have one tiny video clip to share with you today.

On Tuesday night, I  followed a small portion of our east bison herd around for a while.  I was skirting the edges of the herd with the drone, trying to get a feel for how close I could get before the bison started to react to the vehicle’s presence.  The bison were certainly aware of the drone, but while they edged away when I got too close, they certainly didn’t act frightened or panicked.  A few hundred yards from the main group, a lone bison bull was grazing by himself.  I decided to test its patience a little (in the name of science, of course).  I flew the drone to within 15-20 yards or so of it, and lowered it down to 10 or 12 feet off the ground.  Then I just hovered right there while it was eating.  (Well, the drone hovered there – I was very safely standing a couple hundred yards away, right next to my truck!)

As I watched through the screen on my controller, the bull glanced up a few times while it grazed, and then eventually raised its head to chew and watch the drone.  It chewed and watched for almost a minute.  Just as I was getting tired of the experiment and started to push the button to end the video, the bull’s patience apparently ran out.

Oh boy, do I wish I hadn’t hit the “stop recording” button when I did, but you get a pretty good picture of what came next.  I don’t know if it would have jumped high enough to hit the drone, but I do know that my suddenly sweaty hands pushed the “UP!!!” button on the controller as fast I could when that bull started its charge.  One of the reasons I’m sharing this video is that it’s a great reminder that while bison are incredible and beautiful creatures, they are also unpredictable and dangerous.  People die, or are seriously injured, every year on public lands when they ignore the unpredictable and dangerous part of the equation, and try to get too close to these huge animals.  Bison aren’t going to chase you down and trample you to death for no reason, but if you invade their comfort zone, they are very capable of defending themselves.

This photo was taken just a few minutes after the video.  I was safely in my truck…

As soon as I flew the drone away, the bison returned to calmly grazing, probably congratulating itself on how easily it had scared away that odd-looking, noisy, and pesky bird.  After watching the bull for a while from a distance, I drove slowly closer to it and photographed it as it continued grazing.  It was well aware of my presence, but is used to being around pickup trucks.  Since I wasn’t coming AT him, he calmly grazed and wandered on his way.

I’m fully aware of how fortunate I am to have my job, and to have access to the places we own and conserve. I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who reads this blog, but even more to people whose financial support allows our conservation work to happen.  I wish I could give each of you a personalized tour of our sites, but in lieu of that, I’ll continue trying to do the next best thing – show you the diversity and beauty of those places as best I can through writing and photography.  You can also come visit, of course, and hike the trails to see what you can see.  In the meantime, stay tuned for more photos and videos.

Information on visiting the Niobrara Valley Preserve can be found here and on visiting the Platte River Prairies here.

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Niobrara Valley Preserve From The Air

We arrived at the Niobrara Valley Preserve yesterday in pouring rain.  The road in from the south was nearly impassable and our data collection plans were scrapped for the day.  As evening neared, though, the rain started to let off, and just as the sun was nearing the horizon, it popped out from behind the clouds.  Suddenly, the entire Niobrara Valley was bathed in gorgeous golden light.  I scrambled to get the drone up into the air.

Looking downriver with the sun behind. Can you see Alex on the sandbar?

Facing the sun as it drops below the horizon.

The Nebraska Sandhills extend nearly forever south of the river (12 million acres of contiguous prairie). You can’t even see the entire 12,000 east bison pasture in this photo. The scale is just immense.

The Niobrara Valley Preserve headquarters is nestled between the Sandhills and the river. The campus now includes a couple new buildings, which will greatly help us improve visitor access and experiences.

The Niobrara Valley Preserve is already magical, but when you add that kind of evening light, it just becomes absolutely spectacular.  Below is a 30 second video showing more of a panorama view of just one small part of the 56,000 acre property.

Thank you to everyone who supports our conservation work, both at the Niobrara Valley Preserve and elsewhere around the state, country, and world.

Special thank you to the Nebraska Environmental Trust for funding this effort through a PIE (Public Information and Education) minigrant, administered through the Nebraska Academy of Sciences.

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Photo of the Week – June 22, 2018

This week, I’ve been feeling grateful that I have places close to home where I can chase little creatures around with my camera.  Of course, insects and spiders live just about everywhere, but between my backyard prairie garden and the small restored prairies on the other side of my small town, I’m set up pretty well.  During the last five or six days, I’ve had some really nice light to work with, and have managed to capture quite a few images of tiny prairie animals, either in my yard or across town.  Here are three of those:

I’ve been trying to get a good photo of a lynx spider like this one for years, but the little buggers have been too quick for me. For some reason, this one was sitting still on a milkweed leaf at Lincoln Creek Prairie this week, and stayed still while I crept close enough to take its picture.

This stilt bug, and/or others like it, have been hanging around on the black-eyed Susan flowers in our backyard this week.  Stilt bugs feed on nectar, and some species may be at least occasionally predatory as well.

A Reakirt’s blue butterfly hides among the flowers of lead plant. Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments