Data Collection Distractions

This week, I really need to get a bunch of data collection done. Each year, I collect plant composition data in June from a variety of sites at our Platte River Prairies. The data help us track plant species diversity and other trends over time and evaluate how our management (and other factors) are affecting those plant communities. I have 2 restored prairies I’ve been tracking annually for nearly 20 years and two others I’ve looked at every other year across that same time period – and many others I check in on when I have time.

I have to cover at least four sites this year, and it would be nice to get to six. It usually takes between four and five hours per site, so if I start early in the morning, I can do one prairie before it gets too hot and then slip back inside to work on other projects. Following that schedule, I should be able to get at least four sites done this week (I’m busy on Friday morning, so can’t collect data then).

So far, though, I’ve worked two long mornings and only have one site and a small part of a second site done. It’s not my fault. The light has been good for photography and the prairies are full of fascinating creatures just begging me to photograph them. Plus, my data collection involves plopping a 1×1 meter frame on the ground a bunch of times and looking very closely at all the plants inside the frame. Of COURSE I’m going to find lots of tiny creatures when I’m doing that!

I’d go a lot faster, I suppose, if I didn’t carry my camera gear with me because then I wouldn’t be able to stop and take pictures.

…I think we can all agree that would be silly, right?

WordPress (the platform I use for this blog) isn’t allowing me to create captions tonight. It’s apparently a bug they’re working on (not the good kind of bug.) As a work-around, here is the caption info for the three images above. First – a ladybug is backlit on a grass leaf. Second – a picture winged fly sits on Illinois bundleflower. Third – a tiny leaf hopper on a leaf – there were scads of these around today.

More caption info.. The yellow flowers above are Calylophus serrulatus, otherwise known as serrate leaf primrose or sundrops. Above is a sedge seedhead (Carex gravida) with spider webbing and some insect parts wrapped around it. After I took that photo, I touched the webbing to see if I could figure out what was going on and the spider in the photo below popped out. It wouldn’t show me its face, so this is the best photo I could get of it.

The photo above shows a milkweed leaf beetle larva feeding on whorled milkweed (thanks to Tom Weissling for the ID). The photo below is self heal (Prunella vulgaris) growing in a restored wetland slough in the prairie I was working in.

I’ll be back out in the field tomorrow morning, which is why I’m posting this tonight. With any luck, I’ll finish my second site. Unfortunately, (hee hee) the forecast looks promising for photography, so I guess we’ll see…

Photos of the Week – June 3, 2021

Next Friday, June 11, I’ll be part of an event called “Ask a Land Manager”, in which we’re inviting people to submit questions to a panel of prairie land managers. In addition to me, the panel will include Mary Miller with The Nature Conservancy’s Ordway Prairie (South Dakota) and two of our former Hubbard Fellows/current TNC land managers, Olivia Schouten (Indiana) and Eric Chien (Minnesota). It should be a lot of fun.

If you’d like to attend the event, you can register either here or through Facebook here. The event starts at noon Central and we’d love for you to ask questions ahead of time to make sure we can get you the best answers possible. If we run out of time to get to all the questions, we’ll try to follow up with you later.

In other news…

I’ve been waiting all season for the shell leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus). We knew it was going to be a banner year for them last fall when we saw all the young plants scattered around in the hills. This is a plant that loves disturbance and was ready to pop after a couple years of fairly intense grazing in the hillier parts of a restored sand prairie (that area is getting a full year off from grazing this year). I spent about an hour with these flowers earlier this week – here are some of the photos I got.

The Derr House can be seen in the background of this photo, taken along one of the hiking trails at the Platte River Prairies. Tokina 11-20mm lens @11mm. ISO 400, 1/1000 sec at f/16.
Ready to bloom. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, 1/400 sec at f/9.
Gorgeous blossoms. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/400 sec at f/11.
Does anyone else think these flowers look like they have rib cages? Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 800, 1/100 sec at f/40.
Every part of the plant is pretty. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec at f/18.
Bumble bees are big fans of penstemon. I think this one is a brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis). Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, 1/500 sec at f/16.

Bumble bees seem to really like shell leaf penstemon. They crawl all the way inside to feed from each one and then back themselves out again before flying to the next flower. They’re difficult to photograph because they move so quickly and abort their flower visit if they see a photographer approaching. I managed a couple photos by waiting for a bee to go inside a flower and then running up and trying to capture a quick shot as it emerged. I ended up with a lot of fuzzy yellow and black blurs, but got a couple sharp images too.

Another bumble bee (still B. griseocollis, I think) on another flower. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/16.
It’s really hard to capture the abundance of this flower, but this photo gives you some idea. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, 1/250 sec at f/16.
This tiny spiderling was making its way between blossoms on a line of silk. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/400 sec at f/13.
This was the showstopper photo of the day (year?) for me. This crab spider retreated inside a flower to feed on a fly it captured and then posed nicely while I photographed it. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, 1/100 sec at f/18.