Photo of the Week – September 29, 2017

As the growing season comes to an end and most wildflowers wind up their blooming period, insects that feed on nectar and pollen have to work a lot harder to find food.  The few remaining plants with active flowers suddenly become really popular.  In this part of Nebraska, those last remaining wildflowers include species like tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), heath aster (Aster ericoides), and New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), among others.  The other day, I spotted a lone New England aster plant being mobbed by hungry insects.  Here are some photos…

 

Over the five minutes or more that I watched the horde of insects on this plant, I saw the same individual blossoms get worked over multiple times by multiple insects.  After all that activity, I can’t imagine any of those insects were really getting much of anything out of those flowers, but they were certainly trying…

Painted lady butterflies are still pretty abundant, but not nearly as abundant as they were a year ago.

How many insects can you find on the photo below?  I can find four painted lady butterflies, a skipper butterfly, three different bees, and a tree cricket.  Not pictured are a couple of grasshoppers and a few other bees that were just below the field of view.

How many insects can you see?  Click on the photo to see a larger version of the image.

I assume the remaining painted lady butterflies will migrate soon, but most of the other pollen and nectar-eating insects around here don’t have anywhere to go.  Some will simply die with the flowering season, but others will spend the winter in a state of dormancy and re-emerge in the spring.  I sometimes use the analogy of watering holes in Africa when talking about flowers and pollinators.  In this case, the analogy seems particularly apt as the last “watering holes” are drying up and the animals relying on them are highly concentrated.  I was surprised not to see any “crocodiles” (e.g., crab spiders) at this particular watering hole, taking advantage of an increasingly desperate prey base.

I appreciate living in a temperate zone where I can enjoy a nice variety of seasons through the year, but I’ll certainly miss seeing (and photographing) flowers and insects over the winter.  It’s hard to focus on indoor work these days, knowing that my opportunities to see those flowers and insects this season are dwindling fast…

Photo of the Week – November 11, 2016

On Wednesday of this week, we took advantage of the eerily warm November temperatures to conduct our second prescribed fire of the fall.  This one will help concentrate some spring grazing in an area where we want to suppress grass dominance and rehabilitate forb diversity.  The fire was also a great opportunity for further training of some young conservation staff.  In addition to Eric and Katharine, our two Hubbard Fellows, we also had three young interns/technicians from a couple of our conservation partners, the Crane Trust and Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary.

Katharine Hogan, one of our Hubbard Fellows, ignites the west flank of the fire.

Katharine Hogan, one of our Hubbard Fellows, ignites the west flank of the fire.

A firefighter in a UTV with a slip-on pump unit follows Katharine's ignition and prevents the fire from creeping into the mowed firebreak. By this stage in the fire, the wind was mostly blowing the fire into the unit, making this job easier.

A firefighter in a UTV with a slip-on pump unit follows Katharine’s ignition and prevents the fire from creeping into the mowed firebreak. By this stage in the fire, the wind was mostly blowing the fire away from the break and into the unit, making this job easier.

Here, Eric, our other Hubbard Fellow, ignites the head fire, which runs quickly with a tailwind until it is stopped by the backing fire and blackened area at the far end of the unit.

Here, Eric Chien, our other Hubbard Fellow, ignites the head fire, which runs quickly with a tailwind until it is stopped by the backing fire and blackened area at the far end of the unit.  He is followed by another UTV and pump unit.

Nothing to do now but watch.

Nothing to do now but watch.

At the end of every fire, we hold an "after action review" in which every member of the crew shares what went well, what they learned, and what might help us do better in the future.

At the end of every fire, we hold an “After Action Review” in which every member of the crew shares what went well, what they learned, and what might help us do better in the future.

Anyone who has seen prairie fires up close gains an appreciation of their speed, heat, and power.  Harnessing a force like that to achieve prairie management objectives takes careful planning, solid training and good equipment.  The fire this week went as smoothly as could be hoped for, but  – as with every burn I lead – my stomach was still knotted up until the last of the big flames had been extinguished.  After we were done, I took a leisurely and therapeutic walk around the perimeter of the burned area, both to confirm that everything was secure and to envision the positive impact the burn will make as next year’s growing season begins.