Best of 2017 – Stories and Photos from The Year

I’m consistently and deeply grateful to everyone who takes the time to read and/or follow this blog.  After more than 7 years, pumping out a couple blog posts each week is still energizing for me, and it’s awfully nice to know people are out there enjoying what I post.

This is my annual “Best Of” post, in which you can find some of my favorite posts from 2017 in case you’re looking for something to read (or re-read) over the holidays.  Below that, you can peruse what I think are the best photos I took this past year.  If you have friends or colleagues who don’t yet appropriately appreciate the beauty and complexity of prairies, feel free to forward this post to them.  You never know what might start someone on their own journey of discovery, and we need all the prairie fans we can get.

Speaking of that, please consider supporting your favorite conservation organization this season.  There are lots of good options, including the one that pays my salary.  Thank you for any support – financial or otherwise – you can provide to help conserve prairies and other important natural areas around the world.

Favorite 2017 posts:

General Science, Prairie Management, and Philosophy

  1. An essay about the importance of understanding the scientific process and its impact on our lives.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/01/04/how-science-works-and-why-it-matters/
  2. How does livestock grazing fit with concerns about emissions that contribute to rapid climate change?  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/02/06/compatibility-of-cows-conservation-and-climate-change/
  3. Thoughts about tough decisions regarding sometimes conflicting prairie management objectives.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/03/14/should-we-manage-for-rare-species-or-species-diversity/
  4. A discussion about how prairie size can influence the viability of prairie species and communities.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/04/26/how-small-is-too-small/
  5. A post designed for land managers who might feel discouraged about the constant and growing challenges they face. https://prairieecologist.com/2017/10/31/a-hopeful-metaphor-for-prairie-managers/

Natural History and Place-Based Stories

  1. The unsung heroes of pollination – single moms.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/02/14/the-life-of-a-single-mom-bee/
  2. Is it a wasp, mantis, or fly?  Nope.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/06/27/its-a-what/
  3. Background on the incredible numbers of painted lady butterflies seen in 2017.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/09/20/the-painted-lady-butterfly-this-years-poster-child-for-insect-migration/
  4. Insects that steal nectar without following protocol.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/10/10/back-door-thieves/
  5. Monarch butterflies arrived in Nebraska much sooner than usual this year.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/04/18/not-yet-monarchs-not-yet/
  6. Photos from one of the most spectacular and hidden places in Nebraska.   https://prairieecologist.com/2017/05/31/vacation-at-toadstool-geologic-park/
  7. An informative (and humorous) look at a beautiful and unusual plant.  https://prairieecologist.com/2017/11/28/a-brief-note-on-painted-milkvetch/

Most Viewed Post of all Time…

Just for fun, here is a link to the blog post that has had more views than any I have other written.  It’s certainly not the one I would have expected, but I checked the statistics out of curiosity and there it was – 48,000 views all time, including 21,000 in 2017.  I’m not going to tell you what it is, but if you’re curious, you can click here and find out.

Favorite Photos of 2017

Here is a selection of the photos I thought were my best from 2017.  You can see them in the slideshow below (click on the arrows or just sit back and watch), or in YouTube video form below that.  Hopefully, one of the two formats will work on whatever device you’re viewing this on.

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YouTube Video of the same photos:

If you liked these photos, you might also like my 2016 selections or this collection of some of my all-time favorites.

Best of 2016 – Stories and Photos From This Year

This is the 114th post on The Prairie Ecologist in 2016, and the 770th since I started back in 2010.  As always, I’m humbled and grateful that anyone besides me cares enough about prairie conservation, management, and/or photography enough to read this blog.  Thank you very sincerely.  I can hardly believe we’ve reached nearly 3,000 subscribers, and that there are many others who just check in regularly.

I’ve picked out a few posts from this year that I’m particularly proud of, and have provided links to them below in case you missed them or just want to revisit them.  Below that, you’ll find a slideshow of some of my favorite prairie photos from this year.

If your financial situation allows, please don’t forget this is a good time of year to support the conservation organization of your choice.  I’m a little biased, since one in particular pays my salary, but support whichever organization does the work you most appreciate.  Thanks.

Natural History Posts

Plants on the Move – Timelapse images showing plants moving between years.

Crappy job – Dung beetle natural history.

Sage hopper – A grasshopper perfectly camouflaged for its favorite food plant.

Prairie Management/Restoration Posts

Role of history – History shouldn’t necessarily drive management decisions.

Don’t just manage for plants – It’s dangerous to forget about the needs of animals.

Mechanics of conservation – A thoughtful post about how best to influence conservation.

Milestone in restoration – A celebration of our proven ability to defragment prairies.

Fun Posts

Another otter post – in which I finally saw an otter, but not on the Platte River.

Toadal mystery – how did a toad imprint get in a concrete parking lot?

An accomodating prairie dog – a prairie dog inexplicably lets my daughter and me get close.

Best Photos

Here are my favorites from the thousands of prairie photos I took this year; you can click on the arrows within the slideshow to make it go faster….

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If the slideshow doesn’t work for you, below is a four minute YouTube video with all the same images.  If you can’t see the video automatically, try clicking on this link.  Feel free to share this post or the YouTube link with others who might appreciate them.

Enjoy the remainder of 2016 and a have a great 2017.  We can make this world a better place by working together with empathy and purpose.

Favorite Photos of 2015

As has become an annual tradition, I’ve once again put together a collection of my favorite photos from the last year.  Most of these have appeared in 2015 blog posts, although I think at least one or two haven’t.  (I’m not telling you which ones.)

You can view the photos in one of two ways.  First, you can simply watch the slideshow below – and you can click on the arrows to control the speed of the slideshow if you wish.  If the slideshow doesn’t work on your particular device, you can also (hopefully) watch the same show on the YouTube video below the slideshow.

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Thank you, as always, for reading this blog.  Please help me spread interest and enthusiasm about prairies and conservation by passing along this or any other blog post you think others might enjoy (including the three minute video I put together earlier this year).  Together, we can fight the perception that prairies are just boring patches of grass!

Have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the final week of 2015!

Best of Prairie Ecologist Photos – 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, it seems every photo-related website and blog is putting together a “best of” series of photos from the year.  So, why not – I’ll join in.  It’s not a bad way to review the year.

I winnowed this year’s crop down to 24 images.  (Sorry if it takes a minute or so to load them all.)  Of the 24 photos, all but one has already appeared in a blog post from this year.  For those of you who enjoy this sort of challenge, you can try to figure out which one is new.

The first image shows my son helping me overseed our family prairie in January, 2012.  We’d grazed this portion of the prairie pretty hard in 2011 to suppress the dominant grasses and allow some other plants to have a chance to express themselves.  Since there are quite a few wildflower species that are rare or missing from the prairie, we also harvested and broadcast some seeds to try to help the process along.

My son Daniel, throwing seeds at our family prairie.
My son Daniel, throwing seeds at our family prairie.  Near Stockham, Nebraska.

Spring came quickly this year, and with it came early spring prescribed fires.  Fire is an important tool for land management, but can also cause significant damage when it is out of control (as we experienced later in the year).  Regardless of positive or negative impacts, there’s no denying the visual power of fire from an artistic standpoint.

An early season prescribed fire.
An early season prescribed fire.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies

The winter of 2011/2012 was the first time anyone around here can remember sandhill cranes staying for the winter.  The Central Platte River is well known for hosting half a million or so cranes each spring, but this past year we had thousands of them on the river all winter long.  Judging by the numbers we’ve been seeing in the last couple of weeks, we may get to repeat the sounding joy this season as well.

Sandhill cranes in the early morning.
Roosting sandhill cranes in the early morning.  Central Platte River, Nebraska.

March is always a very busy time of year for us as we split time between prescribed fire and sandhill crane tours.  I’ve taken people into viewing blinds along the Platte River well over a hundred times, but the experience never gets old.

Cranes coming into the roost at sunset.
Cranes coming into the roost at sunset.  Central Platte River, Nebraska.

Close-up photography allows me to find photo opportunities almost anywhere.  This dogbane beetle (on a dogbane plant) was photographed in a small prairie right in my hometown.

A dogbane beetle on dogbane.  Aurora, Nebraska.
A dogbane beetle on dogbane. Lincoln Creek Prairie – Aurora, Nebraska.

Similarly, this next photo was taken at a small prairie planting in the front yard of my in-laws’ place in eastern Nebraska.  Sideoats grama is one of the most distinctive-looking of the prairie grasses, but can be difficult to photograph.  On the evening this photo was taken, the wind was dead calm, and I was able to isolate and photograph this “laundry line” of sideoats flowers.

Sideoats grama flowering stem.  Sarpy County, Nebraska.
Sideoats grama. Sarpy County, Nebraska.

This mantis image came from the same night as the grass above.  The sun was dropping fast, and just as the light was fading away, I spotted this mantis and managed to get a couple shots of it before it got too dark to photograph anymore.

Praying Mantis.
Praying Mantis.  Sarpy County, Nebraska.

Every year’s weather favors a different suite of short-lived plant species in prairies and wetlands.  This year was a great year for prairie gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum).  These were photographed along the edge of a restored wetland swale in our Platte River Prairies.

Prairie gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum) along a restored wetland.
Prairie gentian growing in abundance on the edge of a wetland.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

While photographing the prairie gentian, I spotted this tiny katydid nymph on the edge of one of the flowers.  As long-time readers of this blog surely know, it’s a katydid rather than a grasshopper because of its very long antennae.

Katydid nymph on prairie gentian.
Katydid nymph on prairie gentian.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

This crab spider was hunting for pollinators on purple prairie clover flowers.  There were plenty of bees and flies around that day (though I didn’t get many good photos of them), so I’m sure it didn’t go hungry.

Crab spider on purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea).
Crab spider on purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea).  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

In early July, we hosted two entomologists/ecologists from Missouri (James Trager and Mike Arduser) in our Platte River Prairies.  I invited them to help us evaluate our restoration work from the perspective of bees, ants, and other insects.  It was a great week, and stimulated a lot of thinking and discussion about how our management work affects insects – and how those insects affect and indicate the status of important ecological processes.  James and Mike also stopped by some prairies in southeastern Nebraska where I am helping to coordinating research.  The photo below shows James in one of those prairies.

James Trager, naturalist at the Shaw Nature Reserve, displays the finer points of a katydid in southeastern Nebraska.
James Trager, naturalist at the Shaw Nature Reserve in Missouri, displays the finer points of a katydid in southeastern Nebraska.

Tyler Janke heads up a collaborative effort to design strategies for restoring cottonwood woodland along the Missouri River in Nebraska.  I spent a July day with him, looking over some early results of various methods he’s testing.

Tyler Janke stands in front of his irrigated plots where he is restoring cottonwood woodland along the Platte River.
The Nature Conservancy’s Tyler Janke stands in front of some irrigated plots where he is testing cottonwood restoration strategies.

As I was driving home from work on a hot day in late July, I got a call that there was a wildfire on or near our Niobrara Valley Preserve.  The remote location of the fire and the weather forecast made it sound like it could be a bad one.  It certainly was.  By the time I got up there a few days later, over half of our 56,000 acre property had burned, and several neighbors had lost homes.

Aftermath of the 2012 Fairfield Creek Wildfire - The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve.
Aftermath of the 2012 Fairfield Creek Wildfire – The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Even after the dramatic changes caused by the fire, the scenery at the Preserve was as striking as ever.

Scorched grassland and yucca following the 2012 wildfire.
Scorched grassland and yucca following the 2012 wildfire.  The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Walking through the ash and soot, it was nice to see how many creatures had survived the fire.  This lizard was one of many hanging around in the few remaining shady areas in the sandhill prairies.

A fence lizard that survived the wildfire hunts in the ashes.
A fence lizard hunts for food among the ashes.

Annual sunflowers were big winners in the competition between plants within drought-stricken prairies this year.  That was true in our Platte River Prairies as well as along the Niobrara.  The photo below shows a small native bee taking advantage of one of many sunflowers that survived both the drought and the wildfire at our Niobrara Valley Preserve.

A small native bee gathers food from an annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus).
A small native bee gathers food from an annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus).  The Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

The most difficult impacts of the wildfire were economic.  The vast majority of our east bison pasture (over 7000 acres) burned, leaving the herd with little left to eat until the grass was able to recover.  I got to go back up the Preserve in early August to help the staff and volunteers with a bison roundup to sort and sell off a good portion of the herd.  Bison roundups have some similarities to cattle roundups, but bison are definitely wild animals (and really big), and now and then they can remind you of that in dramatic ways.  An example is when a big bull tries to jump over the 10 foot wall of a corral.

A bison bull tries to jump out of the corral chute during a bison roundup.
A bison bull looking for a way out of the corral chute during a bison roundup.  The Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Large portions of the Niobrara Valley Preserve and the surrounding neighborhood will look very different in the coming years, but it remains a beautiful and ecologically important place.  It will be very interesting to watch the recovery and adaptation of the species and communities that live there.

The Niobrara River flowing through the Niobrara Valley Preserve.
The Niobrara River flowing through the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Despite the drought, many of our Platte River Prairies still had some areas of lush growth this summer.  These rosinweed plants, though not as tall as in some years, were looking just fine.

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) in restored prairie along the Platte river.
Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) in restored prairie along the Platte river.

After a frustrating attempt in the spring to photograph prairie dogs near home, I found some more accommodating photo subjects in the Nebraska sandhills.  Judging from the feedback I received, many of you enjoyed reading about both my failed and successful attempts.

A black-tailed prairie dog in the Nebraska sandhills.
A black-tailed prairie dog in the Nebraska sandhills.  North-Central Nebraska.

The great thing about box turtles is that they’re fairly easy to keep up with as they move through the prairie.  That makes turtle photography considerably easier than, say, prairie dog photography.

An ornate box turtle in the Nebraska sandhills.
An ornate box turtle in the Nebraska sandhills.  North-Central Nebraska.

While walking through one of our wetlands in the autumn, I spotted this jumping spider watching me.  I repaid the favor.

A jumping spider on a beggarstick plant in a restored wetland.
A jumping spider on a beggarstick plant in a restored wetland.

A month or so later, I returned to the same wetland to attempt some landscape photography.  After changing my mind several times, I decided I did, in fact, like this particular photo from that day.

A restored wetland and stream along the Central Platte River.
A restored wetland and stream along the Central Platte River.

Finally, this last photo seems the most appropriate to cap off the year 2012 for me.  I was crossing a bridge over the Niobrara River a few days after the wildfire when I saw this photographer down below.  Watching the photographer capturing the beauty of the river, despite being surrounded by a charred landscape, was particularly striking.

A photographer captures the late day light coming through the falls on the Niobrara River near the Norden Bridge.
A photographer captures the late day light coming through the falls of the Niobrara River near the Norden Bridge.  The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Images have tremendous power.  Although this blog is about far more than just pretty prairie photos, those photos do play a critical role.  They help illustrate the topic being discussed, but they also showcase the beauty and diversity of an ecosystem that many people wrongly assume is flat and uninteresting.

I’m very grateful to all of you who regularly visit this blog.  I also really appreciate it when you forward your favorite posts to friends and colleagues.  Together, we can show the world how complex, beautiful, and important prairies really are.

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