Photo of the Week – June 9, 2018

This week’s featured photos include three small creatures.  One is a beetle (I have no idea which kind) that was barely visible to my naked eye.  A second is a nymph of a praying mantis – probably a Chinese mantis.  The third is the most exciting to me, which is a burrowing owl nesting in our Platte River Prairies this spring.

This tiny beetle was perched on one of the flowers of false gromwell, aka marbleseed (Onosmodium molle) last week.
A praying mantis nymph hunting on a milkweed plant.
I was able to get barely close enough to this owl for a photo by using my pickup as a photo blind. I still had to crop the image a little to make the owl as prominent as it is in the photo, but I wanted to stay far enough away that I didn’t discourage it from nesting.

Burrowing owls occupy burrows of other animals as nesting sites.  These tiny owls are about the same size as an American robin, but their wingspan can be up to 8 inches wider.  They have a fascinating habit of spreading animal dung around the entrance to their burrow to attract dung beetles – one of their favorite foods.

We usually see a few nesting pairs of burrowing owls up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve each year, and they can be found elsewhere in the Sandhills and western Nebraska, especially within prairie dog towns.  However, their populations are in decline across most of their continental range, and it’s uncommon to see them outside of landscapes of mostly intact grasslands.

In this case, this owl and its mate are using a badger hole for a nesting site.  As far as I know, this is the first burrowing owl pair that has nested in one of our Platte River Prairies during the 21 years I’ve been working here.  As you might expect, they are nesting in a site we burned this spring and that is being grazed fairly intensively by cattle.  On its own, this pair of owls doesn’t equate conservation success, but it’s one more piece of evidence that makes us feel good about our work.