Prairie Noise

I just finished a great but very long day at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  We were collecting sweep net data and counting flowering plants to evaluate the impacts of various fire and grazing treatments.  There was a lot of action in the prairie – an up close encounter with a pronghorn mother and twins, coyotes calling to each other just over the hill, 5 species of prairie clover blooming, wasps and bees everywhere, and loads of robber flies and assassin bugs going after those wasps, bees, and other insects.

However, what was most noticeable in the prairie today was the sound of cicadas.  The really loud incessant sound of cicadas.  They were calling to each other from perches on grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs, and flushing in front of us all day as we moved through the grassland.  The cicadas were most abundant and noisy in the depressions between hills, where they were protected from the moderate breeze.  I snuck up on one to get some video of it and then realized that I hadn’t yet figured out how to use the video function on my new camera.  After that cicada flew away unphotographed, I figured out the video function and then stalked a few more cicadas until I found one that let me get close enough to get both photographs and videos of it.

Often incorrectly called “locusts”, cicadas are pretty common during the heat of the summer, and they come in a variety of species.  As with many other animals, the males make loud sounds to attract females.  When a bunch of them are calling simultaneously, the sound can be incredibly loud, especially for such small insects.  Here’s a quick video from today:

Photo of the Week – July 21, 2016

Lately, I’ve had some great opportunities to photograph big charismatic animals like bison and cute mammals like prairie dogs.  During the same period, however, I’ve also managed to make the kind of photographs I’m most drawn to – images of little things like flowers and bugs.  Since  much of what I’ve posted lately (the dung beetles post notwithstanding) has been bigger wildlife, I decided to share a selection of more close-up views of prairies today.

Black-eyed Susan from beneath. The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) from beneath. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Prairie cicada at The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Prairie cicada at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Prairie wild rose (Rosa arkansana) at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Prairie wild rose (Rosa arkansana) at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Katydid nymph on upright prairie coneflower. Platte River Prairies.

Katydid nymph on upright prairie coneflower. Platte River Prairies.

Side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Broad sweeping vistas and big stompy animals add drama to prairie landscapes, but most of the complexity and function actually happens at a very small scale.  Sometimes it’s nice to just pause and enjoy the little things.