Photo of the Week – December 26, 2014

The sun finally reappeared this week after what seemed like a month of absence.  I figured the best way to celebrate the end of dreariness was a couple of prairie hikes. I started by wandering along a creek at our Platte River Prairies to see what the resident beaver family had been up to.  Green sunfish slipped in and out of hiding places in the deep pools behind beaver dams, but little else was moving in the water.  Later, the sound of frantic chirping turned my head in time to watch a sharp-shinned hawk just miss its prey.  I couldn’t tell what kind of bird the hawk was chasing because it didn’t stop flying until it was out of sight.  I also caught a quick glimpse of a small mouse scooting through the thatch, spotted a perched eagle in a far off tree and flushed a small flock of mallards from an backwater wetland.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

Later in the day, I stopped at our family prairie and roamed around until the sun went down.  As the sun dropped, its warm light illuminated the golden brown prairie and I managed to take a few photographs – something I’ve not done much of lately.  Here are a few of those photos.

A stiff goldenrod seed is stuck in the velcro-like hairs on the stem of a plant of the same species.  Helzer family prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

A stiff goldenrod seed is stuck in the velcro-like hairs on the stem of a plant of the same species. Helzer family prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

A Flodman's thistle (native species) stands out against the sky.

A Flodman’s thistle (native species) stands out against the sky.

The spiny beauty of Flodman's thistle seed heads.

The spiny beauty of Flodman’s thistle seed heads.

Tall dropseed (Sporobolus compositus) in golden prairie.

Tall dropseed (Sporobolus compositus) in golden light.

Stiff goldenrod

A stand of stiff goldenrod and mixed-grass prairie.

Happy Holidays, and best wishes for your New Year!

Photo of the Week – July 25, 2013

I just got home from a week-long family vacation to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  It was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of the prairies here in Nebraska, but it’s good to be home again.  Since my week was all about mountains, I guess I’ll just share my vacation photos with you…  I’ll get back to discussing prairies next week!

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I appreciate the woodland areas of the mountains, but always feel a little closed in when I'm in them.  I like to see the sky...

I appreciate the woodland areas of the mountains, but always feel a little closed in when I’m in them. I really like to see the sky…

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We rented a cabin south of Idaho Springs, Colorado for our vacation week.  The highlight of the cabin was the beautiful stream that flowed nearby.

We rented a cabin south of Idaho Springs, Colorado for our vacation week. The highlight of the cabin was the beautiful stream that flowed nearby.

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After a day of short hiking to acclimate to the altitude, we took a longer hike on the Arapaho Pass trail near Nederland, Colorado.  The wildflowers in the meadows were fantastic, and made a prairie ecologist feel at home.

After giving ourselves a day to adjust to the altitude, we took a long hike on the Arapaho Pass Trail near Nederland, Colorado. The wildflowers in the meadows were fantastic, and made a prairie ecologist feel at home.

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I know the plant species in my prairies really well, and can often identify at least 50-75% of the plants I see in other prairies in the central U.S.  However, in the sub-alpine and alpine meadows of the Rockies, I'm lucky to guess the genus correctly...  For example, I know this red flower is a Castilleja species (Indian paintbrush) but don't know which species it is.

I know the plant species in my prairies really well, and can often identify at least 50-75% of the plants I see in other prairies in the central U.S. However, in the sub-alpine and alpine meadows of the Rockies, I’m lucky to guess the genus correctly… For example, I know this red flower is a Castilleja species (Indian paintbrush) but don’t know which species it is.

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Above treeline on the Arapaho Pass trail there were some very cold, but very pretty streams winding through the sparse rocky landscape.

Above treeline on the Arapaho Pass trail there were some very cold, but very pretty streams winding through the sparse rocky landscape.

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My son John hikes the trail toward Arapaho Pass.

My son John hikes the trail toward Arapaho Pass.

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My daughter Anna had to hold on to her hat when we finally reached the top of the Pass.  The wind coming across the Continental Divide was enough to knock us over.

My daughter Anna had to hold on to her hat when we finally reached the top of the Pass. The wind coming across the Continental Divide was enough to knock us over.  (Official elevation = 11,907 ft)

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One morning, I took a short steep hike to the top of a nearby ridge to catch the morning light.

One morning, I took a short steep hike to the top of a nearby ridge to catch the morning light.  I needed to get out of the trees and up into the sunshine…

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At the top of the ridge, there were several least chipmunks running around among the rocks.  I sat and watched them for a little while and managed to get a few photos as they sat in the sunshine to eat.

At the top of the ridge, there were several least chipmunks running around among the rocks. I sat and watched them for a little while and managed to get a few photos as they sat in the sunshine to eat.

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We drove up to the top of the 14,000 foot Mount Evans one afternoon.  This photo shows the aptly named Lake Abyss below.

We drove up to the top of the 14,000 foot Mount Evans one afternoon. This photo shows the aptly named Lake Abyss below.

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On the lower slopes of Mount Evans, we saw a group of bighorn sheep grazing in a meadow.

On the lower slopes of Mount Evans, we saw a group of shaggy bighorn sheep grazing in a meadow.

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On the way back from the top of Mount Evans, we stopped at Summit Lake and hiked a little way up the steep trail toward Mount Spalding.

On the way back from the top of Mount Evans, we stopped at Summit Lake and hiked a little way up the steep trail toward Mount Spalding.

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From the trail to Mount Spalding, we had numerous spectacular views of the Chicago Lakes below.

From the trail to Mount Spalding, we had numerous spectacular views of the Chicago Lakes below.

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On our last hike of the trip, we took a one hour climb to the top of Chief Mountain to enjoy the panoramic views from the top.

On our last hike of the trip, we took a one hour climb up Chief Mountain to enjoy the panoramic views from the top.

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As someone who spends a lot of time admiring the toughness of prairie plants and animals, I could easily appreciate the ability of species to eke out a living among the rocks at high altitude.

As someone who spends a lot of time admiring the toughness of prairie plants and animals, I could easily appreciate the ability of species to eke out a living among the rocks at high altitude.  (Chief Mountain)

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Though our cabin was nestled among the trees on the side of a mountain, we did have a nice open view to the north - something I was very glad for.  It was a great week, but it's really nice to be down in the prairies again.

Though our cabin was nestled among the trees on the side of a mountain, we did have a nice open view of the sky to the north – something I was very glad for. It was a great week, but it’s really nice to be down in the prairies again.