Photo of the Week – November 3, 2017

While at the Niobrara Valley Preserve last week, I hiked around in the former pine savanna on the bluffs north of the river.  I’ve always enjoyed the patterns found in the bark of ponderosa pine trees, especially after a fire.  Because of the big 2012 wildfire that swept across the Niobrara Valley Preserve, we have thousands of dead ponderosa pines, and (among other things) that means lots of great bark patterns.

Ponderosa Pine Bark pattern. Niobrara Valley Preserve

Not only are pine bark patterns interesting to look at, it’s also fun to try to find images of familiar objects in them.  It’s a little like cloud watching, but instead of gazing dreamily into the sky, you stare at dead burned trees.  It’s probably not for everyone, but one perk is that you don’t get a crick in your neck while doing it.

I didn’t see any particular picture in the first photo shown here, but I did in the next two.  I’m curious to know if any of you see what I see, or if you see something completely different.

So far, people have seen a giraffe, a scorpion, and a happy turkey in this one…

 

This one brings to mind a couple different Looney Tunes cartoons for me.

It’s probably a good thing I don’t live at the Niobrara Valley Preserve.  Among all the other things that would distract me from getting work done, I might spend too much time just wandering around looking for pictures in tree bark…

Photo of the Week – February 23, 2017

The weather has been extraordinarily warm for the last couple weeks, but it’s finally getting colder.  While I’ve enjoyed getting outside to play soccer and other outdoor recreation activities, I’m also looking forward to seeing some ice again.  A little snow wouldn’t hurt my feelings either.  It’s been a pretty brown winter so far.

In the meantime, here are a few ice photos from a couple weeks ago, just as the last vestiges of ice were disappearing from the edge of a Platte River wetland.  Let’s hope they aren’t the last ice photos of the winter…

Frozen wetland plants and bubbles near the edge of a frozen, but melting wetland.
Frozen wetland plants and bubbles near the edge of a frozen, but melting wetland.
A frozen rush embedded in ice.
A frozen rush embedded in ice.
Ice and wetland rushes/grasses on the edge of a wetland. The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Patterns of ice bubbles and wetland plants.

And before you say it, yes, I recognize the delicious irony of yearning for more winter in this post exactly a week after a post in which I yearned for spring so I could photograph flowers.  What I can I say?  I like flowers, but I also like ice…

Photo of the Week – February 3, 2017

I’ve finally gotten through all the survey responses many of you provided over the last couple weeks, including all of the open-ended comments from the last two questions.  Again, I really appreciate everyone who took the time to take that survey, and I am especially grateful for all your constructive and thoughtful suggestions.

Earlier this week, I shared a close-up photo of ice melting along the edge of a stream, and promised more.  Here they are.  One of the joys of close-up photography is the chance to capture intricate beauty from unexpected places.  In this case, I never would have stopped to look at this half-frozen muddy stream beneath a concrete highway bridge if I hadn’t been looking for photographic opportunities.  Even then, it took me a lot of trial and error before I ended up with any images I really liked.  Notwithstanding my wet, cold, and muddy pants and some suspicious glances from passersby, I’m really glad I took the time.

Ice

Ice

leaf

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Ok, enough with ice photos.  I’ll try to get back to some prairie ecology next week.

Survey Data is IN – THANK YOU!

This time of week, I am often putting the finishing touches on a new blog post that describes a prairie species or ecological interaction, discusses prairie management, or at least showcases some recent photos.  Today, I’m a little distracted because I’m going through the data from the blog survey many of you participated in.  AND I LOVE DATA!!  So I’m not doing much writing.

I really want to thank everyone who took the survey over the last two weeks.  Guess how many responses I got?  Guess!

Hint:  There are approximately 2900 people who have subscribed to the blog, mostly via email.  There are also quite a few people who read the blog by just checking in now and then or because they get posts forwarded to them by friends.  What would be an optimistic percentage of readers who would take the time to fill out a survey?  Five percent?  Ten percent?

Ok, I’ll just tell you.  There were 912 people who filled out the survey.  912!!

That’s fantastic.  That’s amazing!  That’s humbling.  I’m very grateful – and not just because it gives me lots of data to play with.

Below are some quick and dirty results from some of the survey questions.  I’ll be sifting through responses for quite a while, and will share more detailed results later, but here’s a sneak peek.  (If you don’t care about any of the results, you can just skip down to the bottom – I included a cool photo from this weekend.)

Let’s start with geography.  Not surprisingly, the largest number of respondents (176) were from Nebraska – the state I live and work in.  But I got survey results from people in 47 states and a total of 8 countries, not counting one person who just responded (“outside the U.S.”).  Only Connecticut, Alabama, and Delaware were not represented among U.S. States.  After Nebraska, the highest number of respondents came from Illinois (93), Minnesota (91), Texas (56), Missouri (52), Iowa (47), Wisconsin (40), and Kansas (38).  No surprises there, since those are states with either a lot of prairie or a lot of people who care about prairies.  Oh, and there were ten of you who chose not to share your location.  Perfectly fine.  I wish you well in your continued effort to stay hidden.

Canada led the way among countries outside the United States with 28 respondents, followed by Australia with 8.  Other countries represented included Brazil, Finland, France, Samoa, and the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, a little more than half of the respondents have been following the blog for between one and three years.   Just less than a third of you have been around longer than that.  I should just start copying and pasting posts from 2011 and 2012 and see if anyone notices…

Most of you found out about the blog either from friends/colleagues (41%) or while doing an internet search for something (29%).  Please keep sharing blog posts with others!

One really gratifying result was that, in contrast to most of my family members, a large majority of you (76%) read all or most of the posts I write.  That’s really wonderful to know, although I harbor no hard feelings toward those of you who aren’t reading this paragraph right now because you mostly look at photos and/or just skim to find posts/information you’re interested in.  No problem at all.  I hope you enjoy what you find.

Finally, it’s really great to see a broad spectrum of people reading the blog.  There is an amazingly even spread of ages among readers, mainly between the ages of 25 and 75, and a majority of you identified yourselves as a nature enthusiast and/or a supporter of nature (or both).  That’s not surprising.  About 40% of you are landowners, and exactly 2/3 of respondents were either a landowner, land manager, or conservation professional (or some combination of those).  There were also a lot of educators (23%) and photographers (25%) among the respondents.  Most of you knew at least something about prairies before you started, but you also indicated you’ve learned more and have become more interested in/supportive of prairies through the blog.

I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for all of you who took the time to fill out the survey.  I promise to read every comment, and I’ll do my best to use all your feedback to make this blog better.   Thank you.

Now, for those of you who really just like to skim posts and look at photos, here’s something for you…

This weekend, my wife and I were walking a local trail through town and noticed some neat ice patterns on the thawing stream.  I returned to the spot with my camera later and got some fun close-up photos.  Here’s one.  I’ll probably share some more later this week.

A black hole?
A black hole?  Well, yes, but instead of the cosmos, it’s just a hole in some thawing ice, with flowing water beneath and lots of frozen bubbles around it.  Lincoln Creek, Aurora, Nebraska.

Photo of the Week – July 28, 2016

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know about the big wildfire that swept across The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve back in 2012.  One of the results of that fire was the death of almost all of the Preserve’s ponderosa pines on the bluffs north of the river.  I’ve posted several times about the recovery of that portion of the site, which we are watching closely and learning from.  We haven’t seen any new pines coming in yet, but grasses, sedges, wildflowers, and deciduous shrubs are all flourishing.

Bark beetle galleries beneath the bark of a pine killed in the 2012 wildfire. The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve.
Bark beetle galleries beneath the bark of a pine killed in the 2012 wildfire. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

As new plants colonize the site, the old skeletons of pines and eastern red cedars are starting to break down.  Some of those dead trees are tipping over completely, while others are breaking off further up the trunk.  The result is a landscape that is a little more difficult to walk through (and dangerous on windy days), but one that is still very pretty.  The gradual degradation of the tree skeletons is a necessary part of the recovery and transition of this area to a different ecological community.  We think that pines will eventually recolonize the site, but it’s going to be many years before that happens to any great extent.  In the meantime, there is a great abundance of wildlife, insects, and wildflowers living between the falling trees.

While up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve earlier this summer, I spent a little time wandering in, ruminating about, and photographing the area where the old trees are breaking down.  Here is some of what I saw.

More and more pines are breaking off at the base and falling.
More and more pines are breaking off at the base and falling.
Some trees are falling, but many others are just losing their tops, creating a more ragged look to ridge tops.
Some trees are falling, but many others are just losing their tops, creating a more ragged look to ridge tops.
Despite the fact that the trees are dead, I still find them aesthetically pleasing, including as foreground for sunset light.
Despite the fact that the trees are dead, I still find them aesthetically pleasing, including as foreground for sunset light.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at the patterns I find in ponderosa pine park.  It’s hard to resist photographing them.  This last trip, I was seeing specific images in some of the patterns, so I photographed a few and present them here for your consideration.  They are a kind of Rorschach test, I suppose.  What images do you see?

Bark Pattern A - what do YOU see in it?
Bark Pattern A – what do YOU see in it?
Bark Pattern B. Lots to see in this one...
Bark Pattern B. Lots to see in this one…

Photo of the Week – January 15, 2015

Earlier this week, I wrote about interesting holes in the bark of burned ponderosa pine trees at our Niobrara Valley Preserve.  However, I wasn’t actually focused on documenting holes in trees at the time – I was just looking for interesting photo compositions.  Ponderosa pine bark patterns are always fun to explore, but the additional contrast between the tawny browns and the charred black from the wildfire created even more intriguing images than usual.  The photo below was my favorite from that trip’s pine bark art.

Ponderosa pine bark on a burned tree at The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.
Ponderosa pine bark on a burned tree at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

The photo reminds me of a Rorschach test.  What do you see in it?  I see the tall face of an angry looking man looking to the right.  He may or may not be sticking out his tongue.  I think I’d prefer not to hear Dr. Rorschach’s diagnosis of my personality characteristics…

Photo of the Week – January 31, 2013

Another photo from the archives this week – June, 1996, in fact.  These cottonwood leaves were lying on the sandy bank of a small stream at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.  A cluster of leaves had fallen from a nearby tree and were just starting to dry out and lose their color.  There was something about the pattern of textures and colors that I really liked.

Cottonwood leaves at The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.
Cottonwood leaves at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Fun Fact: this is the only photo of mine that is hanging in our house.

Photo of the Week – January 28, 2011

We have a stream that runs through our Platte River Prairies that is strongly groundwater fed.  The relatively warm groundwater inputs help to keep the stream from completely freezing over.  On the day I took this photograph there was a margin of ice along the bank of the stream, but the majority of the stream was still open flowing water.

Ice patterns on the edges of a stream - The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies

I was drawn to this particular patch of ice because of the layered patterns within it.  The more I stare at it, the more patterns and pictures emerge.