Photo of the Week – January 26, 2018

Leftovers.  When we cook a big meal and don’t eat it all, we bundle the rest up and save it for later.  We might not feed it to company, but there’s a distinct pleasure (at least for me) in coming back later to dig back into the remains of a great meal.

In a funny way, the idea of leftovers applies to many of my photography excursions as well.  Often, I’ll get out in the field and a theme of sorts will start to emerge as I wander around with my camera.  I usually notice something interesting and then look for other aspects or examples of that.  Sometimes, it’s a particular plant species, and the variety of pollinators or other insects using that same plant.  Other times, the theme is a little more broad – having to do with the impacts of some prairie management strategy or a recent weather event.  As a result, when I get home with a batch of photos, many of them can be strung together into a story I use for blog posts and/or presentations.  Scattered among those photos, however, are the leftovers.  The leftovers are the photos that I really like, but that don’t fit into a particular theme or story.

During the winter, when I’m not as active as a photographer, I have time to dig back into the remains of those earlier photo excursions.  While it’s not necessarily polite to share leftovers with company, I’m going to break that rule today and share some of mine from last summer.

Wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). This is one of the better portraits I’ve managed to get of this great plant.

American germander (Teucrium canadense) is fairly uncommon in our Platte River Prairies, but when it does occur, it often grows in large patches. It’s always been a difficult flower for me to photograph because it sticks out in all different directions, and it’s hard to figure out what to focus on. As I walked past this plant one morning last summer, my brain saw something that might work, and I ended up with a photo I liked.

Getting sharp photos of spiders on their webs is always an accomplishment. Even the slightest breeze pushes them around substantially, making it really hard to get a photo that freezes that motion.  During a pleasant morning walk at the Niobrara Valley Preserve last summer, I spotted this spider and managed to get at least one sharp image as it swayed gently in the wind.

Catching Up on Summer Photos

I spend most of my summers in the field, wandering around in prairies collecting data, making observations, and taking photos.  Lots and lots of photos.  So many photos that I only have time and space to post a small percentage of my favorites here on this blog.

This week, I’ve been going through my 2017 photos, trying to select a manageable number for my annual “Best Photos of” feature, which will be coming in the next week or two.  While doing that, I came across quite a few photos I really liked but haven’t posted yet.  Here is a batch of previously unposted images from the Niobrara Valley Preserve from this summer, along with some brief natural history notes.

A gorgeous northern leopard frog stares at me from the bank of the Niobrara Valley Preserve. I like this photo for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that my daughter spotted the frog while we were out exploring together.  The northern leopard frog can be distinguished from the plains leopard frog because the two lines on the back of the northern are continuous, and the lines on the plains leopard are broken.

We are trying to better understand the potential ecological values of short vegetation structure and exposed soil in the Nebraska Sandhills. It’s a set of habitat conditions most ranchers manage against, and we’re wondering what species might benefit from having a little more around.  If nothing else, the patterns found in wind-blown sand are aesthetically pleasing.

One species we know thrives with lots of bare sand is the Ord’s kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii). K-rat tracks are abundant in bare sand, distinguished by the relatively large size of the foot prints and the tail marks between them.

This was one of the first plains sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) to bloom this summer, but as the summer progressed, sunflower populations exploded, especially where we’d burned in the spring.

Ants appreciate the extrafloral nectar produced by plains sunflowers, and presumably help suppress numbers of herbivorous insects on those sunflowers – notwithstanding the well-armored weevil shown here.

Mating assassin bugs on a plains sunflower. These ambush predators are often seen hunting on the sunflowers as well, taking advantage of abundant insects in search of accessible and nutritious pollen and nectar.

The day’s last beams of sunlight stream across our public hiking trail above the Niobrara River back in June of this year.

As I prepare for the “Best Photos of” post coming up, please let me know if you have a favorite photo or two from the year.  It’s awfully hard for me narrow them down…