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- June 10, 2016

I’ve written many times about the 2012 wildfire that impacted our Niobrara Valley Preserve, and the continuing recovery of the plant and animal communities there.  When I was up at the Preserve a few weeks ago, it was really interesting to explore the north side of the river where the fire wiped out the pine and eastern redcedar trees.  I know I’ve posted a number of times about the way that area is recovering.  If you feel like you’ve seen plenty of photographs of vibrant green vegetation beneath stark blackened tree trunks, this is your chance to click to another site and catch up on the box score of a recent baseball game or catch up on celebrity gossip.

(Are they gone?  Ok, good.  The rest of you can enjoy these photos.)

Grasses
The vegetation beneath the tree skeletons still has a lot of annual plants, but perennial grasses, sedges, and forbs are becoming more abundant.
shrubs
Shrub patches are also increasing in size (there is a big one on the right side of the photo).
Wooly locoweed
I’m pretty sure this is loco weed (Oxytropis lambertii).  It is one of many wildflowers that have begun to reassert themselves in the plant community and fill in the bare patches.
puccoon
Hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense) might be the showiest of the flowers I saw on my last trip.  Its yellow-orange blossoms contrasted wonderfully with the green vegetation and black trees.