Photo of the Week – May 5, 2016

Wildflower viewing this time of year, at least in the prairies I know best, is more like an Easter egg hunt than a fireworks show.  Spring wildflowers tend to bloom within just a few inches of the ground, nestled among the early growth of grasses and wildflowers that will literally overshadow them within just a few weeks.  Their short stature, small blooms, and (usually) solitary nature don’t detract from their beauty, however, and each “egg” is well worth the hunt.  Earlier this week, I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so finding these colorful little surprises at our family prairie.

Prairie violet is scattered across the prairie, but numbers are highest near

Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida) is scattered across our prairie.  I assume some host caterpillars of regal fritillary butterflies, which are common in our prairie and can only feed on violets, but I’ve never actually found a caterpillar on a violet.  They’ve got to be there.  Somewhere.

Broad patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) have already gone to seed.

Broad patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) have already gone to seed.  Competing vegetation is kept short within pussytoes patches because the species is allelopathic, meaning that it releases chemicals to stifle growth of other plants.

Most dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) plants have also gone to seed. While they were blooming, they were a major source of food for early spring pollinators.

Most dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) plants have also gone to seed. While they were blooming, they were a major source of food for early spring pollinators.

Fringed puccoon, aka narrow-leaf puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) is on the downhill side of its blooming period.

Fringed puccoon, aka narrow-leaf puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) is on the downhill side of its blooming period but is among the most abundant of spring flowers at our prairie right now.

It's not hard to see where fringed puccoon gets its name.

It’s not hard to see where fringed puccoon gets its name.

American vetch (Vicia americana) seems to sprawl awkwardly across its neighboring plants.

American vetch (Vicia americana) seems to sprawl awkwardly across its neighboring plants.  It never seems to be abundant, but I seem to stumble across a few plants each year – and often in different places than I remember seeing them before.

Tendrils on the tips of American vetch leaves wrap tightly around stems of adjacent vegetation.

Tendrils on the tips of American vetch leaves wrap tightly around stems of adjacent vegetation.  I’m not sure what benefit this might provide the vetch plants.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) might be the most elegant of the flowers currently blooming in our prairie.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) might be the most elegant of the flowers currently blooming in our prairie.

 

Photo of the Week – April 10, 2014

I’m a terrible birder.  I used to be pretty good, but I’ve kind of lost my motivation – there are too many other things to look at when I’m out in the field.

Last Friday, I was at the annual Prairie Chicken Festival, near Burwell, Nebraska, hosted by Calamus Outfitters.  It was a great event, with lots of fun people and a fantastic setting.  In the early afternoon, I hopped on a bus full of people to go look at birds around the edges of Calamus reservoir.  I think the group saw several kinds of ducks and maybe some, uh, other things…

I, on the other hand, spent most of the time wandering through the sandhills looking down at the ground for signs of life in the prairie.  (It’s hard to see many birds while looking down…)  My biggest contribution to the birding portion of the trip was that I pointed out a couple owl pellets (on the ground, of course) to the group.  Apart from that, I was pretty useless.

Well, useless from a birding standpoint.  From a botanical standpoint, I actually found three different wildflower species blooming!  That was a surprise, given how cold it’s been this spring, and how little green there is across the landscape.  All three wildflowers were very short little annuals, and were near parking lots at the reservoir where they were exposed to full sun but sheltered from cool winds by nearby trees.

I have no idea what any of them are, so if any of you can identify them, I’d appreciate input…

A tiny wildflower at Calamus reservoir, near Burwell, Nebraska.  April 4, 2014

A tiny wildflower at Calamus reservoir, near Burwell, Nebraska. April 4, 2014

 

Another tiny flower.

Another tiny flower.

 

The third wildflower of the day.

The third wildflower of the day.

 

 

…Ok, I wasn’t completely unaware of the birds around me…  I actually did stop to take this photo of some pelicans late Friday morning, before heading over to the ranch to meet up with everyone else.

White pelicans at Calamus Reservoir.

White pelicans at Calamus Reservoir.

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