Photo of the Week – October 27, 2017

I spent much of this week at our Niobrara Valley Preserve.  During most of that time, photography was difficult because of bright sunlight, no clouds, and strong winds, but the place was still beautiful.  Most of the colorful leaves had already fallen from the sumac, ash, oak, and cottonwood trees, and I only found a few asters that still had flowers.  Regardless, there was plenty of life to be seen.  I spotted a kangaroo rat in my headlights as I drove down the lane to the headquarters my first night.  Bald eagles were wheeling above the river, and I saw red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, and northern harriers hunting as well.  Flocks of other birds went here and there, either migrating through or just moving nomadically in search of food.  During a couple evening walks, the relative quiet was broken by high-flying squadrons of sandhill cranes passing overhead.

Late day light on ponderosa pine skeletons, burned in the 2012 wildfire.

One evening, I climbed up to the top of the ridge north of the river and photographed the landscape as the sun went down.  By the time I got back down to my truck, it was pretty dark, and I became very aware of how many shadowy places were available for creatures to hide.  I started musing that I still hadn’t seen a mountain lion at the Preserve, even though we know they’re here, and have had several documented recently.  Then I realized that it was less important to think about how many mountain lions I had seen and more important to think about how many lions had seen me!  I’m pretty sure that second number is higher than the first.

Many of the pines killed by the 2012 fire have lost their tops to the wind, but this one was still standing tall and intact.

While cloudless skies make daytime photography difficult, they do have their advantages at night, especially when the wind calms down enough for long exposures (the camera shutter was open about 25 seconds to capture this starry scene).  The light along the horizon is not from the setting sun, but from the closest town of any size (Valentine, Nebraska, population 2700) which was about 25 miles away.

Only a few trees still had their leaves this week, making them stand out in the river valley.

I will be up on the Niobrara again late next week, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Even in the dormant season, there’s always plenty to see.

Photo of the Week – December 10, 2015

Earlier this week, I mentioned the hike I took at the Niobrara Valley Preserve Monday afternoon and evening.  I carried my camera on the walk but waited in vain for decent photography light.  The heavy clouds started to thin as sunset time neared, but the sun dropped below the horizon before ever popping through.  However, a short time later, as the clouds continued to thin, they suddenly lit up with beautiful pink and purple color.

Tree skeletons in post sunset glow in the 2012 wildfire area at TNC's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

This tree apparently supported a fallen tree or branch for quite a few years – long enough to have molded itself around it.

Tree skeletons in post sunset glow in the 2012 wildfire area at TNC's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

Tree silhouettes against the post-sunset sky.

Not long after the color faded from the sky, the first stars started to appear and the clouds continued to disperse.  By the time I reached the car, most of the sky was clear and the stars were strikingly bright in the sky.  It was only about 7:30 pm, so I decided to extend my hike a little and found a few trees to put in front of the stars.

stars

Starry sky along the Niobrara River.  This pine tree is the same one I featured a few posts ago as I compared three years of photos showing fire recovery.

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stars

At the time, I thought the glow on the horizon was the nearby town of Valentine, but now I wonder if it was actually the very last of the glow from the sun.

Listening to coyotes and great horned owls while admiring more stars than anyone could count in a lifetime of lifetimes was a pretty great way to end the day.