I was back at the Niobrara Valley Preserve last week to help with a little bison work and a board meeting. My wife was able to come with me, and we stayed an extra night so we could do some hiking Saturday morning before heading home.
A burned eastern redcedar overlooks a what is a majestic landscape, even during the dormant season.
Kim and I decided to hike up the bluffs north of the river where the 2012 wildfire transformed an overgrown savanna of pines and cedars into a burgeoning grassland/shrubland dotted with burned tree skeletons. Autumn is well established along the Niobrara River, and there have already been several hard freezes and some light snows. Despite that, we found plenty of color and texture to enjoy while we wandered, as well as a couple very pleasant surprises.
Smooth sumac and yucca are two of the more common plants north of the river, and both still provided color, though the sumac leaves had all fallen.
It’s fun to speculate about the series of events that led to this sumac leaflet becoming impaled on this yucca leaf.
One of the best discoveries of the day was the first ponderosa pine seedling I’ve seen since the 2012 fire. It was right up on top of the ridge. I’m hopeful that we’ll find more in the coming years.
As bark peels from pine skeletons, bark beetle galleries are revealed. Interestingly, I didn’t see any on eastern red cedar – only on pine.
We were shocked to find a little patch of Campanula (harebell) still in full bloom on November 4. It was sheltered in a fairly steep draw, but must have survived temperatures well below freezing several times during the last month.
I’m writing this from The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve in north-central Nebraska, where I’m attending a prescribed fire planning workshop. The weather up here is beautiful, and the prairies are already wearing their autumn colors. The most conspicuous color on the landscape is the bright red of smooth sumac, which contrasts wonderfully with the more subtle browns and golds of the grasses.
Smooth sumac and prairie along the Niobrara River at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.
This photo was taken in one of the few parts of the Preserve that wasn’t impacted by the big wildfire of 2012. I walked and photographed areas that were affected by the fire as well, and I’ll post some of those photos and descriptions soon. In short, everything I saw is looking great; no significant invasive plant issues, complete recovery of grasslands, and positive developments under the burned pine woodland areas.