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 just back from a great week in the Nebraska Sandhills. I saw an amazing array of wildlife, invertebrates, plants and landscapes. Of the many wildflowers in bloom this week, none punctuated the hills more beautifully than yucca (aka soapweed). As always, nearly every yucca stem with actively blooming flowers hosted an abundance of yucca moths, the only pollinator of yucca plants. If you aren’t familiar with the incredible relationship between yucca moths and yucca plants, you can read about it in a previous post.
Yucca moths in the early morning. Nebraska Sandhills – Cherry County.