Monday, August 7, 2017

July Was Good...On To August!

 Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been pressed to keep up with the progression of plants in the prairie pasture.  I know I've missed things, life gets in the way, but here are a few things from July.

 Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Culver's Root  (Veronicastrum virginicum)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense)  
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Big Bluestem in Morning Dew
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 False Gromwell (Onosmodium molle)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

 Narrow-leafed Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
 photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison 

There is change in the prairie here...nothing new, its just that we're seeing the end seasons approaching...the mid summer prairie plants, though still offering pollen to many interested bees and butterflies, are passing their peak "glory" and most are now forming seed heads.  

Last night I found the very first Dotted Liatris, Prairie Onion and False Boneset blooms of this new season; things will be progressing more quickly than I'd like now - the prairie bloom periods never last long enough for me!

I found a resting Monarch settling in for the night on some field goldenrod and a skipper feeding on some common milkweed; several small Bumble Bees still taking advantage of the Wild Bergamot's remaining blooms and a male Western Meadowhawk Dragonfly cruising the upper story of grasses and forbs.  I have yet to watch a Robber Fly, a Katydid or an Argiope this summer, and the Argiope spiders have been very scarce for two or three years now...a concern.

This is a bittersweet season, for when it comes and the flaming magenta and riotous yellows wow the senses - it seems to finish as quickly as it started.  Ah, but isn't that the way of things!?  One can never take something so special for granted.

Still...looking forward to what August has to offer - hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Definitely Dog (and Frog?) Days...

 Adult Cope's Gray Tree Frog and tadpoles
in both of the rain barrels.

Mid summer and the heat is on...Dog Days of Summer comes to mind, but frogs have a mind of their own!  We had been having a lot of evening "music" in the yard here and in the valley hearing the frogs sing at night!  Apparently some Cope's Gray Tree Frogs took a real liking to our side rain barrels and laid eggs there, which then gave us a bumper crop of tree frog tadpoles.  Only real drawback has been not being able to use water out of the hasn't rained here in 16 days and the heat is oppressive in the yard and gardens.
 Rain Barrel Hotels
Little Cope's Gray Tree Frog still with a bit of it's
tadpole tail - with a dime for size comparison!
 A drink glass with just a few tadpoles.
 A Little goofing around (I hope!).

The tree frogs have been a fun diversion to the acreage...kind of takes me back to being a kid again!  My Mother would let me keep frogs, toads and turtles in the basement..."Free Range"!  We really were pretty bug free for a few years until I grew out of the menageries!

I actually became pretty good at raising frogs and toads - there were gallon honey jars everywhere (no honey in them of course!) filled with water and vegetation and tadpoles; it was a real blast watching the transformation.  Now-a-days it's just fine sharing a garden path with toads and frogs on occasion as well as enjoying the night music!

Aside from Herps I've been busy with a few Artisan Road Trip exhibits and a small solo showing....A.R.T has had 2 exhibits simultaneously in Minnesota and Iowa one at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington, Minnesota and one at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji, Iowa.  on August 1st we'll also have an exhibit at the Red Rock Art Center in Fairmont, Minnesota too.  On top of all that I have a small exhibit that'll run all summer (though August) at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center at Lost Island Lake in Palo Alto County.

"Spring Bobolink"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
On top of all that I have a small exhibit that'll run all summer (through August) at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center at Lost Island Lake in Palo Alto County, north of Ruthven, Iowa.
color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

The natural wetland areas around Lost Island are a particular favorite of mine; commingling the wetlands and the tallgrass prairie "is the best of both worlds"!

"Big Bluestem in Bloom"
color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

The Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center gives the public an appreciation and basic understanding of the wetlands and offers opportunities to enjoy the beauty of these natural treasures.  One of the goals of the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center is to give to give visitors the information and skills needed to make wise decisions regarding our natural resources, to become better stewards of the land and to make an impression that will last a lifetime.

Its been a busy summer so far! Catch the showing of select artwork on display July through the end of August - and take in the beauty of our wetlands and prairies while you're at it!  A win -win!
Hope to see you on the Tallgrass - tay cool out there! 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Father's Day Rainbow"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on images for a larger view) 

All is good out here on the prairie this spring - now summer is here and the native pastures here are picking up steam!  Its been a fairly dramatic here with the sky and weather as well; the clouds across the valley from the studio are beginning to take over my efforts with the camera and the easel.  
"Breaking Clouds Over the Rookery"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on images for a larger view) 

I've been working with the sky out front on the easel as well as with the camera - this painting was my first plein air work in quite some is easy to just sit out on the studio deck and paint away...oh I still get distracted constantly but it sure is convenient just outside the studio door!

On the studio deck!
I've looked at the rookery across the valley each spring and summer and always wanted to see if I could paint it in some way.  The breaking clouds one day this spring was the answer and I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of it! 
"Valley Rain"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on images for a larger view) 

But its really amazing what the weather will create for the "eyes"!  Whether it was the rainbow I barely caught in time, or the "Valley Rain" system that knocked the rainbow out of the sky and drenched me as I was trying to hide under the eaves of the corn crib!  Whatever and whichever - they were all fun to watch and do!
Hope to see you on the Tallgrass this summer - take care!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Those Pleasant Distractions of Spring

American Toad climbing out for some sun
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

Are distractions really a symptom of procrastination?  I think in my case that may have more than a bit of truth to it, but distractions can make you smile or even take some time to just mellow out a bit.  When spring comes - everything is a distraction!

Around here it can be as simple as the first butterfly of spring, a bird returning on its way through on migration, or the Pasque Flowers in bloom on the prairie.  

This morning Georgie saw our first two Chipping Sparrows of the season!  I haven't seen them yet so I'm a bit distracted looking out the window hoping to see them after such a long break as winter.  

A while ago Georgie came in a said she'd accidentally dug up a Toad in the Spinach "that's" a good distraction!  I went out and admired the beautiful spinach she sowed in the fall; we had some of it in our salad last week...that's a good distraction too!  The Toad was caked with dirt and was sunning itself on the pea gravel garden path, it later climbed back into the Spinach bed.

After a short while Georgie came into the studio to tell me another Toad had appeared, this one climbed up out of the leaf mulch in the Garlic bed!  And there was our first butterfly of the season on the radish bed's headboard!  Now that's a good distraction -  I had to see this!

The American Toad looked as if it had actually sprouted out of the Garlic bed's leaf litter and really made a nice image on my camera (above)...not what I'd consider a warm day (actually had a little rain mixed with snow yesterday) but the sun was evidently very appreciated by this Toad - a great distraction indeed!

Right now I'm typing this blog instead of working at the easel, hmmm I'm almost done, what distraction can I find now?  Ah its that's the mother of distractions!

Summer on the Tallgrass

photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been trying to document the native plants on the pasture; spring has gone by so quickly and the spring forb (wildflower) blooming has zipped by too quickly! 

Two evening ago I was out after the wind finally got manageable for photographing and was shooting some video and trying to get still shots when I could.  There was a Monarch flying around quickly here and there but I didn't try chasing was just to animated and would hold still for me.  When I was packing it up and heading back to the studio I walked past a Viceroy nectaring on, of all things, Brome grass!

Well I wished it'd been a Monarch but it was so cooperative I took several shots and did some video of it as well.  I hate admitting there is brome in the pasture but there isn't a prairie that hasn't struggled against that common/nasty cool season (Eurasian) grass the farmers embrace for grazing/haying.

You can almost always tell a Viceroy from a Monarch by its size - its about a third smaller than a Monarch.  Also the Viceroy's hind wing has a line that intersects horizontally through the vertical veins - not seen with Monarchs...the resemblance is remarkable though, and even I have to stop a look more closely when they show up here...they're fairly common here every summer.

I was taken a bit by surprise with a butterfly this size nectaring on a grass in flower...maybe its not uncommon, it is just something I haven't seen before.  I have seen small Skippers and those small Blues, along with Hover flies and such nectar on grass florets but this was new for me!

I'll insert a video of this Viceroy (The link is on You Tube at - if this blog doesn't show it for you)  

Have a great summer out there and hope to see you on the Tallgrass!!!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Late Spring on the Prairie!


Prairie Phlox (Plox pilosa)

June never seems to let up out here on the prairie.  We sure appreciate the rain but high winds, lightning and hail are the things that keep us on our toes.  We've already had several days in the mid 90's or higher and nights in the mid 70' that off with 85-90% humidity and it gets pretty oppressive out there!
We have had a good showing of forbs on the pasture and as one would expect - things are gaining momentum.  I haven't been out to area prairies this spring - its a busy spring and summer in store for us, so I'll just try and be satisfied with keeping track of what's happening here.  I've uploaded a video of Prairie Phlox on the pasture here from a couple days back...the last frame of the video is a fun one...but then my idea of fun doesn't always equate to other's opinions :)
"Passing Prairie Showers"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
I just finished a painting in the studio, I had the idea for it for a couple weeks.  This painting depicts the "normal" passing showers that are so common out here in that great openness of the Tallgrass Prairie.  I used our south pasture as the "model" and borrowed some patches of Golden Alexander in bloom, from the north pasture to place in the shadow cast in the foreground during the late afternoon.
Late Spring and Summer paintings can be difficult because of the overwhelming greens out there so I like to take some artistic license and warm up the image with the late afternoon sunshine and neutralize it a bit with foreground shadows.  It was a bit warm the day I laid this idea out but even hotter (mid-upper nineties) while I painted in the studio - thank goodness for air-conditioning!
Hope to see you on the Tallgrass - stay safe and keep cool out there!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some of My Favorite Things...

 "Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)" 
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been working on more drawings of prairie plants (grasses and forbs) and anyone that really knows me realizes I only do this out of a real love for the subject matter.  I guess I've been watching winter so long that I'm drawing for cathartic reasons!  But the subject matter this time around is one from our prairie pasture and that's the Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis), sometimes these plants have other common names, I think Rattle Pod is one...these names usually make sense too - the seed pods do rattle when shaken about.  

This plant first showed up on our north pasture hillside over 10 years ago and in a location I had not been doing fall or spring seeding...again last year I found several plants in our south pasture, and again in locations not seeded before, so it may very well have been here before these areas were grazed years back.  Also, like some other plants I can think of, we've had some years intermittently that we could find no Canada Milk Vetch anywhere...2012, 2013 and 2014 were such years, yet last year they were "widespread" and in locations we'd never seen them.  That's very interesting to me but I have no answer to why!

Canada Milk Vetch, to me, has a very visually interesting structure...its almost graphic in quality ...although I chose to draw this plant - it would have made a great serigraph as well!  Or even a wood block!  Its a fairly common and somewhat aggressive plant - not one for the garden, but a great plant for the pasture here...I know the deer and rabbits sure love it!  (A lot of pruning going on through the summer.)

I tried treating the drawing's background a bit differently than in the past (more scribbling and less solvent), but tried being true to this forb's anatomy.  I drew this milk vetch at it's peak - which in the summer heat, lasts a fairly short time unfortunately...its a good thing there's lots of different prairie flowers and grasses out there and that they all have their specific bloom time - you have all summer to enjoy!

Spring is on the doorstep - get out and enjoy it!