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 time...it 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 bed...now "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 Spring...now that's the mother of distractions!
 


Summer on the Tallgrass

"Viceroy"
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 it...it 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 - https://youtu.be/v4K3v9Zrl_U 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!


video

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's...top 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!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Going Domestic...Sort Of...

"Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) with European honey bee (Apis mellifera)"
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison
 
It's been some time since I've posted on A Tallgrass Journal, with my art studio journal being a more daily focus, I almost forget during the "off season"!  But this one relates a bit so I thought I'd cross over and add it here too!
 
I've read that there are around 4000 species of native bees in North America (http://bugguide.net/node/view/8267) - that seems like an awful lot!  I believe I have read that there are around 30-40 species of  Bumble Bees in Iowa...and many many more species of other less conspicuous native bees in addition to that.
 
But most of us think of the "honey bee" when bees are mentioned.  I remember my grand father bringing us gallon jars of honey when I was a kid...he had a bee keeper keeping their hives on his farm and they'd give him honey for "rent".  I was a honey crazed kid - loved the stuff!  I'm afraid I still do but have to moderate my love for it a bit now.  But the main reason I wanted to have someone keep their honey bees here on our acreage was to help pollinate our berry and fruit tree crops.  Even then, they still get plenty of competition from the native bees and other pollinators.
 
Our pastures are "native" pastures with plenty of native species of gasses and forbs (wildflowers).  Here is where the native bees seem to really shine...I see many types of Bumble Bees there as well as a small Metallic Green Bee that I particularly enjoy watching - just a gorgeous little bee!
 
But the European Honey Bees like the wildflowers in the pastures as well, especially when the garden plants have finished flowering or haven't cycled to new blooms yet.  One flower the Honey Bees especially like are the Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea); this forb is also a favorite of Bumble Bees.  When deciding to do a color drawing of the Purple Prairie Clover, I intended just drawing the flower/plant itself but when going through my files for a subject to draw from, I noticed a lot of photos with bees!  So...in tribute to my sweet tooth and love for honey - I included a Honey Bee.
 
Here's to ALL of our pollinators - may we have a long and ever lasting relationship, and may it always be a good one!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Plant of the Week - Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)


Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Sneezeweed - bless you!  Well, not really!  There's no pollen in the breeze and sneezing affected as such with this prairie forb...I always wondered why it got this name and the one place I found with a "story" behind the name was in the book "Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie" by Shirley Shirley, a University of Iowa Press publication...a book with some good info on germination and seed I might add.  Shirley Shirley mentions the use of this plant's leaves - dried and made into snuff "cause sneezing and supposedly ridding the body of evil spirits or clearing congestion.  Considered a good tonic by the pioneers."  So there ya go!

Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale) with Monarch
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

This forb is listed as most commonly found on moist prairies and sites...on our property it exists on a hillside slope that isn't too terribly moist so it may be found in a variety of conditions.  It is one that needs full sun for the most part so ours fits that condition.

 Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale) with native flies and bees
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Sneezeweed is a late summer/early fall forb here, usually showing up with the flush of goldenrods and the beginning of asters.  And it is a great pollinator plant - attracting bees, wasps, butterflies and flies of all kinds!  It is said to cause "issues" with livestock grazing so that is something to be aware of if it occurs in grazed pastures - this would also make it a dominant forb in such a situation as livestock would tend to avoid it.

Catch the August bloomers while they're still with us - Sneezeweed, the goldenrods and the asters will be with us well into September though!