Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year on the Tallgrass!

2010 is on it's last legs here.  As I write this entry we're in a unusual weather event...instead of a blizzard, it's pouring rain and sleet; soon to be just snow.  Weird stuff for the last day of the year to be sure!

I was out on the pasture this week with the snow shoes; it is very retrospective to view things now that they are under winter's blanket.  Many vole holes appear here and there, as do tunnel ridges traveling to and from buried seed heads.  I always shake my head in wonder at how nature copes in the extremes...the snow's crust is now hardened by the weather change and, for those left "on top", things are going to get difficult!!!

The video at the top of this blog is a scene taken out one of the studio windows...kind of a "snow globe"  gift to you.  If you are an email subscriber to this blog, the video won't show can either go directly to the blog ( or visit this link on You Tube -

I want to take a moment to wish all of you out there a prosperous and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

See you on the Tallgrass in 2011!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Holiday Wishes!

Winter on the Tallgrass

Well the solstice is past us now...the days will start to get longer!  OK, not by much at first but it's the thought that counts!  Hope you had a chance to view the total lunar eclipse on the solstice!  That will never happen again in our life time.  I had all my camera gear set and ready to go but when I got up at 1:30 a.m. to check it out here, the sky was still overcast and not any sign of even where the moon was.  Luck of the draw I guess.

The native pasture here is now pretty much buried in snow...we had a blizzard a week and a half ago and the 50+ mph winds and 6" of snow pretty much plastered everything down and buried the majority of it.  I think the voles and mice will have a bountiful winter with all the seed heads buried beneath where they are now living!

We've had a pair of Great Horned Owls in the pasture and yard each night for the past 2-3 weeks.  I think their efforts will be a little more hampered now, but even the rodents make a "snow top" run for it every now and then...and our bird feeders seem to suppy enough rodent fodder, so maybe the owls are just waiting for bird seed visitors?!

Been seeing a few deer around but the hunting season is on so they're a bit wary.  Know they're traveling about because their tracks are up and down the driveway each night and through the yard each morning.  Even the Coyotes are tracking through the yard, we had a fresh set of prints this morning outside the kitchen window.

Wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a great Christmas, holiday season, and a wonderful and prosperous New Year in 2011!

See you next year on the Tallgrass!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Tallgrass Year

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

Thank you to those folks who came to the Prairie Heritage Center for the Prairie program Thursday evening...although my voice gave out early on, you hung in there!

If you weren't able to make it to the center, I'm going to post the first part of the program which was a media program, recorded with images and audio from our prairie here at Prairie Hill Farm.  I should state "most" of the images were from here; they were all shot within a 35 mile radius of here but at least 90% were here on our property.  The music soundtrack was licensed through CSS Music, Inc.

The web address for "A Tallgrass Year" is -

We're very busy here at the studio, with the Christmas season upon us, but if you're in the area and want to stop by, please feel free!

See you on the Tallgrass!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tallgrass On My Mind

Soldier Beetle ( family Cantharidae) on Heliopsis helianthoides

This entry is a reposting of my Prairie Hill Farm blog from is strictly prairie related so thought it'd be a good fit for the A Tallgrass Journal blog as well.

I've mentioned the Prairie Heritage Center is a gem in the extreme SE corner of our county (O'Brien).  There is an exhibit of the tallgrass prairie at the center, running now and through January 6, 2011.  The exhibit is a state traveling exhibit entitled "Tallgrass Prairie - Past, Present, and Future", and is a great exhibit for all ages to see, enjoy and walk through!

With this exhibit, the host organization is responsible for putting on a program in conjunction with the exhibit theme.  I was asked if I'd be willing to do so and agreed...prairie is near and very dear to my heart and I'm always happy to speak on this subject!

The Prairie Heritage Center is calling the program "Colors of the Prairie".  I've put together a short media program which will be followed by "colors of the prairie" and a discussion of my experiences and personal viewpoint of the Tallgrass Prairie.  The program will take place at the Prairie Heritage Center on December 2nd at 7 p.m - that's this coming Thursday night, so if you have an opportunity to get away for a short evening event - be sure and stop by!

For those of you who may not have been to the Prairie Heritage Center, directions are "east" of Sutherland, Iowa on HY 10, or "west" of Peterson, Iowa on Hwy 10...or 4931 Yellow Avenue, Peterson, Iowa.  You can also call for more information at (712) 295-7200!
See You on the Tallgrass!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


 Sharp-shinned Hawk (adult)
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

It's been quite a spell since my last posting here, and not from a lack of things to throw out there or events to share. No moss has been forming around here, and that's a good thing.  But when that happens, it usually means there is less time for me to spend out on the prairie.  The studio work has been keeping me busy.

Had our first winter storm yesterday...well it's not really winter yet, we've got a few weeks before the solstice arrives.  Had high winds and around 4-5 inches of snow.

The neighborhood song birds really come in to the feeders at this time of the year, and become regular guests until spring.  Other birds come "visiting" for the guests, which really can make for some shorts bursts of excitement.  This morning a Sharp-shinned Hawk was chasing the Goldfinches and Juncos around the front yard. The bird landed in the Silver Maple out front and I grabbed the small camera and took a couple shots of it before it launched off into a chase after finches over and past the corn crib, the last we saw of it for now.

"Sharpies" are real cool little hawks, they're the smallest member of the accipiter family in North America.  They are more commonly known as birds of woodlands but come through the prairie during migration...taking advantage of opportunities - like our bird feeders.  I'm sure they have always made their way through the tallgrass region during fall and spring migrations...I surmise that they likely held to the river valleys for the timber and bird prey they are accustomed to, but who knows?!  (Accipiters feed primarily on birds.) The tallgrass is a much different environment than woodland, but their edges harbor many of the same species.

This is the time of year we're usually getting ready for possible fall or spring burns, and collect seed.  I have been able to do a minimal amount of preparations in the pasture, but it doesn't look like fall burning will be very likely now.  Even though the soil was still fairly warm when the snow came yesterday, the snow did come heavily enough to cover the majority of the pasture.  I don't typically go too much for fall burns, but did have some plans for a limited one.  Our ditches could use one; having a lot of trash growing in them this summer has created some issues and keeping the ditches clear of vegetation does help the road out front here when the snow gets deep.

The spring planting I did for the ditches went surprisingly well, but the extremely wet summer still caused many erosion trouble spots.  Maybe leaving the many troublesome weeds there during the winter will aid in abating some spring thaw run off.

The majority of our seed collection time was restricted to our own site.  I wish we could have gone out and done some area collecting...maybe next year?  There's still plenty to work on here and I don't need to worry about being idle when the window of opportunity presents itself.

In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy the days on the tallgrass when you can!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Last Summer Posting??!!

 Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) on Stiff Goldenrod
(click on image for a larger view)

OK...where'd it go???  The summer I mean!  Geeze I hate that...losing time so easily I mean.  Although not gone, it is only days till the equinox, but that's not all bad either I guess.  Soon the black flies and mosquitoes will get the axe from old Jack Frost and it'll be pleasant sailing on the tallgrass for a few more weeks!  Except the Asian Lady Bird Beetles...have you noticed how impervious they seem to be to a hard frost?  Must have anti freeze in their little cells!

This is the time of asters and goldenrod here on the tallgrass and there are a few invertebrates I enjoy this time of year.  As I've said in past postings, invertebrates are such an important key in the entire web that holds a prairie environment's not just plants...which of course are the most obvious to the observer's eye!

I see lots of different types of Wasps on the prairie once the goldenrods come on.  Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) seems to be the most common and prolific here, although we do have quite of bit of the S. canadensis or Canada Goldenrod too.  Earlier in the mid summer I can also find various wasps taking advantage of the Whorled milkweed  (Asclepias verticillata) here.  Why I seem to find more activity on the A. verticillata, than the other milkweeds I'm note sure, but it's something I've observed here for several years and kind of think it's displaying a "preference". 

The one wasp I look forward to watching each year is the Great Golden Digger. This is a curious and fairly friendly wasp with a neat habit of digging nests or burrows with the tenacity of a badger!  I'm still awaiting my first photographic opportunity to photograph this wasp digging.  I watched one in amazement once several years ago here and regretted not having my camera with me at the moment!  I know most people aren't real keen on stinging insects...especially larger ones...any wasp will sting if bothered and some may not be as tolerant as others, but we're fortunate to not have that issue here...the wasps on our prairie remnant are actually amazingly tolerant...but I'll admit I'm very careful around them any way!
We've been enjoying the sounds of the season here very much.  Each night has been bringing the late summer insect serenades, the neighborhood Great Horned Owl has been hooting from the yard by the house around 3-4 a.m. each morning and the Coyotes in the valley have "sung" numerous times for us this month!

I'm going to share our Great Horned Owl, serenading insects and one lone (distant) Coyote calling for it's friends, with you.  I posted this audio snippet with friends on Face Book and my Prairie Hill Farm Studio Blog as well, and I'll share it here on the "A Tallgrass Journal" blog too.

"Night Noise" audio video © Bruce A. Morrison

Since Google's blogspot doesn't have a really easy way to post simple audio files, I'll share it as a video file.  The image used on the video is a small "detail" of the image posted I shared about 3 years back on this journal.  It is of the pasture across the road from us, depicted at night in late summer - a moon lit landscape with a Great Horned Owl passing through in flight...maybe (?) on it's way up to Prairie Hill Farm to spook a rabbit or skunk out of cover for it's dinner!

 "Night Pasture - Great Horned Owl"
8X24" color pencil rendering - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for larger view)

This artwork original sold at the Artisans Road Trip back in 2008 but I do have signed open edition prints of this work for sale at the 2010 A.R.T. event this year.  I also have many new works (photographs, drawings and paintings) this year and would love to share them with you at the 2010 Artisans Road Trip coming up in just 2 weeks!  We'll share a lot of mouth watering treats from Georgie's kitchen as well!

Why not go on a early autumn road trip the 1st, 2nd or 3rd of October and stop by the studio here at Prairie Hill Farm?!!!  Even take a walk through the late Tallgrass Prairie here too and enjoy some of those invertebrates we've admired from short distances all summer!

Enjoy the "Night Sounds" audio video and stop in for some day time memories if you're in the neighborhood!!!

See you on the tallgrass!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall Migration!

 Monarch Butterflies roosting in the west grove here just before sunset

I haven't meant to be delinquent with the blog!  I've actually been snowed under in related endeavors here at Prairie Hill Farm.  But sometimes things come up that require you to "sneak in" some time regardless.

It's the fall migration...or roosting that happens each year here at this time...not necessarily birds in this instance...although we've had many warblers passing through as well as Flycatchers and other songbirds the past 2-3 weeks.  It's the Monarchs!

Monarchs settle in for the night here after sunset

Each year we've been here we've had some roosting in the fall.  A couple years back was our largest roosting of upwards of a thousand butterflies...possibly slightly less, they're hard to count when they fill branches from 15-25 feet up!  This year we're seeing around 300-400 "countable" butterflies.  One thing I've found is when you go out in the morning to investigate - you often find more because they flutter their wings exposing the bright upper side when the sun begins to warm them.  This morning was no exception, I found many more roost covered branches than the evening before!

I send reports of sightings and roosts each year to the Journey North site; they have a Monarch migration tracking project that is followed by school  children all over the country.  It may sound small or unimportant but I feel kids are no longer in touch with their "natural" world like they were decades back.  Our natural heritage is more important than we can understand and to expose our kids of all ages to facets of this is extremely important!

The sun stirs the Monarchs to flutter as the sun warms them,
then they'll leave for the neighboring prairie pasture here to nectar through the day.

It was a bad winter for Monarchs this past year.  Their mountain winter roosts have significantly decreased and what roosting areas they still cling to are in bad shape.  This past winter in Mexico there were heavy rains which turned to freezing rain, causing high mortalities for the North American Monarch population.  

The Monarchs we have here now are that one unique part of the puzzle - they will be the ones to make the journey back to Mexico, winter over, and start the journey back next March!  Amazing!  They are the last generation for this year!

Get out and watch this amazing event if you can!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Night Noise...A Bird of the Tallgrass

Sedge Wren singing (during day time!)
from Maximilian Sunflower 
(Helianthus maximlianii) perch
I've been recording the night's recording the night noise, it's mesmerizing.  Painting and photographing the natural world is my avocation...appreciating it is my "hobby" I guess you could say.  A personal interest only for the fun and enjoyment of it.

One thing I've not been totally successful in recording is the Sedge Wren here at Prairie Hill Farm.  They've been elusive to photograph as well, but one special characteristic with the Sedge Wren is one of it's calling habits - it sings nearly all night long!  Well, "singing" is a kind way to describe it.

Sedge Wrens do sing during daylight hours too, but I can't get over how they don't burn themselves out?!  When do they ever sleep?!  I "can" tell you when they don't!  Wake up around here at 1, 2, or 3 a.m. and I'll almost guarantee a Sedge Wren down in the pasture or out back, singing away.

I've been trying to record the nights here this summer...I've done bits and pieces in past years too, but the Sedge Wren's voice doesn't carry loudly enough to record well from the house.  I usually stick a microphone out the upstairs window and then go to bed!  That's the lazy way of recording nature!  I have given thought to taking the equipment out and recording outside...I've done it many times but found out the hard don't let electronics run long outdoors here in the summer at night.  

Our dewpoints have been tropical here this the 70's to around 80 degrees.  I fried my parabolic microphone a few years back when I left it outside recording nature sounds.  I got up and went out to turn the tape over in my deck (to record the other side), only to find out the entire set up was covered in a heavy dew...fried everything that was running...a sad state of affairs for a "hobbiest" audio guy, and it took only an hour to do it.  :(

It's wet out there!!!

"Sedge Wren Sunrise"
(oil painting by Bruce A. Morrison)

 Sedge Wrens are one of our grassland birds...they prefer tall grass and pasture or prairie or wetland's their cup of tea.  I did a painting of one from a early sunrise encounter one year...the bird singing it's heart out like it was trying to get a few last notes in before the sun over took the landscape.  

Sedge Wrens are great examples of what you can have with biological diversity in a landscape.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you have plant diversity and not a monoculture, you introduce living space for invertebrates.  Not only do varieties of plant species create food for birds, but they also create food for insects - which again, creates food for more species of birds...this creates food for mammals...and reptiles, amphibians, and...well, you get the picture.

I'm going to double post this blog onto the "Prairie Hill Farm Studio" blog's suitable for both purposes, I'll just tweak it a bit, so if you follow the "Prairie Hill Farm Studio" you'll see the little guy there as well.

Stay up late and give these little guys a of these days I'll possibly be able to post some audio of them for you...good night from the Studio!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bio Blitz

 Prairie Larkspur
(Delphinium virescens)

Ever been to a Bio Blitz?  I witnessed my first one last summer at the Lost Island Prairie Wetland Nature Center north of Ruthven, Iowa.  It was a blast!  Various professionals in different fields headed groups of volunteers out into the marshes, woodlands, and prairies in the Lost Island Lake area.  Each group was focused on a specific plant, animal or invertebrate, and would explore the area's habitat for those species and tally what they found.  I had volunteered last year to just float from group to group as they inventoried their finds and found it fascinating what everyone was finding.  

Lost Island Naturalist Miriam Patton is carrying out another Bio Blitz this summer and asked me if I would help with the "prairie plant" part of this year's effort.  If running around and identifying prairie plants interests you - why not come over and join us!?  Besides - I "really" could use the help!  More eyes and heads are often better than one.  Any way, it'll be fun!  If plants aren't your thing, you can also volunteer to assist in finding Butterflies and Moths, Birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, aquatic specific species, and so on!  What could be more fun than that?  :) 

I'll paste an agenda here for more information -

Those interested in participating should make reservations by calling the Nature Center at 712-837-4866.  Let us know which session(s) you will be attending.  There is no charge for this event.
The schedule is as follows:
Saturday, August 7
12:00 -1:00  Registration at Nature Center
1:00 Welcome and logistics
1:30-5:00  Field Session
5:00-5:45  Sack Supper
5:45-7:45  Field Session
8:00 Lake Management Update
9:30 Moth Field Session
Sunday, August 8
6:00-8:00 Bird Field Session
9:00-12:00  Field Session
12:00 Sack Lunch
1:00 Final Report
Bring a sack lunch/supper, wear sturdy shoes that can get wet or muddy (no flip flops or open toed sandals), sunscreen, bug repellent, water bottle to re-fill, and binoculars.

 Wood Lily
(Lilium philadelphicum)

One thing I find interesting about identifying forbs during mid to late summer is identifying the late spring and early summer plants with their seed capsules in place instead of their flowers.  I often wish I'd find the time to photograph forbs in seed...would you recognize the Prairie Larkspur gone to seed?  I think it's amazingly similar to the shape of columbine when it's gone to seed...except larger and paler, maybe even somewhat more "papery" (if that's really a word!?).

If you're familiar with lilies in your garden, then you'll likely recognize the Wood Lily gone to fruit...these are perhaps some forbs we'll be able to find at the "Bioblitz:  A 24 Hour Nature Scavenger Hunt" at Lost Island on August 7th and 8th.  If you're free, and game for a real "hunt", come on over and give me a hand!  :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pondering Leafy Spurge

July morning in the Waterman Prairie Complex
(click on image for a larger view)

Spent a morning recently on a photo field trip to a section of the Waterman Prairie complex just south of us.  Was curious about the Leafy Spurge situation on a favorite gravel esker; I hadn't been there in "season" in some time.

I found some very nice stands of Echinacea (E. angustifolia), 4 species of Asclepias (milkweeds - Green, Sullivant's, Butterfly, and Common), Compass plants (Silphium lancinatum), Toothed Evening primrose (Calylophus serrulatus), amd many other forbs, with plenty of native grasses such as Hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), Prairie muhly (Muhlenbergia ?), Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) - all beginning to flower already.  Things seem to be ahead of past years due to our region's record rainfall and warm weather.

 Leafy Spurge
(Euphorbia esula)

The Leafy Spurge situation in this particular locale has not improved, it has nearly engulfed the disturbed slope leading up the esker and is now making some inroads onto the crest of the knob.  A few years ago a grad student from Michigan University would show up for a few weeks and spend a great deal of time documenting the incursion and it's affects on the neighboring plant communities.  I had some secret hope that he'd have some recommendations or an epiphany or something that'd help the situation!  But that was a few years ago now and nothing has changed there.

I can't fault the county or DNR on this predicament...I see it all over.  I do believe that if it were a legislated issue, we could get it under control.  That's a real can of worms though and don't really care to get into where that conversation would lead!  But if land owners over the county and state took this plant seriously, the rest of the areas still fighting it off would make real progress.

I don't know if Iowa has started a flea beetle program or not?  Some neighboring and regional states have and give out the flea beetles to land owners to disperse and I'm reading some encouraging results.  But it's a complicated situation and often requires several control approaches, not just one (flea beetles).

Apparently Leafy Spurge is toxic to cattle so any pasture ground effected by it becomes pasture lost for grazing.  However, sheep and goats can and will graze on Leafy Spurge, and studies have been done the past several years on grazing sheep or goats as part of a multi control approach.  Goats will apparently graze spurge completely down but it will return after they are rotated off a site.  Some success has been found combining flea beetles with goats or sheep though.  Maybe fencing small portions of an affected site and moving the enclosure periodically could be a helpful approach?

I was reading a paper from the Colorado State Extension, it mentioned that there are 4 types of flea beetles they use, as not all are suitable for "all" locations.  Interesting - I thought a Leafy Spurge Flea Beetle was just one insect, but there are several types and that's been part of the studies done the past several years.  Their habitat requirements vary, and although they don't entirely understand, they have identified which beetles prefer which type of habitat - you'd tailor your situation to suit a particular beetle for the best results.

For people that are unaware of invasive/exotic plants, none of this may seem the least bit important.  But if you witness this phenomenon first hand in a habitat you personally care about, it is most disheartening.  It is something like watching a loved one slowly succumb to a disease from which they apparently will never recover.

Our natural heritage is harder to secure as each year passes.  It is not wise to squander what your grand children deserve to experience and enjoy!  Look for answers and make inquiries...volunteer to help the environment in your whatever you can, it's worth the effort.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

July...A Window Into The Whole

Canada Anemone
(Anemone canadensis)
click images for larger view

This amazes me to no end, always has, always does time pass so quickly?!  It's already July!  

When I was young...very young, time was a chain that prevented the enjoyment of the natural world...glued to the window during class in school I griped about the day wasting away "out there", while trapped inside - not wanting to learn what I was told I must!

Now, it (time) is so fleeting and the natural world progresses, through the many processions of blooms and bust.  Even with the native pasture here, it is difficult to not miss things, and when you miss something, you usually must wait till next year!  (But at this rate - that doesn't seem to take very long anymore!)

I walked a favorite prairie close to home one evening this past week. The Porcupine grass was standing tall and mostly naked; nearly all their quills had been given up to the ground.  The Canada anemone blooms, which were quite prevalent in this same space only 2 weeks ago, were becoming rare...their seed now forming.  

The air was full of sounds of insects.  This is a sweet sound to me now...may not have been in earlier naive years.  I once found myself a quarter of a mile from the road in a boggy area of SE Iowa, photographing Bur Marigolds (Bidens aristosa) in a mass bloom I've not seen anything like since.  I was photographing with my old Crown Graphic 4X5 camera and heavy old tripod.  When I finally set up for a shot I realized a now nearly deafening drone of bees.  I looked around and almost immediately had to suppress a feeling of panic.  I had to have nearly a hundred solid acres of bees busily working all around me!  I was an island in the middle of these insects. The slogging walk back to the car, in my chest high waders, was made much harder by now trying to avoid upsetting any of the "quadrillion" (my mentally disabled estimate!) bees in a feeding frenzy!  I knew then, and know now, that I had nothing to worry about as long as I stayed upright - these insects had the same distraction I had (the flowers!) and were unconcerned or aware of my incidental presence!

I have always been interested in insects (invertebrates) and I suppose if I'd had my 35mm camera with me at the time I might have spent the next hour trying to get back to the car, photographing bees pollinating these forbs!  

I've become more interested in invertebrates in recent years here at our acreage and native pasture.  I've mentioned many times in past "A Tallgrass Journal" entries, about trying to balance the maintenance of the small remnant and the reconstructed areas with fire and mowing "and" leaving it alone...for the good of the insects.  This subject has become, perhaps one of the most important and discussed parts of prairie biodiversity (health).

With prairie remnants so dissected, fragmented - and small, the total picture is seldom still intact.  The prairie, as a real habitat, is in more danger of no longer existing as it once did than nearly any other type of habitat in our region of the country.  It all works together, as so eloquently put in "The Emerald Horizon, the History of Nature in Iowa", by Connie Mutel (see "A TAllgrass Journal" Vol.7 No.1)

Invertebrates are so key to the tallgrass diversity, as are the plants...but the ecosystem will not hold together integrally without the invertebrates.

I've noticed the pollinators among them (invertebrates) over the years and find it fascinating.  I never gave pollination much thought years back, until we became more familiar with some economic impacts of them...such as bees with world food crops.  In our region, much of our most common grain crops (corn and soy beans) are wind pollinated so the importance of pollinator health is nearly unappreciated.  This is unfortunate and many say "short sighted", as pollinator health is a key to world food production we should not disregard!

 Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) with ant
(you'll have to click on the image to see the ant!)

One thing I've noticed out on our native pasture in recent days is the variety of pollinators one usually does not consider as such. I often see ants on various forbs...many time they'll be with aphids of course but often pollinating, gathering nectar and/or pollen and becoming important to specific plants.  The asclepias (milkweed) is one forb I often see ants working.

 Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with Mosquitoes
(click on image for larger view)
One insect that I've seen participating in this process, that surprised me are mosquitoes (!).  I remember hearing that mosquitoes also feed on nectar, but figured it must be the males, because we all know what the females feed on!  (ouch!)  But I've noticed many, many examples the past week of female mosquitoes inadvertently pollinating plants...especially the milkweeds.  Do they feed on others?  Well I'm guessing so, it's likely the opportunity that presents itself (?).  Wouldn't it be nice if female mosquitoes would prefer nectar to us!!!

 Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)with Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)

Another insect I see feeding on nectar are wasps.  Or perhaps it's the pollen they are after, or both?  I'll have to study this more.  But one wasp I really like here is the Great Golden Digger Wasp.  They seem to feed on whatever is in bloom, which at the moment are the milkweeds.  The Great Golden Digger Wasp seem to really be attracted to the Whorled Milkweeds here, and then when they're done - the Goldenrods.

Interesting what's out there and what niche they partake. Well, they not only make fine music but as a group (the invertebrates) are part of the glue that holds the tallgrass prairie together...some may be not so pretty to others, but the natural world is shaped by them and our food throughout the world hinges on their health.  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Plant Dilemmas? Does It Matter?

 Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
(E. angustifolia)

Have you ever had some activity ultimately bringing a lot of unforeseen decisions and issues? 

I'm in the middle of a labor intensive situation here at Prairie Hill Farm.  Last year the county took 24-28" of soil out of our road's ditch and added it to the top of the road.  The ditch sides are very steep now; the property side is something like a 70-75 degree slope and the road side is 55-60 degrees.  They're now about 5 and a half feet deep if not more so!

The county gave me a couple small buckets of native seed late in the fall after accidentally planting the ditch in brome and other vulgarities(!).  I'd requested a native seed mix that the county has from a statewide grant from the University of Northern Iowa., but they evidently didn't tell the guy that was doing the actual seeding! Well, I got to kill the ditch during a late November warm spell and started over again this spring.

It's been a ton of work, hand pulling and now cutting all the nasty things that plague these situations (Lambsquarter, Buffalo Bur, Nightshade, Canada Thistle, Sow's Ear, Ragweed, etc, etc...).  The ditch sides are too steep to mow and the June precip is torture - 14.35" here just this month!  If I could count on that every year I'd opt for wetlands plantings!  In the meantime I'm wondering how much of the seeding that's coming up will drown out?  (Its in standing water as I type this)

I think that's par for the course isn't it, also Murphy's Law usually comes into play as well.  But something that I've thought about on more than one occasion has me wondering.  I'm seeing some Pale purple coneflower coming from my ditch mix.  What's the problem?  Well, maybe none, but I'm leaning toward not being sure I like that!

I've always had a pet peeve about working on native plantings with things that aren't necessarily native to that location.  I'm in O'Brien County; the only native echinacea I've been able to find in O'Brien County is E. angustifolia, not E. pallida.  I've been hard pressed to find Pale Purple coneflower anywhere near here - except in plantings done by "People". But is having some Pale purple coneflower in the ditch going to cause issues with the Narrow-leafed Echinacea in the native pasture?
I have no idea.  Does it matter? idea.  But somehow it seems like I'm sleeping with the other side if I let it go...

It's just a ditch!  Ya but...oh well...what do you think???!!

Now, I have had some garden variety Purple coneflower escape into the pasture edge and promptly did away with it (E. purpurea), but I'm trying to keep the pasture on a course of it's original plant species and domestic plants are not helpful in any way (nor desirable).

Prairie spiderwort
(T. bracteata)

I try not to introduce things that would not have been here 2-300 years ago.  Another plant I see show up in "conservation" plantings that is not native to this part of Iowa is the Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis).  The spiderwort native to this region of the state is the Prairie spiderwort (T. bracteata) - a shorter plant happier in gravelly drier sites, has longer bracts than the Ohio.

Do you suppose I'll find T. ohiensis in the ditch in future years?  Should I care???!!  Does it really matter?  Geeze, I haven't the foggiest!  What do you think!?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On The Tallgrass with A Tallgrass Journal

 Prairie Coreopsis and Prairie Phlox
(Coreopsis palmata and Phlox pilosa
(click on all images for a larger view)

If you have been a subscriber to "A Tallgrass Journal" you certainly noticed the past year's hiatus I've taken from the journal.  After long deliberation I've decided I can no longer support the lengthy time spent making even a quarterly journal work.  I carried it for 7 years but have made the decision to change it's format to a blog.

I hope you can still find some good reading, information or even a diversion following the occasional posts from the new "A Tallgrass Journal".

I'll still discuss a good "read" I come across; an informative and useful link or website that could be valuable to prairie enthusiasts or owners; and even interject the struggles here at Prairie Hill Farm's prairie.

There are no goals for set time frequency for the new "A Tallgrass Journal" blog.  I hope to use it with regular frequency, but the postings will be typical blog length and likely limited to one or two issues/observations/etc at a time.  I hope this will be more spontaneous and interesting for prairie folk and the uninitiated as well!

I hope you'll stay with A Tallgrass Journal and drop in from time to time - and even comment!  Blogs are perfect for injecting a point of view or to correct me if I need to be!  :)

When I think of the prairie I think of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (insects).  As an artist, I work on what interests and inspires me...that's what anyone should do.  The tallgrass prairie interests me.

In my 3 year old blog "Prairie Hill Farm Studio" you'll often see artwork...paintings, drawings, and photographs with the prairie as the subject matter...why wouldn't I be inspired by it?! :)  I'll still illustrate this "A Tallgrass Journal" blog with photographs I take in the field or the remnant pasture here, and even occasionally with drawings or other artwork to illustrate a topic.  And unlike the web based journal of past years, you'll be able to click on the images for a larger view.  I'll make an effort to give a relatively good size image file to view, yet not so large as to make you have to scan back and forth too much on your screen.

Today I wanted to share a couple cool season natives we have here in our north pasture remnant...yesterday morning was my first opportunity in 2-3 weeks to get out and walk the prairie myself!  The morning was perfect for the camera...barely a breath of wind makes photographing grasses and forbs simply a pleasure!  

Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)

A couple grasses in our remnant pasture are flowering and fruiting nearly the same time - one is Porcupine grass (Stipa spartea)...the other is Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes).

Georgie and I started the Porcupine grass here ourselves and it couldn't have been easier.  We simply walked the roadside ditch just south of us and picked the "awls" when they began to start releasing in late June.  Planting this grass is as simple as sticking the needles into the ground...maybe a half inch or more...the awls will take care of the rest.  They twist and turn the seed into the ground the rest of the way as they dry.  Try putting some in an envelope right after you pick them and then look at them a few hours later...they will demonstrate their ability to twist them selves into the soil on their own!

   Scribner's panic grass (Panicum oligosanthes)

The Scribner's panic grass is localized in a small area on our north pasture.  We have another type of panic grass here too but the Scribner's seems to be more numerous at some higher quality prairies - which makes it more special to our site.  I did not find this grass here until our 2nd or 3rd year here.  I'm going to try and ensure it gets some space and do some manual seed spreading to see if it becomes more plentiful in future years.

On my "studio" blog I recommend people look closely at the grasses - I certainly find them inspiring!  In the mean time I'd just suggest - stop and take a real close look, even touch or step back and admire as well...there's a lot to see on the prairie.

Hope to see you back again when you're out on the Tallgrass!