Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Along Red Mountain Pass" - oil on canvas
© Bruce A. Morrison
I have been buried, literally, in work this month - as I'm sure many of you are experiencing as well!  But being extremely busy can be a positive thing - at least that's the way I'm going to take it!
Today is the winter solstice!  And here we are...brown, only a smidge of snow left here and there in the shadows!  I had a client come over the other evening to pick up a framed piece; they said, "Brown Christmas - White Easter."  I can live with that.  However it does seem out of character for a brown Christmas here...I only remember one brown Christmas in NW Iowa in 61 years...its just not normal!
The image at the top of the post does not have anything to with with the tallgrass prairie of course - I had used the painting above in a blog last winter sometime...Its was used this Christmas on my cards sent out to family, friends and clients, so I'll use it here as a "wish" for you.
I would like to wish you the very best this Christmas - and the best possible new year in 2012.  God Bless and thank you for stopping by on the prairie every now and again...I hope to keep it up!
See you on the tallgrass next year!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
color pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
This is going to be a short double post from my studio blog today...
My mother's favorite color was blue.  I remember all the things she decorated with; many things throughout the house favored blue. I think of her during the year when the few blue flowers of the prairie bloom.  In the spring it's Blue-eyed Grass, in the late summer its some of the asters, (like Sky Blue Aster) the early fall, for me its Great Lobelia!
I came across a large group of Great Lobelia this past September on a hillside seepage.  I took several photographs of the plants but none seemed to do them justice, like I feel they I decided to make it a fall project to do a small color pencil of them instead.  I should probably title this piece something like "Great Lobelia Blues".
I've not had success getting this wildflower to grow in our pasture because we're fairly gravely here, and this flower really favors a wet location.  Now I have a small bouquet of them "growing" in a frame in my studio...a nice way to remember my mother, and a late September morning on the prairie.
Hope you had time on the prairie this fall during those Indian Summer days!  With the weather getting colder here, I'll soon be trekking the prairie with the snow shoes on!  Not sure I'm quite ready for that though!

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Indian Summer

"Mid October Along Waterman"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
I've visited Indian Summer in past blogs, its such a bitter sweet time of the year (as memories of Indian Summers past are as well).  I can't get over the transformation the landscape undergoes at this time either.  Here, its been very dry, not like drought stricken areas in the south and southwest but dry for "here"; nearly no rain of consequence since July...none measurable here at Prairie Hill Farm since August or early September.

I looked forward to walking the Waterman when fall took hold in the valley here, but it was so dry and windy for an extended period that the leaves simply dried up, turned brown and dropped!  That is when the landscape takes on a new character and visually becomes more elusive for "me".

I like this time of the year.  I enjoy time in the warm sun with a cool/crisp air about, making things very pleasant.  A good hike doesn't seem as taxing in the fall...the usual tormenting entourage of insects have "mostly" abated.  Birds are moving through; the music is different but contemplative.  

On the day this image was taken, the banks and sand bars were hopping with small Eastern Chorus Frogs out sunning themselves, basking in the warmth of an Indian Summer day.  I haven't seen that in many years...what good fortune for me!  

Eastern Bluebirds lined the fence lines when I come up upon a field; their sweet understated conversations were relayed down the line from post to post, wire to wire.  What pleasantry!  

A Beaver dam came into view and I walked around and above it...there laid the cache, or beginnings of one for their winter storage.  It wasn't a high dam but the pool behind was substantial...I'd watched two Beaver downstream from here about 3 weeks earlier, I'm sure this is their lair. 

One thing I found very interesting about this dam was the materials used were largely made up of Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa)!  There was a thick stand of it on the south bank above the dam and this is where the Beaver were cutting dam materials.  I didn't see evidence of it cached for food though...I wondered about that...

I have never seen a stand of Amorpha fruticosa anywhere in this county (O'Brien) until this year, and this section of Waterman Creek south of us has the largest population I've found in this county.  We are just too dry of an area here and our plants are typically lacking in wetter habitat type species.  But this section of Waterman had other "pockets" of wetland species too...rushes, Northern Arrowhead (Sagittaria cuneata), Bur Marigold (Bidens aristosa) and others.

I followed all kinds of tracks along the creek all the way back to the road, a section of ground away; its been a long walk...I hope its not too long before the next one!  Its a tough job but someone's gotta do it!  :)

Happy Indian Summer, hope to see you on the tallgrass! 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Waterman Sunrise"
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

Its fall already (!) and its been just glorious here.  Although I hate time slipping by so quickly, I'm a sucker for autumn!  I've been doing more work than prairie upkeep this year...with so much to do here in the studio, my prairie experience has been mostly relegated to exploring, photographing and painting (or drawing).  

I love the exploring part!  This year I've been very blessed to get access to some very nice places to walk and photograph.  They've all been in the "neighborhood" here...but this neighborhood is intoxicating and I'm hooked bad.

We live along the Waterman Creek in the valley here...this creek is part of the Little Sioux River shed and this river shed has been identified as one of the last large tallgrass remnant areas in this state (Iowa).

"Cattle Crossing"
color pencil drawing © Bruce A. Morrison

Top that off with the richness of cultural heritage here and its just hard to not get drawn in and absorbed.  I can only lament that I wish I'd been here and exposed decades ago!  I'm certainly not getting any younger but I haven't felt this way since I was a kid and discovered the river and creeks near my home for the first time.

I think being an artist of regional bent...a representational painter, a landscape photographer, a prairie fanatic, is all my vision desires and that is where I'm at now.  I'm home.

"Summer Evening on Waterman"
oil on mounted canvas - 9X12"
© Bruce A. Morrison

But this "home boy" needs to earn a living so here comes my shameless plug!  You can see the prairie up close and personal here in my studio/gallery at the Prairie Hill Farm Studio during the 2011 Artisans Road Trip coming up this Friday (September 30) from 4-8:00 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday (October 1 and 2) from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day!

Come see the prairie on canvas, in the frame, on the easel or here in the valley (or all of the above)!  Enjoy some conversation, drink some fresh (from here at the acreage) raspberry lemonade and eat decadent treats!  We'd love to see ya!

Have a wonderful fall - hope to see you on the Tallgrass!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

It has been a whirl wind summer!  Too bad it just does not slow down a tad, but that is just the way of things I guess.

We had our Monarch roost again this year here at the acreage.  It wasn't particularly impressive...about 300 the heaviest evening...down to just 9 last night.  But it was a neat sight none-the-less.  I suspect the Monarchs we're seeing now are from the pasture here...we were still finding caterpillars here on the milkweeds just 8 days ago; some of those individuals may now be adults feeding here.

The weather fronts have been moving them out.  The first morning after our high numbers, the wind had switched out of the north and Monarchs were rising above the tree tops and being blown south at quite an impressive speed!  (Hated seeing them leave but what can you do!?)

Journey North and Monarch Watch are still two really good sites to check out, report through, and support with your donations...its a remarkable natural heritage, and one I look forward to each year. 

Hope the last days of the summer are treating you well - see you on the tallgrass!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mid (to late?) Summer at Prairie Hill Farm

Big Bluestem in flower at the Prairie Hill Farm Prairie
(still image taken from "Mid Summer at Prairie Hill Farm" video)
image © Bruce A. Morrison
This is a repost from the studio blog today, but this really fits the Tallgrass Journal blog much better I think! 
Its really past what I'd consider "mid" summer here on the prairie now, but there is about a month of summer left to enjoy yet!  We had one nasty storm just two days ago and were very fortunate that we only lost a couple trees and gained a mess in the landscape with shredded leaves and plants...didn't do the gardens any good either.

I don't think the small prairie here will look too great the rest of the summer but think that "close-up" you may not be too disappointed.  I decided to put together an 8 minute video (long for me) of the prairie here before the storm (some footage the day before), much of which was compiled "mid" summer. 

(If you get this blog via e-mail subscription, you may not see the embedded video and will have to follow the link to view.)

I'm hoping to make this video part of the "From the Tallgrass" exhibit at Arts on Grand - at the Artist's Reception tonight!  One last plug!  :)  5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. - hope to see you there!  The exhibit runs through September 25th so if you can't make the reception, you'll have nearly the "rest of the summer" to make it!

You can go online and view "Mid Summer at Prairie Hill Farm" here - (the HD version is much more fun to watch on you tube any way!)...

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

From the Tallgrass - the First Exhibition

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) at the Prairie Hill Farm Prairie
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

How's the prairie where you are right now?!  The native pasture here is transitioning from mid summer to late.  The goldenrods are just beginning to tinge with blossoming, the False Boneset is in bloom, the asters are showing signs of awakening, the warm season grasses are either all in bloom or just finishing that stage.  
The season is progressing!  I sure hate to see things move this fast; wouldn't it be great to put the brakes on for a bit?!!  One thing I really appreciate this time of year is the insects and their music.  The Katydids are really making the afternoon and evenings seem alive!  The Robber Flies are out now again, making their raids through the grasses.  This is a banner grasshopper year here so hope the Robber Flies concentrate there some.  I've been hoping to video tape Monarchs depositing their eggs on the milkweed here...I haven't succeeded yet but have witnessed the "deed"...they're just too quick about it!  I'll get lucky one of these days.
"From the Tallgrass", an exhibit of paintings, drawings and photography of the Tallgrass Prairie opens on Tuesday, August 16th next week!  I'm both excited and nervous but I think that comes from spending all your time in the tallgrass and not enough around other homo sapiens!  OK, thats a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it has been a long time since I went solo in an exhibit.  Most of the last few weeks has been completely devoted to framing, re-framing, and all the other things that figure into something like this...there is so much more to it than meets the eye.

The prairie is the subject matter of course, and the prairie has been going great guns this summer - very hard to keep up!!!  I think once we get the show hung in a few days, I need to step back onto the prairie and see what I've been missing these past weeks!!!

The Exhibit "From the Tallgrass" runs through September 25th.  There will be an artist's reception on August 25th from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.  The exhibit is at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa.  You can always give them a call, should you have any questions, at (712) 262-4307; they're open Tuesday through Saturday!

Hope to get to see and talk with you at the reception on the 25th (last Thursday in August)!  If not, please try and get over to Arts on Grand to see the show!

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Prairie Cantabile

"Prairie Cantabile"  Painted Violin 
(casein on applied canvas)
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

This will be a double post from my studio relates "esthetically" to the prairie at least, and I'd like to get the word out about "From the Tallgrass", a solo exhibit celebrating the Tallgrass Prairie.

Not many folks have seen the painted violin I did several years ago, for a fund raiser to benefit the NW Iowa Symphony Orchestra.  I have a solo exhibit coming up at Arts on Grand in Spencer, Iowa, in a couple weeks and this piece will be there.  The buyers have agreed to let me show the piece once again and I will honestly say I am still taken aback by it...I can't believe how nice is looks, I'm extremely proud of this piece!  It was my first attempt with Casein as a painting medium...casein is extremely permanent...I believe it is one of the earliest painting medias in use today.

"Cantabile" is from the Italian meaning "worthy to be sung".  I sing praises of the prairie in all my works; what more aptly fits than this title for this work?!!  The back of the violin depicts the prairie as a landscape, the front of the piece celebrates the prairie "up front" and close-up.

From the Tallgrass" is the title of this solo exhibit.  It opens August 16 and runs through September 25th.  There will be an "Artist's Reception" on Thursday the 25th, from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m.  Please come and enjoy this exhibit devoted to our region's natural and cultural heritage!

I may refer to "From the Tallgrass" once or twice more this month...hope you can make it to Spencer during the show! 

See you on the Tallgrass!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Piece by Piece

Waterman Prairie - Cherokee County

I recently photographed on a new acquisition of multiple organizations: the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, The Iowa Nature Conservancy and the Iowa DNR.  Thankfully this could not have been done without the willingness and help from the private land owners.  

 Waterman Prairie - Cherokee County...along the
Little Sioux River valley corridor

This is an addition to the Waterman Prairie Complex that is south of us in O'Brien County - except now it includes Cherokee County!  The 60 acre parcel is only a drop in the proverbial bucket but every little niche helps the overall picture.  Waterman Prairie is in the Little Sioux Valley and this valley has been identified as the last important "interior" corridor remnant of the tallgrass prairie in Iowa.  The Nature Conservancy and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation have been working to preserve remnants of the prairie here; an attempt to piece together a "corridor", or may be more simply put as "connecting the dots".  As more parcels are preserved, more pieces of the puzzle are once again intact.

 female Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) at the Cherokee Waterman Prairie site

I did find some very good stands of native grasses, especially June Grass...don't believe I've seen so much in one location before? Other native grasses seemed abundant here and there but the former use of this as pasture ground shows a very large presence of Brome.  But its the strategic placement of this tract and its size that is important for the fauna that is in desperate need of habitat!  The Grasshopper Sparrow for instance - I was hearing quite a few Grasshopper Sparrows here; these grassland obligates are in real need of habitat...they require large tracts and you just will not find them along roadside plantings and such.  One thing in their favor here is the surrounding private tracts are also hillside pasture.  Other grassland birds present here during my walk were Sedge Wrens, Dickcissels, Field Sparrows, and Bobolinks.

Hats off to these great organizations and private citizens that support them and who work with them for additions to our natural heritage!  Check these organizations out - they are worth your time and consideration too!

Hope to see ya on the Tallgrass!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monarch Summer

Monarch with a caterpillar tattered Heliopsis helianthoides
(click on image for a larger view)

This is going to be a double post this time, both here and on the Prairie Hill Farm Studio blog as well...the prairie is an important theme in my work and my interests elsewhere. 

 Have you been seeing many Monarch butterflies out there this summer?  We've had a good number here on the remnant prairie pasture here at the studio...but the question is also academic, I guess you could say.  The Monarch Butterfly is probably one of our best know insects in North America, yet is one with many issues regarding its health and future in our world.

Journey North, an educational project through The Annenberg Foundation, is asking the question, and has been asking it for several years now.  Journey North is "A global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change."  It is also described as a "free citizen science project for students across North America".  Although this was intentionally set up as a K-12 curriculum, it is open to anyone's participation, and frankly benefits from that.  To learn more about the Monarch and Journey North go to their page at

I like to send in reports as they transform here at the prairie, it contributes to a better understanding of the Monarch and keeps tabs on issues of their population health and the environment around them...they are quite like the proverbial "canary in the coal mine".

Monarch Watch is much the same...Monarch Watch is part of the Biological Survey through the University of Kansas.  Monarch Watch is about the same business as Journey North - the health and status of this North American icon butterfly.  Monarch Watch also takes on the promotion of "habitat for Monarchs".  And because I like to watch and photograph (and draw and paint) Monarchs, habitat "is" important.  

If you are ever interested in growing thing for Monarchs, the following might be helpful.

They're well know for their dependence on milkweeds.  We have 4 species of Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family) here at Prairie Hill Farm - Common (A. syriaca), Butterfly Milkweed (A. tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) and Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata)...the latter, Whorled, is the only one that seems to be more of a "pest" plant here...I've never encouraged it but it is definitely the "bully" milkweed!  Which seems somewhat humorous because its also the smallest in stature...but I also see it as the milkweed of preference for the Monarchs here...oh, they love the Butterfly Milkweed, but mostly the seed pods!  Which I try and save to use for future propagation.  You'll often see me picking Monarch caterpillars off of the A. tuberosa and repositioning them onto the A. verticillata plants!  

But Monarchs, in the butterfly stage, love to feed on just about any nectar, so any wildflower you can find out here on the prairie is a great food source for Monarchs!  If I were to vote on what the butterflies like "here", I'd say mid summer favorites are the Heliopsis helianthoides like in the post photo above (sometimes called Ox-eye sunflower, but it isn't really a sunflower), Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), Gray-headed Coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and of course, flowers of all the milkweeds.  Later on in the summer the Liatris family and all the Goldenrods and all the Asters are butterfly magnets!  "Here" the Stiff Goldenrods (Solidago rigida) are the Monarch champs...they are very aggressive forbs too so they aren't necessarily "my" favorites!  

A side benefit here is our grove bordering the north and west side of our acreage.  We tend to be a migration stop-over in September here...its great seeing the 1-2-3 hundred or more Monarchs gather together in the evening, and disperse again in the morning!  What a great circle for the season to complete...I recommend keeping your proverbial door open for the Monarch each year...we need them and they need us!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Early Summer at the Prairie Hill Farm Prairie

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)
excerpt from HD video footage © Bruce A. Morrison

Already into the second week of July here and the plant progression on the prairie is really moving!  I've been trying to keep up with some maintenance here, especially where the county ripped out the old ditch out front.  We've got some fairly nice forbs and grass taking hold but still have big issues with sweet clover,  mare's tail, sow's ear and thistle.  Trying to be a good neighbor and all...besides it needs to be kept under control!  With the weather we've been having (heat) and the fertile bed of forbs there, pulling is my only option.  Between the heat, humidity and mosquitoes, its a mess to work with!

Prairie footage from Prairie Hill farm!

I've been out in the prairie remnants south of here the past week but have been spending most of my free time here or in the studio.  We do have some nice things coming along on the prairie here at the acreage and I've been shooting footage as I get a chance.  Here's another short video, this of just a few plants and things from the past couple weeks...

Enjoy!  And hoping to see ya on the tallgrass!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tallgrass Summer

"Dawn in the Valley"
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

I've been spending these days exploring new remnants, but still along the little creek that flows past our home in the valley.  The tallgrass is entering summer now and there is no holding it back!

One pleasant personal observation this year has been the larger than remembered vocal presence of Dickcissels.  They are even calling from the fences bordering our own yard!  Now this is likely a good opportunity to get more photos of this grassland favorite...but Murphy's Law steps in with cases like this.  If you go out and dig thistle or mow, or pull brome - they sing praises to you!  If you even carry something "looking like" a camera - they leave for the neighbor's pasture!  Little buggers!  But it's nice to hear and see so many here this summer; would be nice if they were actually rebounding a little.  

I'm embedding a very short video here of a male Dickcissel singing from a pasture fence post...many people don't realize what a pretty little bird this is (or don't even recognize what kind of bird it is!)...although the video isn't a "close-up" of the bird, it will give you an idea of how it looks. For a better look at a Dickcissel, you can view a closer shot in a past post in my Prairie Hill farm blog - Here.  If you subscribe to this blog via e-mail the link for the video feed is -  (That link would also allow full screen viewing.)

See ya on the tallgrass...enjoy the birds on the prairie this summer!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring (Summer!) In The Valley

Scibner's Panic Grass (Panicum oligosanthes) -left
and Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea) -right
(click on image for a larger view)

It's Spring in the valley here for sure fact summer is more the feel.  On the tallgrass there is still some catch up in forbs but they're catching up fast.  I was just on an area prairie yesterday morning and the Prairie Phlox, Purple American Vetch, Canada Anemones and Hoary Puccoon were all hitting stride.  I'm seeing the Scribner's Panic Grass and the Porcupine Grass setting fruit here on our remnant pasture now also.

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) from the
remnant pasture here.

I usually am able to gauge everything here by the Fringed Puccoon and the Blue-eyed Grasses, but they were both later than I've ever recorded them this year (about 12 days late), but they are in record number here - very fun to see!  I'm not sure what causes the different variations in the Blue-eyed Grass but they are generally almost white to very pale blue here, yet this year I had 40-50% blue to dark blue...interesting!

I recorded some of the noise in the neighborhood here a couple weeks back, and although they're still singing, aside from the neighborhood Coyotes - some of the frog voices have changed; the Toads and Leopard and Chorus Frogs have finally finished and the Cricket and Copes Gray Tree Frogs are taking over!  I'm trying to find a good time to record them as well but here is our "Spring in the Valley" chorus for you to listen to!

If you subscribe via e-mail, you may have to click back to the actual blog to play this audio - 

Stay busy and hope to see you in the tallgrass!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Changing for Spring - Update

American Goldfinch - male
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

I think you could say part of this is an update on an older blog.  In the "Changing for Spring!" blog from April 1st, I talked about the Goldfinches molting here at the acreage.  Well, they've completed the molt cycle a couple weeks or more back and I thought I'd throw one up for you to see a male American Goldfinch in all its finery :)  I'm showing the back of the bird because it's the showiest profile...the beautiful stark black and white patterns with the bird's bright yellow back and nape and the forehead black again (as well as the accent of the bill coloration).  What a pretty little bird!

Now that the first flush of dandelions has gone to seed, these birds are all over the ground feeding on the seed heads.  It's pretty amazing (and amusing) when you look out on all the beautiful dandelions and suddenly they take flight!  The birds are like flying dandelions!  And they sing too!  What more could you ask?! 

I've often asked myself questions about the birds we see out on the tallgrass now...were they all here in similar numbers or did we create conditions making them more prevalent in some ways?  I know the American Goldfinch was very likely as common out on the prairie now as a couple hundred years ago. Maybe their population was different than now, but they most certainly were a bird of the prairie as much as the rest of the North American continent.

Baltimore Oriole - male
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

What about others?  The Baltimore and Orchard Orioles are back in the acreage now.  Were they "here" back "in the day"?  I'm assuming they may have been a savanna in SE O'Brien County (Iowa), there were Bur Oak savannas nearby...some along Waterman Creek in the valley here but more so along the Little Sioux River valley south of us.  If they were a species of the savanna, were they "common"?  Interesting question.  I must say that if they weren't common then, we're very fortunate they are now!!!  Love these guys!

Gotta get some work done!  Hope you're not too distracted like I seem to be! 

See you on the Tallgrass!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Every Little Bit

"Summer Along Angler's Bay"
color pencil - 5X7" - art work © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for larger view)

This "spring" has really been a bugger!  Well, maybe I'm just being impatient but until this past weekend, it's just been a gray cold/windy/wet reminder of November!  

I haven't been able to do any of the prep work in the pastures that I'd like, other than (thank goodness!) get our burning accomplished about 4 weeks back.  We opted to burn 2 of the 3 acres, leaving the third acre abutting the 23 acre native pasture in back, unburned.  We had a good deal of insect diversity back in that corner last summer and fall; maybe resting it another year will help make it a banner year again?  We also burned another acre south of the driveway...this section has yet to be overseeded...I am very interested in seeing what may come back on it's own...this is the 3rd year we've burned it now.  The south edge of this acre burn is our neighbor's pasture - it has never been burned and does have some grass remnants of Side Oats Grama, Tall Dropseed, and Blue Grama Grass.  Also has Fringed Puccoon (which we discovered there for the first time last spring) and Blue Eyed Grass.  There's about 3 and a half acres there so I'm tending to believe that our one acre burn next to it will still repopulate with invertebrates from there.

There's been quite a stir on the list servs here in Iowa the past couple of weeks.  It may have been a small "bit" of a tragedy, but tragic none-the-less.  

Maybe the old factoid that Iowa is the most changed landscape of any of the 50 states is being overused?  I don't think so, I think that statement is true; we're not being overly protective or cautious - we need to waiver on the side of our natural heritage in our thinking.

Apparently, a small wet/wet mesic prairie disappeared this month in eastern Iowa.  Iowa is a state that now has so little of what it was made up of just 150 years ago and whenever a tiny piece that, miraculously survived this long suddenly disappears,'s tragic.

The prairie in question was near the town of was considered a wetland prairie and was known for some high quality wet and wet mesic native plants "for" Iowa.  A couple weeks back, someone who was aware of the prairie (it was privately owned), was stunned to see it was being filled over with dirt.  Some frantic discussion on the native plants list serv found that it was one of those incidents that no one noticed until it was over.  Further investigation showed it was all done by the book (according to Iowa regulations), all permits were applied for, eventually approved, and the work commenced.  

Being a wetland, it was "assumed" the property was "safe" from this type of future...but unlike most states (particularly neighboring states) Iowa does not have any state regs against wetland drainage if they do not fall under federal jurisdiction.  This small wetland prairie did not.

Ironically, this wetland prairie was filled in to build a school building on.  Perhaps ironically, again, some day a class at this school might, in studying our vanishing natural heritage, plant a prairie plot in the school yard somewhere...this was poised by a list serv contributor and I must say - this was nearly the first thought that formed in my own mind when I read the circumstances.

The image at the top of the blog is a small color pencil study I recently finished of a location north of us - Angler's Bay on Spirit Lake in Dickinson County.  In my rendition I left out "civilization" on the far distant shoreline.  In reality it is dotted with houses and docks - visible from this reed filled shore across the bay.  That was the future this shoreline was looking least the possibility of it.  But the owners of this 3/4 mile long reed bed (the area's largest remaining virgin bullrush bed) saw the need to preserve this "wetland".  Through a large/intense campaign, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was able to save this "bit" of our natural heritage...only 93 acres, but another "bit" of our grand children's heritage is being preserved!

I know, in general conversation, a lament of losing 10 or 20 acres of prairie or wetland would almost certainly be scoffed at by the majority of people hearing about it...but we've long passed the point where we can write it off like someone tossing trash out of a passing car.  When it's gone, it's truly gone...lets try harder to instill a true value on what of our heritage remains - natural and cultural!

Monday, April 4, 2011

They're Here!

Pasque Flowers (Pulsatilla patens) on Waterman Prairie
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

The Prairie has begun blooming!  The first flower of spring on the prairie finally began blooming up here in the NW corner of the state this past weekend.  This is always my "official" beginning of spring on the Tallgrass...look forward to it all winter long because it means the season has begun and better days..."great" days, are ahead!

Georgie and I went out on Sunday afternoon to check the prairies for pasques... a wind advisory with a real stiff blow out of the west/northwest was making photography almost untenable...a higher shutter speed was the only option!

Pasque Flowers (Pulsatilla patens) and dead cedar on Waterman Prairie
Photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

Waterman Prairie, here in S.E. O'Brien County, is in the "neighborhood" and we checked out all the spots that we've found these forbs in past years.  Many slopes that had once been over run with Eastern Red Cedar trees here, have had their trees treated or cut to bring back the original prairie habitat.  This, coupled with controlled burns and/or grazing, has encouraged the tallgrass plants to return.  It's not uncommon to find Pasque Flowers growing at the base of the cedar stumps and trunks.  It's great to see the prairie recovering on the slopes of the hills in the valley!

Veering a little, I'd like to comment that our entire planet "is in the neighborhood".  Let's try to take this more to heart.  With sincerity, lets celebrate this place we all must live...and heed the needs that exist "in our neighborhood".   Give thought and action to the needs of our planet's peoples and our planet's habitats.  Please give to your organizations of choice for those in need!

Spring is on the Tallgrass - let the games begin!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Changing for Spring!

Male American Goldfinch beginning its spring molt
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

We've really been enjoying the Goldfinches in the yard this winter.  We get around 40-50 birds every year that stay in the pastures around us and visit our feeders! 

Now that spring has arrived, we're getting more and more types of birds from their winter homes, now headed north, but the Goldfinches stay around all year long here.

One thing that is fun watching for is the Goldfinch molt.  We get to watch all the males really change into their spring/summer/fall finery, and it's taking place right now!  The image above is of the same male Goldfinch, just starting to put on the brilliant yellow feathers...little patches here and there.  None of our neighborhood birds has made the complete transition yet...I suspect that will take another week or more (?), but there is one male I noticed that has really made some progress with it's molt (see image below).

This male American Goldfinch is much further along in its change of color!
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

This female American Goldfinch is not going to be the brilliant "stand-out" that it's male counterpart will be.
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

The ladies molt too, of course, but their plumage is much duller in color...kind of an olive hint when they've changed; nothing near the yellow gold of the males.  But "brilliant" or not, the Goldfinches are great having around the prairie pasture and yard all year long!  

As I was walking from the studio to the house this noon, an accipiter flew through the yard, scooping up a Junco for lunch!  It gets pretty exciting at times...high drama in the tallgrass.  I wasn't able to make an ID but judging from size it was either a male Cooper's or a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.  I only had a couple seconds view and it was moving "away" from me as I spotted it.

Aside fom bird activity, other things are undergoing changes for spring now; I'm looking for signs in the prairie here.  We're a bit far north for the Pasques to be in bloom yet but they may take us by surprise one of these days soon.  I have been hearing forb reports from the more southern parts of the state and they definitely are ahead of us!

We are eyeing the pastures here for spring burning also.  We have alternated section burns in the past few springs but may do more this year "if" we find the neighboring pastures being left alone...going to take some communicating before we get started.  

As I've mentioned in past years, it's important to leave some spaces untouched for invertebrate survival each year.  We have been fortunate in past years...the pastures bordering ours have never been burned since we moved here 9 years ago.  

Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) - female
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

If your site has a good number of invertebrates, you'll have more birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc....  In other words - more biodiversity.  Last year we had an amazing number of Black and Yellow Argiope and Banded Argiope spiders in the late summer pasture.  Our dragonflies, robber flies, butterflies, katydids, beetles, bees, wasps, etc, etc. - were amazing!

I know spring has finally the games begin for another year!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winter Prairie Musing

This is somewhat of a double posting from the studio, but not completely cut and pasted per-se.  It really hasn't seemed like a "long" winter here at Prairie Hill Farm.  Georgie and I have been extremely busy and that helps, doesn't it?  But the Tallgrass has been on my mind nearly every moment, I just can't, nor want to shake it.  

My seed from last year's harvest is waiting patiently to stoke up the road ditch this spring.  I wanted to get it in last fall but the weather was very uncooperative!  I hope this spring planting works as well as the last...sometimes I find the fall seeding to come out the best.

Most of my time has been spent painting or drawing the prairie, and doing studio business.  This summer I have a solo exhibit over in Spencer at Arts on Grand, I'll send out more info on that down the road.  It has put me under the gun to produce this winter; the exhibit title is "From the Tallgrass" and I'm working with the prairie as I have the past several years.

"Tallgrass Songster"
8X18" color pencil rendering
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

I finally finished a piece that is about the third attempt to an idea I first got 6-7 years ago.  The "star" of this drawing is a male Dickcissel belting out it's name, in song form, among the Tallgrass Prairie in bloom.  The bird is taken from a study I did, which is now in the permanent "drawing collection" of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.  I have been trying to find a "home" for my study and this is my first "finished" attempt to see if I have!  The foreground is a mix of forbs in a prairie remnant near us that Georgie and I often explore.  The Echinacea (purple coneflowers) are of our county's true native population - Echinacea angustifolia, or "Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower".  The male Dickcissel is proudly belting out it's name, the call from which the bird was named (virtually sounds like Dick, Dick, cissel).  This is a larger piece for me with color pencil...I find the medium can be exasperating at times and generally stick with small studies instead...but I persevered and finished it this week.

"The Ritter Elevator"
11X19" oil painting
© Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Another work finished earlier, was an oil painting that was "kind of" different for me; it was a commissioned work done for a client commemorating (if-you-will) her trips to the grain elevator with her father, back when she was a child.  The elevator is one I'm very familiar with, have driven past and around it for 30+ years.  What I didn't know were some of the history and stories behind the "Ritter Elevator" - was fun to research and depict the elevator during the early 1950's!  The red IH box truck was my client's father's truck.  I took the rest of the vehicles from the area and other sources...the red tractor is my neighbor's father's Farmall "M" and their flarebox wagon (did repaint that a different color though).  I do like doing work depicting the agricultural environment/landscape and felt this was actually a good fit.  I've said it before and will likely again - the Tallgrass Prairie made this state what it is today and without that natural heritage, we would not have that "black gold" the prairie gave us - the soil.  After handing the painting over to it's new owner, I asked her if I could have permission to share it with you here - she was very happy to!

My first "Morrison's Studio Newsletter" (Vol.1, No.1) went out this week!  If you'd like to sign up for it, there's a link to the form right along the sidebar to this blog...if you get this blog via e-mail you can go directly to the form by way of this link -

The Tallgrass up here is still under snow and ice!  I'll just keep working on it here in the studio...makes the time I can be outside all day come quicker!   Hope yours is thawing and growing soon! 

See ya on the Tallgrass!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Prairie on Paper

(Ratibida pinnata)
Color Pencil - 5X7" © Bruce A. Morrison

I'm double posting from my art blog this time...I think it can relate to the tallgrass!  

I've been delving in the prairie vicariously through my drawing lately.  If you can't go to the prairie "physically", then why not mentally or on the tactile surface of the paper in front of you?!  

My subject matter is likely one of the most common forbs (flowers) from the prairie, and can be found anywhere that allows it a seed bed.  But I love this plant, no matter how common place it may be.  And I look forward to gathering it's seed every what an amazing smell from a handful of seed!  If you've never collected it, I'll not try and describe it - just try it for yourself some fall.

I called this plant "prairie coneflower" for years, until I was corrected one day, being told it was a "Gray-headed Coneflower"  I had the scientific name correct - Ratibida pinnata, but was never keen on gray-headed...just doesn't sound appealing does it?  Well several months ago I got my new edition of  "Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie" by Runkel and Roosa and the name given it there is "Yellow Coneflower"...I can live with that!  :)  So I'm titling the drawing at the beginning of this blog Entry "Yellow Coneflowers" and I'll throw in the Ratibida pinnata to boot, making it official and correct.

I may do a drawing of "Prairie Coneflowers" one of these days...that's Ratibida columnifera to you sticklers out there!  :)  They grow in our pasture as well, occurring naturally in this SE corner of O'Brien County.

Been working on this piece and others off and on since Thanksgiving...may plant a few more forbs on paper...or a landscape to wander through.  In the meantime I'm still finishing commissioned painting work...but a walk through the prairie in my mind is still a refreshing respite!  

Hope you agree!   See you on the Tallgrass!