Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year on the Tallgrass!

Echinacea angustifolia at Prairie Hill Farm
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
The last day of 2013...I have mixed reviews for this year, but as Georgie says "even numbered years are the best".  Something to look forward to, right!

One event I left hanging out there late in the summer was the transmission lines (to be the largest ever erected in Iowa) running along side our acreage.  This, thankfully has changed.  We had contacted several state agencies and environmental organizations about this and the encroachment on the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron rookery across from us.  We were concerned about this, as well as the prairie remnants here in the valley that the line would displace, and of course - the ambiance that was still here - the bird songs in the morning, the insect music through the night, the views of the night sky, and the relative silence in the background of the days and nights here.  We had several individuals meet with the out-of-state corporation and it was finally revealed to us that the route has been redirected two miles further north.  Now it will only interrupt farmland instead of natural ground and disappearing habitat in our county.

This may not be the case in other areas throughout the state, particularly where it routes through riparian areas across streams and rivers.  I do know that those folks who were speaking with the corporation are also working on protecting other sensitive areas across the other 16 affected counties in Iowa; all I can say is God Bless 'em all for trying to protect what little Natural Heritage we still have in this "most changed" state in the union!

There will be wind farms built in the area directly to our west and the corporation has "officially" stated they are solely rerouting the transmission line to avoid interfering with the wind farms to be built.  Regardless of their reasons, I am still taking my hat off to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, The Iowa Nature Conservancy, Iowa Audubon, Iowa Sierra Club, Iowa Environmental Council, and the Iowa DNR for their input in this event.  Please support these organizations and state people who are working for your children's children's future in our environment!

We're off to a cold yet sparse start with moisture this winter, but there's a ways to go - we'll see how things shake out, you just never know what the new year will bring.  The Great Horned Owls in the valley have been communicating back and forth each night...probably sizing up their nesting options.  They'll actually be nesting in the not too distant future, perhaps as soon as 3-5 weeks!  And the squirrels in the yard and grove are shoring up their nests and being amorous on the tracts of tree trunks about here and there.  I think they eat too well here as we've gotten two broods a season the past couple years here - that's a lot of Fox Squirrels!  (Keeps the Red-tailed Hawks happy anyway!)  We've also been seeing more hen pheasants than all last year; not many but at least a hopeful few!

What else will the year bring?  Hopefully some more native forbs and grasses in the south pasture.  As I mentioned in the last blog, we just completed our first planting there as the first true winter front moved in about 3 weeks ago.  That pasture will take a few years to complete but we don't plan on going anywhere!  Its fun to watch the changes through the years.

I'm lining up work here in the studio to keep me busy till spring.  Lets cross our fingers on that prospect!

And here's to sending our best wishes out to each and everyone of you - for a very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Hope to see you on the Tallgrass next year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice and a Merry Christmas!

Today is the first day of winter!  Sound excited?  Well sort of...at least from here the days will slowly (agonizingly) begin to get longer and spring will be on the distant horizon to look forward to.  

OK, I don't really want winter to go away entirely, we all need a rest from spring/summer/fall chores, plus it is a great time to get work done here in the studio!  Besides, one gets really fired up during the winter, thinking about those wonderful things we have to look forward to...getting into the garden, or here, the prairie....being able to spend time outside in the warm sunshine.  These things are more precious when you have to wait for them I guess.

My studio time since I last blogged (sorry its been awhile) has been spent filling client orders, framing and painting commission work.  I have several paintings waiting on the back-burner here and hope I can get to them after Christmas has passed.

I did manage one feat of final fall work in the south pasture here about two weeks ago.  As some of you may know, the north pasture is a native remnant, and there are some native grasses in the south pasture but overall the south pasture has been degraded to the extreme by years of constant grazing.  

Georgie and I had been collecting seed from the north pasture this fall and the first week of December had our first winter storm front of "real" consequence coming in, so I seeded as much of the top of the south pasture slope as I had seed for.  We had burned this section late in November in anticipation of a fall seeding. We'll continue doing this each year until we have a good native stand of grasses and forbs...it should look great eventually!

One great thing that happened this year on the prairies here down the valley was the Prairie Heritage Center was able to put together a Federal grant, and a REAP (Iowa) grant, to purchase the riparian and prairie area along the Little Sioux River in the valley below the center!  This was done with a great deal of help from various local organizations and the expertise of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.  But we still have loose financial ends to finalize the purchase and land exchange.  

Last year we sold a local calendar through the Prairie Heritage Center to raise funds towards this effort.  This year we are doing this again and the fun thing about the calendar is each month the PHC will draw names of calendar purchasers for prizes.  You'll be eligible for drawings 12 times throughout the year!  We're kicking off the first month with a $150.00 gift certificate toward any purchase here at the studio - drawings, paintings, prints or cards...whatever strikes your fancy!  Each month will be other great prizes too such as Tablets, Digital Cameras, Cabin stays, and more!

The calendar can be purchase for $50 by calling the Prairie Heritage Center at 712 295-2700.

Take advantage of this fun opportunity to support the new land purchase and not only have the reward of  neat new place to walk, fish, or hunt...but to support saving a wonderful piece of habitat and maybe get a prize on top of that!  Hey its Christmas after all!

Speaking of Christmas - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone out there!

See you next year!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pasture Tramping

Eastern Black Swallowtail in Dotted Liatris
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
Whew!  Its been a bit warm and humid for us lately!  But the summer marches on and things keep evolving and finishing out - you have to keep up!

A couple days ago Georgie came in the studio to let me know there was some butterfly activity going on out there, so I grabbed the camera.  There were a couple Monarchs in the pasture and a sulphur or two, but what really caught my eye was an Eastern Black Swallowtail...it appeared to have just recently emerged because of it reluctance to take flight and its flawless marking - no frayed edges or worn markings.

I also realized the heat had spurred the Dotted Liatris (Liatris punctata) into a peak bloom.  Things can get by a person around here if they get too busy!

Eastern Black Swallowtail on Stiff Goldenrod
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
The late summer forbs are now all moving along quickly here, the most dominant this time of year are the goldenrods - we are over run with Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) unfortunately...oh it is striking and a nectar favorite for all pollinators, but it is much too aggressive and is crowding out some very nice plants. 
 Monarchs on Stiff Goldenrod in our pasture on 09-02-2009
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
At this time of the year we are usually over run with Monarchs, especially on the Stiff Goldenrod, but have only been managing one or two ever day or so...this is a disturbing  situation all over the country where they usually migrate through.  This subject is worthy of a blog entirely of its own I think. 
I've left another subject hanging in the background for a few weeks and just wanted to say that it is now "officially" proceeding.  I'll explain in a little more detail but don't want to make this too much of a soapbox as this blog is more about our place in the prairie and the tallgrass. 
Clean Line LLC is a corporation building large transmissions line around the country.  They are not a utility company in the states they are building, until they become franchised.  Once they become franchised in Iowa, they will have the same power of a utility, and in our case that means eminent domain.
They are building what they call the "Rock Island Clean Line".  They have been talking to the counties in NW Iowa for about 3 years or so about their proposed transmission line, so there is quite a bit of invested time for local governments and this corporation.  I only mention this "time investment" to give a background on the support for this endeavor by the county officials here in O'Brien County.  I am in the minority here if I do not support it, well I don't, so-be-it.
This transmission line would be the largest and longest to pass through Iowa.  It will be a 600kv line; would carry 1.3 times the equivalent power of the Hoover dam past our home and pasture each year.  Many things are unclear about this project, even though the "official" public informational meeting was supposed to clear things up. 
This is a "merchant line" (my words), the line is not coordinated with any existing grids in Iowa, even though it travels across 16 counties to the state of Illinois, it ties into no existing grid - it is solely being built to pick up electrons from wind power generated here in NW Iowa and sell it at higher rates in northeastern states. They do not have contracts with any wind farms in NW Iowa either; this is being built with the philosophy "if you build it they will come" in mind.
 "Waterman Morning"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
* This is an actual location that will be clear cut in our valley
"if" the proposed line does go through.

I first heard about this line last fall when I read an article in the paper...I thought it odd at the time that we were allowing a line to be built just to take our produced power somewhere a couple thousand miles away.  Didn't we have use for power produced here ourselves?  We, after all, are so dependent on western coal for our local power...wouldn't our own wind power be beneficial and responsible for us and our region?  Then I read a quote by a county supervisor in the article.  The supervisor responded to a question or supposition by someone asking whether someone might object to the line going through their property, the supervisor responded by saying  (I'll paraphrase) "There's nothing in the county that a transmission line would bother."  That really got my attention!  I wrote Clean Lines LLC right away and asked them to please not take those supervisor words to heart - that there was indeed much in the SE corner townships that a transmission line could hurt or disrupt!  These two townships carry 99.9% of the entire county's natural heritage.
 Great Blue Heron
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
*The largest rookery of these birds in the state of Iowa (west of the
Mississippi River) will be disrupted "if" the proposed 
line does go through.
I thought at the time that this line was a done deal...the media reported it in that vein.  Well when we got a certified letter this July, telling us the transmission line would have its easement on our south pasture and would be 466 feet from our house, and pass across the valley past the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in Iowa, west of the Mississippi River, and through the northern most prairie remnants still found in this county - I began researching the corporation, its goals and its "behavior" and opposition in other states it is running through. I have serious doubts now as to how much "checking around" the local county officials did themselves with this corporation.
Clean Line LLC has been working in Illinois much longer at trying to receive a "franchise" status than it has in Iowa, because Illinois' utility regulations are much stricter than Iowa...they have been having quite a time there and the dockets in the Illinois testimony records are quite a read.  But this is the early stage for Iowa - out of the 16 counties it will pass through, there are still 10 counties that have not heard of any routes...there are still a lot of people who are unaware of their property's potential future.  
We are talking very large poles and/or towers.  They would all require blinking aerial lights.  The registered documents required in Illinois state that they could use grid towers of "200-240 feet or more"...a definite flight hazard for herons in a rookery access path and a definite "footprint" hazard for any prairie remnant in its path. (Just for reference - the statue of Liberty is 150 feet tall)  Oh, we were told at our public meeting on August 20th that this would have no affect on our property value...Uh...ya, the county will still tax you "as if" the transmission line and tower didn't exist, But...try convincing someone to buy that tower and huge lines too, when you try to sell your house!  Also, our studio is very much a "destination" business and that would inevitably suffer as well.
The corporation could not give any clients listed to hook onto their line when questioned at the public meeting.  They used the "patriotic American" card when asked why we could not use our area's wind farm electron production for "our region".  Is it unpatriotic to produce enough electrons for 1.4 million homes and not use it in our own region?  It certainly isn't "clean" energy when we have to use western coal here and not our own wind energy - its especially not clean to have to ship our electrons east when they are already needed here!!!
A large wind farm that was about to build in this area was just bought up by Mid American Energy (a franchised Iowa utility).  They just announced plans to build 600 or so wind towers.  Are they hooking up to Clean Line LLC?  No - they upgraded existing grids and are transmitting it themselves.  That makes perfect sense.
I won't dally further in this discussion, it is deeper than I've taken you so far, and its obvious where I stand.  If you are an Iowa resident and are possibly in one of the 16 Iowa counties or would just like to help us keep truly "clean" transmission in this state and our region - you can fill out an Objection Form with the Iowa Utilities Board using their electronic filing system online at http://efs.iowa.gov or by clicking on the link on their web site at http://iub.iowa.gov.  You can also support the grass roots organization which is forming across the entire state - The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance...become a member or just make a small donation to their cause - their link is here - http://www.iowastopricl.com   You can e-mail me if you have any questions about this at all.
Thank you for being patient with me.  And thank you for your support.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trying to Keep Up!

"Little Sioux River Valley Sunrise"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Its been very hard keeping up with everything lately!  Life is more complicated than we give it at face value, isn't it!?  The work in the studio and around the acreage is keeping us on our toes lately...this is always a busy time of year.
I've also been trying to keep an eye on our pasture here because I often can use it as a gauge as to when things might be at their best on the prairies nearby.  I had been noticing our Dotted Liatris (Liatris punctata) and Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) beginning to look pretty good, so I thought I'd run off to Waterman Prairie this morning where I know these things are in good number...see if I could catch them before they get past their prime.
When I got up everything was really socked in outside; I actually woke a few minutes before the alarm rang - a Coyote out front of our place woke me with its yowling; sounded like it was missing someone or feeling left out!
I procrastinated a bit, not sure if the fog would lift enough for some decent images, but eventually talked myself into getting in gear and heading down the road.  I went to the O'Brien No.1 site again; this is where I'd been watching some decent locations for late summer prairie blooms.
When I arrived it was so thick I decided to just walk to the ridges above the Little Sioux River, figuring I could scout some along the way.  There's a hanging valley there...I'm sure I've talked of it in the past.  The farmers who access fields down below the prairie there use it as an access road...its actually an ancient river bed left hanging along the edge of the hillside.
No sooner had I reached the ridge top the sun popped out of the fog and the curtains down below me were opening to expose the river below.  I scrambled and got a few shots before the river and valley below were gone again...if I'd been a couple minutes or more later I would have simply missed out!  It was truly a "WOW" moment! Serendipity?
I walked around checking for late summer liatris but the majority were still in tight bud...some years you get lucky and they all go at once - that would be nice!  But no such luck this morning. 

 "O'Brien No.1 Sunflowers and Big Bluestem"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
I kind of did a mental inventory of plants as I slowly walked back to the road and did see some surprises; for one there was still Spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata) in bloom!  That's nearly always done by early August in my own pasture, and this year I couldn't find it; I suspected because of the drought we'd been experiencing again.
The Sunflowers were way ahead of our pasture here as well, but the stand I stopped to photograph is in a low lying wet area so that may be the reason.  I was seeing three varieties, may even have missed one.  there was Maximilian (Helianthus maximiliani), Sawtooth (Helianthus grosseserratus) and Showy Sunflower (Helianthus laetiflorus) in bloom intermixed with some good clumps of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) also in bloom!
A good morning for a wet walk, ya the air was 100% humidity - even my glasses kept fogging over trying to look through the camera's viewfinder.  But a beautiful morning on the prairie!
Hope to see ya on the Tallgrass!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Still August...Still Hanging In There!

"Sunrise at O'Brien No.1"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view

Its surprising how quickly this summer is flying by...but August has been different in some ways.  Kind of like slow motion, yet at the speed of "life" if-you-will.  We've had events of great joy, some not and some yet to happen, it makes for a suppressed level of creativity...I talked sparingly about this in my last blog.  But I have been tending to business and yesterday morning (Saturday) I kicked myself out of bed early and drove down to a spot I hadn't visited for some time.  The sunrise wasn't overly spectacular but very pleasant; a quiet/still dew laden morning with low lying fog in the valley below.  I have talked about this area on occasion in the past; it is part of the Waterman Prairie complex but I refer to it as O'Brien No.1 because the person who first identified it as a prairie of importance gave it that identification in her report.  

Ada Hayden was the first woman botanist at Iowa State University, she has been credited with publishing the best native flora survey of any part of Iowa. And she campaigned for a system of prairie preserves, two of which were later named the Hayden and the Kalsow prairies.  

"Wild Rose hips from O'Brien No.1" 
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Hayden received a grant one summer in the early 1940's to travel the state, make a census of remaining tallgrass prairies and make recommendations for preservation.  O'Brien No.1 was her identification for this site and she recommended its preservation to the state.  It took a while but in the mid 1990's the location was finally purchased by the state as part of the Waterman Prairie complex.  Ada is one of my heroes (OK "heroines") of our nearly vanished Tallgrass Prairie...I have several but she is definitely a kindred spirit at the top of the list.

 "Early Light on Dog Creek"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Its getting into the later part of August and the landscape and plants are showing the signs...I'm beginning to see swelling flower buds of Liatris aspera, the Solidago sp., and the color of wild rose hips are taking on a bright red hue...the warm season grasses are in flower or finishing up.  There is even a hint of yellow in the Cottonwood leaves along the creeks and streams in the valley.

Here at the studio we are seeing more hummingbirds than just our resident nesting pair, the Red-headed Woodpecker's off-springs are sporting their strange black heads, and we're overrun with the fresh crop of youngster Orchard and Baltimore Orioles.  

The dawn chorus had changed permanently till fall; I do not like that.  I already miss the overlapping cacophony of bird song beginning at predawn.  I still catch the Song Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and Dickcissels in the early morning walks or evening respite, but its a sign of change from a season that is just too short even more so at this age...you youg'uns will understand clearly someday.

The other change I led into in the last blog has not changed.  The transmission line process will be a long one, it will shadow us for at least the next couple years.  I will speak more on it after the required "public meeting" next week.  Until then - savor each moment left of summer!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

August in the Valley

 Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

 It's been a banner year for the Compass Plants, not only here on our pasture, but in many places all over the region.

 Compass plants (Silphium laciniatum) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

 Culver's root  (Veronicastrum virginicum)- photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

And even tough it has been a very dry summer once again, the prairie pasture here isn't looking too terribly bad...there are exceptions but the plants are fairly showy this season.  
  Prairie coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

 Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
 Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

And the Cup plants are looking robust as well - the Goldfinches are drinking from the leaves in the morning dew and soon will be devouring their seed - a favorite of theirs!
"Hidden Pool"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on all images for a larger view) 

Its a mystery to me how summer vanishes before our very eyes.   Oh it hasn't yet by any means, but it just began a blink ago; and here it is August in the valley.

 This morning the sun found me south of the studio two or three miles, walking the "edges" of the Waterman Creek valley.  I had planned on walking the creek, because it is so low that traversing and wading is not a problem right now...we're having another very dry summer here.  

This section of the Waterman is embraced in what I'd describe as a "bowl" or "basin".  I've walked the creek on this section several times but never explored the edges surrounding it.  It was a pleasant surprise when I came upon this small woodland pool on a ridge above the creek.  Some Wood Ducks , likely in molt, paddled towards the opposite side of the pool, softly expressing their displeasure or concern.  The duckweed gave the pool a soft green blanket; a convenient salad breakfast for the "Woodies".

As I had hoped, the air was still as the sun broke; this always helps with closeup landscape photographs like this...leafy branches hold still for a longer shutter speed.

This image is a bit deceiving, as it is mere feet away from the valley opening below,  and this creates a perfect edge habitat for Orioles, Eastern Bluebirds and Field Sparrows.  The Field Sparrows were doing that wonderful trill; its a beautiful song and I was so happy they were still present with their notes!  Soon many of our birds will be in that transition mode into fall and the familiar favorite songs and calls will be absent until returning next spring.  I always regret seeing this transition come.

There are other transitions coming to us here, I won't get into it too much at this moment as I'm going to hold off until I can gather more information.  But it involves a "possible" change for our valley and for our personal lives here.  A very large (it will be the largest in Iowa) transmission line is applying with the state's utility board to run through our property and across the valley past the Waterman Creek Great Blue Heron rookery.  This is a 600kv(+/-) line system to cross the entire state and into Illinois...it will cross 16 counties "if" it is approved, and it will be carried by 200-240 foot lattice work towers.  

We aren't really the masters of our destiny as we so often find out.  And this isn't written in stone yet.  We have joined forces with an association of landowners to do our best to see that this does not happen, and hopefully 16 counties worth of landowners will find a voice to prevent it...but this will be a shadow for a couple years or more before we know what is happening, or not happening.  This has been a unfortunate interruption to the creative flow of work here at the studio, needless to say.  I am now doing my best to direct research and followup time for this specter, to a smaller part of my day, trying to keep things in perspective. I am hoping to stay out of its shadow and into the sunlight so I can still create and enjoy this beautiful gift we have treasured since coming here 11 years ago.

I will write a little more in depth about this soon...in the meantime it is August - grab summer by the collar before it s gone...hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Monday, June 17, 2013

June Moving Along

Breaking Sky On The Tallgrass
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Finally...June feels like June!  Its been a long cool and wet slog but its almost warm just days before the summer solstice makes it official.  The native pasture and area prairies are really appreciating the rainfall...we've just about made up our groundwater loss from last year's drought, I just hope the spigot doesn't shut off  come July like it did last year!

I had to include the shot above for this blog because I often (just ask the Mrs.) find myself wondering out loud how it looked around here a couple hundred years ago when the tallgrass prairie ruled the plains, undisturbed by modern agriculture.  The image is from the small Bison herd at the Prairie Heritage Center southeast of here.  Of course there wouldn't be those rogue trees out in the open, or the farmstead in the mid-left of the picture, but the image evokes a "hint" of true wildness here as the patchy fog clears from the landscape.

Crab Spider on Penstemon
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Our native pasture is popping here and there, really fun to see.  Right now the Penstemon grandiflorus (Large-flowered beardtongue) is the show stopper!  The locals driving by keep slowing as they pass the gravel esker here on the pasture...the flowers really like the sandy/gravely, well drained soils.  The resident Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Bumblebees just love these flowers!  I got a fun photograph of one of the Crab Spiders sitting patiently waiting for a fly or bee to choose "its" blossom.

Penstemon grandiflorus (Large-flowered beardtongue)
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

This portion of the pasture was not burned this year because the adjacent pasture finally was burned (never burned in recent memory)...I want the invertebrates to flourish here...more diversity begets more diversity and when burning each year, you'll lose too much of it!

Senecio plattensis (Prairie Ragwort)
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Another plant here that seems to prefer the gravel slope is the Senecio plattensis (Prairie Ragwort) .  It probably favors less fertile soil because of the reduced competition from other plants(?)...seems logical.

Tradescantia bracteata (Prairie Spiderwort)
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

I have to look for the Tradescantia bracteata (Prairie Spiderwort) each spring because of its smaller stature...it is generally already hidden amongst other plants...the Prairie Spiderwort is much smaller than the more commonly planted "Ohio" Spiderwort
(Tradescantia ohiensis).  We gathered seed for the specimens in our pasture just 75 feet away in the ditch near the old Waterman Creek oxbow. 

Mirabilis nyctaginea (Wild Four O'Clock)
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

We have already gone through our Fringed Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum), Starry Solomon Seal (Maianthemum stellatum ?), Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) and the Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) is waning.  But the Wild Four O'Clocks are still popping along the ditch fenceline.  They're so cool up-close - you have to be up close to appreciate them; their blossoms are only about 3/8" or smaller here.

Its going to be hard to keep up with things now...already been forking thistle and nettles on several occasions and been busy patching up the barn roof too...that and the art studio business.  Its nearly summer now and when things heat up they develop fast!

Hope you're keeping up with things as well; maybe we'll see ya on the tallgrass this summer!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day...It "IS" Important!

Its entering spring-time on the Tallgrass Prairie - 
celebrate Earth Day with a sense of careful consideration
for the legacy of life you are leaving to your children's children! 
photo © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

Tomorrow is Earth Day...every year on April 22 since 1970.  The earth day web site - http://www.earthday.org gives a good overview of the history of this one day event each year.  It really started, not as a celebration, but as a cry for "consciousness" of what was amiss!  

I usually try to keep this blog on a high positive note - no one likes a downer.  But this day...this time in our planet's life, has entered a new phase environmentally and our collective interest in its well being (our well being!) is, in my opinion - muddied.  

Please use this day to reflect on how you see the bigger picture of our "Home's" health.  How can you better make wise decisions in your daily activities...how do your actions affect this Earth?  Do you read about environmental issues as they affect the Earth?  Do you read beyond issues in your own backyard?  Are you keeping in touch with those whom represent you in the local, state and national government?  Do you know how your political representatives are voting?  Please be aware. 

It isn't as easy as it should be to stay on top of what is happening with our "Home".  This requires a real effort on everyone's part.  Most really serious health issues for our planet are not in the quick 60 second spot on national television news.  If they are, they are usually simplified or glossed over, we are just not made truly "fully" aware.

I could go into many details of examples to illustrate what I mean but I don't want to tell people how to think - I would just ask that people really do think!  Read about the environmental issues, go to more than one news source, find out who is behind bad decisions that affect our planet's health; make them know how you feel about their decisions or bad behavior.  Take a real proactive position; write "letters", not just fast and easy e-mails, Likes or Tweets.  If you feel you can speak to an issue which is important to you - please do so!

Tomorrow is EARTH DAY.  Keep it (our Earth) and hold it tight as you would anyone you love.  It gives you life and will cradle your children's children, and theirs.  It is too important!

Please pay attention on this day and every day forward...to what is happening to your "Home", our Earth.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Activity Begins

Spring has been slow in coming this year here; it was only a week ago when we still had plenty of snow patches left around the place. But things are slowly changing!  

The pasture bordering our north pasture was burned last Saturday - the first time in "memory" here.  It'll be very interesting to see what transpires there over the spring and summer!

These two fire department volunteers were on "our" side of the fence as they wet down and push the fire away from the fence line.

We'll now do some planning on our pasture.  We usually try and only burn "sections" of our prairie pasture.  Keeping more diversity in the invertebrate population is very important.  We were a little less worried about the invertebrates in the past because we had this "buffer" to our north and west - now about 65-70% of that "buffer" pasture has been burned.  We'll be leaving at least 50% of our bordering prairie intact this year and only burn along our driveway and ditches if weather permits.  

The neighboring pasture was dense with thatch; hard to even walk through.  The ground was still damp and the bottom of much of the thatched growth didn't burn completely to the soil, so there may still be invertebrate survival on some stages.

But I think leaving a buffer on our side is a good idea.  I feel better by erroring on the safe side of things.

Most invertebrates are out-of-sight and out-of-mind...either too small to see, or just blend in to well; like insects such as this Katydid.
(click on the image for a larger view)

I've been reading a good deal on practices in managing prairie...it is so much more complex that just burning, mowing or grazing.  What is in the thatch, the upper soil, deeper down...in the plant stems, etc.  There is no "one treatment cures all" management tool, so we are mixing it up as much as we can with our situation...now if I could only get my hands on a couple Bison to help out too!

Hope to see you on the tallgrass this spring!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Past Ground Hog's Day!

 Red-bellied Woodpecker (male)
I must be too busy these days to keep up with all the blogs...its already a couple days past Ground Hog's day!  I guess he didn't see his shadow this year so we're in for an early spring!  Ha!  All in good fun.  
This is adapted from the studio blog but thought would make a good entry for the Tallgrass Journal as well.

I've been busy painting commissions this winter so don't have much to share yet.  But one thing that keeps things moving around here in the winter are the birds on the feeders outside the studio window.  One that's really pretty up close are the Red-bellied Woodpeckers!  Although not what you'd even closely describe as a prairie or grassland obligate, the Red-bellied Woodpecker is none-the-less common to the Savanna and prairie along the woodland edges.
 Red-bellied Woodpecker (female)
 (Red-bellied male's head detail)
  (Red-bellied female's head detail)

The way to distinguish the males from the females is the nape on the female's head is all that's colored (red), while the nape and crown on the male are both colored.  You can also see a red flush around the bird's beak and cheeks...its more prevalent on the male's as well.
The name of this woodpecker seems to confuse a lot of people.  Its named for the "red belly" - a mere smudge of color hard to see as the bird crowds the tree trunks and branches as it moves about.

We did manage to actually do a little seed collection out on the prairie pasture here yesterday afternoon!  It was really pretty pleasant for a change and we enjoyed it!  We had new visitors to the studio that also happened to be prairie enthusiasts, and in talking, found they were short some seed for their own private prairie restoration project - so we took a walk down the hillside here and did some gathering.  Although the birds have pretty much gleaned things pretty well, we still found a lot of what we were looking for. 
I like looking at February as a sign of spring - it is, after all, the last full month of winter!  Hope that Ground Hog was right - see you on the Tallgrass!