Saturday, November 8, 2014

Waterman BCA Public Meeting!

The Waterman Prairie area of SE O'Brien County
is know for its diverse birds throughout the seasons,
like this Merlin (prairie form), a falcon that 
visits there during winter months.

There is always one area near us that Georgie and I go when looking for unusual, or not-so-common birds, and that is the Waterman Prairie complex south of the studio.

This is one place we can count on in the winter for Bald and (yes) Golden Eagles. And when we get stir crazy for our spring and summer bird friends in the dead of winter - Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and American Robins are found there... but these are just the tip of the iceberg.  This area is well know for its grassland "obligates" - birds that are grassland dependent for nesting and foraging, as well as birds frequenting a savanna habitat.

It has been long known that this is a special area for birds and a recognition process for important areas like this has been in the works for some time now - concerning the Waterman Prairie complex area, there will be a Bird Conservation Area public meeting this coming Thursday evening at the Prairie Heritage Center.

Major benefits of a BCA would be opening doors to grants and/or cost-share programs that are only available to designated Bird Conservation Areas.  The BCA program is a worldwide program, so could bring additional habitat restoration or preservation dollars.  A positive side benefit by having a designated conservation area is it may increase the likelihood of local landowners getting into Farm Bill wildlife programs.

Whether you're interested in birds or "birding", or also appreciate the natural heritage of this small prairie gem we have way out here in SE O'Brien County - you might be interested in attending this public meeting and learning more how it may potentially benefit the area's resources.

The November 13 (Thursday) meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the O'Brien County Prairie Heritage Center located about 4.5 miles southeast of Sutherland - from Hwy 10 go 1 mile north on Yellow Avenue.

If approved, this area will be the first Bird Conservation Area within O'Brien, Clay, Buena Vista, and Cherokee counties.

Be a part of something that supports your natural heritage!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

From the Tallgrass at the Neal Smith NWR

This is a slight duplication from my Prairie Hill farm studio blog, but definitely prairie related.  And I'm afraid that this exhibit has taken much of my time this spring and early summer to prepare.  Oh, I have had the odd chance here and there to spend time in our own prairie pasture here...not a lot new there except I am finding more Prairie Garlic (Allium canadense) this year.  I believe I saw my first plant here in 2012; they are now in two separate locations...not a lot of plants but encouraging to find more.  I have not "knowingly" harvested this for seeding before, so I'm presuming I am either wrong in that respect or they were here to begin with and are just now making some effort to come back.

I am seeing some early success of the seeding I did in the south pasture "top" late in the winter.  I only had enough seed for about the top third of the acre there...I'm seeing asters, some Partriidge Pea, and some goldenrods and Gray-headed coneflowers (of course), and even some false Gromwell...which surprised me a bit because it always seemed slower on the start-up.  But the spot is weedy and nothing I can mow to assist things getting a head start.  I did spend an afternoon on my knees in there pulling weeds, and it hopefully helped.  Time will tell.

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

I got an interesting photograph there last week during some of our rain storms - some pretty wild clouds looking up that south pasture toward the SW.  I have no idea what these formations would be called, but for about 4 hours after this was taken, we had mammatus formations pop up unusual evening.

The pastures started out very slow and somewhat sparse this spring - we hadn't had rain here since June of 2013.  But the sky busted loose in late May and it just doesn't seem to want to stop.  We've easily had over 13 inches of rain here since June 1st!  Not to mention hail and high winds...we're still cleaning up branches and larger limbs in the yard from a big blow that completely blocked our driveway with a huge tree trunk a week ago last Wednesday.

But more about the "From the Tallgrass" exhibit at the Neal Smith NWR.

Just 22 miles east of Des Moines, near Prairie City, Iowa, you'll find a truly unique refuge.  The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990, within the National Wildlife Refuge System, to "actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. These were the native habitats existing on the Refuge’s 5600 acres prior to Euro-American settlement."

The refuge approached me in 2012 to do an exhibit of artwork and photography depicting the tallgrass, and I accepted.  This solo exhibit, at their J.N. "Ding" Darling Art Gallery, will feature work on the prairie theme and genre.

The exhibit will open on July 1st in the afternoon, and will run through August 20th.  More information about the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, its hours and other contact information can be found online at -

Its a great place to visit, as I've mentioned here on this blog in the past, and I'm looking forward to it!  If you're passing by the area this summer, take a little time and stop for a visit, you will be glad you did! 
Hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thinking of Grasses

"Big Bluestem in Bloom"
(Andropogon gerardii)
color pencil drawing © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view
This is a partial re-post from my studio blog; often they are separate, following different themes, but recently I have been working on exclusively "prairie" related subject matter and this is certainly related to the tallgrass :) 
Just finished another color pencil drawing for this summer's exhibit at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa.

I've never drawn grasses before, except "implied" as a background form or shape.  And since this summer's solo exhibit will be at a national "Tallgrass Prairie" type refuge, I thought it'd be very appropriate to try to do some small studies of prairie grasses as well.

Of course Big Bluestem is the Tallgrass icon for grasses, so what better subject to start with!?  I am drawing many of these small studies as "close-up" drawings; to bring the subject matter into a more personal/true experience type of presentation.  The grasses depicted here were in "bloom", which is actually surprising to some people; many do not equate grass with having flowers...sometimes referred to as "florets".  Bloom time is usually around early to late July "here", depending on the season's conditions.

This drawing was done from some video footage taken here on our native pasture in 2011.  When I started working on this summer's solo exhibit I garnered many images from the video work I've been doing over the past several years...they came in handy for reference material "and" inspiration, during this past winter!

I found a very good source of videos from last year's Iowa Prairie Conference that I thought I'd pass on to you; back in the "journal" days I would lay out several sources of good information for readers.  I haven't been as good at that since the "blog" version of the journal started, but will try and slip information in if I can.

The videos are of several topics given in 2013; the Tallgrass Prairie & Oak Savanna Fire Science Consortium has produced these - "Protecting Land, Protecting the Unknown (Especially Insects)", "Introduction of Management of Prairie Butterflies and Moths", "Prescribed Grazing, Are Herbivores the 'Natural' Choice?", "What Good is a Hill Prairie? Economic, Cultural, and Ecological Benefits", and "Driftless Area Stream Prairie and Savanna Restoration".

The videos can be accessed and viewed at the following link:

Well, back to work here - have a great week out there and hope to see you on the Tallgrass!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Still Waiting...

"Prairie Lily"  
(Lilium philadelphicum) 
color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison 
(click on image for a larger view)

Still waiting in the wings for spring!  Aren't we all?!  But there is hope in the air with predictions of day time highs above freezing toward the end of the week! 

A year ago we were only days away from seeing our Great Blue Herons returning to the rookery across the valley and were seeing the area Bald Eagles sitting tight on their nest.   The Great Horned Owls are apparently incubating/hatching nearby...we see the top of the "sitter's" head when we pass by and crane our necks.  And the numbers of Mourning Doves is stretching a bit here on the acreage...we haven't seen huge flocks of Red-wing Blackbirds yet but a few individuals have been on the feeders in the yard.

But I've been working on early summer on the drawing board; another prairie forb  has grown to fruition.  I chose a lily that is native to my county (O'Brien) and still exists in a state remnant nearby.  I won't disclose its location as there are a meager few left and I don't want them stressed any more than they already are. 

I first came upon "Lilium philadelphicum" on the north shore of Lake Superior and in the adjacent forests, where it is locally known as the "Wood Lily".  I was quite surprised to find this beautiful small lily back in the mid 1990's here in O'Brien County when the state acquired a wonderful native prairie remnant; we walked the remnant the year prior to its public disclosure and found the "Wood" Lily on the prairie there!  I discovered the "Lilium philadelphicum" was one and the same as on NE Minnesota's "Arrowhead" region, and was pleased to call it "Prairie Lily" for the first time! 

I drew this color pencil drawing from that very same "first" Prairie Lily here...from a slide I took of the plant in bloom that morning of discovery. Hmmm, "slides", that's something I haven't worked from in a long while!

Its been cathartic doing these prairie plant drawings, getting that winter "thing" purged from my system!  I do hope to do more when I can.

I have an exhibit on the prairie coming up in July-August this summer, down at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa.  Neal Smith has a large and quite nice visitor center and the exhibit will be at the J. N. "Ding" Darling Gallery there.  The exhibit will follow my past "From the Tallgrass" theme, relating wholly to the Tallgrass Prairie.  I'll follow up more in a future blog on the details.

Still waiting and trying to be patient!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Waiting on Spring...

"February Evening, Mammatus Clouds"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
This is a duplication of my Prairie Hill Farm (Studio) blog...even though the pasture was put to bed back many weeks ago, the prairie is ever on my mind.  I hope to delve into some very pressing things in the near future, as soon as (or "if") I get ahead of studio work. 
I'm no different than the next person...I'm being tricked by the nice little breaks in the winter weather here and getting somewhat of a case of spring fever.  Not that I want to give up my studio time yet; I still have too much to do!  
But late in the afternoon yesterday, Georgie came over to the studio to tell me that I'd better get my face peeled off of the monitor and look outside!  It was pretty cool and a real surprise - mammatus clouds in mid February (see image above)!  That's weird...ya cool too, but not something you'd expect to see!  She caught me just in time too because I only had a couple minutes to get some photographs of the scene before the light was lost to the early evening. The view is right outside the kitchen looking east.
Today is a nice day as well, but the snow, ice and wind is supposed to pick up tonight making tomorrow (Thursday) somewhat unpleasant again; the birthing process for spring can be agonizingly long!
"False Gromwell and Prairie Phlox"
(Onosmodium molle and Phlox pilosa)
color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
I have been forestalling the inevitable onslaught of spring fever by working on spring subject matter here; the spring landscape finished about a week and a half ago (last blog) and the small color pencil piece seen above.  
Over the past couple years or more I've been working on artwork of various prairie forbs (wildflowers) found in our native pasture here.  The "False Gromwell and Prairie Phlox" is the latest color pencil drawing, just finished this week.  These are both fun plants - the False Gromwell is less showy from a distance but quite a "looker" up close...the Bumble Bees love this plant; I'd say an early summer favorite of theirs!  It has some "nicknames" like most wildflowers, one that fits it real well is "marble seed".  It has a small roundish seed that is creamy white when matured, and is as hard as a marble.  A weird charachteristic is - after a rain, the plant can smell like a wet dog or mule!  (All's normal again once it dries out thank goodness!)  You can't tell much from this drawing, but this plant's "structure" is quite beautiful, pretty even when not in bloom.
The Prairie Phlox (some call it "Downy Phlox") is another native plant here I've been doing my best to help proliferate.  It is quite showy from a distance and up close...the issue around here seems to be that the deer and the rabbits love to eat it as soon as it starts blooming...ugh!  I do my best to dissuade them, but its not easy.  Skippers seem to like the phlox about as much as the Bumble Bees do.  These are both early summer bloomers, out before the prairie really goes crazy with color, but once they are out - its like the gate has been swung open for the race to begin, a fun time on the tallgrass prairie!
Think Spring, but don't be too impatient!