Saturday, March 26, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, March 2016: Coyote after Burn

The Creek Field burned on March 17, 2016, and for days afterward the field was surrounded by hawks, of many different species.  My efforts to photograph them yielded only blurs. 

More willing to be photographed was this coyote who was after the same smorgasbord of newly exposed mice, voles, shrews, cotton rats, pocket gophers, & bunnies.   

After the first long-distance shots, I drove as close as I could get to the Creek Field, with Deci in the bed of the truck.   

Note how Deci is quiet at first.  She starts barking only when Coyote grabs a wriggling something and starts to chomp it down.   Coyote keeps eating, tolerating the barking.  But he freezes when I tell Deci to hush.   Barking and talking?  That's too much!

As always, I am stunned by the power of fire.  Slow changes suddenly speed up, become transformations too rapid & too many to see, hear, count, or comprehend.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Restoring Bottomground Prairie: Burning the Bottomground, March 17, 2016

Al & Jeff keep the fire from the buffer strip.  
 March 17, 2016 was a big day!   
After burning the Front 3, with the expert help of our new friends Dee Aduddell & Cody Aduddell, we went on to burn the Creek Field & the Road Field.  

Jeff surveys the burn.
For that burn, it was old friends to the rescue!  Al Alspach & Jeff Morris, together with their friend Jay, conducted a textbook-perfect burn.   There were sudden wind changes & a few nail-biting moments, but in the end the restorative fire swept through those two fields & nothing more.

Thank you, Dee, Cody, Al, Jeff, & Jay!

We're getting by with a lot of help from our friends! 

Photos are by Jeff Morris.

Restoring Bottomground Prairie: Burning the Front 3, March 17, 2016

Dee Aduddell (foreground) & Cody Aduddell guide the fire
through the Front 3.
A huge thank you to Dee Aduddell & Cody Aduddell for their expert help in burning the Front 3, on March 17, 2016!

We burned the Front 3 in the early afternoon and the Creek Field & the Road Field in the late afternoon.    
Dee & Cody make it look easy!
Thanks to them, the fire stayed just where it was supposed to stay.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Celebrating Jan Garton & Betsy Knabe Roe: The Gals Transforming

Here is the latest transformation of "Revival,"  the installation by prairie artist Betsy Knabe Roe honoring the life of Kansas conservationist Jan Garton, 1949-2009.   Jan's ashes were scattered here at Bird Runner.  The installation is on the 3-acre prairie restoration just downslope from our Guest House.

We burned that Front 3 this past Thursday, March 17, 2016.   

"The gals," as Betsy called the haunting statues made of dogwood branches which she created in 2010, presided over 2 further installations, also created by Roe--"Etain" and "Passage."  

For a complete description of all 3 installations, see "The Bird Runner Art of Betsy Roe" at

"The gals" over time abandoned their erect posture.   For the past several years, they have been slumping & lounging about on the Front 3.    When we burned those three acres, the gals burst into flame.     

I know Jan is pleased.   They're with her now, at the very heart of transformation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Snowberry Clearwings: Handsome Pollinators!

Clearwing Moths are visiting the ornamental honeysuckle by our front door.  Otherwise, the shrub is buzzing with bees.  The Clearwings, like the bees, appear to be in a manic frenzy, dashing here, dashing there, as if nectar were an upper, or a disappearing resource they're going to miss out on if they don't move fast, now!    Perhaps they zip back and forth so a predator can't get a fix on them. 

This photo was taken on June 17, 2014.  The Snowberry
Clearwing is nectaring on a milkweed blossom.
  Compare the moths above with this fine fellow--a Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.  He is in the family Sphingidae.  Note that his thorax is more uniformly yellow than that of the moths above.   In fact, left to my own devices, I was trying to put the video guys in a different family altogether, the Sesiidae.  

However, Dr. Dick Beeman informs me that the "difference in thoracic coloration is probably just part of intraspecies variation."   In addition, Dr. Beeman's suggested identification of the video guys as Snowberry Clearwings, too, has been definitively confirmed by    So we can confidently call our movie stars Hemaris diffinis, too.    Thank you, Dr. Beeman!   Thank you,!

And thank you, Snowberry Clearwing!  I just have to say--your tail hairs are amazing. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Spring Azure in the Apricots!

"A true harbinger of spring" is what the Heitzmans call the Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus ladon) in their book, Butterflies and Moths of Missouri.    "It is our earliest native butterfly to emerge from overwintering pupae, often flying before the wild plum buds have opened," they say.  

But it is right in sync with our apricot trees, which is where I found the Spring Azure shown here.

Seeing this tiny butterfly soothed the pain I always feel at seeing our apricot trees bloom so early.   So what if we get a frost next week?   Right now these gorgeous blossoms are feeding pollinators!   

Notice how well the Spring Azure blends in.    The black markings on the pale underwings look just like the dark anthers of the blossom against the white petals.    

The video offers a glimpse every now & then of the gorgeous blue on the upperwings.   Spring Azure belongs to a group of tiny butterflies called, not surprisingly, "Blues."

Right at the end of the video, a bee appears.   I did a freeze-frame because otherwise he's just a blur.

He's not so clear under any circumstances, but does anyone have a guess as to what family of bee he belongs to....with all that red hair?!?   And is he flying toward us or away from us?  Is that black blob his face or his abdomen? 


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: A New Species--Maryland Senna!

Seedpods of Maryland Senna, Senna marilandica
Native perennial
I was feeling sorry for myself that I had to clear fire breaks this afternoon & couldn't poke around looking for plants, when what should happen but I stumbled on a plant species that's new for Bird Runner! This is Maryland Senna, a legume native to the east 2/3 of Kansas.

I had planted this species in the Creek Field restoration back in 2013, thanks to Jeff Hansen & the hand-picked wildflower seeds he made available through his business, Kansas Native Plants.

But the Creek Field isn't where I found this plant.   I found it on the other side of the creek in the "Front 3," a 3-acre former hayfield where native plants battle the remnant brome.   
The long stem & curved pods of  Maryland Senna
show off against the dead leaves & new growth
of the persistent  brome.

I had hand-planted the seeds myself.   How had they traveled so far?  Did they travel through the system of a seed-eating bird or mouse that deposited them here? Did they hitch a ride on a low-slung, furry badger? 

And to think I was so busy with the Creek Field last summer and had such low expectations of the Front 3 that I completely missed this plant when it was in flower.  

Luckily, it was impossible to miss the seedpods as I walked around the Front 3, preparing for a controlled burn in the next few days.

Now I'm wondering:  Should I leave the seedpods where they are & see if fire stimulates them to germinate?   But what if fire damages them?  Better hedge my bet & bury some of the seeds here & replant some others once more in the Creek Field.

However, these are traveling seeds!  They create their own itineraries, no matter what I do with them.   

So you'd better believe I'll be looking everywhere for their gorgeous yellow blossoms come next summer.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Setting the Milk Snake Free

I was startled to see a snake gliding along our bedroom floor, while our cat snoozed comfortably on the bed.   How had it gotten in?   And once in, how had it gotten to the bedroom?

Our basement hosts quite a variety of wild creatures.   But now they've started coming up the stairs?  

Please, please, please--do not disappear into the machinery under our Sleep Number bed!   Do not disappear now only to emerge later at unexpected times!

I don't know if he heard my pleas, but agreeably, with no fuss or posturing, he climbed into a bucket.   Then we were off  to the prairietop, near the cemetery, where the Three Mile Limestone juts out.    "You're supposed to like rocky ledges," I told him, having just reviewed Milk Snakes in Joe Collins' book.    Then I turned the bucket on its side & started my camera.

The video shows how slowly & calmly he claimed his freedom.   Perhaps he was still a little sleepy from his winter's nap.

I hope he enjoys his wakefulness!  

Certainly we will have a better chance of enjoying our sleep now that he is back where he belongs.

My visitor belongs to the Great Plains variety of Milk Snake--Lampropeltis triangulum gentilis.