Winter Overseed

by Dee Hudson Photography and Jay Stacy

My alarm blares before sunrise and I quickly pull on my five layers of clothing for my upper body, my two pairs of socks, my face mask, my thermal underwear and jeans, and my North Face boots. I am now prepared to help overseed a prairie planting on this cool winter morning!

Dressed in layers for the winter when I photograph or work in prairie restoration.

Dressed in layers for the winter when I photograph or work in prairie restoration.

There is a slight cloud cover this morning and the temperatures are in the upper twenties — perfect conditions for what we need to do. I meet Jay Stacy, a land steward for Nachusa, at the Headquarters at 8 am. Jay is all prepared to overseed a 16-acre restoration that he first planted in the Fall of 2012. He has mixed 270 pounds of collected seeds* and placed them in eight 40–gallon barrels, already strapped into the back of a truck bed.

Bill Kleiman (Preserve Director) and Jay review the Kubota tractor operation and safety precautions before we depart. To do my part in keeping safe, I must make sure that I never stand behind or in front of the wheels when I help Jay. Getting squashed under a tractor tire is not on my agenda for the day, so I will follow this advice!


Jay Stacy overseeds his 2012 prairie restoration.

My job is to transport the seed out to the field, while Jay drives the tractor. To overseed with the tractor, rather than hand–seeding the entire field, Jay waited until the weather conditions were just right. The ground needed to be frozen to drive the tractor across the surface, as to not damage this beautiful restoration planting. So, Jay planned this overseed to follow four nights sub zero weather, on a day when the temperatures would then reach the low 30’s (so he did not freeze to death on the tractor!). The two inches of snow cover across the field just added a nice cushion.

Jay Stacy, with the first load of seed in the pendulum seed spreader.

Jay Stacy with the first load of seed in the pendulum seed spreader.

The Seed Mixture
This is the 2nd winter overseed for this planting, the 1st occurring in the 2013 winter. For this overseed, Jay prepared three separate mixes, gauged to the soil type and drainage of the various parts of the restoration. The mixes contain forbs, sedges, non–dominant grasses and 40 pounds of Little Bluestem grass. Generous amounts of Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and Northern Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) were in all three mixes.

Three 40–gallon barrels of overseed sit next to a restored prairie.

40–gallon barrels hold the prairie seed.

Mix 1
This mix targets gravel soils and contains species like: Downy Yellow Painted Cup (Castilleja sessiliflora), Purple Prairie Clover (Petalostemum (Dalea) purpureum), and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida).

Purple Prairie Clover in bloom

Purple Prairie Clover

Mix 2
One area in the planting turns out to be wetter than first thought in 2012, so plants that like the wetter side of mesic** were added to this mix. Some of the moisture–loving plants included are Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) Gayfeather (Liatris Pycnostachya), and Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris).

Gayfeather flowers with a stormy sky in the background.


Mix 3
One area in the 16–acre planting has sandy soil, so Jay created an overseed mix with some of these plants: Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), Western Sunflower, (Helianthus occidentalis) and White Aster (Aster ptarmicoides).

Leadplant and Prairie Coreopsis blooming together.

Leadplant and Prairie Coreopsis

Pulling a pendulum spreader behind the tractor, the overseed planting was finished in early afternoon with a good seed distribution across all three areas. Jay accomplished all the overseed work while I provided him with coffee, lunch, a warm truck and some comic relief.

Seeds rest on top of snow from an overseed for prairie restoration.

The newly spread seeds dot the snow.

Seed Collection
While Jay collected the majority of seed, his efforts were greatly enhanced with the assistance of Tim Sherck, Jeff Cologna, Sheryl Honig, Tim Know, and yours truly. I cannot speak for the others, but I find seed collecting to be fun and relaxing, especially as we collect together. Also, seed collection is very rewarding, for when I see the new restorations in bloom, with butterflies, birds and bison savoring my efforts, I know I have done my part to restore the land back to its native state.

If you want to volunteer at Nachusa Grasslands, check the website for opportunites and the Saturday workday schedule.

* All forb seed weights represent the weight of a processed product, thus seed head & stem weight are included in the weight. All grasses (like Side–oats Grama, Little Bluestem, and Northern Prairie Dropseed) are pure seed weights.
**Mesic is a type of habitat that has a moderate level of moisture, midway between dry and wet.


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Butterfly Survives Illinois Winters

by Dee Hudson Photography

As the temperatures drop below freezing, I find myself wondering where this Mourning Cloak butterfly will stay during Illinois’s cold winter. Perhaps it will find a cozy tree hole, a warm hollow log or nestle in a space behind some tree bark. This butterfly better find a good shelter, because rather than migrating to someplace warmer, this butterfly stays here in Illinois for the whole winter. Brrrr! How is survival possible? Well, this butterfly has a high level of sugar in its cells that act like antifreeze, allowing the Mourning Cloak to survive without freezing. Very cool (or should I say ‘very warm’)!


It was June 21,st and I was pulling unwanted sweet clovers from a restored prairie planting at Nachusa Grasslands. As I neared some common milkweed in bloom, I first spotted this large brownish butterfly feeding on the pink flowers. Sometimes they feed on the flower nectar, but normally they drink tree sap — especially oak sap. I had my camera with me, the light was soft and pretty and the Mourning Cloak cooperated for a few shots before flying away.

I was amazed with the perfect condition of the butterfly’s wings. I’m guessing the Mourning Cloak was probably newly emerged from its chrysalis, because in Illinois, the adults tend to emerge in June and July. The temperatures on the prairie in the summer months can be pretty hot, so the Mourning Cloak has a unique way to survive. The butterfly finds a coolish resting place, then lowers its metabolic rate and takes a nice summer nap until the temperatures are more reasonable. By spending dormant time in both the summer and the winter, this butterfly actually lives over ten months — a long life for a butterfly!

Hike through the prairie in late March or April and watch for the Mourning Cloaks, for they will probably be the first butterfly you see emerge in the spring. Surprisingly the butterfly may even be seen flying over the snow on a warm day. Let me know if you spot any!

Wild Bison Return to Illinois!

by Dee Hudson Photography


On a dark, cold and very windy night, I waited excitedly with about fifteen other folk for twenty bison to arrive to their new home at Nachusa Grasslands. To be a part of this moment was thrilling! Since I began photographing and restoring the prairie two years ago, the excitement, talk and preparations for the bison arrival have been steadily building to this eventful night. When the semi finally arrived, I had to stand well back while the bison unloaded, so the only photograph I captured of this major event was the semi! In the second bottom compartment though, I can clearly see the large outline of some bison.

For over an hour the bison handlers tried everything they could think of to move the bison from the semi into the new corral. Finally, all the lights were extinguished and everyone left to celebrate, allowing the bison to enter the corral on their own sometime in the night.


The next morning I wanted to rush over to the corral for a peek, but our Illinois weather was not cooperating. In late afternoon the rain finally stopped and I was able to get a nice glimpse of the cows eating.


“Fleeting Moments” Exhibition

by Dee Hudson Photography

Arterie Fine Arts presents . . .

Five dynamic gals + Gayle S. Steven’s class + amazing photos =

A Fine Art Exhibition
All five of us gals worked intensely on our photography personal projects from January through May, with Gayle S. Stevens as our instructor and awesome mentor. At the end
of the semester we five had some great images to share, enough for a show. The fun began . . . renting the space, matting, framing, creating posters & promos, inviting
guests . . . whew! . . . we were finally ready for our exhibit!


My images for this exhibit are from my series, “Winter Slumber”, photographed in Illinois prairies this past winter. To see more of my work, visit my website at Dee Hudson Photography.

A big thanks to all my friends and family that came to my show & helped make the evening a success!


Hahnemuhle Paper Supports the Fleeting Moments Exhibition
All the artists would like to thank Carol Boss and Hahnemuhle Fine Art Papers USA for their donation of paper and for their continued support of our creative efforts!