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!

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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.

Gayfeather

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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On a Quest for . . . Bison

by Dee Hudson Photography

So, today I am about to shoot some bison, or rather should I say ‘photograph’ bison?

My alarm blares at 5:00 am. Oh my gosh, I’m a night owl, so waking at this hour is very painful. I only hit the snooze button once, and then I am slowly pulling on all my clothing layers . . . my cold weather biking pants and jersey first . . . jeans and a turtle neck . . . a thick sweater. I stop layering there or I will overheat before I leave the house. I check my packing list, throw my food for the day into my cooler and grab my camera gear compiled the night before. I am out of the house in about 40 minutes — probably my record time, since I am not a morning person.

One stop for coffee and I am on my way to Nachusa Grasslands (90 minutes away), trying to arrive soon after sunrise in order to shoot in some nice morning light. Today I am on a quest to photograph Nachusa’s wild herd for possible use in the preserve’s annual report. In the last few weeks though, the bison and I have never been in the same location at the same time. Today, I’m hoping for success!

I arrive at the preserve around 7:30 am and the morning light is very pretty. The sun is just visible behind a thin layer of clouds — my favorite kind of light! Yikes! The temperature . . .
5 degrees Fahrenheit. . . . brrrrrrrrr!!!! As I exit the car, I pull on another layer — a thin coat that blocks the wind and covers the ‘bum’.

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The bison graze in the fields along Stone Barn road.

I meet my friend and steward, Jay Stacy, at the headquarters barn. Jay already has a vehicle warmed up and ready for our adventure. Jay volunteered to drive me around for the morning and help me search for the bison herd. We are lucky on this cold day, for the herd is grazing in the fields just off of Stone Barn Road. As we pull into the field entrance, the bison pause their eating to look at us. We watch them a view minutes as I adjust my camera settings and look for some good shots. I roll down the truck window and snap a few images. As I exit the truck, the bison turn around and slowly plod away. Rats!

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The bison move to a new grazing spot.

It is soooo cold, that even with hand–warmers in my pockets, I can not stand outside the truck long before my fingers hurt. Before I head back into the truck to warm up, through my telephoto lens I see two males face off and then begin bumping their heads together.

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Two males lower their heads and butt each other.

After lunch we drive back to the field and the bison are still in the same place they were when we left them in the morning. Now, most of the herd is laying down and resting on the side of a hill in the afternoon sun.

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The female standing in profile is one of seven female bison in the herd fitted with GPS collars. These collars collect daily data for researchers.

I was hoping for some nice images of the whole herd, and I was pleased with my success today. Hopefully during my next visit to Nachusa, I will again be in the right place at the right time to enjoy these magnificent animals.

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Porcupines in the Prairie

by Dee Hudson Photography

Porcupines in the prairie? When it comes to prairies, I am of course speaking about the Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea).

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The porcupine grass creates an elegant silhouette.

The seed from this grass is one of my favorites because it is so unique–looking compared to other seeds I have seen. The tip of this seed is rather furry and comes to a very sharp point, like a porcupine quill. Even though I was careful while planting these seeds, I still bled from pricking my fingers with the sharp tips.

 The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

To plant the porcupine grass I actually jabbed the seed downward, burying the pointed tip into the ground. I would squat to the ground (to get a work–out while I planted!!) and then sink five seeds into the ground in a circle around me. Then I would stand up and toss out another five seeds to self–plant and then I would walk eight to ten feet and repeat the whole process again. As you can imagine, this planting process is very labor–intensive.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The seed tails are very fascinating. There are two different colored strands that twist around each other, looking rather candy cane–like to me. Apparently these two strands twist at different rates depending on the humidity in the air. So, when the air is dry, the tapered tail end will coil and fishtail to one side or the other and then when there is more moisture in the air the tail will fishtail the other way. Over time, the humidity changes  will allow this seed to literally screw itself down into the ground. It is pretty amazing how nature works!

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As the seed dries, the end coils.

 

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie.

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Planting Seeds in Winter?

by Dee Hudson Photography

Yes, when you’re planting prairie seeds, December can be a great time to sow them!! Native seeds actually need many freezes and thaws to soften up their hard seed coats so they are ready to germinate in the spring.

On the morning of December 4th, I helped Jay Stacy, a land steward at Nachusa Grasslands, hand–sow seeds onto a problem area in his prairie field.

A hand holding prairie seeds

Over the past seven months, Jay (with my help also!) has hand–collected seeds from all over Nachusa’s restored prairie fields, to use for this ‘Mullein Hill’ planting. The seed mix we sowed contained over 40 different species, many species that are rare in plantings (conservative species) and many species that will colonize quickly and then give way as the rare species become established.

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I asked Jay what was in his seed mix and he said, “Leadplant, dropseed, cream wild indigo, pale purple coneflower, western sunflower, coreopsis palmata, yellow coneflower, shooting stars, prairie violets, silky aster and many other species.”

The 16 acres surrounding this hill were planted into prairie in 2012, but Jay left this small fifth of an acre unplanted due to all the brush and tree limbs laying across the slope. Jay cleared the hill of stumps and branches in 2013, but in the meantime, mullein, an invasive non–native species, took over!! Boy, did these plants ever take over! See all the green rosette–shaped plants covering the hill and slope as far as you can see? There are hundreds and hundreds of these non–native plants in just this small area._MG_8465

Mullein grows well in sandy, dry areas and this hill was a perfect place for it to thrive. To keep this biennial from making seeds, Jay mowed the mullein down three separate times this past summer (2014). Now, Jay and I are planting some competition for the mullein and once these seeds sprout in the spring, the mullein won’t have a chance at survival.

This mullein hill is shaped irregularly, so Jay used an inventive planting method (known as the Schmadeke Techniqueto insure that we did not miss any spots as we scattered out the seeds. First we ringed the outside perimeter with bright colored flags. Then we stood next to a starting flag and spaced ourselves about five feet apart. We began to spread our seeds while walking towards the next flag. When we arrived at the second flag, Jay pulled it out and handed it to me, and I plunked it in the ground to my left, thus creating a tighter circle to follow the next sweep around the hill.

I’m excited to visit ‘Mullein Hill’ next spring and see what has sprouted. We will probably need to give the hill a new name!

Wild Bison Return to Illinois!

by Dee Hudson Photography

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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.

Bison

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.

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“Fleeting Moments” Exhibition

by Dee Hudson Photography

Arterie Fine Arts presents . . .
Group

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!

Show

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!

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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!