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Yet MORE flowers out at SBNM

April 28, 2015

Since I’ve been hiking Scotts Bluff National Monument regularly this spring, I’ve been able to enjoy the waves of wildflowers, the timing of each species choosing to put in an appearance. It’s particularly interesting along the Saddle Rock path at SBNM, I think, because the variety of microclimates means you can often see a cross-section of the entire blooming season as you meander.

In addition to the 10 species I posted pictures of in previous posts (Treasure hunt at SBNM and More flowers out at SBNM), I’ve also seen plentiful prairie goldenpea and the occasional Nutttal’s violet along the pathway, and I noticed this weekend that blue flax is popping along Highway 71.

Here are a few more species I captured with my camera along the Saddle Rock trail this week:

Groundsel - Senecio integerrimus - is starting to bloom.

Groundsel – Senecio integerrimus – is starting to bloom.

Quite a bit of fringed puccoon out there - Lithospermum incisum. The name of this plant kinda cracks me up, makes me think of pirates on the prairie sea of grass. "Avast, ye fringed puccoon!"

Quite a bit of fringed puccoon out there – Lithospermum incisum. The name of this plant kinda cracks me up, makes me think of pirates on the prairie sea of grass. “Avast, ye fringed puccoon!”

A plant with a B. A. name - death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) - is quite appropriate. According to a USDA plant guide, "Eating one or two bulbs is enough to cause severe illness in children, and 4 or 5 can cause death depending on the species."

A plant with a badass, yet appropriate, name – death camas (Zigadenus venenosus). According to a USDA plant guide, “Eating one or two bulbs is enough to cause severe illness in children, and 4 or 5 can cause death depending on the species.” PLEASE DON’T EAT THE WILDFLOWERS.

And one of my favorite local wildflowers - the sandwort, Arenaria hookeri. It's an unassuming little plant, but it's hardy and I appreciate its aesthetic.

And one of my favorite local wildflowers – the sandwort, Arenaria hookeri. It’s an unassuming little plant, but it’s hardy and I appreciate its aesthetic. Alas, the photo is slightly out of focus. Hard to see what’s in focus on that cellphone screen!

So, that’s 17 species of wildflower you have a chance of seeing on a hike in western Nebraska at the moment. If you wait until the official Nebraska Wildflower Week (May 29 – June 9), you’ll be missing some of the earlier species. Grab a guide and head out there to see for yourself!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Dadgummed no-see-ums

April 24, 2015

I’ve been going around all morning with one pant leg rolled up. No fashion trend here – I’m just trying to avoid aggravating my no-see-um bites.

Beware! The little buggers are out in force!

Bugman and I did the group ride with the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club on Tuesday, and we all stopped at the Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitors Center for a break. While we were standing there, an almost simultaneous “OW!” and a slapping of legs announced the arrival of a swarm of no-see-ums gunning for blood.

I hate no-see-um bites! They are a bit worse than mosquito bites for me. Not only do they swell up, but they break open and ooze in the center and stay itchy for at least a week. Sometimes the initial itchiness can be delayed until the day after the bite (as was the case for Bugman), which causes some people to worry that they are getting bedbug bites overnight, as they’ve forgotten about their no-see-um bites the previous day.

I couldn’t get Bugman to give me a positive ID on what kind of critter was biting us. There are lots of different kinds of tiny biting flies out there, and we didn’t collect a sample.

However, I’m going to assume, based on some stuff I’ve been finding online, that we are likely dealing with a member of the Ceratopogonidae family, possibly Culicoides or Leptoconops.

These critters can pretty much live anywhere there’s moisture. This Extension publication from Purdue University includes as potential breeding sites for members of this insect family: streams, ponds, marshes, bogs, tree holes, saturated rotting wood, wastewater ponds, sepage from watering troughs and “moist soil fissures.”

In addition to the grassy area out in front of SBNM, I’ve also been bitten by these suckers in my own front yard. Like mosquitoes, they seem to be worst around dusk. It surprised me that the no-see-ums were out on Tuesday evening, since the tiny things are not strong fliers, and it was a pretty windy day.

Want to know why no-see-um bites hurt so much more than a mosquito bite at the time of infliction? (If you don’t, stop scrolling!)

The mosquito delicately pierces your flesh with a mouthpart similar to a hypodermic needle. You may not even feel it. The Ceratopogonidae on the other hand? Their work is less elegant – they slash open your skin and then drool some (allergenic!) anticoagulant into the wound.

Here’s a portion of an illustration I found from the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), which is credited to Dr. Jerry Butler and artist Jeff Goertzen:

Ew.

How to avoid these little biters?

Best option: stay inside, especially around dawn and dusk.

From what I’ve read, insect repellents like DEET may have some effect, and wearing long pants and sleeves can help make it more difficult for the insects to reach any chewable skin, but they can still manage to find unprotected areas.

If you’d like to read another source on no-see-ums, try this link from the University of Florida.

Me? I’m going to go put some more hydrocortizone cream on these dadgummed no-see-um bites and try to think about something other than itching.

*scratch, scratch*

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, except illustration copyright of cited source

More flowers out at SBNM

April 15, 2015

I’ve been making a point to hike up Scotts Bluff National Monument (my “natural training facility”) on a regular basis. I’ve got a GPS app on my phone, and I like to try to hike the up-and-back Saddle Rock Trail faster than I did the time before. Only . . .

I’m a slow-hiker.

Not that I’m necessarily slow when I’m actually moving.

It’s just that I tend to notice things and stop to examine them.

A rustle in the grass – snake? Mouse? Oh. Nope. An amputee grasshopper, missing one of its jumper legs.

amputee grasshopperAs soon as the day warms, the grasshoppers are now out in force, making a castinet-clacking sound as they fly. I’ve heard some visitors get nervous over the sound, thinking it’s the sound of rattlesnakes. (If you don’t know the difference, here’s a video illustrating what the grasshoppers sound like. And here’s a video of a rattlesnake buzz.)

My eye caught a small, red thing moving. A wasp of some sort, later identified as a type of Tachypompilus spider wasp. It had its wings up in the air and its abdomen down –  it was laying an egg in a stashed spider, perhaps?

TachypompilusAnd then there were the wildflowers.

Between Monday and today, I noticed several more species starting to bloom, in addition to the three I posted about a month ago. Not all of these flowers are the reach-out-and-grab-you kinds of floral displays. Many of them are subtle, more easily discovered by slow-hikers.

Showy peavine, Lathyrus polymorphus

Showy peavine, Lathyrus polymorphus

An out-of-focus (darned cellphone camera) western wallflower, Erysimum asperum

An out-of-focus (darned cellphone camera) western wallflower, Erysimum asperum

Hoary fleabane, Erigeron canus, getting ready to pop

Hoary fleabane, Erigeron canus (I think), getting ready to pop

Not a great photo, but proof that some penstemon is about to burst upon the scene. (I'd guess narrowleaf penstemon, Penstemon angustifolius.)

Not a great photo, but proof that some penstemon is about to burst upon the scene. (I’d guess narrowleaf penstemon, Penstemon angustifolius.)

False dandelion, Nothocalais cuspidata.

False dandelion, Nothocalais cuspidata.

The lovely mountain cat's eye, Cryptantha cana.

The lovely mountain cat’s eye, Cryptantha cana.

And my favorite of the day - a path of tufted milkvetch, Astragalus spatulatus, with both the normal purple color and a white variety growing side-by-side.

And my favorite of the day – a patch of tufted milkvetch, Astragalus spatulatus, with both the normal purple color and a white variety growing side-by-side.

Now, I am not a wildflower expert. I’m making the above identifications based on a locally-produced wildflower book, “Wildflowers of the Wildcat Hills including Scotts Bluff National Monument” by Connie McKinney. The book is currently out of print, I believe, but the Legacy of the Plains Museum gift shop (just east of SBNM) still has a healthy supply of them, if you’d like your own copy. I like this book, not only because it’s locally produced, but because it’s spiral bound, so the binding won’t fall apart with frequent use. The flowers in the book are organized by color and bloom time, so they are easy to find.

wildflower bookIf that book doesn’t work out, the SBNM gift shop has some wildflower books, too. Ask SBNM staff for recommendations – some of their books are organized by genus and species and are thus a bit harder for the novice wildflower seeker to use.

If you haven’t slow-hiked up the Saddle Rock Trail yet this spring, what are you waiting for? #findyourpark

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

WNBC Tuesday night group rides

April 14, 2015

Katie Bradshaw:

Reblogging from my Wyobraska Tandem site . . .

Originally posted on Wyobraska Tandem:

The Tuesday night rides of the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club have started up again for the season. I did not make any of the rides when the group started these weekly rides last spring, but Bugman and I have made the last two on our tandem.

On March 31, about a dozen people cycled from the YMCA to Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitors Center, and then up to the top. On March 31, about a dozen people cycled from the YMCA to Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitors Center, and then up to the top.

On April 7, about a half-dozen people bucked a headwind west from the YMCA, the swung around from 20th back around on Old Oregon Trail and over Mitchell Pass, regrouping at the SBNM Visitor Center. On April 7, about a half-dozen people bucked a headwind west from the YMCA, the swung around from 20th back around on Old Oregon Trail and over Mitchell Pass, regrouping at the SBNM Visitor Center.

There’s another ride scheduled for today, April 14, at 5:30 p.m. at the YMCA. If you’d like to keep up with the group, “like” the Facebook page, or check out the blog.

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Springtime in Wyobraska

April 13, 2015
The winter wheat is greening up

The winter wheat is greening up

Unsettling storm clouds roll through

Threatening clouds roll through

The season seems undecided

Seasons’ order undecided

Birth and life anew

Birth and life anew

That last picture was taken by my friend Sarah Pinet at Victory Hill Farm. Go buy her goat cheese. (Main Street Market carries it.) It’s good stuff!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, except goat photo, which belongs to Victory Hill Farm

Enjoy the silence

April 4, 2015

sbnm silenceThe other day, I was taking a walk up Scotts Bluff National Monument, and I experienced one of the occasional, extraordinary moments of silence one can encounter out here on the High Plains.

The wind had stopped, stilling the constant motion of the grasses. No birds sang in that moment. No voices rang out. I could hear no traffic, no airplanes, no machinery.

It’s a very peculiar feeling to be outdoors and surrounded by compete silence. It’s almost as though the Earth has begun swallowing all sounds, jealously absorbing the vibrations from my ears. The silence becomes a presence.

For me, it’s a spiritual experience. When faced with utter quiet, I can start to hear the still, small voices it’s all too easy to drown out in modern-day busyness.

I thought of these cherished moments of silence when I saw this map, which was presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February. It was created by the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service. (I had no idea such an entity existed!)

150216-noise_0622150367affea5ca3ca361d54b523aOut on the High Plains, you can see the noisy yellow blotch of the Denver / Front Range area, and to the north of that, the soothing blue of some of the quietest areas in the United States, including western Nebraska. Another yellow blotch in the middle of quiet blue is to the west of Denver – Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bugman and I were recently in Salt Lake City, and had the chance to go hiking in the mountainous terrain surrounding the city. Out on the trails in the parks, we could still clearly hear the traffic from the Salt Lake City conurbation. Similarly, when we’d been hiking upslope of Boulder, Colorado, a few years ago, the sound of traffic far below was clearly audible. Yes, the mountains are beautiful, and there are many more economic opportunities in the Big City, but there is a tradeoff. In moving to a popular place, you lose natural stillness.

There’s definitely an experience to be had out here in western Nebraska that Front-Rangers and big city folks just can’t get anywhere else: outdoor silence. (I’m sure Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to our north has silence in spades as well.)

PS – this is a great piece to add to the Find Your Park campaign. In my park, I find silence!

Nebraska license plate idea

March 24, 2015

So, I had an idea yesterday.

I was on the road, idly gazing at license plates, when I saw a Utah plate.

blankPlate“Arches National Park,” I thought. “I’d like to go there.”

Then, the style of the plate suddenly reminded me of something else: the series of Great Plains ecotourism posters I recently posted about.

What if . . . what if . . . when it’s time to get rid of our boring bird-and-flower design, we issue a series of plates styled with the ecotourism poster designs? THAT WOULD BE SO COOL!!!

I’ve previously written about the Nebraska license plate. In fact, it’s my most popular post of all time. A state’s license plates really matter – to its people and to its brand. (Interesting survey of favorite license plates (possibly done in late 2013?) here. The top three are Wyoming, Hawaii, and Utah.)

Hmmm . . . which plate would I choose?

For me, it might matter how well the design was adapted, but, in support of cycling, I might choose a rails-to-trails plate.

eco-praire-grassBut then, there’s that insect thing – that might win out, actually, in an entomologist’s household.

eco-butterfly

I would also like the Fossil Freeway one, because I like the color purple. And the starry sky with windmill? That would be awesome, too. I bet that would be the most popular one out here in Wyobraska.

I don’t imaging the prairie dog plates would be too popular out here in ranch country, but Senator Ernie Chambers might like them.

eco-prairie-dogSo – what do you think? Good idea? Then let’s share away and get ‘er done!

What would be YOUR favorite plate?

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

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