Tagged: Nebraska

Sandhills

Nebraska was magical.

It was, at first, strange to go back — after my graduate school misadventures, driving back felt like a reminder of my own failures, and of a particularly rough time during my own life. The weather didn’t help much, either: Tuesday’s drive was a terrifying haul through clouds, wind and billowing snow.

But on Wednesday morning, the sky was clear. Frozen grass sparkled like gold, and I got to watch cranes fly under a perfect blue and yellow dawn.

Sunrise on the Platte River

I’ve seen Sandhills before, and in Australia I had the privilege of seeing both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, but these sightings of solitary birds simply don’t compare to the awesome sight (or the sound!) of a hundred birds packed together, trilling and trumpeting at each other from a narrow stretch of sand.

Sandhill Crane

Later in the day, I watched cranes feed together in groups of two or three in empty fields, surrounded by broken stalks of corn. Occasionally, they’d stop to dance, practice for their more serious courtship when they finally resume their migration to Alaska.

Sandhill Cranes

After a quick coffee break, I headed down to Kearney, where I stood with dozens of other birdwatchers to watch them tumble down to roost at night, jostling for space on a sandbar, or wading ankle-deep in the braided channels of the Platte River.

Sandhill Cranes

I think I’ve made my peace with Nebraska.

Sandhill Cranes

Herpetology Class Trips

This semester, I’m taking a herpetology class. It’s a lot of fun — I get to actually learn about amphibians, and the class has a lab and field component that I’m really enjoying. Part of my final grade will be based on how well I keep a field notebook — and while writing down substrate temperatures quickly gets boring (there’s a reason I’m not an ecologist, dammit), the plus side is that occasionally, there are things like snakes and frogs in my life.

For example, on Labor Day, I wandered down to the southeastern corner of the state with my lab mates, and while the herping wasn’t great, we did manage to find this wonderful Great Plains Ratsnake (Pantherophis emoryi) hiding under a rock near the side of the road.

Great Plains Ratsnake
Great Plains Ratsnake

Yesterday, our whole class piled into a couple of vans, and we hit Schramm State Recreation Area. With thirty eyes fixed on the ground, we managed to find some pretty cool stuff — including a young Eastern Racer (Coluber constrictor) caught in the act of eating a neonate Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

Racer eating a Garter Snake
Racer eating a Garter Snake

I admit it’s not my best photo ever (super natural background, eh?) but that’s just cool.

Other finds included large numbers of Blanchard’s Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi), a juvenile male Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), adult Common Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), Plains Leopard Frogs (Lithobates blairi), a young Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) — an invasive species in Nebraska, and, finally, a pair of young Cope’s Grey Tree Frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis), who were hanging out in the park restrooms (cool, damp, and full of insects!) — here’s a portrait of one on a slightly more natural background.

Cope's Grey Tree Frog
Cope’s Grey Tree Frog

Gas Station Finds

I love gas stations. This is partly because I drive an SUV with terrible mileage (I know! I am a bad person! But it was an affordable vehicle on my grad student budget.), but also because gas stations have wonderful, bright lights and ready resources of sugary garbage. The net effect of this is that I often find quite good insects at gas stations, especially late at night.

Most gas station attendants are a little weirded out if you just go at it with a bug net, but I try not to let the little things stop me.

So, for example, when I was driving home from Omaha late on Sunday night, I had to stop for gas. The gas station that I stopped at was pretty well deserted (mostly because it was about one in the morning), and the lights were full of little buzzing insects … and one very large, flying insect.

I at first assumed that this insect was a hunting dragonfly that had, for some reason, stayed out past its bedtime … but something wasn’t quite right about its flight pattern. When the insect came in to land, I managed to capture it, and this is what I found.

Mediterranean Mantis
Mediterranean Mantis

This is a beautiful adult male Mediterranean Mantis (Iris oratoria). At first, I wasn’t quite sure what he was, since I didn’t realize that this species got to this size … but while I was capturing, I managed to annoy him enough that he gave me a beautiful threat display, which pretty much cinched my species identification.

Iris oratoria

(This lovely photo is not mine — It was taken by Isidro Martínez, who graciously CC licensed it for the Encylopedia of Life collection — but I figured that you all needed a photo of just how cool this display really is.)

Since Mediterranean mantises are invasive, I didn’t feel a particular need to let him go back into the wild — so he’s currently in a Critter Keeper on my desk at home, voraciously devouring an offering of crickets. I’ve decided to name him Sheldon.

I also went herping today, and actually found stuff, in spite of the awful weather we’ve been having in Nebraska — I’ll post those photos for you all tomorrow.

Shiny Things!

Dogbane Beetle
Dogbane Beetle

Here’s that dogbane beetle again, this time all gussied up in my whitebox.

Photo Details

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens with 36mm extension tube on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/125 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Some Nebraska Natives

I’m moving to Nebraska in August, which means that I should be spending my last months in Texas herping, because the pickings are a lot slimmer up north. But, instead, one of my friends invited me to come up to his Permian paleontological field site in Nebraska this weekend. And since I’ll be doing a Ph.D. in a vertebrate paleontology lab starting in the Fall, I figured that it was probably a good idea to start to familiarize myself with some of the fossil sites in the state. I was spectacularly useless at quarrying things, but I had a good time, and killed a lot of ticks that were trying to suck my blood, so it was overall a productive weekend.

And I took pictures of things! Because that’s who I am, or something.

Lined Snake
Lined Snake

This is a lined snake, Tripidoclonion lineatum. It was a lifer for me, which is pretty awesome (especially from Nebraska, geeze).

Cope's Gray Tree Frog
Cope’s Gray Tree Frog

I am also pretty excited by the fact that this is the first gray tree frog that I’ve been able to narrow down to species. Hyla chrysoscelis and H. versicolor are basically distinguishable only from their calls, which can make IDing them pretty tough. However, since we found this little guy while he was calling, I can tell you that he is, in fact chrysoscelis, and not versicolor. And then the internet informed me that versicolor doesn’t even make it in to Nebraska, but I nonetheless felt all herpetologically talented for IDing a frog based on a call.

Dogbane Beetle
Dogbane Beetle

And here’s something with an exoskeleton, to keep you entomophiles quiet. This was probably one of the most annoying things that I have ever photographed — I was dealing with the fact that this beetle was both extraordinarily iridescent, and extraordinarily filthy, which meant that my flash was basically useless. I ended up relying primarily on natural light for this shot, although I did use a little bit of off-camera flash to brighten things up. Not a fun picture. But I did bring the beetle back with me, so I may try to clean him up and white box him later.

Photo Details

Lined Snake
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/10, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Cope’s Gray Tree Frog
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/13, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Dogbane Beetle
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 400 at f/10, 1/160 sec
Off-camera diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5