Journal September 14, 2009

As we walked along the road this morning we saw an Eastern Milk Snake – a first for the farm.  I hope it wasn’t injured – it was alive but very quiet, on the gravel right next to the road.   It was a chilly morning so it may have just been waiting for the sun to warm things up.  Young snakes like this one, besides being smaller than adults, have brighter spots.  On adults the spots are usually more brown.

Lampropeltis triangulum

I visited two beautiful bluff prairies this week – both in Buffalo County, a few miles from our farm.

Dale and Emily invited me to visit and see they prairie they’ve been working on.  It’s a very steep, sandy prairie on a south-facing hillside.  They’ve done a lot of restoration work – clearing brush and grapevines, and burning it last spring.  Here are Dale and Emily at the top edge of the prairie.

And here are a few views of the prairie.  It’s extremely steep – probably the reason it’s in such good shape.  It would be difficult to graze cattle on a slope like this.

Prairie Dropseed, Gray Goldenrod, and Sky Blue Aster

The view west from the prairie

And another perspective – a view of the prairie from the road.

Another wonderful prairie is owned by one of our neighbors.  This is a view looking up toward the prairie point.  It looks fairly level, but the picture is deceiving – it’s actually quite a steep slope.

The top of the point is rocky and sandy, with lots of sand prairie plants.

Another view of the south-facing slope – with junipers and birches.

There’s a beautiful view down the valley from the top of the point.

The fall Compton Tortoiseshells are starting to emerge.  These butterflies will spend the winter as adults – hiding in brush piles or in crevices of logs or bark.  As soon as the weather warms in the spring, they’ll be flying again.

Nymphalis vau-album

Round-headed Bush Clover is blooming right now.  Usually I find Eastern Tailed Blue caterpillars on its flowers, but I’ve seen very few adults this summer, and I’ve found no caterpillars at all.

Lespedeza capitata

I’ve set Mike on mowing some parts of the prairies that are getting especially thick and tall.   I’m hoping that mowing at this time of year will discourage Canada Goldenrod, and reduce the plant material so that next year we’ll be able to see some of the more delicate flowers. I’m leaving parts of the prairies unmowed, so we can see the difference.

Cats Paw Prairie

Goldenrod Valley

This is a savanna area that we’ve mowed before, but it was beginning to grow up into brush again.  I always think I’ll get to these places and cut and treat the brush by hand – but there are just too many places – so we have to mow some of them.

Goldenrod Valley hill

Another mowing project is the upper part of East Center Valley.  The upper parts of the Center Valley fields are “old fields”.  They were cropped at one time, but they’re so steep that they were abandoned years ago, and left to grow up into pasture grasses and weeds.  It’s been a puzzle for us to figure out what to do with them.  Recently we heard about places where people just planted seeds or plants into the weeds, and the fields gradually changed into prairie – so we’re going to try it.  I’ll throw down seeds this winter – of fairly aggressive prairie plants so they have a chance of competing with the weeds.  Here’s newly mowed East Center Valley.

Center Valley

We had another boat voyage – much more successful than the last one.  This time the motor worked better, so we felt more confident about going farther.  We explored a shallow backwater with a stream winding through it.

Mississippi backwater

The surface of the water was so quiet that I could look down and watch the fish swimming in and out of the water plants along the bottom.

Mississippi River backwater

It’s fun to see the river bluffs from the river, instead of from the road.  150 years ago these bluffs had prairie and savanna vegetation, now they’re covered with trees.

Mississippi river bluffs

On the way out and back Mike got to test out the speed of the motor – something he’s been waiting for.

Misty mornings

3 Finger Valley

Center Valley