Journal for December 27, 2020

Winter, with snow and cold temperatures, has finally arrived.


Until the snow came, I’d been able to work outside nearly every day so I worked on several new clearing projects.   As I work, I imagine what the land might look like once it’s had a chance to recover from years of being shaded.  I always hope my work will reveal new plants and attract new animals.

Here are photos of some of the projects – with sliders showing what they looked like before I started, and then at the end of the season.  (We’re still excited about using sliders to show before and after.)

This is on the hill just behind the house.  I started clearing here a few years ago, and unfortunately didn’t get any photos at the very beginning.  The ‘before’ photo – on the left – is from last spring after I’d already cleared under the trees in the foreground.  The ‘after’ photo – on the right – is from this fall.  Most of what I removed were huge, old honeysuckle bushes – you can see them in the left photo making a ‘wall’ of green under the trees.


This next project is not nearly finished yet – the east-facing hillside below Twisted Oak Savanna.  It’s a dense thicket of mostly buckthorn.  I cleared a big piece of the thicket along the top of the hill – you can see some of the piles I made – but the steepest part of the hill is still very overgrown.

On the left is the ‘before’ photo – taken on December 7, and on the right is a photo from December 22, the day before the snow arrived.


And one last project – Pine Point – a bluff prairie and overgrown savanna that used to have a planted pine plantation below it.  We had the pines logged in 2003.  For the last few years Erik and Beth from Kule Region Forestry have been helping us to get rid of the big patch of weedy brush, and to clear brush and trees from the savanna above where the pines grew.

The left photo is from 2000, showing the pine plantation.  The middle photo is from 2018 – the pines were gone, but weedy brush had grown up in their place.  The right photo is from a few days ago – most of that strip of brush is gone, and the savanna is becoming more open.


Crows flying over the Cat’s Paw Prairie, heading toward their nighttime roost.


More crows….


And more….


I’ve only seen one Northern Shrike this winter so far – chasing birds around our house.  But one day when I was cutting buckthorn in one of our planted prairies  I found a shrike’s victim – a shrew that it had killed and wedged between two branches of a buckthorn shrub.  Shrikes are known for storing their kills on thorns – sometimes on trees or shrubs, and sometimes on the spikes of barbed wire.  But sometimes they store them like this.  (I’ve put this photo in as a link, so you don’t have to look at a dead animal if you don’t want to.)


Mike made a video of scenes and sounds from the last few weeks.  (The video is big so it may have trouble or take a while to download over slower internet connections.  If nothing happens at all, try it again. If the progress bar inches along, wait it out.)

To learn more about how he’s getting the sounds, hear more examples and see more videos, visit his new website:


The beavers have been busy gnawing trees and building dams in Willow Bend.  This is the largest dam – 3 or 4 feet tall on the upstream side, and at least 6 feet tall on the downstream side.


The pond behind the dam


They’ve been gnawing on some of the largest of our willows – huge old trees.


We don’t see foxes very often – it may be because we have so many coyotes.  But here’s a Red Fox we saw on one of the trail cameras.


And here are a couple of otters – another animal we don’t see often.


This time of year our daily walks perfectly coincide with sunrise and sunset.

Sunrise over Praag Valley


Sumac Bluff


Sunrise in the creek



Sparkling cattails


Sunrise over Center Valley


A few minutes later….


Center Valley – the sun is almost up.


Buffalo Ridge Prairie just before sunset


Sunset from the Knife Edge Point – the haze that day may have been from western wildfires.


Sunset over the Knife Edge Prairie