Monday, June 29, 2009


Although a little scruffy yet, this American Kestrel chick
is definitely a little beauty!

Most folks never seem to notice this little sits patiently on telephone and power lines or hovers with rapid wing beats over the ditches and pastures. How can you nonchalantly drive past our most colorful falcon...the smallest falcon in North America, and not stop to notice or admire!?!

This summer a pair of Kestrels (American Kestrel) took up residency in our north grove Screech Owl box. Kestrels are cavity nesters. A couple weeks or so back I began to hear chicks making noises in the box and the parent birds were being very vocal around the yard...doing lots of stunt flying, scattering birds everywhere.

I watched whenever I was near the grove and did see the adult birds dive swiftly into the box but they never hesitated at the entrance for photo opportunities. Today the chicks finally became large and brave enough to stick their heads out the entrance, and one even hopped onto the top of the box for a couple minutes. I walked over after seeing this and did manage a very few shots of just one of the youngsters squawking for more breakfast.

It'd be nice to get photos of the parents but that may not be likely, as they're very skittish when Georgie or I walk toward the nesting box, but we'll try and monitor whats going on when we're out and about.

Look up every now and again when you're outside and enjoy the aerial wonders above the prairie!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June! Where Ya Goin'?!

Daisy Fleabane

How's it happen? Is it just me?! June finally came and now it's about gone! Well, we have till next Tuesday but it still looms as a past deed about to be retrospect.

I'm finally rapping up a long job here and am hoping for some real prairie time and even easel time (!) fairly soon. Meanwhile everything has no regard for my absence and continues full steam ahead.

The prairie remnant pasture here is a good example...during this week we've had more plants come into bloom...just to name a few there's the almost weedy Daisy Fleabane shown at the top of this blog. It's not a particularly attractive plant but the blooms are quaint and from a distance they bring an air of fun.

Butterfly Milkweed

A real favorite, the Butterfly Milkweed is just now blooming is a drop dead gorgeous bloom...unlike other milkweeds, this Asclepias does not have a milky discharge if broken...the Monarch caterpillars love to eat the seed pods on this plant, almost preferring them over leaves.

Pale Penstemon

Our smaller Penstemon, Pale Penstemon is in bloom now, just coming on after it's larger brethren has finished out (the Large-flowered Beardtongue). I like the tubular flowers and so do the Hummingbirds and the Bumble Bees.

"July Afternoon, Compass Plant"
oil on mounted canvas

And now summer must really be here as the Compass Plants have just begun their colors...we waited 5 years for our first bloomers here a couple years back; there's more each year now. This was a small oil painting I did of a Compass Plant last year...ya the title won't fit for a week yet but they bloom through July.

I wanted to mention an event this weekend near here if you have either Saturday or Sunday free. The nature center at Lost Island in Palo Alto County is having a "bioblitz"! The public is welcome and encouraged to participate.

It's a 24 Hour Snapshot/Inventory of Animals & Plants and the public is invited to join scientists as they survey over 7,000 acres of prairie, wetland, lake and timber. Teams will inventory mammals, birds, insects, fish, prairie & wetland plants. Fun stuff!!

I volunteered to help out so am looking forward to it.

You can join us for all or part of this event - it starts at noon on Saturday and goes through Sunday. Register by calling 712-837-4866.

Keep cool out there!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

It's Father's Day and I'm goofing off. That's nice to be able to do every once in awhile...I don't think I'll apologize anyway!

For many years I recorded the sounds of the prairie and the environment wherever we may have been at the time...I recorded many years on the North Shore of Lake Superior and in NW Ontario as well.

Audio is a wonderful thing to keep for other times or any time. Right now it's a drizzly windy day and I'm enjoying the Prairie Savannah on a summer morning with Song Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Robins, Red-headed Woodpeckers,and even the farm's cows down the's pleasant and fun.

Take a load off and enjoy a prairie savannah morning I recorded...have a page set aside on my website...enjoy the day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Haven't had many visitors to the studio or farm lately...but then I don't think they'd make it in unless they were driving 4X4's. It's really hard to tell from the photo how bad things are, but they've raised the road by about 18-24 inches and totally scraped out and lowered/widened the ditches, and repositioned all the culverts. Then it rained.

If the road hadn't had big "Road Closed to Thru Traffic" signs placed at each end I'm sure someone would've looked at it and thought it was just "a little" muddy, but it became a sucking slurry that only a slow moving 4X4 could traverse...and that's only if you stuck to the middle.

We got real lucky yesterday and all the rain missed us! Never thought that'd make me happy (we're behind in our moisture) but it gave the road some chance to dry out a the county is back to work on it and have been adding and packing more gravel. It's actually driveable today...the entrance to our place is still not up to par but at least visitors shouldn't get stuck there today.

If we miss rain the rest of the week we'll be in better shape but I don't think we'll miss what's brewing...feels just like summer now! Heat and more of that cool nonsense we've had since winter ended. (Did like those sunny cool days though!)

Been checking the prairie pasture here and another forb has been blooming. Prairie's a real stand-out when there is a lot of it but we've only got a small number blooming...maybe that's one we need to encourage. A beautiful magenta blossom...but the deer here really appreciate it too (salad?), that's why we don't seem to have enough. Unfortunately when the plant is browsed back it does not bloom.

I don't want to discourage visitors! Just give us a week or two, weather permitting we'll be dry and ready for art and prairie lovers! Stay cool!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things Progressing at Prairie Hill Farm...

False Gromwell in bloom

Things are moving along here...both on the prairie remnant and in the studio. The grant work I've been immersed in since April is beginning to find the next week or week and a half, neighbors (all about a half mile away) will likely hear a big sigh of relief!

In the meantime life moves on the prairie here and on the gravel road out front (more on that later).

False Gromwell is in peak bloom this's a local native that most people have never had experience with, yet is one of my early favorites in the tallgrass prairie. It's also called Marble seed since the seed is extremely hard and "roundish". They're (the seeds) about BB size, so I'd hate to play marbles with them. I can't really attest to it but I've heard that wet plants tend to smell like a wet mule...I've never seen the deer bother them so maybe there's something to it?

False Gromwell with Bumble Bee

Although False Gromwell flowers are fairly non-descript, Humming birds and Bumble Bees love to pollinate these flowers. The plants themselves though are very handsome in shape and structure, and vary from a yellow green through almost gray hues.

"False Gromwell Slope" color pencil - private collection

One of my first experiences with this forb was on a newly state aquired prairie site back in the late nineties. This is now the south section of Waterman Prairie south of here. There was a slope I did a small color pencil study of and it was rampant with False Gromwell!

Wild Four O'Clock

Another small, and very common. wildflower that's in bloom on the pasture is the Wild Four O'clock...another overlooked native forb! A very colorful but small blossom...usually pops up wherever it wants, but the fence line seems to be a favored location.

Porcupine Grass

And the cool season native grasses are beginning to flower...Porcupine grass is a cool one...but there's also Western Wheat, June Grass, and a couple varieties of panicum or Panic Grass.

Right now you may have trouble getting to us, the road is completely torn up and the rains we "finally" managed to get are making things quite troublesome. If you have 4 wheel drive you'll probably be OK, but I would not recommend it until the county gets things straightened out. In the meantime if you need anything, just email or give us a call.

See you on the tallgrass!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

...and More Spring on the Tallgrass

The season continues colder than usual here at Prairie Hill Farm but the blooming is progressing as in years past. A walk through the pasture has a healing effect on tired least mine!

Yarrow is blooming...a very common prairie plant. I've had some people tell me it isn't a native, yet other knowledgeable prairie folks tell me it indeed is...I have plenty of it so I'll opt to accept it!

A forb I really like is one commonly called Ox-eye sunflower. It's not a sunflower though so sometimes it's called False sunflower - Heliopsis helianthoides. This beauty has almost florescent orange/yellow'll bloom during the entire summer and even into early fall!

One wildflower of dry gravelly prairies (which ours has much of) that I wish lasted longer in bloom is the Large Flowered Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus). It has beautiful tubular flowers that Bumble Bees tunnel in and out of all day long. I keep a "nursery" of these forbs on the south side of the old corn crib...they love being in full sun and poor soil on the dry side. I collect from these each year to spread the flowers around more.

Other plants that are really coming on in the prairie remnant here are the sedges and the Prairie Sage. They tend to add texture and tone into the environment here.

I'm still stuck inside, but still take short breaks through the pasture...someday I'll get back to the easel...I hope. Enjoy it if you can...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

More Spring on the Tallgrass

Prairie Ragworts

Things are advancing here at Prairie Hill Farm Studio...well I'm "still" stuck on inside work but the prairie pasture is doing nicely.

Prairie Smoke

The Prairie Ragwort is now blooming strong on the dry gravel north facing esker. The Prairie Smoke is in bloom on the lower east side of the north pasture and the Prairie Spiderwort is blooming in the south section.

Prairie Spiderwort

The Ragwort survived through the past owners solely because it was on a steep slope that would have escaped spraying.

The Spiderwort is also native to this site but we introduced the Prairie Smoke from a native plant nursery north east of us. (The Prairie Flower Nursery) The photograph of the Prairie Smoke was the only one not taken on our prairie site. This plant does grow in our area though - within about 30 miles of here. We're trying to reintroduce native forbs that would have been encountered here 150 years ago...before settlers came and disrupted the native plant communities.

Something I've always said and will say again, I am very interested in diversity on our remnant prairie site - biological diversity. The best biological community is one that is diverse. A community that provides more than just a limited few plants and insects, will not support an equitable population or variety of wildlife. If you compare a patch of brome with a diverse prairie you'll not only see an aesthetic difference visually, but you'll see the difference in what creatures each can support. A monoculture of any one species is a miserable failure in it's support of wildlife, especially compared to a diverse prairie!

Some day this spring or summer I'll be able to break away from previous work commitments - when I do I'll be out there and possibly at the easel again...hope you can do the same!