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Search Results for: chris helzer

Large Milkweed Bugs

If you pay attention to milkweed plants during the summer, you’ll notice a wide variety of insect species feeding on the nectar produced by milkweed flowers. That nectar is sweet, nutritious and free of the toxic latex found throughout most of the rest of the plant. A much smaller group of insects can be found feeding on the leaves, stems or seeds of those milkweed plants, both dealing with and taking advantage of the toxicity. Those insects include monarch caterpillars, …

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Flooding featured in March Nebraskaland

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LINCOLN, Neb. – Much of Nebraska was devastated by flooding in 2019 and properties owned and managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission were not immune to the damage. The destruction at some of Nebraskans’ favorite parks and wildlands is detailed in a story by regional editor Eric Fowler in the March issue of Nebraskaland Magazine. Also, ecologist Chris Helzer writes about the history of conservation on his family’s quarter section of prairie near Stockham in Hamilton County, and …

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Our Family Prairie

A simple quarter section of land contains a legacy of family memories and conservation. Back in 1960, my grandpa bought 160 acres of farm land near Stockham – a couple miles north of the farmstead where he and my grandma were raising my dad and his two sisters. Most of the parcel was in cultivation, except for several small draws (totaling about 26 acres) where isolated patches of native prairie persisted. According to family lore, much of the land was …

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The Soul of the Prairie

What does a scarcity of bison mean for Nebraska’s grasslands? The plains bison has earned its standing as an iconic large animal of the American prairie. That status was reinforced a few years ago when the bison was named the national mammal of the United States. Bison capture the imagination of people like few other grassland animals, but there are not many places where you can still find them within big prairie landscapes. Before European Settlement Everyone has heard stories …

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Advancing Groundhogs

Look Out Nebraska! Groundhogs, whistle pigs or woodchucks are all synonymous with a large squirrel commonly active during the day and seen frequently on the edges of woodlots, rivers, streams, fields and even in backyards across eastern parts of the United States. Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania is likely the most famous woodchuck of all, and along with other individuals from the Eastern United States, supposedly predicts the length of winter based on seeing its shadow (or not) on Groundhog Day, …

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Don’t Mess with Oil Beetles

Among all the crazy life stories of all the crazy insects in the world, the oil beetle ranks as an elite. The oil beetle is a plant-feeding insect in the blister beetle family. As with other blister beetles, the oil beetle produces a toxic compound called cantharidin that is used to protect its eggs from predation. In addition, when an oil beetle feels threatened, it secretes a yellow substance from its leg joints (of all places) that contains enough cantharidin …

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Dodder: A Parasitic Plant

Plants are green. In school, we all learned about photosynthesis, the ability of plants to convert sunlight to food using green chlorophyll in their leaves. It’s one of those foundational ideas upon which we’ve built our understanding of the world. Well, as it turns out, the world is a pretty complicated place, and there are some plants that aren’t green and that don’t even photosynthesize. One of those is a crazy-looking plant called dodder that grows across much of Nebraska. …

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An Ice Storm Feast

Photographs after an ice storm. I woke up on the morning of January 17 with a clear plan of attack. The biggest ice storm in a decade had ended the previous evening, and the forecast had correctly predicted clear skies and calm winds for the post-storm sunrise. Road crews had worked through the night, allowing me to slowly and carefully make my way across Aurora to a series of restored prairies along Lincoln Creek. It was going to be an …

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10 Tips for Insect Photography

Insects like this katydid nymph can be very satisfying to photograph – as long as they don’t fly, jump, or crawl away first.

Photos and story by Chris Helzer Have you ever wanted to take better photos of insects? Of course you have; insect photography tops every self-respecting outdoor enthusiast’s list of aspirations. It’s hard to hold your head high among your peers when they’re showing off spectacular photos of leafhoppers and damselflies and all you have is a blurry shot of something that might have been a bee. Worry no more, my friend. Here are 10 tips that will make you a better …

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The upside down jewel of the prairie

With so much ornithology occurring in a Nebraska prairie in June, it is easy to become distracted.  A few bird species, though, capture one’s attention and won’t let go.  One of those species is the Bobolink, a bird  so marvelous it has been a subject of several poems (e.g., 1 2 3), including those penned by Emily Dickinson. My first memories of Bobolinks were as a young kid in the pastures around Sprick’s Pond, a local fishing hot spot in Washington County.  In addition …

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