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Afield and Afloat

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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Marshes: A Winter Refuge for Pheasants

Nothing beats hunting a frozen-over, snow-covered marsh for wily rooster pheasants in the dead of winter. At this time, pheasants are concentrated in the marshes’ thick cover, and tracking birds in fresh snow is almost a guarantee for success. Wetlands occupy about 1.9 million acres in Nebraska, or about 4 percent of the state’s area. Major complexes include the Rainwater Basin wetlands in south-central Nebraska, the expansive wet meadows and marshes of the Sandhills, the salt marshes around Lincoln and …

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The Clearwater Elk – A Follow-up

It was a bit quieter in farm country southwest of Clearwater this fall. Missing was the occasional bugle of a bull elk that showed up in Antelope County during the summer of 2006 when he was about 2 1/2 years old and stayed. “The Elk,” as he was known, spent the rest of his life in this neighborhood, leaving only when he headed 13 miles south to winter on the edge of the Sandhills in northeastern Wheeler County. The elk …

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Citizen Science

Making their own discoveries. Jessica Gieseke is a bumble bee-catching machine. She picks her way through a clump of goldenrod buzzing with flies and soldier beetles and spots her target. In one swift, graceful movement, Gieseke slides a vial along a stem, tips a bumble bee inside and caps the vial. The vial joins 25 others in her cooler packed with ice cubes. The ice chills the bees, rendering them sleepy and nearly immobile – a perfect photography subject. One …

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Ol’ Rough-legs

The rough-legged hawk may not stand out among raptors in looks, but it lives an interesting life. Perhaps you have seen this species along the road lately, but given its somewhat unassuming appearance, have not given it much thought. The rough-legged hawk, with its mottled brown plumage, blends in well with our landscape during the winter months. The rough-legged hawk is one of those species that logs many miles a couple of times annually. Those fence posts and utility poles …

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Turtles: Slowing Down for Winter

Some of Nebraska’s most common wildlife have the most magnificent survival abilities. A blast of below-zero temperatures got me thinking about a species I often catch sight of while casting a fishing rod over the soft water, but is nowhere to be seen around my holes in the ice. Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) basking on a partially submerged log is a familiar scene at ponds throughout Nebraska, and much of the United States for that matter, during summer months. It …

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Eastern Redcedar Threatens Bird Habitats

Eastern redcedar invasion is the single largest threat to native grasslands across the Midwest, including the biologically unique Sandhills of Nebraska. This hardy, fast-growing species has long been appreciated for its use as an effective shelterbelt or natural snowfence; wildlife management agencies, including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, have planted eastern redcedar to provide habitat and winter cover for wildlife. In retrospect, that wasn’t such a good idea. Eastern redcedar grows quickly and is extremely adaptable to a wide …

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Lessons from Cat Country

Thanks to research in the Pine Ridge, we are gaining knowledge about one of Nebraska’s most criticized, treasured and, of course, misunderstood repatriates – the cougar. Referred to as mountain lion, cougar and several other names, Puma concolor has become one of the most discussed wildlife species in the state. For all of that talking, though, it seems there is always a need to dispel a few myths and provide accurate information to the public regarding the species. Historical accounts …

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How to Clean a Pike (and Recipe)

Pike Almondine I stumbled across this recipe while surfing and fishing North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A woman selling freshly caught fish out of her home recommended the black-bellied rosefish her son had caught that morning. Having never heard of the fish before, I asked her how she would cook it. She rattled off a list of ingredients, but being in a remote area with no grocery store we told her we didn’t have much to work with. Without a thought …

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