Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Night Fire

     Wildfire is still on the minds of Red Hills residents. However, prescribed burns are still much needed in grasslands to maintain healthy rangeland. This is not an attempt to highlight any issues, effects, or opinions related to fire on the landscape. This is simply a presentation of the artful beauty of nighttime prescribed burning in the Flint Hills, the sister prairie landscape to the Red Hills. A recent trip to the larger sister landscape offered ample opportunity to observe some pyric beauty.

A recent nighttime prescribed burn in the Flint Hills imparts an analogy of a
lighted prairie city with trails of car and streetlights on busy freeways.
Look carefully in the foreground and you can see the pile of rocks burning.
(There were actually some dried plants and duff that caught fire there.)  

A lone elm tree silhouettes against the backdrop of dusk and a headfire across the grassland.

Fire zig zags across the prairie.
The lead igniter throws a headfire into the heavy fuel (tall dead grass).
A mixture of diesel and gasoline is used. The following UTVs spray water
to keep the flames from backing into a field not intended for burning as
                              part of patch-burn-grazing practices.                                     

This old gate and corral is protected from the burn.
Much headfire is being laid down by the igniter. Careful planning is performed
to manage this fire appropriately.
"Engine" crews bring plenty of water to manage backburning
and any "breakouts" that might happen. Here, they appear
surrounded by fire but are quite safe.

The igniter lays down a mixture of diesel fuel and
gasoline to create a consistent line of headfire with the
 headwind. A UTV with water, sprays to keep this fire
from going backwards into a field where it is not wanted.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hot Action at the Booming Ground

     In spite of wildfires, winds, and a bazaar political climate, the Lesser Prairie-chickens still have their ancient mating traditions to perform. Once again, my spring spirits are revived by joining the booming ground party. It is peak breeding time for these birds and they didn't dissappoint. In addition to their antics on the lek this morning, there were other visitors. A coyote came by. I've seen coyotes at this lek before and it's surprising how little effect they have on the behavior of the birds who hardly notice their presence! They may become quiet for a while but few, if any, ever flush. However, when two Northern Harriers swooped by, several birds flushed from the lek. I've never seen a harrier successfully take a prairie chicken but I've observed them diving on the chickens. Later, the coyote followed the two harriers as they hunted near the lek in the same pasture. I think since he knew he couldn't catch a chicken, perhaps he might steal a rabbit that the hawks catch. There's always interesting things to see on the prairie chicken lek besides the chickens!

A cock and hen get to know each other.

Several hens (6 total) visited the lek this morning 
and one, in particular, demostrated a defense of
her particular territory as a dominate hen. 
Watch towards the top.
A handsome coyote poses at the edge of the lek.
None of the birds flushed when he appeared.
They know he can't catch them.
It is approaching peak booming ground activity. 
The cocks face off at their respective territory
borders and chase other competitors away.

The males defend their territories  and often 
perform daring aerials in the process.
This hopeful suitor gets so pumped
that he even kicks up some dirt.
Two Northern Harriers came by and some of the birds flushed.
We watched the raptors work the field next to the lek
while the coyote followed them, hoping to steal any
kill they may have made. They certainly didn't have any
luck with the prairie chickens.

Friday, April 1, 2016

After the Fire

   The largest wildfire known to occur in Kansas in recorded history can be considered over except for some minor mopping up activities. After a week of burning over 600 square miles of land in Oklahoma and Kansas, the monster is quieted. Over 130 different fire units from across the state and some in Oklahoma responded. While 16 residences and probably twice that many other structures were destroyed, no one lost their life! This is amazing considering the intensity and speed of this raging firestorm and the ruggedness of the country. While there will be many months to talk about things to come and the lands and ranchers' recoveries, it would be good to look on a bright side. That is the purpose of this post--looking at some of the positive and the beauty of the landscape in the face of such disaster. 

A scorched, lone cedar tree on top of the iconic Flower Pot Mountain of the Red Hills signifies the intensity of this fire. It took a lot of wind and raging fire to reach that. A few remaining cedars on the downslope were screened from the flames.

  A white-tailed deer refreshes in the Salt Fork of the
Arkansas River near Aetna after
 some exciting times.

With the bark of stands of Soapberry tree
exploding off their trunks from the hot fire,
 they stand nearly naked in the ash as if their

pants were ripped off of them.

An interesting and observable landscape is revealed
with the green cedar blanket removed.

On Easter Sunday, the land was favored with over
three inches of snow. Cattle appreciated the
handouts of hay since there's nothing else
to eat.

Hundreds of hay bales were donated from many places
to help ranchers feed their remaining livestock.

The "Black Forest" was formerly green. But it
was essentially a green wasteland. It is now a
blackened wasteland with hopes of major
cedar skeleton removal efforts and a rebirth
of a healthy prairie. 

This is the same "Black Forest" which was
whitened the next day, Easter Sunday.

A normal Red Hills landscape imparts beauty.
Right now, there is black added to the pallet. Soon,
there will be much more green and an
impressive stand of wildflowers.

A herd of Red Angus munching on wheat in the
middle of burned country supplies a
contrasting picture of color to a blackened landscape.
Countless loads of hay were brought in from many
places to help "neighbor" ranchers and their
remaining cattle herds survive the next couple
of months while natural forage emerges.
In just one week since the fire, the prairie grasses
are evident. In a couple more weeks, this landscape
will be mostly green and a beautiful sight.

A walk through a scorched stand of Soapberry (Chinaberry) trees
imparts an eerie sense of a woody graveyard. This is not a bad thing
as Soapberry Trees have become an invasive issue on the prairie
but not as severe as Eastern Redcedar.