We spent the weekend in central Minnesota taking photos of different stages of prairie restoration. Prairie grasses are above knee high already, and there are quite a few perennial forbs flowering — injecting some highlights of color into that huge expanse of green.
Tall stems of timothy grass stand behind the lower herbaceous perennials on the Lake Johanna Esker prairie.
Many thousands of years of growth of perennial prairie grasses in this area resulted in a several feet thick layer of black, organic-rich soil — perfect for farming. But as a result, less than 2% of the original 19 million acres of native prairie remain.
Any prairie that could be plowed (not too dry or wet, not too steep or rocky) was converted to cropland over a hundred years ago. But here, pasture (on the right) is being returned to a prairie, while the hill in the background (too steep to plow) has been heavily grazed. In the absence of fire or heavy grazing pressure, prairies are easily invaded by trees.
Where there are large acreages of prairie or grassland landscape, we can usually find some of the native prairie animals and plants that live there. What a treat to drive down one gravel road that dead-ended in a soybean field and find a family of Sandhill Cranes walking through the meadow grasses.
This pair of Sandhill Cranes tried to distract us from finding their two chicks by walking up the hill away from where the chicks hid in the longer grass.
One of the chicks was a little less than half the height of the adults — with no tail yet.
I suppose they thought we might follow them up and over the hill, but as we backed away, they flew back toward the chicks.