September 2016- People would feel foolish standing on the deck of a boat looking out over the ocean and declaring that nothing could be living underneath the water simply because they couldn’t see it. Yet the same people drive past expansive grasslands and open country saying that “nothing’s out there” because they can’t see it.
Grasslands are like the ocean, with a sea of life swimming past. The land undulates like waves, hiding animals from view. The frothy grass heads washed windward mask a multitude of little things. You just have to wade through the grass and find these things.
The easiest to find are the birds because they will rise above the waves of grass. Harriers swoop low over the land, trying to scare up rodents. Falcons, hawks and owls perch on fenceposts and in trees by creeks to scan for meals. Even doves and meadowlarks use whatever they can find as a singing platform.
Then there are the mammals that can move through the grass, but use it for shade and cover. Deer, pronghorns, bison all eat the grass, bed down in it, move through it. Deer have a way of appearing suddenly out of grasslands, invisible until you get a white flag flipped in your face and see slender legs bounding away from you.
Prairie dogs live under the sea bottom, and coyotes hunt at the bottom. Black footed ferrets, rabbits and badgers keep the dogs company, while the real canids sniff around looking for a rodent, berry, or insect meal.
And then there are the really little things- bugs and bones, plants and fungi, rocks and flowers. Even geologic monuments installed long, long ago. Finding all the interesting living and non-living things in a grassland sea even a mile square can take you hours, from dawn to dusk to catch them all.