Archive for the 'Habitat' Category

Snow Trilliums

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Spring arrives when the Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale) are in bloom here in eastern Iowa. We looked for them on Sunday and found none. On Monday a friend said he found several hundred in his favorite spot. We went back on Monday to the spot where we had looked and only found only a few. After getting directions to our friend’s spot further along the ravines we found hundreds yesterday.

The top and  sides of the small area were very dry and crumbly. Snow Trilliums are said to prefer moist woods. These were popping out of the gravelly dry ground in singles and small groups. Most were less than two inches tall.

The bud to the right is only about 1 1/2 inches tall. Its stem is barely out of the ground and it is already unfurling its leaves, sepals and blossom. There were many other nubs poking above the dry, mostly bare, ground. Snow Trilliums usually bloom for about two weeks.

The Snow Trillium’s sepals are pewter color and like most flowers are meant to protect the bud. The blooms open quickly on warm days.  The tips of the petals are often rippled. Yesterday was not warm but the sun sifting through the shrubs and trees had encouraged many to open.

We found several unusual blossoms of a very soft, shell pink. Our camera sensors could not really capture the delicacy of the color. Four were buds about half open and this fully open  one was about 3 feet (1 meter) away from the opening buds. Color is always dependent on the technology (whether film or digital) that is trying to replicate it.

Sometimes white flowers turn a pale magenta pink when they are crumbling and drying out at the end of their bloom time. These were fresh with lots of pollen on their stamens so we think they were really a very pale pink. There are always things to learn in nature.

Jaguar, Jaguar, Jaguar

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

The young man driving the speedboat and searching for Jaguars along the rivers in Brazil’s Pantanal would whisper “jaguar, jaguar, jaguar” when he spotted one moving in the vegetation. He was very experienced at anticipating where and how fast jaguars were moving and where they might come to the river bank.

The one above, peeking through the grass, was the first one we saw. He had been walking along a bank but slipped into the grass when he realized he was being observed. The grass moved as he slinked through to find a place to peek out. We were fortunate to be in the right spot in the middle of the stream to get some images of him as the sun was going down.

The sun pops up at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. (18:00 hours) in the tropics. The Pantanal, sometimes called the world’s largest wetland, is about 15-20 degrees south of the equator. Most of the area is a savannah and grassland that gets inundated during the rainy season – November to March. It is said to be at least 10 times as large as the everglades.

We were there the first two weeks of September, 2015 when it was very dry. Animals and birds were more concentrated along rivers and lakes and ponds.

Another waded and swam along the steep bank parallel to the speedboat. He had been walking on the bank and when the shrubs were very thick came down the bank to walk and swim around the area. There were some shrubs along the water and we saw him jump at something behind the shrubs. He did not catch it so continued on his way.

We saw two others swim across a tributary of the Cuiaba River when we were looking for a female and her cubs that had been sighted a few days before we were there. We did not find them but had a lovely time in that small river. Those two males were more wary of us. We did get several nice images as one decided to get in the water.

This well-fed male was walking along the bank that showed evidence of the erosion that occurs when the rivers rise as much as 3 meters during the wet period. He mostly looked straight ahead or to his right. He did turn his head toward the river for a few moments providing a few images.

This is the same individual. You can tell by his spots. He walked along while our guide moved the boat along with the motor very quiet and by using a pole in the shallows of the river. This handsome fellow then found a spot up on a high bank to take a rest. He stayed posing for a bevy of photographers for at least a half hour. When he got bored with watching us he would yawn hugely.

We saw or followed seven jaguars on four out of five boat excursions at Porto Joffre, which is as the end of the Trans-Pantaneira Highway. It was probably six different ones because we think we saw the ‘yawner’ on two different days. He has some scars on his head and an injured right eye.

Learning to use tripods in small speedboats was one of the challenges of using our longest lenses. Even stable boats rock. Thank goodness for high speed continuous shutter settings. We also used 70-200 zoom lenses, usually with tele-converters, to have enough reach with a bit of the habitat visible.

It was very hot during most days, 38-40° C. (close to 100° F). The jaguars seemed quite warm, as did the birds. We certainly were.

We have lots of sorting, culling and key-wording to do but will try to do several more posts about other creatures we had the privilege to see.

Keeping Cool on a Hot Day

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

It was 94 degrees F. (34 degrees C.) in the shade of the steep-sided road cut through an algific talus formation but our ankles and tripod legs were cool. We were in a ditch along the road which had the rare threatened Northern Wild Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) flowers growing from along the ditch up the steep slope. There were cracks and openings all over the cliff-like cut. The largest were near the bottom along the ditch. Little gusts of cool air (algific) emanated from these openings.

Algific talus slopes are rare and fragile landforms, found in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois. Driftless indicated that the last glaciers, some 12,000 years ago, did not cover this area. Ordinarily natural algific talus slopes are north facing.

The road cut through the talus (broken rocks) faces west. The cracks deep in the hillside hold water which freezes in the winter and cools the soil  and air so that highly specialized rare plants can survive and in this case prosper. We suspect there must be large ice blocks deep in this hillside to keep this garden of Northern Wild Monkshood and the ice age relict Canada Yew thriving.

We try to both document and make small works of art with some of our images. This shows a maturing bud, an open blossom and several seed pods. The background is softened by the very shallow depth of field and the fact that this plant reached out away from the slope. Getting the tripod at a useful position in the ditch without disturbing the plant was the challenge.

Algific talus slopes are very fragile and easily damaged. That is why we were so pleased to be in a location where we could photograph these lovely plants.  Interestingly several other species not ordinarily found in these cold locations were also on the road cut – among them, columbines. They were closer to the top of the slope but still among the monkshood.

We were able to do a couple of images reminiscent of one in our book Deep Nature; Photographs from Iowa. Bumble bees are a major pollinator of Northern Wild Monkshood and there was one very busy bee systematically moving among the flowers. It would pick one plant and then move around the plant and enter almost all of the flowers. Then it would go to another. It sometimes came back to a plant to check.

When we finished and headed back to our car, we quickly became aware of how nice and cool the ditch had been. Our equipment felt damp and cool from the condensation that had occurred while in natural refrigeration.

Red-tailed Hawks, continued

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Yesterday when we visited the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, it appeared to be hungry. Not so, today. It had been recently fed and its crop was bulging. It was so full that it stood quietly on the lawn for the time we were there.

One of the parents seemed to know that it was too full to dash to safety if need be. It perched close by and called loudly when it saw movement in the area. Most of the time it was in a conifer tree directly above the youngster who sat quietly ruminating and looking about.

Yesterday we saw the other two chicks this pair is raising as they flapped their wings and walked or ran up near the nest. They are very good parents tending this one on the ground and the two up high in the nest. The neighborhood has a good supply of rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks. Leafy cities and suburbs can provide habitat.

We did not see the chicks up on the building today. They were also probably sitting in their nest digesting dinner.

Yesterday while we were setting up our tripods, a free-lance journalist stopped to see what we were doing. She made a blog post about it. She was concerned that the chick should be “rescued.” The building owners had already inquired of experts and were letting the parents tend the grounded chick.

They are certainly doing a good job.

World Penguin Day

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

There are 17 species of penguins in the world. Some are more famous than others. All are important to the earth’s ecosystem. We have photographed only 7 species in their native habitats – in or along the ocean.

To celebrate World Penguin Day, we looked back through some of our files from the Falkland Islands. The one above reminded us of articles we have seen about colonies of Magellanic Penguins along coastal South America suffering because parents have to swim further and further to find food for their youngsters. There are several juveniles in the foreground group. The birds in the background are mostly Gentoo Penguins – probably our favorite species of those we have seen.

Of course, the cutest baby we have seen is this King Penguin juvenile. The colony nursery was a little way from the beach where some vegetation provided a nice area for nests.

It is an obviously well fed and cared for baby. Notice how the parent is sitting back on its heels. We saw some on eggs where the eggs were slightly elevated by the adults feet. The eggs and new hatchlings were tucked up in what looked like pouches.

There are many “canaries in the coal mine” in the environment. Penguins are among those alerting humans to the reduction in krill, squid, fish and other foods caused by climate change, over-fishing and pollution in the seas. We hope that future celebrations of World Penguin Day are just for fun and not a reminder of what is happening to our planet.

Andean Condor Roost

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

It was late afternoon on the property that buffers the Antisana Ecological Reserve southeast of Quito, Ecuador when we saw several Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) overhead flying toward the immense cliff where they would roost for the night. We had seen several in the same area early in the morning on our way into the Reserve. This individual’s wings probably are spread to about 3 meters (10 feet). In spite of its great size, it was still a small dot against the cliff.

The roost is a long way from the viewpoint along the road. Only good binoculars, spotting scopes and long lenses allow viewers to see any details of the birds on the cliff. Even so they are very small in lenses or images while in reality they are large birds.  The Birds of Ecuador Field Guide by Ridgely and Greenfield describes them as huge soaring birds of the páramo. Once common in the Andes, the Andean Condor is becoming scarce. We were among the lucky visitors to see several that day.

The páramo is the wonderful alpine tundra grassland and wetlands that lies between the treeline and the permanent snowline, especially in the Andes Mountains of South America. We were in the part of the Reserve that was about 11,000-14,000 feet elevation.

The grasses and tiny alpine flowering plants were in sharp contrast. The green under-cushion had pink, yellow, white, and purple flowers. Summer was just coming to the páramo and the tundra was starting to bloom.

The Volcán Antisana rises to over 5700 meters (almost 19,000 feet) elevation and is the fourth tallest volcano in Ecuador. It is considered a very difficult technical climb. The weather generated by the volcano and glaciers only allowed us to see a sliver edge of the ice beneath a dense cloud. Like most glaciers world-wide, Antisana’s glaciers are retreating in response to climate change.

In order to protect species, including our own, it is becoming more necessary to protect habitats. Water is precious and when stored in ice, it is like a bank account for the future. We only hope our adventurous grandchildren can some day visit Antisana and see condors flying because their habitat is secure.