Archive for the 'Identification' Category

Yellow Bells

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Bellworts (Uvularia grandiflora) are adding to the pleasure of the early ephemeral native flowers appearing in our backyard. This specimen has a cluster of 4 blossoms protruding from a clasping leaf.  It is as graceful as a time-lapse photograph of a dancer making a bow. The petals peaking out are twisted and seem to move even when there is no breeze.

Because the blossoms hang down, their scientific name is derived from the Latin meaning “little grape” and is reminiscent of the uvula which hangs down at the back of a human throat. As one would expect, grandifloria means having large blossoms.

There are several Uvularia species including U. sessilifolia (Merrybells), U. perfoliata (Perfoliate Bellwort)  and U. puberula (Mountain Bellwort). These three  species’ blossoms are more bell-like, similar to Solomon’s Seal bells, but longer. Their petals are not twisted. Merrybells is native to the eastern North America and the other two more southeastern in the United States.

The patch of Yellow Wake-robin (Trillium luteum) should be the next to add color to the yard,  if the Trout Lilies and Wild Ginger  do not beat them. The Yellow Wake-robins’ twisted blossoms point up, instead of down.

Thanksgiving Hummingbird

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

A  female Rufous Hummingbird (Selaphorus rufus) was reported on the Iowa Bird list on November 20 here in East Central Iowa. Whenever one makes an appearance  this far north in the eastern part of the country, they attract many visitors. We were not able to visit the hospitable home earlier in the week and thought we had missed the opportunity. Early this afternoon there was a message on the bird list that she was still coming to feeders. In spite of the dark and dreary sky we decided to go see her even if we were not able to photograph her.

In spite of the low light we did get our cameras ready. The ISOs were pushed up much higher than we like and the shutter speeds were still too low to stop wing movement even with shallow depth of fields. It was so dull that there is almost no catch light in her normally shiny eyes. The photos have too much digital noise but we enjoyed making them.

We did see several of the identifying characteristics of a female Rufous Hummingbird. The rufous base of her tail and that her tail extended a bit passed her wingtips are typical.  The central spot on her throat is almost visible in the lower image.

Rufous Hummingbirds are sometimes described as small and compact with short wings. This image fits the description.

She came in twice in the hour and a half that we watched the two feeders hanging from the porch rail. We stayed in our vehicle to improve the chances of her appearing. These images are cropped from the original files

We are definitely thankful for opportunities like today, even if the images are a bit too noisy.

Pretty Puzzle

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

After hours spent looking at fungi web sites and collections of online photos, as well as all our mushroom field guides, we still cannot identify these small bracket fungi. They were the prettiest photos we made yesterday (not counting a gorgeous red maple tree) in an Illinois state park near the Wisconsin border.

There were only about 10 of them on the side of a small leaning dead tree where the trail descended a cliff.  The largest was about 1 3/4 inches (45 mm) long. At first glance we thought it must be a rusty-orange species that was parasitized a white toothy slime fungus. On closer inspection the pattern of white stripes was very similar on all the fungi, no matter how large or small they were.

If any of you who might visit this post have any suggestions as to which one or two species they might be, please comment.


IPNS 20th Anniversary & Iowa Preserves 50th Anniversary

Monday, May 25th, 2015

As we are reviewing the photographs we made this weekend at the INPS & Iowa Preserves Anniversaries celebration, this one of a Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum)  is representative of the pleasure of those attending. We visited several important preserves and parks to enjoy the native plants they protect and preserve.

The enjoyment and collegiality continued over a dinner and presentation by John Pearson about the history and development of the Iowa Preserves. John wrote an essay for our book Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa. His love and respect for the plants, people and landscapes he works to protect as state ecologist was apparent and appreciated.

This lady’s slipper was found at the park where we attended the first meeting to discuss the possibility of forming an Iowa Native Plant Society on a cold and blustery April day twenty years ago. As the group started down the trail we all missed the lady’s slippers because something on the opposite side of the trail provided a lesson from one of the botanists leading the walk.

It is also a lesson to look at all sides – front, back, left, right, up and down – when entering an area, especially if you are not returning the same route. Fortunately someone saw the yellow pouches as we returned and many of us had the opportunity to admire and/or make images.

It rained on Sunday and the group thinned out. Bob said he hoped the rain would stop so we could stop to make a few images of the two orchid species we had seen the day before. It did not look hopeful but to our delight, the rain took a rest and we were able to make a few more images. This one is one of Bob’s files.

On Saturday we also had an example of why we co-sign all of our images. It seemed to be also a celebration of our photographing together for 50 years. At one of the locations we were working separately over the same general area on a steep, rocky, wooded slope. There were nodding trilliums and yellow violets and ferns and more.

Of all the yellow violets we each could have photographed, we both saw a particular one and a similar composition. One uses a 180mm macro lens and the other a 100mm macro lens. The cameras and tripods were situated at different angles. However the personal responses to the subject are often similar.

The exposures, apertures and angles are different while the general composition is the same. Before digital cameras we always labeled our slide development envelopes so we could be certain of which one of us photographed particular slides. Now we have each of our cameras identified so that the filenames right out of the camera include whose camera was used for that file.

Winter Swans

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Yesterday friends emailed to tell us that they have been seeing large white birds in a field along a busy highway for several weeks. They also said that there was a somewhat primitive road on the other side of the field where it was safer to park and the birds were sometimes a bit closer. In spite of the continuing gloomy overcast we drove over to see and identify the birds.

Approximately 35 Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) were loafing in a no-till field. Some were in hollows in the undulating terrain so we did not get a good count. About 1/3 of them were first year immatures.

Those nearest our car got up to observe us. This one (above) is showing its partially outstretched 80 inch (2 meter) wingspan. There were several pairs and family groups within our lens range.

When these youngsters (above) ate their way closer to us their parents followed also nibbling among the remaining stubble. This image is a crop from one that had other birds in it. The heads of the immatures often blended with the busy background of stubble (below) and this crop shows the definition of their feather patterns and heads.

We could hear the gentle honking as some of them discussed our presence and were deciding on what to do. No one left during the hour and a half we observed and photographed them. The far ones mostly rested and those nearer grazed and watched us.

As we were getting ready to leave, a small group from the most distant birds, decided to check us out and flew over. It happened so fast that there wasn’t time to make many camera adjustments. The daylight White Balance camera setting seemed to change the gray overcast to a blue-gray that is a nice background for the big white birds. This image is full frame from one of out Canon EOS 7D Mark II cameras panning at Low Speed Continuous shutter drive mode.

Wishing you a very happy new year from us and four swans a-flying.

Back View

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

It is not often that photographers hope that the bird is facing away when trying to make an image. The Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocecus coelestis)  is one of those species which is absolutely dazzling when seen from behind in good light. We saw both the Violet-tailed and the Long-tailed Sylphs last month in Ecuador. The Violet-tailed was on the Western slopes of the Andes and the Long-tailed on the eastern ones. They look very much alike and we relied on local staff for identification.

The Violet-tailed Sylph is said to have more intense coloration in its tail than the Long-tailed. The top image certainly shows that brilliance. When seen from the side, its colors are more subdued.

The bird in the lower image is sharing a drink with a bee. Both came into the setup to sip from the tube hidden among the flowers. Sometimes the hummingbirds would grasp the bees and take them away from the tube or the flowers into which sugar water had been squirted.

The hummingbirds seemed to have a behavior pattern associated with the feeders in the area, the tube or flower setup with flashes, and the surrounding vegetation. Some of a group would visit the feeders and setup alternately while others used only the feeders and then most would rest in the nearby vegetation. Then that group would leave, perhaps to go to another feeder area or to flowers. Soon another group would arrive in the area around the setup and the activities would repeat.

When one of us was taking a turn using Ralph Paonessa’s flash setup, the other was usually photographing birds feeding or perched in the area or along nearby trails. Photographing in setups and in the wild (top image) combines the most opportunities to show species at their best.

Which Cheiracanthium?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

While pulling some “plants out of place” in our backyard on a recent evening, a violet leaf caught Linda’s attention. It was crimped with what appeared to be a cocoon in the fold. There was a flick of movement and a plump tan spider appeared at one end. It seemed to own the silken tunnel or sac.

She picked the leaf to bring it in for some tabletop photography. The spider peeked out and watched until it and the leaf were put in a holding jar. We think it was one of the Cheiracanthium spider species. There are two whose descriptions are almost identical – one native (C. inclusum) and one introduced from Europe (C. mildei). Both are often called Yellow Sac Spiders. This one was in the jar overnight and started a second sac between the leaf and side of the jar. Because the abdomen was quite round it was probably a gravid female. June is when eggs are usually laid in the sac or tunnel and guarded by the females.

The yellow/tan surface of the abdomen was covered with short hairs – sort of velvety in appearance. There were three paler stripes seen when the light struck at specific angles. The legs and palps were pale and almost translucent and the mandibles were black and shiny. Though it did not offer to bite, both species are known to have painful bites.

When the leaf was held by an small clamp and the spider was convinced to sit on the leaf, it cooperated briefly while considering the camera lens just above it. Information about Cheiracanthium spiders doubted that their 8 eyes in two rows were very sensitive because it is nocturnal. It certainly seemed to be aware of where nearby objects were.

After attaching a silken line to the leaf (see below) it dropped over the edge. Each time it was returned to the leaf it made another break for freedom. No more useful images were make so it was taken back to the area where it had been found. When last see it was looking out from under another violet leaf.

Surf Scoters

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Whenever scoters winter in the Midwest, messages fly on the birder lists. We sometimes see them on gray winter days at a small lake near our home. Sea ducks are not expected away from the coasts but some are seen on open water all across the country during winter.

When we visited Boca Chica Wetland between San Diego and Long Beach, California earlier this year we were treated with close up views of a male and a female Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata). The male (above) is a handsome adult.

We debated as to whether the one below is a juvenile in its first winter or a young female headed into spring. The distinct white patch and dark cap suggest female. If it is a female, her eyes will lighten as she reaches adulthood. Young males’ bills would be starting to change shape by February, when we saw them.

Boca Chica Wetland is one of several protected tidal wetlands in the midst of the extensive development that is Southern California. We visited several preserves and parks along the coast and enjoyed the species we saw. It is amazing how some individuals, among the species we saw, have adapted to living in such urban areas.

The multi-colored bill of an adult male has a distinctive shape. Males have feathers on the top center of the bill. Young females do not have as pronounced a hump and feather pattern. Surf Scoters are the middle sized of the three scoter species. Sometimes mixed flocks including Surf Scoters and the smaller Black Scoter and larger White-winged Scoter are seen along the coasts.

While these are basically documentary images, the water patterns add a bit of interest to the composition. We think that images can be artful documents.

Cream-colored Crane

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

As we do each winter, we were reviewing and critiquing image files and recalling the circumstances when and where they were made. A good thing to do on a cold day.

We are also hoping for another trip to the central Nebraska Sandhill Crane flyway in early spring. Among the images from several years ago is a sequence of a pale colored Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) along the Platte River.

We saw it late one afternoon and looked for it the next morning (unsuccessfully) because it was so obvious among the more somber colored birds. Even in the fading light it was distinctive. The other birds seemed to avoid it and its efforts to fade into the group.  Because it was not allowed to intermingle closely we were able to see and photograph  the complete bird.

It fluffed its neck feathers when it noticed us but quickly settled down as the other birds were generally ignoring us. The cream color reminded Linda of the long ago hand-beaten divinity candy her father sometimes made with a bit of maple syrup to color it.

About ten years ago there was an article published in the Florida Field Naturalist about leucistic and otherwise pale colored Sandhill Cranes. The article cautioned against confusing a leucistic Sandhill Crane with a Whooping Crane, stating that the head markings should be noted. This one was a special treat and one we will remember.

Great Spreadwing Damselfly

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Great Spreadwing

The Thin-leaved Coneflowers are in full glory in our garden. After a summer of few insects, bees, bee mimics, and bee flys are busy. Today we had a surprise visitor – a Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis) – flitting around near the mailbox. It is 95 degrees in the shade and he still chose this sunny location.

He (it is a male) was enormous compared to the little damselflies we rarely see in the garden. The only water on the ground in our neighborhood is the birdbath and a small kidney shaped pool in our backyard. There is no place for them to breed so he must be travelling through.

We watched for awhile as he moved from perch to perch. Some were close to the ground and others on the open branches of the coneflowers. The yellow stripe on his side, green stripes on his back (thorax), turquoise eyes, and white clasper area are diagnostic.

Great Spreadwings are mainly a western and southern species. Ed Lam in Damselflies of the Northeast (2004) says that they recent immigrants from the southwest. Bob DuBois did not include them in Damselflies of the North Woods (2005).

The 100mm close-up lens was occupied making a timelapse series of a Ten-petal Mentzelia blossom opening, so the 70-200 with a 1.4x teleconverter was grabbed, put on a body and tripod, and we both hunted him. We found him close to where he was first seen and made several images before he retired to less photogenic spots. Then we headed back indoors to cool down.