Archive for the 'Season' Category

Timing & Location Are Important.

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

This morning we visited Hanging Bog, known for its Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) community. It is not a true bog but a year round seep coming from a tall hillside. There are limestone layers or terraces which direct water out of the ravine to several tiny brooks. The little brooks wind down into a flat where later the Marsh Marigolds will wet their feet about the time the Skunk Cabbage leaves look like giant leaf lettuce clumps. Other spring ephemerals will bloom on its banks and into the surrounding woodland.

Most of the few Skunk Cabbage spathes we found were just peeking out of the little brook. Since this has been a mild winter with little snow, the  spathes and immature spiraled leaves were frost bitten and not very pretty. Many had been nibbled on by deer and possibly wild turkeys. Years ago we saw some wild turkeys munching on Skunk Cabbage.

Linda found this one in reasonable condition. When she found it there was a little patch of ice at the base of the opening into the chamber for the spadix or blossoming part. The spadix behind the ice patch is just visible in the top image and the mottled interior is visible in the lower one. The tiny white spot at the top of the opening (top image) was a little bit of ice inside the spathe that melted before Bob came to share the plant. The ice patch had also melted and showed the damage to the surface of the spathe and to previous damage on  the leaf (bottom image). It looked more frost bitten than when the top image was made.

We have photographed Skunk Cabbage protruding through snow in January. They are one of the plants that are thermogenic – producing excess heat that can melt snow. Today this was the only one to have a maroon spathe visible. It was protected by a dark chunk of fallen tree branch in the water at its back and was in a place where the sun peeked through the trees for several hours each day.


Skiing on the River

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

We were at Lock & Dam 14 on the Mississippi River yesterday looking for Bald Eagles to photograph. The eagles mostly sat in trees digesting the fish they had caught prior to our arrival. Did get to video one eagle eating a fish and a few flying by. An American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) came skiing in to settle among the ducks and gulls that were fishing along the lock.  It moved along the lines of ducks and gulls as if inspecting them and what they were catching.

One of the things that interested us about the pelican was that is was growing a horn  (nuptial tubercle) on its upper mandible and had the beginning of a wispy feather crest on the back of its head. From what we knew this was far too early or too late  in the year for these to appear. These characteristics appear in the breeding season. Pelicans migrate north in March to nest mostly in the Dakotas and Canada. The horns are present on mature mated pelicans and fall off after eggs are laid.

Some pelicans winter along the Mississippi River if it is not frozen. Most head further south to open water. Several weeks ago we saw groups of White Pelicans further north in Minnesota.

This bird is getting a 3 month head start on these characteristics or may have an endocrine disturbance. We searched for scientific information on nuptial tubercles in pelicans and only found research on some fish species which also have them, but not on pelicans. This bird seemed healthy and curious. And we were left to wonder about its physical appearance on a bright and clear early winter day.

We both made a series of images as it was braking, skiing and settling in the water from different vantage points. The bird shadowed itself from one angle and was much brighter when photographed with the light coming perpendicular to the bird.

Signs of Autumn

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Gentians are one of the signs of the coming autumn. When we visited Becky’s Fen, a private preserve, last week, our favorite gentian species (Fringed Gentian) were mostly setting seeds but the Bottle Gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) were fresh and lovely. Though not as extravagantly fringed at the Fringed Gentian, the Bottle Gentian has tiny fringes at the end of corolla that hold the blossom together. Bumblebees have to work to get in to pollinate the blossoms.

There are over 400 species of gentian worldwide. They live in all sorts of habitats. Many are found in alpine regions. The species here in the Upper Midwest often like wet prairies and woodlands, fens. floodplains and marshes. Bottle Gentians have no scent while many other species do.

One species that likes rich prairie soil is the Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba). We have some in our yard. This lovely example was entangled by a slender vine. When Linda was trying to remove the vine, the stem snapped off. It became a tabletop subject and then the bouquet on the dining table where it still is slowly drying in its original size and shape. The leaves are now a darker green and the blossoms a soft tan – still lovely.