Archive for the 'Water' 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.


Monarch Watch

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Last evening we went to a presentation by Dr. Orley R. “Chip” Taylor. The large meeting room was full of people with an interest is all pollinators but especially Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies.

Dr. Taylor co-founded Monarch Watch in 1992. Among the first group of people that responded to the press release seeking volunteers were about 500 from Des Moines, Iowa. Over the years more butterflies have been tagged in Iowa than any other state. Later research showed that Iowa was the largest breeding ground for butterflies roosting in the Oyamel fir forests in southern Mexico before milkweed was eradicated from agricultural fields and along roadways. Dr. Taylor is soliciting everyone’s help to increase milkweed production so that the wintering population in Mexico will rise again.

We visited the small preserves with another Monarch researcher in 2010. Dr. William “Bill” Calvert was among the first scientists to locate the wintering grounds high in the mountains between Morelia and Mexico City. The Oyamel (Abies religiosa) or sacred fir trees are where most of the Monarchs roost from November to early March before making the several generation flights to the Upper Midwest and points east.

The Oyamel is not only essential to the only insect known to migrate long distances annually to a particular location and habitat, but is also important to the local population. The boughs are used in religious celebrations, hence its second part of its name -religiosa.

We saw trees encased in butterflies and the ground littered with those puddling for moisture and minerals and sometimes those that had not survived the long winter. We were there in early March as the butterflies were getting ready to head north to Texas and Oklahoma to parent the next generation. We saw mating and even an egg on a Tropical Milkweed leaf.

These were probing the soil for much needed water. Dr. Taylor discussed the narrow balance between enough moisture so that the butterflies could utilize their stored fat reserves to survive the 4 to 5 months in Mexico and the danger of heavy rains followed by freezing temperatures that sometimes occur in these 10-11,000 foot mountains.

Here a group was clinging to stems at a seep or little spring. Many looked like their fat stores were much reduced from the plump adults we see here in the Midwest during July and August.

In thinking about ways that Iowans could demonstrate their commitment to the preservation of Monarch butterflies and all pollinators besides planting native forbs, we learned that Iowa is one of only 5 states that does not have a state insect symbol.

In 29 states there is a state butterfly and sometimes there is a state insect and a state butterfly. The Monarch is the state insect or butterfly for these states: Texas, Alabama, West Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, Vermont, Idaho. Idaho’s Monarchs most likely are from the West Coast population that winters along the California coast. Though several states are not large caterpillar nurseries, they felt it was important to honor this iconic and important representative of the biodiversity that supports us all.

Perhaps Iowa should do the same.

Lone Rangers

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) are cheerful wood-warblers that do not seem common or ordinary to us. Very few stop in our garden as they migrate through the area. The backyard birdbath has been visited by at least two handsome masked males over the last several days. They come for a drink and to bathe. This one is on the fountain part of the birdbath. Yellowthroats vary in the amount and intensity of yellow; probably because of diet and feather wear.

There are several flat stones in the birdbath that are perches and posing seats. He is looking around to check for potential predators before stepping in for a bath.

When the “masked man” goes in to bathe he walks with his pinkish legs far apart and splayed. They maintain this wide stance while they bathe. After briefly splashing vigorously they shake off and head for the shrubbery.

An open kitchen window with a net curtain to drape the long lenses is our photo blind. It is so nice that spring is here and the weather better for open windows.

Evening Grosbeaks

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

In hopes of finding Great Grey Owls we visited Sax-Zim Bog, northwest of Duluth, MN early last week. We did not find any and did not encounter anyone who did on that day. What we did find was a feeder station where Evening Grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Blue Jays and Purple Finches visited. The host at the Sax-Zim Bog Welcome Center had directed us there. As Evening Grosbeaks rarely come to our area, we concentrated on getting images of them away from the feeders.

The male above is representative of the males that busied themselves at the feeders. There were fewer females (one below) while we were there. This one’s breast feathers were a warmer color than bird guides usually describe.

The waterer provided by the owner of the feeders was a popular spot as one would expect, especially since the temperature hovered around 11°F (-12 C). We were glad to be using our car as portable photo blind. The wind was crisp.

These two males were deciding whether they could share the heated waterer. Even at a shutter speed of 1/500 second because of the shade in AV mode, the ends of the flying male’s wings are blurred. We decided we liked it because they do show the action.


We decided to add this image to the post because it clearly shows one of the field marks for female Evening Grosbeaks – the white patch on the underside of her wing. She was joining a male Evening Grosbeak and a Mourning Dove at the waterer. Mourning Doves are considered a special treat up in the north woods during winter though they are common yard birds here at home.

It was almost dark when we saw a Boreal Chickadee and a Red-breasted Nuthatch at another feeder along one of the roads where Great Grey Owls are often seen. Perhaps next time. This time was special because of the handsome Evening Grosbeaks.


Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

There is a festival in the Quad Cities (Davenport & Bettendorf, Iowa, Rock Island & Moline, Illinois) called Venus Envy for women artists, musicians and performers (and their male collaborators, if that is the case). Linda submitted 5 images in a series we call ‘watercolors.’ We co-sign all our work but since these 5 images were made by her, it seemed she should enter under her name.

All are images of water, sometimes flowing, sometimes not, but all reflecting the colors of their surroundings. All five were accepted and will be on display in the Visual Art Exhibit at the Bucktown Center for the Arts, 225 East Second St, Davenport, IA  from May 7-23, 2014.

The Venus Envy event night is from 6-10 p.m. Saturday May 10, 2014. There will music two stages and art demonstrations plus an Art Marketplace for vendors.

The event is free so come help celebrate women artists of all sorts with the MidCoast Fine Arts association.

World Water Day

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Today is just one day in our continuing concern about water, the basis of life. Water quality, availability and management are interlinked with human contributions to a rapidly changing climate. The United Nations designated today as one special day in its International Year of Water Cooperation.

This image came to mind when thinking about one to represent water is various forms. The iceburg is sitting high and dry at low tide along the the southeastern Alaska coast. Iceburgs are produced when glaciers calve. They are fresh water in solid form.

The salt water channel along this rocky coast is behind islands that face out to the Pacific Ocean. We were in a rubber inflatable boat cruising among small iceburgs. Water can take many shapes.

The clouds are water vapor droplets suspended in air. There were many cloud types as the altitude increased. These fragmented ones close to the surface are mostly the remains of an early morning fog.

Our home area suffered a drought last year which may continue. Our city is preparing for that possibility. It is dependent on the aquifer beneath a major river valley for water. It is good water in a state with many impaired rivers. Water is everyone’s business and today is a good day to think about how each of us uses, protects and conserves this most precious element.

An Aquatic Antelope

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

It may seem a contradiction in terms, but there are several aquatic antelope species in the Okavanga Delta and nearby swamps and marshes in northern Botswana and the region. The Lechwe (Kobus leche) is both shy and beautiful when found grazing in the marsh grasses early in the morning.

Our tracker saw this herd through the reeds as he poled the mokoro (flat-bottomed canoe) on an early morning exploration at water level. He then followed a hippo highway through the reeds so that we could get closer. (The hippos had all returned to the lagoon from their night time grazing.) The herd moved out of the water and were undecided as to which mokoro to watch. Bob and our guide were moving along the edge of the lagoon ahead of Linda and our tracker. When we got into the reeds and were mostly hidden, he said that Linda could stand to make a few images.

The males’ swept back horns are almost lyre-shaped. Lechwe are about 1 meter (3 feet) tall at the shoulder with long rear legs.  Their hooves are adapted to their wet environment as are their coats. We saw one adult male and several younger ones with this herd of females. This may have been unusual because breeding usually takes place in a lek (a gathering of males) with the females selecting the ones with which to mate.

These calves and one of the females were curious enough about what was in the mokora that they continued to watch us for awhile. Several even grazed a bit and then turned around to watch some more.

After a few minutes we poled back along the hippo highway and continued on our way in what seemed a peaceable kingdom, even with hippos at the other end of the lagoon. We caught up with the other mokoro when Bob and our guide paused for some landscape images.

Autumn Gold

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The recent gentle rains are most welcome after the summer drought. The subject of water figures extensively in both landscape and close-up photography. Close-up images are sometimes intimate landscapes, as well as abstractions. Autumn leaves and water mix so well. Colors intensify and the accompanying overcast adds a special depth.

The undersides of fallen leaves are often waxy and rain drops form and stay. Water on the top sides of leaves usually is just a sheen of wetness. Sometimes the water tension is able to maintain large drops on the waxy surface like the ones above. Each drop magnifies and sharpens the underlying pattern of veins.

The tree from which this leaf fell was a warm yellow and one of many colored trees in the neighborhood inviting us to make out-of- focus images of single and patchwork colors. Large prints of out of focus foliage can be useful backgrounds for other subjects. They also can become a faux mat layer for another image.

This background was at the widest aperture to make the smooth wash of yellow and gray-green seen in this faux mat. The file at the top of this post was superimposed on the yellow file. The perceived color of the original image was brightened by having the brighter faux mat. Color, like light, has chameleon qualities. Neighbors influence one another.

Many fallen leaves were examined between showers. Another large yellow and tan birch leaf had a small pool of water as well as little drops. It also had a small locust leaf floating just at the surface of the ‘pool.’ The little leaf had a sheen of water that softened the little leaf’s sharpness in spite of careful focusing using LiveView.

Autumn is a good time to add to the collection of files for the ‘backgrounds folder.’ A zoom lens works well to capture the wonderful colors that are out of reach. We vary the aperture to alter the degree of focus and separation of colors.


Sunday, September 4th, 2011

Plaque at Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve

Last month while in the Northeast, we made a pilgrimage to The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve near New Harbor, Maine. It was late afternoon and the tide was receding to reveal this quarter acre tidal pool. Rachel Carson studied the inhabitants of the Salt Pond which contributed to her book The Edge of the Sea.

The rocks at the outer edge are visible through the trees behind the plaque which was put there in 1970 by the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC received the preserve’s original forty acres in 1966, just two years after Miss Carson’s death. Another 38 acres was donated in 1967. Miss Carson had helped to form the Maine Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

North edge of the Salt Pond

The shore is a marvelous mixture of rocks with a fascinating history. The gray bedrock called granulite is thought to be 420 million years old. The beach stones are multicolored from the various minerals and rock types.

Outer edge of the Salt Pond

As the tide receded a shallow pool became visible surrounded by a ring of rocky outcrops in the water. One could imagine a Stonehenge of the sea. It is a special place that inspires reverance for the natural world, as we watched the tide move out and the pond become a placid place of smooth water while the Atlantic Ocean outside the rocks continued to ruffle its surface.

Rock in the Bucksport Formation

The wonderful thing about beautiful rocks is that they do not run or fly away. Photographing them in quiet light revealed their various sized grains, textures and colors. No need for white umbrellas to diffuse light and deal with reflections from granite and quartz. The violent and hot history of the geology was seen in the traceries of various minerals and rock types weaving in and out in a multitude of patterns. Sometimes smooth bits of seaweed provided a counterpoint to the roughness.

As the light faded, we left and were grateful to those who protect one of the sites where Miss Carson explored, sat, thought, and considered how to alert people to the earth’s vulnerbility.

Icicles as Art

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


Water is an element in many kinds of photographs. We are fascinated by dew and rain drops and their contributions to interesting images – especially the refractions and colors that are sometimes captured. Ice may be solid but it provides interesting abstracts. Also, icicles are available in winter when many of our other favorite subjects are not.

When icicles form they may have growth rings or layers of varying thicknesses formed as water slides down, expanding and extending the shaft. As a result icicles may reflect, refract and transmit light in surreal ways. These three were hanging from a blue metal table near a brick wall with snow on the ground nearby. There were light and shadowed areas on table, wall and snow. By focussing on the patterns in the icicle with a shallow depth of field, the resulting image becomes an abstract piece of art rather than just a photograph of icicles.

As the winter solstice approaches, we look for more winter image opportunities. The moon eclipse overnight tomorrow is likely to be covered by snow clouds according to the weather forcast. Sometimes missing a grand opportunity encourages us to look closer to home. Perhaps we should find some more ice.