Friday, October 16, 2020

As I Wander in Autumn


Going out with a specific goal doesn't always work for me.  On Tuesday, I headed out with a specific goal and very limited equipment.  I'll save that for last.  It was more typical on Wednesday when I just headed in a general direction with a map of back roads to keep me off the popular pathways. First, I found a roadside pond I'd seen last spring with the idea to get permission from the owner to enter.  (I was thinking ducks; did not get an okay.)  This time, I was happy to stay roadside.  

I like the scene.  The red sumac pulls my eye into the blue and yellow.  The reflections double up on the subject matter.  I've got to try again to get permission.  Maybe a photo will soften their heart.

I backtracked a little to head up a single track road into state land.  Soon, I just had to stop in the middle of the narrow road to capture the way the narrow gravel road welcomed me.  The star burst was a bonus.

It only got better about 200 yards farther up the road. I named this image a Golden Maple Framing the Field.

Something in the fore really excites me.  It tells me where I am taking in the view.   Do you see how the distant hill's trees don't have to be in sharp focus for you to enjoy the experience?

This road was making me take notes for next fall.  Another bend and I pulled over again.  Fallen leaves draped over big round glacial boulders were on the edge of the field. Some trees along the left and right sides framed a beautiful orange maple.

Those three images in less than a mile made it seem so easy to find landscapes in the fall. Maybe I got picky. It was a few miles before I saw an abandoned house that is no long home to anyone.  It seemed better in monochrome.

I turned to go back to the car, and faced a maple matriarch.  The house had so captured my attention that it did not register at first.  It appears that this tree was left, maybe for shade, when all the rest of the woods was clear cut.

This wandering was going well. There was one more country road on my list because it has a tree lined pond.  The drought has lowered the pond to mostly mud and pond scum. Oh well, maybe next year will be okay.  Have you ever noticed how a road or a wood's path looks so different when you reverse direction.  As I left this pond, I saw right in front of me another road to be remembered.  Imagine driving home to this view daily.  This farm family sees it in all four seasons.  Imagine it in snow.

So, this was a pretty good wander.  The day before I took a pre-planned visit to a nearby nature preserve.  I was hiking the trail days before and something about this fallen tree caught my attention.   The tree is very rotten, and when it fell, it left a narrow slot open all the way through the trunk.  I was thinking how this resembled the stone arches seen in Utah's Zion National Park. This was not a photo for a cell phone camera, so some forethought was necessary.  I would need to get really close.

So, Tuesday morning I assembled what I needed, including an oddball tripod that allows me to hang the camera upside down nearly touching the ground.  Here is the setup.

My controls are underneath and reversed, but I can see with the articulated display screen what the lens is displaying. To complicate things, the amount of light inside the  tree is much lower than the distant woodland, so I made more than one image and blended them together.

I call this Plymouth Arch in recognition of the like-named Plymouth Woods Preserve.  I am not done with this though. I want to go back on a rainy day when the leaves are vibrant and the light is subdued. It will be a different result.
I am thinking this is actually my most satisfying image of the month.
Thanks for your interest.

Paul Schmitt  

Monday, October 5, 2020

Autumn Wandering

Autumn can be a visually exciting time for photography, or not.  Sometimes it all comes together and it only takes a cell phone to create a beautiful image.  Other times, I find it hard to get excited.  This is the Upper Falls of the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park.  It is only faintly edited with no cropping at all.

This was almost too easy.  More often, autumn photos come out with some good content surrounded by "blah".   Rather then concentrate on the negative, my goal is to identify the plusses.  Here's a quote that I've learned from:

Everything in the picture space either helps or hurts the image. 

There's nothing neutral.       Tony Sweet, Nikon Explorer of Light

For the above image, I chose to stand where the red sumac on the lower right corner of the frame grabbed the eye and began my eye's movement into the scene.  Next, I found level by looking at the vertical trusses in the railroad bridge.  The train track is angled so the right side is more lower in the view.  Finally, the colors are real and not exaggerated as is so often done in autumn. (Don't do that!  It only makes it worse.)

So, I find myself wandering about looking for scenes that contain only positive elements and avoid the boring.  It's tough to avoid diluting the image with "nothing".

I am going to follow a story line like a writer.  This helps me cull the "boring". The image at right sets the scene.  Let's begin a walk in a nature preserve.  It is Plymouth Woods near my home. When Dr. Grant purchased this woodland for a retreat decades ago, he found an abandoned Plymouth sedan. The photo says "autumn" and tells you the origin of the name.  It's enough.

Now, we begin our walk. It's a welcoming scene, and the beech leaves in the lower right quadrant begin your travel.  Take out the beech leaves and it is unsure where to begin.  It doesn't have to be a great image to begin the story of your explore on an autumn morning.

Just up the road, a stone wall appears on the north boundary marking a farmer's hard work a long time ago.

My eye begins the trip at the stone wall and continues to the white birch tree surrounded by gold and rust scenery.  I am enjoying my morning walk and seeing some lovely settings.  Let's look even closer. That's a key.

The leaves are giving in to overnight freezes.  Just like in a movie scene, I am going from images that describe the setting to close-ups of the actors. 

Not every fall image is a blast of rich colors.  There are other stories.  I come upon many ant hills made by Allegheny mound ants (Formica exsectoides).

Yes, I purposely located the flower in the left corner to get your attention.

The colony can exist for many decades as it slowly builds the mound. They excrete formic acid around the edge of the mound and no plants intrude.  Over time, the mound can engulf any stray tree that falls on the mound. This is a story about a walk in the forest, and the ants don't need to be always set in splashy colors. 

It's been a good explore. Let's turn around and head back. Going in the other direction, the woods looks different and I see things that are new.  I didn't see this before.

It's been a good explore though a golden woods.  Here's a pair of big oaks that were probably a quarter of this size when  Dr. Grant entered Plymouth Woods.  They will continue to grow just like his gift to the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

As you view my images, I hope you will see that there is little that is neutral or negative in each.  It's tough to follow this practice but over time it has reduced my sense of failure with my fall images.  And, I have be able to go beyond looking to seeing.

Paul Schmitt

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Few Flowers of Autumn

The change into autumn has begun. Birds are moving south, frost warnings are appearing and the sunrise is progressing to after my normal wake up time.  I visited a state forest yesterday to see a relatively infrequent native plant, the Closed or Bottle Gentian.  There is just a tiny opening in the flower, enough for a small bee to enter.   (I wonder if the small opening preserves the pollen from autumn rains, not that we have had any measurable rain lately.)  So here in its dewy blanket is Gentiana andrewsii:

   Found some pretty white asters, possibly Narrow-leaved White-topped Asters (Seriocarpus linifolius).  Anyway, whatever the current name, I like them.

You can see that they mix in with the gentians.  Another neighbor of the fall blooming gentians are the common Goldenrods.  So many Solidago varieties to choose from.  I really love the colors when they mix with the gentian.

Also found was what I'm calling Autumn Calico.  It's just a colorful mix of leaf colors and asters.

All images were made with mirrorless Canon R6 and Canon 100 mm micro lens at f/8.  Manual focus with focus peaking to create stack of four to seven images.  Combined in PhotoShop.

Paul Schmitt

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Featherless Fliers

Butterflies, naturally.  It's high summer.  Hot, humid and here it's really dry. Thankfully, our perennial wildflowers are surviving without watering.  They are attracting some regular visitors.  Here are a few.

This is a Pearly Crescentspot.  I love the little emerald mark on the top of the thorax.

It's a strong flier and aggressive towards other Crescentspots.  It did not stay long in one place, so getting just one image was a challenge.

I'll make a brief sidetrack from butterflies to dragonflies. I saw this Widow Skimmer making several threatening attacks on smaller butterflies like the above Pearly Crescentspot.

They are a hunter, but I'd not considered butterflies on their list. 

Another nervous butterfly was this Baltimore feeding on a stalk of Yarrow.

One of our most successful plants for attracting butterflies is the Echinacea prupurea, or Purple Coneflower.  The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, is a frequent visitor.

There are a large number of butterflies in the Skipper family, Hesperiidea.  I failed to conclusively name this one.  Similarly, I mostly failed to follow their erratic flight or focus on most before they moved again.  I got one clear image on a bellflower.

  And, I got one that confronted me on a tiny Coneflower. 

These are all beautiful and engaging, but just about the most anticipated butterfly to our garden is any of the various Swallowtails - big, colorful and strong fliers. This one fed voraciously for so long, that I had over 125 images to select from. Here is the amazing Tiger Swallowtail feeding on the native Monarda fistulosa  in our garden.

This one has been around for a while because it has lost it signature tails.

I love watching how these butterflies twist and turn, sometimes fluttering to reach each nectar tube.

Since I prepared this blog, I spotted another rare visitor to a Coneflower. Fortunately, my camera was setup and waiting for the unexpected.  What could top a Tiger Swallowtail?  The answer is:

Eastern Black Swallowtail !

These swallowtails are really skittish.  I was 8 feet distant, and moved foot closer and the butterfly leaped into flight, circled once and left the property.  Lesson learned.

I'd like to have added a Monarch to this, but they have been impossible to capture before they take off on a long distance flight. It will soon be time for them to be laying eggs on milkweed.  Maybe then.


Friday, July 10, 2020

A Summer of Lilies

When I think of summer flowers, my thoughts begin with the common Day Lily.   I think of big patches of them along roadsides.

When I wanted this photo, I discovered that they were becoming difficult to find.  It appears town highway departments largely mow them down.   This patch was where the mower couldn't reach.

Look closely at a Day Lily.  Sure, it's common but lovely.

When I think of lilies, I recall this Stargazer Lily that the squirrels brought to our garden many years ago.  It was surely a matter of theft from a neighbor's plantings.  It disappeared a few years later.  Squirrel again?

My pursuit of beautiful lilies includes the Herb Garden at the Cornell Botanic Gardens in nearby Ithaca, where the garden design includes complementary colors surrounding the subject flowers.

Another lily that I have found in the Herb Garden areas is the flamboyant Turk's Cap.  It's on steroids!

I picked the Turk's Cap to prepare for a shift to a native lily that can inspire me to drive as much as 1-3/4 hours to see an abundant colony.   I have a fascination with wild plants that thrive without intervention, and in spite of whitetail deer predation.  So, here is a group of Canada Lilies on the banks of the Susquehanna River, that I was shown in 2015.

Look at how they sometimes erupt into a ring of flowers atop the slender stalk.

In other places, the Canada Lily can hide in a stand of tall grasses. 

I've even seen one - just one - that was in the process of opening.  I love it.

I'll admit that the Day Lilies, Star Gazers and even the Turk's Caps were simply vehicles to bring you to my passion for the Canada Lily.

They are so lovely, and so very wild, that I treasure them each time I find them.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summer Spectacular

Summer brings some luscious wildflowers to stir our senses.  Here are three that captivate me.  First are the Pink Lady's Slippers.   There is wild, and there is a level above that, that this flower reaches.  It has so far refused to reveal its secrets to human cultivation.  So, finding them in a woodland is so special, that I resist sharing their locations once I find them.  Sadly, the whitetail deer eat them, and I've seen some disappear as a result.

Here is a small bunch I visited a few weeks ago.

There are actually twelve in this photo, so it is a very special location.

Sometimes I see these as group portraits. 

Looking at a single individual,  I see the purest beauty in the world.  Occasionally, a soft light filters through the trees making the flower golden.  Wow!

Another summer delight is the Wild Blue Flag.  While the above Pink Lady's Slippers prefer upland forests, this plant thrives in ponds and bogs.

It sometimes has a companion plant that is as rare as the Pink Lady's Slipper.  It is treated as the royalty of wild orchids in North America.  Feast on the sight of a Showy Lady's Slipper.

Just as is the case for the Pink LS, the Showy holds secrets that have eluded human cultivation.  It seems  mystical to see them.

All of the above take me away from home, so I do need something a bit easier to enjoy.  Today, in my backyard, I was treated to the first bloom of an Opium Poppy. 

This poppy is the opposite of the above orchids.  I just toss the seeds in bare ground, rake and let the rains take care of the rest.  Still, I love seeing them each morning.  I am surprised that the deer don't find them tasty.

I hope you have your own summer flowers to see each day.

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Watching in Awe- A Potpourri of Birds

A major goal of my bird photography is sharing examples of why I am in awe of the bird world. It begins with their amazing displays of ornamentation.  This facilitates breeding selection and extends into adaptation.  Not all birds follow ornamentation.  Some take a different path, wherein dark feathers contain melanin which makes the feathers stronger to resist wear.  It seems to me that each successful bird species finds a niche where it avoids direct competition with similar species. If there is direct competition between two similar species, one will adapt better and dominate.  For example, the different woodpeckers in our woods each have a different feeding sector or food preference in the forest.  The Downy does not compete with the Pileated Woodpecker.

Let's begin with a simple example of the Red-breasted Merganser.  It is quite different from the larger male Common Merganser seen at right.  In June, this bird is still in its breeding plumage. 

Enter the smaller Red-breasted Merganser seen below.  First, he has already molted and his iridescent green head is gone. He's now a reddish color. He molted two months before the Common Merganser.  Also, while the Common Merganser dives as deep as 100 feet in large lakes and river, the smaller merganser frequents very shallow water. I observed this reddish merganser picking snails off the cattail stalks.

Similar species, but they are successful in different habitats. Now that I have found this bird's breeding area, I hope to get its photo in breeding colors. Breeding is over, and this boy was silent and red.

Now, let's go to the tuxedo bird.  Some have suggested that the Bobolink looks like he put his tuxedo on backwards.  I was fortunate to capture this male in flight.

I think he looks like a professor in academic robes - pale yellow cap and fringed puffy shirt with a black robe beneath. Breeding was just beginning, so this Bobolink was very vocal.  It's a beautiful song.

I've been following a particular Osprey pair for several years. In the first year, the male had a tough time getting a female to look at his nest.  He called at every large bird that passed hoping it was a female Osprey.  Now, they are bonded and get down to business quickly. Two small chicks are in the nest, and the male has begun his regular fishing for them. I have a good view of their nest right at my eye level. Here comes the male with a fresh catch.

It's pretty easy to tell which is the male. First, he is notably smaller. Since he is diving into the water  for each catch, his feathers are cleaner than the female who spends long hours at the nest.  When the chicks get close to fledging, she will join in fishing to match the chicks huge appetite.

At this early stage, the chicks are small and their heads are barely visible - usually only seen when being fed as shown below.

The male won't stay long at the nest. He'll be back fishing soon. Note the bunch of bedding to the right on the nest. It looks like fibers from cornstalks to me.

This COVID-19 pandemic has closed a lot of parks and some favorite natural areas. One of my best locations just opened recently, any only for only three days a week. In the absence of visitors, a Red-tail Hawk has taken residence in the park's pavilion and the adjacent camper-cabin area.  There is staff working there on renovations, so the bird has become a bit habituated to small numbers of people.  I've been able to get close to the bird by being patient and not directly approaching it. Today, this paid off for me.  I was only 100 feet away.

I am guessing the hawk has been very successful here.  I only saw two squirrels and no chipmunks in the area.  She is pretty good at picking concealed places, such as this gnarled pine tree.

Note how well her body coloration blends in with the tree branches.  Both male and female share this coloration which supports hunting success.  It works. When I arrived two days ago, I knew she was in the area but could not spot her. Thirty minutes later I returned to my car, and she flew out of the tree across from my car.  I had looked there initially, and I can only gain respect for her ability to stay hidden.

There is a similar story for the warbles, and I hope to have the patience to find the subjects to fill in the narrative.

Kind regards,