Sunday, August 26, 2012

Later Summer Beauty

The season is changing in subtle ways. Birds that nested in the far north are now arriving.  Fruit is ripening on  the Black Cherry and the Elderberry with the birds feasting on them. Grasses are blooming and going to seed, so the seed-eating Goldfinches are fledging their brood of babies.

The gardens are still in good color with the addition of Goldenrod and Aster blooms. I love the combination of colorful summer flowers and autumn grasses that I recently found in the Herb Garden at  Cornell Plantations.

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) blooms in the Herb Garden

On one early morning visit to the garden, I found the Fountain Grass blooms sparkling with dew.

On another morning, I stopped on my drive for a field of Sunflowers.   Sunflowers always mean the coming of autumn to me.

I'd passed this field on three previous dates, but the traffic was too busy or my appointment was too pressing.  I'm glad we left the house early on this morning.   It produced my favorite photos of the day.

Meeting with some new friends, we headed for a nature preserve hoping to find some nice images.  We saw the Robins and Cedar Waxwings feeding on the wild Black Cherries, but they were too high.  Instead, the few good opportunities were on a much smaller scale.   Caterpillars.

This little guy is a Tussock Moth. He's all short hairy spines with a few long spines that are mostly black.  Just like the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, it likes the milkweed leaves. But, it overwinters here.  Monarchs have a grander plan.

To finish off our exploration, we did find a Monarch caterpillar munching away on milkweed.

That is a certain sign of autumn. It is  humbling to think that this caterpillar will develop into a butterfly that will somehow fly all the way to a mountain in Mexico to complete a migration cycle begun the previous spring by what amounts to its great-grandparents.  How is a humble insect programmed to return to a place it has never been?  Never ask what good a caterpillar is when it contains secrets we cannot explain.  Just wish them well as they journey in their life cycle.

Kind regards,

Paul Schmitt

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Have some grass, dude!

I've taken a step into a new subject area, native grasses, and found them fascinating. This is not what you mow on Saturdays, or find on athletic fields.  It's much bigger than that, sometimes 8 feet high.  These grasses can be huge, and make wonderful displays through much of the year.

Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides

I've read about the American prairie grasses being so high that only a mounted horseman could see over the tops of the grasses.  But, I've taken the approach to look closer.

Varigated Miscanthus sinensis, Japanese Silver Grass

The textures and visual energy build as you look closer.  The structures create a cacophony that makes it difficult to find an individual grass stem, but it is possible.

Dew laden stalk of Variegated Miscanthus sinensis

In late August, the grasses are beginning to flower revealing some extremely beautiful scenes.

Grass in Flower

The flowers can be extremely small and sensitive to every wisp of the wind.

Tiny Flowers

In late August, the grasses are coming into bloom, and one of  interesting examples is Fountain Grass, Penisetum alopcuroidesThe delicacy of the flowers is matched by their colorfulness.

Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides

This morning, after a night of steady rain, I found glass-like jewels of water on some of the flowers that captured my attention.

Grass Flower on a wet morning

In past years, I only thought of the field flowers- asters, gentians and goldenrod - in the late summer.  Now, I have a new realm to explore.  They  make wonderful, low maintenance plants for around the house and add real beauty from spring into winter. Check them out at a local arboretum.


Paul Schmitt

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nothing Civil about Civil Daylight

That early light before the sunrise is technically called civil daylight.  Today, I was pushing off in my tiny canoe at civil daylight.  Spare me from telling you the  hour.  I silently moved down a channel.  Numerous carp exploded in the shallow water as I approached. A pair of raccoons looked up as I slipped past.

Six days before, I had seen three Sandhill Cranes as my canoe rounded a bend to the spot seen below. They are fairly unusual and surprisingly large.  Their wingspan of 77 inches exceeds the Great Blue Heron by 5 inches.  So, I began to plot my approach.

I figured I'd have the best chance to photograph  the cranes if I was there before they left the roost to feed. So, at sunrise, I was settled on a muddy bank with full camouflage and my big lens.  All I heard were Marsh Sparrows and a few Great Blue Herons.  Then my first visitor arrived at a nearby perch, and stayed for about an hour.  Belted Kingfishers have proven to be very skittish, so I relished the time to watch and photograph it.

This guy was always active, watching the many possible places for prey, and sometimes becoming vocal.

While some birders are satisfied to see a bird and move on to find the next one, I am happy  to sit and observe behaviors.   I would have become impatient waiting for the cranes without this action. 

I really wanted to capture the Belted Kingfisher in flight.  I began to wonder if the feathers on the bird's nap became more erect as it saw possible prey. It would be a good key to prepare for that millisecond when it begins.  The photographer must be very fast to capture a bird as it leaves the perch.

Well, anyway, with time the bird did sight something down below and I was extremely lucky that it happened in full sunlight.

Off it hurled into the pickerel weeds below.  I honestly don't know if it succeeded because it disappeared and did not return.

It was time to remind myself of the reason for such an early wake up.  I had to keep alert for the Sandhill Cranes.

After a lull, I caught sight of a crane flying into an opening some 200 yards away. It went out of sight quickly.  I wanted more, but would have to be patient.

After a long wait, a pair of adult Sandhill Cranes came into the pickerel weeds some 100 yards away. As a measure of their size, their weight is about twice that of  a Great Blue Heron.

The cranes teased me for well over an hour.  I vainly hoped they would feed across the dried out marsh towards me. Their location last week would have put them withing 30 yards of me.    It did not happen. 

But there was one more  treat in store for me.   Another elusive marsh bird is the Green Heron.  As I waited for the cranes to reappear, I realized that the tree where I saw the Kingfisher now had a Green Heron in it.

They are diminutive compared to other common herons, being only 18 inches long.  I've found them to be solitary and secretive.  You can imagine how the striped breast would blend in among the reeds and cattails.  Watching one up close is a treat. You see above a hint of the namesake deep green on its crest.

I don't know what prompted the display above. They can be quite vocal at times too.

So that concludes my day's results.  The cranes never returned.  Barring a huge rainfall, I'll not be able to get into this location until next spring.  It was so shallow that the canoe dragged in the mud for some 150 yards of the channel, and I was regularly running over the backs of carp that are concentrated in the few remaining pools in the marsh.

The outing was fruitful, but I still think that there is nothing civil about starting the paddle at civil daylight when it is 5:30 am.

Paul Schmitt