Friday, September 30, 2022

Fall Mushrooms- Seeing in Sixes

Looking at any of my mushroom field guides, I am intrigued by the variety of forms and colors I see.  The arrival of some nice September rains whispers to me "mushroom foray."  True, a foray is supposed to involve a group collecting fungi for food.  I collect only images, and there are few willing to tolerate my spending 30 minutes photographing just one subject.  So, it's a solo foray.

One rule for my Seeing in Sixes posts is that I can only include new images.  The fun is in the hunt for something new.  Let's begin with a decaying tree stump that resembled a mountain peak.

It reminds me of the rugged peaks in Patagonia that I saw in 2019.   The little orange mushrooms seem to be ascending the steep slopes.

Recalling how I am attracted to the colors seldom seen, the tender purple color of the next fungi was impossible to bypass.  The yellow and light orange leaves also attracted me as they are complementary.

Some would find it humorous to see how obsessed I was with finding the right background.  That clearly explains why I do this solo.

Next is a fungi that really excites me when I find one.  Coral Tooth-fungus presents itself in many forms as it erupts on the side of a tree.

This one had a nice green growth of what I believe is lichen.  It is difficult to capture slightly off-white textures, but luckily the sky was cloudy so there was no sun to blow out the whites. 

Next I found a two-for-one to share.  Fresh Chanterelles on the right are accompanied by the dried shell of a puffball.   (I really got my knees dirty getting down low for this shot.)

The best part here was that nothing had started eating the trumpet edges.  The next mushroom was not quite as fortunate.  Still, I liked the cap's rich color and the setting in the lee side of a decaying limb.

So, I am now at number six.  I wanted to end with this abundant cluster of individual mushrooms.  It is uncommon to see so many so closely packed.  There are at least twenty-six. 

Sometimes, I am asked if a particular fungi is edible. Not important to me.  My reply sometimes is on the line of "sure, but you may have a terrible experience a bit later." I am quite pleased with what I can buy in the grocery.

This is what I found in two outings this week.  I hope it is entertaining to you.  Perhaps it will inspire you to find similar beauty after an autumn rain.

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Taughannock Falls- Seeing It in Six Images

In the Algonquin language,  Taughannock  means in the trees. The gorge is still surrounded by huge trees.  It is the tallest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Those 215 feet have been most impressive to me in deep winter when it is covered with heavy ice, and growling with a deep-throated voice. The walk up from the bottom of the falls is a popular winter outing for many.

I realized I had not explored Taughannock in summer for over ten years.  So, today I took the challenge to create a fresh view of the falls in six images.  I first stopped at the overlook perched high on the edge of the gorge's north wall.  The September morning was foggy with a few wisps still in the tree tops.

The majority of visitors travel the 3/4 mile trail with few pauses to even look at the minor waterfall near the parking lot.  I find it has a lot of attractive smaller drops across its width.  Looking at right of center, I find a section with five different steps from top to bottom. In winter, much of the flow is hidden under large ice formations.

Even farther to the right edge, there is a set of three steps created by the layers of sedimentary rock.

I spent over half an hour just finding interesting patterns of falling water. So, these are my first three images, and I am still nearly 3/4 mile from the big drop. Time to work up stream.

From the first falls, the gorge closes on the creek. The fog began to disperse, revealing blue sky and painting the north wall with warm light.  It's a pretty spot and easy to walk into the stream bed.

I like this view for what it tells you about the steep north wall of the gorge and the gentle steps where the stream drops a few feet to the next level. Somewhere on the vertical wall up there is a peregrine falcon nest. (I saw it this summer with great difficulty.  It's very distant and the falcon's coloration blends in with the gray rocks.)

On to the falls.  The first photo that I offered is all you need to understand Taughannock's height.  I chose to concentrate on it's power. After a free fall of 215 feet, the water is moving so fast that it is a blur even at 1/250 second shutter speed.   The spray coats the rock walls for many times the width of the cascade.

Now, I am down to image number six. Between this falls and the first one I presented, the stream works down over several layers of relatively flat stone.  The surface has gentle ripples and puddles that create hundreds of small reflective "ponds". On a still day, these produce a patch work of images from the canyon walls. Seen below are islands of blue sedimentary rock in a sea of golden tree leaves on the distant slopes.   I find them entertaining to explore.

These are my six from today.  Allow me one more image from December, 2013 that reveals why winter is still my favorite.

And, yes, it was really cold.  I am thinking maybe I can find another Seeing It in Six in October, if  there are come good autumn colors.

Hope you find this enjoyable.

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Discovering the Watkins Glen Gorge


The entrance to Watkins Glen State Park has recently improved with a new welcome center and expanded parking, and the welcome given the first time visitor has not diminished.  Local people just love the Glen.  After decades of visiting the gorge, this summer I attempted to put myself back into the mindset of my first visit.  Actually, I just stood back and observed newbies and did some listening. It refreshed my perspective.

The glass facades maintain a connection to the gorge itself.  Then, as the visitors approach the start of the gorge, the new landscaping has beds of summer flowers with a background of the first gorge walls. Stately  pink cone flowers towards the north wall are complemented by native bee balm in other areas.  

One enters the gorge through a tunnel and into a grand view up the gorge with the Glen Creek, weaving its way towards the valley.  Ahead is the first big "gotcha" at Cavern Cascade.  The fascination for first time visitors is seeing the path go behind the Glen Creek. 

This is a great place to observe visitors' reactions.  First, they want a picture and then they want another with a companion in it.  (I can't remember how many times visitors have asked me to take their picture on their phone.)  Next, as they walk under the water, many want to look back for a much different view.  Roughly one in ten reaches out to touch the falling water.   It gets really crowded under the stream at times.  Magical, I'd say.

After passing under the falling water, the trail enters a spiral tunnel leading up to a long stretch of sinuous channels carved over a ten thousand year post-glacial period.  Its easy to lose sight of many small features.  It follows the idea that many look, but few actually see.  Here's a delicious spinning eddy below a minor drop in the stream.  With normal rainfall, this would be covered by fast flowing waves. 

On my recent hike through the Glen Cathedral, there was  Purple Loose-strife blooming in spare rocky debris.  Most overlook it.  Just a weed, and considered an invasive specie in New York.

Continuing up the gorge, one reaches what many consider the most captivating part of the glen, falling from the south wall, an overhanging spring drops a veil of water over the path.  I call it the Bridal Veil.  Beyond it is a beautiful bridge where many pause to take in the beauty below them.

In early August 2022, the drought has reduced it to a gentle thread of water. Still beautiful to see.  That can change.  On July 25 of 2018,  the Glen Creek presented a different personality for the Bridal Veil. 

At the top on the Rainbow Bridge, I note a person watching under a large umbrella.  The gorge has many versions.  This one was a powerful one.  These different faces are what draw people back for additional visits.  Watkins Glen is truly a gem.


Monday, July 18, 2022

Summer Means Flowers and That Means Pollinators Galore

There is so much activity in July that it can be too much.  So, this month I am mostly following the flower blooms which are a bonanza for so many pollinators. Let's begin with the test garden at the entrance to the Cornell Botanic Garden's Nevin Welcome Center. I stopped to admire the echinacea flowers, aka cone flowers.  As expected, a Bumblebee was busy on a pristine flower.  (In our current drought, finding an undamaged bloom is notable.) As is normal for me, my eyes wandered and settled on a candidate speciment nearby.  The label read: Proven Accents Purple Queen, Tradescantia.  The purple leaves hosted a small purplish flower.  The small bee on the flower made a perfect image.  Love it!
Continuing my tour at the adjacent Herb Garden, the lavender is sure to host many bees.  In this case, a honeybee rapidly cycles between open flowers with amazing speed.   It's challenging to quickly focus before it moves again.

The adjacent arboretum at the botanic gardens expands the options.   On the upper loop road, I found a nice stand of cone flowers with another pollinator,  the Aphrodite Butterfly. It's in the Fritillary group.

Nearby, I searched to see if the Buttonwood tree was in bloom.  It is a type of sycamore that had fine grain suitable for, you guessed it, making wooden buttons.  It's spherical flower has always attracted me.   Here, another bumblebee is busy on the flower.

I am also fortunate to have plants around my home that are popular with summer pollinators.  Foremost on the list is Monarda fistulosa.  This is a native beebalm.  I've noted during this summer's dry conditions that it is showing less fading that other cultivars.  Stepping out one afternoon, I saw a nice Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.  After a hasty retreat, I returned with camera for a long session following it on the fistulosa.  

I've learned that some butterflies show clear affinity for a particular stand of flowers.  Just as it was for the swallowtail above, I have a bed of mostly conflowers that will keep a Monarch Butterfly returning for several days.  A day after the image above, I moved to the front yard to "play" with a persistent Monarch.  This is my favorite result.

I've heard some people pass up an opportunity to again photograph a bird or butterfly of which they already have good images.  Seems foolish. Something is always different.  The pose is never exactly repeated, or the behavior is unique, or a new lesson is learned.   This study of flowers and their pollinators has been unique.  I'm ready for more.

Thanks for your interest.

Paul Schmitt

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Tuxedo Bird

Rising early on a June day, I recalled when I did this daily in the glass plant.  No more. Now, I shared the road with unfortunates who have to do this daily.  Instead,  I had a rendezvous with the Tuxedo Bird, aka the Bobolink.

Note: Best viewed on tablet or larger screen.

Once plentiful, habitat loss and changes in grassland farming practices have reduced them.  On this morning, I am at Greenspring Natural Cemetery near Ithaca.  Their grasslands are not mowed until late fall.  The birds benefit. Listen to his song:

Bobolinks are not particularly shy, so I can just stand quietly in plain sight.  Last year's weed stalks are among the few perches for the  male to use while broadcasting his bubbling song.

He puts his full energy into the song.  I love how his tail feathers splay out, revealing the scalloped tips on each feather.  It's quite a display.

Unlike last year, the female Bobolinks are still visible suggesting they are not yet preparing their ground nest.  One researcher told me it is all but impossible to find her nest in the tall grasses.   I'd never try. 

This is truly the best scene I have ever captured of a Bobolink. 

While the male's energy was mostly split between attracting the female and repelling a neighboring male, the female was also probing for insects hidden in the dry stalks.

I did have one image showing an inchworm she had pulled out. Her rapid movement left it a bit blurred.  (Oh well, another time maybe.)

I did also see evidence that the male spares a little time to look for insects.

I also suggested that the Bobolinks were tolerant of me, but there were a few times when the male seemed to be giving me a hard look.

Maybe it was just happenstance that chose to direct his song directly towards me. Still, I love the look.

As a side note, this is about a 25 acre field and I did not follow the bird's movements.  After some observation a previous day, I picked a spot and avoided unnecessary movements. The males seem to have favored perches. The best strategy seems to be pick a spot and be patient.

After breeding season, the males molt and acquire plumage like the female for their trip to South America.  I'd bet the males never sing once south.

Hope you enjoy my ramblings.

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, June 5, 2022

My Gear: Getting Back to Basics

When I was looking at best images for June, there was seemingly a strong mismatch.  I think it reveals a lesson that applies beyond photography to avocations like gardening, fishing or (shudder) golf. Let's call it getting back to basics.   Maybe big versus little lens?

I began in June at an apple tree loaded with fresh blossoms.  I know that every May, Baltimore Orioles arrive to feed on small caterpillars hiding in the center of the blooms.  My gear is a 500 mm f/4 lens, with a 1.4x multiplier to push the lens to 700 mm focal length.  It's supported by a rugged tripod. Overall it weighs 17 pounds.  A monster to carry, but it does what no lightweight setup can do.  The result keeps me ignoring the hassle. 

This image speaks to me about the oriole's elegant posture, colorful markings and his faithful memory of where and when to find the apple trees

Sometimes,  I just want to explore for new beauty without anything complicated.  Enter an entry-level camera with the basic 50mm kit lens that matches the first camera I used 36 years ago.  It only weighs 2.3 pounds.  One morning in June, I looked outside and wanted to explore this blooming pink dogwood.  I saw only two colors, hot pink and spring green, a perfect complementary pair.   Here, I see a bright, friendly member of my garden that washes away winter. 

The little Canon R and inexpensive 50 mm lens is often in my day-pack for hiking.  It offers simplicity and satisfaction.

Still, I am drawn back to the big lens.  I know that the little camera tests my skills and pushes my creative perception.  But, I am drawn to finding beautiful birds.  So, after the Orioles are gone farther north, I continue to look for situations that demand the big Canon lens.  There sometimes are Scarlet Tanagers, for instance, and when they sing it is magical.

The male is proud and driven by his genes to sing for unseen females.  His head turns just enough for the sun to illuminate his eye.  Again, red and green complementary colors, background blurry for the image to be all about the bird.  Listen to a tanager song on the internet to know more of what the image feels like to me.  But, let's get back to simplicity.

I believe the little camera plays a role in keeping me creative.  I treat it as sketching.  Most recently, I carried only the small rig on a hike up a forest road in Arnot Forest.  I actually expected to mostly be using binoculars to find birds, but I kept getting derailed.  Here are three examples.  Each has a name which speaks to what I saw.

A Beacon in the Forest

The Wild Marigold Sisters

A Lone Wild Columbine Deep in the Arnot Forest

I think what I saw in the forest matches what I saw for the birds.  When one starts a new activity, photography or golfing for example, gear seems to be so important. It isn't.  Must have the same clubs Tiger Woods uses.  That's normal.  As soon as the gear is understood, it's how you approach the golf course or the images.  I think my use of the little "carry about" camera spills over into what I create with the monster lens.  I know what I create is more dependent on my mind's eye than the gear.  This is an image from my five year old iPhone 8.  The flowers look like a row of bells.

After the Rain

I am satisfied with the images it produces and find no need to upgrade the phone.  No, my gear is not mismatched.  They are excellent tools, and the iPhone 8 belongs, too.

Can you relate this to a personal avocation which gives you satisfaction? Baking, cabinetry, fly fishing or sewing maybe.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, June 3, 2022

Who's Playing a Flute?

A dear friend, Julie Albertalli, spoke of a fond recollection about the arrival each spring of the Wood Thrushes on the family farm's hillside woods.   Here's one I discovered lurking in the shaded woods of the nearby Newtown Battlefield State Park.  That's just up the hill from her homestead.  This is often all you get to see of a thrush among the trees.

Julie's joy centered on the Wood Thrush song that drifts down from the tall hardwood trees with the sweetness of a solo flute.  Here's the sound from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's collection:

It's a rare situation where I actually see an entire bird singing on a sunny perch.  Note the rich color displayed: 

Today, I was back in a woods near to where Julie grew up hearing their song.  There was a bird foraging in the lower levels (mostly for caterpillars).  It's spreading its wings to take flight.

On very close examination, I can see a small insect in its beak.  That's probably an indication that they are feeding young, so I expect the singing will decline as territorial protection is reduced.  I will have to wait until 2023 to easily hear the flute's melody.

Paul Schmitt