Friday, January 7, 2022

Last Remnants of Summer

In December, I continued my quest for those last signs of summer.   We've finally received a covering of winter snow so it is time to conclude my exploration.  

A late morning walk at nearby Lowe Pond was during one of those balmy days that deceive us about the shortening days and colder morning.  Traveling light, I had only my ancient iPhone 8.  In this warm light, it was sufficient to show one of the last beautiful milkweed pods bobbing in the gentle wind.  On January 7, freezing rain, sleet and snow have won the battle to break it down.

The winter sun stays low, and continuing my December exploration, I found this batch of teasels in golden backlight.  They are a bit hardier and will stand tall for most of the winter barring a heavy wet snow.

On another December day, I was exploring a favorite woodlot where this charred stump of an ancient tree attracted my interest.   There are no signs that it was felled by a saw.  It's base is at least 30 inches so it certainly was over a century old.  This reminds me of the jagged mountain peaks I saw three years ago in Patagonia.

I devoted a lot of effort to cleanly compose the image relative to the surrounding trees.  It's a hemlock and likely those hemlocks behind it derived from it.

On a later date when the same woods were now free of snow, I returned.  As I approached the tree line, another arrangement of dried weeds presented a pleasing composition. Yes, milkweed fascinates me.  The pods' warm colors  and the pure white of the seed's fluff are always attractive.

There is another colorful side to early winter, the bittersweet's brilliant red berries stand out on even the grayest winter day.  I am not the only one attracted by these red clusters.

I am betting that if I walk out to this spot tomorrow, the red berries will all be gone.  There are some flocks of cedar waxwings lingering in our brush patches.  Just yesterday, a flock of sixteen was in my neighbor's hedgerow cleaning off some similar dried berries.  

Now, in early January, the remnants are yielding.  This is what I am seeing.

This finished off my theme of summer remnants.   Maybe I'll turn to ice forms or the patterns in naked trees.  I hope this theme encourages you to look at the eye-candy each season offers.  For me, it is enough to lure me to explore winter for what it offers.

Paul Schmitt

Monday, November 29, 2021

Remnants of Summer

 Our first light cover of snow arrived the other day making it certain that summer's remnants are hard to find. Stepping out the door, I find the hardy Mountain Laurel coated with snow.

It will be many months before I can open the sliding door to see its branches covered with pinkish flowers. Winter will rule the days.

Stepping across the snow covered grass, I am happy to find some color remaining on my grape arbor.  Its withered leaves so nicely echo the redwood stain on the arbor. 

There are more remnants to find at the Kousa Dogwoood.  The birds, chipmunks and grey squirrels have eaten all of the fruit, but to my surprise the leaves are still intact although not the once brilliant green.  Can I call them wine colored?


My unplanned photo outing is surprising me with some nice gifts.  Beneath the Kousa  Dogwood in summer there is an abundant display of Oriental Poppies.  The scarlet flowers now are a memory only, as are the hordes of bees.  There are a few dried stalks with just two seedpods still (mostly) intact. 



Closer to the house there is a large bed of Purple Coneflowers in summer.  We leave the dried stalks standing for Goldfinches to feed upon.

My little explore around the morning's snow lasts only 24 minutes.  (I know this because the camera records the day/hour/minutes/seconds of each image.) Finally, I return to the grapes. The rich leaf colors call me back.  Seems to me the best is reserved for last.


I've traveled some great distances for many of my photos, but this little set is among the most enjoyable.


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Short Woods Walk in November

 The other day, I ambled through my friend's  woodland with no other purpose than absorbing sights and smells of a golden fall day.  Passing the small pond, the reflections were eye candy.

The large maple has overlooked this pond from a time when Boy Scouts camped nearby.  I wonder if any of them remember those youthful days?   This spring, Wood Ducks rested there on their trip northward.  Now it is quiet and smells of autumn.

Continuing my ramble, I found a few beech leaves still holding on to their branch in the cold breeze.

Most of the beech have died from a foreign disease.  Now, most are just rotting logs on the ground.  How I miss the giant beech adorned with nuts to feed the deer, squirrels and bluejays.  Unlike the oaks and maples, beech seem to curl up tightly.

Continuing a very slow ramble, something odd captured my attention.  These few chestnut oak leaves that landed turned bottom-side up were consistently dotted with water beads.  

All other leaves were soaked through after the morning drizzle.  I postulated that this oak specie has a waxy surface.  But, knowing my inadequate knowledge, I sought the expertise of Robert Westley at the Cornell Botanic Gardens. His reply revealed that chestnut oaks have specialized hairs,  stellate hairs, on the underside of their leaves.  Now, I have to return with my hand magnifier to see them.

It turned out to be a successful outing. Now, I look at autumn with a new awareness.  The expansive fall landscape images miss a lot of the real beauty that can be right under your feet.


Monday, November 15, 2021

A Close Look at Autumn

I've been in a form of house arrest with what appears to be pinched nerves in my back since August 28, 2021 and haven't touched a camera until now.  Still staying close to home, as in 20 feet from my front door, I played today with some leaves that this morning's wind and rain deposited on my asphalt drive.  Here are three images that I've edited to capture how I saw them.

Two large oak leaves blew in to grace some burning bush leaves from next to  the asphalt.  The few needles came with the oak leaves.  I like the simplicity of the result.  It seems to me that fall images often get to busy in an effort to show it all.  Never quite works.

In some places, the accumulation was certainly richer.

Again, the oak leaves define the composition.  The burning bush leaves deeper in the bush have a very light green that plays well with the redder ones.  It makes for an interesting color set.  

It is enjoyable to explore the asphalt for a nice composition.  This final image was more  pleasing than anything that I could arrange.

Three months ago, I would have dismissed the idea of being excited to photograph leaves on my driveway.  I can hope this is a return to something better.  But, maybe it pushed me to get creative with what is available.

Kind regards,

Paul Schmitt

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Few Fungi

With some hefty rainfall, the late summer is producing a good mushroom bloom.  A morning outing yielded some nice finds.   Walking a woodland logging trail, I first came upon this pair slender fungi.  They were selected for their form plus the surrounding landscape.

I spent a lot of time working to create a "close-up landscape" with a wide angle lens. The goal is to show the stalk and caps distinctly, and also show their setting in the woods.  The distant trees don't need to be razor sharp to tell you where the fungi thrive. To do this, three images are made on a rigid tripod.  The first two capture the foreground and mushroom stalks in high definition.  The final one shows the distant areas in soft focus.  Stacked together, the final image is under my control much like it would be for a painter.  See how the mushroom caps are defined distinctly against the soft area behind?

Continuing up the trail, these small orange mushrooms attracted me.

The caps are barely dime size.  The complementary orange and green colors are pleasing.  It was simple luck that the oak leaf landed next to them.

I admit to sometimes being lazy when it suits me.  I did not want to unpack my camera bag, so the 6 year old iPhone 8 was enough for this Amanita mushroom. (If I am right about this being an Aminita,  the answer to a sometimes offered question is:  Sure, you can eat it, but expect a nasty death three days later.)  My interest is in the beauty shown, not what is edible.

Here's a trick. To make the subject really big and the distant background soft, turn the phone upside down so the lens is really low.  Tilt the phone back so only the far trees are seen. They will be soft.  Do be sure the camera can focus on the subject.

Here are another few favorites that have found in these woods on other forays. A cluster of  Chanterelles in a mossy bank beneath an oak tree.

Old Man's Beard, likely Hericium caput-ursi.  Some suggest they resemble teeth. 


A common, easily identified mushroom,  Russula emetica.  The reddish cap skin is reportedly very spicy, but the "emetica"  warns me not to try it. 

This is commonly called Turkey Tail. It's a shelf fungus.  This was growing on a dead tree, and after the tree fell to the ground, it continued to grow vertically. 

Finally, here is a really beautiful mushroom which I suspect is another specie of Amanita based on the clusters on the cap plus the ring on the stalk. 


If this wet weather pattern continues on the Atlantic coastal areas, the fall mushroom season might be very rich in beauty to complement the autumn colors.

Paul Schmitt

Sunday, July 18, 2021

My Summer Garden

I am guilty of ranging far and wide for photo subjects.  This month, I've been closer to home.  Actually, I have been home. Previously, I posted about my love affair with House Wrens. I am still hearing the adults in our gardens, and often spot their juveniles following them as they forage.  They are now back in a nest box to begin with brood number two.

My interest now has been directed at our flowers and the critters attracted to the blossoms.  The cone flowers are in bloom now.  I made this photo during some "play time" with my cell phone.  When I opened it in my computer, I discovered a big bumblebee homing in on the closest flower.  Bees do love them.  But, any bee finds them attractive, like the honey bee seen below.

In June, I added a pair of (sterile) Butterfly Bushes with some fear.  Years ago, I was unsuccessful with one.  These two seem to be flourishing as evidenced by their attracting namesake butterflies like this little Skipper.


By far, bee balm -Monarda- is our biggest draw.  The native variety, Monarda fistulosa, is popular with of the rrun-of-the-mill insects like bumblebees and honey bees.

But, I have been playing around  before introducing the most spectacular visitor that we enjoy each summer on M. fistulosa and yellow phlox.  It is a clearwing sphinx moth,  Hemaris thysbe.  It is commonly called a hummingbird moth.  We usually only see a few of these in a summer, but yesterday I am sure I saw at least three.  One was missing an antenna and another was slightly less reddish.    Here are my best images.

Note in the final image how crystal clear the wing panels are, appropriate for being a clearwing. 

It requires a lot of restraint not to show another seven images.  The hummingbird moth just creates huge enthusiasm.

I hope this will alert some viewers to look around their area for these fascinating summer visitors.

Paul Schmitt

Note:  For more about these moths, see:

Sunday, June 20, 2021

My Love Affair with House Wrens

 I have a love affair with house wrens that goes back to a day in elementary school.  My mother, Elizabeth,  announced that I would be skipping school that June day to watch the wrens bring their chicks from the nest onto our back porch railing.  Mom said I'd get more from that than from any teacher.   I sat in the kitchen window and saw them coax the chicks from the box onto the porch railing.  She was right, and my love of house wrens has continued. 

Why do I find wrens so wonderful.  They aren't colorful but they are good singers.  Unlike many birds, they are approachable to varying degrees.  Often, our pair will ignore me when I am weeding beneath the nest box, although this newest pair are more prone to fuss at me if I am within 10 feet.  Maybe next year they will be more tolerant.  

House Wrens are efficient bug catchers and when the chicks get large, they may bring in a catch every 2 to 5 minutes.  This was a unusually large insect.

They frequently sing as part of bringing in food.  I think this conditions the chicks to leave the nest when it is time to fledge.  They announce the food but don't take it into the box.  It seems to be "if you are hungry, come out here now". 

When the chicks are small, the parents enter the box to feed and we speculate on the number of chicks.  But about a week before fledging, the chicks begin to show at the nest hole.

It surely gets crowded in the box for the last few days. Watching closely, I could see above the three obvious chicks the tip of chick number four.  Could there be five? Not unusual for experienced parents.

I watched the box until dark on this day hoping to see the chicks emerge and finally learn how many chicks.  The next morning, about an hour after sunrise, I found the box quiet and could hear the adults singing in the redbud tree.  I missed the event and won't know if there was a chick number five. 

That afternoon, I pulled the box down and opened it to clear out the bundle of sticks.  After a good cleaning, I will dust the box with powdered sulfur - pest repellent- and hang it up for a second nesting.  

One final thought occurred to me.  The nest on the kitchen porch many decades ago was in my mother's clothes pin bag.  It hung from the clothes line strung between porch posts.   It seems to me that the wooden clothes pins looked like an ideal pile of twigs to the wrens.  What did Elizabeth do with the clothes pin bag?  It would have been full of extra twigs, fecal dust, down and feathers.  I am thinking she made a new bag and probably boiled the clothes pins to sanitize them. It was a reasonable price for the lesson it taught me.

When I came in to write this, I could still hear the wrens' song as the adults guided the chicks through their first days outside the nest.