The Dutchman’s Lesser Known Brother

“Squirrel Corn”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/11, 1/8 sec

Leaving my Missouri Ozarks this weekend, I found myself visiting some of the places I’ve been wanting to visit in the equally desirable Shawnee National Forest region of Southern Illinois.  Towards the end of the day I wound up at Giant City State Park, known mostly for its rock outcropping features, but just as bountiful in spring-ephemeral wildflowers.

The plant featured above is called squirrel corn and is in the same genus as its more famous sibling, the Dutchman’s breeches.  Unlike Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn is pretty rare in the Missouri Ozarks, having been found in only a handful of counties.  Along a trail in this state park, the two were found in almost equal abundance.  It was very nice seeing the two flowering in synch within inches of one another. The density of wildflowers here was bewildering.  Colors littered the ground everywhere I looked and the possibilities for composition seemed endless.

With failing light and late afternoon winds, it was challenging for macro photography.  I had not yet photographed this species, nor had I even seen another species that was just beginning to bloom here – the white trillium.  So, I pulled out the macro gear and went to work with sounds of recently arrived songbirds advertising their newly acquired real estates and small streams funneling their light charge of the previous day’s rain down the sandstone steps.  This, unfortunately was broken too often from the idiots pounding large plastic containers against rocks for some reason.  State Parks.  I love them and hate them.

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Flowers and Blood

“Bloodroot”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/16, 1/13 sec

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the spring ephemeral wildflowers this year.  It is hard to believe the numbers and diversity that are in peak bloom already this year.  I can’t imagine what the woods are going to look like by the end of April.  You might as well stock up on pyrethrin because by mid-summer the ticks are going to be owning us all.

This image was taken in the Labarque Creek watershed during a early spring hike.  Bloodroot are fascinating plants, getting their name from the reddish sap that is especially prominent in their tuber-like rhizome.  Several Native American tribes have been known to use this sap as a natural dye for artwork projects.

These plants will spread and grow easily clonally and vast colonies can be found that may have started from a single individual.  Another method of reproduction these plants use is myrmecochory, which means that their seeds are dispersed by ants.  The ants feed on a fruit-like structure that is attached to the seed.  The ants move the seeds to the relative safety of their colony and after the ants feed on the fruit they deposit the seed into their underground middens, or trash heaps.  Here the seeds can safely germinate and have access to some useful fertilizer in the process.

Bloodroot sends up a flowering stalk usually before the leaves begin to emerge and blooms usually open before the leaves have fully expanded.  The flowers last less than a full day, so it is recommended you get out on the trail before noon if you really want to seem them in their full glory.

It’s Spring Again. Everybody Know it’s Spring Again.

“Renewal”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 250,  f/11, 1/13 sec

“To the girls and boys and people above, This is the time to fall in love”

Sorry, I always turn on the Biz Markie this time of year.  It wouldn’t be spring without him.

This image and post is dedicated to my stepfather, Wally, who bought me my first camera about 20 years ago.  Wally has a birthday this month.  Happy Birthday!  It was a Pentax K-1000, a manual-only film camera in which I learned the basics of exposure.  In my opinion, this body is one of the best values of this class and generation of camera available and still underrated.  It’s too bad they don’t make a digital version of this camera today.  Having a manual-only digital body would something else.  I use manual mode about 95% of the time anyway, so I guess it wouldn’t be a big difference.

I took this photo on a recent hike in the Missouri Ozarks.  This bush must have had two dozen of these emerging leaf buds, each with a drop or two from gutation.  This phenomenon is seen when plants are growing in high humidity or in very saturated soils, like many parts of our region have been experiencing lately.  Between the low light and the high macro magnification getting a sharp image of the foreground subject was tricky.  I pulled out the reflectors to bring a little more light to the situation, but this only helped a little.

More Snipe than You Could Fit in Your Bag

“Scolopacid Dawn”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF400mm f/5.6L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/5.6, 1/400 sec

I arrived at CBCA well before dawn.  I knew from a visit a week earlier that a large amount of waterfowl, specifically Pintail, were using the habitat here and my hope was to catch some early morning photos of these birds flying by.  In one of the large pools alongside the road I saw nearly 50 of these bizarre birds with a bill almost as long as their bodies.  They were not very flighty at all, allowing me in my “mobile blind” to easily get within distance for some decent shots.

Members of the Scolopacidae family of shorebirds include the traditional Sandpipers, the beautiful Phalaropes, the Curlews, the Dowitchers, and several others – including the bird pictured above, the Common Snipe.  The Scolopacids are well known for their complex and diverse mating behaviors.  Not as complex or developed as the Passerine songbirds, this group also uses extensive advertisement vocalizations, most likely evolved to be well understood on their vast tundra breeding grounds.

Similar to its cousin, the Woodcock, the Common Snipe uses a “winnowing display” to attract mates.  These birds will fly high into the air and plummet towards the ground while fanning their tail feathers, which make a distinctive winnowing noise as the air rushed rapidly over them.

Looking closely at the length of a shorebird species’ bill gives a great clue to what the bird feeds on and how much water they typically forage in.  With the great diversity in the morphology of these birds, the specific depth of water and vegetation these species are accustomed to and food sources they utilize, it is no wonder that habitat management programs can be quite complex.  What works great for waterfowl or a particular species of shorebird may not be useable at all for another species.  CBCA has come a long way in providing the diversity of habitat and the managers seem to be doing a great job in their management practices, especially considering the unpredictable weather patterns we have had in this region the past several years.

Seven Days of Mina Sauk Falls – Day Seven

“Taum Sauk Eternal”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 40mm, ISO 200,  f/14, 0.6 sec

Hi everyone.  Here is the last in my planned succession of image postings of Mina Sauk Falls of the Missouri Ozarks.  This photograph may be my favorite of the day.  The textures of the rock and the patterns of the lichen suggested to me that this would make a nice black and white.  I added a light Orton effect to enhance these contrasts and bring out the highlights a bit more.  The pool of water might be my favorite aspect of the image.

I had another great Saturday exploring and photographing in the Ozarks.  We really had some magnificent lightning displays from thunderstorms that went through the region in the afternoon.  I hope none of you had any damage or other worries from these storms.  I started my day with an actual plan and had to make changes due to the weather.  I started my day in the Labarque Creek Watershed, thinking the storms we had on Thursday may have filled the drainage creeks and there would potentially be lots of falls, cascades and other water features to shoot.  I also realized that the spring ephemeral wild flowers would be really getting going.  Well, the water flow was next to nothing.  The rain from early in the week had either drained quickly or was not enough to get things flowing.  The spring ephemerals were exactly what I expected.  Spring beauty, rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, hounds tooth and blood root were all present in the thousands.  I wish I had actually spent more time shooting these, but I had other plans as well.

My plan after Labarque was to head to the nearby Shaw Nature Reserve to photograph the early happenings of the Red-shouldered Hawk nest located there.  I hauled all my photo equipment and my spotting scope and my chair and snacks, set up, had an opportunity to take a few shots when the rains came in.  So, I packed up and started back home.  I knew the weather would also interfere with my plan to photograph a local Great-horned Owl nest that I was planning on visiting in the late afternoon and evening.  I went back home, ate dinner and checked weather.com.  There looked to be a gap between 5:00PM and 7:00PM where the chance of rain was significantly lower.  I suspected that the 0.5-1″ or so of rain we received this afternoon may be enough to really get the ephemeral drainage creeks of Labarque flowing.  So, I packed up and headed back to Eureka, knowing it still might rain for another few hours and I may not even get out of the car.  When I arrived, it was barely sprinkling so I put my rain gear on and covered my camera pack with its rain cover and with my hiking pole and trusty Tilley to keep my head dry, I started on the trail – anxious about the weather and quickly cover the mile or so to the features I most hoped would be filled with water.  The situation was not perfect.  It rained about half the time I was on the hike.  I was able to pull the camera out and do some shooting, but the light was very low, even for shooting moving water!  In a couple of brief deluges I carried myself and my gear to a small cave to wait it out.  This was one of the most memorable hikes of my life.  The light, sky, fog water and life all around me seemed to be changing by the minute.  At least half a dozen frog species were singing and the Eastern Towhees were constantly telling me to “Drink your Tee!”.  I heard the ever-vocal Red-shouldered Hawks and the hoots of Barred and Great-horned Owls.

Finally, when the light was so low I couldn’t get anything shorter than a 30 second exposure, I headed back to the car.  Upon reaching the top of one of the steep ridges I saw a spectacular display of warm colors as the sun was able to break through a bit near the horizon and juxtapose itself with the cumulonimbus clouds and associated displays of lightning.

I apologize if this is boring any readers, but I am using this blog as a journal in as much as anything else.  I haven’t really looked at any of the photos I took today.  Hopefully the images will be close to what I hope they can be.  If not, I will always be looking forward to the next hike in the Missouri Ozarks.

Seven Days of Mina Sauk Falls – Day Six

“Warm Flow”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 24mm, ISO 160,  f/11, 1/4 sec

Near the top of Taum Sauk these cascades were very appealing but somewhat difficult to shoot as the sun began to creep in.  Ice covering the rocks was still an issue and I carefully moved along a ledge to get close to this pretty little slide.  Being able to rest a bit in the sunshine and eat some cocoa-covered almonds and have some coffee while listening to the falls was great after spending the previous hour or two on the shadow side of the mountain in the cold and mist.

Seven Days of Mina Sauk Falls – Day Five

“Frigid Mina”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens @ 11mm, ISO 250,  f/14, 0.4 sec

Here we have one of the mid-tier drops of Mina Sauk.  This one falls about 20 feet and on this morning the temperature was just cold enough to freeze the mist of the falls on whatever it landed upon.  It was a real challenge keeping the front of the lens free of freezing drops.  The icy rock surfaces were also quite a challenge of foot near any of the falls.  I really grew to appreciate the different colors and tones in the rocks here during this trip.  With no greenery of warmer months or warm colors of autumn the purples, pinks and various other hues that these granites and their lichen passengers exhibit was something to focus on.