Part three of a three-part series documenting the progression of a RTHU nest.
Part two of a three-part series documenting the progression of a RTHU nest.
One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.
With the help of a friend, over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get a good start at finding and photographing as many of the 35 +/- orchids that can be found in Missouri. The yellow-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) is known from only a handful of threatened locations in the state. I was really thankful to be shown these in full bloom where they reside in acidic seeps in St. Francois County.
I had seen rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) before, as its wonderful evergreen leaves stand out during winter hikes. This was the first time I’ve seen them in bloom. Photographed in Ste. Genevieve County.
Not the greatest photo of the greatest specimen, but this seemed to be the absolute last grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) to be found in bloom for the season at this location in St. Francois County.
Ever since I heard that a number of newly identified populations had been discovered in Missouri, I have been wanting to find the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana). I’ve gone a time or two on my own in previous years, but without specific knowledge on the where’s and when’s to find the flying adults. On June 16th, 2018, the Webster Groves Nature Study Society’s (WGNSS) Nature Photography Group headed to what might be the largest population of this species in the state. Thanks to WGNSS member and photographer, Casey Galvin, we were allowed access to a privately held farm in Dent County, MO that holds this population.
So, what is a Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly and what distinguishes them from the other 24 or so species in the Stomatochlora genus, or the “striped emeralds”? The above photo shows these distinguishing characteristics. Beyond the obvious emerald green eyes that all of the striped emeralds possess is the pair of yellow thoracic stripes on the sides of this species. Another and more diagnostic is the particulars of the genitalia. Using a good field guide will easily allow you to come to a species.
Currently on the endangered species list, S. hineana was thought extinct as late as the mid 1900’s. Current populations of this species are now known from the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri. Current population estimates indicate that there are approximately 30,000 individuals in the world. About 20,000 of these are believed to be in the species stronghold of Door County, WI. Like many of the striped emeralds, S. hineana has specific habitat requirements. The preferred habitat for this species is fens and sedge meadows overlying dolomite bedrock. Habitat loss, pesticide use and changes in ground water are identified risk factors affecting the Hine’s Emerald.
Like many dragonflies, S. hineana is a sun-lover, active in the early parts of a June morning before things get too hot and he finds a hidden perch. Until then the males are airborne, patrolling their territory in the hopes of finding a female or a male to chase away. The photographer need be patient and wait for the opportunity when the insect stops to hover in the same general place. This is the split-second opportunity that you wait for. The problem is that autofocus is of little to no help. I primarily used manual focus on the in-flight shots.
There were plenty of opportunities for the patient photographer and observer. Often, an individual would fly so close to the lens we were sure it would use it as a perch. At these distances any movement by the dragonfly would throw it completely out of focus, so the photographer is looking for the sweet spot – close enough to be large in the frame, but far enough to enable tracking.
It was such a thrill to finally be able to meet these guys. With this location and up to 20 others, it is nice to know that Missouri is home to such a rare gem. Hopefully it will remain so.
The Australia trip is over and I’m finally getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Our flight miles added up to nearly 21,500 miles and Collin and I drove approximately 3,400 miles in country. I have been spending lots of hours during the past few days going over the nearly 6,000 photos I took during the trip and have roughly finalized my bird list – 89 species, with a couple yet to ID from photos. Not nearly enough to match my dreams, but getting to see a bit over 10% of the continent’s birds (~850 species) while on a work trip is nothing to complain about, I guess.
On our last day in country we visited Wilson’s Promontory National Park. What an impact this place had on me. Take something like our Yosemite NP and surround it by ocean on three sides, fill it with unique habitats, exotic birds and marsupials and you have an idea of what the ‘Prom’ is like. Of course, one day was only enough to wet my appetite. Two weeks would have been better.
Entry fees for national parks in Australia vary by state. In Victoria, all NP’s are free to enter and all other states charge a very affordable rate. This makes me wonder why the cost of our parks are going through the roof and why so many state parks (not in MO) charge an entry fee. Priorities, I guess.
Here are a few of my favorite landscapes from the Prom that should give an idea of the diversity of habitats this place offers. All of these were taken less than three miles from the few roads that lie within the park.
Well, it was definitely worth the hype. I sure didn’t perform perfectly in capturing the photographs that I wanted, but the experience along with what I did capture still had me coming away with feeling I had a great experience. Some of my conclusions I definitely want to remember for the next time:
1) Focus. My lens was consistently needing to be refocused. This is something I heard from other photographers as well. I assume this must be due to the changing temperatures from sitting in the sun, but the problem didn’t seem to go away. This was really a problem when I removed the solar filter for totality. In the heat of the moment I failed to think about focus until it was really too late. This had a negative effect on getting critical sharp images during Bailey’s beads and the diamond ring. Next time I will check as often as I can.
2) Bracketing during totality. My 7D mkii is equipped to take serious bracketed shots. Unfortunately, I failed to review how to do this automatically prior to the eclipse. I could have taken ~14 tightly bracketed shots in no time during totality. Instead, I barely pulled off three or so that were probably too widely spaced to create the final composite I was hoping for. It wasn’t a complete wash, but it could have been so much better.
3) Importance of aperture. I wasn’t thinking much of totality when I chose the aperture that I did. During totality, it is much more important to pick a smaller aperture that will get you those nice starbursts and critical focus then to worry about letting in more light to avoid digital noise. This will also help with focusing in general and getting sharp focus of the solar flares.
I’m sure there are other improvements I could make. With about 7 years to prepare, I won’t make the same mistakes again.