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.

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.

Spring has Sprung. Winter MIA and Presumed Dead

I spent the majority of the day at Shaw Nature Reserve in Grey Summit, Missouri.  Mother Nature is busy transitioning to the next phase.  As the photo shows, I found harbinger of spring as well as spring beauty and a couple of very early blood roots in bloom.  It’s nice to get out looking for wildflowers this time of year because there are so few I can identify them all!  Over the next three months or so, Shaw NR will have an ever changing cycle of blooming spring-ephemerals, then the summer plants start!  The bird life I witnessed today also suggests that nature is moving on even though old man winter was playing dead beat dad this time around.  I had my first Pheobe and Field Sparrow of the year. I love listening to the Field Sparrows sing their bouncing ping-pong ball type of advertisement song across the open savannahs and woodlands.  It was also entertaining watching and listening to the Eastern Bluebirds who were busy building their nests in the boxes provided them across the reserve.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen in increasing number and the Woodpeckers could be seen and heard in every part of the preserve all day long.  The weather was fantastic today, although the sky was that boring, uninterrupted Robbin’s egg blue without a single cloud.  The morning was chilly though still, with no wind, which is so important for macro photography.  The best part of the day was finding the location of this year’s Red-shouldered Hawk nest.  This pair of Hawks or their descendants have nested in the same section of SNR for at least the past five years.  I’m glad I found the location this early.  It seems to be in a good location for making some good images.  It looked like there were already eggs in the nest and I can’t wait to get back and watch and take some photos.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 160,  f/11, 1/6 sec

Devil’s Walking Stick

Rising from the alluvial plain that the Mississippi River carved in eastern Missouri and Arkansas is the geological feature known as Crowley’s Ridge.  This ridge, composed of sedimentary soil known as loess, is populated with flora and fauna that are more-closely related to ecosystems of the Appalachians then they are to the closer, mountainous regions of the Ozarks to the North and West.  One of the uniquely eastern species that is commonly found along Crowley’s Ridge is the devil’s walking stick, Aralia spinosa.  This image was taken at Morris State Park in South-eastern Missouri.

Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 160,  f/11, 1/4 sec

Crystallofolia & Armadillos: Hawn State Park Presents its Inspiration at Every Season

I spent a fantastic Saturday hiking and making images in the Missouri Ozarks yesterday.  Any day, even a bad day, in nature beats about anything else I can think of doing.  Some days I barely take the camera out of the bag, instead concentrating on hiking, birding, botanizing, etc…  Other days, like yesterday, it took me close to six hours to hike the North loop of the Whispering Pine Trail of Hawn SP because I stopped so often to set up the camera or observe some wildlife.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 100,  f/14, 1/13 sec

My primary photographic subject turned out to be these exquisite crystallofolia, or “frost flowers”.  I have wanted to get some pictures of these things for a while now but they can be quite difficult to find, needing specific requirements to form.  I could spend a few paragraphs attempting to explain this mysterious and ephemeral natural wonder.  Instead, I will lead you to the well-written document by Missouri’s own Ted MacRae.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 100,  f/18, 1/6 sec

As the title of this post suggests, Hawn SP is a destination of mine at least once a season.  I have rarely visited this spot in Ste Genevieve County and gone home without seeing something new, something extraordinary or at least come away renewed.  There are no shortages of photographic potentials and it is one of the closest spots to St. Louis where I really feel I have gotten away from it all.  Even on the busiest days it is rare to come across other people on the trail.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 100,  f/18, 1/3 sec

Getting near the trailhead on the way back I heard some rustling in the leaves.  I followed the sound to what at first looked like a large opossum.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was an armadillo!  This was the first live armadillo I’ve seen and photographed.  When I came across this guy my camera was of course attached to my tripod and strapped to my pack.  I had Canon’s new 100mm f2.8 macro L lens attached at the time.  I did not think I had much time before this guy slipped up and over the ridge she was heading up where I would lose her to the poor light on the north-facing side.  Therefore, I did not try and swap lenses to something a little more useful for this type of encounter such as the 70-200mm or 400mm.  Of course when focus is sharp, this lens has no equivalent in sharpness and image quality; however, autofocusing this lens under this situation was challenging to say the least.  I’ve read reviews saying this lens was a slow dog for autofocus, but that’s not what we buy macro lenses for, is it?  Anyway, besides a larger portion of focus failures than I’m accustomed to, I guess I managed to grab a few images that I am relatively happy with.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 320,  f/4, 1/250 sec

Like many small mammals in the Missouri Ozarks, Armadillos have poor eyesight and must rely on their hearing and smell.  The section of the trail where this took place had a fair number of Oaks and of course at this time of year the forest floor was covered with a noisy blanket of dry fallen leaves.  I made enough of a racket running up the hillside that she was definitely aware someone was following her.  She often stopped and listened and as the previous image shows, she would raise up on her hind legs to get a good whiff of the potential predator on her tail.  Thankfully, I’ve been told I smell almost exactly like an armadillo, so she probably was not too alarmed by my presence.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 320,  f/4, 1/800 sec

As usual, I reluctantly left Hawn in the early afternoon and proceeded to my evening destination – Hughes Mountain Natural Area, which is another place that never disappoints (although I still haven’t had too many interesting skies like I hope for).  I knew there would be a full-moon rising shortly after sunset and had a few poorly conceived ideas about what I wanted to do.  I took some images of the sunset and watched as the brightest, reddest and coldest moon I have ever seen rise almost directly opposite the sky from the sun.  In the end, it got too cold too quickly.  I played around with the moon in some images but I doubt I got anything I’ll be happy with.  I believe this image is showing the four hills that make up Buford Mountain and Bald Knob to the South-west of Hughes Mountain.  I’m still not close to have the sunrise/sunset images I’m looking for from Hughes Mountain.  One of these days everything will line up and I will hopefully get closer to what I am after.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens @ 65mm, ISO 160,  f/11, 3.2 sec

Overall, another fantastic day.  I’ll be trying to rest my legs today.