C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet in the northwest sky after sunset at Duck Creek C.A.

The NEOWISE Comet, whose actual name is C/2020 F3, was a pleasant surprise for the astronomical community who await such events as a newly discovered comet. First discovered in late March, the comet grew steadily brighter, eventually becoming the brightest comet to be seen in the northern hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. According to the experts, this comet had an orbital period of about 4,400 years prior to making its latest trip through the inner solar system. It will now be another 6,700 years before beings on earth will be able to see it again.

C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) Comet image taken at 200 mm focal length

I have long had a very strong interest in astronomy and astrophotography and the current pandemic has allowed me to do quite a bit of studying on both topics. Hopefully soon I can get the practice in this area that I desperately need. Although it has some issues, I was relatively pleased at capturing the closeup of the comet pictured above.

Although I had a star-tracking mount that would have been perfect for this situation, I had not yet used it so I did not make this the first time. This image was “untracked” using a full-frame camera and a 200 mm lens. It is comprised of 20 “light” images (the actual photos of the comet) taken at 3.2 seconds per exposure. The aperture was f/2.8 and the ISO/gain was 6400. I combined these images with 10 “dark” frames for noise reduction purposes.

The processing here could be better and I might give it another try sometime. But, both tails of the comet are visible and I think the background stars came out alright as well.

Milky Way at Lee’s Bluff, MO

After awhile the comet began to dive towards the horizon with the remnant glow from twilight. I happened to show up at Lee’s Bluff on the same night as accomplished Missouri nightscape photographer, Dan Zarlenga, and so we both turned our tripods around to the south and found this lovely scene. Here, the Milky Way has recently risen above a nice foreground of trees. Again, I wish I would have been a bit more prepared with a plan, but I guess this isn’t too bad.

-OZB

 

The Queen Orchid – Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae)

Cypripedium reginae (Showy Lady Slipper)

I was thrilled to be able to photograph this stunner of an orchid this past spring. Thanks to Casey Galvin who turned me on to this tiny population in Shannon County, MO.

A small cluster of Cypripedium reginae in bloom.

The Showy Lady’s Slipper is currently ranked as S2/S3 in Missouri, meaning this species is imperiled/vulnerable. We carefully tread around these guys and hide their specific locations as this is a species that may still be poached for horticulture purposes.

Cypripedium reginae – the queen orchid.

 

Flora of a Fen in June

Pogonia ophioglossoides (Rose Pogonia or Snakemouth Orchid)

Today I am sharing some photos of plants in bloom taken in a fen in Shannon County, MO. These plants were blooming in June and the combination of high temps, direct sunlight and high humidity made for challenging conditions to photograph indeed. The first subject is Pogonia ophioglossoides, the snakemouth orchid or rose pogonia. These were blooming in abundance at the fen but finding one in the peak of its beauty was the challenge.

Pogonia ophioglossoides is pollinated primarily by bees and other insects like syrphid flies pictured here.

As fantastic as it was, I found being in these fens to be quite stressful. First of all, you are typically forced to work in dangerous heat indexes. My friend, David Seidensticker and I made a visit to these fens during our birthday weekend and dreaded leaving the sanctuary of what little shade we could find and use as a base of our operations. If you visit these locations in the summer, be prepared by drinking as much water as you can before you get there and bring plenty of water with you. You really need to constantly drink as you are sweating profusely, losing water at nearly the same rate you can take it in.

Pogonia ophioglossoides prefers life on the marly edges of our fens. 

In addition to the off-the-chart heat index values, one must carefully select every footstep. This is not only due to the rare plants in bloom, but also because of the soil substrate that forms the base of these endangered fen ecosystems. These fens are comprised of two primary soil substrate types, marly soils and peat soils.

Pogonia ophioglossoides. The snake mouth orchid gets its name from the similarity of its foliage to that of the adder’s-tongue ferns (Ophioglossum). 

Marly soils are composed mostly of carbonates such as calcite and calcium or magnesium carbonate that precipitate out of ground water. These soils take thousands of years to develop and the typically high levels of magnesium create conditions that only the best adapted floras can survive.

Spiranthes lucida, or Shining Ladies Tresses, is the only spring-blooming Spiranthes found in Missouri.

Peat soils are comprised of partially decomposed plant materials that also build up over thousands of years. These soils can typically support more plant species and heavier vegetation loads. Care must be taken to avoid walking much on these soils as our footsteps will not only disturb the plants growing here, but will also act to compress the soil, expelling the gasses trapped and water-logging the root environments.

The best places to walk in these fen types are on the rivulets that run within these fens. Continuously flowing waters have moved most of the soils from these areas to leave a pea-gravel type substrate with gently moving water on top. Plants will still grow within these areas but finding a safe place to put your foot is typically pretty easy.

Spiranthes lucida dislikes competition, but enjoys disturbances in soil.

We found Spiranthes lucida growing at the edges of shallow peat soils next to these rivulets within the fen. Likely the easiest Spiranthes to identify in the state, this is the only Spiranthes species that blooms in spring, has a yellow lip and has an easy to identify growth habit with broad basal leaves that are present when the orchid is in bloom.

Calopogon tuberosus – the Grass Pink Orchid.

Calopogon tuberosus was just beginning to bloom in early June. This orchid is famous for its non-resupinate flowers, meaning that the flowers are not turned 180 degrees, as they are in most orchids. The lip of the flower is found on the upper side of the flower. This species also does not produce nectar or pollen as rewards for would-be pollinators, but uses visual subterfuge to entice insects to land. I found it interesting that Homoya, 1993, suggests that the reason C. tuberosa exists in space and flowering time with P. ophioglossoides (see above) is that the later does provide ample nectar rewards, thereby increasing the chances that a pollinator might land on the similarly colored C. tuberosa flowers.

Justicia americana, American Water Willow

Justicia americana is a gorgeous member of the Acanthaceae family that we found growing in early June. These plants were most likely to be found growing alone or in small groups along the gravel bottoms of the rivulets within the fen. They, like all of the plants shown here, are not strictly linked to fens per se, but fens do make a nice home for them.

This has just been a small look inside these glorious fens. I hope to continue visiting at other times of year to see other plants in bloom.

Thanks for the visit.
-OZB

REFERENCES

Much of the information from the above was taken from the following sources. I do recommend them both for learning more about the orchids that can be found in fens and anywhere in Missouri.

Homoya, M.A. Orchids of Indiana. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. 1993.

Summers, Bill. Missouir Orchids. Missouri Department of Conservation Natural History Series, No. 1. 1981.

Playing Around with Infrared

Woodland Infrared

I have had some opportunity lately to try for infrared landscapes with my converted Canon 5D mkii. There is still so much I want to try with this, but between summer laziness and a lack of time and opportunity, I get by with what I can. The image above was taken in an Illinois woodland.

Infrared White Oak

I found this white oak in the same woodland and it screamed for the IR treatment. I’m still getting the hang of processing the images from the “supercolor IR conversion” of this camera. Although the basics are simple, I find the plethora of options one has in processing these files to be a bit intimidating. I’m trying to go a little more on the subtle side with these, but there’s a fine line between just enough and too much.

Hughes Mountain in IR

These final three images were taken at Hughes Mountain C.A. – a place that I find begs for the infrared photographic treatment. These were taken on one of the evenings of potential for extra color from the Sahara sandstorms. There was nothing extra for the sunset due to these storms other than increased haze, but the high clouds made for interesting skies in IR.

Hughes Mountain in IR

Finding green plants in the glade areas is important in getting the contrasts for an IR image. This hasn’t been a very wet summer but there was some green still left among the rocks. Optimally, it would be best to try in late spring to early summer to get this setting just right.

Hughes Mountain in IR

So these were some of my first serious attempts at IR landscapes with the newly converted camera. If you have any suggestions for improvement, particularly in the processing area, I would be grateful to listen.

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Aplectrum hyemale (Adam & Eve Orchid)

Aplectrum hymale (puttyroot orchid)

Aplectrum hymale is a relatively common orchid in Missouri, preferring rich mesic forests, particularly along stream and river banks. It is known by two common names that are both widely used. “Adam and Eve Orchid” is used due to the presence of twin underground corms. The leaf of the current year is connected to the youngest corm (Eve), and is an offshoot of the previous corm (Adam).

Aplectrum hymale (Adam & Eve orchid)

The other common name, “puttyroot orchid”, is given to this species due to the putty-like consistency of the corms that were sometimes eaten, most likely for medicinal purposes.

Aplectrum hymale in early stages of flower development.

A. hymale is unusual in that it exhibits an alternate vegetative cycle. Leaves of this plant (one leaf per plant) develop in the autumn and overwinter. The leaves begin to senesce  in the spring and have almost completely withered by the time the plants are in full bloom, or shortly after. In the preceding photo you can see the leaves at the time of flower shoot formation.

Aplectrum hymale with senescing leaves and flowers just shy of blooming

These plants typically bloom in early to mid-May in Missouri. By the time June  rolls around the leaves will most likely be completely deteriorated and the only sign of the plant over the summer is the flowering stem (raceme) and developing fruit capsules.

Aplectrum hymale closeup of individual flower.

Thank you for visiting!

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister’s coralroot)

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a single bloom. It is typical for the sepals and petals of this species flowers to not fully open.

The year 2020 has been smiling upon me with my attempts at photographing all the orchid species of Missouri. So far this year I have seen five new orchids and have photographed three of them in bloom. The focus of today’s post, Corallorhiza wisteriana, is known by its common names Wister’s coralroot or spring coralroot. The name coralroot is used due to the apparent likeness and growth habit of the plant’s rhizomes to undersea coral. There is one other known coralroot that I need to photograph in Missouri, that is the autumn coralroot, C. odontorhiza that I hope to photograph when it blooms this fall.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – raceme

C. wisteriana is one of, if not the earliest orchid to bloom in the state. Going by the number of posts from folks on Facebook, and the fact that I and a couple of friends found well over one hundred stems with just a few minutes of searching, this species is having a terrific year.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – raceme pair

This orchid is small, with a lowercase s. The leafless stems can grow 10 to 35 cm high and an individual flower when open  is only but ~ 8 mm long – A challenge to photograph. I anticipated this, but what surprised me is its showiness. Looking closely, this plant is beautiful, with many stems and flowers colored deeply with maroons and purples and the labellum/lip with purple spots on white.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a small colony

I found these flowering stems in singles, pairs and large-sized colonial groups. Typically, stems from these close groupings will be from the same plant. Below is from the largest colony I saw this spring.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a larger colony

Corallorhiza orchids are considered to be ‘myco-heterotrophic’ plants, meaning these plants parasitize mycorrhizal fungi (fungi that get their carbon needs from symbiotic relationships with green plants) to get their primary nutrients. Therefore these orchids contain little to no chlorphyll, do not produce leaves and photosynthesis is a very negligible part of how they make their living.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – an aberrant raceme.

The photo above shows an aberrant flowering stem – the only one I found, that was very lightly colored and that had no spots on the labellum whatsoever. After realizing how strange this was, I went back to it a few days later to better photograph the whole stem. Alas, the stem was smashed because this was located on the very edge of the trail.

Even little things need a hiding place.

The preceding photo shows a hymenopteran nymph (~5 mm in length) that is hiding underneath this flower’s lip. I am unsure whether or not  this insect is responsible for the webs seen here. These threads were often seen covering these orchids.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a typical flower in profile.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know this little beauty. Stay tuned for more orchid profiles in the near future!

Return to Black Mountain Cascades

Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020
Camera settings: f/11, 1/3 sec., ISO-250, 17mm focal length.

I’ve posted images of the cascades on Black Mountain before. After some good rains, Casey and I visited this past March with hopes of making it to the top. This is not an easy hike, but Casey had not yet seen most of the cascades. This was our intention, but it was quickly realized that the overcast afternoon we were promised was not going to be. So, we utilized the few clouds remaining to the best of our ability and climbed high enough to find some falls hidden behind canyon walls that blocked the harsh afternoon sun.

Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/11, 1/2 sec., ISO-100, 24 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/11, 0.6 sec., ISO-100, 24 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/14, 1/2 sec., ISO-200, 25 mm focal length.
Black Mountain Cascades, March 2020 Camera settings: f/14, 1/2 sec., ISO-100, 20 mm focal length.

Tragidion coquus – Second Time!

Tragidion coquus female photographed at Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Sep. 28, 2019.
f/18, 1/30 sec., ISO-400, 234 mm focal length equivalent

For the second year in a row, a special beetle that has been described by our own Ted MacRae as “one of the rarest and most beautiful species of longhorned beetle to occur in Missouri” was found during the joint field trip of the WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography groups at Hughes Mountain Natural Area. Tragidion coquus, purported to be spider wasp mimics, mine in dead oak branches and can be found in flight between June and November.  I wasn’t happy with my photos of last year’s specimen (also a female), so I was thrilled to be able to take the time and set her on some foliage with fall colors. It was an almost disaster as she was able to take flight before we were finished. But, having the quick reflexes of a Marvel superhero, I was able to catch her out of the air with a quick grab with just a slight kink in her antennae in consequence.

Tragidion coquus female photographed at Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Sep. 28, 2019. f/14, 1/60 sec., ISO-400, 234 mm focal length equivalent

 

Return to Vilander Bluff

Autumn View of Vilander Bluff
f/11, ISO-160, 32 mm focal length, three exposure blend of 1/60, 1/15, 1/4 sec.

I had a great time introducing some photographer friends of mine to one of my favorite places in the state, Vilander Bluff. With the largest bluffs on the Meramec River, to get the type of view seen here requires a little bit of effort. Dave and I put in some work in finding this new-to-me perspective that was well worth the bit of effort and risk. Next time we’ll need to bring climbing ropes…

Blazing Maple
f/5.6, 1/6 sec., ISO-1250, 45 mm focal length