Friday, July 30, 2010

Let the show begin!

I'm very excited.  Nervous, too, but mostly excited.  Some of my photographs are making their way into the public realm.  More public than my blog, and more real, in a way, than my blog.  Sixteen of my nature prints will be on exhibit at the Athens Public Library for the month of August.  It's one of those many things that simmered on my "to do" list for a long time, and it finally broke forth and got out into the world.  The process has been interesting, and the most rewarding part up to this point is actually seeing these images in print.  I like looking at them on my computer screen, and favorites will stay with me for days or weeks as my computer desktop background, but seeing them actually out there is - wow!  Then I started to group them together - they might even be better as a collection than they are alone!  No hubris is intended here - it's just that realization you have of seeing something of yours in a whole new light and thinking, "Hey, I did that!"

Mocking up the photo layout in the living room.  Soon I'll have a space of my own for doing such projects, but that's news for another post...

On the wall

I have to give a big  thank you to my hubby Dave, who not only helped me hang the prints, but also put up with me being somewhat self-absorbed over the last few days as I scrambled to get all the little details finalized.  Thanks for all your support, sweetie.  I couldn't have done this without you!

The flier the library graphic designer made for the exhibit

If any of you are in or around Athens during the month of August, I hope can stop by to see it!

"Hey, I did that!"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thoughts on the season

I never know where a walk is going to take me. Oh sure, I know physically where I am going - there's always a destination in mind. What I'm referring to is where I go in my head, and in my heart, on some walks. Often I set out on a photo walk only to absorb much more than what I went out to photograph.

Tall Ironweed

I experienced just such a walk this evening, and found myself contemplating the season. It's bloody hot, for one thing. By 7pm there was still not much respite from the heat and humidity, and the air was heavy. It wasn't just the humidity, though. There was a subtle hum on our country road, barely audible, but heard easily enough upon standing still: bees. Way up in the trees, and down at the flowers. I didn't see many of them, but their buzzing hung like a blanket in the air indicating a massive presence. The occasional horse fly also hummed by here and there. Within a few hours, once it is dark out, the cicadas and crickets will start singing their melodies. All of them sounds of industry in the insect world - sounds associated with getting food - or getting busy.

Common Milkweed

Even though the temperatures soar each day, it is not lost on me that the days grow shorter now, and that I must race out after dinner if I want to photograph in certain areas before the hills occlude the golden light of the setting sun. There seems to be a certain sense of busyness permeating the landscape, an urgency. Although it is not yet August, some birds are already working on putting on the body fat that they will need to sustain them through fall migration. It makes sense to me now why all these big juicy bugs and ripe fruits and nuts come out in abundance at this time of year - because they are needed, because they will prepare bodies for long travels or hibernation or for a time when the proverbial table is almost bare.

Spotted Knapweed

I took a good listen to the birds on tonight's walk, and was surprised to still hear so many birds singing despite the fact that breeding season is over for most of them. Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Towhee, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo - all easily discernible from their perches in and at the edges of the woods. I watched a family of Gnatcatchers gleaning insects from tree leaves, wishing I had my binoculars with me to see the young ones better. Out in the mowed field I could just barely make out an Eastern Bluebird singing, soft yet bubbly. Their burst of blue coloring will be a welcome sight when I come across them in winter - nothing like a bluebird contrasted against a field of snow to cheer you up.

Tall Ironweed catches the evening sun

When I set out on my walk, I walked briskly and with purpose to a few spots where I had spied certain flowers of interest from the car during my daily commute. The return walk was much more leisurely and casual, which allowed my mind to wander. I contemplated how our meteorological seasons seem to be much more attuned to the true "feel" of the seasons than do the solstices and equinoxes dictated by the astrological seasons. I thought about how even though there is a sense of urgency in the air, there is also a feeling of tiredness - as if the flowers, for example, are straining to give everything they've got to put out fruit before the it's too late and the strain is just wearing them out. I'm sure, however, that's just me forcing my own perceptions of tiredness of these hot days onto the landscape.

As I made my way up the driveway and started thinking about various projects that I need to get done, it dawned on me that my walk had taken my mind off the stuff of the every day. While I was sweaty as I approached the house, and my camera wasn't full of as many photos as I would have liked, I had been transported to a calmer place for a while, and there was certainly no more that I needed than that.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting a grip on plants

Want to get a grip on wildflower identification?  All it takes is an expert in the field, like David Brandenburg, to help you along a little.

First you start in the "classroom" with the basics of flower anatomy as explained via overhead projector.

Then you get some expertly-collected samples of plants from various families to go with your handouts.

Next you make some comparisons of live examples to what you find in the field guide.  Yup, that's a match!

Finally, the instructor lets you determine the direction of the field work by encouraging you to point out what you notice and asking you to make your best guess about what it might be, all the while offering background info and random expertise about everything you might stumble upon.

Here are just a few examples of the wildflowers that we encountered during our 2-hour field excursion at Killdeer Plains...

Sullivant's Milkweed, a rarity for this part of the state. This is pretty much the eastern-most part of its range.

The bee is pretty happy with the Sullivant's. This milkweed is distinguished from its common cousin by the red/pink midrib in the leaves (see bottom right of photo on left); photo on right shows the Sullivant's going to fruit.

Wild Parsnip, member of the Carrot family

Flower of the Hour, in the Mallow family (you may have guessed from the characteristic shape that this is in the genus Hibiscus)

Even though this is an introduced (i.e. non-native) species, I think it is quite striking.

Swamp Milkweed, one of the more dainty of the native milkweeds in Ohio

Another rarity for the state, this is an Umbrella Sedge. See why this is such a cool place to visit? Two rare plants in one restored prairie, and I'm sure there were others that we didn't see.

Virginia Mountain Mint. The leaves are strongly flavored.

Gayfeather/Prairie Blazing Star/Liatrus (in the Aster family). The "Blazing Star" part is a misnomer, as there is an actual Blazing Star family, of which this plant is not a member.

American Germander (mint family) - also called Wood Sage.

Meadow Rue (Waxy-Leaf? my notes don't specify)
Hedge parsley, a correction I received from a wise botanist

I still have a few more shots from Killdeer left to share. There are some more pressing things that might come first, but I'll try to get them up soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

OCVN Killdeer Plains workshop

I have learned by blogging that there are lots of folks out there who are interested in the natural world, and that they engage themselves with the natural world in many different ways.  Some do it through art (painting, writing, photography, etc.), some do it through their day job (paid naturalists, wildlife rehabbers, etc.), some do it on the side as a hobby (bird watching, butterfly watching, vernal pool monitoring, etc.).  Regardless of how we each choose to connect with nature, it inevitably leads to us learn more about our particular interests.  Usually one little tidbit of knowledge hooks us, and we feel the need to keep the learning going and going.

This past weekend I kept up my end of that bargain by surrounding myself with 35 other Ohio Certified Volunteer Natruralists and 4 expert guides at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Wyandot and Marion Counties.  We split our time between presentations and field work, spending 2 hours in the field to each hour of classroom-style background presentations.  The topics covered were plants, birds, beetles and butterflies.

Out in the field learning about plants from expert David Brandenburg (2nd from right).

Here in Ohio we are very lucky to have wonderful and talented experts in a wide variety of natural history topics who are willing to share what they know with those of us who still have a lot to learn.  David Brandenburg is the staff botanist at the Dawes Arboretum, and previously worked as a field botanist for the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.  In April of this year his book, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America, was published.  The layout is unique in that plants are grouped by family rather than by color, and range maps are included along with color plates and descriptions.  I find the grouping by family to be especially helpful since I am finally getting a grasp on what types of flowers belong to what families - I would prefer to narrow a flower down to a particular family right off the bat rather than flipping through endless white flower color plates, for example.  Needless to say, I was very excited to purchase my own autographed copy directly from David himself.

Bob Placier lives in my neck of the woods and is an instructor of various natural science courses at nearby Hocking College.  He talked to us about birds, but he also he also teaches about ecology, conservation biology and environmental science.  Bob is a licensed bird bander and is a board member of the Ohio Ornithological society.  I hope to spend some of my volunteer hours in October and November working with Bob and his team when they conduct banding and research on Northern Saw-Whet Owls.

George Keeney opened up the world of beetles to many of us.  He manages the Insectary at Ohio State University, and is a research associate at the Department of Entomology at the university.  He has played an important role in the recent reintroduction of the federally endangered American burying beetle in such southeast Ohio forests as Wayne National Forest, Zaleski State Forest and Waterloo Wildlife Area and Research Station.  He told us a number of anecdotes that illustrated that researching and collecting beetles is not a glamorous job, but definitely one that is never boring (one such story involved exploding fermented raw chicken!).

Jim Davidson was our butterfly expert, and he went "old school" on us by using a slide projector to illustrate his presentation.  In this age of PowerPoint talks, it was a bit refreshing to see the slides.  Jim is a retired pathologist, and is the current vice president of the Ohio Lepidopterists.  We learned that the Franklin County Metroparks now owns one of his former properties and that this site is specifically protected as a butterfly preserve, one of few sites like it anywhere.  Jim sure knows his butterflies, and is able to identify many of them by sight from quite a distance.  (I will admit, though, to being distracted greatly by the birds during our butterfly walk... no disrespect to Jim.)

Jim McCormac, with whom many of you are probably already familiar, talked to us about a successful wetland restoration project that is located just a bit northwest of Killdeer Plains. The wetland has seen a dramatic increase in biological diversity since it was completed in 2005, and he showed us how many of the species that either breed or migrate through this wetland connect a small 500-acre portion of Ohio to points north in Canada and to locations almost to the southern tip of South America.  Jim also took us out for a night walk and helped us make some sense of all the singing insects.

When you attend workshops like this, you don't have to worry about looking silly when you tuck your pants into your socks in an effort to keep ticks at bay because everyone else is doing it, too.  And you don't feel at all odd for foraging for deer dung or a raccoon carcass in search of beetles because that's what you're there for!  Only the most hardy (or foolish) nature lovers would offer themselves to the mosquitoes and deer flies (because you can't possibly douse every square inch with enough bug spray to deter them) in order to attend a night "prowl" to bear witness to the vast array of night-singing insects and frogs.  We were all in it together, and I must admit the the sense of community that was present at this event was just as wonderful as all the knowledge gleaned.  I had a chance to see some friends from the blogosphere as well as a number of my classmates from the Hocking Hills region OCVN.

I should also mention that Rae Johnson and the Licking County OCVN were amazing hosts to us all, and I have to thank them for putting on such an amazing weekend!  Next up I'll show you how we went from classroom to field with plants.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lazy summer days

Pollination, you're doin' it right!

This bee was found a few days ago busily pollinating this Black-eyed Susan. Look how covered in pollen it is!
Speaking of busy, I'm glad someone is busy around here. Me, I've been sitting on my duff reading books and paddling around a lake, exerting very little effort to do much else. Isn't vacation grand?!  I haven't even had my camera out very much.

As you can see in the background behind this Ox-eye Daisy, the dock leads your eye to the beautiful clear water...

Dragonflies and damselflies are plentiful here, and big Dragon Hunters fly over the lake in search of easy prey. When they get tired, they like to land on the knee of an unsuspecting kayak paddler and take a little rest.

Unidentified (I didn't bring my field guide) damselfly resting on the dock. Beautiful.

I HOPE to get back on a regular blogging schedule soon. I hope you all are having a wonderful summer!