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Posts Tagged ‘Nature Photography’

Asters in mid-July? I couldn’t believe my eyes when saw this aster blooming along a roadside. Asters will sometimes bloom in mid-August but most usually wait until the end of August and even into September. They can be hard to identify and this one had me scratching my head until I looked at the leaves. There is only one aster that I know of with big, hand size leaves and that is the big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla.) But that aster has always had white flowers in my experience, so I had to hit the books to find out what was going on. According to what I read the big-leaved aster can indeed have purple flowers, but this is the first one I’ve seen wearing that color. You really do learn something new every day in nature.

This is an example of the big leaf found on the big-leaved aster. They grow at the base of the stem at ground level, and get smaller higher up on the stem. Big leaf asters are one of the first to bloom in this area.

Our native purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have just started blooming. This plant is well known for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty. According to the USDA the plant was used by many Native American tribes throughout North America to treat a variety of ailments. It was used as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, as a treatment for toothaches, coughs, colds, and sore throats. It was also used as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite. Portions of it were also used to dress wounds and treat infections. Modern medicine has found it useful to combat bacterial and viral infections and as an immune system booster. I grow it because butterflies and bees like its nectar, birds like the seeds, and I like to admire its beauty.

This is only the second time Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) has appeared on this blog because it is rare here. I first found the 6 inch high plant last year and I was surprised by how small it was. The single plant had a single flower that I thought it would be as big as a tradescantia blossom but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive because I’ve seen exactly two of them in 60+ years. I’d like to see more of them; I love that shade of blue.

Brittle stem hemp nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered highly invasive in some areas, but it is hard to find here. It is an annual, growing new from seed each year. Its small purple flowers grow in whorls near the top of the plant, which is often branched.

Brittle stem hemp nettle flowers have a large 3 part lower lip where insects land. From there insects can follow dark purple stripes into the blossom. Once inside they’ll pick up some pollen from the 4 stamens that arc along the inside of the upper lip and hopefully pass it on to another flower. This example had lots of pollen to share. The 3/4 inch long flowers have long white hairs on their upper lip and the square stems are also covered in hairs. When you run your fingers over any part of the plant you can feel its stiff, bristly hairs but they don’t embed themselves in you, thankfully

When I was a boy all I ever saw were pure white bindweed flowers but then all of the sudden they became pink and white bicolor bindweed flowers. Now it has gotten difficult to find a white example but I saw this one and many more with it in a field recently. It reminded me of playing in milkweed scented fields with grass up to my shoulders watching big black and yellow garden spiders weaving their nests. I never see them anymore either.

Soapwort’s (Saponaria officinalis) leaves contain a natural soap called sapronin. When the leaves are crushed and scrubbed together in water a soapy lather forms. In the past this plant was used for washing clothes and making soap. It hails from Europe and though it is used medicinally it is considered toxic and some people have violent toxic reactions to it. I’ve heard that soapwort is also called bouncing bet because of the way the unusual recurved petals bounce the flowers in a breeze, but I’ve also heard that bouncing bet was a name once used for a laundry woman. It grows to about knee high on a good day but I’ve also seen it sprawl along the ground. It was originally introduced as a garden plant and promptly escaped.

Soapwort flowers can be pink or lavender in full sun and whiter in shade. They usually have 10 stamens and always seem to have quite narrow petals when compared to the more rounded petals of a plant like phlox. The more curved the petals it is said, the older the flower.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European native that has been cultivated for centuries. The flat flower heads are made up of many button like disc flowers; almost like a daisy without the white ray flowers that we call petals. Tansy is a natural insect repellent and was used as such in colonial times. Dried tansy added to the straw in mattresses was said to keep bedbugs away. Most tansy plants are seen in gardens but it had naturalized itself in New England by 1785 and can still be occasionally found growing along roadsides. It’s a good plant to use in vegetable gardens for pest control. The ancient Greeks grew tansy for medicinal use but modern science has found it to be toxic.

I saw a beautiful flower on the side of the road and stopped to see something I had never seen. I loved the color of it.

A closer look told me it was a campanula and after some research I think it might be a clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata,) which is a garden escapee. It is said to be a “vigorous rhizomatous perennial” originally from Europe and Japan. This is the first time I’ve seen it but I wonder how long it will take before it is a common sight along our roadsides, like the highly invasive purple loosestrife. There were several plants in this spot.

There are a few orchids blooming now and one is the broad leaved helleborine orchid (Epipactis helleborine.) These orchids are originally from Europe and Asia and were first spotted in this country in Syracuse, New York in 1879. The plant has now spread to all but 19 of the lower 48 states and is considered an invasive weed. It doesn’t act very invasive here; I usually see only a few plants each year and every time I see them they’re growing in deep shade. I’ve never been able to find out how the plant comes by its common name. It seems a bit odd because it doesn’t seem to resemble either hellebore or false hellebore, though the pleated leaves are close to those of false hellebore.

As I was taking photos of the tiny flowers an even tinier insect showed up. Scientists have discovered that the flowers of the broad leaved helleborine orchids have a secret; their nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature; comparable to oxycodone they say, and when insects sip it they get quite a buzz and tend to stagger around for a while. This increases their chances of picking up the orchid’s pollinia, which are sticky little sacks of pollen that orchids produce instead of the dust-like pollen produced by many other flowers. I’m sorry this photo is so poor but these orchids grow in the shade and this is an extreme close up.

Once the insect flies off it will most likely be stoned enough to be oblivious to the pollen packets that it has stuck all over itself. By transporting its pollinia to another helleborine flower the insect will have repaid the orchid for its intoxicating nectar. But it doesn’t happen quickly; this insect crawled right into the cup and decided to stay for a while. Maybe it was too tipsy to fly.

Arrowleaf tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum) is in the smartweed family, which gets its common name from the way your tongue will smart if you eat its peppery parts. Though the flower buds in this family of plants seem like they never open they do, sort of. They look like they only open about halfway though and I find the buds as pretty as the blossoms. This plant is a kind of rambler / sprawler that winds its way over nearby plants so it can get as much sunshine as possible. It often grows in deep shade but it will also grow in full sun, so it has covered all the bases.

Tearthumb got that name because it will indeed tear your thumb or any other body part that comes into contact with it. Many a gardener has regretted trying to pull it up without gloves on, because when the small but sharp barbs (prickles, botanically) along its stems slip through your hand they act like a saw and make you sorry that you ever touched it. The plant uses these prickles for support when it climbs over other plants, and they work well. Sometimes the stems and prickles are red but in this example they were green. Tearthumb is considered a wetland indicator because it likes to grow in very moist to wet soil. I almost always find it near water, often blooming quite late into summer.

I remembered a spot where last year I saw what I thought were the only examples of panicled tick trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) I had ever seen. When I returned this year I was very happy to see that there were even more plants but I have done more research and discovered that I misidentified them. Though the long thin shape of its flower head is correct the flowers are not.

After quite a lot of searching I’m not finding this one in my guide books or online under trefoil or Desmodium so now I’m wondering if it even is a trefoil. It’s definitely in the pea / bean family but that’s as far as I can go. It’s quite pretty and grows along a roadside in full sun. Each plant is probably about 3 feet tall but they lean on surrounding plants and each other so they’re all in a jumble. If you happen to know its name I’d love for you to let me know.

The pale yellow flowers of tall lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) are often tinted by red or pink on their edges. This is a native lettuce that can reach 10 feet tall with clusters of small, 1/4 inch flowers at the top of the stalks. The leaves of this plant can be highly variable in their shape, with even leaves on the same plant looking different from each other.  Native Americans used this plant medicinally. The milky white sap contains lactucarium, a sedative and analgesic. It is still used in medicines today.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds.
~Edgar A. Guest

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Here are a few more of those odd or unusual things that I see which don’t seem to fit in other posts.

British Soldier Lichens

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) are so small that I often can’t see them clearly when I try to get their photograph. I sometimes have to just set the camera down on the moss next to them, press the shutter release, and hope for the best. What you see is what the camera gave me this time. There is a very similar lichen called lipstick powder horn, but it doesn’t branch near its tips like this lichen does. Both kinds can be found on well-rotted fallen logs and stumps.

Bootstrap or Honey Fungus aka Armillaria mellea_gallica

Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria), which send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh these rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. I found the above example on a fallen tree that had lost its bark. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot. It kills many species of hardwood trees.

Honey Mushrooms

These are the honey mushrooms (Armillaria) that cause the bootstrap fungus shown in the previous photo. These were growing on a standing, living tree, but it probably won’t be living or standing long.

Canada Mayflower Fruit

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) berries are ripe and their leaves have turned yellow. This plant is sometimes called two leaved Solomon’s seal or false lily of the valley. The “May” part of the name refers to its flowering time. Native Americans used the plant for headache and sore throats.

Brown Jelly Fungus

Brown jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) have started to appear on downed trees and limbs. This fungus can absorb water until it eventually weighs over 60 times its dry weight. When dry it becomes a tiny black speck, hardly noticeable on tree bark.

Dewy Web 2

It took all summer but I finally saw a dew covered spider’s web.

Large Fishing Spider aka Dolomedes tenebrosus on Goldenrod

I also saw a gargantuan spider on another web, built on a goldenrod that was leaning out over the river. The people at bgguide.net tell me this is a fishing spider but unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of its abdomen so they couldn’t tell me its scientific name. These spiders get their common name from the way that they occasionally catch fish. This one must have been at least 4 inches from leg tip to leg tip.

Wooly Bear

 According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the wider the brown stripe in the middle of the wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. “Between 1948 and 1956, Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, collected these caterpillars and counted the number of brown segments on each. Average brown-segment counts ranged from 5.3 to 5.6 out of the 13-segment total, meaning that the brown band took up more than a third of the woolly bear’s body. As those relatively high numbers suggested, the corresponding winters were milder than average.” In case you’re wondering, the one in the photo has about 5 1/2 brown segments.

Garter Snake

One day a small garter snake was pretending to be a stick. If it wasn’t for the stone I might have stepped on him.

Hawthorn Fruit

My color finding software sees hot pink, crimson, brick red, Indian red, and pale violet red in these hawthorn (Crataegus) fruits (berries). The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines.

Fern

Fall always starts at the forest floor and ferns show some of the most colorful signs that it has arrived.

Turkey Tails

Last fall and winter I didn’t see many turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but this year there seems to be plenty of them. Like most mushrooms most of this fungus lies below the bark of the trees it grows on. I wonder if the width of the rings or “zones” reveals what the weather has done like the rings on trees do. Last year the few turkey tails that I saw had quite wide zones and, as the photo shows, this year they are very narrow.

Maple Leaf Viburnum

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) leaves seem to start out colored just about any color you can name in the fall, but after their red / yellow / orange/ purple phases all of the leaves eventually become a very pale, ghostly pink, making this shrub’s fall color among the most beautiful in the forest, in my opinion.

Unknown Wading Bird 2-2

I saw two of these wading birds probing the shore of a local pond. They weren’t very big-maybe a little bigger than a robin. I’ve been trying to identify them since I took their photos but haven’t had much luck. I think they must be some kind of sandpiper, but I can’t find one with spots on its back. If anyone reading this recognizes it is I / we would love to hear from you.

Update: This bird has been identified by two readers as a Solitary Sandpiper. Here is a link with a photo of that bird: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Solitary_Sandpiper/id

Unknown Wading Bird

Here is a side shot of the maybe sandpiper. They seemed to be finding plenty to eat in the pond shallows.

There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties. ~ John Muir

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I call these posts “moving things” so I don’t have to call them birds, insects, amphibians, and mammals or some other long, boring title. Since plants don’t move from place to place on their own accord “moving things” in this case means something other than plants. Long time readers know I don’t usually try to photograph these critters, but when they pose for me like these did I can’t resist.

1. Viceroy Butterfly

I posted a photo of a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) here not too long ago and mistakenly called it a monarch. Thanks to fellow blogger Mike Powell I learned that monarchs don’t have the black stripe seen here on the lower wing. I’ve seen quite a few viceroys this year but no monarchs.

 2. White Admiral Butterfly aka Limenitis arthemis

A white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis arthemis) landed on a maple tree to get some sun.  Every time I tried to get a photo of this one it closed its wings just before I clicked the shutter release. After doing that at least 10 times it finally let me get a shot with its wings open. Trying to guess what a butterfly is going to do next can be frustrating.

 3. Red Spotted Purple Butterfly aka Limenitis arthemis astyanax

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me as if to show me the differences between it and the white admiral in the previous photo. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the harsh sunlight made this one’s red spots almost disappear.

 4. Great Blue Heron

The water that this great blue heron was in was so covered with duckweed, pollen and / or algae that I didn’t see how he could see anything in it to catch. For as long as I watched him he didn’t move, so maybe there was a clear spot he was looking through.

 5. Frog on a Rock

This bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) would have made a tasty snack for the heron, but he was in a much cleaner pond sitting on a rock. I just read that bullfrogs will eat just about anything that moves, including other bullfrogs.

 6. Toad

Toads probably have better luck getting away from herons than frogs do. This one was out in the woods, away from any water. I’ve seen a lot of much smaller toads in the forest too. Like the bullfrog in the previous photo, this one was big enough so it would have been a handful if I’d picked it up. I think this is an American toad (Bufo americanus.) We only have one other in New Hampshire-Fowler’s toad.

 7. Painted Turtle

This painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) seemed to be sniffing the air like a raccoon. I’m not sure what he was doing, but I wondered if he could smell me standing on the shore.

 8. Crows

One foggy morning these two crows were perched where a great blue heron usually sits to wait for the sun on foggy mornings. Crows are smart birds and usually fly off if anyone points anything at them but these two sat still as I pointed my lens at them.  It’s hard to tell from the photos, but these were big birds. After reading Jerry’s latest post on his Quiet Solo Pursuits blog, I’m wondering if they weren’t ravens instead of crows. They didn’t make a sound while I was there, so I can’t tell by that. Their beaks are another way to identify them but they don’t show very well in this shot.

 9. Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

I’ve discovered that fritillary butterflies are very hard to identify, even for experts. This one could be a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria Cybele,) but to be honest I don’t know what it is, other than very beautiful. It was also quite big-bigger than a viceroy.

10. Brown Butterfly

Here is another butterfly I can’t positively identify, but it might be an Appalachian Brown (Lethe appalachia.) It was on a goldenrod.

 11. Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar

The milkweed tussock moth caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) gets chemicals from plants like milkweed and dogbane that protect the moth from being eaten by bats. The moth is also called the milkweed tiger moth. There was one black, white and yellow caterpillar on top of the leaf and another mirror image of it on the bottom of the leaf, but I didn’t get a shot of them both.

12. Hoverfly on Evening Primrose

This hoverfly (Toxomerus geminatus) landed on the outer edge of this evening primrose blossom just as I was about to take a shot of it. As I watched, it crawled into the center so I took its picture instead of the blossom.

13. Puffed Up Sparrow

This song sparrow looked like someone had left it on the fluff cycle in a clothes dryer. I wonder if it’s a juvenile or an adult just having a bad day.

 14. Sparrow

This song sparrow caught what I think is a grasshopper. Maybe it was going to feed it to the bird in the previous photo. It flew from tree to tree as if not wanting to show me what it was up to. I felt kind of guilty, realizing that I was keeping it from doing what it wanted to do, so I left it alone after a few quick photos.

15. Cedar Waxwing

I was at the Ashuelot River recently and this cedar waxwing kept flying from rock to rock, acting agitated. Every now and then it would fly toward me and then pull up and turn when just a few feet away. I wondered what it was trying to tell me and then I remembered that these birds eat fruit.  I just happened to be standing between it and a bush full of ripe silky dogwood berries, so I took a few photos and let him be.

Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough.  We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.  ~St. Francis of Assisi

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This post is another one of those filled with all of the strange things I’ve seen that don’t fit anywhere else.

1. Red Stain on Pine Bark

I found several white pine trees (Pinus strobus) on less than a square acre of land with some type of red substance on the base of their trunks. I don’t know if this was caused by a fungus or not, but I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t a lichen or slime mold, and I’m sure it wasn’t paint. I’ve never seen this before.

 2. Red Lichen on Tree Trunk

This tree also had a red substance on it, but it was higher up than that on the white pines was. This looked like it might have been a crustose lichen-possibly one of the fire dot lichens.

 3. Wild Cucumber

Last summer long I kept watch for a wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) but never saw one. Then I recently found this one, or what was left of it. This summer I’ll go back to this place and get the shots I wanted last summer. These vines are very fragrant when they bloom and people have started growing them in gardens for their enjoyable fragrance.

 4. White Pine Bark

This bark was on the end of a fallen log. It was much smoother and was a different color than all of the bark around it, and it looked as if someone had sanded and stained it. Seeing things like this always make me wonder how and why they happened.

5. Frozen Tree Sap

We are still having freezing cold days here and this recently cut hemlock stump with its sap frozen solid illustrates just how cold it can get when the wind is from the north.

 6. Dead Fern

This dead fern made me imagine the rib cage of some unknown forest creature.

7. Feather on a Twig

Birds must lose a lot of feathers, because I see them hung up on shrubs all the time. Sometimes from a distance they can be easily mistaken for flowers. Since I’m tired of bush whacking my way through the woods to look at feathers that I thought were flowers, I bought myself some nifty mini binoculars to scan my surroundings with. They weigh almost nothing and will fit in a pocket.  I might even get to see some birds with them.

 8. White Bracket Polypore Underside

I recently thumbed through a book called “Photographing the Patterns of Nature,” which was a mistake because now I’m seeing patterns everywhere.  This is the pattern on the underside of a bracket fungus.

9. Pine Cone Gall on Willow

 A tiny midge (Rhabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg in the developing terminal leaf buds of a willow and when the larva grew it caused this pine cone gall by releasing a chemical which interferes with the willow’s normal development. The adult insect will emerge soon and repeat the cycle.

 10. Grape Damage on Tree

When something that doesn’t stretch is wrapped around the trunk of a tree it interferes with the tree’s normal development by stopping the flow of nutrients to its roots from its crown. This is called girdling. Unless it has other branches that aren’t girdled so nutrients can reach its roots, the tree will usually die. In the case of the tree sapling in the photo, this girdling was caused by a grape vine tendril.

11.Beard Lichen 2

I took this picture of this beard lichen because it looked so ancient-as if it had been clinging to this branch since the dawn of time.

12. Moon and Clouds

One cold morning at about 6:00 am I saw clouds around the moon so I gathered up my camera and tripod, and out I went. Out of over 100 photos, this is the only one worth showing here.  Keeping both the moon and clouds in focus was much harder than it should have been. I’ll see if I can learn from the rejects and try again the next time the moon is in the clouds.

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.  ~John Milton

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