Thursday, June 22, 2017

So many shades of green (14 June 2017)

Last week I shared a photograph of a Cinnamon Fern that I took on a walk at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  Here are some more images from the same walk.  Everything is so impossibly green!  Walking through an area like this you can almost feel the oxygen being pumped out of the plants.

I call this activity a walk, but it is really more of a slog (defined as a long, tiring walk or march as per  A person does not tiptoe lightly through a swamp, but slogs through the mucky bottom that threatens to suck the boots off your feet.  If you are lucky you can step from sedge tussock to sedge tussock of log to log, but at some point you are forced into the muck.  The giant Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) leaves in the photo below indicate a location with out firm footing.  Notice the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sesibilis) at the bottom left of the photograph?  Surrounded by Skunk Cabbage leaves, this is just the sort of image I was looking for when I entered the swamp.

First is a horizontal image.  I like this image with the degree of contrast between the fern and Skunk Cabbage leaves and the differing areas of light and shadow.  I also like the smaller fern leaf poking through the leaves to the right of the picture.

Now here is the same central leaf zoomed in closer and in a vertical composition.  This image is all about the fern leaf; it is basically a portrait of the fern with the Skunk Cabbage leaves acting as a backdrop.  I like both images.  Which one do you think works better?  If you have an opinion, let me know in the comment section.

In another portrait of a Sensitive Fern, a small fern frond peeks between the lobes of a larger leaf.

In one section of the Mission Creek swamp, Cinnamon Ferns are by far the most prominent and charismatic plant that you can see this time of year. 


I was especially drawn to the red fertile fronds.  They really stick out against the green background of the fern's fronds. 

Although, these pictures are not as "artistic" as the fern photo that I shared last week, I still really like their overall appearance, especially on this final image.  The bright green and red compliment each other well and there is enough texture to keep me interested in the photo's various elements.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Happy Summer Solstice 2017!

Wheat ripening on the Summer Solstice

If you were to arise at dawn every day of the year and record the point on the horizon where the sun rises you would be able to track the progression from the Summer Solstice (in which the sun rises furthest North) to the Winter Solstice (in which the sun rises furthest South) and back again.  Tracking the position of the rising sun was one of the earliest astronomical observations.  Many ancient monuments were constructed to act as solar observatories, recording the longest and shortest days of the year.  These observations were used to plan planting dates for various agricultural crops.

Today the sun reached its northernmost point on the horizon.  Officially, at 12:24 AM EST Spring ended and Summer began in the Northern Hemisphere.  This moment of change is known as the Summer Solstice.  At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere was experiencing its Winter Solstice as their Fall ended and Winter began. The word Solstice comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  Today the sun has reached its highest position in the northern Sky, giving us our longest day of the year.  With the sunrise at 5:58 AM and sunset at 9:24 PM, mid-Michigan will experience approximately 15 hours 26 minutes of daylight today.  By comparison, Christchurch, New Zealand (which is approximately the same latitude south of the equator as Mid-Michigan is north of the equator), will have only 8 hours 56 minutes of sunlight today.
Field Corn (Zea mays) requires long summer days to grow and ripen

Why does the length of daylight vary?  The Earth rotates around its axis approximately once every 24 hours.  However this axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees from the vertical.  The points on the globe that the axis revolves around are referred to as the North and South Poles.  The axis is always pointed toward the same location in the sky.  The North Pole points toward the "North Star" - Polaris.

At any given time, fifty percent of the earth is in sunlight (Day) and the other fifty percent is in darkness (Night).  However, because the Earth is tilted on its axis sunlight does not always strike the Earth at the same angle.  This means that during different seasons different parts of the Earth will receive varying amounts of sunlight and darkness.
As the earth revolves around the sun, sometimes the North Pole is closer to the sun, sometimes the South Pole is closer to the sun.  When the North Pole is at its closest, the sun lights a larger portion of the Northern Hemisphere than it does the Southern Hemisphere.  When this happens, we experience Summer in Mid-Michigan and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Winter.  During our Northern Summer, not only does the sun light more of the Northern Hemisphere, but the sun also lights every Northern Hemisphere location for a higher percentage of the day than a comparable Southern Hemisphere location. 

When the North Pole is at its furthest from the sun, we experience Winter and the Southern Hemisphere experiences Summer.  During our Northern Winter, the sun is striking a a larger portion of the Southern Hemisphere than it is the Northern Hemisphere, and consequently the sun lights every Southern Hemisphere location for a higher percentage of the day than a comparable Northern Hemisphere location.  On two days of the year, the Spring and Fall Equinoxes, the sun lights the Northern and Southern Hemispheres equally and the length of day for will be the same for both.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A caterpillar at breakfast

Earlier this morning, Shara sent me a photograph from the Saginaw Chippewa Academy's native pollinator garden.

Monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed (photo by Shara LeValley)


That's a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar munching on a Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flower.  It's nice to see the garden being used by wildlife, especially Monarchs.  I am hopeful that we will find more Monarchs in the garden as the summer progresses further.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Happy Pollinator Week (19 - 25 June 2017)

Beetles, a lesser known (but important) pollinator

Happy National Pollinator Week!

On September 21st, 2006 the United States Senate passed a resolution designating the last full week in June as National Pollinator Week.  The first Pollinator Week was celebrated 24 - 30 June 2007.  The goal of National Pollinator Week is to highlight and celebrate the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, birds, bats and other pollinators.  2017 marks the eleventh year of celebration.

If you would like to know more about National Pollinator Week (and its primary sponsor the Pollinator Partnership) click here.

If you live in mid-Michigan,  I have free National Pollinator Week posters (featuring Monarch Butterfly migration) available at the Isabella Conservation District offices at 5979 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant.  Otherwise, posters can be ordered from the Pollinator Partnership.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Trail Camera Pictures (29 May - 14 June 2017)

Yesterday I retrieved memory cards from my trail cameras.  Here are pictures from one of the two cameras.

As always, there were dozens of pictures of squirrels on this camera.

Black phase Grey Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

There were also many White-tailed Deer of all ages and sizes.

One morning a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) showed up.  Frustratingly, it was too close to the camera so only its ears and the top of its head showed up in the picture!

Red Fox (just the ears are visible at the bottom of the picture)

A pair of fawns showed up on camera several times, both with their mother and on their own.  I assume the mother was just off camera when the fawns appeared on their own.

White-tailed doe and fawns

White-tailed fawns with no doe in sight

In addition to fawns, bucks showed up on a couple of occasions.  At this point their antlers are just developing.  One of the bucks (last year's fawn) had just little buttons, but the second buck (shown below) has antlers that are already beginning to fork.

White-tailed buck licking its hoof

The lighting in some of these photos is pretty incredible, especially in the early morning and evening when it slants in at a fairly low angle, lighting up the more open background and leaving much of the middle-ground and foreground in shade.  This combination of light and shadow adding depth to an image is know as chiaroscuroIn Italian chiaro means "light" and scuro means "dark". 

Portrait of a Fox Squirrel - this image demonstrates the principle of chiaroscuro.

I did have one new species appear on the camera during this time period - a Woodchuck (Marmota monax) showed up on two consecutive days.

A Woodchuck crosses from right to left

A woodchuck perched on a log at the center of the frame

My favorite photos this time are this series of six pictures of one a fawn (one of a pair).  I really like the chiaroscuro effect of these pictures - it adds a feeling of drama as the fawn advances from the dark toward the light.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Art in Nature - Cinnamon Fern

This photo of a Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) is officially in the running as my favorite photo of the year.  I took this picture in the swamp at Mission Creek Woodland Park and I just really like how it looks, especially the interlocking leaves on the left, the red fertile frond running through the center of the image and the diagonal lines of the stems.

Nothing significant

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Nestlings and more (12 June 2017)

Shara and I stopped at the Ziibiwing Center last night (12 June) to check on the bluebird nesting boxes.  First up was the single Eastern Bluebird nest.  Here is what they looked like yesterday.

Eastern Bluebird nestlings on 12 June 2017 (photo by Shara LeValley)

For comparison, the same nest on June 6th.  Those little buggers have grown a lot in a week!

Eastern Bluebird nestlings on 06 June 2017 (photo by Shara LeValley)
 We also checked on the four Tree Swallow nests.  One nest had chicks that appeared to have hatched in the last 24 hours.  The chicks in the other three nests are a five to ten days old.  Here is a picture of  one of the older nests.  Unfortunately most of the other photos were too dark and blurry.

Tree Swallow nestlings on 12 June 2017 (photo by Shara LeValley)
The birds were not the only babies that we found.  While walking across the lawn, we noticed a patch of Common Milkweed and out of habit began to search for Monarch eggs and caterpillars.  We found one - our first caterpillar of the year!  Because grounds was at that time mowing the lawn, we knew this caterpillar would not survive where it was found.  We collected it and took it home to rear.  We'll release it once it metamorphoses as an adult.

Monarch caterpillar (photo by Shara LeValley)
Finally, we discovered paper wasps creating a nest on the underside of a sculpture.  Wasps create these nests by chewing up wood fibers and mixing it with their saliva to create a paper-like substance.  The hexagonal shape of each cell allows the wasps to fit the maximum number of cells in a small space.

Paper wasps (photo by Shara LeValley)

Paper wasp nest on coneflower sculpture (photo by Shara LeValley)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Native Pollinator Garden at the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum (08 June 2017)

Last week I shared some photos of the Native Pollinator Garden at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy.  This is one of four gardens that we have helped establish and maintain since 2011.  I also stopped at the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum garden last week.  This is the youngest of the four gardens.  It was planted in July 2013 so this will be its fourth full growing season.  As a relatively young garden  it is still maturing and changing every year.

Here is a photo from last week.

Just for comparison here are pair of pictures from June 2014 and June 2015 taken from roughly the same vantage point.

Mt Pleasant Discovery Museum native pollinator garden - June 2014

Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum native pollinator garden - June 2015

Here's another picture from last week and the same view from 2014 and 2015.

08 June 2017

June 2014
June 2015
It's pretty amazing to see how much the garden has filled in in the past few years.  There is still a lot of open space, but it is rapidly filling up with self-seeded plants.  The ultimate goal is that the entire surface of the garden will be filled with live plants.  Once that happens, the garden will no longer need to be mulched and it will naturally exclude almost almost all weeds due to a lack of space.

That's enough comparison with the past.  The remaining few photos were all taken last week.  Enjoy!

Ohio Spiderwort

Coreopsis shadow on a Prairie Dock leaf

Lanceleaf Coreopsis