Friday, June 29, 2018

The Days of Summer - Day One through Day Nine

I've given myself a photo project.  I love nature photography, but sometimes everything else in life gets in the way and I don't take time to get outdoors and take pictures.  So this summer I decided to do something about it.  Starting with the first day of Summer (21 June) I am going to take at least one photo every day of the season and share it here.  I wish this was an original idea, but it's not.  One of my favorite nature photographers is Jim Brandenburg.  For one season (in this case Autumn), Brandenburg took only one photo per day.  A personal project to reignite his love of photography and to connect with his home ground, these photos were not originally meant to be published but they resulted in the book called Chased By The Light: A 90-Day Journey (1998).  Five years later he published a companion book titled Looking for Summer (2003).  For Looking Brandenburg did not take one photo per day as he did for Chased, but the goal was the same to connect with a place and a time. Both Chased and Looking are sitting in our living room right now - they are among the books I turn to for photographic inspiration. 

So I'm inspired... I sit typing these words on June 29th, the ninth day of summer and I have nine photographs to share.  I am not taking a single photo a day as per Chased By The Light, but I am picking a single image to represent each day.  Collectively, I hope these photos represent the season as I experience it.  Expect updates on a weekly basis from here out.

Day One (21 June 2018) - Summer Solstice

I started summer with a sunrise hike at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Bundy Hill Preserve.  While I took over 200 photos that morning, this image of a pair of brightly lit broadleaf trees in a dark pine forest is my favorite.

Day Two (22 June 2018) - Mare's Tails

I am drawn to clouds - I photograph them over and over again.  A good cloud always merits a photograph.  This image of cirrus clouds was taken on the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation just east of Mt. Pleasant on my way home from work.  I noticed the clouds and pulled into a parking lot to get this image. Cirrus clouds are often referred to as Mare's Tails because of their resemblance to the curling hairs of a horse's tail.  The word cirrus actually means "a curl of hair" in Latin.

Day Three (23 June 2018) - Baby Birds

A Boston Fern on our front porch is currently home to a nest full of baby House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus).  When I took this picture, the nestlings were several days old but had yet to open their eyes.

Day Four (24 June 2018) - Raindrops on Butterflyweed

Sunday June 24th found us leaving for a trip to Chicago for a graduation party, and then on to Wisconsin and Iowa for a mini-vacation. I photographed this Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) in our home pollinator garden while I was packing for the truck for our trip.  It had just started to rain and the flowers were covered with hundreds of tiny water droplets. 

Day Five (25 June 2018) - Wading Whooper

One of my favorite places is the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  We originally visited there in July 2015.  When we decided to head back to Wisconsin this summer, ICF was at the top of our list of places to visit.  During our first trip the pair of Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) stayed toward the back of their exhibit space and we barely saw them.  That almost happened again this time, but we hung around the exhibit and the birds decided it was time to feed in the pond near the viewing area.  This is not the closest image that I took, but it is my favorite of the bird in action stalking something in the pond.

Day Six (26 June 2018) -  A Row of Mounds

Our next day found us in eastern Iowa at Effigy Mounds National Monument.  I am fascinated by Native American earthworks, especially mounds.  In 2016 we visited Great Serpent Mound in Ohio and Cahokia Mounds in Illinois.  Effigy Mounds was next on my list.  These mounds are attributed to the Hopewell Culture that existed in the area approximately 1500-2000 years ago.  Although the site is best know for its effigy mounds (earthen mounds in the shapes of animals or humans) I was equally impressed by the rows of conical mounds such as this group leading up the the area known as Fire Point.

Day Seven (27 June 2018) -  Bufflehead Drake

Shara firmly believes that if a city you are visiting has an aquarium it must be visited; I tend to agree.  That's how we ended up at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. My favorite thing was the American Paddlefish feeding (daily at 10:30AM), but my favorite photo was this one of a Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) drake at the Backwater Marsh exhibit. 

Day Eight (28 June 2018) - Moonrise

The photo for June 28th was taken back home in Michigan at the Forest Hill Nature Area.  After driving home from Iowa earlier in the day, I decided to go out to Forest Hill to watch the sun set and the full moon rise.  There were not enough clouds for a spectacular sunset, but just enough to prevent really clear photos of the moon.  Even so I really like this yellow moon in the inigo sky as barely rises above the black treeline.

Day Nine (29 June 2018) - Hope is a tree with seeds

Emily Dickinson famously wrote that '"Hope" is the thing with feathers-', but to me this tree represents hope.  It's a Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).  Why does this tree give me hope?  Do you see all the dead trees in the background?  Those are also Green Ash trees.  They were killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive species that has obliterated ash populations in Michigan and across the Midwest.  Entire forests were wiped out in a few short years.


The Emerald Ash Borer didn't get every tree.  Trees that were small when the Ash Borer arrived in an area were sometimes passed over as Ash Borer populations moved on to more promising feeding grounds.  These small trees are now reaching a size where they are capable of reproducing.  In a short walk at Mill Pond Park I discovered several 15 - 25 foot Green Ash trees.  The best part of the discovery; they all had seeds (hundreds of them)!  These seeds represent hope for the survival of the species as a viable component of our forests.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Solstice 2018

The sun rises through the trees about twenty minutes past official sunrise.

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 6:07 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).  On the days surrounding the solstice, the sun appears to "stand still" for several days as it progresses neither north nor south along the horizon. 

Dawn atop Bundy Hill

Today on the Summer Solstice, with the sun at its highest position in the northern sky, we celebrate 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.

Why does the length of daylight vary at different locations on the globe? 

It has to do with three factors:  rotation, revolution, and a tilt of 23.5 degrees.  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 rotates 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, as previously mentioned, the Earth is tilted on its axis.  Because of this tilt, 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. 

A golden glow...

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 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. 

Waiting for the sunrise atop Bundy Hill

So how did I celebrate the Summer Solstice?  In the oldest way possible, by greeting the rising sun!  I led a sunrise hike to the top of the tallest hill around.  At 1276 feet above sea level, Bundy Hill is the tallest point in Isabella County.  It is has been protected as a nature preserve by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy since 2016.  Unfortunately, the surrounding forest made it impossible to see the actual sunrise from atop Bundy Hill, but the trip to the top is always worth it.  When the sun finally did get above the trees I was able to capture the photos seen above.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Native Plants at Home - The Side of the House

On Monday, I posted photos of the flower beds in the front of our house.  Today I want to share some images from the south side of our house.  Two-thirds of this space is sunny throughout the day.  The other (western) third of is shaded by a large Honey Locust Tree.  This side of the house faces a side street, so it is highly visible to the public.  We have observed many people stopping along the sidewalk to admire the flowers and have had frequent positive comments from pedestrians and drivers who have stopped while we were working in the garden.

There are some advantages and disadvantages inherent with growing native plants in this location.  One advantage is that this area warms up earlier in the spring and stays warmer in the fall because of the southern exposure and the reflected heat from the house.  A disadvantage is that the area dries out really fast and even drought tolerant plants will sometimes look wilted.  I don't generally advocate watering native plants, but I will on occasion turn a sprinkler on this area during really hot and dry time periods.

Here are three photos, starting with the third closest to the rear of the house (the west) and moving toward the front (east) of the house.  Right now there isn't much blooming.  This garden really shines in the late summer and fall when the majority of prairie/grassland plants come into bloom.

Here are the same photos with some plants labeled.  Other flowers that are not visible or labeled include Swamp Milkweed, White Avens, Missouri Ironweed, and Ohio Goldenrod.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Native Plants at Home - The Front of the House

We have flower beds surrounding three sides of our house.  Only the north side lacks flowers - the property line is too close to the house to really plant flowers.  Of the hundreds of individual plants in the beds, probably 90% are native to Michigan.  The front (east side) of our house gets sun in early morning, but shade during the rest of the day.  The shade also means that the soil here stays relatively moist, especially compared to the sunny south side of the house.  As a result of the shade and moist soil we have planted this side of the house mainly with woodland species.  There are more than twenty different species of native plants in this space.  Here a couple pictures...

Here are the same photos with some of the native plants labeled. A few species that are not visible include Wood Poppy, Wild Leeks, and Large-flowered Trillium.  I've probably missed a few more.

Later this week I will share photos from the south side and back of the house.

Monday, June 4, 2018

National Trails Day 2018 - A Wildflower Walk at Quigley Creek Natural Area

I'm not always the best person to lead hikes - I tend to walk through swamps...
Last Saturday (June 2nd) was National Trails Day.  In celebration of the day, the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy hosted two events.  In the morning CWC Board Member and Former Executive Director Stan Lilley led a bird walk at the Hall's Lake Preserve.  In the afternoon I led an outing to search for wildflowers at Quigley Creek Natural Area.  Although I think the beginning of June is sort of an in-between season for wildflowers, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of plants that we positively identified.  Trees are not included in this list because we did not focus on them and only mentioned a few species in passing.

Thank you to everyone who came out and followed their guide (That would be me.) through a swamp.  You were all good sports about the experience!

A dozen people showed up to search for wildflowers.

Now here's the list of species that we recorded.

Herbaceous Plants
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
Feathery False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
Big-leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla)
Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia) - non-native
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum)
Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)
Spring Avens (Geum vernum)
Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus)
Common Black Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica)
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis)
Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)
Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Swamp Saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica)
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) - non-native

Wild Columbine

Wild Geranium

Swamp Saxifrage

Yellow Flag Iris - a potentially invasive species

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)
Northern Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Cinnamon Fern

American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis)
Running Strawberrybush (Euonymus obovatus)
Bristly Greenbrier (Smilax hispida)