Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Days of Summer - Day Thirty-one through Day Thirty-seven

This is installment five of my Days of Summer photography project.  (Click here to view the photos from part four.)  The intent of this project is to get outdoors everyday to photograph something in nature and to pick a single image to represent each day of the summer from the Summer Solstice (21 June 2018) to the Fall Equinox (22 September 2018).  Five weeks into summer, this has been a very rewarding project.  It takes time, but I think I am producing some of my best photography ever.  I am definitely learning more about my camera and lenses.


Day 31 (21 July 2018) - Raindrops on Rosinweed

This image a raindrops on a Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) was photographed at home in our native pollinator garden during a lull between rain showers.

Day 32 (22 July 2018) - Monarch on Purple Coneflower

This photograph was taken at Forest Hill Nature Area during a very windy afternoon.  At one point this Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) nearly blew off the top of this Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purperea).  Despite the wind, this was a great day for pollinator photography.  I was able to photograph five butterfly species, a couple moths, numerous bees, and several wasp species.  Picking a single image for the day was difficult, but I like the position of the butterfly facing into the wind and the grass blades blowing in from the left of the picture.

Day 33 (23 July 2018) -Early Fall Colors

This picture of Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) berries and leaves was also taken at Forest Hill Nature Area.  Many of the dogwood leaves were already changing color.  This is not necessarily a sign of fall, but a sign of stress such as too little rain.

Day 34 (24 July 2018) - Green Frog

This picture was taken at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.  I heard several Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) calling from a small wetland area near the back of the park.  Most of the frogs dove into the pond when I approached but this one let me approach to about five or six feet.  This image has been cropped from a horizontal to a vertical image.

Day 35 - Yeah, Here Come the Rooster

This image and the next one were actually taken indoors.  I spent much of last week at the Isabella County Fair.  County fairs are an integral part of summer across much of the United States.  This rooster was one of the many animals entered in the fair by 4H members.

If you understand the title of this image, bonus points for you!  If you don't...

Day 36 (26 July 2018) - Charolais Steer

Another image from the Isabella County Fair.  Raising beef cattle is one of the most popular projects for 4H members in the area.  It quite something to watch a nine or ten year old kid weighing maybe 100 pounds walk a full grown steer around the arena and present it for judging.  I photographed the Charolais steer  in the beef cattle barn as it stared at me from its stall.

Day 37 (27 July 2018) - Stormcloud

The final picture of the week was photographed in southern Isabella County on my way home from work.  I watched this storm approached from the west and raced to try to intersect it in a place where I could get a good image.  Don't worry, I never went above the speed limit - the gravel road that I was traveling on would not allow for speeds much above 30 mph in most sections.  I like this picture because of the contrast between the dark water laden bottom of the cloud and the sun shining through the top.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Days of Summer - Day Twenty-four through Day Thirty

This part four of my Days of Summer photography project.  Sometimes I get so busy with work and everything else in life that I forget to take time to get out in nature.  So I've given myself a photography project that requires me to get outdoors every single day.  Starting with the Summer Solstice (21 June 2018) and ending on the Fall Equinox (22 September 2018), I will get outdoors every single day to take photos.  One picture from each day will be shared here.  To see last week's installment click here.

I hope you enjoy looking at this photos as much as I enjoy taking them.

Day 24 (14 July 2018) - Queen Anne's Sunset

This image of the sun setting behind a Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) bloom was photographed at Forest Hill Nature Area.  This has become my go-to location for photography for this project.  Forest Hill is located less than fifteen minutes from home.  If I didn't get anywhere else during the day, I can always find time to run to Forest Hill for a short photo visit.

Day 25 (15 July 2018) - Square-stemmed Monkeyflower

On Sunday July 15th I spent the afternoon at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt Pleasant for the second annual Chippewa River Water Festival.  The Isabella Conservation District had a booth at the festival and I was helping pass out conservation swag and literature.  I was also scheduled to lead three nature hikes through the park during the afternoon.  During one of the scheduled times, I had no takers so I went by myself with just my camera as a companion.  This Square-stemmed Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens) was growing on a point bar along the edge of the Chippewa River.  There were probably thirty of these plants total - I normally find less than ten a year.

Day 26 (16 July 2018) - Wheatfields and Stormclouds

This picture was taken near the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve wet of Mt. Pleasant.  Clouds are always a good photo subject.  So are fields of ripening wheat.  This location had both.  This is my second photo of a wheat field, but I think this image is more about the clouds than the wheat.   I also liked that I could get a picture without trees on the horizon.  (There are a couple on the far left of the picture, but they don't detract from the open horizon feel.)  About ninety minutes after this picture rainstorms moved into the area.

Day 27 (17 July 2018) - Waxing Crescent Moon

This photo of a waxing crescent moon was taken from my backyard at 10:25PM.  This picture has been cropped from the original to a square image.  I like the sharp lies of the crater edges where the sunlit side of the moon meets the half in shadow. 

Day 28 (18 July 2018) - Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Some days it's hard to pick a favorite photo to share.  This was not one of those days.  This male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) was taken at Forest Hill.  When I spied it perched on this grass, back-lit by the setting sun, I knew it was a "winner".  This image has been cropped from a horizontal to a vertical format.

Day 29 (19 July 2018) - Cedar Waxwing

I spent nearly thirty minutes at Mill Pond Park watching Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) flying over the Chippewa River to snag insects out of the air.  Occasionally one would land on a tree limb about twenty feet in front of me.  This is one of about seventy-five picture of fur different Waxwings.  This image has been cropped considerably with about 1/3 of the picture removed from the left and 1/3 removed from the bottom.

Day 30 (20 July 2018) - A Hole in the Clouds

The final image of the week was another one from Forest Hill Nature Area.  I spent an hour photographing the setting sun, the moon, clouds, and a sun dog.  As we were preparing to leave I spied this patch of light peeking through a dark cloud. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mantis, Mantis, Mantis!

Yesterday, Shara (Mrs. LeValley) stopped at my office to go to lunch with me.  When she came to the office door, she waved at me to grab my camera and follow her outside.  She found a praying mantis just outside the entrance to the building.

We decided to move the mantis to a better location - a nearby garden.  Although the mantis probably could find plenty of food on the side of the building, it was a little conspicuous right next to the door.  We figured a garden full of green plants would be a better place for its long term survival.

There are two species of mantis that can be found in Mid-Michigan - Chinese Mantis, and European Mantis.  Both of these species were introduced to North America for pest control.  A third species, Carolina Mantis, has been recorded in southern Michigan and appears to be expanding its range.  This one is a European Mantis (Mantis religiosa).  It can be identified by the dark spot on the inside of its upper foreleg.


This individual is a nymph.  It will pass through approximately ten stages of life (instars) before it becomes an adult, molting its exoskeleton each time.  I can tell this is a nymph because it lacks wings; adults of both sexes will have wings, but large females are often too heavy to fly.

Praying mantids are ambush predators.  They will sit motionless in one place waiting for their prey to appear.  Alternately, they may slowly stalk their prey.  Prey includes insects such as bees, butterflies, flies, and some moths; other invertebrates such as spiders; even hummingbirds!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Native Species Profile - Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also known as Bee Balm, is the most widespread of four Monarda species found in Michigan.  Nationally it has been recorded in all but four states (AK, HI, CA, FL) and across most of the temperate provinces of Canada.  It can grow in a variety of habitats including open woodlands, savannas, prairies, fields, dunes, etc.  It normally grows in dry habitats but is occasionally found in wetlands.

Bumble bee and Silver-spotted Skipper on Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is a member of the Mint Family (Lamiaceae).  Like all other mints, it has stems with a square cross-section and opposite pairs of leaves.  The plants can grow to a height of 4 feet and are topped with a single rounded flower head.  This flower head measures 1 - 3 inches across.  Flowers begin blooming near the center of the head first and continue outward to the margins.  Flowers are typically pink or lavender colored.  Individual flowers on the head are tubular and may be up to an inch long.  Near the tip, each tubular flower splits into several protruding lips.  The lower lips serve as a landing place for pollinators.

Wild Bergamot - note tubular flowers and opposite pairs of leaves

Wild Bergamot has a distinctive strong scent that reminds some people of mint and others of oregano.  Anyone who drinks Earl Grey tea will recognize this smell, although in Earl Grey tea the smell comes from the peal of the Bergamot Orange.

A Snowberry Clearwing Moth (a bumble bee mimic) prepares to nectar on Wild Bergamot

Wild Bergamot is an important nectar source for many insects including bumble bees, bee flies, hummingbird and bumblebee moths, sphinx moths, skippers, and butterflies.  It is also visited by hummingbirds.  This plant spread by rhizomes and seeds so it often forms large colonies.  Large colonies can easily attract hundreds of pollinators at a time.

Basic Information

Wild Bergamot 
Monarda fistulosa

Height:  2.5 - 4’ tall
Habitat:  dry areas; fields, open woods, prairies, fields, sand dunes, savannas

Flower Color:  lavender to pink

Bloom Time:  July – August

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Days of Summer - Day Seventeen through Day Twenty-three

This part three of my Days of Summer photo project.  To learn more about the inspiration for this project and to see the photos from part one and part two click on the following links:

     The Days of Summer - Day One through Day Nine
     The Days of Summer - Day Ten through Day Sixteen

 Day 17 (07 July 2018) - Snowberry Clearwing Moth

We normally think of moths as nocturnal insects, but many are adapted to daytime living.  This includes a group of sphinx moths known as Clearwings.  In North America, there are four species in the genus Hemaris.  All fly by day.  They mimic the appearance of bumblebees and the feeding behavior of hummingbirds - thus they are often known as Bumblebee Moths or Hummingbird Moths.  This one is specifically known as the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis) after a favorite larval host plant.  This photo was taken at Forest Hill Nature Area.  This probably not the best image from the day, but I cannot resist the subject.

Day 18 (08 July 2018) - Japanese Maple

This image of Japanese Maple leaves was taken in front of our house.  I like the silhouette of the red leaves against the blue sky and the details of the delicate veins in the central leaf.

Day 19 (09 July 2018) - Impression, Michigan Lily

If the previous photo was all about details.  This one is all about impressions.  This Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) was photographed at Mission Creek Woodland Park.  This photo reminds me of an Impressionist painting with only the blooms pistil and one or two stamen in sharp focus.  The rest of the flower is clearly visible but much softer.  It's all about the light!

The name given to this photo was inspired by the painting that Impressionism was named after:  Impression, soleil levant (Impression, sunrise) by Claude Monet.

Day 20 (10 July 2018) - Sunlight and Basswood

The photo for Day Twenty is also all about the light.  In this image sunlight filters down through the canopy, shedding light on American Basswood (Tilia americana) leaves.  The sun itself bursts through a gap in the upper right of the image. This image was taken in Mt. Pleasant at Mill Pond Park.

Day 21 (11 July 2018) - Waves of grass

I am constantly drawn to subjects that show pattern and texture.  Choosing a photo for July 11th was difficult.  I traveled north along US 127 to North Higgins Lake State Park for a late afternoon meeting.  Before my meeting I spent a little time exploring the park and came away with images of the lake, pine trees, lichens, etc.  Most of these images focused on pattern and texture.  In the end, I selected this image because of the suggested wavelike motion of the grasses.  I could have easily selected three or four other pictures from the day,

Day 22 (12 July 2018) - Blue Vervain

This photo of Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) was taken along the Chippewa River at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.  The individual flowers are small, but each plant can have hundreds of blooms over the course of several weeks in mid- to late-summer.  The sheer abundance of blooms makes this an important nectar source for native bees.  Although none appear in this picture, there were dozens buzzing around this colony of plants.

Day 23 (13 July 2018) - White Water Lily with native bee

My final picture of the week shows a native bee collecting pollen from a White Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata).  I took about two dozen of pictures of this exact flower at the beginning of a walk through Mill Pond Park this morning.  I came back near the end of my walk and there was a bee on the flower.  One picture and the bee was gone...

Monday, July 9, 2018

Our home is a giant nest box...

We have a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) nesting on roof bracket at the corner of our front porch.  Its nest is on top of an old American Robin nest on top of another American Robin nest.  Mourning Doves are not the best nest builders.  Building on top of an older nest is a common strategy.  In fact a Mourning Dove nested in the same location last summer.

Some of their nest material choices are questionable.  Like using a Honey Locust branch with 2 - 3 inch thorns as part of the nest lining...

So far this year we have had two nests of American Robin chicks (on another roof bracket) and one nest of House Finches (in a hanging fern) fledge from our house.  Right now, in addition to the Mourning Dove, the House Finch pair is building another nest in the other hanging fern!

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Days of Summer - Day Ten through Day Sixteen

This is the second installment of my Days of Summer photo project.  To read about the project and see the first installment click here.

Day 10 (30 June 2018) - Wheatfield

Agriculture may not be the first thing that you think of when you hear the word Michigan, but it is one of the leading industries in the state.  This image of a ripening field of wheat was taken along the border of Isabella County and Gratiot County.  I spent the morning at Forest Hill Nature Area photographing wildflowers in a restored grassland.  Deciding to take a different route home, I passed by this field a couple of miles from Forest Hill.  I've been admiring wheat fields for the past several weeks, but never found one that I could easily photograph.  Stopping here was a no-brainer.

Day 11 (01 July 2018) - Ragged Fringed Orchid

This photo was taken at the Williamston Township Community Park in Ingham County, MI.  I stopped at this park to revisit an older grassland restoration that I have photographed several times over the years.  A pair of Ragged Fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) was my reward.

Day 12 (02 July 2018) - Moss Sporophytes

Mosses are small; thus they are easily overlooked.  For those that take the time to notice them, they are well worth the effort.  One of the best books I have read in recent years is about moss.  These white balloon-like structures are reproductive bodies known as sporophytes.  When conditions are right, they will each release hundred or thousands of spores into the world.  We often associate mosses with shady woodland habitats, but these mosses were growing on bare sandy soil on land owned by Shepherd Public Schools.

Day 13 (03 July 2018) - Last of the Brood

This Days of Summer project means that I have to photograph something every day.  It means I have to get outdoors and away from my desk.  Fortunately Isabella County has lots of public land within a short drive of my office.  This picture of a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) with a single poult (chick) was taken at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.  Seeing a hen with only a single chick raises so many questions.  Was this the only egg that hatched?  Were the other eggs stolen by predators such as raccoons? Did predators get the rest of its nest mates?

Unlike most of my photographs, this image has been edited.  It has been cropped from the original size (about 50%) and the highlights have been toned down to bring some of the color back into the image.

Day 14 (04 July 2018) - Curious Fawn

The Fourth of July found me exploring the Maple River State Game Area.  This curious White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn wanted to check me out up close.  Unlike the previous picture, this one has not been cropped.  The fawn was that close and approaching closer.  It probably would have allowed me to touch it if I hadn't shooed it away into the woods.

Day 15 (05 July 2018) - Great Spangled Fritillaries

Yesterday I visited the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve for about an hour in the middle of the day.  Mid-day may not be the best time for photography, but the heat of the day does bring out the pollinators.  I was luck to spot this pair of mating Great Spangled Fritillaries (Speyeria Cybele).

Day 16 (06 July (2018) - Chicory Flowers 

My final photo for the week is of a pair of Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) flowers.  This photograph was taken at the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum early this morning.  Originally from Europe, Chicory is a common roadside plant in Mid-Michigan.  Even though this plant is not native to North America, it is well-behaved and likes roadsides and other waste places.    This is one of my favorite flowers to photograph.  The pale blue color is absolutely beautiful.  You have to get up early to photograph Chicory, by mid-day the flowers have closed up tight.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Field Trip - Maple River State Game Area

Yesterday (04 July 2018) I took a short trip to the Maple River State Game Area (MRSGA).  I have lived in Mid-Michigan for the majority of my life, but I have never visited MRSGA before despite driving through part of it hundreds of times.  I grew up in the area and hunted and fished in several State Game/Wildlife Areas as a youth, but because MRSGA has been managed primarily for waterfowl and I have never been a duck or goose hunter so this area was mostly not on my radar.

With no other plans for the morning I decided it was finally time to explore the area a little.  My trip took me to a part of the game area known as the East Unit (Wetlands Wildlife Management Unit).  This Unit is located on both sides of US-127 between St. Johns and Ithaca.  The East Unit is further (confusingly) subdivided into smaller sections also known as units.  The highway itself separates Unit A on the west side of the road from Unit B on the east side of the road.  Several other Units stretch further east from Unit B including a Wildlife Refuge that is closed to the public from September 1st to December 1st. 

There is a parking lot located along US-127 at the northwest corner of Unit B.  This is where I began my visit.  Unit B like most of these other units is enclosed by a series of dikes that allow the water level to be raised or lowered on a seasonal basis.  I walked east along the dike on the north edge of the unit to the dike that separates Unit B from the Wildlife Refuge and followed that dike south.  I returned to my truck by the same route.

The berm along the north edge of Unit B

Along the east edge of the unit is a wood observation tower.  This tower is actually visible from the highway.  The tower was my goal of my hike.  For some reason I didn't take any photos of the tower, but I did take several of the view from the top.  There is also a handicap-accessible ground blind along the North boundary of Unit B.  The view right now consists entirely of tall cattails; I did not take any photos from there.

The view South from the observation tower - berms and a ditch can be seen on the left of the image

Southeast - a better view of the ditches and berms that mark the edges of the Units

West-northwest - the highway is the white line on the horizon

East - looking across the Wildlife Refuge

It didn't seem like it at the time, but I was able to see and photograph a surprising amount of wildlife.  This included butterflies such as Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas).  I also saw several species of Skippers, a Fritillary, and a bunch of small brown butterflies with eyespots on their wings including Wood Nymphs (Cercyonis pegala).


Eastern Tailed Blue

I also saw lots of birds.  A partial list includes Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) , Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), Great Blue Heron (Ardia Herodias) , Green Heron (Butorides virescens), Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Red-winged Blackbirds in a drowned tree
Red-winged Blackbird on cattail
Juvenile Bald Eagle being chased by Red-winged Blackbird

Cedar Waxwing

American Goldfinch

Green Heron

A young Wood Duck runs across the water to hide in some cattails
In one of the ditches I noticed a schools of smallish (6-8 inch) Large-mouthed Bass and Bluegill sunfish.

I also saw several White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) including this buck. 

I also had a fawn run up to me and approach within ten feet.  I'm not sure why it came up to me, except maybe curiosity.  It saw me well before it approached.  I shooed it away when it got too close, but I was able to get several good photos before it ran into the woods.

I plan to go back to Maple River State Game Area, but probably not until next spring.  I want to see if I can photograph some of the thousands of migratory waterfowl that pass through every year.