Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Insect Insanity

Yes, I believe what the media is saying--the weather this year is perfect for insects!  The other day as I was jogging, I had to run through a cloud of them.  (cough, cough)  And I have noticed many more crane flies this year--probably dozens to 100 each morning--on my deck--dead.  Apparently they were attracted to the lights in the house.
They look like mosquitoes,--huge ones at that--, but at least they do not bite humans. Most crane flies do not eat at all; they only mate and then die.  They have six long, slender, fragile legs, but sometimes a leg will be missing--they ARE fragile!   According to my favorite field guide, Kaufman's Field Guide to the Insects of North America,  they are in the Order Diptera which includes the flies, bees and wasps.  Being true flies (as you can tell by the two word name), they have only one pair of wings.  They belong to the family Tipulidae which are often abundant and extremely diverse. 

Because of this superabundance of insects, those species that make their living off of them should do pretty well this year also.  Many species of spiders, birds, amphibians, bats and others will have an ample food supply.

Still, this does not help me when I'm trying to breathe and jog at the same time!  Guess I should keep my mouth shut:)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Learning from Photography

I have always loved the outdoors and observing nature, but my personality is one that goes full speed 24/7 so slowing down in nature is difficult for me.  It is hard to observe nature going 70 mph!  So recently I have discovered that photography is a good way to slow me down.  I am not the only one who feels this way.  A friend of mine recently blogged about the same topic.  See her blog at   http://www.semissourian.com/blogs/davis/entry/47230/
She talks about photographing wildflowers in wild places.  Certainly, flowers are more stationary and an easier subject, so I have tried a little of that--see the white trillium, one of my first photos.

I discovered photography because of blogging.  It seems that all the good blogs have photos, so each time I blog, I try to take a picture to go with it.  Of course, with animals, it is a little harder, so I picked this slow to move box turtle to photograph.  While turtles can move quite fast, this one was not interested in leaving the decomposing mouse it was eating.  That allowed me time to experiment with getting closer and closer.  I must have taken 20 pictures hoping to get a good one.  That's another perk in today's digital world--seemingly unlimited capacity and ability to review the photos instantly.  I tried photographing this turtle from both sides and the front and back just to see which would provide the best photo in my opinion.  I chose this one because you can distinctly see the back foot, lines on the scutes, and coloration.  It was a bright day and the picture would have turned out better with less harsh light of dawn or dusk, but I took advantage of the opportunity when it--and the turtle--appeared.

I am not an expert in nature photography by any stretch of the imagination.  But I like how holding a camera in my hand can slow down the day and consequently provide awesome nature experiences.   I am still learning about getting close ups, lighting, composition and other aspects.  I know there is much more for me to learn and that is exciting too!

The ability to slow down and focus doesn't come naturally to a lot of kids I know either, so putting a camera in a child's hand is an easy way to build that internal focus that is needed to appreciate nature.  The old saying "Stop and smell the roses" is right on.  It certainly can provide an enjoyable experience, one in which you can learn about yourself (like I have) and about nature.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Nature of Nature is Change

This spring has been unusual for most parts of the U.S.  It is no different where I live.  Documenting these unusual times requires close observation and notetaking.  I'm not so good at the notetaking.  So, for me, I like to document changes with pictures.
Recently I visited a stream--a good place to watch the changes in nature.  Immediately, I noticed that the stream is much lower than last year.  So I went back to my photo archives, and yes, it is quite a bit lower this year.  The stream last year (above) had twice the flow rate as this year (below).

These differences are striking.  Which makes me ponder--how can the plants and animals that live in the water tolerate such changing conditions?  It is amazing and marvelous to observe.  I am reminded of the saying "Adapt or Die".  This certainly must be true for these creatures!

I am intent on putting in some picture posts to make it easier to go back to exactly the same places week after week, month after month, year after year to document these changes in a more thoughtful way in the future.  Go to picture post web site, http://picturepost.unh.edu/, to get ideas on how to build these photo stations.

What is certain: nature will change.  What we can do: observe and record those changes.  They are awe inspiring!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Goose Behavior

Last week I was standing by the pond at the Bray Conservation Area watching the geese glide calmly along the pond.  The male and female were accompanied by their 5 newly hatched goslings.  Such a peaceful sight.

All this was to change in just one night.  The morning after I took this picture I returned to find the geese in a panic and no goslings in sight.  I knew, of course, that some predator--a coyote, raccoon or other opportunist, had taken the young in the night.  This is quite remarkable since I know from first hand experience how fiercely the parents defend the nest.
Sad as this must seem,  it is all a part of nature.  The predators must eat too.  However, I also thought of the silver lining-- now I won't have as many goose droppings to avoid when walking along the dam!

But that isn't the end of the story.  I was standing on the dam watching the geese a couple of days later and observed a behavior I had not seen before.  I watched both the male and female dip their heads into the water and bring their beaks up splashing water over their backs.  This odd behavior continued for several minutes.  Suddenly, I understood what was happening.  The male jumped on the back of the female, biting her neck while mating.  Maybe there will be goslings again soon and peace on the pond at Bray.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Turtles on the Move

As I have been driving along the roads, I have noticed the usual uptick in box turtles on the road.  In fact, when the traffic allows, I try to stop and move the animal in its direction of travel.  Or I try to avoid the collision since these accidents are a big hazard for this animal's survival.  Turtles travel a lot this time of year within their established territories looking for food, water, or a mate!  After all, it is spring.
The other day, I found a box turtle in my yard--not unusual.  But usually when I approach a turtle, it retreats into its shell.  With the hinge closed shut, it is hard to observe the animal.  In this case, the turtle was eating and apparently did not want to retreat into its shell with the item and didn't want to drop it.
What was surprising to me was what the turtle was eating.  I know turtles eat lots of things: earthworms, plants, berries, mushrooms.  But this turtle was eating the remains of the unfortunate mouse that our cat had brought home!  As I approached, the turtle stopped but did not retreat into its shell.  I got closer, but the turtle did not move.
I returned to the house for just a few minutes.  When I returned, the animal was gone.  These turtles can move fairly fast--as I would have know had I recalled the story of the tortoise and the hare!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My First Post

This is my first post.  I have been toying with the idea of blogging for quite some time.  At times, it seemed that I wouldn't have enough to share, and at others, not enough time.  This spring has been one of those times with so much to share but not enough time to do it.  So I thought I'd dive in anyway.  There is just so much happening this year.

So here I hope to document some of the usual and unusual things I observe in the outdoors.  It occurs to me that I spend a lot of time outdoors but still can see things that are new and different.

And I like to go to new places in the outdoors like Little Grand Canyon in southern Illinois.  My husband and I took a hike there a couple of weeks ago.  It was a strenuous hike down solid, slippery bedrock. Over three miles in length.
But what pure beauty.  Photos just can not capture how awesome this place was.  It was the first trip for us, and we were not disappointed.  Our dog could not climb such steep slopes, so we had to carry her in spots.

We saw many of these white trilliums in bloom.  These are not found in our woods so it was something new and unusual. All in all, it was a great hike and one I would repeat.