Monday, April 30, 2012

Artwork--"Cattail King"

If you've ever wondered why I don't post all that often, this is part of the reason why--I'm actually working!

"Cattail King" Colored pencil and ink on Bristol board, 14" x 7"

This drawing of an Eastern kingbird was made from a bird I watched and photographed last year at one of the lakes in the Brighton Rec Area, perhaps Chenango.  Lori and I were out doing a little birding one spring morning.  I remember there was a family of Hairy woodpeckers in a dead tree near us but the hole was on the marsh side of the tree and I couldn't see them very well.  In any case I noticed this kingbird flitting about catching bugs out over the water so photographed it instead.

This is only my second attempt at doing background and so far I am happy with the results.  For a subject that is more in a scene (versus my more portrait-like pieces) I think I will continue to add background.  Otherwise there's too much white and I feel now that it too stark.

This week we'll be getting ready for our Open House, coming up this weekend on May 5th.  Hopefully I'll have time to start a new piece, but I might not get back to the studio until next week.  Hmmm, what should I do next....

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why We Pull Garlic Mustard

It is good to be reminded once in a while why we do the back-aching work of invasive species control.  I've been out to "our" swamp in the woods of the Brighton Rec Area several times already this year, but I was not prepared for the burst of life I saw when Lori and I went out to pull garlic mustard yesterday.  We have, it seems, hit our peak.

I have never seen trillium in the numbers I've seen this year.  Whether that's due to the mild winter or a lack of deer browse or both I don't know.  In the past they had generally been concentrated in one area, what we call Trillium Hill, with a smattering of plants in the surrounding area.  This year though there's easily several acres of them, and we started to see them much farther up the trail as we were approaching the swamp.  Jack-in-the-pulpit are extra plentiful too, as are wild geranium, which have just started to bloom in the higher, dryer areas along the trail.

Trilium Hill

Here are some of the other reasons we manage this precious woodland area:

Early meadow rue


Maidenhair fern, just beginning to unfurl

Miter wort (better photo than my last post)

Downy yellow violet

Solomon seal

There are many organizations that are in need of volunteers to help manage and restore lands.  If you want to make a difference, Google "stewardship program" or "invasive species control" in your area, and get off the computer and out in the woods!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Peepers and Polygonia

When you work slowly through the woods you have an opportunity for some chance encounters with its residents.  Birds of course are plentiful near the swamp, and I often see a Pileated woodpecker in the area.  A few weeks ago I had a white tailed deer trot past quite close while I sat on a log taking a break, and last week a Barred owl hooted twice from very near.

This day though the visitors where quite a bit smaller.  As I worked though the area between the swamp and the marsh I noticed quick movement out of the corner of my eye.  I stopped and looked closely, finally finding this spring peeper.  I was surprised by its light gray color.  I haven't read that they change color based on their surroundings but...

Spring peeper--no bigger than my thumb nail.

...when I came across another in the leaf litter that was very brown I had to wonder.

Spring peeper--notice the "X" on its back.

So many of the spring flowers were in bloom it was difficult to make note of them all.  The tiny flowers of this miterwort (or Bishop's Cap) was back lit by the sun.


Fiddleheads were everywhere too, and I saw many interrupted ferns emerging.

Interrupted fern

The delicate bloom of the bellwort swayed in the wind.

Bellwort (or wild oats)

Not sure why but there has been an explosion of red admiral butterflies this spring.  They are literally everywhere, even at home.  I had one bounce off my forehead when I went out to the van late one evening last week.  I must have seen a hundred along the path.

Red admiral

I was very excited to catch this question mark butterfly.  I haven't seen one in quite some time.  While a bit tattered, it's still a beauty.

This butterfly has a great Latin name: Polygonia interrogationis

I need to get back out to the woods to do some more garlic mustard pulling, but it has been quite windy, and I tend to stay out of wooded areas in high winds.  There have been a lot of trees down, especially in that area, and I don't want to chance getting bonked on the head!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trillium Gets Pollinated

Back near the marsh in the Brighton State Rec Area where we remove garlic mustard, the trillium are just starting to bloom.  Most of the plants are small yet, but I found this one growing in front of a rotting log, a nice warm sunny spot to get a head start.  I loved the bright white and green against the black and browns of the log so I stopped to take a few shots.

When I looked a little closer I noticed a small bee tucked deep inside among the stamens.

I'd say she's doing her pollinating job very well!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Springtime Forest

 It doesn't get any better than this.

No, really.  It just doesn't.  Sixty-five degrees, clear blue sky, light wind.  Owls hooting, woodpeckers tapping, rills chuckling as they flow to the marsh from the small swamp.  Butterflies everywhere (a huge hatch of red admirals this year), and tiny spring peepers hopping through the leaf litter. 

Spring is such a fabulous time of year, and even after the mild winter we've had, it is a joy when the world begins to awaken in earnest.  Leaves emerged and flowers bloomed a month ago after several weeks in the 60's, 70's and 80's--as much as 40 degrees above average.  But the cold returned, and with it some freezing weather, and the world hung in this odd state of suspension, tiny leaves waiting for the warmth to return before resuming their growth.  I've never seen anything like it.

Because of the mild winter and early spring, our quest to remove invasive plants has needed some rescheduling.  We had to stop cutting shrubs like autumn olive and glossy buckthorn early (can't apply herbicide when the sap is rising) and start pulling garlic mustard instead.  In many places it's already blooming.

The good thing about doing this work is it gets me out into the woods when the woods are at their grandest.  There is nothing quite like those few weeks in spring when sunlight streams down through still bare trees to warm the ground and the ephemerals push out of the duff for their moment of glory.

Sensitive fern fiddleheads

We've been working in the area around the swamp for five years or so, removing garlic mustard and multi-flora rose, steadily pushing it away from what to my eye is a high quality area.  Nowhere else in these woods have I found an area so full of native plants.  Whatever the land here was used for--crops, cattle--this area around the swamp must have been too wet to plow and as a result the native plants survived.

May apple emerging
I walked an area to the east of the trail back to the marsh where I'd never been before.  Much wetter than some of the surrounding woods it was full of plants that prefer rich damp soils, like goldenseal, a plant I had not seen before.  I could hardly walk without stepping on something, and I found myself hopping from log to rock, camera in one hand and a bag full of garlic mustard in the other.  Fortunately I didn't find much of the invasive in this area--maybe it's too wet.

Horsetail rush

Rue anemone between wild geranium leaves

It's so nice to have a place to go where I can immerse myself in its the beauty, instead of feeling dread and disgust from all the invasive, non-native plants.

Canada mayflower

Northern blue violet

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spoonbill Surprise

(Florida 2012 Continued--Remember--click on any image to see a slide show of larger images)

While we stood around watching the American Avocets, Lori pointed out a pink shape in the sky, flying right towards the pond from the east.  I looked up to see a lone Roseate Spoonbill gliding in over the trees. 

The bird had barely touched the water when it began feeding, swinging its great bill back and forth through the shallow water before it had even tucked in its wings.

We watched, fascinated.  None of us had ever been so close to a spoonbill before.

To our delight, it began moving directly towards us, skirting a small group of Blue-winged Teals.

The spoonbill waded closer and closer until it was no more than 20 feet away.  By this point it had drawn quite a crowd of birdwatchers, the avocets having lost their shine with this colorful bird putting on such a show.

 I eventually had to turn the camera vertically to get the whole bird in the frame.

The two sexes are nearly identical, so I have no way to know if this was a male or female. Info on Wikipedia says that they have a pink patch on the upper breast when breeding, so I guess this one is mated or looking for one.  They nest in trees, which I think is a remarkable feat for all of the long-legged birds who do the same.

We watched this amazing creature for I don't know how long before it finally moved off down the shore, and we moved along too, still having much of the drive to cover.  This is certainly one encounter we won't soon forget.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

American Avocets!

 (Florida 2012 Continued)

After the thrilling sighting of Painted Buntings at the Merritt Island NWR Visitor's Center, we drove out to the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  As I mentioned before, the whole point of going to Florida in February was to be there before the marsh was drained so we could see scads of waterfowl, like I had several years ago when I made a solo trip down south.  Several lakes and ponds along the main road were chock full of ducks, but there is no where to stop, so we continued on to Black Point.

Right inside the gates a gorgeous Tri-colored Heron was fishing in the shallows near the road.  It was still quite windy, and his plumage was blowing in the wind.

Not too far into the drive we came upon ten or so cars pulled off to the side and a large group of folks with glasses and cameras pointed toward a pond on the right side of the road.  We pulled over and joined the group.  I didn't see many birds here, some teals and shovelers and a handful of herons, and this cluster of birds which, at first glance, I honestly thought were seagulls, proof that I am an amateur birder. In my defense I did think it odd that the gulls were there--I'd never seen gulls in the refuge before, but for whatever reason I am not all that interested in gulls and so did not look very closely or for very long.

Notice how the wind, blowing from left to right,
has flattened the backs of their heads.

I took the above picture, then watched some of the other birds for a while.  I was still perplexed, however--what the hell were these people looking at?

Then I saw one of the "gulls" walking near a small group of snoozing sandpipers. I noticed right away its long legs and slender, upturned bill, and realized my error.  

These were American Avocets!

I have always wanted to see an avocet.  The long, up-curved bill, white body and buffy head, powder blue legs....  Just a well-put together bird I guess.  I was so excited to add this bird to my life list.  I won't bore you with a bunch of photos, as they weren't really doing much, but oh what a treat!

The late afternoon light, filtered through the smoke of
wildfires in Brevard County, was perfect.

We eventually began making our way along the drive.  We had a ways to go and it was already getting late.  I caught this American coot walking across the mud in front of an immature Tri-colored Heron--I've never seen a coots legs before! 

I had to include a shot of this Great White Egret.  How absurd they look with their necks extended.

We came across a few more avocets, but the bird in the back with the big white breast and brown head caught my attention--a Northern Pintail tucked amongst the teals.  I have a hard time with Latin names, but I think Anus acuta will stick with me.

We found this pair of Blue-winged Teals off by themselves.  The female snoozed while her mate showed of his name-sake blue wing.

 We saw a lot of wading birds but not much in the way of waterfowl.  I was very disappointed.  I wonder if the mild winter kept them from having to come so far south, or if they had left already.  At any rate I was happy to have seen the avocets, and it was a beautiful evening to be out enjoying the birds, regardless of their heritage.

As you come close to the end of the drive you enter alligator alley.  I think perhaps the water is deeper here in the channels next to the road, and there are always sizable gators.  This day was no exception as I saw one of the biggest gators I've ever seen at the park, a stout ten footer resting in the evening light.

As I shot the alligator I noticed a few coots swimming directly towards it.  I thought we might see some drama but the coots noticed the gator in time to give it a wide berth!

 Next (and last Florida) post:  Roseatte Spoonbill up close!