Categories: Locations, Annapolis, Chicago, Maryland's Eastern Shore, Michigan, Allegan State Game Area, Allegan Forest, Jordan River Valley, Washington, DC
I spent a good part of last week and the week before on vacation in Washington, D.C.and Maryland.
It was cherry blossom time in the nation’s capitol. I took a few snapshots of the flowers, but on the one day I set aside for walking around and taking photos, I decided instead to work with the digital infrared converted Pentax K10. There were clouds with thin, diffused sunlight - not ideal for IR work but not bad either.
Here’s the Washington Monument - I processed the image with a little sloppy faux digital hand coloring to give it an old fashioned postcard look. I always see photos of the Washington monument and it is always alabaster white. It really isn’t like that.
And here is the Lincoln Memorial. Again, a digital infrared and a faux hand color look in the processing. A few more IR posts from this trip will be forthcoming.
Kalamazoo was in the sweet spot for an ice storm on February 21st this year - just to the north heavy snow fell and just to the south it rained. But here we had a heavy freezing rain that left well over 100,000 homes without electricity. Mine was one of them. Between the oven and the fireplace and a propane heater borrowed from a friend I was able to keep the house warm enough to avoid freezing pipes, if not crabby cats pissed off over being left in the cold - inside.
Here are a few macro snapshots of the ice, taken around my house.
All photos taken with a Pentax K-7 and D-FA 2100mm macro lens.
Well, here we are in late October. I’ve had little time to visit the fields, but fall is well under way and things are going to brown. Here’s a little essay from this July that never made it onto this blog:
There is an interesting place in the Allegan Forest. It is off 44th street, a ways south of 115th avenue. When you drive by on the dirt road you can catch a glimpse of a small parking lot at the end of a little drive, carved out of the forest. If you look closely as you pull in you’ll see a small log wedged in the branches of a pine tree near the entrance, with a moldering orange ball the size of a softball, or a grape fruit, fixed to it.
The parking lot is maybe big enough to accommodate 10 vehicles. It is dry gravel with the scrubby woods pressed close in on the north and the south. Someone dumped a bunch of garbage there, so plastic bottles, cans, scraps of tin foil and shreds of plastic bags adore the edge of the forest. If you look down and it is summer, you will see ants on the gravel. Lots of ants.
There is a small red gate, the kind typically installed by the DNR to close off two tracks and service roads. Behind the gate is a long disused two track, just two parallel bands of gravel with weeds in the center strip growing up 6 feet or more. Near the gate is an old cast iron pipe with a slot cut in the side. Similar pipes are used to this day at state parks and campgrounds - you drop your self-registration paperwork and fees into them.
The abandoned two track runs straight as an arrow into the woods. The trees have been cleared 20 or 30 feet to either side, though here and there a midsized tree has taken hold and is growing right beside the road.
The cleared areas along the side of the road are knee high with grass, knapweed, poison ivy, patches of milkweed and other plants. Huge anthills – domes 8 or 10 feet in diameter – rise up out of the grass. No plants grow on these nests, instead they are perforated with dozens of holes and millions of ants scurry in and out of them. The road extends for over 300 years, and the ant hills rise up every few feet for that entire distance. I imagine it is a huge single colony of ants – but maybe it is a federation of separate ant states. Either way, it pays to walk gingerly and not to stand around idle. Even on the road or the parking lot, you will get the stray ant tickling its way up you leg until it realizes it is stuck, and then the pinprick of its bite.
Thankfully, the ants here in Michigan are all pretty mild. Though it’s not a good idea to walk on the ant mounds and it is a very bad idea to jab a monopod into the soft sand of the ant domes. Take it from me.
Where the two track ends there is a break into a large field on one side. It is open and green and lush this time of year. Visiting it on Saturday, a white tail leapt out of the brush and bounded away gracefully. A moment later two young deer – still with their spotted coats but almost the size of a full-grown adult – bounded off in the other direction.
A couple of small concrete slabs are carved out of the vegetation – foundations form some now long gone buildings – and in a copse of scruffy trees a large sewer pipe stands on end – at least 6 feet in diameter and towering 20 feet or more into the air. I once spoke with a hunter here who referenced “the silo” – but it is a sewer pipe. How it got in this place and on its end is anyone’s guess. Someone – no doubt mystified by its presence here – chipped a hole in the side of it. Too small for a person to get through, you could peer into the inky darkness inside the pipe, if you wanted to.
If you keep going along the path that continues from the two track you’ll go 30 or 40 feet with large trees pressing in on either side, and then come upon a huge field, a few hundred yards long and wide. It is a regular square, carved out of the forest, and this time of year is full of knapweed, prairie grass, and lots of wild strawberries – acres of wild strawberries.
And all along the way there are dragonflies – lots of dragonflies – and their images are recorded here in this post.
Autumn has come upon southwest Michigan like the mist in the morning. In some places it is thick and defines the scene, in others it is barely present and easy to ignore. If you wanted to pretend it is still summer, you could turn your back on the bright red maple and look down a narrow row of trees and see only green.
More subtle signs are more telling. The insects that fly in the fields are like tick marks on the face of a clock, always pointing towards the true time of the season. And of course, I see nothing but Autumn Meadowhawks, and the occasional Buckeye Butterfly.
I visited the old farmstead to see what had become of this field. The logging has stopped and the huge piles of trees have been cleared out. The little parking area that had been rutted by the constant flow of semi-trucks, coming and going to get the logs, was graded and planed to be almost smooth. I stopped and wandered down to the pond. The field was recently mown so there was no tall grass for the dragons to perch upon. But many joined pairs of Autumn Meadowhawks filled the air over the water. More numerous were they than the single dragons, or so it seemed.
Autumn slinks into the season by stealth and strategy. Even though it will be summer for another week yet, the signs of autumn abound. Some are obvious – an isolated tree with a red shock at the tips of its branches, the tree gone over to October already and blazing orange in the warm sun. But most signs are more subtle – greens more pale, foliage more thin, a subtle adjustment to the hues of nature as if the world were ripening, reaching the peak, and then preparing to spoil and rot in fall and winter…
And of course the Autumn Meadowhawks are everywhere, joyous harbingers of fall. They dance in the still strong sunlight of early September, as they will dance in the hollow and weak rays of late November or even early December…
Today I saw nothing but Autumn Meadowhawks, and though their arrival stirs a bit of sorrow in my heart – knowing that the summer is fading – they are still beautiful creatures and just as wonderful as the dragons of spring and high summer.
I shot today in the fields north of the river, in the Allegan Forest, of course. After that, I made my way to some fields off 44th street, just south of the river. In most places, the dull thud-thud-thud of hunters shooting off shotguns was a constant backdrop. The seasons turn…
I made my way down a narrow two track to a nice spot, a place where the lupine blooms in the spring and one of the few places where you can reliably find Karner Blue Butterflies. Everywhere I went the Autumn Meadowhawks were there, and I saw no black legged meadowhawks or skimmers or cruisers, though the common green darners were, of course, abundant. In the little clearing at the end of this two track I snapped this photo of an autumn meadowhawk using the infrared camera. I am disappointed to find no secret messages encoded in infrared ink on the wings of these dragons. In fact, the infrared shots are rather banal. Well, other uses for that camera, and here is an infrared shot of an Autumn Meadowhawk:
Labor Day weekend – the unofficial end of summer - is greeted with a very autumnal shift in the weather in SW Michigan. In the days just before the holiday the temperatures drop into the mid 40’s in the evening and daytime highs stay well in the 60’s. I decided however to take advantage of the fair weather and experiment a bit with the new IR converted camera.
I drive into the Allegan forest from the south, and pull over at a spot off 44th street. The place seems to be little visited – the vestiges of an old two track are faint, with just two gravel bands snaking out into the field. Tall grasses have gown up before the old road and in the center section. They are indeed tall – in some places cane like grass reaches up 7 or 8 feet into the air.
A few yards in and the air is teeming with dragonflies. It’s about 9:30 in the morning – earlier in terms of sunrise than a few months ago . The night before also had been fairly cool. Perhaps I was rousting a horde of sleeping dragons as I wandered into the tall grasses. At any rate, I switched over to the standard camera and started pursuing the dragonflies.
The day was breezy and the sky was full of small fair weather clouds. This resulted in difficult shooting situations – targets swaying in the breeze under changing light – and I missed many shots that day.
Walking through the tall grasses lots of large darners and many smaller meadowhawks took to the air. There were dozens if not hundreds of the dragonflies, and looking around in the dewy grass it was easy to spot lots of the large darners in the vegetation.
Most of the meadowhawks that surfaced appeared to be Autumn Meadowhawks, with their distinctive yellow legs. Other of the red and brown meadowhawks were harder to identify. In addition to the meadowhawks, I encountered a few brown saddle bags.
I ultimately made my way along the two track and into a large field bordered by trees. The field is beautiful this time of year, with acres of golden rod, dried knapweed, and wild strawberries turning red. Here were more meadowhawks, posing on the dried knapweed blooms. Here also were some monarch butterflies, flitting on the golden rod and other sparse flowers.
Summer moves along at its appointed pace. A couple weeks without rain the fields begin to ripen and are tinged with brown. The tall grass quickly turns from green to yellow to brown. Wild strawberry goes red and brown, prickly leaves wilting close to the soil. Looking through the finder of my camera I see red dragonflies with brown backgrounds, where just a few short weeks ago I saw gold or blue dragons with a green backdrop.
I drove into the Allegan Forest with every intent of visiting the logged fields, but on this morning I decide to take an alternative route, and instead of travelling through Otsego and Allegan, I instead headed through Alamo, Gobles, and d Bloomington, to come upon the game area from the south. This route takes you along the back roads (in an area where all of the roads are more or less back roads). Going north on 48th Street I see a little field that I have visited a few times in the past, and realize that it has more or less escaped being logged.
I pulled into the little parking area. Lots of new tree stumps, branches, and piles of wood chips block the parking are off from the rest of the field – new evidence of some logging activity. As I walk into the field I see some deep ruts in the sandy soil, a few bare patches and piles of wood chips, and one rather small pile of branches – maybe about the size of a typical two car garage – that is on top of much older pile of branches left years ago. Overall, the area is still relatively undisturbed.
And so, let’s see what dragonflies are here…
The autumn meadowhawks are making themselves known, but the red meadowhawks of high summer are still the most abundant. Here’s a red Meadowhawk sitting on a dried knapweed bloom, which seems to be lit up before him:
And here is another red Meadowhawk, on another knapweed bloom, with the olive green / brownish fields making a backdrop:
Of course, dragonflies aren’t the only insects of in the late summer field. As always, the American Copper Butterflies – tiny things about the size of a dime – are especially abundant. Here’s one perched on a dried leaf, guarding its tiny kingdom.
Butterflies are not rare in the game area, but I honestly see few monarchs or giant swallowtails in any one place. From time to time, I’ll see spicebush swallowtails in a few numbers, but here in this field this morning I saw many monarchs and quite a few giant swallowtails. The giants managed to elude me, but here are a few shots of the monarchs:
It was a nice Saturday morning in the fields. I never got out of that first field I visited, and never made it to the logged field. I used up my allotted time in this one small field – something I have no complaint about – and drove back south in the early afternoon to retrace my route back home. I thought I had some nice shots of the monarchs and dragons but, meh, a few images that are at best competent is all I found when I downloaded the memory cards. Oh well – it was a nice morning in the wilds.
Here is a parting shot of an autumn Meadowhawk sitting on a pale plant whose name I either do not know or cannot remember, though it is quite popular with the butterflies.
Here we are, in late August. Summer is ripening and beginning to turn. Can the Autumn Meadowhawks be far off?
Not at all – and they greeted me in the forest today, announcing the turn of the seasons as the days march along. Here is the first one I saw, posed elegantly on a thorny branch, showing off it’s yellow legs:
I think the old name for these dragonflies – Yellow Legged Meadowhawks – was more accurate than the new common name – Autumn Meadowhawk. I mean, autumn is over a month away and here they are. And their legs are yellow.
Here’s the second one I saw today – on a dried seed head, quite appropriate:
It is taken five months, but I finally returned to the fields off 48th street today. When I last visited them in March, logging activity had torn them up. (You can see that post here.) Trees were felled in the nearby forest, dragged across the field, and then cut up in a processing station. The entire field was just one huge scar of torn up earth, plants ripped out by the roots, topsoil blown away in the wind.
I’ve driven by regularly since then. One thing about this particular field – you can’t seem much of it from the road. There is a small parking area and one or two breaks in the trees where you can catch a glimpse, but otherwise it is obscured. But I’ve watched the neighboring forest get thinned, the semi’s coming and going with their loads of lumber – sometime waiting on the dirt road for the next chance to load up.
The little parking area where I used to regularly stop is long gone. It became the entranceway for the trucks, and they tore open the road, creating a huge mud puddle at the entranceway. Since no one has been using it, the parking area is now overgrown, and even if you could get through the mud puddle you’d have to plow into dense, four-foot high weeds to park there. So instead, I pulled over on the side of the road and took a little trail into the north west corner of the field. The trail has been there as long as I have visited, but it is now widened and the prairie grasses leading up to have been mown. I guess it is seeing more use as an entranceway to the field these days.
After last spring’s visit, I was expecting the worst – and was happily surprised to see that things were not nearly as bad as I had expected. Here’s a photo of what greeted me as I reached the top of the small hill at the north end of the field:
Huge surprise – things are green! The bare earth has been healed – at least to a degree. What really surprised me is that most of the prairie grasses and plants have returned. If you look at the photos from last march of the turned up soil – now those same places are – mostly – rich with tall grass, scrubby oak, and wild strawberry. Even ironweed and bee baum are in bloom. A wild grape vine that never failed to produce a few nice bunches of grapes was in one hte hardest hit areas - and i was heartening to see it sprawled over the top of the ragweed. Its roots must be deep…
There are still signs of the disruption. There is a pathway along the west side of the field where the soil was most heavily dislocated. The sandy soil was opened up and laid bare time and time again. That area is now brilliant green and full of lush vegetation – ragweed. In years gone by, I’ve noticed very little of this plant in these fields, but those areas that were most heavily churned are choking with it. Remarkably, there is a very clear demarcation between the areas that were repeatedly disrupted, and which are full of ragweed, and the areas that were not, and where the grasses have returned. You can stand with one foot in a mass of ragweed and another on the grass that used to be there. Here’s a shot that show this – taken at the very end of the run, where the trees were dumped to be processed:
Some areas – particularly the crests of small rises in the land – took a bigger hit than others. There are some bare patches of sandy soil , where nothing is taking hold. Lots of small branches twigs form trees also litter the landscape, as do hundreds of pinecones that fell off the trees that were dragged across the earth. These already are crunching away into dust underfoot – most of the brush seems to have been rounded up and dumped into a huge pile at the northeast end of the field.
One victim of the logging activity is the eastern prickly pear cactus. The large patches of cactus are gone – they were right in the path of the greatest activity, and the ragweed is now growing where they were. An isolated sprig or patch of cactus can still be spotted here and there, but it is hard to imagine it ever regaining its hold.
But, overall, the field has endured. There is still a large processing area in the northeast corner, and all the vegetation there is torn up and gone, replaced with muddy roads and piles of logs and brush. But I’d estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the field is more or less intact. I even spotted a few toads hopping around underfoot – I chalked them up as goners where this whole thing started – but they seem to be around still.
So – what is happening at the pond? I can’t call it the seasonal pond any more; it has been a few years since it last dried up in the summer. I trudge down to it and find that it is doing very well. The logging activity has kept people like me away, and that combined with the very wet summer has resulted in the vegetation around the pond really taking off.
The pond itself is doing quite well. The water level is higher than I have ever seen – as I stand at the water’s edge, I see trees 30 or 40 feet away that used to be on dry land. Many of the trees are dead or dying, as the rising water inundates their roots, and they sit in several feet of water year after year.
The frog population also seems to be doing quite well. Dozens of frogs hurled themselves into the water as I walked along the edge of the pond – often crying out “eeeee!” as they jumped ahead. I even saw a splash in the water – way out, beyond any jumping frog – that makes me wonder if fish have arrived in the pond.
And of course, there were dragonflies. Here is a white-faced Meadowhawk, one of the only red meadowhawks easy to identify:
And here is a twelve-spotted skimmer, sitting on a branch near a partially logged area of woods:
I saw other Odonates as well - a few mature male blue dashers - old ones who’s abdomen had turned form blue to pale bluish white. THere were lots of green darners, many unidentified blue darners, and a saddlebags - possibly a Carolina Saddlebags - that buzzed around forever as I waited for him to perch.
Overall, it was a good day in the Allegan forest. After leaving the field off 48th street I visited a few other locations. Off 44th street I managed to get this snap shot of a Monarch Butterfly – the best photo of the day, IMO:
It is Sunday and I’m in the Allegan forest, looking for dragonflies. It’s a calm day, little wind, temperatures mild in the mid 80’s. But there is hardly a dragon to be found. I visit many locales, looking, but only a handful of subjects present themselves.
That is just the way it goes, I guess. Above is an unidentified Meadowhawk, the last photos of the day, presented first here.
Earlier in the week, I was worried that the massive oil spill upstream on the Kalamazoo River – probably the worst in Michigan’s history - would have cascaded down to the Allegan forest by now. But the only signs I see of the spill are yellow vested EPA workers taking water samples off the M89 overpass. Thankfully, the oil has been contained upstream so far, and let’s hope the cleanup efforts keep it from spreading.
But oil or no, I find few dragonflies. I visit fields off 115th Ave, 44th Street, 46th Street, north of the river on 126th Ave, and then back to 48th street. Not much is happening. My goal was to get a shot of a mature male blue dasher before they fade for the season, but I may already be too late. I saw one uncooperative mature female (sorry – no good photos of her) and that was it. Actually, I think I have only seen one mature male Blue Dasher this season – and that while walking across a parking lot. Well – hopefully they will be around for a while.
Otherwise – I was happy to see a few more Band Winged Meadowhawks out and about. Here’s a shot with way too much negative space, but I like it –
And here is a male and a female Band Winged Meadowhawk, in that order:
Despite the dearth of dragonflies, I had a very nice morning and early afternoon out in the game area. I only ran into one person out there, and that was some guy deep in the woods who was cooking up something in a small pot over a little fire – probably just tinkering around with his Sunday brunch.
The one insect I didn’t photograph but that was out aplenty was the European Honey Bee – Apis Mellifera. The Russian Knapweed is in peak bloom (maybe a little past peak) and some of the fields were full of it. In some locations I felt like I was standing in an Apiary – the buzz of the bees was intense and they were everywhere, thousands of them. Not only bees, but lots of butterflies – Monarch, Spice Bush, Tiger Swallow Tails, and several Giant Swallowtails – were feeding on the knapweed.
Knapweed is a nasty invasive – not good food for deer and other herbivores - but apparently the flowers are good enough for pollinators and nectar drinkers. Anyhow – was great to see so many bees around. They really were everywhere and the only time I have heard buzzing like that is when I’ve been near human managed hives, which were nowhere near here. Given the stress that bees have been undergoing, let’s hope this is a positive indicator for them, at least locally here in Michigan.