Last weekend I paid a visit to the Allegan forest, to see what’s up with the dragonflies. It is amazing how in a few years the game area has been diminished. Obviously, the old farmstead is gone for good. But then I think of some of the forest clearings that I used to visit - between 46th and the river. They too are gone due to logging. Another favorite spot is also corrupted, as some nutter has mounted a pickup truck camper on poles in a clearing, and is trying to live back in the woods. Oh well – a few years ago a someone else was living out of his car not far from this spot, and he’s moved on after a few weeks. They always do.
Timing wasn’t ideal. I couldn’t get to the woods till mid afternoon on Sunday, and they were crowded and full of people. I say at least 5 people in the few hours I spent there – I miss the days when I could wander off and not see a soul till I got back on the highway. That late in the day dragonflies tend to settle into cover, but I found a few.
I had expected to see blue dashers, but only a few immature individuals were to be found. Here’s the first blue dasher of the season:
True to past years, Clubtails were abundant in the fields north of the river. This individual looks like a Splendid Clubtail, though I think I’ve indentified similar dragons as Rapids Clubtails, but the marks on the tail look like those of the Splendid. A couple photos:
Lastly – an immature or female Dot-Tailed Whiteface:
Thursday afternoon. As I walk across a parking lot, a dot tailed whiteface dragonfly darts it front of me. He land on a bright yellow parking line – fully mature, with an ebony body, one vibrant yellow dot on his tail, and a face as white as snow. I bent down to look at him, but he dashed off to the next yellow line. As I approached he dashed off once more – again to the next yellow line. And so we traversed the parking lot.
I haven’t seen many dragons this spring, so Sunday morning I went to the McClendon Trails to do something about that. The grass trails are built up around a well field that provides municipal water. It is ideal Odonate habitat- clean spring fed streams spill into a large shallow marsh, surrounded by acres of open grassland.
It was cool when I arrived – temperatures around 55F – but shortly after getting to the trails I was greeted by this Common Baskettail:
Common Baskettail Dragonfly
Common Baskettail Dragonfly
That was a nice start, but thing slowed down for a while. The next hour brought few dragonflies, though I wandered by the creek and marsh and observed numerous Crescentspot and Red Admiral butterflies. As the temperatures rose, a few damselflies became active, and I managed to get this shot of a an Eastern Forktail:
Eastern Forktail Damselfly
That was shot on the edge of a small wooded area – old apple trees mixed with scruffy pines and maples, remnants of the farm that once was there. A small clearing a few yards away provided the next opportunities – here’s a Four Spotted Skimmer, a species that is considered quite common but that I rarely see:
Four Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly
I’m a little disappointed in that shot - I had high hopes for it as I pressed the shutter button. Aside from the partially missing leg (something not obvious in the camera finder) I managed to clip just the tip of the wing in this exposure, which turns out to be the only really sharp shot of this subject. (It was bouncing around in the breeze.) Oh well – it’s a not a bad start for the season.
Following that, I encountered this last dragon of the day – I’m not sure what it is. The gap between the eyes suggests a Clubtail – family Gomphidae – but otherwise my field guides come up dry. The yellow marking on the second segment of all 6 legs is particularly distinctive.
Dragonfly season has begun – belatedly this year, but it is here now. More shots to come in the weeks ahead.
I visited Chicago earlier this week, mostly to sign books on Monday at the International Reading Association convention at McCormick Place. Tuesday and Wednesday were devoted to museums and otherwise hanging out. The Eggleston and Vernacular Photography exhibits at the Chicago Art Institute are highly recommended.
After the Chicago visit we moved on into Iowa and spend a few days there. I visited Stone City, famous from the Grant Wood painting, but was disappointed. It, like all other places, did not look as glorious in real life.
Well – here’s a couple of photos of a place – the city of Chicago. Taken from my hotel room (Chicago Hilton, 22nd floor), we have sun rise and sun set on the city on Tuesday, April 27, 2010.
Visiting the Allegan Forest a couple of weeks ago, I wandered through a field just starting to turn green. It’s a place where RV’s congregate during deer season, and the remnants of campfires dot the landscape. The cold, black scars were a flutter with dancing spots of blue - spring azure butterflies coming to suck up the minerals and nutrients found in the charred wood.
And so a photo of a spring azure, taken April 10, 2010.
Yesterday I visited the Dowagiac Woods for the first time this year. The wildflowers are in full bloom – late in their progression even. The False Rue Anemone, Wood Anemone, Spring Beauty, Bellwort, and Trillium are out in force. Hepatica has come and gone.
Photographing spring wildflowers has been a project for the last few years. I’m letting it go this year – too many other commitments and a desire to do something different. But two weeks ago I did pause on a river bank in the Allegan Forest, and snap these two shots of Hepatica, poking out of the sandy soil.
And that’s it for 2010.
It’s a tradition, I guess. If one person alone can have a tradition. Each spring I try to get a photo of a honey bee in a crocus flower. Sometimes it works out… sometimes not.
This spring presented me with a narrow window of opportunity. This spring is robust and early, and the crocuses bloomed all at once in mid March, in response to several days of mild weather. But as the flowers were out in their peak, a cold snap, heavy frost, and a bit of wet snow wiped them out. They came and they went all in a matter of days.
I spent only one session out in the lawn, chasing honey bees. This shot is passable, but not great:
And along came a fly, and perhaps I did a bit better, capturing it in all its putrid glory:
Well, that officially kicks off the insect phtography season for another year… The dragonflies can’t be far off.
Jah is I light and salvation,
whom shall I fear?
Jah de protector of I life,
of whom shall I be afraid?
Dreadlocks At Moonlight, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
The equinox has come and gone. Michigan’s mild winter slips easily into spring. The snow melts, the plants green, the flowers bloom.
I head out to the high banks area in the Allegan forest. There, some of the banks that face due south are the first to thaw and produce hepatica and other spring wildflowers. And sure enough, the first hepatica has broken out of the ground cover and few have started to bloom. It’s early, even for them. Snow still clings to the northern slopes and clear evening still drop well below freezing, but they will be out soon.
I also visit the fields along 48th Ave, which used to be my main destination. The logging activities have taken their toll, and places I used to visit are completely gone. Obliterated.
The seasonal pond is still there – still flush with water and hosting various water fowl – but all around it the logging activities continue. The trees that have been felled have been dragged through the fields to a staging and processing area on the north end. There, huge rows of logs are hauled away, a dozen at a time, by a steady flow of semi trucks. Dragging the trees across the field has completely stripped away the top soil. The tall grass, scrubby oak, prickly pear cactus, wild strawberries and grapes are gone forever. So too are the small creatures that lived in the grass land – the blue racers, fowlers toads, chipmunks and tree frogs. It will take years for the area to recover, once the logging stops, and I doubt I will ever again see it the way it was.
A few shots of how it is now:
A a shot I took some time ago, and on impulse named “Tribute.” Maybe its my tribute to the place this is now gone:
But the pond has not silted up, and the dragonflies will emerge from it this spring. If not from there, then elsewhere. And they will fly over the barren field, uncaring, indifferent, and ancient.
Belatedly - the Signature Artist Cooperative has a group exhibit at the Portage Public Library, in neighboring Portage, Michigan. The theme of the show is “Renewal.”
I’m not doing much of anything with exhibits at this point in time - I let the deadlines on all of the early year entries slide away. But, I managed to conjure up this piece for the Portage show. You might have seen in before - from last summer.
We had a really good snow one evening last week - and the result was almost 20 decent snowflake photographs - I’m still processing the raw files. Here’s a sample:
I’ve been remiss in posting snow crystal photos here, so here’s a quick roundup of some of the better shots so far from this winter.
I just prepped the raw file for this one today, so it is my current favorite:
The red filter came through more as a red spatter on that photo.
The aperture blades jammed on the trusty old Pentax M50 f4 macro lens that I use for these shots, and in the thick of shooting last week I switched over to an M50 f 2.0 - a lens considered to be relatively unremarkable. As you can see by the shot above, it holds its own regarding sharpness. (I have since found the adapter ring that is needed to use a Sigma 50mm EX macro on the setup, and will be using that in the future.)
I’ve made several changes to the technique for shooting these. First off, I’ve finally ditched my old Pentax *ist-D and started using the newer Pentax K7 for these shots. The drawback is that it does not suppport TTL autoflash. It’s not a big deal to shoot with manual flash with the histogram etc.
Here’s another recent shot:
I’ve been using a red and blue ‘filter’ (actually just the clear plastic covers from holidy LED bulbs) on the flash. In the photo above the two colors blended together to make a more or less purple tone. Here are a two examples of where the colors remained distinct:
Here’s an earlier shot where the colors melded nicely:
In this case, the snow crystal landed on its side. It was tiny, but I liked how it suggested a side view of a falling crystal - a little negative space on the top and there you go:
The snow has been uncooperative for most of this winter. It has snowed relatively little for Michigan - it all seems to be falling in the mid-Atlantic this winter. When it does fall it is often opaque and fluffy - I call it effervescent. The opaque parts look fluffy white when viewed in daylight, but come out dark when backlit:
And lastly - just a couple of garden variety snow crystals:
It it snows more I’ll try to take more photos, and if successful I’ll post them here.
The Story of Snow is featured in today’s USA Today’s Book Roundup - in an article entitled Weather the Winter with a Picture Book. The book is described as “an artistic science lesson about the rise and fall of snow crystals.” The article also features Carl’s Snowy Afternoon by Alexandra Day, Life in the Boreal Forestby Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin and Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
You can read the on-line version here:
Last night I spoke at the Grand Rapids Camera Club and provided a demo of how to take snow crystal photo. The turnout was great with well over 100 people in the room, and it was a lot of fun. A splendid time was had by all.
The presentation is a bit of a stroll down memory lane and the evolution of the process I use to take snow crystal photos. Of course, it starts at the beginning, with the very first snow crystal shots I managed to make. Here they are - from the winter of 1998/99. It was my second or third try at it, only very small crystals were falling, and on a wing and prayer I snapped a few shots with a high magnification setup, manual flash, and ancient Spotmatic film camera. I was really happy with the results, but it was the end of the season and there were no more opportunities that winter.
It took me a few more years till I was able to duplicate these results, but these photos gave me the inspiration to keep on trying…
I’ve been posting more in the Story of Snow blog these last few weeks, so if you are interested in what’s happening with the book or in some fastinating articles about frost by Jon Nelson, hop over there - the url is:
A nice lake effect snow blew in early this morning to greet the new year. I spent a little time photographing out in the garage. It’s a new year so I tried a couple of new ideas for lighting the snow crystals - this one worked! Not much else to show for the morning’s shoot, and by 10 a.m. the snow had stopped and has not yet returned. Hopefully there will be more chances later this weekend.