Even though we’ve had a lot of rain this “spring”, the water levels in the vernal pools is way down. I didn’t get exactly the same positions as before, but close. Check out how green it is though!
The light was a little different this time out. It was sunny with some drifting clouds and so it was really bright, but I did my best to shoot when the hot spots were dialed down and I think it really pops. I love the ferns and overhanging branch in this next shot. I think they add an intimacy and closed in feeling that the early shots didn’t.
Because I was suited up with lots of good bug repellent, I decided to explore a little bit and found some pools I hadn’t noticed on prior trips. This one is near the one above, but behind it. You can tell by the fact that there isn’t much growing right in it that it comes back again and again and is probably pretty wet all the time. The ferns are mostly ostrich and royal.
I got a little turned around in the woods, but little wonderful ‘scapes just kept presenting themselves and I’ve discovered that maybe I was wrong that vernal pools are hard to showcase well. This one seemed set up to be photographed – the flanking trees, the intense greenery surrounding it – just perfect.
It was a good outing and I’m glad I braved the bugs. BTW – soaking your clothes in permethrin works! I got a can of it last year, but didn’t use it. This year though because I got so grossed out by a tick invasion I decided to try it. Socks and pants got sprayed and so did my boots and I didn’t get bitten through my pants like I have in the past. I doused myself with deet as well as wore a mosquito net on my head. That made it a little hard to shoot (I missed focus completely on some shots), but it was worth it not to get bitten and driven crazy, which meant I wouldn’t have made another discovery. But that will have to be another post.
On this trip to the pools I played with my polarizer a bit to get different looks at the same scene.
I’ve always found the polarizer an important bit of gear for most of my photography. It has an effect that can’t be duplicated with post processing software and with a little practice and experience, you can produce big changes.
Overhead and under water
And with a little twist we get this –
Isn’t that great? Not only can we see down into the giant cup of tea that is a vernal pool, but those rocks just pop out. I really like both images and I hope this pool stays wet. It hasn’t rained in a while (unusual here in northern Wisconsin) so who knows, but I think the area in the back of the image does stay full to some extent. There is a lot of peat moss back there in addition to the grass, so I think it does.
Here’s a view I quite like of the other pool I’m keeping an eye on.
The downed trees are so great. I imagine turtles basking in the sun, but I doubt it. Vernal pools don’t host those guys year round. Painted turtles need permanent bodies of water, like the Wisconsin and other lakes, ponds and flowages.
When I was there the ferns had just come up and by now must be unfurling. I’ll have to get back over!
After discovering that the woods across the street hosts many vernal pools, I decided to explore further to see if I could find a couple that I could work with over the course of the weeks or months they stay full. So far I found two, possibly three that will work. And boy are they popular. Lots of deer scat and frog song.
I need to wear some tall boots to get into these properly and explore what looks like a tiny sedge meadow in the back of that first picture.
Things are moving slowly this spring, but at least the snow has melted. I have a feeling the view in the shot above will be something I return to as the pond develops. Even though I have no exact plan for how I want to shoot these, I want to try to show them in all their messy glory. This includes some unusual views –
And smaller slices. I love the way the sun lights up these tufts of grass. I forgot my medium telephoto zoom so shot this with the legacy Olympus macro lens. It works just as well out of macro mode.
No ferns were up yet when I shot these (April 19), but I’ve been back over since and they are up now. Cinnamon fern for sure and possibly Royal fern, but it’s too early to tell. Also I didn’t notice any egg masses, but I’m sure there will be some soon when the critters start getting serious.
I have long had a love of vernal pools. Almost every time I see or hear one near a trail I go to take a look. They come in many shapes and sizes, and not all will last through the season, but all are important to wildlife during breeding season. Especially invertebrates and amphibians. How wonderful is the sound of a poolful of spring peepers? It’s one of the best parts of spring.
What is a vernal pool? It is a temporary body of water often created by melt and rain water in spring. Sometimes they are called ephemeral ponds. Naturally occurring depressions collect this water but, the important part is that they don’t last. Eventually they dry up.
Some pools are large and run together eventually forming small streams at times. Some are tiny and fleeting –
But they are notoriously hard to photograph. I mean, basically they’re just big puddles with leaves at the bottom and plants hemming them in on all sides. They form in dense woods which can be rather flat which doesn’t get you much perspective. For that first shot I stood on a little hillock to get a tiny bit of elevation which works ok I think. The second was shot from my driveway which is a foot or so above the tiny pool, beside which grow ferns including my beloved maidenhair.
Ferns will be a big part of the landscape so I’ve given some thought to them in terms of the kinds of images I want to make. Reflections. Moss. Logs. Grass. All can be part of what makes a vernal pool vital. Discovering more about them is sure to bring me some surprises.
All of these photos were taken across the street from my house in a bunch of vacant land so it will be easy for me to visit often and document changes. That is the main reason I want to try my hand at this; ease of access. I dread bug season, but I will brave it for the sake of giving it a go. As a matter of fact, as I write this I already have a second visit done and I think I’ve found a couple of pools that will last long enough to show their cycles. I hope I can show how special and interesting these little habitats are. It certainly feels challenging and hopefully my creative spark ignites and I can break out of my rut a little bit.
My ongoing fascination with Indian pipe continues. This first one I almost didn’t see, being hot and sweaty with bug spray running into my eyes, I just wanted a blast of air conditioning in the car. But I went down a little side trail and on the way back, this little beauty appeared.
Background is key to good wildflower photography and so with some careful tripod placement I was able to get the distracting highlights out of the frame. When I shoot Indian pipe, I expose for the highlights, just barely clipping some whites at times, but managing that in Lightroom is key also. Preserving detail, but keeping the bright white takes a little finagling, but it can be done.
Here’s another with a background of green; this time a lovely mossy log. I’d have liked a better angle on the log itself, but that would have meant that some flowers would be sharp while others would be blurry. Lining up the angles is sometimes hard, but I do try. In this case the sensor is so much smaller than the scene and it wasn’t too difficult. A couple of checks in the LCD screen and some tripod shifting and I had the focus I wanted. When the sunlight hit I had a shot I love.
One of my favorite ways to find new conservation land/nature trails is to open up the Gazetteer and see what’s nearby. By coincidence I ended up going to the Prairie Dells scenic area in Merrill which is a place my husband visited, and sent me an iPhone picture from, when he was here scouting the territory after his first job interview. It’s not far from our new house and so off I went.
The area is named for the Prairie River which is a tributary of the Wisconsin River and feeds directly into it further downstream in Merrill. It runs about 40 miles from its source and is one of the few rivers in Wisconsin that is no longer dammed. This nature preserve is the result of the removal of a large dam that was on this site. When it came down in the early 1990s the enormous granite ledges were exposed and that’s where the dell part of its name derives.
While it might be a relatively uncommon landscape here in Wisconsin, walking around the exposed outcrops and granite ledges was a lot like New Hampshire. Pretty much all the hiking you do there involves granite boulders and most of the streams and rivers have been carving gorges for themselves for centuries. Still it was beautiful and I found plenty to photograph.
The trails wind through mixed forest that was starting to fade from its springtime lushness. Where we are in northern WI is just above the 45th parallel which marks the halfway point between the north pole and the equator (although not technically due to the Earth’s little bulge). It means the summer heat is cut a little bit on both ends of the calendar by a week or two as compared to southern NH. It was breezy and the dappled sunlight made things pop on the ground and in the canopy.
Whether because of this slightly shorter growing season or just out of sheer joy of wilderness, northern WI seems to be the mushroom and wildflower capital of the universe. I found so many of both this year that I could hardly make any miles for getting down and photographing another small wonder.
Some were new species for me and some were old favorites.
This particular preserve is right off highway 17 and so traffic noise is still audible even deep into the trail system, but overall it is quieter than most anywhere in NH. The biggest difference is that there is no noise from planes, something relatively common in southern NH where the largest airport is. Since I was at Prairie Dells I’ve visited other, more remote trails and there the silence really reigns.
Eventually the trail sort of petered out and so I headed back, visiting the three viewing platforms closer to the trailhead and parking area. I even climbed down into the gorge a bit to see how close I could get to the river itself. Not very as it turned out, but there were still treasures to be found.
Another that is not elusive in the sense that it’s rare, but that I’ve always had lousy timing with it and this year was no exception. I think given more time I’d have found lots of it blooming at once, but as it was I found one single flower among hundreds of plants. It was pretty funny actually and I endured the mosquitoes at Bradford Bog in order to capture its solitary loveliness.
Clintonia is also called bluebead lily (for the longest time I thought it was bluebeard lily and couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it would be called that, then I put on my glasses). Bluebead makes a lot more sense. Lilies produce seed pods after the flowers are pollinated and the ones this flower makes are apparently true blue; a relative rarity in the natural world. Its other name is in honor of DeWitt Clinton who was governor of New York from 1817 to 1822 and again from 1825 to 1828. The Erie canal was built during his terms. I’m not sure what he did to have a flower named for him, but there are worse things.
I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I hadn’t gone off trail to photograph a painted trillium, which despite their ubiquity, I cannot resist. Lucky for me since this single flower was just yards away. Seriously it was the only one. I looked and looked. Nope. Just one early bloomer.
One of these days I hope to photograph a mass of them since that’s how they grow. The trouble is they bloom during the most intense part of mosquito season and the onslaught is really vicious. They have a quiet beauty though. The petals are pale yellow and rise gracefully from a pair, or sometimes a trio, of large, light green leaves which are similar to trout lily and sometimes people mistake them for lady slipper. Trout lily leaves are smaller and mottled with brown or tan, while lady slipper leaves are fuzzy and ribbed.
Despite the horde of bloodsuckers who tormented me all the while I shot, I enjoyed being there and like the results. Mostly it was from the changeable light and the fact that I was in an Atlantic White Cedar swamp, one of my favorite ecosystems and one I will probably not encounter again for a long time.
While out photographing ferns in their fiddlehead stage, I noticed that some trillium were up along the trail as well. No flowers yet, but I figured they were the usual purple or painted varieties that I’ve photographed before. Returning a week later I was a bit surprised to find they still weren’t blooming. Being the smarty pants I am, I went in for a closer look and wow, another elusive wildflower is elusive no more.
Nodding trillium gets its handle from its Latin name – Trillium Cernuum, the root cernuus means drooping or nodding. That’s the biggest challenge to photograph these beauties – getting low enough. The plants aren’t nearly as large as purple trillium so getting under them without digging a hole is hard. Lucky for me some of the flowers were growing on a slope leading down to a brook and I could get the camera well below them.
I first found them in the afternoon and while the light was ok, the breeze was a major pain. So I went back the following morning around 7. The sun had just crested the trees and the air was quite still as it usually is that early. I really should get into the woods early more often. It’s quieter than during the busy part of the day (apart from the heavy construction I could hear across the river in Merrimack) and the light is magical.
I keep meaning to put some friction tape on my beanbag and boy I really needed it for this session. The slope I was on was pretty steep and I had a hell of a time getting the camera still. It kept sliding and slipping off the plastic bag. With the aid of sticks (a great tool and always to hand in the woods) I managed to get the camera where I needed it, which was basically on the ground with only the lens propped up at an acute angle on the beanbag. My flippy-swively screen is my best friend in situations like this. A fixed screen would have been flat to the pine needles.
For most of the photos I used my trusty vintage Olympus 90mm macro, but when I found this tall plant with really great leaves I put the wide-zoom back on. I just love the perspective and the sheltering quality those leaves have. Plus there’s some sensitive fern in the lower left. Bonus!
Up from under isn’t the only angle though –
So that’s it, one of my last posts from NH. We close on our new house on June 1. Movers leave the current house on June 9. The funny thing is, my yard in Wisconsin is blanketed in white trillium so next year I’ll have another species for the trillium files!