Well at least I think so!
During the past couple of summers here in Wisconsin I’ve noticed these spiders on the house and garage, but too high up for me to get a good look, much less a picture. So when my husband came in the house and said he saw a red and brown spider on the cement by the remote garage, I headed right out. Almost trod on the poor wee girl.
Ok, so she’s not that wee. With her legs relaxed like in the shot above, she’s about the size of a quarter. Good sized, but nothing like the girls that live on the dock. She was very patient though and a great model, letting me get her best side!
She’s an araneus marmoreus aka marbled orb weaver and according to my book, the females leave their webs up in small trees and bushes (or garages, you know, whatever works) and descend to the ground to lay their eggs. Judging by the somewhat deflated look of her abdomen, this female might have done that recently and is looking for a place to hole up for the winter. Or die. Many spiders die after only one mating season, but fortunately they leave the little ones behind as legacy.
Just look at the jaws on her! Orb weavers get their name from the shape of their webs – it’s that traditional round, net-like web that Charlotte wove in the famous book by E.B. White. This particular species usually stays out of sight under a leaf or similar shelter. She keeps at least one leg in contact with a special line of silk that, when the web is touched, will signal her that there’s something in it. Once the trap line is triggered and she springs from hiding onto the web, whatever is stuck there is lunch.
As you might have figured, all these images were made in natural light with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro with the 25mm extension tube. I hardly did any cropping! Seriously, she basically fills the screen when I focus down to nearly the closest distance I can work from.
Same with this bonus spider!
Last year we didn’t have furniture up on the deck except for a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs. With so many other things to do after the move, furniture was not a priority. But this year I bought a comfy couch and chairs so I end up spending more time up there. As a result I notice more and despite being really tiny, this little guy stood out –
It’s a burrower mayfly; easily identified by those big green eyeballs. The body, legs and wings are about 1/2 an inch long; the whole thing barely an inch. Here in Wisconsin we have many species of mayfly and some emerge in the hundreds of thousands; clouds so big they are captured on radar and mistaken for thunderstorms. It’s said that the massive presence of mayflies are an indication of clean water, so it’s good, but it has a downside. When they emerge en masse like that they leave behind their larvae carapaces which collect by the thousands along shorelines and docks. My shoreline. My dock. The smell was so bad that I couldn’t be outside until my husband pushed them all into the current and they were washed downstream (I tried to do it, but gagged and had to stop). I’ve come across a ripe moose carcass in the woods that smelled better. Unbelievable.
One at a time they’re pretty cool though. Mayflies are one of those species that exists for the larva stage. The adults have no mouths or other digestive organs and are basically just gonads with wings. And eyeballs. They live just days, mate and die. Their corpses are wispy, weightless things that float on the slightest breeze. I noticed several other kinds on the deck, but none were situated so nicely as this one – on my grill cover.
These next little bugs were on the deck railing just at the top of the stairs and because they herd together in a little group, they’re easy to see even though they are only about 3mm long (not including the feelers). The little stripes are so cute and so I had to grab the macro lens. I also used a 25mm extension tube so I could get even closer. They seemed to be eating the gunk that collects in the texture of the decking material. Because it’s not natural wood, I wasn’t concerned although if a bug that ate plastic did evolve, that would be a big help for us! Those two little balls in the lower right are what they look like – poop. Tiny, tiny poop.
After a bit of puzzling, an answer to what these guys are finally came from an insect ID group on Flickr.
The are Cerastipsocus venosus; commonly known as barklice or sometimes tree cattle which is hilarious because in one of my photo captions I mentioned how they herd together like cows and graze. The little group on my deck was only 10 individuals to start out with and I’m glad it wasn’t more because they do mass in the hundreds and that would have been kinda icky. A few at a time are cool though and here’s how they looked after a few days –
What I thought might be vestigial wings turned out to be just undeveloped and as they moved through the larval stage they got bigger and so did the antennae. The fully grown wings added another 2mm to the overall length, but the bodies didn’t grow. In the background of the shot up there, check out the orange spot. It’s visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t know what it was. When the critter sporting it got into a good position, I grabbed the camera again –
It’s a tiny mite; a parasite. Not sure if it’s harmful or not, but the bug itself didn’t seem to be the worse off for it. I love that you can still see the stripes through the wings.
Luckily when disturbed this little herd just froze up, allowing me to use natural light instead of having to resort to flash or very high ISO in order to keep things sharp. The last one has great light; the first rays of the rising sun. Even the tiniest creature throws a shadow.
So now I know what they are, will I be evicting them? Nope. They’re beneficial and non-destructive to wood or trees. Instead they eat fungi or algae or other organic stuff (gunk, yeah, that will do) that collects on tree bark and other things like my deck. I found some good info on this website.
In northern Wisconsin we still get frost and freezing overnight temps well into May. What’s a demure beauty to do? Get tough. Spring beauty is one of the most hardy wildflowers we have and though it’s quite small and looks fragile, it survives almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it.
In addition to frigid temperatures, spring beauty can, and does, flourish in nutrient-depleted areas like housing developments and deforested areas like farms. It’s pretty undemanding.
Here in the yard though, there’s no skimping on soil nutrients, they grow in the lawn as well as in the woods where they have to push up through some very deep leaf litter.
They’re still blooming and I think I’ll have to go pick some because in addition to being adorable, they’re edible! The roots are actually tuberous, like potatoes, and it’s said they taste very similar, albeit sweeter and kind of chestnut-y so far as I could tell from info online. They can be eaten raw or cooked so I’ll have to get out there and get some while they’re at the peak of ripeness.
Oh how I love my macro lens. Makes dealing with all the leaves in the yard kind of bearable. I used a tripod for all the shots. If you can remove the center post of your tripod, I recommend doing it if you like to get close to the ground. I don’t use my beanbag as much now I have a tripod that can go all the way down. I also played in the light, looking for very subtle backlighting.
Playing with shadows is a lot of fun, too. I had to work fast for this one, but in the end I beat the sun as it sunk behind my house. Sure, there was always tomorrow, but I kind of like working against a clock. Of sorts.
I couldn’t help turning a couple of the images upside down. Although the light and bokeh are striking, I think inverting the shot just makes it a bit more eye-catching. And we can’t do the same things all the time, now can we?
Now that stick season is well under way, I find myself looking back on the most beautiful part of autumn, or falltime as they say around here. It’s weird, but the rest of the world uses wintertime, springtime and summertime so why not falltime?
The foliage is rich and colorful, but not as diverse as it was in New Hampshire; mostly it’s the reds – they seem to be missing here in northern Wisconsin. Or I’m looking in the wrong places. Maybe on the immediate shoreline of ponds and lakes is where I need to focus. Even though I didn’t find what I’m used to seeing, there’s an abundance of beauty to be found.
None of these are what I’d consider as “classic” fall images, but I think they convey a feeling of place and of season. This time of year can be very overwhelming to me. The drive to get the “perfect shot”. The sense that every minute I’m not shooting is wasted. Frustration over not finding the ideal location in the ideal conditions. It eats away at me and sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not out there trying. Silly, but there it is.
Even though these shots don’t feature the intense colors of foliage, they still show how the season shapes plants and prepares them for the future. Flowers bloom and seed. Ferns lose their lush spring growth. Streams dry to a trickle, soon to freeze over and reminding frogs, fish and turtles that their time is short before the long sleep.
Still, the season pushes me to see in ways I sometimes don’t during other seasons (especially spring when the biting insects torment me to near blindness).
I overcome by slowing down. Stopping even. Partly to enjoy the perfection of the season, but also to notice the things that make it special. Like those feathers up there. I stopped to slow my heartbeat after a grouse and I scared each other to death and I noticed something light-colored off trail to my left. It turned out to be the remains of someone’s lunch. A poor, hapless songbird found itself on the wrong end of the food chain and the sunlight was lighting up what was surely its last moment of beauty on this earth. And I was there to see it. To mourn and to appreciate was it was, what it gave up and what it left behind.
While that did give me a twinge of sadness, the last gasp of abundance is everywhere, helping plants and animals prepare for the privations of winter (the songbird, too, is part of this timeless cycle). Honey mushrooms seem to blanket every stump and log in the forest and boy do they ever make for good photos (and meals, I startled a deer feasting on some during this outing).
Wisconsin is challenging me to adapt as a photographer and so long as I keep my eyes and mind open, there will always be fall color to be found. Even red.