Normally at this time of year, you’d be awash in pictures of mushrooms on this blog. I love them. I love photographing them and now I have a focus stacking application, I want to work with greater depth of field with these images. But a strange thing has happened. The mushrooms haven’t fruited.
Not everywhere, but locally. In my yard for example. Last year all I had to do was step off the lawn or the driveway and there would be dozens of different species and specimens; on stumps, on logs, on the ground – basically everywhere. This year, almost zip.
And when I went to check my mother lode chanterelle spot there wasn’t a single one to be seen.
Last year there were dozens upon dozens.
I should have been more worried on my 1-hour walk to the site. There weren’t any mushrooms. Seriously. I saw 3 not including shelf or fan species that overwinter. Nothing on logs. Nothing on the ground. It was creepy since on previous visits to this trail I’d taken many mushroom shots and a lot of them are my favorites. Amantitas. Russulas. Hygrocybes. All absent. Very weird.
When I checked another chanterelle site in early July, those mushrooms were doing fine. They were small still, but they came up in their usual numbers. That site is many miles from where I was the other day and across the other side of the Wisconsin in another section of the county. How could conditions be so different so close together?
Googling is problematic because any use of the word death/dying etc, just gives me dire warnings about eating wild mushrooms and accidental poisoning. My giant book about mushrooms by David Arora doesn’t seem to have a section dealing with why mushrooms would universally fail to fruit. My only guess is that the cold, wet spring had something to do with it. We lost our snow cover early and never got it back so it’s possible that the frost got too much for the mycorrhizal mat to deal with. But again, why only in this immediate area? It’s very strange and worrying. I know that many animals use mushrooms for food (including me!! My chanterelles!!) and I hope this doesn’t distress them too much. Maybe the shrooms will catch up. I don’t know.
So, here are the only mushroom photos I’ve managed to take this year and they’re all from my Door county trip in June. All shot with the Olympus 90mm f2 legacy macro lens. Of course!
I certainly hope I can find some areas that still have a healthy bloom of mushrooms! Maybe a little north of here. I’ll give it a try maybe later in the week.
Moving from NH to Wisconsin means there’s lots of new territory to explore. Being a nature nut, one of the first areas to get my attention was Door County, but I didn’t get there until this year. Ok so it wasn’t that long a wait, but I knew I’d need an overnight trip at least and I was right. Next year it will probably be a couple of nights. There’s a lot of conservation land even on this relatively small peninsula on Lake Michigan.
First I started with The Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor. It is very easy to get to and although parking is tight, I got lucky both times I visited. The organization was founded to protect 30 fragile ridges that formed on the lake over 1000s of years and created subtle, yet distinct, micro-environments. That effort expanded and now the group protects 1600 acres in and around Bailey’s Harbor. Mainly I went for the wildflowers!
Wisconsin is host to many native orchids including coral root which is a saprophytic flower and you know how much I love that! Alas they weren’t blooming quite yet when I visited because the spring was so cold and rainy everything was late.
Even though the bigger and showier flowers are what get most of the attention here (like lady slippers), I found plenty of shy retiring types that were just as lovely, including twin flower which I’ve wanted to photograph for years, but never found any.
It was raining very slightly when I shot the twin flower. I’d hidden out in my car while a small thunderstorm cell came though then went right back out. It was fresh and lovely and there were even fewer people around than before the rain.
Being a photographer of very small things, I often have to wait quietly while the wind dies down or the light shifts and while often not exciting, things can surprise you. While I was hunkered down waiting out the breeze I heard a persistent scuffling just in front of me. I didn’t move, but kept trying to see what was making the sound. Lo and behold, a porcupette climbed down one tree, moved to another and made its way up. I didn’t see mom, but she was around as a later conversation with a fellow visitor would bear out. She was on the same path and saw them both. Very cool. I also spotted this lovely water snake when many people just rushed past or gave me a strange look wondering why I was taking a picture of ‘nothing’.
My second day in Door County brought me to another of the Ridges properties, Logan Creek. I didn’t shoot much, but enjoyed my time there and on my way back to the car ran into another photographer who suggested I visit Toft Point for my final stop as it has tons of wildflower, is right on Lake Michigan and was easy to get to. Good suggestion and I got a few more shots I like despite the harsh light in some of them.
Toft Point is a State Natural Area and covers a bit over 700 acres which is amazing in this part of the lake where you just know if it hadn’t been set aside, would be covered in houses. It was given to Kersten Toft in lieu of money for work done at a local limestone quarry. The family loved it so much they didn’t clear it of trees or exploit its natural resources or beauty. Yes they did live there, but lightly. While many outbuildings survive and have been restored, the original Toft house is only a bit of foundation. The meadows are beautiful and there’s even an old kiln made of stone. Many of the cabins look habitable and I don’t know if they’re rented out, but I think they were previously used by students conducting various studies and projects.
It is a haven for flowers. You do have to go off trail to find them, but they are there.
So there you have it – my first, but not last, trip to Door County.
Wisconsin winters certainly seem longer and bleaker than NH winters. When things turn it seems so slowly that I think I know for the first time what spring fever is. Being cooped up with hardly any color or seeming life around can get on me a little even though I do enjoy winter quite a bit. Spring though. There’s nothing like it. And of course the flowers.
Round-lobed hepatica starts us off!
These are both shots from the yard. I used to have to drive 45 minutes to find these little lovelies, but not I just walk outside. They’re everywhere, but I love them still and marvel at their proliferation and toughness.
Sometimes the choice to go to black and white isn’t obvious. With this next picture I was playing with a moonlight simulation in Lightroom for a while, but it kept getting paler and paler until I finally knocked all the color back. I like the mix of detail and blur, the solidity of the stems and the muted exuberance of the flowers themselves.
Bloodroot is another flower I used to travel all over to find and now just have to step outside to see. My yard and the surrounding area is covered with them. They’re hard to shoot, but I keep trying. Those leaves are just so wonderful that when the light catches them just right, they become the focus, not the about to bloom flower.
Of course, finding wonder and joy in my own backyard isn’t new. I used to do it in New Hampshire all the time even though my yard was much smaller. Curiosity is the key to staying engaged in photography even though your horizons may be limited, either by the weather, time, physical ability or whatever. As long as you can keep your sense of wonder intact, subjects for your sensor will keep appearing and, more importantly, keep appealing.
We get a lot of rain up this way and so when I found some collected between the leaves of as of yet still unknown flower, I got right down on it and just look at what I found –
A reflection of the trees above and yes, my camera. It was fascinating to me and I’m glad I slowed down to explore my yard in more detail. I ducked out of the frame and so now it looks like some alien probe from Star Wars checking out what’s down there.
So that’s my first wildflower post of 2017. There will be more. As of this writing I’ve found a spot that was literally carpeted in spring ephemerals and I shot some flowers I’ve never photographed before. I’m also planning a trip to Door County in June to visit a wildflower preserve so that should be really fun. Stay tuned!
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!
Whenever I see mushrooms the urge to photograph them is almost irresistible. I am getting better though. I don’t shoot EVERY mushroom I see. The light has to be good, the setting and the angle, too. If the shot doesn’t come together in my head, I admire and pass it by. So here are some that made the grade.
Identifying mushrooms is tough. Mostly because they change so rapidly and any photographs are dependent on when they were taken during the fruiting body’s lifecycle. It’s crazy. I have 4 books now and sometimes I still can’t figure things out, so don’t take any of my IDs as concrete. They’re just my best conclusions based on what it was growing and the characteristics of the mushroom itself; color, shape, gill structure etc.
These first two are boletes, a type of mushroom that has sponge-like cells instead of traditional gills and are easy to spot because of that, but it can still be tricky. I think this second one might be Austroboletus gracilis, but I’m not certain. I have my eye on a few more books that look to have fantastic photos so maybe I can get better in future.
Some mushrooms can only be positively identified under a microscope and a few kinds of russula fall into that category. This next one is probably russula emetica aka The Sickener and yeah, it’s poisonous. But it could also be russula cessans, paludosa or pseudolepida or several others that fruit on the ground, grow in similar woods and are native to North America. Crazy, but check out how similar these two mushrooms are, but different.
Little yellow waxcaps, hygrocybes, are tough to distinguish, too. These first ones I think are hygrocybe ceracea, but might not be. Whatever they are, I can’t resist shooting them. Especially in moss with bonus sporophytes!
This one proved irresistible to a passing slug. It was in full sun, but quickly moved to a nicer pose. I should have cranked the ISO a bit. Hard to believe a slug can move fast enough to be blurry!
And then there are the LBMs. That’s Little Brown Mushrooms. There are dozens and dozens of these and so similar that I have no idea what this little beauty is.
I found it growing inside of a dead log and did some clean up to get that shot, which I personally love because of the placement and the tilt of the cap. It seems to have a personality, which is saying a lot for a fungus.
All of my shots are cleaned up in the field to some extent. One of the most important things to remember when doing close up or macro photography at this magnification is to watch your backgrounds. Things out of your line of focus can sneak in and steal attention from your main subject. I find sticks to be really a pain. They sometimes show up as bright, light-colored lines in the background and so I remove them. Grass can do the same thing sometimes. Often I’m not even aware of them being in the shot because I’m concentrating on my main subject and they’re not critical to focus. So I use my live view screen to look at the image in 2D so I can catch these little gremlins. I also sometimes use a diffuser/reflector to either reflect light onto an image to even out shadows, or to put an object into shade that’s either in direct sun or dappled light. It’s a useful tool to have and one that isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up too much space so I bring it every time I go out.
I probably don’t even need to say it anymore, but all these images were taken with the OM 90mm f2 macro lens mounted on my Panasonic Lumix GH3. I still love this combination and that lens barely comes off the body these days!
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.
A while ago I posted about photographing birds in my yard and it taught me that I have a lot to learn about that kind of work. I’m MUCH more comfortable with small critters, so here’s a couple I found recently in the yard.
The first is a snapping turtle which I think had to be only a day or two old because
- it didn’t smell
- it didn’t have algae on it
- it wasn’t a crabby, bitey menace
Instead it was pretty mellow. Maybe the ‘tude takes a while to develop. Comes with size I would guess. Or the smell. I’ve seldom met big snappers who wouldn’t take your arm off given the chance. Sometimes I see really big ones in the river while I’m in the kayak. In my head I know they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, but they still give me the willies. Like one of them is going to come up out of the murk and bash my boat. This little guy though was pretty calm and easy to photograph. I put him in front of a log to use as a backdrop and got right down there with him. Everything about it has such terrific detail. It was only a couple of inches long. The only snapping turtle safe to handle; the ones that fit in the palm of your hand.
If you live anywhere but in the nitty-gritty urban city-scape, you’ve heard spring peepers filling the night with their mad song. It’s one of the things I look forward to most in spring; the first time I hear the peepers as the sun goes down. Weirdly though I’ve never actually seen one until the other day when one showed up on the deck.
I had to grab my field guide to figure out what it was. There is a bit of color variation in the species, but they have a distinctive X marking on their backs that nails the ID. I’m always amazed when I look at tiny creatures close up. If you enlarge the shot above you can see blood vessels in the arm on your right. The skin and bones are so delicate. Look at those wee toes! I thought it was pretty scared and backed off only to have it leap to the floor and give me enough time to change lenses for a more artsy shot –
It’s not even an inch long. How does something so small make such a big racket?
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.
When I lived in NH I could spend a lot of time out in my yard photographing all kinds of small things. I had barely 1/4 of an acre or something and it was pretty anemic being basically a giant sand pile. But for a person like me who can see beauty in just about anything, it was adequate. Now I live in Wisconsin I have a bigger yard plus many vacant lots nearby and so the camera fodder is exponentially expanded. I could get lost out there for hours at a time and the other day I did just that when the hepatica first started blooming.
In NH I had to drive about 45 minutes to reach a location with these flowers and did so because of their delicate beauty. Now I just have to walk outside. Funny.
Their presentation is a bit different than where I used to shoot them. The leaf litter here is really, really deep because we only have deciduous trees in our yard (the conifers were harvested over a decade ago by the original land owner). This means very few of the plants have a lot of leaves and most of them are buried. So it was a challenge to find them at first, but boy, they are everywhere.
I went out when the sun was still low and I love the different aspects it produces, like this backlit group that I converted to black and white. It really picks up the fuzzy stems which I love. With a bit of cloud cover, the light softened a bit and for this really big group next to my driveway, it was a perfect way to emphasize their soft beauty. They’re kind of an ethereal flower; nothing at all aggressive or bold about them.
They open with the sun and on cloudy days most remain closed, which I have photographed before and had great results, but on this day it was sun, sun, sun.
Yes, they really are that color. Intense, slightly bluish purple; the deepest shade I’ve ever seen. From what I’ve observed, the purple ones are closer to the water than the white ones. I have no idea if that is random or not, but it seems to be consistent. I went across the street (away from the water) and there were no purples, only white.
I did my best to isolate some of the blossoms against the backdrop of last year’s leaves. I just love how it makes them really pop. Not all of them are purple or white, we have this lovely group of pink ones just next to the lawn. I only spotted one other plant with pink flowers. Puzzling.
All were shot with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro at f8 or wider.
They’re still blooming and so there will be more shots coming, but the bloodroot is also coming into season and so are the trout lily, of which we have thousands in the yard. Behind them, trillium in equal numbers. It’s going to be a busy spring!