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.
In my last post I mentioned I got turned around in the woods across the street from my house. Without a trail it’s very easy to do because it’s almost impossible to walk in a straight line in uncleared forest. Since the tract is hemmed in by roads on 3 sides I wasn’t worried. I could hear cars on one of them now and again so just headed in that general direction. On the way though, I had to stop and marvel at this section since it was so different and so beautiful from the rest of the acreage.
New England forests don’t look like this, but it seems to be a regular feature of Wisconsin woods up here in the north central part of the state. I don’t know how or why the grasses grow, but I do know a bit about the land here. It was logged probably 20 years ago. Pretty much all the large firs and other pines are gone, leaving only saplings.
So with all that open canopy, is that what lets the grasses take hold? Not sure, but it’s a hypothesis. It’s also very, very wet through the entire section because it’s basically a drain to the Wisconsin which is on the other side of the road behind my house.
Another thing I noticed is that maiden hair fern is absent across the street while there are small pockets over here. Also the round-lobed hepatica drop off almost immediately once you get a little ways into the woods. There are a few flowers, but not the blanket that is on this side of the river. We don’t have the grass here, either, not in big huge swaths like that.
I will try to find a book about riparian forests here in WI and see if someone can shed some light on how and why this grassy woods comes to be.
I REALLY hope those acres are never sold (they haven’t in over 15 years so the chances are slim) because it’s become a surrogate back yard for me and one that I’m sure I’ll be venturing into for years to come.
Looks like the toad I photographed on the garden wall is back again this year. Check out the throat markings. It’s about the same size and color as well.
What do you think?
Or how to get over beaver dams in your kayak without going swimming!
Sometimes my inner slacker tries to get the upper hand.
A while back in August I decided to rack up the kayak and put it in the water. Even that much I had to talk myself into since the rack wasn’t even on the car, much less the boat. But strap it up I did and headed off to a man-made lake I’d paddled before but with limited success. Limited because it was my first season as a paddler and I didn’t know how to deal with beaver dams. Last year it totally bummed me out because my favorite paddling is river paddling. I like the hemmed in quality of the banks and vegetation; never knowing what you’ll find around the next bend. This section of the lake is really a narrow stream and marsh, so it was wonderfully windy. The tranquility is like no other I’ve experienced. Birds, frogs, turtles and yeah, the occasional beaver or muskrat. I love it all. Sure, the open part of the lake has its appeal, but not like the back channel. So what to do about beaver dams?
On this 2nd trip to the lake, I knew one was there, but didn’t do any planning or research as to how to tackle them. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. And then when I got there the wind kicked up considerably and so I almost didn’t even get the boat down. I almost decided that it was too windy and I hate paddling in the wind. But I’d driven almost an hour and it was just plain stupid to give up. Plus I remembered how sheltered it can be on a narrow channel below the shrubline. In the water I went. Still no plan as to how to get past the first dam, knowing full well it was a really short paddle unless I could figure out a way to do it and not either dump myself or my camera bag into the drink. It’s a drybag, but still.
So there it is. The one that got me. I could hear it laughing. So I sat there a while studying it and thinking. I probed the water depth with the paddle and found it to be about mid thigh. That’s if the bottom was solid. No way to tell. I tried paddling very fast and hard to see if I could build up enough momentum to clear and ended up wedging the boat in the breach. It was when I did that that I figured out how to get over. The water on the immediate other side is very shallow and sandy. All I needed to do was to get the kayak through the low part enough so that I could get my feet planted on the other side, well on the top of the dam itself actually. Then I could stand up (oh how it pays to do squats!) and use my hands to guide the boat between my feet. Step forward, slide boat, step, slide then sit back down and paddle. It worked. On my first try I didn’t walk the boat far enough from the breach and I was practically floated back down over the dam, but managed to stop myself in time. Woo hoo! I was on the other side of the dam. I did a little victory lap. Take that, rodents!
I felt so great after that I didn’t even mind when it started to gently rain.
After several bends I had to thread my way carefully though shallow water and pickerel weed to find yet another dam. Luckily this one had another water-level breach. That’s the key. The boat has to be able to get across the structure somewhere and it has to be low enough for me to get my feet onto it and be able to stand. Anything above the waterline wouldn’t be possible. Not with this technique. I had just barely enough room to make a running start at the breach, so to speak. Wedged the kayak, secured the paddle under the deck bungee, got my feet onto the top of the dam itself, raised myself to standing while gripping the sides of the boat and gave it a pull. Step, slide, step, slide, step, slide – this time a little further so I wouldn’t drift downstream too far. Back in the boat and paddling upstream. Not too shabby.
Upstream from this one there was a lot more evidence of the beaver population; lots of prints on the banks and little tunnels and openings in the bushes where they’d come and go. It was cool, but I didn’t see one. Bummer. I wanted to rub it in a little. Luckily I didn’t because they had the last word.
Curses, foiled again!
Then I found that going downstream over the dams was really fun, so I got a bit of my own back.
See you next year beavers!
More from the yard. Everything was shot with the legacy OM 90mm f2 macro except for the amanita.
My husband is used to it by now. If I see something, I can’t sit still until I shoot it. Sometimes just a new idea about how to shoot something will obsess me until I do it. Or the light will change and something will lure me off my chair. Our hanging out on the deck time is often punctuated by me coming and going with the camera. Just the other day though, we had a visitor –
I decided to leave the manual 90mm macro on just to see if I could work with it and a moving subject. It was challenging, but not impossible. The detail at this ISO (1000) is pretty amazing. Some of the softness is grass extremely close to the lens and out of focus. I just wasn’t able to get a lot of that out of the way for fear of scaring it. Never before have I had such an easy time with a garter snake. It was aware of me, but not frightened. I didn’t shoot it the whole time, but just watched it move and investigate a small section of my yard.
Some of our visitors join us right on the deck, like this little shieldbug –
Isn’t he great? The colors just knock me out. Check out his little pink legs! You know you’re a photographer when a bug lands on the deck and you run in for the camera. Another shieldbug came by yesterday, but it was too active to shoot – it crawled all over the place then flew off, crashed into the house, bounced off and landed in the lawn. Who knew bugs could be so entertaining? This earlier one posed for me quite happily though. When I was a kid we called them stinkbugs.
Then there was this mayfly that came by in June –
I love the detail in this shot. All the different structures and formations. I learned that mayflies do not have mouth parts and thus do not eat. The adults exist only to breed. And to serve as models for fly fishermen. The golden mayfly is the largest of the species and from head to the base of the body (not including that long whippy tail) it’s about 1 and 1/4 inches. It stayed on the screen door for more than 24 hours before I decided to send it on its way. I mean, no other mayflies were hanging out so it needed to find where the party was.
The mushroom population is a little thin this year, but this beauty is gracing us with its presence now. I’m no expert, but I think it might be an amanita farinosa.
This next shot is a couple weeks old. It’s a very common weed, but like many plants we call weeds, it can be very beautiful (especially after it rains, which was when I took this image). This one always catches my attention because the yellow is so very pale and soft. Not like garden loosestrife, St. John’s Wort, Butter-n-eggs and some other yellow flowers.
But nature isn’t all wonderful all the time. It’s rough out there for some. When I first spied this tiny bird’s egg by my walk, I was delighted. I love finding signs of new life and activity. Then I turned over one section and found the yolk still intact. Instant sadness.
It is all part of a much larger cycle though and within a few hours all traces of the yolk were gone. Ants found it and made short work of it. Some of those ants will feed a bird or two or other creatures that birds eat.
What kind of egg is it? I thought it would be pretty easy to ID, but lots of little birds make tiny speckly eggs. My best guess is titmouse. It’s about the size of my thumbnail – a little larger than a dime.
Yesterday I found something very cool in the yard, but I haven’t photographed it yet, so you’ll have to wait for the surprise.
By now, you’ve probably figured out I’m not a wildlife photographer, but will take the opportunity when it presents itself. I got a few of those lately so I wanted to put together a critter collection post. Spring certainly is springing and everyone seems to be out and about, even this guy –
I haven’t come across one so early in the season before. Because it was chilly (50s) it was way less wiggly than newts usually are.
Along another trail I nearly trod on this beauty sunning itself. I can’t believe it stayed and let me photograph it with my 12-35mm which is pretty short in terms of focal length. Basically I’m right up in the snake’s face. After indulging me a few seconds, it slithered away.
There’s a small pond at the Garden in the Woods and the bullfrogs are basically in charge –
I have a big picture window in the front of my house and big glass door in the back. Unfortunately these confuse our feathered friends and they sometimes crash into them. So far no bird has killed itself, but a few have been stunned enough to be vulnerable for a few minutes. I always go outside to check on them whenever I hear one hit. This gorgeous little yellow-bellied flycatcher is the latest casualty. I only went to get the camera after I saw enough improvement to know it would be ok. Again it’s shot with my short little zoom and so I had to get right up on him. A few minutes after this he was on his way, flying through the trees and away.
Last but not least is another fleet-flyer, a newly-emerged dragonfly. This one was still sheltering in some grass while its exoskeleton and wings firmed up enough for it to head for the skies. I deliberately angled and cropped to get a more unusual view of this favorite subject. The sheer perfection of its wings is amazing. Wonders of nature for sure.
So that’s my wildlife experience so far this year. I’m sure there will be more, but this seems like a good start!
It’s raining now and probably will for most of the week. That means more mushrooms, but it’s not like we have a shortage now.
All were shot with the OM 90mm. I don’t know what I’d do without that lens.
and you should know that by now. Here’s a group of tiny things that have found themselves in front of my lens.
oh and something a little different, from Ryan and Wood Distillery, based in Gloucester, MA.
Haven’t been shooting so much as last year, but I am going to California in September and so hope for some good things from that trip.
I’d been meaning to get back here since the first time I explored this little swatch of conservation land. It contains the middle branch of the Piscataquog river and has some interesting aspects to it like a pond and some defunct bridges. Unfortunately the light wasn’t overly cooperative and when the sun came out I had to pack it in. While it lasted though, I got some decent images and I think they show why this river is so special.
For this first one I had to dodge poison ivy, a pretty regular thing in these parts. The bank is high and steep and I liked the vantage point. At the very back of the shot, the river takes an abrupt turn, just like the one in the very front of the shot. A zig-zag. It’s pretty great. The ferns in the foreground (and some of the rest of the greenery) are royal fern and I just had to use them to frame the shot.
If you stayed at this position, you could have watched me take this next shot. It’s looking back this way from just in front of that bend down there. I loved the juxtaposition of the dead tree and the live, bendy tree and so I got in the river to frame them together. The ferns on the banks are a combination of royal and what looked like cinnamon fern, although I didn’t really look closely for the cinnamon-y spore stalks. Might have been interrupted fern which is of a similar height and leaf structure.
A neat feature of this property is the old mill pond that is now semi-dammed by beavers instead of humans. The trail actually includes the beaver dam and you have to walk along it. The pond helps to create a slightly different habitat for local color.
Not all of the trail around the pond is so accommodating, but there are some helpful walkways and bridges. The light wasn’t good enough to shoot the pond itself, but it was terrific for adding much needed depth to the woodland trail. Just back beyond those dark trees, I scared a deer half to death. Sorry deer!
If this entices you to get out into the woods – go! And if you’re in southern NH, you can get a map of this bit of the world here – Middle Branch map. When you get there, be kind, be responsible, pick up other people’s trash (and don’t leave any yourself) and enjoy reconnecting with nature.
Another one that isn’t so much elusive, as limited in photographic potential.
It’s limited in a few ways. First it lives in bogs and fens which are relatively rare habitats made rarer by man’s manic need to fill in wetlands and build subdivisions on them. If you live in Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee or Illinois the flower is endangered or threatened and you may never see one there unless you are very lucky. Second limiting factor is that a lot of bogs are just plain inaccessible without stilts. The peat and heath matting is very deep, totally soaked and difficult to travel through. Luckily Ponemah bog has a decent walkway that passes right by some of these beauties and with some creative positioning (and knee pain) I could shoot them.
A bit more research turned up the fact that they are carnivorous. No wonder they do well in bogs which are notoriously too low in nutrient levels for most plants. I also photographed a couple other carnivorous plants the other day, but I’ll save those for later. Horned bladderwort doesn’t use sticky traps or funnels of death to catch its prey. This little flower uses its leaves which have been specially adapted with bladders that suck tiny organisms up into them to be digested. The leaves are spindly and are almost always under ground, leaving only the stem and flowers on the surface.
The shape of the flowers is pretty interesting and they seem to be a favorite of the local spiders. All these images were shot with the OM 90mm macro. Because of the boardwalk, photographic compositions are limited, but with some contortions and gentle bending out of the way of distracting elements, I got a few that are pretty good. The backlit and sunlit shots just didn’t work well since the backgrounds also tended to be lit up and the flowers got lost in them. The pink of the orchids in the last bog series stood out much more because of the color contrast.
In the next few days I’ll also put up some shots of the bog itself at dawn. This last trip I spent some time shooting landscapes and slices of landscapes that really depict the fullness and richness of the ecosystem. I even saw wet little fox footprints on part of the walkway, so there’s a lot of life there that goes unseen.