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.
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.
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.
This doesn’t happen to me often, that I run into kind of eerie scenes in the woods. I mean the life of a nature photographer is about living things, right? But I found these eerie little vignettes within a few minutes of each other, so Happy Halloween everyone!
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.
February, being cold, blizzardy, snowy and miserable I didn’t get out much. March is different. I’ve been out a couple of times and look what I saw –
Sunlight in the snowy forest can take on so many aspects. Shadows on smooth snow is one of the best though. This one is from the Pulpit Rock conservation area in Bedford. It’s an easy place to fall in love with and I go there several times a year. This time I noticed a new trail that I’ll have to explore come spring.
The brook at Pulpit Rock was mostly covered in snow and ice. You’d never know there are a few nice waterfalls along its course so muffled was the water channel. At Tucker Brook nature preserve in Milford, there was a bit of open water now and again. Few and far between though.
This scene is just downstream from some mill ruins I’ve never seen before. They’re far above the famous falls, but I’ve hiked up there and don’t remember seeing them. Knowing my near obsession with colonial hydro-mills, I know I’d have shot them if I’d seen them. Oh come on spring!
Another reason to long for spring. Well, summer really is the mountain laurel. The Tucker Brook preserve is jam packed with them and I think I’ll try to get to them while they’re flowering. They’re such a New England staple. Here they are sleeping the winter away. I’m really trying to capture sunlight in snowy forests and I think I’m making progress. I love this look up the slope with the shadows and snakey shapes of the laurel trunks.
I did more than shoot landscapes, but I’ll save those for another post. There’s lots of detail out there in the woods if you just look for it.
Recently a joint venture between the Piscataquog Land Conservancy and the Francestown Land Trust resulted in the acquisition of 149 acres of land under easement and protection from development. The official name is Diane and John R. Schott Brennan Falls Reserve, but I think folks will refer to it as The Brennan Falls Reserve or Brennan Brook Forest. Either way it’s a lovely addition to the conservation efforts of both groups. I love it when this kind of thing happens and opens new, natural spaces for people to enjoy. I especially love it when there’s a brook or a waterfall involved and Brennan brook has a lovely 20-foot cascade.
This is an out-and-back hike ending at the falls. If you were to continue up Bullard Hill Road, you’d eventually get to a long-abandoned village dating to about 1700, now reduced to cellar holes. Farming isn’t easy in New England! Between the time I headed into the preserve and when I headed out, 3 hours later, a kiosk had been erected for maps and other information about the property. Very exciting. Thanks, Ben!
Note: during dry periods, it should be easy to drive in to the kiosk area on Bullard Hill Road where there is parking and turn around space. Otherwise it’s safer to park on Campbell Hill road and walk in (maybe 1/2 a mile). Bullard Hill road is on the left, right where the pavement ends and turns to dirt. There is a sign for Bay State Forestry Service there currently.
The first thing you’ll come upon is a pond that’s created by an old dam, presumably for mill operations. The beavers appreciate it I’m sure.
The light is kind of harsh and was difficult to deal with, but because Pat Nelson helped me out so much with finding my way to the new preserve, I wanted to get some photos the PLC can use to highlight this little jewel. I have a feeling this view will be shot over and over as people explore the area.
Just on the other side of the dam, I found this little cascade reflecting the intensely green canopy and so I had to see what I could do with it. I think a faster shutter speed would have better captured the sparkly green-ness of the reflection better. Maybe next time.
Once again I was dealing with direct sun filtered through canopy. Not the ideal conditions for moving water photography, but I took it as a challenge and tried my best to make the light work for the subject. One way I find effective is to isolate details of larger views or change composition/perspective to eliminate as many distracting highlights as possible – basically to do landscape slices. And if you can’t eliminate a highlight area (where the human eye naturally goes to first), I think the best course of action is to try to make that highlight work for the overall flow of the image. With the two falls shots, I think there’s balance and cohesion to the images. Definitely the improved dynamic range of my GH3 helped manage the difficult light. For the wide shot, I waited until the earth rotated a bit so the hot spots got smaller, but in the first I didn’t. More experimentation is definitely needed.
Not far from that little cascade are the falls themselves. I love how the sound of the crashing water starts as part of the background noise, but then I become consciously aware of it. That’s when a little flicker of excitement flares in my stomach. I get closer and the roar gets louder. Anticipation builds. What will I see? What new and fantastic construction of granite ledge will I find? How will I shoot it? It’s all part of the magic of the woods for me. And who doesn’t love a waterfall?
I spent about an hour with the falls, watching the light change and finding a friend to hang out with.
With the naked eye, I couldn’t figure out why this orb weaver looked so strange. When I got the macro lens on, I saw that she was just finishing a meal. Her jaws were still actively working and she completely ignored me. Only in post did I see that it looks like there’s still an eye staring back at you out of its misery of being eaten alive. Shiver. This wasn’t the only spider making a good living beside the falls, but it was the biggest.
Later I found this little beauty –
Although I’ve encountered plenty of wood frogs before, I have no good photos of them because they’re so fast and wily. Luckily I had the 35-100mm lens mounted and when this little one froze I thought how wonderful was the camouflage and managed to get this image before it darted off into the hollow of a tree.
So that’s my 3-hour tour of the new Brennan Falls Reserve aka Brennan Brook Forest. It’s no doubt a vital part of the Piscataquog watershed and very thoughtfully managed.