Tag Archives: nature

A case of mistaken identity? (friday foto finder: prey)

Living in the woods as we do, it is not uncommon for small animals to visit us on our deck. We typically see lots of birds (chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, etc.) as well as squirrels and chipmunks. When I heard a scrabbling sound at the sliding door a few days ago, I naturally thought it was a squirrel or a small bird. I was surprised, though, to see a bird of a substantially larger size: a hawk. I couldn’t get a good look at it. It flew off before I even had a chance to grab for a camera. I imagined that it had been there in pursuit of one of the typical smaller visitors.

A while later, I heard the sound again, and saw the hawk at the glass door. I grabbed my phone, but it flew off again by the time I moved closer. I went over to the door, and saw the hawk perched on a deck chair. I then noticed that Phoebe had left a sweater, one with zebra-striped fur details, on a box next to the slider. It occurred to me that the black and white mottled pattern might be attracting the hawk, perhaps resembling the pattern of feathers on chickens. There are lots of homes with backyard chickens in my neighborhood, and hawks are regular predators. This sweater may well have looked like potential prey.

I decided to leave the sweater, in hopes that the hawk would return. It did, quite a few times, though it rarely stayed at the window long enough for me to get a photo. I did catch it flying off to other nearby perches a few times.

As it flew away, I noticed that it spread its impressive black and white striped tail, giving me an alternative hypothesis: perhaps the sweater resembled another bird of prey, a competitor for the territory.

After a few visits from the hawk, I decided to keep my camera ready with my telephoto lens. (That’s how I managed to get that first photo, the one of the hawk peeking in through the chair legs.) I also got a few photos of the hawk perched in nearby trees.

Yesterday, in the early evening, I heard a scrabbling sound on the front porch. (The deck is at the back of the house.) As I walked into the dining room, I was startled by the flash of the hawk flying past the window. “It’s the hawk again!” I exclaimed loudly. Phoebe then asked, “Why do you keep calling it the hawk?” Then I explained that I was assuming that all of our recent hawk visits at the back deck had been from the same hawk. I grabbed my camera with telephoto lens, and was happy to see the hawk perched in a tree. Right over another hawk perched in the same tree.

It was hard to focus in the dim evening light, especially through the layers of branches. The hawks also didn’t stay put for long.

I now have a strong suspicion that these hawks are nesting somewhere near the house. I have been hearing them regularly. Just now, I heard some hawk cries, and opened the front door and saw a hawk flying away from the porch. (I didn’t have a camera on me…)

I think these may be Cooper’s hawks, but if someone else has a better idea, I’d be interested to hear it.

This week’s friday foto finder theme was “prey.” These birds of prey are higher on the food chain, and probably aren’t typically prey. But they certainly came to mind for the theme. To see what prey have been caught by others, pay a vist to the fff blog.

unfurling

We went down to my mother-in-law’s for a few days this past week. (It was April vacation week for the kids’ school, and we had planned to be there with my mother-in-law for her eye surgery.) I was quite pleased that I thought to bring the lens and extension tubes that allow me to take macro shots with my camera.

My mother-in-law’s yard and garden was full of plants that were just waking up in the warmth of the late April days. (Spring was delayed down there, as well, due to the prolonged and bitter cold winter.)

I had a lot of fun taking photos around the yard, while the kids played.

I got a few shots in the late afternoon. The macro shots are tricky, and need plenty of light.

It’s also hit or miss whether I can keep my target in focus, especially when I am standing, and pointing up into the leaves of an overhanging tree branch.

I’m not really sure why I haven’t much remembered to take macro shots lately. I guess that when I am home, I don’t as often think to take photos. (I’ve noticed this before.)

Walking around with my camera, I saw details that I might otherwise have overlooked. Looking through the resulting photos, I was really charmed by the character of the fresh new leaves.

Photos from a sparkling winter morning

Those of you who have known me for a while will surely know that “sparkling” is not a word that typically gets anywhere near the word “morning” in my world. (Certainly it is not a word that has ever been used to describe me in the morning.) However, there was one morning this January when I was bedazzled by the sparkle of own backyard.

After bustling the kids out to the bus, I walked down the driveway to be greeted by a display of glittering light. The sprinkling of freezing rain the night before had left droplets of ice and water decorating the tangled vines and thorns of our overgrown garden.

The winter sun was low in the sky, gradually burning off the cold mist.

The low rays lit up the ice and water drops all around.

In many places, there were water droplets, lined up along the horizontal branches like dangling crystal beads.

Little balls of ice had been caught in the winding twists of wild grape vines, looking like jewels wrapped in wire.

I was charmed by the twists and coils, the quirky designs of some mildly deranged jeweler.

(This one reminded me of a dangling lightbulb.)

I first tried to snap photos with my iPhone (not shown), but the phone came nowhere close to capturing what I was seeing. I went inside and got my real camera with telephoto lens.

Even with the good camera and good lens, focusing was a challenge. These little beauties were only a couple of centimeters across, with the ice drops probably measuring 6 or 8 millimeters. (I find it funny that the jewelry-like shape of these forms inspires me to use the metric system. When I buy beads, they are always measured in millimeters.)

Using my long lens also meant that I had to be several feet from my target. (See? Feet. I am an American.) It was often tricky to even find what I was trying to focus on in my screen, and any little sway of my body would often throw the focus off. (Really, a tripod would have helped, but I’m not sure how it would have worked the way I had to contort myself to get the different angles to capture the sparkle.) I went back inside to get my pancake lens (200 mm fixed length lens), and had better luck.

Clearly, I was bedazzled, as I see from my photo metadata that I spent about 2 hours taking photos. (Not counting breaks to come in to change lenses, and to look at the photos on my laptop.)

My fingers were numb in my fingerless gloves when I finally tore myself away. It was, after all, an icy January morning.

It was totally worth it.

fading fall ferns

Here in the wooded parts of New England, there are plenty of ferns growing among the undergrowth. In the spring they poke up alien-looking shoots, which then unfurl and fan out into their more familiar fractal-like shapes. In summer, they typically appear in a range of greens, from bright chartreuse to deep forest green, and many a shade in between. In the fall, by mid-October, most of the green fades away, leaving a variety of other colors: reddish browns and soft yellows, along with the palest of minty greens.


This is a rather blurry photo I took last year, which doesn’t do justice to the colors, but gives a sense of the range.

This year, I was quite taken with some ferns that had faded almost completely to white, but without otherwise looking withered.

I loved the way the bright white shapes stood out against the dark fallen oak leaves.


This fern looks very feathery in white.


Zooming in, you can see how perfectly the fern kept its shape.

Find the fading fall ferns fascinating? Feel free to fill the fine form that follows.¹

¹ And by that I mean “please leave a comment,” except with a lot more alliteration.²
² And by that, I meant that I used a lot more alliteration above. But if you wish to leave a comment with a lot more alliteration, please proceed!

flower, bee, ants

Here’s another flower I came across when hunting for a rose to post on Friday This bright pink flower is another from my in-laws’ house, this time from out in the yard. More interesting to me than the flower, though, was the activity that was going on inside it: a shiny green bee and a bunch of tiny ants were hanging out, collecting pollen, or nectar, or whatever goodies the flower had to offer. (Maybe it was really free beer and pizza. I’m not a botanist, though, so I can’t be sure.)

take it or leave it

Time ran away from me, as it so often does. Among work and appointments and grocery shopping and a dozen other things big and small, the hours of my day were eaten up. I find myself once more at 11:00 rushing to put up something to post. I had been planning to go all retro and post a ThThTh list, it being Thursday at all, but it was not to be. I still have more work to do before bed, and I can barely hold my eyes open as it is. So, here are some photos I took this morning before the school bus came. These large leaves on some roadside plant caught my eye across the street. Like so many of the plants I photograph, I haven’t the slightest clue what it is. But I liked the shape of the leaves, and the way they dangled from the stems, making a sort of garland.

This oak leaf interloper also caught my eye, trapped in the tangle of twigs over the big stems, and appearing suspended in mid-air.

I would also note that some of these leaves were impressively large. If memory serves (though frankly, at this hour, that’s a big if), I believe the front leaf in this photo is about a foot long. That one had flipped around in the wind, making the patterns of its leafy veins more visible.

That’s all I have for tonight.

full-color fall color

With the gray days of winter looming in the not too distant future, my eyes are savoring the flashy colors of fall. The New England trees are putting on as lovely a show as ever, but the vines and shrubs and even some of the weeds are competing for attention.
red leaves

orange leaves

yellowish leaf

green and red spotted leaves

purple leaves

The first 4 photos are ones I’ve taken with my phone in the last few weeks. The fifth photo is actually one I took with my camera a couple of years ago. I have some more recent photos of this same type of leaves and berries, but the leaves weren’t nearly as purple.

green spaces of Hong Kong (friday foto finder: green)

Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is known as an urban jungle. But the territory also boasts a wide range of green spaces, which more closely resemble “jungle” than “urban jungle.” When I visited Hong Kong in 2011 for a conference, I enjoyed exploring the urban jungle, and also managed to see a few of the greener spaces. The highlight of these excursions was a hike with my friend YTSL, a Hong Kong local who knows her way around the green spaces of Hong Kong. We met up and took a series of subway rides and buses out to Wong Shek, on the Sai Kung Peninsula. (I wouldn’t have remembered exactly where it was we went, but happily YTSL mentioned it in her post shortly after our hike.)

The day was hot and humid, and also very hot and really humid, but I managed not to pass out. I also managed to take several hundred photos. (Pausing to take a photo is a good way to catch one’s breath.) Did I mention that it was hot and humid? It was all entirely worth it, as the views were stunning, and I appreciated them even through the heat and humidity.

The blue skies were filled with fluffy white rather expressive-looking clouds.

Below the blue and white there was plenty of green to be seen.

There were splashes of other colors, too, among the green fronds.

The path was sometimes narrow, sometimes not, sometimes paved, sometimes not. But always surrounded by green.


A particularly photogenic cloud poses for the camera, trying to steal attention from the picturesque rocks, water and greenery.

We passed a small number of homes which appeared to be inhabited, and more that were clearly long abandoned.

Some of the abandoned buildings were taken over by green.

Our hike finished up with a ferry ride back to our starting point, which offered plenty more beautiful views of green peaks. (A few more photos from the excursion are included below, in the slideshow. And several hundred more are still on my laptop.)

This post was brought to you by the color green, which was week’s friday foto finder theme . Green abounds in my photo library, especially of the local greenery, but it seemed a good excuse to get back to posting some of my long-promised travel photos. To see what other green can be seen, stop by the fff blogfff 200x60

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the other corpse plant

This afternoon, as I walked Phoebe down our road to a neighbor’s house for a playdate, a strange plant caught my eye on the roadside. Emerging from the brown fallen leaves were some bundles of waxy-looking stalks with what looked like bell-shaped flowers on top. They were almost totally white. I don’t just mean that the flowers were white. The whole plant was white: stems, leaves and flowers. All white.

I bent down to take a few photos with my trusty iPhone. After chatting with my neighbor about school supply lists and other exciting news, I completely forgot about the weird plant.

This evening, I remembered. A quick google search (for “white plant”) led me to the identification of the Monotropa uniflora, also known as Indian Pipe (they do look sort of pipe-like), ghost plant (they definitely look on the ghostly side) as well as corpse plant.

When I did a google search for “corpse plant,” however, I was greeted not by images of this guy, but by stories about the more famous, but similarly nicknamed, corpse flower. In case you missed hearing about it, the corpse flower is a giant flower that blooms only every few years, and not even on a regular schedule at that. Sometimes it will go a decade or more between blooms. But it is not its blooming timeline or even its massive size (8 feet tall!) for which the titan arum gets its fame, but from its smell: it is said to smell like a rotting corpse. The corpse flower was in the news quite a bit last month, as one living in the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington DC bloomed, bringing in over 130,000 visitors to sample the putrescent delights of this this olfactory oddity with their own nostrils. (Boston has one, too, apparently, but I have neither seen nor smelled it. I am tickled that it is named Morticia, though, and hope to visit her someday.)

Anyhow, this post is (mostly) not about that corpse flower, but the less famous, and much less smelly flowering corpse plant. While not nearly as dramatic, it is still a bit of a botanical oddity. This plant, you see, has no chlorophyll. As such, it is not able to produce its own food, but must live off of other plants. Specifically, it lives off certain trees and fungi. Unlike many fungi, which give something back to the host trees on which they live, the corpse plant only takes. It is parasitic. And I’m thinking kind of vampiric.

I hope to go back another day with my real camera to get some clearer shots, but I don’t know how long these things bloom. Apparently they will dry out and turn black fairly soon. I find it remarkable that I had never seen them before, nor heard of them. From what I can tell, they are fairly rare. I suppose that it caught my eye due to my recently heightened roadside plant awareness–we are always keeping our eyes open to avoid stepping in a tangle of poison ivy (which is lush and green and sadly, not rare at all).