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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dr. Evermor’s Art

I have driven past Tom Every’s  (A.K.A. Dr Evermor) Art Studio just off highway 12 between Baraboo, Wisconsin and Sauk City, Wisconsin probably a 100 times but never bothered to stop. An article, on Wisconsin folk art, in the most recent edition of Wisconsin Trails peaked my interest. I was in the area a couple of weeks ago. The weather was miserable and I had some time on my hands so I decided to stop.

Dr. Evermor’s Art

The site is located across from the old Badger Ordinance Plant on the Delaney’s Surplus property. The weather was so bad I just stayed for a short time and took a few photos of some of the art displayed along the road.

I hope to stop back at some point and photograph more of the over 200 items on display. The sign at the gate indicates that the studio is open daily but in talking to a local sheriffs office she indicated that it was closed most of the time. If you are ever in the area and it is open do stop in it is worth the stop.

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Bald Eagle

My wife and I spent the morning checking the local wildlife areas for action. Our first stop was Gilbert Creek. We did get a nice photo of a Bald Eagle in a tree overlooking a pond. In the past it has taken off as we approached but today it let us get close and even then it didn’t fly away. There are some Canada Geese nesting but several of the nests that had Geese no longer have them. We also saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes walking along Gilbert Creek. They apparently are not a nesting pair since they are not on the nest.

Tree Swallow

We then drove out to Hoffman Hills Recreation Area. The pair of geese in the first pond are on the nest and I would expect the hatch to take place in a little over a week. Lots of Tree Swallows around and a few Eastern Bluebirds. One pair of Tree Swallows were building a nest in one of the houses and stopped working and posed for some nice photos. We saw a couple of Sandhill Cranes flying and another on the ground. There were others around calling and they were making quite at bit of noise.

Spring Beauty

We then drove over to the Red Cedar State Trail. Not a lot has changed since my last report. The hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers that were around last week are gone. I did notice the first of the Spring Beauties are starting to appear along the trail.

Hyde's Mill

This past week my wife had a meeting in Wisconsin Dells so I rode along and while she was at the meeting I drove out to Hyde’s Mill to take some photos. I had lived in Mazomanie, Wisconsin until I graduated from college and had never heard of Hyde’s Mill. I happened to be looking at mill photos on the Capture Wisconsin website and noticed a photo of the mill. After some research on the internet I discovered its location. It is located a few miles from Arena Wisconsin.

Millstones Hyde's Mill

The day was not the best. It was very cold, windy and overcast so I didn’t have high expectations for a good shoot. In addition, it was still very brown with spring getting a slow start. However, I was interested in visiting the mill and checking out the location for the future should I be in the area.

Machinery Hyde's Mill

The mill itself is not all that large. It is located on private property with lots of no trespass signs. It also looks to be for sale if anyone is interested in a mill. There are opportunities for photography along the road. There is a small pull off so a few cars can park. In addition to the mill there is a nice display of millstones as well as some milling machinery on the site.

Litter

Trail conditions have greatly improved. Last Friday and again today the DNR graded the trail fixing most of the rough spots caused by early bikers and hikers walking on the soft trail. Conditions should be good for biking/walking on the trail unless we get a hard freeze and thaw. Unfortunately as the snow leaves the trail the litter starts to show through. I’ve started to carry a bag along to collect some of it. Unfortunately just North of Irvington a number of the folks who live above the trail have seen fit to dump everything, including the kitchen sink, out their back door along the trail. Today I noticed someone had posted a sign along the trail that said “Slobs Live Here”.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

There are a variety of birds along the trail. The warblers have started to return. Last Friday there were hundreds of migrating Yellow-rumped Warblers along the trail where it runs close to the Red Cedar River. Today I only saw a couple of them. The next most common bird is the Red Winged Blackbird which can be seen all along the trail. The Eagles are on their nest at the 1.5 mile mark. Last Friday, around the 4 mile mark, I could hear a number of Sandhill Cranes and Some Turkeys. Today a flight of three Sandhill Cranes landed in the wetlands. There were also a number of Turkey Vultures flying around the area.

Skunk Cabbage

Flowers are starting to appear. The first flower to appear is always the Skunk Cabbage. They are now starting to get large leaves. Bloodroot can also be found along the trail. The Marsh Marigolds are also starting to bloom along the trail. I noticed several large clumps of Trout Lilies. They are not yet in bloom but should be blooming shortly. The Touch-me-nots are starting to emerge from the mud along the trail.

Frog

I’ve seen a few animals along the trail, a White Tailed Deer, and a Raccoon crossed the trail in front of me. On warm days the frogs are really out in force and you can hear them all along the trail.

 

Last weekend I received word that the spring melt was underway along the streams flowing into Lake Superior. On Monday I headed for northern Wisconsin and the Minnesota North Shore.

Now and Then Falls

The first stop was Amnicon Falls State Park. I had been in the park two weeks earlier and found the river flowing but still a lot of ice in the river. The river was now open with only a small amount of ice to be found. The water levels were high but I have seen them a lot higher. I managed to find a new shooting location from a gully that leads down to the bottom of Snake Pit Falls. Water was also flowing over Now and Then Falls.

Middle Falls

I then drove into Minnesota with the first stop Gooseberry Falls State Park. The park had reported that the ice went out during the weekend. Two weeks ago the falls were almost solid ice. The sudden onset of warm weather had resulted in the rapid rise of the water. By Monday water levels were was already going down.

High Falls

It was a bright sunny day so I headed up to Grand Marais to get a place to stay for the night. I stopped only briefly before heading up to the Canadian border and Grand Portage State Park. I have photographed at High Falls late in the day with some success even when the sun is out so I had high hopes. As soon as I hit the trail from the visitors center I could hear the falls so I knew something special was going on. The trail in was icy in spots. When I reached the falls there was a lot of water coming over. In fact there was so much water it was creating its own weather system. It was impossible to shoot from two of the overlooks because there was so much spray in the air and it was blowing down the canyon directly into the camera. The first lookout also had spray but it wasn’t constant so I did manage to get some shots. When the water hit the base of the falls it exploded into the air reaching almost to the top of the falls. At one point there were three different rainbows below the falls.

Sunset

After spending some time at the falls and getting more than a little wet I headed back to Grand Marais and a fine dining experience at Sven & Ole’s. By the time I was done eating it was almost sunset so I walked out onto the harbor to take a few photographs. I thought it was going to be a really nice sunset because there were a lot of thick clouds earlier in the evening but they dissipated leaving only a few clouds in the west. I noticed a Seagull perched on of the harbor lights and tried to get a photo with the sunset in the background. By the time I was ready to take the photo the Seagull was gone but I did manage to get one of the light.

The Cascades

In the morning I had hoped to get some sunrise shots but at daylight it was raining out and there was no sunrise shots. After an early breakfast I headed back south. The first stop was Cascade River State Park. The trail was a little icy in spots but I hiked into the cascades. Even though the sun was now out it is possible to photograph up through the cascades early in the morning. There was quite a bit of water flowing but I have seen much higher water at the cascades. Some of the familiar logs that have been jammed in the canyon for several years were missing this year.

Temperance River

I then drove on to the Temperance River. Unfortunately I have a habit of driving past this river on bright sunny days. The river consists of some deep canyons that are very difficult to photograph when the sun is out. If you get there early in the morning it helps. Quite a bit of water was running and it made for dramatic views in the canyons. There was some ice on the trail so it was a little tricky getting around.

Split Rock Lighthouse

The next stop was at Split Rock Lighthouse to use the facilities and ask about hiking trails north of the Lighthouse. I was more than a little surprised to find the lighthouse visitors center closed. Apparently it doesn’t open until mid May. The gate was open so I wandered around the grounds and took a few shots of the Lighthouse and other buildings.

Seagulls

Lunch was at Betty’s Pies. This could get to be habit forming. After lunch I decided I had enough of trying to photograph waterfalls in bright sunlight so I drove down to Wisconsin Point. A couple of weeks ago the ice along the shore was so high that I could hardly see the lighthouse. Now there was still ice along the shore but not nearly as much. Most of it was covered with sand which apparently blew onto the ice from the beach. There were quite a few Seagulls around so I spend some time walking along the beach taking photos of them on the ice. At one point a large section of ice broke off surprising the Gulls.

That ended my day and I headed home. I did conclude that even though it was fun to see the waterfalls during the spring melt I would much prefer to photograph them when the water is lower. Low water means many more photographic opportunities.

This whole ugly episode started last December when we had a early blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on the ground. The ground was not yet frozen and the snow cover meant that it would remain that way for quite some time. Spring finally arrived, after another blizzard, in late march. As the snow started to melt I started to see strange formations in my yard. At first I didn’t know what was going on but it soon became evident that moles had been busy working under the snow. It looked like an entire villages had been established throughout the yard.

Mole Tracks

This past week I had to try and get control of the situation. I couldn’t leave them because the grass under the formations would die and the yard would be impossible to mow. First, I raked the dirt up from the yard. If the moles had been working in loam it wouldn’t have been so bad but they were working in clay. The dirt clods were like cement. I tried to break them up with the rake. That was only partly successful. Once they were broken into smaller clods I had had to step on them and pulverize them. Once that was done the dirt had to be raked back into the grass so new grass could grow.

Mole Tracks

After working for three days the project is finally finished. Now the problem is that the moles have returned and are starting to dig new tunnels. If anyone knows how to get rid of moles I would be happy to hear about it. My only success so far has been to watch the yard from the house and when I see the ground moving run outside and dig them out with a pitch fork. So far I’ve gotten three this way. However, having watched a TV special on moles I’m not optimistic about being able to outsmart them.

I’ve posted an update regarding my mole problems and what I did to resolve them.

Canada Goose

What a difference a week makes. Last week I walked around the wetlands area and both ponds were covered with Ice. The first thing I look for in the spring are the Canada Geese. They returned about three weeks ago but then disappeared for a while after the March blizzard. Last week they were back walking around on the ice. Normally a pair nests on a small island in the first pond. The last couple of years a second pair has been nesting near the second pond. Both pair of geese were on their respective ponds but the ponds were frozen solid. I was more than a little surprised to find a broken goose egg along the dike by the first pond. Not sure what was up with that.

Today when I walked around the ponds I think both pair of geese were on their nests. The nest on the first pond is fairly obvious but I haven’t been able to find the nest near the second pond. However, only one of the geese was present on the second pond indicating the mate was probably on the nest.

Frog

I could hardly hear myself think as I approached the first pond. I don’t recall ever hearing so much noise created by so many frogs. Usually I can’t see them but they were really active today. I don’t know if they were mating or just happy to be out of hibernation. There was even a painted turtle in the pond.

The Song Sparrows were singing up a storm today.

 

 

Pussy Willows

The pussy willows are in full bloom and many of the trees are starting to bud out so the view from the tower should be great in a few weeks.

American Goldfinch

My bird feeding station consists of a steel beam with the capabilities of screwing pipe to the upper portion so I can extend it as high as I want. I can also screw pipes at right angles to create  branches to hang the feeders from. While it is great for keeping critters from climbing the feeder and keeping bears from reaching the food it is not so great as a perch for photographing birds. Photographs of birds on feeders are not all that interesting and no one wants to see a photo of a bird perched on a pipe.

Coopers Hawk

After photographing birds at the feeders for several months I decided some changes were necessary and I really needed something to photograph the birds on besides the feeder and the pipe. The best approach seemed to be to add some branches to the top of the pipe so the birds would be sitting on a branch rather than a pipe. Now I  install branches across the entire top of the feeder and extend them beyond the feeder so the birds have a place to land and to also provide more places to hang feeders. When I’m out walking in the woods I’m always looking for interesting branches that would make good perches.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

In all cases I am looking for a perch that will add something interesting to my photographs. I’m normally looking for a perch with color or character. In selecting branches I try and locate some that are interesting and also have the branches arranged in such a way that they won’t be seen as clutter in the photograph. In other words I don’t want a branch that provides a perch where the bird would be obscured by another branch or where branches would clutter up the background. Having branches in the same focal plane is the best of all worlds.

Spring Perch Gathering

Spring is one of the times I go out looking for perches. There are no leaves on the trees and there are no bugs in the woods so it makes for a pleasant time to be in the woods and it is easy to spot branches that would make a good perch.  Normally these are branches that have fallen on the ground. Any branch with character is a potential perch.

Downey Woodpecker

One of my favorite perches is the sumac. I was out today cutting some sumac, with berries, to use for my spring and summer perches. I also usually gather mature dead sumac branches in the spring for use at and around the feeder throughout the year. I’ve found that mature dead sumac branches make very nice perches. They have a lot of character to them and the woodpeckers seem to be attracted to them.

Eastern Bluebird

I discovered that birds really like sumac berries by accident. On a winter walk through the woods I found a  variety of birds feeding on the sumac berries. It seemed like a great idea to cut a few of them and place them at my bird feeding station. I used to good old duct tape to attach them to the station. As it turned out, when given a choice, the birds much preferred black sunflower seeds to sumac berries. I left the sumac up during the winter with the intent of removing it when spring came.

Eastern Bluebird

Before I had a chance to remove the sumac branches the birds of spring arrived and I found that Robbins and more importantly Eastern Bluebirds just love sumac berries. They went through them within a short period of time. I was able to get some great pictures during that time. Now each spring I gather enough sumac branches, with the sumac berries,  and store them so I can use them throughout the spring and early summer when the Eastern Bluebirds are nesting around the farm. Not only do they like them but the bright red colors make for a great perches for photography.

Fall Perch Gathering

The fall is the other time I gather perches. My goal is to find things that birds actually perch on in the wild and to find perches that would make interesting photo compositions.

Dark-eyed Junco

American Goldfinch

During the fall I like to gather branches with leaves on them to give the photographs a little fall flavor. I usually cut some branches before the last of the leaves fall off of the trees. In our area oak trees seem to keep their leaves better than other species.. One year early in the fall we had heavy wet snow which brought down a number of large oak branches with the leaves still attached. I went out into the woods and cut a few of them and stored them for later in the season. I discovered that when cut before the leaves start falling off of the tree the leaves stay on the branches a lot longer. I’ve been able to store these oak branches for several years and reuse them from year to year without the leaves falling off.

Dark-eyed Junco

I also gather pine branches in the fall and early winter. The pine branches are installed around the feeding station in the fall. They were originally intended to provide some green color to photograph the winter birds.

Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinals really photograph well on pine boughs. The last few years I’ve added more pine boughs to provide cover for the birds coming to the feeder. There have been some Coopers Hawks hanging around the feeding station and since it is about seventy five yards from the station to the nearest trees it is important that I provide some additional cover for the feeding birds.

Eastern Phoebe

In the fall I am also looking for dried flowers and plants that are sturdy enough to hold a bird and would provide an interesting perch. Some of my favorites are milkweed, Common Mullein and cattails. I normally gather these after they have dried in the field and then store them over the winter for use in the following spring and  summer. It is important not to wait too long after they dry to gather them because some of the dried flowers deteriorate quickly and then can’t be used.

Serendipity  Perch Gathering

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

One day while walking in the woods I found a number of old wooden fence posts that were just rotting away. I thought they would make a great bird perch and they weren’t doing much good in the woods. I removed the fence posts along with some of the barbed wire. I then installed them near the bird feeder. To do this I drove a steel fencepost into the ground and used a couple of metal bands to attach the wooden post to the steel post. Using metal bands allows me to change height of the post depending upon what type of background I want in my photographs. Over the years I have collected a variety of posts so the posts can be changed from time to time.

Dark-eyed Junco

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Another winter day when I was out photographing birds I noticed that the birds liked to perch on wild grape vines. The problem was that none of the birds landed on the right place on the vines so I could photograph them. I realized they would make a great bird perches for bird photography so the next fall I started looking for some  grape vines. I found some that had fallen on the ground so I cut  about a ten foot vine and strung it up by my bird feeding station. This allowed me to get the shots I wasn’t able to get in the woods.

Other Perches

Hairy Woodpecker male

This year for the first time I added a homemade suet feeder. I went out to the woodpile and looked for some old logs with character. I found one that was almost rotten and another that was a nice birch log. I drilled holes about one inch in diameter and about two inches deep at various places on the log. I then attached a hooks on the top so the logs could be hung from the feeding station. This replaced the traditional wire suet feeder that worked well but didn’t offer much in the way of photography opportunities.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I tried a couple of types of suit in the logs. New this year are round compressed suet cakes shaped like logs that were designed to slip into holes drilled in the wood. If the hole is the correct size you can just slide the suit cake in and cut them off to fit flush with the outside of the hole. The advantage is they are quick to install and since they are a dry compressed suit they are not messy. On the other hand my birds didn’t appear to like them as well as the traditional peanut suit cakes. The latter are messy to install because you need to remove the suit from the cake and fill the holes with it.

Natural Perches

American Goldfinch

House Finch

I also use flowers that grow around the feeding station. The most common are the Sunflowers that grow from the fallen bird seed. I let them grow and use them perches when the birds start feeding on the seeds. The last couple of years I had some catnip growing in a half barrel that the birds seem to like when it was flowering and when it went to seed. From these experiences I plan to grow additional flowers in half barrels to provide additional perches.

Northern Cardinal

American Goldfinch

Having spent considerable time talking about creating perches for photographing birds I should mention that you can also make use of natural cover in the area of your feeding station. I have some Red Twig Dogwood bushes in the feeding area. I also have a  Dwarf Lilac bush that the birds like to perch at while eating. I usually go out in the fall and trim the bushes so they provide a good place for the birds to perch and to clear away unwanted branches so they don’t interfere with photography. This can take some time because I need to watch where the birds like to perch before doing any trimming.

Installing the Perches

Once the perches are collected the final step is to install them. How to install the perches is almost as important as the perches themselves. You are going to want to install them so you have a clear shot at the perch, good light and a good background. You also want them installed so you can get a good photograph with the lens you will be using. Keep in mind your are trying to eliminate some of the problems you encounter when photographing in nature.

I can’t emphasize enough having a system that can be easily changed. It is important that you be able to easily change the height and location of perches. I can’t count the times that I installed a perch that I thought was in a great location only to find when I setup my camera that it wouldn’t work because there was something in the foreground or background or that the perch needed to be closer or further from the camera.

The perches are going to have to be attached to something  As I mentioned I attach some of the perches directly on my bird feeding station using duct tape. This works well and is easy to remove when changing perches. Sometimes string or twine also works well for attaching branches.

I also mentioned that I use steel fence posts to hold the larger perches such as my wooden fence posts. My preference would be not to use steel fence posts because they are harder to install and move but they are the only thing strong enough to hold some large perches.

Eastern Phoebe

One year I noticed that some Eastern Phoebes had build a nest above an outside garage flood light. I sat and watched them for several weeks but couldn’t get a shot because there was no really good place for them to land. A simple solution was to install a perch in the yard where they could land before going to the nest. The problem was finding something to use to hold the perch. It needed to be strong enough so the perch would remain upright.  Since it was going to be installed in the middle of the yard I wanted something that could be easily removed before mowing the lawn. I found that plastic electric fence posts will hold most of the perches I put in the yard.  They have steel point that allows the post to be easily pushed into the ground using a step in flange. They can easily be pulled up and moved. Duck tape can be used to attach the perch to the post.

Gathering and creating bird perches can almost be as much fun as photographing the birds. More bird photographs can be found on my website.

Every year the Menomonie, Wisconsin Lions Club places an old car out on the ice of Lake Menomin. They then raise funds by selling tickets to determine the day and time the car goes through the ice. I’ve never been very good at guessing the correct time. For the past several years I’ve taken a photo of the car before it goes through the ice. I took this photo on Wednesday and on Thursday it was under the ice. They do have a cable attached to the car and pull it out of the lake after it goes down.

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I’ve been out walking on the Red Cedar Trail the past few days. As one would expect, at this time of year, conditions are not the best. Depending on the time of day and weather you are likely to encounter ice, snow, slush, or mud. The early morning is the best time because you are likely to encounter better conditions.

Wetland Reflections

The Skunk Cabbage is blooming along the trail just south of Irvington. Lots of birds in the wetland area at about the 4 mile mark. Some of the wetlands are filled with water so you may find ducks in the temporary ponds. The frogs are out singing up a storm. I saw a variety of birds including Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, Pileated Woodpeckers, Juncos, ducks and Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Cranes

The Sandhill Cranes made themselves heard all along the wetlands area. I managed to see a pair as they crossed the trail and get a few photographs as they entered the woods.

Ice Patterns

There are some interesting ice formations in the marsch and along temporary streams that have formed during the spring melt.