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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Monarch Butterfly

Several years ago I found some milkweed growing along the edge of my garden. Over the years the milkweed has started to take over the garden. It is one of the first “weeds” to come up so I just plant my garden crops around the milkweed so I can provide the Monarch Butterflies a place to lay their eggs.

Monarch Caterpillars

As I mentioned in an earlier post this has been a great year for butterflies including an unusual number of Monarchs. The one thing I didn’t see until this past week are the Monarch Caterpillars. Normally they show up around the last week of June and first week of July. The last few days I started finding them on the patch of milkweed that I keep in the garden. I’ve been finding them in large numbers in the garden. Yesterday I found fifteen of them all of different sizes.  I have also seen a number of dead ones so I don’t know what is up with that. There are far more caterpillars than I’ve ever seen before. I hope this bodes well for the Monarch Butterflies.

Monarch Caterpillar

What I have never seen is the  chrysalis. As the caterpillars disappear from the milkweed I’ve been looking for chrysalis but have yet to find one. Hopefully in the next few weeks new Monarchs will be emerging and feeding before starting their flight to Mexico.





Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

In an effort to provide full disclosure this is the equipment I typically carry when hiking. A Manfrotto 055CXPro03 tripod with a Markins Q20 ballhead attached. I normally carry two cameras, a Nikon D300s and a Nikon D80s. One serves as a primary camera, with the lens that I think will be using most frequently on the hike, and a backup camera also with another lens attached. The two lenses that I will have mounted on the cameras will vary depending upon what I will be photographing. I commonly carry a Tamron 28-300 mm, Tamron 200-500 mm, Tamron 11-18 mm and a Sigma 150 mm macro lens. I also use a F-stop Tilopa BC camera pack.

I engage in a wide range of photography including landscape, avian, macro, wildlife etc so it is rare that I can’t find something along the trail to photograph. It is also important to note that I am one of those lazy photographers that can think of all kinds of reasons for not taking my camera out of the pack. Usually it is something on the order of I’ll catch that photo on the way back or I’ll probably see something better later . As a result I rarely carry my primary camera in my pack. I’ve missed too many shots because I found a flower or some animal jumped out or a bird flew to a nice perch along the trail .

Normally I carry my primary camera and lens mounted on the tripod. This does mean that the camera needs to be secularly attached to the head. You also need to watch so the camera strap doesn’t drag or catch on something. When the camera is on your shoulder you need to be aware of low limbs so you don’t hit your camera or lens on a branch.

Mounted on Pack

If I’m going to be photographing something that is several miles away and I know I will not be doing any photography on the way to the site I will put the camera in the pack and attach the tripod to the outside of the pack. This rarely happens because of the range of photography that I do. The f-stop Backcountry pack allows the tripod to be attached to either side or the back of the pack. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve carried the tripod strapped to the pack.

Two Shoulder

If I’m going to be hiking for some distance (10 miles) and I know I will be photographing a variety of subjects along the way I mount the camera on the tripod and carry it over my shoulder. Typically I use a two shoulder technique when hiking any distance. In this technique two of the legs are closed together and the third leg is opened allowing me to distribute the weight of the tripod, head and camera on both shoulders with the upper legs of the tripod resting on the backpack shoulder strap padding. This works well on a wide trail where the legs won’t be interfering with oncoming hikers or get caught in brush. If you are on a narrow trail I shorten the legs so they don’t stick out. This approach works well in the Midwest where the trails are normally through forests. Frequently on long hikes I’m photographing fauna along the trail so shortened legs with one leg opened is ideal for photographing close-up shots.

Single Shoulder

If I will be hiking just a few miles and photographing along the way, I generally use the single shoulder technique. In this technique I close the tripod legs and  carry the tripod and camera over one shoulder.

Hand Carry

Walking Stick

If I’m just moving around a shooting location such as a waterfall I will carry the tripod and attached camera in my hand. The hand carry is the easiest and offers great flexibility when moving about. The tripod, even with the camera mounted, makes a nice walking stick for uneven ground and while wading in streams. It has saved me from falling on a number of occasions.

Whirligig Beetles

At least that is what I think they are. I was walking across a foot bridge over the Chippewa River last week when I noticed something reflecting in the water. It was about five feet long and seemed to be moving around erratically. I watched it a while and upon closer examination it turned out to be a large grouping of water bugs. This was the first time I have seen anything like this.

Whirligig Beetles

I was able to work my way under the bridge and walk along the shore to see if I could get some closer shots. I thought the bugs would scatter when I approached them but they stayed together. When I dropped a small rock in the water they would scatter and then gradually return to the group.

If nothing else they kept me entertained for an hour on a nice sunny afternoon.

Spotted Touch-me-not

This is the time of year when the Spotted and Pale Touch-me-nots are out in great numbers along the Red Cedar State Trail. It’s something I look forward to photographing every year from midsummer on. This is a shot taken several years ago and won first place in the River Alliance Photo Contest.

Pale Touch-me-not

Normally I like to use my tripod and a my Sigma 150 macro lens to photograph them. Sometimes I use extension tubes to allow me to get a little closer. Most of the time I photograph them in the early morning when the morning dew is dripping off of them.  It also is very helpful if they are in the shade and the winds are calm.

Spotted Touch-me-not

Photographing them can be somewhat of a challenge because Touch-me-nots grow in large clusters. This makes it difficult to setup the tripod without causing the morning due to drop off of the flowers. It is also difficult to photograph the individual flowers while excluding background distractions. The shape of the Touch-me-nots presents a problem because it is difficult to get the entire flower in focus and any one time and at the same time exclude background noise. If you close the aperture down to extend the depth of field so the entire flowers is in focus you are likely to get a lot of distracting background noise in the photo. Sometimes, you get lucky, you can find a flower standing alone with a distant background.

Pale Touch-me-not

In order to control the control the depth of field I open the aperture to narrow the depth of field. I then take multiple shots changing the focus slightly between shots. I then process the photo in a program called Helicon Focus. this allows me to select the shots that include only those portions of the flower that I want in focus. The key to this technique is to have a steady hand, and not have any wind blowing. This is somewhat rare along a river valley so it can take a number of trips and some persistence to get the photos you want. This shot shows you what can happen when you combine several shots taken when the wind is blowing.


Spotted Touch-me-not

Pale Touch-me-not

American Goldfinch

I was listening to public radio a few weeks ago and an older retired gentleman called in and said that black sunflower seed prices have gone so high that he was no longer able to afford to feed the birds. I hadn’t purchased any for a while and when I looked in the paper I just about fainted. A 40 pound bag of black sunflower seeds are going for $22 on sale. It wasn’t long ago that they were $10 and earlier this summer they were around $15. I’ve also cut back on my feeding. I only have one feeder up and it is one that requires a little more effort for the birds to get the seeds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

To make matters worse the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are getting ready to migrate and are eating like crazy. I’ve been making a gallon of sugar water every day for the last month. With the price of sugar it’s getting expensive to feed them. Fortunately most of them should be heading south in the next couple of weeks so I won’t have to feed them.

This past week we took a road trip up the Minnesota North Shore. This time we didn’t stop at the border and went all the way to Thunder Bay. This was my first visit to Thunder Bay in about fifteen years.


Snake Pit Falls

As is our normal routine we made our first stop at Amnicon Falls State Park. I was surprised to find the water levels in the Amnicon River at a high level. Typically at this time of year they are much lower. Swimming was prohibited in the park because of the high water levels. This shot was taken at the top of Snake Pit Falls.


Wisconsin Point Lighthouse

Our second stop was Wisconsin Point. This was my second visit to Wisconsin Point this summer. The wind was really kicking up and it was difficult to stand on the breakwater in the strong winds. The water in the bay was really churned up and was a brown color. In this shot of the Wisconsin Point Lighthouse you can see movement in the grass from the strong winds.


We then went on to Gooseberry Falls State Park. The water levels were really low along the North Shore. This was a little surprising given the high water at Amnicon Falls. The place was packed with visitors. I would have liked to get some photos of the falls with the lower water levels but it was impossible to take a photo without getting at least a half dozen people in it. This is why I rarely visit the North Shore from mid June until after Labor Day.


Split Rock Lighthouse

We then drove up to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. I thought we would have to purchase a park sticker but you can visit the lighthouse without a sticker so we saved a little money. It was really windy at the lighthouse and it was difficult to hear the tour guide with the wind blowing. This photo was taken on an earlier trip. Too many folks on the tour to get good photos this trip.


After leaving the lighthouse we encountered some rain squalls on our drive to Grand Marais. There were several rainbows along the lake. One of them lasted from Split Rock to just south of Grand Marais. I’ve never seen a rainbow last this long.


Cascade Falls

We stopped briefly at Cascade Falls State Park. The water levels were low but I find that Cascade Falls is more impressive with less water flowing over the falls. With less water the falls is framed by the black rock surrounding the falling water.





Grand Marais Harbor Lighthouse

I was able to spend a couple of days shooting in Grand Marais. The sunset was very interesting with a rain squall in the background and a rainbow dropping through the clouds. The sunrise was less spectacular with almost no clouds around. This is a shot of the harbor light with interesting cloud formations in the background.


High Falls of the Pigeon River

Later in the morning we headed for Grand Portage State Park to photograph High Falls on the Pigeon River. The sun was out by the time we reached the falls. It was a beautiful day and I managed a few photographs of the falls with a rainbow appearing and disappearing at the base of the falls.


Kakabeka Falls

At Thunder Bay we stopped at Kakabeka Falls. There was not a lot of water coming over the falls. In fact it was extremely dry in the Thunder Bay area. I was also photographing in bright sunlight so the conditions were not the best. You have to pay to visit the park and we had quite a time making our payment at the automated ticket machine. Apparently we don’t get out enough.


Fur Stores

Fort William Historical Park was on our agenda for the afternoon. We were too late for some of the events but did walk around the park. I have to say that our previous visit when our son was about seven years old was a lot more fun since many of the activities are geared to kids. This is a shot of the fur stores.


Blue-winged Teal

We drove around Thunder Bay in the evening. I can’t say that I was all that impressed. They are working on the waterfront and when that is done it should be spectacular to visit. We stopped at International Friendship Gardens where I snapped this photo of a friendly Blue-winged Teal.


Voyageur Child

The next morning we headed back down to the border. Our first stop was at Grand Portage National Monument in Grand Portage. There is a nice visitors center and a restored fort on the waterfront. Normally when I stop the fort is closed for the season. This time the fort was open and, as luck would have it, Rendezvous Days and a Traditional Pow Wow were going to be starting the next day. About half the participants had already arrived by Thursday so we were able to wander around the encampment talking to folks. This is a shot of one of voyageur’s daughters entering the Kitchen at the fort.


schooner Hjørdis


We then headed back to Grand Marais so my wife and her sisters could tours the shops and I could take some photos of the harbor. I was lucky enough to catch the schooner Hjørdis sailing into the harbor. Also in the harbor were lots of Inuksuks. This was a particularly impressive one. We finished off the visit with a lunch at Sven and Ole’s.

As I’ve noted in some earlier posts this has been an amazing summer for Clearwing Hummingbird Moths. I’ve only seen them a few times in previous years but this year I’m finding them in all of my favorite local haunts. Last week at Hoffman Hills Recreation Area I had three of them in view at one time. They are feeding on the Wild Bergamot which was blooming in large numbers. I’ve also had them feeding at my Wild Bergamot patches on the farm.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

The weather has been very humid so I haven’t done much hiking on the Red Cedar State Trail this summer. This past week I went out several times and encountered a large number and variety of butterflies. This was the most butterflies I’ve ever seen on the trail. This seems to be a great year for butterflies. I’ve seen more of them this year than ever before.

Red Spotted Purple Admiral

Northern Crescent

Monarch Butterfly

Giant Swallowtail

Eastern tiger Swallowtail


More photos on my website.

Bald Eagles

On a recent drive past a neighbor’s house my wife noted that they had acquired two eagle statutes. Upon closer inspection we noticed that they were real eagles in their front yard. One was an adult eagle and the other one of the young. The adult eagle was standing guard while the young eagle was feasting on my neighbor’s cat. This was the first time I’ve seen an eagle with someone’s pet.

One of my favorite locations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Pictured Rocks has a number of beautiful waterfalls which I try to visit each time I travel to the park.

Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Munising Falls is actually located in Munising, Michigan although it is part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This photo was taken in the fall as the leaves were turning in the fall. I’ve visited the falls on a number of occasions. The thing that I remember the most were the mosquitoes. One time they were so bad that I encountered several screaming people running from the viewing area. They forgot to put on the bug repellent.

Miners Falls

Miners Falls Trail

Miners Falls

Miners Falls is located off the road to the Miners Beach area. The waterfall itself is impressive dropping 50 feet. While the falls is impressive what I like is the hike into the falls. It’s only about a half mile hike but in the spring the floor of the forest is carpeted with wildflowers and in the fall it is carpeted with leaves. It does require that you walk down seventy plus steps to the viewing Platform.

Elliot Creek Falls

Elliot Creek Falls

Elliot Creek Falls, I’m not sure this is the correct name, this falls is not mentioned in any of the park literature but it is one of the most photographed falls in the park. It is located on the east end of Miners Beach. It is only about 4 feet high but offers some spectacular photos in the late evening light. I typically make it an evening and try to get some sunset photos at the same time. This can be a popular spot so you may need to lineup to get a shot.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls is a seasonal waterfall that usually dries up in the summer. It is best viewed from the water and cannot be seen from the North Country Trail. This photo was taken on the boat cruise in the middle of June and as you can see there was not much water in the falls at that time.

Mosquito Falls

Mosquito Falls

The trail to Mosquito Falls starts at the parking lot at the end of Chapel Road. I usually combine the trip to Mosquito Falls with a visit Chapel Falls and hike the ten mile loop trail that goes from the parking lot to Chapel Beach then over to Mosquito Beach then back to the parking lot. You can also just hike to the falls on the Mosquito Beach trail. Mosquito Falls is my least favorite waterfall in the park. It less than a ten foot drop and I’ve had problems arriving at the falls when the light is good. This is another waterfall trail that is spectacular in the spring when the ground is carpeted with wildflowers.

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls Road

Chapel Falls

The trail to Chapel Falls starts at the parking lot at the end of Chapel Road. As noted above I normally combine my hike to Chapel Falls with a loop hike that also takes in Mosquito Falls. Chapel Falls drops 60 feet over a limestone cliff. There are several viewing platforms along the trail. This is another waterfall that is difficult to photograph if the sun is shining. It is also difficult to get a complete view of the falls from the viewing areas. This photo was taken at the top of the falls just before it drops over the cliff. This is another hike that is spectacular in the spring with the wildflowers and in the fall with the leaves. The drive in to the Chapel Road parking lot is also spectacular in the fall.

Spray Falls

Spray Falls

Spray Falls can be viewed from the North Country Trail or from the lake. I usually try and combine the trip to spray falls with a trip into Chapel Beach. If you hike about 1.75 miles east from Chapel Beach you will reach Spray falls. Little of the falls can be seen from the trail at the top of the falls but if you continue on past the falls for several hundred yards you will find a nice rock viewing platform. The shipwreck Superior lies below the falls. There are some nice views of rocks in the lake and the shipwreck from the viewing platform. The falls drops about 70 feet over the sandstone cliffs directly into Lake Superior. If you take the boat cruise  you need to make sure you are on the right cruise since only one trip per day goes to the falls. This is another waterfall where the water levels may vary so it is worth checking with the park serviced before making the trip.

Sable Falls

Sable Falls

Sable Falls is located on the east side of the park just outside Grand Marais. The hike to the falls is short but it does require that you walk down 169 steps to the viewing platforms. Unfortunately the viewing platforms are not well placed so it is difficult to get a clear photo of the falls. One time when I was there someone climbed over the barrier so he could get a better shot of the falls. Several others were standing in the rain waiting for him to get out of the way. There were several rangers in the area and they quickly made him leave.

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