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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Over the past several years I’ve been trying to grow milkweed on the farm. I started with a patch in the garden and now have three large patches of milkweed. The original intent was to provide food and lodging for Monarch Butterflies. Last year I had a bumper crop of Monarch Caterpillars in the various milkweed patches. This summer I’ve seen the results of my labor. Not only do I have Monarch Caterpillars but I have a great variety of butterflies using the blooming milkweed. In addition to the butterflies there are also Ruby-throated Hummingbirds frequenting the patches as well as a variety of bees.

Common Milkweed

I spent the better part of a morning in my patches photographing butterflies. As I formed the idea for this blog I thought I must have lots of photos of butterflies on my milkweed plants. Later in the day I searched my photos and much to my surprise I don’t have a single photo of a butterfly on a milkweed plant. Either I haven’t been out in the milkweed patches at the right time or this is truly an unusual year. Today I counted 10 different butterflies in my milkweed patch. Here are just a few of the insects I found on my milkweed plants.

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Butterfly

Silver Spotted Skipper

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Honey Bee

Great Spangled Fritillary

Giant Swallowtail

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It’s the time of year when I review the birds that I’ve photographed around my farm during the spring. I was a fairly boring spring following a rather boring winter with not many new observations. None the less there were some interesting happenings.

Eastern Bluebird male

Probably the most interesting event was the return of the Easter Bluebirds. I was able to get my first shot of them on the first day of spring. What made this such a great year for bluebirds was the fact that I set up my turkey blind in the back yard and started photographing them when they started nest hunting and followed through while they built the nest and then defended it against Tree Swallows. Apparently Easter Bluebirds build several nests at the same time and then end up using only one of them. That appears to be what happened this year. After building the nest they didn’t seem to be using it so I opened the nesting box up and sure enough there was a great nest but it wasn’t being used. This is the third year in a row that this has happened.

Northern Cardinal female

The second most interesting event was my problem with a female Northern Cardinal. As spring arrived the female cardinal started attacking my basement window. I kept hearing a sound in the basement but couldn’t figure out what it was. After several trips to the basement I noticed the female cardinal banging against the window. Our cat occasionally sleeps in the basement and it must have been driving him nuts. It turned out that the basement window was just the start of things. It then started attacking a large picture window. I tried to put something in the window to discourage it but it then moved to another picture window above it so I took the window blocker down. A couple of weeks later I was awakened by a sound outside my bedroom window. When I looked she was banging against my bedroom window just after sunrise. After about a week of this I pulled the blinds and that  put a stop to it. Attacking the windows went on for about six weeks. At one point I thought it had stopped and started to clean the windows but it started again after a few days. The male cardinal would just sit on a tree branch, with a confused look and watch her. When she finally did quit it was a big chore to clean the windows. Typical window cleaning didn’t work and I ended up using a scratch free scouring pad to get the gunk off.

American Robin

Early in the spring when the American Robins return they sometimes don’t have worms to eat so they love eating Sumac Berries. I usually put them out for the Eastern Bluebird but the Robins also feed on them.

Red Tailed HawkFor a few weeks I had a Red Tailed Hawk that was perching in a tree in the back yard. He had a great view of my  backyard prairie. I would see him perched on the same tree almost every day. I could usually tell when he was there because the Crows would soon be gathering to drive him away.

American Goldfinch male

American Goldfinches are my most frequent visitor in terms of numbers. They congregate in large numbers throughout the year. They eat me out of house and home. They particularly love Black Sunflower seeds.

Tree Swallow

As I noted above I have Tree Swallows nesting around the farm. They usually battle the Eastern Bluebirds for nesting rights. This year the bluebirds won although as I indicated they ended up not using the nesting box. The Tree Swallows wanted the one about ten feet from the bluebirds but ended up taking another nest. The irony of it was that at the end of spring the Tree Swallows ended up setting up their second nest in this house.

Feeding time

Generally I have a few House Finches around my feeders. I mainly see them when they bring their fledglings to the feeder late in the spring. I can usually get a few shots of the adult feeding the young.

Eastern Phoebe

For quite a few years I’ve had Eastern Phoebes nesting above a light over the back door of the garage. Last year they abandon the nest. This year they started nesting in the corner of my house under the deck. The first batch fledged just after the first of June. We weren’t around and didn’t seem them fledge although I did see the whole family out in the woods about a week later. This shot is a little is a little unusual. I was photographing a phoebe while it was attempting to eat a worm. After thrashing around with it for a while it suddenly went down the hatch. I just happened to catch it.

Song Sparrows

I usually have Song Sparrows nesting in some bushes in front of the house. They are near my feeders so I occasionally get a shot of them. This year, for the first time, I managed to get a shot of an adult feeding one of the fledglings.

Chipping Sparrow

Early in the spring I had  a number of Chipping Sparrows around. I thought they were also going to nest around the house but they seem to disappear later in the spring.

Pigeon

This year, for the first time that I can remember, I had a Pigeon appear on the farm. The neighbor has all kinds of them on his barn but they never show up at my house. I noticed him while I was mowing the lawn and after watching him for about fifteen minutes I decided to go in the house and get the camera since it was such an unusual sight.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpecker fledgling

I normally have Red-bellied Woodpeckers around the feeders all year around. They love suet but only the commercial stuff not the suet you purchase from the meat market. I have an old log that I drilled holes in and fill with suet that I use for a feeder. It makes a good prop for photography. This year for the first time a fledgling showed up with an adult. I tried to get a photo of the adult feeding the fledgling but it was too dark. After a while the fledgling started showing up on its own. I suspect the adults were busy with another batch of young.

Grey Catbird

I normally have a pair of Gray Catbirds nesting in front of the house. They are a beautiful bird. I could see that they had a nest but couldn’t find it but would see them bringing food to the young.

Baltimore Oriole male

What a difference a year makes. Last year I had large numbers of Baltimore Orioles arrive in the spring. There were so many orioles around the area that the stores ran out of grape jelly. I would frequently have six or eight birds around the feeders at any one time. This year I saw a couple of them at the feeders and they were gone off to nest. I think this is my only photo of one.

More birds of spring photos can be found on my website.

I’m frequently asked why the water in some of my photos looks so strange. Most people think it must be flood water containing large amounts of silt. The actual reason is that In Northern Wisconsin and along the Minnesota North Shore the water frequently has  a root beer color because of tannins, which come from the decomposition of wetland plants. The greater the watershed drainage the darker the water. Two prime examples of this can be found at Amnicon Falls State Park in Wisconsin and Cascade River State Park in Minnesota. The root beer color adds a dramatic touch to the photos and creates interesting patterns in the water.

These shots were taken at Amnicon Falls State Park just outside Superior, Wisconsin. The river was running heavy on this particular day and the water had a dark root beer color.

Lower Falls

Snake Pit Falls

These shots were taken at Cascade River State Park.

The Cascades

Cascade River

We usually think of legumes as forage crops but they also make nice subjects for photography. In the Midwest they mainly consist of alfalfa, clover and vetch. What I like about photographing them is that they start blooming around the first of June and continue to bloom until killed by frost. This year they were blooming by the middle of May. All of the above mentioned legumes are blooming in my prairie area. In order to keep them blooming I mow them periodically so there are always some blooming and always some blooms for the butterflies and bees.

The great thing about alfalfa is that it comes in a wide variety of colors. Almost every plant offers a different opportunity for photography.

White Alfalfa

Alfalfa

Monarch Butterfly

Clover really lends itself to some great photography opportunities when there is a heavy dew.

Red Clover

Honey Bee

Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Vetch is a less common legume but it still provides a nice subject for photography.

Vetch

We normally make a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in early June. This year we were busy with other things and this past weekend was the first chance we had to make the trip. It’s a long drive so we ended up taking a four day weekend for the trip.

Day 1

The first day is normally a long driving day. It takes about seven hours to reach Pictured Rocks and usually a little longer if we make any stops. The weather report was for a cloudy day so we decided to try and stop at some waterfalls in order to break up the trip.

Bond Falls

The first stop was at one of my favorite waterfalls, Bond Falls. It had been cloudy the entire trip and I like to shoot waterfalls on cloudy or overcast days because it provides a more even light. As luck would have it as soon as we reached Bond Falls the sun came out. I seemed to be cursed on my visits to Bond Falls. The trip to the falls is generally made with overcast skies and as soon as I arrive the Sun comes out. Bond falls is below a dam so there is always a good flow of water over the falls. This shot was made at a small waterfall above the main falls.

Ferns

Our second stop of the day was at Canyon Falls which is just a short driving distance from Bond Falls and was on our way to Munising. I thought the U.P. might have received some of the heavy rains that came through Northern Wisconsin the past few weeks and hoped that the water level was high but it didn’t happen. The water levels were low for this time of year and the falls did not offer particularly good photographic opportunities. This is a shot of some ferns growing on the wall above the falls.

Elliot Falls

Sunset Miners Beach

Because of our stops we didn’t reach Munising late in the day. We grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to Miners Beach at Pictured Rocks. I normally photograph sunsets from Miners Beach. It can offer some spectacular sunsets and there is a small waterfall that it a popular photography location. This was one of the few visits when there was no one else on the beach. It is still early season in the U.P. so there were not a lot of other folks around at any of the locations we visited. My wife noticed that there were quite a few flies attracted to her boots but I didn’t notice them. It turned out this was significant but we didn’t realize how significant until the next Day. The shot on the left shows the sunset. I’ve seen a lot better at Miners Beach but it was still nice. The lake was very calm so there wasn’t much wave action. The shot on the right shows Elliot Creek Falls as it emerges from forest.

Day 2

Pictured Rocks

Day two was a scheduled hiking day. We decided to drive back to Miners Beach and hike from Miners Beach over to Mosquito Beach. It’s about a six mile round trip and it was our first time on this portion of the Lakeshore Trail. The first few hundred yards are very steep and hard on someone with bad hamstrings. There were a wide variety of flowers out but not a lot of each type of flower. It looked like in a week the woods will once again be carpeted with wild flowers. There are some good places to view the lakeshore from along this portion of the Trail.

Sand Patterns

Birch Tree

On the second observation point we got an inkling of what was to come. We walked out into the sand and were immediately covered with Stable Flies. We quickly headed back onto the main trail but the flies remained with us. It made for a miserable day because every stop we picked up more flies. For the most part they just hang on to your clothes but they will bite exposed skin. The last thing you want to do on a warm day is wear long pants and shirts but it is the best course of action. Fortunately they don’t cause large welts when they do bite. Insect repellents have no effect on them. We later found out that they cluster along the beach on hot days, it was close to 80 degrees, when the wind is out of the south. We ended up hiking the entire trip without any breaks. Three young people had started out hiking ahead of us and we met them as they were running back to the trailhead. This was our first and hopefully last experience with Stable Flies. They were out early this year. One of the rangers said they were first seen in May this year. The shot on the right shows some sand patterns at Mosquito Beach and the left is of a Birch Tree with the lake in the background.

Wagner Falls

The presence of Sable Flies considerably reduced out options for the day’s activities. We ended up going back to the motel and watching a Euro 2012 football game. Later in the day it clouded up so we had an early dinner and then went out to photograph some waterfalls. Fortunately there are quite a few waterfalls in Munising. I think there are six of them and we stopped at four of them during the evening before driving out to sand point and hiking a short  nature trail. This is a shot of Wagner Falls just outside town.

Day 3

Day three was supposed to be another hiking day. We had planned to drive to the Hurricane River campground then hike along the beach to Au Sable Lighthouse. We love hiking along the beach because it isn’t all sand and offers a variety of scenery. It is also nice because the wind is usually blowing and there are no mosquitoes.  On the drive to Hurricane River we stopped at Twelve Mile Beach to check on fly conditions. As we exited the car we were immediately engulfed in Stable Flies. Well the best laid plans just went out the window and the flies came in. It took us most of the day to get all of the flies out of the car.

Goslings

Our original plans were to hike  for most of the day then drive over to Seney National Wildlife Refuge late in the day. With Stable Flies at all of the beaches we decided to drive directly over to Seney and forget about hiking along the lakeshore. It was around noon when we arrived at Seney so we didn’t expect to see a lot of wildlife activity as we drove around the refuge. We drove the Fishing Loop and part of the Marshland Wildlife Drive. On the Fishing Loop we could see how close the recent wildfires had gotten to the main public roads in the refuge. There were a few birds out and we did see some Canada Geese Goslings that weren’t very old.

Boats

Since there wasn’t a lot going on in the refuge we decided we had enough time to drive over to Tahquamenon Falls before returning for some sunset photography. We had visited the Upper Falls on a trip the previous fall so we decided to try the Lower Falls this trip. I had seen better water levels and more interesting water action on previous trips so I concentrated on photographing people enjoying the river. This is a shot of the boat rental area.

Trumpeter Swans

We then drove back to Seney and had dinner at a local bar before heading back out to the Wildlife Refuge. It was about six in the evening and we had about four hours to kill before sunset. We ended up taking the Marshland Wildlife Drive twice before sunset. There was a lot to see. Seney has a large number of Trumpeter Swans. Captive swans were introduced over twenty years ago and they have flourished at Seney and are a common sight on the refuge. This is a shot of Trumpeter Swan Cygnets feeding with one of the parents. We were able to observe them for a long period of time. While they were in deeper water the cygnets would wait while the adult fed off of

Cygnet

the bottom. The adult would then bring up food from the bottom for the cygnets. The cygnets would rush over to feed on the material the adult brought up. We observed two different pair of adults. One pair had two cygnets and the other pair had four. In both cases we were able to stand on the shore and eventually they came right up to the shoreline to feed. The adults didn’t seem to be too concerned with our presence. This was definitely the highlight of our visit.

In addition to the swans we saw many other birds including Grebes, Kingfishers, Kingbirds, Loons and Canada Geese. In one location there were a bunch of Canada Geese with their teenage offspring that didn’t want to get out of the road. Every time we drove past they would run down the center of the road in front of the car until finally moving off toward the lake.

Muskrat

We also saw White-tailed Deer with their fawns walking along the road. Muskrats and Beaver were abundant late in the day. They were, well, working like beavers. In a couple of cases we could see what appeared to be small islands moving through the water. The beaver were moving so much material we could hardly see the beavers. We found this Muskrat eating on a tree that had fallen into the water.

Sunset

We made one last drive, our fourth trip of the day, around the Marshland Wildlife Drive in order to photograph the sunset. I have The Photographer’s Ephemeris loaded onto my Android phone so as we made earlier trips through the refuge I used it to pick out some good locations for sunset and sunrise shots. The sunset was good but not spectacular. Unfortunately there were clouds along the horizon so the sunset didn’t last as long as we hoped.

Seney Sunset

Nothing will top the sunset photo I managed to capture last year on our fall trip to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. There were a number of Contrails in the sky at sunset and they combined with the clouds to create a spectacular image.

Day 4

Sunrise

On day four we packed up and headed out for some Sunrise photography. Fortunately, we were on eastern time so sunrise wasn’t until six in the morning rather than five. The extra hour of sleep was welcome after a long day three. When we woke up the sky was filled with clouds so I wasn’t optimistic that we would have a good sunrise. As it turns out the sunrise only lasted for about fifteen minutes before the clouds took over and it started raining. I was able to get a few shots off before things went south.

The plan was to drive down to Manistique, Michigan for breakfast. The local Big Boy had fast internet service so we used the service to check on possible waterfall locations on the route home. I knew that Marinette County has a number of waterfalls but didn’t know where they were located. As it turned out a number of them were located along our route home. All of the falls were located in county parks. The admission fee is three dollars for the day and allows you to visit all of the parks.

Smalley Falls

Our first stop was at Smalley falls. This is a delightful little waterfall that is just a short hike from the parking lot. There are a wide variety of shots to be had if you are interested in taking intimate waterfall scenes. If I had been willing to wade into the stream there would have been a few more shots. Next time I’m going we bring my waders.

Long Slide Falls

The second waterfall was Long Slide Falls. Again this was located in a county park and was only a short walk from the parking lot. Unfortunately it is difficult if not impossible to photograph the entire falls in one shot but there are smaller portions that can be photographed. The area around the falls is quite steep and since I’m no longer an agile youngster I decided to use discretion and probably missed some good shots because of it.

Daves Falls

The last waterfall we stopped at was Dave’s Falls. Again it is difficult to get a good shot of the entire falls but there are intimate shots of portions of the falls to be had. It had been raining so the rocks were wet and I again used discretion and didn’t try for a spectacular shot.

This was our last stop on the way home. The remaining portion of the trip was a little more exciting than we would have liked. We encountered severe storms west of Wausau, Wisconsin. The wind and driving rain/hail forced us to pull off of the road several times. To make matters worse Verizon seemed to be having some problems with their network connections so we couldn’t follow the storm on our cell phones. We eventually did make it home safely.

The final stop on last week’s trip to the Minnesota North Shore was at Cascade Rivers State Park. We had stopped in Grand Marais for a bite to eat and then enjoy a beautiful sunset at the harbor. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t look like it would cooperate so we went to plan B which was to drive back down to Cascade River State Park. Generally on sunny days the Cascade River can be photographed in the evening and early in the morning without encountering harsh light. As we were photographing along the Cascade River we noticed that the sun was starting to come out. This gave us renewed hope for a sunset at Grand Marais. We rushed to finish up and then headed back to Grand Marais. Alas there was no sunset.

Cascade Falls

Cascade River

The Cascades

More photos of Cascade Falls State Park can be found on my website.

Our destination on the recent trip to the Minnesota North Shore was Grand Portage State Park more specifically High Falls on the Pigeon River. The Pigeon River divides the U.S. and Canada. High Falls is the highest and in my opinion the most dramatic waterfall in Minnesota.

Lake Superior

As we neared the border on the drive up to the falls we stopped at the newly reopened parking lot that has a great view of Lake Superior. It has been under construction for some time and I’m glad to see that is open. There should be some spectacular photos to be had when the colors turn in the fall. The area is covered with aspen trees.

High Falls

On the hike up to High Falls we could hear there was a lot of water going over the falls. The North Shore had received large amounts of rain the previous week. Water levels were extremely high in most of the rivers during the early part of the week. Although water levels had gone down there was still a lot of water flowing over the falls.

High Falls

There were more people at the park than I had seen in any previous visit. When we reached the first overlook it was crowed so we started with the second overlook. I originally set the camera up with a neutral density filter and a polarizing filter but soon realized there was way too much mist in the air to take long exposures. I went back to my UV filter and decided to shoot freehand.

Rainbow

It was a good thing I did because when we went back to the first overlook it was raining. Someone suggested that an umbrella would have been handy but it wouldn’t have helped with photography because the rain was coming up from below with considerable force. When large amounts of water flow over the falls it creates its own weather system including beautiful rainbows. This was the most water I have seen coming over the falls with the exception of last year when I was there during the spring melt.

High Falls

When there is a heavy water flow it is spectacular at the falls and well worth seeing. If you want to photograph it’s better to time your visit when there is less water flowing so you don’t have to photograph in the “rain”. Actually it wouldn’t be bad photographing in the rain because an umbrella would probably work but it is difficult with rain blasting straight into the camera lens.

More photos of Grand Portage State Park can be found on my website.

Temperance River State Park

This past weekend we made our spring trip to the Minnesota North Shore. We like to make the trip in early June just before the motel rates go up and before everything is overrun with tourists. It sometimes makes it difficult to photograph without getting lots of people in the photo particularly if you are photographing within a short distance of the road. We were a little surprised at the number of folks at Temperance River.

Foam Temperance River State Park

I usually have a difficult time photographing at the Temperance River because it seems that every time I drive past it is a beautiful day with lots of sunshine. My preference is to photograph waterfalls on an overcast day without the high dynamic range of bright sunlight and canyon shadows. On this particular day we had limited time so I decided to take some freehand photos and leave the tripod and filters in the car.

Gathering of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails

One of the first things we saw was an unbelievable gathering to Canadian Swallowtail Butterflies. I had seen small gathering before but in this case there was easily over a hundred of them gathered along the shore. You could see them flying deep into the canyons just above the rushing water. Apparently these large groups sometimes called puddle clubs are mostly males drinking and replenishing their salt supplies which they lose during mating

Temperance River State Park

As I mentioned there were quite a few people along the trail and we seemed to walking along in a crowd so it was a little difficult to photograph without getting people in the photos, usually the same people.

Temperance River State Park

There was quite a bit of water flowing in the river. When we walked down to the mouth of the river there was someone fishing. He must have been a beginner because his line was always getting tangled up. We also encountered a kayaker who paddled up the river and landed.

More photos from The Temperance River State Park can be found on my website.

Shovel Point View

This past weekend we made our spring trip to the Minnesota North Shore. One of our stops was at Tettegouche State Park. We decided to hike out to Shovel Point. It was a beautiful sunny day with white clouds in the sky. The lake was the calmest I’ve seen it in some time.

Bunchberries

There were a variety of flowers out along the trail including Bunchberries, Bluebead Lily and Virginia Bluebells. They have been working on the trail out to the point for the last couple of years and construction continues. they have widened the steps considerably probably to account for growing obesity of Americans.

After returning from Shovel Point we walked down to the mouth of the Baptism River. We were fortunate enough to see a Loon along the shore. It stayed along the shore for some time.

Shovel Point

Good news from the park is that they will be starting a new visitors center this summer. It should be ready by next Year.

More photos from Tettegouche State Park can be found on my website.

 

We took our spring road trip to the Minnesota North Shore this past weekend. We usually try and make the trip in early June just before the motel rates go up. On Friday we closed on a condo in downtown Duluth so we had an exciting and stressful day. After the closing we had a great pizza at Pizza Luce. We then walked over to the Sons of Norway Hall to see “Last day at Lambeau” about the divorce of Bret Farve from the Green Packers. It was one of the films showing at the Duluth Film Festival. It’s a great documentary will worth seeing if it has a showing near you. It was even a little more exciting because of the mix of Minnesota Viking and Green Bay Packer Fans in attendance.

Weed

The next day we decided to take a walk along the Duluth beach. It’s Just across the lift bridge and forms the eastern edge of Minnesota Point (known as Park Point) the point is 7 miles long and when combined with the Wisconsin Point beach forms the longest freshwater sandbar in the world. We decided this would make a nice morning hike. It was a warm day with the breeze blowing along the shore. It was even warm enough for some folks to go in swimming which is unusual for this time of year and probably for any time of year because Lake Superior is known for being very cold. Objects on the beach always interest me and offer a great subject to photograph while walking along beaches.

Swallowtail and Friend

At the start of the walk we found a large dead fish. I think it was a Lake Sturgeon. It was a popular attraction. Milo, a local dog, was interested in it. What caught my attention was a swallowtail butterfly that was attracted to it.

Wood Patterns

We stopped to asked a young man some questions about the black stuff we had seen along the beach in an earlier visit. He was very helpful. Apparently it was wood chips that had washed out into the lake from the Saint Louis River or purged from ships ballasts.

Box Kite

Turns out the young man had just graduated from pharmacy school in Duluth and was starting to work at a local hospital. Soon his brother and mother came over and we talked for about a half an hour about great things to do in Duluth, hikes, skiing the senior program at the university etc. The title for the blog came from the mother who said she told her friends that she just bought a place on the beach in Duluth, Minnesota. It seems a bit of an oxymoron since most folks who visit Duluth aren’t aware there is a beach in Duluth and Duluth is not  associated with beach property. One of the sons and his son were flying a box kite on the beach.

Ringed-billed Gull

There were a number of birds along the beach. I took a few photos of some Ringed-billed Gulls as they swam just off shore. They can be found all along the beach.

More Park Point photos can be found at my website.