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Category Archives: Bittersweet

Late in the fall or early in the winter my wife and I hike the Red Cedar State Trail looking for Bittersweet. This year we didn’t find any. It’s the first time we have been skunked and we haven’t figured out what happened to it. Normally there are large patches along the trail. I particularly like to photograph it after a fresh snowfall. Here are a few photos from previous years.

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One of the things I like to do is photograph Bittersweet in the late fall or early winter. This year I got busy and forgot about it until I went on my first ski of the season. I noticed some Bittersweet along the Red Cedar Trail and vowed to come back and photograph it if the sun ever came back out.

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A couple of days later it was a beautiful day so my wife and I gathered up the camera gear and skied out to where we had seen the Bittersweet. Unfortunately it grows in a tangled mass of brush and downed trees so it was difficult to photograph but I managed a few pictures.

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While I was photographing my wife skied down the trail. I heard what I thought was her talking to someone. The noise became louder and I noticed a flight of Trumpeter Swans flying up the river. Fortunately I was using my 600mm lens to photograph the Bittersweet. Unfortunately I was standing in thick brush. I did manage a few shots of the Swans as they flew by. It’s rare to see swans on the Red Cedar River but I have seen a few but never this large of group.

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I made what is probably my last expedition to photograph bittersweet this year. As I mentioned in my last post on the Red Cedar State Trail the DNR had closed the trail to hiking. This was done after we had a nice 6 inch snowfall and everyone was excited about getting a base down for the cross country ski season. We all thought that the snow would last but alas it has almost all melted and the trail is clear of snow in many places.

Since I couldn’t ski down to the bittersweet I decided to hike down to it. It was a nice day and I thought I could get some shots with a blue sky in the background. As I mentioned the trail was mostly clear of snow so it was an easy walk. On the way I saw a couple of immature Bald Eagles and a couple of Red Tailed Hawks. In both cases they were making quite a racquet so it was easy to spot them. I also noticed a flock of what I thought were Cedar Waxwings feeding on Sumac berries. I couldn’t tell because I was looking into the sun. I made a note to put my birding lens on for the return trip and try and get some shots.

When I reached the bittersweet I noticed that it was starting to deteriorate but still offered some nice shots. Unfortunately it is located in the middle of a Prickly Ash patch. To make matters worse a number of trees have fallen down further blocking access. I noticed an animal trail working its way through the Prickley Ash so I got down on my hands and knees and crawled through it to reach the bittersweet. Wouldn’t you know when I reached the other side I noticed that If I had walked down the trail another 50 feet I wouldn’t have easily walked in.

On the way back I had my birding lens on and hopped to get some shots where I had seen the flock of birds feeding. AS luck would have it they were gone. The moral of the story is if you see a good shot take it because it might not be available later.

What makes it possible to get good photographs of a subject is knowing the subject. In this case the American Bittersweet plant. In the middle of October, when the leaves are down. I start looking for bittersweet in wooded areas. It’s easier to see at this time but it is not best time to photograph it because it is just a round, orange berry at this point. Later in the fall, when it is cold the berries burst open creating a bright orange flower like display.

I usually have a good idea where I can find it but things change from year to year. One year I found a great patch of it close to the ground but the next year it was gone because the power company came in and cleared all of the brush out under the power lines. In other cases it died off or climbed high enough in the trees to make it difficult to photograph. Once I find it I know where to go when conditions are right.

I usually like to photograph Bittersweet under a couple of conditions. Bright blue sky which really makes the berries stand out. This is the condition that is a little easier to find even in November which tends to be a little on the cloudy side.

The second condition is when the Bittersweet is covered with snow or ice. It is rare to find just the right conditions. Ice usually doesn’t last very long and it makes it difficult to get to the berries if it is really icy out. Fresh snow is a little easier to find but you need snow that will stick to the berries and branches. This usually means a wet snow or snow with no winds blowing. This past weekend conditions were just right for photographing the Bittersweet in the snow. We had about six inches of wet snow which was clinging to just about everything.

More Bittersweet shots can be found on my webpage.

It’s that time of year when Wisconsin has it’s never ending deer hunting season and it’s not safe to be in the woods. Apparently the only folks who matter are hunters. The just of it is we spend about three weeks walking the Red Cedar State trail because it is relatively safe.

On Saturday we walked from Menomonie to Irvington and back. I was surprised at the number of hikers on the trail. There wasn’t a lot to see. The ice was forming on the small ponds and streams along the trail. The ice on the ice wall at the 1.5 mile mark is starting to form. We did see several flocks of Cedar Waxwings feeding along the trail.

 Sunday was entirely different. We had about 6 inches of snow overnight. It was the heavy wet variety and it was clinging to all the bushes and trees. The hike from Irvington to the ice wall was spectacular. Normally I only see these conditions when it is 10-15 degrees below zero and there is a heavy frost on the trees. It sure was great to be out an shooting without freezing my hands.

 Surprisingly there was not another person on the trail.  In the afternoon we hiked about 1.5 miles south from Downsville looking for Bittersweet to photograph. The eagles were really out. In the morning we saw 5 and in the afternoon we saw over 30 of them flying along the river and in a field feeding on a deer kill. We also saw flocks of Cedar Waxwings feeding on berries along the trail.

As I expected the DNR has banned walking on the Red Cedar Trail from Menomonie to Downsville. They ran a snowmobile over part of it to pack it down in preparation for the ski season.

More photos can be found on my website.