A Sensory Experience

Marsh MarigoldsThese photos are the result of a full sensory experience…

Taste:  After helping put up tents at the Girl Scout camp, Emily revealed that she had a stash of those amazing Hershey’s dark chocolate truffles.  By the time we got to the Marsh Marigold patch, my chocolate was gone, but my mouth was still fully engaged in the joy of the chocolately sweetness!

Sight:  Oh my…  I could have a car accident driving by these bright yellow flowers that seem to spill from the hillsides wherever it is particularly wet.  “Mom!!!  Keep your eyes on the road.”  Oh, but I can’t:  it’s spring and there is so much to see out there…  If only she’d get her license.  Then she could drive, and I could watch for flowers and birds!

Marsh Marigold PairSounds:  It was sprinkling, so I heard the sound of raindrops hitting the ground.  Plus, I had to walk into a marshy area.  Imagine the squish, squish, squish of my boots in ankle-deep muck.

Smell:  As I was squatting to snap these photos, I remember thinking, “I had no idea Marsh Marigolds smelled so good… in fact I would have thought they would be more pungent – like skunk cabbage or leeks…”  Then I realized that all around the Marsh Marigolds there also grew plenty of mint, and each time I took a step I must have crushed a leaf or two, releasing a sweet, minty scent.

Touch:  I grabbed the rough trunks of young trees to help me climb back out of the marsh.  I didn’t fall…  and I only got a little (more) muddy.

Look!  Everybody loves Marsh Marigolds.  Even this little caterpillar:

Everybody Likes Marsh Marigolds

Ephemerals – Part 2

Spring BeautyWanda’s mom was laid to rest this week.  I never met Wanda’s mom, but I can tell you this:  she instilled in her children a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors.  I didn’t go to calling hours or to the funeral.  I did think of Wanda and her family every day for the last week as I wandered the woods, searching for wildflowers.  These flowers are for Wanda and her family, in rememberance of her mom.

I almost didn’t see this tiny Spring Beauty, until Lolli started making a fuss over a broken goose egg she found.

This little yellow violet wouldn’t turn its head up for a photo.  I have found several of these over the last few days, but most were right in the middle of the trail and were already trampled by people or dogs…  Round-leaved VioletFor this one, I had to lay right on my belly to get the right angle.  You should see my coat and jeans…  Oh well…

One of the woods I walk is a rich (I’ve discovered that means wet and muddy) deciduous forest with plenty of shagbark hickory, maple, oak, and beech.  There is a creek that runs through it and some of the banks are rather steep.  I thought if I walked at the base of the steep banks, I should be able to look right up at the blooms of these spring flowers, which often often hang their heads toward the ground.  It paid off, especially for the trillium!

Very Small White TrilliumVery Small Red Trillium

Blue CohoshThere were large patches of Blue Cohosh everywhere, but especially down near the creek.  This plant has other common names:  Squaw Root or Papoose Root.  I suppose these names came from the use of the plant by women to ease childbirth.

There were a couple of types of sedge in bloom.  What funny flowers they have.  A dark brown cylinder suddenly explodes like fireworks into a poof of creamy white.

Broad-leaved Sedge

There was another sedge, too, with narrower leaves, and the Cut-leaved Toothwort had a few blooms that were open.  Perhaps I’ll save those for another day… Ephemerals Part 3?

In the meantime, these are for you, Wanda… in celebration of your mom’s life.

Burls and Bowls

BurlWhile some states celebrate Arbor Day at other times (presumably times better suited to tree-planting in their regions), National Arbor Day is the celebrated on the last Friday of April.  In celebration of this day, I give you the burl, or burr if you live in Britain.

In searching for what a burl is and how it is caused, I’ve read a lot that contradicts.  A burl is a dome-shaped growth on the trunk of a tree.  Some sources say it will be near a knot but not contain a knot.  Other sources say it must contain one or more dormant buds.  I’ll keep searching for more information, because now I’m curious.  Regardless of how it is formed, the grain inside is always fine and irregular and highly prized by woodworkers.  I’ve seen them sliced into flat slabs to make table tops – or the really big ones could even be the headboard on a bed!

My favorite pieces, though are the bowls and vases that are turned on a lathe.  My hiking buddy, Terry, makes them.  You can check out more photos at my Flickr site, or at Terry’s website.
Burl Bowl 2c


Happy Arbor Day (one day late)!


Ephemeral.  I love that word.  As an adjective it means short-lived.  As a noun, it refers to organisms with short lifespans.  I remember the exact moment I learned the word.  Second semester Biology, spring of 1976… must have been right about this time of year.  My professor told us that we should take a walk after class through College Park to view the ephemerals.  He was referring to the woodland wildflowers which have an interesting adaptation for survival:  short lifespans.  If you live on the forest floor and require sunlight for photosynthesis, you had better hurry up and photosynthesize while you can.  It won’t be long before the leaves in the canopy above you block that life-giving sun.

Narcissus PairIn 1976, I wasn’t all that interested in wildflowers.  I was interested in boys, though.  So I turned to the rather good-looking boy sitting next to me and asked, “Would you like to go for a walk after class to look for ephemerals?”  He said, “Yes.”

The only flower I remember seeing is the one I already had a name for:  narcissus.  Surely we must have seen others.  But my lack of interest in flowers coupled with the distraction provided by the handsome boy caused me not to remember any of them.

Over the next few weeks, this boy and I walked several times in the woods, travelled to a Pennsylvania college to visit a friend of mine, and attended a Bruce Springsteen concert.  Then it was over.  Our relationship was nearly as ephemeral as the spring wildflowers that prompted our first “date.”  I don’t know whatever happened to him, but the word “ephemeral” is still with me.

Recently, over the last five years or so, I’ve taken to tramping the woods every spring to see the ephemerals – with or without a handsome companion.  I notice many more flowers now than I did as a college student.  They’re becoming dear old friends with names, ephemeral, yet enduring… returning every spring.  Sometimes summer-fall-winter erases their names from my memory and I have to check a field guide to remember.  Others have become so much a part of me that I can even recognize them from the first sprouting of new leaves.
Trout Lily Forest
Trout Lily, for example, has leaves with purple spots.  I suppose it got its name because the speckled leaves resemble the markings on the fish.  Trout Lily loves to grow in colonies of twelve to hundreds of plants in rich woods.  In some of the places where I walk, it covers large expanses of the forest floor.  Before the OpeningWhen it eventually gets flowers, the bloom hangs its head down toward the forest floor making it very hard to photograph.  In fact, I don’t have a good picture of the bloom… yet…  but this year, I intend to get one!

Yesterday, I snapped another couple of favorites while walking at Long Point State Park.  There were so many familiar friends that were still just buds, but two were in bloom:  Bloodroot and Dutchman’s Breeches.

BloodrootBloodroot.  Apparently, there is a blood red juice that can be extracted from the “root” (actually the rhizome) of this flower that was used by native Americans as body paint.  I love the way the leaf hugs the stem of the flower when it first emerges in spring.  When the flower has faded, the leaves will continue to grow – sometimes as large as eight inches across.

On Earth Day, there were a couple of plants blooming at Audubon.  The flower is quite lovely with many white petals and yellow in the center.Bloodroot  (I went back the next morning to try out my Reverse Lens technique on the blooms, but it appeared someone had eaten the flowers… bunnies perhaps?)

Dutchman’s Breeches.  This is actually the first year I have found this plant.  Don’t know how I missed it…  except… well… it is ephemeral and perhaps I just wasn’t out when it was blooming?  It has funny little flowers that resemble tiny pairs of pants hung out to dry.  The leaves are beautiful – an interesting shade of bluish green and so lacey – almost like a fern.  I think next year, I’ll recognize this one by early leaves!
Dutchman's Breeches
Stay tuned to my blog and I’ll keep posting the Ephemerals as I’m able to…  So many were in bud yesterday, who knows what I’ll find today?

Ramblings on Photography

Child AbandonmentI wish my friend Dave would Flickr so you could see his amazing photographs.  He has been an inspiration to me.  I love looking at his photos, asking him how he did this or that, getting his advice.  Once he said to me, “You look at a scene and see it with your mind… but the camera shows you what is really there.”  To a certain extent, I agree with him.  I took this photo yesterday.  (The goose that used to sit this egg and its siblings apparently got sick of so many humans walking by and abandoned the nest.  Someone else, raccoon perhaps, helped herself to a tasty treat.)  No Color Adjustments NecessaryIn this photo, for example…  I absolutely did not see the stick while I was framing the shot.  Of course, I did have a bunch of kids, each with his or her own camera all around me, distracting me…  Still, I wish I had noticed the stick and removed it before snapping this shot.  My mind had removed it.  Why can’t the camera read my mind?

Sometimes, though, the camera captures exactly what I’m seeing.  Today was another one of those gray days.  The cloud cover was thick.  The sun wasn’t due to go down for another hour, not that you could see it.  It looked pretty dusky out there.  It had rained, so everything was wet, rain drops clinging to branches like little jewels.  On days like this, I’m always struck with the subtle, yet rich colors of the woods.  The bark on certain trees, the reds and purples of new leaves bursting from their budsAfter the Rain, dark green needles on spruces, the golden glow of willow branches, the vibrant green of False Hellabore.  Even in the dull gray light, these colors just pop out at me and beg to be photographed.  I have to put my ISO setting up high, making for a grainy image.  But, you know, sometimes that’s how it looks even to my eye.

Heading HomeAnd what about the times when you just shoot a scene, not sure what you will get…  And you get home and load it onto your computer screen, and you just say, “Whoa…”  Did it really look like that?  Or did the camera catch a dream scene?  Was I not paying attention?  I shot this scene while walking out of the park, back to my car.  Other than an occasional attempt at the full moon, I haven’t attempted any night shots.  I didn’t have a tripod and the shutter was slow.  I figured I’d be deleting everything I shot after sundown due to the blurriness of handheld camera shake.  If you click on this and request to see a larger size, you’ll see it definitely lacks a crisp focus!  But gosh, I like it.  I love the colors…

The subtle greens and golds and reds and purples in the woods I see when I’m walking; I notice them.  These strange blues and pinks and purples and oranges – I don’t see until I look at them on the computer screen.  That’s a mystery to me.  (I used to watch the colors Norbert would put on his palette to make a painting and I couldn’t understand…  I didn’t see any of those colors in the scene he was about to paint.  Once they were on the canvass, they looked right… but I didn’t see them.)

Anyway, I’m just rambling.  I don’t know what it all means.  I just know I love taking pictures!
False Hellabore

Dogs Have Passion, Too

I named this blog “A Passion for Nature” because I have one.  I also have companions in my life whose passion rivals my own.

LolliThis is Lolli.  Lolli is my dog.  (Or, better said, as all pet people know, I am Lolli’s human.)  She’s a mixed breed (a.k.a. mutt).  Poor Lolli.  She shouldn’t live in suburbia.  She should live in the country.  She loves the woods.  Loves to run.  Loves to chase squirrels or rabbits or deer.  Loves to roll in “stuff.”  Loves to carry around big sticks.  I mean BIG.  The stick pictured here is a mere twig compared to some of the logs she chooses to carry.  It’s got to hurt her mouth… but that doesn’t stop her!  Sometimes she chooses really long branches and then watch your calves!

On the Trail of a DeerLolli is my most frequent companion when hiking.  She’ll go anywhere, anytime.  Weather never deters her.  Rain?  Snow?  It doesn’t matter.  Time of day?  Doesn’t matter.  Whenever you want to go, she’s ready.  Already went for a long walk this morning?  So what?  She’ll go again.

I like having her along.  Sometimes she points things out to me that I may have missed – an animal sound or track.  Of course, sometimes she destroys the tracks before I can see them… Oh well.

Mozart is a relatively new friend.  He’s a wonderful big German Shepherd with kind eyes.  He has a human named Terry.  I first met Mozart when I went to Terry’s shop to watch him make some wooden bluebird eggs for my display at Audubon.  Mozart goes everywhere with Terry, so of course he was at the shop.  Turns out, Mozart has a passion for nature, too.  Don’t his eyes seem to say… “Please let’s go to the woods!”


Mozart Retrieves RockMozart loves water.  Anytime we are hiking, if we come to a pond, creek, or puddle, Mo goes right over and gets in.  Even in winter.  I was so surprised to see him get into a creek and lie down on a cold snowy winter day.

As much as Lolli loves big sticks, Mozart loves rocks.  If you throw a rock in the water, he will retrieve it.


Mozart and Lolli get along fairly well.  There are disagreements over toys, sticks, and deer carcasses now and again.  But they seem to have figured out how to share the back of the truck, or the back seat of my car… somehow knowing that suffering the cramped quarters will be rewarded with a long romp in the woods. 

Mo’s human likes nature, too.  Luckily, his boss let’s him off work once in a while so the four of us can go hiking!

Reverse Lens Macros

Trout Lily Forest (not using Reverse Lens)I read about it on Flickr.  You take the lens off your camera and turn it around backwards.  Some people get all high tech and figure out ways to attach it, sometimes with special adapters, sometimes with duct tape.  But I heard of some who simply hand-hold the lens in place while taking the photo.  Normally, I wouldn’t even try this!  I already had one bad experience with a hair on my sensor – making a goofy spot on every picture.  Once I got that cleaned out, I vowed never to do anything that might expose my sensor again.

Trout Lily Bud (not using Reverse Lens)Still, I was intrigued.  Today, the conditions were perfect.  A sunny morning with absolutely NO wind.  I figured I could protect the inside of my camera fairly well, if I was careful.  My first couple of shots were disasters… not enough light.  Then I found a patch of Trout Lilies in the sun.  I took a long shot first, just because I liked the way the light was coming through them.  If you were a tiny creature, it would seem like a Trout Lily Forest!  I got down on my belly and took a few closeups using my elbows for a poor woman’s tripod.  Then I got brave.

Carefully, I removed the lens, turned it around, and held it in place.  No fancy adapter.  No duct tape.  Just my not-so-steady hand holding the lens in place.  You can’t focus now, except by moving the camera nearer to or farther from the object.

Trout Lily Bud Macro Using Reverse LensI wasn’t sure how the images would come out.  My eyes aren’t that good and squinting through the view-finder while moving the camera back and forth to get the perfect focus isn’t that easy.  But, I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt at this technique.  I’m sure I’ll only use it when I feel very confident that nothing will get inside my camera.

Trout Lily Leaf Macro Using Reverse LensI was a little nervous that Lolli would come by and kick something up, but she was busy chasing squirrels.  I’ll never try it when Mozart is around:  he’s too curious and is sure to get slobber inside my camera!

What?  You don’t know who Lolli and Mozart are?  I’ll write about them in my next post.

Pine Hill Forest

We Started HereWe’ve had an unusual run of exceptionally good weather.  I can hardly stand to stay inside when it’s like this.  Thursday I spent most of the day tramping around at various places, and finding more places where I’d like to tramp.  On one of the backroads up behind Camp Timbercrest, I saw several trail heads along the road with round, red NYS Department of Environmental Conservation markers.  Friday, I went back to explore one of them, dragging Bob along.  That’s him, standing by the trail head.  He doesn’t even look too unhappy about it.  (Bob doesn’t mind an occasional walk in the woods.  But he doesn’t like to go all day, or for several days with a backpack, the way I like to!)

Some Trail Markers Were PinkIn some places along the trail, you could find more of the round, red metal markers nailed to trees.  But most of the time, we followed bright pink ribbon that was attached to overhanging branches using clip clothespins.  This was a new method of trail marking for me…  I thought it was clever, though my cynical mind wondered if a prankster may have moved some of the ribbons to random new locations…

Mixed ConifersSometimes the ribbons were difficult to find and because the trail is not heavily used, it wasn’t always obvious where to go.  But with a little patience, and only a few false turns, we managed not to get lost.  It was such a gorgeous day – brilliant, blue sky, just the right temperature.

Whenever I walk these old hills, I find myself wondering about the history, the land use over time.  In 1890, only 20-25% of New York State had forest cover, so it is quite likely this forest was farmland a little over 100 years ago.  By the 1920s and 30s, many of the farms had been abandonned and New York State had begun a reforestation program.  Hardwoods TooMillions of trees were planted all across the state, which explains the arrangement of trees – often in straight rows, as well as the high numbers of non-native species.

The trees weren’t all non-native.  And they weren’t all “new”.  I was especially taken by a stand of very old, very large white pines.  How did these magnificent giants escape harvest, I wondered.

Magnificent Big Old White Pines

From what I understand, white pines were coveted for furniture-making, building, and especially for masts for British ships.  So most were cut and shipped out of our region when the Europeans arrived in this area.  Maybe these pines were younger than they looked.  But let me tell you again:  they were BIG! 

The hike we took alternated between old logging/agricultural roads, and more rustic looking trails.  A clear, fast-running creek sliced through the center of the trail loop.  A mixture of conifers made up most of the forest, but at one point we found ourselves in the midst of a wide expanse of deciduous trees.

It isn’t a difficult trail:  it descends to the creek, then ascends again to the road.  But the climbs are not steep.

False HellaboreThe forest floor did not disappoint.  There were several species of ground pine, as well as the promise of many spring wildflowers.  Skunk Cabbage and False Hellabore were sporting lush new greenery.  The speckled leaves of Trout Lily were popping up through brown forest floor.  Spring-fed seeps made me wonder if I might find later this spring or summer some of the odonates that like that sort of breeding area.

The trail we walked is one of several on this same road.  One of these days, I intend to return to walk them all.

You can read more about the history of the New York State Reforestation Program at the DEC website:


There are a few more pictures, and a topo at my Flickr Site:


Conewango Swamp

signI gave a little lecture on Project FeederWatch and backyard birds at the Community College on Wednesday.  Gary was there… he’s quite the birder.  He told me about “Swamp Road” in Randolph NY.  Since I had Thursday off, I decided to go.

Swamp Road is a dirt road, and it has been a hard winter and spring.  There was a “Road Closed” sign.  I drove around it, of course, and managed to make it to a designated parking area which had all kinds of signs with rules and regulations about how to use, and not abuse the property which is owned and managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Osprey NestOn the west side of the road, I found the sign pictured above and behind that was a platform for an osprey nest.  I walked out as close as I could.  It was close enough to hear mama’s twittering sounds, and to startle her up and off the nest.  It wasn’t close enough to get a really good picture, so this will have to do.  (Yes, I’m still whining about not having a longer lens… soon… soon…)

While watching the ospreys, I also saw Canada Geese, some ducks too far away to identify, and muskrats.  I could hear spring peepers and leopard frogs singing even though it was midday.

When I turned to return to the dirt road, I spotted a silhouette that could only be a mink.  Oh if I only had a longer lens.  I hurried to the road, hoping to spot it again when I was a little closer.  Mink PerhapsBy the time I got there, the mink was swimming away from me.  I snapped the best shot I could, and then cropped it to get this.  Look closely.  There’s a little brown head in the middle of the frame.

I turned north and walked up the road to discover the reason for the “Road Closed” sign.  The road was pretty torn up and damaged from the winter and spring weather.  Not far, on the right I found a “trail”.  It was gated, I think to keep vehicles off.  The water was high, and there were several places where the water ran right over the trail.  Mink Footprint PerhapsIn the mud was this footprint, which I’m hoping  confirms that it was indeed a mink I saw.

It was just a gorgeous day.  I continued north until the road curved, then turned and came back.  Along the way I saw Colt’s Foot blooming and skunk cabbage.  I heard many birds – chickadee, cardinal, mourning doves, woodducks, mallards, and even a snipe.  The sun ducked in and out from behind the clouds creating the perfect light for making gorgeous reflections in the standing water.  I took plenty of photos.  You can check them out at my Flickr site:


If you live in the area, or will be travelling through, you should visit this place. It’s cool. It’s very accessible, too.  Get off Route 86 (Southern Tier Expressway) in Randolph.  Turn toward town.  Turn left at Washington Street, left at Route 394, then right onto Swamp Road.  Here is the topo map with coordinates:
Topo Map

P.S. to Jeremy:  We should check this place for Dragons!

Tree Swallows and Geese

BirdboxI had already cleaned out and closed up my boxes for spring back when our temperatures were up in the 60s.  Then we had another cold spell… so today, I thought I’d better go check the boxes once again.  I didn’t get to the ones out on the big field.  They were fine last Saturday… but it has been very cold, so I guess I’d better get out there… maybe Friday I’ll have time.

Sadly, as I suspected, I had to remove a couple of dead birds.  Two of the boxes had tree swallows that had apparently frozen to death.

Tree Swallow FatalityThere was one fatality, however, that didn’t bother me in the least.  One of the boxes had a dead paper wasp…  Yeah!  One fewer wasp nest I’ll have to clean out of a box.
Paper Wasp Closeup

Two GeeseOn a happier note, I found our two handicapped geese!  If you have not been following the story on my Flickr site, here’s the background:  Somehow last summer, we ended up with two handicapped geese in the backyard.  The one on the left is “Broken Goose”.  Those strange sticky-out feathers are apparently all this goose got in the way of wings.  Over the winter, Sarah (a naturalist at Audubon) had to capture that goose and take it home to trim those feathers because they kept getting iced over.  The one on the right goes by either “Wobbly Goose” or “Turtle Bait”.  As a gosling, he couldn’t walk, or even stand up on his own.  Sarah (who can’t resist helping animals) cared for him until he could at least wobble around.

Party TimeThese two geese spent the entire winter in our backyard eating the birdseed we put out in the feeders.  The guys felt so sorry for them, they even built them a little shelter – which they seldom used, the ingrates.  A bubbler in the bottom of the pond kept the water open for them.  They even entertained an occasional guest in the “hot tub” as you can see here.

When spring came and the migratory flocks returned to our sanctuary, including a pair who decided the backyard pond and its island would be the perfect place to nest.  Wobbly and Broken were driven off.  We would see them in nearby ponds – or sometimes out on Big Pond after that.  But for the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen neither hide nor feather of them.

Today, while out checking the birdboxes, I finally spotted them again.  For those of you who know the property, they were at the end of Maple West.  Wobbly stayed up on the trail, allowing us to get fairly close.  Broken wandered off into the pond as we approached.
Wobbly GooseBroken Goose
I think it is pretty amazing that these two made it through the winter.  I wonder how long they will continue to thrive?