What’s Eating You?

Viburnum - DefoliatedOh my gosh…  The viburnum all look dead.  Indeed, I wonder if some of them are.  I know it’s hard to see in this photo at the right; the shrubs are totally defoliated.  There are a few brown skeletons of leaves clinging to the branches.

It’s the result of a non-native insect: the Viburnum Leaf Beetle.  Apparently this guy came to North America (Canada) from Europe in 1947 and started spreading, slowly at first.  It was first reported in New York State in 1996 at Fair Haven Beach State Park on Lake Ontario.  By 1999 it was reported in Chautauqua County.  We’ve been seeing it at our nature center for the last few years.

Viburnum Leaf Beetle Larva CloseupLarvae emerge from eggs in spring, eat like crazy, then pupate.  The adult beetle emerges in summer and continues to eat.  Females lay eggs in fall which overwinter, and the whole thing starts again in spring…

You can learn more about this pest from Cornell:


We did a display in one of our previous exhibits at Audubon that featured opinion pages from a variety of folks – a couple of biology professors, the director of the Watershed Conservancy, and others.  There is no agreement on what to do about non-native invasives.  Some folks believe we should do whatever we can to fight them.  Others feel we are observing evolution in action and should enjoy the show.

I’m a rather wishy washy person on these big issues.  I can often see many sides of the story, and so I don’t take a firm stand on any of it.  We have so many invasives at the center now.  Garlic Mustard.  Frogbit.  Water Chestnut.  Viburnum Leaf Beetles.  Honeysuckle.

What’s your opinion?  Fight it?  Attempt to control it?  Or just watch the show?

Identifying Wildflowers

Star-of-Bethlehem in VaseMostly, I have found field guides to be frustrating for beginners.  At least for this beginner.  I bought my first wildflower guide at the recommendation of a biology professor many, many years ago – the Audubon one with photographs arranged by color and shape of flower.  I had some success with it, and many of the photos are very nice.  It did not, however, fuel me with confidence that I could identify any flower.

A few years back, I was introduced by a colleague to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb, illustrated by Gordon Morrison.  I love it.  It has a very systematic way of leading you to the right page in the guide – increasing the likelihood that you will find your flower.  Newcomb's Wildflower Guide CoverAll those years as a computer programmer, drawing flowcharts… the process is ingrained in my very cells.  This guide is like following a flowchart.  I still can’t identify every flower… but my accuracy is improving!

Newcomb's - inside front coverOver the weekend, I was sitting on my mom’s back patio, surveying the yard, wondering when the thunderstorm that was brewing was going to let loose.  Along the fence some white flowers were poking their heads up.  Oh no!  Another flower for which I had no name…  and my flower guide was at home.  So I picked one.  I don’t usually pick flowers… I usually remember where it is and plan to come back with my guide.  Since this one was in danger of predation by the lawn mower, I picked one.

When I got home, I turned to the inside front cover of my Newcomb’s guide:  6 regular flower parts, basal leaves only (code 2), and the leaves were entire, not toothed or divided (code 2).  This gave me my 3-digit group number:  622.

Newcomb's Locator KeyNow, I turned to the number 622 in the Locator Key for my next set of clues:  Leaves narrow, with white flowers… looks like my flower will be on page 334.

On page 334 I read, “flowers over 3/4 inches wide”… There it is!  The first flower on the page:  Star of Bethlehem.  I think… Let me read the description…  “Backs of the petals green with white margins.”  Sure enough.  I’ve found my flower.  The asterisk means it’s an alien.
Newcomb's Page 334
If you are a wildflower junkie and a beginner you gotta own this guide.  It takes a little practice making it work, but it is well worth it…  In the long run, it saves me lots of time and frustration.

Star-of-Bethlehem behind the Petals

Of course, the easiest way to identify a flower is still to take a photograph to an expert and say, “What’s this?”  But sometimes that just isn’t possible.

Getting Dumber

I think it might be a SedgeYou’ve heard the saying before:  “The more I learn, the less I know.”  After my walk at Bergman Park yesterday, I’m relating quite well to that sentiment.  First of all, it had been a whole week since I walked that park and it was unbelievable how much had changed.  A few of the spring ephemerals were hanging on, but the woods had a definite feeling of summer to it.  What struck me most were the grasses, sedges, and rushes… a whole set of plants that I haven’t even begun to try to identify.  A whole host of reasons to say “I don’t know” when asked “What’s this?”

Here’s a nice little introduction to the differences between grasses, sedges, and rushes: http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/grass_id/intro2.htm.  I spent enough time at that site to determine that I managed to (unknowingly) photograph one of each yesterday:  a grass, a sedge, and a rush.  At least I think I did.  At least I learned enough to know what to look for when I go back.  Which I will.  Because I’m insatiable when it comes to learning about nature.

Grass Two Rushes

I’m not sure I have it in me to become an expert in these guys…  I must say, though, I was pretty amazed at the variety I saw… and the photography challenges they provide are enormous.  They are a good subject for really learning about depth of field, I think…

There were some flowers out, too…  (Now, now… watch what you say!  Grasses, sedges, and rushes have flowers, too.)  I’ll only post one here, today… my favorite: Forget-me-not.  I love how the tight little buds go from green and white, to pink… then the flower opens out to this deep, wonderful blue.


Fun with the Closeup “Filter”

Dame's Rocket BudsIn addition to finding my Yellow Clintonia, and learning a couple of new flowers, I also had quite a bit of fun yesterday with my new 10X Closeup “Filter” – a lens that screws on to the end of my 18-55mm lens like a filter does.  It was pretty easy to remove it and slip it into my shirt pocket when I didn’t want a closeup, then reattach quickly when I did.

Closeup shots are not usually good for flower ID.  But they make for some interesting textures and colors, I think.

Red Osier DogwoodMost of the time, I left the lens at 55mm, but for a couple of shots, I went down to 18.  When using the shorter focal length, the inside of the tube becomes part of the picture… giving you a round framing for your shot… kinda cool.

It was another one of those amazing, full-sensory days.  The sights I can attempt to capture for you with my camera.  The sounds and the smells are more difficult to convey!  The birds were going crazy. Yellow Warbler: “Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet! I’m so sweet!”  Chestnut-sided Warbler: “Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet you!”  Common Yellowthroat: “Witchity witchity witchity!” And then there were the Crow, Blue Jay, Catbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and others.

Honeysuckle - PinkIt seemed like the Autumn Olive and the Honeysuckle were having a competition to see who could have the stronger perfume.  I think the Autumn Olive won in the scent department.  The picture of the Honeysuckle came out better, though, so that’s what you see here.  (I wonder if these pink honeysuckles are the ones that made the orange berries I photographed last fall… Hmmm… I’ll have to keep an eye on that.)

The little Common Fleabane is only half an inch in diameter.  I love the way the closeup lens allows me to fill up my screen with a fairly sharp image of this small beauty.  You have to be patient, though.  The slightest breeze and you are out of focus!  (I tried getting a closeup of the Saxifage blooms which are one-quarter of an inch wide and either the breeze foiled me, or the too-many-cups-of-coffee made my hands too unsteady.)Fleabane

I am particularly pleased with the depth of field and the smooth backgrounds I can get using this lens.  And is it possible that the colors are more intense?  I wouldn’t think so… but being new to photography, I have a lot to learn.

Once upon a time, I attended a marketing class for artists.  The presenter talked at length about something she called “mature style”.  When an artist has it, you can recognize her work from that style.  For example, when I say Monet – you get a picture in your head of a particular impressionist style.  Or if I say Georgia O’Keefe – you might get two separate styles in your head – because she has her New Mexico work and her floral work that suggest two separate styles.

Wild GeraniumI don’t have a mature style yet.  I don’t know what my mature style will look like.  I know this:  I love macro photography…  I love revealing things to you that you might not notice as you walk by…  I’ll keep working on it.

Someday, I hope you will be able to look at my pictures and say:  “That’s a Jennifer Schlick… no doubt about it.”  And you’ll be able to say, “Gosh… I used to read her blog when she was first getting started…”

Swamp Buttercup

I can dream, can’t I?…

Reasons to Love Flickr

Thunderstorms today.  Power out in some parts of town.  Limbs down.  Basement full of water.  Still, I managed to find 2 rain-free hours to walk with the dog at College Park.  I had only one goal:  Yellow Clintonia.  I heard it was blooming and that I could find it in the Park.  I found it:
Yellow Clintonia - Closeup
and in the process managed to shoot 137 other photos, too.

Several of those photos were of a plant that was new to me.  When I got home, I attempted to find it in my Peterson guide… but to no avail.  I thought I might try my Newcomb’s guide…  But first, since I was sitting at the computer anyway…  why not try that weird and wonderful grid that some clever person posted on Flickr?

Virginia WaterleafIf you are a wildflower nut, you should check this out:

The grid helps you find flowers by color and number of petals.  I used it today to search for white, 5-petalled flowers and very quickly found a posting for my plant!  Virginia Waterleaf.  Don’t get too excited, though… sometimes it’s not quite so easy.

Another feature I love about Flickr is the “ID Please” group pool.  If you can’t figure out what something is, you can post it to this pool, and experts from all over the country will look to see if they can help you.

Last summer, we had a new plant show up in one of our ponds.  We could NOT find it in any field guide.  Later, we realized why:  it’s a relatively new arrival in the area – a non-native that is slowly spreading south.  I posted a photo of it on Flickr and had my answer in 20 minutes.

What is This?After trying without success to ID this plant, I’m trying the ID Please pool.  If you are curious to see if I got my answer, you can click on the picture to go to Flickr where I’ll change the name from “What is this?” to the actual plant name, once I know for sure.

Watch Your Thoughts

I have a tendency to be critical.  That often comes off as complaining, whining, grinching… call it what you may.  Most of the time, I hold the thoughts, keep them to myself, because I don’t want to be perceived as a negative person.  Am I a negative person?

There’s a poster at one of the schools I visit with a quote, apparently by Rabbi Hillel:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny…

Moccasin Flower Taken With Kit LensWow.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.  I’ve been pondering this quote for a couple of years now and it haunts me sometimes… Especially on days when I’m feeling grinchy…  like yesterday, for example.

I had a perfectly marvelous morning.  In fact, my entire work day went very well.  At the end of the day, I decided to walk out to the spot where a Moccasin-flower grows.  I had time.  I didn’t have to go fast, which was good, because by this time of day, the temperature was in the high 80s.  I’m not complaining!  It’s just an obvervation.  (There is, however, a reason I accepted the name WinterWoman when it was given to me.  Sweat generated through hard work is acceptable to me.  Sweat that drips down your back just because you stepped outside…  oops… am I grinching?  No!  ‘Cuz if I were grinching, I’d mention all the mosquitoes and black flies I had to battle.)

Moccasin Flower taken with Closeup LensI did get a couple of nice shots with my new macro lens, though.  The Moccasin-flower, or Pink Lady’s Slipper, is protected in New York State, as are all wild orchids.

Far more common is the little Canada Mayflower.  I’ve taken plenty of shots of it, but here’s my first with the lens attachment:

Canada Mayflower Taken with Closeup Lens

Fiddlehead UnfurlingAs you know from a previous post, I’m a big fan of ferns.  I couldn’t resist taking a few shots of the fronds, fiddleheads, and spore cases up close.  I didn’t post them all, but here’s a pretty cool one.

I probably would have taken a lot more shots with my new lens yesterday, if hadn’t been for the heat… and the bugs…

And yes, I probably AM complaining… I think it’s in my blood:  Get a load of this shot of me as a kid:  everyone else was happy, but I was grumpy.  Hmm…. what was THAT all about? Seems to be a habit of mine to be grumpy.  I had better watch my thoughts!  I don’t want grumpy to become my destiny.


I must embrace the heat…  It’s only going to be in the high 70s today.  I think I’ll go hunt dragonflies after work…  Must have heat (and bugs) for dragonfly research…  OK… I can do this…  No grinching…

Lenses and Lawns

Gill-Over-the-GroundEventually, I will buy a 300mm lens (or longer?)  Oh the butterflies and dragons I could have shot today, if only…  For now, I spent less than $50 (including shipping) for an attachment that I can screw onto the front of my 18-55mm kit lens.  I’ve only taken a few shots in the backyard, and I am hooked!  Can’t wait to experiment some more!

My first attempts with this lens were in the backyard – taken during the time between arriving home from work to find that the lens had come in the mail, and “Are you ever going to make dinner, Mom?”  (Dinner???  Who could be hungry at a time like this???)

Common DandelionThere are so many beautiful things that (could) grow in your yard (if you resist the urge to use pesticides to kill them).  (Seriously, if you don’t know how bad lawn pesticides are, please read this… and download it… and print a million copies and give them to your friends:)


Not only do we not spray, we also are very lax about mowing, especially in the spring when everything wants to bloom.  Sure, dandelions and gill-over-the-ground and bugle are all aliens, but they have been a part of the backyard habitat for so long, they seem all-American!

BugleThe patch that contains this bugle is quite large, and getting larger every year.  Bugle is so stunningly gorgeous…  How could you mow it?

I took a couple of shots of flowers that I had actually planted in my garden – not just lawn volunteers.  Here’s one of them:

Bleeding HeartsThere are more at my Flickr site.

Oh my gosh… I can hardly wait to get out into the woods with this lens!

Is life supposed to be this fun?


FiddleheadGrace:  seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.

Fern:  see Grace.

I love the way they come into the world… all curled up… fetal ferns… fiddleheads.  I love the way they slowly unfurl into large lacey fronds.

For several summers I have been promising myself to learn the ferns of Western New York.  I haven’t done so yet.  Something always pushes itself to the front of the line.  Still, a few of these graceful, gorgeous plants have managed to lodge their names in my gray matter.

Sensitive FernSensitive Fern.  Naturalists like to make jokes about how you mustn’t say mean things around this fern because it is very sensitive.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that joke on a nature walk.  I may even be guilty of having said it myself.  It’s OK.  Sometimes corny things like that help me remember.  What this fern is actually sensitive to is cold:  it will be the first to wither when Fall sends her first hard frost.  The leaves will be reduced to tan ghosts.  Throughout the winter, the hard brown spore cases will stand on stiff stems above the snow.  I probably get more questions about those spore cases than anything else!  I wonder what they think it is?  Next time I get that question, I’m going to turn the question back:  “What do you think it is?”

Cinnamon FernCinnamon Fern.  A circular cluster of verdant fronds seems to stand guard protecting the cinnamon-colored reproductive fronds that sprout from the center like a fountain.  It is said that Ruffed Grouse eat the fiddleheads of this fern and that hummingbirds use the fuzz from the young fronds to line their nests.

Interrupted Fern:  On the larger fronds, sterile green leaflets are interrupted part way up by fertile leaflets.  Some names just make complete sense.

Interrupted Fern

P.S.  While surfing around the ‘net looking for fern information, I happened on this website:  http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/docs/fernchart.html.  I think it will come in handy as I turn my attention to ferns and try to learn a few more names… maybe you’ll use it, too?

I was also curious about which fern species has edible fiddleheads.  I had them once many years ago and they were delicious.  Apparently, it’s the Ostrich Fern.  But two warnings:  Ostrich Fern fiddleheads can look like Bracken Fern fiddleheads – which are carcinogenic.  And, there have been reports of food poisoning symptoms associated with consumption of fiddleheads that aren’t prepared properly.  Read more here:


How Brains Work

I’m sure this has happened to you:  You didn’t even know something existed.  Then for some reason, it comes into your consciousness.  After that, you see it everywhere and you wonder why you never noticed it before.

Running Strawberry BushLast fall, I took a walk at Audubon’s Bentley Sanctuary toting my relatively new Canon Rebel XT, all excited to take some interesting fall wildflower pictures.  I ran across something I had never seen before.  It took quite a bit of detective work to discover the name of this plant.  Eventually, I found it by accident when one of my Flickr contacts posted a similar picture with a name… Running Strawberry Bush (Euonymus abovatus).

Running StrawberryOnce I knew what it was, I started seeing it in lots of places:  Busti Park, College Park, Bergman Park…  Pretty much everywhere I walk.  It’s a native shrub/vine that I find on the forest floor.  This spring, I’ve been watching for flowers.  Since the plant is new to me, I’ve never seen it in bloom.  The last couple of weeks, I had been seeing only tight little buds.  Yesterday, while in pursuit of still another Jack-in-the-Pulpit picture, I found some flowers.

It’s a fairly inconspicuous greenish bloom, maybe one-quarter inch in diameter that lays on top of the leaf attached to the main stem by the most delicate stem I’ve about ever seen.

According to the University of Michigan’s website on Native American Ethnobotany, various preparations of this plant have been used by the Iroquois to treat urinary difficulties, “bad blood”, and people who are bewitched.  Ethnobotany.  That’s another one:  I learned about it just a couple of years ago when we had a part-time staff member who was interested in this area of study.  I had never heard that word; now I see it all over the place.

Foamflower PatchI’m sure that with another couple of cups of coffee and a lot more time, I could leap from this brilliant introduction into something truly profound about the way the mind works.  Instead, I’ll randomly switch gears.

While on the homeward stretch of our Bergman Park loop, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sweet, sweet smell.  I looked around trying to find what was so fragrant.  Lolli the Wonder Dog bounded off to show me this huge patch of Foamflowers.  I had never noticed a scent with this flower before, but there are apparently a lot of things I don’t notice right away… So I wandered over and stuck my nose into a couple of the flowers…  Nothing.  Hmm…

Bugle and Sweet WoodruffA few more steps down the trail and the scent is getting stronger.  I’m also noticing a rather loud buzzing of bumblebees.  I’ve seen lots of bumblebees on the Bugle.  Could that be the source of this heavy perfume?… Or maybe the Sweet Woodruff?

No, it’s neither of those.  Then I see it… back behind the purple and white… an enormous blanket of Lily-of-the-Valley.  It wasn’t easy to find the right angle for a picture, and white flowers are unusally difficult to photograph (I’m afraid my blooms are a bit overexposed – I’ll have to go back and try some more!).  I may have stepped on one bumblebee in the process, too, poor thing.

Anyway, I wish you could smell this photo, and hear the bees.  Here’s Lolli the Wonder Dog, too, in case you forgot what she looks like.

Lily of the Valley   Lolli the Wonder Dog

Quite a Day

It was quite a day at Bergman Park yesterday.  Lots of lovely wildflowers of course, as usual.  Lolli kept disappearing and would not return when I called her, disobedient little brat.  I discovered what she was up to on only two of her little forays…

Turkey Eggs by Jeremy MartinThe first one caused my jaw to drop and startled me not just a little!  A mother turkey flew up out of some dense underbrush and off to the safety of a distant tree.  I called for Lolli, but she wouldn’t come.  I could just imagine her picking up the eggs in her mouth, ready to bring them to me to play ball.  “Leave it!  Leave it!”  I called as I tried to find my way in to where the nest must be.  I never found the nest, but Lolli finally came bounding out of the brush – with no egg in her mouth, thank goodness…  (This picture of a turkey nest was taken last spring by my friend Jeremy Martin.  Be sure to click on the picture to go to his Flickr site and check out his other photos!)
Bird's Eye Speedwell   Common Cinquefoil
Later, down in the creek, she disappeared again.  I didn’t think too much about it at first.  I was distracted by a couple of flowers that weren’t blooming the day before – Bird’s Eye Speedwell and Common Cinquefoil.  Scarlet Tanager from Cornell Lab of OrnithologyA bit of red caught my eye:  a Scarlet Tanager!  For the first time ever I saw it first BEFORE I heard it.  Yeah!  Chick-Brrrr.

When I remembered to wonder where Lolli had gotten to, I called for her.  No answer.  Then, some snorting…  like she was trying to blow dust out of her nose.  And no wonder!  She kept burying her head deep inside a hole on the creek bank.  She had found the fox den and was trying to dig or climb inside or something.  At least I’m pretty sure this was the fox den…  Last winter, the footprints led exactly in this direction.  Makes me want to come out early some morning and stake out the joint…  without the dog, I think!

Red fox by Northlight on FlickrHere’s a photo from one of my Flickr contacts, Northlight.  Be sure to click on it to see some of his amazing photography.  I hope someday to post my own Red Fox photo!  Until then, thank you, Michael.