Archive for August, 2013

Summer’s Swan Song

Friday, August 30th, 2013

August sunset

Ah, the quiet (?) of a late-summer night – if you don’t consider the chatter of the katydids, the trill of the crickets, the yips of the coyote pups, the whirr of tree frogs, or the pattering baby raccoon feet on the deck as the little banditos make a midnight raid of the bird feeder.

Katydid

Tree frog

So many sounds-sights-smells to savor in an Iowa summer . . .

OK, and a few things NOT to enjoy, too, such as temps in the high 90s and dew points in the 70s. But this too shall pass . . .

Swallowtail & thistle

How about the pretty pink of the blossoms that lure the yellow swallowtail? No matter that the pretty pink sits atop a bushy field thistle. The butterflies and bumblebees and hummingbirds and goldfinches relish the plant that most of us consider a weed. Indeed, the goldfinches even delay their breeding until late summer to assure a supply of soft thistle down to line their nests.

Merritt Woods

In the deep woods, nettles may stand waist high, deterring the careless hiker. If you should brush against the tiny, syringe-like stickers on the nettles, look quickly for a patch of jewelweed, whose plant juices may ease the nettles’ sting. The jewelweed flowers – some yellow, some orangish, depending on the species – make the healing plant easier to find as the season wanes.

Sulfur shelf fungus

The not-so-subtle orange/yellow of the sulfur shelf fungus clinging to the oak stump practically glows against the background of the shady forest floor. “Edible when young,” the book says. Sure enough, an unknown critter has sampled a few bites.

Blue cohosh

Blue cohosh berries may look inviting, if you can find the little clusters among the green leaves. But don’t eat them! Although sometimes dried for use as a coffee substitute, the raw berries are irritating at best – and poisonous to some people.

Fallen monarch

Other colors also portend the changing of the season. The walnuts’ first yellow leaves appeared in early August. By the end of the month, garlands of red Virginia creepers accent the dead elms along the fencerow. The cottonwoods and boxelders are losing their dark-green hue, fading into a yellowish tint.

Viceroy on Joe Pye weed

In the prairie, the goldenrods are bursting into bloom, as if to show the trees the REAL meaning of golden. A few patches of rough blazing-star add their dash of purple. The prairie grasses – big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, side-oats gramma – are turning color, too, in their own pastel way. Their dusky purples and blues and auburn will grow richer as autumn arrives.

In the late afternoon, a squadron of dragonflies swarms over the prairie – perhaps in pursuit of mosquitoes. Tree swallows and barn swallows join the aerial circus, darting and twisting after meals of unknown insects.

At dusk, the velvet-antlered little white-tail ventures out to browse at the edges of the woods. Migrating nighthawks swoop gracefully over the fields. And the katydid concert begins anew.

Velvet buck

IMAGES

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Swamp milkweed - Sharon Cline

In the eye of the beholder . . .

What do a half-dozen outdoor photographers have in common?
Not so much, judging from the images they’re likely to create.

Tiger lily - Dave Entriken

Tiger lily - Sharon Cline

Not much, that is, except a shared satisfaction in using their imaginations (well, the cameras play a little part!) to tell stories about the natural world and people’s connections to it.

In memory - Jan Essig

It was my privilege to teach – and learn from – five fellow photographers during a recent 3-day outdoor photography class through the Legacy Learning Center at the Hamilton County Conservation Board’s Briggs Wood Park near Webster City.

Carrion flower - Nancy Kayser

We set out to trade ideas on choosing a subject, composition, lighting, equipment, and other photography tips. And what better way to learn than by doing?

The first lesson was that nobody looks at the same subject in the same way. Our variety of images were a quick reminder that even a minor difference in the camera angle, center of interest, foreground, background, lighting, or choice of lens, aperture, ISO, or shutter speed, can create an entirely different effect.

Rapids - Rebecca Kauten

Willow bark - Jan Essig

Queen Anne's lace - Sharon Cline

We briefly discussed a few rules of thumb:

Don’t just TAKE a photo, but spend the time to MAKE an image;

For the best quality, set your camera to take fewer digital photos, meaning each photo is a larger file with more information;

Watch the background, which often is half of the photo;

Avoid the “eye-level syndrome” by getting above or below your subject;

Include active people to give an image more life and animation;

Soft light and cloudy days may produce the richest colors, while mid-day sun yields harsh shadows;

Rules of thumb are made to be broken!

Roadside management - Rebecca Kauten

Monarch - Dave Entriken

The photographer’s previous experience, along with the intended use of the photos, also shape the images we create. One student loved to shoot auto racing, but wanted to branch out. Two sought illustrations to use in a calendar or nature trail guide. Several were keeping records of growing grandkids. Others used photos as tools for history and genealogy research. One was always searching for new approaches to teaching photography to young people.

Hummingbird & cardinal flower - Nancy Kayser

Our lively critique sessions reinforced the “eye of the beholder” theme. We usually could agree about out-of-focus or improperly exposed photos – but opinions frequently differed on what was the most pleasing or useful composition.

The beauty of ragweed - Jan Essig

Horizontal or vertical? Close-up or scenic?

But we shared one conclusion: it takes imagination to create the best image.

Rail fence - Nancy Kayser

Dizzy! - Dave Entriken

Compassplant - Rebecca Kauten