Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rollins Savanna - 9.20.10 - Post 1

Rollins Savanna - Grayslake, Illinois.  This trip, in hindsight had more ups than downs, but it did have a couple big drawbacks and the Universe was determined to make this not be an easy trip.

First of all, I Googled the place, read the website and it sounded great.  "One of the largest uninterrupted savannas in Illinois."  Sounds good, right?  What they didn't say is, "And we've plopped it right in the middle of several busy suburban neighborhoods."  I give this place a C- for one major reason - I could never hike far enough out to be clear of the noise of traffic.  No matter where I was in the park, I could hear cars or trains or both.  At one point I even heard a massive car crash (I hope everyone was alright - it didn't sound good at all).  From most points I could see the traffic light at the parking lot entrance and/or large tracts of modern houses.

I did see plenty of wildlife, which was great for a fall walk, but it might have been even better if the on-again, off-again rain would have stayed more off-again.  As it was, it was dry for the hour drive up there, but as I got about a quarter-mile up the trail it started to sprinkle.  I didn't mind getting me wet so much, but the camera equipment would not have approved, so I booked it back to the car. I could see a break in the clouds, so I figured I'd sit in the car and read a book for half an hour and see where we were.  Twenty minutes later, it had stopped so I set back out.  I got about half or three-quarters of a mile up the same road this time before the rain started again.  So, again, I turned around and headed back.  Only this time it stopped before I even made it back to the car.  But I really didn't want to see the first bit of that same trail a third time - it wasn't that interesting the first two times.  So I went around to the left instead, and fortunately after that the rain held off.

Before I was even out of the car and set up to hike, I saw these two birds of prey circling me.

I know northern Illinois has Red Tailed Hawks, but I'm not sure if this is one.  (I didn't do anything to 'remove' the background on this shot... it just happens to be the same white as the blog's text box.  Weird.)
Something about the way this one moved made me think it was too body-heavy to be a falcon.  I know I heard at least one owl.  Could this be him?
This body shape makes me think this one was a falcon.

I think I shot all of these with my kit lens - I hadn't even had a chance to put on my telephoto yet, so they're crap shots.  I need to actually set up with the tripod somewhere and wait for something to come into view and see if I can get some better ones.

This bee is on a New England Aster Plant.  Most flowering plants are done at this point, but these asters seem to still be going strong.
I'm fairly sure this is a Red-Eyed Vireo.  I saw a lot of these guys, but I couldn't get a really, really sharp shot of any of them because they're highly skittish.
 So the leaves are changing.  Most of them slowly going yellow or occasionally red.  This tree, for some reason, seemed to be heading for a bright "Tang" orange. (Anyone else remember Tang?  Do they even make that stuff any more?)
 Two Bull Thistle flowers.  I love that these are coming off the same stem, yet one is purple, one is white, one is closed and one is open...  I'm pretty sure the one on the right is going to seed.  You have to wonder how they didn't mature at the same rate.
 My bee on the aster again.  Look how clearly defined his wing veins are.  Love that!  Also, the joints in his legs are clear.  He was being highly cooperative. :)
Another Vireo.  Like I said lots of these at this park.
Another crap picture, but I finally saw a deer!  I'd seen the hoofprint at Volo, but I hadn't seen an actual live one all summer.  This guy was running down the length of the fence.

Lots more to come.  This walk had a few false starts, but once I got moving, there was more to see than I initially thought there would be.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Matthiessen State Park - 9.25.10 - Post 2/2

Okay, here are the rest of the Matthiessen shots... (told you I didn't take many. :)

Stepping on Stones
Because this is a water-worn ravine/canyon, there are lots of places with either flowing or standing water.  Which led to a lot of either natural or concrete stepping stones.  Some of which were more stable than others.  One of our group ended up with one very wet foot. Whoops!
Roots Protrude
Erosion is a huge force in the area, which means that tree roots that were probably under earth or rocks or even water are now exposed.
Tangled Roots
 Here's a tree that's still growing strong even with this much of it's root system exposed to the elements. 
Roots Creeping Across the Terrain
Here's the long shot of that same tree.  Look how far the exposed root system extends.
My Kitchen Tap Has a Faster Flow
 One of two small waterfalls we saw.  It's hard to see from the only angle I could get, but the water at the highest level falls into a small pool and then the pool spills over, very slowly, into the next level down.  You can see that it's more of a water-migration than water-fall at that level as the lower pool is very still and highly reflective.
Sticks and Stones... Don't Break My Bones.  Please.
More stepping stones.  With fallen logs for bonus difficulty.
A Face in the Log
 So then there was this.  A fallen tree right across our path.  Is it me, or does anyone else see a face?

Not the Gator You Thought I Was

It reminded me a lot of this one from Volo Bog.
None May Pass!  Just Kidding.
 Okay, I am, in no way, a fan of graffiti.  But this did amuse me a little.  It's like it's a gargoyle guarding the cavern.
The Ghost of Hikers Present
And one last oddity.  I was running a thirty-second shutter to try and get the back of this cavern.  I didn't realize one of our group had gone back into it to explore the passage that was on the left hand side.  She came out and walked through my frame.  If I ever want to convince someone I've photographed a ghost, I know exactly how to do it now. ;)

Okay, that was it for this hike.  Like I said, I suspect it'll be better in the spring or summer, but I'm not looking to drive 2.5 hours each way again to get there anytime soon.

Matthiessen State Park - 9.25.10 - Post 1/2

In a little, tiny town called Utica, Illinois, there are two state parks.  One is the very well known Starved Rock, the other is Matthiessen State Park.  A group I belong to had a trip to Matthiessen planned, so I figured it would be a great chance to go shoot a site that's over two hours away and not have to make that drive on my own.

Which... worked up to a point.  I didn't have to make the drive on my own, but I remembered what happened the last time I had this thought (go with the group so I'm not out in BFE on my own)... I get highly annoyed at how fast everyone moves; I really do better when I go shooting on my own or with another photographer who understands 'move slowly and quietly'.  I mentioned something to the group leader about not wanting to sprint through the park, and she said we wouldn't be, but um... yeah we were.  And I don't mean that even from a photographer's standpoint.  Even if I'd left my camera in my car, I'd feel this group was trying to make land speed records.

Nevermind the fact that I was actually trying to take a few pictures.

Not helping at all is that this is a split-level park - there's an upper dells and lower dells section, which means there's a lot of stairs.  It's not like you go down, stay down and then come up and stay up.  You're up and down all over the place.  At one point we did 148 stairs consecutively (according to the signage).  That's roughly the same as going up (yeah, this was 148 stairs UP) 14 floors of a tall building.  Did I mention that my asthma deals with hiking across all kinds of land, but really, really hates doing stairs?  Ugh.

Overall, for this time of year and for a Saturday and for the the kind of photography I do, I'd give this park a D.  It's very, very busy.  Which means there are no animals anywhere you can see.  I heard some birds - I'm quite sure one was an owl - but other than the occasional blur streaking across the sky, I didn't see one animal.  We're also just far enough into fall to be at that awkward place where the interesting flowering plants are pretty well gone, but the really spectacular leaves haven't come in yet.  So ... it was pretty boring photographically speaking.

Between trying to break the four-minute-mile and there not being much to see, I only shot about 2 gigs of photos.  Comparatively, I hiked a place I wasn't ridiculously keen on last week (photos will get up eventually) where even though I was still in the middle of urban civilization, there were enough animals and flowers that I took about 10 gigs of photos in the same amount of time.

There were a lot of people in the woods that day.  A lot of kids and a lot of families with dogs.  So, again, no chance the wildlife was going to stick around.

I shot this sign when I was in the parking lot, waiting, just to test the equipment.  I find it kind of funny now...

See rule 4?  My initial reaction was, "Seriously?  Who's going to go wading in a forest lake?"  Well, we got up to the "Wishing Well" part of the park and there was a lagoon that was very, very low.  Which left a muddy bank from about five feet up the rock wall into the lagoon, which (judging by the dog swimming and playing in it) had to be at least four feet deep.  There were a couple of kids running up the bank and sliding down the mud into the water on their butts.  At first I kind of gave their dads a dirty look, like, "It's 60 degrees and I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to let your kids play in the water."  (Not that I'd ever say as much, but I thought it).

And then I realized that thirty years ago, my brother and I would have been doing *exactly* that same thing.  My father would have been encouraging it while my mother stood to the side hoping there wasn't a stick popping up out of the mud that we'd snag on or a sharp rock on the bottom that we'd cut ourselves on (but not disallowing it or freaking out over what sliding in all that mud would be doing to our clothes.)

Speaking of signage, this one, from the auxiliary parking lot kind of cracks me up:
Don't get the impression this sign is old, but a.) it doesn't list 911 as an emergency number and b.) it doesn't give the area code.  And we were pretty far out in nowhere-Illinois, and I really don't know what the area code is out there.  I'm thinking we were too far south to be in 815 any more.  So my cellphone, which requires 10-digit dialing, would have been problematic.

I do want to try the place again in the spring or summer and preferably on a weekday when it's apt to be less crowded and have more interesting flora and fauna visible.

But, all that said, I did get a few interesting shots.

Long Lake
 Water is an integral feature of the park.  Largely, it's based on a canyon (hence the hiking back up 14 flights) that is carved by running water, much the same way the Grand Canyon was carved (only on a much, much smaller scale.)  This is one of the lakes that still had water.  You can see that some of the trees (but not many) are starting to change.  I really like looking at the reflections in water pictures.  It shows how still the water is now.

Carved Cavern in the Canyon
The canyon, I'm told, has an actual river running through it in the spring, but by the fall it's pretty dry and the water that is there is pretty still.  But you can still see the way the sandstone has eaten away the walls of the canyon and left caverns in them.
Rainbowed Cavern
To the right of this picture is where the kids were playing in the mud.  Despite their splashing and sliding, the water flattened quickly, the ripples didn't travel far.  I wonder if that has anything to do with the lime in the water.  I like this shot because of the different deposit layers and micro-flora layers on the rocks.  In the back you can see oranges and reds and purples from the sediments in the water and on the left you can see blues and greens from lichens and mosses and other 'air plants' like small ferns.

Crack in the Canyon
Here's one wall in the canyon with a grove cut in it.  I'm sure that when it rains hard enough, there's a fantastic waterfall here.  There are trees sticking out of the rocks all over the place in this park.  Sometimes gravity wins and the tree gets pulled down.  In certain places they create bridges that I'm sure the squirrels and such love.  In other places you just have these tree trunks hanging off the side of the cliff, their roots still holding them up even though the tree wasn't alive any more.
Quiet Creek
Here's the trickle of river that remains this season.  The water is brown from tannin in some of the plants and their parts (like acorns) falling in it.  It's not just muddy.  Even the clearer pools were usually gold or brown in color from this.
Sandstone Erodes
 Sandstone layers and small caverns. 
Sulphur Shelf Spots
One bright spot of color that I did find were a few samples of this orange fungus.  This is called a "Sulphur Shelf" fungus, and is apparently edible.  No thanks.  It's pretty though.

We Don't Need to Put Down Roots
A lot of the rocks had plants growing on or out of them.  I'm not sure what those long finger-looking plants are.  They have the texture of a regular leaf, but they seem to creep and grow like a lichen or moss.
Rocks Reflect
Another reflection.  You can see how still the water is as well as how dark the tannins make it.

Okay, I have one more post for this hike - not nearly as many as I would have liked to have had, but I think we're hitting that place where I need to resign myself to the fact that we're heading into that season where nature shooting gets a little bit harder.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Volo Bog - 9.04.10 - Post 6

Last post of the Volo Bog hike!

Migratory: It Doesn't Just Explain What It Does
See, this is the thing about how some species are named - they are descriptive, but you don't think you've found the actual name.

This is a Migratory Grasshopper.  I kept looking at websites and going, "Great, it migrates, but what kind is it???"  Turns out that it's the name as well as what it does.

Leopard Frog Looks Before He Leaps
Talk about a textbook example.  This is a Northern Leopard Frog.  He's sometimes called a Meadow Frog because he's likely as not going to be found quite a way from standing water.  Which explains this guy hopping right across my path in the middle of the savanna area. 
Bottle Gentian Plant
Another new flower I fell in love with.  This is a Bottle Gentian Plant.  These flowers never open.  Bumblebees are their only pollinators and the bees have to open the flowers themselves to get in and do their thing.  I'm particularly struck by the different color flowers in one cluster.
Shades of Purple and Blue
Here's a close up of the flowers.  Such a magnificent color palate.

Ruffled Robin
I saw a few birds.  I got good pictures of almost none. I think one that I did get a bad shot of may have even been an owl, but I really can't tell, it's so bad.  Most of them are smart enough to stay in the trees, but that means that you're shooting backlit animals no matter where the sun is.

Anyway, this robin just hopped down in front of me.  When I was a kid, we would have called this guy (who's a juvenile in the process of getting his adult feathers) a "Robin Red-Breast", but apparently kids these days snicker too much because all the websites now say "American Robin."  I guess it's along the same line as beavers now living in 'lodges' instead of 'dams'.

Vertical Stripes
Yes, another Lobelia.  But this one has folded up on itself, giving it a striking striped effect.
The Moth That Came in from the Cold
This guy wasn't in the nature preserve at all.  He was hanging out on the inside of my apartment building door when I was leaving for the bog!

Again, if I hadn't seen the name of it while looking for something else, I probably would have assumed it was a bright beetle or something, but it is in fact an adult moth!  It's an Ailanthus Webworm Moth.  You can see what he'd look like with his wings out here.  These things are apparently everywhere from Costa Rica to Canada, but I'm pretty sure I'd never seen one before this guy got into my building.

Okay, that's it for the end of summer/early fall hike at the bog.  I'm heading back in early October to drop off some photos for a contest, so we'll see what changes happen between the seasons.

Volo Bog - 9.04.10 - Post 5

Last card of shots from Volo. More flowers than critters, but a lot of new ones.

Common Mullien with Three Blossoms
Common Mullien.  I like this for the same reason I like Blue Vervian - the stalk of buds with a few open flowers on the top.  I think it speaks to me about potential - when these flowers fade there will be plenty more to take their place.
Tickseed Sunflower Sunning
Tickseed Sunflower.  For a sunflower they're very, very small.  More daisy-sized.  It's hard to see at this size, but if you look at the flower closer to the top of the shot, the petals closest to the bottom, you can see the veining of the petals.  I'm glad I tripped over this name while looking for something else, because with the black and white stamens, I probably would have started looking for a relative of chicory flowers.

Random Blue Lace Agate Stone
Now this was unexpected.  I've made jewelry with natural stones for years and I like working with Blue Lace Agate.  I never expected to find chunks of it laying in the path as I walked through the prairie.  Reminds me of when I was a kid and we went to South Dakota and there were chunks of pink quartz lying around.  Now obviously, I didn't take it with me - you never take anything but pictures and memories in a natural preserve - but it would have made some interesting jewelry in it's raw form.

Bergamont Bloom
 Bergamont or Bee Balm.  When I see a flower like this, it always seems to be at the end of it's flowering, but really, that's just how they look.  Like coneflowers they just have large, petal-less centers.
Not So Bluet
If I thought dragonflies were tough to shoot, damselflies redefined 'tough'.  First of all, you absolutely can't use auto-focus.  The camera absolutely can't stay focused on something that small and thin.  In the wind I was facing that day, that was even more impossible.  These shots of damselflies aren't great, but I do want to catalog the species I saw while I was out.  This guy looks awfully gray to me, but something like 80% of damselflies are 'bluets' and their primary color is, obviously blue.  I think, judging by his markings that he's a Familiar Bluet.

Much More Bluet
Now this guy is clearly a Bluet.  Blue back, blue eyes, blue and black tail.  Again, I think he's a Familiar, but he really looks to be a whole different color than the guy above.
A Deer Was Here
I never did find a deer out there, but I found evidence that they do, in fact, exist (in this park, not just in general... it's not like I thought deer were mythical or something). This was the only print I saw.  There wasn't one for the opposite hoof or clearly identifiable back hoof prints.
I see! I see! I see a Cutleaf Rosinweed!
Okay, so the centers of these flowers look a lot like the centers of the Tickseed Sunflower above, but the petals are so clearly different.  So I Google "Sunflower Species".  Let me tell you what I didn't want to see.  Sunflower Family: the largest flower family in the world.  Oy, this could take a while.  What I'm finding indicates that this is Cutleaf Rosinweed.  Personally?  I think they look like the flowers in Dr. Seuss books. :)

Egret Egress
This was a shot from the birdblind on the trail.  (How much do I *love* that they have a photography blind set up?  A lot!)  I know these egrets are kind of ubiquitous in Florida, but they're pretty uncommon in Illinois.  I think this is the first one I've caught.  I think he's passing through as the migration gets going.
Lobelia Leaning
I posted picture of this flower yesterday, but it focused on a flower that hadn't quite bloomed yet.  This is the Great Blue Lobelia.  Again, there's something fascinating about the sharp folds and edges in this flower.  It kind of looks like fork.

Lobelia Lobes

Here's a close up of the flowers.  The rows of petals make it look like one long zigzagging petal.

Alright, nearing the end of this hike. Of course, I have about 4 more walks I haven't even started and I'm going on another one tomorrow. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Volo Bog - 9.04.10 - Post 4

Continuing on with Volo Bog...

Goldenrod Dragon
Goldenrod is pretty much everywhere in Northern Illinois wildlife areas.  This particular branch caught my eye, because it looks very much like a dragon to me.  I am the sort of person who likes to anthropomorphize this sort of thing, sure, but this just looked cool to me.
Still Blooming - Better Late Than Never
New flower!  Great Blue Lobelia.  The sharp folds and points in the flower petals make them stand out.
'Phyll-less Flower
I was sure these were mushrooms or some other sort of fungus when I found them, but while looking up something else entirely, I discovered that they are, in fact, a plant - the Indian Pipe.  Very weirdly for a plant, this plant obviously has no chlorophyll (the stuff that makes plants green); instead it gets its energy from being a parasite of the trees it grows under.  It's also called the Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant.  Creepy, eh?

Turning Red for the Winter
I'm pretty sure these are Winterberries, ripening from their initial pink into the bright red that will stay with them through the winter.

Two Sacks of Gold
Another bee on yet another flower.  But I like this one because you can see the pollen sacks on both legs in this case.  And he's still busily gathering.  I also really like how clearly you can see the joints in that front right leg.

Stripes on the Eastern Tailed Blue
I really hate that it was so windy the day I went up there.    This shot would have been so much better if the grass hadn't been getting blown to Kingdom Come.  Of course, if this Eastern Tail wasn't worried about getting blown into the next zip code, he might not have sat still at all.  It's not a great shot, but you can see the stripes on his antennae and on his legs.

White Face, Red Body, Green Weeds
Another White-Faced Meadowhhawk, with his White Face being very obvious. :)

Hairy Skipper
I was just inches away from this Fiery Skipper.  What a hairy little butterfly!

Wild Swan, All Bogged Down
Now this was one of the coolest things about being on the observation deck I was talking about in the last post.  I never did see the swans from the ground (there were two, but one was in and out of the rushes so much I never did catch him.)  If you look at the prairie grasses in the back, you can see how windy it was as I was shooting.  But hey, wild swans in Illinois!  I had no idea we had wild swans.

Spotted Jewelweed Hanging Out

This is a Jewelweed flower - Specifically, the Spotted Jewelweed.  Also called a Touch-Me-Not because the seed pods (not pictured) tend to explode when touched - not because it's hazardous for you to touch them.  In fact these plants are used as a common cure for the itch of poison ivy and other skin irritations.

Okay, one more card of pictures to go through for this trip. :)