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Archive for the ‘Nature Photography’ Category

Pick a photograph: Which do you like best?

A trip to the Philadelphia Zoo provided a great opportunity to photograph the animals close up.  J. R. Blackwell provided guidance as well as her own interpretation to most of these shots. Click to enlarge as the details are extraordinarily better in the larger format.  Thanks for offering your choice!

Once Upon an August Blue Moon

August 31, 2012

Watching the blue moon rise, a flock of birds flew across the scene reminding me that migration season is upon us and fall is just a few weeks away. The landscape will change from green to shades of orange, red and yellow, but for now I’m thinking blue. I searched for blue flowers to compliment the feeling of tranquility–that the moon will rise and the birds will begin their migration this time of  year.

The Wren’s Vanishing Act

Every morning I hurriedly climb a back staircase to get to the office to begin another day of work. A week ago a small brown bird danced along the hand rail as I came up the steps. The little bird stood her ground. I admired her defiance.

On the second morning, she was back flitting between a nearby tree and the railing. The night before I checked my bird book and identified her as a House Wren, with her turned up tail and warbling tweetie song. I thought she must have a nest somewhere. I looked in the tree and scanned the walls of the building to see if twigs might be sticking out from a light fixture or downspout, but no such signs appeared.

Checking the Internet, I learned that Wrens can build their nests in strange places. A cavity nest builder, their nests turn up in abandoned bee hives, old hats, tin cans or flower pots. I couldn’t see any such cavities in the area.

On the third morning, the Wren appeared again. This time I watched her from the window on the second floor. Surprisingly, the little Houdini just disappeared! I had to get a closer look to discover the magic trick.

I inspected the railing and found a tiny opening between the pieces of metal. Evidently her brood had already hatched judging from the beak full of breakfast she prepared.

Her magic disappearing act worked well as almost no one noticed her on the stairway–until those babies started squawking, drawing attention to themselves. I guess a loud voice trumps discretion for the young ones.

As I rise and fall on the steps, I think about the deliberate actions of the parent Wren on the railing and the little ones tucked in the metal encasement. I wonder at their place on the staircase, intentions as deliberate as mine heading to the office.

Salvia: A Surprising Micro View

As a gardener, I sometimes difficult to resist purchasing something new for the landscape especially with the vast array of colorful plants on display at the big box stores. This time I caved to a Salvia plant, its aromatic fragrance wafting in the breeze, beckoning me to buy the bluish-purple blooms.

Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family, its name comes from a Latin word meaning to feel healthy. The tiny flowers line up and down tall stalks making a subtle contribution to the color in the garden, as shown in this photograph, just right of the flagstone path.

The micro level, however, reveals a complex and multi-colored flower. The tiny hairs secrete oils that fill the air with the plant’s distinct scent.

April’s Pink Moon


Friday, April 6, 2012, at approximately 09:18:42 pm.

The April full moon is also known as the Full Pink Moon, which was named for the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, one of the earliest flowers of the spring. Many other pink flowers bloom in April as well as blossoms on the trees. In just a short walk around the neighborhood,  I was able to photograph nature’s many variations of pink.

The moon, like a flower
In heaven’s high bower
With silent delight
Sits and smiles on the night.
                     ~ William Blake

Flowers in the video, in order of appearance: Lilac, Crab Apple, Redbud, Pink Dogwood, Tulip, Cherry, Crab Apple with Chickadee, Rhododendron

Philadelphia Flower Show: I Can Do That in my Garden, Really?

The Philadelphia Flower Show offers inspirational ideas to gardeners. The beautiful displays and the wares sold in the marketplace offer many possibilities to the gardener who would like to enhance the landscape. My sister and I kidded each other saying, “I can do that!” as we passed by the 25-foot waterfall or the deck with an elaborate display of cascading flowers lining the steps. Is there hope to achieve any degree of innovation from the ideas presented at the show? Below are four inspirations I found useful.

1. Colored blue lights against white orchids

This display could be achieved on a smaller scale. For example, a centerpiece with one orchid and a colored light would work. Several vendors were selling submersible LCD lights at $5 each, which we purchased, with the idea of adding light to a vase.

2. Stream of water

While for most of us adding a stream to our backyard would be an impossible undertaking, what is important is the idea of using a water feature. A small fountain adds the ambiance of running water creating a calming effect, transforming any space.

3. Colored tires

This exhibit deserves a prize for the most creative recycling: painting automobile tires and placing them vertically in the garden.  Shouldn’t be difficult to find a few used tires someplace.

4. Accessories: whimsical and otherwise

With statue and decorative planter in hand we’re all set to accessorize our garden.

Vendors displayed a wonderland of accessories, everything from planters and watering cans to expensive brass sculptures.

Attend the flower show and you’re sure to come away with ideas that will make gardening fun this spring. Don’t be intimidated by the elaborate and over the top displays, and you’ll be able to take away inspirational ideas for your garden, if only to add a dragon.

Five Ways to Uncover Nature’s Treasures in the Ordinary

Whether a photographer, artist or observer of nature consider these few suggestions for discovering ways to capture, as well as learn about, nature that is in front of us everyday. While travel often heightens our senses to novel experiences and new worlds, what we have before us offers just as many serendipities.  Exciting discoveries await us in our everyday experiences.

1. Explore your own back yard.

Typically when traveling, there’s little time for photographing complex eco-systems and micro-worlds. Grand landscapes understandably command most of the photographer’s or artist’s attention. Our local neighborhoods, however, offer opportunities to study over time the many niches that nature fills in our back yards or community parks.

Caved out of farm land during the early 1950’s building boom, my neighborhood retains a small wooded area in the back yards. Most of the land surrounding the neighborhood has been developed, but a number of parks and preserved lands nestle between the housing developments, strip malls, office buildings and roadways. Despite the suburban encroachment, a number of animal species live here or visit from time to time. White-tailed deer graze through the forest and sometimes come near the house to find salad fixings in the hostas. Occasionally, a red fox trots through and groundhogs appear once in a while. Regular visitors include chipmunks, mice, voles, moles, squirrels, toads and rabbit. Bird species observed are wrens, chickadees, woodpeckers, humming birds, robins, crows, starlings, grackle, nuthatch, titmouse, chickadee, blue jay, cowbird, cardinal, morning dove, house sparrows and goldfinch, catbird, mockingbird, junko, and red-tailed hawk.

2. Look on the upside to Invasive Species: The Holly and the Ivy

The natural ecology of our yard falls apart at the ground level where English Ivy has taken over and blocked the natural succession of indigenous plants. Someday I would like to pull it out and allow the woodland flowers to come back. Another invasive species that has been successful is the Holly, as seedlings often find homes in the soil in the woods and cultivated gardens. Finding any redeeming qualities in these is difficult, but it is possible to glean a few advantages from their presence. These plants are great subjects for art projects, even if  just a simple water-color painting. In addition, instead of purchasing greens, the holly and ivy provide greenery for wreaths and garlands.

And Sweet Pea

Another plants that sometimes overtakes the garden is the Sweet Pea. The delicate pink flowers and fine little threads make a great subject for a pen and ink. Enjoy the fragrance but be advised to not eat the little peas that it produces.

3. Check the debris piles after a rain.

When the ground is damp and boggy, that’s a good time to check for unusual species of mushroom that grow from the forest debris. On a particularly humid day, these two mushrooms grew from the dampened soil.

Indian Pipe

Mystery Mushroom

Indian Pipe, also known as the “Corpse Plant,” grows in rich soil often under pines. Indian Pipe attracts bees providing a food source for them. I could not definitively identify the orange mushrooms. Let me know if you know the name.

4. Spend time observing a small environmental niche.

I almost missed this little guy hiding in a tree nook. He seems to understand camouflage pretty well and found some moisture there, as well. The American toad is common, but only two species of toads live in Pennsylvania.

American Toad

After taking some time to photograph hosta leaves, this little spider popped out from behind a stem. I couldn’t figure out why the spider appeared carrying a soccer ball until I did some research. Turns out she is a Nursery Web Spider, appropriately named, who carries her egg case wherever she goes. I had to admire her facility moving through the leaves with no trouble. I imagined myself trying to carry an object half my size over hill and dale. Eventually mommy spider builds a nursery tent for her egg sac when hatching time arrives and guards it protectively.

Nursery Web Spider

5. Study the frequent visitors to the yard. Often we look for the exotic, but even common species offers spectacular results and opportunities for experimentation. The Eastern Swallowtail is one of the most common butterflies in this part of the country. The bit of blue on her wings identifies her as a female.  According to Wikipedia, the species prefers red or pink flowers. Really. Photographing common species provides the opportunity for practice when that exotic comes along.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

5. Remember that late fall also provides artistic opportunities. 

Sure “all the leaves are brown and sky is gray” but late autumn offers a unique view of patterns and textures. The Chinese Lantern, a weed that often crops up in the yard, displays charming lantern-like seed pods. A member of the potato family, the Chinese Lantern supposedly has herbal uses, although requires some care and knowledge to use properly. In the fall the lantern transforms to lace revealing a golden seed tucked inside.

Chinese Lantern

By the Fall the hydrangea flowers have dried, and although I like to bring the puffy floral balls inside, our cats find them tasty but later regret the urge. Like the lacy lantern, by late November the tiny flowers keep only their veins displaying their infrastructure pattern. Free of their covering and color, the design of their pedal foundation becomes clear.


Observing nature in our neighborhood provides the opportunity for reflection and revelation. On this backyard exploratory a revelation came to me about perseverance. Whether plants or animals, all have found a way to survive and preserver. The ivy doesn’t know it’s an invasive. Weeds come back despite efforts to eradicate them. Creatures find places to live in nature’s crevices. The spider will carry that egg sack everywhere in her garden home, and the Swallowtail will find that pink flower. Maybe what amazes us is that we share that quality with all life.

Top Ten Snow Scenes

By Photographers, J. R. Blackwell, Jean Kerr Strosahl and Yours Truly

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