Bringing Home the Bacon

Today it snowed at the Stone House. I only know this because of Facebook. My friends and neighbors posted about the historic May snowfall in the Ozarks. Seems like tomatoes will be slim pickings this year. As for me, I’m not there. I’m on the road and starting a big adventure today, so I missed the historic snow. My pomegranates, however, did not. Hopefully they will handle this brief interruption to spring.

Reading all the posts about snow made me think about my Bluebirds of Happiness. It’s been about a month since they moved in. After the male approved the new digs, they set about to nest building. In my view he seemed to leave most of the nest building to the female. He stood watch while she made hundreds of trips back and forth with twigs and grass. He would look in from time to time, but I thought he was taking the easy route – just watching her do the heavy lifting….

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In retrospect, I think I have been a little hard on Mr. Happiness. I haven’t dared to look into the bird houses, but it’s clear that there is a big need for protein these days. The Mrs. makes it out of the box occasionally, but Mr. Happiness is definitely carrying his weight. Mother and young are eating up a storm…

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In one ten-minute period I saw him make 5 deliveries to the birdhouse. I never saw him eat anything himself – he would hit the ground, grab some grub, and take a quick look around from one of his favorite vantage points, before hitting the doorway of his home. I wonder how many mouths he has to feed. I wonder how long it will be before he can get back to sitting pretty and keeping watch…

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The Azure Blue Waters and White Sandy Beaches of…Indiana?

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A couple of weeks ago I had to make a business trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Airfares are crazy right now so the only economical options was for my to fly into Midway Chicago and drive the three hours to Grand Rapids. It’s an easy drive once you leave the city. At the conclusion of my meetings I headed back to Chicago for a flight the following morning. On the way I stopped at Indiana Dunes National Shoreline to pick up a passport stamp.

For you who are uninitiated the National Parks system in the US offers cancellation stamps at hundreds of locations – you stamp your “Passport” with an actual rubber stamp. The sell different types of passports and lots of stickers you can decorate up your passer with at most of these locations. I try to see if any are nearby when I travel and the Indiana Dunes is in a pretty remote location if you are making a road trip to several parks. I actually stopped by on a similar trip back in June, picked up my stamp and braved 50 mile an hour winds to look get to a spot to see the lake. Grey skies and whitecaps, but not much to see that day. Since I had the time I thought I would stop in and get a Stamp for my Sister-in-law’s mother, Kathy – she sends me tons of stamps so I thought I would return the favor, plus if she logs onto Facebook and sees that I was there and didn’t get her a stamp in a remote location, I’ll feel like a heel.

On this day the weather could not have been better. it was about 85 and sunny with just a slight breeze. I picked up a stamp and a map at the ranger station and stopped at the edge of the parking lot to see this guy perched near a stream that ran through the grounds.

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As I left the parking lot I headed down highway 12 towards the Beverly Shores Post Office to mail Kathy her stamps on postcards. The Post Office was closed for lunch so I turned towards the shore drive and came upon this beauty. It’s a functional depot for the South Shore Line. Go out the back door and press a button near the tracks and the train will stop right here for you.

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If I had known this was here I might have caught a train to Grand Rapids:)

Anyway, I dropped off my postcards and headed for the shore, expecting something akin to a large lake. When I saw the color of the water, my jaw dropped!

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This stretch of shoreline is a part of the National Parks System and has lots of shower and changing locations within walking distance. I was unfortunately in business attire with only dress shoes so I walked in as little sand as possible. Further east there were private sections of the shore (I almost typed “beach” because that’s what it felt like – a beach) that I could photograph from my rental car, since no parking was allowed.

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Beverly Shores and the surrounding area is pretty spectacular. Marshes and field grasses with a mix of wildflowers. Just stunning.

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I traveled further east to Mount Baldy. The ranger said that it was a “must-see” and said nothing else about it. Mount Baldy is an enormous moving sand dune – the park is trying desperately to stop its movement, it’s about to engulf a changing station so they have erected fences and are preventing all hiking on the face of the dune since that causes it to slide further. Imagine the height of these trees if they were not being consumed by sand.

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On my way out of the park I headed back I that spot that was all grey and whitecaps in June. The city of Gary, Indiana fills the horizon – I think this is probably a pretty attractive view of the city of smokestacks.

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Not a bad way to kill some time before heading back to Chicago.

Next time I’m packing flip-flops.

Saturday in the Park – hotter than the 4th of July

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This weekend the real heat of summer settled over the Ozarks. We hit triple digits and in this humidity that an be brutal. I met a friend at a local lake – she was introducing some friends to kayaking. I knew I couldn’t take the heat on the water so I stayed on the docks and played with some newer gear.

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This is a shot of the docks taken with my Lensbaby set up, shown at the top of the blog. It’s a tilt-shift system – meaning that you tilt the lens so that it is no longer parallel to the sensor, this gives you a slice of focus that is tilted away from the sensor. This look is used a lot in those photos that look like dioramas or miniatures. I think that look is cool and I’ll probably try it at some point but for now I am interested in experimenting with the shift. I’m not interested in sacrificing composition for a novelty effect.

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These shots let you see how the focus is off center – the second one really shows how the focus is tilted when you look at the license plate.

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This is a stack of John boats and canoes on the shore. I made the grass near the canoe my focus, letting everything blur towards the edges.

Of course I cannot go anywhere without trying to practice capturing images of flying things and the Lensbaby is just not the tool for that –

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Song sparrow

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Resting dragonfly

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Nectar filled blooms

I’m always game to try new things photographically – it pushes you to master a new skill set. I’m just a noob when it comes to tilt-shift, but I’m intrigued and curious about the potential. I think that’s a good thing for an artist.

As I hit the road for the drive home though, the tilt-shift is packed away – my long zoom is in place in case I get a shot at Bambi.

Katydids or didn’ts

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I saw this fella on the hood of my Jeep a couple of weeks ago. He hung on through my 15 mile commute, he seemed to be there for a couple of days – at least I thought it was the same guy, they all look alike to me.

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Then suddenly he was gone. Early last week he (or his twin) was back, clinging to the windshield for dear life – but with new and improved wings.

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After posing for a few shots he took off and I followed him up and over the jeep soft top.

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At this point he changed directions and came at me.

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He jumped onto my hand – which freaked me out a bit so I brushed him onto the ground. Immediately I felt bad, after all I was his ride. I thought I would pick him up an put him back on the Jeep. Bad idea – he made the loudest noise! I ditched him there in the parking lot.

Butterfly – Flutter By

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I always learn something when I spend time with Mary Jane.

If you’ve read any of my blog you’ll know she’s my nearly 99-year-old neighbor. She has a place a little less than a mile from me on our country road.

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She loves her garden. She spends hours caring for it. It doesn’t look like your typical garden. The first time I saw it I thought it was an acre of weeds. I offered to mow it for her and she told me that she didn’t trust me to leave the good parts. She prefers to trim her garden with some folding hand shears while sitting on an overturned milk crate.

The truth is that Mary Jane has an exhaustive knowledge of Ozark plant life. She knows what you can eat, what soothes your skin, what makes a good tea, and what can kill you. She knows what will have a beautiful blossom and what will attract or repel insects. Every year she moves in and out of the greenery with her shears, thinning and opening the space.

When something special happens in the her garden, Mary Jane will give me a call and I will come over with my camera. One of our rites of spring is the arrival of the swallowtails to feed on the sweet rocket. She will cut enough away to make a path to walk through and it makes shooting easy.

One Saturday in April I got the call. I packed my long zoom and my macro lens and headed out. I started with the log zoom. I could easily get within 10 feet and my bird lens was just the ticket. The swallowtails were so busy feeding that you could just find a spot and focus while waiting for a one to light.

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A tiger swallowtail feeding on mottled sweet rocket blossoms.

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A tiger swallowtail with a spicebush swallowtail in the distance.

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Spicebush swallowtail in the rocket.

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The swallowtail is the only butterfly that flutters while it feeds, this can make it a challenge to photograph them.

After about a half hour shooting I noticed that Buffy, one of Mary Jane’s cats had followed me and was watching the scene. I decided to put away to zoom and see if I could get close to him. I took out the Macro – it can take a fair portrait.

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I was glad that I had changed lenses when I spotted this guy. He let me get incredibly close.

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The zebra swallowtail was not bothered by me in the least. He moved methodically from flower to flower.

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I didn’t notice the ladybug on the right while I was shooting.

Sometimes I can get so wrapped up in catching the shot of the insect that I forget how really special the sweet rocket is. The structure of this flower is really beautiful.

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Tiger, another of Mary Jane’s cats, couldn’t have been more bored with it all.

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This sweet rocket butterfly garden lasted only a few days. Another of the Ozark’s micro seasons. I thought the swallowtails were gone until next year. About a week later I got another call from Mary Jane. It was about noon, but I was at work and couldn’t get there for a few hours. Once I got there I had about an hour to shoot before dusk. The swallowtails were back, this time at the mock orange bush, something Mary Jane planted to draw butterflies. She sees a garden as more than plants, it’s what the plants bring.

This night I had to use the long zoom. The mock orange was taller than me and these tiger swallowtails were easily spooked. Shooting upwards let me get some of the evening sky into some of the shots.

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As the sun got lower the number of swallowtails really tapered off.

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Towards the end of the evening the butterflies were in the interior of the mock orange.

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As the sun set we stood in the garden and Mary Jane pointed out what she would thin next, what was coming up, and what was blooming now. If I’m completely honest, I still couldn’t see it, it looked like weeds to me. I don’t have the vision.

I looked back at the mock orange and asked Mary Jane if she knew where the butterflies went after sunset. She said they went to sleep.

Roadside Attractions

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I live off of a county road in the Ozarks, a couple of miles from the pavement, deep in the woods a few miles from town. Everyday when I drive to work I pack up my camera gear – I pull out my camera and zoom and place it on the passenger seat, leaving it ready to shoot in case I see something amazing. This seems to happen daily and I do my best to catch it. These shots are all along the route of my daily travels to and from work.

The shot above is Krishna, he’s our neighborhood peacock. He showed up about 3 years ago, we don’t know of he was dumped or if he was attracted to the area by a female at a neighbor’s house. We tried to find his owner for about a year. When the female died, Krishna became fascinated with the glass windows on an old Grange hall on the highway. He puffs up as he tries to impress his own image on the glass doors. Another neighbor has adopted him, but he still crosses the road every day to take on that handsome guy in the window. On this afternoon he was avoiding me so I got low and shot through the weeds.

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This is a box turtle, the woods are full of them. I found this guy out on the road not far from the mailbox. When I see one in the road I like to stop if I can to set them on the other side of the road. These guys have no natural enemies except for automobiles. In the spring they are on the move and on any day you can encounter a dozen on the way into work. I read once that they travel on a path that is instinctive, a lot like salmon swimming up the correct stream to spawn. I found one in my wood shop one day last spring. I picked him up and took him outside and he ran right back into the shop to the same spot about 30 feet into the building. I put him back outside and pulled the door closed and he pushed against it for hours. I finally opened the door so he could go in, he was there a few days and moved on.

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This is a European Starling in the parking lot at work. They invade the siding and soffits every spring to nest until their babies are ready to fly. This one would dive bomb you if you got too close. They are often seen as pests here in the states, and it’s really not their fault. They were introduced into Central Park in the late 1800’s by a literary group who thought that every bird mentioned by Shakespeare should live in the park. They are not native to the America’s but they thrive here. They like to kick other birds out of their nesting sites and hijack them for their own.

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This is a cute little squirrel that I saw driving through town a few weeks ago. He’s cute because he is nowhere near my house. I think God made squirrels cute because they are so destructive. I have a pair of grey ones in my shop, I cannot get them out. They destroy everything they are evil, don’t be fooled. Evil, pure evil.

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I found this guy on my porch one night. His eye is so amazing. It’s like layers in a painting. I used a flashlight to get him lit like this. My dogs like to push on these guys so they jump. They will follow them all over the lawn on a spring night.

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This morning as I turned out of the driveway I saw a couple of deer crossing the road ahead of me. He stepped through the brush about. 20 feet away. I slowed down and opened the window and he froze. We watched each other for several seconds. I notice that if a deer is not running, just crossing, they often stop to check you out. After 15-20 seconds he made a puffing sound and took off into the woods. I see deer like this almost daily. Lots of fawns right now too.

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This robin was on a limb over the road. I have photographed robins in 6 states this spring so far. They are pretty calm birds and are large enough to get a good focus. Now that I am looking for birds I see these guys everywhere. I shot this one from the driver’s seat of my Jeep.

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I saw this water turtle I a couple of weeks ago while running errands in town. There is a small lake on a loop and I spotted him on a log floating. I was about 30 feet from him so I stopped the car and stepped closer. He let me get off a couple of shots and he dove out of site.

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I’m fascinated with cardinals, this isn’t a very good shot. I’m working on it though. They are very skiddish so they are tough to catch. This one is at a local amphitheater – his mate was in the woods fit above him. I have some at my house and have put out some feeders hoping to attract them and get them more comfortable with me, I hope to get a couple of good shots before summer is over.

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Swallow tails are a fixture in the Ozarks in the spring. This one was on the side of the road in the sun. I’m amazed by their color and the texture of their wings.

These are just a few of the things I encounter every day. What did you see on your commute today?

Lunas in the Porch Light

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I moved to the Ozarks about a decade ago. I no longer live in the city and have a neighbor 10 feet away. I bought an old farmhouse on 7 acres about 5 miles from town. Close enough to be able to get the things you need to get by, far enough away to see stars at night. My first year was all about learning the rhythms of nature through the seasons. Peepers and whippoorwills start talking in May, tree frogs in June, cicadas in July and August – it all goes quiet again in October.

My first spring here I noticed that if a light was on in a room at night that flying insects would congregate on the windows – sometimes lots of them. If ladybugs get into the house they will hit their shells against the table lamp or TV looking for the light. One night I heard a very loud flutter against the living room window – it sounded like a bird crashed! I heard it again and saw something the color of a tennis ball swirl in the light and heard the window shake. I went outside and thought it might be a great green parakeet or something – but the flight pattern was so circular and random.

The next morning I went outside and saw the culprit – it was a Luna Moth. Now at the time I had no idea what that was – it’s color was amazing, but it was huge, larger than the palm of my hand! It was so beautiful that I watched for it to arrive the next night and it did. It only visited me for a few days and it was gone – until the next spring.

What follows is my photo study of this years visitors. Typically a moth lasts for 10 days and dies. A new generation arrives about 10 days later and after it dies they are gone for the year.

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This shot is taken from inside my screen door – their bodies look a lot like the pupae stage of the moth.

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Their bodies are covered with scales that look like fur

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They vary a bit in size and vividness.

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That crazy flight pattern is how the males find the females – those antenna pick up the scent

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Their tales flutter wildly when they fly

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This shot was taken with a 40 year old Macro lens on a bellows

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They eyespots have a translucent center.

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This guy got into my house and I was worried he would hurt himself before I got him out the door.

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I would leave my porch light on in the day time so that this one would stay.

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This one fell off the screen as I tried to close it – he rested on my step for about an hour.

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The edges of their wings almost look like woven tapestry to me.

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Sometimes the lower wings have a scalloped shape.

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This one was smaller than the rest and he stayed perched inside my smaller light fixture on the back porch.

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This image was also captured with a manual macro lens and bellows – in it you can see the scale structure clearly.

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This is another macro and bellows shot of just the antenna.

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So now they are gone. Summer is on it’s way in the Ozarks.