June 29, 2017
Purple Martin Nesting
Thanks to a Boy Scout Eagle Project by Cameron Reed, several years ago, the purple martins are using the artificial gourd nest houses at Liberty Park. This year looks to be a successful one as adults are caring for young and even the local red-winged blackbirds are contributing. Red-winged blackbirds do not nest in these gourds but watch over their nests in the field, while perched on the gourd mast, where they can watch for hawks, crows and other predators, which by chance also protects the purple martins as they tend to their young.
This is the 3rd year that the purple martins have used these nesting gourds and eat many flying insects, which are their source of food. They will migrate south in huge numbers, these flocks often seen flying over the Lake Erie shoreline when insect time is done. Properly maintained nesting houses are critical to these birds, their numbers falling due to the intrusion of the invasive starling and house sparrow.
April 5, 2016
Scouts at Work
On April 1st, Boy Scout Troop 213, worked to hang purple martin nest boxes for the coming season and also did improvements on the meadow, adjacent to the Liberty Dog Park. They not only cut invasive pear and olive trees, too large for a mower but rolled a couple of boulders out of the way of future mowing.
Cameron Reed, who earned an Eagle Scout award for his work in first installing the purple martin boxes, headed up the group of energetic young men to accomplish this work benefiting Liberty Park. Thank you, your work is greatly appreciated!
Wintertime Photography, Simply Natural
About ten years ago, I decided I needed to document my nature discoveries via a digital camera. I’d stop taking photos long before that, despite being the photography “kid” in my family, using what they called a “box” camera (my grandmother’s) in those days. Transitioning to a cartridge camera, the Kodak Instamatic, it was with me whenever I hiked as a teen. The next transition was to a film, SLR but eventually the weight, compounded by other equipment, while pushing through swamps and marshes became prohibitive. So, photography ended for me during that time of regular botanical survey work.
Years later, armed with my first pocket-sized digital camera, an entirely new world of nature was presented to me, with the much lighter weight and versatility of the digital. I offer to you that if you have a digital camera used for recording family events primarily and then put to rest in the closet for the remainder of its career, that you consider taking it for a walk in the winter woods and fields. Look for the photo opportunities, which are certainly there. Two recommendations, if your camera has the image of a flower on one of the buttons on the back, it’s your macro button, and useful when exploring nature in winter, close-up! Also, as the sunlight, which creates fantastic images in winter, has a habit of obscuring your view on a screen, a viewfinder is very helpful (the little peephole on top of many cameras). Yes, a phone’s camera can work, especially if fitted with some of the new photo tools available but first I suggest that you rummage in the closet for that infrequently used camera. Already know your gear and all this is elementary? Read on, as you may just take away an idea or two.
From late December into April, winter holds its grip on NE Ohio and for anyone with a basic camera it’s a wonderful time of year to spend on a trail somewhere, photographing nature in normally quiet surroundings. This is something not to be taken for granted and once you try getting photos on a trail during spring and summer, you’ll understand! Interruptions are frequent. While I’ve taken a few photos with gloved fingers, I prefer a loose fitting glove, with hand-warmers inside to allow me to take the shots I need barehanded, for as long as desired before immersing my fingers back into a warm glove. In general, over-dressing in winter is the best way to go. You want to move slowly, to avoid missing an opportunity, so warmth is a priority.
Why winter? With your camera set for macro, there are many, many photo subjects to more easily find in the winter woods, fields and marshes, as normally robust, living plants are no longer blocking your view. Lichens, mosses and yes, even a strange plant called a liverwort, will reveal itself in the bright rays of a sunny winter’s day. With these species come the season’s green, blues, even orange, red and yellow hues to your computer screen! Look for color, it’s everywhere but usually it’s small, even tiny! So observe, walk slowly, look closely and stop often. If you are a birder or hunter, you know about this technique; use it!
As a naturalist with a botany background, I often prefer identifying trees by their buds and of course this is one of but not the only way to identify them in winter. Hickories, oaks, buckeyes and basswoods are trees easily identified in winter by the shape and color of their buds. They also make wonderful challenges to your macro photography skills. No, you don’t have to know what species of tree it is, at least not at the time, since online research is part of the fun! Simply look for buds which stand out; colorful, large buds are best. The native trees in a park or preserve are the most interesting; neighborhood, landscaping trees can come from anywhere in the world, not much fun.
Animal tracks too, whether in mud or snow, become an adventure. Track books are a delight to use in winter, with your photo on the computer screen in front of you. If you get hooked on tracks though, be forewarned, like bird books, one is usually not enough. “Aha” moments are many and winter flies by as you look for tracks and scat to photograph and then identify it. As I have discovered, using the camera in this manner, opens up the natural world unlike one would have ever expected. You’ll begin unraveling the stories of the tracks you find as well, since the camera will direct you toward finding the best of them and you may even find yourself following the animal as it goes about living in the cold winter world.
Many of the mushroom species are perennial and wintertime makes it easier to find them on standing or fallen trees. We have such a large volume of mushrooms in NE Ohio, that the saying “I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew” strikes me as appropriate here. I have hundreds of shots of mushrooms, many of them identified via texts and online but in the field, those names become a stew of partial names and remembrances of seeing them before! Still, I continue to take photos and you should too. The colors are sometimes secondary to the structures of these species and they often hold surprises within those structures! First and perhaps most importantly, when you take a photo of a mushroom from above, then take one or more from below to know what type of spore release structure is on the underside; gills, pores or teeth. Without this shot, you will find it much more difficult if not impossible to identify the mushroom. If you are simply seeking a pretty photo, disregard this, as pretty photos are wonderful too! Taking an underside shot is fun though, so you may wish to give it a try. Some cameras have a flip-out screen, which allow you to actually see what you are photographing but others, like the little pocket cameras can do it too, without the need for the photographer to wallow in the snow. Just put on macro setting, automatic, point the lens toward the underside, guess and shoot until you see a clear shot on the playback image. I enjoy this procedure and you will too, as you use this technique more often. You may want to practice in the springtime however!
Whatever you may choose to photograph in winter, it is an activity, which pulls one into the outdoors, when a warm spot in the house seems most likely to attract. Being outdoors, when warmth of the home beckons, is a wonderful cure for what we call cabin fever. If you have the assistance of children on your exploration, make it a game of finding wonderful subjects for you to photograph and if they are old enough to use a camera, it’s a great distraction for them, who like many adults are stressed by responsibilities in their life. With that said, look for much more than has been mentioned here, as indeed there is far more in the winter woods to photograph. Bundle up, as that is a priority and have fun. Winter is a great time to enjoy our parks and what has been preserved within them!
Enjoy the photos accompanying this article and perhaps take away ideas for your own winter photo adventures! Simply flip through using the left and right arrows.