Great Blue Heron Stalking Prey
The weather was splendid today, if slightly cool for August in Northeastern Ohio. We took a little jaunt down to the Ira Road area of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to walk the wetlands boardwalk portion of the Towpath Trail. It wasn’t long before we spotted the first, and boldest, of three Great Blue Herons. This big guy was perfectly happy to stand in the shallow waters of the abandoned canal stalking prey as we watched from the nearby trail. I’ve a wonderful set of shots of the big bird staring, preening, and yawning. This closeup, however, is my favorite and possibly my prettiest shot of a heron yet.
Great Blue Herons Strikes, Full-Force, to Catch Prey
The heron was, however, all about making a living and we as we watched it spotted something between the lily pads and, with lightning speed, struck at its prey full-force. Whatever the would-be lunch was, it got away this time, leaving the heron thrashing in the water, even appearing embarrassed as it flapped up to a log to shake off water and shame.
Green Heron Spots Something
Within sight of the big bird I thought I saw something much smaller and less familiar but I wasn’t sure. Was it an upturned lily pad or, yes (!), a Green Heron! Typically skittish I fully expected the little thing to rocket skyward as I approached on the trail. Like it’s giant cousin, however, the Green wasn’t shy and went about its business with us watching. It had been about two years since I’d last seen a Green Heron and this was a welcome sight.
It was a great day (and photographically productive) in the soft sunlight and fresh air spent stalking the stalkers!
Lily pads take on a whole different feeling.
A vigorous walk around Hinckley Lake this morning provided plenty of “photo ops.” I got images of at least three Great Blue Herons, a macro shot of a slug (actually kind of pretty), some flowers, a butterfly, and fish thrashing about in the water apparently in the throes of spawning. The shot that was a standout, however, was also something of a surprise. I liked the way the morning sun was playing across some lily pads floating at the edge of the lake. Some of the pads had beaded puddles of water on their waxy tops and the sun outlined them in silver. The camera, set to automatically select a shutter speed appropriate to the light level, saw all that light and darkened the scene: the pads turned black, the puddles showed textures, and the pads seemed to levitate above the glowing surface. The scene, overall, looked somewhat foreboding. Perfect. The title sprang to mind and I couldn’t think of anything better… “Death Pads!”
Look out, fish, that’s no rock you’re swimming around!
We visited Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park this afternoon. I wasn’t holding out hope for much to photograph but our little nature walk presented a fine assortment of opportunities, many of which were captured. Among the sights was a very large snapping turtle fellow visitors pointed out. The reptile stayed beneath the surface of the lake during the entire time we watched, occasionally stretching its neck to put up its periscope nostrils and eyes long enough to breathe. As pretty sunfish swam all around the potential predator, the turtle snapped not once. Following a park trail, we recorded woodland scenes of weathered wood and lush foliage in the understory. It was a very relaxing walk following a period of several stressful days and was a most welcome respite. On the opposite end of the lake, a spot of sunlight fell on slender, colored leaves floating in the shadows … a lovely and tranquil sight.
A Quiet Space in the Shadows
Male (left) and female Yellow-legged Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) coupled in flight.
I thought dragonfly season was over. I’ve seen few of the beautiful beasties buzzing about in recent weeks and believed they were gone with the summer. I was wrong. Today we visited the Silver Creek Metro Park, Norton, Ohio, and did a little two-mile photo-walk. Around Piny Lake we spotted tiny dragonflies darting about, several coupled. I got my first images of coupled dragonflies in flight and my first shots of egg-laying activity! The (I believe) Yellow-legged Meadowhawks mate in the same fashion as other dragonflies: the male grasps the female using special pincers at the end of his tail, mating proceeds, and then the couple fly over water and she dips the end of her abdomen into the water repeatedly, depositing her fertilized eggs. It’s an amazing and very quick dance, difficult to follow and more difficult to image in the field; I’m glad for whatever measure of success displayed here!
Male (upper) and female Yellow-legged Meadowhawks as she deposits her eggs in pond water.
Two herons fly low over still waters of Hinckley Lake’s wetlands.
All right, I went to Hinckley Lake this morning with good intentions. In fact, I did indeed walk and run around the entire lake in an effort to improve my fitness — about 3.24 miles or a good 5K and, they say, nearly 200 feet in climbing! But I couldn’t help looking around and thinking about photography. Oh! I missed the shot of that hovering dragonfly. Damn! I missed the Great Egret fishing just off-shore! Arrrrg! A heron posing perfectly on a sun-bleached tree stump surrounded by water! It was good practice trying to regain my center; stay in the moment. Besides, once my lap was done, I’d go back to the car, retrieve my camera (don’t leave home without one), and run back to see if that heron’s still there! So I did. It wasn’t. The heron had moved and was now wading, a bit far out for the reach of the modest telephoto zoom I’d brought. Then I noticed a second heron a bit farther up the waterway. The first heron noticed the second one and leaped into the air. Then the second bird took off. Click. Click. Click. Camera was set for single-shots! I fired the shutter as quickly as I could. Got ’em! Ah, exercise and photography… kind of like the ski/shoot biathlon in the Winter Olympics, except here I was running, not skiing, and no bullets were involved.
Morning light spills on to the rocks at Whipp’s Ledges.
With a little time left and the desire for more photography and exercise, I drove to nearby Whipp’s Ledges and trotted up the steep hill toward the rock face –giving in to expected distraction– camera in hand! Along the way I stopped and photographed a beautifully-lit orb weaver spider’s web, and some lovely blue berries close to a fallen log. Then, onward to the rocks. Mid-morning light was spilling through openings at the summit of the ledge, spotlighting areas below. Lovely, soft, “north” light illuminated the rest of the scene. Dang! No tripod! Capturing a nice selection of views there, I headed back down the hill and then home, happy and sweaty.
A mountain biker travels the Royalview Trail in Strongsville, Ohio.
On a whim we decided to explore the Royalview Trail section of the Cleveland Metroparks’ Mill Stream Run Reservation. Upon arrival we discovered that the park is a haven for local mountain bikers! Single-track, packed-earth trail ranges in difficulty from moderate to advanced and travels through the reservation’s beautiful hilly woodlands. Small streams are crossed, ravines traced and traveled, and narrow wooden boardwalks bridge the park’s softest and most sensitive soil.
Red eft terrestrial stage of the Eastern Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).
Cyclists, trail runners, and walkers were friendly and even helpful. Why not? Surrounded by beautiful natural settings on a warm and beautiful day –one of the summer’s finest– it was hard not to relax and be happy. Cyclists enjoyed the physical and mental challenge of the trails but there was plenty for slower-paced visitors to discover, things missed at a faster pace. At one point I left the trail to photograph the beautiful light reflecting red on a fallen tree’s now-bare trunk. On my way to the tree I looked down at another fallen log and discovered a tiny creature, about an inch in length, standing ever-so-still on the moist surface. It was an Eastern Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) in its Red Eft phase! I’d never seen one in nature and shot a good many photos of it. Owing to the deep woods and shade, photography was difficult and only one image turned out at all well.
Brain-shaped fungus, Sparassis crispa, attractive to slugs, on the forest floor.
Later in our walk, She Who Must Be Obeyed said, “Look at that!” On the ground, just off the trail, lay three “brains,” or what looked like brains, in the leaf litter. I’ve seen many woodland fungi in the region but never one like that. Looking closely at the growth to photograph it, I noticed it was very popular with the local slug population! I don’t know what they found so appealing but the slugs seemed to like the “brains” very much. We identified this one as Sparassis crispa — the Eastern Cauliflower Mushroom.
It was a splendid and enjoyable time and I’m sure we’ll visit again, perhaps this fall when the colors are likely to be amazing. Perhaps sooner!
Layers of cumulus clouds billowed over the region this Sunday.
We had a late breakfast, did a quick shop at Target, watched a little TV, and tried to figure out what to do. It was a muggy day, dawning overcast with a high chance of rain. We didn’t want to be too exposed to the weather but really didn’t want to spend the day indoors, either. Saving us from a boring, “wasted” day, She Who Must Be Obeyed came up with the brilliant idea — visit the Lorain Metro Parks’ Columbia Reservation. I had been there by myself a couple of times recently but She had not. It was a splendid idea.
Damselfly male Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicalis) had better watch himself, there’s a fish perhaps watching him!
We took the same hiking trails I had taken late in June. I could serve as a sort of guide but also see what changes have ensued since my last visit in this, so far drought-plagued summer. Some of the flowering plants have been spent, fulfilling their reproductive mission. The water levels in seasonal wet areas have dropped dramatically, some of them scarily! But some other things showed little change. We both took plenty of photographs this afternoon and, while I shot a variety of subjects, I found myself drawn back to one of my favorites… dragonflies! In one pond I spotted not a dragonfly but a pretty little damselfly posing on a bent stick protruding from the still water. Shooting several frames to try and get focus and lighting right, it wasn’t until I reviewed the images later that I discovered a sunfish lurking beneath the surface. I don’t know if the fish was watching the insect or me; in this little pond, the sunfish follow people as they walk back and forth on a small platform over the water!
Finally got a nice shot of a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (male) dragonfly.
In the final portion of our nature walk I was finally able to fulfill my goal of photographing a beautiful dragonfly I’d spotted there back in June. My first time there, I’d spotted the dragon but didn’t have the focal length to capture its image. I returned another time equipped with the right optics but saw none of its kind! Today was perfect: I had the optics, the dragonfly was cooperative, and the lighting and scene were nearly ideal. And my portrait of a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella) was my pic of the day! Third time’s the charm!