Sweet Summer—and a Missed Milestone

As I was posting my shrouded aurora a few days ago, I realized that it was my 701st post, and that I had missed mentioning the #700 milestone when I posted the previous one (back in March—was it really so long ago?!), so I guess it’s probably worth mentioning now.

Here in the northern hemisphere the summer metamorphoses into autumn on September 23, coinciding with the autumnal equinox. In New Zealand, our other home, the corresponding seasonal change (from winter to spring) fell on September 1. I’ve often wondered which was decided on first and why someone chose to use a different criterion for the other half. Ah, well, maybe I’ll try to research that some day.

Meanwhile, as I’m savoring the last two and a half weeks of summer here in northern Minnesota, I find myself often in the forest, especially on a new path that I carved in what I call the Three-Acre Wood that lives adjacent to our cabin. It passes by a small area that is relatively free of tall trees, in which flat-topped asters (Aster umbellatus) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) flourish, and at this time of year the  Painted Lady butterflies (Cynthia cardui) are afield in abundance and are attracted to both of them. The upper, flashy surfaces of their wings are legendarily beautiful, but I love to study their intricate, delicate, and more subdued undersides. These two were particularly cooperative four days ago as I said goodbye to August.

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Shrouded Aurora

I learned yesterday, from Minnesota Public Radio, that there was a good chance that northern lights could appear at night, so I searched for and I found an article (on the MPR website) in which the author recommended photographing across a lake from a south shore. And since our cabin is on the south shore of our lake, I decided to see what I could do with the opportunity.

I stayed up until 1 am, checking out the sky every half-hour or so and, though the sky was a little hazy for the lower 10° or so above the horizon, overhead it was mostly clear, with many stars visible—but, as yet, there was no sign of any aurora activity. A subtle glow from a distant town was lighting up the haze in the northwest, but there was nothing to the east of that. It was a lovely night, perfectly calm, and quite a bit warmer than it’s been for the past week or so. I stood there for a good while just absorbing it all.

I checked periodically through the night, and by about 4:30 the cloud cover had spread to the entire sky, so no stars were visible now—but a new light source was illuminating the light cloud cover in the north, and it must have been aurora light from behind and above. I experimented with camera settings and made two good exposures with slightly different compositions; this is my favorite. I shot it at ISO 4000, 30 seconds, and an aperture of 5.6. Happy September!

Posted in Fleeting Beauty, Nebulous Notables, Night Photography | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

WWD—Late Again

World Wildlife Day was celebrated earlier this month, and I’ve been meaning to add a personal offering. I seem not to have been able to find the time, until now, though, with holiday travel with family to Australia, a visit from old friends from student days in Germany, tax preparation, and lots more. This year the focus is on marine species. I haven’t recently done any snorkeling or visited an aquarium, but I did pay another visit to Muriwai, the site of the colony of Australasian gannets some 30 km west of Auckland. I’ve posted about them several times before (you can easily find them by doing a quick search for gannet), so I won’t take up your time with repeated general information. They are, admittedly, not exactly marine animals per se, but the adults spend the vast majority of their time at sea, fishing for themselves and their young. The day was glorious—bright, sunny, and calm—with the result that most of the colony were out fishing and only around 10% of the population was in residence. I had less than an hour, but that was enough time to capture these images of these really magnificent birds. For a more detailed view, please click on an individual image. Happy (belated)  WWD!

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Webnesday (49)

How about a nice spider to spin off the New Year? I’m pretty sure this one will ring a few bells with some of my followers, as it’s the third one I’ve found here in New Zealand and brought to you. The first one (here) was nearly five years ago and the second (here) just a little less than a year ago. This new one was resting quietly on a leaf in Batty’s garden yesterday. It was pretty windy and the stem that held the leaf was rather long, so it was a challenge to try to get a clear shot. In the end, having only a few minutes to devote to the challenge, I had to brace a garden tool against the stem and use another for a makeshift monopod. I made twenty shots and am satisfied with two of them. She’s a Poecilopachys australasia, commonly known as a two-spined or Madonna spider, and the plant where we found her was an Australian milkweed (I’m pretty sure it’s Asclepias curassavica), which was quite appropriate, as this spider is a successful immigrant from Australia and has been here at least since the early 1970s. We know that it was a female because the male lacks the characteristic spines and is far smaller, only about 2.5 mm in length or about a quarter the size of the female; in fact, they are so dissimilar that it was originally thought that the two genders were actually different species.

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For the Birds–Again

I have written about Muriwai Regional Park several times before, and it holds a very special fascination for me. It contains a magnificent beach on the western shore of the North Island, in the Waitakere Ranges, a little less than an hour’s drive from Auckland, and is the home many sea birds, most notably a famous colony of Australasian gannets (Morus serrator). This is one of only three places in New Zealand where gannets nest on the mainland, and is by far the most accessible. Some 1200 gannets nest here from August to March. A short hike leads up from the northern beach to two overlook platforms, providing spectacular views of these amazing fliers and their nesting grounds. The beach itself is well worth visiting for a lovely stroll, pretty much regardless of the weather, though it can really pay to be prepared for sudden squalls that can appear with very short notice. Batty and The Sprout (now two years and nine months old) took me back for another long-overdue visit last week. How delightful!

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A Fondness for Fungi: Fall Findlings

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Our autumn started five days ago here in northern Minnesota and our woods are fairly

Purple Coincap (Collybia iocephala)

flourishing with many varieties of fungi. I love hiking at this time of year and take

Earthstar (Geastrum sp.)

considerable care to find as many as I can and not to crush any of them underfoot,

Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)

and later to identify them, if I can. I am by no means an expert, I hasten to add, but we have several field guides that are great fun to peruse to try to match up the photos

Blue Cheese Polypore (Postia caesia)

that I’ve made with the ones in the books. Here are a few from the past several days.

Scaber Stalks (Leccinum sp.)

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Late Summer Splendor

There is only one more week remaining of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and the signs of the approaching autumn are plentiful. It has been a memorable and rewarding four months, and it’s time again to start to prepare for the upcoming transition to the start of spring in the south. A few of the maples and most of the sumacs are beginning to show off splashes of their scarlet phase and the leaves of other trees and bushes are turning brilliant yellow and developing rusty crimson veins. The grains and grasses glow with golden light. I love this time of year, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to walk in these wonderful northern Minnesota woods and enjoy it again.

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