Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Splendidly Festive Part I!

Sunday, September 13th, Spring Green Preserve was calling me for a visit. A perfect day of abundant sunshine and glorious insects was just the panacea I needed after enduring another one of life’s beatings during the prior week. The power of Nature can be incredible where even the most sadistic monsters melt away into nothingness. Nature: grounding, curative, exhilarating…and Sunday it was absolutely splendid, brilliant magenta and green Splendid!

Splendid Tiger Beetle

I arrived mid-morning on a relatively mild weather day. With the temperature in the low to mid 60s, the tiger beetles seemed less agile. I was feeling pretty Jedi with my tiger beetle stalking skills. I headed down the path, immediately eyeing a Big Sand tiger beetle running toward me. Freeze frame, captured!

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant

Big Sand Tiger Beetle eating an ant (close up)

Next up was one of at least a dozen Festive tiger beetles I saw during my hike in the sand prairie.

In fact, the Festive tiger beetles slightly outnumbered Punctured on this day.

Since the Punctured Tiger Beetles were also seemingly more obliging, I seized the opportunity to add to my collection of photos of this species.

This summer I’ve become enamored with bee flies. They can be quite prolific during peak blooming season at Spring Green though only a few were seen on this day.
Anastoechus barbatus

Further up the path, in the main sand blow transected by the bluff trail, I found several more Festive, Punctured and a couple more Big Sand tiger beetles. I also encountered tiger beetle species number four for the outing, Oblique-lined, feasting on ants.

The robber flies were less cooperative. However I managed to sneak up on this Proctacanthus milbertii snacking on a sand wasp. Many others eluded my camera.

Proctacanthus milbertii with sand wasp

By the time I reached the woods ascending to the bluff, the temperature had risen into the low 70s. I was glad to find myself in the shade of the forest as I'd begun to feel a little cooked in the desert sun. A small migrant bird flock was moving through the woods mid-way up the ascending trail. Species included Palm, Black-throated Green, Nashville, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia warblers, American Redstart and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This hike to the bluff top was my 5th or 6th in the past year in search of Splendid Tiger Beetles. Upon reaching the main rock outcroppings, I scanned the surface without success. However in what was but a few minutes of absorbing the vista and being lulled by the breeze high above the desert, the most splendid of the tiger beetles came into view! Admiring this brilliant specimen within inches was nothing short of amazing.

Over the rock ledge, I sighted a second Splendid tiger beetle. Eventually my presence disturbed them and they scurried into hiding. Shortly after, I spotted the third of this species also taking in the views of the desert prairie below…

Though I had intended to make the longer trek west along the ridge to look for the prairie Spiranthes orchid found last year, my energy was low and stomach empty. Thus I opted to head back toward the valley. Spiranthes would have to wait.

I did spend some time on the bluff admiring the moths and butterflies nectaring on the goldenrod before finally heading back down to the valley.

Black and Yellow Lichen Moth
American Copper
Wild Indigo Duskywing (not 100% certain)
En route down the bluff trail, I met fellow nature enthusiast, Mark Johnson, making the climb for something “Splendid.” He excitedly reported success with the four species of tiger beetle I had seen earlier. In addition, his Jedi naturalist skills also led him to find a family of racerunners which were a species I had not seen this year. Before parting ways, I wished him well on his quest for the Splendid tiger beetles.

Given I didn’t hike as far as I wanted, my intention was to return in a few days which I did. I still had Spiranthes to see and was hoping for a better view in daylight of Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle…Stay tuned for Part II!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Inspiring Art

I've been rather busy the past few days between exploring natural areas new to me and returning to the familiar for some excellent tiger-beetling. With three blog posts kicking around in my head and online this was not the one I intended to write, but the one that compelled me this eve.

Today I visited Silverwood County Park in far eastern Dane County close to my residence. I visited twice, once mid day and then later this afternoon to explore a new section of the park along Rice Lake in search of migrants.

I encountered small flocks of migrants and a paucity of warbler species, five to be exact. However the views were close, so I was delighted regardless of the limited bird species.

Bay-breasted Warbler, Silverwood Park, Dane County

But the entity which transcended me this eve was exploring the art installations of ten silos at the main park entrance. Though I noted them in passing as I headed toward the woods in search of birds, they sparked my interest when I returned to find them illuminated by the setting sun. From what I gathered the installations were intended to be future visions of what this newly established Dane County park might be.

I presume much of the material used within each installation came from the old stone farmhouse on the property that appears to be in the process of restoration...found objects of lace, other fabrics, tools, old dolls, appliances, accessories, dishes and so on...

There was one installation in particular with it's juxtaposing vertical lines against spiral cross sections of an old tree and an incredible interplay with the setting sunlight that spoke to me above the rest. These are the peaceful distractions that inspire living and creativity...

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Aurora Borealis September 7, 2015

It has been well over 20 years since I last saw the Aurora Borealis. I can only recall seeing them twice in my lifetime, once in splendid colors from the tip of Door County and the other in a dancing array of brilliant white lights against the remote skies of the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

With promising forecasts for a spectacular Aurora on September 7, 2015, I ventured to the mouth of Two-hearted River in Luce County Michigan shortly after nightfall .

Mouth of the Two-Hearted River

I arrived on the southern shore of Lake Superior to find the Northern Lights staring to display. I made my first attempts to capture Aurora images with less than ideal equipment for night time photography. Although my results pale in comparison to Aurora images I've seen, I was still pleased with my first attempt.

Aurora Borealis above Lake Superior

The scene was serene and incredible all the same. Sitting on the shore of the revered Big Lake under balmy temperatures with a light breeze to my face while the lapping waves of Lake Superior lulled me into transcendence. I watched the lights swell and fade, dancing above the lake until they gradually diminished.

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As difficult as it was, I eventually left the lakeshore heading south toward my family's Pike Lake property. My intention was to check the sky one last time on the open crest of the north-south road leading away from the Two-hearted River Campground. Upon stopping I found the lights had resumed in intense splendor. I set up my camera and began photographing and studying the patterns of photon arcs and dancing lights to the northeast. Mesmerized with the backdrop behind the burnt pines of the Duck Lake fire it occurred to me I should scan the entire northern sky.

What I discovered was beyond breath-taking. I felt humbled and awestruck as the lights crescendoed and danced in beautiful fluid brilliance unlike anything I had seen before. Nothing I could orchestrate with my camera comes remotely close to capturing the experience of that night. The perfection of that solitary eve, in the remoteness of a place dearest to my heart, will be forever etched in mind's eye.