Our first stop on this cross-country adventure was Cross Ranch in central North Dakota, a 5600 acre Nature Conservancy preserve. Originally a large cattle ranch, this landscape of rolling hills and flat valley grasslands is being used to raise about 250 buffalo, along with supporting a diversity of prairie plants and animals. We saw Sage Grouse, a coyote, and an assortment of songbirds, but we came to see the big bruisers that cruise the ridge lines looking for the sweetest new sprouts to munch. I thought seeing a big herd from a distance was a thrill, but wasn’t prepared to meet them from just a few feet away, as our intrepid tour guide maneuvered his 4-wheel drive right up next to the herd. Hardly needed a telephoto for these shots. As is the case for many species of hoofed animals, buffalo females and their offspring (males only up to 2-3 yrs of age) make up the herd. Bulls hang out alone or in small stag groups and only join the herd during the rut, once a year. These calves were only about 2 months old. That’s not a brand on this female’s back — those are scars left by the feet of the male when he mounts her. They shed their heavy winter coat from the rear forward, but retain the dense fur around the neck and head into the summer, making them look even larger.
I’ve been working my way through Level 2 of the Arcanum online photography course, focusing especially on mastering the fundamentals of shooting good landscapes. Since there might be a bit of a hiatus in blog posts for the next couple of weeks, I thought I would share some of my latest landscape efforts with readers.
Our most recent challenge is to capture your attention by utilizing certain devices to lure you in: specifically — color, value (contrast), symmetry or asymmetry, balance or imbalance, perspective, leading lines, drama, energy, calm, clarity or simplicity — as elements of good composition.
To make this presentation a little more interesting, I’ll let you decide which of those devices I am utilizing in the following photos. Brief definitions might help you decide what it is that is drawing your eyes to the photo.
- A spot of color in an otherwise bland image immediately draws your eye there, but we also gravitate to images showing a variety of rich, deep colors.
- The brightness and/or variety of color intensities gives an image its color value — think what it would look like in black and white to emphasize stark contrasts between the various shades of color.
- Because we humans love order, we appreciate symmetrical forms in a photo, but sometimes things that are just off kilter, or asymmetrical, are intriguing because they defy order.
- We find a balance of subjects in a photo if they share the space and complement each other in some way. Often this is best done by placing them on either side of the center, one in front of the other, offset in some way. But sometimes, it is the imbalance of a subject in a photo that makes it intriguing and causes you to stare at it longer.
- Leading lines come from a corner and take your eye through the image to some other point of interest. Where that point lies in the far distance gives us a sense of perspective.
- Drama and energy might be conveyed by highly contrasting warm or cool colors or shapes or motion, or implied motion — intended to make the viewer feel a bit agitated. In contrast, calm scenes project still subjects, in cool colors, and lack implied or actual activity and give us a sense of serenity or peace.
- Simplicity — is simple.
NOTE: there may be more than one right answer!
I’m going camping with friends and family for the next 2 weeks and may try to post a few photos from my phone. So, I’ve downloaded the WordPress app and hope for the best.
A trial run with the clouds we’ve been enjoying lately. (Unedited, with the phone camera)
It would be nice to be able to edit these, so the flowers would show up. This was taken the day before the hail storm that destroyed all the potted plants on my daughter’s deck.
I haven’t seen any Monarch butterflies yet this year, and the milkweeds are just about to flower. But the Milkweed Leaf Beetles are more abundant than ever. They just love the pink-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Last week I found adults crawling all over the tops of the plants near the unopened flowers (which they also devour in addition to the leaves).
Males follow or ride on females as she munches on flowers or leaves. He guards the female from other potential suitors, until she lays a batch of eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaves. Then he may wander off to find another female. Both sexes may mate many times during their short summer lifespan, which ensures a lot of gene flow in a population.
After seeing adults in the garden for several days now, I examined the underside of the milkweed leaves this morning to see if there were any larvae present, and sure enough all stages of larval development were present.
The eggs are orange, which is warning coloration that should deter egg-sucking predators. But they are often attacked by syprhid (hoverfly) larvae, who apparently tolerate the milkweed poisons (cardiac glycosides) just fine.
Larvae may cannibalize each other at this stage, so that only a few survive to mature. In fact, female milkweed leaf beetles may also cannibalize the offspring of other females, perhaps to reduce the competition for their own progeny on that plant.
There are reports on the web of milkweed leaf beetle infestations that completely denude their milkweed hosts of leaves and flowers, although this seems to occur primarily in a climate where milkweeds grow year-round. The population of these beetles has definitely increased from a rare sighting of one individual several years ago, to finding many individuals in the backyard almost any day. I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll have to manually remove beetles at some point — I already get enough practice doing that with Japanese Beetles.
Flower gardens are in bloom up and down the street, so I took a stroll to see what insects I could find on the rich diversity of flowers available right now. There should be lots of bees gathering nectar and pollen from those flowers, right?
The bumblebee pretender has only one pair of wings, big bug eyes, no pollen baskets on those big hind legs, funny looking feet (not bee-like), and a big proboscis that sticks straight out from its head rather than straight down, like a bee’s would. It looks like a bee, flies like a bee, even hums like a bee — but it’s a fly! More specifically a robber fly, a predator of bees and other flying and crawling insects.
There were only a couple of bees in the garden today — many fewer than I would have expected. But there were lots of bee mimics, hoverflies, robber flies, and others. Where are all the bees? Do you see bees in your garden? Look closely, what you’re seeing could be bee mimics.
The Red Fox kits seem to be thriving well in the Minneapolis backyard. The Minneapolis paper ran an article on foxes in urban backyards the same day I published their photos on this blog! Some city residents appreciate seeing “wild” creatures come into their backyards — others abhor nature and shoot foxes, even within the city limits. So sad.
The following set of photos was kindly forwarded by a friend who lives quite near the fox den where we took the first set of pictures, and it illustrates very well why I (and some others) enjoy having foxes patrol the backyard and keep the rodent/rabbit population under control.
As I look out my porch window on the backyard this evening, here is why I miss the foxes in my backyard. We haven’t seen rabbits here for the last few years; either the Great Horned Owls or the foxes were taking care of them. Now I see that the rabbits have quite enjoyed the herb garden, polishing off most of the cilantro and the dill and have now started in on the cardinal flower and other tender shoots in the wildflower garden.
There’s always something interesting going on in the backyard. Today was Fledging Day for the House Wren family. It’s kind of like graduation from toddler pre-school, as the fledglings take their first flight from the safety of their home nest box.
The red fox family that occasionally visits my backyard has moved on apparently, but a friend reported a fox family with three kits in her Minneapolis neighborhood, so I went over to investigate.
Red Foxes are seen more frequently in urban environments these days, as are a variety of other predators — e.g., Great horned Owls, coyotes, and Sharp-shinned Hawks (that specialize on birds coming to feeders). The urban environment offers a plethora of hiding places, a variety of freshly discarded garbage (and foxes are quite omnivorous), and a human population that usually tolerates their presence, or perhaps even cultivates it. Even the presence of dogs fails to drive foxes away, but they are definitely wary of their canine relatives.
Unlike many species, red foxes can survive quite nicely in the fragmented habitat of the urban ecosystem, where parks and woods are interspersed with houses. Even without the greater acreage of the local park, foxes find plenty of squirrels, mice, and rabbits in our backyards, and do us a service by reducing the numbers of those wildflower-consuming herbivores. In fact, because of their flexible diet and adaptable hunting behavior, foxes are one of the best rodent population controls we have in the urban environment, and they don’t kill small songbirds like house cats do.
These kits (I think there three of them in this family) were probably born in this or another nearby den in March or early April. They mature quickly, are ready to hunt with their parents by mid-May, and will stay with the family unit until they reach reproductive readiness this winter.
Back in Minnesota, the peonies have just about finished blooming. Their fragrance and color make them a hit in my garden, but the bees and flies seem to love their pollen.
And then there was this strange bee mimicking fly…
It’s amazing what you see when you look closely on and inside of these beautiful flowers.
I wasn’t sure if I was up to it — 6 miles, in the heat of the day (and it was hot!), 3000 feet elevation change (up and down), narrow, twisting staircases at elevation, and of course, not enough water. But the old lady made it, with energy to spare.
The Pinnacles are the eroded remnants of an extinct volcano that has been sheared in half by the movement of the San Andreas fault. Its other half is located 150 miles to the south, in the desert of southern California, while the part we climbed now resides within the coast range bordering the Salinas Valley. The area is composed primarily of exposed lava flows, paler volcanic rocks called rhyolite, and a type of conglomerate rock (breccia) that looks like you threw rock chunks into cement and then stood the mass up on end to weather. Actually the breccia here was probably formed in the same volcano that spewed out all the lava.
The Pinnacles are home to 30+ California Condors, whose home range encompasses not only this park, but much of the coast range from the Pinnacles south to Santa Barbara. We looked closely at every Turkey Vulture we saw, just to make sure it wasn’t something a little more spectacular. Prairie Falcons nest on the cliffs on the High Ridge trail, and we did see lots of whitewash on some of the rocky ledges, but no falcons stooping on luckless prey.
And, as they say, it was all down hill from there – the biggest incentive to hurry along being our lack of water. Next time, maybe we’ll heed the warnings of the park personnel.