Skip to main content

A visit to a fen

Ohio Goldenrod, Solidago ohioensis, brightens a largely senescent prairie fen on an early October day. The goldenrod is well named. It was discovered and described to science from a prairie near Dayton in the 1830's.

The photo above is perfectly level, I can assure you. Pressurized artesian ground water provides hydrology for this place, and the main meadow is somewhat dome-shaped, thus the sloping meadow.

PHOTO TIP: Many cameras have a built-in level, and this tool is useful in framing landscape compositions shot from a tripod. That's how I know the above image is level. I use mine all the time. With Canon cameras, just tap your "info" button until the level appears on the camera's back screen (usually two taps). A horizontal line will appear across the screen. When it's red, the image is not level. Just adjust the camera until the line turns green, and you're level.

A photographer friend and I visited this fen in northern Ross County, Ohio, last Sunday. On this day, rain strongly threatened, and cut the trip short. It's a bit of a bushwhack to get back in there, and I didn't want to get caught in a deluge with my equipment. Nevertheless, there was still time for an hour or two of fen exploration, and even on this late date, there was much to see.

The main quarry was botanical in nature; the gorgeous (Small) Fringed Gentian, Gentianopsis virgata. I add the "small" parenthetically as there is another species, G. crinita, which is very similar and apparently is "greater" in some way.

This fen, although only encompassing an acre or two of open meadow, is loaded with gentians. Hundreds of plants to be sure. The thing about fringed gentians is that the flowers are photosensitive, so if you visit them on a heavily overcast day as we did, the flowers will not be fully expanded. When they are, the petals expand and splay their tattered, fringed lobes outward. A quite stunning effect, but even when the flowers remain tightly enrolled on a cloudy day, they still look good. See above.

PHOTO TIP II: Flowers can be tough to photograph well, for a number of reasons. A common difficulty is that they're often amongst lots of botanical clutter - grasses, sedges, other plants. That's certainly the case with these gentians. I carry about a dozen pieces of thick card stock (about 8.5 x 11) in my backpack, and each is a different color. By holding one behind my subject, I can dramatically alter the background (bokeh) and temporarily hide the clutter from view. In this case, a slightly off-white color created, to me, a very pleasing backdrop, giving the image the look of a watercolor painting.

Perhaps best of all was this beautiful little Eastern Gartersnake, encountered while basking in the boughs of a spicebush. It was a bit cool, and the snake was not particularly active. Its slothfulness allowed me to sidle in front of it, then drop to the ground to get on its level. The animal met my gaze head on, occasionally flicking its tongue. I was using gentle fill flash from a Canon Speedlite, and the angle I was at did not illuminate the snake's left side. But I rather like the effect. F/16 provided enough depth of field to show the snake's sinuous body extending back into the shrub. After a handful of shots by its admirers, the serpent darted away.


Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…