Wednesday, July 31, 2013


How can you not be dazzled by this fine fellow, all dressed up in a snazzy turquoise that glows like neon? Surely you've noticed them, zipping about to perch momentarily on a weed stem or grass blade near a pond or slow-moving stream. 

As a species, Double-Striped Bluets (Enallagama basidens) were once limited to the Southwest Region of the U.S. But over the last century, they've gradually expanded their range north and east, all the way into New England and lower Ontario. 

Identification is pretty easy—especially on the males. Look for two black shoulder stripes divided by a narrow band of blue. No other damselfly sports this divided shoulder marking. Females and immatures can be tannish-brown-to-olive instead of blue, but they'll still have the characteristic double-stripe.

While not the biggest damselfly in the pack at 21-28 mm, their gaudy color easily catches the eye. And when you can blaze for the ladies like a bright blue arc-lamp, does size really matter?       

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Amid a sea of prairie gold, a female redwing blackbird brings a plump lunchtime spider to her second-brood offspring waiting ensconced in the nearby vegetation.

Yesterday I spent several hours rambling around a couple of local prairies looking for hummingbird moths to photograph for an article I'm doing. As is so often the case when you set out with a specific notion in mind, I didn't see a single moth. However, I found plenty of other stuff to keep me busy—including the female redwing above.

A bit later I spent an hour or so skulking around the edge of a small pond, hoping to capture images of inscrutable bullfrogs lurking in tangles of watery weed-growth, and turtles sunning themselves atop various logs. Alas, both types of amphibians proved conspicuously absent. I made dragonfly and damselfly shots instead.

Later, the question came to mind…had I been working or playing? Since I didn't manage images of the things I intended, how should I look upon the photos I did shoot—business or pleasure? 

To further muddle the issue, let it be said that either way, I would have enjoyed myself and my time afield. How could you not? And though I didn't manage my goal, I did succeed in making some nice images. To me, photography is almost always fun. As is, frankly, the hours spent stringing words together at the writing desk that counterpoints those images. And it's the same for the field time I've spent fishing or camping or doing whatever outdoor recreation I've "had" to do on countless occasions, because I was working on a feature article about such a place, thing, or activity. Simply a necessary part of the job.

I like what I do for a living, for the most part, and the line between where work stops and play starts has always been—at best—exceedingly blurry. Yet there's also a vexing little corner of my ego that regularly tries to nag in suppressed puritanical guilt about how work should not be so much fun—expostulating how I'm being irresponsible and cheating the proletarian sweat-and-toil ethic by regularly having a good time. 

Luckily such dispiriting thoughts are fleeting and easily ignored. I barely hear them ranting back there in my pleasure-besotted mind. 

Still, friends occasionally call wondering what I have planned for the day. And often, when I tell them, they whine and sigh and try to make me feel miserable. That's the tactic ol' buddy Walt tried a minute ago. 

"Jeeze," he said, "when you gonna quit playing all day and get a real job like the rest of us?"

To which I breezily replied: "Hey, you're the one decided to become an accountant. I thought you liked chaining yourself to a desk in that high-rise office. Doesn't it thrill you to eyeball spreadsheets and crunch numbers?"

A derisive snort came from the other end of the line. "Don't rub it in."

"Oh, I said, "I won't. And I'll sure be thinking of you and sympathizing about your plight later this morning when I'm up the road taking pictures of ironweed and butterflies. Come afternoon, too, if I get around to checking out a couple of good smallmouth bass pools on the upper river."

"You can be downright insufferable, you know?" Walt muttered, sounding a wee bit contrite. 

"Tisk, tisk," I said. "Jealousy is a bitter pill. Hang in there. Providing you live a couple more years, you'll be able to retire—and if you're not too feeble, we can play outside together."  

Yup, a man has to defend his work…even if it is play.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I often take the long way home from my local grocery. A ten minute drive versus two…not counting any dawdling for wildflowers, deer, birds, or similar roadside distractions. Dawdling frequently turns the ten minutes into thirty—sometimes more if I've stuck a camera kit behind the seat.

According to Google maps, the sensible short way is 1.1 miles in length; the longer scenic route, 4.0 miles.

The short route leads a few blocks along a main traffic artery past a fast-food joint, hospital, various business…then left at the second traffic light, a few hundred yards downhill beyond an apartment complex and a couple of nice homes, across the bridge to the stop sign, left at the restaurant, a hundred yards up the road, left again, another hundred yards, into my driveway and home. Takes almost longer to tell than do. 

While the long way starts with more like a mile's worth of businesses, lights, and traffic, the next right turn comes with a great view of my home-stream's valley. Another right takes me past several fields and prairies. The road then parallels the river through a shady green tunnel practically to my doorstep.

I rest my case.  


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Yesterday, on the way home from grocery shopping (the l-o-o-o-n-g way, naturally, because we ramblers always favor indirect routes) I saw something tiny wiggling on the rural blacktop. It took my heat-addled brain a moment or two to process that what I'd seen was a small snake. By that time, in spite of my leisurely speed, I was already past the diminutive creature. As the day was hot—94˚F last I'd heard—I knew the road's surface would be scorching and figured I'd give the struggling little serpent an assist. There was a pull-off place a quarter mile beyond where I could easily turn around.

Of course, as fate would have it, that very moment an oncoming car appeared over the hill—coming fast. No time for a quick three-point turn on the narrow rural lane. And my frantic waves at the auto's driver simply elicited a friendly wave back. 

Helpless, I watched in my rearview mirror as the vehicle's leftside wheels passed over the center portion of roadway where I judged the snake ought to be. Fearing the worst, I turned when I could and went back. 

The miniature common watersnake, smaller in diameter than a pencil and perhaps 5-inches long, lay belly-up. A shiny newborn, squirming to make its way into the wide world. Only the edge of the car's wheel had clipped a half-inch portion of its head, though still sufficient to be fatal. Bad luck on top of bad luck, because we probably accounted for the whole of the road's traffic over the entire morning. 

I moved the snake onto the shoulder where some other creature might chance to wander along and be happy for a free meal. Then I continued the quarter-mile down the road to the pull-off, ambled over to a pool of water that's more puddle than pond and, in one of those fortuitous moments of magical light, made the dragonfly shot above of a male Halloween Pennant.

In photographic light and crossing roads, luck is important.        

Monday, July 15, 2013


This is one of those scenes which needs to be viewed at a larger scale.
Please double-click to enlarge.
Yesterday afternoon, as temperatures climbed toward the 90˚F mark, Myladylove and I filled a cooler with ice and bottled water, and took a long, leisurely drive through east-central Indiana. Our plans were minimal—follow only the backroads and byways; purchase a bucket of fried chicken for a picnic lunch to be partaken in some village park; stop at any picturesque bridges, flower-dappled fields, rustic barns, or used bookshops and antique stores that struck our fancy; maybe finish off with an ice cream cone on the way home. 

Otherwise, our day would be ruled by whim and serendipity…and it was, indeed, a truly glorious day! Bright blue sky and some of the finest puffy white clouds I've seen in years.  

For parts of our impromptu ramble we followed a section of U.S. 40 that was once part of the historic National Road. As the first improved road built by the federal government—construction started in 1811—this 620 mile long thoroughfare became the shining pathway for thousands of hope-filled settlers seeking the Promised Land of the West. 

This fine old roadway retained its significance until just a few decades ago when the Interstate highway system came along—offering high-speed, limited-access convenience, while  being thoroughly devoid of both character and soul. 

Nowadays I-70 parallels U.S. 40, often visible less than a half-mile distant. The old National Road is all but deserted. Once-thriving gas stations and gift shops, cafés, motels, truck stops, and similar businesses catering to cross-country travelers have closed, their buildings vacant, in disrepair, crumbling; many already reduced to an open area in the weeds and a just-visible bit of foundation rubble. 

A ghost road, with only spirit tenants. But a change which occurred my lifetime. I can easily remember the National Road before the Interstate sapped its lifeblood, and for nostalgia's sake, like to pay my respects.   

After a while we turned north, leaving the old National Road to wend emptily westward across the vast green plain of Heartland agriculture. This is flat country—as in table-top flat. Sparsely settled. Farmhouses cling close to the road, and are often set a mile apart. And other than a few patches of woods, maybe a red barn, stone silo, or the spire of a distant village church, not much else to break the monotony of endless fields of corn and soybeans.

And yet, paradoxically, it's a land I do not find monotonous. Instead, it seems open and honest and soothing. A relaxed world where—on a Sunday afternoon—you can cover a couple hundred miles on a network of narrow rural roads and count the vehicles-passed-per-hour on the fingers of one hand. A place where you can slow down, unwind, lose your worries beneath a cornflower-blue sky filled with glowing white clouds…and then enjoy an ice cream cone as you find your way home.             

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Occasionally, when I point a camera at something and adjust the lens into sharp focus, I discover my subject is staring directly back at me. Such moments can be a bit disconcerting—especially if the creature returning the intense gaze is a garish, frame-filling on-the-prowl predator that looks like a winged monster from a '50s horror flick. 

During that tiny fraction of a second before reason and reality kicks in and you chuckle at the fact you're being sized up by a hungry male Blue Dasher, something else flickers across your emotional screen…the marrow-chilling thought that if you weren't too large for even the most optimistic dragonfly, this would doubtless be your final earthly vision.

Skewed perspectives can be scary. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I grew up referring to them jarflies. You may know them as annual cicadas, summer cicadas, Dog Days cicadas, harvest flies, or even locust, though a real locust is a sort of grasshopper. Whatever you call them, their distinctive grinding buzz, a whirring cross between a rattlesnake and a miniature chainsaw, is the true voice of summer.

Fact is, in my way of reckoning, summer's season doesn't start at June's passing solstice. No, sir! It officially begins with the drone of a jarfly. A sound I listen for and look forward to hearing—though one which, so far this year, had remained worrisomely silent. Until today. While sipping my morning coffee, I heard the first cicada singing away from some backyard treetop.

"Ahh-h," I said to Myladylove and Moon-the-Dog, both resolutely immersed in their breakfasting, and neither of whom tends to keep sharply abreast of such vital matters, "listen to that strident jarfly's news…summer has finally arrived!"

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Black Swallowtail nectering on Musk Thistle.

Bright sun this morning, and already 86˚F.  A welcome change, though the day's forecast calls for a 40% chance of showers. Which will probably happen as there's a gusty shifting to the wind, which my seat-of-the-pants Ohio weather experience says is typically a harbinger of soon to come storms.

I'm thinking of taking a long drive. I have no real destination in mind…just somewhere out in the country, away from here, following the friendly backroads by whim and fancy. Aimless vehicular wandering. Escape.

I need to get away. Last night I learned an old friend and fellow writer died a couple of weeks ago. His passing had been reported by various news outlets and media sites, yet I somehow missed it. Complications following a stroke was the given cause. Though he was a few years my senior, he was still too young—too vital. Or so we always like to tell ourselves; death pays no mind to such trivial considerations. 

This is a fellow who roamed the world in search of adventure, wrote dozens of books, thousands of magazine articles and columns. A guy I admired and respected, whom I've known for more than three decades. A man of quite honor, a gentleman, and something of a mentor. From the moment we met in a hotel elevator in Macon, Georgia, he treated me as an equal, though I was just starting out in the business and he was already at the peak of the profession—widely published, avidly sought by top editors. 

Yet we hit it off immediately. Kindred spirits. We shared a passion for fishing, book collecting, photography, and rattling around two-tracks through the remote jackpine wilds of the upper Great Lakes. A few weeks later he called and asked if I'd do research for a regional section of a book on mayflies he was authoring. Later, when I delivered my material, he and his wife insisted I stay a few days as their house guest. I've never been treated better or made to feel more welcome. And it proved to be only the first of a number of similar extended visits.

Over the years we talked regularly by phone, exchanged letters and books, traded tips on writing and photography and various publishing issues. We fished together. And we got to know one another on a deeply personal level. Genuine friends. Which makes it so inexplicable why, over the last decade or so, we somehow lost touch, drifted our own ways. He retired, I had some health issues…but still?

All I know is that I'm deeply saddened by my old pal's unexpected and untimely passing. And I truly miss him.   

Monday, July 8, 2013


Perhaps it's not immedialy apparent, but the dragonfly in this photo is quite tiny—something under an inch in length. Called an Eastern Amberwing, it's the second smallest dragonfly species found in Ohio. But seeing as how the slightly smaller Elfin Skimmer is currently on our state's endangered species list, and known to be present at only three restricted bog or fen areas, it's likely a diminutive Eastern Amberwing will prove the smallest dragonfly most of us will ever encounter afield. Here in Ohio, they're most common in mid-summer, though you can sometimes find one as late as September.

The one in the photo is a male, easily differentiated from the female by the namesake amber-hued wings; wings on females are brown-spotted and clear. Like all dragonflies and damselflies, Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are predators. In this case, they feed by catching and eating only the tiniest of insects such as mosquitoes and midges.   

Eastern Amberwings are generally found around ponds and lakes, less often near slow-moving sections of creeks and rivers. They're also considered by many to be perhaps the wariest, most easily spooked of all species, thus making for difficult photo targets. This Eastern Amberwing wasn't following the rulebook. I discovered it hunting just above the tops of the tall grass along the edge of my favorite prairie patch—a hundred yards from the nearest water. And after one or two tries, I quickly managed to get within photo range.

I've been a dragonfly/damselfly fan for years, and the miniature Eastern Amberwings have long been one of my very favorites—especially the charismatic males with their golden-amber, red-spotted wings. Small in size, maybe, but sure big on snazzy good looks.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013


The view out my deskside window of a rain-soaked landscape is becoming all too familiar. It's been raining briskly all morning. The prediction is for the rain to continue—today, tomorrow, next week, possibly forever. It rained yesterday, and rained the day before that—Independence Day. It has rained for, well, I don't know how many days. Weeks? Months? I think maybe it began raining in February or could have been March. Perhaps it only seems that long. But it's been raining almost daily for what we've had of summer to this point plus most of the spring.

Oh, yeah, sure, there have been days of sunshine interspersed. Not whole days, mind you, not most of 'em. Partial days. A few minutes, a few hours when it wasn't raining or ominously overcast with dark clouds and looking like it was going to rain the next instant. Still, our rain-free periods during the last couple of months have seemed too brief and somehow cruelly tempting, akin to waving a cheesburger in the face of a starving man.

The good news is that while the majority of recent days it has sprinkled, drizzled, rained, and poured down 20 out of every 24 hours, the river is, oddly, not up by more than a few inches. Muddy, less than picturesque, but in otherwise good shape.

Daytime temperatures fluctuate between the low-80˚s and mid-60˚s F. Which doesn't sound bad until you factor in the humidity. Lows feel damp and cold. Not cool—cold. Highs feel hot, muggy, sweltering.

Last year was the driest on record. This year…well, we've turned into a sort of Midwestern rainforest. I'm sure the bullfrogs are ecstatic.

Me? Not so ecstatic. Though honestly, I'm trying to not complain too much. Therefore, I'll simply leave you with a few random reportorial observations:

The bedraggled hummingbirds continue to visit the bergamot except during the heaviest downpours—a case of get soaked or starve.

For the Fourth, I had to "grill" our traditional hotdogs and sausages in the kitchen. Possibly an improvement.

Haven't yet heard a single cicada ratcheting.

Come dark, there are more lightening bugs flashing their love-codes inside the cottage than out in the yard.

I have to keep a stack of towels by each door for drying off Moon-the-Dog after she's made a hurried trip outside.

Our bed linens feel clammy, reminiscent of camping in the tropics.

Crackers, chips, and dry snacks placed in a bowl lose their crunch in minutes. Not an improvement.

The clothes dryer requires two cycles to dry the towels, which otherwise come out steamy.

I'm absolutely convinced there's mold growing in places and on things which I haven't yet thought to check.

When the sun does temporarily reappear, I grab a camera and rush off somewhere nearby to make a few photos, as the landscape is particularly lush and green—even the prairie patches—and everywhere all a'dazzle with blooms. I made today's post image between showers.

I wonder if my neighbor's hip replacement is rusting?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


When our good neighbor Mike came down the driveway hill for a chat the other afternoon, I noticed a dusting of yellow powder on the front of his tee-shirt, in his beard, and on the side of his cap. 

"Been doing yard work, eh?" I said, and grinned at Mike's puzzled look. I pointed at the yellow sprinkle. "Pollen. Hummingbirds visiting my bergamot have it on their heads. Y'all been poking around the same bloom patches."

I'm not sure which neighborhood flowers accounted for the golden-yellow pollen, but my first guess would be lilies. Lilies are a good candidate since the blooms have deep throats and long, protruding anther-tipped stamens holding yellow pollen. A feeding hummer has to shove it's head smack past this pollen dispensary in order to sip nectar—thus becoming an inadvertent pollinator, while ending up wearing a gold crown.  

I've been making a lot of hummingbird photos recently. Many of the tiny birds I'm currently seeing have pollen on their topknots. The shot above is an enlarged crop taken from another image, which itself was a slight crop from the original full frame. Quality is a bit on the "noisy" side. But otherwise, a decent portrait of a golden-capped ruby-throat hummer…or maybe just of a bird needing a bath.  

Monday, July 1, 2013


Living beside a river, you soon learn to not be overly surprised should you wake at 6:00 a.m., totter into the great room and glance out at the stream flowing past the cottage, and discover the water level had risen a half-dozen feet during the night—in spite of the fact you hadn't witnessed a single raindrop during the previous 36 hours.

Water, of course, flows downhill. A simple matter of gravity. Therefore, the state of the river's water level in your bailiwick at any given time is a direct but delayed result of weather conditions upstream. How much rain fell and how far are only two of the factors which determines when such run-off water arrives at your place. Additionally, how quickly the rain came down, and how widespread the rainfall was upon the watershed area above you, plus things such as local topography, percolation rate, cover vegetation, and existing groundwater saturation also influence run-off and flow rate. 

Too many and too variable to master well enough that you can hone your expectations down to anything precise enough to be called a schedule. An educated guess with plenty of wiggle room is about the best you can do.   

However, when you fail to pay even cursory attention to evening weather reports because you were off tromping around under mostly sunny skies at a nearby prairie, photographing things like sweet-scented milkweed, bumblebees on lavender bergamot, and a male redwing blackbird who got all territorial and insisted on screeching at you from atop a swaying stem…well, the unanticipated dawn sight of high, muddy water just beyond the edge of the deck can prove a bit startling. Especially if you hadn't had your coffee.