A Ramble at Marl Lake

Take a van conversion. Add a power wheelchair. Add a beautiful early fall day in Northern Michigan. And it adds up to a lovely outing that we haven’t been able to have in the past: a ramble at Marl Lake! Dad, his care giver and myself took a drive not far from home with the new minivan. Dad hasn’t been able to go for a walk in the woods for a while now, being confined to a scooter or wheel chair. So today was special. Outside. Fresh air. With my Dad.

Butterfly Monitoring

For several years, I’ve been trying to start butterfly monitoring with the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network (IBMN). Everything finally came together this year. Last weekend I did my first butterfly monitoring at Nachusa Grasslands. Butterfly monitoring is, well, counting butterflies by species, in a specific route, throughout the season. During this first year, I need to identify 25 species of butterflies. Forty years ago, I could identify more than that, but I’m a bit rusty.

So, I walk at a regular pace, scanning the area, left and right on the trail, spotting butterflies. As I see one, I identify it and mark it on my field report. When I’m done, I report my data to the database. Sounds easy and straight forward. My first time out, I identified about half. The rest were noted as “unknown butterflies” so I have some learning and growing ahead of me.

The beginning of my butterfly monitoring route at Nachusa Grasslands.

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Things they don’t teach you in butterfly monitoring training:
1- How do you count each Monarch only once? They go here, over there, cross over the trail, and then you wonder, did I already count you?
2- Prairie plants are dense and tall. Those little butterflies can dart across the trail and into the plants and disappear before I can even see the markings or colors.
3- You need to protect yourself from ticks. That means bundling up in insect repellent treated clothing, head to toe, hiking boots, walking stick for uneven ground, binoculars (if i can get them out and focused fast enough) and so much more gear. There must be a simpler way!
4- It is good to know what a species looks like both flying and resting, but what about moving so fast, never resting, and not at an angle to fully see all four wings at once, like in the photos?
5- Back when I knew all the different species, it was because I caught them, put them in a kill jar and mounted them and used a detailed key to identify them. No guessing! I don’t even catch and release for monitoring. New skills are needed.

When my route is done, I have a short 10-15 walk back to the parking lot that allows me time to linger, get out my iPhone for a few photos, as I head to my car and decide if I have enough energy to get my good camera out to capture prairie life.

Bee Balm starting to fade.

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Bee Balm is so named because bees like it, as do other pollinators, like hummingbirds and butterflies. I saw many bumble bees on the bee balm. The bee balm was in various stages of aging, most being past prime for blossoms, but still showing a lot of activity! Some of the bumble bees were so big that they caught my “scanning eyes” as a possible butterfly when I was monitoring, as did some dragonflies.

Milkweed going to seed.

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The milkweed plants had much more variety of life cycle. Some were in full bloom and others, like this one, were beginning to form the seed pods. There are several different milkweed plants at Nachusa and part of my education will be to learn to identify them all, as Monarchs do favor all of them for nectar and laying eggs. I should see much Monarch activity where I see all milkweeds, if I know which plants are milkweeds!

I should get back to butterfly monitoring at least 5 more times this summer, hopefully more. Weather is an issue, as is distance. I chose a location an hour away from my home. I like going there, but it is at least a 3 hour commitment to monitor and I need to leave room in my days and flexibility in my schedule so I can make that trip. Weather has not been helpful this last month. Rain, wind and cloudiness are not good for butterfly sightings. In fact, I have rules to follow: at least 70 degrees, partly cloudy to full sun, little wind to moderate wind, no rain. The last two weeks didn’t give many days to choose from! But I will continue, and try to get more of my own photography adventures in as well. The native grasslands, prairies, offer so many opportunities for interesting captures. I’m looking forward to what I can share in future blogs!

2021 Big Snow

Well, the biggest snowfall so far, as weather reports say more is coming. I walked on the plowed streets. Then I walked in the back yard. Each step I took I had to lift my feet high, and then deep into snow that went halfway to my calves. The snow made gorgeous shapes and textures as it filled and covered everything. The late afternoon sun cast shadows on that textured landscape.

December Sunset

The sky was like a watercolor painting, with soft hues and colors. The clouds were sparse, but lovely. They looked a bit like popcorn in places. As the bright orange sun set, the colors and drama deepened. These were taken at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve.

Windmills and Bur Oaks

We decided to go on a road trip today, even though the weather was not great. But because we have a new car, and we wanted to learn how to use all the new gizmos! So we set our destination to “Fabyan Windmill” (Fabyan Forest Preserve in Kane County) and followed the directions in the new navigation system. It got us to the first boundary of the preserve, but not the entry point. Maybe best to get an address next time. So, amongst the goose poop, we walked around in the cool, damp air just looking. Except I can’t just look when there are Bur Oaks! I had my iPhone 7, so these images are iphoneography, and all editing was done on my iPad. I need to know that mobile solutions work! I don’t always have easy access to my computer.

The Apps I used: For capture, the iPhone 7 native camera and LenkaCam for black and white images. For editing, I used Snapseed and iWatermark+ for my logo. I’m still learning the best way to use the watermark app.

So imagine the cold, damp air, clouds overhead, with goose poop under your feet, and surrounded by a grove of Bur Oaks. Add the Historic Windmill at the top of the hill.

Mid-Spring Flowers

The flowers continue to grow and bloom. The trout lilies are beginning, the bluebells are in full bloom, poppies are beginning, and buds are forming on a number of late-spring flowers.

Most of these were taken with my iPhone 6s and edited with the Snapseed App. I’m still limited in movement, so crawling on the ground to get the best vantage point is not an option this year!

The Unexpected

Always be ready to capture an image! This morning the bright morning sun was casting an interesting shadow on my floor. Quick, grab the iPhone 6s and capture the moment. I chose to use my favorite black and white App, LenkaCam. I like the image so much, I uploaded to Instagram, applied minimal edits, and posted it. You never know what Instagram folks will like, but this image was a winner! There are 84 Likes in 26 minutes! A new record for me. Here is the Morning Sun Shadows image:

Morning Sun Shadows