Monday, July 26, 2010

Blackwater River ospreys

The longhouse

Near Blackwater NWR on the Eastern Shore of Maryland:

A longhouse can serve any of several purposes: residential (the original longhouse was a multi-family dwelling), religious, or civil. This is a civil longhouse: think town hall or community center. (There is no religious longhouse as such here, though I understand that the tribe does have a church building; nowadays most Nause-Waiwash are Methodists.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blue Rocks

Blue Rocks is a felsenmeer (or blockfield) on the slopes below Blue Mountain near Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. Boulder fields of this type are periglacial features, common in arctic or near-arctic locations in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, but also found in parts of the northern Appalachian Mountains. Two other well-known examples in Pennsylvania are the River of Rocks at Hawk Mountain and Hickory Run Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park.

Blue Rocks was formed during the late Pleistocene, when glaciers approached to within approximately 35 miles of Blue Mountain. Freeze-thaw cycles broke off blocks of Tuscarora quartzite. The blocks—up to twenty feet in size—did not tumble downhill in a rockslide or rockfall, but flowed downhill on a layer of mud above the permafrost, resulting in not a jumbled pile of rocks but instead a relatively orderly line extending for approximately a mile downhill.

The blockfield looks like a river of rock because, in a sense, it is; over time, running water has carried away the mud that made this feature possible. (Other portions of the original flow are covered in soil; parts of the forest adjacent to Blue Rocks overlie buried boulders.) But since this is a geologically young feature, there has been little erosion of the quartzite itself, which remains highly textured.

Owing to the scarcity of soil, most of the plants here are lichens and mosses. But a few hardy pioneers like woodsorrel and raspberries are able to get a tenuous foothold in between some of the boulders, especially at the edges of the blockfield.

photoblogging: dragonflies

The following were all taken at Blue Rock Pond, a small (approximately one acre, maybe less) impoundment near Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. I was sorely tempted to post the photographs alone, but in the end decided to annotate after all. Feel free to ignore the text and just enjoy the pictures.

Eastern pondhawk.

The rather similar blue dasher; note the brown-and-yellow striped thorax and the diffuse brown on the wings.

This one drove me crazy until I found it two days later in Sidney Dunkle's Dragonflies through Binoculars. It's a female eastern pondhawk, not depicted in the quick-reference foldout guide I had with me at the time.

Slaty skimmer. These were the most abundant and most cooperative of the odonates at the pond. I had originally identified them as great blue skimmers, but great blues have white faces.

This is a damselfly, not a dragonfly. I believe it's either a dancer or a bluet, but there are multiple (and very similar) species of both.

Eastern amberwing.

Widow skimmer.

Several common green darners were present, but this is the best picture I could get; not once in three hours did I see any of them perch.

This last dragonfly was even less cooperative than the green darners. Only one individual visited the pond, just briefly, and like the green darners it never perched. This, the only picture I made, approaches the quality of purported photographs of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster—but if you embiggen and then zoom, you can just make out the wing markings that identify it as a twelve-spotted skimmer.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Illinois skies

Just a few snapshots...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Down by the river

My favorite osprey nest, next to the Whitehaven Ferry, which crosses the Wicomico River on Maryland's Eastern Shore:

It's not discernible in this photo (my other camera, the one with the zoom lens, had a flat battery), but there was at least one eyas in the nest when Ellie and I were there a couple of weeks ago.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

photoblogging: Great Smoky Mountains

A photo album from the Smokies ought to have at least one shot like this: rows of blue mountains fading off into the distance. These, however, are the Balsams, shot from the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border with Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. You get the general idea, though...

Okay, the rest are all from the Smokies:

Cades Cove.

Whitetail doe. We saw another in a willow thicket next to Sparks Lane that was within hours or even minutes of giving birth; this one probably had a couple more days to go before dropping her fawn.

Horses in Cades Cove.

The fields here used to be heavily grazed by both horses and cattle, but the National Park Service (NPS) is now letting some of them revert to natural meadows:

...a boon for birds like this indigo bunting...

...and for birdwatchers.

Middle Prong of the Little River, near Tremont. A "No Fishing" sign can just be seen [click to embiggen, then zoom] suspended over the creek; this is one of the areas where the NPS is restoring native brook trout. Southern Appalachian brookies are arguably the world's most beautiful trout (I know, I know, the same could be said of many other strains) but were dealt a serious setback in the form of competition from introduced rainbows and browns. The restoration project has generally been going well, although it was recently reported [see here, for example] that one or more rogue "bucket biologists" had sabotaged restoration by putting large rainbow trout back into a designated brook trout stream from which rainbows had been removed at a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars. I hope they catch the ignorant bastards...and I wish someone at NPS would be a bit more ambitious. Honestly, 40 miles of stream (out of 800) for brookies?

This is the Middle Prong again, a bit farther down...

...and as seen from inside a riffle. Oxygenation is one of the key factors supporting trout; others include clarity, cold temperatures, favorable pH (from limestone), and fairly good populations of aquatic insects.

Some people come to the Smokies for trout...we come for the minnows. Ellie and I practiced catch-and-release with plastic cups (and, rarely, our bare hands) on the Middle Prong and in Abrams Creek. This one seemed to be defending its small pool in Parson Branch from my camera; I suppose it may have had a nest there.

Rosebay rhododendron in bloom near Tremont.

Ferns at Laurel Creek.

Wildflowers at Laurel Creek. I was too busy salamandering to identify these, but they may be some type of bluet.

White snakeroot at Parson Branch.

Creatures great and small.

And, oh yes, people. Susan's parents, Katy and Kelton...

...and my favorite photographer, intent on her craft.