November 29, 2021 ~  Rummaging through the litter 

This is the underside of one of those Tulip Tree leaves.  I know…(sigh)… another leaf picture… and I’ll have another next week.  But while rummaging through the litter of my recollections is about tiny birds and how they manage to feed themselves in the winter, and also because I can get lost in these mesmerizing patterns of the decaying leaves with their subtle shadings.  I decided this was worth another go.

The key character in this  image is the tiny exoskeleton near the top of the mid-vein.  I didn’t know it was there until I got this image on the screen.  You’re looking at 75 mm of mid-vein (± 3 inches).  On my screen that’s about 1.5 times life-size.  I think the exoskeleton was left by one of the hoppers of which there are many– leafhoppers, planthopper, froghopper, grass hoppers.  The hind legs (in this case the hindmost legs) make it look like it must have come from a tiny frog which is also a hopper…well, more of a leaper.  I’d like to think it was left by a leafhopper because…well… it is on a leaf.  There is a certain logic to the idea, and besides I think it probably is one of those.  A closer look is provided by a major enlargement of the first image.  It reveals some camera motion but it will serve to bring us into the appropriate scale.

It shows a shed skin that appears frog-like because the abdominal segments are missing, but even with those sections restored, it’s body would only be 3 mm long, including the legs.  That’s 1/8th of an inch.  It’s a very small tidbit.

So where’s the tiny bird in all of this?  Brown Creepers, who have recently returned to us, are the tiny bird I have in mind.  Brown Creepers weigh ~ 8 grams. The maximum prey size they can take is 3 mm–a size that has stuck in my mind, amid the other litter.  But they make a living through the stresses of winter by working cervices in the bark of mature trees, and capturing food items this size and smaller.  Chickadees (at 11 grams) have much the same kind of challenge, but instead of looking in the bark crevices of mature tree trunks, they look between the bud scales at the tips of twigs and surface irregularities of those tiny twigs.

This little discarded skin allows us a glimpse into a world that surrounds us completely, but it is a world of which we are barely aware, because all of it takes place on a different scale, a scale barely within our ability to notice. 

22nov ~ Tulip tree leaves

The reason for the tree’s name requires no comment I suppose, but its presence here at Brawley Creek does.  It is a tree of the Eastern forest, and occurs naturally in Missouri only in the Bootheel.

I’ve always admired the tree but wouldn’t have chosen to plant it here as non-native to this area, but I’ve made exceptions before.  I was offered two bare-root seedlings and stuck them near one of the trails on the flood plain, with an eye to moving them somewhere else if they survived.

It is one of the fastest growing trees in North America and with only moderate procrastination, they soon reached the canopy, only to die during one of our summer droughts, demonstrating why they are not here naturally.  But they were not quite dead, and they sent up sucker shoots from the roots and now there are multiple trunks that are approaching the canopy again—awaiting the next drought, I suppose.

That’s why they are here at Brawley Creek, but they are here on this blog, because the colors of their decomposition are beautiful, and the form that takes is clearly defined by blocks of cells derived by from sub units of the leaf that previously appeared identical and now are dying at different rates.  It calls for an explanation, and I wish I had one.  

I don’t, but I happen upon a quote this week from Quinn Long, the Director of Conservation of the Missouri section of The Nature Conservancy, that I wish I’d said first.  He certainly speaks for me and I’m sure for many, if not all of you. “I realized from an early age that immersion in nature provided an unparalleled sense of wonder and tranquility.”  Bingo.

15nov~ Leaf  drops and droppings

That’s why they call it fall, I’d guess. This is the morning after our first frost (Nov. 3) and as is often the case, the still night air that permitted the frost, let the leaves drop pretty much straight down.  This is the drop zone of a Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis) a congeneric of Pecans (Carya illinoinensis—which I apparently have been misspelling for the last 50 years or so—leaving out the middle “n”.)  Unfortunately, the Bitternut is something of a black sheep in the taste department.    I don’t find a lot of use for a wide-angle view, but sometimes it allows a novel perspective.

We don’t often see such an organized drop.  This one is noticeable only because it spread itself out on graveled areas and a trampled area of lawn. The other hundreds of Bitternut trees we have around must have had the same drop, but we can’t see it because their leaves disappeared into brush or tall grass.

Those walnut drippings include a growth inhibitor – juglone – that can inhibit plant respiration, and reduce the ability to take water and nutrients from the soil.  The symptoms include stunting, yellowing, wilting, and death.  Only some species are affected, so that our Walnut rich floodplain is a select club, mostly tolerant species. We’ve lots of Buckbrush, Virginia Creeper, and Grapes, and Gooseberry…I wonder what we don’t have?   Where to find a flood plain without Walnuts….

To order A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise…

November 9th, at Brawley Creek.

The full title is: A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise: and intimate look at life on Brawley Creek.

We are expecting the delivery on December 8th, of 400 copies of A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise—to Brawley Creek. That’s now less 4 weeks away. The bulk of the run will go to the University of Chicago Distribution Center, where its distribution will be controlled by the University of Missouri Press.  The Press will see to it that they get to the major book stores, It is already listed on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites at the list price of $75.  

I’ll be making the book available for $55.00, including tax and with free shipping, which I calculate is what Amazon will charge, once they have them in stock.  I can provide earlier delivery, an autograph and inscription on request, and if you are local (enough) hand delivery.

To order copies, send me a request at < > and I’ll get back to you promptly by email of telephone — you chose.

Thank you.  I’m confident that you’ll enjoy the book.

November 8, 2021 ~ Red Mulberry

It doesn’t look like it, but the falling of leaves is nowhere near random. Honey Locusts begin dropping leaflets in early July. Walnuts begin their leaflet drop in August, and during the cold nights leading up to the first frost, something happens to the abscission layer of Red Mulberries (Morus rubra) the begin trickling down then, and with the first frost, there os a heavy drop. Trees build an abscission layer where the leaf joins the twig, and its function is to make the separation of leaf from tree, a clean event.  I’ve not seen any research along the lines of what happens specifically regarding the impact of frost on this layer of cells, but the results here are captivating.  Mulberry leaves are large and platelike, as you can see, this one is nearly 10 inches long and they pretty well cover the ground beneath the trees, and the branches of mulberries enjoy a good spread.

It’s the communal leaf drop that catches the eye and draws it to the incredible detail of the logistical infrastructure of a “simple” leaf.  That’s what drew me to this leaf, along with the yellow ground color, and the browning of the veins, along with a few spots that will soon grow to encompass the whole leaf.

The Honey Locusts are still dropping their leaflets, as evidenced by this one that landed on the mulberry leaf after it settled to the ground.  They are also intricately structured, but the venation is quite different.  It also says something about the scale of the Mulberry leaf.  Besides it’s a good excuse to wallow in the texture of just one section of the big yellow quilt.

01Nov ~ Context is everything 

If you missed my PixList EXTRA posting, you can find out how to pre-order “A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise” here.

This is a Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea), and one of them pops up every couple of years on the wooded part of our floodplain.  They are tasty, with a earthy scent, and safe to eat if they remain chalk-white inside—they begin yellowing when they are beyond edible.  I found a home for it where it can be enjoyed it, at the cost to Brawley Creek of several trillion spores, but with have a success rate of only 1 per trillion, and no particular likelihood that any of them would land anywhere nearby. One would think it would be better to make “just” a few hundred thousand (seven orders of magnitude fewer) and make them to have a better success rate.

That is a spectacular example of a common tradeoff. Among sexual species: the number of eggs produced, minus the number of progeny that fail to successfully reproduce, needs to average two—just two—that will maintain a stable population. The other trillions, the unsuccessful ones but are recycled, food for the rest of the ecosystem.  In the case of the Puffball spores, a substantial population of really tiny things.  But it works for them.

Puffballs really can’t be mistaken for anything else, toxic or not, when they reach these sizes.  It is a lot of flesh; this one is about the size of a volleyball, and it’s not the largest we’ve found. They are striking, looking something lie a gigantic egg laid amid the dead leaves on the wooded part of our flood plain, and they appear out of nowhere.

This one has had a troubled development in its short life.  It has divots of unexplained origin that put me in mind of a pocked moon.  So I used my photoshopic wiles to see what I could do to enlarge on that misperception.  I replaced its background with something suitable to misdirect the viewer’s sense of scale, I reduced its subtle, off-white color to something stark and “spaceous”, and enhanced the contrast.  Oh, and I made my copyright smaller than usual.

October 25, 2021 ~ Coral fungus…I thought

If you  missed my Pixlist EXTRA posting, you can find directions to pre-order “A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise” here.


I’ve just learned from a friend—a mycologist, that it is NOT a Coral fungus. It’s a shame to begin with a retraction, but when the shoe fits.… I may have more by next week.

After the morel season has passed I tend to forget about fungi. I might as well forget about them too because I am one of those people who are  blind to them.  By Early fall, they have disappeared in the leafy shrub layer, but then as fall advances, even the small ones, as in last week’s photo, are more easily seen.  But there is no missing some of them.

This Honey Locust log has been laying here for nearly 30 years, now and  for the most part it is quietly disintegrating, but every once it has a party.  Noted by an eruption of its considerable population of microbes.  And they build enormous towers.  These may seem small, but the log is at least 18” in diameter, and the builders of this colossus are microscopic — ants would seem enormous to them.  But it is built in a matter of days and in two weeks it has largely collapsed in on itself.  Of course it is a spore distributing celebration. But the edifice doesn’t seem to have much character.  Reliably, one just needs to look closer.

Who’da thought?  It looks like the flowstone one finds in caves, but incredibly detailed.  Such stunning beauty.  I wonder how it works?  And where are the spores released?

18oct ~ Gilled fungus on Honeylocust log

The log is huge. It came down during a storm in 1993 and has provided a major resource for fungi of various types who send up their fruiting bodies when they reach some triggering stimulus.  I never quite know what will be next.  

I was drawn to the log again, this time by a large mass of coral fungi (for another day) and found these tiny gilled fungi huddled in this small cleft  (OK, not really huddled, but it seemed that way.)  The gills on a mushroom are the ultimate in delicate frailty, and in transience.  It is hard to pass up a pair like this. Even in the low light and having to lay on the wet ground to get this angle and to brace the camera for the slow shutter speed.

Once on screen these fungi—only an inch in diameter—show those intriguing gradations as the lower gills slip into darkness, and the translucence of the cap, picks up some skylight that further delineates that the gills as distinct from a very thin cap

PixList Extra:

You’ve seen the front of this dust jacket before (in July).  Now it is soon to become an actual book.  It has a Pinocchio feel to it—the real boy, not the nose thing.  On December 8th, I expect to take delivery of 400 copies. That’s what the press tells me, and they have been remarkably precise about such things.

Here are the details:   Hardcover in linen with embossed title, and dust jacket (above.)  10 x 10.25” (matching my Galapagos book).  252 pages ± 280 images. The List Price is $75.  I can provide it for $51.00 (+ tax) with free shipping (to the contiguous states).  That should be equivalent to Amazon according my calculations.

Bottom Line?   $55.00 Autographed on request, inscribed on request. 

Sadly, no gift wrapping.

Ordering Copies:    December 8th is uncomfortably close to the Holidays.  I think I can still get them there on time, but it will take some planning.  That means pre-orders — intent, without payment.  A pre-order will reserve a place in the mailing order.  PixList subscribers get the first opportunity to Pre-order.

Here’s what I need to know for a pre-order: Email me at:


                Email address,   

                Phone number   

                Number of copies I should reserve for you.

By mid-November, I will send you an email, then you can:

               1) Finalize your Pre-order—confirm (or change),

               2) provide mailing addresses

               3) request autograph/inscription,

               4) Make payment.


11oct ~ Silver-spotted Skipper

Note:  I expect my copies of A Perfectly Ordinary Paradise to arrive here at Brawley Creek December 8th

Later this week, I’ll send an email explaining how you can get a copy, as soon as they are available to me, at a discounted price.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Skippers can be recognized by the hooked tip of their antennae.  They are powerful flyers compared to the larger butterflies that seem to float as much as they fly.  The large cluster of silvery scales on the hindwing of the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) make the identification of this easy compared to the rest of the group, many of whom look much like this one but without the silver spot.

They are twitchy. Their flight, though powerful is never straight line. You could call that is twitchy, I suppose, But I’m referring to their reluctance to being approached.  That makes this a more difficult shot that it would seem. It came about because I was really close on a bumble bee working this same thistle flower, when she took off and the skipper immediately plopped into that place in the frame.  I was already stationary and focused on this spot, so I had only to release the shutter. And he stayed for awhile, so I could get closer.  

I’ve never quite gotten over learning that Lepidoptera translates scale wing— one of the tinier traumas of my college life.  I remember thinking, “What scales?”  Well there are all kinds of scales, and somehow I’d never quite supposed that the colors on butterflies were due to colored shingles unlike the colors on beetles and bugs, and even on the abdomen as seen here—sometimes lost among the hairs (that I learned were actually bristles) on the body.

When does a long narrow scale become a bristle?