16aug ~ Lotus coming and going

     Note: with the book off my desk and spending more time
      afield than at a computer, I will from time to time use this
     double image format.  If the images are too large or
      otherwise this email is not a good experience, please drop
      me a line 
(hess3779@gmail.com).

Often, when I take a picture… 

When I take a picture, I never know what I’ll get—its sort of like having a fish on the line—its tugging, but you don’t know what it is. You know a lot of what it won’t be.

The first image is one of those.  The flower was too tall to look into, and too far into the pond—besides, the bottom is slippery and I’ve been in this pond before, unintentionally, so using a 105mm macro lens, and the wild abandon of not having to buy film, I held the camera high over my head (like the paparazzi), aimed it in the general direction of the flower, and after a few shots that I could never have immediately accessed with a film camera, I zeroed in on this one.  Mu humility doesn’t keep me from thinking that this is a powerful image.

The internal structure was completely new to me.  I’ve seen lots of pictures of lotus, but not just at the opening to see the receptacle—and never one that looks down at the receptacle. Individual ova. each with its own stigma that sit right on the ovum—no style between them for the germinating pollen to navigate.

There are hundreds of pollen-bearing anthers on hidden filaments, the anthers looking like they have been crimped around the edge, like an pie crust.  If you look at last week’s photo, one stamen, both anther and filament is hanging from the lowest petal of the flower.

What a difference a couple of days make. About 2 or 3 days after the picture I posted on Aug 9th — the one that make me think of Carol Channing’s hair— this is how that same flower head looked, wearing a chic mosquito on her periphery. Only two petals remain, shriveled, faded and behind the plane of focus. And not a trace of the male parts. All of those 15 seeds will eventually separate from the receptacle, rattle around in the sockets, fall out, and be eaten by a duck.  Well, the ducks only get a few of them, but that is the most probable explanation as to how the lotus arrived in our isolated little pond in the first place.

The mosquito is one of those more typical surprises that I find when I get the image on the screen.  You’d think I would have noticed it, but my attention is entirely on focal plane.

09aug ~ American Lotus II


Note: The book that belongs to the cover I posted on July 12th is now at the printers. I’ll advise you all about the details in a couple of months when I get word that it has shipped. I was so taken with this image that I put it the book just before uploading, it has a page to itself facing the dedication.


This is that same bud two days later as it flowers. It looks windblown—even tousled—as it tries to unlimber those leggy petals. They look floppy but they are fairly stiff and apparently not easily deployed. The little curly-cue on the lowest petal is a filament tipped with an anther—one of the hundreds of  that crowd around the swollen receptacle and are soon shed along with the leaves.


It is a unique flower placed in the Nelumbonaceae. a family constructed just for it and the Sacred Lotus of Asia (Nelumbo nucifera).  And it is suddenly the showiest flower at Brawley Creek.  As suggested by its unique taxonomic status, the flower is really unusual, so we’ll take a look at that next week, but then reluctantly move off to something else that I find compelling, and those are beginning to stack up.

02aug ~ American Lotus bud

This our first Lotus bud—American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), a congeneric of the sacred Lotus of the Far East, although those are pink. Apparently it is more closely related to Sycamores than to water lilies.

We have a small pond, just one-tenth of an acre.  I’ve seen some Lotus in ponds a few miles from here, and I’ve admired them since I first saw them in Southern Illinois in the Pine Hills oxbow. I half-way thought about introducing them into the pond, but I was afraid they might cover the entire surface in a few years, so I’ve not taken any steps. 

But a few years ago I saw the first pads.  The seeds are large, and edible, and apparently transported by ducks, who don’t really seem to like our little pond, but clearly somebody had a fling a few years ago.  This is the first year of its sexual maturity and its first flower, that opened the next day.

It’s beautiful—such delicate colors against rich greens, even when lighted only by skylight as it is here. The opened flower is even better, but I’ll save that for next week, when things have lightened up for me.

26jul ~ parry, lunge, thrust…

Double click to see larger image

“Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!”

Well, he’s still at it, and he’s got a nose that would make Cyrano blush, and more energy to spend that any bird should. I suppose we enable that by making food a non-issue over winter. At any rate he has plenty of energy to devote to his passion, which is narrowly focused.

The exposure was at 1/125 second. The wings and tail are a long way from being stopped, and that creates a mix of colors that is pleasing, particularly in the wing on the left. I haven’t seen that complex of shape and color since photographing Roseate Spoonbills in South Florida. It’s worth a posting on that note alone. 

No telling when he will lose interest, or the noise he makes and his fluttering red flags will catch the eye of a Sharp-shin.  Will no one rid me of this meddlesome Cardinal?—or something like that.

19jul ~ Angry Birds

Probably everybody has seen birds interacting with their images in windows and shiny hubcaps, back when there were shiny hubcaps.  This Cardinal is currently consumed by a long-running feud and he is passionate about it.  Here he is giving the stink-eye to his reflection—or me—but I think it is the reflection.

Here’s the story.  This bird began attacking our north windows about last November.  We could hear the erratic bumping and pecking down a floor, but we figured, Hey—it isn’t even breeding season, he’ll run out of steam soon.  He didn’t.  So I covered up the double window with some cheap plywood scraps.  He moved 30 feet to the next double window, and even expanded his attacks into the tiny (and not very clean) windows in window wells, one of which was under what can best be described as a crawl space that extended four feet out from the sunken window.  He eventually quit for a few months (probably feeding with the rest of them at our south, window feeder) but he started up in May.  I’m pretty sure it is the same bird, because I’ve never seen such dedication before. Ever.

This year he has added the south and east windows to his patrol zone, and he favors this one, by the breakfast nook, where he can sit on the empty feeder and glare at himself face-to-face, fly at the window, and otherwise indulge his fantasy.  

I think I can make out “MAGA” on his forehead. Can you see it? No?  Probably just my imagination.

12jul ~ Book cover

July 12, 2021 ~ Book cover

Please note my new email address:  hess3779@gmail.com

The image shows a hover fly, a pollenivore, lifting pollen grains from the stigmas of a Chicory flower.  Yum?

The images I have been posting, for over 15 years now have been, well, fun for me. Much of the time between posts I’ve been writing a book about this place. It’s both intimate and comprehensive, written for the general reader with an absolute minimum of jargon. I began working on this book in 2012—I am persistent. As the subtitle says, it is about a how life happens here at Brawley Creek, a place so very ordinary that it could be any place, but like every place, it is filled with beautiful things that live according to a few simple but profound rules.

Now the book is done. This is the cover, finalized just a few days ago.  It is roughly 10×10 inches, andI hope to have the book available by mid-September. Its 250 pages hold lots of images—275 by my last count. The press I’m using does high quality printing. Mid-September, is a little late to catch the book reviewers prior to the holidays, but what can you do. I’ll advise you all when it becomes available.

That was a word from our sponsor. Next week I’ll get back to my usual fare.

07jun ~ Last Monday…

Please note my new email address:  hess3779@gmail.com

We didn’t plan on the encounter that produced this photogtaph, but we were sitting on the porch when the dogs became alert, and raced down the hill and began furious barking.  Never good. We’ve begun to learn the language a bit, enough to know that this was a real encounter.

Both dogs were focused at the base of a huge sycamore, where the was a hollow that we never knew was there.  Lily grabbed a little raccoon kit about the size of a kitten and ran up onto the yard shaking it. I got her to drop it.  I was concerned about neck damage, and with Lily inside (the penalty box), by the time I got back to the scene, the little one had crawled off into the brush—condition unknown.  

Charleigh was up to her butt in the hole, and there was still some high-pitched growling going on in there. Eventually Charleigh got around a bend in the opening. Fortunately there was a second opening, through which I could see what was happening.  Charleigh was ineffectively biting at a second kit.  The tail of the kit appeared through that opening and I grabbed the tail and dragged it out, away from Charleigh. Then I began extracting the dog who had almost disappeared entirely around the bend. Not an easy task with a dog with real mobility issues—pains that disappear or are ignored when the right stimulus calls to the young dog inside of the old body.

With Charleigh also in the penalty box, I returned with the camera to see about the second victim, who seemed OK but who knows. The kit was certainly traumatized—a look that I can see in his eyes, or maybe I’m just imagining it.  This is him before he crawled back into the hole that is now dog proof with a couple of lengths of rebar driven into the ground.

I do hope mama raccoon has gathered them and they are both OK somewhere else, but we’ll never know

Addendum:

This event took place on June 27, and the above narrative was ready to send out, but Charleigh had a stroke (probably).  We took her to the vet and made the awful decision.  She was approaching 15 years.  She had a terrific life here and on our travels all over the US.  She had a variety of issues, and we knew she didn’t have a lot of time left, but we miss her terribly.  It is curious that such a small dog (~40 pounds) can fill up a whole house with her independent presence.

So now we are in the unenviable but inevitable period of adjustment.  George Carlin once said that when you get a puppy, you get a little tragedy.  It is entirely true, but soon we’ll begin looking for the next one that speaks to us.  It seems that we need two, and Lily needs a wing-girl.

21jun ~ A peel of repeating patterns

June 21, 2021 ~  A peal of repeating patterns.

In case you missed last week’s post:

My email has changed—effective immediately—to:

  hess3779@gmail.com

A funny thing happened on the way to the compost bin…

We’ve had a Black Rat Snake around the backyard (posted on May 24) and when I found a newly shed skin near the bin, I figured it was his/hers, but there have been three recently shed skins, so who knows.  Anyway it was beautiful and Monday was coming, so I took the opportunity to lay it out in open shade and see what it looks like up close.

The Rat Snakes have weak keels that run longwise in each scale, particularly pronounced on their backs, so this skin is easily identified, even in fragments,.  The back scales are narrower and more strongly pigmented and their keels, even though more prominent, are more difficult to see than the rounder scales on the side that seem to have inverted.  Of course the whole thing is inside out like a latex glove that has been peeled off.

The vertical marks that show through on the bottom half are the wide belly scales that let them climb trees better than most other snakes in temperate ecosystems.  The scales in the photograph carry a lot more detail than I’d noticed before, and clearly some of the snake’s pigment is embedded in that surface layer. 

If nothing more compelling pops up before next Monday, I’ll post a closer view.

07Jun ~ (May 21, 2010 redux)

I had a new image ready to post, but just before I opened Mail Chimp I took a look at Jim Brandenbug’s nature365 posting for today  https://www.nature365.tv/video/2021-06-07-phalaropes  You should take a look at it—all 59 seconds of it. 

It provides a perfect example of the intent of my upcoming book—to wit: life forms are all fascinating if you know enough about them, and they become more beautiful and more powerful with understanding.

This video put me in mind of a series of postings I did in 2010 after a trip to Cheyenne Bottoms in, KS.  Those postings explain spinning behavior, represented here by Wilson’s Phalarope.  They are no longer available on line so I’ve condensed the idea into just one longer posting and I’ll save for later the one I prepared for today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

…May 2021 ~ “They toil not, neither do they spin.”

When phalaropes feed (toil) they spin, so the next question is why do Phalaropes spin?  The opinion of experts is that their spinning creates an eddy and the vortex draws tiny crustaceans and insects to the surface where they are collected with the needle-like bill.
I said something a few days ago about second order learning. It is a term I use to characterize the questions raised and answers found as a consequence of studying my photographs and finding things that I didn’t know were there.  These phalaropes present maybe the best example.  Watching them spin and nibble at the water with their bills, I guessed that they were somehow catching little arthropods.  So I figured when I got the images home I’d might learn something new. 

I noticed that water column in the bill.  Looking at other frames I saw it a lot, so I went hunting and found the most amazing stuff.  In 1993 Rubega and Obst announced in a nifty and very straight-forward paper that they had discovered a process that has been given the name “distal rhynchokinesis”.  You DO have to have a name for it, but it is only a matter of time until it becomes DRK.  Soon it will be a verb(t): to dirk.  Usage:  Look! The phalaropes are dirking.  It is preposterous and I will help it along.

Dirking has since been shown in a number of sandpipers, like Sanderlings, where the bird and the prey are small enough that the surface tension of the water becomes a significant factor.  Because that is so far outside my experience, I rarely remember that tiny animals live in a different world where you can fall out of a tall tree and suffer no injury, where air is viscous, and where a water droplet is an escape-proof prison. Twenty-nine seconds of simulation using a model of the bill, were prepared at MIT and posted on YouTube  (it is still there).

         (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rxj1Uuv6y0).

Here are the high points. What looks like nibbling at the water surface is a process that allows them to take small prey (6mm max.) in a small volume of water. Using the surface tension of water, and the non-wettable surface on the inside of their very thin bill, they dirk the crustacean in his water prison, up the bill and into the mouth cavity where the wettable surface immediately collapses the water prison. The prey is swallowed, the water discarded. The average speed of this water bolus, measured in living birds, is about 2 feet per second. That seems to me about the rate of movement of water up a straw — maybe a bit faster.

In dirking, four of the six sides of the droplet are open to the air.  That would never work with a straw, which makes clear that while the two processes achieve the same end, the physics is vastly different.

Discarding the water is essential since they could not afford to take in so much, especially since these birds spend so much time feeding in saline lakes (or the ocean) the ability to discard the excess water limits their salt intake. That is a facet of the process makes the whole thing beyond elegant–much more than just “nibbling at the water”.

31may 2021 ~ Gnatcatcher in Burr Oak

A couple of days ago, we watched nature365.tv as we do every morning.  It’s about 60 seconds of video on some natural theme—usually it is an excellent, one-minute meditation that casts a spell and sets the tone that you hope will follow you into the day. Occasionally they are not particularly meditative. 

On that day we watched a Pine Marten crawl out of a hole in a tree, move to a nearby limb, position his bum over the edge, and…um… attend to his personal hygiene in the manner of a bear in the woods. That too is a natural theme, and enlarges my knowledge of Martens, which is really thin. And it answers questions I never thought to ask—it’s not like Martens don’t spend time on the ground. Of course he was casual about it, and didn’t bother with what was under him. There was no proper warning, like “incoming!” or “timber!” or “Fore!” or whatever might be appropriate—I guess that would be “bombs away.” Then he went back in the den.

So what does this have to do with the Gnatcatcher? While we don’t have Pine Martens here, there are birds, just under a zillion caterpillars in the canopy, and lots of squirrels about which I’d never thought to ask either. Sitting out on the deck, with uncovered coffee mugs, I thought it couldn’t hurt to scan the branches overhead. And that is when we noticed, overhead, a pair of noisy Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. They’re always noisy, and it is an annoying nasal chee repeated with variations that would amaze Bach, so we were trying to have a conversation over them.  But there were two of them, both really active and they visited this odd knob on a branch of the Burr Oak directly overhead about 30 feet. Turns out it is a nest with the female sitting on it—note the tail.

Neither of us had ever seen one before, and the new leaves are a spectacular green, backlighted and all.

I wonder if I can get a better shot from the roof….