Endless Searching

discerning a fascinating species

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Gulls, an omnipresent element of any beach stroll. Pestiferous, abounding and incessant the gull is simple to deal with. Keep any and all foodstuffs under wraps.

Click for “Florida” in my Fine Art Galleries.

For those who adore a crowd of gulls

Conversely, for those who adore a crowd of raucous opportunists simply pull out the food and offer it to the air. There is more about this photograph at this post, “Lady Feeding Gulls, Cocoa Beach Dawn.”

Click any photograph for a larger view.

Beach Walking

Pam and I developed a habit of hanging out in Florida during Finger Lakes Winters when the gorges are closed for safety and even walking the streets is perilous, stray black ice encounters abound. We trade icy falls for beach walks.

It is natural to become inured to the flight of gulls along the shore. For all my carting along the Sony Alpha 700 with a variable lens ( 18 – 200 mm) there is not a single photograph of a gull in flight. Yet, I have my eye on them until my blindness was lifted by a peculiar individual. It seemed to be a white gull, yet it had a watchful eye.

Gliding shoreline parallel with head down, how could I have mistaken it for a gull?

Osprey occupy an environmental niche along 700,000+ shoreline miles worldwide as a single species Pandion haliaetus. A unique bird with its own family, Pandionidae, and genus, Pandion, some experts recognize sub-species in geographic regions. Ours is the Western Osprey.

The following photograph is of a wing shape very different from the gull.

Osprey Stalking Behavior

IPhone 8 always in my pocket, I captured this clip of an Osprey stalking fish in the Atlantic Ocean surf. You will have a better viewing experience by clicking on the title of the embedded YouTube, then click on the Full Screen icon at the lower right.

Copyright 2019, Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Iridescence and Impostors

“Here I Am”

Once a year when Pam’s gardens are at a summer peak I venture out to capture her work in early morning light. For this fourth image of the begonia series I used the same handheld Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III SLR but with the Canon lens EF 100 mm f 2.8L IS USM variable lens. Click me for the first post, “Begonia Grandis.”

Click photograph for a larger view.

Tiny Mirrors

Begonia flowers have no petals. The colorful structures surrounding the male and female parts are the structure in many flowers, such as roses, that lay beneath the flower petals and are green are called the sepal. These are the cover protecting the flower as a bud and, when open, can provide support. In begonias it is the entire flower and it glows.

The angle of morning light in today’s macro captures the reflections of thousands of tiny mirrors in the flowers, more noticeable in the darker undersides. Also present is a subtle iridescence, a shiny surface imparting, in this begonia, slight color changes. These are signals to the pollinators, “Here I am — this is delicious.” Also, in low light tropical environments iridescence can enhance light gathering of leaves.

Hoverfly

Woodland sunbeams are special places where I first noticed hoverflies, they have a behavior of staying motionless, beating wings a blur, in sunlight making its way to the forest floor. It was only after the fact, in the virtual darkroom of Lightroom, I noticed the tiny creature in today’s photograph.

On a quick look, it appears to be a yellow jacket, a type of wasp. Look closely and you will see the eyes are on the top of the head and touch in places. The wings stand perpendicular to the thorax, wasp wings fold along the thorax and abdomen and there are differences in the veining of the wings. The identify of this creature is a beneficial fly, a hoverfly, genus Episyrphus. The shiny black shield on the upper thorax suggests to me this is a Episyrphus viridaureus.

This fly is beneficial to humans in two ways. One we observe in the photograph, as flower pollination. It is one of the few flies with mandibles capable of crushing pollen grains and, in the course of feeding, some pollen clings to the fly to be transported flower to flower. The second benefit is less obvious. The larval form is a predator of aphids. After feeding, it transforms into a resting state, called diapause and survives the winter this way.

Human beings suppose the benefit of looking like a wasp is protection against predators who fear being stung, increasing survival of the individual.

The lens is designed for macro work and is a fixed focus, it can capture small details without needed to be close to the subject. I decided to crop the image down to emphasize the hoverfly. It was in writing this post I noticed the sepal iridescence.

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Begonia Flowers and a Sweat Bee

shiny, bright green tiny bee

Once a year when Pam’s gardens are at a summer peak I venture out to capture her work in early morning light. For this third image of the begonia series I used the same handheld Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III SLR but with the Canon lens EF 100 mm f 2.8L IS USM variable lens. Click me for the first post, “Begonia Grandis.”

Click photograph for a larger view.

Sweat Bee!!

The bee on the right, in sharp focus, was a puzzle to me. I am familiar with it, they are very common around here, and striking with a bright green shiny thorax. For this post I decided to identify it.

After thirty minutes of poking around I found a list of New York Wild bees on the Cornell CALS (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) site. It is in the form of an excel spreadsheet and very helpful. There are over 400 species listed. Using the “filter” feature I found the six families and, for each, did a web search. I am 98% sure this bee is in the family Halictidae, known as “sweat bees,” being attracted to the salt of perspiration they use for nutrition.

Next I looked as the first name in the species designation within the family Halictidae. Tjhis is the genus. There were not many, in a few minutes singling out Agapostemon, known as the “metallic green sweat bee.” I did not find it necessary to hone in on the exact species as members of the genus Agapostemon have defining characteristics.

There are four species listed on the Cornell CALS spreadsheet, all are ground nesting and solitary. Sweat bees are useful as crop pollinators. In Texas they can replace honeybees for pollination of cotton.

Agapostemon sericeus
Agapostemon splendens
Agapostemon texanus
Agapostemon virescens

The lens is designed for macro work and is a fixed focus, it can capture small details without needed to be close to the subject. I decided to crop the image down to emphasize the bees. The sharper focus is on the sweat bee

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Frogs!!

A summertime visit to Sapsucker Woods

Wednesday last, grandson Sam, who’s three, and I wandered the landscape, catching the sights of summer. Eventually, we visited Sapsucker Woods, a Cornell University nature preserve. There, a boardwalk over the swamp is a proven venue for frog spotting and, this day, we had some success.

We found this cooperative golden-eyed beauty calmly squatting and croaking.

In this 30 second clip, reflected light off the water surface captures proto-croaks that did not quite escape from the source. There is a successful and full croak finale.

Off the boardwalk, we took a short detour to view an elaborate cairn built of local rock by a famous artist. The dappled sunlight across the surface is especially enjoyable.

The Sapsucker Cairn, Andrew Goldsworthy

At the furthest extent of the preserve is this pond where the residents were notably raucous in this 30 second clip.

About this time the mosquitoes descended for a determined attack on Sam’s legs. “Itchy,” he said. Myself, protected by deet, they left alone. Sam’s Mom prepared him for the trip with natural mosquito repellent that was not up to the task. Next time we visit, Sam will wear long pants and sleeves fortified with deet.

Just before picking Sam up for a quick retreat, I caught this turtle encrusted in duckweed sunning on a narrow branch. The head is retracted for the moment, can you imagine someone wading through that muck to place a rock? It is possible, but I witnessed the head, so am absolutely sure.

Special thanks to blogger shoreacres for the identification of duckweed. In my original posting I called it algae.

Click me for another Sapsucker Woods posting.

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved.

First Water Trailhead

A desert garden with plans

….continued from the chapter “End of the Beginning”

First Water Trail Head

Notable Sonoran Desert Plants, all in the same frame. From the left, back row: staghorn cholla, ocotillo, saguaro. Front row: teddy bear cholla, yucca. I am not certain the greenery to the left of the yucca is brittle bush.

First Water trail head is the most used access point to the Superstition Wilderness, being the closest to Phoenix and its satellite cities and suburbs. For day hikers there are ample and interesting route choices as all foot trails of the west side terminate at First Water making for a variety of loops and incredible views. For horse people there are facilities to park huge trailers.

The ready access from Mesa, where my sister and husband had their home, was the primary reason I planned to finish my cross wilderness hike on the Dutchman Trail. Named for Jacob Waltz of the fabulous legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, the inspiration for The Searcher’s Superstition Wilderness expeditions and, ultimately, why he and I met and my change of plans.

On our ride over from Roosevelt he told of his difficulties building a home in Apache Junction, sleepless nights spent guarding building supplies from thieves. He looked forward to moving day.

This photographic record of five days in the wilderness would be much different without that meeting yet, there I was that afternoon with plenty of time for photography during the golden hours of late afternoon as I wandered the desert gardens until my sister arrived.

Wild Barley

The long distant ridge beyond the rugged near hills is the backbone of the famed “Superstition Mountain.” On the far right are hoodoos, appearing as so many teeth on a jaw. Gorgeous saguaros in the foreground.

Weavers Needle is the distant peak, 5.5 dry miles away in this view to the west / southwest.

I’ve always been partial to how the dense spines of cactus catch the evening light. These staghorn chollas are in front of the same ridge of the Superstition Mountain. A famous formation, “The Flatiron” is visible on the far right.

The road to the trail head, Service Road 78, winds through 2.6 miles of hills. Here is another overview of Sonoran desert life.

You might remember hedgehog cactus blossoms from my posting “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. The following are from the large hedgehog cactus in the foreground of the preceding photograph.

Future Plans

During the drive back with my sister, Diane, we talked of plans for returning to the Reavis Ranch together, as a backpack expedition. In coming days I met with The Searcher to explore possibilities for a horse expedition and, three years later, these plans came together for a trip kicked off from this same First Water trail head.

Hedgehog Cactus Blooms

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

End of the Beginning

Exploring Arizona in my Fifth Decade of Life

….continued from the chapter “A Rocky End to a Perfect Day.”

The Searcher arrived after breakfast. My camp was bundled up to join the rest of The Searchers equipment and supplies on Colorado’s panniers that replaced the saddle where I sat, and was dumped from, yesterday. This fifth morning of the adventure, I was to have the experience of a light pack for the 4.7 mile trail from Pine Creek to Campaign Creek, past the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance.

First, there was the climb to the edge of Pine Creek canyon where we, for the last time, enjoyed the view to the north of the Arizona Trail and, in the distance, the Four Peaks Wilderness.

North from Reavis Gap

At Reavis Gap we took a rest before the 1500 descent to Campaign Creek on a trail rated as so difficult backpackers go miles out of the way to access Reavis Ranch.

I split an energy bar and took a swig of water before setting up the tripod to capture the following view of our path. The ridge, hazy in the distance of 22 miles, is Apache Peaks, the near descending ridges an improbable green after a wet winter. In the previous photograph, “North from Reavis Gap” you can clearly see the transition from the desert to a grassland biome as the elevation increases.

Generations

On this, the southern shoulder of Two Bar Mountain, we enjoyed desert grasslands almost the entire length, starting with this unlikely oat field. The higher, eastern Superstitions are the western and northern-most Sky Island of Southern Arizona: rising from the desert as isolated mountain systems, catchments for passing storms, with life zones progressing with altitude, the highest typical of Canada. As with oceanic islands, each is a haven for life with potential for evolution of unique species from the isolating effect of the surrounding desert.

These oats are domesticated grain spilled from a horse or donkey pack to thrive in the decades since, sprouting into this spread of light green after a wet winter, ripening, then turning gold with the summer, the grains falling to wait for the next opportunity. This green hue is my first impression of Reavis Gap, see my post “Two Meetings” for a video of the morning breezes rippling along the hillside.

The camera sweeps 180 degrees for all the views from this spot, including prickly pear cactus among the grasses, a butte-like formation to the west, as in the following photograph.

Upper Horrell, the end of the beginning.

We passed the length of the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance, the Reavis Gap trail is 100 feet or so higher on the north side. The name “Upper Horrell” is attached to this location. Reavis Gap trail used to start at a ranch house, part of the “Upper Horrell Ranch.” Horrell is the family name of the former owners.

Upper Horrell is a fortunate location for the school, with the perennial Campaign Creek flowing parallel to their 13 acres on which is a large garden, many fruit trees, livestock and poultry. The school provides lodging and classes throughout the year.

The Searcher initiated his time in the Superstitions with wilderness survival classes and they allowed him to park is horse trailer and pickup outside the gates. We were loaded and out of there with a stop at Roosevelt, population 28, where we were the only customers for mesquite grilled hamburgers and french fries. We talked about the potential for future trips and I took him up on an offer to store my stuff until then. In the following years I did more Superstition Wilderness day trips, backpack expeditions, some with my sister Diane, and one horse expedition with The Searcher and a friend.

Here is a gallery of this post’s photographs, for you to flip through.
Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

A Rocky End to a Perfect Day

A visit to a wilderness horse camp

….continued from the chapter “Superstition Galleries”

Nugget and Colorado had eaten their fill of the rich early spring grass of the apple orchard, The Searcher pulled together the pair for the return to Pine Creek. Perched on Colorado, the lead held by The Searcher, I listened as he shared survival facts remembered from Peter Bigfoot’s desert survival course. The Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance, founded 1979, is along same Reavis Gap Trail (#117) we traversed. After descending to Pine Creek and up to Reavis Gap (where I first met The Searcher), it descends to meet Campaign Creek where the survival school is located.

He pointed out on the many flowering Century Plant stalks along the trail. “These are great to roast when young, just as the stalk starts to bud from the center, before it starts to lengthen.” By the time the stalk flowers, as in the following photograph, it is quite tough.

Agave flower spike against the dawn in the nameless canyon west of Two Bar Mountain, Superstition Wilderness, Arizona.

At the base of boulders, shaded from the sun, the ridgeline fern takes hold. Surviving on seasonal water seepage, it dries out during dry spells to later revive and reproduce via spores. As I recall, the dry or fresh form is useful as an analgesic.

An absolute necessity for bushwacking (walking off the path), a pair of rattlesnake proof boots were worn on every expedition. These rose to mid-calf with a layer of lexan, the same as used for bullet proof glass.

Swept from the Saddle

We passed the time in this way, me holding on to the saddle horn bouncing and shifting as Colorado negotiated the rough and steep path down to Pine Creek where the vegetation changed from very sparse to the thick growth you saw in my post “A Peaceful Day at Pine Creek”.
On the east side of Pine Creek a trail, unmarked on the maps, follows the creek bed uphill north towards Mound Mountain. In 50 feet or so we passed the side trail to my campsite, our destination was The Searcher’s campsite. I was not paying near enough attention to the surroundings when I looked up to see an Arizona Oak limb headed to my chest. With no time or space to negotiate the obstacle I was left to grab hold and hang on to be swept from the saddle. The branch held my bulk for, at most, a second before giving way.

In bending flexibly before breaking the live Oak wood and centuries of soil underneath the trees softened my fall enough so I was badly shaken and unhurt. Falling a foot or so in any direction would have resulted in serious injury or instant death. Colorado stopped, looking briefly back as I slowly came to my feet. After taking account and letting the circumstance wash over me, I got up and proceeded slowly while we both contemplated my miraculous survival.

Bear Shelter

I now took up the rear as in a few hundred yards the valley wall rose on both sides of the Creek to form a short, narrow pass. The walls fell away just as quickly, the valley floor leveled out and we came to The Searcher’s camp. The bear shelter stood out right away. This was a ten foot high teepee of 4 – 6 inch diameter tree trunks tied with rope, within was a hammock . The three foot wide opening left only one unprotected side while he slept, offering some protection from the all too common roaming bears, most commonly from September to November when mazanita fruit ripens.

Well stocked in every respect, for a wilderness camp. In the following years of roaming the wilderness the camps of other horse people were similar in this way: stoves, comfortable cots, radios, pots and pans all fit into panniers. As a noun pannier is seldom used in the singular because there are always two, one on each side of the horse for balance. I sat on the wide top of one enjoying a cold beer pulled from a bed of ice.

We discussed the benefits and drawback of horses for exploration. I required a gallon and a half of water daily and in the desert wilderness provided for storage of three days, 4 and a half gallons. At 8 pounds each, that is 36 pounds!! Starting out, my pack weighted 90 pounds with a camera and tripod.

There are benefits to having a mode of transport that thinks for itself and drawbacks. Each individual has its own personality and horses do try to get away with what they can. It is wise to limit your dependence on a horse until you know each other well. In retrospect, I was “out on a limb” riding Colorado modified by being led by someone the horse knew well.

It was soon time for me to head back to camp. We set the agenda for the next day, an early start for the hike out. Colorado was to be fully loaded so my riding was not an option, just as well. It was possible to lighten my pack to almost nothing and I looked forward to that.

I took some time before dinner to set up the tripod for a self portrait on my last full day in Pine Creek. The view is northeast from the Arizona Trail near my camp, the ridge overlooks Reavis Gap. I did a version of the view with an without me.

Click any photograph for a larger image.
Click me for the next post in this series, “End of the Beginning.”

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills