Utah Juniper at Sipapu Bridge

Mike Wills at Sipapu Bridge Photo by Pam Wills


Here is a unique tree in the unworldly environment near Sipapu Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument.  I am looking from under a huge Cottonwood tree trunk, in the above photography taken by my wife Pam.


This tree is an older specimen of the Utah Juniper featured with my fine art print of Sipapu Bridge (click any pic in this posting to view).  Also known as Shag Bark juniper for the thin peices that separate from the trunk.  These tress can live to over 600 years and, like this example, are photogenic.

Utah Junipers are found throughout the American Southwest, here growing near Sipapu Bridge of Natural Bridges National Monument, Blanding, Urah

It is a common species through Utah, being found most often at elevations above sagebrush/grass and below pinyon pine (4,000 to 7,500 feet).  As the environment changes with the presence of people and changing climate, this juniper is becoming more common.  Nearly 1/5th the land of Utah is covered by Utah Juniper.

Macro of the leaves and berries of the One Seed Juniper taken near Kachina Point of the Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, Arizona


Not shown here are the fascinating (for me, anyway) berries (also called “cones” or “berry-cones”).  Each contains seeds, is hard and green, about a quarter inch across.  If you are brave enough to eat it, you find it to have a pleasant, resinous flavor (a taste like the aroma of pine cones).  These seeds are the manner in which the Utah Juniper spreads.  The tree has both male and female parts and can fertilize itself, so it is possible an isolated stand can all spring from a single individual (unlike humans, for example).

Native Americans consume the berries and the wood, being highly decay resistant, is commonly used for fence posts and other applications exposed to the elements.

Juniper berries are eaten by jackrabbits, foxes and coyotes.  Many bird species rely on this abundant fruit for fall and winter food.  Mule deer will each the scaly leaves when other food is scarce, for example when the winter snows are very deep.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Pinelands Connections I

Geneology and DNA

“From the fire tower on Bear Swamp Hill, in Washington Township, Burlington County, New Jersey, the view usually extends about twelve miles. To the north, forest land reaches to the horizon. The trees are mainly oaks and pines, and the pine predominate. Occasionally, there are long, dark, serrated stands of Atlantic white cedars, so tall and so closely set that they seem spread against the sky on the ridges of hills, when in fact they grow along streams that flow through the forest. To the east, the view is similar, and few people who are not native to the region can discern essential differences from the high cabin of the fire tower, even though one difference is that huge areas out in this direction are covered with dwarf forests, where a man can stand among the trees and see for miles over their uppermost branches. To the south, the view is twice broken slightly — by a lake and by a cranberry bog — both otherwise it, too, goes to the horizon in forest. To the west, pines, oaks, and cedars continue all the way, and the western horizon includes the summit of another hill — Apple Pie Hill — and the outline of another fire tower, from which the view three hundred and sixty degrees around is virtually the same as the view from Bear Swamp Hill, where, in a moment’s sweeping glance, a person can see hundreds of square miles of wilderness. The picture of New Jersey that most people hold in their minds is so different from this one that, considered beside it, the Pine Barrens, as they are called, become as incongruous as they are beautiful.” From The New Yorker magazine, November 26, 1967, “Profiles, The Pine Barrens I” creative non-fiction by the great John McPhee.

This quote captures the contours of a place, now known as “The Pinelands,” a corner of Burlington County, New Jersey my English, Irish, Scottish ancestors settled from 1677 until my grandfather, James Edward Wills, left for northern New Jersey, Asbury Park, in the first years of the twentieth century. This past decade, more so since retirement 2017, I’ve explored these two hundred and twenty (220) or so years beginning with amorphous asides over the years from my father and second hand through my sisters then through online research via Ancestry.com (Ancestry) and other searches.

From my father and sisters I knew to search southern New Jersey. The United States decennial census, “thank you Constitution,” listed a George and Margaret Wills with my grandfather among their children. Great Grandfather George Wills was listed as a 14 year old child of George and Mary Wills in the 1850 census. How could I be sure? DNA technology with internet based social interaction helped there. I was contacted by a Dellett descendant, identified by DNA as a fourth cousin, who claimed Mary Wills as a double great aunt, the daughter of James and Ann Dellett. Here is a screen capture of an Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis showing the six living ancestors of James and Ann in the database. I removed the names and photos of the other five to preserve privacy. The DNA fourth cousin relationship was an exact match to the family tree.

Cousin Delette provided antique photographs of George and Mary. I did a “FindAGrave” search, their final resting place is in a place named Tabernacle, Burlington County, New Jersey. September 2019 my wife Pam and I did a weekend tour with a bed and breakfast base in the city of Burlington, New Jersey. The rest of the photos in the following slideshow are from that weekend.

Here is the same Ancestry “ThruLines” analysis with the immediate family links exploded. through my “first cousin 1 time removed” I was able to communicate with a “lost” niece of my father who shared reminiscences of him from the time he was just released from World War II Naval Service, before meeting Mom.

….Click me for Pineland Connections II.

Copyright 2023 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Falcon 9 rocket puts satellite into orbit for Luxembourg

Here is a series of photographs of the January 31, 2018 SpaceX launch of a Falcon9 bearing a Govsat1 (aka SES-16) satellite for Luxembourg.  The re-used Falcon 9 was in expendable mode. The photographs, taken from Cocoa Beach, Florida show the rocket rising above the city and port of Cape Canaveral, through cumulous clouds and into space.

There are the unedited “jpeg” files from the series. I need to crop out the dust spots and such.

Click for complete mission details.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Sunset Visions of Kite Surfing

One day before the 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse a full moon rose 4:25 pm above the Atlantic Ocean off Cocoa Beach, the “Space Coast” of Florida. We saw a power kite to the south, with the southerly winds there was time before he was on us. I took the following photographs with what was at hand, an iPhone 8.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset

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At 50 minutes post moonrise, I included the orb in this frame as the rider tacked, rising a water crest.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset
Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset

A flick of the fingers to zoom in, the moon and rider are together as he rides toward shore.

Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset with cruise ship
Risen Full Moon and Surf Boarder at Sunset with cruise ship

This time of, Saturdays, the cruise ships depart Cape Canaveral Port. The kite is above the distant ship. It is amazing the kite allows sailing into the wind, his heading is southwest. The shore limits his progress, forcing a tack towards a southeast heading.

Kite Surfer coming to shore at sunset.
Kite Surfer coming to shore at sunset.

Or not, it seems he plans to tack to the northeast, continuing progress north up the coast. I have to wonder how he will return to the starting point?

Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Kite Surfing Action Series

three shots in one second

For a change of scene we visited Cape Canaveral, the beach at Cherie Down Park were an informal gathering of Kite Surfers was underway. Here is a series of action shots, one second elapsed from first to last.

Click the photograph for my Online Galleries
Click any photograph for my Online Galleries

Conditions were excellent: good northerly wind, the sun overcast and, it being afternoon, in the west. Surfers stayed relatively close to shore, near their starting point. I had packed the “heavy gun” camera with a tripod.

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Panning the scene (swiveling on the tripod), the camera in rapid exposure mode, I pressed the shutter release and held it down.

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The surfer was captured mid-jump to landing.

Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Stalking Grey Herons

exploring the stalking style of young herons

Time was on our side on these leisurely strolls on Cocoa Beach. depending on the weather, tides and the direction chosen, we encountered Herons.

Here is a series of meetings with two individuals, both young. For the stills the larger approached from the north, working the surf. I experimented with standing very still with minimal hand/arm motions. Intent on the food search, this heron approached steadily without apprehension…..

Until a distance of eight feet, then it stopped hunting proceeding at a slightly faster, though stately pace, to approach no more than four feet away. I chose a position in the surf, the Heron needed to either fly over or approach between myself and the final break of the waves. There is a sand bar near shore where the wave break, then continue to break again.

In approaching from the south, here in the norther hemisphere, the sun was to my back until the heron passed when the photographs changed from somewhat backlit, never in the full sun because this is the east coast of Florida, morning. On passing the photographs have a pronounced back lit aspect.

Here is brief video of a fully lit not fully grown individual at the prime time for photography, the evening golden hour with sun in the west.

I positioned closer this time, it is wary throughout the clip. It is possible to feel the strength of the surf, the slow unhurried pace of each stride.

Click for “Surfing Grey Herons,” the first series posting.

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Cocoon Story — update

mystery solved

Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021 I heard back from the Butterfly identification team. If only I had taken prompt action at the time. Here is the email:

From: Butterfly Identification Team <identifymybutterfly@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, July 25, 2021 3:06 PM
To: Michael Wills <msw8738@hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: Moth that emerged from cocoon today. Photo attached Hello,
It looks like a female Gypsy Moth and a cocoon for that same species. It is an invasive moth and huge pest, and it is found in your state. This year, northeastern states seem to be experiencing growth in the Gypsy Moth population.
Thank you for sharing your photos with us. The male looks different from the female and the faster it is identified, the better.

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My photographs are now up on the butterfly identification site.

As noted in the first posting, I released the moth. I needed to take swift action last year: identify and remove egg clusters. This spring our legacy oaks, favored by Gypsy moths, were chewed up and the caterpillars, when landing on exposed skin, cause a nasty rash.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Cocoon Story

No polite way to say it, a moth emerged from what appears to be, photographed below, a dried-out dog turd. I discovered the cocoon early June 2021 ago hanging under a bird bath I was cleaning. Curious, I collected it. There it was hanging in a mesh collection cage until a few weeks later…..

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When this fluffy moth, beige with chocolate markings appeared. The cocoon, now a dried out husk has no apparent breaks where the insect emerged.

The moth, surprisingly inactive, remained so until released in the evening. It did not fly away when I released it. Instead, it dropped out of site into a juniper bush. I tried to identify it without success.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Blasket Islands with Clouds

a road like no other

On the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland photograph taken from Slea Head Drive (R559), looking west down the cliff toward the North Atlantic Ocean breaking on the rocks. In the distance, Slea Head and the Blasket Islands. In the forground, the wildflower of Red Clover (Scientific Name: Trifolium pretense) (Irish Name: Seamair dhearg).

Click the links for my offerings on Getty Istock.

Blasket Islands with Clouds I

Blasket Islands with Clouds II