Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Local Color...

As our 10-day visit to the Midwest draws to a close, the Fall colors that we went on a 3-day trip to Northern Wisconsin have finally started appearing down in our area.  This maple tree is up the hill from our house here, and is always among the first and just about the most reliable local spectacle.  I especially love how it seems to turn a complete branch at a time rather than a coordinated overall change.

From the first instant of our homecoming we literally heard that Fall was arriving!  Over our house towers a nearly 100 foot oak tree, and from minute one we heard what sounded like distant gunshots as acorns rained down on the house.  Occasionally you could hear them tumbling down the slope of the roof and roll into the rain gutter, but mostly they hit hard and bounced onto the ground.  We don't recall an acorn crop like this, unrelenting, nearly all night long.  Once in a while, a gust of wind would unleash a barrage of impacts, and at times, headgear was nearly required for head protection while walking near the house!  As a result, the gutters have a couple inches of acorns in them, and the house is surrounded by a thick layer of them and their caps.  The two shots shown here are representative of what the ground looks like in the area.  The squirrels have been busy eating and collecting, with piles of chewed husks lying about.  Just last night a gust of wind or two seems to have closed out the acorn season, and nearly none were heard today...

A few days back, in fact, it was the evening upon our arrival back from Wisconsin, I walked down to the Fox River with the camera and found some photographs.  First was one of my favorite plants of the Summer - the new-to-me swamp milkweed, with its own set of local insects confined to it!  The Summer insects from that post are all gone, hopefully the monarch butterfly is on its way to Mexico.  But now the pods are releasing their seeds and they are different enough from the standard milkweed to look interesting.  At left, a still-closed seed pod awaits a few more days before it launches its seeds.  A few yards to the right was the Fox River, which this time of day reflected the sunset colors off the still water.  An occasional insect landed or launched from the water, the source of the round waves at right.

I returned to the swamp milkweed plant today to see how it was progressing.  The singular pod at left in the above image had now cracked, revealing its seeds, but had not started dispersing them.  It made for a fascinating close-up with the macro lens (Canon 100mm F/2.8).  Another trio of seed pods were in an even-earlier stage, the seeds just barely visible within, shown at right.

The spectacular stands of Queen Anne's Lace are long gone, as are most of the goldenrod, now brown and well past their prime.  However, I found one lone torch of goldenrod over in Riverbend Park, where I ride laps of the walking path with my bike.  Shown at left, while some of the prairie flowers can be seen past their prime, for some reason, this goldenrod is at its peak of brilliance, and was popular with bees, being one of the last viable flowers.  Imagine what the plots of prairie looked like a month ago when all the goldenrod looked like this!  A close-up is shown at right, revealing the multitude of small florets that make up the whole.

Finally, I'll close out with a discovery I made while going to document the goldenrod.  I found a trio of sandhill cranes!  While cautious, they seemed unbothered by nearby walkers, and folks with their pets at the dog run.  There is intermittently a breeding pair in a nearby body of water we've seen on rare occasions, so these might be them, or perhaps they are passing through from Northern Canada headed to join their tens of thousands of buddies in Southern Arizona.  Melinda jokes that we'll pass them while on the plane tomorrow, perhaps to visit them the end of the year in Whitewater Draw!

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