Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Heggie's Rock

Heggie's Rock Preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and is yet another example of a granite outcrop community, much like Arabia Mountain. I was curious to see it because it's said to be the most pristine of Georgia's flat rock outcrops.

So last Saturday, I went along on a special guided tour meant for "serious" photographers. I was concerned with not being "serious" enough, of course, but no one checked my credentials.

: )

Granite outcrops are difficult places for the plants that try to make a life there. The temperatures are extreme and there's not much soil. In fact, the plants arrange themselves into zones according to soil depth. The hot, dry conditions foster plant life that dramatically differs from that of the surrounding forest... many are perennials that grow very slowly; others are winter annuals that survive the desert-like summer months as seeds.

Many of the winter annuals have adaptations like whitish hairs to reflect sunlight and smallish leaves that reduce surface-area water loss; others, like the Elf's Orpine (pictured here and above) are succulents that store water in swollen leaves and stems.

This environment was a first for many in our small group of "serious" photographers; this lady earned innumerable points in my book for forgoing the tripod and getting down on her belly in the dirt to make her photos!

(Instant friend.)

Mosses and lichen dry out and darken (or turn silver like this one!) but immediately turn green with moisture. We tested this out with our water bottles; the response was almost immediate.

Unfortunately, there was no "serious" plant person in our group to tell me the name of this one.

There's something in the experience of an outcrop that's very difficult to convey in a photograph; a wide-angle view mutes the beauty somehow, but the color contrasts feel lost without the context of the whole expanse. I dunno... I love the contrasts of texture and color in this pic. That's enough, I guess!

Occasionally, there's a brighter view where the soil is deep enough to support it. Just ahead of the woody shrubs, the yellow blooms are Rabbit's Ear, I think.

The Elf's Orpine is the star of the show, of course. The environment here is very, very dry but the blooming things still manage to arrange themselves artfully among the lichen-covered rocks.

Pretty, no?

I'd really like to know what this stuff is... any guesses?

Another artful arrangement... especially interesting because you can "see" the soil depth based on the plants that are growing... the unnamed plant in the deepest part of the solution pool, leading to the Elf's Orpine blooming in the dry sand on the right, and the lichen covering the bare granite.

Pretty.

Pretty with pinecones.

: )

I love the weird moonscape of granite outcrops here in GA; I love how stark they are and I especially love how surprising the color and beauty can be when you get down on your belly to find it. I love The Nature Conservancy for putting this place behind a fence to protect it for all of us "serious" folks to enjoy.

Heggie's Rock is open to the public on a limited basis... check here.

Please go; it's beautiful!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The camera's virtue

"The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking." 
-Brooks Atkinson

Elf's Orpine, a granite outcrop specialist

Rock moss and lichen

Fern unfurling into Spring
Rock moss and lichen, in a battle for dominance

Trailing Arbutus, a new find this year

Was has your camera helped you find lately?

: )

Saturday, March 15, 2014

More signs of Spring!

Out with the cold, in with the woo. 

~E. Marshall, "Spring Thought"


A hike this afternoon at Arabia Mountain (my favorite local place!) led to a couple good finds. A very brave Jay scooped up this gelatinous mass of salamander eggs(?) from a vernal pool for me to poke and squirm at. There were lots of these (that I'm guessing might be Spotted Salamanders) and a couple of others that maybe are Blue Spotted Salamander eggs.

Very cool, kinda gross and entirely too squishy for my taste.

: )
The opposite end of the same vernal pool held lots of teeny-weeny frog tadpoles... could these be chorus frogs in my reflection? 

I'm hoping Spring is making progress towards wherever you are...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Trout lilies, by the millions

We very purposefully stumbled upon the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve near Cairo GA this past weekend. Cairo (pronounced like the famous syrup) is not a place that you can easily stumble upon... it's really in the middle of nowhere. There's no hint from the roadside to the casual passer-by of the miracle contained beneath its trees.

Probably, I expected that the people who wrote the brochure were exaggerating.

: )

Nope... millions of Trout Lilies bloom in this very special place beside a stretch of highway that looks like every other stretch of highway in GA.

Trout lilies as ground cover, can you imagine?

I suspect that this was, for many years, a closely guarded "secret spot" of the local wildflower enthusiasts. I also suspect that it was only made available for public enjoyment when it became threatened by a road crew or a developer and the locals needed money to preserve it. Not that it matters any; it's now owned by county government and protected as the treasure it is...

Trout Lilies are a common harbinger of Spring in the Northeast; I don't believe they're very common in this part of the country and certainly not in this number. It's said that this is the largest concentration anywhere. The day we visited was overcast and it was almost dark by the time we found the spot... that's evidenced by the nearly closed flowers. We also found many, many Spotted Trillium and a couple (impossible to photograph) Twayblade Orchids. I'd think with more time there, I might've found all sorts of interesting things.

If you want to go out looking for Trout Lilies in your part of the world, pick a sunny afternoon (when the flowers will be fully open!) and look for them blooming on wet hillsides near streams. They're a spring ephemeral, so do all their work of blooming and setting seed before the forest canopy puts them into shade for the season. Go early while it's still freezing cold out. It makes finding them sweeter, trust me. Happy hunting and let me know what you find!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rice, milk, sugar, eggs

I would love to be able to share the recipe for this most wonderful rice pudding, but I've been forbidden to do so. According to my sister-in-law, it's a "family" recipe and not meant to be shared with the world. She insists that only her dad could make it really right and that the recipe would self destruct if made to perfection by anyone but him.

: )

His recipe is unique in the quantity of rice used, I think, and leads to a thick milk custard with an understated presence of rice. Because I can't leave well-enough-alone, the second time I made it, I dressed up the rice/milk mixture with a bay leaf, as well as the expected vanilla. It adds a little something nice.

I also tried my hand at flan this afternoon, another dessert made with the same basic ingredients - milk, sugar, eggs - but the jury is still out on that science experiment. It was easy to make, but for the caramel...

What's your favorite dessert?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow birds

A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder. 
 -Susan Orlean


We had snow today in Atlanta... real snow that caused my school to shut down early. I just saw on the TV that school's closed tomorrow too... a snow day!

I spent the afternoon watching the birds in their snow-induced feeding frenzy. I sat on the warm couch and photographed them through the window as they scavenged bits of dropped seeds and suet or quenched their thirst at the flowerpot saucer I kept unfrozen with warm water.

I'm happiest to see the bluebirds so close; we have four or five at time at the suet feeder when the weather is especially cold. They bring other nice birds with them. A couple of yellow-rumped warblers are often around and occasionally a ruby-crowned kinglet even visits!

Pine warblers... we have what seems like a lot of pine warblers. It's hard to know for sure how many there are because the males chase everyone else away from the feeder.

And they chase everyone else off their perch on the fence.

And they don't like to share the flowerpot saucer, either. Such pretty birds, like a ray of bright sunshine. It's still odd to me to see them in wintertime, but what a treat!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A counting

There's 92 species of birds on the list for the year already; some favorites are American Pipit, Loggerhead Shrike and Wilson's Plover. I've never kept a year list before. I don't generally "do" lists, but thought it might be entertaining for a while. I'm wondering what a reasonable expectation for the year might be... 200? 250? Any additional birds will accumulate slowly until Spring, unless of course there's travel involved.

2013 was a good year for new birds for me and I took a couple nice trips that added to my (only in my head) life list.

In February, we went to Sanibel Island, Ding Darling NWR, Cape Coral and Ft. DeSoto. The weather was crappy and the drive was interminable, but I hope to get back to that area sometime. Lots of neat birds...


Common Ground Dove - easily overlooked, but striking when they show their rusty wings.



Monk Parakeets feeding in the same field we found this Burrowing Owl; hard to say which felt more unlikely to this Jersey Girl.

: )

We also saw Nanday Parakeets and a Long-billed Curlew on that trip. Talk about impossible to imagine birds!



This Vermillion Flycatcher was probably the least expected bird I added to my nonexistent life list last year - just gorgeous! A friend of a friend on FB gave me directions to a town just west of Tallahassee and I found it in the exact tree where he said it would be - imagine!

I've no idea what new birds 2014 holds for me...