Field Notes Friday 0021: Homo sapiens var. photographensis

I’m studying Homo sapiens var. photographensis. How does this subspecies take such excellent photographs? Let’s observe this one in particular.

Homo sapiens var. photographensis

He crouches. He stands. He reflects. He shades his eyes. He adjusts his tripod. No good; he shakes his head and moves to another location. He leans in. He zooms in. He seems to freeze for several moments. The breeze blows. He waits.

Suddenly, his finger deftly presses a button. Click!

He repeats this process. Several times.

Inexplicably (to the uninitiated photographer), he goes to his car to get another lens. He returns and continues to repeat the previous process, relocating, moving, pausing. He seems to ponder something unseen to this observer.

Homo sapiens var. photographensis

His clothes and hat show he is prepared for long hours outdoors. His conversation is full of species names and descriptions, which can also be heard when conversing with H. sapiens var. entomologista, botanista, forestris and others… but conversation with individuals of the subspecies photographensis often reflect a depth of observation not found among the impatient or collectors. He can describe butterfly dances, bird parades, and other secret behind-the-scenes shows of nature.

I’ve been observing this individual for almost 30 minutes now, and the blazing sun, high humidity, and 80 degree temperature seems not to have an effect. Truly, this is a hardy variety of Homo sapiens.

(With apologies to the highly esteemed photographer in these photographs. These are my actual field notes from Tuesday.)

Homo sapiens var. photographensis

 

Field Notes Friday 0020: Star Milkvine (Matelea biflora)

DISCOVERED: starfish alien flower life form!

I ecstatically soaked up information and enthusiasm at the 5th Annual the State of the Prairie Conference. I’m beyond glad that the Coastal Prairie Partnership decided to host the conference in Fort Worth, the Prairie Queen City of Texas. I might never have heard of the conference otherwise, and would be truly impoverished if I never met this group of knowledgeable, engaged, and proactive biologists, conservationists, land owners, and practitioners.

One of many great features of the conference was the field trips. My chosen trip was to the McFarland and Hilmont ranches. Jason Singhurst of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Dana Wilson were along, and their wealth of plant knowledge was as useful as it was stunning. I saw and touched plants I’ve never even heard of before. One of them was Matelea biflora, a vine I’ve never seen. LOOK at this thing!

Matelea Biflora

Notice the hairyness. Also, did you see the reason it’s called biflora (two flower)? There’s a green bud in the frame. These plants usually have two flowers together – no more, no less. (I’ve heard Star Milkvine is also called two-flower milkvine. Have you heard something like “two-flower milk weed vine” as its common name? I couldn’t find any references to that name online, but I only made a cursory search.)

Out of context, this plant may seem weird, or perhaps even wonderful, but it’s as disjunct as a factoid on a cereal box.

Only when you climb a hilltop in a generational ranch which is ecologically managed, and see this plant in its full range of life stages, scattered amongst other glorious flowers and inconspicuous green life, and take in the air and clouds and breadth of view – and realize you’re standing in a precious ecosystem that we have the power to save or wipe out – do you realize any plant’s significance. Star Milkvine is a harbinger of habitat, an ecological beacon. Whether it’s on the Floristic Quality Index or not, this plant is associated with good prairie, and if you live in the DFW metroplex (or any other urban area in the central US which is bursting at the seams) you understand how vanishingly rare that is.

McFarland Ranch

Star Milkvine in context at the McFarland Ranch

I’m proud to have ‘discovered’ this weird life form and to have documented it. I’ve been re-introduced to iNaturalist.org by Michael Fox, and I think I’ve finally got the impetus to fully participate, so I’ll be uploading my finds from this conference to iNaturalist soon. I’ll also be sharing more photos via my Facebook and Tumblr page, so stay tuned.

Thank you for participating in Field Notes Friday by reading my observations and and by sharing yours. We make a difference in others’ lives when we share our field notes; we’re educating and enchanting our friends and the public with the otherwise unnoticed life all around them.

Field Notes Friday 0019: Texas Yellow Star Daisy

Something simple today: 2 drawings and the photos that inspired them. Lindheimer Daisy, Texas Yellow Star, Lindheimera texana – whatever you call it, it’s in bloom, bud, and seed in North Texas.

I’ve always loved Texas Yellowstar seed heads, but this week I paid attention to the flowers and the buds. I took pictures, mostly because I wanted to draw them but didn’t have time right then. I’ve gone to one drawing class since my latest art kick (at A Creative Arts Studio), and the instructor told me it would be easiest to start by emulating other drawings, then move on to photographs, then live/in-person. I couldn’t find drawings of Lindheimera texana online (and wasn’t lugging around my 20-lb copy of the Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas), so photos had to do. And they did rather well. I was able to zoom in on the photos the way I’d want to do with a loupe and the real thing, and finding a spot on a picnic bench under a cottonwood tree to concentrate and draw was like a mini-vacation.

Lindheimer Daisy by Happy NaturalistNotes I from my journal (which don’t come through on the compiled images):

  • Only 10 lobes [I crossed through my first, less observant attempt]
  • In the Spring, 2 shades of green are the most important colors to have.
  • This is not just shading [around the center of the bud]; there is some sort of casing/cupping around those lobes
  • A rather bedraggled Texas Yellostar/Lindheimer daisy… but one with personality.
  • A central vein seems to lead to a div[o]t at end of petal.
  • After looking at more pics, I’m not actually sure what stage I drew yesterday. It’s so green it seems pre-bloom… but what I thought was post-bloom looks almost the same, just brown.

For me, sketching and drawing has been a matter of facing my fears, learning a few simple techniques, slowing down to pay more attention, and being pleased with the process. I hope you’ll join me and others in sketching… or writing… or listing… or experiencing nature in whatever way makes most sense for you, and sharing it with the world via Field Notes Friday.

 

Field Notes Friday 0018: Caterpillars From the Sky

You know it’s been busy if I’ve missed two Field Notes Fridays in a row! But it’s been a good Spring busy-ness. I crave a job that embraces the changing seasons and helps me feel connected to earth’s cycles… and I have it! Spring is as busy for an educator/interpreter as it is for the bees and birds. And mammals. And butterflies. And caterpillars.

Yep, caterpillars. Some gardeners hate ‘em, most butterfly lovers love ‘em, and most people find them at least interesting, if not downright fascinating. My latest experience with caterpillars was not only fascinating, it was inspiring. And, frankly, a little weird.

I was participating in another Survival Skills weekend led by Mark Suter of Primitive Texas at LLELA (the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area). Throughout the weekend, we noticed caterpillars on our backpacks, on our shoulders, on the ground around us… there were always several within view any time. They seemed to be everywhere. We tried not to kill any, but I’m pretty sure I rolled over one in my sleep. They were cute – a little bit fuzzy, pleasantly colorful, and with interesting behavior, if you took the time to watch.

And taking the time to watch came naturally. All of us made observations – this caterpillar was climbing, that one seemed to be sleeping, this one was reaching for branches, this one seemed to be jerking or dancing, oh, look, there’s another one on your sleeve – we were observing insect behavior without even intending to. We were immersed in wilderness, working on skills previous generations needed for survival (making rope and fire, finding resources), and it gave us time to connect to the biological richness around us without even trying.

A few of the survival students enjoying lush Spring surroundings.

A few of the survival students enjoy the lush Spring surroundings.

I’m sure wonder and bemusement turned to mild annoyance for some. Trying not to harm caterpillars that come out of nowhere is taxing. Did I say out of nowhere? They seemed to be raining from the sky. Actually, on the final day, when Mark and I sat in the warm dappled shade working on hand-drill fire technique and yucca basket-weaving, we figured out they were falling on us. Perhaps from “Grandmother Bur Oak,” as Mark dubbed the tree shading our beautiful shelter. We could hear the soft pat….. pat as they fell into the thick leaf litter around us and began what I assume is the next chapter of their lives.

The sound of caterpillars. The sight of them dancing. The feel of them tickling your arm as they walk. We experienced caterpillars with multiple senses (but not with taste or smell, thank goodness). Because of these mental connections, we’ll never forget these little creatures.

Experiences like this usually inspire curiosity, as they did in me. What in the world species is this? Why are they falling on us? Do they sleep? What butterfly or moth will they become? I’ll let you enjoy the curiosity and questions a little while, as I did. Answers (and inspiration) coming soon…

(And here’s a treat. At least, I enjoyed it: A relaxing 30 second video looking up at Grandmother Bur Oak)

Field Notes Friday 0017: Celebrate the Milestones

Come on, admit it: when you’re good, you’re good. You’ve been improving. I’ve been improving. Lets celebrate it!

What brought on this magnanimous and self-congratulatory mood? A simple glance, an outside dining experience, and comparing my abilities and knowledge of only a few years ago with today.

The weather is solidly, blessedly Spring-like today: warm, sunny, with those cumulus clouds that pop up like evenly-spaced cotton balls on a summer day. Of course, I wanted to eat outside when I went to a restaurant.

Halfway through my meal on a shady patio, I glanced unthinkingly around. My eyes flicked past chairs, trees, signs. As if I were the Terminator of Tree Identification, the species names of the two trees I’d barely noticed jumped out at me. It was so fast it wasn’t like a thought process; it was like knowing. in a glance and seemingly without thought, I had identified two trees.

That’s special enough. That’s worth celebrating. But here’s where the comparison gets me exuberant.

When I first saw those trees several years ago, I didn’t even know they were different species, let alone different organisms.

It took me many return visits before I got curious about their bark, their leaves. I hypothesized they were different individuals, but I had no clue what species or how to find out.

Across a span of several years, without concentrating on the effort, I ran into these trees’ relatives in urban and wild settings. I was around other naturalists, interpreters, citizen foresters, and ecologists who confirmed their identity. And then, I started recognizing them. On my own. I’d see the species, and after a few moments’ inspection, mentally categorize them. Applied knowledge.

So being able, after only a few years, without cogitation, to know a species at a glance, and from such a slender view and at a distance, is like suddenly realizing you can speak a second language. I am ecstatic. A richness is opening up to me as I learn about the life all around me.

How are you improving? What skills or knowledge are you gaining that you can celebrate RIGHT NOW? All of life is a journey, a process – don’t wait for perfection to enjoy the application of your knowledge and skills. Perfection will never come, but improvement can be a constant source of joy.

20140418-182500.jpg

Field Notes Friday 0016: Backyard Wildlife Surprise

I’ve made my first official Happy Naturalist video! I debated sharing this because I’d love for all my videos to be more polished and professional (like Orry Martin or Kelly Rypkema’s videos), but I finally decided that the information is more important than the gloss, and I’ll just do the best I can with the equipment and knowledge I have. My videos, as I hope you’ll see, will improve in production quality and information. But you’ve got to start somewhere! And this video isn’t half bad for an addition to #FieldNotesFriday.

Here are 2.5 minutes of discovery, even in the mud.

  • I’d never have known we had a visitor without that mud. That’s making lemonade of lemons, don’t you think?
  • The name of the song is “Loving Everything I Find.” Isn’t that appropriate?
  • So which visitor do you think came to our yard?
  • Bonus for identifying the birdsong!

For more information about #FieldNotesFriday and how you can participate: http://bit.ly/1pER2F4

 

Field Notes Friday 0015: Quantity, Quantity, Quantity

It’s time for you to get brave. It’s time for you to learn the secret to sketching – the underlying, most secret, most essential knowledge that will make you a better sketcher: quantity trumps quality. If you let go of seeking to produce quality sketches, your quality will improve.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but encouragement from a friend at the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program plus a push from the John Muir Laws blog have sealed the deal. I’m a new convert to quantity over quality. I hope you will be, too, if you’ve been timid about sketching (as I have been).

Here’s my first attempt at my new brave task: occasionally, sketch everything around you. No holding back. No judging. Embracing ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. Just try it!

Quantity

I hope by sharing my attempts to improve my field notes and observation skills, you’ll feel more free to explore and improve your own abilities. Perfection is never the goal; appreciating our world and helping others to do so is.

To get connected to the community of scientists, naturalists, educators, interpreters, conservationists and restoration folk who participate in #FieldNotesFriday, click here: http://bit.ly/1pER2F4

Field Notes Friday 0014: Perfect Ordinariness

Sometimes it’s the small things that make you take notice of life. Since starting our Home Nature Journal, and since Spring is really beginning to spring here in North Texas, I’m noticing signs of life arising anew from the cold. But they’re tiny signs. I have to look closely, and that makes discoveries even more gratifying.

Here are just a few of the simple, normal, everyday moments I’ve seen – and just around the house, not in any grandiose nature preserves accompanied by sweeping vistas – over the last few weeks. Sometimes, ordinary is extraordinary.

A leaf on my Monstera, a lovely shade of new. This plant has family history – its progenitor belonged to my mom, then to my aunt, and now to me.

A bug – I don’t even know what it is yet – but I was delighted for days warm enough that a bug was able to move enough to get into the house!

My new Nasturtium is blooming beautifully, exotically, alluringly. I wonder who it attracts. Looks bee-worthy to me.

A cozy little cove for a spider… in a single Pothos ivy leaf.

Small Things

For more information about #FieldNotesFriday and how you can participate: http://bit.ly/1pER2F4

 

The Richness of Listening

There’s more depth to our outdoor experiences when we take the time to listen. This hazy previous knowledge suddenly crystallized into understanding as I was participating in a bird banding research project this week. This is an excerpt from my field journal about the experience.

The richness of listening

Ken heard a call and almost instantaneously identified it and its location. He suddenly had an even deeper knowledge of The Bowl [an area of the prairie we were in]. He knew there was a Ladderback woodpecker in the trees. Maybe 2, calling to each other. In short order (when we were done banding) he had located a nest. Now there’s a game cam there, hoping to catch evidence of activity.

So  I realize: knowing nature by SOUND makes an experience so much richer. Birds. Frogs. Even some trees can be identified by their sounds in the wind.

Jim said he couldn’t hear the calls I asked him to identify. Rock & roll music & heavy machinery were the culprits, he said. I joked that it feels like by the time I can identify birds by sound, I’ll be so old I can’t hear them. But Jim said women seem to hang on to their hearing in that range longer. We’ll see. I know I protect my hearing with earplugs more often than anyone I know – although more people are admitting to bringing earplugs to movies lately.

So I want a way to study bird calls. I can A) attend more birding walks. B) Hang out with birders more. C) Design my own course: Pick key species in the area & season, look at their photos, & play their calls from my Audubon app. Repeatedly.

I consider myself a fast learner when it comes to music tunes, but those are created by humans & I can generally repeat them, practice them. I can’t whistle and haven’t found a way to faithfully imitate or recollect bird songs in a meaningful way, and I can’t rely on devices yet to listen & identify. This is hard work!

How and when do you like to listen? How do you remember calls? I’m all ears.