Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Beauty in Small Things

The Huntsville Botanical Garden has designed a new trillium garden, complete with a trillium propogation center. They have created an area strictly for trilliums nestled deep within their woodland nature area. Stumbling upon it was a delight. A few were blooming, so I'm sharing them with you all.

The trilliums of my childhood were the common woodland variety. I confess that though I love them I'm not up-to-speed on identification. Naturally, I Googled "trillium" and found a plethora of information and a gazillion photos which served only to confuse while at the same time making me giddy with all the varieties out there.

I can share some discovered facts: "Since Trilliums may take years to produce seeds and they can not survive exposure to full sunlight and so are killed by clear cutting, plus the fact that they were harvested for medical uses by Native Americans and white herbalist alike, it is a wonder that any of the plants survive. While many species are quite rare others are fairly common in rich woods that have never been cleared. Deer will sometimes browse the leaves leaving a stand of stems." (www.2bnthewild.com/plants/H37.htm)

Their subtle beauty is the appeal to me. Subtle shades of green on meaty textured leaves, with glorious spikes of rust, yellow, white and reds...even some pinks. They practically beg you to get down on their level, as some of the blossoms occur underneath their leaves. Mass plantings of these will stop a passerby in their tracks.

Some identification was possible. Above is a Yellow Wakerobin, which can reach 12" in height. I LOVE that name "Wakerobin!"

The above is a Trailing Wakerobin, which hugs the ground not rising above the earth more than 4".

Trilliums grow slowly. According to several sites, many trillium species are on the endangered list due to overpopulation of deer, which love grazing on their leaves. I read that it can take up to 20 years for a trillium plant to get established and bloom. Thank you, Huntsville Botanical Garden and other organizations and sites for helping preserve these precious flowers.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Huntsville Botanical Garden

Ancient Dogwood

I took my daughter to the Huntsville Botanical Garden to see the ancient dogwood bloom earlier this month. At the perfect stage of bloom, with leaves not yet showing, the dogwood was a show-stopper for everyone who witnessed her glory. People were sitting in the grass just gazing in its direction as she stood tall and bright in the sun like some goddess.

To get there, one walks along a pathway through a long green that's lined with trees and flowers. Turn left past the Aquatic Garden and there she is. However, her blazing white canopy is clearly visible long before you arrive. The sight that greets you above is her western side.

However, the prize to me is the eastern side where the massive trunk and branches peek through in grand silhouette. Walking up and ducking inside, you enter into a completely different world. The sunlight filters through huge white blossoms and dapples the ground, branches and trunk like a fairyland. All sounds are muffled, muted. Lying down beneath her and looking up is spiritual to me - I could stay there forever.

However, others want to do the same thing so I must share her with the masses. Her branches are so thick and heavy they touch the ground in places, and stretch out very much like Live Oak branches.

A view of the ancient dogwood and a distant pink dogwood through the Aquatic Garden.

A pretty garden bench surrounded by tulips and yellow flowers.

The Aquatic Garden

The Summer House
(this is where I was married)

The Garden is my all-time favorite spot. I may say that about a lot of destinations, but this one is good for my soul. Walking through the kaleidoscope of color, smelling the heady fragrances, touching textured blossoms and leaves, sitting by the fountains letting the wind carry the spray in your face, hearing the laughing children among the buzzing of bees and birdsong and wind in the trees is healing, spiritual, zen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Sentry, Part 3

The Sentry is remodeling. An echoing rat-a-tat-tat of bill against wood can be heard almost non-stop as she enlarges the hole for what is normally a clutch of 4-7 eggs. Yesterday afternoon I watched with a sort of giddyness as she would hammer away for several minutes before sticking her head out and literally spit wood chips out into the wind. If this photo enlarges as it's supposed to you can see the chips mid-air.

After a time she would have to take a break. That kind of hard work must make a RHW hungry. Off she'd fly to several nearby trees for a treat - perhaps even one of those tasty grasshoppers we learned about in the last post. Sometimes she'll dart around and catch some hapless bug on the fly. She'll sqawk about and flit around before coming back to work on her task, sated and ready for work.

She's used to me sitting in my chair with my camera lying on my lap. However, this time whenever I would raise my camera to take a photo she would watch me and begin sqawking incessently. Methinks she's being protective. Therefore, I don't move around much and am content to shoot from this angle. There'll be time for more angles later.

The GOOD news is that there are no signs of Starlings at all. They're gone. Either The Sentry and her mate chased them off for good, or my husband helped us out a bit. Keep your fingers cross for babies!

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Sentry, Part 2

The Sentry has a mate. We have observed the mate darting back and forth, helping with all manner of household chores. As well, red-headed woodpecker hanky-panky was actually witnessed last week. Hopefully, a baby or two will occur from their union and I’ll have some amazing photo ops in the not-too-distant future.

Not knowing exactly what an immature red-headed woodpecker looks like, I went to one of my favorite birding sites, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and found the perfect photo of one by a Mr. Kevin T. Karlson. Also there, I learned some groovy things about RHW’s. Their favorite food is grasshoppers, and they store them alive “wedged into crevices to tightly that they cannot escape.” That’s pretty cool, unless you’re a grasshopper that is.
Red-headed woodpeckers are extremely territorial. You may recall from my original post some months ago how The Sentry would dive bomb any and all hapless squirrels, blue jays and cats that happened to get too close. According to Cornells’ page, we can expect anywhere between 4-7 eggs, provided all works out according to my wishes.

Imagine my curiosity when yesterday during my gardening frenzy I hear an odd sound coming from The Sentry’s tree. Glancing up I see the fluttering of wings close to the nest hole. Once I got my camera with its zoom lens in position, I fired off various shots to enlarge to ID the bird. I wasn’t familiar with its call. It wasn’t a song, or a chirp, or a warble. It was very unusual. Is this an immature red-headed woodpecker…already? By the size it would be a "teenage" RHW. I can't imagine a teenager red-headed aggressive-territorial woodpecker knowing what I know from living with my OWN teenager, but I digress.

It’s a starling. A basic, b-flat starling. But what is it doing up there? It was fluttering around the nest hole – above it, really, on the broken part of the branch. Back to Cornell Lab of Ornithology for a lesson in european starlings. First off, Cornell describes their sound as a “quiet series of rattles and whistled notes.” That is a perfect description of what I heard. Here I learn that starlings are cavity-nesting birds and are fierce competitors for nest holes, even expelling native species. Cornell goes on to say so far only sapsuckers seem to be on the decline due to these non-native birds.

I’m not necessarily against starlings, but I am FOR my native red-headed woodpeckers. I’ve seen The Sentry take on much larger critters who venture too close to the nest hole, so I’m hoping the starlings are quickly ousted from the tree. That's The Sentry report for April.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Introducing the New Spring Line...

aesculus pavia

The sloping bank of our lot that leads from the house to a 30' cliff to Wheeler Lake, part of the Tennessee River system, is called a riparian zone. That is the official term for the margin of land that lies between a flowing surface of water and the upper grounds. Plant communities along these river margins are called riparian vegetation. These plants are critical for maintaining the health of our river system and influence aquatic ecosystems.

I learned about riparian zones at a TVA seminar last year, and consider myself a fledgling student of the subject. Check out wikipedia if you're interested to learn more. However, I find that plants along these strips are usually vastly different from plants on higher ground. Although I'm a native North Alabamian, Red Buckeyes weren't known to me until I moved onto the river system. They are here in abundance along the river banks alongside various native hydrangeas and laurels that also bloom in spring. Red Buckeyes can be found alongside wooded roadways and within our woods, but they tend to be found near streams or a water source.

These small native trees start out as a rich, mahogany-colored seed wrapped up in a luscious textured seedpod. These seeds are supposedly bitter and poisonous, but of late I've had a hard time finding any to photograph. This, above, was taken several years ago.

The bare winter branches are very straight and a pale gray. In early spring they are dotted with fat, light green buds which open up into the most alien-looking formations. From the center a long, multi-faceted flower bud emerges from which come the eventual red blooms.

The blooms last a long time, and attract the spring migration hummingbirds, offering them immediate food after their long journey.

As mentioned before, most folks here are not as enamoured with the Red Buckeyes. They are deciduous, and by mid-summer their leaves begin to dim and yellow, some dropping. Japanese Beetles like to eat the leaves as well, turning them into skeletons. However, I have a soft spot for these trees.

Imagine my delight our first spring here, waking to a riot of red blooms cascading down our bank. And they were free. Planted by God. Hummingbirds love them. They wave in the wind and hold my soil on these sharp slopes. We've been through hurricanes and tornadoes, torrential downpours and even an earthquake since we've been here and we've not lost an inch of real estate while those who have stripped their land have to purchase more rip rap in hopes of not losing any more.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Class is in session

I'm a sucker for a lovely Sycamore tree. Glorious textured, shedding bark reveals a gleaming white, smooth surface beneath. Shades of browns, greens and grays frame the white in my idea of irregular perfection.

A Sycamore can be spotted miles away during the winter months with ease because the crown of the tree is mostly stark white. Their leaves are massive, shaped roughly like a maple leaf. After they drop in autumn you'll find them curled up like a baby ready for winter's sleep, and they're a beautiful chocolate brown that is soft, almost like velvet.

This particular Sycamore tree is located in a pretty little side yard of our local community college. I signed up for a couple of classes - one on digital photography, the other on Photoshop CS3. Being self-taught I recognize fully that I need to fill in the blanks and round out the edges of my knowledge. Last week we took some new-found skills outside and played in the courtyard. There, in the setting sun was this glorious, glowing Sycamore just waiting for me.

Sycamore trees have a fascinating way of exposing their beauty. Yes, their trunks are stunning, especially in autumn with a cobalt blue sky behind them. The shot, above, was taken during an autumn run to a local nursery and you can see how striking the trunk of the Sycamore is as compared to the other trees. Sycamore tree roots have the same characteristics as the rest of the tree. Rising above the ground in various and sundry fascinating patterns are these tree roots. These roots are no doubt the bane of some grounds maintenance guy, but for a photographer this is sheer heaven.

This is one of my favorite shots - and I haven't even turned it in to teacher yet. These exposed roots are just like the tree itself, with a trunk and branches. Reading about Sycamores on Wikipedia, I learned that every tree's bark must expand as the tree grows, but Shagbark Hickory, some maples and the Sycamore are examples of those who exhibit that process more openly than others. Apparently, it is due to the rigid texture of their bark which lacks the necessary component to expand that creates the shagginess.

It's nice learning about tree structures and the like, but basically the draw for me is the outward personality and character of a Sycamore. They're different, and they glow in the sunset and are such fun to photograph.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Birding 101

My bird watching-road trip going-merlot sipping-eagle seeking-pelican photographing-girls day out lunching and Conservancy Co-Founder friend Carroll and I hosted a Birding 101 presentation to our neighborhood Conservancy members and neighbors, and Tri-County Master Gardener representatives Sunday. The presentation was awesome and we're so stoked!

The gentleman standing between us is Damien Simbeck, wildlife biologist with TVA. Not only is Damien one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to wildlife, he's extraordinarily entertaining and personable. A good time was had by all.

Carroll and I were busy with preparations for the meeting & program so my blog has been rather boring of late. However, I have updated the Bay Hill Conservancy blog and you're welcome to check it out if you so desire.

I love spring!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Face Lift

I'm ready for light colors and springtime so I changed my background color to white.

It's crisp and clean and uncomplicated.

There's no profound message today, no witticisms, nothing deep to ponder.

Just a pretty tree on a stark white background.



Just breathe.


Related Posts with Thumbnails