Orchid Valley Natural Area

This month’s destination for the WGNSS Natural History Photography Group was Orchid Valley Natural Area in Hawn State Park. This natural area is south of the main park and not normally open to the public, but we were granted permission to enter by the park administration. Our targets were several species of orchids and other rare plants that are known to occur in the area—showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis) being the one I hoped most to see.

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Our group for the day (front to back): me, Lynne, David, Casey, Avery, James, Bill, and Rich (Chris behind tree at back).

There are no trails here—not even a place to park, as we squeezed our cars against the side of the road at a spot that appeared to provide good access. A bit of GPS-guided bushwhacking brought us to increasingly rough and sloping ground that ended up at the edge of a cliff overlooking one of the sandstone box canyons that this area is know for—down below was where we wanted to go. Wild azaleas lined the upper canyon edges with their stunning pink blossoms. We followed the canyon edge and found a way down, then circled back into the canyon to find a stunning waterfall, its sandstone walls dripping with mosses and ferns. We spent quite a bit of time here photographing the waterfall and surrounding area before eventually resuming the search for the orchids that we came to see.

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Bill surveys a waterfall at the center of a sandstone box canyon.

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The waterfall fell about 25 feet onto the sandstone rocks below, its splash creating perfect conditions for luxurious growth of mosses and ferns.

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Mosses sending up their “stems” (actually setae), each holding up a capsule filled with spores.

Sadly, the orchids were not yet in bloom—not even close, another victim of the cold, late spring we’ve been experiencing. Casey, our group leader, did find some very small showy orchis leaves, and we saw some nice clumps of another native orchid, rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), an evergreen orchid that blooms during late summer. We hiked up another drainage that led to another box canyon—lacking a waterfall but equally impressive, nonetheless—but found no orchids in bloom there, either. We did, however, see cinnamon ferns sending up their spike-like fertile fronds and aggregations of antlion larvae (a.k.a. “doodlebugs”) in the soil beneath the sandstone ledges.

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Leaves of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens).

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Moss growth is luxuriant in the wet sandstone exposures inside the box canyons.

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Sandstone ledge above a box canyon.

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Pits of antlions, or “doodlebugs”, clustered in the soil beneath a sandstone ledge. Ants and other insects that fall into the pits are quickly dispatched by the sickle-shaped mandibles of the bug lying buried at the bottom of the pit.

You might think failure to find what we were looking for would result in a disappointing field trip—far from it! Time in the field with like-minded friends in a beautiful spot is always a pleasure, and when it comes to searching for rare plants (or insects, or whatever), failure is the norm—making success, when it does come, that much sweeter. There will be other chances to see showy orchis (perhaps in a couple of weeks).

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

When hardcore botany meets hardcore nature photography—nature geekery at its finest!

Last Saturday, the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Nature Photography Group was joined by several members of the WGNSS Botany Group and Missouri Native Plant Society to look for one of Missouri’s rarest plants—Geocarpon minimum, a.k.a. tinytim or earth-fruit (family Caryophyllaceae). This diminutive, federally-threatened and state-endangered plant grows only on sandstone glades, primarily in west-central Missouri with a few populations known also from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The window for finding this plant is short—it’s entire life cycle lasts only about 4 weeks, with an even shorter window for finding it in flower.

Our first stop to look for them was Bona (pronounced “Bonnie”) Glade Natural Area. I’d been here before, but it was about 10 years ago and at the wrong time to look for this plant (but I did find widowscross, Sedum pulchellum, in bloom). Some of the group had seen it here before and were able to coach us on the microhabitat where we would likely find them, and it didn’t take long before we did. Soon after finding the first plants, we found them in bloom as well—their almost microscopic flowers being the perfect subject for my macro lenses!

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Remnant sandstone glade at Bona Glade Natural Area, Dade Co., Missouri.

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Geocarpon minimum (tinytim or earth-fruit). Note the tiny open flowers just below center. (This is an iPhone photo—I have much better photos with my “big” camera.)

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Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) (family Montiaceae).

After getting plenty of shots of the plant and flowers, we moved to an adjacent plot of land across the highway, where we not only found more tinytim plants but also Corydalis aurea, commonly called golden corydalis (pronounced koor-ID-uh-lyss), in the family Papaveraceae—something I’d never seen before.

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Sedum pulchellum (widowscross) (family Crassulaceae).

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Corydalis aurea (golden corydalis).

Next the group moved on to Corry Branch Glade. It was originally our intent to look for more of the plant at this site, but immediately upon entering the glade we noticed a stunning display of Selenia aurea, or golden selenia. This small, striking species in the mustard family is restricted to just a handful of counties in the west-central part of the state, again primarily glade habitats. It was a surprising and pleasant find that occupied the groups’ attentions for some time before we finally decided to break for lunch (it was well into the afternoon!). While I was there, I not only photographed the plant but started having some success with my new 15-mm wide-angle macro lens, with which I had been experimenting all day (to that point without much success).

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Selenia aurea (golden selenia) (family Brassicaceae).

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Members of WGNSS & MoNPS go hunting for rare plants! Front to back: Ted MacRae (me), John Oliver, Casey & Anh Do Galvan, Steve Turner, Bill Duncan, David Seidensticker, Deb Tyler, Adam Rembert, and James Faupel.

After “lunch” (which was closer to dinner!), a few of us (Bill, David, and I) wanted to go back to Bona Glade to take another crack at photographing tinytim with our wide-angle macro lens. I especially was not satisfied with what I had gotten earlier, that being my first serious attempt at using the lens in the field. Having a better idea now of how to use the lens and what our compositional goals were, we scoured the area looking for just the right plants in just the right situations. I can honestly say I finally got a feel for how to use the lens, the trickiest part of it being how to balance use of flash on the subject with the amount of ambient light from the background (I’m not a stranger to this concept at all, frequently having combined flash with “blue sky” in much of the macrophotography I’ve done up to this point). We photographed several plants on different substrates looking for the right combination of plant, substrate, and background, and we all walked away pretty optimistic that we’d gotten the photos that we wanted.

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Bill Duncan photographing tinytim with his wide-angle macro lens.

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Amelanchier arborea (serviceberry) (family Rosaceae).

My thanks to Casey and Ando Galvan for letting me ride down there with them, to David Seidensticker and Bill Duncan for letting me ride back with them, and for everyone in the group who so generously shared their great, collective knowledge of botany, photography, and natural history. What a fun day!

NOTE: The photos in this post were taken with an iPhone X. The “real” photos, taken with our “real” cameras, will be shared as they become available.

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

2019 WGNSS Nature Photo Contest

Last night the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) held their 2019 Nature Photo Contest, and I was fortunate to have a 1st place winner in the ‘Plants and Fungi’ category! This photograph of grassleaved lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes vernalis) flowers was taken at Taberville Prairie Natural Area in St. Clair Co., Missouri. Like other species of lady’s tresses orchids, their tubular flowers are arranged in a spiral along the inflorescence and cross-pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees (e.g. bumblebees, Bombus spp., and megachilid bees) (van der Cingel 2001).

Spiranthes vernalis (spring lady's tresses)

Grassleaved lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes vernalis), Taberville Prairie Natural Area, St. Clair Co., Missouri.

Spiranthes is one of the more complex genera of North American orchids, with seven species known to occur in Missouri (Summers 1985), and like almost all orchids, their pollination biology is fascinating! The flowers are “protandrous”, i.e., they are functionally male when they first open and become functionally female as they age. Since they open sequentially from the base of the inflorescence as it grows, this results in female flowers on the lower portion of the inflorescence and male flowers on the upper portion.  Thus, bee pollinators tend to act as pollen donors when visiting lower flowers and pollen recipients when visiting upper flowers.  Male pollinia are attached to the bee’s proboscis as it tries to access the nectar secreted into the base of the floral tube and then come in contact with the female stigma in the next flower that the bee visits.  Bees generally start at the bottom of an inflorescence when visiting a plant and then spiral up to the top before flying to the next plant.  Such “acropetal movement” is likely a result of the tendency for nectar rewards to be greater in the lower flowers, and it ultimately promotes cross-fertilization between neighboring plants.

This was the 4th edition of the contest, which has been held every other year since the inaugural edition in 2013. I’ve earned 2nd and 3rd place honors in the plants category each time before; however, this was my first win in that category. In addition to plants, I also had entries in the ‘Invertebrates’ (restricted to photos taken in Missouri or one of its contiguous states) and ‘Travel’ (open to photos taken anywhere in the world) categories, with one photo each making it to the final round of judging. You’ve seen them both before—Neotibicen superbus (below left—photographed at Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri) and Agrilus walsinghami (below right—photographed at Davis Creek Park, Washoe Co., Nevada). In the end, however, they both got beat out by the competition, so I only had the one winning photograph this time. Nevertheless, it was a 1st place winner, so I am very satisfied.

The WGNSS Nature Photo Contest has quickly become one of the organization’s marquee events, with the number of entries, caliber of competition, and attendance all exceeding the previous three editions. My thanks to the judges who volunteered their time, the attendees who supported the event, and especially to Bill Duncan, Chair of WGNSS’s Nature Photography Group (and an expert nature photographer in his own right), who worked hard to make this event the success that it was (and took home some well-deserved wins of his own). I look forward to the next competition in 2021!

REFERENCES:

Summers, B.  1981.  Missouri Orchids.  Missouri Department of Conservation, Natural History Series No. 1, 92 pp.

van der Cingel, N. A.  2001.  An Atlas of Orchid Pollination: America, Africa, Asia and Australia. A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 296 pp.

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

A little extra cash

Earlier this month the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) sponsored their second Nature Photo Contest. I’ve been a member of this group since I first moved to St. Louis after college in the early 1980s—primarily as a participant in the Entomology Natural History Group but for the past six years also as board member and editor of the Society’s newsletter, Nature Notes. The photo contest was run much like the first one in 2013, again with nice cash prizes for the winners, except two things: 1) the categories were a little different (see below), and 2) I was tapped to be one of the three judges in the two categories that I did not submit photos. The categories were:

  • Invertebrates
  • Vertebrates
  • Plants & Fungi
  • Natural Communities
  • Seasons

I submitted two photos each to the first three categories—the maximum allowed in both cases. One limitation for me was that the photographs had to be taken in Missouri or an adjacent state. Remarkably, during the past few years I’ve taken most of my photos in places further afield—primarily in the western U.S. in states such as California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. I have many photographs from earlier years, but frankly I don’t consider much of that body of work to be photo contest worthy. Still, I was able to come up with a few more recent photographs that I thought would be competitive.

How did it go for me? Pretty good, with two of my photos taking cash-winning prizes (see below). This may not be as good as I did last time, when I won one 1st place, one 2nd place, and one 3rd place—the last of these also voted by the audience as the Grand Prize winner. Nevertheless, the cash award is much welcomed and will be put to good use. Remarkably, it turns out that two winning photographs have never been posted at this site, so here they are:


3rd Place—Vertebrates

Eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

Eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis | Ozark Trail, Wappapello Section, Wayne Co., Missouri

The judges regarded that it represents the true “essence” of a snake. Technically they liked the position of and focus on the tongue, the contrasting red color working well in the composition, with the blurred, winding body of the snake adding depth in a cleaner fashion than a cluttered jumble of leaves. I can’t tell you how many shots I took hoping to get one with the tongue in the perfect position—knowing all along that at any moment the snake could stop flicking it or decide to make a run for it


2nd Place—Plants & Fungi

Dicentra cucullaria

Dutchman’s breeches, Dicentra cucullaria | Battle of Athens State Park, Clark Co., Missouri

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to hear the judges’ feedback regarded this photo, as I was busy judging the photos in the ‘Natural Communities’ and ‘Seasons’ categories. This photo also took many shots, even though I didn’t have to worry about the subject not cooperating. Flash on white is tricky—not enough and you don’t get the stark contrast with the black background; too much and you end up blowing the highlights and losing the delicate detail. Add to that trying to get the subject perfectly symmetrical within the frame (I wanted to achieve this ‘for real’ and not through subsequent cropping), and I probably took close to two dozen shots before I felt like I had it right.

Perhaps you noticed that neither of the photos were in the ‘Invertebrates’ category. This just goes to show that the amount of interest in and effort one puts into a certain type of photography does not guarantee success—or prevent success in photographing other, less-familiar subjects. For my part I am pleased that any of my photographs were deemed good enough to receive a cash prize and thank WGNSS for giving local nature photographers the opportunity to have their work recognized and rewarded.

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

Earth’s oldest living things!

Westgard Pass

A view down towards Westgaard Pass.

I’ve mentioned before that I am never happier than when I am in the field, especially when it’s an extended insect collecting trip. One problem I face on these trips, however, is the conflict between my desire to stay focused on the task at hand (collecting insects) versus indulging my broader natural history interests—landscapes, botany, geology, etc. The urge to explore increases the further west I go, as the landscape becomes more diverse and unfamiliar, and reaches its zenith in the king of landscapes that is California.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Approaching Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest from the south.

During our Great Basin collecting trip last August, field mate Jeff Huether and I visited the White Mountains near Bishop to look for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus, an isolated subspecies of longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae) known only from the vicinity of Westgaard Pass. At 7,282′ elevation, the landscape around Westgaard Pass is beautiful enough, but we also knew that lying another 3,000′ above us was one of the most stunning landscapes that anyone even remotely interested in natural history could possibly imagine—Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (ABPF)!

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Entering the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

While Jeff had previously visited this magical place, I’d not yet had the chance despite my five years in California back in the 1990s (too many places, not enough time!). I had mentioned this to Jeff earlier in the trip, so with small but adequate series of C. hirtipes nubilus in our bottles Jeff suggested we take a break from insect collecting and visit ABPF. I was excited enough about the prospect of seeing these ancient trees, but I could not have anticipated just how bizarre and otherworldly a landscape we were about to see!

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Bristlecones growing in the harshest sites tend to be the longest-lived.

ABPF is, of course, named for the Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) that occur here, one of three closely related pine species found in scattered, high mountain localities across the western U.S. and widely regarded to be the longest-lived of any non-clonal organism. The oldest known individual tree in the world, measured in 2012 at 5,062 years of age, is a bristlecone that occurs at this very site (although its identity and precise location are kept secret—for sadly obvious reasons), and nearly two dozen additional trees exceeding 4,000 years of age are known to occur here as well. True—there are clonal plants such as creosote bush and quaking aspen that are believed to survive as distinct genotypes for longer periods of time. However, the individual plants themselves are short-lived and quickly replaced by new sprouts from the clonal root mat. A 6,000-year old clonal patch of aspen may be technically older than a 4,000-year old bristlecone, but in my mind only the latter is bona fide ancient!

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Most older bristlecones have trunks with large sections of exposed dead wood.

In the White Mountains, bristlecone pines are restricted to exposures of white dolomite (giving the mountains their name), usually between 10,000′ and 11,500′ in elevation. We could see the sharp demarcation between the white dolomite—heavily colonized by bristlecones—and non-dolomitic bedrock colonized by shrubs but devoid of pines as we approached ABPF from the south.

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Dead bristlecones stand with main limbs intact for centuries.

Great Basin bristlecones occur also in the Inyo Mountains and other high mountains sites in Nevada and Utah. Most of these other sites have milder climates that offer more favorable growing conditions for the trees, and as a result the trees at these sites grow faster but—ironically—also die younger (Lanner 1999). Greater moisture availability and soils with more organic matter favor denser stands of trees as well as a richer shrub layer. This results in a greater fuel load that can carry fires, which are generally absent in the White Mountains groves with their widely spaced trees and sterile, rock substrate. Moreover, the harsh, dry conditions in the White Mountains inhibit the growth of fungi that can penetrate and colonize trunks at injury points, and there is a general lack of other threats that exist at milder sites such as bark beetles, sapsuckers, and even porcupines!

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Unlike other pines growing at high elevations, such as whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which develops an almost shrubby, beaten-down form in the face of constant battering by fierce winter winds, Great Basin bristlecones grow solidly upright and develop massive branches supporting a spreading crown. As the trees get older, their outer branches become long and pendulous, drooping under the cumulative weight of numerous, tightly packed needle clusters that can remain on the tree for up to 40 years! (The needles of most pines are shed after just a few years.)

Pinus longaeva male catkins

Bright, reddish-brown male catkins emerge near the tips of the densely needeled branches.

Most of the trees at ABPF grow on steep slopes of barren dolomite with virtually no soil layer, and the trunks of older trees usually bear large sections of exposed dead wood. Over the course of their very long lives, erosion of the rocks on the steep slopes around them gradually exposes roots, killing them and resulting in death of the trunk sections and branches that they feed. In many cases nearly the entire trunk is dead, but the tree lives on in a narrow ribbon of living bark snaking or spiraling up the trunk and connecting the last surviving roots to a single living branch.

Pinus longaeva sapling

A bristlecone sapling represents the promise of enduring life in the face of harsh conditions.

Eventually death does come, but it can take centuries for the dry, cold air to decompose the standing carcass and even millenia for the hard, resinous wood to break down completely once the tree finally does fall. The oldest existing wood at ABPF has been dated to more than 9,000 years old! It is almost incomprehensible to imagine stepping over a log that began life as a sapling shortly after the last glacial retreat and the arrival of the first humans to step foot in North America!

Pinus longaeva cone

Bristlecones are named for, well.. the bristles on their cones!

Why do Great Basin bristlecones live so long? It’s tempting to presume that the dry, high elevation environment, with its long, harsh winters and short, cool growing season enables an unusually slow metabolism that somehow translates to longevity. There is no evidence to support this, however. Perhaps characteristics such as its extremely decay-resistant wood play a part, but there are a few other species of pine that are also extraordinarily long-lived, yet still fall far short of the great ages that can be attained by Great Basin bristlecone pine. These include limber pine (Pinus flexilis), which co-occurs with Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, but this species maxes out at about 2,000 years of age. Likewise, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) in Colorado can reach around 2,500 years of age. (Interestingly, limber pine occurs here as well, but in this area it reaches at best only about 1,500 years of age.) Even Great Basin bristlecones themselves growing at other sites, as noted above, are unable to match the longevity of the trees growing here in the White Mountains. Perhaps, as California conifer expert Ronald Lanner remarked, the question is not why these trees “live so long”, but why they “take so long to die”.

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

A raven perches atop a fine, massively trunked specimen.

REFERENCE:

Lanner, R. M. 1999. Conifers of California. Cachuma Press, Los Olivos, California, 274 pp. [description].

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

I’m a fun guy!

The habit of looking at things microscopically as the lichens on the trees & rocks really prevents my seeing aught else in a walk.—Henry David Thoreau

I should have loved an opportunity to go for a walk in the woods with Thoreau—especially during the winter when my preoccupation with insects no longer restrains my fascination with all things natural. While many entomologists see winter as a break from field work—a time to indulge/suffer (depending on mood) the more mundane curatorial tasks associated with their studies, my time in the field continues uninterrupted with long walks in the woods. Hiking stick replaces insect net. Energy foods replace vials. I still pry bark and flip rocks—I cannot completely ignore the potential to find insects. But I also peer through miniature forests of moss, poke about the mushrooms on a fallen log, and squint at the lichens encrusting a rock. Yes, insect specimens collected during the previous summer still need to be pinned, but there is time for that. There will always be time for that—if not now then in my later years when my ability to scramble through the bush begins to wane. For now, the woods sing their siren song, and I must listen.

Trichaptum biforme (purple tooth) on fallen river birch (Betula nigra) | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Trichaptum biforme on fallen trunk of Betula nigra | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Purple tooth (Trichaptum biforme) on dead red maple (Acer rubrum) | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Trichaptum biforme on fallen branch of Acer rubrum | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Multicolored gilled polypore (Lenzites betulina) on river birch (Betula nigra) stump | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Lensites betulina on dead stump of Betula nigra | Reynolds Co., Missouri

"Gills" distinguish this shelf fungus from turkey tails and other similar types.

“Gills” distinguish this shelf fungus from turkey tails and other similar types.

Cladonia chlorophaea or C. pyxidata on chert-trail | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Cladonia sp. (poss. C. chlorophaea or C. pyxidata) on chert-trail | Reynolds Co., Missouri

(Cladonia pyxidata)

A forest in miniature!

Irpex lacteus? on fallen branch of Acer rubrum | Iron Co., Missouri

Irpex lacteus (?) on fallen branch of Acer rubrum | Iron Co., Missouri

Spores are released from the toothy cap underside

Spores are released from the toothy cap underside

Leucobryum glaucum on forest floor | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Leucobryum glaucum on forest floor | Reynolds Co., Missouri

Postscipt: all photos shown taken on 30 November 2013 while hiking a 7-mile stretch of the Ozark Trail (Karkaghne Section in Reynolds Co. and Middle Fork Section in Iron Co.).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Spring Unfolding

For many people, spring is their favorite time of year—the long, cold winter having given way to warmth, sunshine, and flowers. I love spring as well but find myself frustrated sometimes by its Jekyll and Hyde nature. This spring was particularly frustrating—the cold and rain seemed at times interminable, delaying the onset of the spring flora several weeks past normal. Once the sun finally did appear, the entire forest exploded in a cacophony of simultaneous leaf and bloom. Plant phenologies were so compressed that there was almost no time to appreciate the season before it was over. Nevertheless, as I waited patiently for those warmer days, I was still able to find beauty in the pre-bloom forest among its nascent leaves—their development put on hold for the time being but taking on an almost floral quality in the absence of the true flowers that they preceded. As a student of wood-boring beetles, I’ve had to become also a capable botanist, at least with regards to the woody flora, and pride myself on being able to identify trees not just by their mature leaves, but also their wood, bark, growth habit, and natural community—characters that are always available when leaves may not be (as is often the case with dead trees). Nascent leaves, on the other hand, are like flowers—ephemeral and often colorful. One must make an effort to see them, but it is effort well spent.

The photos below were taken on a cold, overcast day in late April at Holly Ridge Conservation Area in extreme southeastern Missouri. How many of them can you identify to species? This is an open challenge (i.e., no moderation of comments), and the first person to correctly identify all six will be declared the winner (remember, spelling counts!).


#1

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#2

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#3

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#4

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#5

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#6

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Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

And the results are in…

I recently entered my first photo contest, a local competition sponsored by the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (of which I have been a member for ~30 years), and although the competition was limited to its few hundred members there were some serious cash prizes on offer. Being a noob at photo contests and a still relative newcomer to photography in general, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought my photos might be good enough to compete, but I also knew I would be going up against some long-time and very skilled nature photographers. The basic rules were a maximum of two submissions in no more than three of the following categories:

  • Botany
  • Entomology
  • Ornithology
  • Landscapes/habitats

Since I’ve only photographed two birds ever, I decided to submit entries to each of the other three categories. It was an interesting competition—the judges (each category had a panel of three consisting of a WNGSS board member, a natural history expert, and a photography expert) had a chance to see all of the photographs prior to the event (held last night) and select the top ten from each category, but the rest of the judging was done live at the event. Eventually, from each category a 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place photo was selected. The 12 winning photographs were then displayed in a continuous loop, and everybody attending the event was allowed to vote for one grand prize winner. The grand prize winner had to receive more than 50% of the vote, so a few runoff rounds were required to decide the final winner.

How did it go for me? I had a pretty good night, with three winning photographs:

Entomology—3rd place

Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

Botany—2nd place

Hamammelis vernalis (Ozark witch hazel) | Iron Co., Missouri

Hamammelis vernalis (Ozark witch hazel) | Iron Co., Missouri

Entomology—1st place

Arctosa littoralis (beach wolf spider) | Lewis Co., Missouri

It was a thrill for me to learn that, out of the six photographs I submitted (and I really didn’t think my two landscape submissions were competitive to begin with), three were among the 12 final prize winners. That also made them eligible for the grand prize, but in this case I didn’t really expect the larger membership (which has a lot of birders) would really take to my closeup insect photographs. To my surprise, the first round of voting produced four finalists—two of which were my insect photos! The first runoff vote eliminated one photo—but not either of mine, and the second runoff eliminated one more photo—but again neither of mine. I had won the grand prize without yet knowing which photo would be the winner! In the end, the tiger beetle took the top prize. Personally, I was happy about that, because even though the photo took only 3rd place in the entomology competition, I thought it was the stronger of the two photos based on composition, the time and effort it took to work the beetle to finally “get the shot” (not that the wolf spider photo didn’t also take a lot of effort to get that close), and the natural history behavior that it captured (stilting and sun-facing for thermoregulation). I know blog commenting is becoming passé, but if you have any particular thoughts about these photos, good or bad, I would love to hear from you.

Overall I would have to say that, winner or not, participating in a photo competition was an extraordinary learning opportunity for me as I try to hone my craft. Listening to the comments of the judges in all of the categories, both on the natural history and the technical aspects of the photographs, gave me a lot of insight into how I might further improve my technique and take photographs that can be appreciated on both technical and artistic grounds. More importantly, the cash was nice, but the motivation to keep trying that I got out of the experience was priceless!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013