Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cormorants in the Quarry

Of the two species in our area, the Double-crested Cormorant is the primary summer resident and the one more likely to be seen at any time on fresh water. The pair of feather tufts occasionally raised atop its head account for its common name. All the photographs below show Double-crested Cormorants. The lighter colored ones are juveniles.

Heading back to sea

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Making Waves

Light, the solar workhorse, transmits energy from the sun that makes things happen on earth. Light makes waves, a result of wind passing over water surfaces. The wind is solar powered.

Breaking swells, Halibut Point
As long as the sun shines and the earth turns there will be wind, globally speaking, because air temperatures vary from day to night and our atmosphere warms/cools at different latitudes, elevations and planetary surfaces. These variations lead to imbalances in atmospheric pressure. The air moves responsively to equalize the pressure, creating wind. The friction of air movement over water, whether puddles or oceans, causes ripples that can be amplified into waves.
Great Black-backed Gull and Great Cormorant
Water responds to the energy imparted to it. It becomes a fluid energy vehicle, an energy transportation system. Wind waves are a prominent part of that system. When the waves encounter land their energy transforms the water dramatically into surf.
Herring Gull
The sudden reconfiguration of waves into surf creates challenges, opportunities, and entertainment for coastal dwellers. The forces involved can be tremendous and relentless. Adaptive strategies are usually more effective than resistance.
Common Eiders feeding within the surf zone
The flow of air causes disturbances to the water surface that may initially appear random. Steady winds blowing over a long enough distance will merge the waves and cause crests to form into what is called a sea, aligned rhythmically in the direction of the wind. Stormy conditions can make the pattern locally chaotic.
The wind energy imparted to waves results in an orbital motion to a column of water. The height of the water column is equal to half the length of the wave, that is, half the distance between wave crests. The waves carry that energy toward the horizon but the water itself scarcely moves forward, revolving essentially in one place while the energy passes on, often very long distances.
Swells breaking after traversing an untroubled sea
The waves resulting from distant storms may become organized into swells through assimilation as faster waves overtake slower ones and larger waves superimpose themselves on smaller ones. Such wave trains can travel thousands of miles before they reach shore. In the open ocean they lie low and wide without creating much resistance or disruption. Nevertheless they are powerfully endowed with energy.
Swells rolling in on Halibut point
Swells begin to rise when the bottom of their water column encounters solid land. Even if their direction of travel is almost parallel to the shore rather than towards it, they pivot shoreward when the drag on their shoreward end effects a rotation on heading of the rest of the wave. As it approaches shallower water the wave is forced vertically upward. The bottom of the water column slows down as it drags over the submerged obstacle. Its upper portion surges forward until it peaks and collapses. A fortuitous breeze blowing out from the land into the face of a breaking wave may sustain it somewhat in what surfers call a "pause-hold" effect. This offshore wind puts a rooster tail of spray aloft as a complementary flourish to the crashing froth.
February dawn
The best time to appreciate the effect of wind and waves is to be standing on firm dry land when a storm passes far out to sea.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Light at Play

Sometimes light makes an ordinary scene extraordinary. Sometimes it enters the picture purely as itself, an ace, joker, or wildcard.

Setaria pumila, yellow foxtail grass
Bee on goldenrod
Light begins 'white' at the sun. It colors at every visible encounter and reports to our eyes as reflections, refractions, absorptions. It defines the translucence of a bee's wings.

Bee on thistle
Light bouncing through complex structures on the back of this bee suits itself as an iridescent metallic sheen. It takes on fluorescent color from certain pigments that convert ultra-violet into visible light to amplify a spectral effect, as with the purple thistle.

Ruddy Turnstone
Light is a portal to beauty.

Mother mallard and  her ducklings
Scintillations, or glare, overpower color into bright whiteness.

Gull feathers afloat
Light is a trickster and an instrument of precision. At any moment it is unbiased and complete, singular and infinite.

Quarry wall, morning
When light visits it brings its acquired elements. Its particular qualities change our perceptions. Familiar, objective things become subjective in the play of light.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Last Vigil at the Pickerelweed

Pickerelweed, Halibut Point 
It's a vivid spot, attractive to creatures on the wing that are sometimes attracted to other creatures on the wing. This slice of the story starts with pollen and nectar, the bargaining treasure of flowers.
A pollen gatherer and a nectar eater
(Flowers, the utility chest of plant propagation in nature, have earned a post-evolutionary premium in the vases and gardens of beauty.)

When the flowers were fresh
The pickerelweed grows in the basin of a quarry excavation, across the pond from the platform where the power plant used to be. It blooms uncommonly blue in the landscape. I have the sense today that the hue is diminishing from violet into grayish purple after a riotous week hosting pollinators. Spent flowers carry a bony look. Spindly structures protrude among petals like the ribs of tired umbrellas.
Spicebush Swallowtail
Quite likely the spotlight is dimming on this particular arena, its parade of novelties moving on. To get my telephoto lens as close as possible to the little mysteries still buzzing in the flowers across the way I extend the forward leg of the tripod down into the tangle of vines at the water's edge. I keep the camera strap secure around my neck as a caution and lean into the distant microcosm.

Blue Dasher
Dragonflies govern the intermediate air. Occasionally they patrol the pickerelweed itself without alighting. I envision them ornamenting a Chinese scroll but there's no hope of uniting those elements in the camera. Leave it to art.
Twelve-spotted skimmer
The elusive dragonflies do occasionally rest on a twig where they can be admired in detail. The light plays on their cellophane surfaces. Kate Wolf's voice reverberates from her song She Rises Like the Dolphin: "Where she was she isn't now/That's all you really know."

Sunshine fills the dell. A single bead of sweat rolling down my spine is absorbed at the waist. Great shadows startle the glade when gulls fly over the rim from Babson Farm Quarry to the sea. A towhee pweets.

Hummingbird Clearwing moth
The camera records details for eventual perusal. Last night in my photo review I distinguished two species of clearwings.

Snowberry Clearwing moth at upper left
Now the promise of daily novelties has begun to fade with the flowers. With ankles fixed and eyes steady at the lens I gyrate stiff knees and hips. This may be the last vigil at the pickerelweed.

A sudden blur passes the viewfinder. It hovers resonantly, dwarfing the moths. I swing the camera, shutter speed auspiciously set fast for flying bugs. Down the row of flowers flits a hummingbird. In the snap of a finger I preserve the souvenir.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
A bit of nectar deep within the tubular flowers awaits a partner able to sip without touching, its bulk delicate in the air. The enigma vanishes while Kate Wolf's song plays through.
"If you think you'll hold her in a shallow pool,
catch her in a waterfall, you're thinking like a fool.
She'll strike up the horizon, like a ship out to sea.
Leaving just illusions that look like memories."

Evanescent experiences can in the age of digital photography become memories to share.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Domestic Life of Birds

Yellowthroat warbler
Jubilation from the treetops: My place and purpose are here.

Kingbird gathering nesting material
Kingbird on nest
Briefly putting aside their gypsy lives birds materialize engineering skills from inherited codes.

Tree swallows
Brown thrasher
Young ones have to grow quickly into self-sufficiency so that both parents and chicks survive the vulnerability of the nest. The parents try to disguise their steady trips for food.

House wren delivering a morsel
Blue jay marauding at the wren house
The little ones will have to be quick and elusive when they emerge.
Cardinal with captured dragonfly
The early development of some vegetarian species requires protein from omnivorous sources. This mother cardinal is proving herself an adept hunter outside her own diet.

Barn swallow juveniles and parent
After the youngsters have fledged the parents of many species keep up their tutorials and meal supplements.

Male towhee proclaims the territory and triumph of procreation.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Grout Pile

The moors of Halibut Point presented granite seekers with accessible quarry stone. When operations reached an industrial scale, detritus was dumped in a grout pile at the end of a railroad spur extending toward the Ipswich Bay.

Northeasterly storms have swept rubble from the seaward end of this grout pile into a windrow along the shoreline, glazed by mists on a frigid morning.

The promontory offers vistas to three states and the ceaseless fascination of the coastal interface.

The Brookline Bird Club sponsors outings to Halibut Point that juts out into the Atlantic flyway, with the possibility of seeing pelagic species blown toward shore in stormy weather.

Harlequin ducks dive for crustaceans with colorful bravado in the roughest surf.

The cascade of quarry debris ignites the creative spirit in visiting sculptural engineers.

Racemed milkwort (Polygala polygama) pioneers a botanic colony among the rocks.

The ineffable processes of soil building support increasingly diverse vegetation in harsh exposures.

Ships 'hauling about' (tacking past) this windy coastal projection gave Halibut Point its name. Fair breezes still keep sails aloft.

The overlook gives witness to each day's first and last light, to the progressions of the moon, and to the starlit constellations at night.