Ohio Spiderwort

by Dee Hudson Photography

An Ohio spiderwort in bloom.

The Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) first captured my attention about 25 years ago, when I saw it blooming in a neighbor’s yard. With bluish–green, grass–like leaves, I thought I was seeing a grass in bloom. On the contrary, this is a native wildflower. The neighbor’s flowers were so lovely that I decided to come back later in the day with my camera (a film camera!) and take some pictures. Yellow and purple simultaneously in a bloom — what could be more striking than these complimentary colors together on a flower?

A spiderwort with closed blooms.

Seek this native flower in the morning to see the lovely blooms, for in the afternoon they could be closed.

So, with my camera in hand, I came back in the late afternoon to photograph and to my surprise, the flowers were all closed! I learned that the spiderwort prefers cooler temperatures, so if you want to see the flowers you have to hike out early in the morning, for when the temperature rises in the afternoon, the blooms close.

An Ohio spiderwort in the morning dew.

Here little dew droplets coat the flower buds and leaves on a misty morning. The purple–pink stems are quite striking next to the purple flowers and green leaves.

Each flower bloom is only open for a few hours and once the flower closes, it will never open again. So, the pollinators have to work fast to get their job done! Good luck to the bumble bees, a favorite pollinator of the spiderwort.

A hoverfly feeds on the pollen of a spiderwort flower.

A hoverfly feeds on the pollen of a spiderwort flower.

Here is a fly I discovered on the spiderwort. I kept trying to shoo her away, but she kept coming back. I finally gave up and decided to photograph this hoverfly. At first I thought she was a bee, but with only one pair of wings, she proved to be a fly. Yes, I keep saying “she” because that is her sex. On hoverflies, it is easy to determine the sex by looking at the eyes. On a female, there is a space between the eyes, as we see on this fly. The males will have bigger eyes and their eyes will come together on the top of their heads.

This female hoverfly appears to be eating the pollen. Though they eat flower nectar, they are one of the few insects that can also digest pollen — a fun hoverfly fact that everyone needs to know!

I photographed all these flowers in a prairie field at Nachusa Grasslands. The spiderwort are very easy to find there along the Clear Creek Knolls trail and some should still be blooming this week. Park in the lot on Lowden Road, just south of Flagg Road. Just hike along the mowed lane and the flowers should be visible to the north and south of the trail. The pale purple coneflowers and wild quinine (they are white and look like cauliflower) were also in bloom, so get ready for quite a flower show. Enjoy!

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Nico, A Great Golden Retriever

by Dee Hudson Photography

These are very sad days in the Hudson household, for our furry and loyal companion passed away early yesterday morning. The house feels empty, which is a testament to what an important presence he has been in our home for the past twelve years. I tear–up off and on all day, as I dearly miss him. Then I smile as I remember him and all his adventures with our family. This blog entry will be my tribute to a very special soul that came into our lives and brought us great joy and memories.

Puppy

Young Nico looks ready for a nap. 2003

I know I am biased, but there are very few creatures more precious and adorable than a Golden Retriever puppy. Our guy was a Christmas puppy. He was born in November 2003 and was ready to go home with his new family in December. Our three boys did not suspect “who” their Christmas gift was going to be that year, as we packed them into the mini–van and sped toward Michigan to bring our precious new family member home. Amazingly, my husband and I kept our exciting surprise from the kids until we were almost there.

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My son, Ben, offers his fingers as chew toys for the puppies.

In our home, we love our pets dearly. The moment they become ours, they are cherished and become members of the family. Every day we spent time with Nico — there were walks, games of fetch in the backyard, car rides, obedience classes, loving pets to the head and tummy and family vacations.

An obedience–trained dog makes the best pet. Not only did Nico love the training and attention, but the discipline he learned made him a wonderful dog to us and to our entire neighborhood. Who doesn’t like a dog that will not jump up on you in greeting? How about a dog that will resist plated food on the floor during a living room picnic? Nothing is better than a dog that will sit in position until you tell him he can break his stay. Yes, as a smart boy, he learned many tricks. I think my favorite obedience memory was his rapid response  to the command “Down.” At this single word, no dog flattened to the ground in an instant like Nico. His legs would splay out like a frog and he would gaze up, expectantly awaiting the next command.

One year old Golden Retriever

Nico at 1 year old

I am an “outdoor girl” and it was in nature that Nico and I spent a lot of time together. There were many walks together through the forest preserves of DuPage County — especially the mile–long trails around Hidden Lake. He and I loved being in the backyard and we would stay outside long hours together. He would often keep me company as I worked in my garden.

Golden Retrieve Dog face

What a beautiful boy!

Nico was wonderful at so many things, but I have to admit that he was a terrible swimmer. Everyone said so. How does a dog not know how to dog–paddle? I cannot explain it, but he could not keep his front legs under water, so he swam badly, with lots of splashing. Despite his poor swimming technique, he spent hours in and on the lake at the family vacation home in northern Wisconsin. He regularly road in the pontoon boat, with his head hanging over the edge and his long tongue lolling out of his mouth. Nico even insisted (with lots of barks) on riding in the paddle boat with his family.

Golden Retriever Head Shot

Nico at the lake

The Northwoods was definitely a favorite place for both humans and dogs. Nico ran free on acres of land and fetched sticks from the lake for hours. In the photo below, Nico waits for his human family to join him for a walk to the lake.

Golden Retriever in the Woods

Notice Nico’s curly fur below his tail? I affectionately refer to these curls as his “butt–locks!” Every six months these curls and his fast–growing chest hair required a trim. Nico also developed his “hobbit feet” if we did not trim all the fur between his toes.

This is a hike along Bearskin Trail. Nico says, “The muddier, the better.” What is the lesson learned here? Always, always carry clean–up towels in the car!

A muddy Golden Retreiver

A romping, muddy hike along Bearskin Trail in northern Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2014, my son bought a German Shepherd puppy. Let the fun begin! Nico and Loki played for hours. Young Loki was great company and kept Nico young, while Nico taught Loki how to be a great dog. They played chase and struggled over sticks and bones — bacon–flavored Nylabones tasted the best!

A German Shepherd puppy plays with an adult Golden Retriever

Nico and Loki

What a great dog! He was a wonderful companion to all of us for years. So, four months ago when Nico’s esophagus could no longer move dry food down to his stomach like it used to, we blended his meals to powder and added water so that it would slide down his throat — with gravity’s help. When two large meals were too much to eat at one time, we gave him four small meals throughout the day. When food would no longer stay down on its own, we gave him medicine that kept it down. When he struggled to stand and walk outside, we double–teamed him to help him out. When he breathed his last breath on this earth, we were there to stroke him and keep him company. This was the least we could do for the dog that had been our loyal and faithful companion for all these years._MG_6551

Below is a favorite image I captured of Nico gazing out over a Birch Lake sunrise in northern Wisconsin. This is how I will picture him now . . . always at peace. Farewell to our faithful canine friend — you will be missed.

Dog Gazes at Sunrise

Nico, November 9, 2003-February 21, 2016

A special thanks to Dr. Grover, the Friendly Vet, for working with Nico through all these years. I could not recommend a better veterinarian!!

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Winter Overseed

by Dee Hudson Photography and Jay Stacy

My alarm blares before sunrise and I quickly pull on my five layers of clothing for my upper body, my two pairs of socks, my face mask, my thermal underwear and jeans, and my North Face boots. I am now prepared to help overseed a prairie planting on this cool winter morning!

Dressed in layers for the winter when I photograph or work in prairie restoration.

Dressed in layers for the winter when I photograph or work in prairie restoration.

There is a slight cloud cover this morning and the temperatures are in the upper twenties — perfect conditions for what we need to do. I meet Jay Stacy, a land steward for Nachusa, at the Headquarters at 8 am. Jay is all prepared to overseed a 16-acre restoration that he first planted in the Fall of 2012. He has mixed 270 pounds of collected seeds* and placed them in eight 40–gallon barrels, already strapped into the back of a truck bed.

Bill Kleiman (Preserve Director) and Jay review the Kubota tractor operation and safety precautions before we depart. To do my part in keeping safe, I must make sure that I never stand behind or in front of the wheels when I help Jay. Getting squashed under a tractor tire is not on my agenda for the day, so I will follow this advice!

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Jay Stacy overseeds his 2012 prairie restoration.

My job is to transport the seed out to the field, while Jay drives the tractor. To overseed with the tractor, rather than hand–seeding the entire field, Jay waited until the weather conditions were just right. The ground needed to be frozen to drive the tractor across the surface, as to not damage this beautiful restoration planting. So, Jay planned this overseed to follow four nights sub zero weather, on a day when the temperatures would then reach the low 30’s (so he did not freeze to death on the tractor!). The two inches of snow cover across the field just added a nice cushion.

Jay Stacy, with the first load of seed in the pendulum seed spreader.

Jay Stacy with the first load of seed in the pendulum seed spreader.

The Seed Mixture
This is the 2nd winter overseed for this planting, the 1st occurring in the 2013 winter. For this overseed, Jay prepared three separate mixes, gauged to the soil type and drainage of the various parts of the restoration. The mixes contain forbs, sedges, non–dominant grasses and 40 pounds of Little Bluestem grass. Generous amounts of Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and Northern Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) were in all three mixes.

Three 40–gallon barrels of overseed sit next to a restored prairie.

40–gallon barrels hold the prairie seed.

Mix 1
This mix targets gravel soils and contains species like: Downy Yellow Painted Cup (Castilleja sessiliflora), Purple Prairie Clover (Petalostemum (Dalea) purpureum), and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida).

Purple Prairie Clover in bloom

Purple Prairie Clover

Mix 2
One area in the planting turns out to be wetter than first thought in 2012, so plants that like the wetter side of mesic** were added to this mix. Some of the moisture–loving plants included are Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) Gayfeather (Liatris Pycnostachya), and Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris).

Gayfeather flowers with a stormy sky in the background.

Gayfeather

Mix 3
One area in the 16–acre planting has sandy soil, so Jay created an overseed mix with some of these plants: Prairie Coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), Western Sunflower, (Helianthus occidentalis) and White Aster (Aster ptarmicoides).

Leadplant and Prairie Coreopsis blooming together.

Leadplant and Prairie Coreopsis

Pulling a pendulum spreader behind the tractor, the overseed planting was finished in early afternoon with a good seed distribution across all three areas. Jay accomplished all the overseed work while I provided him with coffee, lunch, a warm truck and some comic relief.

Seeds rest on top of snow from an overseed for prairie restoration.

The newly spread seeds dot the snow.

Seed Collection
While Jay collected the majority of seed, his efforts were greatly enhanced with the assistance of Tim Sherck, Jeff Cologna, Sheryl Honig, Tim Know, and yours truly. I cannot speak for the others, but I find seed collecting to be fun and relaxing, especially as we collect together. Also, seed collection is very rewarding, for when I see the new restorations in bloom, with butterflies, birds and bison savoring my efforts, I know I have done my part to restore the land back to its native state.

If you want to volunteer at Nachusa Grasslands, check the website for opportunites and the Saturday workday schedule.

* All forb seed weights represent the weight of a processed product, thus seed head & stem weight are included in the weight. All grasses (like Side–oats Grama, Little Bluestem, and Northern Prairie Dropseed) are pure seed weights.
**Mesic is a type of habitat that has a moderate level of moisture, midway between dry and wet.

 

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On a Quest for . . . Bison

by Dee Hudson Photography

So, today I am about to shoot some bison, or rather should I say ‘photograph’ bison?

My alarm blares at 5:00 am. Oh my gosh, I’m a night owl, so waking at this hour is very painful. I only hit the snooze button once, and then I am slowly pulling on all my clothing layers . . . my cold weather biking pants and jersey first . . . jeans and a turtle neck . . . a thick sweater. I stop layering there or I will overheat before I leave the house. I check my packing list, throw my food for the day into my cooler and grab my camera gear compiled the night before. I am out of the house in about 40 minutes — probably my record time, since I am not a morning person.

One stop for coffee and I am on my way to Nachusa Grasslands (90 minutes away), trying to arrive soon after sunrise in order to shoot in some nice morning light. Today I am on a quest to photograph Nachusa’s wild herd for possible use in the preserve’s annual report. In the last few weeks though, the bison and I have never been in the same location at the same time. Today, I’m hoping for success!

I arrive at the preserve around 7:30 am and the morning light is very pretty. The sun is just visible behind a thin layer of clouds — my favorite kind of light! Yikes! The temperature . . .
5 degrees Fahrenheit. . . . brrrrrrrrr!!!! As I exit the car, I pull on another layer — a thin coat that blocks the wind and covers the ‘bum’.

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The bison graze in the fields along Stone Barn road.

I meet my friend and steward, Jay Stacy, at the headquarters barn. Jay already has a vehicle warmed up and ready for our adventure. Jay volunteered to drive me around for the morning and help me search for the bison herd. We are lucky on this cold day, for the herd is grazing in the fields just off of Stone Barn Road. As we pull into the field entrance, the bison pause their eating to look at us. We watch them a view minutes as I adjust my camera settings and look for some good shots. I roll down the truck window and snap a few images. As I exit the truck, the bison turn around and slowly plod away. Rats!

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The bison move to a new grazing spot.

It is soooo cold, that even with hand–warmers in my pockets, I can not stand outside the truck long before my fingers hurt. Before I head back into the truck to warm up, through my telephoto lens I see two males face off and then begin bumping their heads together.

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Two males lower their heads and butt each other.

After lunch we drive back to the field and the bison are still in the same place they were when we left them in the morning. Now, most of the herd is laying down and resting on the side of a hill in the afternoon sun.

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The female standing in profile is one of seven female bison in the herd fitted with GPS collars. These collars collect daily data for researchers.

I was hoping for some nice images of the whole herd, and I was pleased with my success today. Hopefully during my next visit to Nachusa, I will again be in the right place at the right time to enjoy these magnificent animals.

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Porcupines in the Prairie

by Dee Hudson Photography

Porcupines in the prairie? When it comes to prairies, I am of course speaking about the Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea).

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The porcupine grass creates an elegant silhouette.

The seed from this grass is one of my favorites because it is so unique–looking compared to other seeds I have seen. The tip of this seed is rather furry and comes to a very sharp point, like a porcupine quill. Even though I was careful while planting these seeds, I still bled from pricking my fingers with the sharp tips.

 The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

To plant the porcupine grass I actually jabbed the seed downward, burying the pointed tip into the ground. I would squat to the ground (to get a work–out while I planted!!) and then sink five seeds into the ground in a circle around me. Then I would stand up and toss out another five seeds to self–plant and then I would walk eight to ten feet and repeat the whole process again. As you can imagine, this planting process is very labor–intensive.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The seed tails are very fascinating. There are two different colored strands that twist around each other, looking rather candy cane–like to me. Apparently these two strands twist at different rates depending on the humidity in the air. So, when the air is dry, the tapered tail end will coil and fishtail to one side or the other and then when there is more moisture in the air the tail will fishtail the other way. Over time, the humidity changes  will allow this seed to literally screw itself down into the ground. It is pretty amazing how nature works!

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As the seed dries, the end coils.

 

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie.

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Butterfly Survives Illinois Winters

by Dee Hudson Photography

As the temperatures drop below freezing, I find myself wondering where this Mourning Cloak butterfly will stay during Illinois’s cold winter. Perhaps it will find a cozy tree hole, a warm hollow log or nestle in a space behind some tree bark. This butterfly better find a good shelter, because rather than migrating to someplace warmer, this butterfly stays here in Illinois for the whole winter. Brrrr! How is survival possible? Well, this butterfly has a high level of sugar in its cells that act like antifreeze, allowing the Mourning Cloak to survive without freezing. Very cool (or should I say ‘very warm’)!

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It was June 21,st and I was pulling unwanted sweet clovers from a restored prairie planting at Nachusa Grasslands. As I neared some common milkweed in bloom, I first spotted this large brownish butterfly feeding on the pink flowers. Sometimes they feed on the flower nectar, but normally they drink tree sap — especially oak sap. I had my camera with me, the light was soft and pretty and the Mourning Cloak cooperated for a few shots before flying away.

I was amazed with the perfect condition of the butterfly’s wings. I’m guessing the Mourning Cloak was probably newly emerged from its chrysalis, because in Illinois, the adults tend to emerge in June and July. The temperatures on the prairie in the summer months can be pretty hot, so the Mourning Cloak has a unique way to survive. The butterfly finds a coolish resting place, then lowers its metabolic rate and takes a nice summer nap until the temperatures are more reasonable. By spending dormant time in both the summer and the winter, this butterfly actually lives over ten months — a long life for a butterfly!

Hike through the prairie in late March or April and watch for the Mourning Cloaks, for they will probably be the first butterfly you see emerge in the spring. Surprisingly the butterfly may even be seen flying over the snow on a warm day. Let me know if you spot any!

Carrie Mae Weems Inspires

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Carrie Mae Weems signs her new book

by Dee Hudson Photography

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Students await Carrie Mae Weems

How do I use what I know and what I understand to create my fine art images?

How can my photography activate a group of people in a sustained way?

These are a couple inspiring questions that grabbed my attention as I listened to Carrie Mae Weems speak at Columbia College. Not only was I urged to understand what my passions in life were, but also to create art connected to that passion that will say something signifiicant. . . art that will create conversations between people and make people think. What a motivating speaker!

Three Decades of Photography and Video is Carrie Mae Weem’s new book.