Category Archives: Plants


Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Our first visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens at Boothbay was most certainly worth the effort.  The location is about an hour north of Portland, ME, and three hours north of Boston, MA.

This isn’t an article/text blog so hopefully I’m just going to let my    photographs speak for themselves:

The 'Bleu Aimable' tulip

The ‘Bleu Aimable’ tulip


The 'Angelique' tulip

The ‘Angelique’ tulip

'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower

‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower

'Rote Glocke' Pasque Flower

‘Rote Glocke’ Pasque Flower

'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme

‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme

'Pink Chintz' Wild Thyme among 'Angelina' Stonecrop

‘Pink Chintz’ Wild Thyme among ‘Angelina’ Stonecrop

And last but not least some wonderful ferns

And last but not least some wonderful ferns



Garden in the Woods – NEWFS

Garden in the Woods, at Framingham, Massachusetts, is a remarkable piece of woodland that has been developed and nurtured over many decades with the primary aim of encouraging the use of NE USA native plant and flower species in people’s gardens, and the protection of endangered species.

One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods, Framingham, MA.

One of the ponds at Garden In The Woods (cellphone photo)

It  is  the headquarters of the  New England Wild Flower Society [NEWFS]   and   –   especially in May – is a delight to visit and see so many flower species in bloom.

A Trillium (I believe 'grandiflora', but I need to check that.)

A Trillium (I believe ‘grandiflora’, but I need to check that.)

My own first visit to G.I.T.W. was a couple of years ago and I will always remember it for two reasons.  The first of these was that I had never encountered such a delightful setting for so many species of wild flowers.  The second, however, was for one of the worst-possible reasons, and that came in the form of a telephone call from my wife, telling me that evil, homicidal morons had just set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, only a few miles to the east.  Enough said.

Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.

Not exactly a native species, but azaleas are an obvious, spring high-point in virtually any garden.

Since then, I have been back three further times, including my most recent visit, to which this post refers.

I have to confess, though, that I have yet to time a May visit to perfection – in other words to be there when the spring ephemeral flowers are at the height   of   their   glory.  This time I was just a few days too late.

A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.

A small but very eye-catching mint or deadnettle species that I need to check more thoroughly.


Star Flowers

Star Flowers

Bad timing aside, this visit did bring me into contact with some extremely pleasant people, the first of whom – Dave T. – is a volunteer at Garden in the Woods.  Dave, I enjoyed our conversation greatly and a large part of that enjoyment came from your knowledge and great enthusiasm for this remarkable place.

As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that's me "getting down and dirty!"  Yes... Can't deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)

As a Twitter acquaintance wrote, that’s me “getting down and dirty!” Yes… Can’t deny it. But I like to think it was in a good cause! {:-)

And then there was an immensely pleasant couple who were sufficiently amused to find me laying flat on my face across a path, in order to take a photo of starflowers, that the gentleman in question photographed me doing so, and one of his shots is shown above!  (Please know that my daughter in England saw your photo on Twitter and made me laugh when she commented:  “My Dad is so normal. I know who to blame now!”  {:-)

The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant

The pendulous flower of a Purple Pitcher Plant

Oh, and for those of you with children or grand children to entertain, I was really pleased to see that a very imaginative and very natural play area has been installed that is clearly on a woodland theme and will undoubtedly be a great and rather crucial way to introduce youngsters to the natural world that is nowadays increasingly ignored in favour of computer games and other, related distractions.

I intend to add more to this post in a few days’ time, after my wife and I get home from a few days vacation in New England (some of which will be the subject of additional wildlife photography posts in this blog).

I can't close without showing you a lovely little 'Skipper' species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar

I can’t close without showing you a lovely little ‘Skipper’ species of butterfly on Eastern Bluestar

Until then, I hope that at least you can enjoy the photos I have posted here.

Stay well!


Nature at Olana

It could be argued that if ever architecture looked out-of-place for its location it is at Olana, in the Hudson Valley, New York State, on the east bank of the river, on the opposite side to the town of Catskill.  It’s origins, however, are of significant artistic interest.

Frederic Edwin Curch's Persian-style mansion at Olana

Frederic Edwin Church’s Persian-style mansion at Olana

Olana is a Persian-inspired mansion that was built for Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an American landscape painter born in Hartford, Connecticut. He was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters, and perhaps best known for painting large panoramic landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets… Church’s paintings emphasise light and a romantic respect for natural detail…  [For more detail, go to Wikipedia.]

Rue Anemone

Rue Anemone

I paid two visits to the grounds (which is free on weekdays but costs just a few dollars for admission on weekends and public holidays), once in late April and again early in May.  As I was short of time on both of these occasions I limited my walks to a lap of the man-made lake     although there are several other walks available to visitors.



On both of my visits only a couple of spring ephemerals were present: Rue Anemones and Hepatica, although the latter was past it’s best on my May walk.

As for the lake itself, I have been here a few times but this was the first time I was able to see that there are some Koi carp present (either that or some very large goldfish, if that’s not the same thing!).  The other non-native that was present, but fortunately in very small quantities was the invasive reed Phragmites.

Koi Carp in the lake at Olana

Koi Carp in the lake at Olana

Much more interesting were the male Common Green Darner dragonflies that were patrolling sections of the shoreline, waiting for the arrival of females.

Several birds were present, though I didn’t get good photos of as many as I usually manage.

The ones not photographed included:

  • Northern Flicker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Blue Jay
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Song Sparrow
A male Baltimore Oriole

A male Baltimore Oriole

I certainly expected to see more species of migrating warblers passing through but             disappointingly that didn’t happen.

The two species that did surrender to my lens were the      ubiquitous America Robin and the spectacular Baltimore Oriole.

My bird ‘stalking’ usually gets more prolific results!

Last but by no means least, the humble Inch Worm!

Corrected caption:  NOT an Inch Worm but likely a Noctuid moth caterpillar!

While I was there, though, what I took to be an ‘inch worm’ dangling in the sunshine caught my eye.  Most Americans undoubtedly have seen inch worms but after I got home from this walk I looked it up and was staggered to find the claim that there are, in fact, over 1400 different species of inch worm in North America!  To check further, I sent the above photo to someone vastly more knowledgeable than I about entomology and their response was that this was not even an inch worm – a fact     given away by the number of pairs of ‘sucker’ legs!  Instead, this is likely to be the caterpillar of a ‘Noctuid’ species of moth, and there are hundreds of different species of those, too!  My thanks to ‘Ask An Entomologist’ – on Twitter @BugQuestions – for this information.

For those people interested in Mr. Church, his home and his artwork, guided tours of the house are available on certain days. For details go to:

Over the delightfully-named Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the town of Catskill, one can also visit the home of Thomas Cole – a famous English-born artist – which is now a National Historic Site. More info at:


Kaaterskill Falls – Early May (Page 2)

Continued from Page 1…/

The walk back down from Kaaterskill Falls to the road was one of those occasions when verse by my favourite Welsh poet sprang readily to mind:

EWr-7D2-150502-011_KaaterskillFallsPath©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-7D2-150502-005_RedTrillium©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-014_DelightfulCompany©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-015_MossyBoulder©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedEWr-T3i-150502-013_TexturedBuds©2015_Eddie-Wren_All-Rights-ReservedWhat is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies

As for the “streams full of stars,” I looked and wondered whether this particular one also held any Brook Trout.  I have a delightful little 3-weight, 7’6″ fly rod that I could be easily be tempted to go back with, to that gorge.

And then, of course, there are all the larger creeks and rivers in the Catskill Mountains.  They might need longer 4- or even 5-weight rods.  I wonder how many Americans know that the Catskills were actually the first place fly fishing was ever done in the U.S.A.  These mountains are certainly classed as the home of such in America.

The Red Trilliums (see above) were, of course, a wonderful bonus.  So many spring wildflowers are white or pale-coloured but not these ones!

We also saw a few small birds flitting about on the far bank of the creek and some long-lens photographs showed these to be Louisiana Waterthrush – a little gem in a lovely setting.

So yes, the path up to the Kaaterskill Falls is steep and a bit rough in parts but it is not much more than quarter of a mile so, as long as you take your time, a lot of people could manage it.  And as I hope my words and photos have shown, it is very worthwhile!


[Go back to Page 1]

Honey Bees, Bumblebees and Wannabees!

[Another visit to the NYSDEC preserve at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center at the end of April proved to be an excellent opportunity for watching pollinating insects at work.

The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers

The male catkins on a stately old willow tree at Five Rivers

All of this needs to be considered in light of the fact that there are now major threats facing the survival of bees, worldwide, and heaven help mankind if bees are decimated to the point that crop pollination is badly affected.

How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?

How much more pollen can this Honey Bee carry?


From what I saw, there were apparently two species of bumble bee and one species of honey bee present at the various blossoming willow trees on the Five Rivers’ Beaver Tree Trail but it turns out that individual bumble bee species are very difficult to identify from one another.     I learned this after buying an excellent book some months ago, under the title of Bumble Bees of North America (Princeton University Press).  In the book, it describes the need to study leg joints and other tiny parts of the anatomy, but as I have enough to do in terms of photographing wildlife and I’m also extremely disinclined to kill something I’ve just enjoyed photographing, merely so I could study its leg joints, this is not something I would do.

The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the 'other' species present

The colouration on the thorax of this Bumble Bee was a much darker yellow than it was on what I believe to be the ‘other’ species present

Having said that, I did take the liberty of sending a couple of my photographs via Twitter to the Xerces Society,  (@xerces_society) an organisation that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat, to see if they could help me with identification.  Note that the name is not spelled ‘Xerxes’ and they have nothing to do with 300 Spartan warriors!  The Xerces people kindly referred me to a group called Bumble Bee Watch (@BumbleBeeWatch) and I’m hoping they might be able to help enlighten me.

And here, a lighter-coloured individual

Apart from the bees that were present there were also a few Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moths (Hemaris diffinis).  As their name shows, these rather dramatic and perfectly harmless insects have clear, see-through wings,  not the coloured wings that we normally expect of moths.  The reason is that their body colouration has been designed by evolution to mimic bumble bees! This gives these otherwise defenceless moths a degree of protection from predators that might otherwise eat them.

On previous visits to Five Rivers – and, indeed, on the same Beaver Tree Trail – I have previously photographed a very close cousin of the remarkable Snowberry Clearwing, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) and for both of these species the final surprise for anyone watching them is that they feed by hovering above their chosen flowers, while feeding on the nectar through a very long proboscis.  Think of it as like drinking through the equivalent of a ten-foot drinking straw!

A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly)

A Snowberry Clearwing Hawk Moth (its wings are blurred because they are beating so quickly as it hovers)

Anyway, this day’s Snowberry Clearwings were a new species for me, but they weren’t the only one.  In among the bees and the clearwing moths were also a few bombylid flies.  According to my books, they looked most like the species known as Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major)  but as I didn’t actually see any black tails in among them I must assume that they might have been a different but closely related species.  They, too, usually hover over flowers while feeding although that’s not the case in the photograph below.  However, the larvae of the many species of bee fly either prey upon or parasitise the larvae of other insects, including bees.

Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species

Either a Black-tailed Bee Flies (Bombylius major) or a closely related species

Also feeding from the male catkins on the wonderful but very elderly willow tree that had triggered this insect feeding frenzy were Mourning Cloak and various white butterflies.

All in all, I spent well over an hour under that willow tree, frankly delighted by the amazing display of its flowers and by the wealth of insect life it had attracted.  The air, quite literally, was abuzz with their sounds and as the pesky mosquitos have not yet appeared for the summer, it was uninterrupted enjoyment.

Want to see a wonderful wildlife spectacle in spring?  Go and stand under a mature, flowering willow tree!  There’s probably one not too far from you, particularly on the edge of water courses or other wetlands.

[LINKS here to other topics photographed on the same walk / same day, namely Birds, and Amphibians.]


Vosburgh Swamp (NY DEC) 25 April 2015

Vosburgh Swamp is a Wildlife Management Area administered by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation [NY DEC] and the entrance is literally within stone-throwing distance of the right/west bank of the River Hudson, just north of Athens, NY.

The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp

The NY DEC sign at the entrance to Vosburgh Swamp

I first found out about Vosburgh from the 1981 book, ‘Where to Find Birds in New York State’, by Susan Roney Drennan and published by the Syracuse University Press.  The book had been in print for over 20 years when I bought a copy at exactly half of its then-$25 cover charge, but despite it being ‘long in the tooth’ I got a great bargain!

In the book, the location is referred to as Vosburgh’s Marsh and was described back then as being “entirely on private land” and that “there [was] really no public access to the area.” Clearly, the change of ownership since that time is just one more thing for which we should thank the NY DEC. (See my recent post about Five Rivers, for example.)


It also states that the marsh/swamp “is an especially good place to bird in spring, when one can see and hear Great Blue, Green and Black-crowned Night Herons, Least and American Bitterns, a large variety of duck species, several rail species, Marsh Wrens, and marsh-breeding sparrow species.”

Perhaps surprisingly, virtually none of the bird species listed above were evident but I would certainly anticipate seeing and photographing at least some of them within the next few weeks.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

One migrant that was very visible during my latest visit, though, was the Palm Warbler, always an enjoyable bird to watch as it returns north each year.

This was my first visit back to the swamp since all of the ice and snow melted in March and early April, and now, of course, spring is starting to show itself, especially in the form of tree buds.

Rue Anemone

Rue Anemone

A few Rue Anemones were in flower, some with their green leaves still unfurling despite the flowers being wide open.  A good clue to their identity is the three-lobed tip of each leaf.

During the walk, I saw my first Spring Azure butterfly of the year (but not close enough or static enough to get a shot of).  I did, however, manage to get a shot of a tiny, fast-flying micro moth that was considerate enough to pause for just a few seconds, within range of my lens.

A micro moth

A micro moth

As much for fun and a challenge as for the potential images, I also enjoy photographing the insects that Americans call water striders and the British call pond skaters. The ones I found at Vosburgh were members of the Gerris genus (of which there are about 20 species in North America).  The one in question had what appeared to be an olive- or green-coloured thorax but beyond that fact I have no idea of its precise identification. (Anyone who can put me right, please submit a comment, and the same request applies to the above photo of the micro moth, too.)

A Gerris sp. 'Water Strider' with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby

A Gerris sp. ‘Water Strider’ with a few, tiny dark grey Springtails nearby

Water striders, being insects, have three pairs of legs although from a distance it looks like just two pairs.  The front pair are kept tucked up, beside the head, almost praying mantis like, and as this pose suggests they are used to grab and hold the smaller insects that form the striders’ prey. The middle pair of legs are used to ‘row’ the strider along and the hind pair are used to steer.  The speed at which they can catapult themselves forwards and change direction has to be seen to be believed.

A 'Water Strider' (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus

A ‘Water Strider’ (USA) or Pond Skater (UK) of the Gerris genus rubbing it’s 2nd and 3rd right legs together.  Was it cleaning them?  Or maybe it was performing some type of ‘stridulation’ to send a vibrating message across the surface of the water.  Does anyone know the answer?

Also present in some of my Water Strider photographs were what appeared to be dark grey springtails (Collembola sp.), which are hexapods, not insects.

Photographically-speaking, I am also getting more used to the Canon            equipment I’ve recently added to my armoury: A 7D Mk2 camera together with the newly redesigned 100mm-400mm zoom lens and a 180mm macro lens, all of which are performing brilliantly.

Tree Reflection








To end my afternoon at Vosburgh, I couldn’t resist a shot of a rather pleasing reflection of trees.


Renewing acquaintance with the excellent Five Rivers NYS DEC wildlife preserve

Back in 2012, while living in Albany, I was able to visit the Five Rivers EEC/preserve several times and came to like it greatly, so now that we are back in the Capital District I’ll be renewing my acquaintance with this delightful location.

One of Five Rivers’ greatest advantages is its broad mix of environments – from grasslands and scrub, to pine and deciduous woodlands, the seeps and streams, and – last but by no means least – a variety of ponds.

My first photo, here, is simply a snapshot that I took with my cell phone to use on Twitter, and it’s a view of one of a cluster of the smaller ponds – a great place for Belted Kingfishers and Green Heron.

Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve - April 2015

Pond at Fiver Rivers NYS DEC Preserve – April 2015

At the above pond, a large Snapping Turtle was basking on the sloping bank until a couple of people nearby spooked it and it launched itself back into the water with a tremendous splash.  Plenty of Eastern Painted Turtles were out basking, as well, but a gaudy interloper in the next photo looks to me like an entirely different species (unless it is just in mating colours).  It’s front legs had yellow stripes on a blackish background. It eventually gave up trying to get onto the ‘sun deck’ and slipped back into the water, so I never got a look at its upper side.  Can anyone help me identify it for certain, please?  My books aren’t helping!

Eastern painted Turtles basking, but what's the one that's pushing in?

Moving on from amphibians to reptiles, the only snake I saw was a tiny, 7-inch-long juvenile Garter Snake, and he was too far under a thorny bush for me to want to go crawling after his portrait!

A dead oak literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers - April 2015

A dead oak leaf,  literally hanging on, from last year. Five Rivers – April 2015

For those with botanical interests, all was visibly starting to stir.  There were still a few dead leaves left on some branches but there were also plenty buds in various stages of development and – for me – the first flowers of spring: the delightful Coltsfoot.  (Yes, I know that sadly this is one of many introduced species, here in North America but for giving us the first bright glow of spring, I still can’t resist it.)

So who can resist or ignore the sights and sounds of spring?

Bud Light!

Bud Light!


Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers - April 2015

Honey Bee on Coltsfoot at Five Rivers – April 2015

On slower sections of the streams and in among dead cattails on the ponds, Water Striders were busy whizzing around, looking for other insects trapped in the surface layer.  These fascinating creatures of the genus Gerris use their short front legs to grab prey, their middle pair of legs to ‘row’ at great speed, and their back legs to steer.  If you want a lesson in patience and frustration, try getting a sharp, close-up photo of them!

A 'Gerris' species of Water Strider - insects that we Brits refer to as 'Pond Skaters'

A ‘Gerris’ species of Water Strider – insects that we Brits refer to as ‘Pond Skaters’. Five Rivers.



The last photo I’m posting here is of another creature that often will not stop still long enough to have its photograph taken, but this time it’s the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) a tiny (4¼-inch) bird which, along with its North American cousin the Golden-crowned Kinglet, is closely related to the very similar Firecrests and Goldcrests in Europe, in the same genus.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers - April 2015

Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Five Rivers – April 2015


Here the ‘ruby crown’ is deliberately hidden away by drabber feathers on the top of its head, but when it has cause to display, just watch the dramatic change!

As for Five Rivers, I’ll be back… as often as I can!

Eddie Wren