CD Burnett Nature Photography: Blog en-us (C) CD Burnett Nature Photography (CD Burnett Nature Photography) Thu, 23 Jun 2022 16:36:00 GMT Thu, 23 Jun 2022 16:36:00 GMT CD Burnett Nature Photography: Blog 86 120 Sensuous Twigs Experienced naturalists can usually identify trees by glancing at them from a distance. In some cases, this ability is based on specific characteristics, such as branching pattern or bark texture. For example, the floppy leader of eastern hemlock reliably separates it from other conifers. In many cases however, trees (and other plants) can be identified by a general impression rather than anything specific. With experience, one develops gestalt images of familiar species. Gestalt theory is based on the idea that human brains attempt to simplify and organize complex images by subconsciously arranging the parts into an organized whole, rather than just a series of disparate elements.

OK, but what if you lack enough experience for your brain to have organized woody plant morphology for you? During the growing season, leaves are often the easiest distinguishing features to use, but here in the UP the hardwood forests are leafless for more than half the year. Although bark can work for tree id, the textures and colors involved can be tricky, as these characteristics are quite variable and overlap among species.

Enter Sensuous Twigs. Well, you have to go out and find them, but twigs are worth going to for a couple of reasons if you're curious about trees' lives. The first is that twigs are where several distinctive structures, such as buds and leaf scars, occur (see twig diagram p. 16). These structures make twigs much more definitive than bark for tree id, and they tell you about the trees health by revealing twig growth rates. Twig parts are very small, however; so they only tell you who they are and how they are doing if you look them in the face real closely. The second reason to get close to twigs is simply to see their sensuous beauty. Here are a few examples to wonder about.


1 - Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) Dormant Twig. This twig shows one year of growth. The buds are opposite each other and have many overlapping scales (imbricate). The rings around the twig at the bottom are last year’s terminal bud scale scars.
Sugar Maple dormant twig.Sugar Maple Dormant TwigThis sugar maple (Acer saccharum) twig shows one year of growth. The buds are opposite each other and have many overlapping scales (imbricate). The rings around the twig at the bottom are last year's terminal bud scale scars.


2 - Striped Maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) dormant twig. Striped maple buds have only two ‘valvate’ bud scales which meet like clam shells. Striped maples are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning that they can change their sex as they age.

Striped Maple Dormant BudsStriped Maple TwigStriped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) buds have only two 'valvate' bud scales which meet like clam shells. Striped maples are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning that they can change their sex as they age.


3 - Willow (Salix sp. - unknown species) Twig. Willow buds have single bud scales (actually two fused scales) that must split to open as shown here.
Willow TwigWillow TwigWillow (Salix spp.) buds have single bud scales (actually two fused scales) that must split to open as shown here.


4 - Pin Cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica) Twig. Pin cherries, like other trees with heavy fruits, bear their fruit on short, strong spur shoots.
Pin Cherry Flower BudsPin Cherry Flower BudsPin cherries (Prunus pennsylvanica), like other trees with heavy fruits, bear their fruit on short, strong spur shoots.


5 - Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) Catkins. Paper birch produces separate male & female flower buds (catkins) on the same tree.

Paper Birch Dormant CatkinsPaper Birch CatkinsPaper birch (Betula papyrifera) produces separate male & female flower buds (catkins) on the same tree.


6 - Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) Twig. Black cherry has alternating (not opposite) lateral buds and true terminal buds. Like other cherries, the twigs have a ‘stinking almond’ smell when broken.

Black Cherry TwigBlack Cherry TwigBlack cherry (Prunus serotina) has alternating lateral buds and true terminal buds. Like other cherries, the twigs have a 'stinking almond' smell when broken.


7 - Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) Flower Buds.  The Elder Wand, made from the branch of an elder tree, plays a pivotal role in the final book of the Harry Potter series.
Red Elderberry Flower BudsRed Elderberry Flower BudsRed elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) has a long history of medicinnal uses. The Elder Wand plays a pivotal role in the final book of the Harry Potter series.


8 - Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) Leaf Buds. Lilac is in the olive family (Oleaceae), native to the Balkan Peninsula, where it grows on rocky hills. Note how the bud scales are elongating.

Lilac Leaf Buds OpeningCommon Lilac Leaf BudsLilac (Syringa vulgaris) is in the olive family (Oleaceae), native to the Balkan Peninsula, where it grows on rocky hills. Note how the bud scales are elongating.


9 - Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) Leaves Emerging. All our ash species are threatened with near-extinction by the exotic Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).

Black Ash Leaves EmergingBlack Ash Leaves EmergingBlack Ash (Fraxinus nigra), like all our ash species are being threatened with near-extinction by the exotic Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).


10 - Red Maple (Acer rubrum) Flower Buds.  Red Maples can produce all male flowers, all female flowers, or some of both.
Red Maple Flower BudsRed Maple Flower BudsRed maple trees (Acer rubrum) can produce all male flowers, all female flowers, or some of both.


11 - Bigtooth Aspen (Populus grandidenta) female catkins. Note the pointed leaf buds still tightly closed. Flowering before leaf-out helps aspens spread their pollen, which comes from male catkins on separate trees.

Bigtooth Aspen Flower Buds OpeningBigtooth Aspen Female CatkinsBigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) flowers before leafout helping their pollen spread better in the wind. Male and female catkins occur on separate trees. Note the pointed leaf buds still tightly closed.


12 - Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) Flower Buds Expanding. Lilacs are very hardy and excellent food plants for butterflies.
Common Lilac  Flower BudsCommon Lilac Flower BudsLilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are very hardy and are excellent food plants for butterflies.


]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) bigtooth aspen black ash black cherry buds dormant lilac paper birch pin cherry red elderberry red maple striped maple sugar maple twigs Upper Peninsula willow Tue, 22 Mar 2022 22:19:43 GMT
Reading Tracks in the Snow In the previous post, 'Big Creek Ice Sculptures,' I praised the creek for its artifice with snow and ice.  Beyond their beauty, the creek's frozen formations tell stories about the season's weather and the creek's responses.  For those of us who want to know more about our other-than-human neighbors, it doesn't get much better than exploring along creeks in winter when the ground is snow-covered and animal tracks are easier to find and identify.  As riparian zones bordering creeks are rich habitats that tend to be protected from winter winds and human disturbance, they are heavily used by wildlife.  So grab your mittens again, and let's head to the creek.

1 - River Otter Slide No. 1 - There's no mistaking this river otter slide in deep snow. It's not unusual to see otter sign along Big Creek, but seeing otters  themselves is very rare - about 1% of walks along the creek.  This otter was sliding toward the bottom of the photo, and you can see where it had to thrust with its legs to keep sliding where the land leveled out.

2 - River Otter Tracks in Snow No. 1 - River otters, like all members of the weasel family (Mustelids), have five toes on both fore and hind feet, but only four toes show in some tracks.  In contrast, most other native mammals of similar size have only four toes.  If toes can't be counted, Mustelid tracks can generally be identified by their wedge shape (wider in front) and their 2-by-2 bounding gait (see Photo 3).  

3 - Fisher Tracks in Snow No. 1 - The 2-by-2 bounding gait and the size of these tracks suggest river otter, but the habitat (upland hardwoods) and the animal's behavior (going tree to tree) indicate it was a fisher, or possibly a marten.  Grey squirrels, which build dreys (twig and leaf nests) in this northern red oak stand, were the likely prey being sought.  

4 - Fisher Tracks in Snow No. 2 - Here are two of the fisher tracks from the trail shown in the previous photo. Actually, these are four tracks as the hind feet register over the front feet in the 2-by-2 bounding gait. The wedge-shaped prints are elongated where the feet dragged forward out of the deep snow.

5 - Mink Tracks in Snow No. 1 - More 2-by-2 tracks, a trail into the creek, and tail drags - another otter?  Good guess, but if you were there, you could tell the tracks are too small for an otter.  Must be a mink, or two (although mink are usually solitary). The identification is confirmed by the spread out toes, a common feature of mink tracks, especially on the front foot. 

6 - White-tailed Deer Tracks in Snow No. 1- White-tailed deer often drag the tips of their hooves when they walk, and this habit can help determine their direction of movement when tracks are obscured, as in this deep snow.  Can you tell which way this animal was moving?

7 - Snowshoe Hare Tracks in Snow No. 1 (Below Left) - Hares (Lagomorphs with precocial young) and rabbits (Lagomorphs with altricial young) are built for speed on the ground, and the track patterns of both show the distinctive triangular pattern of the hopping gait. This gait is known more precisely as the 'diagonal front feet hop' in contrast to the 'paired front feet hop' of tree-climbing species (see Photo 8). The snowshoe hare who made this track was hopping toward the top of photo on thin fresh snow over a supporting crust.  Why then are the large hind feet in front?  If that's confusing to you, ask a child to hop around like a bunny and examine their tracks. 

8 - Red Squirrel Tracks in Snow No. 1 (Below Right) - Tree squirrels and other arboreal mammals are, not surprisingly, built for holding on tightly in the way their feet are made and in how their limbs work in opposing pairs.  As these red squirrel tracks demonstrate, their body form results in a paired front feet hopping gait when they are on the ground.  Like the snowshoe hare, the squirrel's hind legs swing past the front legs when hopping, resulting in a track pattern with the hind feet in front. Try visualizing your track pattern as if you were playing leap frog.  I wonder if frogs do it the same way? 

9 - Deer Mouse Tacks in Snow No. 1 (Below Left) - This one's kind of chaotic, but it's another good example of a tree-climbing species with a paired front feet hopping gait. Deer mouse tracks look like tiny red squirrel tracks, but the tail slaps and tiny size give it away. The UP has three species of weasels that turn white in winter, and I think one of these made the larger tracks scattered about the scene while hunting deer mice. 

10 - Meadow Vole Tracks in Snow No. 1 (Below Right) - Unlike deer mice, which do indeed spend much of their time climbing shrubs and trees, meadow voles pretty much stay on (or under) the ground and get around with the walking gaits of crawling (3 feet always on the ground) or ambling (2 feet always on the ground). Such walking gaits result in two parallel rows of alternating prints, which make zipper-like patterns in snow of certain depths.

11 - Mouse Maze - I can't find 'plowing' listed as a mammalian gait, but here it is.  What was this deer mouse doing - foraging for tiny seeds, making a mouse version of a snow angel, scratching a belly itch, signaling aliens?  Perhaps it was just taking a break from the claustrophobia of the subnivean zone it lives in between the ground and the snow during much of the winter.

12 - Tracks in Snow Quiz No. 1 - Finally, take a crack at his one. How many species can you identify?  Which way were they going?  What were the snow conditions like?  Imagine if you could also smell the differences among tracks!

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) animal tracks deer mouse fisher meadow vole michigan mink red squirrel river otter snow snowshoe hare upper peninsula white-tailed deer winter Thu, 10 Mar 2022 14:31:16 GMT
Big Creek Ice Sculptures 1 - Today (February 1st-2nd) we're at the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox. Variously known as Imbolc (ewe's milk) Candlemas, St. Brigid's Feast, Ground Hog's Day, and many others, the day celebrates the gestating new life of the coming year. In our Upper Peninsula climate, the only visible signs of the event are the lengthening days and the arrival of seed catalogs. Personally, I'm still loving winter for the time it allows for reading and woodworking, skiing and snowshoeing. To celebrate, let me invite you to go "shoeing" along Big Creek to see what's going on with the ice sculptures.

Ice Sculpture by Old Man WinterBig Creek Ice Sculpture No. 2Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

2 - Having grown up as a country boy exploring creeks in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, I always wanted to live by a creek (which we called brooks in the New England). 

Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 3Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 3Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

3 - Fortunately, I reached my living-by-a-creek goal 30-some years ago when I moved to an old farm near Marquette through which Big Creek flows northward to Lake Superior via the Chocolay River. 


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 4Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 4Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

4 - Like many of the spring-fed "rivers of sand" that occur in the Upper Peninsula, Big Creek flows cold, clear, and strong throughout the year.

Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 6Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 6Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

5 - Big Creek will sometimes overflow its banks and become turbid during spring runoff or after multiple summer storms, but it's never gotten low during my tenure here.


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 5Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 5Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

6 - Ironically, the "dead of winter" is when the creek come most alive to me.

Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 7Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 7Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

7 - Riparian zones are always corridors for wildlife movements, but winter is especially interesting as everybody writes their name in the snow as they pass, and some leave other signs as well (more on this in a future blog post). 



8 - Aside from the visibility of wildlife activity, I'm most drawn to the creek valley by the dynamic and ephemeral snow and ice formations sculpted by the creek and the storms.


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 9Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 9Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

9 - To be most creative, the creek needs very cold weather as the relatively warm creek water tends to melt snow and ice that it touches.


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 10Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 10Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

10 - The creek's sculptures are dynamic shape-shifters, constantly growing and withdrawing with the shifting balance between freezing at the air-water interface. 


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 12Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 12Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

11 - Winter is also an excellent time to explore creeks as there are no pesky bugs about, and frozen ground makes it easier to traverse areas of mucky soil, although reading the ground is still needed to avoid sinking into the muck of perennial seeps. 


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 11Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 11Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

12 - As a boy, going to a brook was mostly about fishing, or catching salamanders, or pole-vaulting across without getting wet.


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 13Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 13Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

13 - As an adult, going to the creek is for me still about fish and fishing, sometimes. More often, it is about the creek itself, especially it's songlike voice.

Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 14Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 14Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

14 - As with many human songs, the creek's individual words are hard to understand, but the song as a whole conveys its meaning, however inexplicably, if you quiet the noises in your head and listen openly.


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 1 VideoBig Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

15 - Let's enjoy February for what it is!  As my old friend Elmer Hill said, "February is one of the best months because it is too late to put up the storm windows and too early to put up the screens".


Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 15Big Creek Ice Sculpture No. 15Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula



]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) Big Creek creek ice ice sculpture Imbolc Marquette County Michigan snow Upper Peninsula winter Tue, 01 Feb 2022 21:44:49 GMT
Fall Favorites 2021 Reminder: You can hover over the photos to see their titles and captions, or click on them to go to their galleries.

For my final blog of 2021, I am posting 15 favorite photos taken this fall.  Given our location in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, it's not surprising that the majority are "fall color" shots. In these parts, red maple produces the first fall color many people notice, usually in wetlands. In upland areas, staghorn sumac turns early and is hard to miss with its incredibly saturated warm and hot colors. Making fall sumac leaves "pop" is seldom a problem for photographers. In fact, reducing saturation is sometimes needed for a realistic look. 

Staghorn Sumac with Bluebird HouseStaghorn Sumac with Bluebird HouseTransplanted here about 20 years ago, these staghorn sumacs appear to be stunted, perhaps by the black cherry they are under.

Sumac SymmetrySumac SymmetryDid you know that sumac is in the Anacardiaceae, the cashew family?

Fallen leaves make excellent subjects for close-ups. They are easy to get to, they are not blowing around (much), and they get decorated with frost and dew.

Leaf Lenses: Red Maple No. 1Leaf Lenses: Red Maple No. 1Dew drops creating magnifying lenses on red maple leaves Leaf Lenses: Sugar Maple No. 1Leaf Lenses: Sugar Maple No. 1Dew drops creating magnifying lenses on sugar maple leaves Leaf Lenses: Sugar Maple No. 2Leaf Lenses: Sugar Maple No. 2Close-up of sugar maple leaf veins with magnifying dew drops

One of my favorite plants to photograph is borage, especially when it's dewy. It's very beneficial for bees, but I plant it just to look at and photograph.

Dewy Borage Flower No. 1Dewy Borage Flower No. 1The many hairs on borage plsants attract dew drops

When I moved to the UP 30+ years ago, peak color at Big Creek Homestead was in mid-September. Now it's more like mid-October! I like having more time to get ready for winter, but such rapid climate change can't happen without problems.

Golden PathGolden PathMulti-purpose access path in sugar maple dominated northern hardwoods

Chocolay Pastoral #2Chocolay Pastoral #2Cattle grazing on ice-contact formation with fall color woodland

As I watch the ground for interesting leaves, I can't help but notice moss everywhere - on rocks, on trees, on soil, and looking up, on asphalt rooves. Big patches of one species, little mounds with two species, tree trunks with lots of species, complex communities of mosses intermingled with several lichen species. 

Moss Community No. 1Moss Community No. 1Two species of moss closely intermingled

Moss on a Stump No. 1Moss on a Stump No. 1Carpet-forming moss initiating a wood recycling project

After leaf-fall, one is more likely to notice the conifers and the roles they play in the forest. Their dominance in the riparian zones along lakes and streams becomes more obvious, as does their ability to catch snow and reduce snow depths.

Upsweeping PineUpsweeping PineEastern white pine showing off its upsweeping nature

The lunar eclipse on 19 November 2021 was the longest partial lunar eclipse since February 18, 1440, and the longest until February 8, 2669. Night photography is not a strong interest of mine, but I did wake up at 5 AM and got a decent shot of the eclipse between the clouds. 

Lunar Eclipse No. 1Lunar Eclipse No. 1A partial lunar eclipse occurred on 19 November 2021. This was the longest partial lunar eclipse since February 18, 1440, and the longest until February 8, 2669


And now the snow has come, the ski trails have been groomed, and the landscape appears to be simplified. The last apple has fallen, but we are busy studying the characteristics of cold-hardy apple and pear varieties in preparation for filling some of the gaps in our ancient orchard come spring.

Last FruitLast FruitBig Creek Homestead orchard with the last Wolf River apple


]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) autumn close-ups dew fall color landscapes lunar eclipse moss orchard red maple staghorn sumac Upper Peninsula Mon, 27 Dec 2021 23:30:15 GMT
Late Summer at Big Creek Homestead Because late summer for me was dominated by construction of a multi-purpose outbuilding (see previous blog), my photography during this season was mostly limited to nearby phenomena around the homestead caught my eye. Principal among these were the many bumblebees collecting pollen in the gardens and meadow. The bumblebees I photographed appear to be of two common species, the Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) and the Tri-colored Bumbebee (Bombus ternarius). Unfortunately, populations of many bees around the world are declining, and the effects are reflected in the economy. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. has a $15 billion industry that relies on bee pollination.  Fruits and vegetables such as pumpkin, apples, blueberries and oranges all require pollination from bees to help them grow. The fate of the American bumblebee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) hangs in the balance, having declined by nearly 90% across the U.S. and disappeared entirely from eight states. These bees are suffering from pesticide use, habitat loss and the effects of climate change. Evidence is being reviewed as to whether the American bumblebee should be officially listed as endangered. In the meantime, conserving native plant habitats and limiting pesticide use can help all bees. For a handy guide to bumblebee identification, see this.

A side benefit of photographing bees gathering pollen close up is discovering the interesting and weird structures on the plants they are visiting. Luckily, getting up close and personal with pollinating bees is quite safe as they are busy with their task and don't seem to mind the attention. One of the strangest native plants in our dry meadows and roadsides is Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), a.k.a. Horsemint with its whitish, purple-tinged, leaf-like bracts and dragon-mouth flowers. Like it's close relative, the more widely known Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Spotted Beebalm is an important food plant for bees. Both species also contain a wide variety of aromatic compounds with culinary and medicinal uses. Because it is often called bergamot, I used to think that Monarda fistuloa is what's used to flavor Earl Grey tea, which is flavored with bergamot essential oil. However, when my kids recently brought Earl Grey ice cream for the holidays (it's really good!), I learned that the bergamot oil used for the tea properly comes from the rind of bergamot oranges, not Bee Balm.

The next photo shows the developing grains of Proso Millet, also called common, or broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) commonly used in birdseed mixtures (from which this plant grew beneath our bird feeder). It is also used as a livestock feed and eaten as a cereal food in Asia, eastern Europe, and our kitchen.

The one photography project I intentionally pursued a bit this season was "forest interiors". When it's sunny, the extremely high contrast lighting that  occurs in forest interiors makes getting a good exposure a real challenge. When it's overcast, the uniform lighting often results in photos that lack vitality (oumph or pizzaz).  For the two forest interior photos shown here, I think I caught the lighting conditions just about right, somewhere between too contrasty and too uniform.

Bumblebee with Cannabis PollenBumblebee with Cannabis PollenThe cannabis plant is mostly wind pollinated and therefore has not evolved to attract bees. It does not produce a smell that would attract bees, nor is it colorful and finally, and most importantly, it is unable to provide a reward in the form of floral nectar. However, our male Cannabis plants are highly attractive to bumblebees who collect the pollen for food.

Bumblebee Pollen SacsBumblebee Pollen SacsThe cannabis plant is mostly wind pollinated and therefore has not evolved to attract bees. It does not produce a smell that would attract bees, nor is it colorful and finally, and most importantly, it is unable to provide a reward in the form of floral nectar. However, our male Cannabis plants are highly attractive to bumblebees who collect the pollen for food.

Bumblebee Collecting Borage NectarBumblebee Collecting Borage Nectar

Tri-colored BumblebeeTri-colored Bumblebeeon Spotted Bee Balm

Bumblebees on Spotted BeebalmBumblebees on Spotted BeebalmTwo species of bumblebees. The one with orange is probably the tri-colored bumblee (Bombus ternarius).


Bumblebee on GoldenrodBumblebee on Goldenrod

Spotted Beebalm SymmetrySpotted Beebalm Symmetry Spotted Beebalm Flower BudsSpotted Beebalm Flower BudsSpotted beebalm has many flower buds that open over 2-3 months in late summer & early fall.

Birdseed Millet RipeningBirdseed Millet RipeningProso millet—also called common, or broomcorn, millet (Panicum miliaceum)—ripens within 60–80 days after sowing and is commonly used in birdseed mixtures. It is also eaten as a cereal food in Asia and eastern Europe and is used as a livestock feed elsewhere.

May the Forest Cool You No. 2May the Forest Cool You No. 2Northern red oak dominates this forest stand

Woodland Path Inward No. 4Woodland Path Inward No. 4Sugar maple dominates this northern hardwoods forest.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) borage bumblebees Cannabis forest interiors goldenrod spotted bee balm Upper Peninsula Sat, 25 Dec 2021 22:36:29 GMT
Infrastructure: Big Creek Homestead Garden Shed INFRASTRUCTURE: Big Creek Homestead Garden Shed

My late summer and early fall was consumed building our new garden shed/outhouse/greenhouse/solar shower. The shed's multiple functions will make working around the homestead easier, and it's construction gave us the chance to salvage some blown-down timber and put some piles of leftover lumber to good use. I've built a few timber frames before with traditional joinery, but this one uses a new system of aluminum connectors and associated tools that simplify the use of large timbers and reduce the hand labor. See the CONNEXT system at The basic structure is complete, but all the details are on hold until spring. We'll then have time to use the building for a while before deciding exactly how to use the space and finish it. This flexibility is one of the great benefits of timber frames and other post and beam buildings. Because the structural integrity of such buildings depends only on their largely open frames, walls and rooms can be added or changed very freely. The single rectangle of our shed will have an out house on the east end, for easy acces, and a solar shower of the west end, for the late-day sun. The south side will be largely open and have a greenhouse extension of some sort connecting to the garden. The north wall will be closed against the weather but will have windows and maybe a door. 

In the bigger picture, the garden shed joins the six other buildings of Big Creek Homestead's infrastructure (house, garage/workshop/sauna, summer kitchen/sugar shack, sawmill, machine shed, and horse barn). All were built or rebuilt largely with lumber milled here from trees grown here. When you rely on the land for significant aamounts of food and fuel and fiber and fun, a carefully thought out infrastructure is one of the main keys to success. Having removed the remains of several buildings built by the former owners, I sometimes wonder what they would think of what we have done here. It's too bad there is so much starting over. How much more I could have done, if I hadn't spent all that time re-building the infrastructure of the homestead. I am pretty sure this "garden shed" will be around for the next generation.  Maybe converted to an artist's studio? 

Cedar SalvageCedar SalvageNorthern white cedar taken down by heavy snow was salvaged for the garden shed.

Wood for Cordwood WallsWood for Cordwood WallsNorthern white cedar rounds drying in 8" lengths for the cordwood walls. Northen White Cedar LumberNorthen White Cedar LumberThe larger cedar logs were sawn into boards for the interior walls of the outhouse. Northern Red Oak TimbersNorthern Red Oak TimbersOak timbers left over from timber frames built decades ago were used for the posts. Resawing Oak TimbersResawing Oak TimbersThe dry oak timbers were sized and trued using a specially hardened blade on our 1987 Wood-Mizer.

Cutting Timbers to LengthCutting Timbers to LengthThe timbers were cut to length with a cordless chainsaw mounted on a jig from Connext Post and Beam.

Fitting the ConnectorsFitting the ConnectorsConnectors of structural aluminum from Connext Post and Beam were fitted into the bottoms of the oak posts.

Posts Ready to RaisePosts Ready to RaiseThe posts were pre-fitted with the connectors and shouldered for the top girts. Connext Post and Beam ConnectorsConnext Post and Beam ConnectorsConnectors of 6061 structural aluminum from Connext Post and Beam were used to attach the posts to the piers.

Attaching the ConnectorsAttaching the ConnectorsDrilling the concrete piers for attaching the connectors was the hardest task. Pinning the PostsPinning the PostsOak posts were secured to the connectors with aluminum pins. Raising DayRaising DayTop girts are 2x8 aspen left over from previous projects. Vision Realized!Vision Realized!At the end of Raising Day, the posts, girts and trusses came togehter to realize our vision. Knee BracesKnee BracesWith the basic frame constructed, oak 4x4's left over from previous projects were cut into knee braces for stabilizing the building. Roofing the Garden ShedRoofing the Garden ShedThe roofing is composed of conventional metal panels with some transparent polycarbonate sections on the South side. Temporary WallsTemporary WallsWith winter approaching too fast, we enclosed the shed with 1/4" OSB until spring. Imagine a greenhouse extension to the South (right).

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) cordwood construction garden shed northern red oak post and beam timber frame Upper Peninsula Mon, 25 Oct 2021 17:08:24 GMT
Mid-Summer Life at Big Creek Homestead As always, there's lots going on in the woods and meadows of Big Creek Homestead. Here are a few photos of the flora & fauna that have caught my attention and some homestead activities of note.  After photographing pinesap for my early July blog post, I kept an eye out for a more widely known chlorophyll-less plant commonly known as ghost pipes or Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora). These plants are able to grow in the darkest parts of the woods as they do not need to photosynthesize. Rather, they can't photosynthesize as they are myco-heterotrophic, meaning they obtain their energy compounds from fungi (Lactarius and Russula species), which in turn get their energy from tree roots. 

Ghost Pipes with Leaf LitterGhost Pipes with Leaf LitterMonotropa uniflora is reported to be edible & medicinal, but it contains several glycosides and is possibly toxic.
Speaking of fungi, I’ve discovered a healthy population of dead man’s fingers (sounds like an oxymoron) digesting a pile of rotting slab wood near the homestead’s sawmill.  There are many of species of dead man’s fingers (Xylaria spp.), and specialized knowledge and equipment (that I do not possess) are needed to be sure of specific identification.

Ghost FingersGhost FingersXylaria cornu-damae; same genus as Dead Man's Fingers, Xylaria polymorpha
Speaking of rotting wood, many interesting creatures can be found by rooting around in and under decomposing wood debris. Salamanders are my favorites, but they are seldom found here due to our dry, sandy soils. Luckily, I recently found a cooperative red eft (Notophthalmus viridescens) while collecting firewood. Red efts are known to travel great distances (for salamanders) to reach aquatic habitats that are required for the adult phase of their lives as Eastern red-spotted newts. This one was about a third of a mile from the nearest open water.

Red Eft in Leaf LitterRed Eft in Leaf LitterJuvenile (subadult) stage of red-spotted newt.
Collecting firewood is an ongoing part of life at Big Creek Homestead whenever conditions and time allow. Efficient combustion requires low-moisture wood, so cutting wood a year or two before it’s burned is needed to allow time for drying. Efficient wood processing is also critical if heating with wood is to be more than a recreational activity. Without a good system, the number of times a piece of wood gets handled can get ridiculous. My latest innovation in this regard is to roll logs from the trailer directly onto a sawbuck. This saves using the tractor to unload the logs and puts them at a good height for bucking. The wood then gets stacked right next to where it’s bucked, ready for splitting. Also note the light-weight, battery-powered chainsaw, a great energy saver for the sawyer and the planet (especially if charged with solar power, as mine is).

Trailer to SawbuckTrailer to SawbuckUnloading firewwod logs by hand directly to a sawbuck saves tractor fuel & energy for the sawyer.
Whereas most woodland flowers bloom early in the growing season when they can get enough light before the canopy closes, openland flowers generally bloom in the longer daylight hours of  summer. As herbal medicines have become more popular, many people have learned that St. John'swort (Hypericum perforatum) has legitimate medicinal uses, but I suspect few know that it is a common weed in many areas, including the Upper Peninsula. If you’re tempted to experiment with it, please know that it contains many biologically active compounds, including some dangerous ones, so do the necessary research. 

Perforate St. John's WortPerforate St. John's WortSt. John's wort has a long history of herbal use. It fell out of favour in the nineteenth century but recent research has brought it back to prominence. The plant contains many biologically active compounds, so caution is recommended.

Another plant with healing properties that’s getting  more attention from the medical community is groundcherry (Physalis spp.).  Physalis is a member of the nightshade or tomato family (Solanaceae) which contains many toxic, as well as edible and medicinal, compounds. At Big Creek Homestead, clammy groundcherry (Physalis heterophylla) is a common weed of disturbed soil (e.g., compost piles, flower beds).  Its ripe fruits, which are like tiny tomatoes inside a Japanese lantern, have a weirdly ambivalent flavor, alternating between tomato and strawberry. Under Clammy GroundcherryUnder Clammy GroundcherryLooking up from under Physalis heterophylla Clammy Groundcherry FruitClammy Groundcherry FruitA native perennial, clammy ground-cherry fruits are edible when ripe, but the rest of the plant is toxic. Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), meadows and fields.

Part of our land management program at Big Creek is the introduction of prairie plants native to the Upper Peninsula as an adaptive strategy for the warming climate. Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) is one of the showy species that is starting to “take-off” here. The flowering “cone” is covered in hundreds of tiny brown disk flowers that bloom from the bottom of the cone upward. 

Yellow ConeflowerYellow Coneflowerprairie coneflower, pinnate prairie coneflower, Ratibida pinnata, grey-headed coneflower
Although we dabble in prairie plants and domestic ornamentals, most of our plant propagation efforts go into the vegetables, mushrooms, and apples. Over the years, we’ve learned to concentrate on species and varieties that do well in our sandy soil, such as carrots. I our experience, the key to success with carrots is using pelleted seeds, so spacing can be readily controlled, and keeping the soil moist until the seedling are well established.

  Carrot CultureCarrot CultureThe key to success with carrots is using pelleted seeds.

Mid-Summer HarvestMid-Summer HarvestCarrots, peas, onions, mustrad greens
If you like flowers that take care of themselves, day lilies are a good bet. They tend to spread a bit, which can be good or bad, but they are easy enough to control if they go to far. Different varieties can be used to extend the flowering period. This shot goes in my erotic flowers collection.

Day Lily StamensDay Lily StamensThe orange or tawny daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), common along roadsides in much of North America, is native to Asia. Along with the lemon lily (Hemerocallis flava), it is the foundational species for most modern cultivars.
The main animal ingredients of our mid-summer this year have been horses and butterflies.  In our ongoing quest for a second suitable trail riding horse, we sold our moody, cart-trained, Haflinger mare, Meadow, and bought Roy, an older gentleman gelding with a great resume. He’s 7/8 Polish Arabian with very tall withers, so fitting a saddle to him & me is now the challenge. Roy had been poorly cared for over the last year, but he’s gaining weight and has had his hooves trimmed by our new farrier, a 19-year-old who’s been a farrier since she was eleven!

Roy the ArabianRoy the Arabian21-year old gelding; 7/8 Polish Arabian, 1/8 quarterhorse

Trimming Roy's HoovesTrimming Roy's HoovesNineteen year old farrier has been trimming hooves since she was eleven.
Finally, a close-up shot of a great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele), which seems to be the most common butterfly here this season, followed by monarchs.


]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) Arabian horse carrots clammy groundcherry day lily dead farrier fingers" firewood ghost pipes man's red eft St. Johnswort Upper Peninsula yellow coneflower Wed, 11 Aug 2021 13:26:30 GMT
Sunday Morning Road Photography Many wildlife species are less wary of vehicles than they are of people on foot.  In my experience, this is even true of tractors, ATV’s, and bicycles where the human shape is not as hidden as it is in cars or trucks. I have been photographing from my car for years, but not with the main purpose of the drive being to photograph anything.  Having recently read a wildlife photographer’s blog post about using foam pipe insulation for a camera rest on car windows, I now keep a piece of such foam in the pocket of my car door.  This method works better than hand-holding or resting the camera on a bare window, but I’m not as steady as I’d like to be, so I’m experimenting with a window bracket to which tripod heads can be mounted.  After reviewing a bunch of options, I decided on a simple inexpensive model and tried both a ball head and a fluid video head.  Although both provide much steadier support than hand-holding, the window of my car is barely tall enough for the bracket, tripod head, and camera with telephoto mounted, so setting up is a bit tedious.  So far, I prefer the fluid video head as it provides better control in this cramped situation, although it’s 2-axis mechanism makes it harder to level the camera compared to the 3-axis movement of a ball head.

Window Bracket PhotographyWindow Bracket PhotographyVehicles of most kinds make good blinds for observing & photographing wildlife. Window brackets can sometimes help.

After thinking more about “road photography”, I have realized that Sunday mornings are the ideal time for this as very few people are out and about on country roads disturbing wildlife or staring at that guy parked on the side of the road spying on things. Thus, I have a new tradition of driving around back roads on early Sunday mornings with my camera ready to mount on the window.  Of the 100 or so shots to took on my first Sunday morning car-shoot, here are the four most worth looking at.     Beak Full of NeedlesBeak Full of NeedlesFemale Eastern Bluebird with a beak full of Eastern White Pine needle bundles. Roadside TurkeyRoadside TurkeyI could hear the chicks of this alert Wild Turkey hen peeping in the roadside vegetation.

Golden Hour DoeGolden Hour DoeWhite-tailed deer posing in morning golden hour light. Fawn Wagging TailFawn Wagging TailTo photograph this whitetail fawn in early morning golden light, I used my car as a blind on the side of a country road.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) Wed, 07 Jul 2021 21:20:47 GMT
Serendipitous Summer Stew Whereas most of my previous blog posts have been on focused topics, early summer is so rich with life happening that the best way I can think of to update my photographic adventures is to throw a little bit of everything into a kind of serendipitous early summer stew.  If this stew needed a name, it would be squirrel stew as a litter of unusually tame red squirrels has been dominating the action around the Big Creek Homestead with their explorations and acrobatics.  The fearlessness of the squirrels seems to have spread to the cottontails.  Maybe that explains why there seems to be only one young bunny left.  There are more deer here now than any time in the 30-plus years we’ve been here, although fawns and bucks are seldom seen.  This year, there have been fewer fox sparrows and rose-breasted grosbeaks than usual, but lots of purple finches and more goldfinches than ever. While I haven’t devised a good way to photograph these species yet, I have found a good place nearby to photograph swallows.

In the invertebrate realm, our milkweed patches continue spreading, and monarch larvae are abundant. Yesterday, I photographed (and videoed) a stink bug sucking the last life out of a monarch larva.  Hopefully, these bugs are not abundant! However, one website reports that only 5% of monarch larvae survive to pupate.  Although our homestead isn’t a great place for finding spider webs, perhaps due to its poor sandy soil, sheet webs are not too hard to find on dewy mornings.  Sheet webs are like deadly hammocks. They consist of a dense mass of threads with a maze of crisscrossing trip threads strung above the sheet. An insect flies into a thread and is knocked off course into the net below.  Spiral orb webs provide classic compositions for photographers, but finding ones with good backgrounds and no wind is a real challenge.

For the vegetables of the stew, I threw in pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) and some skunk currant berries (Ribes glandulosum). Sounds tasty! Like its more familiar “cousin” (congener), Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora), skunk currant is an achlorophyllous mycoheterotroph, meaning it has no chlorophyll and gets its nutrients from fungi associated with its roots. Skunk currant gets its name from the disagreeable odor given off by the ripe fruits. Flowers, peduncles (fruit stalks) and fruits are all covered with glandular hairs, from which it gets its specific epithet (glandulosum). Although the dark red berries begin to smell bad as they age, they are quite tasty when ripe. However, cultivation of this shrub is not recommended, as it carries white pine blister rust, which can kill pine trees.  A complexly flavored stew indeed!

Chickaree's SaladChickaree's SaladJuvenile chickaree (red squirrel) trying out some quack grass. Please eat it all! Unwary BunnyUnwary BunnyThis young cottontail was apparently the only survivor of its litter & it seemed to be too trusting.

Tree Swallow BrakingTree Swallow BrakingMale tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) coming in for a landing.







Sheet Web No. 1Sheet Web No. 1Sheet webs are like deadly hammocks. They consist of a dense mass of threads with a maze of crisscrossing trip threads strung above the sheet. An insect flies into a thread and is knocked off course into the net below.

Pinesap No. 3Pinesap No. 3Pinesap (Monotrpa hypopithys), also called Dutchman's pipe, false beech-drops, and yellow bird's-nest, is an achlorophyllous mycoheterotroph, meaning it has no chlorophyl and gets its nutrients from fungi associated with its roots.

Skunk Currant BerriesSkunk Currant BerriesSkunk currant gets its name from the disagreeable odor given off by the ripe fruits. Flowers, peduncles and fruits are all covered with glandular hairs, from which it gets its specific epithet (glandulosum). Although the dark red berries begin to smell bad as they age, they are quite tasty when ripe. Calico Spider WebCalico Spider WebDewy orb web reflecting morning light.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) cottontail monarch butterfly one-flowered wintergreen' orb weaver spider pinesap red squirrel sheet web spider stink bug tree swallow upper peninsula white-tailed deer Thu, 01 Jul 2021 20:30:46 GMT
National Nature Photography Day 2021 For National Nature Photography Day yesterday, I took an early morning walk through the meadow and along the creek at Big Creek Homestead. Juvenile red squirrels and cottontail rabbits were about as usual. Chipping sparrows were persistently chipping from the spruce windbreak. An Eastern tent caterpillar was drenched in dew on a rhubarb leaf. In the riparian zone along the creek, European swamp thistles were attracting butterflies and spreading aggressively in the sunnier spots.  A colony of one-flowered wintergreen was in peak flowering under the northern white cedars at the edge of the floodplain. I have previously called these tiny ericaceous flowers pyrolas, which they are closely related to, but learned in checking my identification that these are actually the sole member of genus Moneses (Moneses uniflora). They are indigenous to moist coniferous forests in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere from Spain to Japan and across North America. Depending on the location, they are called by a wonderful variety of descriptive names, including single delight, wax-flower, shy maiden, star of Bethlehem, St. Olaf's candlestick, wood nymph, and frog's reading lamp.

On returning to the developed part of the homestead, I couldn’t resist photographing “Margaret’s Iris” (from my sister’s garden) and a cluster of golden oyster mushrooms we inoculated a few years ago in aspen logs.  I had almost given up on these logs fruiting again, but decided to soak them one more time before sending them back to the soil.  Happy I did!  

Clover MowerClover MowerEastern cottontail juvenile eating clover. Log HopperLog HopperJuvenile red squirrel ready to hop.

Dewy Eastern Tent CaterpillarDewy Eastern Tent CaterpillarTent caterpillars, like many other species of social caterpillars, vigorously thrash the anterior part of their bodies when they detect predators and parasitoids. Such bouts of thrashing, which may be initiated by a single caterpillar, radiate rapidly through the colony and may result in group displays involving dozens of caterpillars.

Versatile SongsterVersatile SongsterChipping sparrow song types include contact calls, used for general communication during various activities such as flight, alarm calls, threat calls, fighting calls, and courtship/copulation calls. Aggressive BeautyAggressive BeautyEuropean swamp thistle (Cirsium palustre) Frog's Reading LampFrog's Reading LampMoneses uniflora, the one-flowered wintergreen, single delight, wax-flower, shy maiden, star of Bethlehem, St. Olaf's candlestick, wood nymph, or frog's reading lamp, is a plant of the family of Ericaceae, that is indigenous to moist coniferous forests in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere from Spain to Japan and across North America. It is the sole member of genus Moneses. Golden Oysters on AspenGolden Oysters on AspenGolden oyster (Pleurotus cornucopiae). The generic name Pleurotus is Latin for ‘side ear’ and refers to the lateral attachment of the stem; cornocopiae means horns of plenty, and indeed these hunting-horn-shaped mushrooms invariably occur in gregarious hordes.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) chipping sparrow cottontail rabbit eastern tent caterpillar European swamp thistle golden oyster mushroom iris one-flowered wintergreen red squirrel Upper Peninsula Wed, 16 Jun 2021 14:23:29 GMT
Short-Grass Squirrel with a Long Name I try to do a mix of mental and physical work each day because both need doing, and I get tired of doing too much of either one. Until just recently, I was doing office/studio work in the morning so it would warm up outside before body work in the afternoon. Now I’m trying to beat the heat by working outside first.  One of our resident mammals, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, responds to seasonal climate changes much more drastically.  They hibernate for two-thirds of the year, being active above ground only from May through August and then mostly when it’s sunny and warm 

Thirteen-liners require short-grass habitats. Originally confined to the prairie, they have extended their range northward and eastward over the past two centuries as land has been cleared. They’re most noticeable, and photographable, in May when the grass is still short and I’m about the homestead with orchard pruning, firewood processing, and garden preparations.  They’re fun to watch and fairly tolerant of humans, unless they eat too many strawberries or kohlrabis, and I have to live-trap and relocate a few.  Who they need to worry about are the red-tailed hawks and badgers. They are an important prey base for small predators, such as weasels, raptors, and snakes, and help to recycle soil nutrients through their burrowing activities.

Thirteen-liners have excellent senses of vision, hearing, and smell. They use alarm calls and other sounds, as well as using special scented secretions, to communicate with other squirrels. They rub glands around their mouth on objects to leave scent marks. They also greet one another by touching noses and lips.

The long scientific name for thirteen-liners is one of my favorite Latin binomials, Spermophilus tridecemlineatus, meaning seed-lover with thirteen lines.  They do love seeds but are actually omnivorous like many other small rodents (and humans). 

Standing TallStanding TallThirteen-line ground squirrels have a habit of holding there long skinny bodies straight up as they survey the landscape by sight, sound & smell. TridecemlineatusTridecemlineatusTridecemlineatus (13 lines, in Latin), what a great species name! About half of the 13 lines show here.

Thirteen-liner CallingThirteen-liner CallingThey use alarm calls and other sounds, as well as using special scented secretions, to communicate with other squirrels. They rub glands around their mouth on objects to leave scent marks. Badger RototillingBadger RototillingImagine my surprise when I awoke one morning to discover a badger had "rototilled" my lawn digging for grubs and ground squirrels.

Thirteen-liner with AcornThirteen-liner with AcornI watched this thirteen-liner consume a whole red oak acorn as it stood tall & kept an eye on me. Red-tail LaunchingRed-tail LaunchingI saw this red-tailed hawk land in a tree at the edge of the woods - probably hunting ground squirrels. I went & got my camera & walked closer than I thought it would let me before it launched.

Thirteen-liner Sow & KitThirteen-liner Sow & KitFemale squirrels are called sows and the young are called kits.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) hibernation short-grass small mammals Spermophilus tridecemlineatus thirteen-lined ground squirrel Upper Peninsula Sat, 05 Jun 2021 18:12:41 GMT
Rejuvenation in the Orchard The apple orchard at Big Creek Homestead is one of its main attractions - for humans, and many other species. The trees in this orchard were ancient and long-neglected when we arrived here 30 years ago. Coming from a family of apple growers, I naturally took on the rejuvenation of the old orchard. Apples need to be pruned annually to maintain vigor and productivity. Easier said than done! Each year, it takes me an equivalent of at least two weeks of labor to do a decent job on the Big Creek orchard. (Email me for guidelines if how to do it really interests you). After the pruning is done, the brush is burned to reduce pests and diseases, and the bigger cuttings are saved for smoking and grilling foods. The season for pruning apples overlaps with maple sugaring season and mushroom inoculation season. So depending on the weather and other commitments, these activities complement or compete with each other. Anyway it turns out, early spring is a great time of year to be outdoors seeing who’s flying over and getting ready for the growing season. You could say that more than the orchard gets rejuvenated. Reminder: Hover over photos to see titles and captions.

Foggy Orchard DuskFoggy Orchard DuskBig Creek Homestead Orchard in September



Pruning PlatformPruning PlatformFront-end loader makes a handy platform for pruning tall apple trees.

Pruning LaddersPruning LaddersA selection of ladders, including a tripod-like orchard ladder is needed for managing old, standard-size, apple trees.

Burning Orchard PruningsBurning Orchard PruningsApple prunings are burned to sanitize the oorchard against pests and diseases.
Orchard Cleansing BurnOrchard Cleansing BurnPeriodically burning the ground litter & vegetation in orchards is another form of rejuvenation.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) apple burning diseases fire ladder ladders orchard pests pruning Fri, 30 Apr 2021 00:39:50 GMT
Earth Day 2021 ~ Oak & Shiitake Celebrate Decomposition Today, I celebrated Earth Day by participating in the Earth's biogeochemical cycles with a couple of old friends, namely the northern red oak and the shiitake fungus.  A month ago, overcrowded oaks trees were felled to improve the growth of their neighbors. A few days ago, these trees were bucked into 3-foot shiitake bedlogs and hauled out of the woods. Today, I made room in the shiitake laying yard for the new logs by hauling off old spent bedlogs to be recycled into forest soil. Tomorrow, my daughter will help me inoculate the new logs with pure cultures of selected shiitake strains. Next summer, the new logs will yield impressive flushes of delicious edible mushrooms. In 30 years, the old logs will have disappeared into the Earth and turned into new oak trees, and...

Fresh Cut Shiitake LogsFresh Cut Shiitake LogsNorthern red oak logs felled when dormant to improve growth of trees left & bucked just before inoculation. Spent Shiitake Logs DetailSpent Shiitake Logs DetailAfter shiitake logs lose their bark, mushroom production stops or is very low.









Spent Shiitake BedlogsSpent Shiitake BedlogsThese shiitake logs are being used for erosion control after 8-10 years of producing mushrooms. Robust Flush of ShiitakeRobust Flush of ShiitakeBig flat shiitake lkie these are great for grilling.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) biogeochemical cycles decomposition northern red oak shiitake mushrooms Upper Peninsula Fri, 23 Apr 2021 03:41:34 GMT
Stinging Nettle Season Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) are delicious, nutritious, dangerous, and all around amazing plants. For us, they are the first fresh greens of spring. They have lots of uses besides food, and they take care of themselves.  Be careful to not let them touch your bare skin before they are cooked. Their stings are very similar to hornets and ants, but smaller and numerous. Actually, I recommend a small brush with their danger if you have never experienced it (unless you are allergic to bees).  Last night, we made a heavenly nettle & smoked salmon quiche.  Today, our patch is under the snow. Phenologically, stinging nettles are prime for eating right after maple sap stops flowing & just ahead of emerging rhubarb.   

Stinging NettlesStinging NettlesUrtica dioica at the eating statge Snow-covered Stinging NettlesSnow-covered Stinging Nettles












Harvested Stinging NettlesHarvested Stinging Nettles

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) foods nettles Peninsula stinging Upper wild Wed, 14 Apr 2021 17:43:31 GMT
Maple Sugaring 2021 ~ Part 2 Our first run of maple syrup for 2021 has left the evaporator and is being finished off today with a big propane burner (borrowed from the beer making equipment). As predicted, migrating birds are returning, lead by dark-eyed juncos, and bald eagles are cruising over Big Creek checking for spawning steelhead. The snow has largely gone, much earlier than usual this year, making pruning the orchard easier. The early sap flow was interrupted by freezing weather all day and is now being interrupted again by above freezing temperatures all night. 

Checking a few websites, I have found that sugar makers have differing opinions about what to do about the ice that forms in sap buckets. Some say throw the ice out because it's just frozen water and the remaining liquid has a greater concentration of sugar and will require less fuel to boil down to syrup. Others say that too much sugar gets lost by dumping the ice and they collect it to get every last drop of syrup possible. Either way, the discs of ice that form can get pretty interesting with hollows, and channels, and crystals. If you look closely at the sap being poured from buckets with ice, you can often see threadlike networks caused by differential refraction of light in sap with varying concentrations of sugar. 

Another controversial topic amongst maple sugar makers is what to do about the foam that forms during boiling. The foam consists of organic compounds and results from a chemical reaction that occurs as the sap heats. Boiling also causes minerals in the sap to precipitate as solids. This precipitate is commonly called niter or sugar sand. It is harmless but gritty and not pleasant to eat. Skimming the foam reduces the amount of niter in the end product as the minerals stick to the organic compounds that make up the foam. Some argue that foam slows evaporation while others theorize via a lot of physics that foam actually increases evaporation.  On a small scale skimming the foam is easy.  On a large scale it can be a big deal and many kinds of defoaming agents are used. In any case, sugar sand can be mostly removed by filtering the syrup as it is bottled.    
Maple Sap Bucket IceMaple Sap Bucket IceIce in sap buckets is just frozen water, but some sugar can get trapped in it. Maple Sap Refraction LinesMaple Sap Refraction LinesStreams of maple sap with varying concentrations of sugar, from freezing action, create threadlike patterns due to differential refraction of light.












Maple Sap Foam & SkimmerMaple Sap Foam & SkimmerDuring boiling, foam develops after fresh sap is added. The foam is the product of a chemical reaction that occurs as the sap heats. The cooking also causes minerals in the sap to precipitate as solids. This precipitate is commonly called niter or maple sand. It is harmless but gritty and not pleasant to eat. The minerals stick to organic compounds that make up foam. Skimming foam reduces niter in the end product. I use an extra sap bucket to rinse the foam from the skimmer. Skimming the FoamSkimming the FoamMaple syrup makers have diverse ideas about what to do about foam. I skim it off.

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) boiling evaporating foam ice maple sugaring maple syrup niter sugar maple sugar sand upper peninsula Mon, 22 Mar 2021 15:52:58 GMT
Maple Sugaring Season This week I've been collecting the maple sugaring equipment and packing trails to the trees we will soon tap. The first sugar shack we had here was definitely a shack, cobbled together with pallets and such. We built the new sugar house in 2008 with all the wood harvested from from this property.  We only put in about 20-25 taps and don't do it every year - just often enough to keep us in syrup and some maple butter.

Getting the sap from the sugar bush to the sugar house can be tricky with rapidly changing snow conditions. Over the years, we've used snowmobiles, ATV's, toboggans, and a tractor.  Maybe our Amish-trained, Haflinger mare, Meadow, could pull a sled. Sugaring coordinates well with orcharding. Pruning apple trees between rounds of hauling sap and tending the evaporator fire allow one to be productive all day. Warming up in the sugar house is very welcome after cooling off up a ladder in the orchard.  I also like sap season for the chances it provides to see the first migrating song birds returning and to hear the first cranes and geese overhead. 

Maple Sap Spigot Drippinga slow drip Maple Sap Evaporator









Hauling Maple Sap by SnowmobileHauling Maple Sap by Snowmobile Filtering Maple SapFiltering Maple Sap Galvanized Maple Sap BucketGalvanized Maple Sap Bucket Hauling Maple Sap by ATVHauling Maple Sap by ATV













The Old EvaporatorThe Old EvaporatorOld maple sap evaporator and smokehouse at Big Creek Homestead New EvaporatorNew Evaporator

Gold & AmberGold & AmberTwo grades of maple syrup from the same trees but earlier (gold) and later (amber) in the season


]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) bush house maple Peninsula sap shack sugar syrup Upper video Thu, 04 Mar 2021 01:40:04 GMT
Personal or Professional? What should the relationship between one's personal and professional lives be?  No right answer, of course.  For me, I've never been able to, or wanted to, separate them very much.  One of the problems of such an approach is that it can lead to feeling that you are always working.  Conversely, it can make you feel that you always living your own life.  Many, perhaps most, photographers in the nature, outdoor, landscape, wildlife, and adventure genres have a lifestyle that requires a lot of travel. As a homesteader, my lifestyle keeps me at home most of the time.  Consequently, I have a Homestead Gallery to paint a picture of a modern north woods homestead.  My personal life is a frequent source of subject matter for my professional work as a photographer.  It's all connected in an annual cycle of growing, harvesting, making, fixing, and photographing amongst it all.  Soon it will be maple syrup season, superimposed on apple pruning season, followed quickly by shiitake mushroom spawning, and on...  This week, the homestead action has been about horses.  Our Haflinger mare, Meadow Rue, is just back from weaning a colt at another location.  And Rowan, our elderly mini-horse, had his last run at Big Creek, as we call the homestead.  He is now at his new homestead with some happy children.  The photos are admittedly a bit fuzzy, but they capture Rowan's mischievous spirit well.  I think the black and white version shows the action a little better. You? 

Rowan Plowing Snow in ColorRowan Plowing Snow in ColorMini-horse Rowan's last run at Big Creek (in color & monochrome)

Rowan Plowing Snow in MonochromeRowan Plowing Snow in MonochromeMini-horse Rowan's last run at Big Creek (in monochrome)

]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) horse mini-horse running snow Upper Peninsula winter Tue, 23 Feb 2021 02:01:50 GMT
Practical or Spiritual? My plans for this website are evolving. Initially, my idea was to supplement the sales of photographs I make at galleries (see the Representation page) as only a few photos can be displayed in galleries, and relatively few people visit galleries. As I have gotten into it, however, I've found that what is really driving me to tolerate the fussiness of managing a website is the big picture of my work as a photographer. One aspect of this is that I have many photographs worthy of displaying that I have not used for anything.  Another aspect is that reviewing the photographs I have makes me want to fill in the missing subjects. This makes more sense if you know that I am more about the subject than the photograph of the subject. Despite the thrill of making fine art prints and the sense of accomplishment in calling myself an artist, I think of my photographs primarily as tools to promote awareness and care of the natural world, particularly Michigan's Upper Peninsula. So, in the big picture, I will be doing what I can to fill the gaps in my portfolio of the Upper Peninsula's natural history - its special places, interesting species, and ecological relationships.  This sounds like practical work, but on the About page I say that I take a spiritual approach to my photographic work. So which is it? My answer is both. By tapping into gut responses (be they pleasurable or disturbing) works of art can motivate practical action. I hope some of my photographs touch your spirit and move you to explore Nature and do your part for conservation.

Here’s a recent personal example. Winter is an especially challenging time of year to photograph Nature in the UP. Cold fingers are my usual nemesis.  But, the colder the better for some subjects, particularly running water. Old Man Winter's artistry with snow and ice motivates me to explore creeks and rivers more often in winter than in other seasons. The ever-changing sculptures get me to strap on my snowshoes, and the tracks of otter, mink, and the others I discover remind me that riparian zones are prime wildlife corridors that need to be valued and protected.

Ice Sculpture by Old Man WinterBig Creek Ice Sculpture No. 2Big Creek is a tributary of the Chocolay River, Marquette County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula Otter Slide in Deep SnowOtter Slide in Snow No. 1Otter slide indeep snow along Big Creek in Chocolay Twp., Marquette Co., Michigan





]]> (CD Burnett Nature Photography) art ice otter slide practical riparian zone snow spiritual Upper Peninsula winter Mon, 22 Feb 2021 19:28:45 GMT