Monday, March 9, 2015

Gearing Up For Wildflower Season

Phone with lanyard attachment (photo by Blake G)
As the mornings get brighter and the days get a tad warmer (it should get into the 50s this week), I'm starting to gear up for the wildflower season. And I mean "gear" quite literally. Over the winter, I've been assembling the tools and equipment I'll need to improve my wildflower photography and orchid-hunting skills. 

The flower-season strap (photo by
Blake G)
My most important piece of equipment is my phone, because it's also my only camera. I don't use a case because I often attach a macro (close-up) lens to my phone; but I do worry about dropping it, as I'm often balancing in precarious situations or leaning over water to get good shots. Several years ago, I found a way to attach a lanyard to my case-less phone. I use a product made by the Poddities company to attach a wrist-strap, one for winter and one for flower season. I just switched to my flower-season strap, which is longer and sturdier. Because I rely on this strap so much, the little screws that hold the netsuke to the phone occasionally work themselves out and need replacing. I recently ordered several sets of the teeny-tiny screws (and I have a special screwdriver for them).
From L to R: my macro lens, the doo-hickey that attaches
the lens to the phone, the slip-on polarizing filter, & the
little plastic case for the lens & filter.

I sometimes use a monopod when I'm taking photos (tripods, even small ones, are too damaging to nearby vegetation, and I find that a monopod allows me to shoot from a greater range of angles much more quickly than a tripod). 

I rely on a slip-on circular polarizing filter to tone down intense sunlight. I've found that sunlight is, in fact, my greatest enemy, and the best days for taking flower photos are the overcast days, especially when there's lots of humidity--the soft light and the moisture in the air make the colors glow.

I am considering getting a bluetooth-enabled remote shutter device which will allow me to snap a photo while I use my monopod to get the phone closer to a flower I can't reach. (With such a set-up, I might finally be able to get a good photo of the Dragon's Mouth Orchid in the Lake Bemidji State Park Bog.) Ms Durant has one, and she's going to let me try it out. 

Lately, I've been teaching myself how to use my phone as a GPS mapping tool with an app called Offline Topo Maps. It uses the GPS chip in my phone to track my progress on toptographical maps that I download onto my phone. I can leave markers, or waypoints, wherever I want (where I park my car, where certain flowers bloom, etc), and it will help me get to those spots and back again. This will be incredibly helpful when I go back into the Pennginton Bog, where there are no trails to follow, and where I could get lost. In my previous trips into the Bog, I've stayed pretty much in sight of my car, or at least where I could still hear traffic going by, and this has limited my exploration terribly. With this app, I've been marking the locations of a few plants/flowers on the Munger Trail. I can upload the waypoints to Google Earth and then save them on my laptop.
Screenshot of my waypoints on Google Earth. I marked the location of some Bottle Gentians,
Wild Asparagus, two clumps of Yellow Lady Slippers, and a Wild Clematis vine.
It's taken me a couple hikes to learn how to use the app, and I still haven't mastered it completely. 
Screenshot of the GPS app on
my phone; the gold arrow marks
my progress towards a way-
point I marked on a previous
I still don't really understand how to read GPS coordinates, so I'm just guessing my way through it. But sometimes, that's how you learn things! I hope to map all my favorite plant-spots on the Munger Trail in the next few weeks. 

I knew that the GPS app would drain my phone's battery pretty quickly, so I've started using a small external battery pack along with it. Now I also don't have to worry about running out of juice when I'm out all day taking photos.
External Battery Pack: as small as a
granola bar & about twice as heavy.

Part of gearing up for the season means stocking up on insect repellent (I'm more concerned with ticks than mosquitoes, and I visit for advice about the best repellent to get). Apparently, ticks don't like crawling up smooth, slippery surfaces, like rubber boots, so I got a pair last year that reach almost to my knees. I also have a bug-suit (pants, jacket, and head-covering made of mosquito netting). Once last year, I was pretty much covered in ticks, and I was very grateful that I was wearing the bug-suit. I was walking around the area where the Ram's Head Lady Slipper is supposed to grow, and since finding that orchid is one of my goals for this year, I know I'll need to be well-protected against ticks when I go back there.
The boots
The pants
The head-net

I don't look forward to dealing with insects, but they're an unavoidable part of the orchid-hunting experience. I do like it when I see interesting insects, like the Flower Crab Spider I've written about before, and draagynflies dragonflies...

I don't think I've mentioned that one of my photos (of a dragonfly on a Showy Lady Slipper) was published in Orchids Magazine back in December. This is the second time one of my photos has been published there and the first time I've had a full-page spread. 
The hard copy of the magazine.
The American Orchid Society has a website where they post a "photo of the week," submitted by folks from all over the world to a Flickr group. From the photos in that group, photos are chosen for the AOS website (I think I've been chosen three times). From the "photos of the week" on the website, Orchids magazine chooses a bunch for inclusion in the December issue of the magazine. I was pretty thrilled when this happened.
Close-up of the page from the digital version of the magazine.

Another kind of "gear" I need is information: I've been combing through some DNR documents I've found online for clues as to where I might locate the Ram's Head and also the Stemless Slipper (which I have yet to see outside a State Park). 

Photo by Mrs Kosmatka.
I came across references to the Ram's Head Slipper in a DNR document about the Wawina area. There's a bog there I'd like to explore, especially since I pass through Wawina on my way to Pennington. In the document was a list of plants in the area, along with some undefined initials that seemed like they might be useful. I took a screenshot of them and asked Mr Lockhart if he'd ever seen anything like that. He passed the screenshot on to his wife Audrey who works for the DNR, and she looked at it but couldn't tell me what the initials meant. I also asked Dr Carter and Ms Maas, but they didn't know, either. After doing some more searching, I've come to think they reference some measurement of moisture, nutrients, heat, and light.

I was hoping that "M N H L" stood for some kind of secret location data... Oh well, so it goes... I have come across information about the Ram's Head that makes reference to county map sections and grids, so I think I have to teach myself how to find and read those kinds of maps. Maybe my best shot at seeing a Ram's Head Slipper is to explore the Superior Hiking Trail in the neighborhood of Lismore Road, where Mr Johnson (US) claims to have seen one...

In any case, I'm trying to learn as much as I can before the season begins, and I'm gathering up all my resources, in hopes of a successful spring and summer of orchid hunting. I spend a lot of time with the DNR guide to SNA's. And as I wait for the world around me to turn green again, I play with running photos from last year through apps like Waterlogue.
Bed-time reading
One of my photos, edited with Waterlogue
 Note to seniors planning and working on their Capstone Projects: This is the kind of post you might include in your Capstone Blog. Your posts don't have to be quite this long (this is crazy-long!), but this is the kind of material you might include.

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