Random Plant: Sweet after death

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Sweet after death (Achlys triphylla, Berberidaceae) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Sweet after death (Achlys triphylla, Berberidaceae) gets its common name from the fragrant aroma that is released by its dead and dried leaves. This scent has been compared to vanilla, and as a result it’s also known as vanilla leaf. In spite of this comparison this perennial is unrelated to the true vanilla plant (Vanilla planifolia, Orchidaceae).

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Sweet after death (Achlys triphylla, Berberidaceae) photographed 08/15/2014 at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

This plant is most easily recognized by its unique leaf arrangement. Three leaflets appear at the end of a single stem, and the center leaflet features three lobes. Between April and July each plant grows a second stem that bears a spike of tiny white flowers.

Sweet after death is found exclusively in the Cascades and coast ranges from British Columbia to northern California. This plant inhabits wet forests and stream margins up to about 5000 feet (1524 m) of elevation. The individual shown here was photographed in August near Box Canyon at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

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Bald Eagle

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Bald eagle along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The Bald Eagle (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae: Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been an iconic symbol throughout United States history. Long sacred to several Native American cultures, it was adopted as the national bird of the United States in 1782. Since then it has appeared on most official US government seals and is widely regarded as the symbol of America. In spite of its prominence as a national icon and its importance to Americans, however, we nearly drove this species to extinction in the twentieth century.

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Bald eagle along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

It’s estimated that several hundred thousand Bald Eagles inhabited the United States throughout the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century hunting, trapping, and poisoning of these birds became relatively common practices. People once mistakenly believed that Bald Eagles attacked livestock and left no fish for anglers, and treated the birds as pests that needed to be eradicated.

The threat to these eagles and many other birds of prey intensified with the widespread use of potent pesticides like DDT. These toxic compounds accumulated in water, found their way into fish, and then into the birds that ate them. This resulted in malformed eggs with thin shells, leading to a rapid increase in chick mortality. By the 1950s there were fewer than 500 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles remaining in the lower 48 states.

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Bald eagle along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Increased awareness of the harmful ecological effects of DDT lead to public pressure that resulted in a ban on its use in 1972. Since then Bald Eagles have been recovering, and today it’s estimated that there are about 70,000 individuals across the continent.

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Bald eagles along the Madison River. Photographed 09/07/2014 at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

You can find these large, majestic birds throughout most of North America, but their range varies with the seasons. They overwinter mostly in the lower 48 states and northern Mexico, and breed in the summer across most of Canada, Alaska, and the east coast. In some parts of the northwest they can be found year-round. They’re often seen near rivers, lakes, and other shores where fish are common. Although they feed predominantly on fish, they will also prey upon smaller birds and mammals.

In their breeding range males and females work together to construct enormous and conspicuous nests of sticks in trees. Some of these can reach eight feet across (2.4 m) and weigh up to one ton (907 kg). Nesting pairs raise one to three young per year, and in the absence of human interference have been increasing their population and range. Although placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967, conservation successes lead to their removal in 2007.

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Random Insect: Halloween pennant

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Halloween pennant (Odonata: Libellulidae: Celithemis eponina) photographed 06/28/2014 at Metzger Marsh near Bono, Ohio.

Although I came across these Halloween pennants (Odonata: Libellulidae: Celithemis eponina) in late June, I thought I’d wait until a more festive time to post photos. The orange and black patterning does seem suggestive of jack-o’-lanterns.

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Halloween pennant (Odonata: Libellulidae: Celithemis eponina) photographed 06/28/2014 at Metzger Marsh near Bono, Ohio.

As with other dragonflies these pennants are typically found near ponds and marshes. Their aquatic young live in the water where they hunt a variety of arthropods. After emerging as adults they continue to hunt in the air, capturing flying insects on the wing. Adults are often seen resting on foliage throughout the summer, waiting for their next meal to buzz past them.

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Random Plant: Wild hollyhock

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) goes by a number of other common names including streambank wild hollyhock, mountain hollyhock,  streambank globemallow, and maple mallow. The flowers are similar in structure to other members of the mallow family and have five wide, overlapping petals. This particular species is unique for having broad, palmately-lobed leaves that appear maple-like.

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

After the flowers are pollinated and fertilized they develop into ringed, hairy, dry fruits that split apart to release the seeds when ripe.

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Wild hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis, Malvaceae) photographed 09/05/2014 at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

These attractive perennial wildflowers can be found in mountain meadows, woodland openings, and along stream banks in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. The individual shown here was photographed near the Snake River at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

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California sea lion

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) are relatively common inhabitants of the Pacific coast of North America. They breed in the summer along southern California and the Baja peninsula of Mexico. After breeding ends many migrate long distances, ranging from British Columbia to southern Mexico.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

These marine mammals are excellent swimmers. They can reach speeds of up to 20 mph (32 km/hour) and dive to 900 feet (274 m) in pursuit of prey and escape from predators. They feed on a variety of fish, squid, and octupuses and are preyed upon by orcas and large sharks.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

When not breeding or hunting, these sea lions can often be seen resting on beaches, rocks, and man-made structures like docks and buoys. They tend to congregate more near areas of human habitation, perhaps because of the abundance of artificial resting places.

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California sea lions (Carnivora: Otariidae: Zalophus californianus) resting on a buoy. Photographed 10/26/2013 near Ventura, California.

Historically California sea lions were hunted for their meat and hides and later on were trapped for use in zoos, aquariums, and circuses. Since 1972 they’ve been protected in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, although some hunting permits are granted in limited cases where the sea lions harm salmon populations.

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Random Insect: Waved sphinx

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Like most other sphinx moths, the waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) is a rather large insect. The individual shown here was about two inches (50 mm) in length, and wingspans typically reach 3-4 inches (76-102 mm).

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

This species gets its common name from the intricate wavy pattern displayed on the forewings. Individuals also feature a single, kidney-shaped white spot outlined in black on each forewing. Overall coloration varies quite a bit between individuals, and some are much darker than the one shown here.

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Waved sphinx (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae: Ceratomia undulosa) photographed 08/03/2014 near Palmyra, Michigan.

Waved sphinx moths are one of the most common sphinx moths in North America. They’re found east of the Rockies in and around forests and woodlots where host trees are present. Adults probably don’t feed, but their larvae can be found on ash (Fraxinus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), lilac (Syringa spp.), and several other species.

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Autumn comes to Michigan

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Au Sable River from Westgate Overlook. Photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

Although the hardwood trees have begun to change color here in southeast Michigan, they haven’t quite reached peak color yet. For better color a friend and I drove north a few hours to Huron National Forest and spent a couple of days backpacking. Just shy of our destination we made a stop on the Au Sable River along River Road National Scenic Byway.

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Au Sable River from Westgate Overlook. Photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

While hiking and camping out in the forest there were innumerable maples, aspens, and oaks that provided the full spectrum of fall colors.

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Big Marsh photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

Numerous small lakes provided reflections of these colors in their waters.

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Unnamed pond photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

As the frosty touch of winter moves south from here, I might have to take some time to follow it and enjoy these colors a bit longer.

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Little Trout Lake photographed 10/10/2014 at Huron National Forest, Michigan.

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