We have been having one of our southern Maine spells of hot summer weather and I have not, honestly, been inspired to push through the heat to do much photography. It is all I can do to get my exercise bike ride in. 🙂 I was determined to get out yesterday and, as I got my camera ready and got myself on the bike, I was thinking that a dragonfly or a butterfly on Blazing Star would make the trip worth-while, and was perhaps a reasonable expectation out on the Kennebunk Plains these early days of August. The Blazing Star was not as far along as I had though it might be, based on early blooms in late July, but I was still rewarded with my shot…just as I had foreseen it. The Calico Pennants are getting smaller and darker as the season progresses, but still put on a good show, and the Blazing Star is just barely beginning to open, but still…it is undeniably a dragonfly on Blazing Star. 🙂 High, gusty, winds keep the Calico Pennant in constant motion. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
When the flower head of Northern Blazing Star is fully open it is difficult to see the structure of the actual flowers. This head is just open enough to see individual blossoms. Northern Blazing Star, as I remind you every year at this time, is a plant with a very limited and rapidly shrinking range. Here in Maine, it is mostly found on the Kennebunk Plains, a remnant sand plain kept open by wildfire in the past, and now maintained by the Nature Conservancy. It is often called “the Blueberry Plains” because of the wild blueberries that grow there. They did a prescribed burn of the section where I go most often last September, and the Blazing Star, which is fire dependent, is coming back strong this year. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds and wildlife modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
“If your eye is generous, your whole being is full of light!” Jesus
I am rapidly approaching 69 years old (next month) so I am always surprised and delighted to discover something in the world right at my doorstep that I have never seen before. Seen is a tricky word. I suspect that I have seen Bee Flies before now…but I certainly never looked at them. I did not know they existed. If fact, when I bent down to take a photo of this very early Northern Blazing Star, in flower on the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area yesterday, I though I was looking at a bee. It is furry like a bee. It has superficially bee-like wings. It was behaving like a bee…but I knew it was no bee I had ever seen before. I had certainly never seen a bee that color or with that long a proboscis. A little googling (small hairy bee with long proboscis) brought up the Bee Fly family. Ah…not a bee at all. A bee mimic. And a bee parasite. (The female lays her eggs at the mouth of the hive of ground nesting bees, and the fly larva attack the larva of the bees.) There are many species of Bee Flys in North America (over 4500 world-wide)…all I can say for certain is that this is NOT the most common of them: the Greater or Large Bee Fly, which is sometimes called the Dark Edged Bee Fly because the wings are dark edged and patterned like those of a hummingbird moth.
I was also surprised, by the way, at the number of Northern Blazing Star plants in bloom already on the Plains. While it is far from the show I expect in two weeks (the normal timing of the bloom), our unusually hot July must have forced many plants into bloom early. The Blazing Star on the Kennebunk Plains is, as far as I am concerned, one of the highlights of the natural seasons here in southern Maine. It is endangered in most of North America, and the Kennebunk Plains is one of the few places it still grows in abundance. The Plains can be purple with it in mid-August.
So that was two surprises for yesterday…and one “the surprise of a lifetime” in that it was my first real look at Bee Fly.
And of course that is the thing about the generous eye…always open and ready to be surprised. Another translation of what Jesus said about eyes, from The Message Bible, is “‘If you live wide–eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.” 69 years on the planet, and I can still be surprised by the living nature around me…by God’s loving invention…I am still discovering new wonders. And each new wonder only confirms and strengthens my belief. This is good. And it is my hope for you, whatever your age, this Sunday!
You might remember that back in late July and early August I was tracking the bloom of the Northern Blazing Star on the Kennebunk Plains and predicting one of the best years for the flower in recent memory. On August 5th I left for 2 weeks of travel and it rained for a few days when I got home…so it was yesterday before I got out to the Plains to see how the Blazing Star was doing. And it was certainly doing! I have not, in my more than 20 years of living in Southern Maine, seen the Blazing Star so dense or so extensive. To say that the Plains are purple with it is an understatement. This might be full bloom. I saw no unopened buds, and the oldest, topmost buds on each plant are fading…but, oh my, what a bloom!
Sony HX90V, in-camera HDR at 67mm equivalent field of view. Processed in Lightroom.
I sometimes think that mankind is unique among all God’s creation in the ability to praise the creator. We have the privilege, not only of being created, but of knowing that we are. And we know, if we know God at all, that we are created with love…lovingly created…and loved all life long. We respond to the greatness of that love with praise…thankfulness, awe, joy…we make a joyful noise before God…lifting hands and faces…bold in the awful presence of the Creator of all.
But then I see the Kennebunk Plains ablaze with the purple of Northern Blazing Star, and I am not so sure we are alone in our ability to praise. A plain full of Blazing Star in bloom looks a lot like praise to me…as though the earth itself lifted its face and hands and broke out in exalted song.
A praise of Blazing Star!
When we praise the creator of all, how can we not believe that all creation praises with us. And I, for one, can not look on the Plains ablaze with Blazing Star without praising… Happy Sunday!
For the next two days I will be in a van with my daughter Sarah, helping her move from Pittsburgh to Santa Fe, NM, and then we move on from there to Tucson for a birding festival. It seems I am always traveling at the height of the Blazing Star bloom on the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area. This year I might have just caught the forward edge to of the peak. 🙂 It will not get much better than this, but it will get better. I shot this at a fairly long telephoto to compress the mass of blooms.
Sony HX90V at 520mm equivalent field of view. 1/400th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom.
As though the Northern Blazing Star were not purple enough already, I found spots on the Kennebunk Plains Wildlife Management Area where it was growing in association with Goldenrod. I made several attempts to capture the effect. 🙂 The Blazing Star is, as predicted, doing well this year.
Sony HX90V in-camera HDR at about 300mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 80 @ f6.3. Processed and cropped slightly for composition in Lightroom.
I have never seen the Kennebunk Plains so thick with Northern Blazing Star. The budded plants are everywhere, in thick stands this year. By the first week in August, the second at the latest, the Plains are going to be purple with Blazing Star. Right now, there are only a few plants here and there in bloom, but the promise is there, and barring any unnatural disaster, it is going to be a very good year for Blazing Star. Of course, the Kennebunk Plains are managed, at least in part, for Blazing Star, which is endangered in much of its historical range, and only has the one major foothold left in Maine. Blazing Star is fire dependent, and patterned and scheduled burns on the Plains keep the population healthy.
And, when the Blazing Star is in bloom, it draws its compliment of insects. Bees of several species, lots of Skippers (like the one captured above, which might be the Least Skipper), Hairstreaks (mostly Coral), Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies, and lots of orb weaver spiders. The Halloween Pennant dragonfly hunts among the the other bugs. And the insects draw the birds: Clay-collared and Grasshopper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, (all at the limits of their range on the Plains), as well as Savannah and Song Sparrows. The Blazing Star is the base plant, or the most visible member, for a whole community of life…and because it is so beautiful, and so visible, protecting it has protected the whole community. This is good!
I feel privileged to live so close to the remnant population of Blazing Star…to track it year to year in my informal visits to the Plains, and to share it with you in my photos. Being on the Plains when the Northern Blazing Star is in bloom is, for me, a spiritual experience…a instance of natural, spontaneous, worship. Though the Plains buzz with life in August, and hundreds of people come to pick blueberries, for me there is always a hush…a reverence in the presence of the stands of this rare and beautiful plant. It is awesome in the literal sense of the word. I feel the awe, and can only give praise and thanks. Happy Sunday!
I still have lots of images from the Tucson trip, but just to prove I am back in Maine, here is the Blazing Star that was waiting to welcome me back. It is not a super year on the Kennebunk Plains for the rare species, or at least not in the accessible areas of the Plains. They burned well away from roads last year and the Blazing Star is always most lush in recent burns. There is still a decent crop, but no solid stands of purple. It is spread thinly over most areas of the Plains.
Sony HX400V at about 120mm equivalent field of view. ISO 80 @ 1/640th @ f5.6. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.
With Bumblebee bonus! I have photographed Wood Nymphs before. They are, at least this year, our most common Butterfly…everywhere I go in forest and field. However this year they have also been remarkably uncooperative as photographic subjects. Until this week I had not one decent shot for the season. And then of course I encountered this specimen feeding on emerging Northern Blazing Star on the Kennebunk Plains. And I got the Bee as a bonus! How blessed can you get?
This shot is also unusual for the spread wings, caught as the Butterfly teetered on the Blazing Star in the breeze. Wood Nymphs perch with wings closed 99% of the time.
Sony HX400V @ 1200mm equivalent field of view. ISO 80 @ 1/640th @ f6.3. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet. Cropped for composition.
I went again to the Kennebunk Plains yesterday to check the Blazing Star bloom. It is not much more advanced though we had a couple of sunny days at the end of the week. I leave for a week in Tucson on Tuesday, and hopefully it will not be past when I get back. I did manage to catch a number of Insect visitors on the blossoms that were showing…Wood Nymph and Sulphur butterflies and a Skipper, as well as innumerable Bumblebees, and this Flower Crab Spider.
The last Flower Crab Spider I found was white. My references say that the females can change from white to yellow for better camouflage depending on the flower they are using as a hunting perch. I am certain there is actually no thought involved, but clearly whatever automatic mechanism that controls the color change was totally confused by the intense Purple of the Blazing Star. 🙂
Sony HX400V. 60mm equivalent field of view. Macro. ISO 80 @ 1/400th @ f6.3. I used program shift for greater depth of field since the flower was moving in the wind and precise focus was difficult. Processed in Snapseed on my tablet.
And for the Sunday Thought: I did a little poking around on the Web in reflecting on why this spider might be so yellow and found that most insects have much more limited color vision than we do, and those that have similar vision to ours actually see higher into the ultraviolet. So, in fact, I have no idea how a bright yellow Spider on purple Blazing Star looks to any of the spider’s prey. It might be perfect camouflage. We humans tend to assume, until we are reminded otherwise, that our own vision of the world is the only one. Even among our own species that is demonstratably erroneous. It is safe to say that no two creatures see the world exactly alike. We are enriched by both what is common to our vision and, if we allow ourselves to be, by what is different. The common vision can be a good indication of truth. If we all agree on something it must be actual and true, right? Except when it isn’t. And that is where our differences come in. Our differences point to aspects of the truth which none of us see clearly. Literally point to. It is sometimes possible to sense the unseen truth they are pointing if we look at enough of them and take each one seriously as a pointer.
This is nowhere more true than in Religion. Most of what we know, or at least what we can say, about the spirit falls in the “pointing at the truth” category. And that is where we most need to value our differences. I am confident that there is only one spirit and one truth, one spiritual reality. None of us see it clearly, but taking our differences as pointers, we can perhaps more perfectly sense the truth that embraces us all.
It will never be as obvious as a yellow Spider on a purple Blazing Star, but then it does not have to be. 🙂