Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens 7/21/2014

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In the Garden of the Five Senses

My wife Carol and I have visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Maine several times over the years on or around our anniversary. This year we were a few weeks later than usual, and we found that it made a significant difference in what was in bloom, and what was not. In early July the roses are still in full bloom…by our visit in the third week in July they were mostly past. The Day Lilies, of which there were many, and many different kinds, more than made up for the roses.

You can find out all you want to know about the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on their website, but the brief of it is that a group of mid-coast residents got together some 20 years ago and decided to create a world-class Botanical Garden on the coast of Maine. It was an ambitious and, frankly, unlikely project, but they have persevered. They hired some of the top landscape designers in the world to create the gardens, and have steadily expanded to today’s 270 acres. The result is a facility with enough to delight anyone who loves plants and gardens.

For this photoprowl I was carrying my full kit. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom for long shots…dragonflies, birds, etc. The Sony Alpha NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 for the wide angle contextual shots and landscapes, and the Sony Alpha NEX 3N with ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro for getting close. I find that the the 75mm equivalent of the 50mm also makes a good short telephoto when I need one.

A highlight of this year’s visit was the number of insects at work in the flowers. At times it seemed impossible to take a photo without getting a bug of some kind in the frame. If you press and hold on any of the images below the caption will come up. If you press or click quickly, the image will open in a larger view. The dragonflies are with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, most at 600mm equivalent. Macros are with the ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro.

Of course part of the delight of the CMBG is the way the flowers are massed and mixed. For this set I used very lens I had with me. The Day Lilies are with the 12mm, the Daisies are with the 50mm Touit, and the massed yellow and pink are with the 75-300mm zoom.

One of my favorite sections of the CMBG is the Children’s Garden, where whimsy rules. They have a tiny section of bog plants at one end of an ornamental pond where the Pitcher Plants were in bloom.

And of course, any garden is going to attract it’s share of wildlife.

The Hillside Garden, with its Weeping Spruce trees, always has something to offer. The Stonecrop was in bloom, and we found a Spiderweb in the trailing yew covered in dew. All taken with the ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro.

One of these years I plan to get to the CMBG in June when the Rhododendrons and Azalea are in bloom. The section of the garden, at the far end of Birch Alie is always one of the more attractive spots. That is my wife Carol sitting on the shaded bench beyond the ornamental waterfall. The wide angle shots are in-camera HDRs, with further processing for HDR effect in Snapseed on my tablet.

We will finish up with a rather random selection of flower close-ups from around the garden. I am not sure what some of these plants are :-) With the kind of abundance the CMBGs offer it is hard to keep track. These are all with the Sony Alpha NEX 3N and ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro.

If you are in the mid-coast region of Maine, make a half day stop at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. You will not regret it :-)

Laudholm Beach and the Boardwalk 7/17/2014

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Looking northeast along Laudholm Beach. ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony Alpha NEX 5T.

I generally avoid the Beach at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm in summer simply because it can get crowded with tourists. “Crowded” being a relative term. I suppose it is the relatively uncrowded nature of this beautiful stretch of sand that inspires people to park at the Farm and walk the mile to the beach, over the hill and through the woods, carrying a full day of beach supplies (which often includes a cooler and sometimes even an umbrella). Still, the tourists, if you let them, do diminish the sense of Reserve. I decided it was worth the distraction on a beautiful July day…and that it was hight time I checked to see if there were any nesting Piping Plover and Least Terns along the Little River at the end of the beach. Both the Least Tern and the Piping Plover are endangered in Maine and nesting sites are carefully protected and monitored, and every check is counted. I knew I was late by most of a month, but I thought there might still be a few birds around.

And of course you never know what other birds you will see on the beach and it is a beautiful stretch of sand! And rocks.

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Rocks are never far below the sand on any Maine Beach.

Tide and stream flow conspire all among the southern coast of Maine to continually expose the underlying bed of rocks that actually forms the beach. I found the last of this year’s Piping Plovers feeding along the edges of little pools in the sand and rocks.

At the end of Laudholm Beach the Little River flows out to meet the sea. Either side where the dune grass starts is roped off to protect the nesting sands of both the Plovers and the Terns. On a day like yesterday it is simply a beautiful spot. The shots are, like the beach shots above, taken with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony Alpha NEX 5T, some are in-camera HDR, and all are processed for HDR effect in Snapseed on my tablet.

There were only a few Least Terns still around the nesting area. I managed a few flight shots and one sitting with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the 75-300mm zoom. If you touch or click the images they will open a larger view and you can see that one Tern is carrying some kind of work like thing.

In the rapid shallow water right at the mouth of the Little, a group of Bonaparte’s Gulls were feeding and bathing.

Besides the ubiquitous Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, there were a few Greater Blackbacked Gulls.

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Greater Blackbacked Gull. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

Walking back I stopped at the little pond formed where the old road crosses the marsh for a few irresistible scenics of the beautiful Maine day. Again note that the images in the tile will open to a larger view by clicking or tapping.

While taking the landscapes, this little Seaside Dragonlet landed at my feet. The advantage of having two cameras, I the long zoom always mounted, is clear here. I am getting fast enough on the draw to catch shots like this.

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Seaside Dragonlet (male). One of the smallest dragonflies in Maine.

I opted for the boardwalk trail back to the Farm and my parked car. You never know what you will see. This Chipmunk sat and posed within easy reach of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, here at 1200mm equivalent using the digital extender.

Just about across from the Chipmunk I caught this Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly drinking sap from a fresh limb cut.

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It was great light for an HDR treatment of one of the big White Birches along the boardwalk. This shot used both the Sony Alpha NEX 5T’s in-camera HDR (+/- 6EV) and HDR processing in Snapseed.

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Only in-camera HDR could capture the blue of the sky behind the shadowed forest scene

I stopped at the overlook off the boardwalk for a view of the back side of the Little River Marsh and the dunes of Laudholm Beach. This is another HDR.

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Sony Alpha NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8

Finally I made a detour to the overlook on the Little River by the research canoe launch, before hiking back to the car.

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ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm encompasses a number of very different habitats, which makes it an ideal place for not one, but many Photoprowls.

Day Brook Pond on the Kennebunk Plains 7/15/2014

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Day Brook Pond on the Kennebunk Plains. ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8, Sony Alpha NEX 5T

I have been visiting the Kennebunk Plains for close to 20 years, and, until this month I have never walked the few hundred yards from the south side parking area to the pond that nestles in the plain there. What a waste! It is a beautiful little pond, pretty much in its natural state, with signs of recent Beaver activity, lots of dragonflies of several species, potential for good birding, and, this week at least, abundant Wood Lilies.

Day Brook Pond is on the Kennebunk Plains, which is jointly managed by the Nature Conservancy and the State of Maine for the protection of this unique sand plain habitat and several endangered and threatened species. For more information on the Plains and the adjacent Wells Barrens take a look at the State’s Conservation Focus Area paper (pdf here).

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The White Birch along the shore attract the eye (and the Beaver) ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

Wood Lilies were in bloom walking in and all along the path around the pond. I used the ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro for a series of close ups.

I also tried some more environmental shots of the Lilies in context, with the pond at least hinted in the background.

And of course I had to try to catch as many of the dragonflies as would sit still for me. I found the first female Calico Pennants in the brush right by the parking area, and several more on the walk in, but the males stuck close to the water…along with abundant Slaty and Spangled Skimmers, a few Widow Skimmers, Blue Dasher, and one each of Eastern Pondhawk and Green Darner. I did not, of course, get a photo of the Green Darner. :-)

On the way in to the Pond I found a few Coral Hairstreaks on the Wood Lilies.

In a little draw by the pond with some trees and brush, a Field Sparrow sang.

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Field Sparrow. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

As I said, Day Brook Pond on the Kennebunk Plains is a great spot. I intend to visit it often.

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A last look at Day Brook Pond on the Kennebunk Plains. ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

Parson’s Way, Cape Arundel 7/3/2014

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The first view of the mouth of the Kennebunk River, the breakwater, Gooch's Beach and Oak Point over the Beach Roses

Parson’s Way is a long thin park along the rocky coast line of Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine. It is mostly just a sidewalk, and a series of benches overlooking the rocks and ocean, but it is always a pleasant walk, and often provides interesting and beautiful images of the rocks and sea. It passes (or encompasses depending on how you go) St. Anne’s Church on Old Fort Point, a classic Maine rough field-stone building in a spectacular setting…and it ends at the overlook for Blowing Cave, across Sandy Bay from Walker’s Point and the George Bush Senior compound. On a day with a good sky and some sea action there are few stretches of coast in Maine to match it.

My wife Carol and I walked it on July 3rd when thunderstorms in the forecast, and the sky was piled with cloud. We parked just beyond the turn for Colony Beach, at the very beginning of Parson’s Way. The photo at the top is the first view over the hedge of Beach Rose. I was carrying my usual outfit these days…the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, and the Sony NEX 5T with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8 and the 50mm f2.8 macro.

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Beach Rose in bloom. 12mm f2.8

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The view from the first benches. The extreme depth of field of the 12mm f2.8 makes images like this possible.

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Looking back along the coast, past Colony Beach and the breakwater to the full stretch of "Big" or "Gouch's" beach.

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Classic view of Kennebunk / Kennebunkport.

The gates at St Anne’s were open so we walked in and around Old Fort Point. St Anne’s is a popular wedding destination, and for good reason.

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The rough stone construction of St Anne's Church lends an air of romance that has enhanced many a wedding over the years.

Off Old Fort Point there were several nursery pods of young Eiders, with their attendant nurses.

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Nursery pod of your Eiders. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

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The view back to Old Fort Point and St Anne's from the Sprouting Rock overlook.

From the Sprouting Rock overlook, you have a great view of what locals call “the movie house”. Exteriors of this house have figured in several major productions over the years, at least one of which was the kind of movie that gives the house it’s other name: haunted.

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The Haunted House or the Movie House. Several productions have been filmed using the exterior.

You might be able to just barely make out an extra protrusion on the chimney you can just see over the roofline in the center. Unbelievably, especially on July 3rd, that protrusion is a Snow Owl. We had a major irruption of Snowing this winter, but they should all have headed north in May at the latest. I don’t have any idea why this Snowy was still in Kennebunkport in July. These shots are again with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the 75-300mm zoom. 600mm and 1200mm equivalent.

Beyond the Movie House you climb a little hill onto the headland of Cape Arundel proper, and the view of the Atlantic opens out. There are still a few secluded benches to let you know you are still on Parson’s Way. I could not resist putting the great depth of field of the 12mm Touit to work

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12mm ZEISS Touit f2.8 on the Sony NEX 5T.

As you begin to decend slightly from the headland toward the head of Sandy Bay, Walker’s Point comes into view. It was always a beautiful spot, and people pulled off the road there to view Blowing Cave…a water spout at the right tide…but Walker’s Point is the summer home of George Bush senior and his wife, Barbara Walker Bush. With 2 Bush Presidents, the overlook became so popular that the town “improved” it with pull-out parking for a number of cars, and then installed a memorial to George Bush Senior on the rocks above Blowing Cave.

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George Bush Memorial with Walker's Point and the Bush compound in the background.

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Walker's Point over Beach Rose

Turning to go when found a common Southern Maine butterfly in an uncommon setting.

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Pearl Crescent in a sunflower. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom. 600mm equivalent.

On the way back we ran into a few song birds. Lots of Song Sparrows singing along the cliff top and a few Cedar Waxwings.

Finally we stopped once more at Spouting Rocks to catch the interesting sky as the storm came in over the ocean, the rocks, and the Rose bushes.

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Old Fort Point and St Anne's as the storm came in. Touit 12mm f2.8 on the Sony NEX 5T.

All the landscapes were processed for HDR effect in Snapseed on my tablet. The shot of St Anne’s had some perspective corrections in Photo Editor by dev.macgyver, also on my tablet. The wildlife shots had standard processing in Snapseed on the tablet.

Cape Arundel and Parson’s Way always have a lot to offer. It is not a long walk, but an ideal photoprowl :-)

Saco Heath 7/1/2014

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Sheep Laural still in bloom along the boardwalk, ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8, Sony NEX 5T

Saco Heath is a remnant Peat Bog, the southern-most in Maine, near the town of Saco. It is owned and managed (and protected) by the Nature Conservancy. For many years there has been a trail in through the wet woods and a boardwalk across the bog itself. Over the past 2 summers, a Volunteer America grant and matching funds have rebuilt much of the bog section of the boardwalk. In early spring the Rhoda and Sheep Laural blooms along the boardwalk. In July you look for Pitcherplant and bog orchids. In August the high-bush blueberries are ripe and bird life is at its peak. In Autumn, the trees and bushes take on color. It is a wonderful place in any season.

On July 1st, I drove up to the Heath in mid-morning and spent a few hours walking the boardwalk and the trails. I was carrying the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom, the Sony NEX 3N with the ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro, and the Sony NEX 5T with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

Right out of the parking lot is one of my favorite stretches of forest in Maine. It is a wet forest, with lots of lush ferns and undergrowth, and short sections of boardwalk of its own to keep your feet dry as you hike into the bog, and it is always full of life.

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Entering the Preserve through the wet forest. ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8, Sony NEX 5T.

Most of the shots in the slide show are with the ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8. The obvious macros are with the ZEISS Touit 50mm macro.

Once you reach the bog, things open out. This is a authentic Peat Bog, formed when Peat (mostly decayed Sphagnum Moss, but also a variety of other wetland plants) fills in a glacieral pond. The Peat in the Saco Heath is hundreds of feet deep, and completely saturated with water. The super-acidic environment favors only a few plants besides the moss. There is an excellent Nature Conservancy brochure here.

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Pitcherplant. The cups fill with acid water and trap insects with dissolve to feed the roots.

The Pitcherplants were well grown and in flower, but the flowers were a bit past their prime. When they rebuilt the boardwalk (a very necessary improvement) the Pitcherplants nearest the boardwalk had to be sacrificed, but there are still some within reach of a telephoto. These shots (including the one above) are with the 75-300mm zoom on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 at 600mm and 1200mm equivalent.

The Rhodora of the spring are were well past on the first of July, but there were still a few Sheep Laural plants in bloom.

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Sheep Laural along the boardwalk. Sony NEX 5T with ZEISS Touit 12mm f2.8.

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Still with the 12mm.

The other plant in bloom on the Heath on the first of July was one of the bog orchids…probably the most common in Maine…the Rose Pagonia. The panel that follows is a mix of telephoto macros with the OM-D E-M10 and conventional macros with the ZEISS Touit 50mm f2.8 macro.

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Rose Pagonia. Telephoto and conventional macros.

And for a sense of the plant in its environment, a shot with the 12mm Touit.

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Wide shot of the Rose Pagonia as you would see it from ground level in the bog.

Of course there is more than plants to Saco Heath. Common Yellowthroats were singing all over the bog, and a Roufous-sided Towhee was “drink your tea tea tea”ing from the top of a Jack Pine. Song Sparrows sang from the lower limbs of the Pines. All of these shots are with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom at 600mm and 1200mm equivalent.

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Common Yellowthroat. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 75-300mm zoom.

I am sure this will not be my only Photoprowl at Saco Heath this year. Stay tuned for more.