Photography is my passion; Conservation fuels my heart; Writing is my voice.
Author: Sophie Zyla
Photography is my passion; Conservation fuels my heart; writing is my voice. Photography has been a part of my life since back in the early 1980s. Through the years and transition from film to digital there have been numerous classes, workshops, and certificates. It is my camera and lens that allow my eyes to see the world and my mind to add meaning to what I see. I have pieces of paper that state I am an environmental educator and conservation biologist. I know I do not want to live behind the doors of the Ivory Tower where often arrogance lvies and fancy words are spoken between like-minded scientists who rarely speak in a language understood by the general public. I fear for the future of our planet and the glaringly ugly present in which we live. I feel a pressing need to be the butterfly fluttering about causing microcosms of currents of chaos and dropping seeds of understanding away from the tower doorstep. I want to live, play, and work at the intersection of art and photography and science. My images portray the scenes and subjects that caught my eye or were the result of a new path, project, travel, or study I have undertaken. My hope is that taking a look at the world through my eyes will inspire you to look closer at your surroundings and the magical life-forms we share our environment with.
“Put sunflower seeds in your pockets so sunflowers grow here when you die.”
Sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, a country most had not given much thought to, has now become a symbol of resistance, unity, and hope. Sunflowers had been planted at a Ukraine missile base after the removal of nuclear weapons in 1996. Now, much of social media is sporting brilliant yellow sunflowers and the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine. We have a different view of these colors, these flowers, Ukraine, war, nuclear weapons, and our world.
When I first started my “World Views: Pollinators & Plants project a few years back, it was to give a glimpse of what we humans see, or don’t see, and what many of the wild ones can see. I am not a fan of studio or portrait setups so the ultraviolet and high-key images have been a challenge. Maybe in seeing those other world views we can come to understand how important the world we often overlook really is. We have a lot to learn. About ourselves, others, and all life around us.
Finally, many are paying attention and seeing what bravery, kindness, passion, compassion, and solidarity are.
During this week, 2/28/22 to 3/4/22, of invasive species awareness and turmoil in Ukraine, plan on planting some sunflower seeds or plants this spring season. March 2, 2022 day 6 of the attempted invasion and war on Ukraine by Russia — as the world unites to support them in so many ways. Will it be enough?
Thinleaf Sunflower, Helianthus decapetalus is a native to much of the northeast to the central US, but there are so many wonderful Helianthus out there! The numerous species of bees, flies, butterflies, beetles, bugs, aphids, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, moths, songbirds, gamebirds, crows, voles, moles, groundhogs, deer, and others will appreciate the treats! If something isn’t eating your plants there is a problem!
The American Oystercatchers had started to return to the northeast coast sometime around mid-March from their wintering grounds in the southern states somewhere between South Carolina and Florida. I wandered the beach from Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden in Queens, NY on April 4th and enjoyed the company and curiosity of a number of pairs and a couple of single oystercatchers.
It is not possible to distinguish males and females by appearance as they look alike. They are also hard to confuse with a different shorebird species with the bright red to orange bill and yellow eyes rimmed with red on that black head with a brown and white body.
The Hewitt Pond trail in Minerva, NY leading out to Barnes Pond in Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest is an old path found on maps dating back to 1901. The date for the stretch to Stony Pond is unknown. Not many visit this section of the forest as we saw no one during the 6 hours we were out. The 8-mile area we traveled is a very small part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest network of trails, lakes, and mountain peaks.
Don’t let that lovely boardwalk that Jeff and Zoe are walking ahead of me on fool you as it soon came to an end. The builders had a long way to go in replacing the moss-covered and rotted old logs that had once been a help for footing above the marshy 550-foot bog path.
Blue-bead Lily enjoys the company of Indian cucumber root, red trillium, hobblebush, and striped maple.
When I hike, I like to photograph things as they are rather than capture a perfect specimen for a perfect image. I remember photographing a clump of plants once when someone I was with decided I had no idea how to take an image and began ripping the adjoining foliage out! Terrors!!! Like people, plants and wild ones exist as part of a community. In that community are so many close neighbors along with a mix of predators and prey.
A single Pink Lady’s-Slipper beauty we almost did not see
Painted Trillium, Trillium undulatum, is a member of the Lily family with three leaves and wavy edges
Balsam fir, red spruce, Eastern Hemlock, sugar maple, yellow birch, northern red oak, American beech, eastern hemlock, hobblebush, striped maple, leatherleaf, Labrador tea, Blue-bead Lily, Pink Lady’s Slipper, Painted Trillium, Bunchberry, Starflower, Interrupted Ferns, wood ferns, and so much more was along our path! Even the isolated plant hides a thread of spider web or insect if we look close enough. Stop and smell the flowers and also take a closer look at what may be hiding. There were numerous beaver dams, some moose prints, a variety of birds, dragonflies, and swarms of mosquitoes if one dared stop for too long.
Painted Trillium with a tiny insect wandering inside
Painted Trillium bloom in May followed by a red berry fruit in early fall. Insects pollinate the plant while ants take the seeds to their nests where the plants later germinate. These trilliums are found along a number of the trails of the Adirondacks in beech-maple mesic forest and pine-northern hardwood forest.
Blue-bead Lilly has larger leaves that do not have the spots of Trout Lily, has multiple flowers, and lacks, bright reddish anthers
Blue-bead Lily is named for the berries which change from green to white to deep porcelain blue. The berries appear in mid-summer and are neither poisonous or tasty to people but chipmunks and birds seem to enjoy them.
Pink Lady’s-slipper with hints of spiderweb
Pink Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule, is an orchid that is loved by many. Often too many. Too often those who see them try to take a plant home not realizing that it is not legal nor worthwhile as they do not survive without its symbiotic relationship with the fungus that is found in the soil. The plant may live to be 20 years old and it takes many years for the seeds to produce the plants. Enjoy them in nature during their bloom as the bees do which are lured in for pollination.
Hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides, is a native shrub can grown 6 to 10 feet.
Hobblebush is named for its pendulous branches’ ability to form obstacles to trip or hobble, those who wander past. The fruit of Hobblebush is a cluster of scarlet to deep purple berries from August through September. The fruit is edible, tasting a bit like raisins. Deer enjoy browsing on the twigs and leaves and birds and mammals enjoy the fruits. Hobblebush is found in the understory of a mesic beech-maple forest community along with Sugar Maple, Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple, and Yellow Birch. There may be an occasional nest of the Black-throated Blue Warbler found in the shrub.
Hobblebush with some of the fragrant May flowers
Some of the members of the community, like lady’s-slippers, once removed will not survive as they require the fungus with which they exist in their natural habitat. Soil is a fascinating subject with a vast assortment of so much more than textures, moisture-holding capacity, and earthworms. There are multitudes of insects, bacteria, fungi, and many other microorganisms that make this a food web worth exploring! There is an amazing book by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis called “Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web” that is worth a read.
Pink Lady’s-Slipper is part of a community of maples, wood ferns, birches and so many soil microbes.
Yellow Birch showing its age
Yellow Birch, also known as curly or silver birch, had grown large in the moist and dense woodland. The trunks grew straight and tall in the canopy with Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple, Sugar Maple, and American Beech. Mature trees can grow 60 to 80 feet and have a diameter of 2 to 3 feet! Yellow Birch may reach 100 feet and have a 4 to 5-foot diameter making it the largest of the birches and the wood is also the hardest and most valuable of our birches. Many of the birch trees had bark that had peeled and turned thick and brownish-black with age. Yellow birch is a valuable resource as it is used in making furniture, flooring, paneling, plywood, broom handles, clothespins, popsicle sticks, toothpicks, and much more. For backpackers, yellow birch makes a good fire starter.
Bunchberry Dogwood is a woodland ground cover in the Dogwood family
Bunchberry is flexible in growing requirements and is common in coniferous and mixed forests and some wetlands. The flowers produce clusters of red berries in July and August that are edible by people, bears, chipmunks, martens, rabbits, and hares, while deer and moose enjoy the foliage. Some of the birds that may eat the berries are Veeries, Ruffed Grouse, Philadelphia Vireos, Warbling Vireos, and White-throated Sparrows.
A perfect picnic spot
The mosquitoes were kind enough to leave us alone for a lunch and, on the return a snack and water break. The Tree Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Eastern Kingbirds, and White-breasted Nuthatch did their best to serenade and entertain. The area is reported to have an assortment of 147 species of birds breeding in the assorted habitats. It was nice to see signs of beavers in their lodges and freshly chewed trees as they are the best landscapers around! I’m sure our dog Zoe had a lot to do with our not seeing any of the moose, bear, dear, beavers, muskrat, river otter, fox, coyote, bobcat, raccoon, fisher, marten, mink, porcupine, and rabbits that may enjoying living in the woods and waters we passed through.
Signs of beaver activity
The Chalk-fronted Corporal is easy to recognize with the distinctive pale front thorax and abdomen base of older females and males. They were numerous but not willing to settle for too long for photos.
The Chalk-fronted Corporal is a large skimmer found that is numerous in the habitat of woods and waterways. They may be rather aggressive toward each other and defending their grounds and mates from other skimmers. There were many busy flying about but not too many that were willing to pause for long. Possibly our dog Zoe was a bit of a deterrent as were we.
Our Covid year gave many a reason to get outside and wander. Keep the trend going! There are many places to enjoy and much to be learned from simply taking a walk in the woods.
Beeline … to the Northern Hi-lights Azalea, a hybrid that was a favorite of Jeff’s sister who had passed away from cancer a number of years ago now. We dug it up and brought it to CT. It seems to have a following when in bloom.
As you can see this Metallic Epauletted-Sweat Bee seems happy to carry off some pollen, the Silver-spotted Skipper and Hummingbird Clearwing both spent some time visiting as well. Not all plants are created equal and there are studies being done on the nutritional value of assorted plant species.
Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus
Not all plants are designed to have pollen and nectar readily available to pollinators. Just a couple of things to consider when planning your garden this year.
Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe
Plant Native! The plants and insects have sustained each other for a long time along with all sorts of other wildlife in that food pyramid. Now they need a bit of help from us so they can continue to thrive as their habitats have been lost or altered with introduced or invasive species.
Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe
Check out your local native nurseries for advice. I’ve found all the folks at Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery in Woodbury, CT amazingly talented and a pleasure to visit with. The opening is Earth Day and their 2021 plant & price list is available. http://www.earthtonesnatives.com/
My pollinator garden thoughts started as growing only those plant species natives to CT. That didn’t last too long as I started incorporating a few of the species that were native to the surrounding states. Naturally, that expanded out just a bit further as thoughts of climate change and wildlife species moving further than normal started to enter the thoughts. Swamp Milkweed, both pink and white, and Butterfly Weed were of course included in plantings along with the much loved, and heavily promoted for Monarch conservation, Common Milkweed. This year I’ve purchased seeds for planting Whorled Milkweed and Poke Milkweed. It will be interesting to see who visits!
Monarch Caterpillar, the reason for the milkweed madness
In just a few blocks from my home, there are two beekeepers that I am aware of. Since water is available the Western Honey Bees are a very common visitor! So much so that no one could get near one of the fountains. Luckily I was allowed to carry on refilling and cleaning chores without too many worries of being stung.
The Western Honey Bee and the Common Milkweed. A true love affair.
The variety of visiting species to the Common Milkweed was many! I’ve started organizing them for the book that has gone from thoughts to writing this year. Besides the butterflies, there also skippers that are always fun to see and photograph.
What would a milkweed be without a Milkweed Beetle or two! In all honesty, we gardeners know just how abundant these red beauties are!
Cutting through the leaf spine is a way of stopping the flow of the toxic white sap in order to move above and safely nibble away.
There are a number of species of Milkweed that, depending on where you live, can be planted. A native nursery is worth a visit as are browsing the varieties and information from some of the reputable seed distributors, such as Prairie Moon Nursery which offers both seeds and plants. .https://www.prairiemoon.com/search.html?Search=asclepias Another worthy place for checking native varieties and plant species data is the USDA and U.S. Forest Service. For some of the “Plants of the Week” visit https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/index.php?profiles=a and scroll down to Asclepias for plant profiles and data on some of their highlighted varieties.
Think Spring! Let the planning and planting begin! Before planting exotics that have coexisted with insects and wild critters that do not inhabit our area, why not take a closer look at planting species that will benefit the wild ones we share our landscapes with?
Warning. Gardening can be very addictive. Another garden can always be started in an unused section of the yard. What better way to spend time at home than wandering among the scents and beauty of flowers and the birds and insects that they will attract.
For the Curious, iNaturalist is a great place to set up an account, upload images, see what the identification possibilities may be, and receive confirmation and/or identification from experts. It is also an easy way to assist in some of the science projects out there. https://www.inaturalist.org/
A bit of a taste test just to see what may be found
Mountain mints, or any of our native mints, are often overlooked when we pick out our pollinator plants. This past year Basil Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum clinopodioides, was on my rare and endangered plant survey list and I was thrilled to find a nice population of them! No photos as any metadata info could possibly give away their location and since they are endangered that is a definite NO!
A very intent look at this flower
These images are of native Broad-leaved mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, and a Macrosiagon limbata, one of our native beetles, seemed to really enjoy sticking its head into a flower.
The dive right into that mint flower
These wedge-shaped beetles are in the Ripiphoridae family. They are active in the summer months and can easily be skipped over as they are 5.0-12.0 mm. The beetles also enjoy elderberry flowers, bee balm, and goldenrod. The adult beetles lay their eggs on flowers and when they hatch the young adhere to solitary bees that visit the plants for pollen. These little predators are carried back to the nest where they prey on bee larvae. Such is the way of the wild that has been happening for a very long time. Plant natives and the natives will find their way!