New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan: Blog en-us (C) Julia Flanagan (New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) Sat, 12 Mar 2022 21:09:00 GMT Sat, 12 Mar 2022 21:09:00 GMT New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan: Blog 96 120 Bluebell Festival at Merrimac Farm 2022 New Earth Photography will be at the 2022 Bluebell Festival at Merrimac Farm  

Sunday, April 10th, 10AM to 4PM

Come out and enjoy a day of celebrating one of the most extensive and lovely colonies of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in all of Northern Virginia.

Virginia Bluebells at Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management AreaThe floodplain of Cedar Run supports one of the most outstanding displays of Virginia Bluebells in all of Northern Virginia.

Date:         Sunday, April 10, 2022

Time:        10AM to 4PM

Location:   Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area, Prince William County, VA 

Cost:         Free

Enjoy a story from our previous Festival here  Anabeth Among the Bluebells

For More Information on the Festival:  Bluebell Festival Info

There will be guided tours, food and much more.  And... You never know what you might find hidden among the bluebells...

A Great-horned Owlet A Great-horned Owlet comes down from his nest to enjoy the bluebells.

Virginia BluebellsBluebells open in succession, starting off pink and gradually expanding and unfurling into a cheerful blue in a glorious expression of "Spring is Here!"






















All photos and text are Copyright © Julia Flanagan unless otherwise noted.  All rights reserved.

(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) Bluebell Bluebell Festival Discovering Wildflowers explore forest forest Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area Mertensia virginica New Earth Photo Prince William County Virginia Bluebells wildflowers Sat, 12 Mar 2022 21:02:33 GMT
They Neither Sow nor Reap An adult Yellow-rumped Warbler captures a Mayfly to feed her chicks along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park.


Opportunities to photograph wildlife in Glacier National Park are abundant.  They are among the things I love most about Glacier.  The actual practice, however, can be problematic particularly along the roadways.  Visitors are always on the look out for big wildlife.  So anyone stopped by the side of a road who merely looks intently off into the distance is bound to attract attention.  That same person pointing a big lens at something, let's say a bear, will in minutes turn an empty road into a helter skelter 20 car "Bear Jam", with the guarantee that Park Rangers will arrive shortly to break up the melee.  Bear jams, sheep jams, goat jams, they’re all fairly common.


Jams aren’t always restricted to mammals.  I was once pleasantly delayed in my travels by a grouse jam.  Perhaps most amazingly, I personally (and unintentionally) managed to create a wildflower jam as I photographed Oregon Grape by the side of the road leading to my campground.  Oregon Grape_JF01168Oregon Grape_JF01168Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens), is a very low growing, evergreen "subshrub" rarely reaching more than 10" in height. Though its leaves look like American Holly, they are distantly related.

It makes a good ground cover where it is native. Beautiful in many seasons, with yellow flowers, dusty blue fruit and older leaves that turn yellow before dropping.
What people thought I was shooting, as I sat aiming my camera at the ground two feet in front of me, I don’t know.  But they backed up traffic anyway to stop and ask.  At least this was a short-lived jam.  No one joined me to gaze at the Oregon Grape.


Over the years I've tired of the chaos that can come with shooting by the side of the road.  Now I tend to seek out animals in locations where I don’t have to worry about attracting unwanted attention or creating traffic jams.  And this is partly why during my last visit I focused my photography on a less appreciated group of Glacier’s wildlife: birds.  And I was richly rewarded. 1 


I selected an area along the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake where I noticed a fair amount of bird traffic during a previous visit.  Pushing aside some branches, I found a narrow but well-worn foot path I hoped would lead me to the sliver of shoreline I had noticed earlier.  Ahead, but well out of view, was the mouth of Swiftcurrent Creek where it opened into the lake.  The broad delta it formed was a tangle of willows and alders.  A flycatcher sang atop one of the willows.


I hadn’t gone far before the path disappeared into the tangle. Though I tried to find its continuation the vegetation was too dense.  Twigs scraped against my face, camera and lens, ultimately convincing me to return to where I lost the path.  Working my way closer to the lake I found a depression only narrowly separated from the lake by a small rise of rich organic humus topped off with bunches of grasses that kept the soil from being washed into the lake.  The bottom of the depression was black organic muck.  Moose tracks were impressed in the muck.  Seems I wasn’t the only one interested in an easier route.  


Where the depression ended I was left with the rocky shore leading away with a gradual leftward curve.  I settle down on the last clump of grass, getting as low to the ground as possible without sitting in the water, set up my tripod and covered myself, my tripod and camera in a camouflage mesh.  


My movements along the shore, and especially that last act of donning camouflage, all came with a fair amount of reflection on the fact that I was in grizzly country, had just stepped into fresh moose tracks, and visibility in the direction of land was limited to not much past my nose.  The good news?  The brush was so thick I was bound to hear anything approaching by land.  Still, I patted the left pocket of my vest; the pepper spray was still there. 

Ahead of me lapping waves, so gentle one might hesitate to call them waves, had washed away the soil of the delta revealing just how thin it really was.  Where the reach of the waves ended soil and vegetation abruptly began.  Shrubs clung to the soil, their branches stretched out toward the lake to claim the only open sky available and in the process created patches of sheltering limbs and shade from which land-loving birds that ventured onto the shore could find some sense of safety in this exposed environment. 

Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis)Fresh Catch! An adult Northern Waterthrush moving like a pro along the rocky shore, quickly spied and snatched this newly hatched mayfly (termed a "subimago") . Note the mayfly's exoskeleton directly below the mayfly.

Once settled down with my longest lens, it wasn’t long before I seemed nearly invisible to the many avian visitors to the shore.  The narrow, curving sliver of shoreline acted like a runway, with birds entering from the brush at the far end and gradually making their way toward me as they hunted their prey.


Glacier in summer is alive with birds of every kind busily raising their young.  Most of the species I encountered along the shoreline were warblers (Yellow-rumped, McGilvary’s, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Water Thrush) and sparrows (Chipping, White-crowned, Song and Lincoln's).  Some of these species are not normally considered shoreline inhabitants.  But the reason for everyone's presence soon became apparent - the mayfly hatch.  

Mayflies spend the early stages of their lives in the waters of healthy lakes, streams and marshes.  "Healthy" being the key.  Mayflies are often used in the scientific evaluation of streams as an indicator of health, as they are unable to live where nutrients are excessive or where too much sediment has entered the water, coating what would normally be a clean, rocky bottom.  


Cedar WaxwingEven the Cedar Waxwings, that normally feast on fruit will take advantage of mayfly abundance.

Most of the mayfly’s aquatic life is spent in an immature flightless form called a “nymph”.  Nymphs feed on the microscopic algae and detritus of aquatic beds.  By mid-summer nymphs are ready to emerge from their watery world.  Rising to the surface, the nymphs of Swiftcurrent Lake climb barely above the waterline onto dry land before escaping from their old exoskeletons to become winged creatures.  Once they have emerged their lives are short.  In a matter of a few days they will  fly for the first time, molt once more, form swarms to mate, spread their eggs over the same waters from which they had just emerged, and die.  During this time they will not eat.


Mayflies of various species are common across North America.  In some parts of the U.S. the mayfly hatch is so huge it shows up on weather radar.2   Billions of mayflies in a synchronized hatch swarm in the air and after mating land everywhere as they die.  The numbers are so high that predators can’t put a dent in the supply.  Mayfly carcasses pile up on roads, cars, sidewalks... and must be shoveled away.  


The hatch I witnessed in Swiftcurrent Lake was much more subdued.  Surveys in Glacier have documented a total of 21 species of mayflies park-wide.3  In Swiftcurrent Lake at most 7 species have been documented.  Those I observed seemed to emerge more gradually, and definitely in fewer numbers.  


Still, their presence is important.  As the nymphs crawl onto dry land to transform into winged mayflies they are temporarily immobile and vulnerable, making them a ready source of food.  And how providential that this happens right when bird parents need to feed hungry chicks.  


During the few days I visited this shoreline in early August, I found many avian young already out of their nests, following their parents and begging for food from the relative safety of the shore's brushy edge.  Every parent on every trip found at least one mayfly to bring them.  Often several were stuffed in their bills before flying back to their chicks.


Other fledglings, juveniles already independent of their parents, wandered the shoreline and thickets in search of prey.  I learned to spot them by their hesitant movements and the unique disarray of their feathers: the remnants of their nestling down still poking out from their incoming flight feathers.  I was sure I was photographing some of these young literally making their first attempts at finding their own food, hopping  Juvenile Common YellowthroatVenturing onto the shoreline for perhaps the first time to find food. Even his posture suggests he is still used to begging food from his parents. in their awkward way around the rocky shore and, despite their inexperience, easily catching a helpless mayfly packed with fat and protein.  

Yes, it was easy for them to find food.  Very easy.  It was like watching a 2 year old on his first Easter egg hunt, bumbling up a grassy knoll, finding all those brightly colored eggs "hidden" in plain sight by a loving parent.


And through stillness, patience, watching, and learning I found my reward in the hunt - kinship with these young birds along this sliver of rocky shoreline, as they and I discovered more about this World of God's making.  I was reminded of what Luke tells us, that Jesus would often steel away to lonely places to pray.  I wondered if he may have spent some of his time considering the birds of the air.  A prelude to him teaching his disciples about the simplicity of trusting a good God for the needs of the day and thereby gaining freedom from worry.


Consider the birds of the air “... they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  ...But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  4





All photos and text are Copyright © Julia Flanagan unless otherwise noted.  All rights reserved.



1.     A good way to learn more about birds on your next visit to a national park is to take a tour led by a Park Ranger.  Many parks will have tours specifically related to birds.  In Glacier I took an excellent birding tour led by Park Ranger, David Benson.  It was a leisurely stroll from Many Glacier Hotel around the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake, through Many Glacier Campground and out onto the trail to Swiftcurrent Pass that introduced me to a variety of habitats and locations that were excellent for birding.  It was a great introduction that encouraged me to explore these and more areas with my camera and expand my understanding of the birds of Glacier.

David is the author of the field guide “Glacier Is For The Birds“.  Available here     


2.     Weather Radar captures billions of mayflies hatching on Lake Erie.


3.     Newell, R., & Baumann, R. (2013). Studies on Distribution and Diversity of Nearshore Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera in Selected Lakes of Glacier National Park, Montana. Western North American Naturalist, 73(2), 230-236.


4.      Matthew 6:26, New International Version, 1984.


(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) adult birds feeding young avian photography cedar waxwing Common fledgling fledgling birds Glacier National Park insect food for birds juvenile bird mayflies mayfly nature photography Northern Waterthrush shoreline Swiftcurrent Lake warbler yellow-rumped warbler Yellowthroat" Thu, 30 Jul 2020 20:34:56 GMT
It's Something Like Magic You stroll the boardwalk early on a spring morning, enjoying the quiet of an awakening woodland. The familiar song of a robin makes its way down through trees just starting to break bud.  The light is soft, the winds calm.  Cool air is pleasant against your skin. The trees are still.  This corner of the world is easing its way into spring.

Magee Marsh State Park, OhioThe Boardwalk at Magee MarshA quiet start to the day. Nikon D2X, Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, 1/400, 24mm, f7.1, ISO 160. The Boardwalk at Magee Marsh.  

A quiet start to the day.  Nikon D2X, Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, 1/400, 24mm, f7.1, ISO 160.


Then he speaks a word, perhaps waves his hand with a flourish, and hundreds of miles away the winds shift and begin drawing up from the southwest.  Expectant travelers perceive it.  They respond to an irresistible call northward.  As evening fades into night they spread their wings and climb to ride the invisible current. 


With the breaking of a new dawn the boardwalk will be transformed.  Like dew falling from heaven, they will arrive.


You are in northwest Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie in a remnant of the Great Black Swamp. This is Magee Marsh. And the Warbler Invasion has begun.


Black-throated Blue Warbler at Magee MarshBlack-throated Blue Warbler MaleWarbling away on his migration to his breeding grounds. Nikon D810, Nikkor 600mm f4, 1/800 sec., f5.6, ISO 800.

Black-throated Blue Warbler.  Warbling away on his migration to his breeding grounds.     
Nikon D810, Nikkor 600mm f4, 1/800 sec., f5.6, ISO 800.


Each spring vast numbers of warblers leave their winter homes in South and Central America and the southern United States to begin a journey leading hundreds and, for most, thousands of miles north to their breeding grounds.


They are drawn north for the food they will find all spring and summer in the Eastern Deciduous and Northern Boreal Forests, in the wet meadows of the Northern Prairies, and around the intricate network of lakes of the upper Mid-west.  They come seeking insects, abundant insects.  They will depend upon these small creatures, that most of us have an aversion to, to raise their young and feed themselves until the seasons change and, like summer's warmth, what was plentiful ebbs away.

Magee Marsh State Park, OhioNorthern ParulaThis migrating Northern Parula uses its bill to pry open a leaf in search of caterpillars or spiders. Magee Marsh State Park, Ohio.


But before they reach their breeding grounds they must make an arduous journey, traversing all manner of land and water, with much of the land no longer suitable to supply food that can sustain their travels. 

The migration of warblers is well studied.  We know that warblers travel mostly by night.  In fact, large flocks of them will likely pass over your neighborhood tonight.  Flocks large enough they can be detected on radar.  And just before dawn they will drop out of the skies seeking safe habitat, known as “stopover habitat”, someplace rich with insect food, so they can spend their day refueling and resting.


A typical warbler weighs about 10 or 12 grams.  That’s about the same as 2 nickles.  If you have them, pull 2 nickles from your pocket and weigh them in the palm of your hand.  In one night of migration that same warbler might expend as much as 16% to 35% of its body fat in the exertion of non-stop flight.  And then need to rise again the next night and repeat that performance.

Their lives will depend upon the quality of the land they find when they drop out of the sky, whether it is land they choose or land in which they are forced by severe weather to take refuge.                                                                                                                                                                                    

If your community has been wise and fortunate enough to have preserved good stopover habitat, you may have the pleasure of seeing a colorful warbler seeking refuge and refreshment during the day in a forest near you.  But if your community has removed large tracts of forests with all their layers of vegetation, don’t get your hopes up.  Pity the migrants who found respite last year in a forest that has since been cleared.  Pity those forced by bad weather to drop out of the night sky seeking shelter in a storm only to find the land devoid of food.


Those birds traveling up through the mid-western states into Canada will have the added challenge of navigating the Great Lakes.  Among the largest lakes in the world, the lakes themselves might as well be a desert for all they have to offer in the way of food or a place to take a break from hours of non-stop flight.  They are a formidable obstacle.  Warblers cannot risk being unprepared.  Before attempting a crossing they must find land in which to rest and regain their reserves of fat.  

Nashville Warbler, Salix nigra, Magee Marsh State Park, OhioNashville Warbler MaleA migrating Nashville Warbler has found a tiny caterpillar among the native Black Willow trees (Salix nigra) of Magee Marsh. Nikon D810, Nikkor 600mm f4, TC14E, 1/640s, f5.6, ISO 800.


Magee Marsh, literally a stones throw from the southern shore of Lake Erie, has provided the perfect stopover habitat for millennia past. The warblers arrive providentially just as Magee comes alive with insect activity.  Millions of midges, a tiny non-biting mosquito-like insect, emerge from the water and flock to the tree tops, shrubby edges and undergrowth.  The rich proteins and fats warblers gain from these and many other insects populating Magee Marsh, are crucial to enabling them to continue safely northward. 


The good folks of Ohio were wise to preserve remnants of the Great Black Swamp.  Magee Marsh is one of these remnants.   Some 39 species of warblers may be seen at Magee during the roughly 6 weeks of migration spanning from mid-April to late May. This year, due to Covid-19, the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding”, a festival celebrating the migration, is cancelled.  But the birds will still migrate.  While we are sheltering at home they will find shelter in transit along the empty boardwalks of Magee Marsh.


And I look forward to next time when I can walk the boardwalk as dawn breaks.  It is like being inside a gift unwrapped for me by the sun.  It is a surprise party in the woodland garden, discovering what new arrivals have dropped from the night skies.  I'm filled with a sense of wonder, deeply satisfied in the presence of such beautiful creatures, knowing they have been cared for thus far and are well on their way to raising the next generation.


So, if you arrive at Magee Marsh longing to see warblers, and the woods are quiet with the only song you hear a familiar one, don’t worry, just wait for a southwesterly wind to blow.


Tomorrow will be a new day.




Lincoln, Frederick C., Migration of Birds, Circular 16, 1935 (revised 1979 and 1998), US Fish and Wildlife Service, 119p.


Kerlinger, Paul, 2009, How Birds Migrate, 2nd Ed., Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.  230p.



All photos and text are Copyright © Julia Flanagan unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.


(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) Biggest Week Biggest Week in American Birding bird Birding Black-throated Blue Warbler blog Magee Marsh State Park migration Nashville Warbler nature New Earth Photography northern parula Ohio spring warbler Wed, 22 Apr 2020 01:02:08 GMT
Native Plant Symposium Native Plant Symposium for Beginners – Stop Mowing, Start Growing!


Spring is Coming!  Now is the time to plan new additions to your landscape.  What to choose? Let me recommend plants that are both beautiful and ecologically beneficial – Natives!  Not familiar with native plants?  Well, if you live in the Northern Virginia Area consider attending this upcoming 1 day symposium.


The Native Plant Symposium for Beginners, “Stop Mowing, Start Growing!” is an excellent event that will introduce the beginner to the beauty and benefits of all kinds of locally native plants from perennials to trees, and inspire ideas for the experienced and novice gardener alike.


More than just a pretty to look at, native plants provide food, cover, nesting space and more for our local bird, bees and butterflies in ways that non-natives simply can’t. 


Join local experts Saturday, February 8 from 9AM to 2:30PM at the Woodbridge Campus of Northern Virginia Community College, to learn more about why natives are vital to our local landscape and how you can transform your yard into a life giving plant community.


Only $20 for this event, including a light breakfast, lunch and materials.


For more Information and to Register, Click HERE.


The Native Plant Symposium for Beginners is sponsored by:

Northern Virginia Community College

Plant NoVa Natives

Prince William Watershed Management Branch 

Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation

Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District

Prince William Conservation Alliance

Virginia Cooperative Extension

Virginia Native Plant Society


(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) landscape Native Plants pollinator habitat suburban symposium Virginia Woodbridge Wed, 29 Jan 2020 16:53:24 GMT
The Legend of Little Mouse Douglas Fir Cones, native american folk lore.Douglas Fir ConesDouglas Fir Cones (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

In the Great Western Forests of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest stand the majestic Douglas Fir trees.  Towering 200 to 300 feet over the creatures of the forest floor, Douglas Fir is a strong tree, able to survive the harshest challenges of the wild.  Its thick bark and lofty canopy make it resistant to damage from the frequent fires of the West.  The cones of most conifers might be characterized as interesting, but not beautiful.  Here the cone of the Douglas Firs stands apart from the rest.  It is quite beautiful, especially in the early summer when it is colored in green and purple with funny papery appendages - three-lobed bracts protruding from beneath each developing scale.  


Such curious things, those cones, those bracts.  Why bracts?  What purpose do they serve?  For everything must have a purpose.


I found no satisfying explanation for the odd little bracts, until I heard a story about the Douglas Fir and its curious cone.  It seems that long ago in an ancient forest a summer storm sent a bolt of lightning that broke the tranquility of the forest.  


Where the bolt entered the ground a flame arose.   So small a flame.  Hardly something to be concerned about.  Until a dry southerly wind began to blow and before anyone knew it the forest was ablaze.  Needles coating the forest floor were quickly turned to ash, small trees were consumed as the flames rose higher.   The creatures of the forest became alarmed.  They had seen fire before and knew to get to the lake.  But the lake was a long way off and this fire was gaining strength, its flames licking up more and more ground, threatening to overtake them.   All the animals began to fear for their lives.


Madam Doe sprang away, so fleet of foot, leaping over logs and dodging trees.  She would have no trouble reaching the lake.  Bear loped along pushing through anything in his way with his brute force.  But Little Mouse, running as fast as he could, began to fear he could not out run the flames.  He called out to the other creatures of the forest for help.  


“Young Cottontail, please stop and let me climb on your back so you can carry me to safety with your bounding strides!”  


But Cottontail called back, “I can not stop to carry you.  You will weigh me down and I might not make it to the lake.”  And he disappeared down the hillside.


As Little Mouse’s panic rose he saw the shadow of his enemy, Owl, pass over him.  Perhaps he would spare Little Mouse.  “Mr. Owl, please have mercy.  Swoop down and carry me in your talons to safety.”


“I can not come back for you”, he replied, without even turning his head.  “The heat will singe my feathers and I will not be able to fly.”  Like a ghost he disappeared into the smoke.


Then Little Mouse saw Fox catching up to him from behind.  But she didn’t look at him like she usually does.  She leapt right past him.  In desperation he cried out to her, “Mrs. Fox, won’t you carry me in your mouth to the lake?”


But Mrs. Fox called back, “I must hurry to my den and gather up my kits to carry them in my mouth to the lake.  There is no time or room for you.”  And with that she hurdled the great roots of Douglas Fir and was out of sight.


Then Little Mouse heard a deep voice call down to him from high above.  “Little Mouse, waste no time!  Climb up into my branches.”  It was Douglas Fir speaking.  “Climb high, for my bark is thick and will stop the flames from climbing my trunk.  My branches are high, the fire will not reach you here.”


So Little Mouse jumped onto the roots of Douglas Fir and climbed as fast as he could.  He climbed and climbed until the flames began to look small below him and the air began to cool in Douglas Fir's mighty canopy.  Weary from fear and exhausted, Little Mouse crawled under the sheltering scales of an open cone high in Douglas Fir’s branches.  And there he fell asleep in safety.


It wasn’t long before the Great Spirit, the Creator of the Forest, heard the tale of Douglas Fir’s compassion for Little Mouse.  To honor Douglas Fir, the Creator gave him a mark that would be with him forever so all the creatures of the forest would remember to be kind to those in need.   And so, to this day we see the hind legs and tail of a sleeping Little Mouse tucked inside the cones of Douglas Fir.




Author's Note: This was a story told to me many years ago at a retreat in Pike National Forest, Colorado.  I was told it has its origin in an old Native American folk tale.  I’m sure I'm not recalling it exactly and have altered the story somewhat in my retelling.  Nonetheless, I believe I have done no harm to the original point of the story, and hope you have enjoyed it.


All photos and text are Copyright © Julia Flanagan unless otherwise noted.  All rights reserved.




(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) bracts Cones danger Douglas Fir fire forest Mouse Sun, 28 Jul 2019 04:11:58 GMT
AnaBeth Among the Bluebells Virginia BluebellsAn ephemeral scene of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) along Cedar Run, Prince William County, VA.


I’ve learned not to take it personally, the attrition of people who start off on my Native Trees and Forests guided walk.  My tour leads ultimately to the Cedar Run floodplain and the famous Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).  Along the way we learn about forest ecology.  However, some folks are really just here for the remarkable ephemeral display.  Before long they make a beeline to the bluebells.  This is, after all, the Bluebell Festival at Merrimac Farm.  And so I appreciate even more the folks who stay with me for the whole walk. 


This year by the mid-point of the tour our group had dwindled to 8.  Once the numbers had thinned, I began noticing more details about my guests.  A young girl, perhaps 11 years old, was walking with her mom.  The girl was wearing a long black robe with a hood. The lining of the hood was a pinkish red.  Her brunette hair and fair skin contrasted with it nicely.  She carried a notebook by her side and a pencil in the hand that held the book.  


"Do I detect a Hogwarts robe?", I inquired.


"Oh yes", her mother replied, "AnaBeth is into all things Hogwarts."  Then to her daughter, "What is the name of the tree that that those wands were made of?"  Mom was clearly not the aficionado in the family.


After some barely audible musings, AnaBeth answered, "Harry Potter had a Holly wand.  But the most powerful wand was the Elder Wand."  Turning to me her eyes widened.  "Do you think we will see an Elder tree today?" she asked.  "I would love to see an Elder tree."   


I hated to disappoint her, but I could not think that there even was such a thing as an Elder tree, at least not in the eastern U.S.  Perhaps there was in England, or perhaps only in the imagination of Ms. Rowling.  


I took an immediate liking to this young girl.  I sensed in her an eager interest, an enthusiasm for learning and exploration that I was sure extended beyond the world of Harry Potter.  And I found myself more keenly aware of the opportunity to help her see wonder in this real world of nature: of forests and trees, bluebells and birds, of things more delightful than any product of human imagination.  A world fashioned by the wisdom and grace of a Creator immeasurably greater than us, but one who takes pleasure in bending low to show us the work of his hands, wonders we can see and hear and touch. 


"Well... I don't think we will find any Elder trees here.  But perhaps our forest can work its magic on you."


She smiled and we walked on.


Farther along we came across a tree whose leaves look much like poison ivy.  Because there is poison ivy along the trail I usually stop here to help people learn the difference between the rash inducing poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, and this, one of its look-a-likes, the harmless Acer negundo.  So I stopped and pointed out the 3 notched leaflets of Acer negundo, more commonly known as Boxelder.  


The young girl stepped forward and interrupted me, "Did you say box ELDER?"




"So there ARE Elder trees here!"  Her voice rose in delight, her hands reached out to touch the young tree.


"Huh”, I thought, smiling a little to myself at having missed the connection.  "So there are."  


Our little group walked on, talking trees and gradually, almost imperceptibly dropping in elevation until we came to the edge of the realm of bluebells.  One small plant announced that we had arrived.  Its broad, bright green leaves subtended a tall arcing stem weighed down at the tip with a cluster of blooms in various stages of unfolding.  We looked ahead where in the distance we got our first glimpse of the larger colony.  A layer of blue as clear as the sky hovered over the ground, like a peaceful tropical sea. 

Close-up of Virginia Bluebell I find the unopened flowers every bit as interesting as a Bluebell in full bloom.


I‘ve led tours to this colony every year for the last several years and every year we seem to reach the bluebells at a different time in their development.  Never before had we caught them at such a perfect moment. 


Their stunning beauty surprised me.  I let out a spontaneous "Whoo hoo!" of joy at the sight of them.  How could I be taken by surprise?  It was as though I had been away too long and had forgotten how very lovely they are.  I felt my soul expand with a sense of relief, releasing some weight of the world built up in my heart that I wasn’t even consciously aware of.    


As I normally do at this spot in the walk, I thanked everyone for touring with me and released them to take their time meandering among the bluebells.  Still, a few people stayed with me, asking questions as we walked further into the colony.  High overhead the rising trill of a Northern Parula drifted down from a forest canopy just beginning to sprout fresh leaves. 


At our feet Mertensia now lined the path on both sides of us. The colony was lush and dense, at its peak of color.  A lightly overcast sky made the blue of their blossoms positively glow across the forest floor.  They were spectacular, the best I had ever witnessed.  


Just ahead young AnaBeth had stopped by a large cluster blooming at the edge of the trail.  I came along side her and bent down to get closer.  She bent down with me.  I gently placed my hand under the cluster of flowers, lifting their nodding heads so we could see them in intimate detail. 


Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)A single flower cluster shows the progression of the unfolding blossoms from deep pink when newly emerging to the pale blue of the fully open flower.

The little girl opened her notebook.  It was a sketch pad.  On one page was a simple pencil drawing with a long, single line forming a shallow arc representing a flower's stem and small bell-like flowers alternating up the stem.  Each flower was short, recurving at the end of the petals and each sat on its own, sessile on the stem and far separated from the others.  She held her drawing out next to the bluebells in my hand.  With a voice that embodied the joy of discovery and held no self-reproach, she said, "Why, they don't look like this at all!  I need to completely redraw them!"  It was clear the task required immediate attention and would be a very pleasurable undertaking.


Her bright intelligent air made me want to stay and enjoy her exploration of the bluebells, to see her study their structure, drawing out how they are organized on the stem, the shape of the blossoms yet to open, still deeply pink and compressed, then elongating and unfurling; colors morphing like wet litmus paper until their hues fade to the pale cerulean of a fully open bluebell.  


But other responsibilities pulled me back to the Stone House where our tour began.  As I walked on I thought that if I were to look back, and my eyes could search her out, I would find her settled down on a fallen log, paper and pencil in hand, absorbed in a fresh portraiture of her new friend.


 All photos and text are Copyright © Julia Flanagan unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.


(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) bluebell festival at Merrimac Farm discovering wildflowers explore forest forest merrimac farm wildlife management area mertensia virginica new earth photo virginia bluebells Mon, 27 May 2019 21:34:19 GMT
Magee Marsh Trip Yellow Warbler, Male_JF97501Yellow Warbler, Male_JF97501One of the last remaining Green Ashes in the wetland (Fraxinus pensylvanica) provides food for insects. It is those insects that attracted the interest of hungry songbirds, like this Yellow Warbler.

Location: Magee Marsh State Park, Ohio


Male Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) hunting for insects, particularly midges. 


I enjoyed a 10 day trip to Northwest Ohio for the Warbler migration, visiting friends and selling photos.  Met some wonderful people at the Biggest Week in American Birding festival hosted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Maumee Bay State Park, among many others.  You can find some new additions to my "Portfolio" link at the top of the page.


(New Earth Photography by Julia Flanagan) foraging Magee Marsh migration Ohio Park petechia Setophaga State Warbler Yellow Mon, 29 May 2017 16:01:34 GMT