All posts by Troy

Finding Fireflies

I couple of weeks ago I was awakened by a bright flash of lightning. After watching out the window for a few minutes I realized the storms were passed us and then I saw a light flash. Being still partially asleep I wasn’t sure I saw that little flash of light as it was 12:30am and fireflies are typically done lighting up by this time.

Fireflies following the trail home

Becoming a little more awake I continued to look outside only to confirm fireflies were indeed flashing in our back yard. A few minutes later I was out on the deck watching them flash repeatedly. More than we’ve ever had in our backyard. The following night I decided to head out to more wooded areas to see if the fireflies were putting on a show. The first location I tried really wasn’t providing as many fireflies as I wanted so I decided to try another area close by.

Twinkling in the grass

Luckily they were putting on a nice show but then another issue arose with a nearly full moon lighting up the landscape making it difficult to see any fireflies flashing. I was able to find a shaded area and get some nice pictures of the fireflies that night. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve been going to different spot when I can and photographing these interesting beetles as they displayed different flashing sequences and colors. Hopefully you can see their trails in the photos in this post. My next goal is to photograph a single beetle lighting up. We’ll see as that is a difficult task as they don’t like to stay in one place very long.

Dancing by the pond

Chasing Dragonflies

During the past several weeks I’ve been out enjoying the active wildlife and taking hundreds of photographs. Some of the most prevalent subjects have been dragonflies which are fun insects to photograph with all of their different colorations and patterns. People tend to get a little bored with dragonfly photographs as there are a lot of them.

Dragonfly clinging to a blade of grass

In the main photo above I believe that is called a widow skimmer which is also in the second to last photo from the bottom. Directly above is a four spotted skimmer. After photographing a dragonfly it can be a bit of a challenge to identify it but fun to try and fun to learn what each one is.

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These insects are amazing fliers often able to out fly birds to keep from being eaten and also catch insects for their next meal which is a great thing for those that don’t like mosquitos. Their acrobatics can entertain and amaze for hours on a nice summer afternoon.

Damselfly

Above is a blue damselfly hiding amongst the grass. While many people consider it a dragonfly it is actually a different insect in a group known as damselflies. Damselflies have their wings behind them while at rest and are not as skilled at flying as dragonflies. Also they typically are not as big.

Coming in for a landing

During my time attempting to photograph these fun insects, one of my goals was to capture them in flight which proved more difficult than expected. Most of my pictures of dragonflies in the air out of focus or have a portion of their body cut out of the photo or missed them entirely as my reaction time is slower than their takeoff time.

In the face of a dragon

In the picture above rests a 12 spotted skimmer. These didn’t seem to rest much while I was there so there is only a picture or two of them.

Waiting for the next flight

Above is another widow skimmer and below is an ebony jewelwing damselfly. These are probably my favorite damselflies because their coloration changes depending on the light they’re in and because of their black wings which flutter softly from leaf to leaf. There will probably be more dragonfly photos yet this year as I continue to have fun capturing them with a camera.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

Getting Caught in a Small Storm While Taking Pictures

A year ago I was able to wonder around in a nearby forest taking in wildlife. You can read about it here if you would like. There have not been as many opportunities to get out with my camera this spring but recently I did get to spend some time taking in the ever greening forest in search on new life. On this particular outing my goal was to see if a mother coyote had taken up residence in a familiar spot to raise her little ones again and to find out if Eagles had once again laid eggs in their nest from last year.

Up in the tree

While slowly making my way in the woods attempting to make as little noise as possible I heard a low growling sound coming from nearby. Scanning the area I saw a head hanging out of a hole in the tree. Watching for a minute or two I noticed this raccoon ever so gently resting its head in this hole looking exhausted from the day.

A passing deer in the dark forest

Enjoying this raccoon for a short time I heard a noise in leaves up the hill from me but couldn’t see what was making the noise. Shortly after a little deer made its way near me but hadn’t noticed me yet. Fortunately I was standing on a log right next to another tree so there was no shuffling of leaves to slowly turn to watch it. As I began to rotate, the deer spotted my movement causing us both to stop immediately. It was so dark in the woods that taking pictures of moving animals was a challenge and I was in a poor position to steady my camera so all I could manage was a few blurry shots and it was gone. This was ok because I wanted to focus more on the raccoon.

A tired mother raccoon

Once the deer had disappeared I hopped onto another fallen tree nearby trying to keep the noise down as I moved closer to this hollow tree being used for a home. Once on this tree I quietly removed my backpack and took out the tripod in order to steady my camera in hopes of getting sharper photos. While doing this out pops a bunch of tiny heads trying to figure out what I was doing. Now I understand why this larger raccoon appears to be so tired as to be almost lifeless. It was a mother with several little ones to tend to.

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Almost settled in with my backpack and tripod, there was another rustling in the leaves near where the first noise came from but this time it sounded slightly different. I quickly frozen, standing on this log trying to look for movement and then I heard a sound – a turkey. Wow I’ve never had turkeys walk up to me. I always seem to come up on them and scare them away before getting a decent picture. Now what do I do? In order for me to get to cover so they wouldn’t recognize me I would have to move significantly. I decided to concentrate on these baby raccoons but tried to remain steady as to not disrupt the turkeys too much. They did eventually move on away from me so I could once again focus on these little critters right in front of me.

The whole raccoon family

Now I was able to get the camera set up on the tripod and sit comfortably on the log I was just standing on and shoot away as this family would pop in and out of this larger hole in the tree. Enjoying my time watching these little fury creatures I heard another noise off in the distance. It sounded like thunder! I didn’t think there was really any storms in the area so I dismissed it as possibly an airplane overhead or something. Than I heard it again with a much longer rumble. That had to be thunder so I pulled out my phone all while being watched and check the radar. Now what should I do? I can pack up and try and get out of hear or wait it out since it appeared I was on the edge and may only get a little rain. Waiting it out seemed like the better idea as I could see sun near the horizon so this couldn’t last very long. Back to taking pictures of the raccoons.

Approaching storm

While sitting there defying the weather, the thunder got closer and more numerous causing me to question my decisions to stay. Finally when it was almost overhead I decided it was time to pack up and leave. It must have been the right decision as the raccoons had all retreated back into their tree as well. Getting out to the edge of the woods I could see the storm which appeared to have just passed overhead. Now the wind was picking up at my back so the approaching cold front must have just came through. Do I go back to the raccoons or continue on to the eagles nest or keep going towards the car? My answer came in the form what sounded like a strong wind gust. But it wasn’t wind. I new my time was up and my choice now was to seek shelter among a clump of large maple trees just as heavy rains began pounding down. After a short downpour I decided to continue to the car and enjoyed watching the sun set behind this small spring storm. Definitely worth getting wet for.

A beautiful sunset as the storm passes

If Mushrooms Can Adapt…..

While looking through some photos from earlier this year I came across some of this shelf mushroom with a unique shape. As I examined this fungus it looks as though it was growing on this tree while the tree was still standing and once the tree fell to the ground the mushroom adapted and began growing in this new direction. The photo below shows what a typical shelf mushroom looks like. In fact, I’ve never seen one growing differently than this. They grow horizontally on trees, usually dead trees but not always.

What a typical shelf mushroom look like

As I walked around this shelf mushroom admiring its form I began wondering several things. First, how old is this fungus? It has to be several years old to be this big as well as growing in one direction for a couple of yeas and then growing in the opposite direction for at least one year. Why did this mushroom continue growing once the tree fell down while others appear to have stopped on this same tree? In nature, and in life, being able to adapt to ever changing situations often brings longevity. How long did it take for this shelf mushroom to change directions once the tree fell over? Was it the very next season or did it take multiple growing seasons continue growing. I will have to find this fungus again and check in on it every so often just to learn more on how it continues to adapt and how its shape changes. Unfortunately my camera battery died so I couldn’t take more photos on this particular trip. Stay tuned for updates…..

Shelf mushroom adapting to changing conditions

 

Horses in Kentucky

This spring we had the opportunity to visit Western Kentucky which is known well for making Bourbon and horses. In a previous post I wrote about making bourbon so on this weekend of the Kentucky Derby I thought it appropriate to write about horses. One morning we stopped at a horse breeding farm in Lexington where we were treated to some very young horses which they call foals.

A mother and her foal

In the photo above, this young foal was about 3 months old in a stall with its mother. It’s really amazing to see this young horse as it continues to learn what life is all about. I could have stayed and photographed this little horse for hours and maybe even all day. Surprisingly this little horse already had a halter on which I never really thought about. Kind of like a new puppy where a collar is often times put on early in their life so they get use to it.

Hitting the trail

What is a horse adventure without actually getting on one. A short drive away, near Mammoth Cave, we found a farm offering trail rides to take advantage of through this beautiful landscape. While riding one of these horses you can feel just how powerful they are as they traverse up and down hills along with the uniqueness of each horse. Even on a hour trail ride you can see each one has a different personality which is kind of fun to watch.

Feeding mom while the newborn foal observes from behind

Seeing a 3 month old foal was really exciting but there was another treat for us at this horse breeding farm. In the photo above we’re feeding this thoroughbred carrots but behind it you can barely see a newborn foal. It was born almost 12 hours before this and was still a little wobbly on it’s feet as it tried to walk around in its stall. Such a treat!

Churchill Downs

What is a trip to Western Kentucky exploring horses without stopping at Churchill Downs? There is a museum here that displays the history of the Kentucky Derby over the last century which is quite interesting. Along with the museum there are tours providing views of different parts of this horse track. As you go through each area you can almost feel the excitement and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby. Now when watching this on TV it brings a different perspective. It’s much more personal with increased interest.

The track at Churchill Downs.

 

The Ducks are Migrating

While out on a hike recently I noticed this small pond full of ducks. Watching for a few minutes I could see a few different types of beautiful ducks but I had to keep going as rain was near and I didn’t really want to get wet. A few days later I got up just before sunrise and headed to this lake to watch these ducks.

A crisp morning with some fog

As the morning went on I was amazed at the diversity of ducks in this little pond on a beautiful crisp day. While walking from my car to the pond there was frost on the grass and some fog in valleys which was burning off quickly under the warming sun. A perfect morning for enjoying the outdoors in my book.

Ringneck Ducks

After settling in next to a tree, the ducks began moving around the lake but seemed to always keep an eye on me. The morning started with me sitting in front of the tree trying to keep still waiting for them to come closer. After awhile I decided to move next to the tree instead of in front of it and ducks began to come closer but still far enough away to prevent close up pictures like the Ringneck ducks in the photo above.

Trumpeter Swan grazing the top of the water

While enjoying the great spring morning I could hear a Trumpeter Swan calling off in the distance. Eventually it flew closer and around the pond. Having watched these birds I was pretty sure it was going to make a pass somewhere on this pond if not land in the pond so I kept an eye on it and had the camera ready. The difficult part about preparing for the swan was trying to also keep on eye on the ducks and their position. Soon this Trumpeter turned and headed for the pond allowing me to shoot away. When looking over the photos this one caught my attention because of how close the wing feathers are to the water and the light reflecting off of the water onto its wings.

Redhead ducks swimming with the Ringneck ducks

As the morning continued a beaver would swim around appearing as if it was chasing these ducks which worked great for me because these ducks would forget about me for a few moments and come closer. Another type of duck called Redhead moved to the area of the pond closer to me and allowed me to watch them for a little while until the beaver left the area they wanted to be. They were interesting to watch as at time they would fly in circles around the lake and fly into a tree for a few minutes before returning to the water. Also at this time wind was increasing taking away the reflective water from earlier.

A pair of woodducks

After awhile I began watching some birds as they fluttered around me and even over the water. As I continued to do this I noticed some ducks coming closer as my attention was elsewhere like these Wood Ducks in the photo above. This was interesting to me as in other locations keeping still and as hidden as possible brought the ducks closer allowing for more detailed photos. As they seemed to get more comfortable with my presence I would slowly move the camera back in their direction and begin photographing them.

Hooded Mergansers

These male and female Hooded Mergansers eventually made there way closer to me providing a little entertainment as there was one male and seven females giving this group a little different dynamic from the traditional pair of ducks. It was fun as they stayed near me for a little while as they dove for food, chased each other around, and preened. Eventually they flew off to another area leaving me relaxed and satisfied with my time watching them.

Green Winged Teal

The first ducks to venture close to me were Green Wing Teals as they scoured the shoreline for food. These ducks have an amazing array of colors which become more iridescent as the light changes while they’re swimming around, however, the best colors show up as their wings are spread showing off a light teal and bright green spot on each wing. During the morning I did hear Loons calling in the distances along with Sandhill Cranes but they did not venture close enough to watch. It was a very surprising morning at this little pond with how much diversity of ducks and birds hanging around making it difficult to leave. Hopefully there will be another opportunity to go back.

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The Making of Kentucky Bourbon

Recently while on Spring Break our family headed to Western Kentucky to visit friends. During that visit we took some time to visit Jim Beam, one of the several bourbon distilleries in the area to learn how this type of whiskey is made. Their tour is quite interesting and informative making it a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a very nice facility.

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In order for a whiskey to be a bourbon it has to meet a couple of requirements. The first is that it is made entirely from grains with at least 51% coming from corn. These grains are mixed together and added to yeast creating a mash which is fermented for several days. Below is a photo of that mash which gets to be quite sour after a couple of days. If desired this mash can be tasted on the tour to confirm its sour taste.

Grains fermenting for several days called mash

After the mash is fermented for a long enough period of time it is then distilled separating out the alcohol in to a clear liquid which is called a white wine. At this distillery the process is completed twice to get as pure of a white wine as possible. This white wine is also called moonshine by many people.

Mulitple distillations create moonshine which is barreled and aged

Once enough of this moonshine is created and collected it is ready for aging. This is another requirement for making bourbon. Aging inside a new burned oak container. It is this burned oak that is responsible for the color of bourbon and gives it additional and unique flavoring. Below you can see how clear this moonshine is before it is filled into an oak barrel where it is stored for years before being bottled. The contracting and expanding of this oak allows moisture in and out during different times of the year altering the alcohol content and flavor of the finished bourbon.

Putting the distilled moonshine into a barrel for aging

After the appropriate amount of time aging in a burned oak barrel it is opened and tested. If more aging is required it will be re-corked and put back into storage for more time. Each barrel has a unique alcohol content as each one ages a little differently which can not be determined until it is opened. In order to get a consistent alcohol content in each bottle, multiple barrels are added together and water is used to reduce how strong each bourbon is.

Opening a barrel of Bourbon and testing it

I was amazed that in this day with all of the technology we have, wood barrels are still used and “sealed” with a wooden cork much like it has been done for centuries. It felt as though we were going back in time with these barrels everywhere. I’ve seen whiskey barrels available for planting into which I always thought were manufactured just for this purpose. Now I realize how many barrels are used in the production of different alcohols needing a life after being used in distilleries.

Corked and aging

Once the bourbon is processed so it is ready to drink it is mechanically bottled, sealed, and labeled ready to ship to distributers and retail stores for consumption by you and me. This whole bottling process is amazing in how quick and efficient it is as many manufacturing processes often are.

Filling bottles with Bourbon

We were able to tag a specific bottle and watch as it went through this bottling process making it more personal and interesting. Another requirement for bourbon is to be created in the United States of which about 95% is manufactured in Kentucky as that is where it was first discovered and made. This continues today.

Sealing and labeling each bottle

What is a tour without being able to try the product you just learned about? They have a tasting room, as there are more types of bourbon than I would have ever guessed, to see which ones you prefer. There is another area by this tasting room to order a drink or two to further try different combinations if so desired completing this very interesting and entertaining tour of a Jim Beam distillery.

Sampling the end product

Preparing thousands of bottles of Bourbon

Springtime Waterfalls

While away on Spring Break we stopped at Clifty Falls State Park in Indiana for a beautiful spring afternoon. This waterfall is on Clifty Creek which flows in to the nearby Ohio River. With sun abound and temperatures reaching into the upper 60’s Fahrenheit, it was about perfect for a hike through this beautiful state park just beginning to awaken after a long winter rest.

Clifty Falls

With ample rains providing plenty of water to glide over these limestone edges, Clifty Falls provided an amazing landscape to share with family and friends. Add to that ephemeral flowers blooming all over the forest floor and redbud trees beginning to explode with little pink flowers in the warmth of the sun overhead and it becomes almost a day many dream of on a cold winters night. Unfortunately for many people, visiting this state park in early spring does not even enter their list of possible adventures leaving these wonderful sights to those who seek out its early treasures.

Redbuds in full bloom

There are four waterfalls listed on the map for Clifty State Park however we were able to only see two of them in an afternoon providing nice incentives to return when the opportunity presents itself again. The many limestone stairs making up these waterfalls provides such a relaxing environment with their sights and sounds making the hikes to see them a worthwhile adventure.

The upper portion of Clifty Falls

 

Spring Waterfall