Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Perfect Spring Sunrise

There is something transcending of the mind and spirit to watch the sun rise on a perfect Spring morning.  The black and blues of nights chill warm to pink and orange as the first rays of light pierce the sky with the promise of a new day.  The first birds begin to sing and warble, draped in the soft glow of the morning light as it filters through the mist and trees.  Droplets of dew collect, glistening in the strengthening radiance like thousands of tiny diamonds.  These moments in time will tattoo themselves in your mind for you to relive and enjoy for the rest of your days.  I decided I don't experience nearly enough sunrises in my life and had a hunch that today would be worth the early wake up despite it being my day off.  Trading my day to sleep in for witnessing the sunrise over the misty waters of Dow Lake at Strouds Run State Park certainly paid off.

Morning sunrise over Dow Lake

The pale first morning light peering over the foggy hillsides created a very pretty start to a chilly day.  The temperature dropped into the upper 20's overnight creating a layer of frost on everything that added to the scenery.  I love bodies of water on a cold morning that show the layers of stratification of fog as it rises off the water.

Red-wing Blackbird sings in the mist
Frosted Oak leaf

One of my favorite surefire signs of Spring is the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds.  Their unique calls breaking the silence really added to the mood of the morning.  Just about every 50 yards or so along the shore a male was perched, proudly vocalizing this was his territory and any willing and able female is more than welcome to pay him a visit.  Mixed in with the calls of the Red-wings were many other birds all adding their own song to create a custom choir for my ears enjoyment.  Cardinals, Towhees, Chickadees, Song Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Pileated woodpeckers, Wood ducks, Titmice, Robins, Phoebes and Canada geese were the noticeable vocalists that comprised my private choir of performers.  I sat and watched several Great Blue Herons slowly stalk their breakfasts in the shallows for a while.  Fascinating to watch them freeze and then suddenly thrust their heads down into the water to spear a fish or frog.

Red-wing Blackbird
Canada Geese on the water


While making my way along the lakeside trail I noticed many small shrubs looked like they had been sprayed with cans of yellow silly string.  Being right outside of Athens and a popular hangout for students from Ohio University (please pick up your trash, I'm sick and tired of seeing your beer cans and bottles scattered everywhere along the trail) it wouldn't be too far a guess that someone in a drunken stupor actually made the silly string mess but right away I knew that wasn't the case at all.

Staminate flowers of the Hazelnut
Pistillate flowers of the Hazelnut

 The strands of 'silly string' are the male catkin flowers of the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).  Hanging in clusters of one to three from the ends of the twigs, they contain the pollen that pollinates the very inconspicuous and tiny female flowers seen in the photograph to the right.  These flowers only consist of the stigma and styles that protrude from the buds along the ends of the twigs.  You would never notice these unless you were specifically looking for them.  Lucky for me my macro lens was up to the task of giving you an up close and personal look at these charming little flowers.  Hard to believe that something so tiny that a dozen or so could easily fit on your pinkie fingernail eventually becomes a nut about the size of a marble.

Hazelnut's from the previous year
Hazelnut bud and hairy stem

Hazelnut shrubs can really blend into the understory during the growing season and are hard to pick out during the winter unless they have their telltale papery husks of nuts still clinging to the twigs.  Spring is easily the best time to find them since everything else in the woods is still naked except for the 'silly string' covered Hazelnuts.  The hair covered, zigzag twigs are another identification method before these monoecious shrubs flower.

I hope to indulge myself with more experiences like the one I had this morning.  There are few things more satisfying than being out in nature as the world wakes up for another day of life and survival.  Sleeping in is always nice but knowing what you're missing out on outside can really make you question just how much is it worth sleeping your life away and skipping the endless wonders of the morning.

I have an added bonus story that really makes this morning's excursion extra unique.  While driving along a backcountry road on my way to Strouds I got a lot closer to some wildlife that I didn't intend on doing.  I'm going down the road with forest to either side of me and a small stream flowing alongside the road on the right.  As I crest over a small hill I suddenly see movement out of my peripheral vision.  A male wild turkey, and a big one at that,  flushed from out of the creek bed and decided to try and fly across the road...big mistake.  I only had enough time to notice the big gallinaceous bird coming my way and yell a favorite &%$#!@ word of mine before...THWACK!  The gobbler was pegged by my side-view mirror and made bone-braking contact against the window and windshield.  A quick look in the rear-view only showed a flying spectacle of feathers and pieces of what used to be the plastic housing of my side mirror.  A few minutes later I arrived at my parking spot and jumped out to survey the damage.  It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  The window and windshield were ok, no body damage and just a few scratches.  Amazingly enough the side-view mirror was still attached and even the electronics worked.  It's a perfectly functioning mirror, just naked and missing its shell.  A few hours later I pulled over where I hit the poor guy and looked around for him.  I found plenty of tail feathers and plastic pieces but no body.  I'm 99.9% sure he died when he hit...I did have what appeared to be "gut juices" for lack of a better term on my window.  Maybe someone driving by stopped and grabbed him.  I mean this as no disrespect to some of the locals of Athens county but I wouldn't put it past 'em to grab a big, fresh roadkill turkey on the side of the road.  If you don't believe this account a picture is below with some feathers and dried guts to boot.  What a morning!

Turkey vs my sideview mirrow...looks like the Turkey won :/


  1. I, too revel in the return of the first Red-wing blackbird. Your sunrise photos are great.

  2. Hi Andrew...excellent post...very descriptive your chose of wording!! Felt like I was there!!
    Oh believe me..the trash thing gets me going.
    I walk daily and now that the snow banks are melting along these country roads it is a sicken sight!! I counted 34 empty beer bottles in less than a quarter of a mile,6 dirty baby diaper, 4 condom wrappers,all in one walk, just to name some things!!!
    I'm of the rant...
    I was just recently speaking of the hazel nut shrubs that grew roadside on the country road where I grew up...they are no longer any there!!
    I believe it might have been because of spraying the undergrowth by the power line company!!
    Thanks for the information on them. Things I did not know...good photos to go with it !!
    Nice photo of the Red-winged Blackbird, they have just arrived here!!
    Close encounter of the turkey kind huh!!
    They can do pretty good damage!!
    Love your last line. LOL

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  4. Your photography is gorgeous! I'm a friend of Mike Whittemore - I found your blog by browsing through his. I have to say, your photo of a frosted leaf reminded me of a shot I took back in November in Colordado during similar weather(see it here > Though my photography is geared completely towards fine art and visual experimentation, I find it pretty interesting that one of my images resonates so closely with one captured by a guy with such a clear focus on nature photography. Very cool! Take care and keep up the good shots!

    P.S. Sorry to here about the turkey!

  5. You are a gifted writer and photographer. Keep it coming!

  6. How close have you seen corylus americana grow to hamilton county, I've yet to spot it in any natural area or park land growing wild.