The Plant Kingdom greeted the cool, wet spring with luxuriant abandon. All green things, great and small, burst forth in great vitality — all, that is, except the Siberian Irises in our garden by the pond. They came out in good number, as usual, but they struggled, rarely developing fully or lasting more than a day.

Truth be told, they are always short-lived here by the pond, where it is cooler, and they make their appearance a good two weeks later than those of my neighbor, just half a block uphill from the pond. You’d think something called “Siberian” would thrive in the cold, but alas, this is a cultivar, named “Caesar’s Brother.”

With uncharacteristic patience, I kept watch, and finally spied two good enough to show off my new, small camera’s talent for capturing fine details — but even these two reveal a little wear in places, if you look closely.

None, of course, will ever compare to the prime specimen I recorded last year, a near-perfect example of an extravagant flower.

Strictly speaking, these two photos should have been included in the previous post, Spring Garden 2013, but their vertical orientation made that awkward.

These were captured a day apart in June 2013, on the 5th and 6th, respectively. They appear softly delicate – even pale – when compared to others of their kind I’ve taken under brighter conditions, producing far more saturated colors. You can see one such example here. In fact, the latter looks a bit over-saturated on my computer screen, by comparison.

An added benefit of the soft lighting is the three-dimensionality it imparts to the flowers, a subtle quality more evident when the photos are viewed in low light.

Update: A reader wrote to ask about the lighting conditions. It was overcast when I took these photos, and not too bright, but the light was still luminous, not the dead, flat light of a darkly overcast sky. I like to keep things simple and natural, so I don’t use lighting equipment; I just sit tight and wait for the right light.

What is the right light for me? It can be the glancing light of a low sun, or as here, the softly luminous and shadowless light of an overcast sky. The former is alive with hints of blue and gold, the latter with blue, red or orange notes. By contrast, the light from a darkly overcast sky is gray and lifeless.

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Related: Spring Garden 2014*, Spring Garden 2013*, Siberian Iris*, Photography as Art*, Glancing Light*.

 

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These lovely flowers were photographed between May 28 and June 9, well into the beginning of summer, but they all first appeared before Memorial Day, so the title of this post is appropriate. The photos are displayed in the order taken.

All except the first were shot with a small, innovative camera lovingly given me by my brother, Dick — a camera that excels at capturing fine details and long, delicate tonal transitions.

For photography buffs: I find that by spot-metering on the flowers I get more accurate colors. When I set the camera’s meter to measure the average light of the entire scene, the flowers’ colors can become washed-out, that is, not sufficiently saturated. As a result of this spot-metering approach, several of the images here – Photos 3., 4. and 5. – may look a bit dark if viewed in bright light, as near a window. You may want to view them in lower light, when the pupils of your eyes are more widely open.
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Related: Spring Garden 2014*, Winter Garden 2013*, Siberian Iris*, Chinese Peony*, Jackie’s Blooms.

 

“Why do swans fight?” I’ve been asked that question many times. From what I’ve observed, a fight is always over territory, specifically nesting territory. For the several successive generations of swans I have followed on our pond, that nesting territory has always meant the entire pond and its abutting marshy area. The swans build their nest in a shallow depression in the ground, at the boundary between the marsh and the pond. Interlopers have rarely been tolerated by any of the successive resident pairs, unless the fight has ended in a standoff.

This latest was a relatively short fight. The defending residents were unusually big, strong, and battle-tested, so the interlopers really didn’t stand a chance.

In these fights, the defending cob (the male) is the aggressor. He tries to push his challenger under water and hold him there just long enough to force his surrender. Meanwhile, the defending pen (the female) repeatedly chases her counterpart away, to keep the latter from coming to the aid of her mate.

In the photo, the defending pen has returned from just such a chase, and is about to pile in and help her cob. The defending pair’s neck feathers are up, a sign of aggression, while the fleeing challenger’s are down, a sign of submission. His slim neck indicates that he’s already willing to surrender, but he’s not going to get away without a good dunking, first.

These same residents, victorious here, became embattled in an horrific fight in March 2012, a fight they ultimately won back then as well. I photographed and reported on it in great detail, in what I feel is one of the best posts on this blog. It is a quick read, but it will give you surprising insight into the remarkable phenomenon of swan fighting.

This photograph was taken on June 1, 2013 at 8:32 am. Note the immense span of the pen’s outstretched wings, and her brilliantly backlit, translucent flight feathers. Click the image to view it full screen, and click the back arrow to return. Cursor over for its description. Enjoy!
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Related: Serene Swans*, Fighting Swans*

 

You’ve never heard of a Muscovy Duck? Neither did I, until three of them appeared on the pond one day in May 2007. They are domestic waterfowl, raised for their meat, which is said to be less fatty and more flavorful than other duck meat. This one may have escaped from a farm. On the table, they are often referred to as “Barbary Duck.”

From its large size, I judge this to be a drake (a male), as the hens (females) are much smaller, about half the size. These domestic ducks sport a variety of plumage patterns and colors, including blue, green, lavender, pied and all-white. Both sexes have red or pink nude faces, and fleshy wattles at the base of the bill. The male also bears a small knob at the top of the bill base. (Click the photo to see these details more clearly.)

Wild Muscovy Ducks are native to Mexico, and Central and South America, and have been bred since pre-Columbian times by Native Americans. Large feral populations have taken root in the southern parts of Texas and Florida, where they are often considered a nuisance. Small feral populations have also been reported as far north as southern Canada.

There is a long-standing dispute as to the origin of the name: some experts believe that it derives from one or another place name; others claim it refers to the strong musk odor the duck exudes.

The all-white Muscovy Ducks that appeared in 2007 were tame, allowing me to approach them closely. Sadly, predictably, they did not survive the winter. The survival skills of this individual? The jury is out.

I took this photo on May 25, 2013, an overcast day, when this rare visitor came close to shore. Two days later I saw him again, for the last time.

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Here are two of nature’s fancies that caught my attention in the garden recently. There’s nothing special about these photos, I suppose, just a bit of fun.

The red and yellow tulip is a loner, coming up year after year, all by itself, ever since we’ve lived here, planted by some previous owner. I’ve always been intrigued by its interior patterns, the black stamens against the bright yellow of the tepal base. That bright yellow is a departure from the dark base we see in most tulips.

The columbine pop up all over the yard, every spring, often in places where I really don’t want them, but they’re so colorful and cheerful, that I don’t have the heart to pull them up. The blossoms in this photo had been soggy from rain, but dried out just in time for this photo. They are nicely in focus against a soft background.

There’s much fine detail in these images; both will reward a small effort to view them full-screen. Just click each, and click back arrow to return.
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Related: Yellow Tulips

 

In May 2011, I posted a simple shot of a yellow daffodil. It has since become the most frequently visited photograph on this site, by a wide margin.

The daffy in the earlier photo was classically posed. This one is virtually identical in appearance, being from the same planting of bulbs, but it has been backlit by the low, late afternoon sun, which set its translucent tepals aglow, and lent it a dramatic, almost abstract quality.

The sunlight was so bright that it “blew out” several highlights. It’s not a perfect photo, but we can still enjoy it.

The drama and beauty of this Narcissus are even more apparent when it is viewed full screen. Just click to enlarge it, and click the back arrow to return. The photo was taken April 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm.
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Related: Yellow Daffodil*, Bicolored Daffodil*.