Monday, August 1, 2011


Like many others, I’ve been kept off the trail for days by this extreme heat--a wave so wide-ranging and long-lasting that I’m hard-pressed to find a direction to explore, a place escaping the blanket of humidity that, each day by dinnertime, catapults the heat index well above 100 degrees. Waiting out its wrath from within my air-conditioned cocoon, the only exercise I’ve undertaken in these last days has been little more than wading through a backlog of images.

Twig-rush, Cladium mariscoides
(a sedge)

I easily recall an equally warm summer day at Cedar Bog.
Though the comfort index was much greater weeks ago, lacking the humidity of late July, each retreat into the shaded woods from the blazing sun above the boardwalk was a welcome respite. Although the greatest attraction of this fen, for me, would be the sedge meadows, these wet woods hold their own allure in the shadow and light. Tall, straight stands of tulip poplar mingle with a dense growth of white cedar and black ash. Sprawling arms of poison sumac tempt the unknowing for a touch. And the faded forms of spring’s first green, skunk cabbage, now lie lazily on the dark, rich soil.

Can you find the spider in the picture above?

Common Fishing Spider, Dolomedes tenebrosus

Just in front of me, a large fishing spider drops quickly on a long thread and hangs, revolving slowly, at eye level. Well-camouflaged against the backdrop of trees in this dim interior space, her silver cord runs up to a tulip bough and catches what little light passes through the leafy canopy to the boardwalk below.

Seaside Arrowgrass, Triglochin maritima
in the sedge meadow

Bright light ahead indicates the first brief patch of sedge meadow. These open areas, bathed in just several inches of cool, crystalline water, are filled with a tangle of sedges, grasses and forbs and hide one of Cedar Bog’s most beloved summer citizens—the Elfin Skimmer dragonfly. Endangered in Ohio and known in only 3 sites statewide, this smallest of North American dragonflies at less than an inch in length is a tiny relative of the much larger and more common Common Whitetail, often seen cruising the edge of my pond in great numbers for months each summer.

Can you find the tiny dragonfly?

Elfin Skimmers on the other hand, are found only in bogs and fens, and then, in only select isolated communities. Almost impossible to spot at rest, the yellow- and black-striped females are easily overlooked in flight as well, looking more like wasps than dragonflies.

Elfin Skimmer, Nannothemis bella
female above
male below

Kneeling down on the heated boards and scanning the sedge mat, I am finally able to see several bluish elfin males barely clearing the tips of the stems as they flit from post to post, patrolling tiny, invisibly-marked territories one foot from the ground. From this angle, nose to the ground and leaning as far into the meadow as I dare, while still being firmly planted on the boardwalk, I notice that there’s even a pair in a mating wheel!

Elfin Skimmer dragonflies in mating wheel.

They’ll live out their lives right here, as countless visitors walk past--never straying from this sedge meadow, leaving eggs that will hatch into larvae and feed in the very same shallow and cool, clear water of this protected fen.
Most will never even see them.

Grass Pink in the Sedge Meadow

Another shaded section soon empties once more into a sunny sedge meadow. Through the dense stems, spots of brilliant pink peek out from above pools of shallow water. This is Grass Pink, an orchid, whose presence here with the ferns and sedges and grasses, indicates high quality ground water.

Grass Pink, Calopogon tuberosus

More than just another pretty face, this master of deception presents its flower upside down, as compared to other orchids, luring bees to its tempting upper lip, but offering no reward of nectar or pollen. The baffled bee falls backward onto the stigma (reproductive part of the plant) as the attractive upper lip drops down under its weight, and pollen on his back pollinates the flower. With a closer look, you can see how this ploy would work; from a distance, they’re nothing more than pretty spots of pink, barely standing out against a sunny meadow.

Grass Pink, Calopogon tuberosus

A couple emerges from the shaded path in the woods and hurriedly walks past me, continuing their course along the trail. Perhaps they’ve seen this all before—
the rare, tiny dragonflies,
the clever orchids peeking from the grass.
But I would hazard a guess that they have not.
Not for lack of time, nor retreat from the heat, nor lack of knowledge that these things exist—for the bounty of rarities found in Cedar Bog is well-proclaimed.
But for the very reason that tiny dragonflies and clever flowers have in this day become a rarity—
to many, those things just don’t matter... enough.

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JSK said...

Wonderful photographs. They make it look cool!
BTW,I think we're all hiding from the heat this year.

Tricia said...

This is such a beautiful post. I feel like I'm there with you.

Scott said...

Wonderful post Nina. Cedar Bog is one of those places best enjoyed slow and from both directions on the boardwalk. I think one of the hardest things I had to learn about macro nature photography is to slow down and pay attention to the small details.

Randy Emmitt said...

Enjoyed the Elfin Skimmer photos! I hear they are pretty rare in your part of the country. A few hours from here they are pretty common if you know where to look for them.

Derek Hennen said...

Beautiful pictures as always, Nina. I was just looking through some of my Cedar Bog pictures today, that was a wonderful trip.

Joni James said...


Good to hear from you on your blog. I, too have been kept from exploring here in Indiana with this brutal heat & humidity. I will remember these days & enjoy the cold temps this winter!

Loved your images of the Elfin Skimmers & Grass Pink--gorgeous!

Stay cool and hopefully it will break soon!

catharus said...

Wonderful photos!

Guy said...

Hi Nina

Your photos are great. I especially like the shots of the grass pink which is really lovely. You "small scale" shots of the various flowers you post certainly have me taking a closer look on my walks.

Thanks Guy

Anonymous said...

Lovely post and pictures, Nina. I was happy to see your pic of Twig-rush -- I took some pics of it last week on vacation and didn't know what it was.

I also tried very hard to get some good pictures of the many dragonflies at our marshy lake. I hope to be able to filter out a few good ones for my next blog post. Those little suckers just won't sit still long enough for me to get focused!

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