Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nature’s Camouflage

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

During the winter of 2006-2007, Ruth heard about a pair of screech owls that someone had discovered in the opening of a tree in the city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The interesting thing about this pair was that one was a gray phase (gray-colored) and one was a rufous phase (red-brown colored).

We never know if we should “chase” this type of photo because we don’t know if the subject will still be there when we get there. In this case, however, they had been there for several days and we couldn’t resist the chance to see them and maybe photograph them.

As soon as the weekend arrived, we headed out in the pre-dawn hours so that we would arrive in Oshkosh at dawn. On our way through the older part of the city, we stopped to photograph an old grist mill and then a historic fire station.

Then we headed over to the place where the little screech owls had been seen. There were two or three very large oak trees and we had no idea which tree they might be in. So we grabbed our binoculars and started to search. We looked and looked but couldn’t see them. Ruth had seen a photo that someone else had taken a few days earlier, so she was looking for the notch in the tree like she had seen in the photo. She did find the notch, but there were no owls (that she could see, anyway).

We were really disappointed that we had struck out. Our plan, however, had been to spend a good part of the day photographing on the backroads of Winnebago County. So that’s what we did. Then we returned in the late afternoon to try one more time to find the owls.

I started scanning the tree near the road and Ruth went back to the tree that had the notch she thought matched the photo she had seen. After some intense searching, she suddenly said, “Well, I’ll be! There he is!” There was only one screech owl and it was the gray phase one, so he blended right into the gray oak tree. I went running over and looked up into the notch, but I couldn’t see the owl. Ruth kept saying, “He’s right there,” as she pointed to the notch in the tree. After much straining to find him, my eyes finally broke through his clever camouflage, and I was able to see him peacefully sleeping in the tree.

There are so many things camouflaged in nature that we unsuspectingly walk or drive past every day. In October, 2006, Ruth and I were out looking for fall color in Richland County, Wisconsin, and we drove past a rock formation that had a small cave-like opening. On the “roof” of this opening, there were some very interesting fungi intertwined with wispy, cotton-like webs. It looked kind of like the pattern you see on traditional camouflage clothing.

We left there and headed over to Steamboat Rock, a huge rock formation that looks like a petrified ship. As we were standing in front of this looming rock structure, I started to study the various patterns in the rock. As my eyes scanned from one end of the rock to the other, I noticed a hornet’s nest that was camouflaged on the rock. The swirls and pitting on the hornet’s nest were almost an exact match to the swirls and pitting on the rock to which it was attached.

The next time you’re out on the back roads or in nature, stop and look closely. You’ll surely see something you didn’t know was there.

Happy Shunpiking!

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