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by Stan Tekiela
June 4, 2018
Walking down the dirt foot path through an amazing forest filled with towering trees. I have to adjust my tripod and camera that I am carrying over my right shoulder. I’ve been carrying this heavy camera gear for 4 days in a row so the top of my shoulder is getting a little tender and sore.
Stopping to take catch my breath and take in the view, my eyes fall on a particularly large tree. My eye follows up the long straight trunk of a massive tree. Most of these Tulip Trees are over 100 feet tall and have impressive crowns. In fact these are some of the tallest deciduous trees in American. You feel like you are walking amongst giants traveling in these forests.
I’ve been working in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently on assignment to photograph the myriad of spring wildflowers for a new book that I am writing. While many of the northern states are still locked up in cold, snow and frozen lakes, spring has arrived with its sweet green leaves and amazing variety of colorful flowers.
I am searching for some particular wildflowers. I have high hopes of finding a Painted Trillium and also a few orchids. The weather couldn’t be more perfect. A light cloud cover provides even-light to highlight the shape of the flowers. A light rain moistened up the forest floor and makes everything look saturated. Now I just have to find the flowers.
Gray and Red Squirrels move about the forest floor. They scamper down fallen logs with a hickory nut that fell last autumn. Clear streams swollen with spring melt water are rushing down the mountain sides and creating a constant hum of soothing splashing sound. While walking I have to cross two tiny streams on my way to a special wildflower place deep in the woods.
Along the trail are hundreds of the uncommon Catesby’s Trillium. This is a small white three petal flower that hangs down under a whorl of three leaves. It is a fascinating flower and a treasure to find but I am searching for the Painted Trillium.
The large and showy, Yellow Trillium grows all over the mountain sides in the Smokey’s. At this time of year it is the dominant species of trillium and brings a smile to my face every time I look at one. It grows in small clumps up to 20 to 40 flowers or sometimes stands alone on the forest floor.
This trail goes up and down the valley for over 2 miles. Near the end I spot a small clump of Yellow Lady Slipper Orchids. These large yellow flowers are spectacular and are one of the showiest flowers in the forest. The plant stands over a foot tall and has five large blooms. This is one of the most common wild orchid in the U.S. and is found in almost every state.
After capturing a few images of the orchid I hoist my camera and tripod over my shoulder and head down the trail. Another mile or so to go. The path undulates up and down through the forest. I can hear Black-throated Green Warblers calling over my head along with a Carolina Wren that is calling in the distance.
After a long uphill climb the trail turns and heads down into a narrow valley. I slowly work my way down the slipper path. At the bottom is a small flat area that is carpeted with thousands of wildflowers. It is perhaps the most spectacular display of wildflowers in one spot that I have ever seen. About a dozen different species of wildflower are all blooming at the same time. It is hard to figure out where to begin photographing or how to capture all of this beauty in just one image.
I was looking around enjoying the flowers when I realized that I have a two hour walk back to my truck and there was only three hours of light left in the day. After capturing a few more images I hoisted my camera and tripod back up on my shoulder and turn and headed down the trail with a great sense of accomplishment. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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When he's out in the field, Stan relies on his Vortex Razor binoculars and Vortex Razor spotting scope to help find the subjects for his award winning wildlife photography.
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For thirty years, professional wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela has counted on Hunt’s Photo and Video to provide him with professional photography equipment.
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Professional Wildlife Photographer Stan Tekiela always uses Feeder Fresh in his seed feeders to help keep the feeders and food dry, clean and mold free.
He also uses Feeder Fresh Nectar Defender in all of his hummingbird feeders. It safely keeps nectar fresh longer.