July’s abstract

soitary dewdrops on leaf tips
Yeah, now I’m feeling obligated

This one’s from not quite a week ago, an earlier morning outing. The sun had finally broken through the foliage and was attempting to burn off the overnight dew that had been surviving in the shade. In the brief time slot where the light was hitting it, before it evaporated within a couple of minutes, I played around with short depth images at f4, capturing more drops in the background well out of focus.

Occam’s stubble

There is a concept, a meme if you will, that shows up a lot in critical-thinking circles, and I’ve even tackled it a few times before here. Commonly known as “Occam’s Razor” but also by the less folksy term of parsimony, it provides a very simple measuring stick: if multiple explanations can be advanced for any given facts or events, the simplest is usually the correct one. What it tells us is not to seek complication when trying to find out how something happens; the more complicated something is, the more likely it is to leave traces of this complication behind. Very few things happen without a trace of evidence. If we have a theory that fails to account for any given detail, the theory is probably wrong, or at least incomplete – that detail had to come from somewhere. But at the same time, if we have a complicated theory without accompanying complicated evidence, that theory is probably wrong as well – not only does every effect have a cause, but every cause has an effect.

When it comes to paranormal topics, however, problems can arise. By paranormal I refer to such topics as extra-terrestrial visitation (which is more specific than UFOs,) psychic powers, faith healing, ghosts, and so on – essentially, any topic where the phrase, “science doesn’t know everything,” is used as both justification and a battle cry. The problem is two-pronged, and one of those prongs is often not even recognized. On the face of it, the existence of Bigfoot is a very simple explanation for all of the myriad sightings, the footprint casts, the blurry photos and videos, and the reports of weird calls in the night, as well as many other items. An unknown intelligence with hypertechnology is a very simple explanation for radar traces, fast-moving lights, and the car not being able to start. On the face of it, paranormal explanations are indeed the simplest connection to all of the facets reported. Or at least, might be if word count is the main criteria of, “simplest.”

It’s extremely easy to say, “Bigfoot,” (try it, you’ll see,) but Bigfoot is not a simple concept. What did this creature evolve from, what is its closest living relative, what does it eat, where does it sleep, how come we’ve never found a carcass, why does it depart so far from the hominids of the past few hundred thousand years, did it come onto the continent separately from humans, how many are needed for reproductive stability? And so on, and so forth – there’s a lot of baggage when it comes to proposing an entirely new species based on rather flimsy evidence, evidence that fails to answer any of these questions and most others as well; “big” and “hairy” do not really portray a robust theory. The same kind of questions can be asked of any other “simple” explanation, especially if we consider that the advancement of scientific knowledge is the aim, rather than the typical lofty goal of winning an argument.

[I will take a moment to address the common response at this point, which is to argue that any such proposal “might be possible.” It might also be possible that the proposal is utter horseshit, as well, and in fact this is far more likely in damn near every such situation – but, curiously, you won’t find a fraction of the effort spent towards ruling this out, even though you’d think that would be the first step, wouldn’t you?]

But the second prong of the problem is a little thing called conflation. While a radar trace, a light in the sky, and the car not starting are all considered evidence, how does one determine that these belong together in any way? Has any effort been made to tie the radar trace to the light’s position firmly enough that they can be considered linked? I mean, there are always lights in the sky. How about the position of the light to the location of the car? How close is “close enough,” especially considering that in most situations, within a half-kilometer radius there could be anything from dozens to hundreds of other cars? How are all of the myriad known causes of a car not starting ruled out first? What mechanism is proposed to prevent a car from starting without physical interference? The military of any country would be exceptionally interested in this explanation. It is assumed that this is a property of alien spacecraft, simply because they’re often reported together, but the reasoning and the physics behind this are left hanging, somehow unnecessary to fill in at all. And if the answer to any such question is along the lines of, “Magic, super-high technology that we haven’t discovered yet,” that effectively translates to, “I don’t know,” and thus no differentiation from random, unconnected events has actually been established.

The same may be said for Bigfoot. Someone heard a weird noise in the woods at night? Yeah, welcome to the woods, a lot goes on here – I’m sure you can identify a raccoon squabble, the mating call of a red fox, and the cry of a captured treefrog, to rule out all of these, and every other known denizen of the forest. Tracks, you say? So, they exhibit the flexing, hip torsion, and toe separation of a bipedal hominid, and not just the easily-faked flat ‘bootprint’ impression of a standing foot, right? You’re aware that wildlife biologists routinely perform population counts in remote areas with the advanced technology of game cameras, so establishing more details about such a species would be relatively easy, of course.

This kind of ‘evidence’ is presented all of the time. “This house is haunted; it often creaks at night for no reason!” Oh, so ghosts, defined by having no physical presence whatsoever, now have enough mass to make the floorboards flex in an aging structure? “No, but wait: someone died here!” Yeah, that’s never gonna happen for an old house. Someone has died on some stretch of road we drive frequently too – be careful of the car stalling out. No, wait, that’s aliens…

It’s funny. We have a likely-evolved trait to work things out, to find the patterns, to seek the cause-and-effect function everywhere, and this is no bad thing, because it’s responsible for everything that we call ‘knowledge’ in the first place. But it’s not quite complete. We have a wicked tendency to fixate on a potential cause, often in complete disregard of its plausibility, and then try to jam in supporting evidence while ignoring everything that fails to fit, or disproves it. In many cases, facts are grabbed at will, becoming ‘evidence’ for the favored cause even when no relation can be found. If we want to find support for any given scenario, and are not encumbered by either having to show distinct relevance, nor in demonstrating that they could not originate from mundane causes, then we can always find plenty of things that meet those low standards. For those who adore conspiracies, the sole criteria is, “something that appears odd.”

One of the most functional aspects of scientific endeavors, one that would be of inestimable value if introduced to kids early on, is the concept of ruling out wrong answers and mistakes. Sure, it appears that R is caused by A – but are we sure it’s not caused by C, H, or M? Can we demonstrate this? And so, the consideration of alternate scenarios becomes a prime activity, as well as the consideration that factors Q and U have no demonstrable relation to the result at all.

[I have to add in another aside. Cultural influences are pernicious little things that abound in such discussions as well, often assumed to have some relation even though nobody actually knows how or why. While very few people reading this have had any personal experience with aliens or Bigfoot, we all ‘know’ what they look like, don’t we? And why the fucking hell would extra-terrestrials with such advanced technology have to display anti-collision lights? It usually takes real effort to tackle these ‘common knowledge’ aspects and recognize them for unwarranted assumptions, repeated ad nauseum throughout every form of media.]

I have heard, on more than one occasion, the phrase, “You just have different standards of evidence than I do.” First off, recognize that this is a complaint about someone’s standards being too high. But more to the point, this isn’t really a matter of personal opinion – evidence can only be for one thing, even though we’re often unsure what that one thing is. Most of the time, we’re being told this is evidence for something that has never been proven, has no firm criteria or often even a definition, and cannot be replicated on demand. That’s a bit problematic all by itself, but it gets much worse when the vast majority of this evidence could also be produced by mundane means. Sure, it could be from real psychic, precognitive powers, but it could also be produced by cold-reading, which we have ample evidence of and can be taught to someone within a day, which has even been proven as the modus operandi of a large number of self-professed ‘psychics.’ Since cold-reading is common and real precognition has never been established, the odds are heavily (as in, entirely) in favor of cold-reading. In such a case, we’re not even talking standards, but the bare necessity of ruling out the thing that exists before proposing the thing that doesn’t. Avoiding this is not just showing a bias towards psychic powers, but also a distinct lack of trust in them – someone convinced that they exist would have no hesitation in putting them to the most stringent tests possible, rather than arguing that the standards are too high.

One of the guidelines that I’ve used as a challenge has been to think of the topic as a court case; the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their case is solid. There’s a slight downside to this, in that “reasonable doubt” is too broadly subjective, but there’s also the other aspect that prompts diligence: that an opposing attorney is going to look for any manner possible to rip the case the shreds. “Did the witness remain in a fixed location and plot the movement of the light in the sky against firm and measurable landmarks?” “Were there any other witnesses to this event that the witness on the stand is now selling their account of to magazines for a tidy fee?” Faced with such inquiries, the typical promoter of paranormal explanations insists that “skeptics are just trying to dismiss the whole thing,” but the point really is, if the doubt can be sown so easily, what does this say about the quality of the supposed evidence? No belief in extraordinary properties should have to rely on whether someone is favorably disposed to it or not. The case should be built against such doubt, not in denial or avoidance of it.

Hey! I just saw a UFO!

Well, very briefly, anyway. Almost as soon as I got the binoculars on it, it became Identified.

Here’s the whole, sordid story. The Girlfriend was outside at roughly 10:25 pm EDT chatting with a neighbor when they saw the light in the sky, and came in to summon me, telling me to get the binoculars. By the time I came out it had disappeared, but I got specific location and directions from them (oriented on the handle stars of Ursa Major,) and scanned anyway with the 10x50s. Nothing to be seen. From the behavior that they described, I thought it might be a satellite flare, except that they said it was orange and “big.” I know enough about observations that “big” often means only “bright,” so I didn’t give this too much credence. No sound to be heard, and this is a quiet area and aircraft can usually be heard if they’re within eight kilometers or so.

Within a couple of minutes, however, I spotted it myself: still in the trees, deep orange, and very bright – close aircraft bright. It was clearly heading up and to the left, soon to come out of the trees, so while I was trying to get a good look at it through the branches, I knew in a few moments it would come into the clear. Within the trees, it seemed slightly amorphous, not a hard bright light like a star or planet, but more of a halo.

As soon as it cleared the trees and I knew I had sharp focus on it, the mystery vanished. It was clearly a Chinese lantern, a thin paper or plastic balloon with a light source within, in this case almost certainly something burning. Not only did it have the same hue as a small flame, but it faded and disappeared within a minute or so of coming into the clear. The bright light source was distinctly visible in the binocs, and could even be seen swinging around in relation to the surrounding, dimmer enclosure, of which it sat closer to the bottom edge. The movement and subsequent stalling in midair was consistent with a balloon rising on this wind-free evening.

While I toyed with the idea of getting the long lens on it, which could have resulted in something more magnified than the binoculars provided, there were three things that stopped me:

1. By the time I got the long lens and tripod set up and aimed, it likely would have vanished;

2. While bright, it was not short-exposure bright, and the shutter speed would have to be at least 1/4 second for any image, likely longer, and any movement at all in that time would have blurred it;

3. An indistinct shot would have done nothing towards demonstrating what it was – likely, it would have made it even worse, because no one would have been able to see what I was describing.

I am perfectly sympathetic towards those who would not have been able to identify such a sighting. The balloon was distant enough that “big,” even though an accurate description in this case, was relative to stars and aircraft lights and not a good indication of size. The angular size of the object was only perhaps 2mm at arm’s length – larger than any aircraft lights, planets, or even the ISS, but much, much smaller than the moon. In other words, too small to see the details of the balloon body and non-centered light source without magnification. Distance, naturally, was impossible to tell – we simply do not have viable depth-perception beyond about 15 meters, and it was only because I knew what it was and could discern a size of the flame within (through the binoculars) that I can say it was within 1,000 meters, probably more like 500. Once it cleared the trees its movement was difficult to pin down, since only the background stars could be used; only the brightest could be made out in these conditions, so this meant it spent a lot of time in “open air.” And even with what I know about careful observations, I did not note specific times nor have any way to pin down precise angles or travel.

The inability to discern the details that I had, however, does not open the door for such a UFO to be considered anything more than “mysterious.” Not immediately recognizing something doesn’t mean it’s not a mundane source. I am well aware that there are those who would still try to make something out of this, claiming I’m trying too hard to explain it or that something could simply have an appearance similar to a Chinese lantern while still being extra-terrestrial or whatever. But this is purposefully skewing observation in the wrong direction. The light had the appearance, behavior, and short life of a Chinese lantern, which are known phenomena and, while perhaps uncommon, certainly not unlikely in any populated area, and not impossible in any area. The goal should never be to say, “How can I still make this mysterious?” but only to demonstrate that a mundane explanation does not fit the observation.

There’s another post coming up shortly that deals with such topics in more detail – I’ve been working on it the past couple of days and am just shy of posting it, so watch for that. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if any reports pop up locally, and how they’re treated.

Let’s check back with the mantids

Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina on calla lilyGosh, it’s been, what, six whole hours since I’ve posted anything about the resident mantids? I cannot apologize enough – I know how you must feel.

Okay, it’s been a bit longer than that, and in fact, this first image was taken nine days ago and not posted then. [See what I did there? I prefaced with hyperbole and followed with a contrasting statement, and now another post about mantises suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. You cannot spell manipulative without Al – well, sorta.]

On the same lily blossom that we’ve seen before, though showing even more of its age now, a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) also performed a modeling session, completely unprompted – there seems to be something about the plants on the deck, and the lily in particular. I’d be inclined to say that it’s because the flower attracts pollinators and thus food for the mantids, except that I have never seen a pollinator even near them, and now they’re well past attracting such anyway.

The Carolina mantis species is smaller than the Chinese mantis, differently colored, and for reasons unknown, seem to be considerably less common, at least in both areas that I’ve been shooting in routinely. I have no preference for either, really, though getting the detail shots of the larger species is always easier. Carolina mantises seem to have an ‘urban camouflage’ color scheme, and by extension may prefer plants on which they blend in better, which we may not have in the immediate vicinity. Or they may normally be so good at camouflage that I simply do not see the dozens that abound, which would be a blow to my observational ego to be sure.

Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina showing off coloration
The difference in sizes is now readily apparent among the various mantids in the area, showing that some are more adept at finding food than others (you can compare sizes against the images in the previously linked post, or linked again right here.) Two that I thought had moved on suddenly reappeared last night when I misted the Japanese maple, making me suspect they’d simply been hiding from the heat – it’s been a while since the last rain now. But one in particular has moved ahead of the others.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis newly emerged into adult form, wings still dryingThe Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) on the rose bush was found during a watering session around midnight the other night, displaying the newly extended wings from a recent molt. They’re still not dry in this photo, which is why they appear a little unkempt; they’re also paler than they will be when dry, which we’ll get to shortly. The wings don’t become this big, or functional, until the final instar, the reproducing adult phase, so now the quest is on to find a mate.

Also notable, to me anyway, is that even this late at night, it is not displaying the dark eyes that are typical of mantids after sunset, leading me to believe that the act of molting affects this in some way. It is not particularly surprising, in that they will not be actively hunting for a period of time before and after the molt, because it takes up so much of their effort and their chitin has to dry and harden afterward, but it implies that the change in eye color is not as automatic as I suspected. Plus, I guess the additional camouflage cannot hurt.

The old exoskeleton was not immediately obvious – it usually can be found attached to a branch very close to the newly-emerged adult – but a quick search on the ground revealed it in the grass.

molted exoskeleton skin chitin of Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis
The head is towards the bottom in this shot and hiding behind a blade of grass, thought the antenna is easily spotted, but what I want to draw attention to is the wings – that’s them along the body by the legs, slightly darker than the skin of the abdomen to which the legs are attached. Yes, those wings above came out of these little sleeves – it always amazes me. In fact, the entire insect always seems to emerge much bigger than it was before the molt, and I’ve seen this often enough that I don’t think I’m imagining it, or mistaking the drying, shrinking exoskeleton that it just discarded as falsely representing the original size. One of these days I’ll have distinct measurements for before and after (and maybe even capture the process from beginning to end) to establish this once and for all. But it’s pretty obvious that the wings themselves undergo just a wee bit of expansion.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis now dry and activeTen hours later, the wings were dry and displaying the adult coloration, as well as presumably being functional – I am guessing this is a female who will be waiting for an acceptable male to find her, especially since she seems to like the rose bush. I am not going to discourage this in any way, since it would be easy to find an egg sac should she place it there, and may well give me the opportunity to photograph her producing it. Measured just now for this post, the mantis is about 86mm in length (3.5 inches) from the head to the wingtips, quite a change from the 10mm that they typically are when hatched. She won’t get a whole lot bigger than this, though she (if I have the sex right) will get considerably broader until producing the eggs. Keep checking back with me, and we’ll see what happens.

I just have to mention this, though it has nothing to do with the topic. This past weekend, our friends stopped by for a brief visit on their way to the beach, and the adolescent girls got to see this particular mantis. I had to inform them that it molted out just a couple of days after they’d left, depriving them of the opportunity to see it. In response, I get back word that they had gotten to see baby sea turtles emerging from the nest and paddling into the ocean. The single blurry photo they’d forwarded, taken at dusk with a telephoto lens past the crowd, was enough to send The Girlfriend into an uncontrollable bout of baby talk, so I can’t imagine what seeing the real thing would have done. But yeah, that whole ‘cute’ thing again…

Look to the skies

Just a quick note along a neglected blog topic, but the next few nights will host two meteor showers: the Delta Aquarids for tonight and tomorrow night, and the Capricornids for tomorrow and Thursday. Since discontinuing the blog calendar, I moved some of the events over to my personal calendar as a reminder to post reminders.

While I have witnessed countless meteor showers, I have photographs of virtually nothing – somehow, it’s just never worked out. And it’s not likely to now, either; between the scattered clouds and humidity right now, and the proximity to city lights, I’m not going to have very good conditions to even see anything, much less photograph it. However, maybe some of you out in better locales will have better luck – Jim, I’m looking in your direction.

Just some recent ones

close portrait of dragonfly
While I have a handful of photos from the past week or so, there isn’t a whole lot to say about them, so I’m mostly just going to throw them up here without a lot of exposition. Right at the moment, I have not identified the dragonfly above, which was hanging around the front garden for a few days being cooperative and photogenic, but I do have to draw attention to the eyes, where there is a difference in density of the ommatidia between the portions that face up and the rest – my best guess is that the top ones (red & green) are only used for detecting threats, while the others (blue) are for homing in on prey and so must have more precision.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis on tomato stemThe other night, a Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) was found clinging to the stem of a cherry tomato plant on the deck, producing a pose that seemed to be evocative of something, but I haven’t pinned down what – perhaps I should hold a caption contest (you might as well send one in – with the dearth of comments you’re pretty much guaranteed to win something.)

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis posed on tomato stemI am identifying this as a Copes grey treefrog, but visually, they are impossible to tell apart from a common grey treefrog; the reason I offer this identification with such supreme and unflagging confidence is that, from the calls that I hear during the rainy nights, this is the only species that seems to be in the area. Copes have a higher-pitched call, possibly from sliding down slippery tomato stems. The underside shot, which I was obligated to obtain, doesn’t have half of the expressiveness of the one above, but shows off the clutching posture much better.

Sycamore tussock moth Halysidota harrisii caterpillar
A few weeks back I found a couple of examples of a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii) and did a short photo session, more from the standpoint of adding to the stock than for anything else, though I suspected it was one of the stinging variety of caterpillars and hoped to be able to photograph the venom spines. I was unsuccessful, perhaps because it is not actually a stinging variety. But while doing this, I did capture a fabulous pose, indicating that this might be a singing variety instead.

Sycamore tussock moth Halysidota harrisii caterpillar auditioning for a musical
I needed those to lead in to the next, which is the fate of one of the caterpillars, though unlikely one of the ones I photographed.

sycamore tussock moth Halysidota harrisii caterpillar with chrysalis of parasitic wasp
The white Twinkies on its back are evidence of some member of the Ichneumonoidea superfamily, basically braconid wasps, albeit very small ones. More details can be found here, though almost certainly a different species. Long story short: with all of the chrysalises (or chrysalides, whatever plural you like) opened up, this specimen is effectively dead, emptied out from the inside.

crab spider on pokeweed flowerAnd finally, it’s not a complete week without spiders, so I offer a subtle crab spider hanging out on a pokeweed blossom. This one is considerably larger than last year’s, though still barely noticeable – in fact, well-nigh invisible unless you’re specifically looking. The pokeweed has been just about the only thing blossoming in the yard that could attract the crab spiders, which is a shame because I happen to like them – I’m going to have to plant some prime flower species for them next year, generally white or yellow blossoms that they can camouflage themselves within. The pokeweed flowers are very short-lived, and what happens to the spiders after the flowers become berries, I have no idea. No, that’s not true, because I’ve seen them ballooning across the yard to different hunting grounds, and even intersected one in mid-trip last week. The area plays home to crepe myrtle trees, which come into bloom at this time of year and sport white flowers (as well as purple,) so I imagine they have plenty of feeding opportunities once they alight on the right perch. Maybe I’ll have to go examine some of those flowers closely…

Monday color 25

foxglove blossoms after rainSo, for this Monday color we have an image that’s faintly unsettling to me. Not for any peculiar associations I have with the Digitalis family (though in truth we haven’t gotten along since that incident at the airport,) but because the color seems off, and not able to be corrected in any way. It has the appearance of something that had originally been shot in monochrome, like in the ’40s, and was later colorized – just not quite there, not ringing true. For instance, look at the leaves and stems at the base of the blooms; that hue of green lacks vibrancy and authenticity. In most cases when seeing this, I would tweak the color away from blue, but then that seems to change the color of the blossoms away from an accurate rendition of those. And it’s possible that the greens of this particular plant really were this hue.

This is a typical aspect of any kind of photography, but most especially digital, where the sensors have their own particular color casts and the in-camera processing (in part due to user settings) can produce something far from realistic. For instance, the contrast and saturation settings can be adjusted higher or lower, and the white balance setting might not be the right one for the lighting encountered – even the auto white balance can be fooled by what’s been captured within the frame.

And so, this is as good a place as any to redirect to a page in my Tips Gallery regarding white balance, what it is and how to use it effectively. That one’s been around for a while now, but the next one is new, and it’s about making color corrections, doing some creative monochrome work, and I threw in a sharpening technique for giggles. I had actually avoided this for a while, since every editing program is different and providing instructions for them all not only would be difficult, I don’t have but a handful on my computer anyway. The typical choice is Adobe Photoshop, a ridiculously expensive program that I do not encourage everyone to get (seriously, it’s priced at extortion rates, pointlessly because for the past fifteen years or so all they’ve done is add a couple of fancy filters and algorithms to the existing program for each new update.) However, since it can now be used online free of cost, I can now provide some tips that anyone can take advantage of.

And on top of that, I did up a new page on photographic preparedness – how to plan a photo expedition, what to take with you, and even how to handle rough terrain safely. In fact, this is one to check back on from time to time, since I may add stuff that I’ve forgotten, or any tips that someone sends me – right now it’s almost all based on personal experience. And a quick note, just to drive the point home: in 25+ years of field work, I have damaged virtually none of my equipment, certainly nothing as major as a lens or camera body. Being careful pays off.

I know; there wasn’t much in the way of posts this past week. Be patient – more is on the way.

Just some morning pics

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus sunning itself at sunriseMost of the time recently, the skies are so clear at sunrise that they’re boring, lacking in rich colors and clouds to throw some textures into the mix. But this morning looked like it was going to be different, so I trotted over to the pond to see what would develop as the sun came into view. While the sky did not quite produce the qualities that I was hoping for, I received the cooperation of a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) which has taken up residence in the pond now, sharing it with a great blue heron or two, a green heron, and a cluster of Canada geese.

We don’t see cormorants around here too often – they usually like larger bodies of water, and tend to flock. I was used to seeing them all the time in Florida (along with the occasional anhinga,) but have spotted very few since I left there. This one is demonstrating a typical behavior of both cormorants and anhingas, as well as vultures, which is posing ‘spread-eagle’ to dry out the wings. For the waterfowl, this is usually because they hunt fully submerged, but for the vultures it is more likely to dissipate overnight dew, and potentially to warm up after cold nights. Such a thing isn’t necessary right now, since the overnight temps are barely any lower than the daytime.

The dark geometric shapes in the water are the pilings from an old dock, providing a handy platform for the cormorant (at least, the ones without nails still sticking out.) And yes, I purposefully positioned myself so the bird fell into the gap in the reflection of the background trees, creating a nice natural frame, because that’s what you do. Or should, anyway. As can be seen, only a small band of the sky was producing any color, so that’s what I aimed for; make the photo, rather than taking it, you know?

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus posed on logA few days back when I’d first spotted the cormorant, it was sitting quite close to shore on a log, and wasn’t terribly concerned with my presence, though it was plainly aware of me and likely would have preferred that I not be around. So far everything I’ve been able to get has been backlit, which is a shame, because cormorants have the most brilliant jade green eyes. It’s curious, actually; most of the raptors have yellow or brown eyes, and for the songbirds brown is the norm. Sandhill cranes have orange eyes, white ibis have blue, wood ducks have red, but cormorants are the only ones with green eyes to my knowledge (which, it must be said, is not comprehensive by any stretch.) If I don’t manage to get any close and well-lit shots showing the eyes soon, I’ll dig out some slides that I have which illustrates the color nicely. In fact, probably much better than the digital camera does – the color register of Fuji Provia and Velvia film beats the hell out of any digital camera or setting that I’ve come across, and if I had the ability to process it at home conveniently, I’d probably be using film more often. As it is, it’s getting difficult to find processing services, and more expensive – at some point I’ll do a post about “convenient mediocrity.”

The cormorant wasn’t the only subject matter to be backed by the morning light. As I passed close to a tree, an atypical pattern made be pause and look closely, revealing, yes, another mantis. I checked: contrary to suspicions, it’s the Chinese year of the sheep, but that just goes to show you what they know. I haven’t seen a sheep around here in ages.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis silhouetted against dawn light
I played with using fill-flash to illuminate this side of the mantis as well, but it took some experiments to balance the light levels usefully, and the mantis was much more concerned about my presence than the cormorant, seeking shelter even as I tracked it, so this image ended up being better than those.

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus posed against dawn twilight on pondI’ll leave you with another version of the cormorant poses – still trying to decide which one I like the best. This one was tweaked a little to bring the background trees slightly brighter, giving a little more texture to the whole image. I’m wondering if I should have tried using fill-flash for this one as well, to bring out a little detail from the bird rather than rendering it a simple silhouette, but I’m not sure the flash would have produced enough light for that distance. I need to think about these things while I’m shooting, though, and not afterward when I’m looking at the images…

Monday color 24

dead leaf fluorescing under ultraviolet light
For today’s Monday color we rely on a recent image, taken the same night as the photos from this post when I was playing with the ultra-violet flashlight. For reasons unknown, this dead leaf was fluorescing in weak red at select patches (the purplish-blue being the visible light emitted by the UV LEDs.) Probably evidence that aliens had landed there.

Facing the grim reality

You know, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they realize something that they’ve denied up until that point, some ugly facet of themselves that they really never wanted to believe was true. Sure, they might even joke about it, make an admission in a self-deprecating way before someone else does, but they never quite believed it even then. And since that’s what a blog’s for (especially if you don’t take photos of your food,) I’ll come right out and say it: I don’t do “cute.”

Wasn’t I supposed to feel this great weight lifting? Didn’t happen. But yeah, I’ve always maintained that I could easily shoot cute photos, I just wasn’t running across the subjects as much as, say, praying mantises dismembering their meals (I said nothing about photos of something else’s food,) but when months go by without anything that even remotely fits the bill, I find myself facing the fact that it just doesn’t happen. I never thought I was avoiding it – I figured I could stop shooting creepy things whenever I wanted – but without realizing it, I must be seeking the bugs and snakes and such, my feet tracing the paths that carry me to subjects that will never grace a greeting card.

Is this a bad thing? Should I devote myself to changing it? I tell myself that there’s a niche for everything, that someone has to break the pattern, provide the balance, provoke the disgust. But maybe that’s just rationalizing; I’m the supervillian justifying his own existence as necessary for the superhero. In other words, if it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t be the market for cute photos that there is.

Or maybe I’m the rebel, desperate to show to everyone that I don’t care what they think, which is self-contradictory when you think about it. Maybe I’m denying that when I’ve tried cute pics, they’ve generally not come out well, and rather than work on it, I lash out at others instead. “Take that!” I say with my thousand words, “Let’s see you dissolve into baby-talk now!” And I can sit back, looking at the statistics for visits to this site and cackling as if the short time periods most visitors spend on the pages is intentional and planned.

Or I could be just an asshole. But that’s a stretch, I think.

Anyway, we’ll go back to 1999 I believe, a trip to Big Cypress Bend boardwalk in the Florida Everglades, and an alligator taking advantage of a small patch of shade to drowse pleasantly within. I’ll let you decide exactly how this should be qualified.

drowsing American alligator Alligator mississippiensis