Just imagine if I’d had more time

perched black vulture Coragyps atratus looking ominous
insofar as illustrating a manuscript goes, this image isn’t a very good fit, but I happened to like it and it was among the first images that I got for this session, so here it is. This is a black vulture (Coragyps atratus) looking down on us suspiciously as we slipped in underneath.

lighthouse on Tybee Island, GAThe “us” in this case is The Girlfriend, The Girlfriend’s Sprog, and I, and the locale is outside of Savannah, Georgia, because this past week was our scheduled trip to Savannah and Jekyll Island. It was intended to be just shy of an entire week, Saturday to Friday, but Hurricane Florence changed that as it strengthened and aimed for the coast, and we spent a lot of time debating whether our plans would change, and in what way. I have to point out that last year’s scheduled trip to the same places was canceled outright due to Hurricane Irma’s landfall directly on Jekyll, which closed the island, so this was starting to get annoying. And yes, feel free to blame us for picking these times, but there’s more than casual reasoning behind it: the goal was to catch sea turtle hatching season, which occurs for about six weeks right around this time, plus we’d aimed for after Labor Day to take advantage of lower rates, lesser crowds, and better traffic. But yeah, it seems we’ve learned our lesson now. It doesn’t help that, as I type this back home in North Carolina, Florence (now a Tropical Storm,) is centered fewer than 200 kilometers away and producing less rain and winds than some of the spring storms this year. I’m sure some areas are catching it a lot worse, but not where we were or on our return path; we could have ignored the storm and not seen anything except for some rainy driving on the trip back, but there was no way we could have known that for sure. The news reports concentrated on the dramatic aspects and not on an accurate picture of what was really happening, surprise surprise.

So here’s the result: we had Sunday, mostly spent on Tybee Island off the coast of Savannah, then a lazy day Monday before we finally headed down to Jekyll, and Tuesday on Jekyll, before we decided to call it quits and headed back up early Wednesday morning. That’s only two days of activities – and for me, shooting, which nonetheless resulted in over a thousand frames, so even though it was way shorter than intended and we returned to crappy weather, I accomplished a decent amount, which will be spread over at least two posts – I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to tackle some of the subjects yet.

I don’t travel with the idea that I’m going to write it all up, and I don’t do the tourist thing, and I detest social media, so I often find myself without illustrating or establishing shots, which is my way of saying that this image of the lighthouse on Tybee Island comes from a previous visit seven years ago, despite the fact that we actually went up into the lighthouse this time around. Tybee has a checkered history that you should look up if you have the faintest interest, but overall, it’s a quiet (this time of year, anyway) little resort island with some historical significance and, more importantly for our purposes, close to Savannah and interesting enough for a day trip. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center is small but definitely pretty cool and worth the modest admission fee, the fort is more like a complex with only one portion being maintained as a museum, and the lighthouse is, well, a lighthouse: hard slog up the steps (especially with the injured foot that I’d been desperately trying to let heal before the trip, but oh well,) and a nice view of the island which was mostly trees, houses, and beach. It’s not like the view from 43 meters up is especially spectacular.

view from Tybee Island light showing park buildings and fort
light and fresnel lenses of Tybee lightThose are the original lighthouse complex buildings in the foreground, with Fort Screven in the middle ground and the historic Atlantic Ocean in the rear. Somewhere off to the far right (not the photo to the immediate right) sits a nuclear bomb, jettisoned from a bomber back in 1958, but we didn’t get to see that.

To the immediate right sits my response to the challenge, issued about an hour beforehand, to work on my art – this is the light and lens assembly of the lighthouse. Now let me point out something cool: This is shooting almost straight up from the floor of the lamp room, so the lenses forming the circle at the top of the frame are in a dome above the lamp, re-aiming the light to shine out to sea (why is it never “to ocean” in such phrases?) From this vantage, however, they’re doing a pretty good job of showing the surrounding landscape that sits well below the lighthouse, probably somewhere around a 120-150° angle away. The bulb you see burning isn’t the main light, but what I take is a decorative thing; the main light is the bulb to the left of it and a hell of a lot brighter than this.

We’d looked into taking a sunset dolphin tour while out there, but they were booked full by the time that we contacted them, so we settled for poking around a little near the causeway onto the island. Tybee has another lighthouse called Cockspur, so named because it’s out on the end of the ‘leg’ of Tybee Island like the spur on the leg of a rooster, and not what you were thinking. Actually I have no real idea where the name came from, but that is indeed what a cockspur is. We would have visited that one too but they hadn’t adequately planned the parking when building it, as you can see:

Cockspur lighthouse as seen near the causeway of Tybee Island, GA
laughing gull Leucophaeus atricilla in winter pluamge atop piling in marinaWhile shooting it with the 100-300 L lens, some birds helpfully played around in the frame, lending some points of interest and ‘setting’ to the sky. Attempting these kinds of compositions can be a little taxing to anyone you’re hanging with, especially if they’re not trying for the same thing, because while plenty of birds might be flying around, having one pass precisely through the prime portion of the frame is difficult enough, but having the light right and the wings in a good position is strictly hit-or-miss, much more often miss. Trust me – I did it enough on this trip. You never realize how easy it is for a bird to be in a cluttered portion of the frame, or in a boring flat glide right when you want the wings up, until you’re patiently waiting for them to fill out your intended composition. But while you’re staring through the viewfinder or watching the birds within the immediate vicinity, thinking, Any second now, your companions are watching you shoot nothing and wondering how much longer this is going to take. “C’mon, you can shoot nothing from home!”

Meanwhile, here we have a laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) openly mocking us. How, you ask? Because it’s already in winter plumage, jumping the gun worse than department stores. Hey, shithead, those of us without feathers are still getting sunburned, and the water temperature’s perfect for swimming! Just because Labor Day has passed…

I got to be out shooting for two sunsets and a sunrise on this brief trip (two sunrises were viewed from the car while out on the road,) and all of them occurred with scattered thunderheads and tempestuous storm clouds obscuring the sun, right down near the horizon. Now, higher in the sky, or off to the sides (as you will eventually see,) these can become lit by the sun for some nice colorful effects, but when blocking the sun they greatly limit the opportunities. Nonetheless, there were a couple of patches that had promise and I dutifully worked with these as best I could. This particular evening the sky looked more like an old canvas used for cleaning brushes, but I tracked every bird that looked like it might pass in front of the interesting bits; I was, naturally, hoping for a pelican, but they stubbornly avoided the best regions of the sky. But when another gull was cruising through, I panned with it and fired off numerous frames, and finally selected this one (cropped a bit) as fitting within my fartistic standards; I’ll let you decide if those should be higher or not:

seagull silhouetted against cloud-tossed sky
The next day we headed down to Jekyll, but rather late, so I didn’t end up doing any shooting at all until the day after (Tuesday, for those of you looking at the calendar and figuring out exactly where and when we were doing things, which I’m sure is none of you, so…) Like the previous trip, I not only got up well before sunrise to be out in a scenic location for the event, but also did a little audio recording, so those photos and such will come in a later post. For now, I will feature some of the other subjects that I happened across after chasing the sunrise… wait, “chasing the sunrise”? If you headed east, it would happen quicker, though granted it would take a hell of a velocity to make a noticeable difference. But if you traveled west at roughly 1000 kph at this latitude, you could make the sunrise last indefinitely as you counteracted the rotation of the Earth and simply remained at the point where the sun is tangent with the horizon, while all the clouds and things that make all the colors rotated through past and beneath you…

Anyway, the first shot is indeed sunrise, or a bit thereafter, the sun shrouded by denser humidity while out of the cloud banks on the horizon – this is zoomed in a little, slightly cropped from the original frame at 150mm focal length, so about what you’d see with mid-power binoculars.

sunrise clouds off Jekyll Island showing distant rain storms
I never noticed it while shooting this, but if you look underneath the clouds, you can see the rain that’s falling someplace out at ocean, and since we can see the sunlight shining under the clouds from here, so could anyone who might have been out there, not to mention the fact that they could possibly have seen a rainbow over Jekyll Island while looking back in our direction. Off to the right out of the frame, an active thunderhead was throwing some flashes before sunrise, but it was too sporadic, and the light coming up too quickly, for me to capture any of the lightning from it. Had I been out an hour or two earlier, it might have been a decent lightshow.

hermit crab perched on driftwood, Jekyll Island, GA
Very noticeable, just about everyplace I looked, were the hermit crabs – Jekyll actually seems like an active spot for marine life. This was the nicest shell that I came across in our brief visit, but I knew from its peculiar location atop a log that it was occupied by a crab, and so I left it alone. A good percentage of the branches that would be submerged at high tide showed such holdovers, presumably waiting the five or six hours for the water to return; one overturned shell showed distinct evidence of its occupant, safely drawn in.

upturned whelk shell showing evidence of hermit crab occupant
hermit crab in tidal pool showing fuzzier shellAs I said before, most of the ‘drift’wood on Jekyll isn’t – it’s all trees killed by the encroaching waters as the island is reshaped, and so anchored in place by the roots deep within the sand. As such, the advancing and receding tides form turbulence around the trunks and branches and scour out little hollows surrounding the bases, so many of the pieces of wood sit in their own private pools, while tidal pools unattached to any trees also lie scattered around the beach. Within many of these, the hermit crabs were actively wandering around, and some of the larger pools held minnows and blue crabs. I aimed down at one such hermit crab in passing, and now I wished I’d put more effort into it, because on examining the photo once I’d returned home, it appears as if the crab has a good algae growth, or perhaps some anemones – something other than smooth shell, at least. Shooting down through the surface of the water without the benefit of direct sunlight (it still being too low to shine into the pool) didn’t improve the photographic conditions any. Direct sunlight probably would have kept the crab in hiding, so a flash would have been necessary, and I’d left without the full macro kit, stupidly thinking that I’d have plenty of time to revisit such subjects.

unidentified juvenile shark in tidal pool on Jekyll Island, GAIn another such pool under a branch/root/woodything, a juvenile dead shark about 35 cm long was resting – apparently this end of Jekyll is near a shark breeding ground, and this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen little ones washed ashore, though this was the largest while by no means ‘large.’ Sharks are one of the few classes of fish that I find cool, and something that I wouldn’t mind having in a large aquarium, should I ever go through the intense effort of maintaining a large saltwater tank (which isn’t likely to happen.) And this one appeared intact, though I could only see one side and didn’t bother trying to handle it. It remains possible that the shark merely got stranded by the receding tides and ran out of oxygen in its little pool, but there were some further details that lent weight to the idea that it had washed ashore dead, visible almost as soon as I’d spotted it.

unidentified hermit crab foraging along shark in tidal pool, Jekyll Island, GAA pair of hermit crabs, one of which shown here (the other can be seen as a dark spot right at the nose of the shark in the above image,) were busily scouring along the skin of the shark – which also seemed to indicate that the shark was intact, since they would have likely been working on any exposed areas which would be much easier to scavenge from. An incautious movement from me sent both hastily back into their shells, but for less than ten seconds, which is much shorter than average in my experience; my guess is the proximity of ready food overcame their cautious instincts to some extent. And none of the seagulls seemed to have found the shark’s carcass yet, which probably didn’t last out another hour, since there were scads of gulls to be seen on the beach.

one-legged sanderling Calidris alba on waterline, Jekyll Island, GA
This isn’t a gull of any kind, but a sanderling (Calidris alba,) probably the most common shorebird anywhere in the region – I see them at every beach I go to, running back and forth with the surfline. Only, not this one: this one was only using one leg, and whether the other was missing, injured, or the bird was simply responding to a challenge, I cannot say – it’s easy enough for most birds to draw one leg completely within their feathers. But this one was immediately noticeable because it did not race about with the rapid, alternating footstep pace of most sandpiper-like birds, but hopped like a robin instead, and I shot countless frames of it to ensure that I was not missing anything.

sanderling Calidris alba hopping on one leg while foraging along surf line, Jeykll Island, GA
I’ve done enough wildlife rehab to know that a one-legged bird is often in trouble, partially from mobility, but mostly from its inability to shift weight off of its foot at any time, plus the added strain of balancing – they tend to develop a bedsore-like condition called bumblefoot, and it would usually lead to debilitating infections and illness. This one was showing no signs of any difficulty, however, and was gamely (a ha ha) going about its normal routine with vigor, bouncing rapidly along the waterline in search of tiny shellfish. Given that it had also demonstrated its ability to fly, I knew that, even if I could find a rehab center in the area, I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of it without a net and at least one other helper, so I left it to its own devices and trusted the soft sand to prevent it from getting foot problems.

willet Tringa semipalmata slightly overwhelmed by small breaker
This willet (Tringa semipalmata) appeared somewhat anxious over the size of the breaker, dancing around a little uncertainly before flying off – it’s likely that it was already concerned over my proximity and not paying attention to the incoming wavelet. To me, this is faintly visible in the way the bird appears to be leaning back from the water, but having been there I don’t know if I’m imagining this being visible in the shot or not – you tell me. The previous frame to this had a lovely curl to the wave before the first hint of foam, but focus had locked onto the water and the bird was ever-so-slightly soft, and that’s enough to reject it in my book, because people are going to focus on the bird. It’s a shame really, because the wave looked really cool.

seagulls foraging among washed up water reeds
I include this to illustrate conditions more than anything, though I don’t think it’s completely without its fartistic merits (which just goes to show what I know.) For reasons unknown to me, this region seemed to have a large amount of water reeds washing ashore, so much so that the edge of the beach itself, many meters away, was liberally lined with the dried, decaying stems. Here, the gulls were foraging avidly among the plants, looking for anything that was either caught up in them or unable to scamper through the thicket back into the water. It’s possible that the channel is not terribly deep and these all get torn free from the bottom by the turbulence of passing boats, since this is a pretty busy channel, but that’s just idle speculation – the channel is certainly deep enough for the massive casino cruises that go through. Maybe the sharks pull them free when making nests. It’s conceivable that marine knowledge is not my strong suit.

pair of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis cruising past
I have a side quest to get some nice detailed images of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) in flight, which has so far managed to elude me – I have some slides from way back, but nothing recent, and every time I’ve seen some nice and close, or in great light or whatever, the camera has not been in hand; when it is, of course, they’re off in the distance doing that perfectly flat gliding thing. This is the closest that I’ve come in the past few years, and it’s not what I’m looking for, but happy morning light and good wing positions anyway.

And to close, one other from the sunrise itself, looking north to St. Simon’s Island – that’s the lighthouse to the right, which they shut down the light within way too early; I suppose I have to dub one in for the art print. This was, really, a tiny patch of sky showing the color playing off of a distinct thunderhead, while most of the rest of the sky was almost bare – this kind of cropping emphasizes what you want people to see when the full frame might make it seem much less impressive. And of course, I watched those birds come in and shot numerous frames to try and capture the best positions, and lucked out in this case (well, not entirely luck, because I knew where I wanted them and was ready when it happened.)

thunderhead off St Simon's Island during sunrise
And, as I edit this draft of the post, I point out that they make great eyes to the nose of the lighthouse, and now you can’t unsee that either…

Per the ancient lore, part 27

grainy and ratty moon image shot through homemade telescope adapter
We be in the Space folder now, looking through squinted eyes (or at least I am) at a not-very-good photo of the moon taken through a telescope, but I include it because it’s one of the first that I took. A friend loaned me her 800mm Galilean telescope, a novice-level entry for reflector scopes, and I had endeavored to create a rig that would allow the camera to be mounted. This was the first result, which largely illustrates that it wasn’t worth the effort, but there are a lot of modifiers to be considered.

Let’s start with, the exposure time for a crescent moon is considerably longer than for a full moon, because it’s much dimmer. Seems kind of obvious, but then, you might pause and say, “Hold on there – the moon is still lit by full sunlight, so even though there’s less of it showing, it’s the same brightness, right?” Except it’s not, because the light is now hitting it obliquely and there’s far less of it reflected down towards us, while a full moon is much more of a direct reflection. And as the exposure time lengthens, so does the blur from the motion, because the Earth continues to rotate and so the moon continues to track across the sky – more or less, its own width in 180 seconds. Unless one is using a tracking motor (which this scope did not provide,) the shutter speed has to be fast enough to prevent much motion during the exposure and keep the details sharp. In this case, that meant ISO 800, which the Sony F717 did not handle well.

The author not holding still during a long exposureThen there’s light attenuation because of not just the scope itself, but whatever adapter is necessary to affix a camera. Consumer telescopes of nearly all types only have to provide an image through our tiny little eyes and are optimized for such, both in focal length and in ‘exit pupil,’ the actual size of the projected image at focus. Naturally, a 35mm film frame (which is what I originally adapted for) is a lot larger than our pupils or retinas, but it’s the same amount of light coming through the eyepiece of the scope, so it has to be spread out more to cover that frame, thus the whole image gets a lot darker. To that we add focal distance, because telescopes are optimized for the lenses of our eyes and the ‘effective’ focus of them to a couple of meters away for comfort (meaning when we focus on an image in a telescope or binoculars, we’re focusing the same as we would for an object a few meters away,) while the camera is going to be different. All of this usually means extra tubes from the eyepiece and often additional lenses too, see here in my homemade rig: the yellow tube is an old metal broomhandle the right size to lock into the eyepiece extension of the scope, glued to a rear lens cap with a hole precisely drilled into it, which it itself attached to a reversed 35mm lens, attached to the camera with a reversing ring. All of that reduces the light getting to the image.

Hold on, we’re not done yet! The Sony F-717 used in the image at top had a fixed lens that had to be accommodated, so it needed a different lens attachment – a reversed 50mm if I remember right, and a certain focal length on the camera itself. Very involved. This ended up vignetting the frame, projecting an image circle smaller than the digital sensor itself, so the edges were always dark. You don’t notice it in the top image, but can see it in the one below – which had better light and came out much nicer.

gibbous moon through telescope on morning of Venus transit
By the way, this shot was taken the morning of the first Venus transit in the past century – two occur eight years apart, followed by a gap of over a hundred years. The one in 2004 was going to be visible from Florida right at sunrise, and the dim light at sunrise (due to atmospheric scatter) could potentially allow a direct sun shot without filtration, and I was ready with the scope. Unsurprisingly, the sun was obscured by a cloud on the horizon during the transit, so I shot the moon while I was out there. Eight years later, soured by this experience and knowing the transit would occur in mid-afternoon, I wasn’t intending to get any shots at all and got extremely lucky with the conditions. You never know…

[The rig shot in the middle of the post is a self-portrait – yes, there’s too many pics of me recently, I do apologize – mostly lit by the nearly-full moon but with supplemental light from the apartment complex. I couldn’t hold completely still during the exposure time necessary, but don’t ask me what that was because it was on negative film and I never recorded the details. The camera on the scope was an Olympus OM-1, handy for this because of a manually-locking mirror, while this was taken with my trusty Canon Elan IIe. Both cameras required remote releases: the long cable release of the Olympus is visible, while the infra-red RC-1 for the Canon is out of the frame in my other hand.]

A precursor, perhaps

unidentified mushrooms on bank of Eno River
In the back of my mind for a while now, I’ve had plans to show a bit more of the macro photography process, specifically some of the shooting angles and odd efforts to get the right shot, as well as a little more on the equipment. What this will require is someone else to do most of the shots, since I would be the model/demonstrator, as well as the right conditions to do this within – in other words, good examples of the demands rather than just, like, a spider in a web at eye level. So far, this hasn’t come to pass, but I haven’t given up on it. In the meantime, spurred by this Ancient Lore post, I present a faint inkling.

The reason that post provoked this one was solely because they occurred on the exact same day, and I knew I had the necessary images – where exactly, in my overburdened harddrives, remained to be seen, but eventually I came across them. I don’t find the image at top to be anything exciting, but it happened that the outing was with Jim Kramer – yes, the Jim Kramer – and he fired off a couple of frames while I was taking that one.

the author trying for an interesting view, by James L. Kramer
Once again, I was using Jim’s Sony F828, the follow-up model to the F717 that I used for a while in Florida about six months prior, while Jim was using his new Canon 10D – you can actually see the exact same frame as above captured in the LCD. The F828 had a pivoting back, which allowed it to be viewed from angles other than directly in line with the lens, which I took advantage of here; this is not an option with my current lineup of cameras, so the same image would have taken a different shooting position.

Now note the water appearing above my head, and the water and the slope in the original photo at top. Jim was shooting almost straight down for his image, while I was propped on a significant slope just above the waterline – it’s possible my other (not visible) foot was braced on a rock at the water’s edge, because it’d be too easy to slip into the water if I wasn’t anchored well. You can also see that the mushrooms appear in a narrow band of moss between the rock and the water, probably unnoticeable unless you’re actively looking for little hidden things (more like frogs, lizards, and snakes in my case, but the mushrooms were colorful and merited the attention when I found them.) To illustrate the methods of pursuing macro shots, Jim’s image could have shown more of the surroundings, but that wasn’t what he was after at the time – I just realized it could be used for this purpose well afterward.

Another photo from the same minute is below, one that I like much better – subtle differences can change the resulting image significantly.

better unidentified mushroom photo

Frustrations, part 13: Unproductivity

eastern tiger swallowtail Papilio glaucus feeding from phlox
First off, I have to mention that I have apparently neglected the numbered Frustrations posts; while number 12 was way back when, I actually have 68 posts now in the ‘Frustrations‘ category. This might seem like a lot, but there are over 1,450 posts now, so that’s less than 5%. Still, yeah, I’m a whiny little bitch.

This image isn’t a frustration by itself, but an incidental one because it’s one of the very few that was even worth saving, from an outing not too long ago. While the outing was brief due to a threatening thunderstorm, I was in the NC Botanical Garden, by nature a good place to get photos, and somehow wasn’t on my game (I really need to stop using sports metaphors given how much I detest sports.) Editing the results afterward, I found far too many not passing muster (there: war metaphors, much better.) And since this was one of the few times that I got out recently to dedicate to some shooting, due to weather and schedules and all that, it’s a bit annoying and disappointing not to produce more than I did.

It’s one thing to find too few things to photograph – that, I’m cool with, and on occasion even take it as a challenge to find something that I can make work. No, this time around, I shot an acceptable number of images, but most of them didn’t come up to minimal standards and were discarded. Framing, focus, lighting, whatever – just not cutting it (I have no idea what that metaphor originally meant.) That’s the kind of thing that makes you doubt your skills, at least to some extent. The photographic results, I mean, not the metaphor.

For the most part, I view this as, “Hey, it happens,” but there remains the nagging idea that I should have done a lot better. This may not be a bad thing, since it promotes a drive to improve, which I consider necessary. But yeah, until I come back with a collection of really bankable images, I’m going to mutter and fret a bit.

Just writing this makes me aware of the arbitrary distinctions we make, the lines and categories and all that. For instance, I keep track of the number of images that I upload per month, and per year, and compare them idly – I feel proud when I’ve exceeded some previous sum, but I try not to be motivated by that, because I suspect it can lead to posting crap just to increase the numbers (or, you know, already has.) But at the same time, what does it matter happened between September 1 and September 30? What particular distinction is “a month” or “a year?” How much would it change if I did something like a fiscal year instead, July 1 through June 30? Who cares? The important bit (to me at least – hard to argue that it has any importance in the big picture) is that I get images that I, and hopefully others, think are pretty cool. I don’t need a quota of any kind, even when I’m sure it helps to always keep building up. Maybe this year isn’t going to be “as good” as last year. That’s okay – the future holds promise.

And for anyone that might find themselves in the same frame of mind when it seems that you aren’t performing as you should, it can help a lot to go back through older images and compare the progress and improvements that you’ve made since then. Even the bad images are a learning experience; even the frustrations are motivations to improve. These had an effect on you then, and are still affecting you now.

Per the ancient lore, part 26

sailboat from Eau Galllie causeway
This week we return to the Science/Miscellaneous folder, and a photo that I almost included with last week’s Ancient Lore post because I mentioned how it might have been interesting to capture a sailboat within that one. The pagination of that post wasn’t conducive to the inclusion, so I let it be, but decided to post it this week because there’s not a hell of a lot in this folder anyway. You have to admit, when you think of sailboats they’re generally not this colorful, so I kinda like this one, but never thought it was strong enough to do anything with.

This is taken from the top of the same causeway as last week, a matter of lucky timing that I happened to be up there when the sailboat came through the channel of the Indian River Lagoon in Florida – yes, we’re still working with the Sony F717 during its brief stay with me. The causeway arced up to allow a solid 20 meters clearance underneath for traffic such as this, but I admit that, when I was bicycling around hill-challenged Florida, climbing the incline that this created was a hard slog, one that defeated me one day, two weeks after a serious illness when I thought I had recovered sufficiently. I have distinct memories of stopping and resting the bike on the shoulder (something that North Carolina seems completely unaware might exist,) and lying down in the pedestrian pathway waiting for the nausea to subside; this was not at all helped by being a blazingly hot day, and I was racking my brain trying to think of a place nearby where I might find some shade that was desperately needed. My mind obviously wasn’t working very well, because the nearest and deepest shade lay at the very end of a effortless and breezy run on the bike, directly underneath the bridge that I was on and precisely where last week’s photo had been taken. I could have turned around, literally coasted down without any pedaling whatsoever (I would have expended more energy in braking down at the bottom,) and popped down the ladder for the coolest and darkest spot within kilometers – Florida is not particularly known for deep shade, especially when the majority of trees are freaking palms.

She wanted her picture takenAnother time in the exact same location, I was looking out over the water for dolphins and manatees and whatever else I might spot from the high vantage – I’d seen some big jellyfish, manta and cownose rays, and even some sea turtles from up there – when one of the occupants of a boat passing beneath spotted the camera in my hands, squealed and waved. I quickly aimed down and fired off a shot, the haste partially evidenced by the lousy framing, but I had a bare second before the boat would have disappeared under the bridge. That she wasn’t really trying to have her picture taken is proved by her embarrassed smile here – I suspect she thought I was slower than that, which tells how out-of-touch she was in not recognizing me and my awesome photographic reputation.

And when I remembered this image and decided to include it, I realized this is one of the collection that was lost when a harddrive failed – or at least, the original was, and all I had was the version reduced to e-mail size (there was a purpose for it, then, but I don’t remember what it was now – old, you know.) While this particular frame isn’t one that I regret losing, always, always maintain backups. I still occasionally discover or remember frames that I wish I still had.

The unwanted and uncalled-for sequel

This is a follow-up video to a series of still images that I took five years ago, and I realized right as I was finishing the editing that I missed the anniversary date by only a couple of days. I couldn’t have posted on the precise day anyway, because my video account has a weekly limit and I’d exceeded it with the previous offering.

And I probably shouldn’t be posting this anyway. I went out late one night, or early one morning if you like being pedantic, casually looking around with the headlamp, and happened across my subjects here. The behavior wasn’t typical, leading me to believe that something might be about to happen, so I quickly fetched the Canon T2i, video light, and mini-tripod. This took all of five minutes or less, but I missed the opening of Act One. I shot most of the rest in detail, then switched to the second pair of subjects and captured the entire sequence with them – timing was on my side in that regard, since they could have easily started while I was occupied with the first couple.

Why am I being so vague, you ask? Because it’s a lot more fun this way. Without further ado, I present the video to let you find out the hard way what I’m talking about.

The previous experience with exactly this subject can be found here, and I’m quite proud of both the title and the writing therein, which tells you far too much about me. For the record, these are leopard slugs (Limax maximus,) and yes, they’re huge. And very fond of brick too, so it’s paramount that one watches the front steps when going out at night. I have a wicked tendency to go barefoot in the summer, but these humongous bastards have almost broken me of that habit.

I have to note that I did a bit of web searching to try and determine more details about what was captured here, but didn’t turn up a lot. And I was unwilling to delve into it further because, you know, such searches are being saved, cataloged, and examined for “national security” and all that rot – I didn’t want to appear fanatical or anything. Trust me, this is all academic, detached observational kind of thing; I’m not especially motivated to pursue such subjects. No, really. But I’ll admit it’s kinda annoying to have this whole webbernets thing and then feel self-conscious about actually using it. Like, is there a better technical term for that blue thing, even though most sources call it a penis? That seems kind of sexist to me – it should be a vaginis to me, but is there a proper Latin term? And what’re those white blobs being discarded? Probably not condoms, I’m guessing…

Meanwhile, I could have sworn I posted some of these photos back when I took them, but can find no record of it either within the blog or in the published images folders, so I guess we take care of it here.

cluster of invertebrate eggs, likely leopard slug Limax maximus
Back in 2012, before my first experience with bumping sluglies, I found this cluster of eggs underneath a crate in the side yard. At this point of course, no details could be discerned at all, so I couldn’t be sure what they were.

closeup image of developing fetus through transparent eggshell, likely leopard slug Limax maximus
I checked back on them as they were developing, and despite getting really lucky with the lighting, didn’t get enough detail from the fetus to even give an idea of what they were. “Caspar” would be my best guess based on the appearance, but I don’t think ghosts are hatched from eggs – they’re probably live-born. Or dead-born. Whatever.

hatching slugs likely leopard slug Limax maximus
Not much later on, the mystery was solved to a reasonable degree, especially given the size of the eggs and the cluster thereof – there’s probably no other species that could produce the sheer mass. Each individual egg was about 5mm across, if memory serves, which doesn’t seem too significant until you sum up a few dozen; it certainly wasn’t a typical garden slug that weighed about the same as three of the eggs. So I’m pretty comfortable saying that, yes, someplace not far away there will be, if there isn’t already, a cluster or four very similar to these. Should I go looking for them? It’s your call.

But you knew that already

unidentified swimming/floating beetles, possibly whirligig beetles family GyrinidaeI said that I would reveal what the month-end abstract was, and so I have returned, later than intended but bearing gifts for all (one of which is coming up very soon.) At right is another version of the same subject, taken at the same time but with a much faster shutter speed. In certain small areas of lakes, ponds, and streams, a variety of swimming beetle can be found at times, charcoal grey but shiny, swimming at great speed in elaborate zigzags. These are, most likely, a variety of whirligig beetles, family Gyrinidae, but since I have yet to obtain a closeup image or capture one for better examination, this identification remains tentative. They’re about a centimeter long and half that wide, and virtually always congregate in groups. It’s not the first time that I’ve photographed them either, but I’ve never made the effort to capture one for detail shots, so I may have to rectify that soon.

To produce the abstract, I simply aimed almost straight down at a cluster of them whipping around and dragged the shutter a little, as in, 1/13th second, which was enough to let them blur through the frame – the curious light trails were provided by reflections from the water and possibly their shiny backs. If you go back to that image, you’ll also see some faint curling traces left by sunlight reflecting from other ripples not caused by the beetles. I was wading in the shallows of Jordan Lake for this one, and they darted away only when I got too close, which was a little less than a meter – if I take along a small minnow net I could probably snag one with a couple of tries.

unidentified beetle possibly whirligig beetle family Gyrinidae pausing on water surface
This is probably the best closeup shot that I have of the species, which isn’t saying much, but there are some cooler images to be found here. On that page I speculated that they were Hydrophilidae, but those are diving beetles and tend to be larger, so I’m correcting myself here without even knowing if I’m correct – I’m probably wrong on both counts, and the next six tries as well. Hey, you come here for the photos, not the entomology lessons. Or if you do, well, you’re in trouble…

Per the ancient lore, part 25

brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis under Eau Gallie Causeway
I know you’ve gotten the pattern down and are keeping track, so I don’t have to tell you what folder this comes from; it’s a mere accident of timing that it coincides with the end of the month, and if I felt like cheating, I’d let this serve double duty, but since I already have a month-end abstract, I’ll keep the post count up.

And we’ve seen this causeway from the top, but now we have to view it from the underside. In fact, if you look carefully at that linked photo, you’ll see a distant sign just left of center in the image, and a break in the guardrails right next to it; that’s the head of the stairs that led down the water level and access to this point underneath. I took up a very careful position down there to line up the repeating patterns of the support columns, and liked the pelican for its intrusion into this pattern, except I think it grounds it a bit too much in mundanity. As can be seen by the vertical striped stains on the horizontal crossbars, this locale was a huge favorite of perching birds: pelicans, cormorants, anhingas, ducks, the occasional heron, and so on.

pedestrian in distance bombing shotBut wait! I captured something else too, wholly unintentionally, and didn’t even know it until editing the photo quite some time afterward. Way in the distance, hundreds of meters off on the other side of the channel and causeway, someone crossed the frame along a similar pathway as my own – shame they never thought to stop and take a picture, ’cause we could have had some weird kind of synchronicity thing going on. Trust the other person to screw up a great opportunity…

Looking at this now I realize that, had I been down there at the right time, I could have caught a sailboat passing through the channel, right in mid-pattern – might have made a cool composition. I’d shot a couple from the top of the causeway, but didn’t really hang around on the underside much because there wasn’t any reason to. Even my snorkel spots were a ways behind my shooting position, in shallower water and well away from the possibility of oblivious boating traffic. I’d say something like, “Maybe next time,” but I’m honestly considering the chances of my returning to this area pretty low right now; the next Florida trip is likely going to be aimed at more scenic and productive areas for photography, mostly the Gulf coast and the Everglades. But we’ll see.

Sayonara, August!

You're trying to cheat aren't you?
And so August goes its merry way, but not without firing off its parting shot of an abstract image. And just to show you what kind of guy I am, I’m not going to jump right in and blurt out what this is an image of, but I’m going to let you figure it out for yourself instead. If you get stumped, I’ll be along eventually (before the decade is out, most likely) and fill you in as needed, but I’m confident that won’t be necessary.

What?

Great blue heron Ardea herodias peering straight down from directly overhead
A few days back, the Missing Mr Bugg had finally finished with all his summer chores and we had another outing, the first since early May; it was moderately productive but not as much as either of us would have liked. Nonetheless, we both have a selection of useful photos, and I gave him plenty of time to rectify the horrible neglect he’s been showing his blog, but as of this writing he still hasn’t posted anything, so I guess it’s up to me. Yet again.

More will be coming, but I had to post this one just for the expression and odd angle. While we watched, a territorial dispute between two great blue herons (Ardea herodias) resulted in one cruising across the lake and alighting in a tree almost directly over our heads. I had lost sight of it among the branches just as it touched down, but knew it had to be within a very small area, not to mention that it was gurking softly to itself as we quietly shifted back and forth beneath it trying for a glimpse – and it still took two minutes to spot the bulky bird. It wasn’t as horrified by our presence as it appears here, spending time looking out over the water and carefully watching an unleashed (of course) dog that was shambling through the immediate vicinity. The owner none-too-quietly informed us of the number of birds that could be seen in the area, blissfully unaware of us both pointing long lenses into the tree canopy directly overhead and speaking in hushed tones. There’s a reason that I don’t like popular parks…

By the way, this is a good example of why you should know how to shut off autofocus quickly and without looking at the switch. In such conditions, the camera is likely to lock onto anything except the eyes of the bird, which is the primary point of attention for the image, and you’ll need to get focus back where it belongs quickly. Meanwhile, this shows the useful eye-alignment of herons (and many other waders,) able to see straight down under its chin – its beak is aimed slightly downwards here, but far from directly towards us. For birds like the American bittern, this placement allows the bird to view its entire surroundings while its beak is pointed straight up in camouflage mode, making it appear like water reeds – plus it permits watching the ground underneath its perch for predators, and probably even assists in spotting food in the very water the bird is wading within. This probably means that thousands of years in the future, nature photographers will have big protruding eyes that allow them to see all of the potential subjects that might be around them.*

* Assuming, of course, that nature photographers gain preferential mating privileges through their activities, which is a highly debatable factor…