I have been trying to get to a few posts for several days now, intending to catch up a bit – you might have noticed that I’ve produced almost no philosophically turgid or religion-abusing posts recently. There’s also the two web pages I’ve been trying to finish, and some other odd projects. I just haven’t been finding the time. It’s very early morning Sunday right now, and I’d intended to do a post several hours ago on images I’d taken Saturday, but my lower gastro-intestinal tract had other suggestions which couldn’t really be ignored. So here’s one post, with perhaps another to follow later on today. That’s if I can cut down the number of typos I’ve produced so far…
I arrived early at the botanical garden to meet with a student, and poked around a bit. Above and below, a hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) visited some flowers while I was standing nearby, and I chased a few images since it was convenient. The various Hemaris moths are hyperactive and can be hard to nail focus on, but above I at least caught it while it was extending its proboscis. I’m not sure if the image below truly counts as hovering, even though the moths don’t actually land on the flowers they drink from; this one appears to be braced, at least, and those wings might look stationary but they’re not – 1/2000 second shutter speed at f4 can do that.
[By the way, I did get to the month-end blog maintenance duties, and note that I set a new record for image uploads in April, 65 in total. That’s actually pretty good for a slow month, and not one of them was from anyone else – the previous two record-holders that tied at 62 both featured several images that were not my own. So, yeah. I also noted that on the last day of both March and April I posted surreal shots, so now I’m feeling obligated to do this every month. Don’t know if that’s gonna happen or not.]
Above, a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) basks in the sunlight, with numerous minnows (Fishus insignificus – actually I have no idea what they are) taking advantage of the warmer water produced by sunlight reflecting/radiating off of its shell. I suspect they gives a pretty good idea of the size, but if not, I’ll say that its shell length was about 30 cm. Snappers do get big.
This one is just to show what the entire frame that I captured looks like, as an unidentified small wasp visited these flowers. The next one is the detail crop from the same image.
The conscientious side of me says that I should have uploaded the image to BugGuide.net to get a positive identification, but I don’t feel like waiting right now and I already skimmed the site trying to pin it down. So you just have to enjoy looking at the image in ignorance (unless, naturally, you’re more educated than I am, in which case you can roll your eyes or scoff or smirk condescendingly – whatever works.) As might be obvious, it’s quite small.
On my return from meeting with the student, I took a quick walk around the nearby pond, and I’ve been looking at this for weeks now and had to comment. Back during the bad winter storm that we had, a massive tree near the pond came down, bringing electrical wires with it, and a smaller tree had to be cut away because it was entangled in the wires. The trunk was left there, but somehow it has sprouted new leaves with the warmer weather. In a couple of weeks they haven’t really progressed beyond the point seen here, five cm across or less, but they also haven’t died. I’m guessing this is just the residual moisture/sap leaching out of the trunk and eventually, without further nutrients, these will die off, but it seems weird – the tree was dropped, like, nine weeks ago. I’ve seen uprooted trees that simply started growing while horizontal, and cut trees sprout new branches from the stump all the time, but never a tree completely severed from its root system still kicking. This may be how the zombie apocalypse starts – I’m guessing this one won’t really make for exciting television.
I’ve been seeing water snakes at various places around this pond for weeks, but have never gotten a decent image of any until now. And this one was only because, with those eyes, it couldn’t make me out very well and I was careful not to alert it in other ways. Snakes don’t exactly have ears (according to new research, they have the ability to hear, but only through the vibrations of their skeletal system it seems,) but they’ll still pick up on incautious movements nearby, so I stepped very gently. This snake is not old or anything, simply about to shed any time now – if I go out today when it’s light I’ll probably be able to find the skin, since it’s been many hours after getting this image. The skin gets cloudy and dark right before a shed, including the eyes, and it means they can only see blobs. When you spot a snake with blue eyes, leave it be, since it will be very defensive in its vulnerable state, and you will likely get bitten. Northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) are notoriously defensively anyway, likely to bite with any handling, and much more so in this condition. I managed to get quite close, though probably not close enough to be bitten, but as I finished my photo session I rose too quickly; the snake was able to make out that movement, and shot into the water instantly.
By the way, the undergrowth to the right of the frame prevented me from getting any shots from that side, which meant I didn’t have a decent view of what appears to be some injuries to its head on that side, vaguely visible in the image here. It’s not surprising – water snakes often bask during the day because the water can sap their body heat, but this makes them vulnerable to more predators than the snakes which are primarily nocturnal. Obviously it survived – see above about the defensiveness.
And I close with an image taken right outside our front door, an orchard orbweaver (Leucauge Venusta) opportunistically perched on the phlox. I’m pleased that so much of the orb web came out this visibly – I really didn’t think that it would. And yes, I did position myself so that the spider was placed against the bright leaf, for contrast.
Actually, this is intended as more of a break for me than for you, necessarily, but feel free to take advantage of it if you need to. Posting has been slow because I’m working on a project that I’d aimed to finish today (I’m close,) and so I’ve been putting my attention elsewhere. I know – the arrogance, right?
You are welcome to guess at what you’re seeing here, but you’re never gonna get it anyway, so I’m not going to wait and keep telling you, “Nope,” every time, so here it is: it’s the pan from a rice dish The Girlfriend prepared tonight, soaking in water because some of the rice stuck to the bottom, and the water floated the oil from the dish to the top – that’s all the little circles you’re seeing. I boosted contrast a bit for a more dramatic effect.
It’s even more disturbing when the pan moved, because the bubbles would swing back and forth separately and shift position amongst themselves, just to screw with my eyes.
I’ll be back shortly to tell you about the project, unless I get some other weird photo in the interim.
Okay, it’s hardly the first frog of the year, but it is my first treefrog; making that distinction would have ruined the aesthetic perfection of the title. I consider it significant that this one was found in almost the exact same location as the first one spotted when we moved into the house eleven months ago (I was too busy to post at the time of the first sighting,) so I’m going to rashly assume it’s the same one. Maybe at some point I’ll sit down with the photos from both times and see how closely the markings will match up.
This is either a common grey treefrog (Hyla versicolor) or the rarer Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) – the only way available to me to distinguish them is their call, which I have yet to hear. We’re due for some rain Wednesday night while it remains reasonably warm, so I may get to hear it then.
This one didn’t move a muscle while I loomed in with the camera, allowing me some extreme closeups. Its location was in varying light, mostly shaded but exposed through the leaves at the time I was doing the shots. The first image was with natural light, but the next two were with the flash, which still didn’t prompt any response. It occurs to me that if anyone made a really realistic-looking toy treefrog they could keep me busy for hours…
You have to agree (you have no choice, believe me) that grey treefrogs are not the most chipper looking of species – these images are not likely to inspire feelings of cheer or optimism. However, I am more than willing to sell a few big prints to teachers with classrooms full of hyperactive students, to see if this morose amphibian peering down has any effect. I bet it would work for psychologists’ offices too, especially for the doctors that get kickbacks from Prozac prescriptions…
Really close. Don’t get confused – I went around to the other side for this photo, shooting along the edge of the post behind the frog, so now we’re looking at the right eye, and this is a tighter crop of the full frame. But – seriously, is the cornea wrinkled? Dude – close your eyes, that can’t be good.
While I’m posting, I figured I’d feature another newborn mantis, this one on The Girlfriend’s new pieris plant where it will be encouraged to stay – both because it should be a good source of food critters and because it’s a smaller plant and I can find the mantis again easily. We will, naturally, see if this works, but I did notice today that the other one from last week is still hanging out on the Japanese maple tree, so perhaps this is a well-behaved brood.
To the best of my knowledge, these are both Chinese praying mantises (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) – I’ve only found one other species in the area and then rarely, so we’ll go with this for now. I did not get a precise measurement but I’m guesstimating about 10mm in length – still quite small. This one was very aware of my presence and was avoiding any portrait angles, and I didn’t want to spook it off the plant so I didn’t make too much of a pest of myself. I’ll have to see if I can find some aphids and bring it a peace offering.
Don’t blame me – I did not put that kink in the antenna. Probably got shut in a door…
This is the closest I got to a face shot, when I switched to the other side of the plant – the foliage prevented me from getting any lower. Don’t worry, I’ll get those images eventually.
Not quite surreal enough to make the viewer confused about what they’re seeing, but still fairly abstract. We needed a blue shot in the lineup, plus an autumn image contrasts well against all the spring stuff in your face, right?
Okay, that’s probably not the best lyric to use in the title. It’s the beginning of the chorus from ‘Planet Earth,’ the first release from Duran Duran, but the very next line is, “There’s no sign of life.” I’m using it ironically, so it’s okay – in fact, I get bonus irony points because I think hipsters are dipshits. I’ll let you puzzle that one out…
I didn’t get out on my Earth Day quest for too long today, but I managed a few yard shots and a circuit of the nearby pond. On the Japanese maple very close to where I deposited the mantis the other day, my super-acute vision spotted the pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus) seen above, despite its remarkable camouflage. If you’re having difficulty, keep trying – you’ll spot it eventually.
The parasites seem to be the most prevalent arthropods to be found, and doing a fair amount of damage to the new plant life in the area. The Girlfriend’s prize weeping cherry tree, purchased last year to decorate the front yard, produced a marvelous canopy of flowers this spring, much to our surprise, and even followed up with some fruit. These cherries are smaller than peas, so not exactly heading for the fruit salad, but as can be seen, something has been both damaging the leaves and trying out the cherries themselves.
This new rosebud is also showing the damage, producing a nice cutaway view, but this was the only one I found in this condition, so either the responsible party decided this wasn’t that palatable after all, or it was discovered by the birds in the area – we’ve got plenty of tufted titmice, and they like critters of this nature for food.
The likely culprits really aren’t hard to find, despite the next image. In two places in the yard we have what I believe to be silky dogwood trees (Cornus amomum,) which do not produce the broader four-petaled flowers that most people are familiar with, but clusters of tiny white flowers in a umbrella-shape or cyme, roughly 5cm across. The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog describes the scent as, “wet dog covered in cat food” – she’s studying to be a professional wine taster and so knows all these technical terms. The flowers last barely any time at all, a few days at most, and so on the bare stalks I found the critter below.
In an S-curve through the center of the photo is the body of an inchworm, showing the dark dorsal stripe, and its head is tucked in right alongside a few buds at upper right – impressive, isn’t it? Most times, actually, they’re much easier to see, not only as bright green as the assassin, but often dangling on weblines from the trees – in my perambulations I’ve ended up with an untold number hitching a ride. And I’ve found several on the weeping cherry tree, removing them. I’ve also found them on the Japanese maple but they don’t appear to be doing any damage to that at all.
Yesterday at the botanical garden I found a couple of amphibians, both unidentified frogs; the one above was quite young as you can see, but how could I pass up that pic? I’m still keeping an eye out for treefrogs, though it remains a little early in the season for them yet.
On today’s cruise around the pond, I espied this small turtle, likely a species known by the unsophisticated-yet-descriptive common name of ‘stinkpot’ (Sternotherus odoratus,) propped between two tree trunks not far out of the water. They have earned the name, and the other common name of ‘musk turtle,’ by their defensive trait of emitting a foul-smelling musk when threatened. Most aquatic turtles bask in the sunlight to warm themselves, so the position shown here isn’t necessarily unusual behavior, but I admit I was a little concerned that it had slipped and gotten wedged into the space and was unable to extricate itself. Usually, this is not at all hard to determine: turtles are typically quite shy and bolt into the water as soon as they suspect you might be dangerous. So, slowly to allow for as many photos as I could obtain, I started closing in on the little spud.
Not a twitch, of its head or feet, even as I got right on top of it. I’m going to pause here to point out the bubble seen beneath it, a curious capture due to the gusty conditions today that also severely limited the amount of macro work I could do – check out the water in the previous photo as well. By now, I was far closer than any turtle would allow, and quite certain something was wrong. Even as I set the camera down (yes, it happens sometimes, hush) and reached for the amphibian, there wasn’t the faintest hint of consciousness, and I wondered if I was far too late. But when my hand closed on its shell, the turtle responded with a hiss and a sudden withdrawing of its head, and I believe now the little dude had fallen asleep in that position; even if it wasn’t facing me, their hearing isn’t that bad, so I’m guessing it was zoned out completely.
Of course, now that I had it in hand, I had to take the opportunity for a couple more images before I sent it safely on its way. With no one else around to hold it for a scale photo, I settled for resting it on my sandal; when describing these, I usually just tell people they look like hand grenades. You really want to be careful if attempting to handle one, though, since they have a wicked bite and the neck is surprisingly long and agile. This one was quite sedate, perhaps embarrassed over sleeping on the job, and only dashed off as soon as it was permitted.
I close with another photo from yesterday, a spindly small tree in the backyard that revealed itself exuberantly this spring as a white azalea bush – I admit to being unaware of the cranefly on the back of the blossom that I chose to focus upon until after unloading the card.
Yes, the holiday season is upon us, and I hope everyone is enjoying the day off work. What’s that? You don’t get Earth Day off? Man, what kind of an asshole do you work for?
Well, never mind that now. At some point, get out, relax, look around you, and soak in the nature. Or, if need be, visit Earth if you haven’t had the chance before – it’s probably the most interesting planet in the system, even if the natives can get pretty goofy.
You can do more than simply enjoy the day, if you like. There are lots of suggestions for environmentalism to be found with a quick web search, and it’s a good time to get the kids involved – in fact, it’s a great day to shut the smutphone off for a bit and get connected with everything else instead. Seriously, what are you doing still reading this post? Get out of here.
This is going up just after midnight, so while I did some shooting the day before, we’ll see what I end up with for Earth Day myself; it’s not like that isn’t what the whole site revolves around anyway. And naturally, there’s no reason to stick to just one day a year to get earth-conscious.
By the way – and I think it’s stupid that I even have to say this, yet it’s often necessary – but environmental awareness is not a political thing, nor does it deserve any label or association at all. Feel free to pass that along as needed. This planet is our home, the only one on the market, and it might be nice to retain a bit of equity from it, you know?
In honor of number eleven and its obvious connection to the movie This is Spinal Tap, we have this bright portrait of an ambush bug, genus Phymata, because… well… actually, I can’t make any connection between them at all. Nevertheless, it is a colorful insect, and much the same might be said for the characters in that movie so, hey, maybe I can make a connection after all!
Ambush bugs often inhabit flowers, lying in wait for their prey, just like– oh, never mind…
[By the way, this guy is really small.]
I am making progress on various projects, which is good, but it means posting is slow, and since you’re reading this I can apologize to you. Some of these projects should produce things of potential interest a little later on, so there’s also that, right?
Anyway, I got out yesterday with the extraordinary Al Bugg to check out a couple of areas, one of which I hadn’t been to in a while: Duke Forest. Well, that label actually applies to several noncontiguous patches of forest across two different counties, but it’s still accurate. This section of it was bisected by New Hope Creek, a portion of which you see above. Spying the wildflowers on the bank and getting some sudden blue sky right before this image was taken, I had to go for it.
Now compare it with this one:
Same scene, about 5 meters farther back, but aimed downwards slightly to catch that tiny splash of bright color from the lone iris, thus eliminating the sky. Presents a whole different feel, doesn’t it? Neither one actually has direct sunlight in there, since a small cloud had temporarily blocked the sun in the immediate area, but the lower one communicates this more without the sky or the reflection thereof in the water, and seems like it’s a bit deeper in the woods. Isn’t it fun how you can make subtle adjustments and change the mood of the image?
If you’re looking for water snakes in central NC, this is the place to go – I’m not sure I’ve ever been here during their active months and not seen a snake. These are both northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon,) which tend to be large, impressive snakes, almost always less than a meter in length but sometimes as thick as my wrist. Both were seen from the concrete apron that crosses the creekbed, which yesterday was showing the effects of the recent rains in that the creek was spilling over the top up to 15 cm deep. These two images give a faint impression of how hard it is to illustrate snake markings; even though they’re the same species, you can see the difference in coloration, and the brightness can vary even more than this, partially due to genetics, but also due to how long it has been since the last time the individual has shed its skin – they’re darkest when due, and brightest immediately afterward. It also varies depending on how long they’re been out of the water, appearing brightest when wet. Not far from here, we also saw a queen snake (Regina septemvittata, what a great name,) which is considerably less impressive in appearance though similar in behavior.
Both of these species are harmless to humans, but the ones in the photos here are occasionally mistaken for cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) or copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix.) The former is somewhat understandable, since the marking differentiation can be pretty subtle, but the latter borders on ludicrous if you’re ever seen both species. In fact…
Copperheads are to the right, with a corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) to the left – this was shot in a terrarium at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Note not just the coloration, but the shape of the head, and you can see another image of the species from directly above here. I mean, c’mon…
We also came across perhaps the largest eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) that I’ve seen, looking like it measured 5 cm across the midriff. They’re wonderfully thorny-looking lizards, but most times their camouflage against the tree trunks and logs is so adept that they won’t be spotted unless they move. This one, however, might have been hungry and so was willing me to creep in a little closer…
We hadn’t really exhausted all of the possibilities of Duke Forest, but I had an errand to run, so after that we went back to Mason Farm Preserve for a short while, where I stuck to fartsy images, like getting into Morgan Creek and taking this frame down just above water level. I’m shooting with a Canon 30D, which doesn’t have a fancy swing-out LCD or real-time display (old-fashioned optical viewfinder – I know, right?) so this one was shot blind. Except for a slight tweak back to level, this is the perspective I was after.
Foliage is, finally, getting in thick enough not to look bare, which means lots more to shoot – only two weeks ago I believe, we brought a bunch of plants indoors because of an overnight frost warning, so it almost seems odd to be knee-deep in the
hoopla creek in shorts and sandals – the water is still a little chilly, but nothing a hardcore nature photographer can’t handle.
On the banks of just about every body of water I come across larger than a puddle, the frogs are basking – the overall rule is I never see them until they leap into the water to escape, sometimes with a startled-sounding squeak. I will work on getting closer to them in the coming days, quite possibly by going out at night with a headlamp and spotting them that way; this is often confusing enough to them that they don’t move, because it fails to trigger the criteria they have that spells out “hazard” to them. We’ll see what happens.
Now, I know what you’re saying. “Where are all the spiders, Al? How come you’re not posting photo after photo of some arthropod doing something icky?” I hear ya, and be cool, they’re coming – with the foliage comes the bugs, and I already have several such images waiting their turn. Sometimes you have to mix things up a bit, you know?
And so, I’ll close with a photo from the side of the pond, pretty much the exact same place as the lightning photos from just over a week ago, though considerably closer to the ground. It even has an insect in it, so I haven’t forgotten you.
I guess I’m not shocking anyone when I say this is not how I intended this image to look at all. And it’s a shame, because it was a rare opportunity that might actually have come out with some artistic merit. I know, right?
The scene opens on a casual photo competition on this thing that used to exist called, ‘Usenet,’ that somehow died in favor of chatrooms (pretty much the same damn thing) and Tumbler and Reddit and such – don’t ask me, people are weird. The challenge for this week was to get an interesting photo with a disposable film camera, the basic premise being that good photographers could produce something compelling regardless of the equipment, which is a point I’ve often promoted myself. These little plastic, inexpensive cameras were about as simple as they could get, and of course extremely limited in their abilities: single molded acrylic lenses, fixed shutter and aperture and focal length, questionable quality control and accuracy, and preloaded with a specific film. Nobody was expecting National Geographic images, but what would we be seeing?
While I had used these from time to time before, because waterproof ones were available and, at that point in history, the only way to do subsurface or water-sports images without spending a lot of money on specialized equipment, the one I purchased for this attempt was not waterproof, but included a flash instead. I was out prowling around with the camera in a shirt pocket, and visiting one of my haunts in Florida, a wading-area that stayed shallow for hundreds of meters out, playing home to horseshoe crabs and manatees and the occasional dolphin.
I noticed that the light conditions were producing an effect that I’d used before, where looking downward into the water near my feet produced a clear view, but as my gaze went further up and out, the water gradually turned reflective and showed only the sky, producing a nice fading effect and color change – I was determined to capture this visual curiosity, and went in search of something under the surface to provide a focal point for the transparent water portion. With delight, I spotted a stingray not far away, and managed to get quite close to it without spooking it, an accomplishment of its own since they’re notoriously sensitive to movement in the water and don’t tend to hang around people. While the focal length listed for this one seems short, it’s on an earlier small-sensor digital camera, and is an equivalent of 190mm, moderate telephoto.
So I framed the image the way I wanted just as the stingray became aware of my presence and bolted – it’s barely visible in the photo, the only shape right at the edge where the water goes from green to purple (we’re getting to that – just be patient.) The ray is facing away, the tail towards the bottom left corner if that helps. Obviously my ability to keep the camera level in my haste left a bit to be desired, but I succeeded in nailing the stingray right at the transition from transparent to reflective. Cool!
And then, a short while later while wading in the same location, I bent over to scoop up something at my feet and the camera vaulted out of my shirt pocket and into the water. I immediately snatched it up, but really wasn’t holding out much hope that the snap-together construction would be sufficient to prevent or even slow the incursion of saltwater into the depths of the camera, especially when the flash capacitor discharged into my hand as I picked it up (I do not recommend this experience, by the way – it’s a hefty amount of voltage and god will damn you to hell for cursing.) Nevertheless, I took it in to be developed, and managed to salvage a few images from early in the roll, tightly wrapped by successive layers of film. This, however, was not one of them, and the salt damage is rather prominent.
There is a curious, somewhat illusory effect within, as well. The deep purple spot in the sky is not what happened to the sun, since I was facing north, but just a random reaction of the emulsion to the salt and mineral content – even though it appears to produce a reflection from the horizon beneath it. It’s just coincidence, but one that’s easy to slip past us because it mimics something we expect to see.
This event occurred in those tumultuous days when digital was gaining popularity, and the early adopters were seeking any examples they could to denigrate film. This image might have caught their attention momentarily, until they realized that a digital camera would probably have fared a bit worse with the dunking…