Skill Level 2

Okay, how about now?

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia in front garden
Can you spot what I was photographing yesterday, as I was putting up the Halloween decorations (why I don’t know, because we’re not going to have trick-or-treaters this year I’m sure, which means the book stockpile isn’t going to go down either.) This one’s a little harder than the last one, so take your time.

Of course we’re going in closer.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on dead leaf of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
I don’t think anyone has ever proclaimed that amphibians are particularly brilliant (in intellect, I mean,) but c’mon, they’re supposed to know how camouflage works. There’s only one completely brown leaf on the whole damn plant, and that’s the one my bud here decided to hole up for the day upon.

Okay, credit where it may be due, it also curls over enough to perhaps conserve a little body heat, so maybe that was the goal. And from the size and partial concealment, it really was pretty subtle – to, you know, normal people. I spotted it instantly. From a distance. Without my glasses, even.

No, I lie shamelessly – it did take a moment or so before I realized that the green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) had returned to the plant after being gone for several days. But full credit to it, because it stayed put while I marched around it, trying to give it as much distance as possible, which wasn’t that much, maybe a meter, ladder clanging and everything. Though the reason behind this might be found with a closer look.

decidedly bleary-looking green treefrog Hyla cinerea hiding within dead leaf
That – is the look of someone who was up too late Friday night, doing things they shouldn’t have. I can’t imagine the adjusting of the ladder, and my ubiquitous cursing, helped that in any way.

You may well scoff that I’m reading too much into it, but this has further support with another discovery around by the back porch.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis trying not to vom
Just look at this Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) clutching the drain hose from the rainbarrel, especially those eyes, and tell me that it isn’t desperately wishing for the world to stop spinning. I’ve seen this look far too many times from coworkers. I don’t know what kind of amphibian celebration I missed the night before, but it was certainly enthusiastic.

By the way, I have to pass along that, early yesterday evening (and thus a few hours after seeing the green one in its hiding spot,) I tried to point it out to someone else and noticed it missing – along with the leaf it had been perched upon, which was found down underneath the hydrangea. A little tip from your Uncle Al: don’t pick the dead leaves that are about to fall to go to sleep upon. I’m betting that did nothing at all for the frog’s state of mind.

But back during the afternoon, while photographing those two subjects, I began hearing a soft almost-squeaking, like someone trying to rub ink stains off of a balloon, and said, I know that sound. In fact, I featured it almost exactly ten years ago.

trio of northern flickers Colaptes auratus congregating in pine tree
Careful observation showed four northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) flitting among several trees on and around the property, deeply engrossed in some kind of conversation, though what it was all about I couldn’t say for sure; my Flickerese is a little rusty now since I don’t live there anymore. I could only get three of them in the frame at any one time, and aiming up into the bright sky trying for subjects in shadow, I was lucky to even get this; most of the other frames have been tossed already, and this one had to still be lightened for display here despite dialing in exposure compensation for that sky. Still, their positions are expressive, which is great, but why they continued to hang out so close together and talk so much, I can’t say. There was no squabbling going on, no apparent courting behavior, no apparent begging behavior, and they tended to split off into pairs which also takes away support for such ideas. Potentially just discussing whatever was on Tubi last night. Or maybe the godawful racket from the frogs’ party…

Consistency is important, so I hear

Hey! You know what’s coming up again within the next few days? That’s right – the Orionids meteor shower.

You know what I’m going to get no worthwhile images of at all? By the most astounding of coincidences, it’s also the Orionids meteor shower.

It’s not like I don’t try, but between work schedules, weather, temperature, and just plain motivation, I only get out to less than a third of the showers that occur, any given year, but dependably, when I do there’s nothing to see. I’ve been coasting on the promises made back in 2001 by the Leonids, a truly spectacular storm, and believing that such conditions may one day repeat so I will be able to get some rewarding images this time around, but you know, nineteen years is a long time to go with no success, and I’m getting jaded. I mean, it’s bad enough to go that long with just the Leonids, but no storm that I’ve been out to observe has panned out, at all, so…

And yes, I’m aware that by anticipating and announcing the disappointment, I could be jinxing it, thereby having good luck this year, but you and I both know that’s not gonna happen.

Feel free to try on your own, however – the moon will be gone most of the observing hours. Stellarium and Heaven’s Above can both help you find other sky objects, and Mars is still near opposition and pretty big in the sky (you know, for Mars,) so there are other things you can be trying while out there, especially if you have a spare camera and/or a telescope. I may, in open defiance of fate and history and pessimism, try myself, and there are a few experiments that I can attempt.

But getting photos of meteors? Psscchhhffff….

Midmonth abstract

[Oh nuts. I wrote this back on the 8th, intending to post it on the fifteenth, but didn’t schedule it at the time, figuring I’d come back to it. Then it got pushed down in the queue, and after a bit without seeing it I just had the impression that I’d already posted it. So here it is a day late.]

I’m just throwing down this image that I’d selected for September’s end-of-month abstract, before I realized that it was too similar to the On This Date post scheduled for the same day. By the way, I already have several abstracts taken during October, so maybe we’ll have a special month-end post, or maybe year-end post – who knows?

Anyway, the image in question:

lone sapling in fog on Jordan Lake
This is actually the second version, because the first showed some artifacts from my typical jpeg (pronounced “gif”) compression. So let’s mention how this works.

Jpeg, or .jpg, is an algorithm for reducing image file size, to save on load times and server space for websites, and even hard drive space in personal computers; the more compressed an image is, the smaller it is in Kb, but also, the worse the file quality, producing those jaggy, blocky, pixelated images we’ve all seen somewhere. So there’s a balance point between quality desired and how small the image can be made, and for me, most of my resized images for the blog and website fall at about 75, on a scale of 1-100, 100 being virtually no compression (even though jpeg is automatically smaller than .raw or .tif formats.) My standard setting produced a noticeable effect however, and I ended up redoing the image with very little compression – and then, redid it at slightly higher to illustrate the effect even better. The minimal compression, high-quality version is the one above, while the over-compressed one (setting of 65) is below:

slightly over-compressed version of same image
At first glance it may pass muster, but look at the blank sky. If you have halfway decent settings on your monitor, you will likely see a ‘bullseye’ effect in the center, where the compression algorithm produced steps in color a little too distinct from each other. In a more complicated photo, there may have been no visible effect, but here where we expect to find a nice gentle gradient, we see instead a ‘water stain’ in the sky.

Note that most editing programs do not actively show this when you choose to save the image file as a jpeg; it only shows when you open it again, or view it in another program (like a thumbnail viewer.) There was nothing to see as I was editing it in GIMP, only afterwards as I was preparing to post, so it’s a good idea to carefully examine your photos before posting and/or in drafts before finalizing.

Also note that, if you open a compressed jpeg, edit it, and re-save it at the same compression, you’re actually compounding the effect, so if you realize a compressed image needs more editing, it’s better to go back to the original instead. The same can be said of mp3 sound files; do all of your editing in a lossless format like .wav, and only save the finalized version as an mp3, preferably a copy (new name) so you still have the original to work with if needed.

But how? Part 28: But why?

Various aspects and versions of this one have been tackled before, but I decided to approach this directly when reading about some of the alternate theories (other than the Big Bang) regarding the beginning of the known universe. The author said that there were two approaches to some of the traits that have been proposed as alternate scenarios:

  1. We can attempt to devise a theoretical mechanism to explain those phenomena, while simultaneously maintaining all the successes of the prior theory and making novel predictions that are distinct from the prior theory’s predictions.
  2. Or we can simply assume that there is no explanation, and the Universe was simply born with the properties necessary to give us the Universe we observe.

The second outright announces that no one’s even going to try and piece together any explanation or attempt to understand why it is the way it is. But the first is how science works, and what we endeavor to do all of the time; it’s how we get answers, the only way, really. And this approach has stood up well for centuries, and is responsible for damn near all of our accomplishments as a species. It is, in fact, the primary thing that we consider sets us apart from all other species, not acting on ‘instinct’ or mere survival traits, but puzzling out our world to wring the most from it.

Immediately, I recognized this disparity in terms of religion, most especially of an active god, no matter what the concept, or how active anyone considers it. The moment we apply the idea that there is a deliberate, conscious being that is directing any portion of the universe, or even just our single species’ affairs, we immediately raise the question of Why? And, to be honest, the questions of How? and even Where did it originate? spring up too. Except, not to 99.99% of religious folk, the ‘Number Twos’ who dismiss such questions and simply assert that this is the way things are – no need to know anything more, no need to find answers. But like the alternate theories of the universe’s origin, the very act of asking the questions shows the flaws in the entire premise.

Now, for the past decade or better, I’ve been inclined to view all life from a perspective of evolutionary psychology. Each species has the traits that it does, including its behavior and instincts and drives, because these were what worked best among the variations that sprung up over the millennia, what promoted its survival and reproduction. We may consider cannibalism among insect species to be distasteful and worse, but that’s because our perspective tells us that this is detrimental – and it would be, to us as a social species with specific cooperative needs, but we can’t (or shouldn’t) judge other species by our own standards, because we don’t have the same demands from the environment. And when it comes down to it, many of our decisions – probably most – are at the very least influenced more by the instincts that we developed, the inherent perspective and desires, than by our vaunted reasoning powers. Even when we do something as frivolous and unnecessary to our survival as creating artwork of some kind, we do it because it provokes specific emotions within us and, most often, because we want recognition or at least some ‘fellow feelings’ from others, that social interaction thing. To say nothing of actually getting paid for such things and the survival benefits that that promotes. We are not a singular, independent species such as snakes, on their own from birth and gaining no benefit from group/pack behavior, nor a rigidly cooperative species like bees, relegated to a specific task and engaged in a hive-wide quest for reproduction of a single queen’s genes. We have a niche, and are this way because of the environment in which we developed. Had it required either more or less competition, we would be entirely different in outlook and behavior.

Which is why the idea of a supernatural, thinking, and deliberate being is so hard to fathom. First off, from nearly all accounts, this being is perpetual, so there are no survival needs or demands. Monotheism, the idea that there is only one god, is a relatively recent development in cultural history; if we allow for multiple gods, then the ideas of interaction and competition among them may foster some traits with a faint similarity to our own – or they may not because, again, such traits are there to support survival and reproduction, not something that would be any kind of necessity to gods. But if we embrace monotheism, then the very idea of social interaction, and everything that this entails, makes absolutely no sense. There isn’t even any concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because there is no possibility of positive or negative outcomes: this being does what it does, and no consequences can accrue. There is no reason, purpose, or function over caring about anything.

This even boils down to any actions such a being would take. Why bother? Why do anything? What would this being’s goals or even desires entail? How could it even have such? Traits such as omnipotence and immortality don’t lend themselves to any kind of progress, and we can only imagine how the passage of time is even viewed. We may posit, for instance, that boredom is the motivation for this being to create the universe, or us, or whatever – which isn’t a particularly comforting thought, since it quickly leads to what else this being would get up to under the same impetus. Does it need to stimulate its intellect by playing games, setting arbitrary rules (for itself or its creation) just to see what happens? Such a posit immediately dismisses the idea of omniscience, since the outcome would already be known then – as would everything else.

And no one wants to examine this idea of an immortal being that could possibly get bored, because it would – far beyond our ability to comprehend, to be honest. Our own species took a few billion years to develop to the point that we could start even understanding the rules that this being created, and in that time – what? What was it doing while that was happening? Okay, fine, let’s posit that the passage of time weighs differently for it. But this would then mean that all of human day-to-day interactions, or even those of the last several centuries, are but a single tick on its cosmic clock, as inconsequential as any such thing to us. Moreover, the idea that we are an experiment to see what develops doesn’t exactly have any meaning, to us or the creator, so why should we care what the intentions or rules are? Who’s to say that our entire universe won’t be discarded on a whim? Are we to believe that such a powerful being is supposed to have some feelings for us, when it could produce anything at all instantly? If it even had any analog of ‘feelings’ in the first place, which would serve no purpose and have no reason to develop.

I’m going to highlight something here too, because it’s a curious trait regarding religion. At any given point, and indeed throughout the entire recorded history of religion on this planet, people have forwarded ideas and possibilities to explain the anachronisms and contradictions that their religion proposes, and this is fine, really. Again, this is part of learning and advancement – to a degree. Because serious advancement only comes when such things are tested, or at the very least examined for supporting evidence – which isn’t the case for the vast majority of possibilities that are raised in the name of religion. The word, ‘excuses,’ comes to mind here, but no matter. The bigger point is that, if anyone wants to start raising possibilities outside of the rigidly defined scriptural passages, then the door is opened, and honesty dictates that we examine all possibilities, as many as might apply – and that’s a lot, far beyond what I’m covering here. The only way to narrow the field down is to find which ones have the greatest probabilities of existing, and/or the greatest evidence.

Or let’s accept the idea that we were made in god’s image, and thus, think like god would (thus negating what I said above about evolved instincts.) Fine. Why, then, do we have evidence of a vast development from much simpler mammals? Why do other mammals exhibit variations of the same thinking processes? Why do we have a sex drive, or indeed, sex or even genders? Oh, that evolving development was intended? Sure, okay – who’s to say that we’ve reached the goal yet? Or the other side of that argument, that all the evidence of an ancient Earth and the evolution of species is all false, a test of faith or whatever? I’m game; how do you differentiate the ‘tests’ from the ‘truth’? If we can’t trust any aspect of our senses and reasoning, what can we trust? Let’s be real: it’s a hell of a lot easier to fake some scattered writings than it is to fake a few million kilograms of fossils, and the vast expanses of energy that we detect from space.

From time to time, people ponder about how insects or fish or whatever view our interactions; neither could possibly comprehend what cities are, or that we could go into space. And this disconnectedness is then extrapolated to any proposed gods: we couldn’t possibly comprehend how such beings think, and so on. Which I’m good with – it makes more sense than the vast majority of scripture. But this also means that what we do, the actions we take, our interpretations of religion in its entirety, are just as inconsequential, near-total ignorance of the master plan, so where does that leave us? Just getting on with life, it seems. Doing what works best to the limits of our awareness. Certainly, losing the fucking ego trip that comprises religiosity and treating others on the same level as ourselves, just as likely to be right as to be wrong. Since there are thousands of religions, picking any one means the odds are stacked heavily against it being correct – if, indeed, any are.

[I’m going to sidetrack here to address an argument that I’ve heard far too often, in that someone’s choice of religion – virtually always the only one they’ve ever known anyway – just feels right, as if the emotional aspect was a key factor. If humans could feel what’s correct, there wouldn’t be the huge number of religions that there are. There wouldn’t be divorces, there wouldn’t be failed businesses. We wouldn’t need the scientific method; we wouldn’t need schooling at all. It’s a remarkably stupid argument that needs to be treated as such, and it’s generally only used when someone cannot rationally explain their standpoint yet won’t abandon their emotional attachment to it.]

Parsimony comes into play here, the reminder that Occam’s Razor serves; in order to rescue so many aspects of religion from the contradictions, the unobserved properties, and the huge failures to explain what we see and test every day, more and more ‘possibilities’ are proposed, an edifice of traits or extra-physical doodads to permit dismissal of these problems – and never answering them. Remember, real answers give us information that is useful later on, that predicts what will happen, that fits with everything else. But the simpler answer has the highest probability of being correct, and becomes more so with the better it fits into everything else. Seriously, what sounds more likely: that the universe contains a huge amount of properties and events that never show physical evidence, with at least one extra-everything being that’s responsible to some degree, or that tribal elders centuries ago told tall tales in order to sound wise and consolidate their position of importance?

I have to close on a fun note, one that I’ve always enjoyed pointing out: if we accept the premise that some being granted us the power of reasoning, or at least knew that it was likely to develop, then we were made to find all of these flaws; the very act of questioning and seeking is what propels us forward, improves our cultures and living standards, even reveals to us the idiotic and unproductive tribalism that we carried for so long (and that a disturbing number of scriptural stories try to encourage.) Too many ‘holy’ leaders tell us to ignore the benefits of reasoning and accept their version of reality ‘because they say so’ – but we can’t dismiss our investigative, cause-and-effect minds so readily. So you tell me: what are we actually intended to find?

Mason Farm 2: Arachnidy

unidentified tiny orbweaver strung between tips of goldenrod Solidago
We now return to Mason Farm Biological Reserve, only not really because all these photos were taken during one visit that’s already days past now, so all we’re doing is seeing more photos – vacation slides from your creepy neighbor. And as the name implies (well, outright announces,) it’s gonna be spider heavy.

Part of this is because, late in the season and with chilly nights, there really isn’t a lot else active at the moment, especially not first thing in the morning. Truth be told, the spiders weren’t very active either, but the morning mist and dew certainly highlighted how damn many webs there were. Like another example of what appears to be the same species in the teaser from the previous Mason Farm post.

unidentified spider in horizontal orb web
Many years back, I’d done photographs of twisted, horizontal orb webs like the one seen here, and suspected the same species, but in comparing them, the markings aren’t similar at all, so my vote is no. And none of them were in such a position to allow me detailed shots, because they were in thickets of dense, tall weeds, soaking wet with dew, that almost certainly would have been disturbed with any attempt at approaching them. Plus I wasn’t all that motivated anyway. We’re still being slightly fartsy here.

banded argiope Argiope trifasciata in sunlit web
This one, however, I can identify – this is Hortense. Hortense is a banded argiope (Argiope trifasciata,) large and rude because, like the black-and-yellow argiopes, she builds her webs at roughly waist height, meaning they’re often discovered right before you walk through them. And at half a meter in span, this isn’t something you brush away easily. Hortense herself was roughly 40mm in body length, so much larger counting the legs (8,) and busy with her meal, so I tried to use the light on the web as best I could from the best angle I could get. I could have sworn I’d featured one of these here before, but the species names didn’t exist in the tag list, so maybe not.

The abundant goldenrod plants played host to numerous spiders and a few other arthropods.

nursery web spider genus Pisaurina on goldenrod Solidago
The most that I’m going to identify this one as is a nursery web spider, genus Pisaurina, because I didn’t get enough details to pin down exact species – I didn’t even get close enough to distinguish male from female. The sun had risen high enough to brightly illuminate it, but also cast a slightly distracting shadow across the abdomen. Ah well.

The next came a little earlier from a more tree-shrouded field, so it’s more muted, but a better pic.

nursery web spider Pisaurina mira stretched out on dewy goldenrod Solidago
Another nursery web, hanging out before the dew had cleared, which added some nice elements to the photos. Especially when we go in for a cropped closeup.

inset of previous nursery web spider Pisaurina mira in closeup
Isn’t that dew great? I know I like it at least; your taste may vary.

And that straight bottom row of eyes pins this down as a Pisaurina mira, because the other species in the area all have a curved bottom row. Little lesson for you: when you spot a nursery web spider, try to see the eyes clearly.

Which might be a little challenging, given that the spider may average 4mm in body width and often faces head down, so better to call in a professional. My rates are reasonable.

On another stand of goldenrod, the feathery tops being twisted over and clumped together told me to take a closer look, and this time the flash was necessary.

green lynx spider Peucetia viridans on egg sac deep within web-shielded hollow
I’d been expecting to see more of these than I did, but I’d also been expecting to see more praying mantises too, so we see how strong my powers of prediction are. I know it’s not easy to make out down there, but this is a green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) snuggled in with her egg sac. Her head is down and to the right, facing slightly away from us, while her abdomen, almost centered in the frame, blends in so well with the goldenrod that it’s nearly indistinguishable. If she hadn’t given herself away with the unnatural clumpiness of her webbed-together lair, she would have been extremely easy to miss. Right, Buggato?

And I did say that it wouldn’t be all spiders, you’re correct. Let’s see, what do we have here?

unidentified dew-covered carpenter bee on goldenrod Solidago
This carpenter bee – or perhaps bumblebee, I’m not bothering to look it up – was almost perfectly motionless, definitely not at all fired up about the morning, at least until it got warmer out there. None of my subjects here were likely to die of thirst, that was certain. Maybe one day I’ll do a time-lapse of something like this in the morning where we can watch the dew evaporate away – that might be cool.

All of these, the previous post and this, were taken around the open field portion of the farm, with one exception in earlier post (the mushrooms.) Because there wasn’t a lot to see in the portion that ran along a small feeder creek, but as our time was coming to an end, we (well, I) found two subjects in quick succession. The first I’d almost mistaken for something else, given how far it was stretched out of the water initially.

common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina eyeing photographer distrustfully
This common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) was clambering over an exposed log when I spotted it, half hidden behind the edge weeds, and I’d suspected a beaver, but it settled down more like a turtle by the time I maneuvered around for a clear shot. In carapace length it was at least 35cm, so not a small specimen. Tucked in among the logs, it had no easy retreat, and so it viewed us stoically and wished for us to go away. Which worked, eventually, so maybe someone should look into the telekinetic powers of turtles. I mean, why not?

And just a little further on, I got a peek of something not quite right under some leaves, and bent down for a closer look. In science fiction movies this is a bad idea, but for nature photographers it should be a routine habit.

female Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina well due to deposit egg sac
This Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) looked to be in her fifth trimester, ready to deposit an egg sac any second, but I knew this might take hours and may not even occur if she noticed us and felt threatened, plus we were at the end of our session, so while the opportunity to finally get photos of this was there, I really couldn’t take advantage of it. So much for dedicated nature photographer. But as I’ve said, let me know how much you’d pay to see that and we’ll make some arrangements – I can always work some flexibility (the key word there being, “work,” and not, “obsessive hobby.”)

So that’s it for the Mason Farm photos, except it’s not – we’ll see more before the month is out. But that’s enough for this post at least.

On this date 42

Like I said last week, not a lot to work with, since I really hadn’t shot a lot on this date. To be more specific, there are only two years (in the digital folders, anyway) that have entries, and one’s pretty sparse.

full moon - what else can I say?
In 2008, we had a full moon, and apparently clear skies where I was. I was shooting with the old Sigma 170-500 on the original Canon Digital Rebel, otherwise known as the 300D, the 6 megapixel model, so what you see here is full resolution – compare that to the second photo here from the 7D.

And the next year that I shot something was… last year. It was a lot, granted.

head-on shot of osprey Pandion haliaetus in flight
I featured the best of the hundreds of frames that I did that day in a post (more than one, really,) so we have this random pic that I like for its symmetry and faint air of malice. I’m not sure why this osprey (Pandion haliaetus) seems so dark, but roll with it – it’s not nice to comment. The speckled leading edges of its wings puts me in mind of WWII aircraft, their paint pitted and chipped from striking flak and debris during the missions.

It gets better next week – I have hundreds taken among six different years.

Probably not the last

Mostly because I’ve seen later.

Yesterday morning, when I went out after two solid days of rain courtesy of Hurricane AK924601 (or whatever it was named,) I found something I was beginning to suspect was gone for the season. I’ll start with giving you the big picture, which was roughly my view as I was standing there.

front of house with oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
See it? [I’m never sure how easy it is for others to see, so we’ll continue the game.] Let’s go a little closer.

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia with another subject
How about now?

We’re going still closer, whether you need it or not.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
Surely you see it now – if not, there’s no hope for you. But I was impressed at how well it blended, especially without brighter light to throw shadows, and if it hadn’t been for the white stripe, it would have taken me even longer. Which, mind you, would still have been less than a minute, because mad skillz.

Yes, there’s been no shortage of green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) photos on the blog this year, but you can never have too many, is what I say in defiance of all evidence. This is an adult – I haven’t seen any young’uns recently, but I noticed only a few minutes ago that there’s at least one tadpole in the backyard pond, which was way unexpected, and don’t ask me the species because I don’t know. The weather has only gotten a little crisp at nights, nothing serious, so there’s little reason not to keep seeing them, but the numbers have dwindled, which may only mean that they’ve moved on to someplace where no one keeps sticking a camera in their face.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on oak leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
Meanwhile, with little else to chase in such grey and damp conditions, I did a variety of approaches.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea peeking around edge of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
If I’d done this one first, you might have gotten the impression that the frog was endeavoring to hide from me, instead of merely sitting complacently and waiting for the night. I’d switched to the Mamiya 80mm macro for this, for the short depth-of-field that it could render, and really, trashed too many frames because I wasn’t at perfect focus distance (holding still and aiming down in a semi-crouch while standing in one of the few safe places in the front garden means enough wobbling to shift out of the minuscule focus range very easily, so I fix the camera focus and move myself and the camera until things are sharp, trying to trip the shutter before I wobble out again. It doesn’t always work.)

How about the other side?

green treefrog Hyla cinerea peering through gap in foliage
Now we got the stalker vibe going, and believe me, there’s nothing more ominous than looking up and suddenly finding a green treefrog sizing you up through the foliage. Pure shivers.

But since I had the camera in hand, I did a few other frames for giggles.

unripe cherry tomatoes dripping with rain
The rain had stopped hours earlier, before sunrise, but with no wind and no sun, it remained on our cherry tomatoes (planted late, so running late) and I desperately needed a shot like this to add to my stock. I tried to use the drops as lenses to show the background, but really, in the grey light and with nothing but greenery back there, it wasn’t worth the effort. That’s the kind of stuff you try in a blooming garden, or at least with blue skies.

And as late as they are, they’re still blooming too.

cherry tomato blossom with single raindrop
Again, short focus, pinned on the drop. The clouds were thin enough to brighten the halos around the leaves and stems, but that was all, and it remained that way until late this morning. Might mean some good fall colors a little later on though, since they rely on a certain amount of rainfall to get vivid. We’ll just have to see.

Okay, now, where were we? Ah, yes, more at Mason Farm coming up.

Looming just ahead

If you’ve been checking out that sidebar for past posts, you knew this was coming: Thursday, October 15th, is National Grouch Day, an honest-injun American holiday that, if we’re being faithful, we can’t really celebrate, but we can observe – wearily, cynically, and fatalistically, secure in the knowledge that it won’t be anything to write home about. Yes, this is our day, but what good will that do? Most of those chipper assholes will ignore it or deny it.

Nonetheless, we have to make the effort, wasted as it is, because if we don’t, we’re admitting defeat. Well, sure, we will anyway, but in this case, it’s tantamount to agreeing with someone, and we all know how poorly that turns out. So let’s not be one of those pathetic slacktivists, announcing the holiday as if it would make any difference to anyone, but instill the true spirit within one and all in the worst manners possible. To that end, I provide a few more helpful tips, though you can always peruse my previous examples as well.

  • Set the clothes dryer a little short
  • Forget to replenish key supplies
  • Spill sand on the table
  • Find those socks that always slip down past the heel
  • That radio station with too many obnoxious commercials, not quite dialed in
  • ‘Just miss’ putting things back where they belong
  • Spill some ammonia on your mask (and everyone else’s)
  • Mutter something under your breath every time someone turns away
  • Velcro in your underwear
  • Keep asking stupid questions in meetings
  • Greasy thumbprints in the center of your glasses
  • Double a random ingredient in a recipe
  • Remind people at work about that kid that makes $750,000 annually on YouTube
  • Splash a lot of water around the bathroom
  • Leave your phone at home
  • Argue the positive aspects of The Debate
  • That’s a start, but if you’re really into the holiday, you don’t need my suggestions. Just remember that it should be spread equally between ourselves and others, and if you’re enjoying yourself, you screwed up. Again.

    Trust me, this will do no good at all anyway – I’ve seen this day go past for years now, and nothing bad ever comes of it. Hell, I can tell from the site stats that no one even reads my suggestions. So whatever.

    Mason Farm 1: Fartsy

    I got enough photos from a recent outing to Mason Farm Biological Reserve to separate them into two broader categories, so we start off with the fartsy ones, since I don’t do art.

    Actually, we’ll start off starting off with a setting one.

    low lying mist at sunrise at Mason Farm Biological Reserve
    We couldn’t quite call this ‘fog,’ (or at least, I couldn’t, but Buggato had no problem with it) – it was more of a low-lying morning mist, which Mason Farm is prone to when the temperature is right. They say a cloud can weigh a few hundred tons, and it’s easy to believe when you see conditions like this with the dew all over everything: a two minute walk through that undergrowth would soak you to the skin from the waist down.

    This meant lots of dew to play with, but also low light, at least until the sun rose high enough, and then the dew would burn off in a matter of minutes. So there were some narrow windows and specific conditions to work within, but we did okay.

    unknown wildflowers laden with dew
    I spent, really, a ridiculous amount of time trying to determine what these were, with no definitive answer. The closest that I got was finding a perfect match in a photo, to find that it was illustrating something entirely unrelated, because far be it from a news station to complete their trivial post with finding a photo of the actual subject that they’re talking about. Chuckleheads.

    As the sun broke through, we got some color to play with.

    rising sun breaking through gap to selectively color mist
    This came out better than expected; the sun was just barely breaking through a gap in the trees, and its light only impinged on the mist in a small area, giving this very cool local glow. One of these days I’ll set up the camera on time-lapse and get a video of the light curtain from the rising (or setting) sun traveling across the landscape. Especially if I can find nice foreground elements that cast shadows that can be tracked.

    And then, we have this ray effect, which may or may not appear ominous, depending on the movies you tend to watch.

    rising sun breaking through trees and casting rays through the mist
    I got lucky with the mist hanging within the trees, which doesn’t often happen – it tends to be more open-field oriented, and caught this composition in the two minutes or so that it existed. A little shifting allowed the sun to just barely peek past the tree and put a starburst there, instead of either being entirely blocked, or coming full strength into the camera, affecting exposure and causing flare and ghosts – more thought goes into these than you might expect. Sometimes, anyway. By the way, white balance was set for full sunlight (essentially no correction,) which retains these nice orange colors that are so expressive.

    It also retains the blue tones in the shadows, which may or may not work, depending on what you’re after.

    possible evening primrose Oenothera biennis against background of goldenrod Solidago
    I believe this is an evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) – the one in the front, anyway, while the background is goldenrod (one of over a hundred species in the genus Solidago.) It wasn’t intentional that the supporting stem for the primrose vanished from focus, making it look like another bloom on the goldenrod spray, but I’ll take credit for that compositional element anyway.

    Because of the tree lines in the reserve, large portions of tour remained in shadow for a long time even after the sun was well up, and likely would have until late morning, so some of the opportunities had a muted look.

    dense blazing star Liatris spicata spikes against goldenrod Solidago background
    This one had a slight tweak to the curves to counteract this a little, but it would have been unrealistic if I’d taken it much further. The blue/whatever spikes are dense blazing star (Liatris spicata,) and in fact, I’m encouraging people to write in and tell me what color they actually are. The wildflower database had them in the red section and not the blue, but they also don’t have a purple section, so…

    As the light improved, the subjects started to take on different hues.

    honeysuckle Caprifoliaceae blossom sporting dew
    Since I couldn’t get too close to this honeysuckle blossom (Caprifoliaceae family,) this is a tight crop of a larger frame, but it shows the dew detail better. The sun is almost making an appearance here. It gets more noticeable with the next.

    lady beetle Coccinellidae on goldenrod Solidago
    The goldenrod was, really, all over the damn place, for the most part forming a yellow accent to much of the landscape, but at times it hosted various critters of interest, which you will see more of in part 2. I couldn’t pass on the red lady beetle throwing some contrast in.

    possible sheet web spider web with dew
    I still have yet to identify the type of spider that makes such webs, which is surprising since I see them all over at this time of year, revealed by the humidity that adheres to them. To the best of my knowledge this is a variety of sheetweb spider, family Linyphiidae, but that’s all I have right now, especially since getting even a glimpse of the occupant is difficult, much less detailed photos. In this case I simply did the short depth-of-field thing with the backlighting to go all abstracty.

    And as the light got even stronger, more depth was available.

    dew on sunlight on unidentified leaf
    Just liked the light on this one.

    Had to cheat on this next image, though – wanted detail that was in too deep shadow.

    underside of mushrooms sprouting from trunk overhead
    Given the opportunity for a rare perspective by some mushrooms sprouting from a treetrunk overhead, I used the flash to illuminate them sharply – the flash will show up more often in part 2 as I went for details over fart. Most times to get this view you have to be crawling around on the ground, but here I didn’t even have to crouch. And the timing was pretty good, since mushrooms have a very short ‘healthy’ period before either being eaten or rotting on their own, or both, so hooray us.

    And finally, a harbinger of things to come – this was still more fartsy than illustrative, but serves as the lead-in to part 2, whenever I post it. I’m not trying to identify this spider, I just liked the curve of the web and tried for a new approach, given the opportunity. I took several frames, trying to nail focus at f4 (with the Mamiya 80mm macro, doncha know,) and only one came out sharp enough. But that’s why you take a lot when the depth is so short.

    unidentified sheet web spider family Linyphiidae under curved web
    More on the way…

    More random stuff from the pond

    newborn six-spotted fishing spiders Dolomedes triton still by egg sac
    Just a handful of photos, other stuff that I collected on the same days that I was shooting the great egret and the turtles. More or less, anyway – I actually returned to capture the above shot of newborn six-spotted fishing spiders (Dolomedes triton) because I didn’t have the macro flash rig along when I first spotted them. Unfortunately, the nice composition of the mother running interference atop the web tent wasn’t there when I returned; instead she was hidden in the leaves underneath, and not very cooperative in coming out into view. But as it turns out, this was one of several hatchings all taking place in the same time frame, so I could pick one of the other mothers to feature. Like so.

    adult female six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton near egg tent
    Six-spotted fishing spiders are fairly big as reproducing adults, this one being roughly 50-60mm in leg spread. And while I always interpreted them as remaining near the hatchlings for protection (as the green lynx spiders seem to,) all of the ones that I found were more inclined to seek cover than to dispute my presence, so who knows? Another, without an apparent egg sac, also sought a hiding spot as I leaned in, but it wasn’t the most effective attempt.

    six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton hiding ineffectually behind leaf
    Interspersed freely among all of these, which were all found on low plants directly bordering the water, were the ubiquitous long-jawed orb weavers (genus Tetragnatha,) some of whom appeared to be engaged in courting behavior. I would have initially considered this late in the season, but spiders take all spring and summer to mature, and the young are often born in the fall and overwinter as tiny little things before starting their serious growth in the spring. Also, since I saw the same behavior taking place at Jordan Lake a few days before this, I think it’s safe to say it’s a trait.

    male long-jawed orb weaver Tetragnatha in profile
    Long-jawed orb weavers are gangly things, with not just spindly legs but long pedipalps and chelicerae, and this image makes it seem almost chaotic. The pedipalps are the things with bulbous ends at lower left, the shape defining this one as a male – this is what they use to impregnate the female. While behind them, the thicker and spiky protrusions are the base of the chelicerae, more show than function, as I understand it. Tetragnathas are not particularly aggressive or formidable spiders, despite having a decent size to them (body length in the 20-30mm range) – I’ve accidentally passed through their webs any number of times, and had them running across my arms, camera, and hat every so often, usually complacent enough to let me scoop them up and return them to their host plants.

    I found a couple different species of very large caterpillar while out there, both of which I had to look up since I’d never seen them before.

    larva of banded sphinx moth Eumorpha fasciatus, showing two different color phases
    No, this is only one of them – they can change color drastically at different instars of the larval stage. These are the caterpillars of a banded sphinx moth (Eumorpha fasciatus,) and quite good-sized; the larger one measures roughly 100mm in body length. The adults are large and vivid, and I’ve seen them around occasionally.

    About 20 meters away, a more threatening species was found.

    smeared dagger Acronicta oblinita caterpillar
    This is the larva of a smeared dagger moth, which isn’t very pretty as an adult, but those spikes and the aposematic coloration were more than enough to convince me to keep my hands back, and that impression was accurate: they do have an irritant that’s administered with those daggers. Slightly smaller than the largest banded sphinx caterpillar, but still an appreciable size.

    And finally, the great egret was still hanging out.

    great egret Ardea alba hitting the limit of water depth
    I saw it coming along the bank and took up position ahead of it, and true to its nature, it came almost directly alongside me. This time I didn’t have the longer lens but didn’t really need it – the Canon 100-300 L was more than enough, and in this case, I’d zoomed back out to 100mm to get the broader view. You can see the water reaching the egret’s belly, and I believe that it decided, immediately after this, that it couldn’t detour a safe enough distance from me and still remain in water shallow enough to wade, so it flew off to a nearby bank. It was hardly too spooked, because I eventually caught up with it there for more close portraits. But I’ll close with a slightly earlier one, as it hove into view through the screening plants on the banks – I just liked it better for the atmosphere and the abstract rippling water background.

    great egret Ardea alba seen through the undergrowth
    Fear not! There are at least two more posts coming up, regarding a recent trip to Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and perhaps whatever else I photograph as I build up to them – catching up has been ongoing, but it’s much better than having nothing to photograph, and that season is approaching. Then you get to slog through my philosophical posts.

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