Preparing for the feast

first blossom on almond tree Prunus amygdalus
Do you know what this is? Seriously, do you? Yes, yes, it’s a flower, very good Quickdraw, but what kind of flower?

All right, never mind, stop guessing wildly, you’re embarrassing us both. This… is the very first blossom on my almond tree! Six years ago I found a little sapling emerging from our mulch pile, and as I uprooted it I realized it was growing from what looked like an almond. A little research into the shapes of their leaves confirmed it, and I transplanted it into the yard, where it took hold and started growing. That was at the old place, and it got transplanted again to come with us to the new house, and uprooted again, but only briefly, when some tree work was being done in the yard and we didn’t want it damaged. It now stands just under a meter tall, and is sporting two blossoms and a bud of another. That means we’ve got, potentially, three almonds to look forward to in the harvest season!

Can you imagine that? Almonds, fresh from the tree! Okay, not really; raw almonds aren’t a wise thing to eat – they should be roasted first. But our own almonds! The anticipation is killing me. And the number is perfect too, since there’s three of us.

All foolishness aside, I am pleased to see it actually flowering – we’ve had so much difficulty with the soil here and getting things to thrive that it’s nice to see this little accident still plugging away. Moreover, this image is a bit of proof that another project of mine is working pretty well, but that’ll be a later post, because there are some illustrating photos that I still need to obtain. Bear with me.

Per the ancient lore, part 1

Herewith I begin another semi-regular topic, though I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to aim for weekly or not. But for each of these, I will be featuring one of my earlier digital images, thus the ‘ancient lore’ bit – we’ll be stirring deep into history here, going as far back as 2004! That was actually before I’d purchased a digital camera of my own, but Jim Kramer (an obscure name, I know) had gone into digital before I, and when he’d upgraded to a later model, he loaned me his old one before it sold off to another friend of mine. This was when I lived in Florida, and I made the most of the time that I had it.

A word about the history. Digital cameras had been available since the mid 90s, though the first offerings were massive models and quite expensive, like 10 grand or better. By the time I was in Florida, Canon had a couple of DSLR models out, but mostly only the high-end professionals had adopted them – one wedding photographer that I knew had jumped in with a Canon 10D, though everyone else was still shooting film. The camera that I was using, a Sony DSC F717, was known by titles such as “prosumer” and “bridge” – a little better than the touristy point-and-shoot styles and possessing solid image quality, but still with a fixed zoom lens and not aimed towards the professional markets. Like most digital cameras of that time and years afterward, there was a noticeable delay between pressing the shutter button and actually capturing the image, and so crucial timing was difficult – as I would later gain a lot of experience in.

But right now, let’s go back to the second or third day that I had the camera, when I was maintaining a saltwater aquarium with residents of the local lagoon. There is actually a structure to my choices here, since I’m going in category order, followed by chronological – this comes from my ‘Aquatic’ folder.

juvenile Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus posing with dislodged barnacle
Keep in mind, the webbernets wasn’t what it is now; there were a lot fewer resources available even though it had been active for close to two decades at that point, so it took a bit of time to identify this particular specimen – photo galleries of crab species really didn’t exist. And this was a much smaller example than what I was used to; measuring only about 5cm across the width of the carapace, this was a juvenile Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus,) lacking the deeper green coloring, with blue highlights, of the adults. It didn’t stay in my small aquarium for very long, since it required more food than would be available and it likely would have consumed many of the other species that I had in there, but I shot a few sessions while I had it. The shell fragment it seems to be displaying to us is actually a detached barnacle seen from the underside (which is the top of the head – no I’m not kidding.)

previous image without color correctionThis was before I got into serious macro work, and so my light sources were a bit eclectic. While I had two flash units at hand, a lot of my aquarium photography was done under the main light source for the tank, which was a halogen reading lamp on a swing arm. This prevented any bright reflections that a flash unit might have thrown from the glass of the tank, and provided a reasonably normal angle of light, but it was much dimmer than a strobe. And not white-balanced, so it cast an overall color shift that was worsened by the sediment in the water. The image to the left is the original, uncorrected color, while I tweaked the one above to be more of a neutral, ‘true’ white.

The camera that I used here stopped working a few years ago, and the friend that had purchased it suggested that I take it back home if I wanted to fiddle with it and perhaps get it working again, but I forgot to put it in my bags when I left his place. Meanwhile, I think Jim still has the Sony F828 that replaced it – I’ll try pestering him to break it out, charge the batteries (if they’ll take a charge) and do some images for nostalgia’s sake.


… those emerging reptiles, just two weeks ago?


snow on birdhouse on March 12
Despite such optimistic indications, on Monday afternoon the snow returned – not a lot, and nothing to improve the appearance of the landscape in the area, but certainly a kibosh on the concept of an early spring. Whoever might’ve gotten that impression. It was, in fact, snowing hard enough when I got this photo that the blurs from at least four falling snowflakes are visible in the tiny portion of the frame that shows any depth, off to the right. I’m glad I didn’t do any early plantings.

melted snowflakes (so, water drops) on weeping cherry blossomsThe air was cold enough, especially at altitude, to produce snowflakes, but at ground level the temperature largely remained warm enough to prevent it from sticking. The Girlfriend’s weeping cherry tree, enthusiastically pushing out blossoms for the past two weeks or so, refused to cradle any flakes artistically and instead melted them on contact, though the pale background indicates it was accumulating on the grasses. I had time only for a brief photo session, trying to find something that spoke of the conditions and not doing terribly well – the birdhouse up there did better than anything. I also didn’t affix the flash, wanting the natural light conditions, but it was dim enough that decent shutter speeds (at an ISO that wouldn’t look shitty, from the Canon 30D) just weren’t happening. One subject merited a return in the evening when I had a few more minutes, so this time I did it right and used the macro flash rig.

unidentified spider completely ignoring the freezing weather
I’ve remarked before how quickly the spiders seem to reappear as soon as the weather turns the slightest bit warm, but this is the first I’ve seen active during freezing conditions, and not very sluggishly at that. It’s curious, because it seems a waste of time to me – prey insects aren’t likely to be found anywhere, even though a small handful are cold-hardy and can even be found in arctic conditions. But I don’t see them around here, and generally the temperatures have to be up in the 10s (that’s celsius, or 50s fahrenheit) to start seeing insect activity. Perhaps this guy knew something I didn’t. Or maybe it’s just one of those evolutionary freaks that likes the snow – every species has a few.

While out there with the flash, I returned to the cherry tree to do another version, this time going low to capture more of the interior detail of the blossoms. It’s a shame I didn’t have snowflakes to work with, just to enhance the apparent clash of seasons.

more weeping cherry blossoms melting snow
The next day dawned bright and sunny, but I still had to clear the snow from my car at mid-morning, though it had never stuck to the roads and was quickly eradicated from lawns and such. I’d like to believe it was the last of the season, but the nights are still predicted to drop below freezing for a few more days at least, so it’s not time to plant anything yet. I have better plans this year than ever before, so here’s hoping at least some of them pan out into something interesting to post.

Okay, okay

sanderling Calidris alba running ahead of encroaching seafoam
Yeah, it’s been longer than intended, but once again, it’s been a period with too much going on that wouldn’t be the least bit interesting as a post, and otherwise shitty conditions to try and photograph within. Despite the early indications, spring has not arrived yet, so be patient – I’ll have more stuff coming when I have something more to work with.

And naturally, when I sit down to actually work on a post, the connection speed is abysmal…

So this image is from the North Topsail trip last year, but also one of the many potentials that I set aside for the gallery updates but never used. It’s the kind of image that I’m torn over – nothing exciting or compelling from the behavior or detail standpoint, faintly interesting in the body position, especially since the sanderling (Calidris alba) has more the appearance of stepping daintily in the seafoam gap rather than (in reality) running from the advancing tideline, but I still liked the color and the framing. In the end I decided on images that I felt were stronger, but didn’t want to completely reject it…

Now, another aspect of this work. If you’re a photographer and intend to have a website, hopefully you’ve flush enough to pay someone to make one for you, but I suspect that’s rarely the case – it certainly doesn’t apply on my end. So if you’re doing your own, a lot of factors regarding the design come into play: what screen-resolution and aspect ratio are you aiming for, and will you make it compatible with smutphones? How many scripts or dynamic doohickeys do you include, and how well do they play with different operating systems? How much time do you spend researching such things and how much impact do they have?

I recently picked up a new (to me) monitor with a different aspect ratio, and thus changed my display resolution, which means the blog now shows differently to me, and if you’re the type to worry about how the ‘page’ is laid out (I am,) you start wondering about how to format things to appear right to the greatest number of users. I had fixed ‘full column’ and ‘partial column’ image sizes, and in my original screen resolution these worked well, but now less so as it’s increased, and so I wonder what the average is for most users, and if I boost these sizes, how many users now have images too big to work well? I actually increased the full column sizes just a trivial amount, more a sop to suspicions than any functionality, but it still remains less than the size I use for the horizontal image formats in the gallery itself, so the pic above was reduced from the one I had set aside for potential use therein (from 800 pixels wide down to 750, to be specific.)

It might seem frivolous or even paranoid, but presentation is a big part of the impression people get from your work – some more so than others. I personally am a ‘functionality over form’ kind of guy and passionately detest the current fads in webdesign, which change almost as frequently as clothing fashion and with the same utter pointlessness, but how much of this is safe to reflect in my site? Do I turn off new visitors if there’s too much blank space or awkward pagination? These kind of things don’t keep me awake at night, but ignoring them entirely might be detrimental to some unknown degree.

As for smutphones, well, too bad so sad – I’m not even going to bother. Not only do they change too often and have entirely different aspect ratios and typical layouts (most people use their screens vertically instead of horizontally, so formatting a site and blog to handle both is tricky,) I am far too wordy to appeal to the typical person who might be surfing on their phone, and the time spent choosing image sizes is completely thwarted by screens that can fit in your mouth, so they’re not a factor in my decisions, at least.

About the only accommodation I might make for phones is to offer a ‘background screen of the month’ option for a small yearly fee, if I think it’ll be popular enough – I’d probably have to avoid certain subjects. Naturally mentioning it way down in a wall of text is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing. But yeah, if you’re intrigued by the idea, make a comment or drop me a line.

Later on, there will be more gallery rejects, so you got that going for you. Which is nice.

Deadlines met and missed

coral growth on an old snail shellTo see February on its poorly-spelled way, we have a shot from the dead season earlier in the month when virtually nothing existed to photograph, and I pulled out this little find from the Wilmington trip last year. Wandering the beach, I had found a snail shell, weathered heavily by tidal action and boring worms, that had served as an anchor for a small coral colony, and recently came across it again when sorting odds and ends. It’s faintly curious because the coral out-masses the shell by at least 2 to 1, probably more, and makes it distinctly off-balance, but coral attaches to fixed surfaces. As you can see, the coral is opposite the shell opening, covering every smooth surface, so I surmise that the shell itself was attached to something on the side you see here; part of the shell edge that continues out of the frame to the right seems to have an unweathered, freshly broken appearance, so I suspect that’s where it all had been anchored at one time.

And as I was about to start on this post, I glanced at the sidebar where posts from years back on this date can be found, and noticed none at all for last year – which means I missed the end-of-month abstract for February in 2017. A wave of utter dread came over me, as well as firm denial: there’s no way that I could have disappointed my copious readers in that manner. And yet, it remains true; I missed the month end abstract a year ago. There must have been some extenuating circumstance then, some loss of internet service or thing of that nature, because not only is my post missing, I have no missives about this lack from my readers either! I’m sure your mind is boggling at this very idea as much as mine is. So to all of those who attempted to alert me to this apparent oversight, I apologize profusely, but your efforts never made it through the mysterious barrier to communication that existed then.

Better late than never, as the saying goes, which I believe was originally a reference to menstruation. I herewith rectify this egregious lack, and provide a month-end abstract for February 2017, indeed actually taken within that month – I strive for authenticity. This is a crop from a larger frame to enhance the abstractedness of the subject, and somehow spellcheck did not even blink on that word. I mean, it actually underlined “pre-existing” [again], and who hasn’t heard of that?

February 2017's abstract
I’m often unsure how obvious, or not, any given photo is, but I suspect this one is helped a little by the reflection of the clouds. Anyway, it’s an old pine limb extending from the water, doing its best impression of an angelfish, though perhaps one with a lot of tumors on its side. Being in deep shade the limbs came out silhouetted against the sunny sky reflection. Yeah, I’ve done better, but remember: February. Easily the least productive month for me, at least until I move to the southern hemisphere.

From the jaws of defeat

So, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted (for reasons too sordid to go into here where anyone could see it) to catch sunrise on the central peak in Tycho. Tycho is a crater on the moon, one of those where the impact debris formed a pile of rubble directly in the center of the crater, because physics. And of course, this little mountain will see the rising sun before the crater floor, which will be visible from Earth with a high enough magnification.

This is an image of that peak taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, but this is too late in the day – the crater floor is visible. That central peak is 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) in height, just so you know. There is a banana for scale at the base of the peak.

central peak of Tycho crater from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Credit: NASA/GFC/Arizona State University

Now, the moon rotates a lot slower than Earth, each day there lasting 29.5 Earth days, so sunrise is a much slower affair. As a bit of trivia, each of the Apollo missions were timed for lunar morning, when they would have constant daylight but the moon’s surface would not have heated up too far to tax the equipment and astronauts – the temperature difference between day and night on the moon is hundreds of degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit – doesn’t matter.) Anyway, capturing this sunrise event doesn’t quite require the exact timing of such an event on Earth, but it’s still a narrow window during one phase of the moon.

We’ve had some clear nights, and on February 23rd I observed the moon and thought, Maybe, and so set up the tripod and 170-500 lens to see what I could get. This is not quite enough magnification to see if the sun is touching that central peak, and in fact, pinning down Tycho itself is more than a little tricky. When you see the full moon it’s easy, because Tycho has that wonderful system of rays, a starburst of ‘ejecta’ (debris) from the impact, but they mostly extend towards the west side, which is not illuminated yet at the time I was aiming for. There are only two visible at Tycho sunrise, and they’re curving around enough that they can be hard to use as a guide; if it’s too early, even the crater walls of Tycho are shrouded in darkness, and with all of the craters in that region of the moon, it’s hard to know which one you’re actually looking at.

first quarter moon just before sunrise on Tycho
What happens is, I get the shot, trying hard both to nail the precise focus and to make out if that central peak is illuminated, then come back in, unload the card, and look at the full resolution image while trying to pin down enough landmarks to ensure I have the right crater.

By the way, Google Earth has a moon setting where you can see detailed photos of the moon, but it’s no help in the slightest: all of the images are taken during “high noon” for that region, throwing no shadows or shaping, so even telling certain craters apart is difficult. Like a lot of photographic subjects, the best results come from oblique light, the shadows providing the shapes and textures that make things interesting. So full moon shots are nice, but non-full phases like shown here have much more depth and relief.

Here’s a marked version. The blue arrow is Tycho, just a bit too soon so the central peak is still dark, while the yellow arrow is Eratosthenes, a crater at the end of the Apennine mountain range (Montes Apenninus,) that distinctive curved line of mountains easily visible with a long lens, decent binoculars, or a small telescope.

first quarter moon with Tycho and Eratosthenes marked
The reason that I mention the Apennines and Eratosthenes is that these are more visible and distinctive than Tycho, at this time of lunar day, and the appearance of Eratosthenes from the darkness indicates about the same happening for Tycho. And after getting this image and determining that I was a little too early, I wondered if the event might just occur in an hour or so. This is where I was unnecessarily stupid (like there’s a necessary level of stupidity,) because I neglected to check the time when the moon would disappear below the horizon and guesstimated it instead; when I went back out, I was too late.

The next day I did a couple of daylight shots of the moon (meaning our daylight, like late afternoon here) and followed up in the evening, confirming that I was too late.

first quarter phase of moon showing sunrise has passed Tycho crater
And the marked version; again, blue for Tycho, yellow for Eratosthenes.

version of same image with Tycho and Eratosthenes marked
There is the faintest indication of that central peak, from both a brighter spot of the light reflecting more directly to us from the sides, and a darker spot from the shadow it throws; you can imagine that, at this magnification, even if I get the precise moment the focus better be bang on or it won’t show at all.

The other crater now visible to the left of Eratosthenes is Copernicus; with its high and sharp walls it shows up pretty well with magnification, leading to the common saying, “If you can see Copernicus, it’s too late for breakfast on Tycho.” So, yeah, missed sunrise again.

Now, as you’re rolling your eyes at my incompetence and thinking of reading someone else’s blog, let me tell you the rest of the story. Again, pinning down Tycho when you’re seeing it at the terminator (edge of shadow) can be tricky if you’re not intimately familiar with all of the craters on the moon, and Google Moon is no help; neither are most of the moon maps in existence, for much the same reasons. So one of my tricks is to take a full moon photo from my own stock, where Tycho is obvious, and overlay it onto the current image. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. Not only do both the size and the orientation have to be precise, requiring a lot of playing around in an editing program, the moon wobbles, and doesn’t show us the exact same face each night, so any chosen full moon shot might not match the face I just got, and no editing trick is going to fix that.

But as I was going through my folder seeing what pics might help, I came across a set of images taken back in 2009 when I had an 8″ Galilean telescope, experimental shots holding the camera without lens up the the empty eyepiece of the scope – much larger and more detailed than anything the 170-500 could manage. The orientation was different so maybe that’s why it escaped my attention then, but I stopped dead now and looked stupidly at the photo (orientation changed closer to other photos here.)

first quarter moon showing sunrise on Tycho's central peak
See it? I admit, it’s hard to make out at this resolution, meaning that in the viewfinder of the camera at the lower magnification of the 170-500, it would be impossible, but here’s a full resolution inset of the telescope image, with handy blue pointer again.

full resolution inset of previous image with Tycho marked
Yeah, that’s sunrise on Tycho’s central peak all right. And there are even some indications that I caught it almost as it occurred; I shot four images over seventeen minutes, and it appears to be getting brighter in each. So, for years I’ve had this as a goal, unaware that I’d captured it without intending to back during some experimental shots in the early days of the blog – in fact, ten days before what presently counts as the first post, but not really. It even got posted seven weeks later.

I ended up selling that telescope back when I needed the money, and in all honesty this isn’t a good area for astronomical observations, between the light pollution and humidity, but I still might get a smaller scope to use when the mood strikes – I like astronomy too much not to.

First mud, part 2

I’ve had a small handful of posts (how many is that? What do posts mass? How many fit in an average hand?) in the works for several days, trying to get enough time to sit down and work on them, so this is evidence of them to some extent – there’s going to be a lot of photos in this one. But some of that is due to conditions, too.

common chickweed Stellaria media blossomIt is perfectly expected to be mired in the lingering pall of winter at this point, the time when I am struggling to find something, anything, to photograph, and we had a couple of hard snows which would have seemed to indicate that spring might be slow in coming. At left, a common chickweed (Stellaria media) flower, perhaps 8mm across at best, makes an initial appearance in one of the dormant planters in front of the house. I had to make two attempts at this, because when I first spotted the flowers I didn’t have time to photograph them, and that time arrived after dark. This is a flower that closes up at night, so you understand how that went. Eventually, I got out during the day to capture this bare little indication of the better photography season.

Yet we had a spate of remarkably warm weather, and abruptly things were happening. The daffodils emerged, many of the plants in the yard started to bud out, and the rose bush that I had just trimmed back threw out hundreds of new branches. One could easily be convinced that spring had arrived, and while I’d love to believe that, I’m wary of the time of year and suspect that we have another cold snap due at some point.

But damn the practical pessimism – there might be things to take pichers of out there! The Unclean Mr Bugg thought so too, resulted in two outings within a week, making up (a little) for the fact that he’s been missing since christmastime. Okay, that’s not completely true; he tried to schedule an outing when it was grey and cold and I didn’t feel well, which I had to blow off, but that was the only one. And so, out we went!

The first was to Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and we were largely looking for birds at that point. They were more scarce than normal, but it was afternoon and not the ideal time to be chasing such subjects, even as we enter mating season. We still got inordinately lucky, right from the start. At the calls of two barred owls (Strix varia) pretty close by we froze, and a pair cut right across the path in plain sight, alighting in some trees roughly thirty meters away. By the way, I’ll take a moment to scold whatever ornithologist or naturalist that named the barred owl, or perhaps the barn owl – whichever was named second: it is perpetually tedious to keep orally explaining to someone the difference between the two names, which inevitably means I’m saying, “Barrrrred-duh. You know, with bars, the stripes across the plumage.” If some stupid sonofabitch names a new species the bard owl, I will hunt them down personally and kneecap them.

One of the owls was spotted (no, not with spots, you fool, but espied, discovered, arrested visually) on a branch in relatively plain sight – which demonstrated how good those bars are, because even then it was damn hard to see, but you know, this is what I’ve been doing for years, so no biggie [polish nails]. That’s, naturally, if I don’t tell you about the second owl, which was never seen again, yet still likely to be perched in another tree giggling at us. We crept closer, snapping off a few pics under the forest canopy in light overcast conditions – not the ideal time to be chasing photos with a long lens. Our subject, back to us, took off and flew to another tree not far away, and I watched it carefully to note its position as we crept still closer. Eventually, it turned fixed its gaze on us. I am under no illusions that it didn’t know we were there all along, since we were conversing quietly and owls have wicked sharp hearing, but I think it was more intent on its territoriality and/or courtship and was ignoring us as long as possible – it even craned its head around when the distant calls of a red-shouldered hawk were heard. But yeah, with patience we got some nice facial shots, and I think it’s pretty obvious that we see it here from the back.

barred owl Strix varia eyeing the camera warily
I was over-exposing (from what the camera suggested) by a full stop because of the lightness of the background, with boosted ISO and a monopod for the long lens, and this still isn’t as sharp as it could be – like I said, not ideal conditions, but snagging an owl pic in daylight is uncommon enough, so I’m not complaining. And you know me – I can complain about anything.

Others were making it clear that they believed spring was here too. The frogs were already calling, and in several places we found turtles basking. I usually consider the appearance of the frogs to herald the spring shooting season, so there were gratifying to see. Here, a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) turned its head this way and that to watch us warily as we passed, which was quite curious; they usually don’t hesitate to dive into the water as soon as they know someone is near, but a jogger even passed as we stood there shooting, and the turtle turned to watch him go without even twitching from position.

painted turtle Chrysemys picta displaying remarkable patience
Mason Farm didn’t offer a lot else worth mentioning or displaying, so we’ll move on. A few days later, I was doing yard work before I had to meet Mr Bugg again, and casually plucked a few fallen leaves from where they had nestled over the winter within the branches of a small shrub. A flash of bright green had me thinking the shrub was also leafing out, but better focus revealed otherwise it to be a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea.)

green treefrog Hyla cinerea newly emerged  in spring
Notably, this was the exact same shrub (or its immediate neighbor) where I had photographed the one unearthed, literally a ha ha, from a bag of potting soil last year; I was trying to encourage it to use the bush’s soil for its winter hibernation, but suspected that it had rejected my suggestion. I’m still not sure this is the same one, since it has bigger yellow spots on the back than I see in the pics from last year, but it’s also thinner and less hydrated from hibernation, so… maybe?

[On an unrelated side note, did you see how the background details mimicked the curve of the frog’s back, actually framing it? How about the other twig that points right to the main focal point, the eye? That’s careful composition, that is, a master at work. Okay, I’m sorry, the truth is it’s wholly unintentional and serendipitous, and I’m only admitting it here because nobody reads anything on the internet, so this is my little inside joke. Also, I spit in your milk back in the third grade.]

After that, I picked up Mr Bugg at his place, and spotted/espied/discovered/arrested a green or Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) basking on a solar landscape light. I was able to go back to the car to get my camera, but as I worked my way in closer it started stirring warily, which I hopefully captured with this image.

green anole Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis not happy with photographer's presence
Stop arching your eyebrows; the ‘green’ in the name comes from the Latin root graein, meaning lizardlike, and isn’t a reference to color. Sheesh.

That’s another lie; it really does refer to color, usually just a hair less vivid green than the frog above, but anoles have the ability to change color due to mood, and this might have been a reflection of its new emergence.

We didn’t know what to expect at our next stop, which was West Point on the Eno River, but I announced my skepticism that the snakes would be out yet. Naturally, that was the first thing we spotted.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon basking at Eno River edge
Really, immediately off a busy path, this northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon) was sitting motionless – I thought it could have picked a better place, since it was asking to be attacked by overreactive visitors or disrespectfully unleashed dogs, but there it was. Northern water snakes are quick to bite but utterly harmless, yet constantly mistaken for something with more consequences (i.e, venom,) like cottonmouths or copperheads. This one was almost certainly fast asleep, and we were able to go in quite close for portraits. The next shot is a tight crop of another image, still not full resolution, but certainly not the entire frame.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon in tight closeup
Snakes don’t have eyelids so they don’t look asleep, but this one almost certainly was to allow this kind of approach. By the way, to help with identification: round pupil; venomous snakes have slitted pupils like cats. Dark portions of pattern on back is widest along spine, and heads are dark and patterned, unlike copperheads. Very thick body and neck; copperheads are more slender. Upper lip has vertical stripes, and no horizontal stripe through the eye, unlike cottonmouths (which do not live in the area anyway, despite rampant folklore.) Also, the broken band pattern towards the tail, seen further up, distinguishes the northern water snake from the banded water snake, which are otherwise virtually identical.

And more frogs were out.

small frog, possibly cricket frog, sitting amongst leaf litter at river edge
In most cases, however, you had to be sharp-eyed. The little chorus frogs were out in force in some ideal places, but usually not visible at all until we stepped close, whereupon they launched themselves into the water, or at least away from our feet. If you’re having trouble seeing the frog, good – that was the intention of this photo, though it sits immediately in the center of the frame. And at 20mm in length, even if you saw it move it might be hard to spot again. Slow and careful approaches would permit better photos, though.

likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus sitting in shallow water
This is likely a cricket frog, but positive identification is a little tricky since the markings can vary so much, and there are northern and southern variants with subtle differences between. I suspect a southern cricket frog (Acris gryllus,) but feel free to crush my delusions of intelligence. I don’t mind. Really.

Here’s a view of another specimen, that I include just for giggles.

likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus waiting patiently on close approach
I had the macro lighting rig with me, but lazily had not taken it out for these shots, so we’re looking at f4 just to prevent a slow shutter speed in the shade under the trees. But there was a bit of indirect light from the sky, as we can see when we examine that reflection in the eye.

inset of likely southern cricket frog Acris gryllus photo showing eye detailYou can see the semi-cloudy sky, and the silhouette of my head slightly to the left, while Mr Bugg is standing upright a bit more distant to the right. This is full resolution, by the way, and to get this I was flat on my belly on the ground, elbows starting to sink into the soft peat at the river edge. Believe it or not, it’s slightly easier to get the portrait images rather than profile, because you’re cutting off the frog’s intended direction of retreat and they have to reposition themselves to hop in another direction – for some reason they seem reluctant to do this, at least if you move slowly enough.

A little further on in much softer conditions, I saw a rock which didn’t look right.

suspiciously frog-shapped rock
I thought this looked a bit too frog-like in shape, and the 80mm focal length seemed to confirm it, but the additional detail of the dark eyes told me that it was probably a dead specimen. Then I saw it move, and went back to thinking it was a new emergent from the mud of hibernation.

There’s more detail to be seen in that image, though, so look closely. Because it becomes more obvious with the next shot.

American toad Anaxyrus americanus emerging from hibernation mud behind dead specimen
Yes, that primary one is dead, and noticeably swollen, but the one immediately behind it isn’t. That’s an American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) back there, responsible for the movement of the corpse that I saw, but what exactly is going on here I cannot say for sure and don’t want to speculate on. It’s possible the dead one was exposed during the winter while the live one was deep enough to escape that fate, but that’s just a wild guess. Other than that all bets are off.

While out there, we heard more barred owl calls, one from across the river but one contesting it from our side, clearly a territorial display. With a few repeats I pinned down the rough location and, having a little familiarity with the quality of barred owl calls, I knew it wasn’t too distant, and just off the path we were on. There were two trees that seemed likely, between 80 and 100 meters away, and so we started creeping closer, stopping frequently to examine the trees for the camouflaging patterns of the owl. The first tree yielded nothing, but within the second I soon noted what looked like a tail as I rounded the trunk. Another two steps confirmed it.

barred owl Strix varia watching our approach with distinct wariness
This was a nice little vindication of my nature photographer skills – well, partially, anyway. There was no way we were going to approach an owl undetected, but my estimate of location was perfectly accurate and I was ready with the camera as it hove into view, peering at us with intent suspicion. I got off only two frames before it flew off, and should have had exposure compensation ready, but didn’t – that’s why I said “partially.” This is tweaked slightly brighter in post-production.

decrepit stump with nest openingThere’s also less vindication of nature photography skills from this one, and commensurately less to show for it. We’d already passed this stump when I heard the soft tapping, presumably of a distant woodpecker, but as I turned back to examine the trees across the river I thought my triangulation seemed a little off. Another couple of steps confirmed it, and with the 100-300 lens I spotted the nest opening at the base of the branch, on a stump on this side of the river; someone was busy within shaping their nest hollow. Flushed with my success from capturing the brown-headed nuthatch, I waited patiently for the bird to appear in the opening. I don’t hold my arms up over my head for much, and though the camera wasn’t heavy, it soon became fatiguing to keep it to my eye, so I did a lot of spot-checks as I waited, pretty much every time there was a pause in the tapping. Going from the timestamps on the photos, I waited at least fifteen minutes, standing there at the base of the stump, before I gave up on seeing the builder emerge, even when I knew I would never get the shot unless I was more patient than that. Now, if I’d brought the tripod and could sit beneath it with the remote-release in my hand, that might have been a different story.

Overall, it was a pretty successful outing, even when I’d gotten a few decent images before we’d arrived. The weather was exceptionally comfortable, not hot and not at all cold (we were both in shorts and wading sandals.) By no rights should I have pics like this from late February, so I’m pleased. And yet, still pulled off a bonus shot too.

Later that same evening, I went out back to check on the backyard pond to see if the frogs there were stirring, and as I passed one of the rain barrels, another green treefrog was found perched on top – obviously this is a different specimen than earlier, and allowed me several shooting positions. And I spotted a little blip of something submerging within the pond, too, so I’m comfortable that pics of the green (not tree) frogs from the pond will be along before too long. Plus, I still have at least one other topic awaiting my attentions, so I should get another post in before February ends, on top of the end-of-month abstract.

second green treefrog Hyla cinerea of 2018 sitting on rain barrel

Too cool, part 37

Enceladus and Saturn's rings from Cassini courtesy Cassini Imaging Team

Courtesy: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Okay, okay, it’s cheating, I know, since I’ve featured this very same moon before, taken by the very same probe as well. Of course, for the time being, there’s not a lot of choices in the latter department, since the Cassini probe was the only one doing detailed images of Saturn and its moons, but last September it boldly went down into the thickening atmosphere of Saturn and either got rendered inoperable by the pressure, or Bowmaned off into a new realm someplace – I’m fairly certain NASA is maintaining the former, but you know, they still maintain that we’ve actually been to our moon…

Anyway this is, once again, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, still showing off its fancy plumes, backlit by the sun, backgrounded by Saturn’s rings, and accompanied in the frame (though not in proximity) by another of Saturn’s moons, Pandora. Astronomy Picture Of the Day from February 15th has the details, and a larger version of the image. This one looks like a digitally created abstract; add in a base color of blue fading into pink and you’d have a great representation of cosmic artwork from the eighties.

Enceladus is known for being composed of a thick ice crust over what seems to be an underlying, global, liquid ocean, which vents out into space through cracks in the ice crust; that’s actually what you’re seeing at the bottom of the moon. You might be thinking, How does a liquid ocean exist under the ice crust way out there around Saturn? Enceladus is close enough to Saturn’s strong gravity that the constant tidal forces on the solid core – the same kind of thing that gives Earth its ocean tides, but a hell of a lot stronger – actually keep it in flux and generate a fair amount of heat and friction, which appears to be enough to maintain the ‘mid-level’ water in liquid form – and it’s this same state that makes Enceladus one of the biggest candidates for life to form within our solar system. Determining this could be tricky, since that ice crust is kilometers thick – right now we have the information we do about it through penetrating radar and gravitational measurements. One of the things that I hope we accomplish within my lifetime is actually getting some kind of probe down to the water level of that moon.

Now an examination from the photographic standpoint. You may have noticed that Enceladus is entirely silhouetted except for the barest edge, but Pandora has its face illuminated by sunlight reflected from Saturn. Why not Enceladus? Because we’re looking at the ‘double-night’ side of Enceladus – it’s closer to Cassini (and our viewing position) than Saturn is, while Pandora is on the opposite side of the orbit; the sun itself is directly behind Enceladus, thus the glowing ring lines across the image, while Saturn is out of the frame to the left. Sunlight reflected from Saturn can illuminate Pandora, and it illuminates Enceladus too, making it much brighter than Pandora – but on the side opposite us.

I said ‘double-night’ above to reflect the light dynamics around other planets. On Saturn’s moons, the sun can be very bright, but it’s so distant as to be quite small in the sky, while the vast bulk of Saturn itself – and Jupiter, and Neptune, and so on – will dominate the sky, and throw a lot of reflected light. So Pandora, between the sun and Saturn, is lit from two sides, and only a narrow sliver of the moon might be experiencing darkness. But as it moves around to the night side of Saturn, the far side can experience true night, like this face of Enceladus is now. The ‘day-night’ cycle of the moons is distinctly different from our own, where our little and somewhat distant moon can brighten the night at times, but not as badly as something taking up literally half of the entire sky as Saturn might.

And yes, Earth throws reflected sunlight onto the ‘dark side’ of our own moon as well, but a) it mostly does it during our local day so the light scattered from our atmosphere obscures most of it, and b) it’s weak in comparison to Saturn – consider how small the Earth looks in those photos taken from the moon. But in the right conditions it can still be captured – check out ‘Earthshine’ sometime.

It seems you’ve never met

This was originally going to be included in an earlier post, but it never fit in well with it and needed its own dedication, so let’s start with another frequently-seen internet meme that illustrates an all-too-common perspective:

internet idiocy meme

And what if I told you that you should stick to subjects you have the faintest knowledge of, and stop spreading your idiocy around like herpes?

Let’s face it: the anti-vaccination fuckheads are too stupid to be allowed out in public alone. The moon-conspiracy chuzzlewits imagine they’re clever when they haven’t the faintest grasp of basic physics. And the dog breed champions really, really need to sit down and think for a whole ten seconds.

Seriously, if dog behavior was entirely up to the owner, then there would be almost no point at all to actually breeding dogs, would there? I mean, physical appearance, right? That’s it? Behavior and traits and tendencies – they all have to be written on that ‘blank slate’ of the brain, just like birds have to be shown by their parents how to build their intricate and specific nests, and snakes have to learn through trial and error how to constrict, and how all animals have to sample a bunch of different things in order to determine what food works best for them. Sure, you can manipulate genes to produce body shapes and fur color, blood types and resistance to diseases, even temperature hardiness and homing abilities. But the brain? Not a chance – that’s always exactly the same because the brain isn’t developed through genes. I mean, duh!

Hopefully my sarcasm is elaborate enough, but if not, let me know because I can still ramp it up a bit. We’ve only been breeding dogs for millennia because no one has yet noticed that it doesn’t have much effect. And seriously, anyone can train any breed of dog to be attack dogs – we’re just conditioned to believe that pitbulls are overreactive, and rottweilers are badasses.

Anyway, let me introduce you to common sense.

In a long history of breeding animals – we’re talking literally thousands of years – it’s only been in the last century or so that we did so for appearance (theirs, not ours.) All of the remaining time, it’s been for functionality. And yes, a large portion of that functionality comes through behavior, attitude, and even ‘personality.’ We have dog breeds that are good with kids, or better at home protection, or good at herding, and on and on and on because when they showed any such tendencies, we selected for those and enhanced those traits, just as we were able to enhance physical traits that make any given breed fail to look like the wolves they originated from. The original line of bulldogs was bred for the ‘sport’ of bullbaiting: seizing onto the nose of a bull and hanging on as long as they could, and as such they have powerful jaws, neck muscles, and shoulders. Later on, pitting the dogs against one another became more popular, and the breeds began to reflect that – including very limited tolerance of being ‘challenged’ and a fierce desire to establish dominance. This is a standard behavioral factor in all pack animals anyway, the origin of the phrase “alpha male,” so breeders weren’t even producing the behavior, just exaggerating it.

[As a trivial sideline, this is also the reason behind cropping ears and docking tails. Dogs usually establish dominance through body language such as dropping the tail and laying the ears flat to communicate their reluctance to challenge authority, their ‘submission.’ Removing these meant that, even if the dog wanted to submit, it never displayed the language that said so. And now we consider it a “breed trait” and insist on surgically altering these breeds to pay homage to their idiotic past.]

Worse, in breeds such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or American Staffordshire Terrier, or Pitbull (pick whichever name you consider proper – we made them all up anyway, so who cares?) the practice of dog-fighting had to go underground but continues to this day, meaning the enhancement of these stubborn, dominant, and violent tendencies is still going on, unlike most of the other former working breeds that have now become ‘show’ dogs and may be bred away from unnecessary and dangerous behavior. In other words, pitbulls are the least removed from nasty traits – even if you specifically refer to those produced by breeders that are trying to establish a nonviolent aspect of the breed.

Now, there are thousands of arguments about the whole subject, and I’ll address some of those in a moment. But for the opening (and oft-repeated) assertion that dog behavior is learned, well, bullshit, and rather obvious bullshit at that. Some behavior is learned, or trained into a dog – and some of it is inherent, sometimes in the species as a whole, and sometimes as an aspect of that particular breed. And of course, it is the inherent aspects that are causing the problems.

There are countless arguments and claims and oral diarrheas that come up, time and again, mostly in the service of utter denial that some dogs are, on average, a lot more dangerous than others: “They were provoked,” and, “they weren’t socialized properly,” “people overreact to media attention,” and, “every dog can bite,” and on and on and on. They all have a kernel of truth to them – but we need more than a kernel, and the bare statistics make it abundantly clear. For instance, what a dog might consider provocation can be as simple as maintained eye-contact (pits are especially sensitive to this because, again, it’s how dogs communicate challenges and attempts to establish dominance) or failing to heed their keep-away signals, something that children are remarkably prone to doing, and even a lot of adults can be abysmally bad about reading signs. And yes, every dog can bite – but those that are compiling statistics aren’t counting the bites, they’re looking at the numbers and types of dog attacks that result in hospitalizations and even deaths, something that chihuahuas somehow manage not to score highly on, despite their propensity for biting. And no, those attacks are not all coming from dogs from disreputable sources either, or dogs with improper socialization or exercise room. These can certainly contribute, but this would mean that all species that were in such conditions should show the same number of injuries dealt, and they don’t. Not by a long shot.

What has to be the most pernicious and annoying argument that arises, every fucking time the subject is discussed, is the hoary old, “I know someone with that breed and it couldn’t be a nicer dog!” Well, shit, why did we spend all this time compiling statistics and talking to animal behavior experts and interviewing victims when we could have just asked you? I’m sure that your singular personal experience countermands all other evidence that we could possibly examine! Seriously, anecdotes of this nature should be grounds for getting smacked upside the head, especially among anyone that’s had to view the videos of dog attacks, the photos of the injuries, or talk to the parents of the young victims. Every dog has their own personality, and there are a lot of variations – none can be considered so representative of the breed that all others must conform to it, and this goes for any personality you want to assign. But on average, any given species often has a distinct tendency towards certain traits, which is what the numbers tell us. And for a bit of amusement, note that the very argument of a nice example of the breed directly implies that behavior is an inherent trait – otherwise such an anecdote would be completely worthless. Like I said, people often don’t even sit down and think for ten seconds about what they’re saying.

The topic itself arises primarily because of the myriad ways people are proposing or implementing methods of reducing the attacks and injuries: breed-specific legislation, housing/socialization requirements, special registrations, and so on. And there are two primary factors that arise during such discussions, the first being, exactly how effective is the proposed method at curbing or halting the negative consequences? And this is certainly a worthwhile question. Unfortunately, it is often overshadowed by the other factor, which is, “I’ve got a blind spot about animals (especially this breed.)” And I’m going to put this very very bluntly, but I want a real answer: How many instances of people being maimed or killed are allowable in order not to impinge on some dog-owners’ personal preference?

While we’re waiting on that answer, I’ll point out that dog ‘breeds’ are arbitrary distinctions that we make up out of pure ego – we created all of them, from the original wolves (whose DNA is so similar that it’s next to impossible to distinguish from any dog.) Try to determine any reason whatsoever to even maintain these distinctions, much less a reason why anyone would have to own one. “Purebred” actually means “inbred,” and carries a burden of genetic disadvantages and detriments with alarming frequency – feel free to look up the tendencies towards specific medical problems (and adverse behavior) for any given breed. And once again, from the sheltering standpoint, there are millions of animals already seeking homes – what fucking reason does anyone have for breeding, or even desiring, a “special” animal in the face of those numbers?

*     *     *     *     *

My days in the animal shelters, and compiling reports, and working as an animal cruelty investigator, produced more than a little direct experience pertinent to the topic itself, and so here are a couple of examples. I have more if you want them.

At one point in time, we actually had a group of fighting pitbulls in the shelter, over twenty dogs impounded during an investigation, and this introduced a lot of changes to our routines. To begin with, we added a lot of safety equipment to the kennels in handy locations, things like pepper spray and parting sticks. If you’re not familiar with the dog-fighting world, parting sticks are tools used to convince the dog to let go; they’re made to pry open a dog’s jaws in the frequent-enough event that the dog refuses to do so on its own or on command. Which pretty much puts the lie to the idea that dogs have to be trained to be aggressive; they’re trained to obey commands, but in the thick of things it doesn’t always work. The fighting bit is a lot more instinctual, and is a reflection of the pack behavior that is the primary social structure among canids (and birds, and plenty of other species as well – these dynamics helped the animals survive, and were honed over millennia by nature itself.)

In general, dogs determine on their own where they stand among others of their kind – one will become the pack leader, with a reducing hierarchy of deference. In the event the leader isn’t immediately available, the next in line takes its place. Even all by itself in a family of humans, dogs still view things in terms of the pack, which occasionally leads to obedience problems, as well as other adverse interactions. Some dogs, for instance, recognize the human father as the dominant male, but fit themselves into the ‘pack’ elsewhere, perhaps occasionally obeying the commands of the mother, and completely ignoring the kids. Others may view the kids as pups or lessers in the pack, and may react strongly when they feel the children are acting out of line; this is often kids running around wildly, especially if the kids are squealing a lot – I don’t have to give you examples of this, do I?

No matter how dogs consider humans in their ‘pack’ hierarchy, there are other aspects of their behavior that easily override this introduced concept. This is why, every time someone tells me their dog doesn’t need to be on a leash because it is “voice-trained,” I smile indulgently and, I hope, a little condescendingly; it’s better than guffawing loudly into their face and calling them ignorant buffoons. Any dog can take off after a squirrel if they consider squirrels food or intruders, because the millions of years of evolved behavior kinda blows a few dozen hours of training out of the water. Your dog always stays in the yard? Yeah, until another dog happens along, and then this idea gets left behind as the pack interaction dominates their behavior – we used to call it ‘partners in crime’ because a pair or more of dogs will do things that no individual gets itself into, like chasing neighborhood cats or kids and tearing up stuff. They’re competing against each other. You can shout, “Here Fido!” until you’re blue in the face; the training to obey falls way below the drive to survive, behavior evolved into them long before we came along.

Fighting dogs are selectively bred to be pack leaders, and maintain this status when challenged – this is what a dog fight is to them: the other dog must yield, or it remains a challenge to their own authority. Yes, it’s just as stupid as any bar fight. But as I said, there’s a lot of emphasis on obeying commands – owners want the dogs to release when told, not to fight to the death, and the fight belongs among other dogs, not among humans; no owner wants to feel threatened themselves. But after breeding these traits in for decades – traits that are mere extensions of behavior established thousands to millions of years back in the wolf ancestors – a couple of generations isn’t going to make it go away dependably. Believe me, I’m not going to dispute that there are reputable pitbull breeders out there, ones that are ensuring in every way possible that they are not producing aggressive dogs, but there’s several key factors to consider:

1) There is no absolutely no way of determining if the aggressiveness if actually bred out of a dog – again, it’s an extension of deeply ingrained behavior. The only thing that can be done is to observe a dog for a lack of indicators, a failure to respond to typical triggers – which doesn’t mean that there’s not a trigger that no one’s found yet. And this says nothing of genetic latency, especially since we have no idea what genes are actually involved (much less the ability to do the intricate and expensive tests necessary to find them);

2) For every reputable breeder, there are at least five ‘backyard breeders’ who haven’t the faintest idea that they should be looking for indicators in the first place, and are only in it for the buck. Good luck determining where any particular dog comes from. The last I heard, the average authenticity of any given American Kennel Club certification (you know, “he gots papers“) was less than 30%. And that only tells bloodline, which is a near-meaningless factor anyway;

3) There are certainly nice pitbulls out there, as there are for any breed – but for a very large percentage of the people that want them, that’s not the trait or ‘aura’ they’re after. They want the reputation, and as long as the breed exists, there will be that market;

4) There are, really, an unknown percentage of breeders specifically for fighting dogs. The dogs that don’t quite pass muster all go somewhere – I’ll let you figure out where. Are you going to be surprised if you find out that most fighting breeders are also ‘reputable’ breeders? Let’s face it, it’s not easy to completely conceal a kennel full of dogs.

So with all of that, perhaps it’s a little more obvious now why there are no easy solutions – and in fact, no one’s quite sure what they’re trying to accomplish, since too many people are at cross purposes. For my own part, I find that even bothering with a distinguished ‘breed’ is pointless – when we do it with people it’s considered racism.

That situation with the fighting dogs in our kennels was entirely uneventful, by the way – I wish I could say the same for others. In a neighboring county, a particular pitbull was placed on quarantine following a bite situation (this is a requirement of North Carolina law, as the animal is observed for signs of rabies,) while Animal Control tried to determine if the dog should be maintained under vicious confinement as a potentially dangerous dog, due to the circumstances under which the bite occurred, primarily unprovoked. Eventually, with the testimony of a neighbor who knew the dog and maintained that he was not aggressive, the dog was released back to the owner with no restrictions. The neighbor, an elderly woman, would stop by the yard to visit the dog and give it treats from time to time.

Less than ten days after being released, the dog attacked her early one morning, and ripped her arm off.

Anyone may want to ask a lot of questions – it’s natural to want to know what happened. I never heard myself, but you know, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing, no circumstance, that could warrant such a response from the dog, ‘provoked’ or not (and while any given dog might have a different idea of what constitutes provocation, it’s not their standards we should concern ourselves about; any pet dog lives in a world of humans and needs to conform to our minimal standards. Full stop.) Hey, this is one anecdote – I don’t blame anyone for treating this as an isolated incident, though granted, it’s often the exact same people who think their anecdote of a nice dog should be a pertinent example. Except – it’s not an isolated incident; it’s a pattern of behavior that’s occurred far too many times. The personal feelings horseshit and feeble attempts at thinking need to go away entirely while we seek real solutions.

The edge of the world has a dock

dock on foggy lake
It is perhaps best not to ask what actually moors to it…

The night and thus the morning was foggy and I was up early with nothing pressing to do, so I headed down to Jordan Lake to do something interesting with the conditions. I was down there for about two hours I think (I don’t really look at my watch when I’m shooting,) and captured something like 175 images. But, this post could be better – I know, that goes without saying, but I mean, better than normal for me – because of an uncommon but probably unavoidable occurrence. A large number of the images from the memory card simply disappeared.

I unloaded that 175 count of files from the card. Checked the folders, ensured that the beginning and end images were there, then deleted them from the card. There’s several aspects of reasoning to this. First, I make sure that I got everything from the card (which I didn’t quite do – I knew I had the first and last dozen or so images, but never confirmed all the ones in the middle were intact.) That way if any were missed, they could still be retrieved from the card. But I soon delete the images from the card, because if I forget, I end up trying to download them again later on, and then playing around with determining the most recent files. There’s a small factor in keeping the most amount of space available on the card, but with 8Gb and jpeg files, it would take a long time to fill it – like a week of heavy shooting.

Anyway, something happened – I suspect with the card reader, which as I type this still thinks that the card is present though it’s been formatted and returned to the camera (and formatted again, but I think I’m going to make it an emergency backup instead.) This is a relatively new compact flash card too.

foggy flooded region in woods
I’ve run into this before – it’s something you just have to be prepared for when shooting digital. It happened with film too, only with bad batches, accidentally exposed film, or errors in processing. Sometimes you simply lose images. However, there is a program called Zero Assumption Recovery that does a pretty nifty job of recovering images from memory cards – even after you deleted them and/or formatted the card; it’s the nature of how files are actually stored and retrieved in digital memory. I’ve used it quite a few times, sometimes on my own cards, sometimes for other people, and while it usually doesn’t get everything, it can recover a lot of stuff that was believed gone forever.

Sometimes, a lot of stuff. Computer (and thus camera) memory isn’t actually deleted when you hit delete, it is simply marked as usable space, and ZAR ignores those markings and finds all the files. You may end up recovering things from months to years ago, though the present versions allow you to set date parameters. However, if you deleted files, used the card for more shooting, and then want to go back and find old files, you may not – that space may have been overwritten by the new files. Also, sometimes the files just become corrupt, and even ZAR can’t repair them. Sometimes you get incomplete images or, like in this case, a bunch of files with corrupt headers that simply cannot be read. I had to recover just shy of a hundred missing files, and ended up with 37 of them. So it goes. Naturally, the ones that I felt were the most fartistic were among the missing.

drops acting as lenses
A quick note about this image. The trees in many cases were dripping with water, which became almost like a light rain under the horrid longneedle pines, and I made several attempts to go in close with the macro lens and tripod to do this kind of drop lens effect. I talked about the difficulties of doing this before, and it played out this morning. I would place the tripod carefully, find I was a little too far away for maximum magnification, and try to scootch closer. This was all on small trees and saplings, by the way, the ones where the branches were at the right height to be photographed. Which also means the branches were at the right height to be bumped, and three separate times I disturbed the tree as I tried to get in closer. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the contact is, because such useful drops are on the fine edge of giving up the fight with gravity, and that tiny vibration on a branch well away from the one I had chosen was still enough to dislodge the drop. You know how trees are wider on the bottom, right? So are tripods. Feel free to try it if you don’t believe me.

odd-shaped web with dew and occupant
I have shot this kind of web many times before, once here, but this time, I actually captured the builder in the pic – except I didn’t see this at the time and so didn’t focus on it; it’s that grey spot at the bottom of the bowl in the center. I hate noticing details when I get back home that I wish I’d seen when shooting. This was just a casual grab-shot, and I could have done some nice detail and discovered what species of spider makes it. Foggy and dewy mornings, by the way, make it abundantly clear just how many spiders there are in any given location – the webs are always there, you just can’t see most of them.

And I close with another dock shot, as a morning fisherman headed off into the mist – this gives a fairly good idea how thick the fog was. It also distinctly shows the effect of an aspherical very-wide lens, in this case the Tamron 10-24 at 10mm – look at the dock.

fishing boat disappearing into foggy lake
Wide-angle lenses are going to distort – it’s necessary to fit the broad view angle into the narrower aspect of the frame. Old spherical lenses used to distort the edges so badly there would be a ‘fisheye’ effect, which the newer lenses largely correct – but this situation demonstrates that it can’t be perfect. But this image also, originally, gave a fairly good idea how much dust was on the sensor again! I just fucking cleaned the bastard not two weeks ago! Granted, doing multiple lens changes in such conditions certainly doesn’t help, but shit, I’d hoped it could stay clean for a month or so. Anyway, that all got edited out for display here, before I go back and clean the goddamn thing again…