Per the ancient lore, part 10

male brown anole Anolis sagrei displaying dewlap
After a brief jaunt into the future with last week’s post, we return to the earliest days of digital photos (for me, anyway) and of course Florida. The subject here is the lovely textures of a Caribbean sycamore tree, rudely blocked by an impertinent anole. Okay, I lie, I have no idea what kind of tree it is, and was instead after the anole itself, hard as that may be to believe. This is a male brown anole (Anolis sagrei,) doing his territorial/mating display thing. Typically, if you see this it’s a signal to look around carefully, since it virtually always indicates another within visual range, though I admit I don’t think I ever saw the beneficiary of this display. I doubt it was for me, but cannot vouch for the sexual proclivity of any individual lizard.

We’ve made it to the Reptiles/Amphibians folder, of course. The brown anoles weren’t originally native to Florida and are thus considered an invasive species, but the definition of this can be debated if one is so inclined. Right now the browns outnumber the native green anoles significantly, and are probably the easiest reptile species to spot in Florida, small as they are (roughly 14cm in overall length.) Which reflects a little on my changed approach to nature photography in the intervening years (this was taken in May of 2004.) The anoles, both green and brown, in Florida are abundant, and I even had a resident within the tree right outside my window, but I never sat down and did a detailed photo-examination of them. They were certainly easier to find than the Chinese mantids that I’ve been chasing the past several years, if a bit spookier, but I have far fewer images of them. Nowadays, with such easily available models, I’d probably have a full selection of portraits and behaviors, eggs and newly-hatched young and so on, within my stock folders, and this is at least partially due to writing blog posts, realizing that I had a good subject to feature and trying for more illustrating images. Certainly I’d have better-lit versions than this (and do,) but when you spot a wild and rather shy reptile displaying, you get what you can without thinking about how to coax it into a different position, or whether you can get a fill-reflector in place. And as the theme goes, these are the early digitals shots, so this is not an example of the best that I’ve ever gotten.

I don’t wanna!

If it seems like too many posts recently are quick little trivial things, kinda hit-and-run offerings, well, there’s a few reasons for that. If you haven’t noticed, stop reading right here and, uh, wait a bit for the next post. But anyway, as an explanation, there’s been an awful lot going on, without much of it being blogworthy, while the appearance of decent photo subjects has been particularly slow this spring. Meanwhile, when I do actually get something to write about, I really don’t have the time to do so. I don’t want to leave the blog lacking in this manner, but haven’t been able to correct that yet.

Which means I’m here to say, it’s going to go on at least a little bit longer, but hopefully not too much. And I not only have subjects for two posts already lined up, I expect to have at least a few more on top of those coming in pretty soon. In there is a known podcast, and the potential for more. And lotsa pics. Maybe even some that aren’t creepy…

In the interim, I leave a little teaser, what I had initially identified as a pond slider or yellow-bellied slider, but instead believe is a river cooter (Pseudemys concinna) – a juvenile at that, peeking out from the water suspiciously before climbing onto that rock to bask. Just one of a handful of subjects from a recent outing, which will be elaborated upon soonest.

juvenile river cooter Pseudemys concinna peeking from water

Oh boy oh boy oh boy

laughing gulls Leucophaeus atricilla migrating and not
Tomorrow – that would be Saturday, May 12th – is World Migratory Bird Day. Yep, already! So find your favorite world migratory birds, and treat them to dinner, or a movie, or maybe a day at the amusement park checking out the season’s new roller coasters. Whatever, just let them know you’re thinking about them.

Or I suppose you could just photograph some, or identify one or more that you haven’t seen before, or tally how many you can see during the day. It’s a little shallow and impersonal, but you know, whatever fluffs your coverts.

At least part of the day I’ll be tied up, but we’ll see if I get some time free to chase a few birds, as the English say. Meanwhile, I’ll direct you over to the itinerant birder Mr Bugg to see what he scares up for the holiday.

Per the ancient lore, part 9

small runoff shower across cave opening from within
Let’s take a trip to the Mountains folder, shall we? Though to be honest, if I was doing these in true chronological order this wouldn’t appear for quite a while; this was actually taken with the first digital camera that I owned, a Canon Pro 90 IS, on the first trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina – somehow, while living in this state from 1990 to 2001, I never made it out there, so I finally did a trip once I’d returned, this one being in May 2005. My timing was off – the spring foliage and colors were still a little ways away, arriving much later in the higher altitudes than I’d guessed.

I was partially chasing waterfalls, and partially in search of scenic compositions, which the just-budding trees weren’t contributing to very well. But I can’t really remember where this was taken – I just know that I’d been on a short trail seeking something specific, and happened across this small cascade over the mouth of a shallow cave. It was easy enough to duck inside without getting wet, but not the most photogenic of actions; if I got the outside foliage exposed properly, the water would nigh have disappeared and nothing inside the cave would have shown, even with firing off the flash as I did here. It would have been much worse trying for a long exposure to get more of a milky look from the water, because the region outside the cave was in bright sunlight, very easy to over-expose. Ah well.

Here’s a curious thought, however: I would have believed that, over the centuries, this cave would have been cleared out by natives, whether Native Americans or even some earlier cultures. So was it just not as good as something else not too far away, or is it newer than I imagine? Perhaps it had been cleared long ago, but rockfalls had re-cluttered the floor?

Throwing down the gauntlet

It took them a while to get to this, but yesterday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is a taunting response to a post of mine back in February, where I talked about capturing sunrise on the Tycho crater of the moon. I mean, not personally (as far as anyone knows,) but remotely, viewing at higher magnification from Earth. Their version, also taken at sunrise, shows a huge boulder that sits atop the peak, and if you go back to the photo that I included with my post (I provide these links for a reason,) you can see that it’s even visible in that image – not mine, but NASA’s detail image of that peak. It’s 120 meters across, meaning it would more than cover a football field, the universal measurement of big things here in the states. They put it down to being a bit of landed rubble from the impact that created Tycho in the first place, but I personally suspect it’s a glacial erratic…

boulder on Tycho's central peak

Main image and upper inset courtesy of NASA, Arizona State U., LRO; Lower Inset courtesy of Gregory H. Revera

Now, it must be said that NASA did not capture this image from a ground-based telescope like any real man would, but was cheating and using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite probe cruising by just 50 km above the moon’s surface. Sure, anyone could get super-detailed shots just by launching their own orbital satellite to the moon!

But is that the way you want to play, NASA? Well, fine – game on! Let’s see you–…

Okay, I got nothing.

Just because, part 26

mother Canada goose Branta canadensis with chick peeking from under wing
This little tableau presented itself as The Girlfriend and I made a circuit of the pond this evening. The light was dropping rapidly so conditions weren’t ideal, but you can still make out the unfortunate and bizarre tumor that this Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is plagued with. I imagine that it’s not long for this world, because even if it survives this growth I doubt flight is possible with that right there. The tragedies of the animal kingdom.

By the way, there’s the faintest hint, but I don’t suppose you can tell any more than we could that there’s actually four of them under there. Curious, too, because the night is quite warm.

And for that reason, there’s a slim chance that I’ll be back with more pics from the evening. I want to go out, but a kidney stone is suggesting otherwise…

Per the ancient lore, part 8

raccoon Procyon lotor and great blue heron Ardea herodias tracks in wet sand
It’s that time again, and now it’s a contribution from the Mammals/Carnivores folder. This is also from the Indian River Lagoon, but you need to understand: when I first obtained the loaner camera, that was the area I went to for experimenting. It was convenient and capable of providing plenty of subjects. In this case, we have some tracks in a saturated area of sand – I seem to recall that it was a small sandbank, something that would appear and disappear with every significant storm.

The collection of tracks was, almost certainly, less than 12 hours old, a record of activity in this tiny patch of sand. It’s easy to imagine that the two primary players were present together, but that’s unrealistic – for a reason I’ll get into shortly.

In fact, I’m going to let you determine what those tracks are from. One set I was certain of while the other had, in my mind, three possibilities with one prominent. That one was correct; when I double-checked the shapes of the suspects’ tracks, the other two looked significantly different than what’s seen here. So you tell me.

Give up? Then highlight the blank space below to reveal the answer.

The long, three-toed tracks are of course from a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) – slim chance it was a great egret, they’d leave about the same tracks with a trivial difference in size, but the great blues were far more numerous in the region. The smaller tracks, which is why this sits in the Mammals/Carnivores folder, are from a raccoon (Procyon lotor.) The other two options, in my mind, were opossum and river otter, because I knew both were prevalent in the area, but neither of those produce the same shape. Opossums leave tracks with stubby toes, almost like someone with their fingers curled a bit, and otters leaves tracks a lot more like a dog, without prominent ‘fingers.’ Not a hard one to figure out, but I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what otter tracks looked like.

And the reason why they likely didn’t occur at the same time? Raccoons are largely nocturnal, while herons are largely diurnal. Either can be present and active at other than their ‘preferred’ times, but it’s uncommon. We’ll go with the odds on this one.

Not quite the illustration

At one point last summer the Incorruptible Mr Bugg and I did a photo session in pursuit of sunset shots, which is the kind of thing that always makes me a little uncomfortable. Let me explain. As a photo instructor and an “experienced” nature and wildlife photographer, I am expected (or at least, I believe I am expected) to demonstrate how to accomplish certain styles of images. When it comes to, for instance, good shots of a great blue heron, there’s a bit of leeway, because everyone understands both the variability of finding one, but also the bird’s own attitude towards close approaches, and the “hit or miss” aspect is known – if we see nothing at all, well, that’s how it goes, and this is recognized by everyone. But then a student tells me they want to learn how to shoot good sunsets, and that pretty much takes having a good sunset – and this isn’t something that you can plan. Even a perfectly accurate weather report (I can’t even type that without twitching) isn’t any kind of guide, because good sunsets rely on skies that are not perfectly clear – you want a little high scattered cloud cover to catch the different colors, and a certain level of humidity to induce those color changes in the first place. Not long after a storm is often a good time. But predicting these, to the point where I can say, “Thursday looks good – let’s aim for that evening”? No way. It’s much more likely that nothing is going to come of it.

By the way, it’s the same discomfort that has made me shy away from the prospect of arranging group photo tours of, for instance, the Outer Banks – I don’t want to be held responsible for, or judged on, what turns out to be a shitty outing that people have dropped a chunk of change on. But guaranteeing a productive outing pretty much means a ‘safari tour’ type of experience, using someplace where the animals are captive and more-or-less always photogenic, and I don’t consider that very appealing or authentic. So would the majority of people who sign up for a guided tour be okay with the possibility of a weak outing? You’re welcome to offer your feedback on this idea.

Anyway, on this particular session, we had a mixed bag. There were some colors, even though the sun had technically ‘set’ without making a direct appearance. Witness:

moody sunset sky over Jordan lake
That’s… okay, but nothing to write home about (a blog post is just ducky though.) Even getting this involved a certain amount of luck as the sun ducked out from underneath a scattered overcast, someplace way off in the invisible distance, to shine onto the undersides of the cloud cover we had locally. But it was this little patch on the horizon, and this image was only achieved with a slight telephoto focal length (72mm,) rather than a wider one that would have shown more of the landscape. And I was conscious of all of this while I was there, because I purposefully shot some wider angle frames to illustrate what the overall sky looked like:

wider angle view of sunset sky and cloud cover
Now, this kinda works to illustrate how little of the sky was sunsetty, but it doesn’t covey the specific illustrative value that I was after, because the cloud layer directly above us, unable to capture the sunlight when it emerged from under the overcast someplace beyond our horizon, nonetheless set up a contrasting blue color that kept the photo from being as bland as the sky appeared while we were there. With this framing, the clouds have a very low appearance, with even a hint of direction from their shapes pointing down and to the right in the direction of the missing sun. To me, there’s now a faintly oppressive and ominous mood that comes from it, a Mordoresque pall chasing the sun and/or the filthy hobbitses. More expressive than I’d intended it to be, anyway.

Another student outing was specifically aimed towards sunsets, and at almost the same location, we got good enough conditions to experiment with and to demonstrate techniques, while still not producing anything worthy of hanging on a wall.

okay sunset colors over Jordan Lake
At this point, of course, I’m simply trying to drive the image count higher for April, my own personal measuring stick of bloggish value. The colors aren’t bad, but they’re a combination of very selective framing, underexposure to enhance their depth, and boosted saturation and contrast in-camera because that’s how you shoot for such conditions. Nobody standing out there would have been saying, “Wow, what a gorgeous sunset!”

And one more.

clouds and lake ripples at sunset
For this one, I selected an angle that caught the lines of the clouds and the ripples on the water in a more-or-less complementary way, though looking at it now I tend to feel that the lines going in opposite directions would have given a ‘mirror’ feel to the photo, though of course this wasn’t an option at the time. Aiming solely at the water would produce some nice abstract shapes, but I’m obligated to point out that what you see here is a fraction of a second captured in time, and while standing on the lakeshore, the shapes and colors of the water were constantly changing and not giving this impression at all; sometimes you have to recognize what the conditions will produce when the camera freezes the motion. In the same way, shooting something within the water will prove to be markedly distorted the vast majority of the time, because our minds piece together the averaged visual aspect through the ever-changing ripples into something that we recognize, but the camera will once again only get a tiny portion of that.

So, yeah, I’m always happy to provide guidance on how to capture sunset colors and conditions, but I’d far rather do it with pre-existing examples rather than on demand during an outing.

Thirty days has September, Ap– ah, okay

tight crop of yellow azalea blossoms I think
Since it really is the last day of the month, we fall back, once again, on creating meaningless content with the end-of-month abstract. This time our featured image was indeed taken within April, so I feel better now – it’s from a brief trip to the NC Botanical Garden a couple of weeks back. This is a tighter crop from the original image, which was shot with the Mamiya 80mm macro wide open at f4, so you can see just how short the depth of field can get in those circumstances. It’s almost cheating to be using it in this way, because it’s pretty easy to create abstract images through very short DOF, but I wasn’t trying to shoot an image for the end of the month, so I remain blameless in this regard. It’s not often that I’m actually aiming to shoot abstracts (usually because when I try, they rarely come out as intended,) but I’m happy to grab them if something catches my eye. The flowers (azaleas I believe, but I’ll deny it if anyone asks) set off nicely against the blue sky – once I got into a position that allowed it, anyway.

Per the ancient lore, part 7

unidentified weird tree or bush or weed or something
This week, we’re poking into the Leaves/Plants/Trees folder, to showcase this… something… found occasionally in Florida. The shooting angle implies that it’s tall, but not terribly so if I remember correctly; no more than five meters, but I think between three and four. What it really is, I couldn’t tell you. I shot it because I found it bizarre and rather prehistoric-looking, or so we have imagined such things to be from the fossil record, but it’s also notably geometric, vaguely asparagus-like (blerk,) and not exactly healthy in appearance to boot.

Yes, it has all of those qualities, and is not a boring, simple pic that I shot on a whim while passing. I don’t do that kind of thing. It’s just like all those examples of literature that you couldn’t see the appeal of: you’re just not sophisticated enough to understand the deeper meaning of it.