Podcast: The holiday is upon us

I’m not kidding – if you have to ask, “What holiday?” I’m going to smack you. Everyone knows this is National Pointless Podcast Day, specifically set aside to post audio files that have no purpose whatsoever. Now, if you’re at all familiar with the blog here, you know that I abhor frivolous posts and meaningless content; if you don’t have anything important to say, then don’t post anything, is my motto. But, you may also know how I feel about tradition, so it’s important to honor the holiday regardless. With that in mind, and at great effort, I put aside my normal standards regarding substantial and thought-provoking content, and produced a podcast in the spirit of the day, as much as it ran against my habits.

Walkabout podcast – So deep it’s shallow

When last we spoke of microphones

And so you know, one of the highly-recommended microphones, and another.

A mid-range recommended mic.

And the one I just got, and used here (for less than half the price listed there too.)

By the way, you know what’s funny about this? In the podcast, I mention not being able to ‘be creative’ with time constraints, as well as providing a quick list of potential post topics that may appear someday. Yesterday, I had a few hours before I had to be at work, and started a casual recording with the new mic, no real intentions, but I liked the results anyway. That’s what you’re hearing here, which I ripped off before work, as well as starting a post on one of those topics from the list. I finished that off after work and posted it last night, so that’s already appeared, then cleaned up the recording afterward and uploaded it to the server last night as well (or was it this morning?) That last bit may not sound like much, but it takes at least three times as long to clean up and edit recordings as it does to make them, not counting all the sundry bits that must go hand-in-hand. So, most times I don’t work well within time constraints.

Yeah, yeah, go ahead, I left that one wide open for you. But hey, if you think you’re so much better, there’s still time left on this holiday…

Per the ancient lore, part 19

I couldn't explain this enough for you to visualize it anyway
Before we go any further, I’ll let you drink this in and try to fathom just what it is you’re looking at. The only thing I will say is, though I cropped it a little tighter to draw more attention to some details, I didn’t remove anything that would help explain it more.

I’m thinking the only things that are recognizable, and perhaps not even then, are the snails, which is why this image came from the Invertebrates folder – far from being the most overburdened classification in my stock images. In fact, not only is this after I left Florida, it was taken using Jim Kramer’s Sony F828 (the follow-up model to the F717 that I was using for most of the Ancient Lore posts so far) while he was using his new Canon 10D – c’mon, this was 2004!

During an outing to the Eno River, there was a tree with twisted, exposed roots delving into the water, and upon those roots several rather large aquatic snails were exploring. If I was to guess from the photos that I obtained that session, I was not wearing anything on my feet that would facilitate wading (hard as that may be to believe,) and so I was working solely from solid land. Which was not the best of perspectives for this subject. I have, for instance, done better.

This one was included more for the vague, abstract nature of it than anything else – that, and the fact that I have so few photos in the folder to begin with. Basically, sometime in the past I decided that I had enough images of snails and slugs to merit breaking them out of the Miscellaneous category, but just barely. So now that I’m doing this by category, I’m struggling to stay more-or-less in a similar timeframe. That’s what I get for not thinking things through before I begin…

That’s not true!

dragonfly perched on tip of tall weeds
There is a plethora of different aspects that are going to come up in this post, which is perhaps amusing, because the topic is rather trivial. Bear with me a moment.

But right now, look at that image up there and tell me what’s wrong with it, or what “doesn’t work” or what have you – I’m talking from an aesthetic standpoint and not whether the species are anachronistic or anything. Does anything strike you as wrong or inaccurate?

Okay, how about now?

same image with slightly different color effect
Whoa, that’s noticeably different, isn’t it? Okay, fine, but… which one’s accurate?

“How am I supposed to know?” you protest indignantly. “I wasn’t there! I don’t know which one is the original, or what the camera settings were, or what the sky really looked like. Let’s be real!” And I accept that answer even though I think you could have been a little more polite about it. But even if we met all those criteria, you probably couldn’t provide a useful answer to begin with.

So okay, let’s assume that you were there, and I could show you the LCD immediately after taking the photo, or better yet, threw it over to a high quality monitor that was meticulously color-corrected and quite bright. Would you be able to tell accuracy then? Probably not, to be honest – no monitor made yet comes even close to the huge range of light levels that we encounter in real life. And this says nothing about the sensor capturing the image, either, which is limited because it really only captures a matrix of red, green, and blue values. Granted, so do our eyes, but the variations that they’re capable of perceiving are far greater than 36-bit color. Plus there’s the idea that my eyes might see colors entirely different than your eyes do – and there’s really no way of determining this effectively. It comes down to being entirely subjective, so the idea of “true” color is pretty much a myth.

Which brings us to these two images, one of which is altered from how the camera produced it, which itself might have had its own settings regarding saturation, contrast, and even ‘neutral’ point. If we concern ourselves with not presenting ‘Photoshopped’ images (and I usually do,) we wonder what’s acceptable to mess with, and how far? Sure, this is just a blog, so no big deal either way, fartistic license and all that yaya, but on the other side of the coin, I’m marketing my images, and to a certain extent editing is frowned upon. With my slides, I make the effort to hew as closely as possible to the original, because I don’t want someone deciding to publish my images based on what they see on my website and then finding out that the slide isn’t the same at all. Of course, we’re getting farther and farther away from that being any issue at all, because most places are working full digital now anyway, and a lot of them wouldn’t even be able to digitize the slide themselves.

For a lot of my purposes herein, I’m illustrating something in particular – this is not art, but journalism; we’re not after what looks the best, but showing how something really is. Is the mantis truly that vivid in coloration? Is this what someone can expect when they see it on their own? Again, where does one draw the line? The more I type, the more I can imagine you thinking I’m wound a bit too tight, especially when using those images up there as illustrations (yes, even I find the difference trivial in their case.) But it’s also very easy to get into the habit of ‘tweaking’ everything I put up here for ‘best effect’ or whatever, and soon having a site where nothing looks authentic or convincing – colors too vivid, contrast too distinct, all the backgrounds cleaned up to remove all the imperfections. Which is another aspect, one that hearkens back to my film days: getting the image right, in-camera, is a skill all its own, which requires paying close attention to the entire frame, and knowing how the depth will render or how the lighting will work. If I have to ‘fix’ everything, am I a photographer or merely an editor?

[There are probably people who could get a little miffed over my phrase, “merely an editor,” but this reflects how I see it, anyway: I find greater importance in wielding the camera over the editing program, even while both are important skills.]

So, as my own ethical outlook dictates that I try to keep things accurate in most cases, I still have to recognize that there’s really no such thing, and I have to settle for realistic or believable instead, even as I’m influenced aesthetically/emotionally with how much better an image might look if I give it a little nudge in some particular direction. But as for having any set of rules, any lines that I avoid crossing in any given circumstance? Nope, not gonna try to take it that far. I’ll just fret idly over it for no really good reason.

 *       *      *

A word of advice (which I’ve offered before) for any edits that you do end up making: be subtle. It is very easy to tweak colors, notice a distinctive difference, and tweak them even farther, and there’s a certain lack of objectivity as we do this – we compare against the previous state and not against any standard of realism (which is impossible for us to produce in our minds as we look at the image.) But then we come back to that image a little later on, having cleared our minds, and find we took it a bit too far, and it no longer appears plausible or unedited. Make small changes, and then come back a little later on and see how they look.

Odd memories, part 17

So when the Ancient Lore post started me reminiscing about the various birds that I’d had for a while, a few decades ago, I remembered two different anecdotes that, whether they bear relating or not, I’m going to go ahead and produce because I haven’t heard any protests. In fact, I’m adding a third.

When I’d recently moved to North Carolina and was working at the animal shelter, I was in an apartment with a specific pet policy, but they were pretty cool about birds, and when a pair of budgies got turned into the shelter, I thought they’d be a decent thing to have in the place. I’d grown up with animals all my life and was experiencing the first ever period without any; obviously it didn’t last too long. And so Max (blue, male) and Sprite (yellow-and-green, female) entered the picture.

two budgies and a cockatiel

That’s, left to right, Max, Rio, and Sprite (of course the smallest)

It soon became clear that Max was pretty mellow and undemonstrative, while Sprite was clearly the boss, very dominant and more than passingly aggressive. A little later on, I added a female grey cockatiel named Rio, and from time to time they were allowed out for exercise in the apartment. Rio naturally outmassed Sprite by a considerable amount (like 200%,) but didn’t see the need to contest the smaller bird’s dominance too often, as long as it didn’t become too enthusiastic. Sprite was very possessive of her cage, no surprise, and flew into a fit if anything else ventured inside, which Rio would do on occasion just to see if the food was better.

And then, one of my acquaintances from work wanted to know if I’d take over a large conure, which had been given to her by someone who could no longer care for it. The bird, unidentified in breed or gender, came with its own roomy cage, probably worth several hundred dollars between them. I figured I’d give it a shot. The conure was dubbed “Kublai” (you’ll get it eventually) and proved to be well-behaved and quiet, but a little more forthright than the others.

At one point, during playtime, Kublai was perched atop a bookcase when diminutive little Sprite decided that, no, this would be her perch. She flew over but veered off at the last second, realizing that the conure was many, many times her size, and took a spot further along the bookcase. But then again, she was the alpha bird in the apartment, so she sidled along purposefully with a distinct air of chasing off Kublai. I was watching with a bit of interest, because while it was easy to see that the large conure could easily contest the little budgie’s claims, so could the cockatiel, but she was largely disinclined to do so and accepted the little bird’s dominance most times.

Not so with Kublai, who looked down with disdain at this lemon-lime upstart, almost disbelievingly, but when Sprite made an aggressive move to chase the conure off the perch, Kublai casually opened wide and leaned down. I experienced a moment of horror, since he could easily decapitate the tiny budgie, but Sprite was more-or-less prepared. With an alarm call much like a minibike skidding out on gravel, she shot away from the conure to the relative safety of her cage and sat on top panting, recognizing that she had overstepped her bounds.

I never did learn what species of conure this was

C’mon, these negatives are like 27 years old – you’re lucky I still have them

A bit later on, I was eating lunch with Kublai sitting on my shoulder, where he could snag tidbits if he was so inclined and I had lowered my defenses; he was extraordinarily found of tortellini, and could snatch one off the fork on its way to my mouth. In this case, however, I had just finished something he had no interest in, and with the stereo playing, I was singing along. After a few minutes, I became aware that he was staring intently at my mouth, and I stopped singing and looked at him curiously. “What?” I asked.

In response, he vented the most horribly tortured sound that I’ve heard any species make, ever, as if he was getting tangled in the gears of a large truck. I stared at him in shock, but he seemed in no distress, still looking distinctly at my mouth, though he glanced up at my eyes for a moment before returning his gaze to my teeth. After another moment, he vented another, entirely different sound, exuberantly but with just as much torturous effect, the sound of someone gargling past an angry ferret lodged in their trachea.

“What the hell’s your problem?” I inquired, and he looked away unconcernedly, taking up the manically twitchy way of looking around the room that’s typical of the parrot family. After much thought and given the circumstances, I came to the tentative conclusion that he was attempting to sing, not as a bird, but as a human, or at least as me. Exactly how this reflects on my own abilities I’ll leave you to speculate upon.

There was a pet store that I visited on occasion, and they had a huge blue-and-gold macaw that had the run of the place. Anyone with experience with such birds knows they can be impish, stubborn, and a little emotional. This one had learned to mimic a sardonic chuckle, and used it to remarkable effect. One day as I was standing close to his favorite perch conversing with an employee, he leaned over and ripped a button from my brand new shirt, because macaws. And when it became clear to him that I was chagrined at this, he presented it to me, clasped gently in the tip of his beak, manipulated there by his tongue which (and if you’ve seen this you know I’m being perfectly accurate) resembled nothing more than a tiny black penis. I reached for the button, and with this adept tongue he whipped it down into the depths of his lower beak before my hand closed on it, then presented it again as I lowered my hand. I made another grab and he whisked it away again, then gave forth with his evil little chuckle: “Heh heh heh heh heh.”

Now, I have no reason to believe that he even knew what this meant, nor was using it as anyone would have interpreted it – birds just don’t have that level of cognition. But his timing was impeccable, and maybe he was a very good observer of humans. While I tried not to be mocked by a goddamn parrot, nonetheless that chuckle was irritating. Still standing close by, I began to ignore him and resumed my conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him offering the button again, right there at the very tippy tip of his beak, but he could have it as far as I was concerned. Being ignored was not part of the game, as far as he was concerned, and he leaned closer, very much like an older sibling being a little shit, and offered me the button, tantalizingly, making soft grunts in the back of his throat in case I was unaware of his presence, the bird equivalent of, “It’s right heeeerrre, don’t you want it?”

And still I remained oblivious, or at least affected that air. But he was stretching out over my left hand now. As he attempted to lean into my line of sight, I brought my hand up from underneath his chin, slid two fingers quick as a flash along either side of his lower beak and snatched the button from his grasp. He did that little straighten-up-and-half-flap that startled birds do, and realized the button was missing; just to assure him, I showed it to him from a safe distance. “Heh heh heh heh heh,” I said in return.

Oh, shit, that bird was livid! He vented a very loud squawk and danced back and forth on his perch, pupils dilating and contracting spasmodically, daring me to come any closer, which I declined since I’m quite fond of my nose (god knows why) and all ten fingers. I have little doubt that I started him on a habit of stealing money from patrons of the pet shop so that he could afford a hitman; it might not have been so bad if I hadn’t returned the chuckle. But yeah, I kept a wary distance from him for every visit after that.

What do nature photographers carry?

This is a followup post that I’ve been meaning to do for a while, since the first part appeared here. I was finally inspired to finish it off after reading an article about what flight attendants carried for their job. Of course, that article title and mine are both misleading; flight attendants and nature photographers, hard as it may be to believe, are still just individuals and there’s virtually nothing that can be said to be universally carried, save for perhaps a camera (for photographers, anyway.) When that article said that flight attendants carried Airborne, the completely inert and useless snake-oil, to ward off the germs from all those sick passengers… well, I doubt most flight attendants are that stupid. And in like vein, I doubt most nature photographers carry everything that I carry, so we’re going with just the personal aspect here. If your idle curiosity is in desperate need of finding out the items that every nature photographer carries, you’re probably going to have to fund the survey yourself.

All that said, let’s dig into the bags and see what we have here:

Spare batteries and memory cards – This should really go without saying, but I’ll reiterate that you should have this with you always, regardless of what you’re shooting or how often. I’ve seen way too many memory cards fail, and of course batteries should be routinely charged, like on a schedule, but especially before any significant outing.

Remote release – Mostly for high-magnification tripod work (like telephoto shots,) but also handy for time exposures. I recently received a wireless version but inertia has kept me from trying it out yet, which is disturbing really, so the one in the bag is still a wired version, an intervalometer with a microcomputer that’s programmable for interval shots, specific long exposures (since the camera can handle 30 seconds at the most,) and so on.

Off-camera flash cord – direct flash is boring and does poor shaping, so having a flash at an oblique angle is much better. I’ve gone back and forth with my flash rigs and am presently using a macro rig with its own sync cord, but I still use a handheld flash occasionally, or get out the more elaborate flash bracket.

Brilliant green laser pointer – I use this for students, because it allows me to point out exactly where something is, even in bright sunlight, when describing it proves to be very difficult (“Go up to the seventeenth branch on the left side of the trunk, follow it to the third time it forks and take the upper fork…”)

Collection cans – Mostly film cans, but small containers for whatever I come across that I want to examine/shoot in greater detail. Watertight so I can collect aquatic subjects as well.

Individually wrapped hand wipes – A little amusing here, because I’m often not cautious at all about what I pick up, and am reasonably good at remembering not to go putting my hands in my mouth later on, but they’re there when needed. Not to be used as toilet paper though. Trust me on this.

Disposable rain poncho – Mentioned in an earlier post, but these are exceptionally handy, and not just for photographers. And along those lines…

Condom – Because if there’s one thing that porn has taught me, it’s that you never know…

Short coil of monofilament – Otherwise known as fishing line, and I bet you’re thinking this is a survival thing, where I can catch fish to eat if and when I get stranded in the wilds somewhere. But no – fishing bores me to death, so this approach would be self-defeating. Instead, this is used for tying plants and branches back out of the way, or emergency repairs, or occasionally to make a giant fake spiderweb to keep others out of my prime shooting locations.

Bottle of ‘flavor enhancer’ for ‘water’ – The manufacturers don’t like to advertise them this way, but when your legs are trapped beneath a boulder, these really make drinking your own urine much better. It cycles through, too, so one bottle lasts a long time.

Half-eaten Butterfinger from, uh, 1996 – I don’t really like Butterfingers, but I don’t like wasting food either. It’s now an experiment to see which emotion is strongest.

Spare keys – Let’s see, this one’s to the car I sold in 2001, this is to the place I used to live, been torn down now, and this is to that really cool padlock that I haven’t been able to find since I moved from New York. You never know, though.

Ticket to a Men Without Hats concert – I never attended, because I couldn’t remember the safe place that I stashed the ticket so I wouldn’t lose it. Damn, that’s where it was.

Button that reads, “Don’t vex me, Frank!” – I got this in high school because it seemed like something that the cool kids would wear. It did get me a thumbs-up from Sean Gaffney but that probably doesn’t count. I still have no fucking idea what it means.

A booger shaped like Trump’s hair – I couldn’t flick that one away.

A minibike from a 1/24 scale Honda City Turbo – In Japan, Honda produced a model called the City, a squat little urban runabout car, and it came complete with a folding minibike to use in areas where car access was difficult. The model kit that I got many years back also had the minibike, and I kept that as a curio, because it’s cool.

A loaded dodecahedron – Not failing any more saving rolls.

A pocket slide-rule – Everybody past a certain age remembers being told that they had to learn how to do long division and percentages by hand since “you won’t have a calculator with you everywhere you go,” and I immediately started carrying this. Shows what you knew, Mr. Farnelli!

Great A’Tuin hood ornament – I keep trying to figure out how to attach this to my camera.

A compass I stole from some college students while hiking in Maryland – This was from, oh, 1994 I think. They were noisy little shits doing some school project, and scared off the rabbits that I was attempting to photograph.

An almost-intact deer skull that I found in a river – This is really taking up a lot of space…

Two cans of white gravy – When traveling in undeveloped areas, the recommendation was always to have some colorful beads and trinkets to trade with the natives when necessary, but I’m in the South, so…

An audio recording of Björk’s Human Behavior Certifiably the best bear repellent known to man.

42 towels – If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

So there you have it: the additional equipment that makes this nature photographer, at least, as successful as he is. Always happy to share.

A last lingering look

This has been hanging out there for a lot longer than intended, but here, finally, is the last of the posts regarding the Topsail Island trip. I think.

As I said, fewer photos this time around, because we were doing more “stuff” – not as much time to be chasing subjects, and also less optimal conditions. We actually had some weather this time, mostly in the form of grey days, but a little rain here and there. Nothing serious for sure, and we were even out kayaking during one set of off-again-on-again showers, but certainly less interesting skies for the landscape shots, and poorer light overall that limited some photo ops.

seafom on a grey day at Topsail Island
I will draw your attention to the beach underlying the foam here and the consistency thereof, for future reference. Most areas of the beach were actually sand, but patches were made up of crushed shell like this, and others were larger shell fragments.

scattered clouds at sunrise on North Topsail Island
Since I’m determined to capture that green flash and might have missed it the one time it occurred last year, I was out at sunrise for most days, but the much higher humidity definitely affected the skies. Taken as a whole, the conditions were fine most of the time, but when it comes to getting sunrise, the buildup of moisture at the horizon isn’t ideal. Above, it’s easy to imagine that seeing the sun exactly as it rose might be challenging. But when it did, the effect was better than expected. Yes, these were the same day, only nine minutes apart (but significantly different focal lengths.)

sun peeking through humid haze at sunrise, Topsail Island
Not the conditions that can produce that flash, but I admit I wasn’t expecting to see the sun break through like this – that haze was a lot thinner than it appeared.

And yet, the sun only did a cameo, for the early morning anyway (later in the day it was brilliantly sunny.) A few minutes later on, the haze obscured it and muted the light and the colors significantly. Wandering the beach, I used those conditions, and a curious object washed up, to provoke some moody images.

single long-stemmed rose washed up on beach
I can’t provide the story here – you have to do that yourself. I’ve said before, a lot of photography relies on what feeling you get from the image, which is often immediate and in many cases subtle and hard to define. What contributes to it, and how can you manipulate this to best effect? I’m not saying this is a shining example, but there was a reason I went in low with the wide-angle lens, and you can imagine for yourself how different it would be if the broad empty landscape and sky wasn’t included, or if the sun were bright.

And just a little later on, a wandering sanderling (Calidris alba) provided some more impressions. I admit, I waited until it wandered close, and hoped that it would pick at the rose, but it wasn’t that cooperative.

sanderling Calidris alba near lone rose on beach
And by staying nearby and keeping an eye out, I got a different perspective about thirty seconds later. Which do you like best, and why? How different is the impression?

sanderling Calidris alba walking away from discarded rose
Okay, enough essay questions. How about another perspective on that foamy conditions from the opening shot?

straight-down view of seafoam on beach, Topsail Island
I boosted contrast and saturation a little for this one, partially because of the poor light conditions, but also to enhance the colors. I was about to say they were refractive, but stopped to look it up to ensure that I was correct. I was half-right; they’re both refractive and diffractive. And don’t ask me what particular elements in the water caused these prominent foam patches, but they occurred on a couple of different days, sometimes quite copiously and lasting for a long time after washing ashore from the breakers.

And as I look at this photo, I realize it should be rotated counter-clockwise into vertical format, since you can see my silhouetted reflection as I took the shot in the yellow, green, and blue bubbles at upper left: half-crouch with legs spread wide, bent over shooting almost straight down, right elbow sticking out pretty far. C’mon, don’t make me diagram it.

By the way, the opening shot from this post last year has been turned into two large prints on our walls here at Walkabout Headquarters, one on canvas. And so, I was keeping an eye out for even better compositions this year, but it was not to be. Not only was the light less cooperative (at least when I was on that side of the island to see it,) but the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) weren’t in the same connubial state; we watched their courtship flights this time, so we know there were no eggs on the nest, and it appeared that the female might not even have decided on which suitor would win out yet. So, I got a few frames, but they don’t compare to last year’s.

pair of osprey Pandion haliaetus on and over nest on sound, Topsail Island
A few days later, while down at the south end snorkeling, there was a solitary bird floating on the surface not far offshore, staying pretty distinctly in one position despite the strong current from the tides. I couldn’t leave this be, so I started stalking down there but, you know, proper stalking and not what most people picture when that word is used. I was a little worried that it had possibly gotten caught in some fishing line and couldn’t move from position, in which case former wildlife rehabber here was going to go for a swim. I managed to get quite close without the bird getting too disturbed.

adult red-throated loon Gavia stellata in non-breeding plumage
It took me a little bit to determine the species, after I got back and began digging through my identification guides, but I’m pretty certain this is a red-throated loon (Gavia stellata.) You may wonder why it’s called that, perhaps thinking that the ornithologist responsible was seriously color-blind, but this is non-breeding plumage – which is what it displays for more than half of the year. During mating season, ending just before we were there, they do indeed have red throats, which might have saved me twenty minutes of careful comparison of markings and ranges. And as I got close enough, this one demonstrated that it wasn’t relegated to just one area in any way – it simply seemed to like that one spot, so much that it would maintain it against the current. Hey, whatever floats your, uh, loon…

I did a little noodling around with video while we were out there – nothing serious, just touristy stuff, but I have a policy of not featuring anyone on the blog without express permission, the webbernets being what it is anymore. But during one of the days were we out fucking around in the surf, one of our friends decided to experiment with her smutphone video options as I was attempting to learn how to use a boogie board, and captured this little clip for posterity:

First, a note: The original video was shot purposefully in some slow-motion option provided by aiphone$, and I edited it back up to ‘normal’ speed, or as close to it as I could achieve anyway. And yes, that’s me wiping out – I’m especially fond of how quickly the board appears leaping into the air. I imagine I dipped the nose down too far, but it certainly took me by surprise and it was the only time it happened.

But I did manage a few successful rides, but the best came on another day, when no one was recording them. No, really. Anyway, pardon the edit issues – the original recording started and ended at normal speed before transitioning to slow-mo, and I tried to make it all normal but it glitches a little.

Remember above when I pointed out the crushed shell? It tends to be pretty hard on you when you slam into the bottom during a failed ride, and a couple of my knuckles are still rough from the abrasions they underwent; blood was even drawn a couple of times. Nothing serious – all part of the activity. I’ve done much worse catching thorn bushes while out chasing frogs.

two of our friends riding boogie boards skillfully
I’ll go ahead and post this one because faces are indistinct enough that I can’t be sued. And you will notice that both riders seem to have a peculiar color cast to them. The guy on the left was catching a reflection from his blue board, but the guy on the right really was that pink – he had a tendency to eschew the sunscreen…

But yeah – overall, they were doing better than I. It looks like they’re coming practically right up to the waterline, but this is a foreshortening effect from shooting close to water level; the waves were breaking a moderate distance out, but in a highly variable way. As can be seen here to a small extent, the swells weren’t terribly rhythmic, so the curlers might break just about anywhere, and at times you could just be standing out there while nothing happened near you. But there was a certain zone where, if the swells did start to curl and break there, they had the best carrying properties. I’m probably announcing my general ignorance of surfing dynamics to the world…

That’s enough of all these trivial subjects. Now back to the sunrises!

pre-sunrise sky without promise
On several days, things didn’t look very promising, but I waited out the sunrise anyway and would sometimes be pleasantly surprised. This particular one here looked like nothing at all was going to be seen until the sun had risen far beyond the horizon. And yet, I had to make an animated gif (pronounced “GOY-im“) of the actual results:

animated gif of sunrise sequence
I was surprised to catch the sun right on the horizon, clearly shining though all of the humidity that’s painting the sky, but it’s the distortion that’s so cool. Plus you can see the diagonal motion of the sun.

This is the second time that I’ve done this for the blog, and you’d think I’d learn by now. While many of these frames were shot from the tripod at the same focal length and all that, not all of them were, and so to have a full sequence, I had to resize and re-align a lot of frames to try and prevent jumps and stutter; obviously, I wasn’t perfect at it. And changing the zoom settings also affected the amount of sky that the in-camera exposure meter was reading, and thus affected the brightness of the overall frames, producing those ‘flashing’ variations. I did not get the idea of an animated sequence until well after I’d done all the shots, of course, and then had to fiddle around (a lot) to produce this. Please be absolutely wowed by it.

So if you want to try this yourself, leave the camera firmly fixed to the tripod, and don’t adjust the zoom settings at all, and for preference go with a fixed, manual exposure. You know, I even have a computerized shutter release made exactly for stuff like this, carrying it routinely in the bag, but I have to plan to use it.

And one last fartsy one, coming back to the seafoam.

moody sunrise with foam in shallows
This particular day later turned to rain, so I was probably lucky to get this. I purposefully underexposed by a full stop to keep things from washing out and to manage the colors, but it gave it a twilight feel that adds to the mood (for me at least.) And I included this little inset to the right because, in the larger frame, the sun looks defocused, but it’s not; it’s quite sharp, but the glow from the clouds mimics an unfocused effect and almost hides the distinct edges.

That’ll be all for now; we still have a trip to Jekyll Island coming up, with the hopes of capturing a sea turtle nest hatching, so more beachy stuff will be along in a couple of months. That is, if the hurricane season cooperates better than last year. We’ll see what happens.

Let’s play catchup

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis in extreme closeup
By about this time in the past few years, I would have posted roughly four thousand mantis pictures. I am definitely behind those numbers this year, so let’s see if we can rectify that.

To begin with, I was super-prepared this spring, having ordered a bunch of Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) egg cases – called “oothecas” if you want to get technical or simply confuse people – and posted them in strategic locations around the yard. This was partially because I had found none left by last year’s brood, and partially to increase the odds that I could video them hatching. Somehow, this never came to pass; while one case was discovered and consumed by a squirrel, none of the rest appeared to have hatched out, though with the weird-ass indecisive spring weather, it’s possible one hatched out while we were away at Topsail. The evidence for this is lacking, though, since I found no significant clusters of little tiny mantids anywhere in the posted locations.

Despite this, there are still several specimens to be found in the region, so there was a successful egg case somewhere. And so, I have been taking the occasional opportunity to do my thang, as it were. The image at top is from a shy one found in the backyard, one that definitely wasn’t happy with close approaches, which is how I found it: it jumped away as I drew close, and I spotted the movement. With a little dodging and patience, I got in close for a portrait, and the image up there is a tight crop of it to show off the detail; it measured no more than 6mm across the eyes.

Later on, I went out at night with the misting bottle and did my arcane summoning ritual. With the dry sweltering days we’ve been having, the insects are desperate for dew to form, which generally hasn’t been happening, so when an area is blasted heavily with the misting bottle, suddenly critters appear to partake of the moisture; I have, on numerous occasions, flushed out mantises where I could see none at all.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis sporting fashionable water drops
This is, quite possibly, the same one as above, since it was roughly two meters away from where I’d seen that one. At night, working with the headlamp, it can be easier to get in close because the mantises cannot always distinguish the person looming over them – plus the moisture offering keeps them occupied. I had to feature this pic since I found the rim of droplets fascinating.

And they take advantage of this, too – I mean, the adhering drops, not my fascination. They can always be seen to wipe away the drops from their eyes and then clean what they can from their forelegs, and while the distortion from portions of their vision might be significant because of the water, they never seem bothered by it; I imagine they can make out enough crucial details through the ommatidia that are not obscured. And sometimes, you can see how desperate for water they really are.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis clearing water from its antenna
Yep, that’s its antenna in its mouth, being cleaned of all adhering water. While the mantis might want to keep its sensory organ pristine as well, I’m pretty certain this was a moisture thing.

By the way, some time before I had found a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and so I did not neglect that one when making it rain. This is quite a bit smaller than the Chinese mantids, roughly 20mm in length while the Chinese were running close to 70. It received a lighter misting because it seemed slightly agitated as it occurred, perhaps concerned that a heavy rainfall might be forthcoming.

juvenile Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina also partaking of false dew
I never see very many of these around; I suspect they don’t compete well with the Chinese mantids, and in fact I have more than a passing suspicion that the Chinese mantids don’t compete well either – if the sudden jumps in size right about the same time as the reduction in the number of specimens I can spot is any correlation, they may be cannibalizing each other. Survival of the fittest and all that.

It’s not only the mantises that come up for the water. This guy appeared from under cover as I laid down a nice blanket, and I aimed some extra blasts in its direction, from which it shied away not at all.

harvestman opilione completely soaked in false dew
I probably don’t have to tell anyone what this is, being one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable arachnids in the US, but “daddy longlegs” isn’t a proper term in any respect. Commonly called a harvestman (regardless of gender) or more scientifically a member of the Order Opilione, which is separate and distinct from “spiders” while still arachnids. But you know what gets me? Despite the ease which they can be found, the jury is still out on whether they actively hunt like spiders, or merely scavenge already dead prey – we don’t know for sure how they eat. One of these evenings I’ll have to stake out a few and see what I see. I’ll need a lot of batteries for the headlamp.

By the way, while I was chasing the newly-emerged frogs the other night, I spotted a tiny damselfly on the lizard’s tail leaves, and was able to go in close by the light of the headlamp – the following day I tried this in sunlight and the insect wasn’t having none of that. So here’s the full frame image, Mamiya 80mm macro with extension tube:

unidentified damselfly perched on leaf
And now here’s the tighter crop of the same image, and I draw your attention to those tiny hairs on the body:

unidentified damselfly perched on leaf, tighter crop
For the record, this specimen is 20mm in length or less, able to hide under a large coin, so I’ll let you calculate the width of those body hairs (and ‘hair’ is likely the wrong term but I’ll let a professional entomologist fill in the blanks, because I’m lazy tonight.) Look – there’s even some on the mouthparts, so I’m guessing this is a male. Check the ears, and if you see more sprouting out from those, that means it’s beyond middle-age. (That’s a joke, son.)

Last night, I was out doing more shots, including the ones from the previous post that I had to toss out there, and captured another superb subject to show off the abilities of the Mamiya macro – you should really see this in full res. Buy a print – you’ll be impressed.

unidentified cicada cicadinae newly-emerged from skin
I was too late to see any action, but I’ll refer you to this post for more details – all I got was a few portraits posed on its former exoskeleton. I’m not going to try to identify this one, other than to say it’s a cicada, drying out after molting into its final instar, reproducing-adult form. And see those little white threads between the two? Those are its old lungs (seriously, check out that link.) And yes, that big green fellow just came out of the smaller brown dude, which is really just a empty husk – if you look close, you can see the undeveloped wings sitting over the second and third pairs of legs. Within an hour or so they transform between those two sizes. One day I’ll have a time-lapse sequence (because a video would be immensely boring.)

Another interlude before we get back to the mantids.

unidentified juvenile treefrog, likely Coes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis, perched on creeping jenny Lysimachia nummularia leavesAt this point, I’m going to go with more confidence in this being a juvenile Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) without fully committing to that. It’s perched on the leaves of a creeping jenny plant, so if you know what those are like, you’ll get some idea of scale. Or look at the nail on your pinky, because that’s about the size of this frog. I misted a couple of these guys as well, but it makes them a little antsy, and doesn’t show off anything; the nature of their skin means the moisture simply slicks down and makes them shinier rather than beading up like on the arthropods. But yeah, I’m still watching where I walk carefully, only slightly reassured by the fact that these guys don’t sit on the ground much, but climb onto leaves and plants higher than feet tend to be.

Okay, more misting fun from last night.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis drinking false dew from leaves
Once again, we’re in the same region of the yard, so it’s entirely possible that every photo of a Chinese mantis so far has been the same specimen. To say that this one was enthusiastic about the misting is understating the case; it was exuberantly slurping up whatever it could, completely ignoring me as I leaned in close with the macro rig and its focusing light. It’s this kind of display that makes me feel guilty when I’m not out there providing a drink (like, right now.) But while we’re here, note the row of little black spots on the thorax, straight down from the neck: those are its tracheoles, the air holes for respiration.

Another illustration:

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis taking more water from a leaf's surface
I know, those kinda look like tongues, but I don’t think mantids really have an equivalent. As I understand it, they have tasting organs on the forelegs anyway, to know what they’re grasping (which helps explain why they often don’t stay long if I manage to get one on my hands, which do get washed, every week or so.)

Another item of interest. I’m fairly certain this one was old enough/large enough to have the eyes turning black at night, and it was more than late enough for this to happen. But when I’ve observed the eyes not changing, it seemed to indicate an impending molt. I wasn’t even thinking about this last night until I’d unloaded the memory card, and should probably go out into that area and see if I can find an exoskeleton. Just to annoy me that I missed it again.

Moving around to the front yard now, same evening, I misted the mantis that’s been living there, and spotted another little froglet, who as I watched moved over and perched coyly on a day lily bloom. Well, okay then.

unidentified juvenile treefrog likely Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis perched on day lily Hemerocallis bloom
Now, this one posed all on its own, no help from me at all save the influence that the bobbing headlamp might have provided, but the same cannot be said for the next subject. On one of our potted plants nearby, I found a juvenile katydid, and they’re responsible for more than a little leaf damage to enough of our plants, so I snagged it and managed to successfully transfer it over to the rose plant where sat one of the mantises. Then, I waited, as the batteries in the headlamp grew weaker.

unidentified juvenile bush katydid Scudderia within view of juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis
In case you missed it, that’s the mantis in the background. It took a few minutes before I was sure that it had noticed the katydid, and then quite a few more as the mantis glacially shifted position to prepare itself for the strike – believe me, this is one of the faster things that can be witnessed in nature photography, and it sill takes a lot of patience. It was, in fact, over fifteen minutes between my first and last photos, mostly spent standing still and watching, though I did shift position for a better vantage of the impending denouement. And, of course, the ‘stalking’ (really, shifting only a few millimeters) is painfully slow while the strike itself is so fast that even a sequence of photos won’t show much – with extreme timing and luck, one frame might capture the action itself – but, when is it going to take place? There’s no warning, no behavior that says, “Start firing off frames,” so you’re left with trying to trip the shutter in the milliseconds after you see sudden movement (and of course holding the camera in exact position all that time,) or simply waiting like I did to capture the aftermath. Or in this case, not bothering, because despite my presentation of an easy target, the mantis missed anyway, and the katydid hopped away. However, it couldn’t go far, so there remains the possibility that it did, or will, still provide a meal a little later on.

We’ll get a little fartsy for the last two images, again using the misting bottle, but this time to add a bit of ‘atmosphere.’ Or something.

unidentified blossom with false dewdrops
You don’t have to tell anyone this isn’t authentic dew if you do this – that’s up to you. If it bothers you, you can always get up early in the right conditions, and hope a real dew occurs while the flowers are still fresh; given the weather conditions recently, that wasn’t likely to happen here. But as tampering goes, I think everyone will find this pretty insignificant.

And one converted to monochrome. This is, by the way, a little more involved in GIMP than it is in Photoshop, unfortunately. Don’t know why there has to be such a difference.

same unidentified blossom in monochrome

Perfectly accurate

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis looking appalled

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis looking sorrowful
Having my fun with some very recent photos (like, within the past 90 minutes.) More will be along in a bit – I just wanted to throw out the (entirely incorrect) impressions I got from this Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) after misting it tonight.

Why’s it so herony?

pair of great blue herons Ardea herodias under overpass
I went back to one of my old haunts a short time back, meeting with a student that lived nearby, and arrived a little early, so I poked around a bit because it’s very professional getting soaked in sweat when you’re about to meet with someone new, you know? Let them see you at your worst, and everything afterward will always be better. I usually don’t brush my teeth either.

great blue heron Ardea herodias with abstract feces stain on rocksAnyway, I’ve been going to this place, off and on, for close to 20 years now, and am used to seeing a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) or two when I’m there. In fact, I think I still have a slide buried in the files of one taking off from a branch overhead, where its wings on the downstroke came and touched themselves in a circle underneath the bird. However, for reasons unknown, the place seemed to be overrun with them this particular day. I was seeing them everywhere I looked, often in multiples. It would be easy to believe I was seeing a nest or three of newly-fledged youngsters, this year’s broods still hanging out and being fed by their folks, but none of them looked like young ones, and none of them were displaying any form of begging behavior, or notably close proximity (save for one pair, below.) I think I stumbled onto a convention, or perhaps a plot.

By the way, I couldn’t resist framing this one alongside some abstract fecal splashes – herons can defecate out some serious loads, and such stains can often be found on favorite perches in the area.

I’ve also seen herons hanging out in popular fishing areas, since they can learn to steal live bait, but I’ve only observed this in Florida, plus the fact that it was a slow day with only two fishing folk visible, and none of the herons being conspicuously close to them. Like usual, they were maintaining a circumspect distance from people; I even spooked one from an overhanging tree when I ventured down onto some rocks in the river for a shot. I can’t speculate on why the numbers were so high this day, is what I’m trying to say. And you should know by now, if I can’t figure it out, no one else is going to have the answer either. In all humility, of course – it’s just facts.

pair of great blue herons Ardea herodias maintaining sentinel on rocks on river
I paid attention to the news for a few days afterward, wondering if there were going to be stories of some kind of incident down at the river, perhaps an alert for everyone to stay in their homes and avoid being seen with fish sandwiches, but nothing ever came of it. It’s entirely possible, I admit, that my presence with the camera, getting recognizable photos of the ringleaders, thwarted something dastardly that would have gone down otherwise. And had I not been such a well-known and easily-missed public figure in this region, I might have disappeared myself that day for the very same reason. You never know.

Or, they may have been forced to keep their distance due to the reek of body odor. Have to consider all of the plausible scenarios.

pair of great blue herons Ardea herodias peeking up over tall reeds