What goes on when no one’s looking

We reside in a small housing development, nothing too crowded or active, and with this comes the peculiar concept of the listserv, the ability to e-mail everyone who has subscribed with items of (dubious) collective interest to the homeowners. Not too long back, there came a couple of accounts of cars being ‘broken into,’ only they really weren’t because the owners hadn’t bothered to lock the doors; the result was a handful of trivial items missing like phone chargers and spare change, and the capture of a shadowy figure on security cameras. We’re good about locking the vehicles here, so no biggie, but I figured I had the camera handy and I switched it over to a different vantage point and activated the motion detection. The key difference being that I’m often up late and, if the trigger occurs while I’m at the computer, well, let’s just say that there will be more than a video clip of a shadowy figure.

The number of clips that I end up with is huge, since it triggers for passing cars, moths, gusting wind, and so on; usually I spend the next morning perusing the countless clips that occurred after I went to bed and deleting nearly all of them. Occasionally, however, I have captured something telling.

This one was far from the first, but I loved it for the ominous nature. I tried for a short while to attach an appropriate music clip to it, but that’s beyond my software and abilities at the moment, and probably not worth the effort anyway. Still, pay attention:

I can’t argue with that effect at all. But it confirmed that the homeowners around here were being typically paranoid, as well as likely exaggerating the nature of the thefts. If you’re gonna be dumb enough to leave cracked corn sitting in your unlocked car, you deserve what you get.

We actually had several visits from a small herd of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus,) and they spent no small amount of time poking around the yard. I made it a point to place the camera in an unobtrusive location, but it appears that at least one of the deer was aware of it yet tried to pretend he hadn’t noticed the camera.

Now really. Like the full profile shot right smack in front of the camera, followed by the lingering fruitbasket, was all just happenstance. Do I look like an idiot? I thought the damn thing was going take a shit there for a moment – he might well have been trying…

But the deer were no surprise, since I’ve been seeing evidence of their occasional visits since we moved in, and even had plenty of visits at the old place too. But another visitor was slightly more surprising to capture on camera, because the evidence of them has been pretty thin. There’s no mistaking this visitor during a downpour, though.

That’s a fox, but there are two species in the area, and this one didn’t provide enough of a view to spot the distinguishing characteristics. Another clip came closer, but still didn’t quite answer the question.

Both red and grey foxes have mixed red and grey coats, with a lot of variation possible within species. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the classic white tail tip, while the grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) has a black stripe down the spine and tail that sometimes colors the tail tip. Unfortunately, I seem to be able to see evidence of both in this clip, so I can’t offer a distinct ID.

When the camera has been set up in other places within the yard, it always attracted spiders, which set off the motion-detector not just by crossing into the frame, but by throwing webs across it too; they can reflect the infra-red light emitted by the camera and, naturally, move in the breeze from an ant fart. Yet the camera had been up in this position for days and somehow never garnered the grasp of any spider, which struck me as odd. This is always a stupid thing to speculate on, even just internally, because I left the computer for a little over an hour and came back to dozens of clips, a lot of which pretty much the same as this:

Those… are the questing legs of a spider on the front of the camera, one that decided not to build a web efficiently, not to simply cross the lens to anchor its web or search for food, but instead it wanted to dance on the front of the camera.

No, listen – I’ve watched spiders thousands of times, and there are a few general behaviors: industriously building webs, actively hunting across their territory, or lying in wait. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one wandering aimlessly as if lost and stoned.

If you were wondering, yes, that was the spider’s abdomen pressed right against the center of the lens. Kindly don’t ask me why the local fauna have decided that mooning my camera is warranted – I’m fairly certain it isn’t anything that I’ve done.

[I have to note that, as I am typing this post, a spider has for the third time dropped down on a web from somewhere above the camera, paused almost exactly right in center frame, then climbed back up the strand again. Different nights, no web building, just a cameo. Don’t try telling me this is an accident.]

Upon discovering way too many clips of this nature when I returned to the computer, I felt I had to go out and convince the spider to peddle its wares elsewhere go home and sleep it off do its thing away from the camera. Since I needed the detail shot of the culprit, of course, I went out with camera in hand. If the video gave you the impression of size as firmly as it did me, well, we’re both wrong.

unidentified spider and the infrared camera it was dancing upon

And while I probably should’ve shut off the motion detection before going out there, I didn’t, and ended up with video of myself actually taking this photo. Since most of the light is coming from the LED focusing light on the macro rig itself, I’m not going to be winning any awards with this clip, but I’m amused by it. At times, you can see the circle of the softbox, and the flash going off is quite obvious. And then there’s my grossly oversized fingers clearing the web strands from the lens.

I know, not quite as exciting as an unboxing video, but it is what it is, and I’m vapid enough to post it…

By the way, if you’re the type that finds the video ‘evidence’ of ghosts (as in, supernatural phenomena) to be interesting, you should probably know that a spiderweb can produce a wide variety of semi-transparent figures, depending on the lighting and the debris in the web, to say nothing of the spider itself, or any other arthropod, walking around on the lens. The chances are huge that, when you see some compelling figure walk down the stairs or whatever, you’ll never see all of the other clips where it zigzags back and forth in the breeze or gets a bug stuck in it. It’s not hard to produce an optical boogie, and selectivity and editing (along with a little suggestion) fills in the rest.

* * *

A brief word on my time. Two nights ago I started writing this post, finally able to sit down and devote some time to it, and literally couldn’t keep my eyes open. Planning on returning to it the following afternoon, I got unexpectedly, (but all too frequently) held up again. I would like to be more regular, I really would, and still have another set of photos to feature (better than this, trust me,) but jesus, do things interfere.

I’ll also attempt to excuse the quality of the video. While infrared IP cameras operating in low light are not going to be especially high in resolution anyway, for reasons beyond me the program that operates on motion detection only records at half of the resolution of the camera itself – I know this because I can monitor the camera directly and see much better detail. I’m trying to fix it. I know you’re excited over the prospect.

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