Still more

I have a small collection of photos from two recent outings to throw down here, slightly scattered – nothing exciting, but a fairly good impression of what I get up to at times. First off, I have to provide some as an illustration. Not quite a month ago, I posted about the enormous rise in water levels down at Jordan Lake, without a distinctive way of measuring just what they’d been. Last Thursday’s trip to the same lake provided a little more of an idea with a curious couple of details.

fallen trunk trapped between standing trees showing damage from rising water
What you see here, spanning the frame from side to side, is a tree that had fallen among a few others, getting sandwiched between several standing trunks but still able to move freely when the water level rose. Its motion up and down, especially with wave action, left fresh signatures on the trunks of the standing trees flanking it.

Al Bugg standing alongside damaged trees for scaleThat wasn’t enough for a good illustration, so I sent the Immeasurable Al Bugg over to pose alongside the damage as a standing ruler. He’s about my height, so 182cm or so, which places the upper reaches of the water at least three meters from the ground here, which was still above the waterline. Bear in mind that the trunk would have sat very low in the water, and the rubbing damage likely sits a little below the water’s peak level; in other places, there were indications that the water made it as high as four meters above normal. That’s a hell of a lot of water, especially since the lake is 26 km long.

These photos, by the way, were part of my lens tests, even though I had the 150-600 affixed on that trip far more often. You see, my carry-around lens – well, okay, that’s a misnomer, because I carry around at least four lenses at any given time, so let’s just say my generic ‘average’ lens, intended for a broad range of uses – was until recently the Canon 17-85 IS that I’d repaired, which is a fine lens and generally pretty good for my needs, except for being a little on the short side. Basically, I wanted a bit more focal length for versatility, and as I’ve said, I don’t buy new too often. With the tax return this year, I shopped around until I located a Canon 18-135 IS STM at a decent price, and that arrived in the middle of last week, so I got a couple of brief opportunities to test it out around the local pond when the weather was nice, previous to the lake outing.

pair of Canada geese Branta canadensis in pond
There was another purpose in obtaining this lens, and that was my increasing forays into video, which is where the ‘STM’ part comes in. It refers to the autofocus motor, which is a new ‘stepper’ motor, very smooth and almost completely silent, so it is far less likely to intrude into the audio portions of any video recording I’m doing; this is helped by also using an external mic rather than the crappy internal one provided by the camera body. The Canon 18-135 comes highly recommended for both still and video, and is almost the exact same size as the 17-85 (before full extension, anyway.) Above, one of the lens tests at 135mm on a pair of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) in the nearby pond, full frame, while below is a full-resolution inset.

full resolution crop of same frame
I honestly can’t complain about those kind of results.

I have yet to do any video tests of it, but those will come soon enough. While out, I had the opportunity to try out the ‘macro’ function, which will not get much use from me, mostly because I have the bestest macro lens in the whole wide world already (the Mamiya 80mm macro intended for the M645 series, adapted for use on Canon bodies,) but you know, in the interests of thoroughness…

unidentified damselfly on water reed, full frame
A word about the ‘macro’ designation on the vast majority of lenses anymore: horseshit.

Okay, a few more words. ‘Macro’ doesn’t have any specific meaning to lens manufacturers, so they’re kind of free to interpret it as they like, and of course saying a lens can do macro work increases its value. In most cases, it only means the lens can focus within two meters, and may make as little magnification as 1:5, which isn’t terribly close. Dedicated macro lenses can usually do 1:1 magnification and are optimized for flat field work, meaning they can photograph a flat page or surface with consistent sharpness and little distortion right to the edges – this is mainly for copy work, which I have done only once or twice myself and am not really worried about, but that’s what makes dedicated macro lenses so expensive. And this lens will never get as close or as sharp as what I normally use, but for a casual attempt, it wasn’t too shabby to be honest. That’s the full-frame above, and a detail inset below.

detail inset of same image
Again, I’m not complaining, even though I have lenses that do better. If it’s not evident from the other details within the frame, the damselfly measured about 30-35mm in overall length.

Now, while I’ve done exercises such as only using one lens during a session, or even one focal length, I wasn’t that strict with myself while the conditions were so nice, and used the 100-300 L as needed, such as on the yellow-bellied slider below, one of countless turtles taking advantage of the pleasant temperatures.

yellow-bellied slider Trachemys scripta scripta basking on stump in pond
I also got a collection of frames of a brown-headed nuthatch working on a nest hollow, this time with no female in evidence, but between the dim lighting where it was and its frenzied activity, those shots didn’t pass blog muster, especially when I got much better photos just a day later.

And finally, a slightly surprising find in a region of an overflow channel; the pond itself doesn’t have an adequate drain when we have heavy rains and it overflows its banks fairly frequently, so frequently that it has a serious channel cut across a meadow for the water flow, and portions of this retain water most of the time. Far too small to be considered ponds in themselves, they’re more like glorified puddles, but the amphibians like them.

American toads Anaxyrus americanus during egg laying and fertilization
I spotted the random loops of the egg strings first before realizing that the leaves in their midst weren’t, and sprawled on the banks for a better vantage. These are American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and they’re busy producing those coils of polka-dots. Well, okay, the female produces them, the male fertilizes them as they appear – credit where it’s due. I had been thinking it was still a little early for this, but on checking last year’s posts I found that the major breeding session that I’d caught then had occurred just about a week later in the month. Curiously, The Girlfriend and I just did a weekend trip out to that same area with not a toad to be found, nor any eggs – all a matter of timing, I guess.

Right now I’m considering collecting a small handful of these to keep in an aquarium, in the hopes of photographing their emergence as tadpoles before I introduce them into the backyard pond; considering that the puddle here isn’t going through too much water turnover at the moment, there likely isn’t a lot I’d need to do to maintain favorable conditions until hatching at least. Hmmmm.

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