Yeah boidy

sanderling Calidris alba running into surf
And now – now – we get to the birds! I bet this has been as anticipated as the finale to Game of Thrones!

To say that I shot a lot of birds during our week in South Carolina is an understatement, but it was a great lead-in to World Migratory Bird Day, which was the day we were to return, so I only had an opportunity early in the morning to shoot that day, but screw it – the week covered my ass nicely.

While at the beach, I naturally chased a few shots of the ubiquitous sanderlings (Calidris alba) – actually, the name is simply “sanderling” and not “ubiquitous sanderling,” even though the latter not only sounds better, it’s pretty descriptive to boot. I didn’t get anything too exciting featuring them, really – see what I said earlier about boring beaches – but the above frame is notable in one regard. See the streaks in the background, especially the highlights on the foam? That indicates a panning shot, the camera moving that much laterally while the shutter was open, also evinced by the blurred legs – but check out the sharpness in that eye and beak. That’s a pretty decent pan, if I say so myself… and it was another taken on Nail The Pan Day. We celebrate holidays right here on Walkabout.

white-winged scoter Melanitta fusca chillin on beach
On that self-same beach, three days later, I was walking the surf line right before sunrise and watched a duck ride the incoming breakers up to the barest shallows, then stand up and walk, wearily it seemed, out of the water and take a stance on the sand. It ruffled its feathers a few times, flapped once, then plopped down and refused to budge; the impression that I got was it having landed on the water from exhaustion and simply floated to shore, but it’s anyone’s guess how accurate that might be. In that vein, however, the duck simply didn’t care about the beach walkers that passed, several of which paused to take photos (or some pathetic excuse thereof) with their smutphones. I maintained a respectful distance and shot some identifying frames with the 100-300 L lens.

white-winged scoter Melanitta fusca not giving a damn
I didn’t recognize it, but referring to my Sibley Guide back home, I pinned this down as a white-winged scoter (Melanitta fusca,) just transitioning into adult coloration. Scoters are primarily coastal, so perhaps this is standard behavior for them.

I mentioned wanting some decent brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) portraits, and this was certainly not the area to pursue them in – they could be found, but few and far between. One evening as The Girlfriend and I were walking the beach failing to pick up shells, I saw a small flight heading our way against the post-sunset sky. I knew it would only be silhouettes, and the sky was almost entirely devoid of color, with the one exception being a high-altitude smear of clouds turned pink by the sun over the horizon. They were headed in the right direction, so I tracked them carefully and waited for them to get into the color.

flight of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis against boring sky
Only, right before they would have entered a nice background, they turned towards us together, and started backing in the air, slowing almost to a stall – almost as if they were trying to draw our attention. The problem was, this took them away from the only color in the sky, the edge of which you can see in the above pic.

flight of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis ruining my shot
We have no idea why they changed direction and slowed, because they were a decent ways away from the water and couldn’t possibly have seen any fish or anything, nor was there any apparent difference in the landscape that might have drawn their attention. But having come to a near-hover overhead for a moment, they then turned and resumed their path – naturally now having passed well above the little bit of color that would have made the shot worthwhile. Thanks, guys.

flight of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis after ruining the author's shot
Eventually, a few mornings later as I was watching the excavation of the loggerhead nest, a pair passed overhead and gave me a few decent views. I would have liked the light to have been a little bit better, but this is what we have for now, and nicely detailed all the same.

pair of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis gliding overhead
Brookgreen Gardens provided a few opportunities on its own. One of the features within was a small zoo with local wildlife, and part of that was an aviary, primarily containing white ibis and black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax.) Fully habituated to people, they were easy to photograph, which takes most of the fun out of it, but I did fire off a few detailed portraits just for the sake of it.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax with provided meal
This isn’t even a decent capture of a capture, as it were, because the minnow it has was one of a dozen of so dumped in strategic locations around the aviary to feed the birds, so despite the heron’s careful stalking behavior, there was no chance of scaring this fish off. But I’m posting it for the detail, and after all, I already posted the one with the smooth panning technique, so…

Not to mention, I already have some nice closeups of the wild white ibis that used to visit our pond when I lived in Florida, and their beaks weren’t all muddy from rooting for shellfish.

wood duck Aix sponsa portrait showing iridescence of head feathers
In another region was a duck habitat, permitting ridiculous closeups of the residents at times. Again, captive animals aren’t really an accomplishment, but you can use the opportunity to show off traits like the wonderfully iridescent feathers of the male wood duck (Aix sponsa.) At a botanical garden near home there is often a semi-habituated pair providing the occasional photo op, but wood ducks in the wild tend to be pretty secretive, and my goal remains to catalog the nesting and fledging behavior without such benefits. I’m not exactly sure why; it’s not like it drives up the value of the images, but we’ll call it ego and self-challenge and leave it at that.

But there were wild examples over the gardens as well.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis with almost-hidden red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Wheeling overhead, a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) provided a few choice poses – and there’s a detail hidden here, visible if you look closely and know your bird anatomy. I’ll pause and let you figure it out.

Take your time.

Got it? I knew you would. Under the far wing is the silhouette of its harasser, a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) that was none-too-happy about seeing a hawk in its breeding ground; in fact, there was a pair chasing the hawk, which was largely ignoring the smaller birds and was only riding the thermals over the park, as were some turkey vultures a little farther off. At one point, the blackbirds were joined by an American crow (Corvus corax,) all diving on the hawk as it circled.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis pursued by American crow Corvus corax and red-winged blackbird pair Agelaius phoeniceus
It was a fun show, but as the hawk turned into deeper blue sky, I got a couple of nice portraits.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis banking against scattered sky
This is a fairly good guide towards identification, because they’re don’t all have the distinctive red tail, but they all have pale bellies with a band of darker speckles across the breast. And they’re big, among the largest of the hawks in North America. One more:

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis showing catchlight
I include this one because I got the catchlight, that little reflection in the eye. Not bad for about 40 meters distant.

We now move on to Huntington Beach State Park, pretty much across the road from Brookgreen Gardens (and formerly part of the same family’s estate.) Lots of bird ops there.

semipalmated plover Charadrius semipalmatus on mud flats
Near the mud flats that played host to the fiddler crabs, a few semipalmated plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) foraged alongside sanderlings. While I recognized the birds, I didn’t really know until now where the name came from, and so didn’t endeavor to illustrate it then; it comes from their partially-webbed feet. But they are cute little birds, and quite small – just a little bigger than a wren. It’s easy to believe that the black-tipped bill, like the feet, is evidence of playing in the mud, but no, that’s natural coloration.

long-billed dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus wading
Very close by, as the water got a little deeper and revealed a different class of foodstuffs, some long-billed dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) tried to prevent me from getting a good angle, and almost succeeded entirely.

We saw some great egrets right off the bat, and as we followed the boardwalk out, there was a sign telling what species might be spotted; The Girlfriend asked me to describe what a tri-colored heron looked like. I provided this, but it was much easier to wait a few minutes later and point alongside the boardwalk to simply say, “Like that.”

tri-colored heron Egretta tricolor stalking with distracting backdrop
Tri-colored herons (Egretta tricolor) are fairly distinctive in color and size, but much more coastal-oriented than great blue herons, so I don’t see them that often. This one was stalking, mostly unsuccessfully, along the edge of a channel, too close to be able to let the background reeds drop out of focus, and my timing was off so I caught this reed going right through the eye, as it were. I’m hoping it’s not too noticeable and just one of those things that I fret over, but feel free to tell me I’m wrong.

A little later on, it stepped further from the reeds and gave a better pose.

tri-colored heron Egretta tricolor looking curious
Their coloration makes them seem cross-bred, or transitioning from fledgling to adult, but this is what the adults look like – pretty cool, really.

Down at the end of the boardwalk, a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) provided the best portrait I’ve gotten of the species, and among the top ten bird portraits that I’ve ever taken (judged by an independent, unbiased group of indifferent hyperactive schoolchildren):

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus in profile on wood piling
This one spent some time preening and fidgeting around, so while it obligingly remained where it was, catching the pose was a matter of patience and timing – nothing elaborate of course, but I’m happy with it. A little better light would have shown off those deep green eyes just a bit more, though.

If you’re looking for the double crest, don’t bother – it’s already gone. It’s a little paired ridge of feathers on the head only during breeding season, and I have yet to see it, myself. It’s hard to tell from the coloration, but this one might even be a juvenile, too young to have them yet.

Leaving the boardwalk, we passed a bird feeding station where we got our first look at painted buntings – gorgeous little birds, way too tropical-looking for this region, but unfortunately both hyperactive and unwilling to pause without a feeder blocking our view, so none of my images passed muster. So it goes.

Anhinga Anhinga anhinga drying out in marshsubmerged anhinga Anhinga anhinga surfacingOut on the trails of the park, getting possessive over trees and scaring gators, we didn’t see too many birds, but I got a distant shot of an anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying out after a swim, more silhouette than anything. These birds are marvelous swimmers, remaining completely submerged as they chase fish, and I got a basic illustration as one (perhaps the same one, several minutes later,) surfaced a couple of times during its fishing. They come up just long enough for someone to know they’re not seeing things, but it can be pretty startling, especially if you don’t know the species, because there isn’t the faintest hint of the bird before or after – no splashes, swirls, or disturbances. My first encounter, probably twenty years ago, was almost exactly like the trash-compacter monster in the original Star Wars. Except without the tentacle attack…

Looking out over the same brackish pond, I spotted a willet (Tringa semipalmata) cruising over the water and fired off a few frames. I would have credited this to the Tamron 150-600 with its Ultra-Sonic Drive and Vibration Control, but no, it was the unstabilized, 32-year old, noisy autofocus Canon 100-300 L instead. How it picked the bird out against that background, I don’t know, but do you hear me complaining?

willet Tringa semipalmata flying past
At this point, we’re 21 pics in, and a long ways from done – this is probably gonna set a blog record for the most photos in a single post [actually, it tied], and I know it’s got the record for the most photos uploaded in a month. I could break this up to a second post, but naaah – I’m on a roll. So now, we go to the ‘local’ shots, meaning the birds found within the resort where we stayed.

Near the marsh rabbit’s foraging ground, on two separate mornings, a red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) actively sought a mate in a low tree right alongside the path.

red-bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus calling for mate
I had initially taken it to be simply marking territory, given that this was early May and usually past breeding season, but then it revealed its nest opening, as well as getting some answering calls from an alleged female not far off, so I’m pretty certain this was breeding behavior. It was enough to make the bird none-too-concerned about how close I was, anyway.

red-bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus in front of nest opening
Both days that I encountered it, I was returning from sunrise on the beach, and the sun wasn’t yet high enough to make it through the trees and I was working in dimmer light – I have lots of blurry frames, especially since woodpeckers are hyperactive and don’t tend to hold still, so between it and my own unsteadiness handholding a long lens, I’m lucky to have what I do. But at one point, I finagled a little different angle against the sky, and the bird held position for just long enough.

red-bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus against colorful background
Certainly looks like he’s been overdoing the blush, doesn’t it? But presumably the females like it.

Most mornings I was catching sunrise alone, but coming back from viewing the loggerhead nest, The Girlfriend and I heard a curious sound from the thicket of trees bordering the path, which we knew formed a small barrier before a water channel. I didn’t recognize it, because I’ve never heard it before; it sounded faintly like a cougar’s growl, but from its location and position, I was fairly certain it was a bird. With some careful maneuvering and peering, I eventually located the culprit, which was a green heron.

green heron Butorides virescens on perch in thicket
I only knew green herons from their alarm calls, which sounds a lot like a sneaker on a basketball court, so I was delighted to now add another to my knowledge (yes, I really should be doing more studying of bird calls – a friend of mine made me aware of this recently.) I know these as shy birds, about the size of crows, but this one was aware of our presence, through the little gap in the leaves, and didn’t care. This seemed to be a pattern in the resort, probably because the hunting was so good that the birds had gotten used to people being around.

green heron Butorides virescens in noce pose in patch of sunlight
The dark foggy shadows around the edges are leaves close to the camera, well out of focus, giving an indication of how narrow my shooting window was, while the sun peeped through breaks in the trees for selective highlights, which the bird had luckily perched within. I could have done without that one damn little twig, but otherwise I’m not complaining, especially when the heron turned on its perch for a better view.

green heron Butorides virescens giving territorial call
And then, it offered up its territorial call as we watched and I fired away. The Girlfriend and I were whispering to each other, but so close that I have no doubt the heron knew we were there, so I was pleased that it was so dismissive of us that it continued calling – most times birds will stop if they suspect it will draw more attention to themselves.

No no, not even done with the hour yet.

Just a little further along our walk, as we approached an inlet, I saw another bird cruise in and land, and we crept closer, hoping not to spook it. Eventually, we discovered that this stealth was wholly unnecessary.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax perched over fishing ground
This little inlet came almost up to the road, with only a grassy knoll between it and the asphalt of the inter-resort drive, and that’s where The Girlfriend and I eventually ended up standing, and while we were backlit by the sun to some degree, this black-crowned night heron certainly knew we were there. Close examination of those brilliant red eyes showed that, occasionally, it was looking at us, but most often it was looking down at the water. We didn’t seem to be hampering its efforts at all.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax spotting potential prey
Its perch was roughly two meters off the water, and we already knew countless critters could be found therein. So we waited to see what would happen.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax preparing to strike
It didn’t take long. The extending of the neck and the intentness and slight fidgeting told us the heron was getting ready to snag a fish.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax launching itself at prey
And in a flash, it launched itself down at the water, while I tracked it and fired off continual frames.

great egret Ardea alba crusing across inlet
This seems as good a time as any to show that a great egret (Ardea alba) also considered this a prime spot, and came cruising in for a landing, again, while we stood there in plain sight. Really, a good place to spot birds.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax striking water unsuccessfully
We return to our hero the heron, and its contact with the water in a strike that kind of surprised me, because I’ve never seen any of the waders strike with their feet – it’s always with the beak. However, this might have been a factor of the shallow water and its perch high above it, since other herons I’ve seen strike while standing in the water, which probably allows for a bit more control (and not, you know, spearing oneself into the bottom like a dart.) However, this was a miss, and the heron immediately looped back.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax gaining new perch
It landed and crawled deeper into the tree, perhaps wanting a little more shelter from our prying eyes, or maybe this was simply happenstance, since it could have flown to a different tree or even region easily enough. But I liked this portrait among the foliage.

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax taking up new fishing position
And in moments, it was back in position and watching the water. All told, we witnessed two attempts, and I a third after The Girlfriend had returned to the room because coffee; the night heron never did catch anything during this observation, but two great egrets and a great blue heron all appeared around this one little inlet that was part of a pond in the middle of the resort. On another day when I didn’t have the camera immediately at hand, I’m pretty sure that I saw a bald eagle cruise over almost the exact same spot, so, yeah, it’s for the birds.

That’s gonna be it for the featured birds from South Carolina, but let’s see, that’s thirty-five photos in this post, of seventeen different species, which is not all of the species seen or even photographed during this trip – just the ones that I felt good about featuring (and we all know how my judgment is.) I would say that’s an adequate showing, though. But what the hell, let’s do one more of our hero, because I’m liable to make this one a print someday (well, probably among others.) And while a couple of other photos might sneak in here or there at times, this pretty much marks the end of the push to feature the trip, and we’ll return to our regular content forthwith. Cheers!

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax peeking from foliage

Not the birds

We now come to that time of the month where we talk about things other than avians, and lucky us, I have a few such topics available from the buttload of pics that I got while on vacation in South Carolina. Let’s dive in, shall we?

marsh rabbit Sylvilagus palustris foraging unconcernedly
On multiple occasions, during the hike back from the beach after doing my sunrise thing, I encountered a mellow little marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) that seemed completely unconcerned with my presence. I’d credit this to my remarkable stalking prowess, but seriously, it was so used to activity at the resort that it considered people just background noise. Marsh rabbits are closely related to the extremely common eastern cottontail, but have shorter ears and legs, and of course inhabit the coastal plains and wetlands. I’ve seen them a couple of times before at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and gotten a few pics, but none as close as I got this trip.

The camera was still set for full sunlight balance after the beach pics, and it captured the open shade twilight (the sun still being behind trees in this area,) rather bluish. So as an illustration, I include a version of the same pic, tweaked more towards a balance as if the light was white, because the difference is notable, and I think that any aspiring nature photographer should be able to spot when the color register is off automatically.

marsh rabbit Sylvilagus palustris color corrected
By the way, when I say it was mellow, I’m not exaggerating. One of the mornings, it was being stalked by a feral cat that lived nearby, and was only slightly more alert.

marsh rabbit Sylvilagus palustris being stalked by feral domestic cat
That’s the cat at right, the rabbit being that blob to the left near the post – in this light, there was no way to get a higher depth of field without significant camera shake. You might think this is a dangerous habit for the rabbit to have, but it massed as much as the cat and nonetheless seemed aware. The cat would draw a little closer, centimeters at a time, but before it got within easy pursuit distance, the rabbit would causally hop another couple of meters away. The cat was so intent on this pointless endeavor, however, that after observing it for a few minutes, I was able to continue on my way past it and do some shots from the front. Is this expressive or what?

feral domestic cat in stalk mode
By the way, I said the beach was the most boring I’d been at, but I still made the effort to do something with it. For instance, I tried to catch the morning light and the rainbow refraction from the foam a couple of times.

erly sunlight refracting from seafoam
Not really as distinct as I would have liked, and I’ll have to pursue it a bit more, next beach trip. But then I turned my attention to the incoming mini-waves and how the early sunlight was interacting with them, trying for a little more abstract golden splashiness.

incoming breakers backlit by new sun
That’s… okay, but I’d still like better on this front too. This is a tighter crop, and the out-of-focus droplets at upper left get more distinct in a wider pic, but then the focused waves become less dominant. We’ll return to this someday.

In a couple of locations, the fiddler crabs were prominent, and at one point I actually attempted video of their territorial displays, but it didn’t really pan out. They’re very spooky, so drawing close enough for detailed video sent them diving into their burrows, and it took some time for them to come back out and start displaying again – this consists of waving their biggest pincer in the air like a newsboy selling papers in a depression-era movie. I tried waiting them out, sitting cross-legged on the ground at the edge of the marsh area, but I’d just drastically pulled a muscle in my side, by running into the sideview mirror on the car while putting the kayaks back on top, and I was too uncomfortable to wait them out. So we’ll settle for another view, two days later in Huntington Beach State Park.

fiddler crabs genus Uca in mud flats, Huntington Beach State Park SC
I’m only going to say that these are genus Uca, because I don’t have enough details to positively identify them and it’s pretty hard anyway. These flats were tidal, with some significant water level changes during the day, so this activity was very likely short-lived while the water was low – we weren’t there long enough to witness the full tidal shift. But, there were just a couple of them out there at that time.

broad expanse of fiddler crabs genus Uca on tidal mud, Huntington Beach State Park SC
Yes, every one of those little ‘pebbles’ is a crab, and in places, they were marching along ridges of higher ground in a mass migration towards the good mud. There were so many that it was hard to imagine enough food to sustain them, but they seemed to be doing quite well. I’ve never seen an emaciated crab, to be honest.

A little further off, there was other activity.

blue crabs Callinectes sapidus in possession of unidentified jellyfish
Where the flats gave way to channels, we saw a blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) nibbling, or so we thought, on one of the many jellyfish that dotted the area – they all seemed to be the same species, but I’m not making the effort to look it up right now. We started photographing several birds in the immediate vicinity, and looked back down again to find that it was two crabs, likely mating, and merely clasping the jelly negligently in one pincer; as they scuttled slowly along, they dragged the jelly with them. I got the impression this was the male’s offering to the female to convince her to, you know, dance, but I have no idea if this is how blue crabs work. They don’t, after all, have that huge pincer to wave around flamboyantly like the fiddlers do, so perhaps this is compensation. You really shouldn’t come to me for nature education…

Now, as we casually leave that subject matter behind, a little backstory. Mr Bugg has a tendency to refer to a particular tree, in a local hiking area, as my tree (and a few others as his own,) simply because I shot it twice in different conditions. I continually correct him that I don’t lay any claim to trees, or indeed any other subject – I just shoot what works for me.

Until now. This is MY tree.

the author in front of elaborate multi-trunked twisted tree in Huntington Beach State Park SC, by The Girlfriend
Hiking a little forest trail along a brackish pool in the same park, I spotted this as we approached and announced that I was going to find a way to take this home. I’m as positive as I can be (see the above bits about nature education) that this is all one tree, multiple trunks springing from the ground together and twisting around in a fantastic manner. I don’t know what it is, and welcome anyone’s identification of it, but what a marvelous tree it is, practically a grove by itself, and we shot numerous compositions of it. Buggato has said that he’s going to find it and photograph it himself, because he’s motivated by that kind of thing, and I wish him the best of luck in that endeavor.

One of the things that I had on my list for this trip was photographing, or at least seeing, a cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus,) often called a water moccasin, one of the venomous snakes in such areas – I’ve never seen one in the wild yet, despite many attempts. And so in this same region I was attempting yet again. Not far from the above tree was a very narrow path, almost overgrown by weeds and water reeds, that led to the edge of the brackish pond, and I very gingerly followed this, watching my footing intently because the location was ideal for such but the visibility pretty bad. I saw no signs of any snakes, but as I reached the edge of the water, something only a few meters to my left hit the water with a hell of a splash. In a minute, my suspicion was confirmed, as the alligator that I’d spooked while it was basking resurfaced and watched me warily.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis waiting for us to leave
As American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) go, this was a moderately small specimen, perhaps a little smaller than the one we’d seen previously, so not a threat to anything larger than a muskrat despite its ominous appearance; the exposed area of the head measured maybe 25cm, less than the length of my foot. But doesn’t it have the best damn shaping and texture? Alligators, along with sea turtles, are species that sculptors tend to minimize or stylize rather than depict accurately, and it’s a shame, because it’s the details that provide all of the personality, as far as I’m concerned.The Girlfriend keeps encouraging me to get more into sculpting (it’s extremely minimal right now,) and I might have to, just to produce proper renditions of such species.

unidentified small grey-brown cicada on stumpNow, despite taking advantage of an entirely different environment and class of subjects, I did not completely neglect my normal pursuits. On a cut-off stump not far from the previous two subjects here, The Girlfriend spotted what she initially took to be a moth, wonderfully camouflaged against the dry wood. But a closer look said otherwise.

This was easily the smallest cicada species that I’d ever seen, and almost perfectly camouflaged in color and texture. I made a quick attempt to identify it through BugGuide.net, but didn’t initially find it and am not going to take the time for an idle pursuit – maybe later on when I’m cataloging. We’re heading down the page to a more detailed, profile shot as I type, while I mention that I did not come loaded for macro work, so the flash and softbox attachment were still sitting back in our room – this meant working with natural light under a forest canopy, so it’s actually a good amount of luck to have what I do. For the most part, this was a fairly lucky trip, really, with a couple of exceptions that I’ll be getting to in the upcoming bird post. And of course, I never did see any cottonmouth. Nor scorpions, though I admit I barely tried at all for this one, but one of these trips I’m going to rip the place up until I find and photograph one. I won’t admit to doing so until I’m successful, though – that’s a nature photography blogger’s tip.

unidentified small grey-brown cicada in profile
I’m getting in the habit of doing the ‘strong close,’ or what I like to imagine is one, anyway, so we’ll return to the beach and sunrise, to feature a tighter crop of a telephoto shot, taken while waiting for the sun to come up after spotting a distant fishing boat. The sky was nicely textured, so I included a significant portion against a very small boat, and the end effect (to me at least) is one of the sky practically looming over the boat, as if they would look behind them and see this huge red wall instead of, you know, the same kind of sky that I was seeing without the lens.

distant fishing boat against tumultuous pre-sunrise sky
All the birds from this trip (well, not all of them) are on the way. Gonna be a big post.

Order! Order!

If I could effectively communicate the mental turmoil that I’m going through right now, the seething internal struggle, with mere words, I would, but I sincerely doubt that you’re understanding it on an emotional level. However, with at least two posts in the pipes regarding the South Carolina trip, I’m not only going to talk about photos obtained after said trip, I’m going to put them up in reverse order of when they were obtained. I know, I know, but sometimes I just feel a little reckless, and damn the consequences.

N-no.

No, I’m sorry, I can’t fully commit to this. I’ll give a distant nod to propriety and post the very most recent photo last. Some things you just don’t toy with.

common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina surfacing in morning twilight
A couple mornings back, I was up early and saw what might have been promising colors starting in the sky from the imminent sunrise, and I headed over to the neighborhood pond to see what would happen. The sky never really developed anything useful, there being low-level clouds blocking most of the light, and I simply grabbed a few photos of opportunity. In this case, a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) was poking around in the shallows under the moody grey sky, and I managed a couple of frames before it realized how close I was and moved off. At first light, lots of turtles were poking their heads out (I’m sure most of us can relate,) but getting decent photos of them was challenging, given the conditions. This one, however, stayed still enough, in just barely enough light, to allow me a dramatic portrait with the 100-300 lens. There’s something to be said about the whole color register.

common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina peeping from water
If you want a scale, the portion of the head appearing here was maybe 3cm in length, the overall length of the carapace falling somewhere around 30-35cm, I would estimate. Which is way bigger than my next subject.

unidentified juvenile turtle climbing isolation nettingAbout to meet with a student in a botanical garden, I was just poking around and had to shoot this minuscule turtle, who seemed miffed that it was being excluded from the pond lilies within a net barrier. Actually, it’s much more likely that it was simply looking for a basking spot in a pool with few opportunities for such, but yeah, if you’re getting the impression of a toddler trying to scale the baby gate during a party among the grownups, I cant blame you.

During an earlier outing with the Iconoclastic Mr Bugg, we were wandering a less-than-productive section of Jordan Lake when I suddenly spotted an eastern kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) – despite the promises, about every place I’ve lived, that kingsnakes are common, it’s been decades since I’ve seen one, and I think this is the first that I’ve ever photographed. Don’t ask me how that happens. Maybe I’m naturally kingsnake repellent (there are a few people I know that would say it’s not that specific.)

eastern kingsnake Lampropeltis getula chilling
Buggato has had more than enough time to scoop me on these with his own photos, since he seems to like doing that, but it’s been twelve days since we obtained them, and I can assure you that there is no such post on his site as of this writing – now that I’ve mentioned it, something might, somehow, pop up from the past, but right now, zilcho.

Anyway, as we moved quietly around the snake, it decided it should seek cover, but in a remarkably mellow way. With elaborate casualness, it started slipping forward and wended a meandering route through the undergrowth, disappearing under leaves or logs before reappearing again on the other side, seeming to have no inclination to remain hidden.

eastern kingsnake Lampropeltis getula idly moving along
It was later afternoon on a pretty warm day, so none of the behavior could be put down to morning torpor, but the snake sure looked completely unconcerned, as if bored and deciding to poke around a little. However, I suspect there was a different explanation.

eastern kingsnake Lampropeltis getula crossing over logThe kingsnake actually came around in a broad curve, almost emerging from under a log at my feet (being literally 10cm from my sandals,) before it looped over top of the same log and slipped around the end into a hollow, where it disappeared and remained hidden, despite our waiting for a few minutes. I believe that, as we approached, we got between it and its sleeping spot, and so it had to take a circuitous route back home, as it were. Given the coloration (which works much better for hunting at night,) the species may be inclined to move slowly in daylight to avoid attracting attention, unless danger is distinctly imminent, and we were being quite innocuous ourselves. That’s my guess, anyway.

By the way, overall length was about a meter, which is half of their maximum length, give or take, and they’re completely harmless.

Later on that day, we hit another portion of the lake because the initial one had been so slow, and it was there that Mr Bugg captured his excellent bald eagle shot – I looked up in time to only see it disappearing behind the trees, so no pic for me. However, hanging out for a few minutes more netted me a nice sequence of another species, and I’m pleased with the dramatic poses, so no skin off my nose. Actually, that’s a stupid phrase, isn’t it? Strike that.

osprey Pandion haliaetus beginning predatory dive
An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was doing its thing, cruising around between 10 and 40 meters up, looking for stupidly shallow fish. Focus tracking was just slightly off at times, but then bang on at others, as I watched it begin its dive after some fish that it had spotted. Later in the afternoon now, the sun was lower for more dramatic lighting, good for shooting birds (because they don’t look very impressive when backlit,) and yet still not turning yellow.

osprey Pandion haliaetus pausing and dropping
These are all tightly cropped from the original, because I really wanted to highlight the body positions. I was firing off a sequence, hoping to catch a really dynamic shot of the osprey seizing its prey, so these are fractions of a second apart.

osprey Pandion haliaetus in dive
There’s a fair amount of luck involved, because the osprey had to be in the right position for the best lighting and appearance, but then again, I’d been tracking it in the viewfinder for several minutes at this point, waiting for the chance of something cool, so I’ll take credit for that, at least.

osprey Pandion haliaetus in dive
Note the turning head, watching its prey, and the talons dropping into readiness. Why aren’t they named, ‘ospredators?’ Stupid ornithologists.

os[rey Pandion haliaetus in dive
The lovely line from eye to wingtip, the fanned tail, the intensity. Clean living and pure thoughts – they had absolutely nothing to do with this capture sequence, so don’t believe what anyone tells you otherwise.

osprey Pandion haliaetus abandoning dive
Annnnddd the intended prey made its exit, so the osprey abandoned the dive – which still looked pretty cool. Osprey are strictly fish eaters, by the way, and pretty common around Jordan Lake, but I’ve never staked them out for a long session dedicated to birds. I’ll have to correct that soon.

osprey Pandion haliaetus resuming circling
The osprey resumed its circling, looking for more opportunities. If you look closely, you can see the head is still tucked and turned, searching – there’s the tip of the beak and a little pointer of dark feathers atop the head that indicate where it’s looking (which makes me wonder if this provides some benefit to the species, perhaps indicating to other birds where their attention is.)

osprey Pandion haliaetus in spread-osprey pose
Notice the difference in background color here – less than a minute after the above sequence, it had moved to a different patch of sky to give me a brilliant underbody view. Well, no – while it was quite well aware of our presence, I’m sure, it probably wasn’t interested in accommodating our paparazzism in any way.

Okay, now we get to the most recent, taken just two nights ago at sunset. The sky again didn’t fully cooperate, but there was a lone patch of cloud colored peach by the disappearing sun, and I used the reflection of it in the neighborhood pond as a backdrop for a dragonfly that briefly perched on a bare branch.

unidentified dragonfly perched on branch against sunset reflection
And, just to show off, I include a full-resolution inset of the same frame. By happenstance, the dragonfly had perched almost directly facing away from me, putting its wings in a nice plane flat to the camera for maximized sharpness, because it was just a few days full of cooperative critters.

full-resolution detail shot of dragonfly
And we will now resume our SC pics. Maybe – I never know for sure what will strike me to post, but they’re coming at some point anyway. And you know how I said a bunch of bird pics were coming soon? These were not them, or any portion thereof – I gots lots more on the way.

Red light, green light!

sunrise in cloud bands
crescent moon over palmWe now resume our adventures in coastal South Carolina, and if you’re at all familiar with the state, you know that it is symbolized, on license plates and numerous other materials, by a crescent moon over a palm tree; naturally enough, presented with the opportunity while there, I had to provide my own rendition.

I confess, again, that while out at the coast, I am usually up well before dawn with the intention of catching sunrise on the beach. There are several reasons for this: my own area isn’t very conducive to sunrise shots, dawn on the beach and water is overall a very pleasing image, the colors are simply the best at these times, I’m out there before any beach gets too crowded, the sand is often pristine from the overnight tidal flow, and so on. And one other thing, that’s long been my goal to capture: the green flash.

Most people that know of this associate it with sunset, which is curious, because it can occur at sunrise too, and that’s a lot easier to capture on this coast. The gist is, given certain atmospheric conditions, just as the barest sliver of sun is on the horizon, it will be brilliant green – this happens for just a moment or two, and granted, it’s easier to time when the sun is going down because you know exactly when it’s going to reduce to that tiny bit. For sunrise, you have to be looking at the precise point on the horizon where the sun is going to pop up, to capture that bare moment of appearance rather than disappearance, but really, this isn’t that hard to do; the glow on the horizon just before sunrise easily pinpoints where the sun will rise.

So each morning of this week-long trip, I was out on location. We were staying at a ‘beachfront’ resort, so this should have been easy, but in reality we were a solid kilometer (6/10 mile) from the beach, the farthest accommodations available at that resort, it seems, and pretty austere at that. But I’ve had to do much worse, so I simply made sure I was up at least 45 minutes before astronomical sunrise so I could hike out to the ocean.

First hint of sunrise on horizonThe weather was notably clear for almost the entire week, which is good and bad; good for the opportunity for the flash, but otherwise it doesn’t produce much in the way of colorful skies and cloud patterns and all that. The first morning out there, I was standing ready with the Canon 100-300 L affixed, and dutifully fired off numerous frames as the sun peeked through. It looked green in the viewfinder, but the resulting photos didn’t support the idea very much, and I am forced to conclude that either my eyes interpreted it as green after seeing nothing but red-orange before, or the lens and exposure rendered it more yellow than it was. Call it a miss.

After this attempt, I wandered the sand for a bit, concluding (and not being contradicted in the entire week) that this was the most boring beach I’d ever been on. Shallow slope, so the tide rolled a long ways in and out, and the waves were all ridiculously small, under half a meter at all times. Nothing ever washed up except for an occasional jellyfish, and even the shorebirds were scarce. With the new long lens, I was after nice detailed pelican shots, among anything else that I might find, and I have to say that I saw fewer pelicans than at any beach in the south, ever. The only species that I saw most days were the omnipresent sanderlings (Calidris alba) and a few least terns (Sternula antillarum.) Sheesh.

least tern Sternula antillarum against sunrise glare
The next day I was out again, only this time with the long 150-600 lens and a tripod; even if I missed the green flash, I was hoping to get some nice bird portraits later on. Observing the horizon and my watch carefully, I waited for the sun to peek through, and the moment it did, I fired off numerous frames.

animated sequence of green flash at sunriseI don’t think anyone can deny it – that’s freaking green. This is significantly magnified of course, and I’m not sure whether or not anyone could have seen this by naked eye.

Before I go any further, I will point out that the first frame, held longer, was taken about a minute before, and what you’re seeing in there are fishing boats just over the horizon. I timed the pause between frames to match the frame rate of the camera, so this is as ‘real time’ as I can make it – maybe next time I’ll shoot video.

But what I suspect is that, like what I captured on a previous attempt at North Topsail Beach, the conditions for a green refraction are there more frequently than we suspect, but it requires special conditions to make it more visible without magnification, lasting longer and as the sun rises slightly higher. It might still be brief, but not as brief as this.

Curiously, there was an additional aspect captured as the sun fully rose above the horizon.

same sunrise showing red effect underneath sun
To give you an idea of the magnification from that lens, the image above is the full frame. Below, we take a better look at that trailing edge as it separated from the horizon:

magnified portion of same frame showing magenta band
I find it interesting that this is pretty much the opposite of green on the color spectrum, and it’s probably a whole lot harder to spot due to the brightness of the sun. To lend some perspective, the exposures for the green flash were 1/320 second at f11, while this one was 1/400 at f25; almost eight times brighter for the fully risen sun (while still able to be viewed by eye without being blinded. Spotty, maybe, but not blinded.)

By the way, those don’t seem very sharp because of the exact same conditions that produce the colors in the first place: too much air and humidity. Everything is being distorted seriously, so much so that the sun may not even be above the horizon at all for these pics. Instead, this is actually a mirage, light bent by the atmosphere, while the sun is still just below the lip of the planet.

pre-sunrise colors
Before and after these attempts, I was still on the lookout for something that would make a decent scene, and took whatever opportunities presented themselves. Framing can make a big difference in such cases; here, the colors stopped just outside of the top of the frame, so I was trying for more foreground interest to be able to aim lower. One of the many jellyfish that would wash up served in one case.

washed-up jellyfish and pre-sunrise colors
If you look closely at the background clouds, between these two shots, you can see the minimal advancement, but also how two different layers/patches were moving at different speeds (this is probably a lot more visible when you’re flipping through the folder of images prepped for posts.) And if you look at this image and get an impression of where the sun is going to rise, you’re absolutely right.

One morning, I got slightly lucky in finding something else to work with on the sand.

common spider crab Libinia emarginata tracking across sand
One of my old friends from Florida, a common spider crab (Libinia emarginata,) had been brought in by the tides, and sometime in the recent past had been attempting to make its way back to the water – they’re not at home on land, unlike a few other species in the area. It was motionless when I discovered it, perhaps starting to dry out and unable to breathe very well, so I only took a minute to snap a couple of quick, dramatic shots.

common spider crab Libinia emarginata against sunrise on beach
It still struggled feebly when I picked it up, so I went down into the breakers’ edge and deposited it into the water, making sure it got swept out into deeper water. And yes, that’s another jellyfish at the edge of the frame – I wasn’t carrying them back into the water because I have no inkling about the various species or the dangers thereof, so they were on their own.

I’m going to add a couple more shots in here, mostly just to thumb my nose at Mr Bugg, who was telling me how many pictures he was going to get on his beach trip, without having the faintest inkling how many I’d already gotten on mine.

unidentified tern against pre-sunrise orange sky
Both the image above and the one below were taken on the same day, all of six minutes apart, and demonstrate what kind of difference focal length can make. Above, 300mm, and below, 33mm.

sun pillar before sunrise on beach
I wasn’t exactly sure how distinct this sun pillar was going to come out, because sometimes small variations in brightness just aren’t captured in the narrower dynamic range of photos – rainbows can be notoriously hard to make as impressive as they might appear to us – but I’m pleased with the result. Sun pillars come from high altitude ice crystals that are almost all oriented the same way, providing a few million airborne mirrors to bounce the sunlight over to us.

Going down to the beach at night can prove interesting, as well, and the first night there, I had out my ultraviolet flashlight just for giggles. Because of this, I determined by accident that Atlantic ghost crabs (Ocypode quadrata) will actually fluoresce in UV light – or to be more specific, the ‘hairs’ along the legs of the larger specimens will. It’s still pretty dim, so photographing such an effect means a long exposure, and on that first jaunt I wasn’t prepared with a tripod in hand. So a couple nights later, I set out with the mini-pod and started looking for crabs, hoping to get at least one to hold still for the several seconds it would take to get a sharp image. I could only judge from the LCD on the back of the camera afterward, and none of them were looking too promising, so I was pleasantly surprised to unload the card later and find what I did capture.

Atlantic ghost crab Ocypode quadrata fluorescing under ultraviolet light
This is a four-second exposure, so my subject here was remarkably well-behaved. This is also altered a bit, because the camera captures UV light differently than our eyes see it, so this is color-corrected as close to what I remember it to be. Imagine those yellow hairs glowing a bit brighter, and you get the proper idea. There were a few people wandering the beach while I was out there, and I certainly piqued their morbid curiosity with my aberrant behavior, but I’m used to that by now.

a pair of mating Atlantic ghost crabs Ocypode quadrata
I’m fairly certain these are what mating crabs look like, and it was far from the only pair that I found that evening; this frame was shot by the light of the headlamp, and worked pretty well for that. Sure, call me cruel, but this was right out in public, when there were plenty of sand burrows to be found, so what did they expect? Freaking exhibitionists.

But I also made a mistake that night. As I was entering the beach area over the access boardwalk, I spotted some people with red flashlights poking around several dozen meters off to the left; I just figured they were busy with their own projects, and proceeded in the opposite direction so I wouldn’t bother them with my lights. Later on as I was returning up the beach, I was stopped by a kind gentleman who asked that we use the lights at a minimum and keep them aimed low and away from the water, because they’d had a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) come up on shore earlier and lay her eggs. As you might recall, this was one of the things our summers trips have revolved around, because The Girlfriend is a sea turtle enthusiast, and I’m not blasé about them either. The man was speaking in the past tense, so I figured things were well over, and I was pretty much done for the night anyway and went back to our room soon after that.

The next morning, after doing my sunrise chasing, I glanced up to where I’d seen the red lights the night before and noticed a few people standing around, so I wandered up there; turns out they were volunteers for the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE,) and were minding the nest until an experienced nest person could arrive. I took the opportunity to photograph the trails that the mother had made, going to and fro, and called The Girlfriend down to see them for herself.

trail of loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta going inland towards nest site.
In the interim, I was talkng to the volunteers, and they asked if I was going to hang around for when they excavated and relocated the nest to a safer spot – it’s safe to say that my answer was in the affirmative. I also found out that the turtle might have been in the process of laying at the time that I first spotted the red lights, and I might have witnessed it had I gone over to investigate. Me and my un-nosy decorum.

nest site of loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta
This is what the nest looks like, and what most people end up seeing, since virtually all of the laying takes place in the wee hours of the morning, like 2 AM or so – an hour after dusk was pretty rare, but it allowed a couple of the volunteers to watch the process on their own. Shortly afterward The Girlfriend arrived, just a couple of minutes after the nest expert had shown up, and we got to watch the whole process.

Jeff McClary of SCUTE probing nest of loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta to determine dimensions
The guy in the foreground with the professional turtle nest probe (which looks remarkably like a pool cue) is Jeff McClary, co-founder of SCUTE, while immediately behind him is Glen Campbell, another member and the one who had approached me the night before, after having witnessed the actual laying. They’re probing the nest itself to determine the exact size and location, and as you can see, it’s not in the hollow where you might suppose – that’s where the female turned around after laying, which she did while facing inshore, so the nest is always offset towards the water (this is my understanding, anyway – don’t quote me on details.)

Jeff McClary and Glen Campbell of SCUTE feeling down to top of loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta nest
Now they’re carefully digging down until they feel the top of the nest – yes, it’s surprisingly deep. The young, when they hatch about two months later, will dig their way up through all that to the surface, then trek down to the water – you can see the distance in the previous pic (though this might vary a bit with the tides.)

Glen Campbell of SCUTE collecting eggs from nest of loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta
Here, Glen carefully collects the eggs, taking care to keep them oriented the same way and keeping the original surrounding sand with them – there is a chance that it contains something from the mother that aids in their protection or hatching. The eggs are then moved to a safer location, less prone to being disturbed, and placed in a replicated nest, then marked carefully and GPS tagged – they’ll be monitored up until hatching. And yes I, at least, am toying with the idea of returning around that time. It’s a bit of a drive, and gestation period isn’t exact (some of it depends on conditions and temperature) so, maybe…

By the way, all of this was done with their permission, and I wasn’t crowding anybody – for the above frame, I held the camera out at arm’s length, aimed down, and shot blindly. It’s cropped slightly but otherwise well-aimed – I ain’t no amateur.

But for giggles, scroll back up and pay attention to the changing color cast, as the sun got higher and whiter. I had the camera set for full sunlight throughout, so no correction or compensation, and this was exactly how the light was colored as the morning progressed.

Our last dawn there was the only one where the sky didn’t fully cooperate, and I still managed to do something with it.

slightly cloudy morning on beach
That certainly doesn’t look very promising, but I’ve been fooled before, and hung in there. Nonetheless, the sun did not appear until it was well above the horizon, fighting through the clouds. No green flash this time.

sun barely peeking through clouds on horizon
I could still do another post just with beach pics, while I have two more regarding this trip in the lineup – one solely dedicated to birds. So I’ll close with just one more dramatic shot, and be back as soon as I can. This post was only 2700+ words, 22 pics, and an animated gif (pronounced ‘gchechgchth,’) so, you know, about 15 minutes worth of work. No biggie.

partly cloudy sunrise on the beach

Storytime 21

the author kind of in a long exposure by moonlight
This was just a casual experiment that actually turned out fairly well. Part of the mystique, if I may use such an overblown word in this circumstance, is how the exposure turned out.

First off, this is digital, and exactly as shot in camera (well, except for resizing.) No editing, pasting, et cetera. Some clues can be found in the light in the trees, and the streaks in the sky – these indicate that it was shot at night, and not daylight. It’s a full moon that’s providing all the light, and this was a 144-second exposure. For part of it, I leaned against the rail and held still, but then wandered out of the frame; the light was too low to catch any of my movement, and the railing behind me was exposed once I got out of the way, thus the ghostly effect. If you look closely, you can see that I was standing by the other camera for part of the exposure too, giving faint impressions to the image.

Part of the trick of a good long exposure with a varying subject (kind of like a double-exposure, but not,) is knowing how much time to have your subject motionless, and this all depends on how much it will expose the frame compared to the ‘background’ visible when it’s not in place. You can see my lighter skin shows a lot better than my dark blue shirt, mostly in comparison to the darker railing and foliage; had I worn white clothes, I would have needed to hold still for less time. Definitely worth experimenting with.

This old bridge over the Haw River is presently just a hiking path, and occasionally used for festivals – the view from it isn’t bad, which is also what I was shooting that night. To all appearances, it was once open to vehicle traffic, though it’s not really wide enough for two cars abreast, and it’s a fairly long bridge. This might be why it’s closed to everything but foot traffic now; in the event of two cars wanting to use it simultaneously, it would require one of them to be courteous enough to wait, and that really doesn’t describe North Carolina drivers to any extent. In my experience, most of them feel they’re the only ones that should be on the fucking roads.

Brookgreen Gardens

detail of Fighting Stallions by Anna Hyatt Huntington - photo by The Girlfriend
Instead of hitting Topsail Beach again for our early summer vacation trip this year, we opted for coastal South Carolina instead, mostly because The Girlfriend wanted to see Brookgreen Gardens, but there was enough other stuff in the area that I could find plenty to do myself. This is the first of… three maybe?… posts regarding the trip, so I’ll mostly concentrate on the gardens this time.

Brookgreen Gardens is a converted rice plantation – four of them, actually – which is not to say it is a plantation of converted rice, and I don’t even know how you’d convert rice; it’s always seemed pretty intransigent to me. But anyway, this area of former rice fields is now a huge expanse of gardens and lawns, with a small zoo and even a section of river, dedicated mostly to sculpture – some of those from the family of the founders, but plenty of other talented artists are included as well. Personally, I am kinda so-so on sculpture – couldn’t care less about the classical styles or most post-modernism, but there are a few things that I can get into. I greatly prefer realism, and especially expressive natural subjects (funny, that,) but occasionally other things might catch my interest. The gardens themselves are far less of a botanical garden than a huge park, with a lot of really old twisted trees decorated with Spanish moss because, hey, it’s the region and I doubt you could prevent it if you tried.

Spanish moss on trees along walkway, Brookgreen Gardens
One entrance fee will allow visitors access for a week, and it’s not a bad idea at that – one day probably isn’t going to be enough, and I know we walked too much the first day around, so we split it among two, and we didn’t even try any of the tours. ‘Crowded’ is definitely not a word that describes the park, insofar as the sculptures and exhibits are concerned, since things are spread out quite a bit, and while we were there it didn’t describe the number of visitors either, though it was a healthy showing. On our first visit, only minutes inside, we came out into the first big expanse of lawn and walks, and I noticed a bit of discarded plastic or something near the bank of a carefully-manicured pond, before recognizing it. “That’s a gator!” I told The Girlfriend.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis on bank of pond, Brookgreen Gardens
There’s something special about the subtropical southeast, I have to admit. We’re pretty litigious in this country, and warning signs are rampant, but American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are so prevalent in places that you’re simply expected to know to leave them alone, and so this one was basking unconcernedly in the middle of the gardens. Maybe about a meter-and-a-half in length, this was not an impressive specimen, except for the fact that it was a lizard that was a meter-and-a-half in length. And gnarly – marvelously gnarly. I like gators.

Amercian alligator Alligator mississippiensis in Brookgreen Gardens
We behaved ourselves, and only drew close enough for a couple of shots with longer focal lengths while the gator tried valiantly to ignore our presence, though after a minute it straightened its tail, perhaps to let us know it was aware, but more likely to have a good swing if it needed to whack a nosy tourist, and that was the extent of its movement.

statue and pool in Brookgreen Gardens
The displays within the garden are much less that of a museum, and more how anyone might display statuary on their own property – a single element among the landscaping. There are a couple of areas where the statues get ‘dense,’ but overall, it’s spacious – room for about 1500 picnickers or so at once. Perhaps a few less if you wanted to leave the gators some space…

curious perspective on statue in Brookgreen Gardens
Now, just taking photos of statues is, for the most part, redundant to me – I’d rather do my own fartistic stuff than simply record others. So, where the opportunity arose, I experimented a bit. I’m hoping the one above is at least momentarily confusing, but probably not for very long. A more normal approach is below:

statue reflected in surrounding pool in Brookgreen Gardens
As should be clear now, I simply inverted and cropped the first to change the context. It likely didn’t work, but hey…

the author posing stupidly with Bernard Baruch by Maria J. Kirby-Smith in Brookgreen Gardens, photo by The Girlfriend
We couldn’t resist posing among a couple of the pieces. I’m not sure it’s clear what I was doing here, but if not, there’s no point in belaboring it…

Now, it doesn’t matter where I am, I’m likely to pursue my favorite subject matter every time I get the chance (something that a wedding photographer that I worked with once remarked upon, not positively.) So when the critters were showing themselves, I was taking advantage. The first occurred almost before we were in the park. Driving down the long entranceway, I glanced over and saw a curious squirrel that looked piebald. I wanted to stop and back the car up, but there were other cars behind me, so we continued down to the loop and came back around, finding no sign of the squirrel on our return about two minutes later. I was curious, knowing that I saw something, but tried to put it out of my head. This didn’t last long, as I began seeing more of them, and finally got the chance to start stalking them while on a broad expanse of lawn and trees. A couple provided a fetching pose and that was all the encouragement necessary.

pair of southern fox squirrels Sciurus niger niger interacting on tree in Brookgreen Gardens
southern fox squirrel Sciurus niger niger in black phase in Brookgreen GardensIt turns out that these were actually southern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger niger,) a species that I never knew existed, and there’s a wide variety of coloration, two of which are seen here. They were all over the place in Brookgreen, but I never saw one anywhere else, even in the state park that was adjoining the gardens. I liked their colors, especially the fawn-faced ones, which helped me to overlook that they were squirrels and still, like around here, a bit of a pain. In and of themselves, they don’t bother me, but they tend to overpopulate an area and do too much damage to, for instance, the eaves of the house and any mantis egg cases I’m patiently waiting to see hatch. We got our photos of them, for novelty’s sake, but will probably reclassify them mentally as ‘just another squirrel’ soon enough.

blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis on reed in Brookgreen Gardens
Sure, there’s a statue nearby, but look! It’s a dragonfly!

small frog in pond in front of statue, Brookgreen Gardens
I had actually been photographing this statue of a guy with his junk out, wrestling an alligator, because some subjects manage to draw my interest (the alligator,) when I spotted the little frog just hanging out in this ideal pond, and the real, uncultured me kicked in. Actually, I’d been hoping for some natural subject in the foreground, preferably on the pads or weeds in the middle of the pond, so into the breech leapt I. And of course, the distracting statue had to be excised for other frames.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea in pond near statue, Brookgreen Gardens
Hey, we have several resident green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) on our own property, so there was no need to get another, but that didn’t stop me. And since one of these days, I’m going to do a post specific to this, I asked The Girlfriend to get a shot of me getting this shot.

the author in Brookgreen Gardens ignoring statues for a frog, photo by The Girlfriend
Yes, my arm, and a portion of my shirt sleeve, got plenty wet and a little muddy doing this, but that’s part of the allure. If you’re not at least a little grubby, you’re not a true nature photographer, just a poseur. You know, one of the Great Washed.

tree and Spanish moss emeulating rays, Brookgreen Gardens
Still playing fartsy. Shot at 10mm, the wide angle made the moss spread like sunrays, and of course you can’t beat those limbs. Seriously – they’ll chuck you out of the park if you try.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis immediately after displaying dewlap
On both days, we spotted Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis,) and I couldn’t ignore either. This one was displaying its pink dewlap (like the guy with the alligator) in the hopes of attracting a mate, though the only sharp image I got of his twitchy scaled behind was this one – but it’s sharp. You gotta love those scales. If I ever do any kind of mosaic tiles, it’ll be just like this.

carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on treeThe other played hide-and-seek with me around a tree branch on two occasions spaced a few minutes apart, but this is the frame that won out over all the others. To the left is the entire frame, but below is a detail crop. Virtually all of the time, they appear matte and unreflective, yet the right sun angle will produce a hint of iridescence from the scales. That head is slightly smaller around than my little finger, just so you know.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis in detail
Okay, I hear you – we’ll get back to the real art now. Sheesh. Philistines.

Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
As I said, I prefer realism and natural subjects, and this one made me stop and marvel. Called Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy, I want you to pause and look closely for a bit. Especially at the shadows.

Here’s another perspective:

Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
Notice anything odd yet?

Let’s go to the placard.

placard for Flying Brown Pelicans by Grainger McKoy
The entire sculpture is suspended from the wall by those four little wingtip feathers at top, and the two pelicans are joined by the same – there are no other posts, wires, or magnetic fields at work. I should tell you, too, that the entire thing is well over two meters in length, much larger than life size. And it’s a great rendition of pelicans all by itself. There’s not too much artwork that evokes awe in me, but this guy can do it. I would probably never be able to afford any piece of his, and wouldn’t know where to put it if I did, but damn, do I want to. There were several of his works in the gardens, including this next one.

Wood Duck Pair by Grainger McKoy
Now, I’ve seen too few painters that could bring out the colors this realistically, and he does it as a part of his sculpture. And, like the pelicans, it’s all cleverly mounted and balanced – the entire sculpture is supported by the sapling rising behind the ducks. Check out his website – I insist – to see these in much better conditions and detail. Note the ones, too, that show the birds against their own ‘reflections’ in the water. Fantastic.

That’s going to do it for now – this took long enough by itself. More will be coming along shortly.

I been busy, part 3

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds formation burst
So, technically, this set of images and video clips came before the previous ‘I been busy’ entry, but it required a lot more work (read: free time) and so I put the easier post up before it. If you wanna fight about it, let’s meet tomorrow night behind the All-You-Can-Eat Car Wash. But until you man up, we’ll go ahead with this post, which as you may have guessed, is about an airshow. Specifically, the Wings Over Wayne 2019 Airshow at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC – Goldsboro is in Wayne County, so now you know. But enough stalling – let’s get right into the airsickness-inducing video. Yes, there was a big booger on the sensor, that I was unaware of until I got back, and the automatic sensor cleaning did not dislodge.

And no, I’m not going to let it go at that, so I am including a few stills below for a little more detail.

The lens in question, by the way, is the Tamron SP 150-600mm F5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, of which I have few if any complaints, but it is a heavy monster, and as I said this affected the video stability more than a little. I put more of the blame on the idiotic way that DSLRs require you to frame/monitor video usage, but I’m still working on options (the method used for macro video doesn’t quite work for these circumstances.) Its performance on the still shots was pretty impressive, I must say.

You wanted to see better detail from that Pearl Harbor reenactment? Okay, here’s the full frame captured during one of the passes:

Commemorative Air Force pass full
And now, the detail inset:

Commemorative Air Force pass detail
By the way, I probably overstated the pass speed in the video – more likely 100-175 knots, but still…

And another, a fraction of a second earlier in the pass – the one following also looked much the same. Luck plays a certain role in these images:

Commemorative Air Force blurry pass
Another little example of detail, this time involving the legacy flight with the F-35 and P-51. The full frame looked like this:

'Legacy Flight' of F-35 and P-51
But that’s not enough, so we’ll zoom in on that cockpit and see what we can find:

tight crop of F-35 pass showing pilot's kneeboards
See those pale rectangles within the cockpit? Those are the pilot’s kneeboards, the note pads that they can refer to during flight as needed. Several hundred meters away at probably better than 175 knots. I’m not complaining.

The light and sky conditions became the best later in the day, and so the Thunderbirds demo produced the best photos – not the least of which was due to having the best choreography, but I’ll be honest, I’d be psyched if they did much the same thing with A-10s.

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds during low-level formation roll
They do lots of low-level passes right in front of the crowd, but they’re still moving at a good clip regardless, so too close means they’re harder to track.

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds formation roll and focal length failure
It also helps if I’m better prepared, and back off the focal length a bit to keep them adequately framed. It’s much worse in video, however, because the zoom ring is not designed for smooth video transitions.

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds immediately after close pass
Timing is, unsurprisingly, also an issue – even when you’ve been warned what’s about to happen, there is the barest fraction of a second to capture an ideal frame. High-speed passes are aimed to occur right in front of the crowds, but precisely where is still variable, so you track one of the aircraft and hope to capture the other as it enters the frame. Above, a miss – that second smoke trail is from the other aircraft, having just passed through the frame. Ah well.

Now, a little detail to point out. The full-frame shot:

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds tight formation pass
Now, a collection of insets from the same image, of each of the pilots:

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds detail inset of pilots from previous frame The lead is top right of the image, and he’s the only one that watches where the flight is going. The others all watch the lead. Image top left is the right wing position, looking forward and left. Image bottom right is the left wing position, looking forward and right, while image bottom left is the tail position, looking at the flight lead above and ahead. There was, in fact, a tragic accident many years ago, during a practice session, where the flight leader suffered a control failure and was unable to pull up from a low-level pass; three other planes in formation followed him into the ground and impacted almost simultaneously.

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds mirror pass
This is easily my favorite of all the stills, for obvious reasons. Much of the effect of such demonstrations is from perspective; they appear almost touching when viewed from the side, but have a greater separation along the axis of our sight, and this effect is compounded by passing very low in front of the crowd. It also demonstrates how idiotic and impossible that one scene from ‘Top Gun’ was, but it was a stupid movie anyway. But wait! Let’s go in a little closer:

detail inset of previous mirror pass showing Opposing Solo pilot Michelle Curran
I love being able to read the inscriptions on the side of rapidly passing aircraft, and yes, they have a female pilot this year; there are three women on the main team, and they received the loudest cheers from the airshow crowd as well, even here in the redneck south. We’re making progress.

And I’ll close with a vertical climb image as the F-16 went screaming up several kilometers. Coming up, as soon as I can get to them, are several posts regarding the recent vacation in South Carolina (I took almost 1900 images for that alone, and that’s not counting The Girlfriend’s either.) Be patient.

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbird in vertical climb

Crap, but amusing crap

immature white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus buck foraging at dusk
Earlier this evening, as I was working on something in the backyard, I heard some rustling not far off and noticed a trio (at least) of young white-tailed deer foraging just beyond the fenceline, which put them no more than 12 meters from me. I drew out the smutphone and attempted to call The Girlfriend, who I believed was inside the house somewhere, but this failed because she was actually coming up behind me. The deer were aware of our presence and a little wary, but not scared off. This occurred at dusk, and the number of trees behind the property effectively rendered this twilight even though the sun barely peeked through in random patches, and as one of the deer paused in one such patch, I went inside to get the camera and long lens. Naturally enough, it did not remain in the better light long enough for me to take advantage of this.

A tripod was out of the question – just trying to set it up would at best have taken too long, but might also have scared the deer off, between the various metallic noises and the sight of the extending silvery legs. So I was shooting handheld at long focal lengths in twilight under a canopy of trees, a distinct recipe for blurry pics, and that’s primarily what I got. Boosting the ISO to 1600 helped a little, as did bracing against the fence when I could, but nothing that I got was worthy of publication (except here, of course.)

One of the deer started heading back the way they’d come, which meant towards a busy road, and The Girlfriend ducked around the house to try and head it off discreetly. Meanwhile, I stood in the middle of the backyard and tried for decent pics. The result was interesting.

female immature white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus watching The Girlfriend
With the imminent arrival of a new shed, I had removed two portions of the fence along the back of the property line, which meant it was wide open to the deer, and the one that had started towards the road was essentially standing in the opening, and aware of me – had I not been there, I have no doubt that it would have come into the backyard. But it was also intent on heading back towards the road, and this drew it ever closer to The Girlfriend, who was taking her cue from things that I’d said in the past and not staring at the deer, but glancing around casually while remaining unobtrusive. The result was the deer walking up to within five or six meters of her, which was slightly frustrating to me because I wasn’t carrying a lens that could get both in the frame to demonstrate this. It was starting to look like she was about to hand-feed a new friend. Naturally, I’ve been calling her ‘Snow White’ since this.

immature white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus doe looking dead into cameraThe first image at top was a buck, as can be determined by the stubby little horns – obviously, we’re talking pretty young here, and none of them were fully adult. The Girlfriend’s pet was a doe, seen here looking curiously at the source of the shutter sounds for a moment before resuming its stalking. Eventually, The Girlfriend waved her arms a little to spook off the deer, since it didn’t seem inclined to stop approaching the road despite her presence, and it (with some reluctance) hastened to join its departing siblings. I had thought that was the end of it, and resumed making noise in the back yard, but about 45 minutes later while I was grilling burgers on the deck, I realized that not only had they returned, one of them had entered the backyard and was foraging near the little pond – not quite as close as it had been to The Girlfriend, but then again I wasn’t standing silently by any stretch.

If this is going to become a habit (the fence seen at this link is the same section that is presently removed,) I may have to stake out the backyard more often, with the tripod and some supplemental lights, and see what I might capture when prepared. And I will note that all of these images here are full-frame as captured, not cropped at all, though I will admit to tweaking away the bluish twilight colors.

Storytime 20

juvenile Virginia opossums Didelphis virginiana protecting nest box
For this week’s storytime, we have a trio of Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) intimating far more drama than was actually present, which is why I like this image so much. No, there was no imminent danger, even if I stuck my hand in there.

You’re peeking into the nest box of some rehab patients that we had, back in ’96 or ’97, at the facility where I worked, and these are juveniles just a couple of months old, if it’s not immediately apparent. Juvenile opossums are experts at appearing vicious and bloodthirsty, while the adults tend to be less so; this trait protects the young, which would be easy pickings for many predators in the area because they’re not fast, and not adept at finding shelter when danger threatens. So they display this mouthful of remarkable teeth, growling and hissing as needed, and it usually works. But the funny thing is, they rarely ever use these teeth in defense, and don’t have to – it’s a threat display, like butterflies with eyespots, or these guys.

Five or six years previously, I had been called out during rescue duty on a ‘baby possum’ call, and arrived at a small house bordering the woods to find one as young as these, cornered alongside a stoop by three dogs, all massing about a hundred times as much as the opossum (you shouldn’t ask why the caller or owners did not take control of these dogs long before I arrived; this is rural North Carolina, and it would take more sense than is often found in these parts. It’s the bible belt after all, so people aren’t ever expected to think.)

The amusing bit is, while any of the dogs alone could have easily killed the opossum in one snap, none of them could even approach – the opossum was crouched with that mouth wide open and displaying those needle-sharp teeth, occasionally doing short lunges at the dogs with a barking, creaking growl, a sound with a phenomenal amount of malice behind it. I managed not to actually say, “Can you get these fucking dogs out of here?” while communicating the exact same sentiment, and could eventually approach the opossum without any interference from canines. I was treated to the same display, but as I reached in with heavily-gloved hands, I found the juvie easy to scoop up, whereupon its fury vanished and it merely struggled feebly. I popped it into a cat carrier (don’t ask me why we did not have specialized possum carriers, but we didn’t,) and carried it back to the van to release in a safer locale. The opossum, for its part, did not hide in a back corner of the carrier or burrow under a towel as you might expect, but swarmed up the wire door and hung upside-down from the bars, tail tightly wrapped around the wire for security.

I actually had to make a detour on the way back to the shelter to show my roommate, because prodding the opossum gently in the exposed belly or feet, while it hung inverted from the carrier-front, would produce this fantastic creaking, groaning sound, exactly what we want doors in haunted houses to emanate; this wasn’t anything more than a mild keepaway warning when its threat display had failed. As expected, an examination revealed no wounds or issues at all – the dogs had been unable to overcome their fear at this minuscule marsupial’s bravado.

Years later, I came across another outside a dumpster while in The Girlfriend’s presence (this was not a date, so hush,) and knowing their habits, didn’t even bother with the gloves this time. Despite a few barks and creaks, I slipped my hand under it and held it aloft for a quick exam while its tail curled tightly around my fingers for security, enough that it could actually dangle supported only by its tail – I did this momentarily just to demonstrate. The adults lose this ability, because they don’t need it; it’s one of the ways that the young remain attached to the back fur of their mother while she forages, the other being their agile little toes. I had myself almost completely forgotten about this incident, but was reminded not long back when The Girlfriend repeated it to someone else – apparently it stuck with her better than with me.

I been busy, part 2

Misty morning at Mason Farm Biological Reserve
As we continue our quest for currency, not in the monetary sense but in the calendrical, or something, we move up to the beginning of this month, and a sunrise outing during a foggy morning out at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. I need encouragement to move away from mist and dew drops, but seeing as how I have hundreds of photos of other subjects waiting in the wings, I no longer feel as bad about posting these now. I had, in fact, prepared and uploaded all of these to the blog server before leaving on our trip, with the idea that I might perhaps put up a post while out on vacation – and I did, but not this one. I can blame it on time and motivation, and will, but part of the reason was also that there was no desk or chair in our accommodations, and I would have had to type this whole thing from a keyboard balanced in my lap while propped up with an inadequate amount of pillows, and that simply wasn’t happening.

I was also thinking about posting these in honor of International Surface Tension Day, but then I discovered that there is no such holiday, which isn’t a surprise I guess – what a stupid thing to celebrate, you know?

unidentified white wildflower dressed in water droplets
But seeing as how the birds were exceptionally scarce that morning, and no other critters saw fit to fill in for them, we have what we have, and the Irrepressible Mr Bugg and I attempted to make the most of it. Shooting by dim existing light, I opted for f4 from the Mamiya 80mm macro and selected which drops I wanted to remain sharp. These are the kind of conditions and subjects where a macro flash actually works against you, changing the character of the light and colors.

mist drops on grape leaves
White balance is also something to consider carefully. I recommend only using Auto White Balance in situations where there is mixed lighting or you’re attempting to do away with the color cast from indoor lighting, but choosing the right option for these conditions is tricky too. Technically, the circumstances were “open shade,” and using that setting would keep the images from going too blue, but the light really was a bit blue, and that color cast provides a bit of atmosphere on its own. Sometimes, you stay with the Sunlight setting (essentially no correction) and do what’s needed in an editing program afterward, perhaps muting the blue-grey effect without eradicating it entirely.

spider web in early morning fog
I didn’t get close enough to this species to identify if (I suspect a young barn spider,) but no matter anyway – it’s the curious effect on the orb web that we’re after. My uneducated understanding is, the spiral strands that show up so well here are the only sticky ones, with the radial ‘spokes’ being non-sticky and the ones that the spider itself uses for footing. But their different nature was also attractive to the humidity, making them much more visible in the conditions. And if you ever want to get a good understanding of just how many spiders are around you, a foggy morning does a great job, because so many of the previously-invisible webs are thrown into sharp relief.

possible multiflore rose Rosa multiflora with sunrise dew
In an attempt to be informative (I know, I know, “Why start now?”) I am identifying this as a multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora, duh,) but only among those that won’t hold it against me. The identification, I mean, not the flower itself – you can do what you want with that. As the sun rose above the trees, we had a short period where the dewdrops were brightly illuminated before they evaporated away, and these little blossoms became another short depth-of-field subject. With that, however, sharp focus becomes even more challenging, because the range of focus is millimeters at best, captured during the swaying within the light breeze and my own natural swaying because, hard as it may be to believe, I’m not a robot. There are plenty of frames that I missed, but I won’t tell you about those. Yet, as I stood there, the subject matter changed.

unidentified hoverfly on possible multiflora rose Rosa multiflora
A hoverfly, which I’m not going to bother trying to identify, alighted on the blossom and gave us more to work with, remaining there for quite a while. Near as I could tell, it was after the dew and not nectar or pollen, because it largely stuck to the outer petals. Take a moment and look at the abdomen above, before we go to another perspective to compare against.

unidentified hoverfly on possible multiflora rose Rosa multiflora
It is still a little early in the season, given how often it got cold again recently, which might explain this emaciated appearance, or it might simply be how this species usually looks – I admit I don’t see them directly from the side too often. Now you know where the phrase, “You eyes are bigger than your belly,” comes from (and I’m probably showing my age with that one – go ask your grandma.)

I’ll close with one of my favorites from the day, just for the contrast. Is this art, or not? I’ll let you decide. I’ll still put it on my wall in either case.