Podcast: Squeezing one out

Yes, it’s the last podcast of the year, which means it’s got to be extra-special, right? Yeah, um… don’t get your hopes up.

Walkabout podcast – The End of 2019

But changes are afoot, as Holmes says (I think,) so expect something different coming along soon. We’re not going to use ugly qualifying and judgmental words like “better” or “exciting” or anything like that here, forcing my content to try and meet some unrealistic expectations, but “different” is sufficient for now.

Meanwhile, I mentioned some seriously productive trips, photo-wise, and if you haven’t been following the blog regularly (and why not?!?!) or simply want some quick links to refer back to them, you can click here and then again here. Or if you like, you can check out (using that sidebar tool) the posts for May and October of this year, because both of those had a large number of photo uploads. There were also two posts on my Finger lakes trips, this one and that one.

And then I produced (and directed, and edited, and wrote, and starred in) two videos this year, nothing huge, but ambitious enough for someone who’s still getting used to the medium. So click here if you like airshows and here if you like treetops.

I’m betting you didn’t believe me about the Ford Falcon XB GT (or whatever I managed to call it as I drew a blank during recording,) so needs must I provide proof.

Die-cast Ford Falcon XB GT Last of the V8 Interceptors
Immortan Tea from Adagio TeasOn top of that, I even have some ‘Immortan’ tea from Adagio Teas, a sample that The Girlfriend’s Sprog got me for christmas (along with ‘Serenitea’ from, you know, Serenity and Firefly.) What? You have no idea what I mean when I refer to Mad Max? Seriously? You should be ashamed of yourself. How are you gonna be prepared for the apocalypse if you haven’t seen the best of the post-apocalyptic films?

So if you were bored, all that could keep you busy for a while. Meanwhile, have a happy new year, try not drinking at all, and enjoy yourselves!

All the best to you and yours!

One for each of you

It is the last day of December, and the last day of the year, and so this undoubtedly deserves two abstracts, even though ‘undoubtedly’ doesn’t deserve a ‘B’ in there. But let’s not let that get in the way.

frizzy reflections
Both of these were shot on the same day, one with the knowledge that it was in direct running for this wonderful opportunity, the other with the distinct possibility, depending on how it looked; I knew better than to judge based on the LCD preview on the camera back, and in fact, rarely use that for anything at all. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though.

This one was purposefully and shamelessly altered for maximum impact, or at least to make it ever-so-slightly harder to guess, which means maybe a difficulty of 5 or 6 percent. Sure, I could throw it into en editing program and provide a tougher image to guess at, but what’s the fun in that? There are so many esoteric and useless ‘filters’ in any given editing program that anyone could easily create an unrecognizable creation from a humdrum photo, but it takes real talent to simply post the humdrum photo.

Here’s the unaltered version. Well, mostly – it’s still been cropped a bit.

slightly more apparent abstract
Jordan Lake was being notably quiet this particular day, with the barest of breezes stirring the water, so the ripples therein were small and smooth, allowing enough of a reflection of this rather branchy tree to pass with little distortion. Normally I see conditions like this early in the morning before the rising sun provides heat that starts shoving the air masses around, but this was mid-afternoon, so a little curious for that.

Ninety-some minutes later came the other.

sunset colors in water reflections
Or course, now that I’ve explained the first, the second becomes more readily distinguishable, so I made it easy on you (or easier, dropping the difficulty level from 4 to 3 percent I gather.) The goal this afternoon/evening was some sunset photos, which you can never plan, only be ready for, and some decent frames were produced, but nothing too exciting or colorful. And yes, this was among the sunset shots that ran the tally higher right before the last Storytime post.

Next year (meaning tomorrow of course) brings a new weekly topic, as well as some year-end hoohah because I’m just as shamelessly – well, with a pinch of shame – doing that nonsense here’s-an-arbitrary-date-so-it-means-drama schtick, but it’s also winter and the slow season so it keeps a little content rolling here on the bloggohedron. Because if I don’t provide regular updates, the comments, you know, just go insane.

A little winter activity, part 2

This past Thursday (meaning the 26th) spelled another outing with the Intemperate Al Bugg, and we’re in the middle of a nice warm spell. This means being out shooting isn’t uncomfortable, but doesn’t do much for photo subjects since most of the birds have already fuck-this’d south (or souther) and the arthropods and reptiles have largely holed up to binge on Netflix. Still, there were a handful of things to chase, if by ‘chase’ I mean, ‘stand and observe, and occasionally shift to a better vantage.’ We don’t tend to go loping off through the underbrush after fleeing jaguars too often.

And what Jordan Lake had to offer was… cormorants. Lots and lots of cormorants.

a pair of double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus depart perch on rocks along Jordan Lake
While we heard the croak of great blue herons on a few occasions, they never came within several hundred meters. Meanwhile, the double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) could be seen passing overhead in small groups and great flocks, and perched on the rocky causeway, and swimming out in the open occasionally vanishing beneath the surface in pursuit of fish. None of them wanted to get usefully close either, but at least they were within reach of the longer lenses.

four double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus pass overhead
Of the numerous overhead passes, I chose this one just for the line of near-silhouettes, almost a Muybridge thing (which, just by saying that, makes it classier of course.) While below, a solitary cormorant drifted around almost aimlessly after apparently failing to find any slow-enough fish.

double-crested cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus in water
There was something a little curious about the water quality, visible faintly here, because it seemed unusually thick, or laden with something; any bubbles formed by turbulence seemed to stick around indefinitely. I didn’t bother to take samples or splash my hand in it to get a firsthand feel, totally forgetting that I’m in search of content at this time of the year, so you’ll just have to go on my description and make do with that.

Yet we were also out there for sunset, which stubbornly refused to occur any earlier and stuck tightly to its own schedule, so as the time hove closer we switched positions to get a better view.

thin sundog in clouds
Sundogs – those little patches of rainbow color occasionally appearing wide to the left and right of the sun – were visible throughout much of the afternoon, and as the sun dropped lower and the haze thickened, they took on a more distinct but less colorful quality in the thin clouds. Sundogs are an effect of high-altitude ice crystals, but the clouds visible that day seemed to be a lot lower. Granted, given the sun being 147,000,000 km away, with the clouds ranging between, say 2 to 20 km, the difference between high-altitude ice crystals and low cloud cover is trivial. Meanwhile, as the sun lowered/stayed the same while the earth turned, the colors got a bit richer.

refraction in clouds during sunset
This is magnified a bit, shot at 330mm focal length, but I still missed a small detail that you can just make out here, or better below in a tighter crop of the same image.

flight of birds, probably double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus, against sundog
Yep, there’s a very distant flight of birds captured unknowingly in that frame, probably cormorants again (given the untidy linear nature of the flock,) and certainly kilometers off.

As we waited to see what the sky would develop, I noticed that the air was filled with numerous ‘midges,’ for want of better identification, slow and tending to not-quite-hover nearby as I stood on the boat docks. I amused myself by occasionally trying to snag a sharp image of one in midair and did reasonably well in that regard, focusing manually with the 17-85 IS lens.

unidentified 'midge' against sunset sky
For this one, I was actually trying to incorporate the background colors alongside the insect, but in other circumstances I concentrated on just the fly itself. This one deserves a closer look:

inset of 'midge' against sunset sky
unidentified 'midge' in midairI didn’t put a lot of effort into trying to identify the species, especially since all I have are silhouettes in the approaching gloom and they all resisted my idle attempts to catch one in hand. I found the anatomy visible in my images to be curious; I’m almost positive those are not antennae out the front, but the forelegs, and you can compare this image and this one to see better detail (and one of those might actually be the species that I was photographing.) But you gotta admit, it’s a little disturbing to see the forelegs bending back in that manner, more so when you realize the insects were simply drifting through the air at a couple centimeters per second at best – not exactly hurtling. I am avoiding all tacky jokes about limp wrists.

I will close with one of the last sunset images, when the sky never really developed any vivid colors but nonetheless kicked it in a little. You can see the lower clouds have already escaped the light of the sun and have gone slate grey, one of the reasons that I said they did not appear to be very high altitude. I went vertical to enhance that curve of clouds and provide a modicum of depth to the image, the idea of it stretching off into the distance – ya make the most of what ya get.

wispy clouds at sunset over Jordan Lake

Storytime 52

holly leaves against rising sun
Just to let you know, this is actually being written at the beginning of November, because that’s when I cemented the idea. Not all posts have that much lead time – far from it – but occasionally, I have a concept that works better (for me anyway) to postpone a bit. Mostly because this image above was taken exactly seven years ago on this date, and featured then.

But there’s slightly more to it than that. My photos are sorted into categories, and this one was in the Sunrise/Sunset folder, which was very sparsely populated at the time: a mere 52 images resided therein, the first being from Florida back in 2004. In eight years of digital images and opportunities, I only had four dozen pics from sunrise or sunset, which was disturbing to me at least, especially since when I get the right conditions, I’ll fire off a selection of frames over a period of several minutes as the colors change. And while I had a pretty good collection of photos on slide film sitting in the cabinet, the digital folders were notably barren.

Things change. Since then, we moved to a new location, with a pond nearby. And we took several beach trips, where I often made the effort to be out at sunrise. So to illustrate, I tell you that at present, the folder contains 2507 images [I have left myself a popup reminder to ensure that this number is correct right before it posts, thinking that I may have added to it – as of this writing in early November, the number was 2,474.] [Edit early AM 12/27: On top of that, I snagged more than a handful from a student outing yesterday evening, and had to sort through those to get the count correct this morning ;-)] That’s a bit more like it, especially since in there now lives my green flash photos, and some of the prints that were featured in my gallery show.

Anyway, I had to take advantage of the idea that the last Storytime post of the year would fall on the anniversary of first posting the image above – that’s the kind of elaborate planning that you’ve come to expect from me. Annnddd this is also the 11th anniversary of the first blog post, too. Well, my first blog post – there are ugly rumors that others began ‘web logging’ before me, but no one so far has documented such to my satisfaction.

[Also of note, at least to someone I suppose: That first blog post was also the only, so far, use of the word “bonhomie” within these pages. It’s not like I looked it up to sound erudite for the first, or that I stopped using the word since then for ethical reasons; there just wasn’t any particular opportunity where it seemed to fit at any later time. I mean, it’s not like it’s a common word anyway…]

A little winter activity, part 1

Great blure heron Ardea herodias perched by dead tree
Okay, technically, these are all fall photos, because they were taken before December 21, and because we’ve really only had a couple of overnight frosts while still having days with decent temperatures, but it looks like North Carolina winter around here, and the critters are largely behaving as if it is, so it counts within the realm of nature photography, okay?

Anyway, getting a few more images in while I have some time to write. These were all taken during two outings not too long back, while I have another that’s going to sneak in before the end of the year. I think. I mean, I’ve already done the outing, so I’m referring to getting the post done in that time frame.

Above, while doing some lens tests out on Jordan Lake, I fired off a couple of shots at a distant great blue heron (Ardea herodias.) The banner-style crop comes from the bare fact that there was a boat ramp not far behind that didn’t add anything to the composition. There really was only one position that I was able to shoot from since I didn’t have either a boat or a long ladder tucked in the bag somewhere (I know, right?) so this is what we have. I’ll try to do better next time.

But you can’t complain about the next shot, a lovely underside portrait of a black vulture (Coragyps atratus) peering down at me from its perch while it waited for some decaying opportunity.

perched black vulture Coragyps atratus seen from below
Well, sure, maybe you can complain, given the subject matter, the odd angle, the muted color, the twig in the way, the lack of other detail, and my unnecessary reminder of their diet, but seriously, look at that eye! Check out those lovely head caruncles! Look up the word, “caruncle!”

Moving on.

On a later outing with the Immoderate Al Bugg, we had some warm weather to contend with but managed to cope, because that’s how hardcore we are. I was still surprised to find some turtles out basking – the temperature was conducive at the moment, but usually they’ve buried themselves in the mud by this point because I’m sure the water temperature was holding somewhere below 10°c.

painted turtle Chrysemys picta basking alongside reflection in channel
Mr Bugg says he also shot the reflection, but this was taken 11 days ago and he’s had his chance, so…

But what I was surprised to capture was such a distinctive catchlight in the eye, because the turtle was in scattered indirect light within a patchy canopy. Then again, the trees are largely bare, so maybe not so surprising? Perhaps I was just lucky enough to get the turtle with its head raised enough. Here’s a full-res detail shot anyway.

basking painted turtle Chrysemys picta with catchlights and possible leech
… with a bonus capture of what might well be a leech, curled up on its cheek – turtles are favored targets of leeches.

Caruncles!

Fine – we’ll go cuter for a second, even if it’s a common-as-muck squirrel.

eastern grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis posed fetchingly
Considering that this was the species of wildlife that we got the closest to and it was cooperating pretty well, I fired off a few frames. Not to mention that it says, “autumn” pretty well overall, even if this is a winter post. We can all thank Tamron’s Vibration Control for the sharpness of this in the muted light, 600mm at 1/100 second.

Nearby, the largest hornet’s nest that I’ve ever seen decorated a tree. I made it a point not to make a lot of noise in approaching and didn’t disturb the tree, but was later informed that such nests are only seasonal and it was almost certainly unoccupied. Which is a shame, because I would have returned in the spring for some action shots (no, not me running screaming from an angry swarm.)

large hornets' nest on tree
There was no way that I could include anything at all for scale, being two meters over my head, but I can tell you this was over a half-meter in length if it was an inch.

[Sorry, obscure reference here; an inch is an archaic unit of measurement only recognized by two incredibly backwards countries, roughly equal to 2.5cm.]

And while some of the birds still in the region were taking advantage of the warmer weather, they were also being remarkably secretive, and few posed for any kind of nice portraits. One eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) was slightly cooperative for the species, making a brief appearance in the open (kinda) while still shrouded in the gloom that had fallen as the sun dove into deep haze, and of course it posed against the sky.

eastern towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus against hazy sky
I remarked earlier about zoology abandoning the name rufous-sided towhee for eastern towhee, personally liking the color reference better, but it appears that it was a taxonomical decision because the rufous name was found to be used by two different species. Yet instead of simply adding a new name for one of the species, they changed both, and for the boring too; this one is an eastern towhee, while the other is a spotted towhee. Sheesh.

However, knowing how the light was, I decided to fire off the dinky little on-camera flash, not for primary illumination, but for fill lighting to make the colors come out a little better.

eastern towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus with fill-flash
inset of eastern towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus showing catchlightNot a huge impact, mostly from the distance involved, but a slight edge – really, there isn’t a lot you can do with such conditions, and had I brought a proper flash unit, it still would’ve taken some careful exposure balancing to prevent the background sky from rendering too dark, and I doubt the towhee would’ve waited around for the shenanigans. But I’m including an inset of the same frame, just for the effect on the eye again – this time artificial instead of natural like the turtle’s. And it added a small defining sheen to the beak too. Still not a great photo of course, but a small demonstration of supplemental lighting – which also lit up the stubborn leaf right at the bird’s ass. At the same time, direct light is boring and can make your subject seem flat, so some degree of sidelighting works a lot better, and doing that with an external flash unit starts to involve some more elaborate prep, like light stands and flash triggers, or at the bare minimum an assistant holding the flash out on a coiled shoe cord. Again, not a spontaneous thing.

So no, not a hugely productive couple of outings, but as I said, it’s winter – there isn’t a lot to work with right now. As I said, some more will be along. Soonish.

Even more rampant

It is very early christmas morning as I type this. All the presents are wrapped, the cheesecake is cooling on the stove top, and the kitchen is clean with the dishwasher going. And I have left a couple of gifts for The Girlfriend to discover when she gets up, one of which I’m going to show here because I’m almost positive she’s going to hit the kitchen before she checks my blog for updates. As strange as that may sound.

soap dispenser with hand-painted sea turtleAnd I admit, this is strictly my ego talking – I mean, even more than usual – but I’m pleased with this one. As long as you don’t look too closely.

Here’s the story (before Friday, even): several years back I painted a sea turtle onto a soap dispenser for the kitchen, which she was pleased with. Me, less so; I felt I could have done it better, but as long as she was happy, I could deal. At the time, however, the only clear dispenser that I could find was acrylic, with a plastic pump, not really what I was after (you know, when you make something personalized and much less disposable than normal, you want a little longevity from it.) Over time the pump got worn, and eventually the acrylic body cracked. I had more time this time, and looked around to find a glass dispenser in pale blue; you know, more-or-less water colored. The pump was unfortunately still plastic – I’m liable to have to look hard to overcome that, but for now, here we are. This was long enough ago that I’m almost certain that she’s forgotten about it.

This time, I’m more pleased with the painting, which measures all of 48mm in width, and because of that size, it looks a bit rough when I apply the serious macro techniques on it and I’m not showing you those pics. I’m consoling myself with the assurance that most paintings from, you know, qualified (meaning paid) artists would look rough at that magnification – some even without it. You’re seeing it here at roughly ‘typical’ distance and perspective, so you can judge for yourself if it works or not. Doesn’t matter, really; as long as she likes it, you guys can go squat.

It’s sitting in position now behind the sink, and I’m liable to not even be present when she discovers it, but that’s part of the fun. Plus it was one less gift that had to be wrapped ;-)

Happy holidays, everyone!

Not the holiday you plan for

That just ruins it.

Today is, apparently, Get Awakened Twice Before The Alarm Goes Off Day, that rather unwelcome holiday that planning for, or even alerting anyone to ahead of time, defeats the purpose, which is why I couldn’t tell you about it sooner, and in fact didn’t remember myself. Anyway, here it is, and I figured I’d use some of my extra time with posting about it.

The first occasion came courtesy of The Monster, who decided that somewhere in the wee dark hours, it was time to repeatedly dance across the bed, knock my glasses off the nightstand, and generally be far too kittenish for her age (shooting ugly looks in her direction.) This managed to get me awake enough to be annoyed, but not annoyed enough to stick, as it were, and I eventually fell back asleep.

An unknown time later but still better than 90 minutes before I was due to wake up, The Girlfriend got me up by telling me the neighbor’s yard waste fire from yesterday had reignited and was pretty high – they sit out back across the creek, better than a hundred meters off and so, to be visible, it was serious enough. We could see it wasn’t near the house, but also that no one was monitoring it, and so we traipsed over there in the frosty, still-dark air to get them up too. With luck, it was the second time for them, but I didn’t bother to ask. No damage, no immediate risk, but they appreciated being alerted to the hazard.

On an entirely incidental note, this is the winter solstice, or perhaps we should say the December solstice because it’s only a winter solstice for the northern hemisphere, meaning that the days have stopped getting shorter and are now lengthening again. In the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, where it is largely summer, the days have stopped getting longer and are now going to get shorter for six months. On the equator, meanwhile, nobody gives a damn. Plus, we can only count this days longer/shorter horseshit if you consider “day” to mean “daylight hours” and not the 24-ish hour sidereal day or like that, which remains the same length of time throughout the year and will only start to get longer/shorter if the Earth changes its rate of spin. Seriously, who created this system? It’s nuts.

But while we’re on the subject of celebrating-only-not-really,-maybe-kinda-observing-in-the-loosest-sense-of-the-word, I must note that this is the 1700th post on the ol’ Walkabout blogaroonie, 1700 being significant in that it, um, marks the dividing line between, you know, things. The remarkable difference between pre-1700 and post-1700. I shouldn’t have to explain this.

So in recognition of this, I present the 1700th image taken with the Sony F-717 digital camera, temporarily loaned to me while I lived in Florida – an odd milestone, perhaps, but it’s the first number that I could actually track, everything up until then (and plenty since) being shot on film and thus lacking any solid numbering system. So here’s a (probable) thinstripe hermit crab (Clibanarius vittatus,) residing for a short while in my saltwater aquarium and staring deep into our eyes in that mesmerizing way that crabs have. The crushed shell substrate at bottom gives a hint of scale, but my subject here wasn’t any greater than 20mm across the widest points of its adopted shell.

probable thinstripe hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus in small aquarium
So, regardless of which of these you’re celebrating, happy holidays, and don’t get too carried away!

And out the other side

I had originally lined these images up for a post several weeks back, but that was at the time that Mr Bugg was doing his own monochrome posts and was being snarky, and I wasn’t going to give him any satisfaction in that regard, but now that I just did something about ultra-violet light, I figured I could go to the opposite side of the visible spectrum and do infra-red now.

I had my fun with IR photography in the past, but haven’t done anything recently, and that’s because I had a camera at the time that could do it easily – the Canon Pro 90 IS – but none of my current cameras can tackle it because they all have IR blocking filters over the sensor. Now, I still have the Pro 90 buried away and could presumably use it again, but the last time I tried it refused to power on; this might only have been the battery, I don’t know. All that aside, right now we’re dealing with shots from back in the day, a little after hydrogen had formed I think.

Old Well on UNC Chapel Hill Campus in infra-red
Believe it or else not, this is a full-color image, the barest hint of which can be seen right along the bottom. This is the original frame produced by the Pro 90 and a simple Lee 87P3 IR pass polyester filter; that booginess at the bottom is the edge of the filter, where I’d mounted it to a wire frame for easier handling, getting into the shot. Different filters pass different wavelengths and often produced distinctive color casts, but this one was almost monochromatic. That faint lavender hue served no purpose for me, so I simply converted the image into greyscale anyway, but the dynamic range was also a bit narrow, and the photo begs for more contrast. So a little more editing was in order.

original image showing edits in Curves function
The little graph in there is the histogram within the ‘Curves’ function in most serious photo editing programs, and when you look at the mountain range in that graph, you’ll notice that there aren’t even any foothills over at either side – this means that nothing in the original image actually becomes fully black (left side) or fully white (right.) Can’t have that – we want a full range. So the curve itself is adjusted by moving the corner points, upper right and lower left, inwards until they’re just outside of the mountain. What this does is take the brightest parts of the original frame, somewhere around medium light grey, and bring them all the way up to white, and the same in reverse for the darkest portions. Even though, in the way this is illustrated by the graph, it seems like we’re cutting something off, this was all unused brightness registers, and it works better to think that we’re stretching the brightness of the entire image out to the limits; the brightest part of the image, originally medium light grey, has been boosted to almost-white by doing this, and vice-versa.

Then there’s the curvy bit between those pointers. Instead of a nice diagonal line, I dragged it higher along the right side and lower along the left, which increases contrast within the existing range. If the curve were shaped the opposite way, it would reduce contrast. In this manner, I made the domed structure (this is Old Well on the Chapel Hill Campus of the University of North Carolina) remain stark and bright while brightening the leaves of the trees as well – not as much, because Old Well needs to stand out, but the surreal nature of their brightness needed to be enhanced. At the same time, I darkened down the lower registers, making the branches more distinct against the leaves and also darkening that sky. By the way, this was shot on a bright September day and the sky was brilliant blue – this is just what infra-red does to blue skies and foliage. I now wish that I’d done a frame without the IR filter so you could compare what it looked like in visible light, but it didn’t occur to me at the time (I hadn’t started blogging yet.)

So let’s see the end result in better detail:

Old Well in infra-red, tweaked for improved contrast
With a slight difference in the middle of the curve, I could have made the leaves brighter, but I didn’t want them to appear like snow, and still wanted Old well to dominate the frame, so this is my choice – others may have approached if differently. I’m very pleased with the branches standing out so well, because in visible light they almost entirely blended in with the leaves. This altered image was part of my gallery show at this time last year, as well as being donated to a charity auction many years previously where it sold for more than what I’d valued it as, so at least one other person approved.

Storytime 51

Confession time: I started this back in the spring, and attempted to follow through, but timing and conditions did not mesh well. I include it here as a long Storytime post, partially because I already have the last one of the year written, but also just to clear it out of the queue. The previous draft of this post was last saved April 4th of this year, to give you the timeframe. So below, the post as it originally read.

*     *     *     *

This is kind of a diary, of sorts. I heard about something really cool that it seemed possible that I could get images of, and have been wanting to try for a while now. Blogwise, I’d like to wait until I’m actually successful, because I’ve mentioned projects and goals that were “in progress” and too often they simply never came about, leaving this teaser out there (for, you know, all those people who were waiting desperately for it to come to fruition.) So now I typically wait until I actually achieve what I’m after, but this is both misleading (in that it may seem like I never struggle, or that it took no time at all,) and stands the chance of missing out on some details along the way. So, I’m chronicling this kind of as I go, adding as I get more results, and if you’re reading this it means I actually got somewhere. Spoiler alert.

There was a scientific paper published not too long ago that revealed that the fur of southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) fluoresces under ultra-violet light – like, bright pink. There are numerous questions that arise, among them a) how did it take this long to discover this, and b) what possible purpose does this serve? I am not going to answer any of these, but there stands the chance that I can get images of it, because at the time that I heard of it, I was pretty certain I had one of them overwintering in one of our bluebird boxes. Since hearing of this, I determined that two of the bluebird boxes were likely so occupied. I had all winter to plot, because flying squirrels hibernate and would not become active until warmer weather.

The first thing I did was look for a better UV light source. I possessed two at the time that I first heard this finding: one little dedicated flashlight that took three AAA batteries, and my powerful headlamp had a blue light option that also extended into UV range, as I could tell from the items that fluoresced under its beam. So, here I insert a word about fluorescence, which basically means, something that absorbs light and re-emits it, often at a different wavelength. For instance, most highlighting pens are actually UV fluorescent, which is what gives them their slightly unreal glow, and there are a few minerals that are naturally fluorescent, plus plenty of artificial items like high-visibility orange or green vests that road workers wear and so on. UV light is often known as “black” light, bordering on the outside edge of what we can see by eye, usually looking a deep, dim purple, but once it hits a fluorescent object you realize how much light is being put out by how much re-emits in a visible spectrum. And of course, there’s all that CSI stuff about finding bodily fluids and all that, which is true. But, different wavelengths have different effects, and since I had the lights to try and spot scorpions (my original intentions,) I did a little research into this, and found that the best results were obtained at 395 nanometers wavelength; shorter than that had a tendency to spook off the scorpions. Plus I wanted a flashlight that took 18650 rechargeable batteries like the headlamp, because they’re powerful and I had several already. So I ordered a new one.

It arrived during a spell when it got warmer at night, and I took it out for a spin after a few indoor tests. Near one of the bluebird boxes, I tried to turn it on and nothing happened, but I’d tested it earlier and it was fine. I remember disassembling it to see if I could switch the lens, because the beam was not exactly what I wanted, and I suspected that I’d slipped the contacts when I reassembled it so, standing out in the dark yard, I took it apart and put it back together, being rewarded by the eruption of the purple glow before it was even fully rescrewed. Aiming it up at the bluebird box, I was startled by the brilliant, two-tone neon pink face peering suspiciously out at me, which soon withdrew. I can’t emphasize the effect enough – the squirrel looked like a child’s toy, rendered in colors that were in no way natural, and there was a different level of emittance between that brown upper coat and the white undercoat; brown and white in natural light, of course, but middle pink and brilliant pink in UV. It was exhilarating.

But only proof of effect. Photographing this was going to take something else. I knew the light was going to be dim, so a decent exposure would take some time; at least a second, possibly several, and during that time I’d be expecting the squirrel to hold still and give me a sharp image. Yeah, fat chance – they’re shy, but as hyperactive as the average grey squirrel. This might take quite a few tries. In the meantime, fired up by the success of the first test, I wandered around for a little to see what else might pop up under the UV beam, because I’d already discovered before that a few arthropods, and some saps and fungi, fluoresced nicely. So I checked out the yard, and wandered down to the nearby pond.

I can recommend, if you ever want to try this, to ensure that you find a light that’s 395nm or higher, because the effect is noticeably different. Things that were only faintly visible under the blue light of the headlamp showed up much better under the 395 light, and some kinds of fungi were only visible at that wavelength. The Apheloria virginiensis montana centipedes became active in the yard at the first hint of warmer weather, and they show brilliantly under the new flashlight. It remains too early to see any of the spined micrathena spiders yet.

The it turned cold again, then it warmed a little and I took The Girlfriend out to see if the squirrel would peek out for her, which it did, just barely, but enough to demonstrate the lovely color. Then it had gotten ugly NC winter cold yesterday, dropping below freezing overnight; I had to chip the frozen raindrops off of the car this morning, but went out in the afternoon without shoes on as the temperature rose above 20°c – seriously, who’s programming this shit? But it meant the evening was warmer again, and The Girlfriend and I went out again to check on the nest box, being treated to the squirrel’s little face watching us again. She held still so well that I immediately went in and got the camera and tripod.

I boosted ISO to 800, not really sure how this would work for quality but needing the shorter exposure times. I focused manually, very quickly with a visible flashlight, then aimed the UV light at the box and stood ready with the remote release. The flying squirrel within gave me several opportunities and I fired off about a dozen frames, getting a shorter shutter speed than expected – within 1 to 2 seconds, and I could see from the LCD preview that I was getting something. Not wanting to disturb the squirrel too much, I let it be after about two minutes and unloaded the memory card to see what I’d captured.

*     *     *

And at that point I let the post draft go, even though I had at least one of the images that I intended to use, I never uploaded it. So now (in mid-December) we continue:

southern flying squirrel Glaucomys volans fluorescing under 395nm UV light
Curiously, the image came out a little dark though I had let the camera set its own exposure – this is slightly puzzling. It would seem to mean that the exposure meter can pick up more of the UV light than the sensor itself, which might be true – it’s possible that the sensor has its own ultra-violet filter, and I know it has its own infra-red, something that is removed if the camera body is custom modified to shoot IR. Also curious, the squirrel does not seem as fluoresced as I recall it when viewing directly, the darker fur barely visible above the minimal reflectance of the nest box, so does the sensor have a certain cutoff that is still visible to our eyes, or was it only my imagination? Only a lot of tests or some very specific research will tell for sure. In the meantime, I’ve tweaked the same image for a better view.

southern flying squirrel Glaucomys volans fluorescing under 395nm UV light
Also of note is the focus. I said above I manually focused the camera by (visible) flashlight, but one thing I know from experience is that, when shooting in infra-red at least, the focus ring has to be tweaked manually away from what appears focused to our eyes, because the longer wavelengths of IR light get bent even more by the lens, so it is likely the same for UV, and I should purposefully shorten the focus when attempting this again – by how much, of course, is going to be difficult to determine. Will autofocus work? I have my doubts, because it needs a minimum amount of light, and while it worked for the Canon Pro 90 IS in infra-red, that was also during daylight with the sun as a light source and not a little 3.7v flashlight. And of course, I could always increase my depth by stopping down the aperture, but that will drop the shutter speed too, and that’s not the best of moves with twitchy little squirrels.

The chances of pursuing this further this year are likely gone; even if I have any flying squirrels using the nest boxes right now (I tend not to check a lot to avoid disturbing them,) they’re almost certainly hibernating for the winter and won’t appear again until spring. I know, I know – such a down note when I’m supposed to be making the most of winter, but hey, you can bear with it.

My seasonal charity work

I know this is going to come off sounding like bragging, and it’s not intended that way at all but, well, so be it. I am presently working on a plugin that will eradicate every last vestige of ‘Baby Yoda’ from your internet browser – all memes, all photos, all mentions, all cookie cutters, all bumper stickers, everything. It’s quite a comprehensive program, but sorely needed and already long overdue.

If you’d like to contribute to the success of this endeavor, hit me up and I’ll provide appropriate credit.

No, I’m not porting it over to smutphones – fuck people doing everything on their damn phones, they deserve what they get.