December’s abstract

raindrops on floating down featherI got this one during the same outing as the previous post, but I needed to close the year with another abstract, so here it is. It’s a tight crop from the original, a down feather floating on the pond and sporting some raindrops, taken while perched precariously on the shore. I suspect it did much better with the near-overcast light than it would’ve with bright sunlight, and you have to admit that the lensing effect of the drops worked well.

Now, just for perspective, I want you to picture this. The feather was all of 3 cm in length, floating on the water just a little offshore, held in place by reeds. The water drops thereon could only have been seen with a close inspection. Finding something interesting to photograph sometimes takes a bit of patience and a keen eye for detail. And, in this case, being blasé about sitting on the damp ground at the edge of the pond – I think the wet ass was worth it…

Not award-winners

unknown berry against sunset skyIt could have been snow storms at this time of year, but it isn’t – it’s just rain, though lots of it. So even when I have a little time to shoot, it’s hard to find something to work with. Nonetheless, I’m making the effort, though not too much of what I’m producing would be candidates for any awards. Even when I got out as the sunset looked promising, like above, the sky didn’t develop towards anything impressive, and I was forced to try and make the most out of the faint color and one of those still-unidentified berries.

potentially turkey tail mushrooms, but who knows?And fungi – remember what I said about rain and warm temperatures? While I shot these a few days ago, today’s Earth Science Picture of the Day indicates that these may be either turkey tail mushrooms or false turkey tail mushrooms – I was a poor naturalist and did not look under the caps for the distinguishing feature. Or it may not be related to either species – mycology has never been my thing, though I was careful not to admit this on dates and deftly changed the subject whenever it came up. This might explain a lot…

For this particular outing, the sun refused to come out until it was over, and there was even a brief rain shower, so the light wasn’t providing a lot of options. Annnndddd as I was checking the draft right now before adding more, I just hit the ‘Publish’ button instead of the ‘Preview,’ so early viewers or those with RSS feeds are going to get confused. I’m sure I have a lot of people to apologize to…

unidentified fungi looking real coolThis form of fungi, growing off the side of a still-standing trunk, was much more interesting, and I did a number of perspectives. Brighter light would have made shooting a little easier, since I could go with a smaller aperture at least, but I don’t think direct light would have improved matters any, and likely would have made things much worse, increasing contrast and shadow depth. Plus, any kind of fungus in bright light is slightly anachronistic – we always associate such growth with shadowy areas, deep forest canopies and places where witches hang out. Truth be told, I saw no witches – or at least, none that I knew of. Since this was a park in Carrboro, a town which possibly has the highest percentage of wiccans and hipsters in North Carolina, it’s possible I saw more than I suspected. Wiccans aren’t quite as obvious as hipsters…

unidentified arthropod eggs, possibly wheel bugDespite the conditions, I did not ignore my creepy callings, i.e., the arthropods. On the side of a tree I spotted this patch of eggs, which I’m fairly certain are from a species of assassin bug, probably a wheel bug (Arilus cristatus.) I had photographed such eggs hatching once before – in fact, the exact same patch as seen in those linked photos, since Jim Kramer is a friend of mine and those were in his yard, so he could watch for their hatching routinely, and called me when it was happening. I don’t have that resource this time around, and the eggs seen here are far enough away that I won’t be able to check very often, so it will only be with extreme luck that I might see these (or others) hatching. But if you want to see what the adult looks like, check here.

unidentified beetle on longneedle pine budsAnd another, because it was obvious and semi-fartsy. You’d think those pale legs would make the species easy to identify, but a quick search has turned up nothing even remotely similar, so I can’t tell you what this is. A lot of arthropod species I identify for blog posts, but everything that I shoot I have to catalog, and I endeavor to correctly identify them all. As you might imagine, this can be tedious and ridiculously time-consuming – but perhaps your imagination isn’t completely accurate. Even when finding a photo that looks like a match, this doesn’t mean there aren’t eighteen subspecies identified only by how many antenna segments they have or the length of their hind leg segments (I am not being silly – those are both key factors that I’ve run across for other species.) So my arthropod database, listing all the attributes of my photo stock, has a ‘confidence’ column; I may have a name, but still have a low confidence that it is that exact species. And this one, of course, I have nothing for. Come to think of it, I have only tentative IDs for a couple of the images in this post, and am positive of none. Well, that just made me feel on top of things this evening…

Monday color 47

porcelain berries Ampelopsis brevipedunculataActually, this image was taken the same day as the porcelain berries (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) featured in a previous Monday color, just in a location several hundred meters away. I felt the need to spread them out in posting times, and this was as far as I could go. Unless I continue the Monday color through the winter months. Check back next year/week and see.

Christmas day in the morning

rainbow at sunrise on christmas over pondThe title phrase is a curse, or I suppose an exclamation, that my dad used to say. Still does, perhaps – I haven’t heard it in a long time, but then I don’t get the chance to hang around him much.

Regardless of his language habits, these shots are actually from this morning, before the sun was visible over the horizon. I saw colors developing in the sky and trotted over to the pond, to be surprised with a sunrise rainbow. Because of the sun angle, I don’t think you can get a conventional rainbow any higher in the sky than this, though other atmospheric effects can occur.

This one is unaltered, and I thought I had the white balance set for sunlight – certainly looks that way from the red in the sky – but it seems I had auto white balance set instead. That’s what comes from shooting in a hurry before the rainbow faded, because I know that I should have been shooting in sunlight balance to keep the colors; doesn’t look like it had a bad effect anyway. I also did a few frames with the intention of joining them in a panoramic, producing a much wider angle of view than my lenses are capable of, but I still had the wide-angle lens mounted and the fisheye distortion is going to keep the frames from matching up without a lot of Photoshop work, so you’ll have to wait until later to see if I’m successful.

The secondary arc was only visible in places, and it was just for a brief period that the main arc was complete across the sky. By the time the sun was “up,” insofar as local sunrise is calculated, the bow had vanished – it was fading even as the first direct light touched the tops of the trees. I’d tried calling The Girlfriend to stop working on The Fabulous Christmas Quiche (yes that’s a proper noun) to come out and see it, but she never heard the phone ring – to the best of my knowledge, I’m the only one in the immediate area that actually saw the display. The early morning dog-walkers and joggers were all too late.

christmas sunrise rainbow reflectionA quick attempt to be fartsy – it’s not exactly the time of year to have foreground elements to work with, you know. Though, granted, I was doing this in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals – this is no surprise to anyone on the east coast presently, but it’s a reminder for anyone seeing this post at any later date – the weather has been ridiculously warm right now, courtesy of a warm front pushing lots of rain (as in, flood warnings) for the past few days.

Speaking of that, you might have thought that the rainbow indicated either a past or, more likely (it’s opposite the sun at sunrise, thus westerly) oncoming rain storm. However, nothing of the sort happened, nor did it look like it was about to; I think the rainbow was courtesy of nothing more than morning mist.

christmas rainbow over pondThis one has gone through a slight color tweak to bring out more balanced colors, but the flare is from the original, an not an aspect of being too enthusiastic with the saturation settings – it shows up in some of the frames showing the other side, too, so I think it’s an artifact of the conditions.

With the fleeting phenomenon of the rainbow, I wasn’t paying any attention to the other colors in the sky, and by the time the bow was gone the clouds had largely become neutral as well. That’s okay – I think the rainbow was making for better photos anyway. Granted, I’ve seen better displays, but hey, it was a nice bonus for the morning.

No time, no time

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been involved in several different pursuits at this point and have had little time to devote to the blogarino, and even this one is going to be quick. But you know, that special day has rolled around again, the explanation for why I have been so pressed for time, and the celebration that it’s only getting better from here on in (for six months, anyway): yes, it’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year! From the bigoted standpoint of northern hemispherans, anyway – Australians and Patagonians are not going to relate, and may be doing exactly what I was doing six months ago (and refused to make note of then,) which is trying to forget that the days are now going to be getting shorter.

small cluster of unknown flowers blooming in December, Duke GardensLike before, I’ve attempted to feature a photo taken on either a previous winter solstice or a summer solstice, but like before, I have very few photos actually taken then – it seems I never get out on those days. And looking at the conditions of the sky right now, I’m not taking anything today to use for a later, post, either. So we go back to last year and just a few days before, on December 19th, one of the photos taken during an outing to Duke Gardens but not used when I posted about it ten days later (sheesh.) I have no idea what these flowers are, but they were indeed in bloom in December. And in fact, I might have had some recent ones to post here, but somebody had to cancel out on a trip there scheduled for this past Saturday. Not looking in any particular directions, here…

unidentified butterfly on unidentified leavesBut while I’m logged in and have been poking through the image folders, let’s go with another, this one from January of this year, one month past the solstice during a trip to the Museum of Life and Science. This particular shot has a hidden meaning to it, because it is the exact same spot and plant featured three years ago, one that I happened to like. I just wasted too much time trying to identify the butterfly, so I’m letting it go – the day’s too short for that kind of thing. I’ll let someone in Botswana figure it out – they’ve got the time.

Monday color 46

Not exactly winter colorsIn honor of the holidays, I present this holiday composition. Except, it isn’t, really, even though I am reminded irresistibly of christmas whenever I see it, for reasons unknown. Taken in the late fall when an unidentified tree was sporting some lone bright reds, it contrasted nicely with the cedar, or whatever – you know, I don’t know my trees, so don’t look to me for botanical information. Just enjoy the image.

On the negative side 7

It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t had much time to even look at some of the drafts I have in the folder, much less tackle anything new to write, and I’m not sure this will improve before christmas. So for now, we’ll step onto the Wayback Crack and break causality’s back. And here, you didn’t think I could turn a metaphor…

In a previous episode, I featured my first wild gator pic, taken at J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, so on the first trip on my own to Florida a couple of years later, I had to return. That day, unfortunately, was incredibly slow – the weather was a little off, and there simply wasn’t much of anything to see, which is how it goes sometimes. You can’t judge a locale based on one visit, because you might simply have gotten there at a dead time (or a remarkably active one.)

Alongside a large pool that turned out to be a shallow flood plain, I spotted a couple of wading birds in the distance, a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) and a great egret (Ardea alba) – or at least, it was probably a great egret. It might also have been a great white heron, which is a white phase of the great blue that is found only in Florida and down into the Caribbean. The way to distinguish them is the color of the legs: egrets have black legs, while the herons have tan legs. The photo wasn’t distinct enough to display this effectively.

great blue heron Ardea herodia and probable great egret Ardea alba in reflecting pool at Ding DarlingThe driftwood and the reflections were a nice touch, though the hazy sky took away a lot of the color vibrancy and any kind of interesting background. The way the undergrowth alongside the pool and access road were, this was the only vantage I could get, and I wasn’t wild about the background. But there’s a simple trick that I encourage people to remember, which is how three-dimensional the world is. By changing our own shooting position, we can change the position of the subject and the background in the frame, and sometimes get a composition that works better. In this case, I realized I needed to be higher.

Florida is flat, and Sanibel doubly so – there was no hill to climb, and not even any trees that might serve as a perch. So I clambered onto the roof of my little Corolla, standing carefully along the roof edge where the framing could support my weight and I could avoid the sunroof. This was akin to balancing on a beam, nothing difficult, but slightly more challenging when then looking through a telephoto lens and trying to compose the shot. It worked, however.

great blue heron Ardea herodia and probable great egret Ardea alba in reflecting pool at Ding DarlingNow, this is a demonstration of the change that comes from position, but it’s not a great shot. A small portion of the blame can be placed on negative film, which is grainier and less vibrant than most slide films – the reason why, a dozen or so years ago, editors would only buy slides for publication, a switch I made a few years after this trip (but before the next.) More blame falls on me, however. The light simply wasn’t supportive of such a composition, and my framing is a little too centered. See that driftwood off to the right in the previous image? I (probably) could have shifted my aim to the right, putting more driftwood into the frame and setting the birds off-center to the left, to make a little more dynamic shot. I say I probably could have shifted more to the right, but it’s possible that there were more distractions and unattractive gunk over there; I can’t remember everything about trips from 20-odd years ago. I did, at least, get the foreground foliage out of the shot, which was what created the extremely faint blotches in the lower part of the frame.

So while we’re talking about composing, let’s look at the details. The great blue heron came up more distinct when framed against the bright reflecting water, but the egret still isn’t standing out well. Ideally, one would work the background to be dark behind a light subject, and light behind a dark one, just to boost that contrast and attract the eye better. Had the sky been blue with fluffy clouds, I might have tried to put the egret against blue sky and the heron against a white cloud. Note, also, that the hue of the water may change with angle, faintly visible here as it becomes darker towards the bottom of the frame. And of course, shooting at dawn just as the sun peeked over the foliage and illuminated the birds in an orange glow would have been nice. Birds don’t spend their nights down in reach of predators, though, so such a thing might not have been possible at sunrise anyway…

Though this shot spent a few years up on my wall (on the ‘beach’ wall; I also had a ‘forest’ wall,) I’ve moved on and don’t think it’s a worthwhile effort anymore. This happens: shots you might have been really proud of at one time may later become viewed with disdain, and this is a good thing. It means you’re improving.

Monday color 45

wild blue phlox Phlox divaricata divaricata blooming in mid DecemberAs can be seen from recent posts, I’ve actually captured images with more color, but I chose this one because, as of publishing, it’s slightly over 11 hours old. The wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata divaricata) that surrounds the Japanese maple right out front seems confused over the season, since it hasn’t produced any flowers since May, but this lone stem is trying to be different. The Girlfriend had pointed out yesterday that there were cherry trees in bloom, anachronistically, and so I had to show this to her where I discovered it. It’s not particularly warm for this time of year, either, so don’t ask me what’s causing this.

The grey hours

fog over nearby pondNature photographers are all familiar with the ‘golden hours,’ times right around dawn and dusk when the light conditions are often highly conducive to great photos. That is, when it’s not rainy or overcast of course, but fog – that’s another thing. It’s hardly golden, but it can be a great element in photos. Yesterday morning as I was getting ready to meet with a student, I dashed over to the nearby pond for a quick session. This, by the way, is almost the exact same view to be seen in these lightning photos.

orb web defined by fog condensationThe worst part about a sunrise fog is how low the light levels are, dragging shutter speeds down – it’s enough to make droplet and macro images extremely tricky to get unless you lug along a tripod (which I did not – the schedule was too tight to get serious about it.) So a lot of what I shot simply didn’t come out, despite taking lots of frames to increase my chances. But there were enough that did, and one of the more interesting aspects of these conditions is that it shows exactly how active spiders are, because every strand of web gathers dewdrops – not just the orb webs as seen here, but every dragline, every safety strand and travel line across branches, things that would have otherwise remained invisible. In most cases, no spider can be found; even if the web is in use, the spiders usually abandon their hunting positions to take shelter from the humidity up in their ‘safe’ location, usually one of the upper anchors of the web. They seem to know that no insects are going to be captured in such conditions, plus who knows? Maybe the web gets slippery…

One thing that they don’t seem to be bothered by, however, is dew on their own bodies; I’ve seen some spiders simply dripping with dew, attracted to them the same way it is attracted to other surfaces. And not every spider abandons their post.

unidentified orb weaver in dew-laden web with old mealThis orb weaver was alongside a deep ditch that prevented viewing from the opposite side, which would have been a better angle, but at least I managed to get it and its old prey in the same plane for the handheld shot at f4. Trickier still was placing the dark spider against a light spot in the background while simultaneously getting the fly against a dark spot for maximum contrast; believe it or not, I actually rotated the camera slightly thinking it would rotate either the web or the background for a better fit against the other. Hey, it was early…

dew-covered dandelion blossomThere were other little vignettes to be found, though there was no way I was going to pull off a lighting effect like this one, which I consider much nicer. Still, this works – gotta move on, can’t dwell on the past.

And one more, perhaps the best of the landscape shots.

foggy morning at local pondI have to point out that tree trunk on the far side, visible just above the foliage coming in from the right; it’s the same tree as the ghost shot in the previous post, though from a different angle. But of course you recognized it…

Greasing up the ol’ camera

autumn sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua leaves naturally stackedOkay, don’t do that. All I was referring to was actually getting out to do a bit of shooting (like, over 400 frames) when I’ve been doing almost nothing for the past few weeks. Both students that I had to cancel out on last weekend when I felt like crud had been rescheduled for this weekend, when we had some surprisingly cooperative weather, so I was able to chase some more things of interest.

American goldfinch Spinus tristis foraging among the dead leavesCuriously, the conditions were radically different within a small geographic area. Mason Farm Biological Reserve was largely as expected for this time of year: loaded with grey and brown dried foliage, with the only activity coming from the birds (well, and the birders and joggers.) As seen above, some splashes of color could be found if one was selective, but most of it looked like the image at left, far too close to monochrome. This, by the way, is a tight crop from the original frame, since I hadn’t bothered with the weight of the long lens (again, I was with a student) and so wasn’t loaded for birds, but this female American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) was kind enough to forage through a clump of leaves only a handful of meters away and was captured with the Mamiya 80mm macro. It was alone among the many birds seen yesterday, since it not only remained relatively close, but even chose good light conditions – far too many of them either remained on the shady sides of the trees or only popped out momentarily while at too great a distance. Had we picked a spot and exercised a lot of patience, however, we might have had a bit more luck.

Below, some tenacious leaves on a vine capture the morning sun from behind and stand out from the landscape rather distinctly. I’m embarrassed by this now, because I’m sure they were just trying to attract attention, and I don’t like encouraging such wanton behavior.

bright red vine leaves against boring landscapeHaving exhausted what Mason Farm had to offer, we hiked the short separation over to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, which presented a lot more of interest even as we first hit the entrance. Several species of flowers were still in bloom, and the warmth of the day had brought the pollinators back out, some still appearing to be groggy from the overnight chill.

Eastern carpenter bee Xylocopa virginica on New England aster Aster novae-angliaeThe clusters of late-blooming flowers were a drastic difference from the nearby reserve, and the bees were making the most of it before another drop in temperature sent them back to the protection of their hives and nests. This one is most likely a male Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica,) betrayed by the white spot on its face. I’m among the many who consider everything that looks like this a “bumblebee,” but technically it’s not. Supposedly, it also lacks a stinger, and maybe some day I’ll test out this hypothesis by snagging one as it raids a blossom – anything for science.

The activity seemed to be evenly split between the carpenter bees and the European honeybees (Apis mellifera,) with a single hoverfly making an appearance but not holding still long enough for me to lock focus – actually, it seemed to be chasing me off as I loomed in, very distinctly concentrating on the lens rather than the flower every time I was close enough for a shot. But the honeybees were more cooperative.

European honeybee Apis mellifera on unidentified flowerI just spent far too long trying to determine what these flowers were, with no luck at all – in my defense, they were in a patch with no ID markers. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to find something that blooms in December, but maybe my Google-Fu is rusty…

late green anole Anole carolinensis paused in flightAnother surprise was a green anole, here displaying a brownish hue, that was dodging us on a trellis before we finally caught it during a pause. I always like the anoles; there’s something about their mosaic skin. Note the short depth that shows the full face, but then nothing else in sharp focus but the foot. Capturing these images in the garden made me feel I had accomplished something for the day.

You may recall that I pointed out an astronomical event a short time back, the occultation of Venus. As it always goes, the skies went completely sour around here after I mentioned it on the blog, or perhaps almost completely – after writing it off and getting involved in other things, the skies cleared abruptly and might even have permitted a view of the emergence from behind the moon. Anyway, in superstitious recognition of repeated posts about upcoming events that produced nothing of any kind to follow-up with, I kept mum about the Geminids meteor shower, which peak tonight and tomorrow night but had already shown significant activity on earlier evenings, at least according to some observers. So last night I went out, with nice clear skies, and tried my luck.

Orion during Geminids meteor showerI was getting halfway decent views and exposures, but not a meteor to be seen. And yes, I know this isn’t Gemini, which sits above and to the left of Orion, but Orion was more interesting. Doesn’t matter – not one exposure showed a damn thing, nor did I see anything outside of the camera’s field of view. So as the clouds started obscuring the stars, I switched subjects and did a quick experiment, which due to the conflicting light colors, looks much better in monochrome.

It's a ghost! Or a photographer...Yes, that’s me; twenty-second exposure, where I took my place for about fifteen of it, light produced by a streetlamp behind the tree. I’ve tried this before, but this one finally came out about how I’d intended, so I have at least that to show for the night’s session.