Odd memories, part 24

A lot of people have stories of this nature, and there’s a good chance you’re tired of hearing them, so I’ll try not to make it too long (yeah, this is me, so good luck with that,) but this is also distinctly me, and may give you an insight into the depths of my mind. Which you may regret. Seriously, best to just skip to the next post, or another website entirely.

About 24 years ago or so, I was scheduled to have my wisdom teeth removed, since three of them were doing that serious impacted bullshit, and this was going to be dental surgery for which they would have to knock me clean out. Mind you, this is the only time in my life I’ve ever been anesthetized other than a local, and my experience with local anesthetics previously was that they seemed to have less effect on me. So on the day of the surgery, lying back in the chair with the IV drip in, I realized that I was remaining perfectly lucid (or as lucid as I ever am, which is perhaps arguably less than perfect, but nominal, anyway.) This state remained as various people prepped, and I was about to bring it up to someone when the surgeon entered the room and introduced himself. As he went around behind my chair, he adjusted something back there with a faint rattle, and suddenly I felt a chill in the arm with the IV line. Ah! They’d only had a saline drip going until the surgeon opened the anesthesia valve. Okay then.

It was only a minute before my vision began to blur a bit, but more noticeably, the ceiling tiles (no I wasn’t counting them,) started to shimmy, sliding upwards a little before jerking back suddenly, over and over. I recall asking the surgeon if he knew why there was only a vertical component to the hallucination and not a horizontal one. He admitted that he did not know, but I was alert enough to recognize the amusement in his voice. That’s the last memory I have of consciousness.

Except for one bit. I knew wisdom teeth can be a pain in the ass, and often have to be fragmented to be removed, and I recall my head jerking sharply as they hammered on the chisel to break one of them up. There was no pain or discomfort involved, no distress at all, just the awareness of the action, and I thoughtfully put one hand up under my jaw on that side to help brace it. It was the same kind of thing where you wake enough to realize that your arm is asleep and shift to correct this before dozing off again. How much this move assisted them, I cannot say, but there was no reflection of this on the bill.

After the surgery, they encouraged me to just take it easy as the anesthetic wore off, and I was determined to speed this along, so I got out of the chair while no one was in the room and began walking around to burn it out of my system – such a thing likely doesn’t work, but it seemed like it should. There was music playing, and as a favored song came on, I’m reasonably certain I was dancing to it. Now, I don’t dance. Not ever, even when fully coherent. It probably wasn’t pretty.

I considered myself quite alert at the time, but looking back on it the following day, there are large portions of the post-surgery period that are simply blank, including whether I actually paid for the meds at the pharmacist on my way home (no I wasn’t driving – they insisted on that, for some reason.) I certainly must have paid, since I’m sure they never hand over the drugs until the payment is made and I did have them, but damn, someone on the ball could have probably bilked me into emptying my account.

Makes me wonder how hard it is to target e-mail towards people recovering from oral surgery…

Avian anecdotes

eastern bluebird Sialia sialis on pine stub
The temperature is beginning to resemble spring, even if only a few things are budding out right now, and the Immutable Al Bugg and I did an outing to see what was in the area. I was suspicious that the osprey and such had not yet migrated back into the region, but there were a handful of birds to be seen, including some surprises. The pic above is not one of those surprises; eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) appear early and are visibly active in search of nest sites right now, so we managed to snap a few poses as this male observed us to see if we would move on soon.

The morning remained resolutely overcast for several hours, far from ideal conditions, and this meant that many of the birds we spotted would be mere silhouettes against the sky without exposure compensation, and sometimes even then. The capture below was initially too dark, even with 2/3 stop overexposure, but then again, I suspect this camera body runs about 1/3 too dark at ‘normal’ exposure, so call it only +1/3 compensation which wasn’t enough. Thus it’s been lightened a bit in post.

likely second year juvenile bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in flight
This is what a juvenile bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) looks like, seems to be 2nd year to me – they don’t get the coloration we’re all familiar with until their fourth year or so. It was a quick pass, but reasonably close, so I’m good with it. And a hint of things to come.

The initial spot that we checked out on Jordan Lake was slow, but this was not a surprise due to the overcast and chilly conditions, so we moved further south to examine another spot. And we’ll stick to bird photos for this post; there will be another with various other pics following shortly.

As we headed out along the lake edge, I could see a perched bird in the distance that I took to be an osprey, even though it seemed slightly odd, but it wasn’t until I got back and examined the photos in detail that this vague suspicion turned out to be confirmed.

juvenile bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus likely third year perched on sweetgum tree Liquidambar styraciflua
This is another juvenile bald eagle, probably 3rd year, seen from the back; the dark stripe along the eye is now becoming visible. They really do change a lot until full adulthood. This was shot, by the way, hundreds of meters distant at 600mm and cropped further, and soon after this frame, the eagle flew off behind some trees and wasn’t seen again. By us at least.

broken trunk with old woodpecker nestsThere were a handful of ospreys to be found, but only flying level at a moderate distance at best, against overcast skies, and no hunting behavior to be seen, so I’m not posting any of those shots since there’s much better to be found here. We hiked out to a nest location from two years ago, hoping to perhaps see some nest-building or courtship behavior (since raptor nest sites are often reused), but the nest itself was gone entirely; my suspicion is that woodpeckers had also nested in the same dead tree, and their hollowing activity had weakened the trunk to the point that the top broke free in some storm since then. There was at least one trunk that matched such conditions, shown here later in the day after the sky had cleared because we needed more color in this post; I just can’t be sure that it was the same one that we’d seen the osprey nest within two years ago.

However, while skirting the lake we heard some telltale faint drumming sounds. The previous day I’d been photographing a brown-headed nuthatch excavating a nest hollow, much as a woodpecker does, and the faintness of the sound and the apparent proximity were pretty strong indicators of this. It took only a moment to find the culprit, who wasn’t too concerned about our presence. I’d turned away after a few frames, so it was Mr Bugg that spotted the female coming over to make the family portrait, and these are faintly out of order because I know how to write posts.

pair of brown-headed nuthatches Sitta pusilla at nest site
Brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) really have no discernible differences between male and female (on sight anyway,) but I’m going to assume the male is the nest builder since that’s typically the way among birds, one of the ways they convince the females that they’re good dad material. Curiously though, the female seemed to be already committed, long before the nest was complete, because she was nearby and giving alarm calls if we moved incautiously, but it only took a step or so back and about 20 seconds of motionlessness to convince them we were harmless. Again, longer focal lengths here and tighter crops for detail, but really, we’re talking only a handful of meters distant. Close enough to get some real detail.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla posing proudly along nest hollow
This is the full frame at 600mm, but I said some real detail.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla removing excavated material from nest hollow
Same image, tighter inset. No, he’s not feeding young, but removing wood pulp from the hollow. Check out that feather detail. Ya gotta love the cooperative subjects.

By the way, if you spotted the weird ripply effects above and to the left of the bird, those aren’t editing artifacts (I’m better than that,) but a twig or vine much closer to the lens than the nuthatch is; this is the way they get rendered by aspherical lenses. We were shooting through small gaps in all the surrounding branches.

A little later on we heard faint drumming again, and paused to try and locate it – we’d spotted several woodpeckers in the area on previous trips. It sounded very low to me, and I crept forward to see if a suspicion was correct – at times like this we use hand-motions to avoid speaking, both to prevent alerting other species to our presence and to help us hear their own sounds. After a minute, I determined that the sound was coming from the short remains of a dead stump right smack in front of us, like less than four meters away. I cautiously circled it until I found three little excavated holes lined up vertically, with the sounds definitely coming from one of them, and we stood and waited. This kind of thing tests your muscles, because long lenses are heavy things and you want them raised to shooting position, both to snap off a shot quickly and to not have to move them around obtrusively when something does show. Meanwhile, the sadistic snot within was staying busy, digging away, without showing his little beak.

Eventually, he burst from the hollow and had a quick conversation with the female in the branches overhead, and we backed off slightly and held still. Outside of their crucial danger line now, the male quickly returned to work while the female watched without apparent concern. The male did, however, check outside the hollow a lot more often; even though we were silent, the shutters were still making noise very frequently.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla looking suspicious
I posted this one for the expression, since he looks so suspicious, but since he immediately dove back into the nest hollow it isn’t an accurate impression.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla in nest mouth
How about this one? Nice detail shot? Or maybe one framed in their doorway?

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla head in nest opening
Just so you know, each image on the blog gets a description in the meta info, which helps search engines find them, and I include the scientific name as well, but I’m getting damn tired of typing “brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla.” However, once more, as we back off to full frame of this same image just to show you something.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla head in nest opening full frame
It isn’t perhaps as distinctive here as it is in thumbnails as I’m sorting, but the shadows of the background trees and the overall color makes it seem as if the trunk was standing very close to a beige wall instead of, you know, a fully wild shot in a stand of trees just in from the lake’s edge. I can take you to the exact location if you don’t believe me.

Eventually, our time ran out even as the sky cleared, with too few species making an appearance and nothing very scenic out there yet – the new growth is coming soon. We were driving back, along another spur of the lake, and I spotted two big birds wheeling around directly over the road in front of us. Often this spells vultures, which we see plenty of, but as I caught patches of white on them I started to think ‘osprey.’ A moment or so later, as the white areas became more evident, I realized we were seeing a pair of bald eagles playing tag, and we passed almost directly under them. We were on a bridge, with no good shoulders on the road afterward (welcome to North Carolina,) so I quickly turned into a fishing access lot which doubled back almost to the point where the eagles had been seen. In the time this took (adding in the time to get the equipment out,) they were no longer in evidence, but soon made a brief appearance as they ceased their circling and flew off further down the lake, allowing just a couple of frames at distance as they departed.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus departing in distance
Considering how rarely I’ve seen eagles around the lake, despite knowing they’re around and being told the “good areas” (heh!) to spot them, finding four in one day (granted, in three separate regions) is an auspicious start to the spring, at least. Now we’ll just have to see if that’s misleading or not.

On this date 11

First off, we’ll start with the calibration image. Below is an 18% grey ‘card,’ a fully-neutral image that camera exposure meters are specifically set for, representing the average in light levels for images. Adjust your monitor so that this appears to be the most medium-toned, colorless image that you can, and we’ll go to step two.

18 percent grey image, almost
All set? Any imperfections now visible in the image are the fault of your own monitor or video driver, and should be dealt with accordingly.

Okay, fine, I’m lying, sue me. If your monitor is adjusted pretty well (and you’re not using a smutphone,) there should be something visible within the image. This is actually a mildly-modified version of an image that I’ve had sitting in my blog folder for quite a while now, originally brought in for long-forgotten purposes, that I played with a little to have something to post for the lean winter months. And then after I tweaked it, I checked the original date and realized that it would fit into an ‘On this date’ post in just over a week hence. So here we are.

Really, all I did was drop contrast a little from the original, which was shot in dense fog over a wetlands dam – the original looks like this:

Canada geese Branta canadensis in very dense fog
But the bit about the 18% grey calibration is actually pretty accurate, because the camera adjusted exposure to meet this programmed standard – in reality, it was probably a bit lighter than this, but that’s really hard to say because it’s all relative, isn’t it? It all depends on how your eyes have adjusted and where you’re looking and how bad your hangover is and all that jazz. But if you’re looking hard, you should be able to see a pair of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) on a rocky shore. If you look very closely right alongside one of them, there’s evidence of a male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) too, but it doesn’t show well at this resolution – it’s barely discernible at the full resolution version.

A quick word about 18% grey calibration. Cameras do not, of course, know what they’re seeing or what it’s supposed to look like, so they’re programmed to set exposure for the most common situations, the ‘average’ scene, which has a nice mix of highlights and shadows. There are plenty of situations – not this one – that do not fall into this average, and trusting the exposure meter for them means the image ends up looking too dark, or too bright. So recognizing these conditions is important for any decent photographer, and it’s one of the primary facets that I cover with my students (and more than a few times here on the blog.)

Oh, yeah – this is from 2006. I left this shooting locale with 2/5 of a tank of gas in the car, got a Belgian waffle for breakfast and left a $1.45 tip, and read pages 205-232 in Terry Pratchett’s Thud! when I got home. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Just a little nudge

kayaker on Jordan Lake against sullen skyThe image here was originally shot on slide film, many many years ago, and I think I’d scanned it for the Sunday Slide posts that took place back in 2017, but never used it then, and it’s been sitting in the blog folder ever since (far from being the oldest in there, too.) The thing is, I’ve always liked it, but felt there was something just a little amiss. It’s the kind of abstract that largely stands by itself, yet didn’t quite feel strong enough to throw up as a random pic, nor was it considered for any of the end-of-month abstracts because I try to use something current for those.

Now, a word about my habits. When scanning slides, I was always striving for the most accurate rendition of the slide itself, for multiple reasons. The first is, representing it without any editing or tweaks shows the real image captured, the skill of the photographer and all that – no corrections after the fact, no ‘retouching,’ blah blah blah. But there was also the matter that any of my slides could be sent off to a publisher or editor, and if I misrepresented them in any digital media, this implied that I needed to correct my work, and might even lose the sale if they found the original was not what they were after. So I’m comfortable saying that this is as close to the color register of the original slide as I could manage, with all the little variables that come in there like current monitor calibration and the color of the light source used to view the slide itself – really, ‘accuracy’ is a fudged concept throughout photography, no matter what.

And with all that, there’s a definite magenta color cast to it, though whether this is perfectly accurate, the water reflecting the colors of a sullen sky, or if the film itself had undergone a color shift through excessive heat or something, I cannot say. But this is what was preventing me from feeling very comfortable with the image; some people might like the color register, but to me it looked more like the white-balance was off, or that I’d done a bad job scanning the slide (perish the thought!) So there it sat in the folder, just… not quite right.

Things change. With digital images, little alterations (and some not-so-little) are easy to do and thus no longer frowned upon, and an unwanted and perhaps unrealistic color cast is a liability of film, not a trait. After all, anyone can pick their own base color and contrast and saturation settings in-camera, to say nothing of post-capture editing, and while there are those that can easily recognize an unrealistic color register in an image and know it was altered, there also remains no reason to retain an unrealistic hue when it’s so easy to correct. Even if it isn’t actually unrealistic.

What I’m saying is, a mindset that I’d developed with good reason many years ago was suddenly found to be almost pointless, and I shrugged and tweaked the color register the other day – shameless retouching, from an earlier standpoint, but trivial corrective editing from a current one. And what a difference it made.

same image with more realistic-seeming color register
Maybe it’s because I really don’t like magenta, or maybe it’s because I couldn’t help but feel the color register was off and this grated on my editing skills, but this version feels a damn sight better – the clouds themselves certainly look more like what we expect. The idea, to me at least, has become more a deeply-hazy day rather than an impending stormy one, which fits more with that glitter trail. The isolated position out in the middle of the lake seems a little less dire.

And as I type this, I realize that there’s a subtle aspect that affects how I, and I alone, view it. Because I know where the nearest dock was, the precise distance, and in which direction – but you don’t. So your impression might be entirely different from mine.

Which is one of the things that I find cool about photography. Different people get different impressions, and the photographer’s is always tainted by their knowledge of the conditions and locale, things not evident from the image itself. Dismissing them can be difficult – actually, it’s probably impossible – but recognizing what the viewer doesn’t see or know or feel can help with determining what images will be stronger.

I tried, I really did

park trail in NC winterThere are a handful of benefits to maintaining a blog, especially if you do something “professionally” (leave the comments be,) among them providing backstories or amusing anecdotes, passing along tips, and just the general reassurance to everyone that you’re remaining active, and of course this bit requires regular content (which in and of itself provides writing exercise and a quest for new topics.) The rot sets in when there’s too little to write about, even when you make the effort. You might take that to mean this post will be less long-winded than my normal fare, and you’d be wrong.

I set out today (today being Friday and not whatever date this actually posts, but it’s still 11:57 PM right this second,) to check out one of four potential areas for nature photography – new to me, and in some cases not known very well among the public at large. The goal, besides just getting out to chase pics, was to discover some hidden gem that would provide plenty of opportunities for photos without, you know, beach trips and all that. This was not to be, but in all fairness, it’s still freaking winter, despite some warmer temperatures for a small portion of the day, and nothing is really growing yet. My destination is remaining nameless for the time being; as unimpressed as I was, there remains a chance of it getting much better in true spring. If it doesn’t, I’ll trash it in a post then.

It was sunny when I walked out the door, but I drove into mixed clouds in the ten-minute trip, and most of the excursion was spent in near-overcast. In scattered locations were trout lilies, an early bloomer in the region, and a handful of Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) blossoms peeking through here and there.

Virginia spring beauty Claytonia virginica
Green was barely visible anywhere, the ground was littered with fallen trees by the dozens, and there wasn’t a living thing to be seen. Worse, however, was the constant background whine of I-40, not far enough in the distance – not exactly the kind of mood you hope to evoke when hiking in a ‘remote’ area.

The sun finally did make an appearance after I’d made it down to the creekside, at least. I had hoped this was for good, because it had been chillier than I liked, and I’d dressed a little too lightly for the wind (I know better.)

creekside in scattered sunlight
Near the water, I could hear a red-shouldered hawk, a downy woodpecker, and a handful of songbirds, but got just the barest glimpse of the latter. The water was the most visibly moving thing, and that wasn’t notable.

Not ten minutes later, the sky clouded over with vigor and the wind started to almost howl, setting all the trees swaying and convincing me, despite the weather reports, that a storm was blowing in fast.

creek in overcast
fallen trees in park areaI’d checked the trail map before setting out and knew I wasn’t quite halfway along it, so I backtracked to take the shortest route back to the car. The entire way I listened to the wind whoosh and roar among the trees and, taking a hint from the voluminous fallen trunks, paid close attention to any sign of cracks or rumbles that might signify a tree falling – I did indeed hear one, far off to the side, but luckily saw nothing fall while I was out there. And it did start raining, but in a halfhearted manner that by itself wouldn’t have been enough to end my photographic efforts; coupled with the wind and overcast though, there was a threat of it getting much worse, plus the lack of anything interesting to be found, so I cut the trip short. I will return again in a month or so when things really start growing here, to see if the region gets a bit better, but overall, the conditions weren’t impressing me at all, and about the only thing I could hope for is that it’s a haven for deer or something; nothing that I saw pegged it as being a good habitat for much else, at least during the day. It might be a great spot for raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, and snakes, but they’re generally active at night and the area closes at dusk, like virtually every place within driving distance.

There’s one more aspect that gives it potential, however: while this region is literally overrun with hateful and ugly longneedle pines, just about every tree that I saw here was deciduous, and the guide says that it’s home to maples, oaks, and hickories. That means the spring and summer months may be fairly picturesque, but the fall might be among the best views within easy reach. The only other area that features a nice blend of trees is open to hunters as soon as it gets colorful, except for the weekends when then you have to contend with too many hikers, that don’t feel their dogs should be leashed. So a relatively unknown public area with a variety of trees is promising, at least.

The entry drive bordered an old farm meadow that was lined with blossoming trees (that I’m not going to bother identifying,) so I shot a couple of quick compositions on the way out, just because I didn’t want to ignore the meager evidence of spring that could be seen.

unidentified blossoming tree probably cherry
Okay, they’re probably cherries – looks about right for them, anyway.

Later the same day as the sun was setting, the wind was still gusting excitedly but the clouds were scattered, and I didn’t want to ignore the potential of a decent sunset, so I scampered over to the pond to see what was happening. This time I included my light jacket, but the temperature had dropped further than I thought and the wind made it pretty bitter out there – as The Girlfriend noted, it was easy to believe that it might snow, even though the temperatures weren’t predicted to come anywhere close. In the meantime, I watched the sky to see what would brew up.

low clouds near sunset
sun peeking through trees at sunsetThe scattered clouds were clearing fast, as it is wont to do at sunset around here, for some reason – my recent trip to New York reminded me that not every place is like this. I knew the low clouds might catch any kind of light as the sun rolled off over the horizon, so I kept watching. Meanwhile, as an illustration, the image at left shows the sun just barely peeking through the trees surrounding the pond, not yet technically “set” though having been out of sight for several minutes by this point. It was this kind of thing that prevented me from getting sunset pics for so long, because the close trees limit what can be seen throughout the area. Wide open spaces tend to work better, with of course some foreground interest, and this generally means open fields or lakeshores or beaches, none of which have been within easy reach where I’ve lived for the past, oh, sixteen years or so? I’ve done a few quick trips to local vistas for sunsets, and the wild variability of sunsets in general thwarted those attempts more often than not – that’s why I take advantage of the beach trips.

That one cloud up there wasn’t moving much, and no others were blowing through or developing, but at least it produced some light wisps at one point. This might have been a light rain shower, one that may not have even reached the ground, or it could only have been wisps too low to catch the sunlight anymore.

cloud with stray wisps at sunset
I remembered my own advice about watching all of the sky, in every direction, and could seem some thin scattered clouds hanging out near a bright moon. I was hoping that the sun would throw some nice color on them, knowing the moon would remain bright white in contrast, but as the light was reaching the right angle the clouds were vanishing, so all I got was the faintest hint of pink in the sky.

fain vestiges of pink clouds at sunset with gibbous moon
Meanwhile, that sole cloud in the west was disappearing itself, remaining around long enough to catch just a little more color from the evening – by itself pretty lackluster, but it served as a backdrop for the withering spring blossoms of a (still unidentified) tree on the pond edge.

withering blossoms against sunset clouds
Yeah, too similar to what I’ve done before, but the pond itself doesn’t have a lot to work with either, and only gets strong when a large portion of the western sky turns colors and reflects in the water. Even the geese remained put, and a lone cormorant wheeled against the blank sky as the last of the light was fading. Not a lot to add to the folders, and I’m glad I didn’t make a lot of effort reaching either of these places.

Even the moon phase doesn’t show a lot, being too close to full, but the details around the edges intrigued me, so not long before starting this post, I ventured out in full night and did a couple more frames at four times the focal length, just to try and feel like I got some keepers from the day. At the very least, the details from those were sharp, so I got that going for me. Which is nice.

waxing gibbous moon
But yeah, things aren’t going to be too exciting on this blog until the season changes a lot more. Perhaps not even then, but right now I can blame it on the winter.

On this date 10

unidentified insect trapped in tree resin
On this date, fourteen years ago (that makes it 2006, just so you don’t have to do the math,) I came across a future fossil, an insect recently trapped in tree resin. Okay, probably not. Probably not a future fossil, I mean, since to make amber, the resin then has to be preserved in certain conditions, and this particular situation did not have them – what you’re seeing here is almost certainly long gone. For the shot, I was using the Canon Pro-90 IS with a reversed Olympus 50mm attached for high magnification – if this frame wasn’t tightly cropped you’d see the vignetting it caused in the corners. And you probably already got this impression from the short depth of field, but this was a tiny subject, hard to pin focus upon, but I liked this frame because it focused instead on the lensing properties of the air bubbles within the resin. From the length of the legs and the habits of the species, this is quite possibly a mosquito.

I never backed off and shot a wider, more establishing view, a bad habit that I’m prone to, but I also wasn’t blogging then and didn’t have the habit of seeing any story potential in such shots. Still, I seem to recall this was in the yard of Jim Kramer, and subsequent frames in the folder lend weight to this. And no, I don’t know what you’re seeing magnified within that bubble. Looks like a tiny terrarium.

And another, even though I featured a similar frame back at that time.

long exposure of creek ripples by moonlight
This came from 2015, a spot that I’d frequented when I lived about three kilometers away, even though I’d moved much further off the year before – the conditions made it worth the return trip. We had a wonderfully warm evening with a bright full moon, which was an invitation for long moonlight exposures, and so Buggato and I did a late-night session by the creekside. Not a lot of ripples and no rapids at all, but it was within easy reach, and I’d never heard a banjo while there.

You might have expected this to look more blue, but that’s only because our own low-light vision lacks color reception – moonlight is sunlight reflected from a neutral grey surface and is pretty much the same color as sunlight. And yet, this still looks a tad yellowish to me, so I suspected that I might have had the white balance set for something other than full sunlight (which means neutral and uncorrected.) The EXIF info wasn’t a lot of help: it said white balance was ‘Manual (1),’ which is meaningless to me – I’ve used actual manual white balance, set by a card reading, I think once in my life, so I suspect it really means Sunlight.

Okay, I had to confirm this, and checked some recent images that I know were shot in that setting; yep, ‘Manual (1)’ really means Sunlight, no compensation or automatic correction by the camera. So the light then really did have a yellow cast to it, either from humidity or stray ambient light from other sources.

And in fact, we will revisit this idea of neutrality with next week’s episode. I know you can hardly wait.

I would have posted something new, but…

Man, you know how it is at that time of the year, where you’re getting out the holiday decorations while simultaneously putting away the decorations from the previous holiday? Yeah, of course you do, especially right now, because after yesterday’s holiday, today’s is Revisit Old Content Day. Back before the webbernets, this day was spent poking through unused recipes or overturning the screw-and-bolt jar, and before that, it’s rumored, shoveling the bones from the back of the cave to examine the charcoal drawings on the walls again – it’s a pretty damn ancient holiday, truth be told. But now that we have vast electrons and, I dunno, magnetic thingies dedicated to archiving our efforts without yellowing, we can simply go back to random entries on the blog to see things that we pretty much ignored the first time around, because doing it again is somehow less of a waste of time. Don’t ask me to explain it; it’s physics, I think.

But who cares about the history and mechanics of it? For the holiday, I present the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, first featured here (well, not here, but you know, about 61 pages down that way) on December 29, 2016. It’s a live cam feed focused on a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nest that is used every year.


This holiday actually highlights something curious, because normally, the young eagles would have hatched and perhaps fledged by now, since the first time I linked to the cam, the eagle parents already had eggs on the nest in December. But for reasons unknown (to me at least,) the first brood wasn’t viable – one egg never hatched, while the other did but the chick died at 26 days. The parents started a second brood, and the eggs are incubating at this point, due to hatch around the end of March. There is a countdown clock at the top of the page, as well as a chat window and a blog for further information. I’ll try to remember to post a reminder as we get closer to the hatching period – I could have saved this post for then but, you know, the holidays are imperative. And March does not have a Revisit Newer Revists of Older Content holiday – that’d be stupid.

But that isn’t exactly my content, so as an added holiday bonus, I link back to this post, which features an image that I still consider one of my best – and that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about me, I’m sure. At the very least, though, I do know that there are limited places where such a thing should be displayed, few contests that this even stands a chance within.

All right, fine. These are in the running too, and a little more socially acceptable. Okay?

It’s that time again!

Of course, I’m referring to February 29th being Annual Contest Submission Day, and you know me – I wouldn’t miss this one. But I’m having a little trouble deciding, so this time around, I’m soliciting some help in choosing. Since the intertubes is not very supportive of, you know, allowing people to express their opinions, I’m going to be magnanimous in opening this post up for such.

The contest is, “The Nature of Orange,” and the theme is, “Parks, Farms, and Trails of Orange County,” sponsored by the Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks, and Recreations. This narrowed down my choices considerably, since most of what I consider my strong stuff (you know, like ammonia and forgotten cheese strong,) are either from outside the county, or were taken in my yard – since 2014, this hasn’t even been in Orange County because we moved (granted, the county line is literally within throwing distance even for me, but it still doesn’t contain the yard.) So right now, we have the possibilities below, though I have until the end of May to submit and may get some other options before then.

bluet Houstonia caerulea blossoms against sparkle reflection bokeh
I’m counting this one as a ‘trail,’ since it technically was, but not necessarily an approved or recognized Orange County trail – I’ll have to check. This unintentionally served as the first month-end abstract, several years ago; I noticed that two successive months featured abstract images on the last day, and a feature was born.

Contemplative Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis
Taken in the NC Botanical Gardens, I’ve always liked the anole’s expressive position, the defocus, and the colors.

tree in fog, red channel monochrome
From Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and it’s a ‘shopped version since it’s only the red channel converted to monochrome, but I see nothing restricting that in the rules. And since this is one of the nature areas that they’re encouraging people to visit (like the one above,) perhaps it has an edge in that regard.

bizarre fungus on treetrunk
Fond on the trunk of a tree in Anderson Park, I’ve always liked the textures of this one.

I could submit all four, since they allow up to five, and I’m going to sit on this for a little while to see if I get something stronger in the interim. Granted, I don’t think any of the images that I find the strongest were ones that I set out to do, that I intended to be compelling – they usually just happen that way, even though I may know it as I find it. Serendipity more than planning, is what I’m saying. So going out with the intention of getting something for a contest isn’t likely to work for me.

Here are a couple of initial Orange County selections that missed out due to the parks, farms, and trails criteria.

dewdrop on morning glory petal

dewdrops in spider webs with short focus

cryogenic aconite
And of course, anything not taken within Orange County, which is the bulk of my stock I think.

“Now, Al,” you say in that schoolmarmish way, “I distinctly recall you saying that you didn’t like contests.” Which is true enough; far too often, I’ve seen what’s won and wonder just what they were thinking. But I’m also trying to build more attention, and have seen the past winners and feel that the judges have some taste, and in fact, they’re looking for judges and I may apply to be one – if I decide to enter this year, then I’ll put off the judging option until next.

Anyway, feel free to comment at will, make comments about day jobs, and all that – I’m a big boy. No, wait, how did that go? I’m a big baby. That’s it.

Safari salama, February

wispy cirrus clouds with seagulls
Yeah, I’m not impressed with it either, but I have very few images from February that make good abstracts, and the better ones I’ve already posted. And this is with an extra day in the month to shoot in, too! Some of us just can’t work with deadlines.

Anyway, this is… I don’t have to explain this, do I? It is what it is. Better luck next month.

Something from yesterday

crescent moon with Earthshine and neighboring star
The images in this post are going to reflect more of my casual shooting stance last night, and I apologize. I went out solely to see if I could capture something in the few minutes that it might be visible, and I did, but didn’t have my heart set on astrophotography and it shows.

Above, a crescent moon was showing notable earthshine on the ‘shadowed’ portion while I was out, so I fired off a few frames to capture this, which overexposed the hell out of the sunlit crescent, and this is typical – the difference in light levels far exceeds the range of any camera out there, including the best slides films, so you pick one or the other to expose for. Or, like far too many people out there today, you get separate exposures for both and then Photoshop them together, like this is some reflection of skill or something. Is the snark showing? Gosh I hope not. Anyway, I also captured a neighboring star while I was at it, and was fretting that I missed an occlusion, but it turns out the two only passed close together – the closest pass was a little closer than this, but not by a lot.

[Pedantry on for a second: Technically, I probably did capture an occlusion, perhaps even a lot, because that means that a star would be behind the moon out of sight. What I thought I might have missed was the very beginning or end of an occlusion, when the star was right smack at the edge of the moon but visible, which was not going to be the case with the star seen here anyway.]

The moon was also appearing very close to Venus in the sky (which is not the star seen here,) and at twilight they were the only two things visible in a perfectly clear sky with some nice fading colors, but at that point we were leaving a restaurant and I did not have the camera with me. Yes, I admitted that, because my therapist suggested that I do, but I suspect he’s kind of a sadist to be honest, and just likes humiliating me. By the time we got home the colors had faded almost entirely, and I only looked at Stellarium to confirm that it was Venus in the sky near the moon, but realized I had ten minutes to get out and capture something else. This was a narrow time frame to get the tripod and trek to a spot where I’d have a clear view, but in that, I was successful at least.

streak of Hubble Space Telescope passing against background stars
The streak seen in this nine-second exposure is the Hubble Space Telescope passing by fairly low on the horizon, the first time I’ve captured it, largely because it always runs fairly low on the horizon for us here in NC – it is in an equatorial orbit and will never pass overhead, or even close to it. I’ve been out a few times before and never spotted it, or just caught the barest glimpse because it doesn’t reflect a lot of light. Which is faintly amusing in that, just a few moments after I closed the shutter on this exposure, it flared brightly, likely from its solar panels throwing back a more distinct reflection from the sun.

[More exposition: the sun can easily be out of sight to us around the curve of the planet, presenting a perfectly dark sky, but satellites are high enough to still be sunlit and visible, many times, and Heavens Above will let you know about all of them if you input your location. The app, only for Android users, will even pinpoint the spot against the sky when you hold your phone/tablet up, provided it has the necessary hardware, which nearly all do anymore.]

Now if you look at that image above, you’ll see some faint little crescents all through the image, and these are the background stars. You could take this to mean that my camera/tripod combination wasn’t perfectly steady, and you’d be right, but perhaps not to the extent that you think – in nine seconds, there should be streaks from the stars as the Earth rotates; there just shouldn’t be curves. That little bit of lateral displacement (in this case, upper right to lower left) was the unwanted movement, and I can’t explain why it occurs so evenly during the time of the exposure, but perhaps I was tugging gently on the cable release. It could also be a bad bearing on the Earth’s axle, I suppose…

While out there, I revisited another quick experiment from years past.

streak of Sirius during panning, showing scintillation
This is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky (still surpassed by at least three planets, though,) during a long exposure as I panned the camera on the tripod. The rainbow effect is from scintillation, kinda, and is responsible for the ‘twinkle’ that so many people see from the brighter stars. I did not expect this one to be steady at all, because the tripod and ballhead are not made for butterly-smooth pans of this nature – the squiggle at the right side is the start of the exposure as I began the pan. You can even see a hint of scintillation from another star higher in the frame, one so dim that it was probably barely visible, naked-eye (this was at 600mm focal length.)

[Yet another aside: my framing is terrible because the angles I was working at were uncomfortable, and again, I wasn’t being too seriousha! Get it? The tripod was raised fairly high because I wanted to stand more-or-less upright, bad news for stability really, but even then I had to stoop a lot just to see the viewfinder for a lot of my subjects, and this meant unclear oblique views through the eyepiece. Had I been doing this properly, I would have had the tripod as low as possible, myself seated on a ground pad for a more comfortable view angle, and would have tightened down as many weak points as possible: tripod legs and center column, ballhead pan and ball knobs, mounting plate to lens, switched to mirror lock-up to reduce vibrations, ensure that I was on firm ground, and so on. Really sharp astrophotography images require a lot of prep, among them a tracking motor to counteract the Earth’s rotation. I was being lazy, but admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of time to capture the Hubble pass that I was originally after, and as it was my knees got extremely muddy for a few of the frames.]

Okay, one more little detail and then we’re done. This comes from a very tight crop of the image above, magnified more than 100%.

stray light source, probably a bad pixel, in long star exposure
I noticed a couple of these while doing the edits, and highlighted this one for commentary. The little spot centered in the frame is not a star, because I was panning, and if it had been an actual light source it would have had to have been extremely momentary, mere milliseconds to not become stretched or attenuated by the camera’s motion like Sirius’ streak beneath it. While it remains possible that I caught something like a gamma ray burst, I am almost certain this is simply a bad pixel on the sensor, and because I shoot in jpeg rather than RAW, it got interpolated as this curious X-shape. I know, I know, “Why are you not shooting star images, or indeed everything, in RAW mode?!” Mostly, because RAW both takes a serious increase in memory usage and slows the camera down a bit in sequential shots, while providing a fractional increase in quality for only a handful of uses. I am against popular opinion in this regard, but I know my own demands too. Astrophotography does indeed benefit from RAW mode at times, and yes I should switch, at least when I’m doing this right. But, you know, some other time.