Just one, if you only count today

Great egret Ardea alba and reflection
I’m sure you were wondering if I got the chance to observe World Migratory Bird Day, and here is my answer: just one, really, but that’s because half of the day was spent on the road, starting pretty early in the morning, and the other half dealing with the typical post-vacation schtuff. The Girlfriend and I just got back from a week in South Carolina, checking out a new location for us, and there will be posts aplenty about the trip, soon. But I have a few other things that will appear ahead of them, because if I don’t do them in order, I probably won’t get back to them.

So today’s capture is a great egret (Ardea alba,) who posed nicely as I returned from shooting sunrise on the beach, and represents one of the three or four migratory birds that I had the opportunity to do something with during the day, the others being sanderlings and least terns out on the oceanfront; none of them were as photogenic as the egret here. However, the entire trip could be considered in celebration of migratory birds, including one species that I have yet to identify, which is more than a little frustrating at the moment. Bear with me, because they’ll all be coming along in due time.

Storytime 19

blue crab Callinectes sapidus illuminated by waterproof flashlight
Our story this week hearkens back to an ancient time and forbidden land, the stuff of legends and lore, the mystical realm of Florida in the early 2000s. I mean, c’mon, these are photos we’re talking about – how far back do you think we can go?

In this case, it’s an old (relatively) collecting location for me, the docks on the Indian River Lagoon near one of the causeways. Here, I could lie on the docks with my face hovering just above the water and survey the bottom for interesting critters, and because of the subtropical environment, I was able to find plenty, though admittedly, this particular one can be found at least halfway up the east coast. Looking to do some esoteric experiments, I decided that I’d try a nighttime long exposure by the light of a waterproof flashlight, and sought out any likely subjects. I’d done the same with some of the grass shrimp that were abundant in the area, but they’re as close to transparent as possible and thus are very hard to make out in the resulting images. But this cooperative Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) proved to work very nicely. I simply propped the light up at the right angle on the bottom, aiming into its face (or what passes for such with a crab – you define the edges if you like) and, somehow, stabilized the camera aiming straight down into the water.

[This part is actually a small mystery to me, because I don’t remember how I did it. I have the impression that the camera was anchored on the dock, but this doesn’t seem feasible. More likely was that the tripod was planted in the shallow water, with a lateral arm holding the camera a little away from the center – I’ve had a tripod where the center post could be removed and repositioned horizontally for decades, so this isn’t a stretch, but it still had to be pretty low. I’m honestly not sure.]

Perfect clarity was not going to be achieved, partially because of suspended sediment, but mostly because I was still shooting down through the gently rippling surface, so during the time exposure there would be distortion from that; overall, however, it wasn’t too bad. And then I added a small variation.

Atlantic blue crab Callinectus sapidus by flashlight and fill-flash
I had a couple of little slave strobes, handy for macro work, and while they weren’t waterproof themselves, a zip bag took care of that, and I simply triggered one with the test button through the bag while I held it underwater. I’d still done the long exposure by flashlight, but the strobe added a lot more light and a bit more accurate color. It also highlighted the bubbles on the surface, which answered one question that I had, which was whether or not I’d used one of the reverse-periscopes that I’d made to get a clear view through the surface; obviously not.

And for giggles, I’ll add in another photo taken at the same docks though probably not the same evening, another long exposure, but this time a selfie – I think I took it with the intention of sending it to my mother but never printed it. The light is a combination of moonlight and a streetlamp a few dozen meters away at the parking lot, and the exposure time was probably between ten and thirty seconds, so I had to hold still – there’s a faint hint of blurring to my face that tells me I wasn’t perfect at this, but then again, this is undoubtedly for the better.

The author during a long night exposure on the docks

Your little reminder

Canada geese Branta canandensis and great blue heron Ardea herodias on foggy pond
Quick one here, a shot from a few weeks back, to remind you that tomorrow, May 11th, is World Migratory Bird Day, so go out to your favorite big box store and purchase yourself a brand new migratory bird. Or, perhaps, just get outside and try to spot or photograph a few, or feed some, or learn about some, or pretend you’re one and run north and south – whatever works. Once again, I’m going to be a little tied up this day, so I’m not sure what I might produce myself, and I’m not the biggest bird photographer (got about another 32 kilos to go.) But we’ll see what happens, I suppose.

Just because, part 29

unidentified possibly holly bush with blue-grey berries
Not enough time to research this bush to find out what it is – it appears to be a variety of holly to me, but that’s all I’m permitted to tell you. This didn’t fit in with the other images I have stacked up awaiting a more detailed treatment, so it appears here without further exposition. But aren’t those berries cool looking?

How did you do?

black-crowned night heron Nycticorax nycticorax in flight with twig
As you undoubtedly know, because you’re on a nature photography blog, today is Nail The Pan Day, the day when we successfully pan the camera with a moving subject and keep it sharp. For my submission, I present this black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) heading out with a bit of nesting material. Note the linear blur of the background, as well as the ghostly effect on the wings, while the eyes and even the twig remained pretty damn sharp. Ordinarily, you might credit this more to luck, but it is a distinctive nature photography holiday, so you have to admit that would be a hell of a coincidence.

I will readily note that this is a captive, so a lot easier to get this close than a wild specimen, but that doesn’t affect panning technique – if anything, it’s harder because the motion is greater. I’ll provide more details in a few days, because I’m typing this on a touch-screen right now and it’s pissing me off, but I had to prove that I was on top of the holiday.

I been busy, part 1

black rat snake Pantherophis obsoletus napping
We’ll start off with a snake. Everybody loves snakes, right?

All of the images herein came from one trip to a local botanical garden a little over a week ago (I’m hedging because I don’t know when this will post) – a very busy day there as far as visitors, so this napping black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) surprised me a little, given that it was snoozing right next to a bench. But it was in a sparsely-visited portion of the garden, and had remained unbothered. Mr Bugg and I managed to creep up on it for some closeups, which is what convinced me that it was asleep – snakes don’t have eyelids and thus sleep with their eyes open, and sometimes, as long as you don’t cross open sky or throw a shadow onto them, their brains never register your proximity. Cast a shadow across them, though, and they’ll take off like a shot. This one finally started stirring after a minute of our shenanigans, but we were already close at that time and I suspect this didn’t register as high on the threat level as approaching would have, though I’m only speculating now. Either way, we left it there to finish its nap.

Most of what we saw that day were waterfowl, though, and that was because they get free food and aren’t bothered by crowds. Oh, and flowers, of course, but there’s only so much you can do with flowers.

male red-crested pochard Netta rufina in mid-ablutions
Not all of the ducks found there are native – the gardens feature a variety of resident exotics, like this red-crested pochard (Netta rufina) which is from Europe/Asia. Still, in such circumstances one can take the opportunity to get some behavioral shots that would be much harder to accomplish with a truly wild/feral species, and so we fired off a bunch of frames as this one preened and groomed itself. The bright light and its proximity allowed for some detailed and brief frames, so the water drops could be captured in midair.

male red-crested pochard Netta rufina splashing
Sometimes, what you end up capturing is something a bit warped looking, which is part of the fun. There aren’t too many expressions that birds can display, so we interpret body positions as an indication, usually incorrect, of what’s going on or their underlying emotions. Like awkwardness. But my favorite lies below, with that little portion of the open beak poking out – you can almost imagine it stepped in an unexpected hole.

male red-crested pochard Netta rufina submerging
Other times, you might be observing behavior and trying to determine exactly what is going on, which can be exceptionally tricky – we filter everything through our own social structures and expectations, which have no application whatsoever to any other species, and truly knowing what’s going on socially among another species takes long experience and often the input of other, more knowledgeable people. Like this shot of two different species, a mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on the left and a northern pintail (Anas acuta) on the right.

male mallard Anas platyrhynchos and male northern pintail Anas acuta seemingly conversing
They certainly look to be interacting in some manner, like a neighbor leaning over her fence to share some gossip (all that we’ve seen have been males, by the way,) and someone more familiar with territorial protective instincts might have expected a squabble (heh, “squabble.”) But the completion of this tableau was anti-climactic; the pintail simply plopped into the water alongside the mallard and swam off a little ways. To the best of my knowledge, the mallard was swimming up just as the pintail decided it needed to go for a dip, and there was a momentary pause as they encountered one another – basically, the mallard in the way and perhaps wondering what was on the pintail’s mind as it loomed overhead, neither threatened or even concerned about the presence of the other. But at least, as the pintail swam out, it presented a nice profile to show off its plumage.

male northern pintail Anas acuta in profile
Mallards, of course, are a dime-a-dozen virtually everywhere in the US, and I usually don’t even bother with them anymore, but as one snoozed on the bank, I took the opportunity for a direct perspective.

male mallard Anas platyrhynchos napping
In the case with most ducks and, really, a very wide variety of birds, the males have the brightest plumage, mostly considered by ornithologists to show off their worthiness to the females, while the females are considerably more muted in coloration, often very drab – they typically choose the males, but more importantly, they’re vulnerable to predators while on the nest, so they tend to blend in better to avoid attracting attention. There’s lots of speculation regarding the actual values of such differences, such as why the males aren’t less attractive to predators and how they determine a healthy female to court, but it must be working because it’s distinct in so many species. Yet not all.

likely male great blue heron Ardea herodias in repose
Canada geese, for instance, are difficult to tell apart by gender, as are great blue herons (Ardea herodias,) seen here. For years, there always seems to be one visible at the garden, and I suspect it’s the same one but have no way of knowing. From the size and the blue hints around the base of the beak, I’m leaning towards this one being a male – often, you have to see a pair alongside one another to feel comfortable with differentiating sexes. I couldn’t pass up this portrait, though I really wanted that twig out of the background, but whatcha gonna do? On our first pass, this one was simply dwelling in the shadows out of contact with people, perhaps digesting a small meal, but later on it became slightly more active.

likely male great blue heron Ardea herodias with reflection
Believe it or not, the heron is in almost the same location as the previous photo, but we’re seeing it from a different vantage; the earlier shot was when it stood in those shadows behind it, and was taken from almost the opposite direction. I fired off several frames with space for that reflection, and choose this one from the limited distortion to the head and neck – ripples can make or break a water shot, especially if you’re after the reflections.

When we paused to look at the heron, it suddenly and without much warning snagged a small fish and swallowed it, in the space of a few seconds – too fast to get the cameras out (neither of us walks around with a camera in hand at all times, because it’s too easy to damage the equipment, especially when the footing might be tricky, but during pollen season it also helps keep the crud on the camera to a minimum.) Intrigued now, we waited, watching carefully, and another two minutes of patience paid off. There was a brief hint of alertness and repositioning that gave warning, and that was all.

great blue heron Ardea herodias striking at fish
Herons are one of the easier waterfowl to catch making a capture, I have to admit, but timing still plays a role. The strike is lightning fast, because it has to be – fish, for some odd reason, try to avoid being eaten. Go figure.

great blue heron Ardea herodias with capture
Not exactly a big meal here, but enough of them will provide, of course.

I have seen ‘the’ resident here at the gardens come down to hang out when people appeared with food for the ducks, which seemed slightly curious at first – they couldn’t care less about the duck food. Ducks are largely herbivorous and feed on submerged water plants, while herons are carnivorous and mostly feed on fish, though I’ve seen them taking out snakes and even a vole, but this means that the commercial duck food (that can be purchased from the gift shop) isn’t very palatable to herons. However, they’re good observers, and the duck food attracts turtles and especially catfish in the pond. On a previous visit, I’d watched a heron approach remarkably close to some people feeding the ducks, and did a few tight portraits as it hung out, but eventually I moved on. Less than ten seconds later, there was a splash and a cry of surprise from the people, and the heron flew past with a truly massive catfish. So much for my patience.

likely male great blue heron consuming small fish
The heron juggled the little capture for a few seconds, getting the position right – most fish have spines along the dorsal fins which pretty much require them to have to be swallowed headfirst. So far too few have evolved spines that can face in any direction; instead, like countless other species, most fish thwart the predator aspect by reproducing in vast numbers so at least a couple offspring get through the meat grinder. Seems like an odd way to handle predation, but the “make lots” genes came out ahead of the “change body style” genes in such cases, and it still works.

Meanwhile, check out the ripples and reflections, just to show that I was lucky with the earlier portrait.

likely male great blue heron Ardea herodias finishing off fish
And down the little fish went. Meanwhile, I’ve been attempting to distract you from another detail visible in these two shots, one that I never spotted while shooting them, but look towards the rear of the heron. That’s a turtle head poking out (of the water,) likely a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) – they’re not native either, but they might as well be, considering how many can be found in the area now, especially this pond. Its positioning is a little distracting, though.

Admittedly, I was in a garden so I did a few flower shots, but seriously, I consider them overdone so I tend to keep them limited, and try to find something a little different.

unidentified flower with water drops
same frame in tight cropWe were there late enough on a bright sunny morning, so I know this isn’t dew, but evidence of a watering system instead. I never bothered to identify these flowers, I was just after the sun on the droplets, which had an interesting effect when out of focus, as shown at right. However, I also had to try a small variation of the same framing, to show a little trick.

unidentified flowers with starbursts
I’ve talked about this many, many times before, but with a point light source, using a small aperture can produce a starburst from it, and that little change adds a lot to the composition. I’ve done better, though.

And we’ll close with some variety of iris, I believe – there are a shit-ton of varieties and I haven’t located one that looks just like this, but we’ll go with it for now. Mostly it’s just here for the colors, but there’s this other little aspect that I saw during the sorting, that gives me the impression that they ran out of paper towels in the washroom.

some variety of wet iris, perhaps
As the “part 1” bit implies, there will be at least a part 2, and possibly more than that.

Storytime 18

unidnetified red ant scrambling to conceal pupae
I went for a long time without anything to post, no new photos or anything, and now I have several hundred to choose from and not enough time to do anything about it. We’ll see how I fare in the next week, but it’s not looking too promising. In the meantime, we’ll do a brief Storytime post this week with a difficult capture from years ago. Turning over a rock in the yard, I revealed a significant ant nursery – these were smaller red ants, fairly common in the immediate area, harmless to people, but that’s all I can provide for identification right now. Maybe Mr Bugg will jump in with a distinct ID.

As usual, the adult workers scrambled to find someplace to conceal the hundreds of pupae that had been exposed, while I endeavored to capture this in some kind of detail. This, I should tell you, is an exercise in near-futility, for the very simple reason that ants are remarkably quick little arthropods, and move about seemingly at random – tracking them at macro magnifications and keeping them in focus is unbelievably difficult, so mostly you just pick a spot and focus and attempt to capture anything that ventures into that range. Generally, you have a fraction of a second to do so. Notice that the region of sharp focus is perhaps the width of the ant itself; in this frame, you can see the abdomen starting to get fuzzy from falling out of that range.

I was hoping for a sharp shot of one carrying away a pupa, but it was not to be within this session. Not only would focus have to be bang on, the view would pretty much have to be directly from the side, full profile as I have above, in the mere seconds before the worker made off with the pupa to a safer location. Too, it had to occur when the flash was fully-charged and ready, so after each attempt there was a period of several seconds before I could try again. The result was, I have a couple of shots from a bad perspective, but not what I wanted.

Nonetheless, there remains a great selection of pupae in varying amounts of detail, and the focus on the worker ant is pretty sharp, sharp enough to show the stippling texture of the exoskeleton itself. While not exactly what I was trying for this session, I certainly feel comfortable with keeping it.

We’re gonna have to let you go, April

possibly clover weevil Sitona hispidulus on red azalea blossom
I should try a lot harder to branch out more for the end-of-the-month abstract, and not feature as many flowers and water droplets – we’ll have to see what May brings us. But I still liked the effect of this one, so I’ll just wallow in my rut for another month. At a botanical garden a few days back, I spotted this minuscule weevil on the very edge of an azalea bloom, and fired off a couple of frames wide open with the Mamiya 80 macro – this one happened to nail the focus bang on the bug. I’m tentatively identifying this as a clover weevil (Sitona hispidulus,) and if anyone tries to correct me I’ll just laugh derisively and say, “Ah, yes, many people say that.” Which is a nice way of not admitting fault while not offering a correction, either.

Another holiday is upon us

USAF Air Demonstration Squadron 'Thunderbird' 4 and ground crew during pre-flight
I know that you’re as aware as I am of what today actually is, and in recognition of this holiday, I almost didn’t post anything at all; what better way to celebrate National Teaser Day than to not post anything for all the people coming here throughout the day to check and see how I was celebrating it. But if I simply carried that for the whole day, people might think that I’d forgotten or wasn’t actually recognizing the holiday, perish forbid! So I’m doing double-duty and waiting until just about the last minute, and then posting an actual teaser – get as much mileage out of the holiday as possible, right? And so we have this image, which certainly should indicate that others will be along, and true to form, I’m not telling you when.

Boy, this is a fun holiday!

Storytime 17

Back in the early nineties, a couple of years after moving into North Carolina, I took my first trip alone out to the Outer Banks – I’d been once before with my cousin, a weekend camping trip, but this time around I was intent on doing some ‘serious’ photography, which at that time was still being done with an Olympus OM-10 and a variety of second-hand lenses. My workhorse was a 75-260mm zoom, which represented a long reach for me at the time – the purchase of my first modern camera, a Canon Elan IIe, was still a couple of years away, but at this point I was in the process of deciding that I’d like to pursue photography as a career (mind you, it’s still not a ‘career’ now, in most senses of the word since it’s not paying all the bills, but I can’t call it a hobby either. Some day, someone will come up with an appropriate term.)

One particular draw was all the different species that inhabit only the seaside areas. For the first seven years of my life, my exposure to the ocean had been Atlantic City, NJ, back before the casinos moved in – think Coney Island, kind of deal. Then for nearly twenty years in central NY, I had no access to the beach or ocean at all. So the Outer Banks represented this almost-exotic region to me, and among the subjects that I was pursuing were the brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis.) Huge and yet leisurely, often seen gliding along effortlessly in their multi-toned plumage, I wanted some nice detail shots, which despite the wonderful reach of the 75-260 (snort,) I wasn’t getting at the distances I was normally seeing them from. I would spot them crossing the road as I was driving along Route 12, the single road that runs the length of the greater part of the Outer Banks, and find a place to stop the car and try to spot where they’d been heading, hoping they might have landed near the water’s edge or something. Generally, I saw no sign of them when I crossed the primary dune – in the time it took me to get out there, they’d moved on, likely following the air currents over the wave tops and cruising along the beach, as is their typical habit. On occasion, I saw them well offshore, sometimes floating in small groups, sometimes diving into the water after a choice meal. It was frustrating, but I never expected it to be easy, and if it was easy, what would be the charm in the resulting images?

And then, I spotted the entrance to the Hatteras Marina, and decided to check it out and see what kind of photographic opportunities it held – perhaps I’d get some picturesque shrimp netting boats alongside the dock, or maybe just a nice scenic bay area. I wasn’t thinking pelicans, really, because I expected them to be shy, avoiding the people that would be therein. So it came as a little bit of culture shock to find that pelicans were not only plentiful there, they were considered almost as vermin – they were attracted by the live bait, and the subsequent catches and post-subsequent fish entrails, that accompanied a harbor catering to fishing trips. I could practically walk up to them, and it wasn’t too difficult to find various vantages that showed them off, including this one. Shot on print film (probably Kodak Gold 400,) with the so-so Olympus lenses, it lacked the qualities that I would later demand from my slides and, further off, digital images, but it still decorated my walls for a few years.

row of brown pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis atop pilings in Hatteras Marina, NC