Because there’s no WOA

On one of the new butterfly bushes out front sits a curious resident, not uncommon around here, but certainly challenging to photograph in detail. In fact, some of the images for this post represent the third attempt to get photos. The things I do for you.

adorned web of trashline orbweaver genus Cyclosa spider in bush
No, stop sneering – this wasn’t one of the hard ones. And it’s not exactly subtle about the implied presence of a spider, anyway – not too many things just hover motionless in midair like this, so even without the light catching a few strands, the more astute of us could deduce the presence of a web. But the spider itself is right there too, hidden among the line of trash, and it’s easily the most appropriately-named spider that I’ve come across, at least if you use the common name: it’s a trashline orbweaver – well, okay, one of several species that bear that moniker. It gets slightly trickier from here. If you’re trying to see the spider, know that like every spider, it’s sitting right in the center of the web where the lines and circles converge, because that’s how they can feel prey striking the web the best, so ignore the deceptive bulges and use the light on the strands as a pointer – there is a very faint difference in color visible, a hint of symmetry. But here it is up close.

closeup of trashline orbweaver genus Cyclosa spider in center of web
Now the spider is a bit more obvious, but seeing it this way takes quite a bit of magnification, since it’s tiny – just a couple of millimeters in body length. If it helps, the spider is facing upwards with its legs tucked in tightly. The trash line that it sits within is composed of its victims, which seems a bit macabre even for a spider, but it works awful damn well to camouflage the spider itself, doesn’t it?

There are two species that this might be, either Cyclosa turbinata or Cyclosa conica – as BugGuide.net says, “Females of turbinata differ from conica by being smaller in size and having a pair of anterior dorsal humps.” Should be easy, then: since there are no humps visible on the frontish side of the abdomen, then this is a C. conica. Not so fast, however – it also says that the anterior dorsal humps are “often indistinct.” And the photos they provide to illustrate this indicates that the humps can be subtle indeed. Well, peachy. But I got several images, so among them I should be able to distinguish this little detail.

frontal closeup of trashline orbweaver genus Cyclosa spider in center of web
If you’re seeing the same things that I am, you’re likely saying, “Well, those could be subtle little humps, arachnid A-cups” (okay, maybe that’s not so likely.) But the fun part comes in when you realize that, in photos and even in artwork, the idea of highlights and shadows defining shapes can easily be mimicked by, you know, bright and dark patches. It’s easy to see that there are two light spots on the abdomen with a pattern of darker areas that look like shadows, but are there really shadows? It’s a question for the ages.

I’m going to go with C. conica (no humps) and here’s why. In order to get these photos I had to resort to the ring-flash, because my standard macro lighting unit couldn’t get at an angle that didn’t throw far too much shadow – not with the web itself and the supporting branches in there; again, I had to be close to get these. The ring-flash, however, is known for one specific trait: not throwing shadows, since it produces light from all sides of the lens axis – one of the reasons that I rarely use one, because it takes away the shaping and modeling that helps define the subjects (also that it looks vaguely unnatural, and will produce ring-shaped reflections from shiny surfaces like eyes and water drops.) Given that, I’m going to say that we’re seeing nothing but color patterns on the abdomen of the spider here, but go ahead – prove me wrong, if you dare!

Interesting, though, is how well the trash camouflage seems to work, because this bush sits right alongside a hummingbird feeder, and hummers do indeed eat insects, especially ones that are easy pickings in midair and just the right size – yet this spider has been there for weeks. The trashline orbweaver can only get away with this method of camouflaging itself because spiders are not in the least social, and so there’s no such thing as a Web-Owners Association to get all whiny and foot-stampy because these webs aren’t conforming to the standards of decent spiders.

Sunday slide 40

pre-sunrise on old stomping grounds Indian River Lagoon, Florida
I had planned, only a short while ago, to use an entirely different slide up here this morning, but the slide scanning program started getting balky and I haven’t yet determined how to fix it. My suspicion is that this is caused by a Windows 10 automatic update, which if true would be seriously irritating because a) no update should fuck with existing and working programs in any way, shape, or form (are you listening, Microsoft?) and b) I had the automatic update services turned off. During what should have been a routine deletion on a tertiary drive in my computer (yes, three,) the index fucked up and I lost access to that drive until I reinstalled it on a different SATA port. Once it was found and working normally, only a day or so later Windows 10 announced it was ready to install its new update, which I allowed with some concerned frowning, and less than three days later wanted to fucking do it again (which explains why I turn off such utter fucking nonsense.) And now one of my older programs from the Windows XP or 2000 days, which probably won’t reinstall under Windows 10, is not working. This better hadn’t be the cause, but I’m already familiar with the plethora of unnecessary changes that Windows 10 introduced, so I’m more than a little suspicious.

Anyway, back to the pic and away from my general pissyness. This is a shot just a bit before astronomical sunrise, meaning the sun hadn’t yet broken the horizon for my particular location, but it counts as sunrise good enough for our purposes. This is precisely at one of my old stomping grounds in Florida, on the extended shallows of the Indian River Lagoon in Florida – that old tree has featured in a lot of my images (including here, shot from the opposite direction.) When I first moved to Florida, I knew the lagoon/sound was close, but for a while I patrolled the edges looking for easy entry – homeowners possessed most of the waterfront land and there was no ‘public’ access to the water. Eventually I found a spot where the right-of-way for both the road and electrical lines came right up against the water, and I could wade into the sound there without trespassing on anyone’s property. This began my frequent activity in that area, much of which is chronicled in ‘The River’ category of the main site – the header image there is in fact the same photo.

The slide is dated January 2003, but that was when I had it developed, and at that time I’m not sure how promptly I was sending slides in for processing – I tended to send them in batches and during the winter my shooting slowed down a little. Safe to say that it was less than a couple months old at that point though, and in Florida, it was easily possible to be playing around in the water in all but the coldest months; I distinctly remember being out wading as early as February, with the water temperature being brisk but not debilitating. I wasn’t about to go snorkeling, but wading in sandals wasn’t bothering me too much. And this shot was taken from shore anyway. Straight out from this point, so extending towards the left in this image, was where my close encounter with startled manatees occurred.

September heads out

Okay, this end of the month abstract image was from an outing with the Immaculate Mr Bugg several nights ago, and I gave him every opportunity to post first, because he likes that kind of thing. Ah well, too late!

long exposure at night of landing jetliner
The last time that I had done this kind of thing was close to two decades ago, which surprises even me; it was more recent than this, but not by a lot – in fact, I think the copyright date of that shot was from when I published it to the website, and not when I took it, but I’m not absolutely sure about it. And these were taken in almost the same spot. What you’re looking at, both here and there, are the trails of jetliners landing, the shutter remaining open during final approach – in this particular frame, just shy of three minutes. You can see the glare from where the landing lights were aimed a little more directly at our position, as well as the reflection through the trees from the lake, and there’s even the hint of the approach strobes, the lights that help guide the planes in, along the bottom of the frame – no, not those bright spots, which are road lights, but the faint line of poles more towards the center. The strobes face away from our position here so their presence was barely discernible at night. You can also see some star trails, the amount they moved during the exposure time.

I hadn’t done this since the September 2001 attacks, for obvious reasons, but I finally called the airport to see how they felt about it, and as long as we weren’t on airport property, it was fine; we could even have been shooting from the top of the parking decks within the airport itself, but that wouldn’t have put us in the approach corridor like this one did. We were actually on the roadside where it passed just outside of the fences and the end of runway 5L.

The biggest difference in the intervening time was the ability to determine, through a smutphone app, exactly when a plane was due to approach – takes a lot of the guesswork out of it.

Jim pic 46

colorful striations in hills, Badlands South Dakota by James L. Kramer
This is a variation of the previous Jim pic, and I searched in vain for anything to provide scale. I could guess how tall these hills are, but I’m just going to let Jim pop in here and tell us, under the stipulation that he do so in furlongs. It’s my blog, I make the rules…

In the meantime, dig the colors, and textures, and layers, and the faintly surreal aspect of it all.

BIAB: Heartbreak Beat

This one has a bare reference to current events in the slightest way possible, because we (meaning The Girlfriend and I) were out last night to see The Psychedelic Furs play live locally at the Cat’s Cradle – happy birthday to me! (It wasn’t actually my birthday, but the band wasn’t playing here on that date – I guess they forgot.)

One of the reasons that I like 80s music, beside the obvious and most influential bit about it being the era that I “grew up” in… – okay, isn’t that a ridiculous phrase, pretty much completely meaningless? I grew “up” between the ages of nothing (or at the very least, when I became bipedal) and, I dunno, about 20 years or so when I hit my maximum height, and am presently growing down I think. It could easily be argued that I am still growing up, since I just so happen to be getting older every year (see that bit up there about birthday,) or it could just as easily be argued that I never grew up at all (see that bit about, well, pretty much everywhere on the blog.) So to clarify, my late adolescent to early adulthood (or something) years fell within the 80s when I was paying the most attention to music, because I wasn’t getting laid then and never got into drugs, so what the hell else was I gonna get into? Star Wars? Dungeons & Dragons? Motorcycles? Writing a bunch of crap? Working a variety of forgettable jobs? Well, okay, yeah, I got into all of those too, but I found time in there to listen to music occasionally…

Let’s try again.

One of the reasons that I like 80s music is how many of the bands composed music. Each instrument had its place, and were often used to counterpoint one another, or fill in small gaps, or set a background theme. While there were often recognizable “riffs,” many of the songs had a lot more to them than that – I was about to say that they were “blended,” but that’s entirely the wrong word. The instruments aren’t all mashed together into a wall of noise, but fitted, usually distinct yet making the melody with a lot of subtle variations and flourishes. As an example, of course, I provide The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Heartbreak Beat,’ their highest charting single but probably not their most well-known – that honor goes to ‘Pretty in Pink,’ which was used in the movie of the same name, but ‘Love My Way’ also seems to spark more recognition. Nonetheless, listen to the way this particular song is put together, and see how many instruments you can detect:

This video version (and I think the 7″ single release) is slightly truncated from the album version, completely unnecessarily I might add. Anyway, chances are you picked out every instrument, or nearly all, that performed in the track, and you may have noticed the complete lack of ‘power chords’ or a domineering guitar. Undoubtedly, you also noticed the British accent; Richard Butler is one of those whose accent doesn’t almost vanish when singing (another example can be found here,) and it’s part of what makes the lyrics work.

Now, a lot of this can be lost during live performances, mostly due to the ridiculous volume that is somehow considered necessary, but I’m forced to admit, this recent set from the Furs actually handled it all pretty well. The Girlfriend and I still used earplugs, which dropped the volume down to a pleasant level, but even with that the instruments and Butler’s voice still came through with most of the studio quality to them – not all, of course, and this should never be expected from a live performance, but significantly better than most bands that I’ve heard (not a huge list.) One exception was Colin Hay, but that was a very small, folksy venue and a solo performance on assisted acoustic guitar, so c’mon. But I have to mention something missing from this live performance, and that was backing vocals. Guitarist Rich Good had his own mic and did a little assistance on the choruses, and bassist Tim Butler (yes, Richard’s brother) also seemed to hit the first few words of the choruses but it wasn’t even clear if he was wired for vocals. Otherwise, they counted on the crowd to fill in, which is okay, but most of the Furs’ songs have distinctive backing to them, so it was a shame to be lacking this for their stage set.

I have to note that I heard the Furs play before, back in 1993 I believe, and (this is going to stretch coincidence almost beyond credulity) also at the Cat’s Cradle – only at its old location. The Cradle is a curious thing. While larger than most bars, it’s still a local music outlet and quite small – this is not a stadium or auditorium or, really, much more than a dive; I’m pretty sure the owners take pride in its ‘unpolished’ appearance. And yet, it gets some surprisingly big acts playing there. I distinctly recall the first time I saw the Furs play, as we were leaving the venue we passed a rig sitting in the parking lot alongside, rear doors open to reveal an interior 3/4 stuffed with lighting equipment, provided for the tour yet unable to be installed on a stage the size of our living room (I’m not joking.) This time around I took note: there were two light bars, each about five meters in length – one in front of and one behind the stage. That’s it.

If you want an example of the set, there’s this video from a couple months earlier in the tour, just accept that it’s not exactly a professional recording with, you know, managed sound levels. That’s, ‘The Ghost in You,’ presently my favorite Furs song, but the studio version (for comparison) can be found here. Other notable songs from the Furs include, ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and ‘Love My Way,’ as mentioned, and also, ‘House,’ and, ‘Until She Comes.’ If you want to hear an extended remix of the track featured above, there’s this version. Back at the first go-around, the only song that I really knew was ‘Heartbreak Beat” and they didn’t fucking play it – not sure how that one slipped past. But this time we got to hear all of them, so it’s good.

Thought I’d missed one, didn’t you?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that there is a major holiday featured here every month this year – except June. But there was a distinct reason for this: today is National Celebrate A Holiday From Earlier In The Year Day, and so we’re going to celebrate International Feature A Photo Series From The Previous Month Day, which normally falls on June 24th. All of this was very carefully planned. And I know we already had a holiday for September, but there’s nothing that said I had to feature only one, and today is a good day for celebrating anyway.

On a photo outing with the Inevitable Mr Bugg in May, he’d decided that we needed to do some more light trail work, which put us out on a freeway overpass directly above where two interstates merged. Now, he had every opportunity to post his own photos ahead of me, because he likes that kind of thing and I, of course, had this whole holiday bit scheduled and really couldn’t post the photos back then. But he never did show his own off, so…

long night exposures of light trails on merging interstate highways
In theory, such exposures are pretty easy. Go for manual settings, usually ‘Bulb’ shutter speed and f8 aperture, switch to manual focus and pin it down, then lock the shutter open and wait for the cars (or planes, or boats, or alien spacecraft) to whiz by. In practice, there’s a little more to consider. Starting or ending too soon means partial trails that end abruptly. Too many cars in the same lane makes things muddy, while no cars in a particular lane can make the road empty and the frame unbalanced. Too short of an exposure, and there’s not enough light hitting the surroundings to give context, while too long can overexpose the frame. Headlights hitting the lens directly can produce a lot of glare (see the oncoming lane near the top.) So, getting a good frame may take a lot of tries, especially while waiting for cars to come by with the right distribution.

By the way, rigs with a full complement of running lights can fill a frame with lots of lines, more so if two of them pass like above; again, very easy to overload the exposure. But when you’re shooting down at ground level, they can add a more vertical element to the frame.

Something curious that I noticed when editing the photos from this session is something that I’ve seen before: LED taillights (all LED lights, actually) blink on and off very rapidly – too rapidly for our eyes to distinguish, but readily visible as they move across the frame. This car in particular had them firing in sequence:

long exposure of passing LED taillights showing blinking
And there’s also a particular thing that I’ve been wanting to capture for quite some time now – like, 20 years or so? That is, a time exposure of a passing emergency vehicle with strobes ablaze, especially from above like this. I’ve gotten a couple of eye-level examples, nothing too distinctive, but I have yet to be on an overpass when an EMS vehicle passes underneath. This session, however, I got kind of an example, as a flatbed wrecker with its orange strobes came through. They even illuminated the immediate surrounding portions of the vehicle itself.

long night exposure of a passing wrecker with strobes
You get the idea: wouldn’t this look much cooler with alternating red and blue lights? I suppose I should find an overpass near a typical speed trap.

Another note: we’d chosen this particular overpass because it was a road that saw almost no traffic at night, which is a hell of a lot safer. There’s a certain risk to standing on a bridge at night, and all it takes is one moron dicking with their toy phone, or too deep in their cups, and you’re toast. I warily watched every car that passed on our side of the road, and even had a local cop stop by and check on us. He was cool with it (this isn’t the first time it’s happened for me, either,) but made a good suggestion: wear a reflective vest. Not only does this alert drivers to your presence better, but they tend to think you’re either a cop or construction worker and drive a lot more carefully.

One last one, with a special addition:

long night exposure from overpass showing light trails and shadow of waving photographer
I took this one specifically with the blog in mind. The moon was full and behind us, which assisted with some of the exposures as it threw a little light onto the entire landscape. However, in most cases the effect was trivial because the exposure times were too short for the moonlight to add much; wait too long, and too many cars would pass through and overload the frame. So it took several tries to get just the right one as a longish period went by without vehicles. If you look closely down at the extreme lower right, you’ll see a shadow of me waving – well, holding still with arm raised for the 41-second exposure time. Mr Bugg’s own shadow is obscured by the light trails immediately adjacent, but you can see the line of the bridge’s shadow stretching off to the left. At some point in the future, I’ll do something a bit more elaborate along these lines, but again, timing is an issue, since it can really only be done when the moon is near full, low enough to cast a shadow outwards a bit, and of course on a clear night. We’ll see what happens.

Sunday slide 39

medium format slide of lily pads in raised pond
As digital photography became more and more prevalent (before even smutphone usage was common,) the price of medium format equipment dropped precipitously. If you’re not familiar with it, medium format is still roll film, but with frames ranging from 60×45 mm (commonly called 645) to 60×90 mm – you can run the same film through multiple types of camera bodies, with the body dictating how big the frame is and thus how few frames you can get from the roll. I’d always wanted to get into medium format but couldn’t afford it before, because it was always considered the realm of the high-end professional and was priced accordingly. But as the format fell in popularity and the costs with it, I finally took the chance around 2006 or so and got my first Mamiya 645E body and couple of lenses. By 2010 I’d traded up to a slightly better body, and added a couple of lenses.

I’m fairly certain this one was a test taken soon after I’d gotten the 45mm lens, which is somewhat wide angle for 645 – 80mm is considered ‘normal,’ about how our eyes see things. I didn’t shoot a lot of slide film through the Mamiya cameras before getting slide film developed got much more difficult and expensive, and I followed the trend and stuck largely to digital. I will still, however, throw some monochrome print film through the camera, because I can process that myself. Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll build a darkroom in the corner of the garage here at the new place.

The nice thing about the drop in MF prices, however, has been the quality of the glass that can now be found for a song. Those same professionals demanded superior results, and so the lenses for just about any MF line are excellent, and as long as you don’t mind focusing manually and closing down the aperture before firing off a shot, you can adapt them to current cameras fairly easily. For about the same price as the basic kit or ‘tourist’ lenses you’ll get much better results, and the 80mm macro that I purchased for the 645 film bodies sees regular use on my Canon digital bodies, being the sharpest macro that I’ve ever used.

By the way, I also have a large format camera, an ancient Graflex Graphic View II – this is the kind with the bellows, that you focus with your head under a hood like you’ve seen in the old silent films or if you’re familiar with Mathew Brady’s equipment. The film is a single sheet of 100×125 mm (usually referred to as 4×5 for the inch measurements, because consistency wasn’t considered important,) housed in a double-sided flat box, so you shoot one frame at a time – action photography this ain’t. Basically, you ensure that everything is perfect before you take the shot, but such a large film frame means very nice detail and the possibility of huge enlargements. At some point I’ll be back and talk about what can be done with a full-movement large format rig – it’s pretty creative stuff.

Okay, here’s something stupid that I just discovered. When I typed “4×5” the x was smaller and would center within the vertical line space, but when I wrote “100x125mm” it wouldn’t – apparently there’s some HTML formatting thing where the x is recognized as a mathematical multiplication symbol only if there are no other letters appended. I cannot wait to wield this newfound knowledge in myriad ways.

A quick one from last night

Mostly, I wanted one to break up the numbered post titles, so this is a ‘Just Because’ pic, but those are numbered too, so it’s not. The ‘one’ in this title doesn’t count as a number, just a noun. Or pronoun maybe. Whatever, it doesn’t count. We’re not counting here.

a pair of great blue herons Ardea herodias posing against sunset colors on Jordan Lake
We did a quick session of sunset shooting, which didn’t produce bupkiss due to a near-cloudless sky, before heading off for night exposures elsewhere, but while out on Jordan Lake, a pair of great blue herons (Ardea herodias) posed curiously against the colors. Which I tweaked a little here for stronger fartistic effect.

Jim pic 45

multi-colored slope, Badlands South Dakota by James L. Kramer
This has been a largely missing week for me – I’ve had the time to do stuff, but not the inclination. Ah well.

On the previous Jim pic, Jim himself stated, in a cameo, that he liked the “upcoming images” better, and so I had to delay posting them for a while, because. But I’m not in total disagreement, either – the odd colors for a hillside are rather compelling by themselves. They actually come from a series of explosions that occurred nearby in the grain storage region of South Dakota, immediately bordering the Badlands; first a number of wheat storage silos suffered a dust explosion, followed only a year or so later by a buckwheat accident. Thus the yellow and carmine layers. Less than three years later, a plane had to make an emergency landing at adjacent Badlands Regional Airport, and dumped its cargo of kitty litter to lighten the load. This caused a dramatic upsurge in the feral cat colonies within the region.

You’re not buying any of this, are you?

So I have no idea what produces the colors in these layers – probably sulfur and manganese. Maybe theodolite and parchesium. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Look, just marvel at the colors, okay?

And I’ve looked at high magnification – there’s no fucking car in this one.

Change of plans

fishing boat against looming sunrise, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Okay. So. The plan, which we’d had for close to a year, was to spend this past week down on Jekyll Island, Georgia, and we’d chosen this time to maximize the chances of seeing a sea turtle nest hatching out, because this is the season. So we watched the predictions for Hurricane Irma with some misgivings, obviously. We were supposed to drive down Saturday September 9th, but by the previous Thursday, we were sure it wasn’t going to happen; landfall in south Florida would occur early Sunday morning, and even if Jekyll Island somehow avoided anything serious in terms of weather, the mass migration out of Florida meant that gas, at least, could be very difficult to find. But soon afterward, Jekyll Island was evacuated and closed anyway.

The Girlfriend, as she herself put it, was following the old saw: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and so she was finding various things for us to do around here since the three of us (her, her daughter, and I) had all long ago scheduled the week off. On the other hand, I’m stoic but still grumpy, and I was more inclined to hurl lemons at other people just for the hell of it.

[I am well aware that a lot of people had, and still have, things a hell of a lot tougher than I do because of this storm, and am not minimizing their problems at all in favor of our trashed plans. And there’s no way that this isn’t going to sound petty in comparison, but this was a major trip for us, another opportunity to lay in some serious shooting and relaxation before the winter dead season hit, and I was pretty depressed about losing it, not at all helped by the lower temperatures, overcast sky, and constant drizzle that seemed to indicate that autumn was already upon us. Yeah, yeah, bitch and moan, I know, but it’s a blog, and I’m not taking photos of my food, so…]

After a couple of days when the hurricane had passed and was no longer a threat, we decided to do a brief trip to the closest beach to us, which is the Wilmington area and Wrightsville Beach. This is far from our first choice, because Wilmington is one of NC’s bigger cities and even the beaches tend to be overdeveloped and crowded, but at least we were getting out. From a photography standpoint, this wasn’t terribly productive, largely because of the issues that I’ve gone over here, but it produced a lot more than simply staying around home.

burrow on unidentified animal through sandThe one goal that I had firmly in mind was a crab hunt. On a previous trip many years ago down at the end of the strand at Fort Fisher, we had come across numerous hermit crabs, and I wanted to tackle them with more time and effort. However, timing was an issue, and we didn’t got out early enough in the morning when we were heading down there; when we did arrive, it was with just enough time to catch the ferry over to Southport, so I left the hunt for later.

Southport itself wasn’t too conducive to my kind of pics, but I did split away from the ladies to scour the waterline while they checked out a museum nearby. Eventually, I unearthed a couple of crab species and a sweet LED flashlight that had obviously washed ashore, still working fine. I did a few initial pics of the crabs in the open hatch of the car, because I’d brought the macro aquarium along, but I also hung onto the critters to do a more dedicated shooting session back in the motel room that evening.

When we returned to Fort Fisher, I got out for a brief exploration in the same marsh areas where I’d found the crabs, but it was now mid-afternoon and activity was typically scarce. I saw a select expanse of sand that bore the traits of fiddler crab feeding, the little pellets of loosely-packed sand that they leave behind, and a curious burrow through the sand, typical of moles though I never thought moles would have the slightest interest in a brackish marsh, so I’m inclined to think it was from something else. I did, however, locate a couple of hermit crabs and did a few quick portrait sessions, but between the conditions of the day and the fact that the ladies were waiting back at the parking area, I kept it brief.

thin-stripe hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus eyeing the photographer with suspicion
It’s funny, the different ‘personalities’ one runs across in wildlife, not just between species but among members of the same species. The larger one that I found was exceedingly shy, and I had to wait a short while for it to emerge, only to send it immediately back into its shell for an extended period when I made an incautious move. I heard someone approaching on the paths while I was in my typically awkward position waiting for the re-emergence, and whether they saw me lying sideways across a driftwood trunk, motionless, camera pressed to eye, I can’t say, but I imagine the scene was rather curious. But getting back to personalities, the crab seen here, half the size of the shy one, wasn’t even inclined to remain in its shell while it was in my hand, and didn’t wait for me to get into position after I placed it on the trunk in good light and angle to photograph it venturing out. Behavior is in many ways shaped by experience, and the larger one might have only been as big as it was because of its shyness, a lesson that this one had yet to learn. Or it could be simply genetic variation. Or the need for a restroom.

unidentified snails on marsh grass stalks
In the same region, patches of snails could be found, clumps of them appearing in certain areas but not in others that appeared identical, and what the difference was I cannot say (I have been forbidden by The Elders.) What I will say is that the hermit crab above is probably sporting a shell from the same species, despite the outward difference in appearance, since the living snails are usually coated with an algae or fine weed that dulls their appearance and helps them to blend in. Though how much this helps, when they’re obvious clumps on thin reeds, I can’t fathom.

But there were plenty of them.

unidentified snails on marsh grasses
Seagulls aren’t among my first choice of birds to be chasing on the beach – I have way too many images of them, really, and so does everyone else. But I’ll still take the opportunity for a fartistic shot when it’s available.

laughing gull Leucophaeus atricilla in winter plumage on post against clouds
I’m fairly certain this is a laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) in winter plumage; in summer, their heads are black. They are easily the most numerous birds on the NC coast, and pretty raucous – their name is taken from the derisive sound of their calls, the mean kids on the playground.

I’ll take a second to point out something. Most times, the composition ‘rule’ is to leave space in the frame ahead of your subject, in the direction that they facing or moving – in this case I should have aimed to put the gull at the left side of the frame. Or so it says, and for many cases it works. But the clouds were an important aspect of the scene, and I wanted a certain portion of their shapes to be evident, and accenting the bird in position. As I look at it now, I kinda wish that I had shifted slightly more, getting the top edge of the clouds to fall under the body and tail of the gull, with the legs falling into that dip just visible between them. Maybe I can rush back there…

juvenile American white ibis Eudocimus albus still showing evidence of fledgling coloration
I was pleased to spot an American white ibis (Eudocimus albus) right next to the gulls – they’re much more common in Florida. No, they’re not misnamed, nor is this one especially dirty; the juveniles are brown, to blend into the marshes where they nest, and only in adulthood do they develop the nearly completely white coloration (their wingtips are black, which makes them easy to tell apart in flight.) I got just close enough to this one that you can distinguish their blue eyes.

One type of bird that I am still seeking images of are the pelicans, and they’ve been pretty scarce on my last few beach trips. A flight of three passed immediately overhead on the ferry ride, when I was unprepared, but otherwise they were maintaining a distance every time I saw them. Save for this one.

brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis with ruddy turnstones Arenaria interpres and unidentified sandpipers
The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) on the pole wasn’t inclined to give me any other poses – it was difficult enough just to get this light angle, since solid land was some ways behind it off to frame left, and I was venturing out on the slightly submerged retaining wall alongside a boat ramp just to get this far (the same wall, in fact, seen under the ibis, just further along as it disappeared into the water.) Among the smaller birds on the rocks, the darker ones mostly to the left are ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres,) I’m almost positive anyway, while the paler ones remain unidentified – too many species with similar appearance, not enough detail to distinguish them. By the way, my normal standing position put the pelican about even with the horizon, so I had to crouch slightly to place it against the sky in this way. It’s funny – you don’t think it would be hard to maintain a partial knee bend for a short while until you try it, and realize that your muscles aren’t accustomed to such things. I would easily believe it’s just me, but some of my students can’t hack it either. But go ahead – show off, prove me wrong.

Back at the motel in the evening, I did a more extended session with the crabs and aquarium, sequestered once again in the bathroom so the repeated flashes wouldn’t bother anyone.

porcelain crab posing briefly
porcelain crab Petrolisthes armatus or Porcellana sayana showing belly and extending feeding appendagesOne of my captures was a porcelain crab (either Petrolisthes armatus or Porcellana sayana,) which I had only before seen in Florida, but I maintained several in the tank while I lived there. This trip, I was hampered by the brief time that I had and the shyness of the crab to pose near the glass, with the murkiness of the water contributing as well, producing a lot of obscuring glare and making me constantly reposition the flash unit for better effect – even then, this image has been tweaked for improved contrast. I came prepared, but getting better shots would still have required a lot more time and preparation. So it goes.

What I did manage to capture was the brief extension of its feeding appendages, folded in the top image and looking like two plates near its mouth, but starting to unfold in the lower image; go to that link above to see a video of the feeding seines in action, because it’s pretty cool.

Since we were at the beach there should be, you know, pictures of the beach, right? And I’m getting to that, but it even took me a bit while there. First off, Wilmington isn’t exactly a beach city, and the place we stayed at was about 20 minutes from the ocean, given traffic and all. We did a quick visit to the shore right after we arrived, but it was a typical touristy area with little to photograph. And for the two sunsets that we would have on this trip, we were nowhere near a scenic area at the times, and the first morning we simply didn’t get going before sunrise, even though I had scheduled an appropriate post ahead of time to appear then – like, right then, the time of sunrise for that day, because I do stupid things like that. I won’t announce trip plans here, partially because of just what happened, with the trip falling through and all that, but mostly because I won’t admit online that the house will be empty, or that I can be found at a specific area – you know, rabid fans. Anyway, I made it a point to get up and steal the car on our last morning there, knowing the ladies would sleep in for a bit longer.

probable willet Tringa semipalmata silhouetted against morning seafoam
For this session I had two cameras, one on a tripod with the 17-85 lens for broader shots, and another handheld with the 100-300 L lens for details and wildlife. But I made a mistake with the image seen here: when shooting the sky and horizon, I had the exposure compensation darkened down a bit, underexposing to bring out the colors, but hadn’t switched it back to normal when this willet (Tringa semipalmata) was scurrying along the oscillating foam edge. Still, I consider it a nice moody piece.

I had decided to go straight to Wrightsville Beach pier to have something to work with in the frame, but this had its shortcomings too. The primary one being, this is where everyone goes, and before the colors had even come up very far, there were surfers getting into the shot, conveniently ignoring the “No surfing” zone because, you know, the waves were identical all along the entire fucking coastline, and pretty pathetic at that, the curlers getting about a meter in height. This is why I aim for areas where few people bother to go.

But anyway, as I waited, realizing that the sky wasn’t likely to do anything interesting that morning, I got a couple of frames that were curious in comparison.

two sunrise frames showing changing color register
First off, note the cloud line across the horizon, pretty much aligned with the top of the pier, while the water line and ‘true’ horizon runs at the bottom of the pilings. But the distinctive thing is the color difference. Taken just six minutes apart, no settings were changed between these two images; the only difference was the shutter speed, becoming shorter for the bottom image as the sky brightened. White balance was set for Full Sunlight (or, as the EXIF info has it, Manual, which is the same thing – no correction by the camera.) The color change came from the sky itself, as the sun reached a higher angle in relation to my position and had less atmosphere to pass through.

Astronomical sunset came and went without note, since the sun remained behind those clouds and had none higher than it could play color games with, but eventually it rose above them and peeked out, and I had a fishing boat to use at the time.

sun peeking above clouds behind fishing charter, Wrightsville Beach NC
I was a bit too far down the beach to line the sun up with the pier, but at that point I wasn’t inclined to move, since the sky wasn’t going to do much and the surfers were already dicking around, so I kept it simple. I’ve said it many times before, with sunrise and sunset you work with what you get; often enough, you’re just counting on another day to be better.

I did, in fact, put the surfers in the frame, shot vertically now to get the reflection on the foreground water and sand.

lame surfers and fishing charter against sunrise, Wrightsville Beach NC
Yes, the boat was circling at that time, possibly because they’d found a promising region for fish, but possibly because someone with binoculars on the boat recognized me and they were trying to stay in my frame. You know how it goes.

And I leave you with my last frame from the trip, taken just a wee bit later as I strolled the beach for a couple of minutes before heading back to the motel. We still spent more time there, mostly touring the battleship USS North Carolina, which was interesting enough, but not my typical subject matter – you can ask The Girlfriend’s Sprog for pics, since she took a few hundred I believe.

It wasn’t what we’d been planning, but it was something, and served the purpose of breaking us away from work and the area for a bit.

tidal pool and channel, Wrightsville Beach NC