Blog trivia is the worst kind

So I noticed something the other day as I was checking my records. A year ago, I set a significant personal record (the ‘who-cares?’ kind of record) in May with the number of photos uploaded during the month, that number being 173; this was due to the trip we took to South Carolina, and I can’t even give the town usefully because we were between two and not even the residents seemed to know whether it counted more as Pawley’s Island or Murrell’s Inlet. Regardless, that was a notable jump, since the previous record had been 103 images in a single month. This also helped set the stage for the year being a record-holder as well.

May of this year is not even in contention – I uploaded 89 images for the month. However… the total for this year, so far, is well in advance of the same time last year, even with those 173 images from one month alone: 312 uploads by the end of May last year, versus 355 this year. The previous months held their own quite well, which says a lot considering those are the slow months of the year.

Will this trend continue? Will 2020 be a banner year for photos uploaded? Does anyone actually give a flying fuck? We’ll find out… well, it’ll be a few months yet. Except for maybe that last question.

Yeah, whatever

You might have known, had you bothered to look at your calendar or the side of your frozen pizza, that today is another holiday, being Lack of Ambition Day, which pretty much explains why I didn’t tell you sooner. I’d go into the history of it, and the ways that it’s celebrated across the globe, but that would require way more research than I feel like putting into it right now. If you want to spit in the face of its founders and look it up yourself, feel free – I’m not that disrespectful, myself.

Hopefully the batteries in your remote are in good shape, because you aren’t likely to go changing them now. The clothes can stay in the dryer overnight. The flat tire is not gonna get any flatter, so forget about it. If you have any adult undergarments handy, have at it – they’re not as bad as they seem.

That’s enough typing.

There’s something about May

What was it now? Oh, yeah: it’s over. And in recognition of this, we have the month-end abstract.

six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton showing surface tension from middle of pond
Up early one morning exploring Our Hosts’ pond during our trip earlier this month, I took advantage of the morning twilight showing the water bowing under the trivial weight of the spider. And that’s all I’m gonna say because I apparently can’t type seven words in a row without a typo…

Some quick closeups

Last night I did another check at the nearby pond, not just seeing how active the treefrogs were, but also looking for other, aquatic subjects. They weren’t hard to find, but my first surprised me a little.

newly-hatched painted turtle Chrysemys picta at water's surface
This is a juvenile painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) and unless I miss my guess, it’s this year’s brood, judging from the lack of ridges on the scutes (shell ‘scales.’) I found it in the same little drainage puddle as the snakes from the previous post and video, quite possibly swept there during the overflow flooding that followed the torrential rains we’ve received the past few days. The puddle didn’t have enough vegetation to make it happy, which it could correct for itself easily, but recently, the HOA around the nearby pond elected to poison all the weeds along the edges, and I’ve already found a few dead turtles on the banks – turtles eat pond vegetation, so there’s little doubt as to what killed them, and I don’t feel it’s prudent to reintroduce my little model here into that. Right at the moment, it resides in my backyard pond liner until I determine where to take it. Relocating turtles also isn’t a good idea, since they have immunities and diets based on where they’re presently living, but right now, it’s kind of that or take the chance on it being directly poisoned.

Also, quite curiously, this is the only painted turtle that I’ve seen anywhere near that pond, in six years – I’ve only found sliders, snappers, and musk turtles. So did it get swept in from some location upstream, one of the feeders into the pond, and then swept back out again? I couldn’t say, and so far, neither has it.

I’d seen some activity earlier from my next subject, so it was a target on last night’s exploration, which was more successful than I’d first imagined.

giant water bug Belostoma flumineum with backswimmer genus Notonecta prey
The guy on top is a giant water bug (Belostoma flumineum,) my target, and its capture is a backswimmer (genus Notonecta, possibly Notonecta kirbyi.) I had scooped up the giant water bug into a jar, and collected a few other odds and ends like tiny tadpoles and some of the backswimmers. Before I’d even left the edge of the puddle, the water bug had snagged a backswimmer for a snack, and retained it despite the sloshing around until I attempted to transfer it into the macro aquarium (where both of these photos were taken.) Sorry that I missed that shot, I introduced another backswimmer, and within minutes the water bug had begun another meal. Pig.

But I’m not complaining. Having something in captivity, especially short term, demonstrate feeding behavior is rare and often hard to accomplish, so being as cooperative as this helps a lot. Not from the backswimmers’ point of view, I’m sure, but they can write their own posts. The biggest difficulty that I had was from the turtle, which was sharing the macro aquarium for a little while, because it tended to blunder into the feeding water bug just as I was pinning down focus.

The turtle, by the way, was roughly 50mm in carapace length, while the water bug was a measured 25mm in body length, 5mm across the width of the eyes; I just now noticed that the dark coloration to the upper eyes wasn’t just a lack of reflection, but appears to be some kind of material, don’t ask me what. I feel obligated to point out that both of these arthropods don’t appear to have any of this coloration when seen ‘normally,’ merely looking dark brown under casual observation – it takes the flash and the right angles to show these hues. Still debating about whether I’m going to make any attempt to do aquarium video or not – there are a lot of challenges to surmount. Sure as hell, it’s gonna wait until my patience and mellow levels are near peak ;-)

Damn noisy neighbors

… but I can cope with this kind of noise.

A few nights back, not too long after some long overdue rains, The Girlfriend and I went over to the pond to see what sunset was doing, and as the sky darkened… well, the video explains it better.

This was peak activity, but unfortunately the batteries in my video light were almost kaput, so more of the lighting is provided by the headlamp and The Girlfriend’s Sprog’s flashlight, so light color is widely variable – I apologize. I went out a few days later with the video light intact and found almost no activity.

The noise of the calls was overwhelming while we were at video distance – the Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) could actually hurt your ears. As clear as many of the clips appear, almost none of these were in plain sight, but required sliding among, around, and under intervening branches, often at awkward angles, so the camera could only be handheld, but the new rig helped stabilize things quite a bit.

The only player in the video not to appear, in clips or stills, is the eastern narrowmouth toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis,) which looks like this (pic from a few years back):

Eastern narrowmouth toad Gastrophryne carolinensis perched on photographer's knee
And if you want to hear the call more distinctly, that can be found here. Subjects like this were a large part of my expanding into video in the first place.

By the way, before the grass clippings almost obscured the water’s surface, I did a few shots of the puddle residents, including some very small tadpoles.

unidentified tadpoles in flood puddle
I couldn’t tell you what these are, since I wasn’t there when the eggs were present, only that they’d sit comfortably on your thumbnail. I wonder if those ‘at home’ DNA tests would help?

So let me show you the current video rig, but bear in mind, this is typically a mere moment in time; probably before too long, this will change again as I refine its uses.

DSLR macro video rig of author's
A few words about what you’re seeing here. First off, the whole box contraption is a video ‘cage’ that I picked up used; it also came with the shoulder mount, which has yet to see use and may not very often, since my video subjects often require very specific angles and positions, and ‘from the shoulder’ is not usually among the choices, but I may use it for bird video at some point. It has been modified, since I always use camera bodies with the extended battery grips on the bottom, and the clearance with the top bar was barely adequate, so that’s been raised 20mm. Also, the side grips were notoriously bad about creaking with any motion, but I discovered a way to fix that and will likely document that later on. If you want to know before then, feel free to ask – I just don’t want to do another post right at the moment.

Top left (pic-wise) is the video light, also used, runs on 4 AA batteries or a USB battery pack, more than adequately bright for macro work – when it has fresh batteries, anyway. Some generic Chinese model, but it works damn well, so I’m cool with it. It’s on a ‘Magic Arm’ articulated extension, all joints lock down with that knob in the middle, and yes, these also work damn well.

Just to the side of that is a video mic, a Takstar SGC-598. Listen, I’m nothing if not frugal and critical of my purchases, and while the ‘toppa-da-line’ mic choices may come highly recommended, they’re also expensive as hell, and right now macro video is not bringing in the money to justify that expense. But in side-by-side comparisons, the Takstar rated almost indistinguishable from a Rode model, for less than a quarter the price, and I picked it up used for even less. An off-camera mic is highly recommended, because the on-camera versions aren’t very good dynamically, and pick up all the little noises from the body itself, including focusing, lens adjustments, and even shifting your grip.

In the center (with the blue bits) is another grip for the cage, very useful for low-level shots and just carrying the rig around.

Top right is the off-camera monitor. Earlier I’d made one that worked fine, but it had two significant liabilities: it didn’t have terribly high resolution, and was no better in bright light than the LCD on the back of the camera body. Then I ran across someone selling a used HDMI model with the flip-up eyepiece so it can be used either way, and treated myself. A little expensive, not much, but well worth the money once I started using it. Biggest liability is, it takes several seconds to pick up the signal from the body and turn on.

It’s supported, by the way, with a mini double-ballhead arm, a few bucks online, and yes, they tighten down very well. though you can’t see the knob in the center from this perspective. I always miss something when doing ‘product’ shots…

Underneath it all is my ‘new’ macro tripod, actually my 20-year-old full-size Bogen 3401 that I’d replaced a few years back with a more capable tripod. Late last year, I got a brainstorm and ended up cutting down each leg segment a precise amount with a pipe cutter, creating this low-level, extremely stable version. The legs still spread to almost flat, and the center column has been modified to be able to shorten to a stub for ground level work; the hex-wrench to loosen these bolts rides in the rubber cap at the base of the column (hidden in the grass here.) One of these days I’ll do a post on all the gear modifications that I’ve performed to make my pursuits easier. Now if I could only modify the video editing software to cut down the extravagant time that takes…

On this date 22

mist rising off Skaneateles Lake, NY
So it would appear that, fourteen years ago in 2006, I was visiting my family up in central New York, since this is mist rising off of Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in the center of the state – if you want to know how to pronounce that, saying, “skinny-AT-less” won’t earn you too many funny looks from the locals. It looks like a typical NY winter in this pic, and might well have been chilly, but it wasn’t that cold. I know I was driving around with my dad and trying to find a way to make a scene out of the twisting vapor on the water before it disappeared, and settled on this. I like the foreground elements, anyway…

We now jump ahead seven years.

closeup of head of unidentified lady beetle species
This one is a little out-of-sync, or something, because it was 2012 when I really kicked in the arthropod photography and cataloged about every life stage of lady beetles (Coccinellidae,) but this was taken in 2013 instead. Nonetheless, the head detail is appreciable, if I do say so myself, and I like how it makes it obvious that the white bit is not the head, but the ‘shoulders’ of sorts, a shield over the thorax called the pronotum. The coloration is aposematic, bright and contrasty ‘keepaway’ hues that are memorable to predators, because lady beetles have a method of discouraging predation: they can produce hemolymph, their blood, from their joints and it’s apparently pretty distasteful – I’d managed to obtain some images of it back then and thought that I’d posted some, but can’t find them. I’ll follow up shortly – I can’t do it here because they weren’t taken on this date.

bumblebee on pickerel weed pontederia flower
Five years ago in 2015, I was at a nearby pond (no, not that one, but another, further off but not far,) chasing what the pickerelweed (Pontederia) had to offer, and this image first appeared back then. The little jumping spider was also taken on that date, but some of the others in that post were taken on previous days – I’m almost positive none were taken on any subsequent days. My memory is just that good.

Gotta be either a mantis or a frog

I’m in a rut, I know. And it’s gonna get worse.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
This… is the look you receive when you hear someone’s name and make a pun on it, only they’ve been hearing the same pun since they were three and are wondering if the homicide judge will see it the same way.

Anyway, this green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) was perched on the oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) this morning, the one that had spent last year in a pot but got transplanted in front of the dining room window a few weeks ago and appears quite pleased with the move. Wasn’t expecting to see a treefrog using it but I’m cool with that, as you already know.

And it’s a taste of things to come, as I have some video to edit. Maybe a day or two. Meanwhile, Buggato has crowed that he will be chasing beach and storm pictures while I am at work, but here I am at home shooting and his blog is closing on two months without an entry, past-dated or no. Ah well…

BIAB: Out of the far reaches

All right, we’re gonna get a bit weird with this one. Yes, even for this site, so you’ve been warned.

I obtained the 45rpm vinyl phonograph of my featured song here back in 1978 or ’79, in my adolescence, but eventually lost all of my 45s among the many moves I’ve made over the years, and I probably hadn’t listened to it for years at that point anyway – I had moved on to cassettes and then CDs, and no longer even had a record player. A few years back, I remembered it and decided to look it up again, eventually downloading it as an MP3, which just demonstrates how many format changes have occurred in music – and to be honest, when first released in 1978, it was probably available on 8-track tape too, a truly horrible format that didn’t die the painful death it deserved.

Oh, hell, let’s sidetrack a little, because the topic isn’t going to be harmed by it. 8-track tapes were a continuous loop deal, maximum of 80 minutes but usually much shorter, feeding out of the center of the spool and back around the outside as they played, and because of this the cartridge that housed them was thick and clunky, measuring 14x10x2 cm (5.5x4x.75 inches.) Much worse, they required breaking up the contents into four sections (of stereo tracks, thus the 8) with a track-change sector at the end, which the player would detect and automatically, and noisily, jump the playback head over to the next pair of tracks. You would be listening to the music, which would die out, a moment or three of silence, a loud clack! as the head switched, and eventually the music would fade back in again – this was extremely annoying if it happened in the middle of a goddamn song, as it often did because albums rarely constrained themselves to perfect fits for the format. You could fast-forward, or select the next track (which would pick up as far along as you’d reached on the previous track,) but that was it. Just terrible. And if you didn’t clean your player semi-routinely, the tape would get stuck to the feed rollers and unspool into your player, requiring lots of disentanglement and the almost-assured death of that album.

Where were we? Ah, yes, The Carpenters, who I think the majority of people have heard of but not many people ever hear, because their songs are a bit dated and they stopped recording in the early ’80s. Their style was not an interest of mine, with one small exception, and it’s an obscure track that even people current with its release have forgotten. To understand it… well, there may not be any understanding of it, but regardless, let’s put things into perspective. The ’70s had seen another resurgence of fascination with alien visitation and UFOs, somehow bringing together the space race and the more mystical new-age elements, while in ’77 both Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had hit the theaters, so there was a huge swing to space-related media.

Another digression. Star Wars really did present a paradigm shift in science fiction when it was released. Up until then, sci-fi was all about sleek, clean, and crisp spaceships, sleek, clean, and crisp jumpsuits, generally weak video effects, and weedo weedo audio effects. Star Wars introduced weathering, with damaged and patched, complicated and chunky spaceships and special effects that far surpassed anything seen or heard to date, and by those tokens seemed altogether more realistic (except for the plot, but few were paying attention to that.) Presented with this popular new idea, movie and TV production companies responded with… sleek, clean, and crisp spaceships, sleek, clean, and crisp jumpsuits, generally weak video effects, and weedo weedo audio effects. Don’t ask me how they missed the boat in this manner, but they did.

And in the midst of this resurgence, The Carpenters released, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” And you can be excused if you feel there’s kind of a clash between style and substance here.

Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft – The Carpenters

Karen Carpenter had an amazing voice, with a good range and remarkable timbre and tonality, and it’s used to best extent here. The Carpenters gravitated towards the folksy, sometimes honky-tonk sound (and there was no one more honky, to be sure,) which never attracted my attention. This one did, however, even though now I cringe more than a little. Lemme ‘splain. In my adolescence, I was very much into the UFO/Bigfoot/Nessie crowd – I had the books, I followed the media, I gave way too much weight to the unsubstantiated and anecdotal stories that lacked any kind of decent evidence; the shift to critical thinking happened over a long period of time undefined by any particular demarcations, but sometime after the period of this song. I wasn’t so enamored that I felt “World Contact Day” was a great idea, and didn’t even know the ramifications of it, but the lyrics themselves spell it out adequately, and yes, it was a real movement – how embraced it was, among what percentage of the population, I cannot say, but the concept really was to have everyone telepathically sending their message to the stars all at the same time. Yeah, I find that flaky as hell nowadays, and won’t play this song in public despite it being a musically strong composition.

Most of the credit for that aspect goes to a group named Klaatu, who wrote and recorded it originally a year or so earlier – The Carpenters’ version is a cover. You can hear the original here, and I actually like the opening. It’s an ambitious composition involving a lot of different aspects, but desperately in need of better mixing.

So was the underlying message of the song actually espoused by The Carpenters, or was it just a project to reimagine the music since, again, it departs from their typical fare by a good degree? It’d be easy to believe the latter, but then, there’s the TV special. Seriously, I have to embed it here – see how far you can get.

The Carpenters – Space Encounters on YouTube

If you took the seventies, distilled them down and filtered them, compressed and dehydrated them into a concentrate, you would still end up with something less potent, less quintessential, than that – future generations have access to this thanks to someone’s efforts in converting a VHS recording of the original broadcast, which is heroic because, as it is said, those that cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it. It’s worth noting that the ’70s were chock-full of musical specials and variety shows (John Davidson was actually spawned in this blighted environment,) so this special was largely just another attempt to cash in on the trend and ride the wave of both Star Wars and Close Encounters while assiduously avoiding every last facet that made those popular – TV executives were and are remarkably brain-damaged folk.

All that said (for no reason at all,) I retain mixed feelings about the song, which is musically, vocally, and compositionally very solid – I’m just not on board with the lyrics anymore ;-)

On this date 21

mouth and 'teeth' of southern puffer fish Sphoeroides nephelus from beneath
I couldn’t pass on opening the post with a rather bizarre image, could I? Don’t judge, you’d do the same thing in my shoes with the pressure on this way. It’s my homage to the cover of Watership Down. What you’re seeing, first of all, is from 2004, in my favorite snorkeling haunt on the Indian River Lagoon in Florida. This is a southern puffer fish (Sphoeroides nephelus,) but a slightly-less-typical view of one because I was showing off that dentition. Having caught one by hand (which is much easier than you might imagine,) the puffer fish immediately inflated itself to prevent my swallowing it whole, apparently mistaking me for a heron, which is confusing because I wear glasses and herons always go for contacts. But I took the opportunity to do some detail shots, including showing what allowed them to consume their favorite food of barnacles and mussels – those are the faintly yellowish bits next to the pink lips. The goosepimply white hump between them is the ‘flap’ (for want of a better word) that closes to trap the air within when they inflate like this. After several frames, I let the puffer go and it deflated easily and swam off, perhaps triumphantly.

[A moment of trivia: puffer fish flesh often contains neurotoxins, the appeal of the gourmet dish fugu because it causes mild tingling of the extremities when prepared correctly (and death when prepared incorrectly.) It comes from this diet of mussels and barnacles and other filter feeders, because those are resistant to the bacterial blooms, like the red tides off the US coast at least, that can kill a lot of the fish in the region. The filter feeders store the toxins in their flesh, the puffer and blowfish are resistant too and store the toxins in theirs, and so it goes. Thus the safety of eating such fish, in US waters, depends on how recently such a bacterial bloom has occurred.]

Now we go to 2007.

female house sparrow Passer domesticus feeding young in cavity of roof joist
While eating lunch during a weekend event shoot, Jim Kramer and I witnessed a house sparrow (Passer domesticus) feeding her young in the hollow of a roof joist in a barn (yeah, that’s the glamorous life of an event photographer.) I happened to catch just the right angle for the flash to illuminate the gaping young within the cavity, right alongside the mother’s profile pose with a mouthful of food. If you know sparrows, you know they’re rarely looking in the same direction for more than a quarter-second at a time, so I feel lucky with this one – especially since the flash had to recharge for a few seconds between frames.

I have some amusing photos of participants in the event too, but figured they’d not want to stumble across those shots on the webbernets…

male giant water bug Belostoma flumineum with dorsal egg cluster and newborn
In 2011, I was refining my techniques for small aquarium photography with a few different photogenic subjects, including this male giant water bug (Belostoma flumineum.) The females lay their eggs on the male’s back, and they hatch out there – you can see a juvenile perched thereon, but I’m pretty sure this was just a coincidence and not a recent hatching. This same aquarium is still in use, by the way (the plastic is a bit yellower now,) and even travels with me to the beach for use with interesting subjects found there.

And finally, only one photo resides in my stock for this date in 2014, and it’s this one.

blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis perched on broken twig
Don’t ask me why I have only one. There are plenty of days where I take no photos (don’t judge me, I said,) but generally, if I have the camera in hand I have more than one image to put into stock. Weird.

In local news…

juvenile eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus sitting motionless at night
I finally got out and did a couple of shooting sessions, all local (meaning the front and back yards and the pond nearby,) so I have a few photos to post – no real theme, so these will be all over the place. The most recent is above, a very young eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) sitting motionless in the back yard as I did a little nighttime exploring, about an hour ago as I type this initial draft; I hadn’t planned on doing any photography tonight, but this guy made me go in and get the camera. I’d heard a commotion from the neighbor’s yard a bit earlier, something ripping through the leaves, but never spotted anything by flashlight. It was enough noise to sound like squirrels chasing one another, but well after sunset when squirrels aren’t active, and not the sound that deer typically make. I suspected either rabbits in mating/cavorting behavior, or a fox on the chase, and finding this palm-sized spud (and sibling) in the yard not long afterward supports this idea a little – their grass nest may have been disturbed and they scattered. I didn’t heard any squealing, which would have been a definite sign of a fox successfully catching one.

I have to do a brief update on the mantids, of course.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on red-brown Japanese maple leaves
I’ve had, like, five hatchings in the yard now, but they’ve largely scattered in all directions; the best I can say is they seem to always like the big Japanese maple near the door, and some of them are presently residing on another in a pot nearby. This one was likely from the last hatching featured, and no more than 15mm in length, so I backed off a bit to do more of a scale and fartsy shot. Nearby, one twice its size and notably green was within easy camera reach.

slightly larger Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on Japanese maple
The maple will turn green a little later in the year and the mantids will be able to blend in better then – this kind of reddish-brown is not among their repertoire. One of these days, I’ll either figure out how to tell one specific mantid from another and thus track their coloration changes, or get together a decent terrarium to house a couple within. I think they can only change color between molts, but haven’t confirmed that yet.

If the mantids abandoned the vicinity of their hatchings quickly, the wheel bugs are exactly the opposite.

wheel bug Arilus cristatus egg cluster with hatched wheel bugs still hanging around weeks later
These wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) hatched six weeks ago, and every time I’ve checked there’s been a few still hanging out directly on the egg cluster. And yet, from the size, they’re apparently finding food so, good for them I suppose? There are no parents around to annoy, anyway.

A couple more from the yard, and then we’ll go visit the pond.

likely female American five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus basking atop fence post with regrowing tail
Don’t ask me why I find the Carolina anoles more interesting than the five-lined skinks, even when we have several of the latter that live within easy reach – actually, I can tell you that, because the anoles have cooler skin and look more like Komodo monitors. All that aside, this is an American five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus,) likely female from the coloration, having lost its tail at some point in the past. Don’t ask me, because this is the first I’ve seen of it, but it seems to be growing back, as they will.

American five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus bolting as shutter tripsShe was being fairly mellow in her basking spot right alongside a gate we were using, but proved she wasn’t stupid by seeking shelter if we drew too close, returning when it seemed safe. A little after the detail shot above, I decided to go for the portrait angle, and maneuvered around to head-on, slowly closing in. Curiously, as I tripped the shutter and the viewfinder blacked out for that fraction of a second, she was gone when my view returned; whether she actually heard the slap of the mirror and shot away that quickly, or her decision to bolt was merely coincidental (I had stopped moving entirely at that point,) I’ll never know, but the resulting image wasn’t quite as intended.

Now we go to the big pond – no, not the Atlantic ocean, a hair smaller than that. While it has an overflow drain engineered into it, that was done before several housing developments nearby all changed the stormwater management for the area, and the pond frequently overflows during heavy rains. This has created a new channel, and when the heavy flow subsides, it leaves behind a few mini-ponds, or deep semi-permanent puddles, and the wildlife have adopted these as legitimate. A few days back, The Girlfriend’s Sprog had spotted numerous tiny frogs hanging out on the banks, and I carefully collected two for a studio session, but they weren’t having it: my photography set wasn’t to their liking and they immediately abandoned it as soon as they were introduced, causing me to pursue them across my desk. So I returned them and tackled some pics right at their home instead.

unidentified tiny frog on muddy bank
Now, a few notes. Some idea of the size can be garnered from the surroundings, including the strands of pine straw cutting through the frame, or I can simply tell you that the frogs would fit comfortably on your pinky fingernail. I’m quite sure they’re juvenile, having emerged from tadpole stage within the past couple of weeks, so this is little indication of what the adult will look like, and they remain unidentified, though I’m trying – most guides only show adults, and juveniles often look entirely different. I can tell you from experience that the Copes grey treefrogs look different at this stage, including being twice the size, so I’m sure this is a small species, perhaps a spring peeper or little grass frog, or one of the narrowmouth toads that I’ve definitely found in the exact same area; the head shape doesn’t seem to be indicating that, but who knows? However, I carry little paper scales in my wallet for a reason.

unidentified juvenile frog next to millimeter scale
That’s a millimeter scale, so we’re talking 7mm – there isn’t even a full inch visible on the scale within the frame. I was hanging over the edge of the bank by a tiny ‘cliff’ for this perspective, aiming down from above, and was having a hard time breathing since all my weight was directly on my chest, my shoulders and arms hanging out into open space. The things I do for three readers…

At the edge of the pond proper, several different species of frog were alternating sessions of mating calls. I’m never sure what the criteria is, but any species will be silent for a while, then erupt into a chorus of sound among individuals spread out dozens of meters apart, then after 30-60 seconds fall silent again for several minutes; this is most often the various treefrogs, but the green (aquatic) frogs and the bullfrogs also seem to run in waves, the bullfrogs the least erratic of them. I got lucky in tracking down one in particular during a jam.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea inflated between calls
This is a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea,) inflated during a calling session but between actual solos. And then…

green treefrog Hyla cinerea in mid-call
… this is in mid-call, producing the curiously electronic sound that they do. I was not set up to do either video or audio for this session, which I may rectify soon, because attempting to describe their call is a waste of time; it just sounds alien. And the best I can say about their timing is that it seems like they remain silent until one of them in the area gets up enough nerve to sound off, and immediately everyone else, glad that someone had the guts, will chime in and the night will ring with the babble of frogs. Then they quickly peter out, like how audiences decide that the clapping has gone on long enough. This may not be very far from the truth; certainly just one treefrog can be found by sound quickly, but a bunch of them is disorienting. Or I could be talking out of my ass.

We need a profile.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea in profile, between calls
This was just as this individual decided the calling had gone on long enough, though my presence and attempts to get a good angle (by the light of a headlamp) probably had something to do with it. It remained half-inflated in this manner for a few seconds, then abruptly went down to normal proportions and resettled onto the branch.

I have a couple other finds, from earlier that evening as the sun was setting.

yellow-bellied slider Trachemys scripta scripta out of water
I’m not sure the exact intentions of this yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta) – it wasn’t far from the water, but in an odd location perched on some tree roots. From the shine on the carapace, it hadn’t been out long, but there was no wet trail up to it either. It moved on quickly once I got out of sight, and wasn’t there when I tried to show it to The Girlfriend a couple minutes later.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon peeking out from debris at pond's edgeVery close by, however, something else remained put for a few photos. The photo at left is how I first spotted it as I went to the water’s edge to see what might be about, and I was pleased, because this is the first I’ve seen this year – I include the full frame to show you exactly how subtle it was, and it might have been even harder to spot, but the colors were bright and I suspect it had shed its skin very recently. This is a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon,) which average about a meter in length but thick, like 5 to 8cm in width. I always like to see them because they’re impressive – and harmless, though far too many people can’t identify common snakes in their area and mistake these for either copperheads or cottonmouths, which they do not resemble very closely at all. Now, granted, if you grab one it will bite the hell out of you, unlike some other species, but you have to make the first aggressive move by, you know, grabbing them in the first place. Given their choice, they’ll simply flee.

No, that’s not the best photo that I obtained.

closer look at northern water snake Nerodia sipedon
For this, I had switched from the stabilized 18-135 to the non-stabilized, 20-year-old 100-300 L, a risky move in the fading light, but boosting the ISO and firing off several frames while trying to remain perfectly still produced a usable pic, even at 1/50 second shutter speed (a few times slower than recommended.) I know all my readers are sharp-eyed, and didn’t miss the apparent hook protruding from its back; this is not a normal part of the anatomy, nor is it even protruding, but just a trick of perspective. I was fooled for a bit too, but another frame makes it clearer.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon mostly hidden under debris
See? Just a bit of the damnable pine straw seen almost end-on. And don’t think I missed the curious shape from this perspective: I named this photo “ThrobbingPython” for a reason, but if you don’t recognize the reference I’ll let you puzzle it out. By this time The Girlfriend had joined me and could see the snake for herself, and I was creeping closer to see just what kind of detail I could get, but the snake revealed that it was not asleep as suspected – another half-step and it launched itself from this spot and sped for the water.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon heading for safety in the water
Had it kept going at its original pace, I wouldn’t have had this photo, but it paused at the weeds (poisoned by the HOA in the area to prevent them from “taking over the pond,”) to debate its best course, and I could get a few more frames. Displayed now are the markings which distinguish it from the near-identical banded water snake, which are the broken bands towards the tail; the banded water snake has intact crosswise stripes. Some nice colors, though.

Okay, two more, and then you can go. I expect to see you back within a few days, though.

green frog Lithobates clamitans sporting duckweed on head
We return to the backyard for the last two. I’d brought back some aquatic species and shells from last year’s trip to New York, and dumped them into the backyard pond when I was done with them; this included a few leaves of genuine NY duckweed, which this spring took a firm hold and completely shielded the water’s surface. Which is evidenced by this green frog (Lithobates clamitans,) one of the three or four residents in the pond, at this point out foraging in the yard. I don’t know if this is accidental or intentional, but it’s a dashing look, don’t you think? Sets off the nostril speckles nicely.

And another, quite-common-now resident of the yard.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis perched on lawn chair
I believe this Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) had been sheltering under the grill cover when I removed it to use the grill the other evening, and extricated itself to perch on top, whereupon I moved it to a lawn chair, a maneuver it treated with aplomb. Just had to show off those eyes.