Podcast: And more projects

As the nature photography shooting season winds down, we start looking for other things to occupy our time. I already have a podcast about winter activities and projects, so check that out, but this one is about what I’ve got planned, or am smack in the middle of.

Walkabout podcast – And more projects

A curious note: One of the projects that I mentioned in there was a focusing lever for lenses, for video work. As I was editing the audio after recording, I realized that this might be more common than I originally thought, and once I finished, took a look on Ebay. Sure enough, they make them, and I went ahead and ordered two on the spot. And then uploaded the podcast file. Which means that I struck one item off the list before I even told you about it. That’s efficiency.

The post with the cicada molting. Since the photos have time stamps, it demonstrates just how much time can be spent trying to illustrate one topic, and that’s with being there exactly as things started. Finding a subject and waiting for something interesting, much less catching the crucial action on video, is an entirely different matter, so this may be quite challenging. I’m not counting on producing a lot of video clips.

The video that came about also entirely by chance (the ‘bumping sluglies’ clip.) Again, imagine if I tried to stalk these gastropods in the hopes of seeing this occur.

I mentioned a spider shot that required a tough shooting position, and that can be found with this post. You may disagree with me on the value of these efforts…

So, a little something about major trips that I meant to mention in the podcast and forgot. First off, when intending to go someplace totally unfamiliar, especially out into forested or overgrown regions where natural subjects are best found, it’s vitally important to know what can be found there – most especially, what’s dangerous. This applies not just to things like venomous snakes, but also what kind of plants to avoid and even what form of parasites are common; vaccinations might even be in order. On top of that, knowing as much about your subjects as possible will greatly increase your odds of actually locating them, as well as capturing something interesting. What’s their habitat? When is their mating or nesting season? When do the primary food sources grow/arrive/migrate? This means research, and a lot of it, so it’s never too early to start.

And even though the funds for such a trip might be a while in coming, the planning itself can be encouraging, plus you might have an edge on bargain rates for flights or accommodations, and you’re ready should a sudden windfall occur in your financial situation (like, you know, someone deciding to help fund a trip by purchasing a lot of prints.) So mentally change it from, “sometime in the future,” to, “let’s get this all hashed out now.” It can’t hurt.

And below, one of the images that will be in the upcoming exhibit. Not too creepy, right? I think I can get away with this one, a nice balance of bug and fart. At least to me, but what do I know?

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on calla lily blossom

Per the ancient lore, part 32

unidentified waders in shallows of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
This week, we’re doing Birds, and have what is probably the most birds that I have captured in any single photo. Granted, it’s not a murmuration of starlings, which can number several thousand in a huge cloudlike flock, but it’s still an appreciable number, you have to admit. This is in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, somewhere off of Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, and I couldn’t tell you for sure what these birds are. There appears to be at least two species, and I’d lean towards willets and sanderlings, given how common they are and their feeding habits which would point them towards conditions like this, but that’s just a semi-educated guess. Also notable is how much of the water remains, consistently, just a few centimeters deep. I would hazard a guess that, had I attempted to wade out there myself, I’d get more than just my sandals wet, and would probably even leave them behind; most of the region is swampy, boggy, or deep mud, and though it supports a bird’s weight readily, I would likely have sunk in at least to my knees.

The color, for some reason, isn’t very impressive, as bad as some negative films that I’ve tried, and what you’re seeing here has been tweaked to improve it a bit – the original was worse. This is still with the Sony F717, which sensor definitely had a better color register than the Canon Pro90 IS that I later obtained, yet it didn’t measure up to the later Canon DSLR bodies – which themselves have their own weaknesses, especially in skin tones. Looking at the EXIF info just now, I see the White Balance was set to ‘Auto,’ which may have had a lot to do with it given the frame-filling blues and greens – I should have had it set to Full Sunlight.

inset of previous frame
Here’s a peek at a higher-resolution inset in an attempt to identify the bird species – still not enough. That long beak in the front says ‘willet’ or perhaps ‘limpkin’ to me, but there aren’t enough details to pin it down. But yeah, they had to have been finding plenty of food in there. This was on the west side of Merritt Island, with ocean inlets a fair distance off and not terribly big, so I have no idea how much tidal change might occur, but I suspect it was minimal – I’m guessing the rain had more to do with depth fluctuations. And if I remember right, the whole complex contained a variety of fresh, brackish, and salt water pools depending on where you were, so it’s anyone’s guess what this was (or, you can ask someone who actually knows and doesn’t have to guess.)

I would definitely recommend Merritt Island to any nature photographers, despite the photo here – it has plenty of opportunities for wildlife shots, including this one (shot the same day.)

Last will and testament

No, I’m not dying; we’re referring here, yet again, to the ol’ philosophical arguments about free will. Even worse, this may not be the last despite the implications of the title, but c’mon, I haven’t done one in a while so you can’t complain. This one was inspired by re-reading a post from five years ago, and realizing that I was toying around with some ideas therein but never pursued them. Now that they’ve gotten all complacent, it’s time to start the chase again.

I’m more than happy to point you towards some previous posts to fully define my take on the topic, and they will certainly do a more thorough job, but I also recognize that not too many people want to go through all that, so at the risk of being too brief and missing something, I’ll still try to boil down the basic premise. We’ll start with: There’s no free will – not in any manner that it’s typically invoked. Physics has distinct cause/reaction functions, to wit: input energy in, and this is what you will produce. And we count on this, as I’ve said before. Imagine driving a car and having some action of ours produce an unexpected or random reaction. That would suck, to put it mildly. These physics hold true from the realms of the very small to the unfathomably big, molecules up to stars, and yes, our brains are mere matter, and not even exotic matter, so they’re playing by the same rules. So what it inevitably boils down to is, pretty much everything is deterministic: a will lead to b and thus to c and so on. There is no property of our minds, or any other matter or energy scenarios, where the input/application of energy (for instance, pushing against a door or thinking about what to have for lunch) might produce a variety of reactions. Not only that, but any reaction has a distinct cause, which also applies to the matter within our minds – c could only have been caused by b, which could only have been caused by a. Seems a little more questionable – sure, the door is open, but anyone could have done it – though physically, only one person did do it, and with enough information at hand, we could easily determine who. There is no point where something could be up for grabs, variable at a physical level – and again, this applies to our meat brains as well. So what this means is, we’re not choosing actions in any sense of the word, because physics has already dictated what the outcome will be – even if we don’t have enough information to know what it is.

And yes, there is an apparent random factor down at the subatomic level, superpositions and indeterminate states and all that; on an extremely tiny scale, things seem to be unpredictable. And I’m hedging here because there are indications that they are not perfectly unpredictable, and may simply be driven by physical laws that we have yet to discover. Either way, these manifestations are infinitesimally small and don’t impact physics on a level that we can utilize, but even trying to fit this randomness into some free will scenario doesn’t work very well – randomness is not will or direction, being in fact the opposite of such. And it’s rather farfetched to think that our brains could use or even dictate such subatomic functions when nothing else that we have observed, anywhere, can make use of them. What are we, magic?

The interesting (and ridiculously contentious) part of this is, we really don’t like the idea of being automatons, where our actions and reactions can only be one way because laws of physics are a thing. But just like computer programs, input n and we will always receive output p. “That’s ridiculous!” anyone may scoff, “Just to show you, I’m going to do this!” But the very act of reading these words produced that reaction; it was not willed, it was simply following the programming of physics. Anyone may argue that we haven’t, and cannot, prove such a thing, but this isn’t quite true – it’s actually the only thing we have any evidence of in the first pace, and that evidence is omnipresent. Yes, there seems to be a nihilistic, ‘What does it matter what I do?’ aspect to this all – which is a manifestation of something, and that’s what we’re going to look into now.

First off, before anyone started recognizing that free will was a corrupt concept, everything was fine – we were in control, and shaping destiny and all that. We resent the idea of being mere players, following the rules precisely; it takes away our humanity. It is undeniable that we find decision making is important, and control is a driving force. We are not lower animals just reacting to conditions; we are not plants opening for sunlight, or rocks rolling downhill. We have these complicated brains for a reason.

Which is true enough – they weigh an awful lot of factors at any time. Some are not as important as others, and some are amazingly petty, really. And our emotions, which are goads towards survival behavior, can push us in rather questionable directions at times (more often than we ever care to admit.) We like to think of ourselves as much more discerning than the parent bird that stuffs food into whatever mouth is gaping in front of it, but we have a lot more automatic reactions than we like to believe. When someone shouts, “Hey, asshole!” we’re rarely inclined to think, Well, he’s entitled to his opinion, though it doesn’t seem very accurate. No, much more often we’re more along the lines of, “Who the fuck are you shouting at, dickhead?” Emotions are powerful things.

And, so it appears, is the idea of being in control, so much so that we can argue interminably about free will and the lack thereof. So, think about this: does it actually matter if we’re automatons or not? I mean, good or bad, like it or not, that’s what happens, right? But no, we need to feel in control of ourselves. And just like any other emotion, it seems very likely that this evolved for a reason. The question is, how and why would this work better than mere acceptance, or even being completely oblivious to the concept that things could be any different?

First off, we examine the difference in functionality and result, which is what evolution would be working with. Automatic reactions, like when we touch something hot or when birds flee sudden movement, are immediate, but more importantly undiscerning – there’s little room for variation, and it may take a conscious effort to override them (large question in there about what exactly a ‘conscious effort’ is, but we’re liable to answer that further down anyway so we’ll ignore it for now.) Then we have the ‘mid level’ responses, where something attracts our attention and provokes action, but we evaluate the situation before actually taking it – think of the startled response to finding someone right behind us, and how it might differ between being in a crowded office and being on a dark street at night. The automatic response is simply, “Hey, figure out what that is, because it might be dangerous!” But we have a variety of actions that we can take, once we determine what is warranted; it’s a complicated world so one type of reaction isn’t sufficient.

Then we come to what we’re actually doing when we’re exercising that free will, in-control, destiny thing. We’re not just weighing options, but imaging the consequences, creating little scenarios in our mind to try and determine the most likely outcome of any given action. The immediate reaction from frustration might be to quit our job, but then the after-effects of this come to mind and we realize that this might be much worse than hanging on a little longer while we find something better. Or for something as simple as where to go to eat, we may think, “Hey, Italian seems good” – an immediate gratification kind of response – but then remember that the Italian restaurant takes a long time to serve us, or costs more than we want to spend right now, and so on. So free will becomes much more of an impulse to carefully consider an action and its long-term result – which is undeniably a better function for any species, and exactly why we consider our human minds to be so much better than the rest of the animal kingdom. When it started getting colder back in our early hominid history, instincts may have told us to head towards warmer climates, but deliberation told us to have food for traveling in case it wasn’t readily available, and to stick together, and to aim towards places with building materials. The answer was already in our minds, because physics says so, but the desire for control, the impetus towards consideration, pushed away the kneejerk response functions to produce a more nuanced set of actions – often based on our past experiences and the ability to extrapolate. It might still be a computer program, but it’s quite a sophisticated one. And we have it because natural selection favored it over the simpler versions that had come about.

So where does this leave us on the whole ‘free will’ argument? Well, it redefines the actual functions and steers us away from the philosophical concept and all of its attendant assumptions, to begin with. But it also thwarts, to a large extent anyway, the idea that no free will means we’re puppets, because the actual functions in our brains really are to override kneejerk, immediate responses to produce something that covers a lot more bases, which is what we consider our decision-making process. So in that respect, yes, we have ‘free will’ (though my opinion is to eradicate the concept and the phrase entirely, because it’s stupid and misleading.) And yet, none of this means that physics doesn’t work exactly the same within our brains as everywhere else, so determinism still remains, and in the long run, we were still going to reach only this decision given all of the myriad factors involved. The point is, the function is to involve those factors (or as many as our other emotions allow at least) to produce the better action – and that’s all we wanted anyway. Still software, but much better software than imagined or implied.

*     *     *     *

I’m going to add something here, right before I post this. As I’ve said before, here and elsewhere, emotions are goads towards survival behavior, essentially a reaction to input, and much closer to ‘instinct’ and ‘kneejerk’ than what we consider our reasoning, thinking minds (even though they’re all part of the same matrix.) And we recognize this to a certain extent, especially when we say that someone is “getting too emotional” – we know that emotional responses are more reaction than reason, more immediate and less considered. While not necessarily producing just one result (e.g. jerking our hand away from something hot, our ‘reflexes,’) nonetheless they’re pretty simplistic. And while it’s easy to think, in this deterministic universe, that provocation a will always spark off emotional response b, this isn’t necessarily true. First off, there are so many factors in any given social interaction – who it’s with, how mellow or irritated we are at the time, whether we’re hot or hungry, and so on – that the same provocations might produce a different reaction at different times; technically they’re not actually the same provocations anyway because of all those factors, no matter how much we might want to simplify things. But there’s also the past experience part, which is really what our minds are mostly made of in the first place. Somebody saying simply, “You’re getting too emotional,” is input, a factor that creates its own reaction and a new set of program lines. Perhaps it embarrassed us. Either way, we may now have a new set of criteria when a similar situation arises, and now there’s a subroutine that reins in the emotional response and provokes more of the ‘consequential’ one, what we consider thinking or even will.

But again, physics and determinism tells us that this was inevitable – we could only develop these new traits at this point in time. However, sitting within the machine, as it were, we couldn’t know that this would happen, and none of it exists ‘against our will’ anyway – because it happened within our own minds, it is our will.

Does this actually change anything in our lives? Not in the slightest – except if we get involved in ridiculous philosophical arguments about indeterminate circumstances and actually changing the universe by thinking about it. And those should go away anyway.

*     *     *     *    *

Okay, another addendum, just a small observation about the ‘programming’ that makes up our minds. There is admittedly a lot of variety that comes about from our past personal experiences, making each of us unique – and a lot of similarity because human minds have largely the same structures; the same tendencies towards social interactions, the same emphasis on family, and so on. As I was writing this, I was anticipating the typical reactions to any given statement herein and attempting to address the follow-up questions. So ask yourself: How often was this correct? Because if it’s more than once or twice, this is evidence in itself that we have a lot of thinking structure that’s predictable ;-)

No hard feelings?

The other day, The Girlfriend and I visited the NC Botanical Garden, mostly to check out the sculptures by local artists that they feature at this time every year. Well, she was checking out the sculptures; I had been through a little earlier, solely for photographic purposes, and had noted most of them in passing, only finding two that I liked while most of the rest were hideous. I’m being nice and not naming names or talking about styles, but seriously, what the hell motivates some people?

Anyway, I had my camera with me and was watching for items of opportunity, but the hurricane-turned-tropical-storm (the second one this year, in this area) had passed through in the interim; the garden wasn’t damaged in any way, but flowering plants and such had been changed a bit. I was commenting that I wasn’t seeing any of the anoles that I normally found in the garden, when we exited the gift shop and I glanced over at the wall outside the door. There, right alongside a decorative plaque, sat a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) in a perfect pose, curled vertically on the wall exactly like a sculpture itself but much better looking, an excellent living accent piece. I pointed it out quietly and started getting the camera out, but the anole twitched as I was nailing focus, and just as I tripped the shutter, turned and started into a crevice behind the plaque.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis thwarting my perfect composition
I mean, what did I ever do to it? The Girlfriend even tried to spook it back out by poking her finger gently in the opposite side, and ended up losing the top joint to no avail. It probably wouldn’t have helped, because the anole was unlikely to emulate its previous photogenic pose anyway. But any thoughts that I might have had concerning its prudence and shyness were banished by seeing the head poking back out just a little above where The Girlfriend had tried to flush it out, and it stayed there peering at me impishly as I drew in very close for the portrait.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis peeking out like a little scamp
Refusing to rise to this obvious baiting, we moved on to other parts of the garden, but ended up passing back through a few minutes later. Knowing that anoles tended not to go too far in their meanderings, I kept an eye out along the wall and surrounding areas but didn’t see anything. Until my eyes lit onto a display of hanging ceramic planters less than a meter away, where the anole was basking in bright sunlight right by a high-traffic area. I don’t really think now that I spooked it at all, given how far away I was at first sighting, and it only ducked inside to answer the phone or check the drier.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis posing on edge of planter
I did a few frames while it watched me with seeming unconcern, and we moved on again.

About twenty minutes later, as we were about to leave the garden, I glanced over at the display hangers again and found the same anole stretched out on one of the arms, drowsing carelessly. I say again, this was a high-traffic area for the garden, and people were passing it every minute or three, so it appeared pretty used to their presence. But after not seeing any for months, it was good to be reassured that there was still at least one around.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis basking on display hanger
I have to note that this is the fifth of six frames that I took at this point, with previous frames showing it watching me – in other words, even as I was firing away it went back to napping. Yeah, terrified.

In between the second and third sightings, I spotted a small distinct hole in the gravel just off one of the main paths, and almost immediately its maker appeared, alighting on the ground alongside and then plunging in headfirst. As wasps go it was pretty big, and I thought it was a cicada-killer, which paralyze the big insects and carry them off to a burrow where the immobile-but-living prey feeds the newborn wasp larvae. Looking it up on BugGuide.net, though, I found that I was mistaken, but not by too much.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus outside burrow under construction
This is a great golden digger wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus,) which paralyzes grasshoppers and katydids instead. It was clearly in the process of creating a new burrow, because it would disappear within for a few seconds, make a few classic busy buzzing noises as if humming a little peevishly to itself, the back out and scatter some of the excavated material behind it. Locking focus was a bit tricky because it was moving very quickly, so a lot of my frames are trash, but I got a few that worked.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus pulling material from burrow
As we watched carefully, we could see the wasp kick some of the soil behind it like a dog after doing its duty, and in this frame, there’s actually a little clod of dirt clasped in the jaws of the wasp. I regret not treating this a bit more seriously and actually getting down to ground level for a better vantage, but being there with someone else who wasn’t ready for a full-on photo session (and neither was I, admittedly,) on a busy Saturday right alongside a main path, wasn’t exactly the conditions I would have liked. Not to mention that the wasp itself was better than 25mm long, of unknown venom potency or temperament; not the kind of thing that I wanted to push in too close to.

Great golden digger wasp Sphex ichneumoneus scattering material from mouth of burrow
One of my many missed frames, but it serves a purpose still, because you can see the blur of a couple of its legs as it kicked the excavated soil away behind it – you can even see some blurred dirt that’s moving in the frame. As The Girlfriend pointed out, this was an ideal candidate for video – except I didn’t have the video-capable body with me. I know, I know, “So much for being prepared,” but I can’t carry everything with me, and since this was a casual outing I had even less than the previous visit. I guess I should look into porters (because, you know, the vast sum of money that I would garner from such video would justify the expense…)

Not safe out there tonight

We’d had a light rain but it had stopped, and I was curious to see if anything was stirring in the backyard – the Insouciant Mr Bugg and I had been out earlier and hadn’t seen a lot, but what we did see will be coming in a later post. Anyway, shining the headlamp around, I was concentrating on the typical locations that have shown photographic subjects, which for me means down low, or occasionally along the fence. But as I cut across the yard, I aimed the lamp a little higher and was suddenly greeted by three pairs of glowing eyes. Close. Like, just a little past the fence itself.

I suppose some people would get at least a little creeped out by this, if not openly startled, but I’ve seen it too many times before; I was slightly confused by their apparent height, which was much lower than expected, just barely clearing the top of the fence. But the separation of each eye in the pairs (you know, left and right) told me what I was looking at, and a hint of the ears confirmed it. They were simply lying down, just on the opposite side of a utility right-of-way that runs immediately behind the fence. What impressed me was that they stayed put, even as I crossed the backyard not 15 meters from them, even as I went in and came back out with the camera.

trio of white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus lying in ivy outside backyard
This was taken from the upper deck, at only slight magnification over a normal perspective, but has been lightened slightly to bring out just a little more detail – even the Metz 40MZ-3i has its limits. While they were all looking directly at me while I was focusing (by only the light of the headlamp, so all I could see were the eyes,) I couldn’t get them to keep looking once I locked focus and tripped the shutter – one of them was always peering off someplace else. Must be kids.

These are, of course, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus,) and appear to be fairly young – and surprisingly blasé, since they never even stood up despite my presence. I have mixed feeling about the deer around here; they’re attractive animals and generally photogenic, but they’ve become way too enamored of the front yard and have done more than passing damage to some of the ornamental plants that we’re spending money on. I’ve remarked before that deer semi-regularly trim my almond tree, but now they’re routinely stripping half of the leaves from the decorative sweet potatoes right alongside the front steps, and even having a go at The Girlfriend’s hibiscus. We stopped the sweet potato damage by putting a potted basil plant right in front of them – deer don’t like the sharp smell of the basil and keep away from it – and now I guess we’ll have to have basil alongside everything else that we want to keep. None of the other control methods have worked.

Anyway, more coming in a little bit.

Per the ancient lore, part 31

kite surfers bringing in the sail
We’re doing the third pass through the Beach folder, but this actually came from the same day as our first pass, back in part 3. My brother and I watched as a pair of kite surfers brought the sail, or the kite, or the chute, or whatever, slowly down to ground level to pack it up, and I happened to catch this dramatic angle.

This had, in fact, been in the gallery for a little while, until I decided that it wasn’t really showing off my work or style (what there is of it) very well. And I still occasionally look at it and think I should have tripped the shutter just a little sooner, before the canopy had ‘touched’ the horizon – it would have had a stronger impact being clearly in the air. It also could have been stronger if the closer guy had a hand raised, or if he’d been carefully centered in the mouth of the Pac-Man notch of the shadow. Maybe this is being nitpicky, maybe this is bringing things to your attention that you might not have noticed otherwise (or not consciously been aware of anyway,) but it’s sometimes the little details that can make a significant difference.

I am not a sports person, and while kite-surfing looks like fun, it’s definitely something that was always well beyond my condition or skills, and would have taken months of work to actually reap the rewards of. However, while shooting one wedding I saw someone tooling down the beach in a little 3-wheeled cart pulled by the same kind of kite, and that I would have gotten into in a heartbeat. Look up “kite buggy” if you want.

It’s funny; for two years I lived within about 10 kilometers of the ocean in Florida, could even ride my bike there (though it took surmounting that causeway,) but really didn’t go to the beach much. Mostly, I think, this is because that area was pretty distinctly developed, lined with high-rises and a bit too crowded; I had gotten used to the Outer Banks of NC, which are about as unspoiled as it’s possible to get in this country, and so the appeal paled in comparison. And now, I’m not getting there enough. Gotta find a way to strike that balance…

Let’s get this over with

common snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina showing snout and carapace damage
Once again, I undertake this task with the complete and abiding knowledge that no one will give the faintest damn about it, which is of course my way of celebrating it. Yes, there’s another holiday coming up: National Grouch Day falls on October 15th, which is appropriately enough a Monday. This is the day when you buy a cake for the grumpiest person in your workplace, then ‘accidentally’ drop it on the floor as you present it to them. The day when you put on underwear that no longer fits, before it’s fully dry.

The day that you give your delivery driver a nonexistent address, then keep calling to find out where the hell they are.

The day that you set the oven temperature and the timer with your eyes closed.

The day that you answer every phone call with an agonizingly slow, painfully obvious script recital.

The day that you change all of your passwords into something incredibly hard to remember.

The day that you sneak the batteries out of someone’s car remote.

The day after you leave the garbage in the car overnight (preferably if you have to make a long trip.)

The day that you show your actual level of disinterest in other peoples’ stories.

The day that you readjust all of the car seats.

The day that you forget your doggie poo bags (preferably with lots of witnesses.)

The day that you get really pedantic about other people’s spelling and grammar online.

The day that you throw some coins in the drier when you have to be nearby to hear it.

You get the idea (but if you don’t, or need more inspiration, I’ve covered this before.) In short, it’s for you, me, and everybody – we all must wallow in the Pit of Petty Irritation. Note that this is not National Asshole Day – that was June 14th (figure it out.) We do not take delight in other people’s misfortune, we may only share the pissiness among ourselves.

All of you bright, optimistic, cheery-ass twits out there are forbidden by law (or at least should be) to try and change our moods for the better. Not like you could anyway – nobody’s buying that fake Snow White horseshit. But if there’s one day when you have to cram a sock in it, it’s this one. We don’t ask for much (we just complain when we don’t get it,) so you can let us have this one. Merely making the attempt should get you down to our level anyway, but if it makes you feel better worse, we still won’t like your company.

So have at it – indulge your inner cantankery with the full recognition that some mook will try to deny that it’s a real holiday. Embrace the wincing at embracing. It takes more muscles to frown, and you are ripped. it doesn’t matter – it only lasts a day, if that, and will be forgotten about immediately, ’cause people suck. But feel free to comment and tell me how your day went, and I’ll be sure to delete it or make some petty point in return.

[What’s the opposite of “Cheers!”? Stupid worthless thesauruses…]

A little more groove

hairy-stem spiderwort Tradescantia hirsuticaulis blossoms with dew
A month ago, I commented on an outing to the NC Botanical Garden where I didn’t really achieve much; this time around, I did notably better, even when still not seeing some of the subjects that I was hoping to. Naturally you can’t plan on finding particular subjects – if you could there’d be no challenge to it – but you can aim for them at least, choosing the best conditions and all that, yet you’ll still have to take it as it happens, and find other things to make the trip worthwhile. Above, I just happened to like the two hairy-stem spiderwort blossoms (Tradescantia hirsuticaulis, I think anyway) with the dew on the buds beneath, and used the soft light of the near-overcast conditions.

Overall though, I’m not much of a flower and plant photographer, so garden visits are aimed more towards arthropods and reptiles and all that, which were a little scarce. Or I’m not on top of my game as much as I think I am, but we’re not going to devolve into existentialism right now. There are still plenty of things in bloom, and those were attracting not just the things that feed on them, but the things that feed on the things that feed on them, and I did manage to scare up a few of those. On the same variety of phlox as that previous linked post, I spotted a very small crab spider trying to be subtle enough to escape the attentions of any blundering pollinator (that was the right size, at least.)

crab spider possibly Mecaphesa on phlox blossom
Given that the flower was less than 20mm across, you can imagine the size of the spider itself, but this one was much bigger than several of its relatives that I found in another section, hanging out on the black-eyed Susan flowers (Rudbeckia hirta.)

minuscule crab spider possibly Mecaphesa perched on black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta flower
I’d made a small mistake, in that I didn’t pack an extra set of batteries for the macro flash rig and they were pegging out here, so I only had a couple of tries at this with a lot of time in between (or at least, a lot of time when you’re looking at a subject and waiting for the flash to recharge from nearly-depleted batteries, which means maybe two minutes.) After this, I simply went with existing light, but I did at least snag a frame with enough detail to show off the eentsy occupant – for which we now have to back off a bit to illustrate just how visible it actually wasn’t.

minuscule crab spider possibly Mecaphesa on black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta blossom, showing scale
If you’re not familiar with black-eyed Susan blossoms, they’re about 50-70mm across, a little smaller than the width of your palm. But they virtually never produce pale whitish spots in the center, so that’s the cue to look closer if you see one. I spotted several of these spiders, all in the same general vicinity, which led me to believe there was likely a hatching nearby, but I didn’t see any with prey, which is a shame because I really wanted to see what they could eat at that size. Given how adept crab spiders are, however, it’s quite possible they could tackle my next subject easily.

hoverfly on black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta blossom
This patch of flowers was a little removed from the previous yet there were no crab spiderlings to be found, so the hoverfly could partake of that sweet, sweet nectar (so I’m told, anyway) without risk. There were a lot of hoverflies around, but it took a few attempts before I found one that was tolerant/oblivious/stupid enough to let me lean in close enough for the shot, and got a little iridescence off of the wings for my trouble.

That’s enough yellow – how about a bit more blue?

Aconitum blossoms
just an abstract compositionThe Aconitum blossoms above go by a variety of names, and one of them is ‘monkshood’ – when we choose that one, this now seems to have a faintly accusatory feel to it, as if we’ve just caught the eyes of the monks from across the monastery while doing something unmonkish (which is just about everything, I think.) Or maybe that’s just me.

Meanwhile, I chanced across the composition at right and just liked it, though I couldn’t really tell you why (it’s on a need-to-know basis, and you don’t need to know,) but here it is anyway. Feel free to do all the Rorshaching that you like over these peeks into my psyche.

I will note that all of the moisture visible, despite the hints provided by the muted light, came from overnight dew, not rain. A little later on in the day it did rain, but not until I’d done all of the shooting that I’d wanted to and left, so my timing was down for that at least.

On the side of one of the small ornamental ponds – the same as this one, actually – sat a pair of green frogs (Lithobates clamitans) mostly screened by the surrounding plants, and I endeavored to capture them both in the same frame.

green frogs Lithobates clamitans basking alongside small pond
It was challenging getting the right angle to see their eyes, requiring a very specific vantage through the plants, and depth of field probably wasn’t going to get high enough for the sharpness of both in that light, but upon unloading the memory card I found that it almost looks like there’s only one frog, with a mirror in the bushes. Or maybe there really was a mirror and I simply missed it. Maybe I only thought I was in the botanical garden.

green frog Lithobates clamitans peeking from barrel planter
In a nearby section, another green frog had been perched fetchingly on the rim of a wooden barrel turned pond/planter, but dove into the water the moment that I started centimetering closer. I waited patiently for a little less than two minutes and it resurfaced, but submerged again with the slightest twitch of the camera. Making another pass about twenty minutes later, I found it floating again and this time managed to creep quite close, firing off frames the entire time. From some angles, the water reflected the blue-grey sky and added a little more character to the frame, which is what I went with here. And I have to note that I cropped out both the edge of the barrel and an identification signpost rising from the middle of the tiny pond, one of the hazards of shooting in a maintained garden.

I was pleased to see this next one, though.

monarch Danaus plexippus on chrysanthemum
While monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are considered the most common butterfly in North America, they certainly aren’t around here, and I’ve barely seen them in the past several years – they’re outnumbered hugely by the swallowtails. This one was being exceptionally shy; while it was feeding openly on a patch of chrysanthemums, it didn’t like me creeping closer and flew off multiple times as I drew in for more detailed shots.

monarch Danaus plexippus on chrysanthemum blossomEventually, it settled in on a bloom that was a bit closer to me, and ignored my approach, so I was able to get in much closer and get the detail that I was after. Once again, I think the muted light helped; it’s easy to believe that bright light is better for colors, but the truth is, bright light increases contrast and makes the shadows seem deeper while it can wash out the colors at times, so hazy to overcast light is actually better for such colorful compositions. And of course, bright sunlight would have burned away all of the dew by this time, eradicating an element that I was making good use of this trip.

The image at right is the full frame, while below is a detail crop from the same frame, showing off what I captured (because that’s what a blog is for.) I’m just a little disappointed that I caught the proboscis (‘siphon’) in such a straight line, abruptly disappearing deep within the flower instead of showing a nice sine curve as is often the case.

monarch Danaus plexippus detail showing proboscis, flower details, and interloper
But wait, what’s that? Right there, below the proboscis. I certainly never saw it as I was shooting, but there’s another tiny fly, perhaps even too small for those crab spiders to make a meal of, hanging out on the same flower – see the little patch of pink and blue from the iridescent wings? It looks further out of focus than its surroundings, so I suspect it was actually starting to take flight in this image, blurring slightly in the 1/400 second shutter speed. Yes, I’m sure it was a fly, because it shows in other frames as well.

And one last shot for posterity, because you know I like this kind of photo. I’m thinking something might have bumped the leaf on the right side, causing the dew to combine into that larger drop, but it might simply have been the curve of the leaf. Whatever – it lends a little asymmetry to the shot and provides a focal point. I like it, anyway…

dew on unidentified leaf

Good evening

copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis looking menacing somehow
“Might I interest you in a… nightcap?

Okay, did that text read as vaguely ominous as the photo appears? Maybe it doesn’t actually appear ominous to you. Treefrogs aren’t particularly known for striking terror into the heart of anyone, since even their prey tends to be oblivious to the threat that they might provide.

All that aside, this is just a teaser because a lot more photos are coming – it’s just gonna take me a little time to put the post together. I went for too long without shooting much of anything, pretty much since we returned from Tybee and Jekyll, and this was one of just a handful of photos that I did get. But I had an outing today that got me caught up, as it were, so there will be more to see shortly. Keep refreshing that page…

Per the ancient lore, part 30

black and yellow argiope Argiope aurantia during extremely humid morning
This one is reasonably appropriate for the time, because we have entered the season where we often hit the dewpoint not long after nightfall, and NC humidity means this isn’t halfhearted at all. Not to mention that, as I type this early yesterday morning, I am about to go out to see if the sunrise is worth pursuing.

For this photo (from, surprise surprise, the Arthropods folder,) I was out before sunrise for a whippet trial, where people race their pet whippets (like mini greyhounds) in casual competition – which is a little interesting to contemplate because the greyhound racing industry itself is a bit questionable and produces umpteen thousand discarded dogs each year (one of which The Girlfriend had, but much later than this was taken.) Yet, both breeds were bred for running and they like the competition, as do many other dog breeds because it reflects parts of the pack dynamic.

But back to the photo. This wasn’t the most dew-laden morning that I’d seen, but it ranks in the top five at least, and this black-and-yellow argiope (Argiope aurantia) demonstrated it better than anything else. It seems funny to us that something living could have dew form on it, but that’s because we produce a significant amount of body heat which would prevent it – arthropods, and to a lesser extent reptiles, do not, so they offer close to the same conditions for dew to form. In this case, it was almost indistinguishable from a heavy rain – most times dew forms in tiny droplets with even distribution, and shows better on the webs than on the spiders, but given the farm lowlands where I was, there was a good chance the night had been foggy as hell, which would have contributed. I saw no other indications of rain such as wet roads, so I’m presuming these were the conditions, but if you really need to know, I can’t help you; I can’t even remember where this was so you could look up the meteorological reports for that date, but maybe you should stop obsessing over such pointless things anyway…