Why not throth?

unidentified puffball fungus
That’s the word that means, “all three,” right? You know, “both” for two, “throth” for three. Makes as much sense as just about anything else in English…

Ignoring that, it’s the end of November, and so we come, reluctantly and with grave trepidation, to the abstract image. Except I couldn’t decide on which of the three (extremely weak) choices would make the cut, so we’re going with all three. This has nothing whatsoever to do with trying to set a new record of images posted in a year.

[Which really isn’t too shabby – as of this post, we’re presently at 680-some-odd, and I say that because there’s a post in the works which will appear before this but I haven’t determined how many pics it will have yet – I’m doing the easier one to schedule it in. And while some posts are admittedly trivial, that’s still a lot of images for a year, so I don’t think I’ve been slack, or padding too much either. But then again, this is me saying it, you know, the most handsome and intelligent guy you’re likely to meet…]

First up, already well out of sight up there now, is a collection of tiny fungi sprouting from a fallen limb, as they are wont to do, taken during an outing to Eno River that we’ve already seen a bunch of images from. In fact, all three were taken during the same outing, because I did more abstract (in the loosest sense of the word) images then that any other time of the month; later efforts were mostly leaves in autumn colors, and we’ve got posts dedicated to those already. And it gets a little close to that with the shot below, but it’s not really fall colors, is it? Could have been taken anytime.

stark tree against unidentified clouds
I couldn’t really define why, but I’m fond of the types of branches seen here, resembling tributaries of the main river, almost-random but with just enough symmetry to be efficient for the tree itself. The blue-and-white sky is merely icing. But yeah, I’d like better examples, naturally – this is just what I’ve taken this past month, so chill out. Sheesh.

And then, a slightly bizarre one.

snail trails through silt on rocks in bed of Eno River
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such extensive examples of this, and I suspect it was a confluence of events and/or timing to find it, but what you’re seeing here (if you’re looking at the right bits anyway) are the trails of snails through the silt deposited on rocks in the riverbed, another mostly-random thing. I would have thought I’d see more of this, but somehow don’t, so I think either I caught a moment in time between the deposition and the snail-scouring, or the silt doesn’t settle like this often and the snail trails are thus much more obscure. It actually took me a while to find some snails in the act, and then I was shooting from above the surface, so there isn’t a lot to see, as much as you might have wanted to check out those frames. If you ask nicely, though, I’ll look into showing this in more detail, snails-eye-view as it were.

You can never tell

American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua leaves in autumn, backlit
American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua in fall colorsDespite a lot of misgivings regarding the poor conditions leading up to autumn here, the colors actually developed halfway decently, and while I haven’t had a chance to go find some really nice forested areas, my local efforts have produced a pleasant showing as it is, with the potential of more to come. The droughts in late summer threatened to eradicate nearly all chances of bright colors, as trees were already turning brown and losing leaves far too early, but then we got a rainy season, several weeks of off-and-on rain, and it seems to have done the trick, so I’m adding this to my experience and predictions.

Now, American sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) can usually be counted on anyway to produce something interesting, and we have a scattering of them in the area, and as seen above and at right, they get even more vivid when backlit, with the added emphasis that when viewing from this angle, the background is often shadowed. The Girlfriend isn’t very fond of them, and I don’t blame her because the gumballs are numerous and quite annoying on a lawn, but she doesn’t spend a lot of time chasing pics, and sweetgums are photogenic little trees for the entire leaf cycle, so I take the good with the bad, provided I don’t have to sprawl across a bed of gumballs very often. You might think this is an exceptionally rare occurrence, but my shooting habits dictate otherwise; I spend a decent amount of time on the ground.

I also have to point out the performance of the oak-leaf hydrangea plants (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the yard, with a comparison from nine days ago.

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia in fall
Above is how they appeared on the 20th, which I found distinctive enough, but they surpassed that handily.

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia in deeper autumn colorsSame plant, same exact branch, at only a slightly different angle, but with the benefit of the last vestiges of the rain giving some shine to the leaves. These really are cool plants, but it’s taken us a little to get them established, and they haven’t yet fleshed out a lot. Still, there will be another image coming.

pin oak swamp Spanish oak Quercus palustris shedding fall leaves in a gust of windThe pin oaks, or swamp Spanish oaks (Quercus palustris,) develop some okay color, nothing too vivid, but they hang onto the leaves better and longer, and provide a denser backdrop, plus we have a good selection of them around here too. Out shooting yesterday, the occasional sharp gust of wind would cause a shower of the leaves and a pleasant rustling. Which reminds me of another factor that has helped the color this year: we’ve had no fierce storms. In years past, right as the colors would have been peaking, we’ve had strong storms with very gusty winds go through, and the combination of rain and wind would strip the trees bare, but this year the rains were gentle, the winds nothing enthusiastic, so the leaves stayed put better.

What you see in the background there are the hated longneedle pines that are so prevalent in the area; I find them ugly, tending to be sparse except near the tops, and of course dropping those needles everywhere. The needles themselves fall like arrows and, as light as they are, pierce easily through the leaves of other plants like the oak-leaf hydrangeas, not damaging the leaves a lot but enough to make them spotty and virtually eradicate any pristine examples that I might be after photographically. Plus it’s a constant effort to clean the needles and pinecones (very painful to step on) from the yard. In this region at least, any vista that has trees at all is likely to be liberally strewn with the pines, which keep patches of that deep green interspersed with the fall or spring colors and limiting the impact of any scenic photos you might be after.

variety of trees in various colors seen lengthwise along pond shoreBut here is a small trick, when you can find the conditions to exploit it. The pond’s edge was by no means bursting with color, or even a lot of trees, but when shooting down along it, the colors and foliage all compressed into a closer space, heightening the impact. To illustrate, the distance between the sweetgum (the color at the right edge of the bench) and the pin oak (the more yellow color at right center) was about fifty meters or more, with just short little trees without color change on them, but overall there’s enough in the frame to communicate the season quite well.

And I’ll close with another from the oak-leaf hydrangea – same plant, the second of two main stems. I like the pic below for the colors, but the one above for the textures. And as I said, if I get a chance at any more colors, I’ll be back later on.

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia in vivid fall colors

Storytime 48

hibiscus blossom being ravaged by insects
Today’s photo was taken during the New York trip, and was chosen to reflect the holiday yesterday – can you relate? There are at least five different insects working this hibiscus bloom over, though some of them may only be in it for the nectar. The Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) at top are most likely responsible for the damage to the petals, and to nearly every blossom on the bush. As indicated by the water drops, this wasn’t long after a morning rain, and I was ambling around the bush looking for promising abstracts and not finding too many blossoms that were intact and photogenic, so I settled on a prime example of the damages instead. It’s commentary on the transience of beauty or the subjectivity of the animal classes or some such thing. It’s commentary, anyway – that’s what makes it fartsy. It’s not deep unless there’s an obscure rationale behind it.

“Turkey day,” yeah, right

There is a large number of people and sources claiming today is Turkey Day, and so I got an early start and went out to the nearby pond to chase pics, hoping to expand my turkey images, which are fairly sparse. Alas, none of these sources seems to have the faintest clue, because there wasn’t a turkey to be seen anywhere, despite the wide variety of other avians lurking about. Never trust the media.

rufous-sided or eastern towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus making brief appearanceSecond, at some point in the not-too-distant past I remarked about not being much of a bird photographer, so it seems only fitting that this year I’ve done a indisputable shitload of bird photos (notice that I never said they were good bird photos.) So yeah, never trust me either. Except for not missing any regularly-scheduled posts – that I can do.

But yesterday’s rains and fairly decent temperatures this partly-sunny morning meant that the bird activity was prodigious, and I heard at least twice as many species as I photographed; some of them were just being difficult. Among them, a staple this time of year, was this rufous-sided towhee, or it seems eastern towhee is now preferred, which is a shame because there’s, like, an eastern everything, but how many rufous-sided species do you know of? Regardless, the scientific name hasn’t changed, and that’s Pipilo erythrophthalmus. Yes, that’s pretty distinctive too, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well – in fact it gets tangled up in there and makes you inadvertently spit when saying it. “Towhee” actually comes from the sound the bird makes, the easiest way to know they’re around since they tend to forage in the brush and foliage, but who knows where “erythrophthalmus” comes from? If it made that sound people would probably stay locked indoors more.

Almost as secretive, today anyway, were the northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos,) which first prompted my awareness of them by noisily ripping up the pinoak trees for their acorns.

northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos snagging acorns
Out near the ends of the branches, the leaves tended to be thick enough to obscure the birds unless I looked hard, and getting a nice photo of one was proving to be difficult. They were also being pretty territorial, chasing off the cardinals that were attempting to consume the same food, which was the only time either of them seemed to be vocalizing at all, curious because there were certainly enough other birds making a racket this morning.

After chasing off a cardinal, one of the mockingbirds paused long enough to give me a stalker’s view.

northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos peeking from between leaves
It took a few attempts to get those olive eyes to appear between the leaves, and be sharp enough to keep, but then soon afterward the same bird flew down to a mailbox to pose nicely against the fallen leaves on the lawn.

northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos in alert pose on mailbox
The semi-resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis) were of course on hand, and believe it or not, we have a decent sampling of fall colors right now – more on that in a following post. So I was endeavoring to do what I could to add some zing into the frame, by choosing my vantage point carefully and using the reflections. Nothing elaborate, but better than the original view that I had as I approached.

Canada geese Branta canadensis against reflections of fall colors
I have enough photos of Canada geese, but hey, nothing else was posing so cooperatively; I found out yesterday that there seems to be a species of grebe hanging out at the pond now, but so far it has remained out of decent photographic conditions. However, someone else down there provided, with some reluctance, enough poses to flesh out the post a bit more.

Canada geese Branta canadensis and great blue heron Ardea herodias facing off
I was lucky enough to spot this great blue heron (Ardea herodias, and the only “great blue” anything that I know of,) before I got too close and spooked in into flight, so with some slow and careful approaches, I could again make use of the tree colors in the water, for a bit anyway.

[Edit: I lied, as I discovered while adding the tags to this post. There is also a great blue skimmer, a species of dragonfly, and I must have been aware of this because it’s a tag that’s been used before.]

great blue heron Ardea herodias against reflections of fall colors
The heron was pretty cool until I crouched to change my angle, and it figured this looked too much like a predator getting ready to spring, is my guess. It flew off towards the other end of the pond, landing in the shallows further along my intended path. Fine; we’d just have to see if it remained put as I worked onward.

It was actually more cooperative than any heron at the pond so far this year.

great blue heron Ardea herodias perched in shallows
The colors here weren’t ideal, but still enough to make it clear what time of year it was, anyway.

Herons are funny. Lots of people walk their dogs around the pond, and there are more than a few spots where the dogs can have immediate access to the water, so the herons have every reason to be spooky, yet they tend to be more mellow than, for instance, central New York where the threats had to have been much less immediate. At the same time, I’ve seen the same species in areas of Florida where you could almost walk right up to them, so what, exactly, constitutes a threat to them remains to be seen. Today, at least, this one was less spooky than I often see around the pond, but not complacent either.

great blue heron Ardea herodias perched on submerged piling
I was able to circle around this one to view it from the opposite side, the bank that supports those trees in the previous photo, but then it flew off without any clear ‘threat’ from me.

By the way, I’d noticed on my previous visit that the rains had driven the pond level high enough to submerge the old dock pilings at this end, but the heron demonstrated just how shallow the tops were under the surface, since it’s way too far out into the water to be at typical wading depth. I couldn’t see them at all, but the bird knew where they were.

When it flew off, it headed back towards the end of the pond we’d both started from, and I could see from its altitude that it was likely heading for a tree perch, so I dismissed it and started watching for other subjects. In a few moments, however, the heron reappeared out over the water heading in the opposite direction again, passing me to take a perch in some pines on a small island. I had no decent view even though I could see roughly where it was from the landing behavior, so I moved on slowly.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that, for several minutes as I worked my way along, I could hear a belted kingfisher sounding off repeatedly towards the far end, and was plotting it aurally. Kingfishers are a target species of mine, because I have yet to get any images of them that I’m pleased with; they’re both hyperactive and spooky, and most times I only become aware of their presence when I’ve scared them from their perch and sent them, chattering excitedly, well away from me. So as I ambled on, I kept listening, and steering in its direction. Also while watching for the heron.

As I began getting a clearer view in that general direction, I started searching for the great blue again. If you’ve never tried it, tracking birds in this manner goes like this: you may get a good idea of where the bird landed, but it’s obscured in some way by intervening foliage, so you change position to try and find a gap to see through. This can change perspective and angle, and very often introduces new foliage to block your view, but sometimes requires a significant difference in direction. You may have been pretty sure that the bird was along a particular line of sight, but as you move, you have to try and triangulate when you never knew for sure where along that line the bird was in the first place. The result is searching hard for something that you know is in a particular vicinity, but not exactly sure where, and not even sure if you can get a clear view from your new positions. And it doesn’t help that the bird may see you coming and decide to vacate its position, which you may or may not be able to witness as it occurs.

As I got to a nice gap in the trees closest to me, I was more under the heron’s landing spot, and a good sixty or more degrees off the original angle; I saw something, and I suspected it was the heron, but couldn’t be sure even with the 100-300 lens. The image at right is full-frame, and about what I could discern in the viewfinder. No telltale curve of the neck, no beak, no legs, so was it the heron, or a stump? Was I looking up under its tail? I really just fired off a few frames to do what I’m about to show you, which is to magnify and crop the image to make out details that were not visible at the time.

great blue heron Ardea herodias keeping a wary eye on the photographer
Yeah, I was right this time, but unaware that the heron was now keeping a sharp eye on me, tired of my slow-motion shenanigans – you can just see the beak extending straight up from the top of that ‘stump,’ and the eyes making their bare appearance past the intervening twigs.

About this time, the kingfisher broke from cover very close to me and flew around in a broad curve, and this was to be the pattern for the next few minutes. I at least had the advantage that it simply couldn’t shut its beak for twenty seconds at a time, something that I’ve never witnessed before. Usually they only make noise like that when they’ve been spooked from cover, but I’ve noticed it just when flying to new perches, so it seems to be a territorial thing too; why, today, it was being so freaking noisy I cannot say, but I’ll put it down to the large number of other birds sounding off on their own, none of them posing either a threat or feeding competition to this particular species, so, you got me.

By the way, while we’ve already seen mockingbirds in this post, kingfishers are the ones that by all rights should possess that name, in my experience, because their raucous chattering call, announcing that they are now eliminating any chance I had of getting a decent view, is just kind of rubbing it in.

But at one point, just when I thought it had left the immediate area and I had turned back to the heron, the kingfisher came straight in towards me and alighted on a branch not very far off, in full view yet directly backlit by the hazy sky. All I was going to get was a silhouette, but I’d take it, especially since its distinctive crest and large beak were highly visible. The trouble was, I was in plain sight too, and had to turn about 90 degrees and raise the camera, which the kingfisher simply didn’t take to, as slow as I tried to accomplish it, and soon flew off. While I figured it would be gone for good, it actually skipped around the area more times, never coming as close, but as I changed position I thought I might get lucky and snag a decent view.

It was not to be, however, just as it wasn’t to be with any of the woodpeckers that I knew were in the immediate vicinity just a tad earlier, as I was rounding on the heron down on the pilings, but never got more than a fleeting glimpse of. Like I said, lots of species around announcing their presence, but not posing in open sight. And no turkeys.

great blue heron Ardea herodias still not quite clear
I managed a slightly better perspective on the heron, but not as clear as I would have liked, and within seconds of this frame it took flight again, this time staying well out of my range, but I couldn’t complain (well, if you know me, you know I damn well can and will, but what I’m saying is I shouldn’t.) It wasn’t a bad session for some casual shooting, without even taking the longest lens with me – I’d mostly been after fall colors and the play of sunlight and residual raindrops – and another post will be coming from the same session very shortly. I know this is now posting late in the day on Thanksgiving, despite having started it much earlier – got involved in other things somehow – so I’ll close by saying that I hope everyone had a decent day, didn’t get too embarrassed by their families or anything, and weren’t/aren’t stupid enough to get into that whole shopping-frenzy, runaway-consumerism thing. Cheers!

Done my part

Cranberry cheesecake and sourdough bread
Yep, I’ve done my bit! Cranberry cheesecake and two loaves of onion sourdough bread for tomorrow. Now it’s up to The Girlfriend for the rest.

Okay, no, I’ve done the bits that are kinda exclusive to me, but I’ll still be helping out with the rest – I just won’t be needing the kitchen for my stuff. And The Girlfriend does sourdough too, but we each have our own favored recipes; hers is more of a sweeter, dessert bread, while mine is aimed for sandwiches and paninis. Meanwhile, the cranberry cheesecake recipe is simply one that I found online a few years ago, but it’s fantastic, and pretty easy to do. Check it out, only change everything that reads “lemon” in that recipe to “lime” instead. You’ll thank me for it.

And no, no turkey – we have roast duck instead, which beats the hell out of turkey, but we can only get away with that because we’re feeding five people total (2 ducks.) And when those carcasses have been stripped down, they will become soup, which is also fabulous (and also my recipe.)

Yes I’m gloating. I’m not a ‘foodie’ or anything, but I know what I like, and often how to make it even better. And unlike my photos, you have to take my word for it… ;-)

It’s more important as you get older

I feel bad about posting this a little later in the day – normally I’m on top of things like this, I guess it slipped my mind – but today begins a holiday week, which is Respect Your Elders Week. Yes, all week, until Monday December 2nd, we are required to be respectful, kind, and obedient to those who are older, wiser, and more patient than we are. Not that anyone should need to be told this, really, but this is a reminder for those who tend to lose sight of, you know, the big picture, or fail to properly appreciate the help that we’ve received over the years. At the very least, we should be canning the snark for a bit.

Oh, and while we’re here, be sure to wish Mr Bugg a happy birthday! He’s only a hair over half my age, now.

Take that, younger Al!

I was thinking that the crescent moon was going to be bigger than it actually was this morning, so I checked with Stellarium and my sunrise/moonrise app to see when it would appear, knowing that it would be early morning close to sunrise and the sky should be perfectly clear. “Perfectly” is naturally imperfect, by nature – while we may not see distinct and visible clouds, there remains atmospheric humidity and distortion, the more so the lower we see something in the sky because we’re looking at a flatter angle through the sphere of air that surrounds the planet, so a greater thickness of it. And yet, with the help of my compass app (just burning the hell out of the ol’ smutphone,) I located it, and snagged a few pics.

very thin crescent moon, 28 hours from new
Not a lot to see, and might perhaps have been sharper, but there was no way autofocus would have even found this in the frame, so I was focusing manually on a little sliver. Then again, atmospheric haze so low on the horizon (this was only up 10°) might have prevented anything sharper anyway. The smudges to the right, by the way, are the branches of a tree in the foreground.

So I checked after editing the photo, and found that I captured this just 28 hours ahead of new moon, when the sun would be completely behind it and thus not illuminating the side we can see at all. I was curious, remembering that I’d attempted this once before, and went looking: actually, the previous attempt was 70 hours ahead of new, so I handily trashed that personal record. Go older me!

For giggles, I may try again in a couple of hours, when the sun is fully up (it had not quite risen when I got this one,) and see what I can see. I’m not holding my breath, because glare is going to be a serious issue, but it might be interesting. If something turns up, you’ll be seeing it here of course.

No, I wasn’t talking about you, Buggato ;-)

Red and blue

You are surely not thinking in terms of some damn sports thing; how unbelievably lame that would be! No, naturally we’re talking about red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) with the first bit, a pair of which were wheeling overhead earlier this morning. We’d gone through a solid day and night of rain, but the front pushed through leaving the skies crystal clear while dropping the temperature a bit, and the birds were celebrating this in fashion. I was still having a little bit of focus lock issues (appearing worse because of tight crops here,) and I’m still piecing together the reasons, but this is what we have for now.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis crusing overhead
For reasons unknown, what used to be the most-populated hawk in the area has been much lower in numbers in the past decade or so, at least by my observations (and we all know not to question those by now,) but seem to be on the increase, so I was happy to fire off a few shots in a brief session. And by “few,” I mean “79,” but they weren’t all hawks, plus I was doing sequences as the birds circled, hoping to catch the best fleeting light angles and behavior. Above, not the sharpest pic that I’ve ever taken, but I caught the hawk in mid call, at least. Below, however, represents one of the reasons that I will fire off a lot or frames, because such positions tend to last only a moment or so and are hard to make out in the viewfinder.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis with head twisted around
Now, the question for the ages, since the hawk was disinclined to answer me: is it looking up, or down? When I first saw them, before the camera was in hand – yes I put it down every once in a great while – there were two riding the thermals almost directly above the house, but by the time I returned with the 150-600 lens, one of them (judging from the unchanging location of the calls, because I never spotted it again,) had found a perch in a tree about 50 meters or so off. So I’m betting on ‘down,’ but who can say for sure in this day and age?

By the way, I say “riding the thermals” because that’s mostly how red-tails fly; they’re heavy birds and so conserve energy by picking days with nice updrafts to stay aloft over a prime area without flapping much at all. The crossroads very close by and the bright sunlight were combined to create a nice localized thermal in the immediate vicinity, so I could watch this one for several minutes without it moving off at all.

The next one, however, I’m not complaining about at all.

red-tailed hawk Buteo jamaicensis seen edge-on
This is sized for the blog and for pleasant framing, and so doesn’t get the best treatment here, but the sharpness holds up to near-full resolution; it could be a tad sharper, but for a moving subject at 600mm, it’s pretty solid.

By the way, I just realized as I was typing this that the photos here represent both individuals, so I guess they traded off on perches or something. I’m inclined to say the first, at top, is the male, mostly because of the tail, but also because of the calling, which makes the other shots the female – notice the difference in belly speckling. That trait isn’t a gender thing, but variations found throughout the species; some have the barest hint of the “belly band,” while others barely have any clear patches.

Now, why the pair was behaving this way right now, I can’t say (at least until my attorney clears it.) It seemed like mating behavior, but this is entirely the wrong time of year for that. However, I may have to do a little research, partially because of the species appearing next.

pair or perching eastern bluebirds Sialia sialis, female and male
Now we’ve gotten to the “blue” part, so you can stop fretting. These eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) – female on the left, male on the right – were among the very many birds active this morning, and a pair checked out the bluebird house within a few meters of my stance in the front yard; they may have been disappointed because I’m fairly certain that it’s presently occupied by a southern flying squirrel. While I’ve never had this confirmed by anyone with ornithological expertise, I’ve seen it often enough to believe it, but it seems bluebirds at least will check out potential nesting locales on their way south in the fall, to have a place in mind on their return in the spring. So were the red-tails doing the same? Or were they merely taking advantage of the conditions? Maybe we’re under surveillance by the avian cartel? Is something about to go down? If the blog suddenly goes quiet, check the news for something strange.

“Oh, hello there”

That’s exactly what I said when I spotted my photo subject, but let’s build the drama first. It’s project day, and I was doing various things out in the yard. Once finished, I had to hose out a wheelbarrow and my shovels, and took the frost guard off the spigot and reattached the hose, then cleaned off everything. Or so I thought [Dramatic music here for no reason at all.] Finding one more thing in need of cleaning, I bent down and grabbed the hose again, and saw some movement fairly close to my face.

Now, the temperature isn’t bad, being around 13°c – I’m working in a T-shirt, but expending a bit of effort and sniffling a little, and that’ll be the peak temperature for today while it’s been a lot colder at nights. So I figured we’d seen the last of my friend here for the season.

black rat snake Pantherophis obsoletus alert in coiled garden hose
That’s a black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus,) and not only the first I’ve seen on the property, it’s one of the very few snakes ever found here. I’m pleased, because they’re my favorite local species, both able to get to an impressive size and pretty mellow, despite the fact that my subject here wasn’t very happy with having been disturbed and is definitely in defensive mode. Big fat hairy deal, really – the bite of a black rat snake is harmless and pretty innocuous; I’ve had more damage done by thorn bushes.

Don’t think that I missed the similarity to the circumstances of the last one that I found, less than a month ago (but the weather hadn’t yet turned cold then.) And of all the places to spot one, this seemed odd by being exposed enough not to conserve body heat very well, and also not likely to produce any food, but far be it from me to question the lifestyle choices of serpents. My specimen here is likely a little less than a meter in length, by the way, and perhaps slightly thicker than my thumb at midbody.

Let’s do a longer shot so you can see how well it was hidden from sight.

coiled garden hose with black rat snake Pantherophis obsoletus nestled within
And bear in mind, I was firing off the flash to help illuminate the corner, which is semi-shaded.

I left the snake alone, mostly to rush inside to make a new post (still panting with excitement,) but also to encourage it to stay. I must add that The Girlfriend may not be as thrilled about this as I am.

Supplies are low, outlook bleak

berries of unidentified tree
The last couple of months this year have been pretty poor for macro photography, from what appeared to be a bad birthing season to begin with, through a long drought that ended as the weather turned much colder, so subjects have been few and far between, and it’s only going to get worse from here (until it gets better again, but that’ll probably be in the spring.) So we’ll have just a couple of photos for now, and wait to see what the winter brings.

Above, the berries of… we have no idea. It’s a small, very spare decorative tree by the front door that was here when we moved in, never does very well, and produces enough leaves to put Charlie Brown’s christmas tree to shame, but only just. You’re looking at literally half of the total berries it produced this fall. If you know what it is, tell us, not that it matters much – someday we will replace it with something viable. This was shot in bright daylight against the clear sky, but at my typical macro settings which would normally render things a bit dark in those conditions if it weren’t for the flash unit, thus the deep color of the sky.

In years past, the yard has been pretty well populated with barn spiders (Araneus cavaticus,) but this year was a lot leaner in that regard – not exactly a bad thing, because walking around in the yard at night is otherwise fraught with the danger of walking directly through their large webs, which are generally created at night and may be placed anywhere from chest height on up. I personally would have thought we were past this season, but was shown otherwise.

barn spider Araneus cavaticus weathering the fall temperatures
This is a mid-sized specimen, so about 12mm or so in body length, and thoughtfully occupying the branches of a small tree against the fenceline, so out of anyone’s path. What she was intending to capture at this point, I have no idea; spiders themselves can be pretty cold-hardy, but their common prey is usually much less so. This was shot within minutes of the previous, same settings on the camera, but aimed into a shadowed area so it appears more like night.

unidentified mushroom
The recent rains had provoked a small outbreak of mushrooms in the yard, and I selected one that was reasonably photogenic, which just goes to show you how little else there is to photograph, because I generally ignore them. I’m not even going to go through the effort of trying to determine the species; if you really need to know then go look it up. I’ve done my part bellying down on the damp ground to get this perspective, because you can well imagine that a normal view would show you a bland little dome.

Now, out of curiosity last night I took out the ultra-violet flashlight to see what might fluoresce. I tried it on the barn spider above (nothing of interest,) and a large centipede that I spotted on the wall (ditto,) and some small snail shells that I’d collected from the lake of my youth in NY (so unreactive in UV light as to be completely boring.) With all of these failures, I was just shining it idly around the yard on my return trip when I got a bright flash of yellow: some of the mushrooms that I’d found earlier. Most of the ones I saw at this time were in varying later stages of collapse, so not the most photogenic subjects for in situ shots, but I collected a couple of caps to do shots indoors instead. Here’s the view in normal light, for comparison.

unidentified mushrooms in visible light
Nothing surprising or remarkable, of course. But now here they are in UV light.

unidentified mushrooms in ultra-violet light
That’s a pretty distinctive response, especially since the visible beam of the light is deep violet, and it could be spotted from a moderate distance as well; photographs don’t quite do it justice. But it only came from the underside of the cap, those ribs or flutes or whatever mycologists call them. Does this do something for the mushroom, or is it only a by-product of their composition? I have no idea – UV fluorescence is still being studied and pondered over, since some elements possess it naturally, but then various species seem to have it for a reason. The underside of the cap is the portion of the fungus that would get the least UV light, so…?

And I did try to find the same pinkish mushroom from further up to shoot it from the same perspective, but could not locate it. Maybe it had been eaten in the interim, or I’d already trodden on it. But I tried.