October’s advance guard

twisted dead limbs against early autumn colors
In central NC, the fall colors don’t really develop distinctly until November, though some trees can be found changing quite early, and if you frame for those, you can make some nice compositions even when a broader landscape shot would be unimpressive. That was the primary activity of an outing this past Monday, though there were a handful of other subjects to be had, too – just a handful. Right now, we’re doing the earlier autumn stuff.

I have to note that, in the late spring, The Girlfriend found a thin-leaved Japanese maple on sale at a local place and got it for the yard, but at present it’s still in a pot. I have no idea of the name/subspecies, but we found that come fall, it turns really colorful. It was far too small and with too thin a canopy yet to do wider shots, so I stuck to featuring little spots, but it’s enough to show the color change.

unknown Japanese maple subspecies showing great autumn color
I also have to note that this display is pretty brief – less than a week, before the leaves turned completely brown, withered, and dropped off, so we’ll have to see if next year, after we’ve transplanted it into the yard and it gets some serious growth on it, I can do a bit more with it in its narrow peak period.

But it looks good backlit too.

unknown Japanese maple subspecies with great autumn colors, backlit
One of the things I teach about is attention blindness, the common trait of seeing just a particular subject that you’re focused upon and not the remainder of the frame: the background, the foreground, the sides, and so on. As a species, it’s the way we deal with distractions, but when it comes to photos, those distractions can take away from the impact of the main subject, and it takes a little practice to force awareness. In this case, the aspect of the background was so broad and defocused that it didn’t attract my attention, even while editing, and I only noticed it when seeing the thumbnail in my folders while prepping this post.

thumbnail-sized version of above imageSeen at this size, the window frame becomes a bit more apparent, as is the angle that I took to frame the leaves, but it’s so subtle in the larger versions that I’m not worrying about it at all; I just wanted to show what appears sometimes when you can ‘step back’ from the bigger picture. Be aware, however, that repeating patterns like brickwork and fences and so on will almost always be apparent in the final image, no matter how out of focus you try to render them, and even perfectly straight lines can jump out as being too unnatural.

I really should save this next one, but I figure I’ll get a better version later on, maybe with snow.

holly and berries against autumn colors
The subject and color mix seems more expressive of the period between Thanksgiving and christmas, to me at least, though by that time the background colors would be gone. In the real world, I mean – I think they’re fixed in the photo now. And naturally, this perspective is American, since not a lot of other countries celebrate Thanksgiving, so the mood is lost on everyone else. The berries, on a lot of bush species, have really kicked it in this year, so I have a few subjects to chase if/when we get some snow or ice storms in the winter. As I type this we have rain, still with decent temperatures, but this is too far away to go attempt in these conditions, especially with little else that would work out there (‘out there’ being West Point on the Eno, which of course is known the world over. Actually, I suspect a certain percentage of people in the same town don’t even know the place…)

Best, or at least the most vivid, for last of course.

perhaps some kind of maple showing vivid backlit colors
I think this is some species of (wild) maple, but I could be wrong. Either way, the colors really popped with the backlighting, helped by the direct light missing from the same-colored background leaves. Such things tend to be sporadic and take specific view angles to exploit, which is kind of necessary right now at least until more trees turn, but you do what you can do. Look around a lot, try to spot the patches of brilliant color, and pick the perspective that accentuates them the most.

Or not. I’m not your daddy – probably not, anyway – so you don’t have to listen to me…

On this date 44

Three weeks ago, I speculated that the choices for the On This Date posts were getting thinner because the shooting season slows down in the fall and winter, which is true – but not damn yet. I shot a lot on October 28th for various years.

You scoff? We start with 2012, as the end of the world loomed.

unidentified crab spider attempting to either set anchor line of balloon away
This is the first of the bug-n-purple pics for today, an unidentified crab spider that spent a lot of time casting webbing into the wind. Whether this was for creating new anchor/wandering lines, or an attempt to balloon to a new location, or simply from homemade chili the previous night, I cannot say and neither did it. This is a difficult thing to capture in camera because the light has to hit the web strand just right to show it, and focus gets short at this magnification, but I was valiantly making the attempt this day anyway (judging from the large number of photos in the folders, and those were the ones that I kept.)

bumble or carpenter bee on flower seen as silhouette on leaf
With the end of the world postponed indefinitely, in 2014 I was down at a nearby pond (no, a different one) watching a bumble bee or carpenter bee partaking of a pickerelweed (Pontederia) flower, as seen by its shadow on a leaf of the very same plant. How this has not taken first place in countless art shows, I’ll never know (though not entering any is probably a contributing factor. Among others.)

magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis showing mismatched eyes
In 2015, I had a magnolia green jumping spider (Lyssomanes viridis) on hand and was photographing the curiously visible retinas as they moved independently within the cephalothorax, thus the odd effects in the eyes. If you want to see video of this (and of course you do,) go here. It’s really damn cool.

unidentified insect possibly Spilomyia longicornis flying away from aster bloom
Continuing the bug-n-purple theme, in 2016 I was photographing an unidentified insect, what I initially took to be a hoverfly but now suspect is a syrphid fly (possibly Spilomyia longicornis – note the alternating breaks in the abdominal banding) on an aster bloom, and caught a frame just as it flew off. Getting decent photos of insects in midair is far too stress-inducing for someone my age, but I’ll take them when they happen serendipitously. Is that a word?

And finally, closing out the theme in 2017.

unidentified hoverflies within unidentified pond lily blossom
I don’t know the exact species of these hoverflies, or even of the pond lily, but I’m happy to take the opportunity to hurt your eyes and be thematic at the same time. A variation of this same kind of flower, in different light, can be seen here, and did make it into my gallery showing just over a year later, but it wasn’t the kind of thing where you get awards, which is good, because I would have made everyone else participating feel bad, and I’m nicer than that. Barely.

Some more experiments

During an outing yesterday, Buggato asked if I was going to chase any moon shots in the next few nights, and I shrugged and said, “Maybe.” I had some experiments to try, but the past several nights the humidity and haze were affecting things too much.

Going out after 11 PM, however, I saw the moon was showing as deep contrast as I’ve ever seen, evidence of a good clear night, so I said What the hell? and got out the tripod. One of the experiments was trying out the Tokina 2x teleconverter with the newer Tamron 150-600mm lens. A teleconverter is essentially a magnifier that goes between camera and lens, and will magnify the image by the specified amount while reducing the light by largely the same amount, so in this case, two stops darker. This is one of the problems with teleconverters, in that they not only eradicate any chance of autofocus in most cases because of this darkening, but they also reduce the light which increases the shutter speed and thus the opportunities for camera shake. To say nothing of the quality, which is often not optimal.

I’d obtained this one close to twenty years ago (certainly not one of the top-of-the-line models because those are ridiculously expensive,) and used it here and there, but it’s strictly tripod work, and with the old Sigma 170-500 lens the results were sporadic, to say the least – in most cases I was better off without it, especially for astrophotography. But it was worth a shot.

So below, the lens as-is, no converter, and you can see how distinct the contrast was last night.

waxing gibbous moon with Tamron 150-600 at 600mm
I take quite a few images of subjects like the moon, as I’ve said before, because precise focus is very hard to obtain, so it was pleasing to have the first frames bang on.

By the way, firmly-fixed tripod, mirror lock-up with at least a two-second delay, and a remote release were all used here. 1/160 second, f9 at ISO 250.

Now for the teleconverter test.

waxing gibbous moon with Tamron 150-600 at 600mm with Tokina 2x teleconverter
This time, the exposure was 1/40 second, f8 at ISO 250, which accounted for the light loss through the teleconverter nicely. And I’ll be damned if the resolution isn’t kicking it here, too; the initial views during editing had me pretty fired up. But of course, both of these are reduced for blog display and nowhere near full resolution, so let’s see those, side by side.

comparison of two images, with teleconverter and without but upsampled
The comparison here really is between the quality of the teleconverter and simply upsampling the original image without a teleconverter to see if it’s actually worth it. As you can see, the quality is damn near identical, even though the upper image is the original that has been expanded to twice its original size to compare directly. Actually, not quite twice, but a 91% increase rather than the promised 100% (2x,) but that’s a trivial quibble. There’s a faint greenish color cast from the converter in the bottom image, nothing to worry about, and a little loss of contrast, but again, not enough to cause me to tear my (remaining) hair out.

So if the quality is the same if I simply upsample the original in an editing program, why not just stick to that? And for astrophotography and various other uses, this may be just fine, but sometimes the image depends on what’s captured in the frame, and this especially holds true for video – cropping video footage is usually more hassle than it’s worth. But video is also rendered in lower resolution than still photos, so the teleconverter could probably produce even crappier results and still not be too noticeable. And so, while out there for a few minutes, I shot a brief video clip intended only to show how much the moon was moving (or the Earth was turning – you know, pedantism) in that time. The teleconverter made this much more distinct.

I saw the speck cross the frame while watching the LCD on the back of the camera and was pretty excited, let me tell you. Weeks earlier I’d seen much the same thing before I could trip the shutter, and figured I’d missed a satellite passing in front of the moon because, by my reasoning, for a bird to appear that small it would be moving much slower across the face. We now see I was playing Silly Buggers, because it clearly crosses quite quickly even when rendered as little more than a speck. And of course, were these birds, or bats? Not too many birds are out at night, but there are some, among them owls and nighthawks naturally; I can rule out the former I think, from the flight and flapping patterns, but not the latter. To be sure, I’d have to catch some closer to the camera for more detail. So it remains to be seen if I’m ever going to burn up the memory card in further attempts at this, but hey, three in one minute is encouraging at least.

Also illustrated rather handily with that clip is how much minor vibrations are magnified with telephoto lenses. At the beginning and end of the clip, all I did was reach up to the camera and press the button on the back to start/stop the video, and I wasn’t being heavy-handed. Seeing how long it takes for that to die down is convincing enough to use mirror lock-up and a nice delay, to eradicate the vibration from the mirror at least. Unfortunately, the corded remote release does not activate the video, but the infra-red one will, so, next time.

Just… one, really

profile of great egret Ardea alba
I have a handful of photos from an outing today, but I’m winding down and still have other things to get done tonight, so this is a quick one that’s been sitting in the blog folder. Stay with me, it gets much more exciting.

Okay, no it doesn’t. But stay with me anyway.

When I’m sorting through recent photos to see what to keep and what to discard, right before shifting them into appropriate categories, I usually look at the images at full resolution to see if the sharpness is adequate. Some months back I began using a Canon 7D, and the jump in resolution was noticeable (and don’t ask me what it actually is, because I don’t know – that’s not the kind of thing that I worry about.) With earlier bodies, I could still see most of the subject when I did this, just filling the monitor screen, but now I see just a small portion – and I’m even using a much bigger monitor now. [Note that this is still far from being those desktop rigs that you see where someone has three two-meter wide monitors spread across their desk – I only have one, and it has about a 50cm active display width, but this does mean that I have some room to move the various editing menus aside and see more of the photo that I’m working on.]

There is probably a small degree that this resolution is detrimental, because I might reject an image as ‘not quite sharp enough’ when it has more than enough to print at a decent size – I’m just examining it too closely, and this especially holds true for images that will display full-frame, uncropped and not dependent on detail, like many scenics. However, maintaining sharpness even at high magnification, full resolution, means that I can crop the image, significantly sometimes, and not suffer from pixelation or ‘grain’ issues.

And as I’m doing this close examination, every once in a while one jumps out at me, such as the great egret (Ardea alba) above. That’s the entire frame up there, taken with the Tamron 150-600mm at 450mm while the bird was being cooperative; a lot of the images of the session lacked sharpness, suffering from inexact focus or motion blur, or both. But this one held up pretty well when seen at full resolution, which is shown below.

full resolution inset of same image of great egret Ardea alba
Yeah, that passes muster.

Just a couple

great blue heron Ardea herodias maintaining a safe distance
A few days back, I got the chance to do a brief walk around the nearby pond to see what could be found, and the answer was, not much. The great egret that provided so many close opportunities was nowhere to be seen, quite likely having moved on now. Instead, I was seeing a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) that’s been around for a few weeks now. The heron was the polar opposite of the egret: it wouldn’t let me get within a dozen meters, which is pretty timid for the species, so everything that I shot was from a distance, allowing only for semi-fartistic frames.

In fact, while attempting to stalk it, I completely forgot about the downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) and its potential nest hollow in one location, remembering it long after passing and chiding myself for it. I was toying with the idea of turning back but decided against it – and as it turns out, didn’t need to. A few minutes later, the same sounds of industrious excavation came to me, and another downy (if not the same one) could be seen digging away on a lower branch directly over my path. Okay then.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens excavating hollow in rotting limb
I was in shadow and the woodpecker was being as hyperactive as normal, so image blur was a serious issue, and I trashed a lot of frames trying for something sharp, but managed a couple. And at some point, I’m going to have to go back and attempt video to try and see something. Many of the tree-clinging birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches can scoot along easily on the vertical trunks and undersides of limbs, as seen here, and move around with what appears to be little hops that seem perfectly natural. Except… gravity doesn’t work that way, and any bird that ‘hops’ while hanging upside-down isn’t exactly going to come back to the branch. So I’m curious to see what exactly they are doing. I first started wondering about this decades ago while still in NY, when I watched a nuthatch sitting sideways on the post that held our bird feeder, and abruptly it reversed the direction that it was facing – again, with just a little hop, except it couldn’t have been. I’m finally at a point now where I can shoot video of such a maneuver, up close, and slow it down enough to see what’s actually happening – provided, of course, that the light is sufficient for a decent frame rate and I get another bird to cooperate. We’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, I decided to take the above frame, tinted blue by the shadows (and a white balance set for sunlight,) and tweak it more towards a neutral color register.

same frame with small color corrections
Just so you know, this is a small reduction in the blue channel, and an even smaller increase in the red – just enough to compensate for the color cast. Or at least, to my eye. Most editing programs contain some function to try and do this, but they’re easily fooled by what appears in the image, such as the blue sky or too much green foliage, so I almost always get better results doing it by hand. It usually takes a little practice in recognizing what true neutral is, and I won’t say I have it perfect here, but it’s close enough for free content ;-)

And one more.

downy woodpecker Dryobates pubescens seen from directly underneath
The downy was fairly engrossed in its work, so I could slowly slip in directly underneath it, in a position to get pelted with the wood pulp it was discarding; I was hoping to catch some of this in the photo as it fell, but no frames show it distinctly (or at least, none that showed the woodpecker sharply as well.) The woodpecker was merely facing the opposite of those frames above, but I was aimed straight up now. I like how the widely spread toes even peek out from the sides of the body.

That’s all for now, but I’m keeping on schedule for the end of the month – only six more posts to go, and two of them are part of my routine schedule, plus I have an outing tomorrow. Piece of cake.

In due time

Two days and fifteen photos ago, I posed a challenge to find a hidden subject, and this is the reveal. Eventually. Gotta stick with my narrative.

Five weeks ago, I photographed a pair of half-sized, juvenile green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) hanging around the front lawn area – one on a potted Japanese maple, and one on the established resident. Mostly – they switched perches from night to night. Soon after that, I stopped seeing them, and the temperatures dropped to being fairly chilly at nights, their preferred time to hunt, so I suspected that the younger ones had found some soft earth to hole up for the winter. In fact, I suggested to The Girlfriend that she be very careful when unpotting any of the plants around the front porch, because the frogs could have chosen those as ideal areas to hibernate within, as we ran afoul of before.

Meanwhile, her potted trumpet flower (genus Brugmansia) sitting across the lawn a handful of meters away is laden with the giant buds that indicate it will be blooming soon, and as we examined it the other day I remarked that, though I considered it an ideal perch, I’d only ever seen one frog and one mantis taking advantage of its tall stalks and broad leaves. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Yep.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea perched on stem of trumpet flower Brugmansia
The very next morning I found a juvenile, about the same size as the ones I’d seen weeks earlier, perched atop one of the stems of the trumpet flower. The disparity in size between the frog and the flower buds is very expressive, and probably gives a good impression; to be accurate, the frog is roughly 3cm in length while the flowers are 18-20. Where this one had been in the intervening weeks, I couldn’t say – I was only finding a couple of quite large adults. But I was happy to take advantage of the opportunity.

green treefrgo Hyla cinerea dozing atop stem of trumpet flower Brugmansia
Unlike the adults, this one was not only very aware of my presence, it shifted uncertainly as I leaned in close, not sure if it should flee or continue counting on its stillness and camouflage to avoid detection. But I had come prepared, so even though the frog was just about eye-level and the broad leaves were in the way, I got off a few flash shots.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on trumpet flower Brugmansia stem
But seeing how it was anxious about my presence, I let it have its peace for the day and began looking around the yard for other subjects. Which is when I found the second, once again on the large established Japanese maple tree. And how I spotted it, I’m not really sure, because it’s one of the subtlest subjects that I’ve ever seen. So subtle, in fact, that on unloading the memory card, I struggled to find the frog in the foliage even though I knew just where I’d framed it; the only thing I can say is that photos are a little harder than real life, lacking depth and increasing contrast. And yet, on going back out to get better photos as the light got brighter, I had a hard time finding it again, and lost it twice even after doing so; once I thought it had taken a powder while I was adjusting settings on the camera, until I found it again right where it had been.

So anyway, go back and look at the original again if you haven’t found it already, but here it is:

highlighted green treefrog Hyla cinerea in Japanese maple foliage
I always wondered how that intersecting white stripe helped them, but in this kind of foliage that was catching sunlight at certain angles, it worked perfectly.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea in foliage of Japanese maple
And bear in mind, here the short depth-of-field is actually helping you; you wouldn’t have those leaves going so distinctly out of focus when viewing this in person.

And yes, I went in close and used the flash for this one too, having a little better view.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea within dew-laden Japanese maple
Much as it looks like it had rained recently, it was simply the overnight dew, so heavy as to even make the yard slightly muddy. No need to get out the mist-sprayer for any subjects at this time of year.

Now a bit of amusement. A little later on, I went past both of them again, and the trumpet flower one had shifted position and looked like it was about to jump away. I quickly slipped around to get a head-on perspective and produce a photo a little more dynamic than these typical poses. But as I leaned in, it blinked and shifted away, and I caught this in mid-maneuver, snagging a curious expression.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea deciding against the leap
That was too evocative, and so I staged another photo, and then spent way too much time tricking it all out. However, I’m nothing but pleased with the result:

edited photo of green treefrog playing a synth keyboard
Someday I’ll be back and go into how involved things like this are; it’s not as simple as pasting in a photo of a keyboard. But that’s for another post, especially if I decide to illustrate the steps.

Readers’ submitted photos

Autumn fenceline with Grand Tetons in background, by Wendy Hall
Well, that title’s not exactly true, because the apostrophe indicates more than one reader, plus I’m pretty sure this one is not a regular here anyway; only when I direct her attention to something, but you know, that’s her loss. Regardless, these are all photos sent to me by my friend, who took a trip out west with her SO, son, and daughter-in-law, and thus are all credited to her unless one of the others obviously took it. They all apparently did a trek out to Mordor, but it’s gotten all touristy now and looks nowhere near as ominous, plus you don’t have to walk the whole way.

[The blog fact-checkers are telling me this is actually the Grand Tetons instead, so I am obligated to go with what they say even though I’m sure they’re wrong. This is what happens when you go the corporate route.]

Grand Tetons ahead of footpath, by Wendy Hall
I wasn’t given a whole lot of background on these (actually, just an e-mail subject line to be honest,) so I can’t give many details and won’t extrapolate – lucky you. We’re just here for the slideshow.

Taggert lake with Grand Tetons in background, by Wendy Hall
This one was identified as Taggert Lake, but I can’t be sure if that’s the body of water in the foreground or the mountains in the background. Your call.

common merganser Mergus merganser on Taggert Lake, by Wendy Hall
This one was unidentified too, but I can fill in here: this is a common merganser (Mergus merganser,) adult male in nonbreeding plumage. Though with the unkempt hair and the drool, you can also call this a Dur-yay duck if you like…

Hikers in front of Taggert Lake with Grand Tetons in background, not by Wendy Hall
This is Wendy and ‘Strikes’ (Wendy is the one on the right,) doing their superhero action poses – I could possibly credit this image to her son, who was fond of action poses himself but has since entered the mind-numbing world of accountancy. And once you’ve done accounting, you can pretty much forget about ever gaining back any cool, if you even had any to begin with.

But I’ll use this image to illustrate something, because I looked at the color register and thought, This needs a boost, so I tweaked it a little. You can expect the light in the shadows to be a bit blue, because that’s what light does, but even the distant sunlit trees seemed a little off-register, so below is my edited version.

same image as previously with slight color enhancement
It’s the kind of thing that happens when you look at photos for too long, because color casts become more evident. This was a slight reduction in blue, emphasized just a little on highlights, and an increase in red, same again; tiny tweak of green in highest registers to bring out the trees. This was all done using the Curves function in GIMP, though Photoshop and its offspring have almost identical functions. I took a look at the EXIF info to see what the white balance was set for, and it turns out it was taken with a smutphone, so no further explanation needed.

hikers posing by reflecting Taggert Lake with Grand Tetons in background, by not Wendy Hall
This is them again, trying to be cute but far too old for that kind of stuff. This is why I avoid shooting people.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone National River, Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
This is Lower Falls on the Yellowstone National River, which is part of Yellowstone National Park of course (dur-yay!) Date-wise, this is the earliest photo, so I’m guessing taken as they entered the park, and most of the rest came from the two days afterward.

Except for this one.

hikers at night against Big Dipper at Yellowstone National Park, by not Wendy Hall
Pretty nicely composed shot of Wendy and ‘Strikes’ waiting out Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone that same evening, with what was identified as the Big Dipper in the background, but this is incorrect; it’s actually Ursa Major. Nice use of a handheld light and the residual twilight from the sky, but we can blame the slight muddiness of the sky on the smutphone used. I’m probably burning all sorts of bridges here, but it’s fun…

The next day brought more Yellowstone pics.

herd of American bison Bison bison in Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
The park is, naturally, known for its wild American bison (Bison bison, yes indeed,) and also for stupid tourists occasionally getting smacked around by one. My friends were smarter than that, though. At least, they didn’t tell me about any such encounters.

American bison Bison bison in Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
I don’t see any blood, torn fabric, or bits of smutphone on those horns, so…

American bison Bison bison among steaming vents in Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
A lone survivor within the wasteland, almost certainly named Rockatansky.

I’m guessing that this is a great time of year to be visiting, because the cooler overnight temperatures will enhance the water vapor of the various hot vents much more distinctly than in warmer weather, but since I’ve never been, we’re just listening to me talking out of my ass.

[“So what else is new, Al?” Yeah, I know, shut up…]

hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
Naturally we need to see some of the hot springs that Yellowstone is known for, and a peek at a geyser in a moment, but it occurs to me as I type this that she had a mineral deposits cascade, similar to this one, featured on her FaceBlerk page (seen from The Girlfriend’s account, not my own because no fucking way,) but not forwarded through e-mail. I’ve already been trying to get to this for a couple of days and requested two larger version of photos, so I’m not delaying it any further, but maybe it’ll turn up here later on. Or you can always check Wendy’s own blog. Or Strikes’ – I’m sure he’s a regular blogger…

Old Faithful geyser in background of hot springs runoff in Yellowstone National Park, by Wendy Hall
She identified this as Old Faithful, but this is the closest image that I have on hand right now, with decidedly toxic-looking runoff in the foreground. This is due to mineral content of course, but all the same I wouldn’t recommend making tea from it, even if it would be effortless.

We’ll close with one of Wendy’s fartsy compositions, though exactly where this was taken I couldn’t say. Some internet sleuth that can measure the precise angles of the Tetons in the background could pin it down, I’m sure. Or I could just ask Wendy, but that’s no fun.

Grand Tetons seen through window of decrepit cabin, by Wendy Hall
And despite all my snark, I have to thank her for sending these along; she travels a lot more than I do, so it introduces a little more variety into the blog. But yeah, I hear you: not one bug or frog to be seen. [Sigh] Whatcha gonna do?

Expert level

Okay, now can you find it?

subject hidden in foliage
I’ll give you some time, and be back later on to see how you did ;-)

By the way, I’ve been doing pretty good with having a post for every day in October, even though I haven’t posted on every day, and this catches me up again. We’ll see if I can continue it until month end. Shouldn’t be hard if I find banal ways to space them out…

On this date 43

unidentified ant swarm on anthill
In 2009, I worked for an idiot within a park complex, which isn’t exactly germane but it needed to be said anyway, and came across this swarm of ants, and I do mean swarm; they were everywhere for roughly a four-meter-square section, even throughout the air and onto the trees, but I suspected that what you see here was the source, or as close as I could get above ground. Despite the creepiness of it, they were harmless and uninterested in my presence, so I could go in close and find that the smaller reds and the larger flying blacks were probably related, but that’s about all I can provide regarding the species or behavior. Still a damn lotta ants. And yes, I did end up with quite a few on me after leaning in this close, but they brushed away easily – I was mere geography to them.

Four years later I was engaged in pursuits only slightly less creepy (but a lot more useful and productive.)

Niesthrea louisianica on hibiscus seed pods
Down at a lakeside park, I believe with a student, I came across some remarkably colorful bugs – true bugs – chowing down on hibiscus seeds, and did a few photos in situ, then collected at least one for more details shots and identification. They turned out to be Niesthrea louisianica nymphs, no common name, and the following day I got some wonderful closeups. For a given definition of ‘wonderful,’ anyway…

A year later I got away from the arthropods for a spell, lucky you.

unidentified pink and blue wildflowers
The Girlfriend’s Sprog had to be in Greensboro for an MCAT exam, so the three of us decided to make a day of it, and while she was sweating bullets over how to treat Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, The Girlfriend and I checked out a park, where I found these brilliant flowers. I have no idea what they are and haven’t seen them before or since, and my efforts to identify them turned up just one image, a stock photo without any identification whatsoever (which is disturbingly typical,) so that puts this site well ahead of Alamy Stock most of the time. since it’s rare that I don’t identify what you’re seeing.

And finally, in 2016 I was once again at Mason Farm Biological Reserve early in the morning.

trashline orb weaver genus Cyclosa with lambent web lines
The curious light interplay on this web of a trashline orbweaver (genus Cyclosa) caught my eye, since you can see that only certain strands shine so distinctly, while others don’t, and I can only speculate that those are the adhesive strands for entangling prey (not all strands in a web are sticky.) This appeared back then, along with another photo of a banded orbweaver, confirming that I had indeed featured one before this, but somehow the tags for either name didn’t want to appear in the list when I was writing that recent post.

That’s it for this week. Be sure to tune in next week! No ‘because’ in there, since I got nuthin’, but do it anyway.

Skill Level 2

Okay, how about now?

oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia in front garden
Can you spot what I was photographing yesterday, as I was putting up the Halloween decorations (why I don’t know, because we’re not going to have trick-or-treaters this year I’m sure, which means the book stockpile isn’t going to go down either.) This one’s a little harder than the last one, so take your time.

Of course we’re going in closer.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea on dead leaf of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
I don’t think anyone has ever proclaimed that amphibians are particularly brilliant (in intellect, I mean,) but c’mon, they’re supposed to know how camouflage works. There’s only one completely brown leaf on the whole damn plant, and that’s the one my bud here decided to hole up for the day upon.

Okay, credit where it may be due, it also curls over enough to perhaps conserve a little body heat, so maybe that was the goal. And from the size and partial concealment, it really was pretty subtle – to, you know, normal people. I spotted it instantly. From a distance. Without my glasses, even.

No, I lie shamelessly – it did take a moment or so before I realized that the green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) had returned to the plant after being gone for several days. But full credit to it, because it stayed put while I marched around it, trying to give it as much distance as possible, which wasn’t that much, maybe a meter, ladder clanging and everything. Though the reason behind this might be found with a closer look.

decidedly bleary-looking green treefrog Hyla cinerea hiding within dead leaf
That – is the look of someone who was up too late Friday night, doing things they shouldn’t have. I can’t imagine the adjusting of the ladder, and my ubiquitous cursing, helped that in any way.

You may well scoff that I’m reading too much into it, but this has further support with another discovery around by the back porch.

Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis trying not to vom
Just look at this Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) clutching the drain hose from the rainbarrel, especially those eyes, and tell me that it isn’t desperately wishing for the world to stop spinning. I’ve seen this look far too many times from coworkers. I don’t know what kind of amphibian celebration I missed the night before, but it was certainly enthusiastic.

By the way, I have to pass along that, early yesterday evening (and thus a few hours after seeing the green one in its hiding spot,) I tried to point it out to someone else and noticed it missing – along with the leaf it had been perched upon, which was found down underneath the hydrangea. A little tip from your Uncle Al: don’t pick the dead leaves that are about to fall to go to sleep upon. I’m betting that did nothing at all for the frog’s state of mind.

But back during the afternoon, while photographing those two subjects, I began hearing a soft almost-squeaking, like someone trying to rub ink stains off of a balloon, and said, I know that sound. In fact, I featured it almost exactly ten years ago.

trio of northern flickers Colaptes auratus congregating in pine tree
Careful observation showed four northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) flitting among several trees on and around the property, deeply engrossed in some kind of conversation, though what it was all about I couldn’t say for sure; my Flickerese is a little rusty now since I don’t live there anymore. I could only get three of them in the frame at any one time, and aiming up into the bright sky trying for subjects in shadow, I was lucky to even get this; most of the other frames have been tossed already, and this one had to still be lightened for display here despite dialing in exposure compensation for that sky. Still, their positions are expressive, which is great, but why they continued to hang out so close together and talk so much, I can’t say. There was no squabbling going on, no apparent courting behavior, no apparent begging behavior, and they tended to split off into pairs which also takes away support for such ideas. Potentially just discussing whatever was on Tubi last night. Or maybe the godawful racket from the frogs’ party…

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