The precision of this one is up for grabs, but also not really necessary. The beaches of Sanibel Island are particularly known as some of the best ‘shelling’ beaches of the US, likely because of the particular geography of the island as well as the biology/ecology off the coast there. But exact locations likely shift a bit, and most certainly have since this was taken in 2009. The pile itself, which The Girlfriend and I sifted through for a short while, was a few meters wide and eight to ten long, give or take – I didn’t make any measurements while there, so I’m going on memory. It’s the only place that we’ve found sea urchin shells, as well as a collection of their needles. I needed a nice low-angle frame and sought out that particular red-and-white shell in the foreground as a point of focus. If you want to see what happened only a moment later, go here and hover over the image – does that works on smutphones? I just checked: apparently it does if you touch the image, and realize that this is me bending over backwards because I consider smutphones a goddamned stupid way of web surfing…
As I type this, I’m curious how much, or little, Hurricane Ian changed things last year. Sanibel and Fort Myers (the nearest mainland city) were slammed pretty hard, and there may have been some changes to the offshore conditions that contributed. I’ll be happy to check it out and report my findings – backed with a few funding contributions, naturally, but you know it’s a sound investment.
My photos here – and there will be a lot of them – are all of three individual ospreys (Pandion haliaetus,) and all taken within an hour. And this is just a representative sampling. I stopped at Jordan lake yesterday because I hadn’t been in a while, and three ospreys were wheeling and fishing, very actively, just off the shoreline where I stood – the image above is full frame as one passed almost directly overhead. In fact, I got enough frames to identify individuals: this one can be distinguished by the dark patch of feathers on its throat.
It’s the right time of year, so I’m 90% certain most of this was hunting to feed the young in nests, especially since they tended to return fairly quickly after a successful capture, indicating that they were simply dropping off meals for the other parent to tear up and feed the young – I can’t say for sure if it’s virtually always the father that hunts and the mother feeding, or if they take turns, and osprey are not readily distinguishable by sex.
This is one of the others: no dark patch on the throat, but a single-feather gap in each wing indicating an ongoing molt, which is common enough. Because of these distinctions, I could tell any time this one returned quickly after catching a fish.
It was around midday with the sun high in a near-perfectly clear sky, but a bit windy so the lake surface was choppy, which either did not hinder them much or perhaps even helped in some way; I know the stiff breeze meant less effort in wheeling overhead. There were two distinct behaviors to indicate when action might occur. The first was the talons dropping low from their normal flying position up against the tail, meaning either an imminent dive for a fish or a territorial dispute, and the second was ‘backing,’ arresting their forward motion to achieve a near-hover as they locked onto a fish below, seen here.
By the way, even with the three of them in a surprisingly close space, there were absolutely no territorial disputes, though on a couple of occasions I heard limited cries, usually only used to claim airspace, and a couple of dropped talons when not even over water – they seemed to be ready to claim or defend, but too preoccupied to follow through.
And then the dive, which at least half of the time came up empty, but still a lot of fun to watch. I can only estimate my distances, but the cruising/observing altitude was generally less than 30 meters above the water, and distance from me never more than 150 meters, usually far less – I have a few frames where I suspect the osprey was inside the 10 meter focusing limit on the big lens as they cruised overhead. I had the limiter set at ‘Infinity to 10 meters’ to reduce autofocus hunting, which definitely helped, but there were a lot of frustrations too.
For instance, one of the things that I’ve been after, for years now, is a decent frame immediately preceding contact with the water – like this, only not like this. Here’s what hampers these efforts:
1, Autofocus really, really wants to switch to the background as the bird crosses the horizon line, and I have not yet found a way to thwart this;
2, Manual focus is out of the question – I tried this day for a very short while, and the ospreys were varying distance far too much to track effectively;
3, Per Newton or somebody anyway, the dive accelerates, more so as they fold the wings in, so tracking them downwards (especially at high-magnification, long focal lengths,) becomes trickier, not at all helped by the horizon/focus thing above;
4, Exposure compensation was set for the sky – I think all of these frames were 1 full stop overexposed (from what the camera thinks is proper, anyway.) However, as seen above, when the sky is lost and the background turns to dark trees, the exposure becomes longer and motion blur is an issue;
5, Image stabilizing only goes so far, and quick movements at 600mm are enough to overcome its benefits;
6, I tried backing off from 600mm, which actually helped a little. Even though the osprey was smaller in the frame and thus harder for the AF to resolve, it was easier to keep more centered and focus wandering was thus reduced a little.
[I’d considered doing video of this too, and believed yesterday that I’d missed my opportunity by not bringing along the tripod and gimbal head – but the 7D does not do live autofocus with video, and so, as above, focus would be off far too often. But perhaps I’ll try with the camcorder…]
Given all that, this one was close, though:
Would have been better a little later (like 1/4 second or so – things happen quickly at this point,) but at least the AF and exposure played nice this time. In fact, this immediately followed:
Unlike pelicans or gannets, osprey tend to hit fish near the surface, and often arrest their submergence with their wings. I’ve never been in a vantage where I could see what they were diving after – I’d probably have to be above them when they started their dive, obvious difficulties with that – but I’ve always had the impression that they don’t even approach a meter in depth.
And I have plenty of images after splashdown, when the osprey rises from the water again with a fish:
And this, very dynamic:
Each time they lift from the water and fly off, with a fish or without, they gain about 4-8 meters in altitude and a proper airspeed before they do a hard shake to rid themselves of excess water, which always results in a small loss of altitude and odd poses when frozen by the camera:
And while they missed a lot of dives, they also caught a lot of fish.
We’ll go in closer on this same frame, to let you try to identify the fish species:
I don’t known fish at all, and don’t feel like looking it up – it is, by this point, bird feces anyway.
We need another sequence to show a little detail:
The osprey is looking a bit waterlogged here, and was taking a bit of time to climb back up out of the water – which they actually do amazingly well, flapping straight up into the air without preliminaries. This one had a reason for the delay, though.
This isn’t the best view – that’s coming – but the fish is pretty big and obviously a bit of weight for the bird to handle. Know that birds are a lot lighter than they look, being more feathers than flesh and having hollow bones, so the fish may have weighed nearly half what the osprey did. But note the blood on the side of the fish.
These photos are sequential and, I’m almost positive, at the lower frame rate of the 7D which is 3 frames-per-second – the EXIF info seems to agree, plotting these all within the same second.
I rarely see blood on the captures of osprey, partially because the birds’ talons remain deeply embedded and close the punctures, but this one’s bleeding copiously, a few seconds after capture.
The osprey was extremely cooperative in circling around and doing a pass right in front of me – they knew I was there, occasionally glancing down at me as the shutter/winder whirred away, but not otherwise concerned. The fish can now be seen with a blood trail off of the tail, and the size of the fish is more apparent. I’ll let you contemplate the size of the crop and stomach within this bird, but there’s a good chance this was food for two adults and two to three bebbies. Even with that, they were eating well.
[Another note about frame speed: the 7D can also do a high-speed rate of 8 frames-per-second, which I rarely use because frame speed is only a marginal benefit – timing works much better. It remains possible that at the 8 FPS setting, the autofocus wouldn’t wander as much because there’s no time between frames for it to re-register the scene on the sensor, but it also means that the viewfinder is virtually blacked out entirely and tracking the bird accurately would be impossible anyway. Still investigating options.]
By the way, I mentioned that several birds glanced down at me as I stood on the water’s edge, and this is one of them:
Somehow, dog only knows how, not one of the frames I took as they did this remained in sharp focus. It’s possible that some of them, this one included, were because the birds were actually too close – this is full-frame at 483mm focal length, so…
Birds have an oil they secrete and spread around their feathers to waterproof them, but there appears to be a limit, and my subjects yesterday were exceeding their limits.
That’s one wet-looking bird, but the temperature was balmy and no rain forecast for a few days, so no risk at all. But I imagine quite a bit of preening was going on later in the day.
And subsequent frame with dynamic water droplets:
Sure, I’d rather this be from the front, which is extremely hard to accomplish – they virtually never face shore when fishing – but I’m not discarding this frame because of it.
I’ll also point out that, especially at this short a distance, the range of sharp focus isn’t huge – look at the tail feathers, and then at the head…
A quick one because I liked the peek:
This one was backing, and thus should have been looking at the water, but it may have just abandoned the maneuver and not yet resumed a gliding flight. There were plenty of false alarms.
I haven’t yet sorted what I’ve taken in the past few days, and I know there will be a lot of discards, which is fine – I have enough keepers. I want to show this particular one off.
This is full-frame at 600mm focal length, with the talons dropping as the bird contemplated a dive. Clicking on the image with take you to a full-resolution crop, and you want to do that because the detail from an airborne bird is almost disturbing – you can make out the scales on the legs! I’m pleased with it, is what I’m saying.
On my initial unloading, hoping to see some specific things, I was a little irked to find I’d missed some of the frames that I thought I might have caught this time, but overall, I have more than enough to make the mere hour spent down there worthwhile, so I’m good with it. And know that I discarded a few resized images that I’d prepped for this post, too. 26 is enough.
I have a small number of images to post from an outing yesterday, but first, some images from a later outing (because they’re fewer and easier and I’m lazy.) We’ll start with a comparison.
That’s the moon on top, seen through many obscuring tree branches because I wasn’t out there after the moon, but I was using it for sharp focus, because what I was out there after was too small and bright to resolve for optimum clarity – that’s the bottom of the pic. It’s Venus, and these were shot back to back at the same magnification, but not the same exposure, because I was after this:
That’s at full resolution through the 600mm lens with the not-quite-2x converter. Venus does actually show phases, but the crescents tend to be hard to see because it’s getting close to the sun at those times, and thus often in daylight or twilight. Nonetheless, this is the first I’ve gotten a decent image of the half-phase, and had to play around a lot with exposure to get it – you know how bright Venus is in the sky, so this is considerably less exposure time than the moon itself. 1/125 for the moon, 1/800 for Venus, both at f14, ISO 1600.
Yet those weren’t the primary thing that I was out there after, which is instead this:
This is Mars among the stars of M44, also known as the Beehive Cluster, Praesepe, NGC 2632, and Cr 189, because it’s got a rap sheet as long as your arm. In checking out Stellarium the other night I saw that Mars would be right in the middle of this cluster within the constellation of Cancer, and since we had clear skies I had to give it a shot. Right offhand, I don’t know why Mars was as dim as this, appearing only as bright as some of the common stars and not at all like a planet. The stars seen here, however, were pretty dim, only resolved through the long lens largely because of that nearly-full moon lighting up the sky. We’ll see some other examples a little later on.
Clearing the folder of just a handful of photos that didn’t fit into any particular theme, and had too little story behind them.
While out at Goose Creek Game Lands near the coast (not very close at all to Goose Creel State Park,) my brother and I were on the edge of a large pool where at least two northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) were intent on the area where we stood, repeatedly ducking beneath the surface and returning, often closer, sometimes from a different approach. I’d never seen such insistence from a snake, but having witnessed mating just a few days earlier, I searched the area for a female, to no avail. This one eventually came right up to the edge of the small retaining wall that I stood next to, less than a meter from my feet; had I been inclined and moved fast, I could have snagged it in the water. This would have earned me several exuberant bites, because water snakes are like that, but there was no particular gain to this so I let it be.
And I find as I check the EXIF info, this next one was taken on the same day, but ‘back home.’
After the drive back, my brother was still interested in exploring but we didn’t have a lot of time left in the day, so it was down to Jordan Lake around sunset, where this great blue heron (Ardea herodias herodias) posed against the reflection of the sky – which was a lot better-looking than sunset itself. My brother wanted to shortcut through the woods to get to the lake edge and thus never saw this scene.
Another just for giggles.
Had to show the fruits of my efforts, quite literally, because these are lemons on one of the trees that were overwintering in the greenhouse when they started to blossom, so they were hand-pollinated by me – clearly, this worked. And they have my nose, poor saps.
You know the drill, or at least you would if you were a regular reader that was not strictly imaginary: it’s the last day of the month and time for the end of the month abstract, or my own esoteric interpretation of that term. Which looks like this:
The light was right for these American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) leaves, and the overlapping textures and shades actually made them a bit fartistic. What a deal!
But that’s not all that we have for the month…
When a pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) took off and did a quick circuit right near me, I tracked them in flight, with the background blurring a bit from the camera motion. Actually, there were three ducks, another male in there as well, but he was lagging far behind and, while I got him in the frame, it was so wide that it didn’t work well for the blog usage. He eventually peeled off and went in another direction, realizing he was a third wheel I suppose, or heading off to get Good & Plentys. You know how ducks are…
Just some images from a few relatively recent trips to the neighborhood pond. I’m not sure if I mentioned, but while over there several days back without the camera in hand, I spotted a green heron that was far smaller than typical, and I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of it since. Or even see it again, which hasn’t yet happened. But while attempting this, I’ve been snagging other photos.
A great blue heron (Ardea herodias herodias) was intent on fishing and let me pass close by, much closer than it would have normally – I can say this because this one’s a resident and we’ve met before.
As high as the pond weeds seem here, they’re actually not that big; the heron is just in slightly deeper water while the weeds sprout (more or less) from the surface. As I watched, the heron slowly sank almost from sight.
I knew how thick the weeds were right there, but they’re a favorite spot for the minnows because of just this kind of threat; the heron had a hard time seeing them down there and was leaning in like a nearsighted nature blogger. Had I not already known it was there, I could have easily missed it at this point. But the heron didn’t miss.
Not much of a meal for the time spent stalking it, but better than nothing. It held the fish like this for a short while, which was odd because a fish this size hardly needs positioning to be swallowed, but I got my shots before it disappeared anyway.
Not too far away, I spotted a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in the exact same muddy channel as before, so I’m assuming it’s the same one. This time, I fired some frames as it passed by, submerged now as the water got just a wee bit deeper.
I realize this is a little hard to make out, given the coloration and the distortion of the water, but that’s the turtle’s back to the right rising above the surface, while its head and neck stretch out to the left, colored a mottled deep green from the adhering algae. We’ll go in closer.
Still obscure, but the eyes can now be seen, questing for likely the same minnows as the heron – when it can’t catch ducklings or goslings of course. Snappers are serious predators of baby waterfowl, but it all maintains nature’s balance.
I’ve only seen one beaver over there so far this season, right as the light’s falling at dusk, but I won’t affirm that this is the only one – been fooled by that before. No pics yet, though I got this frame as proof of activity while over at night after the next subject.
That’s a tree root near the edge of the water, with the bark stripped off – recently, as evidenced by the ‘sweating’ sap. This kind of evidence is a lot sparser than last year, so it’s easy for me to believe there really is only one, though why this might be the case I can’t say – they typically raise their young for a couple of years before kicking them out, and my views of the one wasn’t sufficient to give me any idea about size to tell if it was an adult or juvenile. Perhaps we’ll see later on.
But that was an incidental capture, while I was specifically after this:
What we see here is a batch of newborn spiders in the nursery webbing around the egg sac. I’ve seen this kind of thing before and, also given its proximity to the water, I’m identifying these as likely fishing spiders, genus Dolomoedes. I never spotted the mother despite looking carefully, but I’m almost certain that they’re six-spotted fishing spiders (Dolomedes triton,) because that’s the only species that I’ve found in the area. This was only with the Mamiya 80mm macro without the extention and I wanted more detail, so I returned later on with the reversed 28-105 ‘super macro.’ This was a little better.
Now, here was the challenge: they were small enough to barely make out any detail even at high magnification, and remaining within the nursery. This meant that the ones closest and easiest to see were also on the inside wall of the nursery, and thus showing their undersides to me. Eventually, I located one in clear view that allowed me more of a portrait shot.
Still could be clearer, but probably not while still in the web, and that eye pattern just about confirms that they’re fishing spiders. I had no way of introducing scale, so the best I can say is they’re only a couple of millimeters in total leg spread, easy to mistake for chaff – a threat to gnats and little else. They can eventually get to have a leg span the size of your palm, so in the range of a hundred times larger, though I won’t vouch for this occurring in a single season; a lot on arthropods have their entire life cycle in a single warm season, but spiders can weather over and might last several years. Still, the size difference is remarkable, and you can see an adult and newborns here – just, not necessarily her newborns.
I’ve had a handful of photos from the past few weeks to get to, and have been shirking. To celebrate, we’ll have a few from today instead, because that makes sense…
The past three days have been overcast, mostly raining, and so not a lot of opportunity for nature photos (that I didn’t already fake,) but today at least the rain had stopped and the temperature climbed back up a little. Standing outside the front door, I thought I saw some movement on the Japanese maple and stared at it, thinking I could see something behind the leaves, when I realized the mover was right in front of me, blending in quite well.
Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, but in my defense, my initial vantage was several times farther than this appears, so the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) was much more subtle – I’ll let you imagine the scene with the surroundings repeating for many times the size of this frame. The anole was probably out for the first time in three days, attempting to gather as much heat as possible from the invisible sun, thus the deep brown color. As for the mottling, that might be related, or it might be from the recent shed (the remnants of which can be seen on the anole’s nose,) or it might be something else entirely. Remember: uneducated photographer, not learnéd herpetologist. (I’m putting myself through college on the proceeds from my photo sales – so far I have a pencil.)
But I took the opportunity while the anole was curiously posing with its mouth open.
I waited patiently for it to impart some ancient wisdom, because I saw movies in the 80s and played video games, but nothing was forthcoming. I was probably doing things out of order, and had to find the Stone of Coreopsis first…
And then we changed vibes.
This is that look right before it figures out how to open the door to the kid storage. Much more impressive in this magnification and cropping – the mouth was about the size of my fingernail, so the threat wasn’t exactly compelling.
One more, only a few meters away.
This tiny little green treefrog (Dryophytes cinereus) has been hanging around the same area for close to two weeks, which means it’s about due to find a new spot, if my experience is any judge (remember: pencil.) It is about the size of the top joint of my finger, which makes me believe it’s from late last year’s brood. But it has it all figured out, perched neatly on the leaf of a day lily while sheltered by the larger (though not as cooperatively-colored) peony leaves above it, out of the frame here. It gets a little early morning sunlight, on the days that we have sun anyway, but is in shade for the rest of the day as it gets hot. When it gets hot. One of these days I’ll make the attempt to video more of their activities, but I expect that to be involved: setting up the lights (on AC power) before it gets dark so the frog is acclimated to them, with a tripod that has as good a vantage of future movements as possible, and endeavoring not to move or make any sounds to clue the frog in that there’s danger nearby – it could take hours, is what I’m saying. But the resulting video might net me a notebook, so I should be getting right on it.
I can easily claim that title, fully aware that I might even be underselling myself, but I’m trying to improve. This post is a small example of those efforts, at least.
Here’s the deal. I am (or was) presently writing a new composition post, and therein I stated the importance of having accurate color and gamma results from your computer monitor. The best way to do this is with a color spyder, but they tend to be expensive for the simple thing that they do, which is to look at what is ostensibly a neutral grey display through a little camera that sticks to the monitor, and then make any corrections needed in software to ensure that it is neutral grey (if it helps, this is also called a colorimeter.)
Reasoning that smutphones have their own cameras and there’s an app for everything, I tried out two apps intended to measure the light reaching the smutphone camera on a full white portion of the monitor display, a blank document. This shouldn’t be a hard thing to measure, especially since I wasn’t requiring any adjustments to be made, just an accurate account of what was being produced. Right?
One app yielded an RGB value of 166:166:175, which is damn close to bang-on – those figures should all be the same, regardless of how high they are. RGB values range from 0 (full darkness) to 255 (full brightness,) in each of the Red, Green, and Blue registers available through the monitor, so these results indicated a slight shift to blue, but nothing at all detrimental. The camera metering function is very likely to fudge brightness values by trying to achieve midtones, 18% grey, though hopefully the app would override this, but in no way is my monitor going to reach the brightness of a sunny day outdoors, so we accept the limitations.
The other app, however, yielded a color temperature of 7800 Kelvin from that same blank document, which is way the hell off into the blue end of the spectrum – neutral white light should be around 5500 K.
Since I calibrate my monitor periodically and am fairly adept at spotting color casts, I’d be inclined to say that the first app was accurate – but I have no way of determining this independently, and they both could be off. Long story short: unless it’s been independently measured with a method of known accuracy, using an app as a colorimeter will not necessarily help you at all and could throw you way off. And not just from the algorithms of the app itself, but the smutphone camera or the processing firmware could have its own color cast. As I measured, the smutphone display was showing a gradient red cast to the top of the white document, and a blue one to the bottom, no matter where I shifted the camera, most likely evidence of chromatic aberration from the lens itself because this is already a known trait.
Now, obsessing about this is pointless, unless you’re a graphics professional (perhaps not even then,) because your meticulous efforts are often in pursuit of tiny variations, only to be displayed on someone else’s monitor with much more significant color issues because they’ve never once calibrated it. This says nothing of our own brains performing ‘white balance’ efforts because we see things in differing light temperatures all day long and will still consider the paper “white.”
But a truncated version of all this was originally going to go into that post before I shifted it here instead; I find it useful info, but it would detract from the main purpose of that post. Which is coming soon enough.
[Should you want to check your own monitor for accuracy, a great set of guides can be found at the Lagom LCD Monitor test page, though you’ll have to determine on your own how to actually adjust the brightness, contrast, and gamma within your system or on the monitor itself.]
I’ve been half-heartedly trying to recreate this image for a couple years now, and finally managed it this past World Turtle Day – mostly because, this time, I’d loaded the original into my smutphone and could do direct comparisons while on site. The location given is within a few meters, because it slipped my mind to plot it exactly with the same smutphone and the aerial views I am now working from are too obscured by trees. But the image that I was duplicating, more or less, is this one:
Carefully comparing the two will reveal that I did not get exactly the right angle, but the details are close enough to show that I finally had the right spot – I’d done several different frames nearby on previous visits but never quite got the match; turns out I needed to be a tad further downriver. Despite the copyright tag, this image actually dates from July 2000 – I had scanned a bunch of slides for the then-new website but hadn’t noted date stamps, so the tag represents the first use online. Clearly, things were growing a bit more exuberantly in this image, but the slide film also did a much better job with the colors.
I was also working from a tripod for the latter, earlier image – the one from 2000 that appears second on the page, I mean – but handheld and counting on the stabilized lens for the former, latter image. Confused yet? Good. I wasn’t planning to do this shot at all, but recalled it while there and plotted it successfully. Not long afterward, my intestines said, Guess what we need to be doing soon?, and since there’s only one thing that’s ever on their mind, I was forced to hike to the facilities a few hundred meters away.
This whole region was a regular haunt when I lived in Raleigh, and many of my first slides are from here when I switched over on the advice from professional photographers. Somewhere nearby is the lock-screw from my old tripod, too, lost while on an excursion. My first professional publications were images and subjects gathered about 20 meters away. It’s a great area to check out, so if you’re nearby, go! But mind the poison ivy…