On this date 32

young white-tailed deer buck Odocoileus virginianus looking wary
I remarked a few weeks back that that particular day in my shooting history was pretty lightly populated, and this is the opposite; I shot a lot on August 5th over the years. This is among the first in the folders, a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) buck, just starting to grow its annual antlers, looking at me warily as I leaned on the railing of my second-floor deck. Back then (this being 2007,) I lived bordering a large wooded section and was delighted to have visitors like this. Funny, we’re much more urban now, and we tend to see a lot more. It’s not like deer really thrive on the things that come with population, unlike raccoons and opossums, but they’re certainly enjoying the potted plants that we’ve kindly provided for them in our front yard.

[We have not provided anything for the deer at all, and are trying to convince said deer to leave the plants the hell alone, with mixed results.]

On to 2010.

juvenile Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis perched on photographer's thumb
Same place, not long before I moved in with The Girlfriend, and I was also delighted to have achieved a resident Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis.) By resident, I mean, “within a flower pot,” which led to this charming pic. Again, reflections on changes, since I can usually find one roughly every other evening around here now, though as I said before, I was/am also happy that the greens are outnumbering the greys. And as I type this (early Tuesday morning, like a little after midnight,) Hurricane Isaias is rolling in, the sweltering temperatures have dropped a bit, the rain is near-constant, and the frogs are happier than shit. I should be doing video, but I have to be up early, um, later on today.

Chinese early in molting processIn 2015, I was out on this date doing a very long sequence of molting Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis) – as well as a cicada – but technically the series started the day before. I do recall that the night was very hot and humid, even this late/early (boy, the midnight date change makes my blog semantics annoying,) and I was sweating profusely despite sitting mostly unmoving on the ground alongside the various plants. But you really need to go to that link, because this is one of the best series that I’ve shot, and the detail is Too Cool.

I remarked therein that I regretted not capturing the very beginning of the process, for any of the subjects that presented themselves that night, and it took another three years to finally achieve that goal. The next goal – along these lines anyway – is to do a time-lapse animation of the process; video is pointless because it takes something like an hour for the molting to take place.

Later that day, by the way, came the bird photos found here – like I said, a productive day. But a year later in 2016, I was chasing rainbows. Well, no, I was actually standing still and letting the rainbows come to me, which sounds a lot less futile.

supernumerary rainbow over saturated
This is a supernumerary rainbow, rare but not hugely so – they’re just more subtle than this. It’s clearly altered, but only to increase saturation and contrast to make the perfectly natural effects more visible. I go into more detail in the original post.

Now, we have a twofer for 2016 and 2017, but as curiosities, because in the spreadsheet that I created to do these posts, I have the images listed by date, followed by the folders they reside within, and 2016 and 2017 were sequential in the Leaves/Plants/Trees folder, so these two images were ‘adjacent.’

rain on rose bush and balloon flower along decorative sweet potato leaves
So on the left, we have 2016’s photo of the rose bush showing the same rain that produced the rainbow above, while on the right, 2017’s shot of a balloon flower and decorative sweet potato vine in a planter alongside the front porch a year later, done mostly for the colors.

And finally, we come full-circle back to the Mammals folder for the second 2017 image, a shot that I thought I’d posted back then, but apparently not.

eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus with growth on nose
The eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) visit the yard sporadically each summer, often as adorable juveniles, and provide some viewing entertainment in the evenings right around sundown. This particular one was sporting some growth on its nose, but don’t ask me what, because I’ve never seen anything quite like it – I can’t tell you if it’s simply scar tissue from some odd injury, or a genetic anomaly, or a malignant tumor. If they visited more often, I might have been able to at least see how this one seemed to be getting on, but I recall that we only saw it once after that. Sounds ominous, but the whole area is prime real estate to the rabbits and they freely roam around the neighborhood, so this one might simply have frequented other yards.

But yeah, August 5th has historically proven to be a good day for shooting; as I said, I’m typing this on the 4th, so I don’t know yet if this year will continue the trend. We’ll just have to see what else comes up in the next posts.

[This is how I get lots more page hits, as readers excitedly keep checking back. Drives me right to the top of search engines and ratings, let me tell you.]

Two quick greens

It’s 14 minutes to tomorrow, and I haven’t posted anything for a few days, so a couple of quick ones to sneak in under the wire. Oldest first.

green heron Butorides virescens being shy at dusk
On the same say that we were stalking the juvenile yellow-crowned night heron, I spotted a green heron (the ostensible target of the evening, before I found the other,) and snagged only a quick peek through the branches. But I got the eye at least.

And the other night, while I was talking to a friend on the phone, I found this green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) and did a quick portrait in a dynamic pose, with the streetlight creating a faint halo. This was intentional, and to that end I shot wide open at f4, but the focus was a wee bit off. I am ashamed, but it’s barely noticeable at blog resolution, so if I stick to only showing things off here, I’m good.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea with halo
But hey, deadline met.

Now July me down to sleep

Wow, even I don’t like that one!

But you’re not here for the wordplay, you’re here for the month-end abstract. So let’s see, what do we have for the contestants?

Coopers hawk Accipiter cooperii not holding still for the camera
While chasing the brood of Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) that occupied Walkabout Estates, I snagged this motion-blurred example – image stabilizing lenses only work for the camera’s motion, not the subject’s. Had it not been for that head, it would have been a lot more difficult to determine what this even was.

I must note, by the way, that after making that post, I heard the young calling in the distance for a day or two, then nothing at all; they’ve left the area now, off on their own, so I’m glad I got what I did. This is contrasted against the red-shouldered hawks a few years back, who left the nest and vanished entirely – different species, different fledging habits.

And another, more abstracty.

fine orb web catching morning light edge on
This one does much better at higher resolution, and may become a large print that makes people go in close, because the web strands stay sharp – at least, within the focus range in the center. There are just enough details to make it work, for me anyway: the sparkle of the light off the strands, the parachute-like billow in the middle, the clarity of the web structure at lower left, and the curves of the highlights at lower center. It also helped that I was shooting with a wide open aperture, so the background got rendered in soft round blobs instead of aperture-shapes like pentagons or septagons. Little things, little things…

On this date 31

juvenile eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus on tree
This week, we start off back in 2010, with a juvenile eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus,) quite small yet still a couple of times larger than the subject from a few days ago. It looks like it was taken at night, but fence lizards aren’t really active at night; this was taken at 3:45 PM, and is instead the effect of a small aperture and relying on the flash as the main light source. The ambient light wasn’t enough to expose into the shadows at those settings, so we have this high-contrast rendering, obviously taken before I had worked out a decent softbox arrangement. Things changed later on.

jagged ambush bug genus Phymata nymph on dog fennel Eupatorium capillifolium
Another taken in the afternoon, and if anything, the lens used would have let in even less light, but by this point (2013) I had the first of my successful softboxes. This is a jagged ambush bug (genus Phymata,) hanging out on one of the dog fennel plants, which had their own history. Earlier in the year, or perhaps the previous, I had planted seeds for several species of wildflower, specifically to encourage photo subjects, and this was one of the plants that came up; by the time that I realized it was a weed, it was getting quite tall and already proving popular with numerous species of arthropods, so it remained, for multiple years, and gave me plenty of photo opportunities. This ambush bug was just one of them, so small that it looked like a stray flower petal unless one looked very close, but their appearance is cool enough that a close look is warranted.

By the way, I’ve had dog fennel come up in the yard here for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t proven anywhere near as inviting to the insects this time, not sure why.

Imperial moth Eacles imperialis close up of head
This one is slightly disturbing, not because of its appearance of course, but in that I recalled this as having been taken last year, maybe the year before, but it was actually taken five years ago – I’m going to consider this a fluke and not an indication that my memory is going to hell. I include it here because, late yesterday as I type this, I heard a clattering at the office window and opening the blinds to find another one of these, which is an imperial moth (Eacles imperialis,) and they’re massive, nearly covering your entire hand. I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t the same one though, because they don’t even have mouths or probosci or any way to eat as adults – all they do is breed at this stage, and that lasts only a few days.

And another from the same year, because I have to.

unidentified grasshopper nymph in extreme closeup.
I’m not going to try to identify this grasshopper, which might even be a katydid species instead, because I didn’t get enough full anatomy shots and it’s likely an earlier instar anyway. We just needed this here for the detail, especially the eye facets, but the translucent quality of the chitin was a factor too. And one more thing, which is the rectangular reflection of the light source in the eye. I had thought I was further ahead in the folders, but saw this detail and realized it looked like the flash and softbox that had failed several years ago, and thus rechecked the dates; that’s what caught me about the moth above, because they were taken on the same date. It’s slightly amusing that I can tell what ‘era’ a photo is from by the evidence of the equipment used.

A break

I was busy writing the ‘On this date’ post for this week, early this morning, when an app on my phone alerted me to lightning activity in the area. It’s been doing this for the past couple of weeks, due to the weather conditions, and it’s either been too far away to be worth pursuing, or late afternoon when lightning photography is not worth attempting. The one exception had been just after sunset when there was an active cell south of Jordan Lake, which might put in plain view with those nice low horizons along the lake, so I went down there. I was setting up the tripod and looking out over the water when I saw a nice simultaneous triple strike, right where I would be aiming the camera in, oh, about another thirty seconds. And they were the only visible bolts for the whole session.

But the strikes outlined in this particular storm looked promising, so I grabbed the camera and tripod and scooted over to the nearby pond, which provides a moderately decent horizon and foreground interest. And yes, there was definitely lightning activity to be seen, but mostly distant and hidden by clouds. Most frames held nothing, but the few that did featured a patch of purple clouds that were almost overwhelmed by the ambient light off of the low clouds, captured during the time exposures.

barest eviodence of distant lightning strike
There was no particular cell that seemed the most active, and rapidly changing conditions, with a smattering of rain (I had the rain cover on the camera so I was fine, and didn’t need one for myself.) I waited, because going in too soon is always a bad idea. So is going in too late, for that matter, but that can be my epitath.

And gradually, it looked like maybe things were developing a bit better, though still not all that great.

big lightning strike illuminating clouds while invisible
The sky would light up, sometimes brilliantly, but I wouldn’t see any but the barest hint of an actual lightning bolt – they were still too distant, and did not seem to be moving into range. Which was not typical, because I’m aiming mostly west here and that’s into the prevailing winds and storm travel.

But, patience.

brilliant high lightning strike over pond

While still pretty distant (the thunder took ten seconds or so to arrive,) this was a lot closer than all the rest, stretching way up into the sky, with all those branches and even that long arm disappearing and reappearing off to the left. And seriously, it was the only one so visible. Looking at it now, I regret that I wasn’t aiming vertically to capture more of it, but there was no indication that it would be so great.

I hung around for another 20 minutes, even capturing one that bleached the sky pure white in places, but never got any kind of distinct bolt again. Still, this one had occurred when I was thinking it might not be panning out at all, so I’m glad I was patient. I hadn’t captured anything in a while, and I was due.

Now I’m happy

So, you surely remember when I first noticed a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) in the yard, and I was pleased because I was hoping to get some established and this was the first sign? And then, a month later I saw it again, proof at least that it was still hanging around? Well, I was wandering around the yard a few hours ago while on the phone, shining a flashlight around casually, and got greeted with this:

very young Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on Japanese maple
That’s a very young one, obviously hatched nearby, because its overall length (with its long whip tail) is less than 60mm, meaning the body itself is maybe a hair over 20, and the head only 5mm wide – that’s less than a pencil. It could sit comfortably on your little finger, is what I’m saying, though here it’s perched on the Japanese maple, right up top where I could spot it easily.

Let’s go in a little closer.

very young Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis on Japanese maple
I’m doing a slight disservice with these photos, since being this close isn’t giving a good impression of how cute and tiny it is, but I had no way to provide useful scale without spooking it, and of course I’m still going in for the portrait shots.

This is more success than I was expecting – having a new brood, I mean, since I wasn’t sure if we even had more than the one adult. And actually, it probably shouldn’t be called a ‘brood,’ since they lay only one egg at a time, as I just discovered while researching details for this post. Certainly an auspicious start, but also slightly concerning, since a little over a meter away, one of the resident Chinese mantises had just molted into adult form, massing easily many times the size of this lizard, and quite capable of taking it as a meal. I’d feel better about there being more than one.

By the way, I tried to be welcoming, and provide a little mist for drinking water – the mantids adore this – but the anole got a little panicky at the touch of the water droplets so I stopped. It’s in an area packed with potted plants receiving routine waterings, with lots of prey insects, so it’s got the basics covered; it just has to avoid predators. We’ll have to see what happens.

Sometimes it works

Back at the beginning of the month, I lucked out and got some frames of a rare subject around here, but I was still in the throes of code mangling and didn’t want to do a post then. Looking at them later, I felt they didn’t stand too well alone, and wanted to get something to accompany them. Yesterday evening before dinner, I did a quick pass around the neighborhood pond and, to my utter astonishment (okay, maybe it was only mild delight,) actually got what I was after. As the title says, sometimes it works. But as my experience says, don’t get used to that.

juvenile yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea stalking alongside pond
The Girlfriend and I were out in the evening just before sunset, back on the 2nd, and I was stalking the secretive green heron brood that I knew was in the immediate area, when this guy appeared between the gravel road and the pond margin, not terribly concerned with people being nearby. This is a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea,) about adult size but bearing none of the coloration of an adult, save for the eyes.

Adult size, by the way, is roughly the same as a crow in body length and girth, with of course a longer neck – perhaps slightly larger than a green heron, but not appreciably. I usually find them more towards the coast, though I think they run the entire state of Florida. The Girlfriend and I spotted another juvie last year, poking around the edge of the pond at night, but I couldn’t determine for sure if it was a yellow-crowned or a black-crowned; as juveniles, they’re almost identical.

juvenile yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea in profile
This one was definitely hanging around the green herons, which seemed a little odd to me, but it wasn’t half as spooky as those tend to be, so when my cautious approach nevertheless sent the green herons across the lake, my subject here glanced casually at me and went back to its hunting. The sun had set, the light was dropping, and I knew I wasn’t going to get a whole lot more opportunities – if past experience was any indication, the pond was only a brief stopover before it moved on to somewhere else. So while it was posed so nicely in a break in the foliage, I shot a little video. None of that is worth viewing, since handheld at 600mm is enough to make even me seasick, but I got very lucky in that it called during one clip, and I was able to extract the audio, to which I applied a little noise reduction to cull the sound of the main road a few hundred meters away.

Call of juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

juvenile yellow-crowned night heron Nyctanassa violacea looking at photographer
As disapproving as it looks here, the night heron really wasn’t too concerned with our presence, though we remained very low key. It vented a single call every few minutes, which was eventually answered in the distance – as you might imagine, they carry better than most bird calls – and mom (I suppose) appeared wheeling overhead, whereupon the young’un took flight and joined her, and they flew off over the trees. Haven’t seen a sign of either since, nor heard any calls.

A few days later (while checking, donchaknow,) there was a great egret (Ardea alba) that came in and perched high in one of the trees off the pond. This happens occasionally, and again, always temporarily, but I suspect part of that is because there is usually a great blue that stakes its territory on the pond, which is lacking this year. I was working at a much greater distance than with the night heron, so this is what we have.

great egret Ardea alba perched in tree
And again, every time I’ve been out since has shown no sign of it. I get the feeling this pond is a like a bus stop for wading birds…

But what I’ve been after for a while are the green herons (Butorides virescens) – off and on, admittedly, when time permits, so it’s not like I’ve been out for hours each day trying. Two years running now, we’ve had a brood that, if I’m reading the signs correctly, were hatched in a thicket of trees on the pond’s edge within easy reach, but they’re so thick, I can know that two herons are perched therein and never spot them. The edge is straight through there for a ways, so the only open view I might have is from on the water, something I’m not attempting with the photo equipment. So I watch carefully, hoping to see them hunting along the water’s edge, though usually they see me before I see them and fly off.

Not quite with last night’s attempt, though.

green heron  Butorides virescens stalking on mudbar
I was only out for a chance encounter, intending to spend no more than a half-hour or so, and came across this one down at the quiet, shaded end of the pond; when I first spotted it, it was stretched straight and tall, watching me, trying to emulate a reed. I slipped back behind a tree and affixed the long lens, then slowly crept out and had a seat on the ground for stability, and got a small selection of photos, getting a little lucky with the sun peeking through the branches.

green heron Butorides virescens and reflection
The one thing I’ve noticed about green herons is that, if they’re actively hunting, they tune out the approach of humans a whole lot more than normally, and slow quiet stalking can produce a closer vantage. This one seemed torn between my presence and the minnow activity in the shallows, and hung around a bit, though staring frequently at me in suspicion; I wasn’t moving, but the shutter and motor drive was doing its thing.

green heron Butorides virescens stalking on mudflat
The heron did a little stalking, not even getting close enough to strike, then abruptly seemed to feel that I was too much of a danger and flew off. I’m cool; for a quick, casual attempt, I got enough decent frames. I went home, cooked dinner, and then got into game night online, so overall, I count yesterday as well spent – I did better yesterday with a half-ass outing, than today with a prolonged one (previous post.) Whatever works.

Today, a turtle

juvenile turtle likely eastern river cooter Pseudemys concinna concinna perched on rock in early morning light
Likely an eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna,) even though we were not on the Eastern River, but the Eno River instead; it’s probably them damn unoriginal biologists wanting to call everything eastern, like there was some kind of east/west civil war that the east lost and still gets cranky about nearly 200 years later. This was from an outing today, about the only worthwhile frames from a slow and hot morning. I had lugged the 150-600mm along, which allowed me to get this kind of view of a turtle much smaller than my palm in the middle of the river.

I have more coming, but not from today, and not of turtles. I just wanted to post the two pics that will otherwise sit in the blog folder like orphans awaiting similar frames or subjects. Plus that one above seems to need a dramatic caption.

juvenile turtle likely eastern river cooter Pseudemys concinna concinna portrait

Here and… well, here

Continuing the posting of recent-ish photos (meaning those mostly taken while I was hashing out my ignorance of PHP to make things look ‘acceptable,’) we have these various offerings from the environs immediately surrounding Walkabout Studios, what the proletariat tend to refer to as the “front and back yards;” we will attempt to elevate this missive by using, at a minimum, the terms, “anterior and posterior meters.”

We’ll start off with a reappearance.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia leaf
A little over a month ago, I was pleased to spot the first ever Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) in the anterior meter, but then hadn’t seen it at all afterward – until a few days ago. It provided several poses on the oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) while eyeing me suspiciously. I’d like to encourage it to remain, but I’m not sure what I could do to make it more welcome, save for not bothering it too much. They like ants, but there are already beaucoup ants in that region so that bit’s covered. I have vague suspicions, from the coloration, that this one is female, so any male anoles that are looking for a neat place to stay should get in contact.

I had also remarked, many years back, that I was hoping to get the green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) more established in the yard, and I was certainly successful in that aspect, though the only part I played, if any, was providing a pond for breeding. The greens now outnumber the Cope’s greys by a significant margin and are easy to find just about any evening, and fairly often in the daytime, hiding out someplace waiting for the night’s food sources. Since they are prolific over at the neighborhood pond too, I doubt I had a hand in this at all, but hey, I’m good with the result. I’ll have to stake them out some evening and try to get video of them capturing food, but for the past few weeks, even the late-night temperatures are pretty uncomfortable, so I’ll need some motivation. Right now we gots still pichers, like this pose that I’m rather fond of.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea clutching upright plant stem
This was on a potted plant on the back deck, which they seem to like. I have to routinely check the grill over before each use, to be sure that neither the greens nor the greys have decided to hole up for the day under the cover. It occasionally leads to some interesting finds.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea spending the day under the gas grill
This is the supply hose from the propane tank. and while it was technically far enough to avoid most of the heat from the operation of the grill, I couldn’t be sure this guy wouldn’t get alarmed and jump someplace a lot more dangerous, so I moved it to a plant nearby before cooking dinner. Is it the same one in both photos? Could be – one of these days I’ll find a way to tell them apart. I’m reasonably certain this could be done accurately with a close examination of their iris patterns, but that’s not an easy method to implement.

Supposedly, we should have a lot more greys showing up too.

male and female Copes grey treefrogs Hyla chrysoscelis in amplexus on scouring rush Equisetum hyemale stalks
Back when we were actually getting rain, I would find a male calling from the posterior meter pond, and one night it became clear that this was successful. However, something odd has happened to the water therein, and none of the green frogs, nor the snails, nor any aquatic insect, seems to be living in there anymore, though the plants (like the scouring rush seen here) are doing fine. I can’t imagine why it suddenly became uninviting, but might have to drain it later this summer. I saw no evidence of eggs or tadpoles, though, so perhaps this happy couple found a better place to spawn.

A few weeks back, the meter suddenly erupted with tiny American toads (Anaxyrus americanus,) about thumbnail size and extremely well camouflaged, until they attracted attention by hopping out of the way. They didn’t like me leaning in with the macro rig, but I managed to follow one until it paused long enough.

juvenile Amercian toad Anaxyrus americanus in leaf litter
That bright red background is the same one seen here, though I have not seen a repeat of that performance since. C’mon, you know I couldn’t avoid posting it here if I did.

Only moments later and meters away (I mean, same posterior meter, but this time I’m referring to the 100cm kind,) I found a massive adult, so you can compare them.

adult American toad Anaxyrus americanus in leaf litter
Toads reproduce like frogs, laying their eggs in water to hatch into tadpoles before growing legs and emerging from the water, so the sudden abundance of toads right here would seem to indicate that the pond had been put to good use – except that I never saw any sign of tadpoles, much less the dozens that would have been necessary to spark the numbers seen in the meter. There are, to my knowledge, no other water sources nearby, save for the drainage channel off the back of the property, just far enough that I wouldn’t have thought so many toads would end up here, but I could be wrong about that.

We’ll be moving on to the arthropods now. Please return to your seats.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with raindrop on back
Back when we were actually getting decent rains, I went out not too long after a storm and found this juvenile Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) sporting the latest in spring fashion – ha! That’s a brilliant joke, because this was taken on June 20, the first day of summer! While the flash unit didn’t cut through the leaves onto the mantis terribly well, I was pleased with how the drop showed the background, though it would have been nicer had it captured a blossom cluster of this butterfly bush for a splash of color. Ah well.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on underside of butterfly bush Buddleia davidii leaves after molting
Later on that day, I found that the same one had just molted while underneath the leaves; I hadn’t noticed any signs of impending molt earlier, but they’re fairly subtle as it is.

At present, there are a wide range of sizes among the mantids, courtesy of both different hatching times and different species, with a nod towards more and less successful specimens I suppose. That same butterfly bush is now home to a pair of juvenile Carolina mantids (Stagmomantis carolina) – much smaller, and able to almost entirely disappear among the old and new blossoms.

juvenile Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina one new buds of butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
This species hatches over a month later than the Chinese mantises and as adults are only about half the size, so here, it’s not a lot larger than a newborn Chinese, probably 12-14mm in body length. As such, they’re not tackling a lot, but that’s okay; the butterfly bushes attract a very broad range of pollinators and nectar-seekers, part of the reason why I like having them in the meter. And here’s another:

butterfly bush Buddleia davidii with hidden white-banded crab spider - Misumenoides formosipes
I took this frame both the show scale and to illustrate how tricky it is to spot my next subject; if you’re familiar with butterfly bushes, you’ll know that the blossom clusters tend to be a little broader than your thumb, but about the same length, and if you’re not, well, they’re a little broader than your thumb but about the same length. And in there sits an occupant that I always encourage: a white-banded crab spider (Misumenoides formosipes) – look hard, you’ll find it. But sure, I went in for a better look.

white-banded crab spider - Misumenoides formosipes alongside blossom of butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
Even this close, it may not be very clear, given that there is only a partial view and at an atypical angle, but you’re looking straight into the face of the spider here, a row of eyes atop the hump of the head (cephalothorax) on the left, the legs spread wide in capture position. Any insect of the right size hits that one blossom and they’re toast, and crab spiders can tackle prey a lot larger than themselves. This one is still pretty small, but it has the opportunity to get a lot bigger. Provided it escapes the attention of the mantids, of course, yet chances are it will. Mantises hunt by movement, which crab spiders avoid, while if danger threatens the spider can dig deeper into the spaces between the blooms. They can easily share the plant.

Some of the mantises are getting big now.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis perched atop new butterfly bush Buddleia davidii buds
While there don’t seem to be any of the Chinese mantises remaining regularly on the butterfly bushes, they certainly visit often enough, especially the two bushes that sit near the old Japanese maple in the meter – we actually have four Japanese maples now, but three are potted, at least for the time being. The big, original one, that was here when we moved here, has tons of hiding places and is always a favorite of the mantids, though the butterfly bushes attract more prey, so the mantids visit a lot.

And as I said, the rain has been scarce recently, with some overwhelming heat during the day (like low thirties, and that means celsius,) so not only do we spend a lot of time bringing all of the plants water, I go around fairly often with a misting bottle, dousing the prime hiding places. The mantids appreciate this, and will usually scamper excitedly (or so it appears) to the upper leaves to collect as much water as possible, slurping it off of their forelimbs and eyes before it has a chance to evaporate.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis after being misted
Never let it be said that I don’t take care of my photo subjects…

I will close with a couple of frames (well, one) of the largest mantis in the meter, measuring roughly 50mm in length now – about two-thirds adult size, and five times as long as when it was hatched. It gave me a suspicious look from the top of the Japanese maple, but I didn’t have the misting bottle handy. This is the full frame.

larger juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis perched in Japanese maple
Some idea of the thickness of the foliage can be garnered from this image. Below, however, is the same frame, cropped tighter and magnified more to show the detail captured – I always love it when I get the focus this tight, even though I have plenty of examples like this. Mantids, at least, can hold still for a photo.

inset of same frame showing eye facets
And yes, I wasn’t lying about not having the misting bottle, so those little dewdrops atop one eye were collected from the leaves themselves as the mantis crawled among them. But the false pupils certainly have a bizarre look, don’t they? That’s partially because they’re a little out of focus here – the false pupil is an optical effect within the eye, not atop it.

Coming up: more birds. Still cleaning out the blog folder of the recent stuff.

On this date 30

early instar katydid emerging from molted exoskeleton
Much earlier in the year, I was noticing (and commented on, I believe) how the weather was showing distinct variability for the same date, but now, going through the archives is only reinforcing how sweltering it is at this time of year. I mean, I wasn’t expecting snow in July or anything, but with many of them I can remember how I felt while I was out shooting, and in most cases it was, “sweating profusely,” even though it was late at night; I don’t need reminders of that.

In 2013, I happened across what I believe is a juvenile katydid molting, probably first or second instar. Instar is how entomologists refer to life stages, wherein we might use years, but most arthropods go through their entire life cycle from spring to fall; spiders and cicadas are notable exceptions. There is no fixed number of instars, since it is a period between molts, and some arthropods continue to molt as reproducing adults while others die off soon after reproducing, so their adult form is considered their final instar. And it occurs to me, as prolific as katydids are around here, that I have too few photos of them in different stages – basically this, and adult form. This is partially because they lay eggs within leaves, between the upper and lower layers of a single leaf, so spotting the eggs or the hatching takes careful examination. I believe I’ve seen the adults laying once or twice, but I’m not sure I have photos of it. If I do, and it occurred on a date that falls on a Wednesday this year, you may see them later on – katydids have a fairly broad range of dates for adult phase, and we’re already hearing them sounding off at night, even though the one pictured here is weeks from that phase.

closeup of eye detail and green frog Lithobates clamitans
We jump ahead (a ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, my, such sophisticated humor!) to 2016 now, alongside the backyard pond that is almost always occupied by green frogs (Lithobates clamitans.) You recall how I ragged on biologists about naming everything on this coast, “eastern?” Well, this isn’t a lot better, and shouldn’t be confused with a green treefrog, which at the very least has green as its primary color while this one does not. Granted, the name probably comes from long before the Linnaean taxonomic system and was simply adopted from the most common monikers at the time, but then again, they had no problem renaming the green anole into the Carolina anole recently, even though the Linnaean/scientific name had not changed, so…

Anyway, we’re just here for the eye detail. But notice the round catchlight, from the flash diffuser/softbox, and the single spot from the flashlight that I was using to find this guy – the only way I was only going to get this close was late at night.

Not done with the eyes yet.

closeup of raindrop on eye of periodic cicada
In 2018, I had photographed the entire sequence of a cicada molting into final instar, but that was two years ago yesterday. Then it rained immediately afterward, and I went out once it stopped and did some detail pics of the new adult. Then after unloading the memory card and noticing how the raindrop acted on the eye facets, I went out again to do it better. By this time it had passed midnight and was now the 22nd, so it counts. I posted this then, a few days later (because editing those photos and then writing it all up took some time,) but I like this particular crop a little better. And to close, another from that same session, also posted then.

juvenile Copes grey treefrog in extreme closeup
I mentioned then that I would make a big print out of this, and I did; it was even showcased in the public show that I had late that year, now resides on the staircase gallery here at Walkabout Studios, and serves as my phone background. And it’s a composite, or if you prefer, a stacked photo: the depth-of-field at this magnification (the entire juvenile frog is the size of your fingernail) is so short that focus is sharp on very specific areas, so I joined two frames to broaden the focus range. Physically, it wasn’t possible to do this in-camera; any lens can only stop down so far, and even before reaching the minimum f-stop, diffraction starts to affect the image. But in this case, it was with the reversed 28-105 which has a fixed f16 anyway.

I know what you’re saying: you’re saying the focus range isn’t that great even with the stacking. [No, you’ve probably given up already and are texting your friends.] But yes, it was even shorter than this before, and while this is abject cheating, something a real photographer would never resort to, I’m not getting paid for this anyway, so I’m pleasing myself. Go get your own photos.

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