Visibly different, part 32

This week we have another variation of the topic, as we see visibly different examples of a photo subject from just this past weekend, quite possibly the largest extremes that I have encountered locally – certainly the largest in a single day. We’ll start small.

very young brown snake Storeria dekayi in author's palm
I initially took this to be a juvenile ringnecked snake, but on examining the photos after returning, I was suspicious of those markings and looked it up; it is instead the juvenile coloration of a brown snake, sometimes called Dekay’s brown snake (Storeria dekayi.) The pale neck markings will fade as it gets older, but the darker markings adjacent will remain. In North America, you can be sure ‘brown snake’ means this little spud (though the average adult is much bigger while not at all ‘big,’) but most references to ‘brown snakes’ will be for the Australian species of the same common name – much bigger and infinitely more venomous, since this guy has none at all while the Australian one proves fatal a bit too often. And yes, this is my own palm. This is the second one we (Mr Bugg and I) found while on this outing, of the same general size but significantly separated in location, so probably not siblings. Overall length: no more than 12cm. Weight: I have no way of determining usefully, but in the realm of two leaves. Seriously. The empty film cans that I carry weigh more.

Which brings us to the other end.

very large northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon basking on washout debris
Unfortunately, its location didn’t allow for ideal photographic views, so you have to look close, but the snake spans across the frame here – spot the scale pattern right in the center and then trace it both ways. This is a northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon,) and an absolute unit, as the phrase goes – possibly the largest that I’ve seen. Water snakes tend to be shorter but thick and stocky, so the length I’m estimating as close to a meter, while the girth was on a par with my wrist in the midsection. I can only guesstimate the weight from experience, since I didn’t pick this one up, but over a kilogram – more than any individual camera body or lens that I carry, save for the big 150-600mm. While the black rat snakes in the area tend to be longer, these guys mass much more. Let’s have a peek at the head.

head of basking northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon
For comparison, see my fingers in the top photo? This guy’s head was wider than two of them. It did, in fact, seem unnaturally ‘jowly’ and I don’t know what that was about – maybe a case of the mumps. This was as close as I got before the snake decided discretion was in order and slipped quickly (and amazingly quietly for its size) into the water.

The main goal of this session was snakes, but they were a bit slow in appearing, possibly because the recent rains had caused a lot of flooding in the immediate area – the evidence of the high water levels was plainly visible. Nonetheless, we did find a few other examples of the species, none of them basking.

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon peering head-on from water's edge
Moving slowly allowed me this perspective, since the snake was obviously alert, but I had to go head-on if I could. I have to say that while it’s possible this is another species of water snake found in the area, since the primary way to tell them apart is by seeing the pattern further along the body (that would be the banded water snake,) I’m going to stick with the northern because that’s the most common and the only one that I’ve seen in this location, being New Hope Creek through Duke Forest. This is what my initial view was, though:

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon peeking from water
This is perhaps the most common way to find the species, since they like to hide and hunt under the submerged portions of rocks, but it is perhaps not the most common way that they’re seen – this is pretty subtle, so I suspect the ‘average’ person (i.e., someone not specifically hunting for snakes) tends to see the species only when they’re basking in a more visible location.

I have to note the difference in behavior among various species. Black rat snakes are longer, and easier to spot because they’re a uniform semi-gloss black on the back, often stretched across a path or occasionally in trees. Yet they’re remarkably docile, often able to be handled without a bite, and they’re not especially shy – they may seek cover quickly, slowly, or not at all. Meanwhile, the heavier water snakes blend in a hundred times better but are notably shy, seeking cover quickly as soon as they determine that camouflage isn’t working, yet they’re also the most aggressive snake in the area and will bite fiercely with any attempt at handling. I have no idea why this difference exists.

One more, because what else am I going to do with this photo?

northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon peeking from under rocks
Less than 1/4 the mass of the first monster, this one was poking from the water only by about 8cm, and roughly 2 in width of the head – pretty subtle from an average viewing distance. But if you’re after snakes, it’s what you have to look for.

Odd memories, part 26

This is one of those that, I suspect, most of those hearing don’t really believe, but at one time I had proof. Not that that means a lot, since I think it’s vanished now, but a select handful of people got to hear it.

While I was in my late teens I became an uncle for the first time, and before my niece was talking, she was talking. By that I mean, she uttered absolute gibberish, only not this, “ga ga nub nub” shit, but developed and distinct syllables that more than anything sounded like a foreign language. Moreover, she delivered this with inflections and expressions and even hand motions that gave every indication that she knew what she was talking about and that it was enormously important. She could blather on for hours about her chosen “topics,” more dynamic that half of today’s actors – I used to compare her to William F. Buckley. We never knew where she got this from, because it looked for all the world like speakers on news debates or economics discussions, but neither of her parents watched anything of the sort, and it didn’t seem as emotional or dramatic as the soap operas her mother did watch. It was fascinating to witness nonetheless.

To demonstrate, at one point I interviewed her on cassette tape, to send to relatives. I would pose a question (a legitimate question in actual English,) and she would expound at length with complete nonsense, but earnest nonsense – at times dropping in little asides, and at others her voice would swoop and pounce on the key issues. I’d counter with, “But don’t you feel this is at odds with the Aristotelian ideals?” and she would correct my amateur and boorish misapprehensions deftly.

This went on for several minutes, and then, after one longish paragraph, she paused, sighed, and said, very clearly, “Fuck.”

There was no mistaking this, and bear in mind, despite all her efforts, she had never bothered with real words at all. This was just a random syllable – but she made sure it was nice and distinct, not at all nestled in among the rest of it where it might slip past too quickly. And of course, I had this on tape. Those that heard it agreed that I had not imagined it. None of our family were particularly prudish, so the responses ranged from somewhat disbelieving embarrassment to uproarious laughter – you can imagine the side that I fell upon. Unfortunately, this tape is probably long gone, being close to forty years old, but there remains a chance it’s buried someplace, and if found, it will be digitized just to embarrass her with again.

This was unlike a few years later, when she was talking pretty clearly. She had a rocking horse that she was fond of, and one day while she was enjoying it, she paused and told me, “It’s broken.”

“What’s broken?” I asked, since I had just seen her rocking on it and everything seemed fine.

“It’s not working,” she informed me, as if I was an idiot (this was a frequent attitude towards me, I’m not sure why.)

“I just saw you rocking; it’s fine,” I maintained.

“It’s broken,” she repeated, obviously tired of explaining things to nincompoops.

I sighed heavily and went over to the horse, stretching out on my back and sliding underneath (this was one of those suspended by springs, so there was plenty of space,) and began tinkering with imaginary tools under the smooth belly of the horse. This produced an absolutely delighted, audacious grin from my niece – clearly she had not realized that horses could be repaired like cars. I grunted, I forced a few imaginary bolts, I frowned, I was suddenly inspired, and deftly fixed it all up and had it back together within a minute or two; this did not, unfortunately, rub off on my future abilities to fix actual vehicles in the slightest. I slid out and said, “All set – should be good now.”

She was still grinning hugely as she remounted the horse, and I knew what was coming. She rocked exactly once and said, “It’s broken again.”

Even then, I was not one to be played for a fool by a three-year-old (not beyond those three, no, four other times anyway.) I just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re gonna have to fix it yourself.”

The grin faded instantly into a frown. “I don’t know how!” she protested.

“You just watched me do it; the only way you’re gonna learn is by doing it yourself.”

She tried arguing, but I was adamant. Resigned, she got down and crawled under the belly of the horse, staring up at the smooth white surface. She placed her hands on her hips, exhaled, and said, “Shit.”

Now, this one was intentional, because she had a fine grasp of English (and/or pardonable French) at this point. Her father was the type whose language dropped completely into the gutter the moment any hood was raised, though, so she probably just thought this was a typical car issue, like, “bad plugs,” or, “blown seal.” She knew what naughty words were and didn’t use them, but this simply slipped out in context, like how it’s okay to say, “hell,” when you’re referring to the actual location during sermons.

Her sister, a few years younger, was quite the opposite. She was remarkably unresponsive as an infant, often just sitting there in her high-chair or swing and staring around vacantly, uttering not a sound. I recall my many attempts to get her to even recognize my presence, being apparently the last holdout in our family that she wouldn’t smile for. I might as well have been a painting of an ancient stodgy relative over the mantlepiece.

And then, that magical day, as she sat in her chair and I cajoled her yet again, being as upbeat and enthusiastic to see her as I could, and slowly, her bland and expression-free face began to crack into a broad smile that stretched across her cheeks…

Ruurrrrrrppppp!” she belched exuberantly, a real rumbler that I still envy, and immediately her expression dropped back into the blandest of department store mannequins. Wonderful.

It comes as no surprise to you, I’m sure, that these opening trends completely inverted before either hit ten years old. The oldest became shy and reserved, while the youngest would. Not. Shut. Up. This remains the case, decades later – the oldest won’t even talk on the phone if she can avoid it. As far as she’s concerned, texting is our greatest recent development.

Not a promise, mind you

Stopped down at Jordan Lake yesterday to do a few tests, and just see what was happening.

Results: Tests weren’t promising, and not much. Distant osprey, and an eagle before I had my camera out.

But as I stood in a familiar location, I heard some cheeping and caught a flash of movement, then had to stake out the area for a little bit.

Discovery: The nest is reoccupied.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus adult feeding juvenile inside nest cavity
Does this mean there will be more photos and video? Not sure yet. Once I unloaded the card, I could see enough of the young’uns (I know there’s at least two) to know they’re not far from fledging, so we’ll see I guess.

So many sinners

That must be the explanation for all the electrical storms we’ve been having recently. And you thought the reversal of Roe v Wade would have been greeted with approval…

The trick remains, however, in getting a good image from it (we’re back to talking about lightning now.) It started on the 29th, when I collected Mr Bugg and went down to Jordan Lake for a storm cell that looked to be lining up on the southern end of the lake. This was not the case, and what little lightning arrived in the immediate vicinity was shrouded by the rain.

A bit over a day later, another storm slipped in very early in the morning on the 31st. For that, I traipsed over to the neighborhood pond, but all that showed for that were lights in the sky – all bolts were obscured by the low cloud cover. I even drove over to a local landmark, a modern glass office tower that it’s been my goal to get a lightning strike near (or directly on,) because it looked like the storm might line up nicely, but achieved the same results there.

Then another in the early evening of the 31st, and again, the lack of warning left the pond as the best choice. This time, it looked more promising.

clouds lit from within by lightning
The nice bit about the pond is, it has a great view to the west, which is where 90% of the storms roll in from, and of course that I can get to it within five minutes or so. With the amount of trees and the lack of tall hills/mountains in the area, there aren’t too many long perspectives where you can see a storm coming in the distance – the maximum here is perhaps 10 kilometers of so. I really should seek out a nice spot out west a bit more, since there are a lot of storms that pass through a band out there that never reach here. But for now this is what we got, and occasionally it works out.

lightning over trees
This is a tighter crop of a bolt that was still fairly distant. But as the storm drew closer, a layer of low clouds separate from the thundercells developed overhead, illuminated by the nearby city, leaving only a thin gap to see anything through.

lightning under very low cloud cover
Remember that time exposures don’t give an accurate impression of the sky; I could vaguely make out the low clouds, only a fraction brighter than the open gap on the horizon, while the definition from the illuminating lightning is too brief to tell much. But seeing this on the LCD, I zoomed in a little. It didn’t help with the advancing clouds.

lightning almost totally obscured by finger of clouds
Do you see it? It’s right smack behind that cloud finger poking down. Here’s a closer look:

close crop of hidden lightning
At that point, I gave it up for the evening, knowing that the cloud cover wasn’t going to move on. Plus it had started to pour, which doesn’t bother me (I have a camera rain cover and a disposable poncho for me in the camera bag at all times, because this is a frequent pursuit – you can’t call yourself a nature photographer if you aren’t ready for conditions.) It does, however, make photography difficult when the raindrops are spotting the front of the lens.

Another storm on the 2nd was much the same, just throwing some sky glow without anything distinct, and all that my photos show from that evening is the advancing rain column, which I thought I might be seeing in the LCD of the camera but wasn’t sure at that resolution. It soon became apparent though, the horrendous downpour giving the barest warning before it hit, not even giving me time to stow the camera – I would have had to expose the interior of the bag to the deluge, so I simply carried the camera back in my hand, safely protected by the rain cover (with the bag over my shoulder covered by my poncho.) Still wary of residual humidity, they all got aired out in front of fans on my return.

But then there was this evening. I could see the lightning as I was driving home from errands, and had time only to visit the pond again, so same perspective as before. The clouds weren’t an obscuring ceiling this time, but mountains and passes revealed only in the time exposures.

[I have to remark that the camera lens, kept in the bag in the air-conditioned house, immediately fogged up in the hot and humid outdoor conditions, but it wiped away easily enough. The AC here isn’t set that low, but the conditions outside right now are, ‘rainforest.’]

peek of lightning high up on thunderhead
This thunderhead, or ‘these’ perhaps, were enormously active, though most of what I saw was related to what you see here: cloud-to-cloud activity blocked by other clouds. I waited it out, knowing it was drawing closer and hoping it would be lined up with my location.

clouds illuminated by hidden lightning
Hopefully this gives an impression of how it was stretching way up into the sky, especially because I knew it was still pretty distant. But in time, the bolts began making an appearance, down low again.

lightning peeking in at edge of frame
I try not to re-aim the camera to chase visible strikes, because they can be all over the place and make you regret such efforts by immediately striking right where you had been aiming previously. This time, however, I felt better about the close strikes coming from a different cell, or section thereof (in such a mess, there’s really no way to tell how many thunderheads are up there.) It worked out.

lightning emerging from bottom of cloud
Cropped a bit closer from a horizontal frame for this one, not only is the reflection captured (one of the reasons I like the pond,) you can also see where the lightning emerges from the cloud base, illuminating it hazily. This began a brief session of visible bolts in the one region, and I tried making an animated gif (pronounced, “GIG-it-ee”) from five successive frames, but gif color standards made them look terrible, so I just joined them up instead.

five sequential frames all showing distinct lightning bolts
This was one of the few times that I thought I could capture multiple bolts in one exposure, based on how active the storm was, and succeeded with the first and fifth frames. There’s still a limit, based on the ambient light from the sky/clouds – too long an exposure will wash out the strikes that occur, and most times in this area, the strikes are too far apart in time. I could reduce the ISO and/or close the aperture down, but that also reduces the brightness (and thus the impact) of the bolts themselves.

I like that last frame and think it deserves a closer look:

crop of frame with multiple lightning bolts
There was enough wind that the pond wasn’t remaining perfectly smooth, unfortunately, but I do like the different color of the bolts. The streetlamp is the old-style mercury lights, blue to our eyes yet the spectrum plays havoc with photography. Right underneath it is the culvert that the beavers were using.

The electrical activity of this storm became intense, flickering constantly and even multiple times a second, but soon after this point it seemed to be solely within clouds with few visible bolts at all. I’d been hoping for a brilliant tall strike aligned with the pond, but it was not to be this night. Only occasionally would I get a glimpse of a bolt now.

lightning fork almost obscured within clouds
This was high in the sky where the activity seemed to have shifted, and again, I liked the differing coloration, which I suspect is due to how deep within the cloud/humidity the branches are. I boosted saturation for this one just to make it stand out better at blog resolution.

But after several minutes without a visible bolt, and the rain finally starting up and getting stronger, I wrapped it up. Facing west also means facing into the prevailing winds and getting raindrops on the lens, which doesn’t help those nice clear bolt shots. I packed up and came back home to unload the memory card.

And then, even as I was curating the night’s haul, I realized the thunder was getting more distinct and closer; all through the shooting session, it had been muted and slow in coming, evidence of both the upper-cloud activity and the distance of the storm. But now it seemed a lot closer, so I went out on the front porch to have a look – then went back and got the camera and tripod again. It was pouring now, but the roof overhang kept the lens dry and, aiming up almost 45°, there was a lot of activity right in front of the house. In time, I got a few bolts, though I think I missed the strongest activity by only minutes.

lightning branches seen thinly through clouds
This full frame at 22mm, so it stretches across a significant portion of the sky – not bright, but nicely framed at least, and a little bonus from a very active storm. In the past four days I probably doubled my lightning photos for the year, and while I’m still chasing the really dynamic frames, I’m good with this.

Visibly different, part 31

unidentified injured starfish in shallow pan
I have to confess that I started writing this a few weeks back, and then sat on it to hit the 20th anniversary (more or less) of this image, since it was taken sometime in August, 2002. I’d only been living in Florida for a few weeks then, and on wandering along the ocean in Indialantic, I found a starfish washed up on the sand, missing two arms. It was the first I’d ever seen outside of an aquarium, and I picked it up, though dog knows what I intended to do with it. Only a few minutes down the beach I could feel my hand tickling and realized that it was not dead like I’d thought, but attempting to move along in that glacial way of theirs. I immediately obtained a plastic bag to put it in with a healthy dose of seawater, and brought it back to the apartment, because I wanted detail photos of those little feet – and that is all they’re called, though you can go with ‘tube feet’ if you want to be technical.

That began the process of finding a way to photograph aquatic specimens. In this particular case, it’s only in a shallow storage container filled with water and photographed through the water’s surface, though I knew that light reflections and distortion were not going to be ideal. I made it work, but the availability of so many aquatic subjects required me to seek other methods, and so began the various practices of aquarium photography.

While in Florida, and on some occasions since, it’s been with an actual aquarium, just a 10-gallon one with no frills, but this was enough for both closeups and wider compositions.

Porcelain crab Petrolisthes armatus or Porcellana sayana riding atop thinstripe hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus within aquarium
Because it was maintained, it served as a nice setting/background for any species that I obtained, though since moving away from Florida, I never bothered to establish an active tank. Instead, I had temporary tanks, often with no more substrate than a layer of sand, though occasionally with a print of some kind serving as a backdrop – since it was invariably well out of focus, all that was necessary was a realistic sea-green hue.

At times, however, I’ve also resorted to a very simplified rig, such as a thin layer of water in a lens filter lit from underneath.

unidentified aquatic egg, hydra, and cluster of vorticella
While the aquarium housed (and fed) the various species, some would be selected for tight macro work. I never identified the egg here (this dating from 2012,) and the hydra was of course intentional, but I didn’t realize for years that I had another curious species in there, a cluster of vorticella – those are the little white doodads at the base of the hydra, that I would end up getting video of through a microscope.

Occasionally, even the larger aquariums allowed for some tight macro work.

unidentified aquatic snails hatching from eggs
When a snail laid eggs against the aquarium glass, not only was I able to photograph this taking place, I was around for the hatching too, and since the eggs were attached to the glass itself, right on a side that had easy access, I could adjust the lights to bring out the best detail. These are smaller than a pinhead.

But this is perhaps my favorite:

giant water bug Belostoma flumineum with backswimmer genus Notonecta prey
Collected from a nearby flood pool in 2020, this giant water bug (Belostoma flumineum) quickly snagged a backswimmer (genus Notonecta,) not at all bothered by the captivity. Only by having the glass millimeters away from the action could I get something this sharp and clear.

Just so you know, the macro aquarium used for this shot is the same one pictured here, still in routine use despite now being a little yellowed. It even travels with me to the beach, so I don’t have to being promising subjects back home, and occasionally it serves to just support some of my subjects.

Exactly as scheduled

Since today is Thin Out The Blog Folder Day, I have several images that I was saving just to have something to post for the holiday, because normally, there are no excess images in there – I’m remarkably efficient in my writing, and if I prepare an image for the blog, you know damn well it will be uploaded without delay. So let’s see what I chose, months ago, to save for the holiday.

whitebanded fishing spider Dolomedes albineus on mossy wood
It was back in March when I found this, so you know I plan ahead. It was very small and the detail images that I have aren’t exacting, but it appears this is a juvenile whitebanded fishing spider (Dolomedes albineus,) pretty well camouflaged on a fencepost. I wouldn’t even say that the leg span exceeded 20mm – they get a whole lot larger. Let’s take a closer look at that coloration:

whitebanded fishing spider Dolomedes albineus camouflage pattern
You gotta admit, that’s a pretty good job of looking like moss and lichen, so, go natural selection!

female buff-colored mallard Anas platyrhynchos with five ducklings
In April I did a quick fartsy-ish shot of Buffy the female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and her brood, down from the nine that hatched – I’m pretty sure that four of these were the ones that followed the beaver and its branch back in that video, but don’t ask me which one abstained.

The next four images are from a trip to the NC Botanical Garden in May – I was planning on returning, but it just hasn’t happened yet (see repeated comments about heat, and that fact that it’s usually Monday when I feel like going and they’re closed Mondays.)

red-bellied watersnake Nerodia erythrogaster suspended in weeds
This smaller-than-average red-bellied watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster) was chillin’ suspended in the limbs, if you can call them that, of some small plant alongside the water. The access to frogs was trivially easy, so I imagine it’s quite a bit bigger now. The snake, I mean – the plants only eat frogs in winter…

multiple geometric clusters of rhododendron flowers
We’ve seen a closer look at some of these rhododendron flowers back then, but this image shows off the health and symmetry of the flower clusters. I rarely see displays this photogenic, with no dead flowers or notched petals to be found – as long as you’re not looking at the leaves. I said don’t look at the leaves! Geeezzz

prickly pear Opuntia humifusa blossom and pad
This is a little more notable in that the NC Botanical Garden only features plants native to North Carolina, and this is indeed a native cactus: a prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa.) Contrary to appearances, that spiked pad does not slap down and whack birds feeding at the flower. Yet. Give it time – go natural selection!

unidentified hanging seed pods
I have no idea what these are, but they were trying to hide from me under the leaves – they should know better. I picked an angle to give a little more drama to the pic. Whaddya mean, “This isn’t what I think of when I hear ‘drama’ in regards to nature photography”? What does it make you think of?

great blue heron Ardea herodias looking curious
While I was stalking the beavers one evening (we’ve left the botanical garden now,) a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) was watching me suspiciously and, I thought, a little rudely. I’m sorry, those leggings do not go with that thong…

raindrops suspended in needles of bald cypress Taxodium distichum
Same pond, same day, just the other end – a recent rain left some drops suspended in the needles of a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum.) This is High Fart, this is.

And finally,

North American beaver Castor canadensis gnawing on bark chip
I took a few captured frames from video clips to use with the latest beaver post (as well as, naturally, this carefully-planned holiday) and decided on a different image back then, leaving this one for today. I can safely vouch that that is not a harmonica. Yet. Go natural selection!

Okay, that cleans those out, and I can assure you that no stray or older images remain in the blog folder. Professionalism, that is.

Can I take your plate, or are you still working on July?

It’s time for the month-end abstract so, hurry up.

backlit spider web with iridescent diffraction
This month we have a grab shot as I was wandering around the neighborhood pond waiting to see if the beavers were going to show. Looking towards the setting sun, this spider web was backlit brilliantly and I had the long lens affixed, so I fired off a couple of frames hoping to nail the focus tightly enough. This frame not only had the focus, it also captured the diffraction from the gossamer strands (which I admit I shamelessly boosted a little in saturation because so there.) And I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I’ve already confessed to heinous crimes for which Mariska Hargitay will be hunting me down, so I’ll just pile on and say that the laser beam that the web is anchored to is instead a strand of fishing line, because too many fisherman cannot entertain the idea of not casting from underneath tree branches. You’d think this wouldn’t be that hard to grasp…

The whip of guilt

July has been a slow posting month, for several reasons – the heat, mostly, and getting deeply involved in video editing. But I’ve also just – not felt like posting. Perhaps it’s good that I didn’t, because the mood might have come through and you wouldn’t have the scintillating content that you normally do.

But I’m getting over all that, so let’s see what’s been found in the past two weeks that I simply never did anything with until now.

green heron Butorides virescens scratching cheek
Out, for once, earlier in the morning trying to see more birds, it was still too damn hot and few of them were showing, but I did snag this green heron (Butorides virescens) scratching its face. It remained very aware of my presence and didn’t let me get much of a better angle, but it wasn’t one of the juveniles that I was hoping to see anyway, so there.

northern flicker Colaptes auratus foraging on ground
Same morning, with the still-a-little-golden sun at my back, a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) was foraging busily on the ground. I could hear some odd squeaky noises from the tree overhead and suspected there were young up there, but I saw no signs of what was emitting the sounds, and this one never flew back up there with food, so it remains a mystery – forever, now. Man that’s depressing.

possibly juvenile green heron Butorides virescens nearly camouflaged in weeds
possibly juvenile green heron Butorides virescens in original file colorMuch later on a different day, a green heron was being subtle and nearly escaped attention in the shade while working the water weeds on the edge of the pond. The larger image is tweaked from the color of the original, where I still had white balance set to ‘Sunlight’ and thus was a bit blue from the natural color of deep shade, as seen at left. I’d rather adjust color in post-production than let the camera figure it out, because I’m more accurate – I know what I’m looking at, and not just using an algorithm to ‘average out’ the various colors. But there was something about this particular heron that made me suspect it was one of the juveniles that I’d gotten video of two weeks previously, though I couldn’t really pin down what – behavior, mostly. On examining the frames afterward, there’s some faint evidence that I was correct; we’ll go in close on this same image (that makes three times) to get a peek at the head.

possibly juvenile green heron Butorides virescens showing baby down
That looks like the last vestiges of baby down on the head, which seems about right, timewise. Yet this was the only glimpse that I’ve gotten of either since the initial video. Then again, it’s been hot and I haven’t been over there much.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum perched on old piling against pond scene
On the same day (in the same lighting conditions,) a double-crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) perched, as usual, on the old dock pilings, and I went a little wider for the scenic aspect. I’ll point out here that the reflections in the water provide specific shapes and colors, which can serve as useful backdrops or contrast for your subject; as you can imagine, the cormorant wouldn’t have stood out as well had it crossed over into the reflections of the trees, so yes, I shifted position until it fell into that gap. I could also have moved so that the cormorant itself was in the green, but the reflection in the water remained in the blue, providing a small discovery for those who glanced at the image too quickly (but no one does that, right?)

That’s enough birds – let’s do some bugs.

giant robber fly genus Promachus with housefly prey
I spotted this giant robber fly (genus Promachus) while I was misting the basil plant, because they’re hard to miss, but didn’t realize it had prey until I leaned in a bit closer. Giant robber flies (that’s the real name, and there are numerous species) look absolutely nasty, and they are, but only to other flies – they’re pretty mellow around people, and will occasionally land on you if you’re holding still. They don’t bite or sting, so let them do their job clearing out the insects that you don’t want around. Unfortunately I caught the wings perfectly edge-on here and it made it look like it has none. I’ll do better next time…

Nearby, a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) was also preying around the basil plants, and received the benefit of the misting.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis cleaning water from forelegs
There are a handful able to be found in the yard now, if I look closely, and they’re about 3/4 adult size, pushing 70-80mm in length. They almost always appreciate a misting, especially in this weather, and you can see a water drop in the crook of its foreleg if you look closely. But seeing that ‘nose’ makes me realize that we haven’t had watermelon in a long time…

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis coated in water droplets
This one was over on the clethra bush, which was new this year and seems to be doing great, but I think I went a little overboard on the misting. There are no ill effects to be had from this, and believe me, some of the rains we’ve had recently were far worse, but the dramatic appearance works pretty well. You can tell from the dark eyes that this occurred at night, unlike the previous mantis. This image was shot eight days (well, nights) ago, and the mantis is still there as of this afternoon, probably gorging on the carpenter bees that adore the clethra flowers.

Since we’re getting back into the most prevalent species on the blog again, we’ll now have a green treefrog (Hyla cinerea.)

green treefrog Hyla cinerea with discolored nose
For a few days, this little guy was spending the daylight hours tucked into the ginger lilies that are getting established in the backyard, which seems typical – green treefrogs have a favorite hidey-hole for a few days, then move on to other locations. I would presume this helps them avoid predators somehow, perhaps from the ones that locate the frogs by their feces or something, because I would think that anything that finds a treefrog and eats treefrogs will simply eat the treefrog, and not have to come back later for dessert or something, but we’ve established by now that I’m not a herpetologist. That also means that I can’t answer why the nose is discolored in this manner – I’m guessing some kind of healing injury – but it sure changes the impression, doesn’t it? It went from simply being a frog to having a bit of a Durante-vibe (oh, look it up, whippersnapper.) I haven’t found this one since to see if there’s progress in healing.

And finally, the most recent images, from just last night.

very moody sunset sky
Initially, I had a tighter crop of this one lined up for the month-end abstract before I realized that I had a better candidate already in the pipeline. After an abortive attempt to get some lightning pics and yet another horrendous downpour that still didn’t cool things off enough, the sky at sunset finally got pretty elaborate and I managed to time it right – I’ve said before, sunset after a clearing storm tends to be a great time for pics.

These are so colorful that we need another variation.

dynamic sunset sky over pond
It has a nice tropical vibe, if you don’t look at the foreground leaves too closely – this is once again over at the neighborhood pond. I missed the opportunity to capture some of the residual thunderheads in this light, though you can see the barest evidence of another down on the horizon. I also missed having a bat silhouetted against that sky, but not through lack of trying – the light was too low, the bat too fast, to snag a sharp image, plus I had a maximum focal length of 135mm with the lens in hand, which isn’t really enough for something as small as a bat unless they’re really close. Maybe someday.

But yeah, that helps catch up the image count for the month, at least…

You gotta be kidding me

When I started video editing, I went through several different programs trying to find one that worked reasonably well – twice, actually, because I began on a Windows system before switching to Linux and having to do it all over again. All of them had issues of some kind, but Kdenlive had the fewest, and the rendering options (converting the edited clips into a finished video file) was by far the smoothest.

But one issue that I dealt with, from the moment I started using it, was that of blinking during the preview playback. Constantly, like a bad phone connection. This made it hard to do some precisely-timed edits, because the screen may be blank during the crucial moments – even though the blanks lasted less than a second, if something occurred then and only then, I had no idea that it even occurred. I muddled through, and searched for answers.

And searched. And tried countless options, both to the program and the computer itself. I even ordered a faster video card with more memory (that didn’t work.) It was very frustrating, and I spent several sessions of troubleshooting, every couple of weeks, in pursuit of this little problem.

And then, just now, someone on a forum (okay, credit where it’s due: someone named, ‘sergergravelle,’) said, “move the Project Monitor to a separate window.” Really, just click on the tab and drag it outside. You can see it here, the little floating box to the top right (with the two birds) that looks like it was added as an afterthought, normally anchored nice and neatly just behind it:

screen capture of Kdenlive program
And just like that, the goddamn thing works like a charm.

Why? I don’t know – I’d think that the separate window would complicate things in the program and make it worse, but unlinking it from its ‘proper’ position fixed the issue entirely. Not a blip or cumberbatch. Perfectly smooth.

All this time. All these videos. For a trivial fix that doesn’t even make sense. I’m flabbergasted (as you can tell because I posted about it.) But nonetheless relieved and pleased.

Now back to normal useful entertaining typical content…

Not bad, for a smutphone

northern black racer Coluber constrictor constrictor in author's hand
It’s no secret that I am not a fan of smutphone cameras (or any other part of them for that matter) – they’re generally substandard and of course have too few controls. Though I admit that I haven’t tried any of the ridiculously expensive smutphones, because I have sense – I can’t fathom spending more, way more, on a freaking phone than I have on any of my used camera bodies. Despite my contempt, though, on rare occasions they can come in handy, such as when I have an angry northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) in my right hand and would have a difficult time with the Canon 7D. The Girlfriend is certainly not, in any way, going to assist in snake wrangling, besides which she wasn’t around this day. So when I saw the snake hurtle off like a shot from the front walk and managed to find it in the foliage of the garden, the only choice was the smutphone, and it did an acceptable job. You can even see the faint indication of the bite I sustained on my middle finger (one of three – racers aren’t complacent about handling, though they have itty-bitty teeth.)

Funny, World Snake Day was back on the 16th, and it had been over a month since I’d seen any snake at all despite searching, but within the past week I caught two in the yard, this one and a young eastern milksnake, a species I hadn’t spotted in forever – that smutphone image, taken at night but again with my hand full, was just what I expected and not worth publishing even here.

[I have to note that the snake’s position is not as it initially appears. The coil underneath the head is quite far removed from it, being the base of the tail; after the head, the body goes down through my hand and reappears from under my pinky, then curves in front of us back up and disappears behind my thumb, into the hand again, to emerge as the tail tip below.]

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