Now, today

It’s been hot as hell recently – again – and I haven’t been going out much to chase photos, so I decided this morning before it got too hot to get in a quick session down at Jordan Lake. Spoiler: there wasn’t a lot happening, even though i expected to see ospreys and perhaps eagles finding food for their young. As it was, I have just three images (well, three-and-a-half) to show for it – I got more, but this was what came out the best.

We’ll start slow, with the cicada-killer, now on time for the annual cicadas at least.

likely eastern cicada-killer wasp Sphecius speciosus alighting on stick alongside lake
This is most likely an eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus,) though a few years ago I would have called it a hornet – they’re quite big, not quite the size of your little finger, and yes, they sting and paralyze cicadas to carry them home to their burrows to feed their young. I have yet to get images of one with a cicada, but I’m trying. Overall, though, not bad for using the 150-600mm lens while I was watching for birds instead.

osprey Pandion haliaetus flying overhead with partially-consumed fish
While I didn’t witness this osprey (Pandion haliaetus) capturing its prey, at least it passed close by, allowing enough detail to reveal that it probably got interrupted by some fishingfolk while it was consuming its meal – that looks partially-eaten to me. So no, this one was not for the kids it seems.

I could make out a small amount of activity on the osprey nest visible in the distance, but the sky in that direction was resolutely grey with heavy haze turning to cloud cover, reducing the direct sunlight on the nest itself while backgrounding it in white, so no photos turned out worth anything, and no one showed up with food for the young while I was watching, nor were they visibly hunting.

However, the real capture for the day was this:

immature belted kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon perched cooperatively nearby
Several times in the moderate distance, I heard a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) cruising around, because they’re noisy birds when they’re disturbed and the same kids that likely spooked out the osprey were sending this guy around. I was staying put, however, knowing how shy kingfishers are and that I was unlikely to successfully stalk one. Luck was finally with me today, since this one circled around and landed in a tree about ten meters off, allowing me to fire off a bundle of frames. I’ve been trying for a decent portrait of a kingfisher for years, and this certainly qualifies. Moreover, the brownish throat band indicates that this is a juvenile, potentially this year’s brood, which might have helped a little in that the juvies of many species are often not as cautious as the adults. Don’t care – I’ll take it.

It’s cropped of course, but not by much – we’ll take a look at the full frame.

immature belted kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon perched cooperatively nearby, full frame
By the way, as birds go kingfishers are not large birds, a bit bigger than an American robin or red-bellied woodpecker, notably smaller than a crow – you couldn’t have “two in the hand,” in other words. This one remained there for about 10 seconds I think before disappearing again for good, but I had my shots. The Girlfriend remarked on how smooth the wing feathers looked, especially contrasted with the crest, but I liked the stippling of the neck band. Hell, I like all of it, because it took a damn long time to get this. Made the outing worthwhile for sure.

First, the night before

I don’t have a lot of photos to show right now, but I’m still going to split them off into two posts, partially because they represent two separate time periods and subject matters, and partially because I haven’t been posting much and driving up the numbers justifies, um, something…

So, last night.

small herd of white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus, all bucks, just outside back yard
In doing my semi-regular nightly patrol, I was well aware of eyes reflecting the headlamp from just over the fence, but realized there were a lot of them – this is actually only half of the herd, since some of them started wandering off nervously as I played with the camera settings and removing the flash diffuser to have enough light. These are, naturally, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus,) and this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen a herd of them sleeping just outside the back fence of Walkabout Estates. It is also not the first time that I’ve realized they were all bucks, all roughly the same age, which to my knowledge (and those of several people I’ve spoken to about it) isn’t typical; bucks tend to break off on their own to find their own does. But it’s Pride Month, isn’t it? So maybe that has something to do with it…

This is at 35mm focal length, by the way, so looking notably wider (and thus further off) than I actually was, roughly ten meters.

single male white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus showing barely discernible ear tag with '78' on it
Now, autofocus is certainly out of the question in the dark, even with the headlamp, so I was forced as always to manually focus on just the bright reflections from their eyes, which tends to be more miss than hit for truly sharp images. Though that’s not what I’m showing here and I was focusing on a different part of the frame for this one, but you can just make out the ear tag on this buck, and it reads, “78.” I include this because, in April, I got a similar frame in the same location.

male white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus in April clearly showing ear tag with '78'
Better now? The deer are relatively complacent in the area, even though I was quite close, but a) I’m pretty much silent when I’m out there, just the sounds of my footsteps and I’m endeavoring to keep those as minor as possible, and b) the bright headlamp partially blinds them and keeps them from fully realizing that it’s a human only a handful of meters away. Still, I know my arms and the camera get into the beam from time to time, so there are clues for them to figure it out. All that aside, take note how much the antlers have grown in just two months.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus chewing some grass as two other start to wander off
The sharpest one (of the deer, anyway) from the evening, and yes, he’s snacking on something as he looks at me. Not one of them bolted off, or even seemed to be walking fast – they just felt that something was happening too close and discretion might dictate they maintain a little more distance. I soon switched to pursuing other subjects and they settled back down in a new position beyond the fence, just a few meters from where they’d been – this is a semi-regular thing with them, but most times I’m set up for macro work when I’m out at night, with the wrong lens and the macro softbox attached to the flash, which I’d removed for these.

You know, this kind of shooting:

annual cicada Cicadoidea molting into adult final instar
The Brood XIX cicadas had emerged some weeks back, filled the air with their peculiar song, and are now only able to be found as stray body parts here and there, but now it’s time for the annual cicadas to emerge, and this is the first I’ve seen. Often enough, they come out when rain has softened the ground, but that wasn’t happening here – it’s been quite a while without rain, perhaps long enough that they can just shove aside the dust that used to be soil. I expect to start hearing the ‘standard’ cicada song within a few days, and since I had no luck finding one of the Brood XIX laying eggs, maybe I’ll get lucky with this wave. We’ll see.

Disqualified

As of last night, I had to remove one of the potential ‘Just Once’ candidates from the lineup, because… well, you figure it out.

Rhomphaea fictilium closer, showing reshaped abdomen
This was one of the original images from its one appearance; it’s a Rhomphaea fictilium, no common name to my knowledge, and it’s a spider with a couple of curious traits, which I wrote about in the original post. But then last night, I found this guy ‘floating’ in the yard:

dorsal view of male Rhomphaea fictilium spider suspended from long webline
So, credit to the spider for being suspended right at eye-level, to make it much easier for me, but that credit goes away when I tell you that the web was only a couple of strands that weren’t well-anchored, stretching over two meters. Even on a still night, the negligent breeze was enough to move this guy several centimeters in every direction, which is pretty damn annoying when working at macro magnifications and depth – this is about the only decent frame, though I have a side view that clinches the ID with the position of the spinnerets only a third of the way along the abdomen, instead of right at the end.

I was taking a break from tasks last night when I spotted it and fired off a few frames, then came back in to search the species again to confirm that I’d only featured it once; for some reason, I couldn’t remember “Rhomphaea fictilium” from its one use eight years ago, but we already know I’m old. Later on, I realized that I could be putting some greater effort into it, including trying to photograph or video their predatory behavior, and I went back out to collect the specimen to keep in a terrarium. Naturally, it was nowhere to be found, even with the help of a misting bottle (which at least highlights all weblines that are in the area – the one that the spider was using in my pic was gone as well.) I found plenty of other spiders, all mostly boring, and a juvenile mantis. but no R. fictilium. I’ll try again from time to time, but I’m not holding out much hope.

The magnolia green jumper eggs have not hatched yet though – I just checked on those tonight. I’ll try to be sure to feature pics of the bebbies when they’re around, and really should try for more video.

Just once, part 24

Saddleback caterpillar moth Sibine stimulea larva
My one and only encounter with this species was just under 11 years ago, and while I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, I’d prefer not to find it the way that I did. This is the larva of a saddleback caterpillar moth (Sibine stimulea,) and those contrasting colors are there for a reason – somewhat self-defeating given that the species likes being on the undersides of leaves in deeper foliage. All those spikes do indeed sting with contact, which is what the memorable color scheme is intended to convey – nothing debilitating, just mildly irritating, a little like a bee sting but not as strong.

I actually had a saga with the species, that began when I discovered one sporting some new ‘appendages.’

saddleback caterpillar moth Sibine stimulea larva showing cocoons of parasitic braconid wasp
There is a class of parasitic wasp, the Braconids, that lay their eggs within the larva of other species, or occasionally in the eggs of such, which then hatch out and feed on the living host larva until they spin their cocoons on the outer surface, eventually emerging from those as flying adults. This does the caterpillar no good at all, but it does not kill them as quickly as you might think, either.

Now we need a little scale here. The caterpillar itself is only 18mm in body length, and the cocoons are 2.5mm – from which an adult wasp will emerge. Yes, they’re tiny wasps, ones that you would barely notice anywhere. But having such a specimen close at hand, I decided I’d attempt to catch the new adults popping free. This was a long-drawn out story that you can find here – suffice to say, it was not one that would encourage anyone to take this up for a living.

Nowadays, I’d endeavor to photograph the eyes and mouth of the species, and I’m not even sure which end is which in these photos. Nor am I sure that, if I tried again to catch the emergence of the parasitic wasps, that I’d do better this time – I can think of nothing to improve my chances, no skills that I’d picked up in the interim. Save for staying out of the sun while waiting.

It works, sometimes

On Monday, I was watering the plants and found something that compelled me to get the camera, because she was surprisingly vivid – I was going to say, “unnaturally,” but that’s plainly wrong, I think. Anyway…

obviously pregnant female magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis on trumpet flower Brugmansia leaf
I thought first from the blonde thatch that this was a green lynx spider, but soon corrected myself – it’s our old friend the magnolia green jumping spider (Lyssomanes viridis,) sporting a rather distinctive and nuclear-hued babies bump. I’ve never spotted one in this state, and it was making me hungry for jellybeans.

pregnant female magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis showing pale eyes
Unfortunately, my good macro lens is being repaired right now, so I had to resort to the 18-135 for these shots – adequate, but not ideal. It was breezy, she was as fidgety as jumping spiders always are, and I had nothing to brace against, so when she started showing that ‘wandering eyes’ trait, I didn’t get any decent frames of it – instead I’ll refer you here for some cool video of it. Meanwhile, she wasn’t enamored of the attention and kept slipping to the underside of the leaf, whereupon I’d flush her back to the top side again for a few moments and get another frame. Eventually, I let her be – it’s not good for expecting mothers to get too stressed, you know.

A day later, I was poking around at night and thought to check and see if she did what was expected, and began shining my pocket flashlight up from the underside of the leaves. Indeed, she hadn’t even left the one I’d found her on.

brood nest of magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis silhouetted by light shone from underneath leaf at night
There she is with her new brood nest of eggs, which is typical of the species – they actually spend most of their time on the undersides of leaves, which is fine, because that’s where their prey (like mosquitos) tend to settle in. But no, I couldn’t let it go at that, so down on the ground on my back I went to shoot upwards at the underside of the leaf. I was using the reversed 28-105 this time, but the trumpet flower proved to be too high for this and I really cannot do a partial-crunch while tilting my head backwards and trying to focus at the same time. I know, I call myself a nature photographer…

Regardless, I simply tipped the pot over a bit so I was shooting at a more amenable angle, a maneuver that probably would have sent her scurrying off had it not been for her protective instincts over the eggs.

egg cluster of magnolia green jumping spider Lyssomanes viridis in brood nest, watched over by mother
She looks a little more trim now, doesn’t she? I had the opportunity to watch this take place, do some video even, but she might never have done it in my presence, and it might have taken ages, and I had other things to do as well as still getting over this weird illness. This is what you get, so there.

The headlamp that I was using has a blue LED mode that actually intrudes into the UV spectrum a little, which has helped me find some fluorescing subjects, but my suspicions were incorrect: despite the dayglo appearance, neither the eggs nor the mother fluoresce in ultra-violet. Ah well, I tried.

And while I was out there, I went a short distance away to the backyard pond, because there was a subject there I’d been meaning to tackle and now that I had the macro rig out, it was time.

small six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton resting on surface of water in backyard pond
This is a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton,) a smaller one at about 4cm in leg spread. Which nevertheless was many times larger than the magnolia green above, which probably topped out at 12-14mm in body length, the eggs a mere millimeter across – I’ll try to get some specific measurements, but I know she’ll be running interference. Anyway, I have a couple of subjects to keep my eye on, on top of the routine collection of course. We’ll see what happens.

On composition, part 33: Impressions

Contemplative Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis
Recent tasks brought this one to mind, an aspect of composition that can have significant effect but often remains entirely subconscious, so let’s talk about the subtle and tricky topic of impressions.

First off, I’ll say that from my own perspective, I more often stumble upon an image that provokes a certain impression, more so than I’ll actively aim for it, much less create it; there are certainly circumstances where I recognize the potential and intend to incorporate it, but it’s more often that I’m reviewing images afterward and am struck by how it makes me feel, or what it seems to say, or most especially, what the subject’s expression makes us believe they’re thinking. When it comes to wildlife, this is usually entirely wrong, but that doesn’t mean that these impressions still can’t serve a purpose, even just for amusement.

Wrightsville Beach wetlands channel
The first portion of this that we’ll tackle is the disconnect. While we know where we are and what’s happening when we’re taking the photo, the conditions and surroundings and so on, the viewer only sees what we’ve included in the frame, which can be representative of the true conditions or not, as we see fit. It’s often not too hard to present a placid and pristine natural setting by studiously avoiding having any aspect that says otherwise within the frame, never revealing that right behind us runs a major interstate highway, for instance. What goes to the edge of the frame goes on forever, is what I’m fond of saying – not quite accurate, perhaps, but the idea is that the viewer believes what they see represents what was there.

And this can be important to just about any kind of photography – we don’t just see the subject, whatever it may be, but the setting as well, and this should carry the impression that we want to convey. A hawk sitting on the edge of a building is no longer either nature or wildlife photography – I say that not from arrogantly defining the terms, but only from how others will view the image. But it works fine to illustrate urban wildlife encroachment, or adaptation, or simply surprise – what’s that doing here? But overall, even if we’re only illustrating the markings of a reptile, the image works better if the setting expresses an accurate habitat.

Then there’s expression, and while it is often challenging enough to get a human model to effectively communicate, “pleasantly surprised,” this is exponentially harder to produce from any animal subject; it’s usually a serendipitous discovery rather than an intentional effort when capturing the image, especially when such a large number of animal subjects do not use such expressions in any way. Yet there are still some things that we can do to help this along, changing our shooting angle or watching for the head tilt or shift of eyes. A simple little thing like the head shifting forward slightly can convey intensity of attention. And of course looking upward is positive, optimistic, unthreatened (unless there’s some aspect of ‘cower’ involved,) while looking down might be predatory, or disdainful, or simply depressed. It can help a lot to recognize how we might interpret these things as we see them. Take it from me, however: getting down to eye-level with your subject greatly improves your chances of generating a specific impression.

lone juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea looking unconvincingly earnest
The initial task that brought this topic to mind illustrates many of the factors involved. A friend needed paired images that said, ‘True,’ and, ‘False,’ but should ideally be matching, abstract yet interesting, and easy to discern quickly and from a moderate distance – there were additional details in that they couldn’t be mistaken for any other images that we were already using, in colors or shapes, but the initial criteria were tricky enough. I mean, what image comes to mind when you think of, ‘True?’ And of course, I have no such categories in my stock folders and could only pick through thousands of images trying to find ones that could be interpreted in those ways, mostly in the Scenic/Abstract folders.

[Was I successful? Well, we’ve settled on a handful of images that can work, but I don’t think either one of us is satisfied yet, no images that make us say, “Yeah, that works!” I’m still not just keeping my eye out while reviewing images, but thinking of potential new concepts as well.]

single long-stemmed rose washed up on beach
It’s often easier than that, though. Light color expresses temperature pretty well, since we know (subconsciously, mostly) that overcast days limit the red and yellow spectrum of sunlight, so light that is mostly blue spells out, ‘cold.’ Which also means that orange light is considered, ‘warm,’ something that too many TV and film directors use rather hamhandedly. Contrast and shadows provide their own impressions, sometimes of direct sunlight or, ‘being in the spotlight,’ sometimes specifically not. Blurring means motion or speed, also communicated at times with windblown hair or fur. Sunrise conditions almost always say, ‘quiet,’ among anything else. And if you’re planning on expressive images of abandoned buildings, you’d better bring along a little doll to discard into a corner someplace.

Okay, try to avoid the clichés when you can, but admittedly, clichés can still express what you need them to, and if the idea is to provide an immediate and unmistakable impression, sometimes a cliché is handy. Monochrome images dance exuberantly back and forth across the border between ‘trite’ and ‘expressive’ – simply converting to B&W often isn’t enough by itself, but selecting the right image for it can definitely work.

Being able to recognize something that provides a distinct impression is very handy for accent pieces and background illustrations – for art prints on a wall of course, but also to hint at an underlying mood. Yet, for commissioned works or advertising purposes, you often have to create those impressions. Just street photography can be tricky in eliminating all of the factors that might provide a negative impression (if that is not your explicit goal): trash, worn paint, cars that need work, people who are obviously not happy, and so on. When shooting weddings, I knew I had a roughly thirty-second window of capturing the couple’s first dance, when the guests were all looking on with smiles. Past that time, attentions wandered, people turned away or started quietly conversing among themselves, even sneaking a little food, and having that in the shot simply doesn’t work. And believe me, your eyes will go straight to that one person. For any photography, spotting the subtle little distractions and keeping them from your frame is important, but doubly so if you’re trying to foster a distinct mood or idea. You have to see everything, as well as nailing your timing. Candid groups of people can be especially hard, and photographers may often take lots of frames hoping to capture one where nobody is forming a distraction to the overall idea.

two edits of seagull against sunset clouds
We can’t forget what you can do in post, either. If you need to foster more of an impression than the original provides, or simply see the potential, a little editing in the program of your choice can make a huge difference. The parts above about color temperature and contrast will likely provide most of what you need, but some selective lightening or darkening can alter things nicely, something that cinematographers know all too well. And here is where you can occasionally remove those distractions that you missed when taking the photo. I’m never a fan of altering images beyond cropping or slight color corrections, preferring to get the intended image right the first time, and so I don’t push people in this direction, but at times it serves a purpose. Always remember that changing images that contain people is inherently asking for trouble, and alterations are widely frowned upon for journalistic uses, where it becomes “editorializing’ rather than ‘witnessing.’ Tread carefully, but preferably, not at all.

So there are some ideas to get you started, but by no means a complete list or the best examples (I never claimed to be perfect.) It’s often trickier than it might seem, but when it works, you know it. Give it a shot, and be creative.

[And if you have any decent ideas for ‘True’ and ‘False,’ let me know.]

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis looking appalled
Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis looking sorrowful

Catsup

This is the second post to clear out some accumulated photos, that I had intended to get to yesterday, but we already know I suck. Regardless of my differential air pressure, these were all taken two days ago and all within the confines of sprawling (for a given definition of ‘sprawling’) Walkabout Estates (for a given definition of ‘Estates,’ though this isn’t news to you, is it?)

I noticed a little juvenile mantis out front on one of the big planter pots, and it was facing the molted exoskeleton of a cicada (that’s been there for weeks,) swaying back and forth as if looking for a fight – I did not have the camera handy and quickly corrected this, but the mantis had by that point uttered its face-saving bravado statements and turned away.

unidentified juvenile mantis disregarding exoskeleton of Brood XIX cicada
Shame, because I would have liked to have seen how that went down – the empty exoskeleton might have actually outweighed the mantis, though possibly slower. The mantis is going unidentified right now, now to protect its privacy (nature photographers don’t even know what that word means,) but because there remains a possibility this is in a European mantis from egg cases that my brother sent down, and not the typical Chinese mantids that usually inhabit the area. One of these days, I’ll capture one and see if I can spot the differentiating markings.

I left the immediate area and returned not too much later, to find a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) suspiciously in the same location that the mantis had been – with no mantis to be see.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis watching photographer from where mantis had recently been seen
I watched for a few moments, changing angles slightly, looking for the gulping motion that anoles do for some time after they’ve snagged a meal, as if it’s stuck in their throat, but the anole simply watched me warily, possibly thinking I was going to try and sell it gutter-cleaning services. But then, using my eyes just a tad more responsibly, I spotted the mantis again, further around the curve of the planter and wisely holding very still.

juvenile mantis holding completely still in presence of anole
I never know how much evolved behavior I’m actually seeing. Anoles certainly respond much more to motion than to appearance, recognizing the quick movements favored by a majority of their prey, but have the mantids co-evolved not to display these motions? I’ve certainly seen them moving quite rapidly at times, but of course not while hunting, and their typical stance by far is being motionless, though that’s also in areas where they blend in very well and I don’t think this qualifies. Regardless, it escaped the attentions of the anole while I was watching.

Quite close by sits a presently-empty plant stand in the front garden, and I realized that it had an occupant.

still young Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on plant stand with tail growing back
I’d been seeing this anole for the past week or so, always on or in the immediate vicinity of a large stick that I’d planted to hold the aforementioned mantis egg sacs in a good hatching area – this guy claimed it as its territory, and even gave me a territorial display twice when I was too close for its liking. It’s the same Carolina anole species – they can change hue drastically – but as you can see, this one has an odd-looking tail; this is because the tail got detached sometime in the past and has been growing back now, and don’t ask me if it will eventually blend in with the rest or not, since I’ve never watched it happen. I can say that, just in the week or so of seeing it regularly (which of course I can tell specifically because of that tail,) the tail has roughly doubled in length, perhaps growing as much as a centimeter in that time. I’ll endeavor to keep tabs on it.

Heading around back, my next find couldn’t have been more obvious without flashing lights.

eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis stretched out in backyard
This is an eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis,) formerly known as a black rat snake until biologists realized they could change the clearly descriptive name into something more vague that incorporated the vastly-overused ‘eastern’ – seriously, I don’t know what it is with them but I’m recommending therapy. Anyway, I only see these occasionally, and this one was the largest that I’ve spotted in years, thicker than a garden hose and nearly as long as I am tall (182 cm.) I was quite pleased, since maybe it’ll help with the mole problem, but it’s a good thing that The Girlfriend wasn’t around at the time because this is the size that freaks people out. They’re not only harmless, though, they’re usually pretty docile, which we’ll see in a minute.

eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis closeup of head
This is a snake big enough to consume chicken eggs whole, though they do have to do that jaw-dislocation thing, and thankfully it didn’t show up until the titmouse nest had been vacated. I wanted to do a couple of useful scale shots, however, so I reached down as it was realizing that I was definitely aware of its presence and beginning to slide away, and simply picked it up by the midsection. Not only did it not turn to bite, it didn’t attempt to defecate on me either, or even coil around an arm; its reaction was more along the lines of mild distress and slightly more effort in moving on. It was not, however, as cooperative as it could have been for the selfie.

author/photographer holding eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis for mirror selfie
Yes, I realize I completely failed to take a proper mirror selfie by not wearing only a towel or a muscle shirt, and for that you should be grateful enough to actually donate something. I had to take too many images because of both the snake wandering off in different directions, and the inexcusable lag for actually taking a photo – seriously, why do people think smutphone cameras are so great? But it gives a little more scale anyway, even when so much of the snake is coiled out of sight, but you can at least see the head.

This one might also give an idea.

eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis near access door on Stately Walkabout Manor
That’s a standard-width door into the water heater and crawlspace access, 80cm wide. And I have to note that all of the outdoor photos here were taken after I’d already picked up the snake and done the indefensible mirror shot – this is how agitated it did not get, and simply slid on its way with a little more purpose. How can anyone be scared of these? It’s like being scared of a sloth…

By the way, tomorrow is National Get Outdoors Day, so have at it. It’ll be up to you, as I may be very limited in this myself because I was running a fever last night and haven’t been able to do much. Some reptile-related virus, is what my doctor told me, and I should be fine once I shed…

Ketchup

Okay, I have a bunch of photos I’ve been neglecting, so let’s get some of them out of the way first – there will be another post following this with the rest. Provided I don’t get even more in the interim…

adult osprey Pandion haliaetus in nest examining something out of sight
I did make a trip down to one of the osprey nests, right around sunset because that would throw the best light on things, but only one osprey (Pandion haliaetus) made a brief visit, appearing to examine things in the nest before flying off and again and not returning until the light had dropped so low that I gave it up for the evening. It should be well past the time that the young would have hatched, but not quite time for them to be showing themselves above the nest rim, yet the adult also didn’t do any feeding. Not sure what to think at this point.

This was the nest that I have to observe from a busy bridge, and while there, I watched a pair of North American beavers (Castor canadensis) foraging in the drainage stream below.

North American beaver Castor canadensis bringing water reeds back to den near dusk
This was well down below where the sun could reach and it was subsequently pretty low light down there, so what I have isn’t very good quality. But at least I snagged this one bringing a bunch of reeds back to the den, indicating pretty strongly that there are young-uns around. I lost sight of both of them as they passed under the bridge, but the behavior of the ripples gave a hint that they’d stopped soon afterward, and I suspect the den is in the bank under the bridge. I’ll have to keep an eye out, since it gets dark so much later now that they should be active before sunset.

I’d stopped by NC Botanical Garden at some point, finding it an enormously slow day, and so I include just one curiosity, a hitchhiker that was walking along my shoulder.

Acanthocephala terminalis nymph on photographer's hand
This is the scale shot, that gives a hint of the colors, but we can do better.

Acanthocephala terminalis nymph on unidentified flowers
The little bugger took some convincing to get off my hand and someplace that I could use both hands to operate the camera. I was thinking that I’d need to submit the images to BugGuide.net, because I knew this was a nymph and thus not likely to maintain this coloration into adulthood, but searching under “blue assassin” turned up a match, that of Acanthocephala terminalis. Not actually an assassin bug, instead being a leaf-footed bug, but they’re not far removed from one another, and yes, the adults look almost nothing like this – certainly the deep metallic blue hue is gone. We can see that a little better in the inset:

Acanthocephala terminalis nymph in detail
We need more really bright and deep blue bugs. Maybe I’ll start selectively breeding some…

[I have to note that, as I was copying “Acanthocephala terminalis” for its multiple uses in the photo descriptions, spellcheck asked me if I meant, “phallocentric.” You’re reaching like a snickering ninth-grader, spellcheck.]

Back home on Walkabout Estates, I was looking for anoles on the oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and instead took a few moments to snag the European honeybees (Apis mellifera) that were visiting.

European honeybee Apis mellifera visiting blooms of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
The Girlfriend was thinking that the flowers were more pink than they’d been last year, but I have photos from around this time that shows them to be largely the same. However, we need a closer look at that honeybee.

closeup detail of airborne European honeybee Apis mellifera visiting blooms of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
That’s… really pretty sharp for a handheld shot of an airborne bee with a manual focus lens, but I admit that a lot of luck was involved, since other frames did not look even remotely in focus – it’s why I often fire off a sequence of frames of such subjects. Digital images are easy to discard and don’t cost anything, unlike slides. But the slides would have had richer color…

Okay, that got rid of seven of them – another eight are coming.

Just once, part 23

possibly mole kingsnake Lampropeltis rhombomaculata basking on fencepost
This one comes from just a few days over nine years ago, and while it’s possible that I have seen the same species once or twice since, I never got any usable photos of it, much less featured it here in a post. It was also misidentified then, but I’m not sure I’m correctly identifying it now.

Here’s the deal. Back then, I hadn’t found the useful source of identifying reptiles and amphibians for this area, which is this one, that I use all the time now. So my searches on rough description pulled up a likely match, that of a prairie kingsnake (Lampropeltis calligaster) – except that they’re not found in this area (kinda duh! really, when you think of the common name,) and presumably said source did not provide the active range. Since then, I have found one that does inhabit this area – and another. The descriptions and images, from any source that I’ve pulled up just now, do nothing to help differentiate them. So I am very tentatively identifying this as a juvenile mole kingsnake (Lampropeltis rhombomaculata,) with the recognition that it might instead be a juvenile eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum); the single row of markings along the lower sides favors the former, though.

Another source (not my preferred one above) also indicated that it might be a scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides) and showed photos to match – except that these popped up under the scientific name for the eastern milksnake and clearly did not have the typical markings of the scarlet kingsnake, which is the species that closely resembles the coral snake, differentiated only by the order of the colored bands. I suspect they were trying to cover the ‘regional’ name for the snake, which can be all over the damn place, but it still remains incredibly stupid to have a regional name that’s identical to another species especially when their ranges overlap. This is not a scarlet kingsnake, by any stretch of the imagination.

It is also not a coral snake or copperhead, that some guides claim they’ve been mistaken for, which boggles the mind – both species are wildly different from either of the two possibilities here, so much so that “mistaking” them can come only from someone who hasn’t a fucking clue what they look like. Not surprising at all, really, and such “mistakes” almost always come from people who automatically consider all snakes dangerous and “bad,” but it’s still egregiously misleading to imply that this is a factor of close resemblance rather than just evidence of idiots who freak out over garter snakes…

Notably, the mole kingsnake, eastern milksnake, prairie kingsnake, and even the scarlet kingsnake are all from the Genus Lampropeltis, so little wonder than that three of them are almost identical in markings. They’re kinda like the Kennedys…

Summore

Just the last handful of photos from Tennessee and New York, no real theme to be found.

We didn’t do a lot of sightseeing or exploring on this trip, partially because we had to spend a lot of it traveling, partially because it was freaking hot in Tennesee. On Wednesday I believe, we moseyed over to David (Davey) Crockett’s Birthplace State Park, just to poke around a bit, but we had other places to go that day so we didn’t spend a lot of time there, and quite frankly I’m not terribly fascinated with seeing authentic replicas of log cabins and fences (my knowledge of Davey Crockett comes almost entirely from The Wide World of Disney on Sunday evenings, but I can’t recall him accomplishing anything groundbreaking.) Anyway, all I found to photograph there was a cooperative damselfly.

unidentified damselfly in David Crockett Birthplace State Park, TN
I just tried to pin down what species this was, with no luck – those orange eyes don’t seem to be appearing anywhere, but this may be because this isn’t normal coloration, occurring soon after a molt or something. We need a closer look at this frame:

closeup of unidentified damselfly in David Crockett Birthplace State Park, TN
Not too shabby, especially since I wasn’t using the macro lens, but only the 18-135mm. and this one held still well enough that my brother could slide his hand in underneath and get it to climb aboard:

unidentified damselfly in David Crockett Birthplace State Park, TN on photographer's brother's hand
That adequately expresses scale, I believe.

On the property where we were staying, there were several examples of minor wildlife to be found, including amphibians that had recently departed the tadpole stage in some drainage creeks near the barn – the same ones where bear tracks appeared from time to time. My brother managed to snag one and I took it out into bright sunlight for some detail shots.

unidentified tiny frog found in mountains of Tennessee
This one also defeated my attempts at identification, largely because it’s only recently entered the terrestrial stage and so isn’t adult size or coloration yet. It was no more than 10mm in length, so I’m leaning towards one of the chorus frogs, but none of the identification guides that I checked seemed to match these markings. This has been an ongoing issue because virtually all such guides show only adult specimens, often just one color variation as well, so anything that doesn’t fall into this category raises questions.

I’m a lot surer about this next one, though.

immature eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus seen through acrylic aquarium
Before there was even the suggestion that I’d be out there myself, I’d told my brother it seemed likely this species would be around, so it seemed fitting that he found one while I was there, and in fact I assisted in its capture. This is an eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus,) but a young one, less than half size. The image is this soft because i was shooting through the acrylic sides of a small aquarium, the best thing that we had to photograph it within while preventing an escape – there was no chance I was going to snag any photos of this without restraint. They can get quite large and with much more distinct markings, up to perhaps 16-20cm in length, though this one was roughly 10 itself – crickets were a big meal for it. But yes, certainly the gnarliest-looking reptiles we have in the area.

And then, on to New York. At the Gatsby mansion, the ospreys were quite active, though initially the skies were pretty crummy since we were there between rains. While I had the camera in hand, I was up near the mansion helping with some maintenance issue when a commotion overhead drew my eyes up, and I just barely snagged the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) cruising low overhead, being harassed by ospreys.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus fleeing from harassing ospreys in central New York
I hadn’t brought along the long lens, which would have been an additional bag not to mention that I wasn’t going to even think about putting it into checked baggage, so this was with the old Canon 100-300 L lens at 300mm – the eagle was close overhead, is what I’m saying. Shame about the lighting.

But we ended up leaving and returning in the evening, closing on sunset, and the light was better then. I kept hearing an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in a nearby tree, but my attempt at stalking it didn’t quite pan out – it saw me and took flight before I’d spotted its perching area, though I did get several frames as it was departing.

osprey Pandion haliaetus taking flight with partially-eaten meal in its grasp
The setting sunlight was more dramatic this time, but you can also see the meal that I’d interrupted. We’d driven past several roadside nests and it was clear that the young had hatched, so this was a meal just for the parent, or perhaps an unwed specimen, because I’m quite sure the osprey did not depart a nest (I was actually standing under an unfinished one, far too close to be allowed near an occupied one.)

A quick peek at this year’s brood of eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus):

very young specimen of eastern cottontail rabbit Sylvilagus floridanus pausing in driveway
Look at those little ears! This guy paused in the driveway and I crept up on it as close as it would allow, which wasn’t half as close as I would have liked, but I was already in plain sight so there was a distinct limit. I also spotted a tiny fawn, little more than terrier size, but it scrambled through a fence before I could bring the camera to bear. I’d just been thinking how odd it was that I hadn’t seen a deer yet on the property…

And finally, sunset. This region of New York produces ten times the number of fascinating sunsets than what I can see around here, so I was taking advantage, and while this one wasn’t stunning, I still appreciate having something on the one day that I was available to shoot it.

osprey Pandion haliaetus against sunset colors over Cayuga Lake, New York
And when you have a cooperative osprey, even if it is a little distant, you take advantage of it. But the better one came from going wider.

sunset on Cayuga Lake, New York
I closed down the aperture to produce the starburst effect from the bright sun, but the crepuscular rays were produced by the clouds and they complemented each other nicely. Moreover, the temperature was about perfect, the lake quiet and almost devoid of boaters – curiously, since it was Memorial Day weekend, but off and on rain storms had driven most of them back to harbor. The water was still too cold for decent swimming, though, but I got a little wading in anyway. Not too bad for one full day in NY at least.

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