My oldest image of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) dates from… actually, I have only a vague idea of when this was taken, which is somewhere around 1990-93, and no recollection of where. I scanned the negative a few weeks back and now can’t recall if the frame edges were rounded (which would indicate that it was taken with the Wittnauer) or square (Pentax) – probably the former, given the distance and quality. It was a grab shot taken from the car, but really, that’s all that can be said.
Given how common this species is across the continent, I have surprisingly few images of them – far, far fewer than of mantids and treefrogs. And among those are few behavioral images, which I really should correct, but deer don’t motivate me as much, perhaps because so many people have photos of them that I aim for slightly more obscure species. Nonetheless, the quality has improved over the years.
Dating from 2007 now, this was taken with the Canon Pro-90 IS, cropped a bit. Another grab shot from the car, but this time in the driveway on my way into work while a curious fawn slowly approached the vehicle; this makes it, like, three times closer than the above frame. From what I’ve observed, fawns seem to need to learn the ‘headlong flight’ behavior that the adults often exhibit, and when young enough will show little discretion, but this may be an aspect of the trait they possess when very young, where they will lay down in a spot of their mother’s choosing and remain there regardless while the mother forages, presenting a frequent issue with people ‘rescuing’ ‘abandoned’ fawns. When they’re old enough to get around dependably, then they learn to flee questionable circumstances.
Now we’re up to 2010, using the Canon Digital Rebel at the very edge of my rental property. Deer were semi-frequent visitors, but again, I didn’t spend a lot of time chasing images. This doe was quite close and I was using a longer lens (the 75-300mm,) but this is also cropped a little – it appeared in the early days of the blog in a slightly different framing.
Perhaps the most fartistic of the collection, which isn’t saying much at all, this dates from last year – I just liked the twilight fog and the white clover flowers. This was now taken with the Canon 7D and the Tamron 150-600mm, and by all rights it should have been worse than this given the poor light and long focal length, handheld well after sunset. Still didn’t achieve a really scenic background, however.
And this… is just eight days old, quite likely the same fawn as seen vaguely here, though no adults were in sight. I spotted the fawn (well, no, it was already spotted) just outside the fence as it fled, and knowing that it wouldn’t go too far before pausing to assess the situation, I fetched the camera – same rig as the previous image – and quietly followed its path, getting rewarded with a couple of frames of suspicious looks before the fawn fled again. The light quality, the focus isolation from the background, and that teen-hipster beard all make it work much better than the others.
The major differences? By the largest margin, just the accumulation of opportunities. Again, these may have demonstrated much more improvement, within a shorter time span, had I dedicated more effort towards pursuing the species; great images can just happen, but making the effort to improve the odds will usually mean they happen much more frequently. I know that’s not a really deep insight, but occasionally we need the motivation to make the effort. Believe me, once you snag some wonderful shots after spending a lot of time in the pursuit, it gets easier to do – you have proof that it works.
Meanwhile, they’re all dead-on portraits, aren’t they?
I was busy taking care of things in the backyard when I realized that the calls of a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) seemed a bit too clear. It’s quite common to hear them as they wheel overhead marking territory, but this was fixed and quite close. It took no effort at all to spot it sitting on a dead branch just off the back of the property.
This is fairly uncommon; unlike the red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered tend to be a bit more secretive, alighting in thicker foliage where they’re not easily spotted, and I’ve spent plenty of time trying to find one that I knew, from the calls, was right there and yet couldn’t quite lay eyes on it. This one probably couldn’t have been more obvious if it tried, and I was in plain sight myself no more than 15 meters away. It stayed put as I got the camera, and even as I returned to my chores.
The one thing it didn’t do was offer up any calls while I was shooting, the only evidence that it even recognized my presence. Well, there was another bit, and we’re about to get to that. Eight minutes have passed between the first image and this one, and you can see how the sun has moved on and thrown more shadow on my friend here, but at least I got a nice frame with some lighting into that eye. It hadn’t moved – the change in perspective is due to shooting from different parts of the yard, which really isn’t that big, so you get a faint impression of how close the hawk was, even though these frames are significantly cropped.
Eventually it made eye contact, though even this wasn’t an indication of anxiety because it remained where it was – it spent far more time looking over its shoulder at something behind it than down at me, though I saw nothing back there myself. Most likely, it was hearing something stirring in the undergrowth and was watching for prey.
Given that this was only 20 meters, if that, from the nest that I featured six years ago, it remains possible that this was one of the young raised therein, or even a parent – but not likely. Six years is a long life for most birds in the wild, not to mention that we’ve always had plenty of the species around, so who knows? So although I haven’t spent a lot of time the past few days in chasing pics, I can present a handful that represents a little activity. And I’m working on some stuff that will appear here eventually – just want to get it right.
Two discoveries last night led me to shoot some comparison images, which allows you to see the size variations between these species, but not the actual size of them. It’s not easy to get something to show size in the frame with most of my subjects, even when I carry little paper measuring scales with me (how many people can say they have one of those in their wallets regularly? How many people don’t find this a bragging point? Weird.) Most of my subjects would either be disturbed by my attempts to slip something like that alongside them, or would move on immediately after I got it propped into place. Plus it destroys the aesthetic.
Regardless, here are the images, notable in that they were all shot at the same magnification and are shown here full frame, so each of these is exactly this size in comparison to the others.
This is likely the same baby Carolina anole (Anolis carolinesis) found a few days back, given that it’s less than two meters away from that spot. Though I’d be thrilled to know there’s more than one this age (how many people – oh, never mind…)
This is a juvenile Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis,) roughly half adult size, flushed out as I misted the area. I missed a great video opportunity, because for all the times that I’ve seen mantids excited about getting misted, this one was the most exuberant, climbing the leaves excitedly and waving its forelegs in the air like it was conjuring – it would be easy to mistake this for an aggressive display, except that I know how they feel about water when it’s this damn hot out.
And this is a juvenile Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) on the buds of the clethra bush. Carolina mantises are roughly half the size of Chinese mantises and hatch much later in the season, so this one is quite young, probably a few weeks old. I’d seen it on the clethra bush earlier but the misting didn’t flush it out like the Chinese mantis; nonetheless, I found it with a short search while shooting the comparison images.
To keep these together, they were all shot at the maximum magnification of the Mamiya 80mm macro, though without the extension tube, so at a working distance of 16cm or so from the end of the lens hood. The last mantis is probably about 10mm in length, and the head of the anole is smaller than your little fingernail. Thankfully, they’re well separated because, at these sizes, there could be a food chain thing going on (though not in this order.) I was also pleased to find three Chinese mantids in the area with a short search, after how scarce they’ve been this season. Time to start stalking them for video.
Yeah, seven freakin’ years ago in March, I began the practice of the month-end abstract, though I didn’t know it at the time – it just kinda fell into place and became a (semi) regular feature. And truth be told, that first one still remains one of my favorite abstract images. This one here? Not so much, and not even too abstract at that, but it’s what we have for the month. Shot while out at Fort Fisher, NC, I went wide for the scenic/abstract nature of it, just capturing the isolation, but it’s not deep or poignant or eye-bending. We’re just using it to see June on its way, or welcome July, or note the middle of the year. Whatever you like. It’s a tradition now, and you don’t mess with tradition…
Coming up the front walk today without doing any of my typical surveying for subjects, I only spotted this because of how freaking obvious it was.
After having seen the pregnant female Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) several times in the front area, I stopped seeing any sign of her. This was vaguely troubling, because in an effort to stop the marauding leopard slugs, we’d put out a shallow pan of beer; this did not work as advertised, but I never saw the female again after that and I was afraid she’s poisoned herself on the beer. But now, we have this guy right in the same region, and I suspect that the size/scale is evident. Those big green sweet potato leaves are growing from (and completely concealing) the same blue planter that the expecting mother was pictured on in that linked post. This is the smutphone shot – I quickly scampered in and got a camera to do this proper.
I did two quick sessions, correcting some oversights from the first, and in the interim the anole had moved – had I not known it was in the immediate vicinity, I likely never would have spotted it atop the daylily bud. It was being pretty cooperative, I have to admit – it definitely knew I was around and made some motions in consideration of concealing itself, but was likely relying on motionlessness instead. I can always work with that.
This is cropped of course, especially since I wasn’t even using the extension tube on the Mamiya 80mm macro, but still, I was less than a half-meter away. I have no precise measurement, but that eye is almost certainly 2mm in width or less; the entire anole, long tail included, was the length of my finger. You will, almost certainly, be seeing more of it later on.
I have a few things to get done, and a few more clips to capture to flesh out a planned video, so we’re just gonna have a couple of placeholders in here, okay?
[Plowing ahead without waiting for an answer]
Cruising around the neighborhood pond the other evening, I spotted this yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) as it left a treetop nearby and flew a bit further on, allowing a closer approach as long as it was done slowly and quietly. The behavior was a little cooperative, the light considerably less so, semi-overcast and backlit, so not only is this a pretty muted image, it’s been tweaked away from an even worse state. Nonetheless, night herons are cool, a hair (feather) larger than the green herons with a really harsh barking squawk, distinctive with that white stripe and the larger eyes. And of course that no-nonsense bill.
The next evening as I approached the house, I found Kaylee crouched in the front door, a favorite nature-watching spot of hers and Monster’s.
This was also shot with the long lens, and if you’re getting the impression that she’s slightly cross-eyed, you’re not mistaken – this is evidence of her Siamese heritage. Also perhaps faintly visible, she doesn’t like making eye-contact with me, despite the distance and the intervening camera, and so she’s looking ever-so-slightly to my left. I play a game with her sometimes, in that I notice which way she’s shifted her gaze and keep leaning into it, forcing her to keep turning her head aside subtly (she won’t look away – she has to keep her peripheral vision on me) until she finally realizes what I’m up to and abruptly shifts her gaze slightly to the other side. I’ve never determined why this is, but she bonded early on with The Girlfriend and this is how she enforces my status.
To the best of my knowledge (and searches through old negatives,) this is my first successful lightning capture, dating back from 1996 I believe. Moreover, it was captured in a non-standard way, because the storm rolled through at dusk and the sky wasn’t fully dark, so a long exposure was out of the question. Thus, as the wicked activity rolled around me, I held my Olympus OM-10 and 50mm lens in hand, aimed at the active portion of the sky, and waited with my finger on the shutter release for a bolt. My friend, witnessing this, was openly skeptical, arguing (correctly) that most bolts didn’t last more than a fraction of a second and my reflexes simply wouldn’t be adequate. I agreed, but was hoping for one of those flickering bolts that hang around long enough – and actually caught one! It doesn’t compare to many images out there, and I always had something much better as a goal even then, but the nature of available electrical storms and the opportunity to exploit them meant that even the bare attempts tended to be spaced out by years.
Five years later on, this time with significantly better Canon equipment and slide film, I got lucky early one morning during a beach trip and had a distant storm passing behind Bodie Island lighthouse. I was quite enthusiastic about this at the time, and for a few years afterward as well, but now I consider it rather lackluster – that’s what progress will do to you, which is a good thing, really. Always raise those standards.
I had to include this animated sequence, fifteen years further on at the same lighthouse, but this time facing almost exactly in the opposite direction (and shooting digital now.) A couple of frames were notably better than the above, but the collection of them showing the boiling thunderhead (entirely lit by its own lightning) is fascinating to me. This was kind of a gamble that paid off, given that I saw the developing cell at sunset and wondered if it would pan out, requiring a drive of 58 kilometers to be in position by the lighthouse. But given that I stayed just one night out there on this trip, luck played the largest part. I remember watching the first flashes of lightning as I was driving north, hoping the storm would develop more strongly and not peter out before I arrived. I also recall that I left so quickly I forgot my headlamp, making the small hike out across the open lawn in the dark a little hazardous, given that cottonmouths might have been in the vicinity, and getting bitten to shit by the mosquitoes that breed in the marshlands surrounding the lighthouse. It was also right before The Girlfriend went to bed (I was doing this trip alone,) so I had to call her while standing out there behind the tripod watching the light show. Given all that, it was a fun evening, and worth it.
But let’s get to some local efforts.
I don’t really have a favorite lightning image, but this one is probably the most fartistic, and has been produced as a print. It’s a crop of a wider image showing the bolt and its reflection, though I thought the reflection by itself worked pretty well with the ripples from the raindrops in there. The biggest change was moving to a new location with a pond nearby, and thus having immediate access to an open, scenic area facing west when the storms approached; our previous house was abysmal in that regard, and getting someplace appropriate usually took too long and the storm had moved onward by then.
And then, naturally, there’s this one:
Only a couple kilometers from the house, I was being stupid and watching a storm develop almost directly overhead while standing out in the complete open – don’t do this! Initially, I’d been watching one much more distant, but that petered out while the clouds overhead started a little cloud-to-cloud activity, and I simply didn’t register that this was far too close. The ground strike, the only one from that activity, was within a few hundred meters of my position, reminding me to get my ass out of harm’s way. But this means that you’re looking up the length of the bolt in this image. It’s very dynamic, but… really, there’s nothing else in the frame, is there? I dunno, maybe I’ve seen it too much now…
Being in position for the storm that died out came courtesy of a real-time lightning tracker, allowing a bit of forewarning as well as trends that revealed the direction of the storms, which greatly increases the chances of getting decent lightning images. Since that time, plenty of apps have been developed for smutphones, so warnings can be received even when away from a proper computer.
Once again at the neighborhood pond, only on the opposite side now, this one is perhaps the most dynamic given the shape of the bolt, the layers of clouds and lighting thereof, and the overall mood. There’s enough of a setting to make it a scene rather than just a bolt, but little enough that imagination fills in the gaps – it can be anywhere you want it to be, suggestive rather than specific. This needs to be a print too, I think…
In table tennis (at least,) there’s a common technique where, when you return a volley, you snap the paddle laterally and introduce spin to the ball, which causes it to bounce erratically when it hits the table on your opponent’s side, hopefully causing them to miss the return. Topspin generally means the bounce will be very low and the ball even accelerates; usually, the only way to be ready for this is to recognize the paddle motion that causes it in the first place, to know how the ball will behave. This is about as sportsy as I get, and I’m sure others out there are bouncing around in their seats to correct me, whereupon I will simply delete their comments.
But all this is so you know what I mean when I say that today is Return with Topspin Day, when we either celebrate the best examples that we’ve seen, or try to produce one of our own. Of course, this can be figurative, referring only to an unexpected return volley for which there is no effective counter – we don’t have to be playing or even watching table tennis.
In that vein, I present a clip from, I dunno, forty-some years ago? From The Carol Burnett Show, a classic of sketch comedy with a fantastic cast, virtually always more entertaining than Saturday Night Live, not that this is a grand accomplishment. It is, however, one of the best moments of television.
A bit of setup. Tim Conway is the guy in the cap, recounting his experiences with elephants; Carol Burnett is the brunette to the right, a southern matriarch; Vicki Lawrence is the white-haired woman further right, Carol’s “mama” despite being the youngest of the cast (mid-twenties at this point, if I recall;) and Dick Van Dyke is at the far end of the couch. Tim, an inveterate ad-libber, had to finish his story before the skit could continue, which is exactly the kind of thing he preyed upon – no one knew what his story was going to be. Watch his impeccable timing.
I’ve heard two different stories regarding this clip. The first is that the director knew they were running long and urged them to keep things moving. The second was that Carol herself was adamant that people not break character or lose composure. We see how well both of these worked out.
I remember seeing this when it first aired (or at least a rerun within a couple of years,) and Vicki’s ultimate line was partially bleeped out, so it was decades before I knew she said, “Are you sure that little asshole’s through?” And as deadly as Tim’s story was, it was Vicki’s riposte that finished the game. I mean, no matter how much spin you put on a table tennis ball, you can only score one point, but Vicki’s return was fatal.
From what I’ve heard, that became a defining moment for this new character, enough so that a spinoff called Mama’s Family resulted a little later on; a short search will show you several clips where Vicki herself, a master of remaining straight-faced, defied her co-stars to remain in character.
I did a student outing to Jordan Lake three days back, now concentrating on more species than just the woodpeckers, but mostly seeing what I normally do, with a couple of exceptions. But first, an observation that I meant to post earlier and forgot. This sunset shot dates from the 14th – nothing exciting, just an illustration, because the next one is from the 18th.
In between, we had a wicked set of thunderstorms blow through, and I returned to find something had changed. The tall dead tree on the right had been a landmark ever since I started visiting this area, hosting woodpeckers and serving as a perch for countless birds, yet it had to go sometime. I wasn’t paying strict attention to it in the days leading up to this, but I never saw evidence of any woodpeckers nests within it this year, so here’s hoping I was correct. Another pine trunk had dropped right across the path out to this point, and I could at least examine that one for nest cavities; I found one that had been started, but was not deep enough to have hosted a nest.
On to the birds now.
Spotting this as soon as we got out of the car by following the nearby birdsong, I had initially identified this as a scarlet tanager, but I was wrong; this is a summer tanager (Piranga rubra) instead, which I should have guessed because it was the first day of summer, duh! It was the first I’d photographed, potentially the first I’d seen – I don’t keep spotting lists, just the pics.
The osprey were mildly active, more so than the combined times when I was out there for the woodpeckers.
This one had just snagged that fish not too far away from the fallen stump above, and had cut off in our direction. This is right as it shook off the water from making the capture, which they always do about 5-10 seconds after taking off again, as soon as they get a little safe altitude. The sun wasn’t at an ideal angle for either the bird itself, or to illuminate the spray from the action, though you can see a little against the one wing if you look closely.
Taking advantage of the motor drive, this frame is less than a second after the previous. Someone said this resembles me attempting to dance, which I don’t consider entirely accurate since I’ve never stood on a fish while doing so.
And back to looking regal while glaring at us. Oh yeah, we saw that – we saw it all.
[I have a faint regret, as I review this post during editing, that I did not capture the osprey with its wings up a bit in mid-flap, since they might have mimicked those faint traces of clouds in the background – do you see the shape? Man, that would have been cool.]
Not long afterward, another cruised in almost directly overhead and made a couple of false starts after fish before finally completing its dive; here it’s ‘backing,’ in a near-hover as it zeros in on the fish, calculating its dive. The tail is down for braking, and the talons starting to extend forward for the capture.
This time, some intervening trees obscured my view of the entry, but I likely wouldn’t have caught it anyway – the bird was so close that I was having trouble tracking it as it accelerated downward. I quickly dodged the trees and got a half-ass shot of it as it lifted from the water with its capture.
I’ve watched eagles simply reach down beneath the surface and snag a fish in passing, but osprey always seem to dive, except it’s not head first but leading with the talons instead, naturally. This usually makes a distinct and noisy splash, but in my experience, it’s successful more often than not. I have yet to get the really cool entry pic, just as the osprey touches the water, but then again, I haven’t spent five hours out there after it yet either.
I did see a juvenile bald eagle cruise by in the distance, at a crummy light angle so little more than a silhouette, but then an adult came a lot closer, obscured by the nearby treeline while the angle was best but emerging enough for a decent identifying shot.
Not too far away around the point, some kids were making a bit of noise, and as the eagle passed overhead they set off some kind of mild fireworks, probably completely unaware of the bird nearby. The eagle took immediate evasive action though.
This is not tilted, or a significant change of angle from the last pic; the eagle really is banking almost vertically. It was quite brief, because the bird didn’t have enough altitude that it could afford to shed with the loss of its lifting surfaces in this way, so I’m glad I caught this – I wasn’t even aware that it banked this hard while watching it in the viewfinder.
In our wanderings (actually as we ‘pursued’ our next subject,) we came across a small flock of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) who were reluctant to give up their foraging grounds for mere nature photographers, and so we had the opportunity for some ridiculously close portraits – this is full-frame. Granted, when you do this you typically want something a leetle more photogenic that the Cathartidae, but at least we have those soulful brown eyes to gaze into, kinda like Eva Longoria’s…
In the distance, we could see a large bird sitting in another dead tree, and even at several hundred meters it was clearly not another vulture. Vultures have a hunched look, but eagles seem to sit up as straight as the class suck-up. So we started approaching cautiously, to see how close we could get before it spooked off.
We needn’t have bothered.
There’s a chance that not only was this the juvenile bald eagle that I’d spotted passing in the distance earlier (it was the right general direction,) but also the one that had landed in the treetop above me a few days previously; it was only a half-kilometer from that point, and just as blasé about people being close – yes, that’s a big yawn. It was early evening and plenty of people were hanging out in the immediate area, including someone playing fetch with their dog in the water almost underneath this tree – easily the most mellow one I’ve seen, ever.
This Christopher Lambert stare is wildly misleading, because the eagle allowed us to approach very close beneath and not only didn’t fly off, it took a little time to do some grooming. I have to admit, having a subject that doesn’t require a bit of skill to approach for frame-filling shots takes all the fun out of it.
[A day later, I was speaking to my brother on the phone, and he said that the avian flu was hitting his area hard, and they’d lost a bunch of eagles at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge over it. I’m hoping that it doesn’t have that kind of effect here – it was purportedly brought in by the snow geese up there – but it also may be just a matter of time.]
We were down there for the sunset as well, which didn’t pan out too vividly (as usual,) but as the sun lowered and at least got a bit yellow, I framed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) off in the middle distance.
I virtually always shoot at full-sunlight white balance, which translates to no color alteration at all – this keeps the nice sunset colors. At times it might be better with a little color correction, but I can typically do that in GIMP better than the presets of the camera anyway.
After the sun had disappeared and we were leaving, I turned and shot a quick scenic, only with the contrast and saturation boosted slightly, my setting to compensate for low-contrast light like overcast or deep shade. Which this wasn’t, so it made the sky appear a little better than it was.
That little stand of silhouetted tree in the water at lower left is the same one from the previous photo, only from the opposite side, more or less – the heron had moved on by this time. Overall, nothing too exotic this visit, but enough to make it a decent outing.
I was thinking I’d used a variation of this title before, but not according to my title list. It was probably one of the images…
Regardless, a little break before we get back to more birds.
This is one of those sorting finds that I just thought you needed to see the details of, a tiny damselfly from the yard. It’s likely a skimming bluet (Enallagma geminatum,) though I imagine it believes it’s better than that – you know how damselflies get. And while I’m here, do you think the name is pronounced, “Bloo-ett,” or simply, “Bloot?” Or it is French, and pronounced, “Brechck-FAH,” or something?
Never mind that now; let’s go in for a closer look.
That’s some pretty intense blue right there, or cyan, or aqua, or whatever you want to call it. Here I am trying to do serious nature photography and this guy comes along looking like some hippy’s wall poster. Is this supposed to strike fear into the heart of mosquitoes, or just fascinate their toddlers? You’re trying to imagine mosquito toddlers in a little flying stroller right now, aren’t you?