Bipolar season

When I was putting together the calendar and trying to include all dates that would be of interest to nature & wildlife photographers, and I had the chance to reflect on the event dates that had been chosen. For instance, National Pollinator Week falls in June. Now, pollinators can be found throughout the spring, summer, and even autumn months if you look closely, but why wouldn’t you place this event in the time period (April or May) when the greatest percentage of wildflowers were in bloom?

TinyBrown2And the same with National Wildlife Week, which has just passed. Sure, wildlife is visible throughout the year, yet there are still times when you’re far more likely to be able to spot it than mid-March. The northern latitudes are still waiting on spring and may even be seeing late snowstorms, and here at the mid-latitudes of North Carolina we can see activity of the birds, but the best season comes when the spring’s newborns are leaving the nests or dens, and the plants that serve as food for so many species are leafing out in earnest. And from a photographer’s standpoint, a setting that includes actual foliage is only going to help.

This year, spring has been rather shy and neurotic, peeking in quickly before being overcome with paranoia and hiding under the blanket of late winter, and conditions really aren’t noticeably different from Darwin Day, with the exception that the almond tree is leafing out like a boss. In past years, the red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus) have established territory within easy reach, but this year the dominant male lives further south and the road marks the outskirts of his territory, judging from his calling and flight behavior, so the nest is probably far away. This is a residential area so creeping around with a telephoto lens aimed into people’s yards is not the most social of activities, even if it would inevitably result in meeting new people (and finding out what shotguns they own.) So, I’ve been turning over rocks on warm days to find the critters that are also struggling with the varying temperatures.

The brown snake (Storeria dekayi) seen above and below, a typical resident of the yard, was absorbing the warmth radiated downwards from a rock that receives sunlight most of the day (when it’s actually sunny,) but not quite enough to render it active – it was still sluggish when I captured it for these pics, and received more heat from my hand. Funny, it didn’t seem as thankful for this as you might imagine. But the torpor allowed me to do a few staged shots without having to restrain it, and my primary challenge was finding an interesting setting to photograph it within. Its diminutive size increased this challenge, since it could hide under a coin and at that scale, most landscapes just appear as ground litter (when they don’t appear as a jumble of ugly pink marble…)

Even the bluebirds haven’t settled into the nest boxes yet, which means my other subject for this post was also found under a rock. Ground skinks (Scincella lateralis) also like the area, but these are notoriously hard to photograph, since they’re very agile and shy, and are always found near adequate cover. Which makes me respect some unknown predator a little bit, the one that my subject here lost its tail to, because they had to have moved real fast. Despite my attempts to remain impartial and just observe, I happen to like reptiles, so my respect for this predator is limited, tempered by nonsense feelings of fellowship to the skink.
Or maybe I’m just entertaining the possibility that this is one of the hatchlings I photographed a few years back, since it was in exactly the same location that I found the eggs and subsequently released the hatchlings. Perhaps I just love the metallic bronze coloration, the benefits of which I can only speculate upon since something this shiny seems ridiculously alliterative far more likely to attract attention than the brown snake’s matte skin.

MonochromeLensThere’s a reason that I show mostly tight closeups in pics taken locally, and it’s because my immediate surroundings are loaded in every direction with ugly landscapes – houses, fences, wires, cars, and so on. So presenting a better idea of how bad this time of year is for wildlife photography would require driving someplace more scenic just to show how un-scenic it is anyway, which seems almost pointless for a blog post. But perhaps I can still pull it off – this pic is from just now, out in the yard. The drop from the steady rain is acting as a lens, and what you see through it (inverted) is the bare tree that represents most of what’s visible right now – couple it with patchy brown grass and dead leaves on the ground and you have the idea. This is, by the way, a full color shot. It’s still an improvement over living in New York, but not by much, and I can’t help thinking we’re overdue for much better conditions. But at least you know what’s to blame for too many posts ripping philosophy or religion ;-)