Various and sundry

sunrise on Big Hammock, shamelessly edited
It occurred to me, as I was thinking of this title, that I wasn’t absolutely sure of the meaning of “sundry,” and looked it up – it means, “various,” so this common usage is actually redundant and repetitive. However, I also like the alternate concept of “sun dry,” which is how my clothes were at least half of the time, so we’re good. But while I’m confessing, I’ll keep going and admit that the image above is edited: when I was shooting the houses across the sound in the sunrise light, the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) in the nest weren’t posing at all. The male was out wheeling around someplace and the female was so low only the top of her head was visible, so I dubbed in the pair from a photo that The Girlfriend took later in the day, partially for artistic effect, and mostly because she’s going to paint this image later on; I’ll show it to you when she’s done. There, now she’s obligated to get on it, and not take too long either, because all of my regular commenters will be asking about it…

By the way, both the ospreys and the barn swallows seen in the previous post were sitting on eggs, which has me curious since it seems way past that season; the titmice young had fledged out while we were away, and I watched starling fledglings chasing a parent around on the lawn in the place we stayed at, learning how to find their own food. But it’s the beach, which means timetables are strictly casual (a nice oxymoron.)

longish exposure, moon reflected in wet sand with surf rolling outThere’s going to be an entire post dedicated to just one subject soon, so for now, we’re going to jump around with several different subjects encountered during the beach trip. The moon was a little past full when we arrived, dropping to last quarter during our stay, so as a scenic element it wasn’t perfect, but it was still very visible and so appears in several of my photos. Here, I was waiting on sunrise while it shone brightly off to the south, so I set up a quick composition with its reflection in the wet sand at the tide line. The low light meant letting the shutter drag for a few seconds, which turned the receding foam into a ghostly blanket. I have it as a goal to do a very long exposure of the breakers in moonlight, but due to astronomical timing that would have meant in the 1 to 5 AM range on this trip, and it wasn’t happening – better to catch the moon approaching full when it’s high and bright before midnight.

Another goal has been to see the “green flash,” a curious meteorological phenomenon. When the sun is just over the horizon with the barest peek of light coming right at the edge of the earth, the atmosphere can, at times, produce a deep green color from the sun, but it takes place for less than a second right as the sun disappears. To see this, you not only need the right conditions, you need an unobstructed view of the lowest horizon, and this generally means over water. Here on the east coast, about the only opportunity you get is the gulf side of Florida; everywhere else, there is something that makes the horizon too high/close for the effect. But it can happen at sunrise too, you just have to really have your timing down for the first appearance of the sun – and of course know right where it’s going to appear.

On my first two attempts, it wasn’t hard to tell where the sun would appear, since the humidity provided a nice highlight practically pointing at the sun, and all I had to do was be ready. But the conditions didn’t quite come together, so while I got the moment of appearance above the horizon, I got yellow and not green.

first appearance of sun over horizon at North Topsail Beach
And then, I screwed up. I did a couple of days in other locations, where I couldn’t see the immediate horizon – well, okay, let’s be pedantic. You can always see the horizon, even if it’s the roof of the house right in front of you. That’s kinda how horizon is defined: where the sky stops. The goal is to see the most distant horizon possible, so the flattest landscape that can be found. And I skipped it for a few days, going for other locations (like the sound behind our condo,) before returning again Friday morning, and this time The Girlfriend accompanied me. And as we waited, I was chatting with her and taking other opportunities for pics, like the silhouette of a distant sandpiper against the orange beach. Then I suddenly spot the light, but I’d been looking away at the crucial moment, and also had focus slightly shorter than it should have been. Because, dammit, I probably would have caught it this time.

slightly out-of-focus sunrise showing distinct green edging
This is increased saturation, but white balance set for sunlight so essentially no correction/alteration, and that’s pretty distinctly green at the edges. Shit, anyway.

But, see that blob over to the left? That’s the lead of a trio of fishing boats (they probably got the see the flash) heading out from the inlet. This time I got focus corrected, as they passed in front of the still-rising sun. Okay then.

fishing boats seen in front of rising sun, North Topsail Beach
No, that’s not the only one I have. The Canon 100-300 L was mounted, so I kept shooting.

fishing boat silhouetted against rising sun
This is a tight crop of the original frame, with a slight contrast tweak to keep a faint detail when sized down for web use: if you look closely, you can see the two deep sea fishing rods rising diagonally off the back like whip antennas. Knowing these boats were almost certainly coming out of the New River Inlet, the estimated distance is 2.5 kilometers. I can live with that.

And then I screwed up (again.) I had a borrowed underwater camera, and wanted to try for a fartsy shot that I’ve seen variations of: a pic down the inside of a curler, a wave just before breaking. And the conditions were ideal, with medium-small waves coming in at about waist height, almost perfectly aligned to place the rising sun at the end of the tube. I can’t see well without my glasses, and wasn’t planning on swimming or even getting wet much above the waist, so I kept my glasses on and dodged back and forth in the surf for opportunities. You can see this coming, can’t you?

I feel I should tell you, this is way harder than it sounds. There is a crucial second where the wave is the right shape, and these occur in many different positions along the beach; just sit and watch some day to see what I mean. It’s very easy to be just a little ahead of or behind optimum position, to say nothing of waves breaking several meters from where you stand. So no, I didn’t get what I was after. And then a larger-than-average breaker caught me at the wrong time and I stumbled, getting half-submerged. When I stood back up, the glasses were gone.

This was bad – I can’t drive without them, and can only read if it’s held close to my face. Our plans to visit the aquarium that day faded, as did just about everything else. I quickly told The Girlfriend, and we started walking the surf line back and forth, hoping to see my glasses washing up (in my case, made much harder by my inability to see shit.) In my head, I was planning to find an ophthalmologist nearby as soon as it hit 8 AM, then seek out a place that could do glasses quickly, since my spare pair was over 200 kilometers away. The tide was coming in, which was more promising, and I concentrated my search in the direction that the waves were rolling up the beach, which meant walking and looking into the sun.

And after a half-hour, not quite a hundred meters up from where I’d lost them, I saw my glasses tumbling in the foam right in front of me. Yay! They were, and are, quite a bit more beat-up now, with a lot of little pits from collisions with beachy material, but I needed a new pair anyway, so this is more incentive. But yeah, that could have been much worse. And we did get down to the aquarium.

green sea turtle Chelonia mydas in NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
A couple of days before all that, we had gone down to the southern tip of Topsail Island, an undeveloped area of thin beaches bordering an expanse of scrub grass and dunes. On the sound side, the water is placid but possesses a noticeable current (as I was to find out when snorkeling.) And for reasons unknown, several bizarre specimens of sea life were being brought right to the water’s edge, in a couple of cases washing onshore. I did not recognize them, so I circumspectly pushed them back into the water with my sandal, where they started swimming gently with a fascinating motion. And supported within the water, the photographs of them came out much better.

Mottled sea hare Aplysia fasciata swimming

Mottled sea hare Aplysia fasciata swimming
This is, I believe, a mottled sea hare (Aplysia fasciata,) with an overall length of roughly 20-22 cm; closed up, it was about the thickness of my wrist, but with ‘wings’ spread it became nearly as wide as it was long. And kindly excuse me for this next bit, because it was taken with [*shudder*] a smutphone, but it’s what I had available. When I returned the next day with a camera that could do proper video, the sea hares were nowhere to be seen.

Freaky, right? But there’s something else. Back in Florida, I captured a tiny, paper-thin aquatic animal smaller than your pinky nail, and wondered about it ever since. A few years later, I ran across some images that led me to believe it might have been a juvenile nudibranch, and even put up a page on the main site about it. But now, I suspect that I found a juvenile stage of sea hare. Check the video that I got way back then in Florida (with something even worse than a smutphone):

So let’s step away from the beach awhile, and cover a couple other subjects found in the region. As I said in the previous post, the sound’s edge behind the condo was shrouded in in dense reeds, nearly twice as tall as I was, and I expected to be able to find treefrogs in there, but there wasn’t the faintest sign, visually or aurally. In fact, the only amphibian that I saw on the entire trip (save for the aquarium) was found on two evenings on an upper deck chair. I’ve got plenty of pictures of green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea,) including residents of the property right here, but I needed to record the encounter anyway.

green treefrog Hyla cinerea hanging out on deck chair
And while wandering around the edges of the reeds one evening, just to see what might be residing there, I spotted a small green anole (Anolis carolinensis) trying to sleep deep among the fronds of a spiky plant that might have been a yucca; something like that, anyway.

green anole Anolis carolinensis hiding within fronds of plant, possibly yucca
It was a significant challenge to get the flash at an angle to illuminate the narrow space it had chosen for shelter, but eventually I got a couple of pics that worked while the lizard eyed me with sleepy suspicion.

green anole Anolis carolinensis watching me attempt to get a decent photo
I have other shots where it’s more fully illuminated, but I liked this one for the position of the leaves and the faintly menacing impression. At least, if you didn’t know how docile anoles are.

The sound played host to a species of fish that habitually leapt from the water, virtually always three times. I never got a close look at them, and had I hung out there long enough I might have framed something really scenic, but the initial challenge was just to snag an image in the first place. One began its series of jumps while I was out trying to photograph the ospreys better, and I managed to anticipate the location of third jump. Still not enough to identify it, or at least not enough for me, but if you think you know what it was feel free to chime in.

fish leaping from Big Hammock Sound
And so, we will return to the ocean for the closing shot, another experiment that didn’t come out too badly. One night I’d been out on the beach casually chasing crabs (which will feature in a later post,) and noticed that I’d just missed moonrise, blood-red and right smack on the horizon like the sun was, even though it was way off in another position – I admit to being a little surprised at how far separated their rise positions were. So the next night I went out to capture it, before it got too late and before the moon got too small; not only does the phase keep changing, but the moon rises an hour later each night. But somehow, the clear days had produced a bank of clouds on the horizon by moonrise, and I didn’t see a hint of it until a half hour after it had risen. While it was still painting the edges of the clouds, I did some quick exposures over the surf line, illuminating the water close to me with an LED flashlight. It took a few tries to get the light levels balanced, but I like the effect.

gibbous moon over clouds and surf, North Topsail Beach

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