A little Monday evening activity

jet and contrail lit by sunset
So the day was bright and clear all day, barely a hint of cloud in the sky, and I got a few outdoor tasks done, but had switched to indoor work after the allergies went completely berserk, so I was surprised in late afternoon by The Girlfriend telling me that it was pouring out. Seems we’re getting Florida weather right now, the fast-moving cell that sneaks in and dumps a deluge and gets away before anyone can snag an ID; in ten minutes the sun was back out, though the sky remained a bit scattered with clouds. I made it a point to be out a little later on to catch the sunset, hoping for some nice clouds to play with.

You can already see this coming, can’t you? Yep – not a single wisp of cloud in the sky come sunset, which makes things extremely boring. But as a commercial airliner passed over at high altitude, someplace a few hundred kilometers away seemed to be getting some colors in their sky, because the jet and contrail turned brilliant pink, filtered by clouds well over the horizon. Well, you take what you get.

Soon afterward, The Girlfriend and I watched a green heron (Butorides virescens) spook from a perch in the trees and fly a short distance away to land at the edge of the pond. It was already too dark to do much about it, but I kept an eye on the bird in case it decided to return to a perch nearby, since it was closing in on roosting time. Instead, it flew a very short distance to land at the water’s edge in a highly accessible spot, and stayed put even as evening walkers (kind of like White Walkers except not at all) breezed past, so I made my careful way in that direction, to find the heron perched low and motionless right out in the open.

silhouetted green heron Butorides virescens in hunting mode
No color at all from the sky, but at least it was throwing enough light down to be reflected from the water and give me a sleek silhouette. Green herons are notoriously shy birds, especially around this pond where I have stalked them for years with very few good photos to show for it. But I moved closer a step or two at a time, and it did nothing but ease forward ever-so-slightly, watching the water for minnows.

silhouetted green heron Butorides virescens creeping further out
Notice the lower and more stretched profile, and the hind leg now showing further out behind it – this is a lot easier to see in comparison, after the fact, than it was when I was slipping closer myself. All of these, by the way, were with the carry-around 100-300 L, since I hadn’t gone out to chase birds and so didn’t bring the big lens. They’re cropped a little but not a lot – I got within five or six meters of the bird, remarkably close given their propensity.

But silhouettes only go so far, so I popped up the little on-camera flash, outside of its proper working distance (which isn’t much,) to throw a little light on the heron from the shady side where I stood – there was no chance at all of my getting around to the twilightlit side.

green heron Butorides virescens barely lit by fill flash
The effect, I have to admit, is pretty cool, subtle and a little ominous from that reflection in the eye. And the heron never twitched at all from this, intent as it was on its hunting.

I had to tweak that image a little, correcting for the blue twilight and brightening it a tad, and it really doesn’t look bad for all that. It’s a shameless edit, but at least I’m telling you it is. That makes it okay.

same image with tweaked brightness and color register
And it does give you a better idea of their actual coloration, but yeah, I need to be out there stalking them a lot more often. I do have some decent photos of the species, and if you want to see them, click here for the list.

In a moment, the heron made a strike at a fish, coming up empty-beaked, and abandoned its stealthy demeanor and pose, standing more upright and doing its best to imitate an indignant kiwi by shaking the water from its feathers.

green heron Butorides virescens after unsuccessful strike, with fill flash
And that was it – in a flash it had flown off again for another spot, and the photo session was over. But hey, it made up for the crappy sunset.

Now, wait! Isn’t it Moon Face Monday? I’ve been forgetting all about that! The moon was just appearing through the trees as I turned my attention away from the heron (actually, The Girlfriend pointed it out, so credit to her,) and I positioned myself to snag a shot through the intervening branches.

99% full moon through trees
If you look closely at the bottom left, you can see some definition from mountains and craters, indicating that we’re not quite at full phase, but another indication is that it was fairly high in the sky not long after sunset; at full, the moon pretty much rises as the sun sets, and vice versa. Again, this is the 100-300 L, handheld at that, and not an intentional moon shooting session. We’ll compare that to a shot taken four days ago on April 2nd.

waxing gibbous moon from April 2
Now, this is with the long lens, the Tamron 150-600 to be exact – I took it while I was out trying to capture Venus among the Pleiades cluster. Which I also got, but given the huge difference in relative magnitude, either Venus would be blown out or the stars of Pleiades would be ridiculously dim, plus there was the motion of the Earth to contend with for longer exposures, so none of the images that I obtained were worthwhile; further such attempts will wait until I have a decent astronomical tracking mount. But the moon looks nice, and it’s a good illustration of how much the phase changes in four days.

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