A little demonstration

Branches across pond view
So this is just a series of photos that I set aside to illustrate something, waiting for a slower period, and since it will be raining steadily for the next two days it seems, now’s the time. It would be better illustrated ‘real-time,’ except to do that I’d have to have a documentary film crew following me around, which hasn’t come to fruition. Yet.

[Stop shrieking and running around the room – it’s never gonna happen. Sheesh, you’d think this was election results or something…]

The photo above pretty much shows what I first saw when ambling around the pond back in October, and the detail that made me pause for a second. A lot of the photos that I capture are a result of seeing something that wasn’t quite right, the break in expected patterns, colors, shapes, and so on, and this has two of them. One of them, lower right, is just a leaf suspended temporarily among the branches, but the other, above it and slightly left, was not a leaf, and not a natural aspect of the branches. This was what made me stop, and move closer.

something on branch
Definitely on to something now, since the shapes are far from typical for even a diseased growth on the branch – one of those on the top left side even seems to show light shining through underneath. Most likely arthropodal in nature. Still closer.

some kind of arthropods on branch silhouetted against sky
Crouching a little lower to use the light from the sky to outline them better, it’s now obvious: we got bugs. All of this was in the shade under a tree, no direct light at all, and while the photos increase the contrast and thus deepen the shadows a tad, there was still too little light for a clean view. Some additional illumination is in order.

bark lice Cerastipsocus nymphs in cluster on branch
I hate using on-camera flash, but I hadn’t gone to the pond with the full macro rig, so here we are, looking at stripey little bastards of some kind. I initially thought, ‘aphids,’ but the bodies didn’t seem quite right, and they aren’t – BugGuide.net pegs them as nymphs within the genus Cerastipsocus, a category of bark lice; one of the two species in the area is colloquially named as tree cattle. Adorable.

bark lice Cerastipsocus nymphs dispersing
The mere act of leaning close caused them to unpile and begin to disperse along the branch, like naughty kids in the schoolyard when a teacher approaches, casually and elaborately unsuspiciuous. But breaking up in this manner also made them much harder to see from any distance at all, so spotting the initial cowpatty, or whatever, was what allowed me to see them in detail.

The thing is, I couldn’t tell you how to spot things of this nature, and I can only give occasional illustrations of it like this; to the best of my knowledge, it just comes from being out there and paying attention to details, knowing how things normally are so that the little shapes and the anachronisms become evident. I can assure you, there are plenty of false positives, things that I look at closer only to determine that they’re not interesting after all, and I have no way of logging everything that I miss, except for the occasions where someone that I’m with sees something themselves; when they do, it’s from the same habits anyway.

So if you’re pursuing natural subjects, it helps (a lot) to get used to the natural patterns and shapes and colors, so that the items that aren’t draw your attention immediately. It won’t always produce a subject, but it’s amazing how often it does.