Amazing luck

I was skimming Why Evolution Is True on Thursday night just before midnight, when I discovered that July 16th (that very day, for ten more minutes,) was World Snake Day. Not a lot of point in trying to post something, even when I had a photo all lined up – not for World Snake Day, just because I’d shot it recently and was waiting for the opportunity to post it.

As luck would have it, though, today is Celebrate World Snake Day Three Days Late, which I am certainly on top of, and in checking out the blog folders, I find that I have more things to post than I initially believed. So let’s get partying!

eastern rat snake Pantherophis alleghaniensis sprawled across quiet country roadOur first comes from ’97, I think, when I was still shooting negative film, a black rat snake that I found sunning itself on a quiet country road. My guess would make this morning in the spring, when the nights were still cool and the snakes needed the warmth from the road for the energy to digest the night’s meal, and this seems to be born out by the presence of flowering trees in the distance. Asphalt is a great heat collector, as barefoot people in the summer know, but countless snakes get run over because of this, so in honor of the holiday, I remind everyone that, if they see something suspicious-looking in the road ahead, swerve around it. Or, as I did, get out, get your pics, then nudge it from the hazard zone.

Hold on, I sit corrected; it is now an eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis,) because herpetologists have now distinguished this from a western variety, which got to keep the original name. You may hear about biologists naming new species in some creative way, after cartoonists or movie characters or some such, but let me tell you, those are the rare exceptions; if they can classify something as “eastern,” they’ll do it, because you can never have enough eastern somethings. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of scientific names, just featured here in the blog, that demonstrate this:

  • common eastern bumblebee
  • eastern bluebird
  • eastern box turtle
  • eastern boxelder bug
  • eastern carpenter bee
  • eastern cottontail rabbit
  • eastern fence lizard
  • eastern forktail
  • eastern frustrated nature photographers
  • eastern garter snake
  • eastern grey squirrel
  • eastern hognose snake
  • eastern kingbird
  • eastern kingsnake
  • eastern leaf-footed bug
  • eastern lubber grasshopper
  • eastern narrowmouth toad
  • eastern newt
  • eastern pondhawk
  • eastern rat snake
  • eastern redbud
  • eastern tiger swallowtail
  • eastern towhee
  • eastern yellowjacket
  • southeastern five-lined skink
  • Okay, granted, one of those might not yet be recognized taxonomically, but give it time…

    ring-necked snake Diadophis punctatus in palm for scaleWhile visiting New York many years ago – fourteen, to be precise – my brother and I happened across this charming little ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus,) so of course I had to do a scale photo in my brother’s palm. This is not a baby or juvenile, but their average size, small enough that The Girlfriend finds them cute (not so much with the larger species, let me assure you.) They are, of course, wickedly venomous, but their teeth are so small they are only a hazard to thin-skinned species like caterpillars and Republicans.

    No, that’s a lie, they’re not venomous at all, and not rare either, but they don’t come out into the open much so finding them usually requires poking around in dark spots, under leaves and among rocks. I think I’ve found them once around here.

    For our next feature, we turn to someone else.

    eastern garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis from Baker Wetlands, by Jim KramerLong, long ago, when mankind still had jutting brows and hairy palms (I mean, all of us, not just some,) there were going to be a few guest posts herein, and one contributor was Jim Kramer. Jim never finished the post to his liking and I sincerely doubt he’s going to tackle this one anytime soon, so I’m featuring it here since it’s been sitting in the blog folders all this time. This is an eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis,) despite the fact that it was taken in Kansas; it was taken in eastern Kansas, so it appears we now know where the dividing line is. In all honesty, I looked up the range of the western species and it appears to stop just west of Kansas, so I think I’m both correct and safe on this one.

    The thing I like most about this image, aside from the fact that Jim also likes getting the lower portrait angles on his subjects when possible, is that the snake seems to form a dividing line between monochrome and color, much like Dorothy waking up in Oz. I’m wondering if Jim ever noticed this…

    [The colors in this photo, I mean, not the bit about the Wizard of Oz – I imagine he caught that one.]

    Jim went on to forward a lot of images to be featured here over the years, so he contributes, just not in writing form.

    eastern worm snake Carphophis amoenus amoenus foraging through grass
    Did you see eastern worm snake in that list above? Well, this is one, the subspecies Carphophis amoenus amoenus, which I likely just identified as the parent species in earlier posts about them (because I know I’ve featured them at least a couple of times before.) At the same time that I was shooting the eentsy little frogs in this post, I was about to step across the drainage channel when I spotted this little guy in the grass, no mean feat because he was mostly obscured and about the diameter of a pencil. I’d sized the photo then but decided not to include it in that post, and it’s been sitting here waiting on the holiday ever since.

    And finally, the most recent one, the one that I could have posted on World Snake Day had I been paying more attention (i.e., been reading blogs instead of doing other productive things that day.)

    eastern racer Coluber constrictor possibly southern black racer subspecies Coluber constrictor priapus alert to photographer
    Okay, seriously. This is a member of the eastern racer species, sometimes known (especially here, because c’mon) as a black racer, but Coluber constrictor is the parent species. There are several subspecies, or which this is either the northern or more likely (from the range) the southern variant, which would make it Coluber constrictor priapus. The way to tell them apart – are you ready for this? – is by the penis, or to be more specific, the hemipenis, which is not a small organ possessed by Dodge owners, but snakes instead; on the southern variant, this organ has spines, because nature has a sick sense of humor. I have to admit that, amateur naturalist that I am, I did not determine this trait at the time, and for that I am ashamed/grateful. This one in particular was courting danger, in that it was perched in plain sight in late afternoon atop a mound of pine straw, against which it blended not at all, while I was out photographing the behavior of the Cooper’s hawks in the previous post; the spot on the ground where they’d been feeding was a handful of meters away. To its credit, it was holding perfectly still as I stood nearby, and I looked at the dark object on the pine straw for a few moments wondering if someone had discarded a length of hose before I discerned the raised head staring at me rudely. I had the 150-600mm attached for the hawks, so the apparent proximity of the snake really isn’t, and I could not have gotten such a tight closeup without it. Racers are aptly named, and can move quickly when threatened.

    But it’s after noon now, a little later than I’d aimed, so I will post this and let others celebrate the holiday. There are still more photos in the folder, so just sit right there and keep refreshing the page so you see the new posts the second they appear.

    [Don’t do that.]

    Right, let’s get to this

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii perched and looking for parent
    [Claps and rubs hands together] So, I’ve had most of these photos sitting in the blog folder for days, waiting for all that jazz below to be done so I could devote the time to a larger post, one that I didn’t want to double-post and try to keep track of, and the time has arrived.

    I’d noticed last year that a sharpshinned hawk was starting a nest nearby, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. This spring, it seemed to be happening again, and I thought I saw the nest, in the neighbor’s yard, before the trees had fully leafed out and obscured it. Time went by, and I saw no further evidence, and figured that we were repeating last year’s performance.

    Then not too long back, I began seeing a hawk off of the backyard, fairly frequently, and hearing a bare kip! call. Before too much longer, a set of more desperate cries took their place, as an assortment of newly-fledged hawks began to appear quite frequently in the area, demanding rather distinctly that mom keep the feeding process going; naturally, she wasn’t, to encourage them to get their own damn food. But it meant that I had a lot more opportunities to snag some photos.

    First off, let me correct something. While the one I saw making a nest last year was definitely identified as a sharpshinned hawk by the shape of the tail, I almost accidentally discovered that these were instead Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) – also by the shape of the tail: sharpshins have a nearly straight trailing edge to their tails, like a broom, while Coopers have a rounded shape like most birds. Otherwise, in coloration and habits, they’re almost identical. Coopers are larger, with larger heads, but size-wise they overlap; males of both species are smaller than the females, and a male Coopers can be about the same size as a female sharpshin. They are also both bird-eaters, extremely fast and maneuverable accipiters that hunt in the forest canopy and tend to be shy and a bit secretive about their perches. As adults, anyway; the kids are much less so, especially when they think they should be being fed.

    Another thing to note: off the back of the property, the trees get pretty thick, and it’s very easy to be within a few dozen meters of a bird and see not the faintest sign of it. I had to take a frame to illustrate this, standing in a clearing for buried utility lines just beyond our fence.

    view off back of property line
    I think that gives a good enough impression. It was easy to know one or two were around, even catch a glimpse of them flitting among the branches, but nice clear views were scarce. Still, over a couple of weeks I managed to snag more than enough for a post.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii being noisy
    … especially when they attracted so much attention by calling. I would only have had half as many photos had they been silent, and I had to rely on spotting their movement or perched outlines, but hey, do you hear me complaining? And knowing that accipiters tend to be very wary of people, I took pains to be quiet, unobtrusive, even motionless whenever possible, but it appeared that the young ones hadn’t studied their own species’ traits very well, because eventually I realized that the Girlfriend and I could stand directly beneath one and converse quietly without provoking flight. This also made it easier. As did the occasional perch in one of the few clear patches.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii calling from nice perch
    Yes, I was timing shots to catch them in mid-call, not exactly difficult; they don’t sit around perpetually yawning or anything. The Girlfriend told me that I’d missed mom feeding the young a fresh kill down in the clearing, because I hadn’t gotten home yet, but checking that spot some thirty minutes later, one of the brood was still poking around for scraps. I think this image is the first of the detail shots that I obtained, with everything else in this post coming later, some within the hour.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii on ground looking for leftover food
    The young were also spending an inordinate amount of time down at low levels, perching on stumps and low branches, which seemed odd to me, but I may not be familiar enough with their habits either. Coopers are medium-small raptors, about the size of crows, and their lifting ability isn’t too impressive because of that, so perhaps they tend to eat their prey on the ground when it seems safe rather than try to carry it to a perch out of reach of other predators. Or, like all the noise they were making, perhaps they just hadn’t learned good habits yet.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii calling from fallen stump
    They appeared to have a few favored spots, which made it a little easier to get some frames, but they were working an area perhaps 50 meters square and would pause where the mood struck them, making me shift position to try for the best vantage – very often, it would be partially obscured by intervening vegetation, so what you’re seeing here are the successes among a couple of hours, all told, of active shooting, spread among about two weeks.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii with potential prey
    This stump was about twelve or so meters away, partially hidden behind thick undergrowth, so I was shifting position carefully to get the best view, trying not to disturb the hawk. I did not see it carrying anything when it came in to land, but the attention it kept paying to the spot at its feet seemed to indicate that it had something to eat, and what you’re seeing here is a closer crop – I wasn’t getting this good a look in the viewfinder, especially not with a handheld 600mm lens bouncing around unsteadily. All of my sessions were spur of the moment without a tripod, grabbing the camera when I was available and hearing the juvies making a racket. I’d intended to do some more ‘serious’ sessions, perhaps even with video (which would require a tripod to prevent motion sickness from the viewers,) but even a tripod is a questionable accessory, since it all depends on where they are and what they’re doing. It’s not easy to surreptitiously shift a tripod to a better position to get that view through the foliage, or aim it nearly straight up into the canopy overhead, when a hawk with far better eyesight than humans is sitting a stone’s throw away. I wasn’t doing too shabby handheld, for all that, but yes, the image stabilization was absolutely necessary.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii showing prey on same stump
    This is the same hawk as above, same timeframe, after scooting (well, shuffling quietly,) to my right a handful of steps, and now the prey is visible. They would still vent a call at times even while eating, which was also slightly puzzling; I wouldn’t think any raptors, as competitive as they tend to be as soon as they can sit upright, would draw attention to themselves when they had food that could be stolen, but maybe the continued calling was misdirection, begging for food to disguise the fact that they had any. I doubt this myself, but for now, I can’t offer any explanation. Better to talk to an ornithologist; as I’ve said, I just takes picchers of ’em.

    A few days back, I got extremely lucky with my timing, coming down the back deck steps just as one cruised across the backyard, showing by its flight profile that is was coming in for a landing. I quickly grabbed the camera again and started the slow stalk across the backyard. Soon enough, I discovered that a pair was sitting on the ground between ours and our neighbors’ fences, unfortunately obscured by slats, but I stayed put and watched, hoping they had prey and I could slip closer while they were occupied. This kinda worked, but they were aware of my presence, closer than it had been before.

    pair of juvenile Cooper's hawks Accipiter cooperii perched on tree near backyard
    Wary of me, the pair flew up to a nearby branch and watched carefully, which I was fine with because now they were in better light and a clear view. To the best of my knowledge (judging from the coloration and behavior,) these are both still juveniles, and thus demonstrate the size difference between male and female, the female being on the right. Again, about crow size, so maybe 35-45cm in overall body length counting that long tail. But I had to save the best for last, of course.

    juvenile Cooper's hawk Accipiter cooperii perched on author's backyard fence looking cooperative
    One of them opted to fly up to our own fence and perch in direct sight, not eight meters off – that’s the neighbor’s fence in the background. Nice view of the long, thinner legs and the remarkably long talons. Accipiters can catch birds in midair and are adapted for this, while the buteos like the red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks strike their prey violently on the ground more often, so have heavier legs and shorter, thicker talons. I’m gonna peg this one as the male, comparing it with the image above and noting the fewer dark fathers under the chin.

    But yeah, it’s been a productive few weeks photographically, even when it hasn’t been reflected here. And more are on the way.

    Podcast: About damn time

    Do things look different around here? They should – or perhaps not, if you delayed seeing this for too long and I actually got around to making the changes that I’d been hoping to. Yet as I type this, enough has been changed/corrected/altered/muddled/permitted/unborked to move forward, but I’ll let Noisy Al explain it:

    Walkabout podcast – New host

    The WordPress White Screen of Death: if you’ve been using WordPress for any length of time, or like experimenting with plugins and themes, you’re probably already familiar with this and how to get out of it, but if not, here’s a link to help you work through it. And by the way, always back up your database, at the very least, before making any changes to WordPress – it just makes it easier to roll back to the previous version.

    Present theme is Coral Light from CoralThemes – Though if you go there, you’ll notice how a damn popup comes up right smack in the middle of the screen after you’ve been there a few seconds. Yeah – that’s the kind of fucking bullshit that developers do because other developers have done it, and the reason why my site will never follow stupid fucking fads.

    And as a bonus, I’ll include a recent photo that has nothing to do with the podcast or anything else in this post, but it sits alone in my folders and expresses fairly well my current state of mind: resigned to yet another problem cropping up, a bit walleyed, and unable to be assed about much of anything at this point. Dyspeptic, I think is the word.

    possibly overweight Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis looking dyspeptic

    On this date 29

    female dark phase eastern tiger swallowtail Papilio glaucus on unidentified flower with unnoticed intruder
    July 15th seems to have been a slow photography day throughout the range of my digital stock, for unknown reasons, so we have only two for this week’s post, and both from the same day at that, in 2013. I can’t remember where I was when I shot the female dark phase eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) above, and have never tried to identify the flower; I suspect I was in a botanical garden, though.

    unidentified flying insect on base of flower from previous imageBut what’s this? Unseen at the time, some tiny insect is lurking underneath the same blossom, conveniently highlighted by a spot of bright background that gives it a small halo – either that or it’s divine in some way. Ya never know. Shown at right at full resolution, it’s obviously tiny when scaled against the swallowtail, and since I never spotted it at the time, I never tried to go in closer to get better detail shots. It looks supremely funky, but I’m betting it was simply cleaning its wings in that moment and so they were pitched out at odd angles, and it’s only a variety of fruit fly that uses patterns on its wings to camouflage itself against predators. There remains the possibility that it was having body work done and it’s spotted with primer before the finish coat is applied – it may be embarrassing and unsightly, but fruit flies gotta make a living too.

    No, huh? Okay, moving on.

    Later that evening, I was playing with astrophotography – no, not of the Jetsons’ dog, just the moon. And another interloper, but one that I knew was there.

    the moon and Spica in the same frame and exposure
    Noticing that a star was still visible as it was drawing rather close to the moon, I endeavored to get them both in the same frame, knowing that an exposure that showed both to advantage was physically impossible – this is the frame used to capture the star, while another was used to get the moon in ‘normal’ view, one that caused the star to vanish entirely.

    I brought up Stellarium and set the date and time to match, determining that the star in question is Spica, a fairly bright entity this time of year (well, any time of year, but easy to spot at this time of year.) Which helps explain why it was still visible by eye against the moon’s glare.

    screenshot from Stellarium program from same date identifying bodies in previous image
    Of course, I could have done a quick archive search on the blog and determined it that way, too, but I couldn’t recall if I’d done a post about it then or not, and Stellarium is more fun. Yes, I said that about my own blog, but I’m a little bleary about it right now. It’ll pass, and I’ll be back to my usual egomaniacal self, don’t you fret.

    Needs something

    One of my background projects, along with everything else that I’ve been involved with in the past couple of weeks, has been the attempt to capture images of comet C/2020 F3, mostly known as NEOWISE, which has been visible just before dawn for large portions of the northern hemisphere, and recently moved into being visible after sunset as well. The views are to the north, roughly at 30° at sunrise, and 235° at sunset (tracking diagonally and depending on your viewing latitude, so these are only rough directions.) Monday night I got out, but storm clouds on the horizon effectively prevented any views, so I tried again on Tuesday evening when the skies were much clearer. The comet is not terribly bright, but enough to be seen with binoculars (or a long lens or small telescope) once the twilight fades enough; basically, start watching for stars to appear in the region, and once they’re visible, the comet should be not far behind. Not seeing anything while I was out there Tuesday, I started to experiment, and shortened the focal length down to get a broader view of the sky, firing off a few long exposures at various regions to examine the image afterward. And then, there it was.

    Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE in the evening sky
    This is a 14-second exposure, f6.3, ISO 800, capturing the residual light about an hour after sunset. The horizon is just out of view below the bottom of the frame; between that and the phone app plot from someone who had chosen the same viewing area as I (an overpass above the interstate, about the best view of the horizon to the north within quite a few kilometers,) I’m pegging this at about 8° elevation. To give an idea, trees at a moderate distance tend to run between 5 and 20°, while common viewing around here never gets less than 25-40° – there really are a lot of trees and not very many open views here. I’d considered going down to Jordan Lake, but aiming north from there puts the city lights of both Chapel Hill and Durham into the sky, not the best of moves for a dimmer subject.

    Now we go to 600mm, and cropped even tighter.

    Comet c/2020 F3 NEOWISE showing motion blur from earth's rotation
    This is now 9 seconds, f6.3, ISO 1600, and the motion blur of both the comet and the stars is apparent. This is from the earth’s rotation, and not a lot can be done about it without more specialized equipment. For instance, I could shorten the exposure time down a little with an f4 lens, which at 600mm runs, oh, about $13,000. Not gonna happen on this paycheck.

    Or I could pick up a new body with expanded ISO range, but I was doing several frames at ISO 3200, and even then the exposure times weren’t short enough, so it would have to be something that pulled down 6400 to 12800, and sharply at that. And this is about the only use I’d have for that kind of ISO range.

    Or, I could make a tracking mount, as I’ve mentioned before, which counteracts the rotation of the earth by turning in the opposite direction. Which is another, much bigger project that any I’m working on now, and is even a project just to align it for each shooting session (which wouldn’t have occurred this time around because the comet became visible before Polaris, the star used for alignment.) Someday, someday – but since I’d use it perhaps twice a year (partially just from not wanting to fuss with the alignment each time, and feeling obligated to be shooting night sky shots for a couple of hours once I did,) it’s never been a high-priority project.

    And then there’s software, which can edit out motion blur like this to provide a sharper image. But I don’t have it installed, and right now, it looks like it’s gonna be another hassle, so it’s waiting for another time – maybe within a few days.

    I may also do a morning run and see if the conditions are better – it’s still a matter of free time and adequate sleep. But if you want to try it, the best resource I’ve found so far has been Stellarium Web, which will use your location (once you provide it) to show you how to find the comet – click on the clock in the lower right to adjust times and see what’s best.

    Good luck!

    Reverse mullet

    What? What kind of title is that? Well, there’s the semi-common-maybe-not-who-knows? description of the mullet hairstyle as “business up front, party in the back,” but at the moment, things are a little reversed here – the posting (party up front) is slow because I’m busy doing formatting for the impending switch, none of which you can see just yet. Okay, that was stupid, I know…

    Right now, we have another important, definitive bit of trivia from my personal life that is now reflected for no good reason (other than to have some content that doesn’t require a lot of work) right here. To prove that I’m not neglecting my duties, even if I’m not taking them too seriously. Lazy, but conscientiously lazy.

    snowy egret Egretta thula on edge of bay
    This image dates back to June 16, 2004, but that day did not fall on a Wednesday this year, so it escaped attention as an ‘On this date’ post. But it is the last photo taken with the borrowed camera while in Florida, quite possibly on the same day that I shipped it off to its new owner. Well, perhaps not the very last, but the last that I retained in my stock folders, anyway. It represents the end of easy digital access to photography for a while, for me; I remained in Florida for a few more months before moving back to NC, and did not pick up my own digital camera for some months after that move. So there’s a gap in my digital stock folders, but I was still shooting slide film at the time (and continued for several years,) so I was remaining active, you just can’t tell by looking at the image dates in those folders.

    This is a snowy egret (Egretta thula,) by the way, standing maybe 30cm high, and no, that’s not a lakeside home for ants – I was just playing with forced perspective with a cooperative subject. Should’ve pushed the aperture to minimum for better depth of field, might’ve gotten the background in sharper focus; I’m not actually sure why I didn’t, given the subject matter and shooting angle.

    Seriously, it will get better soon – I just can’t devote the time and effort to it right now.

    On this date 28

    calcium tube colony in palmFor those of you following at home, I am still working on the site migration, mostly because of WordPress, and PHP 7.2.29. PHP is a programming language, which WordPress runs on, and when it upgraded into version 7, it changed an awful lot of commands, which kicked out numerous scripts and options that were written before that time; this has been a source of much work and frustration on my part for the past several days. I’m still trying to get the blog looking the way I like, but some changes are inevitable – and as far as I’m concerned, not changes for the better, though I’m going to try and make it look that way. There will be a post that announces the changeover, that will only be posted within the new host, so when you see it, you’ll know you’re on the new site. Though I imagine it’ll be obvious anyway…

    In the interim, I’m keeping the posts to a minimum, because they have to be double-posted to keep the old and new hosts current, and I could do without the extra work right now. But hey, I started this weekly topic, so I’m obligated to maintain it on schedule, because, you know, chicks are impressed with that kind of thing.

    In 2007, I was experimenting and doing detailed illustrations of various odds and ends that I’d obtained years before, and this colony of some kind of tube worm was on the list – I’d done most of the shots the day before, but this one here was shot on this date just to show scale. If it looks familiar, that means you’re both a regular and a possessor of a sharp memory, because it was featured in a post two years ago. I include it because of a bit of trivia – I mean, even more trivial than the topic to begin with. But to do this, we’re going to have to go out of order a hair.

    fossil coral underwater venting air bubblesTwo years later in 2009, I was doing some detail shots of a bit of fossil coral that I’d found in a tailings pit, which makes it, um, old. It’s actually hard to pin down, because it was found in sedimentary limestone, meaning former ocean bottom, that underlies the ‘topsoil’ of eastern North Carolina – that all eroded off of the Blue Ridge Mountains, themselves formed when North America was grinding against Africa, pre-dinosaurs. So how old the sea bottom underneath is, no one can say easily, and silly me, I never had this decay-dated (and not Carbon13, because it’s way too old for that to work.) Anyway, I show it here because I find it absolutely fascinating that I was doing detailed photos of old sea-stuff on the same date two years apart. I know, right?

    But there’s more trivia to be had in this post! Remember last week’s entry? Well, one week later I’d met with success. Success in which part, you say? The one that required monitoring, of course.

    newly-hatched ground skink Scincella lateralis next to empty and occupied eggs
    I noticed, last week when collecting images for the post, that the ground skink (Scincella lateralis) eggs had hatched exactly one week later, so they worked well for the On This Date posts (meaning we’re talking about 2008 right now.) Here, a newborn poses alongside two snail shells, two empty eggshells (there’s a sibling hiding somewhere else,) and an egg not yet hatched. Look closely at it, there at the nose of the skink, and you’ll see the break in the leathery shell, which is actually the nose of the third one poking forth. This began a long saga of attempting to capture this emergence on film (this is all taking place in an aquarium, by the way,) which ultimately failed, in a very frustrating way. But that link includes a scale shot, at least, and if you’re thinking the lovely wet sheen comes from being newborns, stop – they all look like this, including the adults.

    And finally, we go back a mere four years to 2016 – actually, it kind of startles me that this trip was four years ago.

    view of the wetlands in Creef's Cut, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
    This one has appeared before too, within this post – I like the area visually (“the area” being Creef’s Cut in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in coastal North Carolina,) but I’ll be honest, I also harbor distinct memories of just how horrendous the strawberry flies are there. So all such photos are colored in my mind with getting assaulted by bites and swarms. That’s the advantage, or sometimes disadvantage, the viewer has: they don’t have the associations that the photographer might, so the image stands alone. Or it would if I’d shut the hell up about it.

    Please stand by

    I have more than a couple of images to feature here, soonish, waiting on a little more time to write things up. They will be along eventually, but they may be delayed until after I’ve completed a large project, which is moving the site to a new host.

    Which also means that things might go a little screwy, on the blog or on the main site itself, but anything should be rectified in a day or two. Provided that I actually get this all together, and right now it’s being a bit problematic – too much so, and I’ll dump the new provider and find a better one, which will delay the changeover a little longer. Regardless, if any part of the site is borked, just wait it out. As hard as that may be.

    animated gif of bloggingIn the interim, I have to post a meme found online, which exemplifies my thoughts about blogging better than I could ever express in writing. Much as I hate using sports references, this one works well.

    Thanks, everyone! I couldn’t do it without you!

    On this date 27

    So here we are, halfway through the year, and I haven’t missed a deadline yet. I deserve a raise…

    sculptured resin bee Megachile sculpturalis
    Going through the folders to see what I should post, I found this little guy, included not so much (at all) because it’s a great photo, but because it made me pause and look carefully, not having seen anything of the like since this photo was taken. I popped into and searched under “bumblebee mimic,” because I was sure it wasn’t a bumblebee or carpenter bee – the coloration is suspect, the head and eyes are wrong, and the antennae wrong. My searches turned up nothing, so I eventually uploaded this and another view. Full credit to BugGuide, because the answer came back before I had even logged out, literally within two minutes – this is the wonderfully named sculptured resin bee, Megachile sculpturalis. You even gotta love that scientific name – I get this mental image of a young creole superhero, Mega-Chile…

    This was from 2007, by the way, and right down at the same Jordan Lake where I’ve been several times this past month. if you click on the Info tab on that linked page, you’ll find that they’re an introduced species from east Asia, first recorded in North Carolina only 12 years previously (but not by me.) We’ll leap forward a mere year now.

    nest and eggs of ground skink Scincella lateralis
    I’d been visiting The Girlfriend before I’d moved in with her, poking around in the yard when I uncovered this nest of eggs, later determined to be those of a ground skink (Scincella lateralis.) Scale is hard to determine here, but if it helps, there are some snail shells in the image too – I’m estimating the eggs as about 6-7mm in length. Ground skinks are very secretive, often staying hidden and blending in well when they’re not, so I see them rarely, even though I know we have at least one in the yard right now (I mean, I can’t say right now, because see above, but you know, this season.) This was the beginning of a project, by the way, but we’ll go into that later.

    Now we go to 2012.

    unidentified black ant with unidentified red ant head clamped onto leg
    While it’s not hard to find insects with missing legs or antennae or damaged chitin, occasionally you come across something more expressive, like this. This unidentified black ant has had some past encounter with a red ant species, and while the red ant was clearly the loser in that encounter, it still managed to score some points. I have to wonder how embarrassing this is for the black ant; do the others tease him about this? Is the wife mad? How does this affect handwriting?

    And a last one from 2015.

    spearmint patch with hidden details
    Don’t feel bad – I had to look at this for a few moments to figure out why I’d saved it in the first place, and I knew what folder it had come from. We’d had such a great crop of spearmint growing at the old place that we we obligated to reproduce it in the new, but the soil had other ideas. For this year, we had a decent little patch, but it never reproduced itself well and the best we have are sporadic plants popping up here and there. Still, it was popular when it lasted, as you’ll know if you look hard.

    The more the… abbier…

    blue dasher Pachydiplax longipennis on twig against sky reflections in pond
    So, I sit here at the end of the month with over 1800 images shot therein, and find that too few of them really fulfill the idea of abstract, or at least my idea of it anyway – a couple would probably do better than these, but I have other plans for them. You might have even seen them already, since I’m writing this on the 29th and I’m not sure what else I’ll get done today. So we’ll go ahead and feature three month-end-semi-abstracts, partially because I want to use these but they won’t fit into any theme presently in mind, and partially to reflect just how damn many photos I have to sort yet. The thing I like about the above image is that it’s slightly disorienting, because that’s not the sky that you’re seeing behind the dragonfly (a blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, by the way,) or not per se, but the reflection thereof in the pond. Eventually that sentence will give up its secrets under that torture…

    No, those spots are not dust on the sensor, but things on the surface of the pond. So there.

    And then, one from a whole three meters out the door.

    The Girlfriend's rose in full bloom
    After many struggles with marauding insects and uncertainty over its fortitude, The Girlfriend’s rose starting thriving this year, and I captured this bloom in its very narrow peak window – another day, maybe less, and the petals would have started to droop, and in fact if I remember correctly, it rained heavily later on that day and caused the whole stalk to bend under the burden of the raindrops. More to my purposes here however, is how the bloom stands out sharply from the background, both in focus and apparent lighting, making it seem ‘shopped in, but no, this is just how it appeared. And yes, the framing with the bud and leaves in the background was not coincidental.

    unidentified twisted tree with sunburst
    There was a little less planning in the composition of this one, because while I did aim to have the trunk of the tree filling the frame this way, and the sun peeking through the leaves, I didn’t think about the sun coming right at the tip of the branch in this manner, so yeah, I’m cool with that. I get the impression of the tree in the process of falling over, the branches trailing as if it’s a lot more flexible than reality, but what exactly caused it to shape in this manner I couldn’t say. So when we meet in person again, remind me and I’ll mime it to you…

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