Profiles of Nature 53

Yes. Yes, indeed.

clapper rail Rallus crepitans "Fuffudio" getting overdramatic
This week month Profile we have Fuffudio, shown here during her audition for the latest big screen comic book adaptation, Snuffy Smith: Still Distillin’; she’s performing Loweezy’s reaction to a shortage of squirrels for the stew. Fuffudio was determined to immerse herself in method-acting to prepare for the role of a hillbilly mama, but her family flatly refused to help – we’re just gonna leave that out there. Like many aspiring actingbeings, she’s had to work odd jobs while waiting for her big break, but picking something close to LA probably would have worked better than Foreign Diplomat to Kyrgyzstan, especially since she can’t pronounce it (“foreign,” we mean, not “Kyrgyzstan.”) Fuffudio is devoutly religious, but it’s a religion that disavows fervency, so she spends her Sundays being intensely indifferent; one of her fellow parishioners is capable of Shrugging in Tongues. She’s very adventurous when it comes to the bedroom, though many of her partners are turned off by the quicksand. Fuffudio’s childhood was a little rough because her parents enrolled her in obedience school by mistake (it sounded French,) but if she gets this part, she wants to attend her ten-year reunion to rub their noses in it. C’mon, you should have seen that coming. Her hobby is buying materials to take up new hobbies but not actually doing anything with them, probably the most common hobby there is. Yet she’s musically-inclined, but hopes to correct that with a change in diet. Fuffudio asserts quite proudly that her favorite accommodation of a shitty product is a shoehorn.

Join us next, um, Profile when we have another Profile! Embrace the suck!

[Yeah, you’d hoped they were over, but let’s be real: we’ve gone five entire months without one, which is far longer than intended, and when we got this image there was no question that they had to return. Even better, now you have no idea how many more there might be.]

The march of progress

And don’t say, “But it’s June!” – only I can get away with things like that.

Tuesday I went down to Jordan Lake to do a little casual photography after my target of choice proved hard to get into – you’ll see that here eventually. But for being the second choice, the lake worked out well enough.

American crow Corvus brachyrhynchos chasing off bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
In the extreme distance, an American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) pursued a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus,) though whether the eagle was actually fleeing the crow or simply flying past and the crow took offense, I can’t say – eagles are big enough that they don’t dodge unless it’s to try and get their talons onto their attacker. I saw a handful of eagles, but all at a great distance, so no decent pics this time.

The osprey were slightly more accommodating.

osprey Pandion haliaetus peering off to side while flying overhead
While this osprey (Pandion haliaetus) cruised almost directly overhead, it seemed distracted by something off to the side, since it’s facing that way for several frames; probably the fisherman on the bank a few dozen meters away from me.

osprey Pandion haliaetus backing before stoop
A few minutes later, one started dropping its talons and ‘backing’ not too far away, the slowing to near-hover that they do right before diving on a fish. It was at a great angle and lighting, just the kind of thing that I wait for, but it abandoned the dive right after entering it as the fish moved deeper. Nertz.

osprey Pandion haliaetus shaking off from immersion
This one gives a great impression of trying to shake water from its ear, and to be honest, this may not be that inaccurate; the bird was in mid-shake, the shiver that they do not long after a dive to clear excess water from their feathers, though I’d never seen the dive itself.

While standing on the banks, a flash of black-and-white wings caught my eye as a woodpecker flew over to the dead tree that I was standing almost directly underneath.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus perched on dead tree next to woodpecker hole
I mentioned earlier that I should be stalking the area looking for woodpecker nests, because despite this dead tree (and a neighbor) being absolutely riddled with woodpecker cavities, I’d never seen evidence of an active nest itself – and then this one lands right overhead, close enough that I was worried about spooking it with any movement. You can ever see the blurred diagonal band of an intervening branch, well out-of-focus, cutting right across the middle of the frame, but when the bird first landed, I wasn’t shifting position.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus buried deep inside cavity
And then it dove deep within the cavity, and I was thinking that I might finally have found a nest – by my reckoning (which is not the most accurate thing to go on,) the young should be hatched but not terribly big at this point, so entering that far to feed the young is fairly likely. I kept watching.

But the woodpecker remained within the cavity far too long, including leaning back out and re-entering, which is not chick-feeding behavior, but excavating or food-searching instead. I ever saw a few bits of rotten wood get flung aside. I felt more comfortable then with switching position slightly for a better angle, and the woodpecker paid me no mind.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus providing nice portrait on trunk
I’m rather pleased with this portrait, especially since it’s reminiscent of a decorative painted trunk that I had many years ago – but this time it’s my work. Hey, I’m happy to purchase artwork from others that I like; I just usually like mine better. I’m sure we all agree.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus bringing up food for young outside nest cavity
But then a short while later, I saw one land on the neighboring dead tree (the lakeshore is littered with them, killed by the erosion of the wind action and constantly-changing lake levels.) This time the action looked a bit more like feeding young, and lasted just as briefly: the parents appear only for a few moments to stuff what food they’ve found into the gaping maws, then fly off for more, and this generally goes on all through daylight hours, so when you see one land, poke around, and fly off within 30-60 seconds, it’s generally a good indication of a nest. Except, this one faced exactly out over the water, completely out of view from me on the banks.

This image left no doubt: the parent coughed up some seeds from its crop before plunging into the cavity with them, and you can even see one of the seeds falling along the wing. Good. Now all I had to do was be able to see within the cavity. The young would (again, likely to my knowledge) not be big enough to peek out of the cavity for a little while, but when they’re able to, I want to be able to see them.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus with beakful of berries for young
On another feeding run (there are four minutes between this frame and the previous, and you can see the thin clouds were blowing across the background,) the parent had a nice beakful of berries, to which the light angle provided me just enough distinction. You can also make out a very slight depression right over the toes, perhaps indicating that the cavity opening is right there and my viewing angle was almost perfectly perpendicular to it.

pair of red-headed woodpeckers Melanerpes erythrocephalus outside nest cavity
Before that one even poked within with its bounty, another joined it on the trunk. I figured both parents had arrived back with food at the same time and would take turns, but the second never made any motions to feed even when the first was finished. This might have been because I was there and the second was doing a little guard duty, or it might have been that they space out the feedings slightly (I imagine the berries were a decent mass for the young to consume) and simply swallowed its food; the parents gotta eat too. After feeding, both took a break for a few minutes on the branch above the nest, but didn’t seem unduly concerned with my presence, and I was in plain enough sight. Granted, this was still 13-16 meters away.

But with that experience, I resolved to see if I could get out into the lake far enough for a view of the nest opening without getting too wet. I knew the lakebed sloped off gently, at least for a moderate distance, so it was possible. Thus, being up far too early this morning for any healthy person, I packed up the gear and was out before sunrise, while it was still dim twilight, and started wading out into the water. As luck would have it, the slope was very gentle and I was only knee-deep when I had a clear view of the cavity opening. Super!

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus outside now-visible nest cavity
At this point, I was even more obvious, standing alone some eight meters out into the water, but I was remaining mostly motionless and anyway the feeding instinct is quite strong. I was kind enough to spook off a collection of crows that alighted in nearby trees, because they’ll raid the nests of just about anything and they might have been preventing the parents from coming close and revealing it. But otherwise, I was motionless enough that a small school of fish made repeated attempts to see if the hair on my calves was edible, an experience that everyone should have at some point in their lives.

Later afternoon should bring a much better light angle, and I intend to get the parents acclimated to my presence halfway decently, observing to ensure that I’m not going too far. As it is, they might peer around for a moment while I’m there, but they’ve never done more than hesitate before poking into the nest cavity, so I’m comfortable with that. I’ve said it before: we’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks.

Captain’s backlog

young adult brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis in awkward flight profile
On Tuesday, I got a gout of photos in two different locations that I wanted to do something with, but too little time to do so, partially because I knew I was taking off early Wednesday for a day trip – which produced another gout of photos. And there remains a chance that I will make another attempt at some in just a few hours, and perhaps have even more before I sit down at the keyboard again to write this jazz up. So stuff will be coming along soon, is what I’m saying.

Funny, Tuesday started out with an aborted attempt at a particular photo location, so the images that I obtained then were all from my fallback choices. Ya never know…

Visibly different, part 23

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on fencepost, negative from 1991
Our opening image today, a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis,) comes from… I’m going to say 1990, a few months after having moved to NC from NY. I know it was taken with the Wittnauer Challenger (which produces rounded edges on the negative frames,) and was early, so no later than 1991. Long enough ago, anyway. This was most likely as close as I could get with the fixed 50mm lens of the Wittnauer, which didn’t even have threads for something like a close-up diopter though I’d never even heard of them back then anyway; you can at least see that the forelegs are going out of focus, being too close to the camera. But even at that point in my photographic knowledge I tried for a more dynamic photo than simply a dorsal shot.

We’ll do an interim stop at, um, probably 1997.

chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on American beautyberry Callicarpa americana
This time, it’s with an Olympus OM-10 and probably a close-up diopter, which I was having a lot of fun with at that time, starting to really get into macro work. The negative, however, has seen better days, and this leads to a little trivia. Back then you could find ads in magazines for really cheap print films, the most prevalent being Seattle Film Works, which used cut-down motion picture film. The problem with this was it had far more silver in it than the proper 35mm film stocks, and this stuff would come off in developing and gather in the processing tanks, often getting redeposited onto subsequent negatives developed later on before a chemical switch. That’s part of what you see here: this is Kodak Gold 400 film, but some of those white spots (that I purposefully didn’t touch out after scanning) are blobs of silver adhering to the emulsion. Some of the others really are dust (especially the stripes,) and some of it is from a degrading negative. This happened most often in the blue areas, and may be due to a) the yellow layer of emulsion (remember, negative, we’re inverting colors here) being weakest, and/or b) inadequate fixer bathing – see the bit above about not changing the chemicals often enough.

But I really liked this print, and from having worked at a photo lab for a while, I had a full palette of touchup dyes that I could paint over white spots like this from bad negatives – digital editing was not yet a thing so this had to be done by hand, with careful efforts at color-matching and not overlapping the edges. Skin tones could be a real bitch, but I got halfway decent at it.

Anyway, things still progressed.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with head buried within body cavity of still-living annual cicada Neotibicen
Chinese mantids are now the most numerous species on the blog and within my stock, from pursuing them as a subject so vigorously that I’ve tried establishing colonies of them right here at Walkabout Estates, with fairly good results; this has allowed me to get a variety of detail, behavioral, and artistic shots, so I’m just picking a representative pair for now. This image was from last year, after I heard the mantis capture the cicada (Neotibicen) and doing not just a selection of stills, but some gross video too. This was with the Canon 7D and the Mamiya 80mm macro.

We’ll jump back to 2015.

wings of newly-molted Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis not yet extended
What you see here are the wings of a newly-molted mantis, entering the final instar or adult phase – I was lucky enough to find one right at the beginning of the molting process and do an entire series of shots. Within an hour, these wings would open up and stretch out many times this size, to form a ‘cape’ over the mantis’ abdomen. This time, I was using the Canon 30D with either the Mamiya macro and its extension tube, or the reversed Sigma 28-105 – I’m leaning towards the latter, but neither lens has any electronic connection with the body so no information carries over into the EXIF.

I have to note that this image had to be touched up too, only it was from dust on the sensor itself leaving black spots on the image – the 30D (like many earlier models) was rather prone to this, and the process for removing it was tricky and meticulous, so it didn’t get done as often as it should have. Fixing the image only takes seconds to do in GIMP however, as opposed to getting out the dyes and ultra-fine paintbrushes, as well as a small bit of white photo paper to lay alongside for careful color matching before applying the dyes themselves to the print. Maybe one of these days I’ll do a post on how much retouching efforts have changed in the digital world…

Foiled by bodyguards

Yesterday evening The Girlfriend and I were on the back porch finishing dinner, when we heard a faint crashing through the leaves separating us from the neighbor, something that excited two of the cats. I pegged it as a squirrel, mostly because little else makes that much noise, and stood up for a peek. What I saw, however, was something much larger and lighter-colored than a squirrel, scampering down towards the corner of the property, and I quickly encouraged The Girlfriend to get as good a look as she could because it was a white-tailed deer fawn (Odocoileus virginianus,) and in looking out the back of the property we could see the mother. As we watched, the fawn excitedly blew past its mother, following the little path that serves as a utility right-of-way for the housing development, and I heard the mother emit what is best described as a faint groan as she followed; I am guessing this was a signal for the fawn to halt and hold still, because it did immediately, and the mother moved to catch up. Our view was blocked by a cluster of bushes right alongside, but in moments the fawn appeared to be nursing, and I scampered inside to get the camera.

The door on the porch creaks way too much (or it did at that time – its since been oiled,) so I went out the front door instead and came as silently as possible along the side of the house, long-lens attached and setting the ISO for 1600 to compensate for the failing light of the evening. As I came around, i got a glimpse of the mother, who was looking right in my direction, but I detoured around the shed and greenhouse to see if I could get a clearer view more down the open length of the right-of-way. As I rounded the greenhouse, though, I found they were not alone.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus doe acting as sentry
This is full-frame at 600mm – all of these images are. I wasn’t ten meters from this doe, which isn’t the mother, but one that I was unaware was there, hidden as it was behind the shed. And then another, even closer.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus buck staring down photographer
A young buck with developing antlers was also back there, and both of them started quickly moving away from me, likely alerting the mother that things weren’t kosher, and I still wasn’t in view of her yet. Trying to be as quiet as possible, I leaned out to find that she was ushering her fawn onwards away from this potential danger.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus doe and fawn leaving vicinity
After moving on a short distance the doe paused, checking around to see if the threat was still present; I wasn’t exactly dressed for deer-stalking and was probably far too visible, to say nothing of the shutter noise which seemed a lot louder than I’d ever noticed before.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus doe and fawn pausing to evaluate danger
I have to note that the deer in the area are not terribly spooky around people, and much earlier that same morning I had to chase two out of the front yard to keep them away from plants that we don’t want eaten; it was harder than it should have been. But the fawn was an additional factor of course.

white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus doe and fawn moving on
Eventually they moved onward, not in a panic but, “just to be sure.” Meanwhile, I’m vowing to create a photography stand on the roof of the shed to have a better view out back, which may also serve for knowing when any of the little shits jump the fence to start nibbling on the tomato plants again. There are boundaries…

Report from the field, part four

Wow, it’s been seven years since the last, but this time it’s from a different journalist, the blog’s official Seems-Foreign-But-It-Technically-Isn’t-Correspondent Katrina Palmer, who is sending me images smugly from Hawai’i, because that’s what one does from Hawai’i. And of course, we could do with a break from the usual fare.

I am receiving these without exposition, so all verbiage and identification is mine, to the detriment of all. Just look at the pictures, okay?

red-crested cardinal Paroaria coronata profile, by Katrina Palmer
Above and below we have a red-crested cardinal (Paroaria coronata,) which is unrelated to the common northern cardinal that we all know, but is a tanager instead that is, apparently, guilty of identity theft. Or the victim of it – can’t be too sure.

red-crested cardinal Paroaria coronata peering into camera, by Katrina Palmer
The dark color on top of the bill and the forehead here is not typical, but probably evidence of a political campaign, or maybe a running landing in a muddy area. We will leave the term, “brown-bill” unmentioned.

cattle egret Bubulcus ibis strutting in field, by Katrina Palmer
This is a cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis,) which frankly you don’t have to go to Hawai’i to see (hate to tell them this after they’ve already sprung for the tickets,) but I’ve only ever seen them coastally myself, and this is closer than I’ve ever gotten so, credit to Katrina. As for the prissy air here, it likely comes from being chosen after the cardinals/not-cardinals above – some birds just let their egos run away.

The tan coloration on the head, back, and crop is natural, and not evidence of a guy’s efforts at laundering whites.

common mynah Acridotheres tristis profile, by Katrina Palmer
Above and below we have a common mynah (Acridotheres tristis,) giving the photographer the stinkeye likely because she interrupted the bird scolding the ground litter.

common mynah Acridotheres tristis haranging, by Katrina Palmer
You know how it is…

white-rumped shama Copsychus malabaricus profile, by Katrina Palmer
Now we have a pair of images of a white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus,) which is the old name and considered inappropriate in today’s culture; the movement is to rename them rump-of-no-color shamas, though typically, no one has bothered to even check with the shamas to see what they prefer to be called.

white-rumped shama Copsychus malabaricus profile, by Katrina Palmer
I had to double-check to make sure I wasn’t actually seeing two different species, mostly because of the shape and size of the head, but I think the difference comes only from whether the feathers are lying perfectly flat or partially erect, though the more appropriate term is now, “semi-unlimp.” You have to appreciate the distinctive line in the crop-top, though.

And finally, we get more in line with the typical blog content.

gold dust day gecko Phelsuma laticauda from back, by Katrina Palmer
This is a gold dust day gecko (Phelsuma laticauda,) which is not a gecko that celebrates Gold Dust Day, which isn’t even a recognized holiday anymore, but a day gecko that looks for gold dust. Or something. Many/most geckos are nocturnal, and despite their presence in Florida, I photographed very few while I lived there. But there are a few diurnal species in Hawai’i, and this is one of them, though they can get much brighter in coloration than this. But yes, they look like cartoon caricatures of a lizard, even down to the toes.

Notably, not one of these species is actually native to Hawai’i, which is not a particular accomplishment or goal of Katrina’s – there are a lot of non-native species to be found on the islands, partially due to intentional import, but mostly due to accidental releases that thrive in the habitat and the relative lack of predators. “Native” is of course a loaded term, mostly referring to the species that could be found when Europeans finally arrived at any given location, but since Hawai’i arose from undersea volcanoes, everything thereon (except for the black sand) came along later, so…

Anyway, I know these aren’t Katrina’s normal photographic subjects, nor is she working with focal lengths anywhere near what I am most times, so nice work! We’ll see if further images come along in the next few days.

“I am a leaf on the wind sculpture thingy, watch how I don’t move”

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis on garden sculpture
Just a handful more pics, some from yesterday, and I hope I don’t have to tell you where that quote comes from – granted, it’s not verbatim. But this Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis) was doing its best to remain inconspicuous while getting some sun in the morning. This is being more accommodating than earlier, when it was perched on the vertical support bar and doing a great job of remaining on the opposite side no matter where I positioned myself…

While at the pond getting the image from the previous post, I got a couple other keepers, this one among them:

likely eastern amberwing Perithemis tenera on back of basking likely striped mud turtle Kinosternon baurii
This is the kind of image that takes a long time, solely from my habit of providing proper species names for the posts; looking these up can take a while. The dragonfly is likely an eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera,) while the turtle may well be a striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii,) though it’s possible that it’s an eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) – that’s probably more likely, despite the stripe on the snout, because far be it from me to ever feature a species that doesn’t have “eastern” in its goddamn name. I swear, taxonomists (that’s an occupation, right?) are more enamored of the east/west distinction than southerners are of the north/south one. And that’s saying something.

[If you clicked on that last link and saw the list of “eastern” species, just know that in the two years since, I’ve added six more to the list – again, only that I’ve featured here on the blog.]

And a couple from a few days back.

buff female mallard Anas platyrhynchos peeking at photographer from nap
The resident buff-colored female mallard (I just call her, “Buffy,” because I’m clever like that) was snoozing on the banks among a gaggle of Canada geese and allowed me to pass pretty close, but kept an eye on me just in case. And so did her offspring.

mallard ducklings also peeking at photographer from nap
I believe, from conversing with those that live around the pond (the humans, anyway,) that she started out with nine ducklings, but those numbers have whittled down to five, as of last night – this is fairly typical attrition for ducklings, and it’s often worse, but it’s why ducks have clutches of so many eggs. The ducklings are big enough now that being snagged by snapping turtles or bass is far less likely, but there are still land-based predators, as a large scattering of feathers near one roosting area attested to; fox or coyote, most likely. One of these days I need to stake-out a likely area with a blind and powerful flashes and see what I can get, though I know this is going to be a serious challenge.

Coming soon: a few non-local species from a guest photographer. Keep refreshing that page!

Boy, that was fast!

That month just flew past, didn’t it? But here we are at the end-of-the-month abstract, so let’s see what—

Hold on, I’m being informed that we’re nowhere near the end of the month, so this image can not be the end-of-the-month abstract unless I wait quite a while longer, and I’m not going to do that, so this is the… fourth… day…

Whatever. It’s what I got today.

green heron Butorides virescens captured at slow shutter speed
A pair of green herons (Butorides virescens) were performing frequent pond crossings while we circumnavigated the neighborhood pond this evening, and as the sun dropped well behind the trees, I tried tracking one across the water, already pretty sure the shutter speed wasn’t likely to allow for good results. As it was, between that and the image stabilizing motor in the lens, I got this effect, an overlaid ghost image with a notable amount of detail in the wings. Of course I knew it would turn out this way – everything that I do is meticulously planned, because I am a professional…

Been quiet

Curiously, the activity around Walkabout Estates has been greatly reduced, and I haven’t been shooting much – we’ll see what happens for tomorrow’s outing. Right now I just have a handful of images from today’s patrol.

unidentified crab spider genus Thomasidae on gardenia bud
The gardenias out back have been budding madly, threatening a prominent display when they eventually come into bloom, but it’s been taking a while. The first finally opened yesterday, and as I was checking it out I spotted the little guy here, who I cannot credit with any smarts at all. There is only one flower open for all three bushes, and it’s right there, but Brainiac here decides to hang out on an unopened bud. The spider (an unidentified variety of crab spider, genus Thomasidae) was also being very shy and kept moving to the blind side of the bud as I leaned in for pics, and my attempts to flush it back around to a visible spot worked not quite long enough to lock focus, so this is all we have. For now.

The lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus) plants in the pond are not only doing well, they’re exuberantly in bloom right now, and I took a moment to capture a pollinator on one bloom.

banded longhorn beetle Typocerus velutinus on lizard's tail Saururus cernuus blossom spike

I’m identifying this as a banded longhorn beetle (Typocerus velutinus,) but stand to be corrected – was being balky as I checked this. We have loads of them around right now, mostly on the oak-leaf hydrangea flowers, but this is the first detail pic that I’ve gotten – I think. My own database is way behind so I can’t be sure of that.

So, a brief story. This past winter The Girlfriend and I decided we needed some ginger lilies, because they’re big and cool-looking and the anoles seem to adore them, and come spring we sought them out from a local greenhouse, obtaining a pot with several stalks; ginger lilies (genus Hedychium – I honestly don’t know what variety we have) grow from rhizomes, a common ‘root,’ and will multiply through the spread of the rhizomes. On breaking up the rhizomes for multiple plantings, I accidentally broke off one of the stalks, so I popped it into a jar of water to see if it would sprout roots on its own. It did, and soon got transplanted into a pot, then a few weeks later it got planted alongside the backyard pond, right by the lizard’s tails.

ginger lily Hedychium showing new stalks
I was quite pleased to find yesterday that this broken-off stalk was now four stalks, so apparently it’s doing just ducky. This is about the height of the original plants when we got them, the largest of which is now above my waist – they’ll get a lot bigger.

And finally, the return of a Walkabout staple.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on Japanese maple
I’d almost written off the Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) since their inauspicious start and immediate disappearance this spring, but slowly some are making appearances in various areas, including this one beginning to be routinely found on the Japanese maple by the front porch. The number of lizards on the property has likely tripled, so the risks to these guys have expanded commensurately, but the anoles at least seemed to have gotten a lot scarcer – I’m surmising that mating season is past and they’re now being more secretive – so who knows how this will play out? I’ll keep an eye on it all, of course.

Define, “success”

star trails time exposure with scattered clouds
I did indeed get out early this morning to chase the Tau Herculids meteor shower, and I have to admit it was one of the better nights for it. Initially, scattered clouds obscured small portions of the sky as glimpsed above, but they cleared within the first half-hour of observing, while the temperature remained a lovely 20°c with a light breeze eventually stirring. The humidity remained high, however, which reduced visibility slightly, mostly near the horizon, and scattered the nearby city lights more than on the last attempt. This meant that long exposures got more of a background light than before.

Notably, I saw several meteors, the most I’ve seen since the 2001 Leonids while not being anywhere near that number. Essentially, I was seeing at least one for every ten minute time exposure I was shooting, and given my field of view, I was estimating the ‘whole sky’ number at about 15-20 per hour, which is roughly the same as reported by – this meant that, sitting and watching carefully, you were almost guaranteed to see at least one, but probably more, and my count was roughly a dozen. I say, “roughly,” because some of those were ‘corner of the eye’ that I couldn’t feel confident of, and the fireflies were active this morning so a glimpse might only have been of one of those. More on that in a second.

All that said, I did finally catch a meteor, after decades of trying.

long night exposure with Tau Herculids meteor and firefly
Yeah, Excitement City, huh? And after I just said that I saw a dozen or so. But there’s only so wide the camera lens will capture (even in this case, at 10mm,) and most of those that I saw fell outside the field of view at any given time. But we’ll go in a little closer on that same frame.

Tau Herculids meteor and firefly detail
The meteor is the brighter streak – the dashed line is a firefly, and I watched it cut across in front of the camera. I had set ISO at 800 this time, and I’m not impressed; the noise/grain seems higher than even the very high ISOs for the Canon 7D.

You might have noticed, on the full-frame version, that the curved star trails reversed: this is because the plane of the ecliptic, essentially the line even with Earth’s equator, cuts right through the center of the frame, so the stars are describing arcs around the north pole above it, and the south pole below it, or at least the rotation of the Earth makes it seem that way in the time exposure.

There were a few others that I caught as well – or at least, may have caught. None of them have corresponded to any known satellites that I’ve found.

meteor or satellite
This is perhaps the most questionable one, because of the color speckling (which is most likely caused by the camera, and not the true color of the passing whatsit.) Either way, it was very dim, and not noticed by me as I was gazing around during the exposure.

This next one was curious, in that I was only after the Milky Way for this shot and so it’s only an 18-second exposure.

trace meteor if Milky Way time exposure
It’s up there at the top left of the frame, the barest little scratch. Here’s a close crop:

faint meteor with odd optical effect
Bear in mind that 10mm focal length makes everything smaller, so visibly this would have been longer in the sky, but at least it has the tapered effect typical of meteors, brightening and dimming as it passes.

But those brighter stars? Yeah, I’m putting this down to the aspherical nature of the Tamron 10-24mm lens on stars near the edge of the frame, especially since the ‘wings’ face the opposite direction in the other corner, and vanish in the middle.

I had another trace one, but just confirmed that it’s a satellite, because it shows up in the previous frame too – I knew that was gonna happen. So while we’re here, we’ll take a quick peek at another frame obtained not long before I wrapped up for the night/morning.

short time exposure of Milky Way
I needed to try the Milky Way again while I was out there, and boosted the ISO to 6400 to keep the exposure short – I’d switched back to the Canon 18-135 at f4. The humidity is undoubtedly playing a role here, but the Milky way remains faint, no matter where you are, so there’s only so much that can be brought out. With real photography, anyway.

Then I tweaked it.

heavily-edited Milky Way
This is how it might appear (or much, much worse) if you saw it on Astronomy Picture of the Day, or what I’ve taken to calling the Photoshop Job of the Day, since virtually nothing that they feature any more involves an original photo. Image stacking, compositing, filters, enhancements, and all sorts of dicking around are used anymore, so the impression that you get from their photos rarely, if ever, represents what you might see or capture normally; it’s like the most heavy-handed of Twitter accounts. I understand this from a working astronomer’s standpoint, in that filtering for infra-red or hydrogen-alpha can reveal more details about nebulae and star formation, but for the scenic/artistic images, especially showing some kind of landscape – fuck it, you might as well just paint whatever you like in there.

Yes, I’m venting, and I’m aware that there remain a few tricks to produce better results, like being in truly dark, dry sky areas and using tracking motors, and at some point I’ll be attempting those. But a tracking motor will blur out landscape details in the same manner as the star trails up there, and I don’t care how dry the air is, it’s still air and will diffuse the light coming through it. But one of these days I’ll do such shots at the beach, at least getting away from the city lights, and we’ll see what happens.

1 2 3 4 236