Our opening image comes from 2004, in Florida, the territorial display of the brown anole (Anolis sagrei.) That big sail under its chin, called a dewlap, is only displayed when a male anole is marking its territory, typically when another is nearby, though I’m unsure if there can also be a sexual element to it. What I’m drawing attention to here, however, is the bright orange color with the yellow border, helping identify the species. You might think the “brown” part of its name is sufficient, but the Carolina anole (formerly known as the green anole,) can also turn brown when the situation warrants, though it is not as mottled as this, usually only showing variation in a diamond pattern down the spine. The brown anole, however, remains brown.
Contrast this with the dewlap of the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis):
While catching it backlit can make it take on an orange-ish hue at times, the dewlap of the Carolina anole is brilliant pink and lacks a border color. I used to believe that they would only do this at the appearance of another anole, but multiple times this year I’ve witnessed this at my presence with no other anoles visible, so either they’ll do it on principle regardless of the interloping species, or I’m even odder-looking than I believed (though I think anoles have a great appearance so I’ll take it as a compliment.)
But then there’s this, from two years ago:
Same species as immediately above, but different circumstances; this one was in an active, aggressive and physical dispute with another male, and so we see a different display, with the dark ‘eyeshadow’ and the raised crest on the neck, and possibly even some deepening of the green along the snout. If they do this for you, you’d better get ready to throw down, because they certainly will. Always happy to help protect my readers, no matter how imaginary they are.
Coming through the kitchen yesterday, I saw something cutting across the sprawling frontage of Walkabout Estates, and quickly grabbed the camera.
Just a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus,) a moderate-sized six-point buck, which normally don’t start becoming visible until dusk, though this was middle afternoon. I shot this through the storm door glass, where it apparently couldn’t see me because of the reflection; when I opened the storm door for a clearer view, it bolted, thankfully towards the back and not the road.
For trivia’s sake, the reddish-brown mass in the foreground is the Japanese maple that has formed the setting for so many of the images herein, and in the upper left corner of the background you can make out a branch of the oak-leaf hydrangea, which has served as well.
It’s rut season for the species, which means they’re present on the roads a lot more often, and a lot stupider – never the most astute of animals, white-tailed deer become very single-minded this time of year and often remain unaware of cars, so keep your eyes open. Know, too, that there’s rarely ever one; if you see one clear the road ahead of you, another may follow soon afterward, sometimes a whole herd. I can’t count the number of times I’ve spoken to people who saw the first but struck a follower, assuming that the coast was clear. Stay vigilant.
If you’re checking out that sidebar where it shows what posted around this date on previous years, you may notice a pattern: we’re coming up on the peak of the Leonids meteor shower, which may be visible all throughout November but reaches maximum activity on the 17th/18th. More or less, anyway – they’re actually calling for a surge early on the 19th, so you may want to plan on a couple of nights to check things out.
I’ve mentioned before that the 2001 Leonids were spectacular, though I got no images whatsoever due to a mistake in the film I was using. Since then, I’ve seen practically bupkiss. Except, I may have already seen one this year, Tuesday night while out in Washington. I was sitting at the computer in a darkened room looking out a window over the town, in a relatively dark residential area, and saw a flash and a momentary tail. I initially took it for headlights reflecting off of a wire, before I realized that it was probably too high in the sky for there to be any wires there, not to mention that it was nigh vertical. I checked the same vantage in daylight the following day and confirmed that there was nothing but open sky in that spot. Considering that I couldn’t even see any stars out the window, this was probably a bright one – it would have left a nice trail in a time exposure.
If you’re thinking of trying for photos, there are some basic tips, but these are only rough guidelines.
Focal length: 35-80mm or so – While a wider focal length will show a broader view of the sky and thus more chance for meteors, they’ll also be smaller in the frame, and you really don’t want to reduce an impressive fireball too much.
Focus: Switch to manual and use a handy target to pin down focus – Usually the beacon of a radio tower, or any lighted object several hundred meters away – even the moon. Don’t allow the camera to ‘hunt’ for something to focus on in a dark sky and ruin the frames.
Aperture: f8 to f11 – depth-of-field means nothing here, but most lenses are sharpest stopped down a little.
ISO: 400 to 1600 – Judge on your own how much noise is produced by your camera at such settings. Also pop off a baseline frame with the lenscap on for noise reduction. But while we’re talking about that…
Turn off in-camera noise reduction – Unless your camera is really slick in this regard, noise reduction can take a lot of post-exposure processing time, preventing you from getting any more frames while this is happening, and may actually remove stars from the image. Better to do this after the fact.
Tripod and remote release – Lock the camera down, and set the shutter speed to B with a remote release, or the longest exposure you can without it – you don’t want to be manually holding down the shutter for a period of time because you’ll introduce camera shake. Also best to turn off image stabilization – it can get squirrely when used with a tripod anyway.
Where to aim: Don’t worry about the radiant – I’ve never seen too much activity while focused near the radiant – that just gives an average direction that they appear to emanate from, but they might appear anywhere, so you may have more luck by picking a darker portion of the sky. Higher is generally better because there’s more ambient light near the horizons.
Exposure length: Anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes – The longer you go, the longer the star trails go, but the more faint details you might pick up. Just leave only brief periods between exposures to reduce the chance of missing a meteor. The wee hours after midnight start to become best for meteors and reduce the number of satellites that can reflect the sun in your frame – there are buttloads of them up there anymore. If you have the opportunity to use more than one camera, go for it – it can only help.
Find a way to get comfortable looking almost straight up, and dress warmly.
The gibbous moon will be present for portions of the viewing times, and unfortunately right near the radiant, but again, aim away and don’t worry about it. A lenshood won’t hurt either, but it’s the moonlight illuminating the atmospheric haze that will have the worst affect on your exposures, so aim well away if you’re able. Sit back and be patient, and know that meteors are both intelligent and perverse and will usually appear outside of the angle your lenses are covering. You might try a dummy camera and see if they tumble to that.
I mentioned taking a trip recently, which was to Washington, only not that one, and not that one either, but the one in North Carolina – the first town to be named after George Washington, as they proudly proclaim. Well, not the whole town, or really anyone living there that I heard, but on a plaque in a park, anyway. Washington sits on a river delta off the inland waterway, the open expanse of mostly-salt water that sits inside the barrier islands of the Outer Banks, and this delta is known as the Pamlico River even though it was the Tar River not two kilometers away and the flow there is more wind-driven than drainage from upstate, but hey, I didn’t name it. It is a fairly historic area and a relatively small city – in fact I’m not even sure the population makes it to the official definition of ‘city,’ which probably tells you enough. The Girlfriend and I had a little time to poke around the first evening, mostly around the downtown district that I didn’t bother with photos of, but also on the waterfront around sunset. The sky was crystal clear and thus wasn’t promising anything for sunset, but we hung around anyway.
I’m not sure the cause of the distinct halo around the sun here, but I suspect it was created from the aspherical lens – it was not visible in person. It’s added another experiment to my list, to shoot sunset with several different lenses in my arsenal to see which ones do it and how badly.
I set my alarm for before sunrise the next morning, even though the forecast wasn’t encouraging – we were due for clouds spawned by Tropical Storm Nicole, though when I got up I could see a faint hint of light on scattered clouds and so grabbed the camera and trotted down to the waterfront again (no I didn’t – even though it was only a few blocks from where we were staying, I don’t run, at all, and so only strolled down there.) But there was a thick band of clouds to the east that looked like it was going to be a bully at sunrise. Meanwhile the moon, fully eclipsed only 24 hours before, was riding bright in the twilight.
With first light the seagulls had become active and were wheeling madly throughout the bay, and I realized that with a little patience I might pull something off. It only took a few minutes.
Could be better, but I’m not complaining, seeing how often I’ve attempted something of this nature (mostly with the sunrise) and how little time I spent trying to get it this session. It was damn chilly out, but the birds were reasonably active, or at least visible, as in the case of a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) just off the docks.
This guy is apparently a routine fixture in the area, at least judging by the comment from a passing resident. By the way, I’m normally a reserved person in public, generally just nodding or muttering a brief greeting even with our own neighbors here, but I was almost forced to blurt out chipper, “Good morning!”s to everyone that passed me on the docks and streets, which was a lot – it’s one of those communities. Nobody seemed in need of coffee. Except maybe this guy.
No, not the double-crested cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) on the piling, but the paddle-kayaker beyond, bundled up against the chill and near-constant breeze out on the water – that’s fisherfolk for you. There were plenty of cormorants though, mostly staking territory on prime pilings while waiting for the fish to get active.
By the way, that’s a rotating trestle bridge for the rail line that crosses the river back there, which I suspected was long decommissioned, but Google Earth shows it in closed position back in 2016 at least, so maybe not – we never saw any trains cross it (or even attempt to) while we were there, anyway, and I was taking this photo from the rail line itself. As well as this one:
Seagulls in the air, ducks on the water, and this was as good as the sunrise got, though later in the day we got scattered sunshine. Having never seen a flock of ducks this large hanging out (and I only have half of it in the frame,) I endeavored to determine what they were, hampered significantly by the fact that they weren’t very close to shore and disinclined to do anything but flap occasionally as ducks do, I suspect to cover their flatulence. Nonetheless, I zoomed in as far as the 18-135 would allow (the only lens I was carrying that morning) and cropped tighter afterward to see what I could.
Despite the fact that all of the males, which typically have the most identifiable plumage, were keeping their bills tucked in sleep position, the white patches on the face peg these as ruddy ducks, or North American ruddy ducks to be precise (Oxyura jamaicensis,) compact little ‘fun size’ ducks that look a lot better in breeding plumage (wow, that was eleven years ago!) Typically, they’re not in this region except to overwinter.
After the failed sunrise, I wandered around a little just to check out the area, mostly in the historic residential section where we were staying. Plenty of old homes in varying conditions – it’s not technically ‘seaside’ but close enough to be hell on wood buildings – and lots of cats, more than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Some showed distinct signs of ownership, some didn’t.
I wasn’t shooting architecture, mostly because it’s not my thing, but partially because even though its public, the owners control the rights to publish and I respect privacy. The cat, however, can take me to court if it thinks it has a chance – it would only be a matter of time before it knocked the judge’s water glass from the bench and got a Contempt of Court charge, so have at it.
I’ll close with a little bit more fall color, the tree right next to the house we stayed within, courtesy of Karen and Todd – many thanks, guys! Only a few leaves showed a reddish blush, so I tried to make it look like a normal thing. We will likely return to the area in summer and check it out some more.
As indicated a couple of days ago, I went out very early Tuesday morning to catch the total lunar eclipse, the second for 2022, and just less than six months apart to boot.The next total lunar eclipse won’t be until March 2025, because whoever schedules these things is wobbly, but there will be a partial lunar not quite a year from now (for this area, anyway,) and a total solar eclipse in April of 2024. That won’t be quite here, but neither was the last, and I have friends in the totality band so I intend to be visiting them when that one occurs. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Because of the early hour of the morning when this was going to occur, and the fact that The Girlfriend and I were scheduled to leave on a trip a little later on that day, and the fact that I already have lots of photos of a lunar eclipse starting, I didn’t arrange to get to my viewing spot until just after the umbral phase began, which is the bit where an eclipse is obvious. I used this time to shoot numerous frames on manual focus and examine them closely in the LCD preview at high magnification, to know that I had focus sharp; when it comes to lunar details, autofocus (or at least my own) isn’t precise enough to trust, so I fuss with it until it’s as sharp as I can arrange.
A short ways in, I switched to using the 2x teleconverter, which with the Tamron 150-600 provides somewhere around 1000mm focal length. But the teleconverter has a faint color cast to it, not noticeable in most circumstances but visible in moon shots back-to-back. It would be easy enough to correct, and not even worth the bother – I could assume that the moon should be neutral grey and still be dead wrong, due to atmospheric filtering.
Now we have a pair of comparison frames, of the eclipse on top and a similarly-shaped crescent phase on the bottom. If you know moon phases, there’s really only one small bracket of time during an eclipse when it might be mistaken for a normal moon phase, because the Earth’s shadow isn’t shaped properly to match the shadowed moon except for one period of time – granted, this lasts for a few minutes so it doesn’t require exquisite timing. But these two frames show that they really can’t be mistaken for one another if you’re familiar with the moon, because the shadows of lunar geography thrown by the oblique sun angle in normal moon phases aren’t present at all during an eclipse. It also shows why full moon shots are far more boring that partial phases, when the details really stand out, even as small as I’m showing here.
Then there’s also the trait that moon phases have a really distinct terminator, the shadow line, while eclipses show much more of a gradient, and during this period you can see the effect of the penumbral shadow better, though it helps to have something to compare it against like this. For trivia’s sake, I’ll point out that the moon rarely passes directly through the middle of the Earth’s shadow, so the ‘phase’ mimicked by the eclipse is cocked out of line with the true lunar phase, but the moon also wobbles a bit so the true phases also wander, being aligned perfectly with the poles only two days out of every 28 – the match here is damn close and merely coincidental, though you can see the difference if you compare the mares carefully.
A little better than halfway to totality, I did an experimental frame:
All during the advancement towards totality, there is still light from Earth reaching the shadowed side of the moon, and this becomes more noticeable as the eclipse progresses, though it’s a lot harder to photograph, and this demonstrates why. I changed exposure drastically to bring this out, but it was still too early to be doing this: the light from the uneclipsed portion blew out the exposure and caused glare and ghosts. Trying again a mere fifteen minutes later produced better results:
For the record, this is about 12 minutes before astronomical totality, though when you’re photographing at higher magnification, this distinction becomes noticeably arbitrary.
This is about four minutes past reaching totality, and there remains an edge that shows more white light than red; the image from two days ago is right when ‘totality’ occurred, and you likely wouldn’t consider that one quite there yet. I’m comfortable that my timing is correct because I’d just reset my watch for DST idiocy and so it was compared against UTC, though I forgot to set the camera until I was out there during the eclipse.
This is 11 minutes later, and it appears brighter only because I was tweaking exposure to see what I could get without motion blur from the moon moving (or the Earth, to be pedantic, or both, to be astronomical.) This exposure was 1 full second at f6.3, ISO 1600, about the limits both to avoid motion blur and to prevent noise from overwhelming the frame. Though it was with the teleconverter which loses two stops of light, so that’s more like f13. For comparison, the first image in this post was at 1/200 second, f11, ISO 200 – accounting for the teleconverter, this means the image above was letting in 10.33 stops more light than the first, or over 1,000 times as much light (it doubles every stop.) If this seems ridiculously high, know that doubling light isn’t as drastic as it sounds – this image is 66% brighter than the one immediately above it, shot at f8 instead of f6.3, which is 2/3 of a stop.
While the moon was going to set while still eclipsed, I didn’t stick around for this. I had toyed with the idea of placing it alongside some distinct landmark or something scenic in the foreground, but the low level in the sky was going to hamper this – it’s too easy to be obscured by trees and buildings, and few landmarks in the area are particularly tall, nor in dark-sky conditions. Not to mention that the size of the moon doesn’t compare well against virtually anything, unless you can shoot those from a great distance as well so the moon is larger in perspective. So as the moon dropped lower, I switched the tripod quite low and framed the moon among some foreground bare tree branches.
I used my pocket flashlight to illuminate the branches, which were way too close to even try to get into focus, and shifted a little to place the moon in the gaps, kinda. This was as fartsy as I got, because I still needed a couple more hours of sleep to get out on the road later on. But if you search around, I’m sure you’ll find other examples where people made the effort to be more creative.
And yes, I have a handful of photos from the recent trip, so they’re on the way.
While on a quest last week, which I’ll go into later, I got three very similar images faintly representative of autumn, and I’m agonizing over which is the best one to feature. So I’m putting them all up, and encouraging you to pick your favorite and ignore the others.
These are all on Morgan Creek in Chapel Hill, which ran behind the apartment complex that I lived within when I first moved to NC, and I was trying to find the shooting location of a particular photo from many years ago. I was unsuccessful, but there are some clues in what I did capture (not these, of course,) that I might have come close.
One of these has had its contrast boosted slightly – I’m not saying which one – but otherwise they are as shot. Well, okay, I cropped for stronger effect too. Happy now?
They sky was bright and mostly clear, while the trees, being so close to the water, had advanced more in their autumn process than much of the surrounding area and had already shed too many leaves – I should have been there at least a week sooner, but the schedule didn’t play out for that. I did work with the reflections though, so make sure you take those into consideration.
I’d be back with the winning votes, if I had readers, but let’s put it this way – this is one election you have virtually locked. When are you going to get that chance again?
I don’t have a lot of time to work on posts right now, so I’m throwing this up just to prove that yes, I did indeed get out to capture the eclipse – wonderful morning for it. It would have been nice to find some foreground scenery to use as it set, but this wasn’t an easy thing to arrange in this area and I passed on it this time. So, this is the moon just as it was entering totality – I like the color range, from the faintly blue cast at the last vestiges of direct sunlight through to the deep red, the far edge of the moon almost disappearing in this exposure.
We open today with a fairly common yet distinctive bird around Florida, the American white ibis (Eudocimus albus.) A smallish bird for a wader, perhaps a hair larger than a crow in body size, but smaller than a duck, with the telltale curved red-orange bill and blue eyes – there are also black patches on the wings visible in flight, yet almost entirely hidden when they’re on foot. The curved beak helps them find small crustaceans and shellfish in the wetlands mud. This is also a callback to my brother’s recent visit here, because this was taken while he was visiting me during my tenure in Florida, 18 years ago, and is within Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, it was only seven minutes later than the one below:
This is what a juvenile of the same species looks like, and the background helps display why: they’re a lot harder to spot while they’re in their vulnerable early months – note also the dark eyes. Color changes like this make perfect sense, optimizing their survival. I would say the white adult plumage helps them with the heat of the subtropics, but then again there are plenty of birds, even further south, that bear dark plumage without issue, so this idea isn’t standing up. But we all know I’m not an ornithologist (or anything else, really.)
And now we get to more theory-wreckers.
This is an adult little blue heron (Egretta caerulea,) perhaps a shade smaller and leaner than the ibis, but not notably. They’re easy to identify because nothing else in the area looks like this – the tri-colored heron bears some resemblance, but is larger, more mottled, and shows white patches. The little blues tended to be a lot scarcer and shyer than the ibises, and I have far fewer images of them. But then we get to the juveniles.
The young little blues are all white, though this one is transitioning into its adult coloration, so it looks like a negative image of those jeans that are cool right now (or am I behind again?) and will be seen as stupid in a decade by kids the same age. However, why the juvies should be high-visibility white while the adults can at least blend into the shadows escapes me entirely. Both the juvenile and the adult were shot on the Indian River Lagoon, though kilometers apart, with the juvie still captured during my brother’s visit, and I think this is the only image I have of one. A key thing to look for here is the bill and eye area, as indigo as the adults, and this differentiates them from…
… the adult snowy egret (Egretta thula,) which is the same size and frequents the same habitats, so we look to the bill and eyes to see the difference, though this species also has yellow feet that the little blues lack – they’re under water so often for both species that this isn’t the easiest trait to use for differentiation. Here we can also see the breeding plumes, the shaggy longer feathers on head and back that the juvenile little blues don’t have, but this is a seasonal thing and not present at all times for the species.
We’ve also gone back to Merritt Island and my brother’s visit – this was shot on the same day as the first two. Merritt Island is a pretty damn good place to check out, really, though having my brother in tow is a bit harder to arrange…
Just a trio of images from recent days that didn’t fit into other posts – little to say about them.
This green treefrog (Dryophytes cinereus) has been living on the same trumpet flower (Brugmansia) for weeks now, which is rare, but I caught it as it was spying on me. Or counter-spying on me. Hey, this is my jobhobbyvocationcalling pointless obsession!
While my brother was here, he captured one of the tiny juvenile green treefrogs and ensconced it temporarily in a terrarium so he could get his own photos, his introduction to macro work without either a macro lens or flash rig. I got out a bright LED lamp for lighting through the glass, which the frog decided was the ideal place to perch, returning to the same spot even when moved elsewhere. The curious internal anatomy revealed by this begged for a few frames, but the only thing I can offer is, you’re likely seeing different densities of the skeletal structure. And dem eyes.
Near as I can tell, this is the same great egret (Ardea alba) that stalked almost right up to me a few weeks earlier, but was being much more circumspect later on and never let us get very close. So this is a long telephoto shot of a successful capture with a decent-sized fish for the neighborhood pond.
[I’m purposefully not pointing out the skidmark – I’m sure you found it on your own anyway.]
That’s all for now. But there’s a lunar eclipse coming up – we’ll see how the weather holds.
One of the exploring trips we took while my brother was here was the Falls of the Neuse area, where Falls Lake empties its excess into the head of the Neuse River, which then tries to pretend it really has no interest in the ocean by taking the most circuitous route possible, passing through Virginia and Wisconsin to get there. Okay, it’s not that bad, but seriously, I think it hits every possible compass bearing in its path “east,” multiple times, and extends about ten times longer than it could have if it didn’t rely on gravity.
We did not, however, follow it that far, or indeed more than a few hundred meters, because there’s enough of interest right at the head. I know; I’ve been visiting for 24 years now.
I mentioned before that after the cold snap, the adult Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) seemed to have greatly increased their activity, and this was more evidence of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen three of them hanging around in close proximity, and there appeared to be no territoriality in evidence – this may be common at this time of year and I simply have never been someplace with enough anoles to see it. Or we may have thwarted another sinister cabal. Remember these faces.
Speaking of herons (were we?)…
… this guy flew up from some hidden spot to perch in a tree roughly forty meters off, and the foliage necessitated switching to manual focus. This is a tight crop just to show off.
My brother’s fond of collecting finds, just for the moment – I’d do it more often myself but it means not wielding the camera, which is usually my primary purpose in such locations. But here’s a little crayfish that he snagged right near the water’s surface.
I’m not even going to try and determine what particular species this is – there are 49 in the state. You’ll just have to cope – you’re an adult now.
And another find – I don’t think this one was part of the gang, given the distance and much smaller size, but who knows?
This one gave us both a run for the money, and I thought we lost it in the leaves at least twice, but eventually my brother snagged it, gently. That mottled appearance is the last vestiges of its molting stage, almost blue in the sunlight. Both were of course released right after I got a few frames.
On Tuesday I mentioned trying to pin down the exact location (as in, the very same rocks) that appeared in an old favorite image of mine, and this might indicate where it was:
The taller, shadowed rock at extreme right might be the same one seen at upper left here – which could mean that I was standing on the rock that appears in the foreground of the earlier shot. I finally loaded a couple of key images in my phone so that I could compare them while on location, rather than going from memory. I suppose I could pull up my own website while out there, but my connection is often bad, and the interminable wait for things to load tends to annoy the piss out of me – I almost never open my phone’s web browser anymore, finding it healthier to just wait until I’m on a grownup computer.
Another heron. Well, maybe.
This was definitely the same one as seen in the previous post, and possibly the same as seen above – that one flew off while we weren’t looking, and this location was a hundred meters further upstream. Whatever – it’s a nice pose, though it was late afternoon by this point and only patches had direct sunlight. Not the most productive trip I’ve taken down there, but it kept us occupied for a few hours.