I’ve had better luck

While there hasn’t been a lot to post about, and not a lot to photograph, I’ve been keeping busy with various projects – not necessarily to fruition, but busy anyway.

Long story short: the barn-door tracker mentioned a few times previously has been occupying far too much of my time, and right at the moment, it’s not clear that I’ll have it working in time for the eclipse. It’s not worth going into all the gory details here, but two ordered parts were delayed inexcusably long in shipping (one of which probably shipped from China despite claiming that it originated only three hours from here,) and figuring out the programming took too long in itself, only to find that the motor (that one maker assured was powerful enough) was not powerful enough. I’m not licked yet; I have a couple other options available, but we’re down to crunch time before I have to pack it all up and head north to be in the path of the eclipse – I’m driving up, and have plans to capture something the day before if I can, plus I’m avoiding driving on the weekend, since I don’t know what kind of traffic to expect.

Anyway, once I get it working (before or after the eclipse,) I’ll provide more depth, and some pics. Speaking of which, I have a few from earlier that I’ll throw down here, just to maintain a little content.

green frog Lithobates clamitans sitting on edge of drainage ditch
Several nights back (I mean, the 18th,) when the weather was quite warm, I heard the chorus frogs sounding off down at the neighborhood pond, but wasn’t quite available to head down there with the camera. Several hours later, I was, but by that time the frogs were silent – it’s primarily an early evening activity. What we have here is not a chorus frog, but a green frog instead (Lithobates clamitans) – much larger, with a different call, though it was silent while I was out there. I think their breeding season is a little later on in the season. Still, it was one of the few things that I actually found to photograph, and dazzled by the headlamp, it held still long enough.

Meanwhile, this was the other subject from that night:

six-spotted fishing spider Dolomedes triton floating on pollen-dappled water
There was no doubt, as I approached, what this was; I got the sharp reflection from the eyes long before I could discern its shape, and it moved quickly out over the water’s surface – not too many subjects fit those criteria. This is a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton,) skimming over the surface in search of early arthropods, which as likely as not right now are other spiders. This is a medium-sized example, leg spread about 35-40mm, while you can see on the water the first evidence of the pine pollen inundation that happens every spring – again, this was two weeks ago, and it’s much worse now.

One of these days, I’ll revisit my attempts to show just how well spider eyes can reflect light, thus how easy they are to find at night with a headlamp. It really is bright and distinct, and while dewdrops can mimic the reflection, they tend to shift color a little as you move, while spider eyes remain a distinct blue-white.

Now, this pic’s even older than those above.

spotted sandpiper Actitis macularius perched on branches on edge of Jordan Lake
This dates back from the 7th, when I went down to Jordan Lake but didn’t see a lot. I spotted this guy and carefully stalked it for better detail shots, knowing it was from the sandpiper family but not which species. Which is fairly inexcusable (my word of the day,) since this is a spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius,) probably the most common sandpiper species in the US and able to be seen just about everywhere. Yet this is the first time that I’ve gotten identifying shots of one – I could have saved it for the weekly topic, though I have enough options for that. It’s likely that I’ve seen them numerous times on the lake, since sandpipers have distinctive habits and flight patterns, but never close enough for a decent shot, and even this one took a careful approach; here, it’s very aware of me and considering that, despite a slow approach, I was probably up to no good. Which isn’t fair, because I’ve never eaten a sandpiper in my life, but that’s bird brains for you.

You’ll notice a lack of spots on this spotted sandpiper, but this is fairly common; birds usually develop different plumage at different ages, as well as seasonal changes and for breeding displays. This is a non-breeding adult, likely about to molt into breeding colors. They also have a distinctive bobbing walk, and I would have shot video if I’d had the tripod (and the chance to set it up, which the bird wouldn’t have waited for.) If you really want to see it, I’m sure someone has video examples online.

But really, that’s been about it for the photos, though a few things are in bloom now and the days have returned to being clearer and warmer, so perhaps I can produce a little more before the end of the month, maybe even later on today. If that happens, I’ll return and tell you where to find the pics.

Just once, part 13

cluster of Atamasco lilies Zephyranthes atamasco
While I have numerous images of plant species that have appeared only once in the blog, I feel that most of them are not strong enough to build a single post around – I have plenty of plant images that I find strong enough, but they’re all of species that have appeared multiple times. So not only has this species only appeared once, it might be the single representative of plant species for this year’s topic. We’ll see.

But these are Atamasco lilies or rain lilies or easter lilies – all depending on what the other people around you call them, I guess, unless the other people around you are botanists, then they’re Zephyranthes atamasco. But because they’re sometimes known as easter lilies, I purposefully stalled this post to appear today, which is about as much as I’ll observe the holiday. They’re supposed to be quite common in this area, but this is the only time that I’ve ever, to my recollection, seen them growing wild anyplace, and they served as a splash of color and interest on an otherwise dreary outing. Still, I’d like to find them when either the light is better, or they’re growing among something more interesting as a setting or background.

Visibly different, part 54

Okay, not all that visibly different, really, but it’s not my fault.

We begin with the full moon at 10:12 PM EDT last night.

full moon before start of penumbral eclipse 03-25-24
“Last night” being a little over five hours ago, but basically, before the start of the penumbral lunar eclipse – use 02:12 UTC 03/25/24 if you like. Yes, there was a lunar eclipse this morning (actually, it’s still going on as I type this,) but only a penumbral one, meaning the moon only passed (is passing) through the diffuse outer shadow and not through the distinct and total inner (umbral) shadow. This eclipse makes sense, in that the total solar eclipse is only half a moon cycle away, as the phases completely reverse into New and the moon traverses to the other side of the Earth, in relation to the sun anyway. You’d almost expect a total lunar eclipse, given how it’s going to near-perfectly align in just two weeks, but tilted orbits and all that jazz. So all we got/get is some cockeyed darkening:

full moon during peak of penumbral lunar eclipse of 03-25-24
This is during the peak of the eclipse, five hours further on (07:18 UTC, or 3:18 AM EDT.) Visibly darker, but not notably – about half a stop, I’d estimate, though at least the deeper shadow at the bottom is easy to discern. And it’s tilted almost 90°, but that’s because it’s five hours later on and I didn’t bother trying to rotate the camera to match (or rotate the image in post-editing.) Technically, it’s still oriented (mostly) the same way, but I was riding the planet along as that tilted. And I say “mostly” because the moon wobbles, suffering from libration (nasty thing, that,) and so it probably wouldn’t be a perfect match even if rotated to match the poles.

Excitement City, I know, but it’s all I’ve been up to recently, at least photographically. Now, preparations for photographs are taking place, as the barn-door tracker mentioned previously is taking shape, and would be much further along if the goddamned parts that I’d ordered has arrived at a reasonable time. Will they get here today? We’ll see, I suppose. This isn’t leaving me a lot of time to experiment and refine the design if there are issues (which I consider at least 30% likely,) but so it goes.

Worse is the possibility of crappy weather during the eclipse, since the northern states aren’t known for having frequent clear skies even in early spring – I’m resigned to the very real possibility of traveling up there and not being able to see a thing. It won’t be a wasted trip, since I’ll be with friends and we’ll find plenty to do, but the preparations that I’m making for this event may all be for naught. Though, whatcha gonna do?

Just once, part 12

possible pelagic gooseneck barnacles Lepas anatifera with extended cirri
Some subjects, like mammals, are pretty easy to identify, from a combination of few varieties to be found in any given area, distinct markings or anatomy, and plenty of online resources. Arthropods often become a bit harder, since there are a lot of varieties and many distinguishing characteristics are tiny and hard to spot. And then there are things like crustaceans, where online resources are so thin that I couldn’t tell you if a lot of species look like this, or if this is the only one. So when I say that I think this is a pelagic gooseneck barnacle (Lepas anatifera,) well, pay attention to the italicized “think.”

And yes, crustacean is correct – they’re not mollusks, and in fact are quite mobile when they’re younger (a stage I have yet to photograph, though it’s definitely on my list.) But now things get a bit sticky. When first posted about in 2019, I said these were in the Order Pedunculata, but as I was checking details just now, I found I was incorrect – they’re from the Order Scalpellomorpha. Yet at the time I wasn’t actually incorrect – the texonomy changed two years later, and Pedunculata is no more. Makes me feel a little better, because I try to be as accurate as reasonable for my posts, and I was worried that I’d screwed up back then. I mean, I may still have screwed up and these are not pelagic gooseneck barnacles, which I’m now compounding, but anyway…

possible pelagic gooseneck barnacles Lepas anatifera showing extended cirri
When I collected these specimens with the exorbitant effort of picking up an old bottle on the beach, I placed the bottle in a macro aquarium (what I could of it anyway,) and waited in vain for those little fan-fingers (cirri) to start sweeping through the water in feeding behavior. I later found out that they don’t do this, but simply let the current or the motion of their anchoring object bring food to them, the lazy sods. Are you sure you can handle drawing it in to your mouth, or do you need help with that too?

possible pelagic gooseneck barnacles Lepas anatifera potentially discharging eggs or young
One of my specimens was found to be discharging some ‘stuff,’ and not putting a lot of effort into that either – it was closer to falling out than anything. While I initially thought this to be indigestible sand, close examination showed it all to be uniform, smooth, and oblong, like eggs – except barnacles don’t produce eggs. You know where I said above that I had yet to photograph the young, the larval stage? I’m not actually sure I haven’t, now, but what isn’t visible, even at high magnification, are the slightest details that demonstrate that these are crustaceans, which is what I’m really after. That quest will continue, even though I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for or will know it when I find it.

For the record, barnacles swim around on their own until adulthood, whereupon they attach their heads to a fixed point, floating or well-anchored like a rock, and then their chitin extends to make an encapsulating shell that makes them appear more like mollusks; the cirri that you see here are actually their feet. And yet, they reproduce after they’re anchored – they’re hermaphroditic and possess both male and female organs, but do not self-fertilize, so they rely on being exceptionally well-endowed to mate with all other barnacles attached to the same general area. Something else that I did not actually capture, but I’m not on a quest to photograph this as much as the mobile young.


A night without success

I went out again a bit earlier to see if I could spot, and potentially photograph, Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, supposed to be visible as twilight fades after sunset. Coming in at just under magnitude 6, which is about the minimum to spot unaided, I knew it was too faint for the light pollution in this area, but perhaps I could snag it with a slightly long exposure at high ISO? I plotted the rough location and went over to the neighborhood pond, which has the best view west in the immediate area (I’d need to be looking right around 290°.) And to provide a slight edge, I dug out a Super-Takumar 300mm f4 lens that I got long ago, because while not the longest focal length, it’s definitely the fastest I can lay my hands on right now, and that was the edge I was after.

Yet no exposures that I took showed anything distinctive, and I was having a difficult enough time, once I got back, trying to plot the stars that I captured to know what I had actually framed, to see if the comet was even close. I was purposefully keeping exposures shorter than 1/5 second to avoid as much rotational blur/streaking as possible, and so I’d boosted to ISO 6400. The result was, the faint stars were almost subsumed in noise.

But on my way back, I aimed up at the gibbous moon and did a few frames handheld, dropping the ISO back down to 400. And they’re weren’t too shabby at that.

waxing gibbous moon through Super-Takumar 300mm f4, full resolution
300mm isn’t going to compare to 600mm with the Tamron, or roughly 1000mm with the Tamron and 2x teleconverter, but I can live with the results, seen here at full resolution (so cropped significantly.) This is 1/250 second at ISO 400, I think f8. The worst part is, the lens requires manual focus but the moon is small enough in the viewfinder to make sharp focus challenging, more so when the lens is stopped down, so several frames aren’t up to snuff.

Back home, I decided to give the same lens a try with the telescope mount and tracking motor again, trying to determine what was happening. This, it’s safe to say, is not what accurate tracking looks like:

star trails from a telescope mount that is not tracking as intended
This is a mere 30-second exposure, again at 300mm, so those streaks shouldn’t be there if the motor was working correctly – ideally they should be nice pinpoint stars. I get the feeling that there’s something I’m not doing right with the controller, because I can actually get it to advance and retreat at higher speeds, to help aim the scope, but I can’t get it to maintain the proper speed. There are three buttons: right arrow (which definitely advances the scope along the rotational axis,) left arrow, and one marked, “Speed.” I tried several different combinations and multi-press scenarios, and nearly all of the frames look like this – I think I got two with double-length streaks. I’ve searched online for a manual, but it seems that several different kinds of motors and controllers were offered by this manufacturer (Meade,) and no model number can be found, so as yet I haven’t located instructions or a manual. But the barn-door tracker is in progress and I’ll likely just resort to that. That one, at least, I know I can program to do what I want it to – theoretically, at least…

Not on the NWP front

What do you mean, “What’s ‘NWP’ stand for?” It’s short for ‘Nature/Wildlife Photography,’ for dog’s sake! Don’t you even text?

But what I’m saying is that, despite the lack of posts, I’ve been busy, just not with… you got it now. I have a handful of photos from earlier, and two from last night; nothing to really make a post from, but some of them will appear here as eye-candy. Not the good stuff, mind you, but that bargain candy that appears around Halloween, chocolate made from wax and lard, kind of thing, but still way better than circus peanuts.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephlaus wheeling together in air
About as close as the eagles got one particular day at the lake

The primary thing that I’ve been concentrating on is astronomy tracking, mostly for the upcoming eclipse. It’s been an interesting journey, but so far, not exactly productive. Lemme ‘splain.

The Earth rotates, producing most of the motion of the sun and moon of course, but also the stars and all those faint night sky objects, the kind that you need longer exposures for. This means that exposure times longer than a few seconds result in streaks from anything in the sky, unless… you counteract this rotation. Decent telescope mounts have motors that do this, as long as they’re aligned properly (which is with the North Celestial Pole, the spot that lies directly above the north end of the axis of Earth rotation – not quite the North Star/Polaris but very very close.) I actually have a telescope with such a motor – not a very good one, but it does at least have one – and I’ve been meaning to get around to finagling a camera mount to use the same tripod-and-motor combo. Which I finally did this past week.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla clinging upside-down to side of tree
A brown-headed nuthatch that appeared close by

Then I had to play around with mounting the motor and confirming the function, which was trickier than it sounds. The actual motion, down at the axis of the mount, is ridiculously small, and to appearances it wasn’t quite working, so I disassembled both the telescope mount and the motor to clean and lubricate them, and check for problems. Still no appearances of working, despite hearing the motor running. Thinking that the batteries might be too weak (the battery pack takes 10 AA batteries,) I switched it over to AC power and ran a 10-minute test, confirming that it was indeed rotating.

The problem was, the 10-minute exposure test with the camera and long lens attached did not work, producing not just a streak, but a badly wobbly one that would cause the doctors some concern if it appeared on your EKG. Still not exactly sure what this came from, but it might have been partially due to the ballhead slipping, partially to setting this up on the deck where vibration could be too much of an issue. But I’d been playing with things for a few days by this point, doing my work in the daylight but running the tests at night, because that was when I had dim sky targets that could withstand a 10-minute exposure.

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla perched on limb overhead
This one appeared as I drew closer to the nest opening found earlier

Also note: the idea is to have this operational during the total solar eclipse, which oddly seem to always occur during the day, so I would not be able to use Polaris to align the scope, thus I was also experimenting with aligning it by compass and latitude angle. This certainly would not be terribly accurate, but perhaps enough for exposures between 30 seconds and 2 minutes? This is also what I was testing, and failing.

The reason for all this? During totality, four planets will be in the sky and likely visible with the eclipsed sun – as well as a comet! Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will be not-too-far-away from Jupiter at the time and is expected to be visible, though this is impossible to predict accurately for most comets, more so for the randomly variable nature of this one.

plot of total solar eclipse of April 8 2024 as seen from Cleveland OH, showing four planets and location of comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, from Stellarium
Plot of eclipse as seen from Cleveland OH, from Stellarium software – comet marked by red crosshairs

This is unprecedented, and a great opportunity – the comet may easily be visible through binoculars during the brief period of totality, and of course I’d like to get photos of it. I also intend to try for the comet alone anytime in the next coupe of weeks, now that it’s become visible during the early evenings just after sunset, and this is another reason to have a tracking motor – my last attempt was pretty crummy.

[Stellarium can be used to plot exactly where things will be at your location, but comets need to be added to the database first, slightly tricky.]

And there’s one more reason to have a tracking motor for the eclipse. Since all of the Earth save for one small shadow in North America will still be in bright sunlight, that same sunlight is reflecting up to the moon and illuminating, very dimly, the dark side. Which means that earthshine could be visible in the dark circle within the sun’s corona – it will take a long exposure that will bleach out the corona itself, but theoretically it should be possible.

This means thatduring the brief episode of totality, I will be aiming to get telephoto pics of the corona and any solar prominences that may be visible, and wide shots of the planets with the eclipse in the sky, and the comet, and earthshine! All within about three minutes. The comet and earthshine shouldn’t need more than 30 seconds each, probably less, but I honestly don’t know and any experiments will cut into that time – more so because I’ll be using mirror lock-up to combat camera shake, from the camera with the telephoto lens at least.

[The reflex mirror within the camera body slaps up at the beginning of exposures, enough to actually shake the camera a little, which is magnified by using long focal lengths, and this vibration will show up in exposure times between about 1/10 of a second and a minute or three. So a menu option is to lock this in place for a few seconds before the shutter opens, let the vibrations die down, and then open the shutter. Obviously this makes the time between exposures even longer.]

brown-headed nuthatch Sitta pusilla having just left nest opening
Its mate that exited the nest at the urging of the first

But since the telescope tracking mount doesn’t appear to be a viable option right now, I’ve switched attention over to another option, something called a barn-door tracker. This is a homemade device that does the same thing as a telescope tracking motor, and has to aligned with the North Celestial Pole as well. Plenty of plans abound for making your own, and I’m aiming for a hybrid design, partially based on this one (though I won’t be 3D printing more than the gears and perhaps some brackets,) and using this page to confirm that my design is plausible. It gets a little complicated, because the movement has to be precise to counteract the planet’s rotation, and it comes down to four things: a threaded rod curved to a precise radius (dependent on the number of threads per inch,) careful measurements for radius and motor distance, gearing to produce the exact motion that is needed, and a motor that can maintain an exact speed. This is the reason that I’ve avoided tackling the project until now, because the motor has to be run by a microcomputer.

For most commonly-available threaded rods, the speed needed to drive them is somewhere in the realm of one revolution per minute; standard electric motors don’t run anywhere near that slow. That means the options are a lot of gearing to reduce it, robbing the motor of torque (and a pretty good amount is needed to tilt the weight of the camera,) or a stepping motor. A stepping motor doesn’t spin constantly, but instead a fraction of the rotation every time the voltage is applied – the more frequently you do this, the faster it rotates. But this means you have to tell it to make each of these steps and when, and this is where the microcomputer comes in. It’s not as daunting as it may sound, because there are plenty of very simple ones available right now, the most common of which is called an Arduino. In short: write a few lines of program to tell it what to do, compile this into the language that the microcomputer understands, then upload it through USB into the Arduino. And the very cool benefit of this is, should your design not be as precise as intended and not quite tracking at the right speed, you can reprogram the Arduino to compensate.

I bought the local materials yesterday, and the Arduino, stepper motor, and driver board are on order and expected within the next few days. I’ve been waiting to have the motor in hand, at least, so I can measure precisely where it should be before I start making the support boards – triple-checking everything. I expect the actual construction not to take terribly long – a few hours all told – but the various tests will probably take longer, and the deadline is now looming. If it ends up working, or at least getting close, you’ll see it here soon enough, and with luck and careful attention to detail, you’ll see the results here soon enough as well.

And if you’re trying for your own eclipse photos, total or partial, or even the comet, I urge you to check out as many resources as you can, to be better prepared when the time comes.

Best of luck!

Just once, part 11

This time, I’m kind of glad this species has only been featured here once, never found again after the first discovery back in 2020; both their appearance and their habits are less than adorable. So of course I’m going to bring them up again.

shovel-headed flatworm Bipalium kewense
This, found on the surface of the soil alongside the backyard pond right here at Walkabout Estates, is a shovel-headed flatworm (Bipalium kewense,) a planaria that feeds on earthworms, also an invasive species, so a double threat. Plus it can stretch out a ridiculous amount, over 20cm as I witnessed, and is sticky as hell to boot. If anyone has this as one of their favorite species, I don’t want to know about it.

shovel-headed flatworm Bipalium kewense on millimeter scale
Given the appearance and location found, I was initially inclined to consider it some kind of leech, but it’s no relation. Whether you consider it better or worse is up to you, but don’t pass judgment until you hear the next bit.

top of 'head' of shovel-headed flatworm Bipalium kewense
I took these two photos to try and capture images of the mouth, but I was going about it all wrong, because this isn’t the ‘head’ per se, and the mouth is actually in midbody, doing double-duty as the anus too – comparisons to certain distinct politicians cannot be avoided. And yet, not satisfied with this impression, the flatworm everts its pharynx onto its prey, bathing them in digestive juices to dissolve and consume them that way.

underside of 'head' of shovel-headed flatworm Bipalium kewense
And their organs are toxic, so not even birds are going to eat them. You get the impression that someone suggested having a redeeming trait to try and achieve a little balance, and the flatworm responded with a sexually-explicit profanity and went all-out in defiance. Where is your god now, eh?

I admit that I obtained all of this information after the photo session, which is typical because then I have visual details that I can refer to for identification without, like, digging in a jar or something. Had I identified it earlier, however, I might actually have collected an earthworm just to see if I could capture this feeding behavior – I know, but it’s better to be forewarned before you actually meet me. At least take heart that after the photos, this specimen was repeatedly dismembered (despite having no members at all) because we really don’t need any of them around. And now you know that you should probably check the tags at the bottom of any posts before you click to play any videos…

Not that long at all

I was going to open this by saying, it’s been a while since we’ve had an arthropod, but on checking, it’s only been since the end of last month – it’s just been a while since I’ve done a session revolving around one. Not much of one either, but the subject presented itself.

I’d gone into the bathroom and, as I was washing my hands, something flew/dropped into the sink, and I knew I hadn’t done it. It was quite round and the size of a pinhead, so I bent close and examined it, determining that it was indeed self-propelled, a tiny beetle of some kind. I carefully slipped it into a small container until I could do something more serious, which came about an hour later.

Twenty-spotted lady beetle Psyllobora vigintimaculata on dead air plant
It kind of looks like a ladybug, and it is – a twenty-spotted lady beetle to be precise (Psyllobora vigintimaculata.) Finding it on BugGuide.net was far easier than I imagined, but that’s because they’re fairly common – tiny, but common. I had to get out the reversed 28-105 for this, and I believe these two frames were even taken with an extension tube for greater magnification. My specimen wasn’t doing a hell of a lot, which was okay because achieving focus at this size is tricky enough, more so when the lens is locked at f16 and thus the viewfinder is quite dark. Eventually, the beetle began to wander and I saw the evidence of it about to fly, though my timing was off – the resulting frame is empty, the beetle already having launched into the air; at the range I was working with, a few millimeters of flight and it was out of the frame. I figured that was the end of the session, because there’s virtually no way to track something that small that’s flying, but I discovered that it had only gone to the desk beneath and was still retrievable, so I switched backgrounds.

Twenty-spotted lady beetle Psyllobora vigintimaculata on succulent with ruler
This time it’s a succulent from the window box, with one of my paper scales in there – yes, this lines denote millimeters. The species averages 1.75 to 3mm in length, so mine seems typical, if a little boring – there are better color variations to be found within the species.

By the way, the tiny size made retrieving it from the desk a small challenge in itself – not happening with my fat fingers for sure, nor with any kind of tweezers. Even sliding a piece of paper alongside and trying to get under it was pushing it aside rather than slipping underneath, but eventually with the aid of a scalpel blade I coaxed it onto the surface of the paper and then over to the plant, where it disappeared between leaves for a bit before coming back out into the open enough for me to slide the paper scale into the frame. It then dropped back down between the fat leaves and appeared to want to stay there, and I returned the plant to the window box with the beetle riding along. They eat fungus, mainly mildew, and it obviously doesn’t take a lot to fill one, so perhaps the beetle was finding food down there.

I admit, this was much earlier than expected to find a macro subject of this nature – more will be along with warmer weather.

Trouble with the neighbors

I’ve been sitting on these while I get a few others things done, so the images here all came from four days ago, another trip down to Jordan Lake, in less than ideal conditions, that netted a bit of drama nonetheless. The first bit is, the ospreys have returned.

osprey Pandion haliaetus cruising overhead
While the eagles overwinter in the area, being quite well cold adapted (able to be found up near the arctic circle,) the ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) migrate south for the winter – the last photo that I actually have of one in my stock dates from September, but I think they hang around well into October at least. Last year’s first sighting was March 7th, so we’re ahead of the game by two days here, though since I don’t spend all my time down at the lake, I can’t say when exactly they arrived for either year.

This did, however, create a little friction with the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that have been loitering at the osprey nest.

pair of adult bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephalus resting on limb alongside osprey nest
They still show no sign of using it as a nest, though on occasion one actually perches onto it (mostly to eat I think) rather than alongside as seen here, but it became clear that at least one of the returning osprey either considered the nest itself or the surrounding territory as its own, despite having abandoned it during the winter months. I was raised on ‘finders keepers,’ you know? Yet the osprey had other ideas.

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on perched bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
Bear in mind, the actual distance from my shooting location was better than 450 meters – this has been cropped significantly – so the resolution is limited, not at all helped by the overcast conditions of the day. The osprey was definitely not pleased with the presence of the eagles, and while one was convinced to move to a nearby tree, the other eagle remained in place and fended off the repeated attacks.

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on launching bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
Near as I could tell, no actual contact was made, though this may have been only because the eagle was well aware of the osprey approaching and was ready each time; here it’s actually launching itself into the air for a more spirited defense. Telephoto compression makes the distances between the birds indiscernible – it’s usually much larger than the images suggest. This is especially true tor the next frame:

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on pair of perched bald eagles Haliaeetus leucocephlaus alongside osprey nest
This was before one of the eagles moved off a short distance, and the osprey is there, almost hidden in the foliage of the tree and significantly closer to the camera than the eagles. There were numerous dive-bombing attempts over multiple sessions, and while the osprey remained silent, the eagles did not, and could be heard clearly even over that great a distance. It made me regret not being equipped for video (which would require the tripod and gimbal head at least, but the shotgun mic would be useful too, and the external monitor.) However, it might be less impressive that the still photos, because it would be captured without cropping, and the actual view of the above image was this:

full-frame version of previous image
So you’d be seeing the action, but not really the expression or much of the details. I know that video can be cropped closer, but this reduces the resolution as well and might make for grainy footage, though this might be unnoticeable for webbernet usage. Worse still might be that all camera shake would be magnified too, and it’s already bad with the long lens – I do not have a professional video rig, but you know, there’s that donation widget on the sidebar if you’d really like to see good results…

osprey Pandion haliaetus diving on perched bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephlaus in dead tree not far from osprey nest
This is the dead tree not too far from the nest; I made an attempt two days back to plot the exact locations by triangulating, but determined that the GPS on my phone is not at all up to the task – I actually got to the base of this tree while no birds were present, yet the nest is not visible through the foliage from down at ground level. I would say they’re removed from each other by at least 30 meters, and perhaps a lot more, despite being able to align them together in many of these images.

The osprey eventually gave up and the eagle remained perched in this tree, with things getting quiet for a bit. Meanwhile, in the bay between me and the nest, the double-crested cormorants (Nannopterum auritum) were busy fishing. Only once did one appear with a capture, though.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum rising from beneath surface with large fish capture
This is a fairly big capture for a bird the size of a cormorant, which are comparable to slender ducks though with longer necks. Like herons, cormorants swallow their food whole, and she (the coloration pegs this as a female) juggled the fish for a while to try and get it into the proper position.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum juggling with fish capture prior to swallowing
Which was proving to be challenging – you can see from the airborne droplets that a bit of tossing around was taking place, but at least she had the help of the buoyancy of the water to help reposition the fish by dipping her head a bit.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum dropping captured fish
And then she dropped the fish and dove, resurfacing right alongside, and I figured she was trying for a better angle.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum swimming short distance ahead of dropped fish barely visible in water
Or she might have determined that it simply wasn’t going to go down, or – most likely – she saw what was going on, something that I missed from my field of view being limited through the viewfinder. Because she dove again, only a second before…

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus snagging fish dropped by cormorant from water
Did you see this coming? I did not, but bear in mind that the eagle was more than twice the distance from me than the cormorant was, and so ‘in another area.’ This was being short-sighted, I know, because eagles have far better vision than humans and thus this was well within its ‘territory.’ Too bad I missed the moment of contact.

bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus climbing with stolen fish
The climb out wasn’t too shabby, but of course there’s a lot of movement going on here and the light was still dismal. These images allow you to scroll back and forth and compare the relative sizes of cormorants and eagles, though.

The thief did not return to either the dead tree or the nest, however, disappearing into the trees in that general direction, while the second one was no longer visible, so I have no idea whether this meal was shared or not – I did not hear the telltale calling at any point, which is normally heard when one brings food to another, so I’d wager this was not shared. Meanwhile, the cormorant resurfaced and ensured that the coast was clear.

female double-crested cormorant Nannopterum auritum after losing fish capture to eagle
Look at those staring eyes and the sweat – she knows she narrowly escaped a terrible fate, and the fish was a small price to pay.

Okay, you and I both know that’s nonsense, and she’d look like this regardless. It’s not even clear how much anxiety birds actually feel in such situations, because such interactions are not uncommon – she knew to get out of the way, but might never have felt directly threatened. We just can’t say.

But the eagle is a total chav…

Well, it is rut season…

… but I’m doing what little I can to avoid being too deep into it. Meaning we’re going to briefly lean away from the same subject matter for a little bit (meaning, “a post,”) before we go right back to the same rut again. So here are the, um, other subjects from yesterday’s trip to the lake.

As we (meaning the Irascible Mr Bugg and I) walked form the parking spot down to the beach access, we could hear the chorus frogs sounding off in a drainage ditch, another sign of spring, though as we got closer, naturally the sounds stopped. We paused, searching for the source and knowing full well that chorus frogs are notoriously good at remaining hidden. This one was not quite as accomplished, however:

green frog Lithobates clamitans peeking from under grass at edge of ditch
Not any of the local chorus frog species, but a green frog instead (Lithobates clamitans,) which makes it about three times the size while still not large – chorus frogs are tiny. I wasn’t even sure of the species identification on this one, given our view, until I got back home and examined the frames closely, but you can even see here the dark line shadow running down the back from behind the eye, delineating the telltale veinlike ridge that the species has. It certainly was not sounding off with the chorus frogs, because their call is distinctly different.

The entire time we were out shooting, we’d be hearing a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) chattering madly in their manner while racing around not too far away, but never even got the faintest glimpse of it, and I finally got frustrated enough to try and track it down. Eventually a pair made an appearance, but still in such a way that clear views were not available, not at all helped by the light conditions of the day, and so this was the best that I got as one flitted past:

likely male belted kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon shooting past
One of the species that I’m still trying to obtain a decent portrait of, yesterday was certainly not the day – but I got dem spots on the tail at least. That’s not much consolation, to be honest.

But I’ve still had better luck than with the next.

pie-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps in moderate distance under poor light
This is a pie-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps,) a species that I’m starting to become mildly obsessed with. I’ve seen them several times now, and not once well enough to obtain any images that weren’t shit. It’s always been at least 30 meters off (these are both cropped) and often in poor light, and they’re notably shy waterfowl.

pie-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps too far away
The size doesn’t help, because they’re about half the size of an average duck, or less, and will dive under if they feel the least bit threatened. There was a pair on the lake yesterday, but they soon moved further off, despite my assurances that I’d make them stars.

I had better luck with the next two, though.

tufted titmouse Baeolophus bicolor regarding photographer from above
While chasing pics of the “others,” a few tutfted titmouses (which I think is the correct pluralization, but Baeolophus bicolor anyway,) lit into the trees nearby, briefly, but one was close enough and waited long enough for me to rack the focus back in from waaayyyy out there in “other” territory, though it wasn’t quite cooperative enough to show off the namesake crest of feathers atop its head. It’s one of the many hyperactive little birds in the area that make faint little noises and can go completely unnoticed if you’re distracted by virtually anything. While the next are often hard to miss.

great blue heron Ardea herodias herodias is flamboyant pose
Yeah, I’ve got enough pics of great blue herons (Ardea herodias herodias,) but the pose, sharpness, and rendition of the background were nice enough to warrant another appearance – I think they look a little bit better in low contrast light, actually. And I had to check just now, but that bright spot isn’t a leg band, just some white-tipped feathers in the tail.

And finally,

Bartlett pear or Williams pear or Williams' bon chrétien pear Pyrus communis in full blossom
In the US and Canada, these are known as Bartlett pear (well, the blossoms thereof,) while elsewhere it might be Williams pear or Williams’ bon chrétien pear, but Pyrus communis anyway, a European cultivar. They’re among the first trees to blossom out in the early spring, vying with the redbuds, found in numerous places as wild species though it doesn’t appear that they started that way. I’ve never seen them bear fruit and it may be that, like apples, they cannot unless they go through a decent cold spell, but at least they’re a nice indication that winter is being ushered out the door. We might have to get one in the yard here at Walkabout Estates.

But this means that, very soon, we’re back to too many pics of a species you’ve seen enough of already. Don’t touch that mouse.

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