Acceptable for February

herring gull Larus argentatus in flight with drooping leg
Today got as warm as 24°c, so I took the opportunity to return to Jordan Lake to see what could be seen. The spot where we were seeing the eagles last week was almost empty, save for a few gulls and cormorants, and I only fired off a handful of frames trying for something interesting as they flew over. This herring gull (Larus argentatus) cruised purposefully overhead, and it was only after unloading the card that I realized one leg was consistently drooping, possible indication of an injury. Vaguely visible here, there was also a pink mass visible at the corner of its mouth, though whether this was related to the injury or evidence of food, I couldn’t say – it’s not yet nesting season so little reason to be carrying food back anyplace.

I’ll take a moment to relate that yesterday, I went to another location to check something out, which I’ve been meaning to do for a few weeks now. This resulted in good and bad news. The good news was, not only did I confirm that it was an eagle’s nest that I saw, I could see it was occupied. On top of that, it sits right among what appears to be an osprey nest or two, and four confirmed great blue heron nests! It’s the first rookery that I’ve seen, save for Florida. The bad news is, it’s on all wildlife conservation land with no access, and all of the nests were quite distant – 400 meters, give or take a hundred, surrounded by swampland. Even with the 600mm lens, I’d get very little detail. It’s a shame, but I’m trying to put it out of my head.

So back to Jordan. It was a distinctly windy day, making it difficult to keep my hat in place, and the lake level was a half-meter higher, though I didn’t think we’d gotten that much rain in the past week, so I’m guessing they cut the flow from the spillway down significantly for some reason. This necessitated wading in a couple of places, and while the air was warm enough for shorts, the water was not inviting to the sandals, or more specifically my feet within them – ‘frigid,’ is the word I’m looking for. Aside from all that, as a couple of flights of double-crested cormorants (Nannopterum auritum) cruised past, I did a few frames, because I was seeing nothing else.

three double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum in flight
For such large birds – the size of small geese – cormorants do fly in some tight, but not too structured, formations, exchanging positions regularly.

double-crested cormorants Nannopterum auritum overlapping one another in the frame
And then, of course, there’s the rare “X-Wing” subspecies, the inspiration for Ralph McQuarrie, and if I have to tell you who that is I’m gonna slap you the next time I see you.

But that was about it for that location, which had yielded three eagles only a week earlier, so I gave up on that and switched to the other regular haunt. But on the way, I passed a flooded roadside ditch ringing with the calls of chorus frogs – up until I got right alongside it. This is typical: they’re loud but not stupid enough to call attention directly to their locations – yet one was sitting in plain sight in the middle of the puddle. As I leaned in, I could see the ripples indicating others, at the edges of the ditch, were ducking under for cover, but this one stayed put.

upland chorus frog Pseudacris feriarum in roadside ditch
This is an upland chorus frog (Pseudacris feriarum,) generally the first amphibian to herald the arrival of late winter, because they’re always heard before we could even charitably say spring has arrived – this might be the earliest photo I’ve obtained of one, but I recall hearing them at least a week ago. As long as the day gets reasonably warm, they’re sounding off, even though we can expect more near-freezing nights, at least, before spring truly arrives. I should have dug the smutphone out and obtained some audio recording as I approached, though I’ve done it before.

Back near the boat launches, I checked out over the lake, then along the shores, and found this guy in a dead tree quite some distance off.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in dead tree
This is the same dead tree seen here, though from significantly farther off of course, and it refused to face me or even give me a decent profile. I intended to get closer, but at this point I was much closer to the region where the woodpeckers frequented, including the nest site from last year, so I checked that out first. Short story even shorter: nothing to be seen today, except for this guy, again too far away for decent photos while also not posing very cooperatively.

male yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius on tree
I thought it looked a little odd in the viewfinder (this is a significant crop,) and I was right – this actually represents the first photos that I’ve obtained of a yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius,) possibly the first I’ve seen, though admittedly, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing even today. I feel obligated to tell you this is no relation to a yellow-bellied slider, which is a turtle – just clearing that up. As you can surmise from this image (which has had lightness and contrast tweaked,) autofocus was having a hard time staying put on this little guy – the red throat pegs this as a male – not at all helped by his wandering around the back side of the trunk from me. Still, now that I know they’re in the area, I can keep an eye out for more. Maybe I’ll pull the same barrel of inordinate luck as last year and track a brood in the nest following a casual comment in a post. Ya never know…

Returning to where I spotted the eagle, this time close enough for decent portraits, I found the eagle had left. I could blame this on wasting time looking for woodpeckers but the dead tree sits right over a busy beach and small boat launch on the lake, and chances are great that it would have spooked off from this activity long before I got close anyway. Or at least I tell myself that. However, in the parking lot before that attempted approach, I watched this guy cruise low overhead and give me a few decent bank angles with the sun:

2nd year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus in bank overhead
Another bald eagle, this one a 2nd year juvenile, and while it didn’t stick around long, I consider this image worth the trip, and good enough for February. We’ll just have to see how my luck holds out for the year.


It’s funny, the internet router here at Walkabout Studios has been on the fritz lately, but only on the wireless end – it apparently doesn’t like my smutphone. Every time I return to the office/digital lab/recording studio/workshop/corner desk, it refuses to provide a valid IP address to my TracFone™ unit, which is set to connect automatically and use the wifi when there is a signal, thus saving on the paid data plan. It’s not a matter of distance, because the phone sits no more than four meters from the router, and nothing between to interfere in the slightest. It simply appears that the router doesn’t like my TracFone™ service smutphone. Not sure what the animosity arose from, but it’s undeniable.

In my savvy computer ways, however, I found a way to fool it: I simply shut down the mobile data service, so the phone cannot connect to TracFone™’s service for data purposes. This, somehow, sends some kind of ‘masking’ signal to the router, which then provides a valid IP address instantaneously. And it remains connected indefinitely, without signal loss, and even re-connects immediately when I return from being out of range (for instance, when patrolling the vast acreage of Walkabout Estates.) It’s uncanny.

I would surmise that the router is sending out some kind of spying signal to determine what devices are within range, that killing the data connection disguises, so the router is able to connect to an anonymous device without qualm – you know how routers get. But this is only en educated, sly assumption.

Regardless, be sure to check your own smutphone frequently to see if your own router is temperamental too, especially if you have a data-limited service through TracFone™ (I don’t bother with a large or unlimited data plan, or minutes either, because I simply wouldn’t ever use them – I pay less than a third of what most people are, and use my idiotic smutphone less than a tenth.) Until the router stops communicating with my TracFone™ smutphone, and I’m sitting right underneath the router while the paid data minutes are winding away for no good reason. So, pay attention – something sneaky is going on.

Development, yes. Improvement? Well…

This one came to me some time back and I’m still hashing out the speculative ramifications of it, so don’t expect a thesis here. Meanwhile, I realized that Darwin Day was approaching and stalled it a little to appear now.

There have been countless ways in which Homo sapiens is considered different and distinct from all other species on the planet, but let’s get something out of the way first: all species are distinct in their own ways. Not to mention, all species that exist today are successful, having gone through the entirety of evolution to still be here, so judgment on intelligence and advancement and all that is at best missing the point: there is never a goal, just what remains after unsuccessful variants get weeded out, and we share the planet with fungi and bacteria and freaking fire ants, so considering ourselves the highest form of life in any way is mere ego (itself probably an evolutionary artifact that helped drive survival, and so likely possessed in ways we cannot fathom by many other species as well.)

Most (if not all) of the traits that humans possess are possessed by other species as well, just perhaps not to the same degree, but it’s hard to point to anything of ours as unique. The one I’m talking about today is the degree to which we change our environment rather than changing to suit our environment – constructing rather than adapting. I’m not specifically talking about anthropogenic global warming, because this was never intended to make the world suit us, but instead about all the ways in which we alter so many things around us.

Many species construct shelters to one extent or another, from the molluscs that excrete their own protective shells to the elaborate den systems of some mammals and hive systems of insects. A few of them actually have methods that regulate temperatures within to some degree (heh!,) but we’ve expended vast amounts of thought and creativity to pin this down to very precise ranges – which indeed require quite a lot of resources to maintain. For just about everything else on the planet, when it’s hot, they’re hot – they seek shade or breezes or deeper holes, and avoid doing strenuous things, and generally cope. And when it’s cold, they fluff up, or find insulation, or migrate. Virtually nothing has an external method of generating heat.

[Amusingly, our ancestors likely had significant body hair like all other primates, and even our follicle density is the same as chimpanzees, but when we became more active chasing down prey on the savannas the hair got thinner and less protective. Later on as we left Africa for Europe and ended up getting into the last ice age, the hair cover didn’t return, though we can’t say whether this was from the option not arising in the genetic record then, or that we were already compensating with huts and pelts, or even that we considered it unattractive and simply didn’t propagate the variations that did arise. Or many other possibilities.]

It’s safe to say that, as we are now, we consider the environment to be something that we change to suit us rather than coping with. South Florida, for instance, is a vast expanse of measures undertaken to create usable land from swamps, with very mixed results – there are efforts to now try and restore sections back to what they were to re-establish the previous ecosystem that turned out to be much more beneficial. We insist on air-conditioning in our cars rather than simply rolling a window down and taking advantage of the airflow that exists by the very nature of movement. We become inordinately frightened of rain, sometimes avoiding it through elaborate efforts (in many cases because being wet in that air conditioning is quite uncomfortable.) Within cities, barely any vestiges of the original landscape can be found – amusingly, even with our housing, we strip the land of trees until the house is completed and then plant a handful of new trees to ‘decorate.’ Homeowners associations get all anxious when lawns do exactly what they’re supposed to do, but a little too much so. I personally find it incredibly ignorant when people that chose to live on the edges of ponds, streams, lakes, or forests start getting upset when animals are around, doing what animals do.

It’s become a mindset now: we don’t cope with conditions, learn to roll with them, take them as they come; we feel obligated to change everything that we can to suit ourselves. In many ways, we’ve become inept at the very skills and traits that our ancestors spent millions of years within, a remarkably fast change and not at all for the better. For far too many of us, if the car dies in a snowstorm and we’re more than a few kilometers away from a shelter with artificial heat, we’re gonna die.

I can’t stress enough how fast this occurred in evolutionary terms. Our backs, our knees, still retain the evidence of a loping, forelimb-assisted method of locomotion, millions of years gone now, while central heating has barely existed for a couple hundred years. I realize that portions of the world still carry on without even this ‘basic’ convenience, and that, as a species, we’re not completely inept about survival in conditions we haven’t shaped. Yet it’s amazing how many people in what we call the ‘industrialized’ nations totally rely on something that has never existed for nearly the entirety of our development, and get really upset when there’s even a momentary lapse.

I’m not advocating for a ‘return to the soil,’ eking out an existence in log cabins and sewing hides together with fishbone needles – I think our abilities to reduce the difficulties that we faced in the past are pretty damn beneficial, and this is reflected in our increasing life expectancy. But it does make one wonder how far down such a path we can go before we reach a point where, if our created environment collapses, so do we.

Adaptability is a prime factor in survival, and evolution itself. While every species is a genetic journal of the variations that arose in their past that permitted them to handle the changing conditions of the planet, it’s undeniably better if we don’t wait for those little mutations to spring up, but use our vaunted intelligence to fill in where natural selection lags behind. And we do, to a significant extent, such as eradicating diseases and preserving our food and creating some really tough shelters. At the same time, we’re openly dismissive of so many really bad practices, like burgeoning populations and terrible resource management and what consequences lie just down the road. We even have this peculiar, and quite prevalent, mindset that our future lies in expanding off of our planet, because of these exact same issues; we recognize them, but somehow figure we can leave them behind rather than simply avoiding the impending problem in the first place. I’ll be blunt: creating a new home for mankind elsewhere would be a million times harder than simply stabilizing the home we now have, that we evolved to fit within.

I suspect part of this is actually an adapted trait in itself: the drive to explore and seek out better conditions elsewhere, and if this is so, in all fairness it worked out fairly well; we moved across the continents with the game, and could dodge the environments that proved too hostile. But it’s also ludicrous to believe that this could apply to conditions away from this planet – the danger of trusting in ‘instinct’ rather than rational consideration. And it need be said that every extinct species had the traits that they needed to survive in the conditions – until they didn’t. Natural selection also selects against the species that lack the right factors for the changing conditions. It might be nice if we were not one of those casualties, especially of conditions that we created ourselves.

There’s no place in particular that I’m going with this, save to raise some questions of whether our actions are instinctual or considered. Progress is important, but not enough; direction is a key factor of that.

Happy Darwin Day, everyone!

Tripod holes, part 7

misty sunrise over Susquehanna River
N 41.964321° W 75.737583° Google Earth Placemark

This comes from June 2021, on a trip back to where I grew up in central New York. This isn’t New York, though, it’s Pennsylvania, barely – it’s the Susquehanna River just a few klicks south of the NY border. And it’s a little anachronistic, or at least against the grain given the appearance, because it was taken right from a bridge on Interstate 81, so not exactly the peaceful mountain morning that it looks like. Oh, it was pleasant enough, and a quiet time for that road, but the semis roaring by every minute or so shaking the bridge weren’t really carrying the mood.

As I mentioned back then, I’d driven through downpours a few hours before and was seeing the misty patches throughout these hills in the…

[I just spent too much time trying to determine the correct geographic region, and while we always considered them the Poconos, this is probably within the Glaciated Low Plateau Section, foothills of the Appalachians which are themselves part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province, or the Blue Ridge Geographic Province, or simply the Blue Ridge Province, running most of the eastern seaboard – geologists seem to be a very imprecise bunch]

Poconos, thinking that I should stop when I spotted something especially scenic. Within minutes, I crossed this bridge and braked hard, wanting to find a place to pull over that would not require trotting back a kilometer to get this shot. It was only a hundred meters or so, thankfully in thin traffic, and I didn’t even bother with the tripod.

Given the time of year, this spot could produce distinctly different scenes, not just from the foliage (which might be great in the fall,) but with the sun position, here just about as far north as it would get. so catching it right over the peak of Hasbrouck Hill, lined up so nicely with the river, was a stroke of luck on my part, and well worth the brief stop.

If sun angle or position is crucial to your planned images, Stellarium is the best resource I’ve used to plot exactly where it will be at any given time and location – this applies to the moon and stars and Milky way too, of course.

Made your plans?

Tomorrow is Darwin Day, honoring Charles Darwin’s contributions to science on the 214th anniversary of his birth. As an added bonus, it falls on a Sunday this year, so make sure you hang out at your nearest fundamentalist church to appraise the attendees of this fact and wish them good luck in evolving.

I already have a post lined up, and might be attending a lecture nearby, which I can also do remotely because that’s a thing now. Right at the moment, I’ll present a hackneyed little tribute from local sources, because really, if you want a serious perspective you want someone more educated than I. Plus it’s just an update on previous posts, not like anyone cares.

late blossom from lemon tree
The lemon tree in the greenhouse is almost through its blossoming season – this one remained, and you can see another bud there. If you look closely, you can also see an aphid (base of the frontmost petal) and a red mite (top right,) part of the arthropod contingent that has found the greenhouse to be inviting – I also discovered a young magnolia green jumping spider in there, but while I had the watering can in hand and not my camera; it had found a hiding place by the time I corrected that.

Yet while the blossoms are dying off, evidence that my efforts at pollination were successful are appearing.

emerging lemon fruit from vestiges of blossoms
I was afraid of this, really; we’re fine with the lemons, but that’s a lot of lemons on the ends of this branch, and we’ve already seen that the small tree gets weighted down with just one. We’d better get out there with some fertilizer, or protein powder or something, lest this tree look like a weeping willow.

While one could easily say that this is unnatural selection in operation, a tropical tree brought into a temperate zone and maintained in unseasonal greenhouse conditions, pollinated by a human, this is kind of assuming that humans and their efforts are unnatural, when in reality we’re just another factor that can be selected for, as most of our domesticated animal and plant species demonstrate. The tree is surviving by being ornamental and producing fruit that we will eat, and that’s how it works. So, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, poh-tetto…

Right alongside these, one of the two lime trees that we obtained last year is showing progress.

first buds on lime tree in greenhouse
Yes, I’ll be pollinating these too when they get to that stage. In fact, if there’s any coincidence in timing, I may cross-pollinate between the lime and lemon trees, marking the branches to see what, if anything, develops. If I can find a carbonation plant, I’ll try to create a Sprite fruit…

And finally, one of the Japanese maples:

Japanese maple tree budding out in greenhouse
Not wanting to totally fill the tiny greenhouse this winter, last spring I transplanted this tree into the yard, but either the soil wasn’t good enough, or I’d done it at the wrong time – I’m leaning towards the latter. It failed to thrive and was starting to look like it was dying off, so I pulled it back out of the yard and into a large pot again – whereupon it started to bud out in late fall. I suspect now that transplanting should have been done in the fall in the first place, and the tree got confused about the seasons, however they determine this. But it seems to be back on track now, and will likely remain in the pot, at least for a while. Not ideal, because I’d rather not be watering so many different things, but so it goes.

Got a little bit

As I mentioned that morning, on Wednesday Mr Bugg and I had an outing to Jordan Lake, seeing what kind of activity was about as spring peeked in. Granted, it seems way too early for spring, and it is, but it didn’t feel that way, and the first signs were there. This post will all be about birds – with one exception, just for balance.

Things started slow. The rampant activity that I’d seen on the visit just over a week earlier wasn’t to be found, possibly because the boaters were out in force, which made the lake stink like a petroleum refinery at times. Seriously, way too many people need help tuning their outboard engines, because the smell of unburnt gasoline was overpowering even as the damn things cruised past 200 meters away – I used to live in south Jersey before stronger EPA regulations and I know this stench well. It took nearly a half-hour before we got a decent view of a red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus,) who was remaining silent and mostly flitting back and forth on just one tree: fly out for a few meters, bank hard, and return to the same stump. I’m not sure what that was, but I suspect it was something habitual.

not quite mature red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus on dead trunk with insect meal
Then again, as I look at this image, it occurs to me that the woodpecker may simply have found a swarm of insects, and was thus flying through it to snag snacks, which it was kind (or smug) enough to show off here. We can also see that it’s a yearling, the last vestiges of grey head feathers still visible in patches. A little later on we got barely good enough looks at an adult, not far off, with a uniformly bright red head. But for the most part it was notably slow in this spot. This might only have been due to the time of day – either way, we moved on to other areas.

black vulture Coragyps atratus posing for posterity
The entire region is rife with black vultures (Coragyps atratus,) but they don’t always pose so prominently against the sky while in close range, so…

black-capped chickadee Poecile atricapillus with seed from American sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua pod
Between the season and the warmth of the day, several songbird species were present, but hyperactively flitting through the undergrowth. A ruby-crowned kinglet refused to let me get a sharp and unobscured photo, but this black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) posed on a stump before foraging through the seed pods of an American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Chickadees, while just as twitchy as most songbirds, at least tend to pause more often in open view, probably from ego. This one was gorging itself on seeds and soon adopted a typical position, hanging upside-down from the pod while digging out the seeds within. I’ve been trying to get a decent photo of this for a while now, but have few, if any, and this day was no exception.

looking up the ass of a black-capped chickadee Poecile atricapillus as it eats seeds from an American sweetgum Liquidamber styraciflua
Nice angle, good lighting, close enough for sharp photos, and the chickadee did nothing but moon me. Oh yeah – it knew.

[By the way, compare the sky color of these images with the vulture above them. These were all taken within five minutes, not more than 15 meters apart, just aiming at the sky slightly differently – it changes that much, and more, with angle.]

We’ll take a look at a wider crop of the same image for something that I found while editing.

wider view of black-capped chickadee Poecile atricapillus on American sweetgum Liquidamber styraciflua showing evidence of spiderweb
See the white streak over to the right, with the brown smudge in the sky? Yeah, just a spiderweb and occupant, with but one strand finding the right angle to reflect the sunlight down to me. I’d say this was the first spider I’d photographed this year, but it’s not. Plus the beach areas were literally crawling with some wolf-like species that I never bothered to macro-ize. Yes that’s a word.

But that was about it for this area, too, and another further on yielded nothing, so we drove a short distance away to another frequent haunt, just to see what might be found there. This one is far more hit-or-miss – we’ve been out there when it’s bursting with activity, and also when there’s absolutely nothing to be seen but distant seagulls. It initially looked like it would be the latter case, but then I spotted something in the distance. And shortly thereafter, another.

second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus banking over lake
They were quite some distance away so all of these images are cropped tight, but the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were distinctly in evidence. This image was not the first seen, which was an adult and even more distant; this one is a second-year immature, and was kind enough to do a bit of hunting straight out from where we stood. Within a couple of minutes, another joined in, perhaps staying just a bit farther out, but not significantly.

third year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus banking over lake
This is a third-year eagle; next year this one will develop the uniformly brown body and wings with the classic white head and tail.

While perhaps not the most active time of day to see the species, we had the right conditions with the sun dropping lower in the sky in late afternoon, behind us, and so illuminating the undersides frequently when they were circling; plenty of other light and viewing angles, including early morning right where we were, would have made things much more difficult. It’s often not just about finding an area with active wildlife, but a good enough view of them as well.

second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus cruising low during stoop for fish
The two-year-old was on the hunt, and we watched it several times as it suddenly changed its lazy circling into a more deliberate descending curve or spiral. Osprey will simply slam into the water, taking off from floating on their bellies with their captures clasped firmly in talons, but eagles tend to do a flying grab, skimming at high speed over the surface and snagging the fish in passing. This is likely because of their weight, and how much effort it would take to rise out of the water again, especially when the surface prevents dropping the wings below ‘level.’

second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus only centimeters above the water
This sequence, however, annoys me. Because I got tired of autofocus suddenly finding the background horizon far more compelling, I’d switched to manual focus, which is iffy sometimes with distant subjects because the viewfinder won’t resolve tight enough for me to be sure. But I never tweaked focus during this descent, so why the hell does focus seem to be wandering? I have to put it down to either camera shake or the image stabilizer moving at the wrong time, or both, but it certainly didn’t help the results at all.

second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus making contact with fish under surface
I tweaked the contrast a little on this one to make a particular detail stand out: notice the droplets still in the air, well behind the eagle, from making contact with the water. This gives an idea of how fast the eagle was moving as it made its capture.

blurry image of second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus rising from water with captured fish
And it rises again, still showing a long wake trail. But shitty sharpness.

blurry image of second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus showing fish prominently
This is even worse, though I’m quite sure it was largely due to motion, but this illustrates clearly that a fish was in hand, at least. We’ll take a look at the full frame for more illustration:

second year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus with capture, full frame
Reduce this down to viewfinder size, and speckle it a bit because of the ground glass focusing screen, and you’ll understand, perhaps, why manual focusing on this subject wasn’t giving me bang-on results.

This was exactly the kind of subject that I was after for video tests, especially with the hot-shoe sight, but we were on a student outing with a lot of hiking and I wasn’t in the mood to lug around the heavy tripod and gimbal head. Plus I know Fate – we’re on a first-name basis – and being prepared is the surest way of not seeing a damn thing. It’ll happen one of these days, but not before I get enough failures under my belt first. That probably wasn’t the best way to phrase that…

The third-year eagle gave up hunting and took a perch not far away, as it neared sunset, though the perch was abandoned when a noisy boat came past a little too closely.

full-frame image of distant third year bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus perched in tree overlooking water
This is another full-frame image, and knowing where I was standing and the island that the eagle was on, I could measure the distance in Google Earth and give a better idea of the distances involved. This was at 600mm focal length, and the eagle was 350 meters off, give or take 20.

So, not a bad outing for February, and while I certainly would have liked many of the images to be better, I at least got a few keepers in the slow season and enjoyed the weather. And yeah, I mentioned a non-bird photo up there, so let’s see someone else enjoying the weather:

surfer on hydrofoil board on Jordan Lake
This is the second one I’ve seen on the lake, and they look like an absolute blast. This is a electrically-powered hydrofoil surfboard, like those seen here. The subsurface wing raises the board above the water at speed and provides a perfectly smooth ride, free of the chop from the water’s surface, and it’s pretty fast and totally silent. I’m beyond the age when I’d make the most out of it, plus the cost is prohibitive, and can they even hold a tripod? But yeah, if someone offers me a test ride on one, I ain’t saying no…

Save time, eliminate dross

This is directed primarily at the people who get into these kinds of discussions, from any angle, but the perspective might be useful to others as well. And by, “these kinds of discussions,” I mean all of the fringe, esoteric, paranormal, supernatural and suchlike topics like alien visitation, crypto-critters like Bigfoot and Nessie, religious miracles… you know the range. Because there’s a simple guideline that can greatly reduce the amount of time and effort spent on such things – except that explaining the guideline takes more time to get through. Overall, though, it’s simple:

If the ‘evidence’ can easily be a hoax, then it should be considered a hoax and disregarded.

Sounds enormously dismissive, doesn’t it? And as you can imagine, wildly contentious, especially to those whose reliance on anecdotes and questionable photos and such forms the backbone of their beliefs. Really, though, it’s just a matter of perspective.

If the UFO photo might be a model, then what can it possibly tell us? Size and distance are out of the question, thus so is velocity, means of propulsion and lift, and of course, nothing at all about what a species is like and where it’s from and, really, anything at all that would advance our knowledge. And if it is a hoax, it not only isn’t a data point for anything except how easy such a thing is to perpetrate, it’s also misleading at best, possibly urging us down the wrong avenues and certainly failing to support any potential theories ideas.

One might argue that we should be able to prove it’s a hoax before dismissing it, but a) that’s virtually impossible, and b) it has no bearing on the usefulness of any potential information – we’re only going to advance our knowledge with something that demonstrably isn’t wrong/misinterpreted/bullshit.

An added bonus is that we’re never played for a sucker; a hoax can only be successful if we let it. If our standards aren’t high enough to weed out easy hoaxes, obviously we’re going to become the target of hoaxes immediately, because that’s what people are like.

The guideline can certainly be expanded to include ‘evidence’ that could be mistakes, misinterpretations, dreams, delusions, exaggerations, and so on – including anything that is wrong obviously won’t help us in any way, and again, knowledge comes only from solid information. In most cases, however, just weeding out potential hoaxes is enough, and a good habit.

Does this wipe out a tremendous number of the reports, stories, photos, and recordings? You bet! But if they’re that easy to dismiss, they’re not strong in the first place.

Does this take the chance of dismissing real evidence that might lead someplace? Perhaps – probably a lot less than imagined. First off, like our justice system here in the US, the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ concept likely lets off a certain number of real criminals – but it helps ensure that we’re not sentencing non-criminals on flimsy criteria, and really, it’s the only way such a system can operate usefully. So if the evidence that we have is so easy to consider fake, what could we have determined from it in the first place? I’ve maintained that true miracles should be able to pass such standards easily, and when it comes to Bigfoot or whatever, the value will only come from having something unambiguous in the first place. This is far better than using ambiguous accounts and photos and such to try and come to any conclusions, for all the wrong directions that these could lead.

Finally, is this entire concept upsetting or frustrating? This only indicates that we’re emotionally involved in the outcome, rather than objective – that’s bad news, because it makes us biased, weighing the factors improperly and trying to reach a favored conclusion rather than what’s real. It shouldn’t have to be pointed out how many ways that can go wrong, while if something exists, it will certainly stand up to even close examination.

Not dead yet

Not me, or this pansy The Girlfriend planted in December

cultivated pansy Viola ×wittrockiana making an appearance
Not long after she planted them, we went through several long, bitterly cold snaps, the kind that kill potted plants because the cold can penetrate through the soil, and the visible portions did not look all that happy for quite a while afterward – indeed, they still don’t, but this blossom pushed through and, given how I’ve found very little else to shoot, it’s what we have right now.

Granted, I could have been out attempting to find other items of interest to post, but I’ve been digging into other projects for a bit. There’s an outing scheduled for today, and I may fetch out the microscope again and see what’s stirring in the waters around here – I know I found a bunch of tiny surface arthropods not long back and simply didn’t tackle them.

So, more’s on the way, but the archives are there too, if you’re that bored. Like, you know, gazing at the sublime beauty of this one

Tripod holes, part 6

tourists at Watkins Glen, New York
N 42.374306° W 76.876282° Google Earth Placemark

Now, this one you not only can get to without a lot of effort, if you do an image search on “Watkins Glen,” you’ll likely find more than a few images taken from almost exactly this spot. Or as close to it as I can determine, anyway – while I’m familiar enough with the area to know where the bridge in the image is, it’s not something that I’ve been able to spot while skimming all the various years of images from Google Earth.

[You did know that you can change the year of the image in Google Earth, right? Just look in the lower left corner of the photo window for a year in a little box, and click on it – this will open up a timeline slider with all of the images of that location. Many are really low resolution, and most are no older than the early 1990s, but a few locations can go much older than that; Niagara Falls is the oldest that I’ve found in my casual perusing, so feel free to see if you can get older than that someplace.]

Anyway, as intimated some minutes ago, this is Watkins Glen, New York, specifically Watkins Glen State Park, or at least a tiny portion thereof. It’s a really cool river gorge formed after the glaciers scoured over central NY and the rainwater suddenly had a new basin to fill, in this case Seneca Lake (though it wouldn’t bear that name for a couple years – 10,000 or more – afterward.) The walking paths up along the river aren’t too strenuous at all, courtesy of the bedrock in the area making natural levels throughout, but it’s pretty narrow compared to how deep it is, thus why it’s so hard to find specific details: they’re shrouded in the shadows and trees surrounding the gorge. This also means that even brilliantly sunny days (like the one shown here) won’t be too harsh light within the gorge, and generally pretty comfortable temperatures even in high summer.

But this is one of those scenic locations that can demonstrate a common trait for photographers: you’ll usually see much better photos from someone else. A lot of such places are best in very specific conditions, which may not at all be the conditions that you have while visiting, so it’s not just the locations that provide the great images, but the weather and time of day and time of year and specific vantage and so on. Some photographers visit the same places over and over trying for the right combinations before they nail that one breathtaking shot, and just looking at mine above, it’s easy to see that only at certain short times of the day does the light fall into the gorge, and foliage is a key factor, and of course how many people are around. So the locations are a start, but rarely ever the only factor in great images.

[By the way, if you click on that link above for Watkins Glen State Park, both images used on that page are the exact same location that I’m showing here, just framed differently: the lowest part of the cascade here is the ‘single’ cascade in their header photo, while I wasn’t back far enough to show the stone steps leading towards this bridge that they framed out. Then further down their page you see something very similar to this. Notice, however, that they gave no credit to the photographer(s)…]

Keeping tabs

The Profiles post yesterday was, as noted, taken that day, on another outing to Jordan Lake to see what was happening. The goal has been to spot any activity of eagles, osprey, or herons, possibly to do some video tests with equipment modifications, but so far I’ve seen no sign of any of them, save for some heron footprints in the sand on the shoreline. However, the smaller bird activity has been quite energetic, though shrouded in thicker wooded sections for the most part. Even though the trees are bare (with very few evergreens in the immediate area,) they’re thick enough to keep blocking my view.

Soon after leaving the car and while still alongside the parking lot, I heard numerous calls from a quite noisy specimen, which I recognized by ear as a red-headed woodpecker since I listened to them for hours at a time last year. This one was almost right against the sun from my position, but I was able to slip around and get a slightly better view, all the time listening to its nonstop calling.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus yearling starting to develop its red head
No surprise, this was one of last year’s broods, now starting to develop the red head of the breeding adults – I would have thought it would be entirely red by now, but this is the first chance I’ve had to observe them over a period of time. Why, exactly, it was making such a racket, alone among all of the birds there, I couldn’t say; I would have surmised that it was advertising for a mate or marking territory, but its behavior was simply foraging, and I’ve seen them remaining completely silent while doing so.

There were plenty of songbirds like sparrows and wrens, mostly remaining both too distant and too active to get decent photos of, but I also saw both red-bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers, as well as a grackle, a little surprising since I’ve never spotted them in the area – they seem much more coastally oriented. And a dead bird nearly atop the leaves that looked like a loon, but it was decaying enough that I wasn’t going in for the full examination, though that’s another I’ve seen little of around here.

All of this was in the woods alongside the parking lot – I didn’t even have to get under the trees to see these. And while I did hike down to the area where I’d watched the fledging and all that activity last year, it was dead quiet right now, nothing to be seen or heard – everybody was up by the parking lot. I expect that to change soon as nesting season kicks in, but it’s still only January in the mid-Atlantic, a little early yet.

So the only thing to remain within decent photographic conditions for a few moments was another redhead.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus yearling almost fully in adult plumage
This is full frame at 600mm, just to give an idea of both the distance and the conditions – all that blurring you see are intervening branches and vines. But I had enough of a gap, with some shifting around, to make the crop worthwhile:

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus yearling showing vestiges of grey immature feathers
It’s hard to tell with both the lighting and the blurring foreground elements, but the wings here still look a bit grey, rather than black as the adults are, but I couldn’t make out the grey feathers on the face until I unloaded the card back home. Another yearling, and potentially one of those I was chasing last year, but I couldn’t even give a wild guess about the probability of that, save that this was only a few hundred meters away.

The rains are starting up again, so this is likely to be it for a few days at least. Not a hugely productive outing, but at least I snagged a handful of frames.

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