Tuesday color

I’m in the middle of a couple of projects, plus there hasn’t been a lot to shoot, plus I did enough posts this year not to worry about it, so it’ll be a little slow here on the ol’ bloggoboro. I will probably have a podcast shortly, that I actually did research for (!) so take heart or something. But I’ve been looking at this leaf for a few days now, and decided to feature it when the rain made the color pop a little extra. This is the oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the front garden.

extremely red autumn color of oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
Yes, it really is that red – this has only been resized, so no editing beyond that, and you can check the colors in the rest of the frame to see that I didn’t even have the saturation settings in the camera up at all. It’s also that big – that’s a regulation size birdbath peeking in there. But that’s why we got these plants: they’re that cool. The treefrogs and anoles can’t blend in with these leaves, though.

On a photographer’s note, the combination of the wet surface and the muted, diffuse light is what brought out the leaf textures so readily, so rainy days aren’t a complete waste.

Somehow, not bothered

Working on several outdoor projects the past week or so has made me realize how badly I need a sweatband, and so, I sat down for a moment to see what I could find online. I didn’t realize it would indicate how much I was out of touch. You see, I was picturing the sweatbands of my youth, simple fixed-width bands of elasticized terrycloth, usually with some sportswear or equipment logo on them.

complete tool with asinine sweatbandI didn’t realize that sweatbands had become so fashionable, and truth be told, I really don’t need anything that covers my entire forehead, just something to stop the sweat from dripping into my eyes and across the glasses. It does not help in the slightest that the models that they choose to show off this new accessory are complete and utter tools. Oh yes, I can certainly see Brylon here working on his car (no, no, it’d have to be a Vespa scooter) or digging trenches in the yard. Just by association, I don’t want one of these. Listen, I don’t sip mocha lattes between working on my kick-flips, I don’t spend time trying to shape my scraggly-ass teenbeard, and I don’t need some kind of hipster-kerchief – I just want an absorbent band above my eyes. It goes to show how far behind I’ve dropped with the current and vogue whathefucks, and yet, I don’t regret this in the slightest. But I’m likely going to have to just make my own sweatband, or at least go looking in the vintage shops or something.

Though while I’m here, I’ll throw down another recent photo, because I kind of mentioned this in the previous post. The day after that one, I glanced up at the same downspout to be greeted with this:

green treefrog Hyla cinerea and Copes grey treefrog Hyla chrysoscelis peeking from same downspout
Not just two treefrogs at the same time, but two different species; green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) on the bottom, Copes grey treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) on the top. Most likely, this is the stakeout scene from some kind of amphibian buddy-cop movie, right before they narrowly miss capturing the baddies just to build the suspense for another forty minutes and establish more of the main characters’ backstories. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway, experienced naturalist that I am…

Friday cuteness

Two specimens for you today, both within a couple of meters of the front door – I’m spoiled.

Last night while checking out Walkabout Estates for various nocturnal critters, I came across a diurnal one instead, which made it a lot easier to actually get the shots I was after. This one was camped out on the big Japanese maple right by the door.

juvenile Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis snoozing on Japanese maple tree
Unless you’ve never been here before, like, at all, you know this is a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis,) and if you’ve been paying attention, you know this is a juvenile. What isn’t apparent is just how small it is, because I’m that fabulous at getting macro photos. So after the initial few frames, I went back inside and fetched one of my handy-dandy paper scales, which I was able to place gently alongside the anole without disturbing it.

juvenile Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis sleeping aon Japanese maple tree alongside millimeter scale
That’s a millimeter scale, with each black or white block being 5 millimeters in length, making the body of the anole (sans tail) less than 30mm, or perhaps just over an inch for all you decrepit Americans so fixed in your ways. [Yeah, I’m American too, but I’m making the effort at least.]

These scales, by the way, I made myself. I sketched them out in a photo editing program using the pixel ruler for proper spacing, then tweaked five different sizes of them about 2-3% different in size. These get appended to the borders of prints that I get made, usually for the business cards, and there are different sizes because printers always enlarge the photos a bit to allow overlap at the edges. So once I get the prints back, I use an accurate ruler to compare and see which version is actually bang-on, and then cut those out and keep them handy for uses such as these. Too often, it’s hard to actually get one into the photo without spooking the subject, but I use them when I can.

Getting my finger in there would be more expressive of course, but it wasn’t going to happen, both because it might have spooked the anole – I doubt I could have held it still close enough and not start moving the leaves – and because I was already in an awkward position leaning in from the edge of the tree, since the anole was roughly in the middle, trying to get close without, again, disturbing the tree and sending my little model here scampering away. It remained asleep right there long after I left, so I was successful.

Then this morning, I noticed a little change out front.

juvenile green treefog Hyla cinerea hiding under wing of lawn ornament
This one also required some careful leaning in, but I wanted the whole ornament in there anyway. Spotted it yet? How about a different angle?

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea sitting adopt lawn ornament
That’s a green treefrog of course (Hyla cinerea,) and another juvenile. The treefrogs have taken over the property, which is no bad thing, and finding them each evening or morning is one of those little challenges, since they tend to keep the same haunt for only a couple of days at best. Not far away, no less than four had all taken shelter in the narrow gap between a downspout and the wall – I’ve often found one there, but not a community. And at the top of the downspout, another peeked out, though that one (if it is indeed the same one, which I can’t prove but will believe anyway like any ‘good’ religious person,) has been using that hiding spot during the day for several weeks. This particular downspout doesn’t actually go anywhere, top or bottom, because I disconnected it to put in a new flexpipe to the rainbarrel, so the frog isn’t using it for the proximity to water or anything. But I’m sure it’s a nice secure location anyway.

One down, one to go

I’ve mentioned that I had a pair of photography goals – regarding the mantids, at least; I have a few dozen photography goals overall. But with the mantids, there was a) mating, and b) laying the eggs, and as of this afternoon and evening, I can scratch one of those off the list.

pair of Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis prior to mating
Sorry, I should have given you more warning before popping that image up like that. But this is a pair of the Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis) in the first stages of mating. Nothing is actually going on here, in more ways than one, since they were almost entirely immobile. I checked on them a couple of times during the day, finding on a latter observation that the female was almost foraging, seeming to nibble on a leaf in front of her (which was odd, since they eat only insects.) But no real action. This was taken a little after 1 PM.

Then I left them alone for a while, not returning until after 8 PM, and they’d disappeared, or so it initially seemed. I examined the vines cluster that they’d been on, finding it unlikely that they would have gone far, and eventually unearthed them deeper in the foliage. By this point I was using the headlamp to look, which is good, because it would have been much harder to spot them by daylight. This time, however, it was clear they were doing the deed. Closing the deal. Springing for the extended warranty. If you know what I’m saying.

pair of Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis during mating
That does look incredibly awkward, but they may be like a lot of teens that believe porn is realistic and have to try out the acrobatic stuff. Or maybe this is normal – you’re asking the wrong guy (like that hasn’t been obvious.) Anyway, that’s one step closer. I may have to do a little research (for a change) and see how long it’ll be before she’s ready to produce an ootheca, the technical term for their egg sac. I admit to some mixed feelings here, since this cluster of vines on an unwanted sapling were going to be removed in the winter, unless she does actually put the ootheca there, but then again, if she wanders off to find a different location for the sac, that makes it less likely that I’ll be there when it’s happening. I can’t watch her 24/7 to track her movements – I have to make posts from time to time, and occasionally eat something as well.

By the way, the male still retained his head at this point, though it was hard to photograph this for proof, given their new location under the leaves, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Actually, the female consuming the male during or after copulation doesn’t really happen often at all, provoked more by captivity than by habit. But I’ll keep trying to check on him anyway.

UPDATE: Out just a little later on, I eventually located the female and the male, well separated but on the same cluster of vines, so everything’s kosher. Couldn’t tell if either of them had that ‘glow’ or not…

Profiles of Nature 37

eastern kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus Lyudmila checking under wing
Yes, it’s Thursday already. Listen, you had all week to prepare, don’t be whining now.

This week our feature model is Lyudmila, and why do so many feminine names end in ‘A?’ Is this, like, Italian or something? Did we just brand ourselves as racist or some shit? Anyway, Lyudmila is seen here checking the pits, nervous before going out on stage for her part in the Broadway adaptation of Chicken Run, which is a little misleading because it’s Bessie Broadway’s adaptation, and the closest it will get to New York City is having an apple in the fruit bowl backstage. Don’t lie, you would have thought the show was marvelous if we didn’t tell you that. Lyudmila really doesn’t have a story we can work with: no aspirations in childhood, no drama in getting the part, no strange coincidences leading up to this point, not even an odd event that made her late for opening night. She even drives an F-150, and we’d give her credit because it’s not red, but she took what they had on the lot. Lyudmila tried out for the part because it sounded better than working at Walmart, and right now she’s not convinced about that. Seriously, we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do with this tripe, and would resent being given the assignment except we weren’t, since we’re the only ones responsible for the content herein. Well, almost – 99.5% so far this year anyway. It’s so bad, we’re sitting here gazing at our navel for inspiration, and it’s an innie. Did you know nine out of ten people have those? Even that web search didn’t provide anything useful. We have a stuffed croc from Pearls Before Swine on top of our desk – we don’t know who made it. Little stick figure arms and everything. We tried asking Lyudmila if she had a favorite of anything, anything at all, and she just shrugged, so we’re gonna says that’s her favorite gesture.

Oh, wait – we just found out Lyudmila was once with the Soviet Space Program! Too bad we’ve already hit our word limit this week. Perhaps we’ll do better next episode – when you’re at rock bottom the only one way to go is up, right? The question is, have we actually hit rock bottom yet? Join us next week to find out, “No.”

Going critical

I’ve been considering this post for far too long now; not whether or not it should be done, but the most effective approach to the topic, finally realizing that there is no one effective approach to anything. Additionally, the threat of playing pop psychologist was arising, something that already does a lot of damage, but then I realized that it couldn’t cause anywhere near the damage that’s already being done, and ignoring this topic in the meantime was almost amounting to cowardice, and certainly to irresponsibility. So I’m starting on it, and trying not to let it sit in draft form for too damn long.

What I’m talking about is COVID-19, which I claimed I wouldn’t mention here, but fuck that. Specifically, I’m talking about the absolutely asinine, and remarkably dangerous, aspect in this country (at least) of avoiding the various precautions against its spread. One would think that the initial numbers, over a year ago, would have convinced damn near everyone that this was a very real threat, but obviously we’re not seeing that in the least. The question is, why? And more importantly, what to do about it? I’m not qualified to answer either, and stand at great risk of talking out of my ass, but then again, that’s the story of my life.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about this is, we have some simple, easy-to-implement recommendations intended to keep people safe; that’s the bottom line. Wear a mask in public so I don’t spread a potentially fatal disease to anyone? Sure, no problem – I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had to wear a mask without the threat of fatalities, including mowing the goddamn lawn during pollen season or when clearing old leaves. Get a couple of vaccinations that might make me feel bad for up to a day? Again, bad sinuses here, so yeah, whatever – everyone in the family was fully vaccinated by the end of April, with considerably less impact than the flu (The Girlfriend got slammed with reactive side-effects – like, all of them – for twelve hours, and within another twelve was helping me build a greenhouse. I, meanwhile, got a low-grade headache for several hours, which pretty much rivals the sinuses.) I mean, given the negative impact on ourselves, versus the potential impact on others, what the fuck is the big deal here? I keep hearing we’re a great country and capable of anything, but not from appearances.

Let’s dig into several of the more common responses to the health recommendations that abound right now.

COVID-19 is all a hoax: Having been involved in critical thinking for at least the past 20 years, I can vouch for the idea that numerous people simply adore hoaxes – not perpetrating them, but believing in them, embracing them, actively searching for them. It fulfills some curious aspect of their desires, and identifying this, much less counteracting it in some way, is not likely to be a simple thing. We’d like to believe it’s simply a matter of putting down the facts, but there’s this curious thing: most people (regardless of their attitude towards hoaxes) accept facts in direct proportion to how much they want to hear them. If it goes against their presently held beliefs, or even destroys a good story, then they’re not ‘facts,’ but misleading or outright manipulative statements, and often become even more evidence that a hoax is being perpetrated, especially if any slight edge-crack at all, any inaccuracy real or perceived or simply rumored, can be found. It’s why we have UFObees claiming the “government” (despite the incredibly bratty infighting and partisanship throughout all branches and departments) is involved in a vast, decades-long coverup, therefore all the real evidence in support of aliens cannot be found.

The curious part of this is the scope of these beliefs. Before all this, I was inclined to think (perhaps most people were) that those who found hoaxes for their own sake were fairly minimal, not a horrendous percentage of the populace. The jury’s out on how many people really do accept this premise, in whole or in part, but what we’re seeing right now isn’t heartwarming, anyway.

What I started thinking about was the way that people accept the other hoax claims, and on another tangent, how they rationalize their beliefs, and the parallels to religion suddenly came to mind, specifically the rampant method of embracing certain aspects that reinforce their beliefs or biases, while blatantly ignoring and dismissing other aspects presumably just as much the word of god as the rest. It has nothing to do with believing in god or the word thereof; it has to do with finding a rationale for their own actions/mindset that is unassailable.

When it comes to, again, simple things like wearing a goddamn little piece of fabric over the nose and mouth to protect the spread of a virus, this is inconvenient. I wear glasses, I’m quite familiar with it, more so than a great many of the little bitch whiners out there. Yet it remains incredibly self-absorbed and petty, putting their own inconvenience against the safety of, really, anyone else. Curiously, it takes no effort whatsoever to find millions of people heralding our members of the military for their efforts and sacrifice, and constantly forwarding stories of heroes and so on within their social media feeds – but wear a mask? My god, what kind of barbarian asks that of someone?

And so, the hoax pops up. With it, there’s no reason to wear a mask. In fact, they become heroes themselves, by displaying their true knowledge (and believe me, the concept of possessing the Truth™ is rampant in such circles.) If it’s all a hoax, then no inconvenience has to be suffered at all. If the numbers are inflated, if the dangers are unwarranted, then there’s no reason to bother about such things. Additionally, they’re not a fool to be falling for that little trick from, you know, the entire world. Yes, irony.

I’m not saying that any of this is arrived at intentionally, with careful consideration or even weighing the alternatives, because that’s not how people think, far too much of the time (and why I continue to promote critical thinking.) It’s simply internal feelings: I don’t want to have to wear a mask, oh look, here’s justification not to, problem solved. No other factors enter into it, and anything at all that can be found or manipulated to help reinforce this limp dick conclusion is seized upon and retained – far better than the sheer numbers of infections and deaths, far better than how ludicrous it is to believe in a worldwide conspiracy about anything, far more than the incredibly obvious question of why wearing a stupid fucking mask is what the perpetrators of this hoax would spend this vast amount of effort on. It’s astounding – but it demonstrates how little people actually think about what they do.

On top of this sits the ‘personal experience’ aspect. People “believe their own eyes,” or to be more accurate, put a tremendous amount of bias on what happens to or around them, over stories in the news, or numbers, and so on; if no one they know has died of COVID, then it’s simply not deadly. This sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not; far too many people have to have someone they know die of it before it becomes ‘real.’ Annnddd that’s how you get a pandemic. Even the photos of makeshift emergency morgues filled with body bags aren’t convincing because it’s somewhere else. Again, if they don’t want to hear it, it’s not a fact.

It’s not that bad; people die of the flu all the time: The old belief that any warnings at all are scare-tactics, because really, the government benefits from businesses shutting down, paying people who are out of work, providing free vaccinations, and so on. This is exactly the same as the above, a crass justification of avoiding simple actions, and again, the ‘nobody’s fool’ concept. How many of those claiming that it’s just as dangerous as the flu have actually looked at the numbers, do you think? How many have even done the most rudimentary web searches? How many do you think could spell, “Google” correctly?

The numbers are all inflated/they are listing deaths to COVID that aren’t really COVID: I have personal experience with these, from two different sources, and it appears there are a lot of such anecdotes around. There are a few little items that should be recognized of course. The first is, I also know several people that work in hospitals, and quite frankly, the ICU occupancy numbers aren’t being faked, nor would most hospital workers sit still for such bullshit – they’re not very happy with the work load and the risks. Second, COVID-19 (or SARS CoV-2 as it is often referred to, the more specific medical term for the virus) is listed when it’s considered a significant contributing factor to the death, even when there are other health issues involved – it’s more complicated than this, but briefly, if the patient was stable before the infection, and/or continued a rapid decline even when the COVID infection had subsided (because infections can actually have lasting damage that remains, imagine that,) then COVID is most likely the factor that made them unstable. This is a common practice in medical fields. And finally, it’s the physician who determined time of death that fills out the death certificate, and these aren’t altered by anyone. So to make this claim even slightly plausible, the denier has to provide a manner in which either several hundred thousand doctors have all gotten onboard with this numbers inflation thing, or the point (and evidence would be grand, don’t you think?) where these certificates or the tallying thereof are being changed. Again, with no one blowing the whistle on it.

Wearing a mask/getting a vaccination is a violation of my rights: I doubt that the number of people who spout this comprehend how much it makes them sound like some overweight, beer-stained yahoo living in their brother’s second-hand trailer with the sun-bleached Cozy Coupe in the yard, but yeah. None of them, naturally, could find the Bill of Rights with an internet search if you threatened to take away their guns, but it’s simple: there is no such right. No one has the right, or should even have the inclination, to endanger someone else’s life through any action or inaction, but welcome to America, Land of the Free From Personal Responsibility. A lot of emphasis exists within this country on our freedoms and rights, so that it becomes a rallying cry for the poor put-upon yokel, but this is just an elaborate display of self-absorption. No one seems to consider the right to be in public without fear of contagion, the right to not fear personal contact with some ignorant chucklefuck, the right to keep small children as safe as possible from stuff that could kill them; that’s all someone else’s problem.

The amusing bit is, save for a few narrow circumstances, no one has required a mask or a vaccination: no legislation can be found that makes it illegal to exist without these precautions. It’s all been recommendations, strong ones admittedly, but nothing resembling law, and the decisions of privately-owned businesses to disallow entry to those who are too wrapped up in themselves. If anyone chooses to avoid such precautions, they are choosing not to enter such establishments, and/or to endure the occasional rebuke from anyone with brains. That’s it in a nutshell. We’re back into that inconvenience aspect again, the sheer agony and torment of doing something they don’t want to do, stamping their little feet and sobbing in the toy store. And just like in those circumstances, we’re left wondering what kind of parenting they never received.

From the hero-worship angle, you’d think that people would be more than happy to endure some trivial hardship to help and protect others, but unfortunately, we have a large number of misanthropes that instead believe they’re heroic for bucking the system, for standing up for their own petty habits, for disregarding a sign on a storefront. Way to sacrifice there, Rambo – we know who to count on when the chips are down.

Vaccinations are unsafe/nanobots/mind control/etc.: Do I really have to address this one? Yes, it appears so – so much for the requirements a grade-school education. First off, if the government wanted to inflict anything on the populace that required injection, they’d do it through tattoo ink, much less the inoculations required before entering school. That wouldn’t even be necessary, though, which we’ll hit in a moment.

The idea of nanotechnology is laughable, however. How would anyone even power a microscopic robot? What would they be capable of doing? Our technology is decades, if not centuries, away from anything so small and yet so capable, as ten minutes of perusing tech news would demonstrate, and quite frankly, if we did have such tech, there are a lot more prime targets than our own populace (see the bit about Cozy Coupes, above.) There’s a certain amusing bit in the idea that the vast majority of the country would be targeted as the movers and shakers of this New World Order – I wouldn’t trust half of the population with my bicycle but, yeah…

As for mind control, how does anyone fail to notice that our anti-vaccination president got voted out of office before the vaccines were even administered? Yes, Trump lost – get over it.

Unsafe vaccines? Yeah, that’s why they went through testing, and temporary holds and recalls, and why we have no reports of lasting ill effects, much less fatalities. Again, these are those ‘facts’ that get immediately ignored, or not even brought to mind. Watch for the next report of an individual getting ill in some way, however, and see how many people suddenly find the news is trustworthy and repeat that little tidbit. The selectivity and rampant hypocrisy is astounding, but yes, undeniably pathetic. There are no minds here to fucking control – poor little nanobots gonna starve.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the country not only carries around a connected microcomputer everywhere that they go, but ensures that these remain fully-powered, put in even the most trivial details of their movements and actions routinely, and get most of their news through them. And they pay, quite a bit really, for this privilege! There’s no nanotechnology to even develop – we’re doing it all for them. Even more amusing, most of those that believe that they’re onto the government’s little games, knowing what’s really going on behind the scenes, have never latched onto this blindingly obvious facet of our culture.

[On a side note, I love seeing the number of mooks insisting on how tyrannical, controlling, or outright dangerous the government/NWO/Illuminati/Bilderburg is – on public websites, fully traceable, 90% of the time posted through their phones. You have to come to the conclusion that they’re far too stupid to even use forks, or they don’t really believe all this themselves. Either way…]

The scientists were wrong/the predictions were off/science doesn’t know everything/blah blah blah: The anti-science sentiment in this country is astounding, really, and actively being fostered, which far too many people are falling for – more on that below. We’ll start with, the progression of the pandemic has been remarkably accurate, almost prescient, as a modicum of paying any attention at all would demonstrate. This is even more notable in that science does not make firm predictions, but generates a range of outcomes, largely because of the butterfly effect – small variations can have larger effects down the line. Any source that claims that science predicted anything specific is more than likely talking out of their ass, which (in the age of instant information at our, heh heh, literal fingertips,) is easy enough to check. Large gatherings of people leading to mass outbreaks and significantly higher numbers of cases? Check. Kids going back to school doing the same? Check. New variants arising? Check. The hospitals seeing most of their cases through unvaccinated individuals? Check, check, check. Really, what more could we expect? Oh, you want to make a case about the efficacy of masks, back during the beginning when little information was known about the spread of the virus, because scientists should have been omniscient? Yeah, whatever – all you’re doing is demonstrating your inability pass a high school biology exam.

Meanwhile, since accuracy is sooo paramount, I’m sure that everyone concerned is well aware of all the predictions from our political leaders and internet pundits that were bang on, such as the pandemic would never take hold in this country, that it wouldn’t result in many deaths, that it was no worse than the flu, that natural immunity would take care of it, that it would all be over by April of last year – yeah, have at it, the internet is there for a reason. For a fun evening, tally how many of the same sources changed their predictions when the first failed, and then were wrong again. Don’t make it a drinking game though – the hospitals are full enough.

It illustrates the value of critical thinking, however, especially in not latching onto the bits that we like or want to hear, but all of them, and weighing their accuracy and even just the education of their sources, and making decisions based on the best information that we can get. No single source is ‘trustworthy’ – we get that only by collating as much information as we can.

And when in doubt, play it safe – gambling is not going to provide any payoff whatsoever. That’s another aspect of critical thinking: what are the consequences of being wrong? I have to wear this horrible, ugly, warm mask versus I kill somebody, maybe even myself. That one takes a lot of consideration, to be sure…

It’s political: Unfortunately, in this country it almost is, which is what makes this especially stupid, because the welfare of our residents – you know, the ones we champion as great and all that? – is never political. Any politician that actually wants to make this a sides issue should be at best lambasted relentlessly, but impeached is much more in order, because it’s their fucking job to consider the people – not just their ‘constituents,’ (which consists solely of those contributing to their ‘campaign’ funds.) When you want to talk about mind control, you can’t forget how damn near everything in this country has somehow come down to this “us or them” standpoint, anchored very distinctly on partisanship, with far too many ignorant people believing that they should follow a party line instead of sound, beneficial decisions.

But it also goes to show how self-absorbed we are, and outright xenophobic, because the pandemic is global – including all those countries that we consider backwards or lib’rul or whatever, including those countries diametrically opposed to the US, including those countries that consider us brain-dead asshats. Again, if any political body had that kind of control, why the fucking hell would they waste it on masks and vaccine recommendations? I mean, holy shit…

Notably, most of the people who use this claim/defense/horseshit are the ones that politicize everything, frothing that every last occurrence that they don’t approve of is the fault of those damn opposing politicians. Avocados not ripe enough? It’s those damn congressmen messing with transportation. Batteries dead in the car remote? That’s what we get for relaxed trade agreements with China. Cue seque.

Disturbingly, this does follow party lines a lot closer than coincidentally: Actually, it’s not even slightly hidden, as the Republican politicians, websites, and pundits in this country, by a huge margin, are the ones downplaying the virus and introducing a great many of the claims that lead to the vast number of deniers. While it’s not accurate to say that any denier must be Republican, you’d win most of the bets anyway. The GOP has long courted the angry, frustrated, and fearful members of our population, with their politicians playing the ‘wolf at the door’ card more than they ever engage in positive legislation or beneficial actions, always happy to attract those who need someone to blame for every misfortune.

While it would seem like an actual pandemic would fit this bill, with no effort whatsoever to promote it, there is a significant problem: the Democrats are in agreement this time. That – simply couldn’t be allowed to happen, because of course the Democrats were the cause of all of the woes and threats that were routinely used. Therefore, it’s necessary to promote the horrible injustices of distancing and vaccinations as if these were trains to the labor camps, instead of good medical precautions. That the angry, frustrated, and fearful are all too often not terribly bright only helps matters.

Closely related, the Republican party has had more than mild tendencies towards anti-science stances and outright legislation, whether this comes from being more in pocket to special interests like petroleum companies, or courting the voters that resent the whole idea of intelligence, or simply taking a hardline stance against the environmental leanings of the Democrats – likely all of those, and more besides. Regardless the cause, too many members of the GOP are more than happy to dismiss or denigrate those who actually know what they’re talking about because, you know, a politician that couldn’t pass a sixth-grade science test is who we should be turning to for advice in such regards.

[I’ve said before that I’m not political, and I’m not; politics in this country is this morass of nonsense, with most of the candidates not being even slightly impressive, while the electoral college system and ‘districting’ and all the other manipulations have made voting all a joke anyway. I’ve never chosen a ‘side,’ and find sides to be a pathetic abdication of thought, much less ignoring the purpose of voting in the first place. And yet, stupid is stupid, and I’m happy to call it out when I see it.]

There’s no going back: I almost missed this one, but it deserves some recognition. For an indeterminable percentage of people, the progression of the pandemic and their personal experiences have made them realize that their initial stance was, shall we say, less than optimally accurate? But they were outspoken about their views in the early stages, and changing that, admitting that their first impressions weren’t bang-on (or were even, hard as this may be to believe, ridiculously misinformed,) simply isn’t going to happen. It’d be embarrassing, and everyone knows that we’re expected, as a species, to get it all right the first time or… something bad. It’s like we think we should be omniscient, or infallible, or whatever. It does take a big person to admit that they’re wrong, and to hear us tell it in this country, we’re nothing but big, strong people – except when we’re insecure, or stubborn, or worried that someone might point out the hypocrisy.

Yet it’s undeniably beneficial to openly admit that we changed. First off, it shows that we are big enough to do so, which is actually respectable, except among the tragically insecure themselves and who cares what they think? Second, the example is something that we need more of, to make it more common within our society to say, “Yeah, in light of this information, I’m gonna have to go with what seems best.” And it’s remarkably conscience-clearing, and puts us on the road towards making things better rather than keeping them wrong or damaging or outright deadly because we fear the social repercussions of someone, I don’t know, making fun of us or something. When we actually think about it, it starts to seem trivial, doesn’t it?

So what’s the solution? Yeah, not biting on that one, and I doubt there could be any simple way of fixing such horseshit in the first place. While it may seem like a lot of people are agreed on a common thread such as “COVID isn’t a threat,” what we really have are myriad beliefs and stances: those that believe it’s a hoax, those that believe it’s real but not that big a threat, those that believe that it’s a threat but not applicable to their own lifestyle, those that already had an anti-vaccination stance to begin with, and on and on. There’s no one point of commonality in there, so no fixed approach in addressing them. Instead, a lot of it is at the individual level, finding the key points in anyone’s mind first, which often isn’t easy. One thing that I can say is not to expect to see results. No one ever changes their mind in discussion or debate – that’s admitting defeat, and that’s not how human minds work. The best that we can do is to plant seeds and let them grow.

What I will recommend is knowing as many of the flaws as we can, so they can easily be countered with solid info (which, as often as not, will be dismissed as ‘propaganda’ and so on, so we’d best be used to that idea.) I’m personally in favor of the comparative approach, which is to point out where claims or expectations aren’t measuring up, like above with the idea of a worldwide conspiracy – it makes no sense, but someone else proposed it, so it must be plausible, yes?

I’ve made a passing reference to religion, but the resemblance is more than passing. People latch onto the aspects that they like, and/or the sound bites that appease their desires or ego, without giving the faintest consideration as to whether or not such a worldview makes any sense, or could possibly result in some form of improvement, much less what the consequences of being wrong are. The sources of info that are the most ‘correct’ are the ones that give them what they want, not the ones that show competence, or fit in with what we already know about viruses, or for fuck’s sake, have actually obtained a doctorate in the field.

My own approach tends to be more than a little sarcastic, as you might have noticed, and whether this works well or not remains to be seen; people have argued that it’s caustic and not appreciated, but those have nothing to do with effectiveness, which in my experience has been more than is usually credited. But having a range of approaches probably helps as well, especially if you can target what works best towards any individual, but determining this is obviously problematic.

The other thing that I favor is highlighting where we tend to react, emotionally or subconsciously, to simple triggers rather than considering the details and making rational decisions. Much of human behavior revolves around base, emotional prods, stupid little things left over from our development, while we believe that we virtually always make good decisions. Recognizing where this goes awry is one of the key steps towards combating it, but granted, helping someone else recognize it can be tricky.

What doesn’t work, however, is ignoring it, or expecting someone else to do it, or putting it off because confrontation is so distasteful. Something to remember is that people tend to follow the flock, and are influenced, for good or bad, by how often they hear something (which is why churches even exist, much less some of the media sources.) Our input, even in passing, counts – one more voice against the ignorance. Most especially, being polite or non-confrontational will accomplish nothing when the idiots have no issues with being the opposite.

Here be dragons. Tiny ones. And bugs

Did another trip to the NC Botanical Gardens yesterday, to see what could be found, and the answer to that is anoles. Lots of anoles.

juvenile Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis hiding within ginger lilies
I have noticed that each year, the representative numbers of certain species seem to fluctuate, or at least according to what I have been able to find, anyway. While the botanical gardens have always been a good place to find Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis,) this year especially they seem numerous, with plenty of young ones to be seen (if you take the time and have good eyes,) like the one above – note the shorter nose. The plants in this region, at least, haven’t changed at all, but it’s convincing me to get some ginger lilies like this planted around Walkabout Estates. Where the numbers of anoles have also increased; coincidence, or climate/habitat? Can’t say. I have noticed, for instance, surges at times in the green lynx spiders, or the magnolia green jumping spiders, and reductions in the numbers of barn spiders and spined micrathena, the former a small percentage of the previous years and the latter has about disappeared since we moved in. I’m certain there are a lot of factors involved, including temperatures and rainfall in the spring and fall, number of available predators during hatching or laying seasons, and so on. So is there a trend, or just normal variations?

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis climbing sapling in deep shade
While we (meaning the Infernal Mr Bugg and I) have numerous photos of the juveniles, the adults provided the best poses, more likely to hang around without fleeing for cover, instead relying on their typical stealth and camouflage. Here an adult creeps up a small sapling in deep shade, taking a moment to gaze skyward – probably asking the reptile gods to get rid of these pesky paparazzi. The sky was too clear for smiting, however, deities being restricted by the availability of thunderheads.

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis reshot with flash
I perhaps raised its hopes for a brief moment, but it was only the macro flash unit firing off – you can see that look in its eye, the anticipation of seeing me collapse into a blackened cinder. At least that’s what it looks like to me.

Another adult, creeping up the greenbriar vines in full sunlight, could have been doing a better job of hiding, but yeah, I’ll take it.

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis not doing a very good job of hiding behind a vine
In most of the cases, it was the movement of the anole that attracted my attention, though a few were found while motionless. They’re good about knowing what they blend in with well, better than the green treefrogs, and tend to stay tucked in and close to the surface so they don’t present either odd shapes or ‘protrusions’ to give themselves away. Though one wasn’t quite aware of the overall effect.

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis peeking from behind leaf with silhouette
Easily my favorite shot, and I quickly maneuvered around for the best angle the moment that I spotted the shadow, expecting the anole to leap away from the leaf as soon as it realized it had been discovered. But the whole-body, detailed silhouette was too good to pass up, and being visible actually peeking around the edge of the leaf was simply a bonus. Thankfully, we both got plenty of time to ensure that focus was bang on, because the lizard was pretty complacent, though we were admittedly being as low key as possible. Even after I’d done my shots and backed off, I was able to approach from another side as Buggato was getting his own photos (hey, I’ll kindly allow others to get their shots first, unless it’s a seriously great opportunity from something that may not last, in which case I make sure I get what I want first. I spotted it, after all.)

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched upright on leaf
For this one, the shadow wasn’t quite as compelling, and I cropped in tighter for the eye and scale detail – not to mention those little toes. And yes, the anole was fully vertical, mostly suspended by one toe on the opposite foot digging into the leaf, but seriously, there’s not a lot if weight to account for here (and I’m not even going to try and guess, but probably less than half the weight of an ordinary wood pencil.) Body length, without tail, was 60mm or less, with the head being in the range of 10mm wide.

It’s hard to provide scale with any kind of wild shot, but the next gives a faint indication, obtained immediately before the two above, and a lot trickier to snag.

adult Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis with recently captured moth
This individual, not even half a meter from where we’d find the vertical one on the leaf, had just captured a small moth and was beating a retreat in the way that they do, which is to move a little, then freeze to allow the camouflage to work its magic. The moth was still kicking, and it might have been the movement from the actual capture that attracted my attention, but it went deeper into shadow before pausing, and my brief opportunity allowed only a couple of frames, none of them critically sharp, – I can’t complain (not true at all, but it means I shouldn’t, anyway.)

irritated bumblebee carpenter bee covered in pollenBut that provides the segue into the insects.

Notably, there really wasn’t much activity from the arthropods for this trip, which was curious, especially when a week or so ago I’d spotted several green lynx spiders on the verge of producing egg sacs, and this time, not one, anywhere. Nor any egg sacs. The only thing that comes to mind is the torrential downpour we’d received the previous day, which might have sent them into hiding, but that had been long enough before that I would have thought they’d be out again, since the weather was now clear and pleasant. The green lynx spiders are wonderfully camouflaged, so if some species of bird or whatever came along, I doubt they’d find all of them anyway (or any of them, really.) I looked hard, but without any luck.

Meanwhile, over there to the right is the full frame of a bumblebee or carpenter bee that I was observing, because it landed on a leaf that certainly wasn’t going to present any food opportunities and quickly began trying to divest itself of the pollen load, as if profoundly irritated. Now we can go in for a closer look.

bumblebee carpenter bee with irritating pollen, possibly from seashore mallow Kosteletzkya virginica
The pollen was quite sizable, potentially from the seashore mallow flowers (Kosteletzkya virginica) that were nearby, but whether it was the pollen itself that was what was irritating the bee, or some kind of parasitic infestation that remained invisible to me, I can’t say – this is almost full resolution, and my examinations turned up nothing but the pollen, which I wouldn’t think was anything that would bother the bee – I have other frames from the same visit that show bumblebees on the flowers, so…

But while we’re on the subject, another frame that I snagged just for giggles.

leaf with splash of pollen
The splash of pollen was so distinct, and so isolated, that I can only assume a similarly-laden bee had blundered rather forcefully into the leaf. They call them bumblebees for a reason, you know.

Elsewhere, a pair of mating wasps landed within camera reach.

pair of mating gold-marked thread-waisted wasps Eremnophila aureonotata dusted with pollen
These are, I believe, gold-marked thread-waisted wasps (Eremnophila aureonotata) – yes, that’s their whole name. Not all of the gold is their natural coloration – some of it is pollen. I got lucky in that I could manage a portrait view as they flitted in among a dense stand of tall reed-like leaves, some kind of pampas grass I believe. Yes, they’re mating, yes, I’m shameless, and yes, you’ve seen this before, at the same location, which is the only place I’ve ever spotted them. Same pair?

The cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were seeing their fair share of visitors.

cloudless sulphur butterfly Phoebis sennae on cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis
The cloudless sulphur butterflies (Phoebis sennae) really seem to prefer the cardinal flowers, because I’ve gotten numerous photos of them on this species alone. I wasn’t trying terribly hard this time, which was good because they were proving difficult, shy and hyperactive, but I did snag a frame with some nice detail from being flat to the wings, so I’m cool with it.

The next was all skill, or at least, a decent knowledge of spider habits.

orbweaver possibly arabesque orbweaver Neoscona arabesca sheltering within cardinal flower bloom
Determingin what species this is, however, was another matter. Near as I can tell right now, this is an arabesque orbweaver (Neoscona arabesca,) but I won’t argue with anyone who says otherwise, since the color variations in all of the spotted orbweavers is vast. The web was missing, but the anchor strands were still present, and while typically orbweavers take to the highest anchor point during the day to find shelter, this one was down within easy reach instead of up at the overhanging tree branches that formed the higher anchors. She (it is almost certainly a female) was quite small and deep in shadow, making it hard to determine if it really was a spider until I leaned in quite close, and then the macro flash brought out the real detail.

And finally, a bird, though just a hint of one because they never came too close.

female ruby-throated hummingbird Archilochus colubris hovering near cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalis
A female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) had staked out the cardinal flower patch as her own, spending as much time chasing off any interlopers as she did feeding, usually taking to a nearby branch within easy sight to monitor the flowers. Twice, she swooped in to chase off a dastardly trespasser only to find that it was a cicada and not another hummingbird – I can’t blame her, since the appearance and their flying patterns are remarkably similar. The patch was dense, her desire to come close nonexistent, the background complicated, so all I snagged was a couple of half-ass frames, though I may return within a few days and make a concerted attempt. And I’m going to add cardinal flowers to the property next year.

But yeah, still not a bad day, though any day with anoles is a good day. You can quote me on that.

Try and try again

Went out last night as the crescent moon was coming close to setting and tried a few shots, especially trying to get earthshine in there, with poor luck – just not nailing focus, and the necessary exposure for the earthshine was allowing too much vibration. However, I did capture a neat little detail, creating what I call my album cover.

crescent moon with approaching aircraft lights
Those lines of light are from an airliner, moving left to right, and yes it did pass in front of the moon, except I couldn’t get a photo of that. Well, I probably could have, but it would have been total crap. The plane had passed overhead a minute or so before, and I didn’t think much of it, being many degrees away from the moon and not appearing to be heading in that direction, but as it dropped towards the horizon, it banked a little and changed course, and this brought it right across the moon – I just didn’t see it in the distance until it was happening. Meanwhile, to combat vibration that can show up in long exposures at high magnification, I was using a remote release and mirror lock-up, bringing the reflex mirror up several seconds before actually tripping the shutter, so the vibrations from that had enough time to die down, much less those from me handling the camera at all. This was a 2-second exposure, and from the point you see here until the plane had completely crossed the moon was no more than seven seconds, while first I’d had to confirm that I was seeing a plane out there; when the mirror goes up, the viewfinder is useless.

It’s opportunities like this, however, that are about the only reason for me to be out shooting a full moon, because the relative light is a lot brighter, making the shutter speeds slower, and potentially allowing a plane (or satellite) to be silhouetted against the moon’s surface. Provided you can get one to cross that narrow band, which is extremely tricky in itself. Remember that the moon can be blotted out with your thumb at arm’s length, so the patch of sky that any such object has to hit is very small.

But I went out again tonight, not really after any more planes (though I would have taken them had they come along,) but to do the crescent justice. This time, I got a bit sharper results.

crescent moon near moonset
This was with the Tamron 150-600 at 600mm, but with a 2X teleconverter in place, which really isn’t quite 2X, so closer to 1000mm. I did frames both with and without the teleconverter, refocusing and adjusting aperture, and this was the sharpest at the best exposure. Still only minutes from dropping behind the trees, thus the orange color from being near the horizon.

But yes, the goal to have something silhouetted against the moon remains. We’ll see what happens.

So, so long ago

Well, okay, two days ago. I could have posted these sooner but my hands were trapped under my ass and I couldn’t type. Anyway, I did a brief circuit of the neighborhood pond just to see what was happening, which wasn’t much. A great blue heron and a great egret both remained quite distant, spooky, and elusive of decent photos, probably jealous of my eagle exploits in New York. Most other critters remained unseen, and I’ll leave you to speculate upon whether this was due to simply not being around, or my inability to spot something right under my nose. But there were ducks.

family of mallards Anas platyrhynchos with buff female
A few families of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) were hanging about, including the buff female that I’d been flipped off by earlier in the year but then disappeared – she was back with her beau and brood, it would appear, including an offspring that seems to have kept her coloration to some degree. Her mate, if I’m interpreting the one immediately to the left correctly but I’m assuming nothing and really it’s all okay with me no matter what, appears to be a domesticated mallard, or formerly anyway – that color pattern doesn’t tend to occur in the wild. Man, these waterfowl just blurrin’ all the lines.

Much further out swam a solitary figure, which from profile I suspected, the long lens almost confirmed, and later examination of the photos at higher res helped pin down. First, the full frame, at 600mm so you know it was a ways off.

juvenile pie-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps in distance
I’ve seen a single specimen at about the same distance several times over now, and never got a decent shot (mostly due to lower light levels.) This time still wasn’t ideal but at least I got enough detail to confirm identification. For that, we go in closer.

juvenile pie-billed grebe Podilymbus podiceps just cruising
From the coloration around the head and neck, and the muted markings on the bill, this is a juvenile pie-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) – about half the size of the mallards, if not a little smaller, and quite shy. Since it’s this year’s brood, it is almost certainly not the same one that I’ve seen before, which makes me wonder where the folks might be, but it’s old enough to be out on its own anyway. I have a goal now to get much better pics.

Back at Walkabout Estates, later on in the evening, I snagged a couple more shots just for the sake of it.

juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea waiting patiently on wind chime
One of the many juvenile green treefrogs (Hyla cinerea) that hang around had climbed a porch column, then leapt across to the wind chimes – luckily, the air was still that night or the frog might have gotten a rude wakeup call. Despite it being well after sundown, the pupils are closed so much because the porch light was on to attract bugs, because I presently have a treefrog without eyes housed in a terrarium on the porch.

blind juvenile green treefrog Hyla cinerea
Now, how it came to be without eyes, I can’t say. The scarring you see on its nose may be a related factor, though I did not see any obvious damage around the eyes themselves, much less damaged orbs; one is completely missing, the other might have something minimal under the eyelids, or might not. A day or so after first spotting this one, I found another of the same age dead in one of the potted plants, one eye ulcerated, so one of the possibilities is a communicable illness, which is why I collected the blind one when I next saw it (many meters away from the first sighting, it must be said,) and isolated it. I also wanted to see if it could feed without sight, and so, the terrarium remains stocked with plenty of insects. The curious bit is, the scarring is largely healed, so if an altercation took the frog’s sight, it seems to be plugging away, and the same could be said if it had been born this way. Waiting to see what happens, really – not holding my breath, but, well…

Meanwhile, close by to the spot where I’d retrieved the blind one, I found something more promising.

likely pregnant Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina
This one was slightly surprising, because it’s a Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and appears to be pregnant, but certainly a breeding adult. The Chinese mantids have just hit this stage and I’ve been watching for such activity, but the Carolinas hatch much later, and I’ve still been spotting very small specimens here and there, so finding one that looks ready to drop an egg case changed my expectations a little. I observed this one for a short while, without any distinct activity, but I had to do it by headlamp and the movement and changing shadows (because I can’t hold that still,) may well have prevented it from any activity anyway. I didn’t find it again on subsequent checks, nor did I find an egg sac, but this is the same cleyera shrub that hid a Chinese mantis egg sac from me all winter, and those are several times more obvious. Plus see above about my abilities. I remain alert for the opportunities, still intent on getting shots of mating and/or egg-laying, but so far that’s been elusive so, we’ll see…

Profiles of Nature 36

porcelain crab Petrolisthes armatus or Porcellana sayana Zager Turn atop thinstripe hermit crab Clibanarius vittatus Evans Cough
Philosophers claim that hell is a pointless concept, because no matter how horrendous, you would eventually get used to it all, but we believe the Profiles are disproving that canard. Today we have Zager Turn and Evans Cough, the eponymous musical duo that brought us such hits as, “Autocorrect My Love,” and, “If You Fuck Amy.” What’s surprising about this is the wildly diverse backgrounds of the two: Turn grew up being schooled in numerous classical instruments and music theory, while Cough lives next to a Harley-Davidson plant and is almost deaf – he needs studded tires to drive on the roads, there’s so much oil. They met in a bar while the TV was playing a Warren Zevon concert, finding common ground in the assertion that Zevon was a twatwaffle actually in talent debt, requiring several years of music instruction to reach talentless. They never intended to start a duo, instead planning a financial consulting scam before realizing there is no other kind, and so turned to music because neither liked adequate income. They elected to keep to acoustic and classical after their first experiments with a theremin and a Fender Strat resulted in a lot of neurological problems and a major blackout in the neighborhood (you can see they’re under water, right?) There remain some issues with chords, but neither requires a capo at least – c’mon, stay with me. Getting signed to a label wasn’t a tale of hard work, lucky breaks, or finding a niche – they’re just really good at oral sex. Turn says that her favorite floor tile is off-white with streaks of macchiato color, but the pingado kind with a hint of caramel, while Cough insists that his favorite kind of pained sigh is the one his kid emits when Cough is watching him and his friends play video games and says, “Oh, man, you got pweened!

Not even autumn yet – lots of weeks to go. Be strong. Or not – whatever, we’re still doing this.

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