Does this count?

Despite the fact that it remains the summer months, I have not been as active, photographerically, as I should be, because of the heat – time outdoors is kept to a necessary minimum. This means nothing but local subjects, and you’ve seen enough of them (unless you haven’t? Let me know.) Instead, I’ve been engaged in other projects, some of which you may see shortly.

So I will crassly recycle content from other sites, partially to have something, partially because this is worth it, at least if you’ve managed to stomach some of the other content that I’ve had here. I tend to think that featuring other people’s work is not a real post, myself, but then again, there are plenty of sites where that’s nearly all that they do, so I suppose I can chill out.

Anyway, Ze Frank is back, and by now you should know what that means:

I just spent a fruitless half-hour looking for old images of a fish skull that I know I have, because I ran across them a few months back, but they’re negative scans dating from 2003 and I don’t recall in the multi-harddrive hierarchy of my computer where they reside. They were posted on a page back then requesting identification, because as Ze Frank indicates, fish skulls are not like mammalian, avian, or reptilian skulls, and I wasn’t even sure that it was a skull – a few people well-versed in biology were unsure as well, because if you don’t specialize in piscine fields you may not get any exposure. I eventually received a response from someone in South Africa who assured me, paraphrased here because two decades ago, “It’s definitely a fishy – I’m not sure what kind, but for sure it’s a fishy.” You gotta love the internet sometimes.

H/T Miss Cellania

Tripod holes 34

slightly enhanced photo of total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017
N 34°45’22.22″ W 83°30’0.76″ Google Earth location

Okay, sure, this is the sun and the moon, together again, and can be seen from any location on Earth, more or less. Only not simultaneously in this way, which normally takes place in a narrow path, and so the location plotted is within this narrow path for the total solar eclipse that was visible from North America on August 21st, 2017 – six years ago tomorrow. I chose this spot because I was familiar with it, thought that perhaps some foreground elements might be able to be used (I was wrong, it occurred way too high in the sky,) and there were other things to see in the immediate area if the conditions failed to pan out. Lake Rabun in northern Georgia (the state) is not only scenic in itself, but hosts a handful of waterfalls feeding it, including Minnehaha Falls, one of the easier cascades to reach and quite photogenic. Along the drive here, taken traveling south from Asheville, NC, we stopped at Looking Glass Falls, allowing me to get a shot that presently sits over my desk (seen opening the first link above) in Walkabout Studios, and passed a lot of places on the twisty mountainous route that offered eclipse parking for ridiculous fees, as well as a church that advertised an eclipse sermon – I’ll leave you to ponder what that might have entailed, since we didn’t check it out. Crass opportunism? Of course! But it was so prevalent that we were resigning ourselves to getting robbed just to have a place to park, and then after skirting the lake on the local roads cut into the steep valley sides (an experience The Girlfriend does not want to repeat,) arrived at Nacoochee Park on the tip of the lake and found not only free parking, but surprisingly few people. Alright then.

This image has been enhanced slightly in that I brought the lower registers up a little higher, making more of the corona visible, but other than that it’s as captured in the camera. The experience, which I was willing to forego if it appeared it was going to be a major hassle, was actually quite cool, and I plan to do it again next April 8th when another passes over the US. I was prepared for this one but realized I could have caught more, and so will be more prepared for the next, possibly including having a camera mounted on a tracking motor for longer exposures. This will allow capture of more of the corona, and since the sun will be nearing maximum solar activity then, potentially some significant solar prominences as well – I caught a couple faintly in this attempt, visible as the pinkish blobs on the edges. As I often say, we’ll see what happens.

Not much charm

Perseids Pronunciation from xkcd
From xkcd by Randall Munroe
While I did not announce it like I often do here, we’ve just passed the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, tied in with some halfway decent viewing conditions and, unlike many other showers in the past, acceptable temperatures to be standing out in a dark location for hours at a time. I actually went out to try and capture images three times, and you know how they say the third time’s the charm? Yeah, not so much.

First attempt was the early morning of the 11th down at Jordan Lake, which was both the most successful and the most curious, from a strictly viewing standpoint anyway: I saw several meteors, including one long, slow orange one that was in sight for literally three seconds (I was counting,) as it etched its way across the sky – out of the field of view of the camera, naturally. Now, there is always a guide for meteor showers, which is how they’re named the way they are, because tracing their path back to an apparent origin often reveals a common point, a radiant, which in this case is within the constellation of Perseus. I’ve seen plenty of composite (Photoshopped) images showing a plethora of meteors all emanating from the radiant – except that, in years of being out during showers and storms, I’ve barely seen the evidence of this myself. Even during the spectacular Leonids of 2001, meteors appeared all over the sky, in all directions, and it was only during the peak hour that more seemed to be coming from the radiant, but the most amazing ones were well away and traveling in the opposite direction, so concentrating on only the radiant is potentially a huge waste of time, and I always suggest finding the clearest, darkest portion of sky for best visibility of what does appear. For this particular three-second meteor, it was traveling past and underneath the radiant and in the opposite direction, but the sky was quite bright in that direction (looking towards the border between Durham and Raleigh,) and so I wasn’t aimed there because time exposures had to be very brief to prevent overexposing the image.

There was one that should, by all rights, have been in the frame, but it was brief and boring and subsequent examinations showed nothing at all; it was either just outside the frame, or too dim to register at my settings. On subsequent sessions, I switched over to using the Tamron 10-24 at 10mm, quite a wide field of view, and f3.5 to 5.6 at ISO 1600 to counteract this. While this increases the chances of capturing one (and appears to have worked – we’re getting to that,) it also makes everything in the frame smaller and requires shorter exposure times to prevent overexposure, especially if there’s any scattered light.

But I did get a nice skyscape that morning, at least:

night exposure showing Milky Way over Jordan Lake
This is at 18mm, 28 seconds at f3.5, ISO 3200 – a quite dark portion of the sky, but the Milky Way came out nice. It’s been color-corrected from the original Sunlight white-balance, which left the image yellowish-green from the residual city lights off of the humidity in the sky. Don’t bother looking for meteors, though for one of these frames I’d just finished aiming the camera, looked up at the sky right before opening the shutter, and watched one pass through the field of view. Typical.

Another from that night, which was pretty clear:

very cluttered night exposure showing Andromeda galaxy
The exposure brought out even faint stars and crowded a lot of things together, reducing the apparent brightness of the brighter stars, but the Milky Way is cutting diagonally across the frame, with Cassiopeia getting cut off at lower center. Cassiopeia is an ‘M’ or ‘W’ shaped constellation that’s fairly easy to spot, but really kind of lost in this frame, and in a line off of the taller of the peaks, as if it was an arrow, sits the Andromeda galaxy – that’s the fuzzy blob to center right. This screen capture from Stellarium labels things a bit better:

SCreen capture from Stellarium showing Cassiopeia and Andromeda
This is largely the same field of view, though showing more on the left than my frame, but most of the ‘M’ of Cassiopeia shows at bottom, and the Andromeda galaxy is the blob that sits off of the arm of the Andromeda constellation.

That same night, I saw, twice, a singular flare of light, not moving – I don’t know for sure what this was. While it could have been a meteor that came ‘straight in’ to my position, those are rare, and seeing one twice is exceptionally so. But what else was it? It’s easy to believe there was movement that I just couldn’t register, but it seems that, if it was so slight, how then could the atmosphere heat up enough for it to glow? [That’s actually what you’re seeing for most meteors: the superheated air from its passage, not the rock itself glowing, though occasionally ablated material creates a color-cast.] There’s a slim chance it might have been something else, and so we have another curiosity, from the following night. First, the full frame:

night exposure showing faint cloud or contrail and tiny hint of meteor or firefly
There were scattered, high-altitude clouds that evening, which is the band that you see here, likely a long-lived jet contrail. The curious thing doesn’t even show in this image, but right at the tail-end of the exposure, I caught a glimpse of something as I looked back into the field of view (I don’t spend my entire time staring at the same patch of sky,) and so I chimped at the resulting image, zoomed in tight, and found evidence – and then had a hard time finding it again back home when unloaded. But here it is at full resolution, from off near the left side of the frame:

night exspoure crop with curious dotted line of meteor, firefly, or something else
Okay, that’s not any kind of meteor that I’ve ever seen – I’ve seen plenty of variations in brightness, but not repeated and as periodic as this. So I want to say ‘firefly,’ but it’s not only perfectly straight, it has a faint glow between the bright flashes and extending far to either end, which I’ve never seen from a firefly, and there doesn’t seem to be the yellowish-green color cast that they typically have. Not an airplane, because no marker lights – I have plenty of those, and even at a great distance they’re distinct, plus nothing at all in subsequent frames. Not likely a satellite, because it was 11 PM and the sun would have been almost completely on the other side of the planet and unlikely to reflect from something, not to mention this was nearly due north, and again, nothing in subsequent frames. So it remains a mystery at this point.

The activity during that second session was minimal and the clouds were starting to thicken, so I wrapped it up, but not before doing a few wider, scenic shots like this one:

wide view of night sky out over Jordan Lake with scattered clouds and hint of Milky way
This is uncorrected, Sunlight white balance, which means no alteration from what was out there, but of course it’s a long exposure of conditions that appeared much darker, and the color cast wasn’t as apparent to me when there. I did a shifted version of it:

same exposure with color shift
This seems more natural, if you ignore the distortion at the edges from the wide angle lens. The Milky Way is showing through at lower center – this is looking pretty much due south. From this point, the clouds were getting worse and I’d seen very little, so I wrapped it up for the night.

On stepping outside the next night, the conditions looked promising and I decided to try a different location at Falls Lake instead, about 25 kilometers away (I was guessing half that, but oh well.) This was a mistake, as I discovered when I arrived and was greeted with a thick haze obscuring all but the brightest stars, which had not been present at all when I’d left.

night exposure out over Falls Lake with Jupiter and Capella showing through haze
My images gave the impression that we’d entered a nebula, and things weren’t looking too promising. The bright ‘star’ here is actually Jupiter, with the second brightest being Capella. Cassiopeia shows relatively distinctly just left of top center, this time showing the ‘M’ shape better with the peaks pointing right, though in these conditions forget about Andromeda. Which places the Perseus constellation, specifically the radiant of this shower, not too far from the middle of this frame – I was guesstimating the location from memory. But here, I’ve marked it for you.

night exposure with hazy sky showing location of Perseids radiant
Still, I’d driven out there, so I was willing to give it a shot, even just to see if there was activity. And indeed, there was. Not too long into the session, I clearly saw a meteor where it should have been inside the frame, and on checking the preview after the exposure ended, could even see it in the minuscule LCD on the back of the camera.

Perseid meteor barely captured in night exposure in hazy conditions
It helps, of course, if you know where to look, which is within the darker band that extends from the middle of the tree. And so you know, this one overlaps the view of the previous, being to the left; the two bright patches from ‘civilization,’ on the horizon at the right (yes, i did not level the camera well, hush,) match the same on the left horizon in the previous images.

But the amazing meteor capture! Let’s zoom in:

full resolution crop of Perseids meteor
Yeah, that’s… a little scratch on the film, except I wasn’t using film. It was one of the basic meteors, a 1/4 second don’t-blink “shooting star” that meets the bare minimum requirements and nothing more. Not the kind of thing that I was after.

BUT, I got two that evening!

Perseid meteor on hazy night exposure over Falls Lake
That’s even harder to find, isn’t it? I probably wouldn’t even have found it on reviewing the photos later, except that I’d seen this one when it happened, too. Very close to the previous, it sits at the bottom edge of the dark band, extreme right edge. Or, you know, this:

full resolution crop of basic Perseids meteor, with bonus high-altitude aircraft
This is again full-resolution, and we’re concentrating on the streak on the right, and not the streak on the left, which is a high-altitude, very distant aircraft. This particular location is reasonably dark and has much better views to the north and east, and very minimal air traffic, quite opposed to Jordan Lake which sits way too close to the airport – if you’re familiar with air traffic lanes, they often pass over airports to use their radionav beacons, even when the traffic isn’t landing anywhere close by.

Now, I pointed out the overlap so you’d know roughly where the radiant is, and that neither of these two were really emanating from it, though with the 10mm lens centered on it I might have gotten them into the frame anyway – not with the 18mm though. In fact, in all three nights I think I saw perhaps two that might have charitably been said to emanate, though neither would been caught if you were concentrating solely on that region.

But with three different sessions, from four to six hours of viewing, I was at least putting some effort into getting something and still netted just these two crummy blecchs while seeing maybe eight, nine? Not at all what I’m trying to accomplish, and believe me, I keep telling myself that the really good image will be snagged, one of these days – it certainly won’t if I don’t try. But results like these aren’t encouraging in the slightest.

Anyway, a last for giggles, as some of the clouds had finally dissipated; yes, it’s me, and color-corrected, but I couldn’t correct the aspherical wide-angle lens distortion – I’m not actually that pin-headed…

photographer posing for night sky exposure over Falls Lake

Tripod holes 33

looking up at Hatteras Lighthouse from below, Buxton, NC
N 35°15’17.88″ W 75°31’15.13″ Google Earth location

You can go to this precise location, but you’ll never get this photo there, ha ha! That’s because this is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the one that was moved further inland back in 1999 because the shoreline was encroaching on its location – Wikipedia says that the water was only 15′ (5m) from the base, but I consider that horseshit since I’ve been there before and after the move and the water might have gotten within about 40 meters at the worst of times. That’s still too close, especially given what a storm surge might do, but don’t let Wikipedia overstate the case. When built of course, the lighthouse was much further from the water, but that’s the nature of barrier islands: they reshape over time, sometimes drastically, so building anything near the water is too often a bet against time. Anyway, this was taken at the old location, so if you go where I’ve plotted you’re not going to find the lighthouse, though if you look around you can probably spot it (if you look around anywhere within 8 kilometers of that location you can probably spot it.)

It’s easy enough to find videos regarding the move everywhere on the webbernets, so if you’re thirsting to know a short search will slake that, but basically, they left the lighthouse standing and built a rail system underneath the foundations, then slid it very slowly and carefully about 900 meters to the southwest – the path is easy to spot. Why not further inland? You’ll have to ask them (whoever they are,) but I’m surmising it was a matter both of solid footing and what land was obtainable or already in possession of the Parks Department, plus perhaps a solid footing for the tracks themselves.

Hatteras remains one of the lighthouses (unlike Bodie Island) that you can go to the top of, but best to pick a quieter day because the quarters are a little tight, and the slog to the top is a 60 meter vertical climb. Unfortunately, it is also one that can be difficult to photograph from a distance without getting a plethora of radio towers in the photo, so the historic effect is difficult to produce – I’ve hidden them behind trees with careful positioning. You can see it, day or night, from the road in either direction, many kilometers off, and if you do this at night pay close attention. The rotating light will be alternating brighter and darker, then roughly the same brightness as you get closer, then alternating darker and brighter. This is due to the aiming of the lenses on opposite sides of the light source, and provide a clue as to how close you’re getting – basically, if the lights appear the same brightness (and you’re in a ship at least,) it’s time to turn away. The pattern of the lights, and the paint job itself, also reveal which lighthouse you’re seeing and thus where you are – Bodie Island, the next lighthouse north, has simple bands and a two-flash then 27 seconds of darkness pattern.

But hey – it’s a lighthouse. There’s only so much you can do with it.

Last night’s contributions

I actually have photos from three different sessions to get to, but we’re only going to feature one right at the moment, from early last night as I stepped out to do my routine patrol of the yard. After having not seen much of the bebby Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis) since the heavy rains a few days ago, save for a token appearance on a decorative sweet potato leaf, I finally found one snoozing on the Japanese maple near the front door.

newborn Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis snoozing on leaf of Japanese maple tree
This particular spray of leaves looks a little tattered, but the tree is doing fine, it just had to weather the drought with everything else.

But wait! did you see it?

another newborn Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis snoozing on leaf of Japanese maple tree
Yes, the second anole was sleeping right alongside the first – they’re literally a hand-span apart here. This is the first I’ve seen them in close proximity – before this, they’d appeared to have somewhat specific territories, one staking out the Japanese maple and its immediate environs (which included the basil plants, one of the butterfly bushes, and the front plants with the sweet potatos,) and the other on the sidewalk pots (including two more butterfly bushes, two gardenias, and two hostas.) I’ve watched the species enough to know that, as adults at least, they move on from a favored area after a few weeks, but it’s funny to see them this close together. My initial info source claimed me that anoles only have one live offspring at a time, but Wikipedia says otherwise: the females lay a small clutch of one or two eggs, which they may do several times during a breeding season – this makes more sense. It also means these two may be siblings, so territoriality might be less of an issue, or they simply haven’t developed such a thing yet.

I’m going to depart my claim of showing pictures from last night to insert a small comparison, while I’m on the subject.

newborn American five-lined skink Plestiodon fasciatus, missing tail tip, basking on beaver-stripped stump
This is from a day previous to those above, and is the other newborn in the immediate area, an American five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus,) basking in its usual location, on a beaver-stripped trunk section that sits directly underneath the same Japanese maple. The two species have different habits and haunts, the skinks being more terrestrial, but there’s overlap, and this particular one is now missing the tip of its tail. The newborns are all comparable in size, overall not 60mm in length, though the skink seems to be just a tad more hefty than the anoles – I’m not going to get them onto a gram scale anytime soon for precise comparison. So, what took off this one’s tail tip? Was there a rumble with one of the anoles? Or just being careless with the table saw? I’ll never know.

Back to last night. With the luck in capturing the two anoles in the same frame, I had to check out the oak-leaf hydrangea in The Jungle (the varied patch near the front of the property that easily gets overgrown.) Sure enough, I found my charge there.

juvenile Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis, possibly two years old, sleeping on oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
I started finding this anole on the hydrangea a few days previous, but it’s a lot better about camouflaging itself than the others, and I may simply have been missing it before. It also appears to be noticeably longer, though not by a lot – 15mm at most – and with what I’ve seen of their apparent growth so far, this might actually be last year’s brood, possibly even one of those I was photographing then. This one stirred enough at my presence to open an eye lazily, but I suspect all they can see at such times is the glare of the headlamp as I endeavor to make as little noise as possible, and they almost always close their eyes again soon, even when the burst of the flash might make them start a tiny bit. Getting this close in daylight is much more challenging.

Very close by, I found another subject.

juvenile Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on same oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia
Curiously, this might be the same Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) that was foraging extremely close to a sleeping anole on the basil, about two weeks ago, that I eventually moved away from that location because I was concerned that it might prey on the bebby anoles. We’re talking different magnification here, since I couldn’t get as close to this one, but it’s half-again as long as the anoles, and mantids will eat just about anything. So I transplanted it to this hydrangea, before I discovered a juvenile anole staking this area out, and hadn’t seen it again until last night. They’ll just have to work it out for themselves, and while I’m fond of the anoles and want to keep them established on the property, this doesn’t mean I won’t get images if one falls to a mantis, or indeed anything else. Dedicated nature-photojournalist and all that.

We’ll go back one subject, for a variation image that I like.

juvenile Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis visible behind dried oak-leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia blossoms
Aren’t they adorable when they’re sleeping? I had to include this one for the scale detail, but just now, I went out for an accurate measurement – the anole is off foraging someplace, but the flowers are still there, and they measure 30mm across the entire blossom, about half-again as wide as your thumb. We’re still talking bitty little lizards here.

Don’t get excited

Countless media sources are trumpeting the arrival of a new “whistleblower” in the US government, which apparently is a new favorite term, since the sounds he’s producing are worse than my attempts to whistle with two fingers in my mouth – a raspy hissing noise and lots of spit. Former US intelligence official David Grusch testified, under oath now, that the US government had evidence of recovered crashed vehicles and biological remains believed to be of non-human origin. Except that he didn’t.

This is the crucial bit that is missed countless times, with countless people re-stating the testimony and its implications incorrectly. Grusch only said that he spoke with people who made the claims, and even saw reports, but did not witness a damn thing himself, in any manner. When asked for specifics, he cited “security concerns,” but would be willing to go into further details in a secure (i.e., non-publishable) session.

As a half-hearted follower of UFO and now UAP (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) reports for, literally, the past half-century, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this before, and not because of security reasons either – it’s because I’ve heard it so often that it’s impossible to tally. The big difference now is, Grusch made statements under oath – except that he refused to name anyone in particular, had no documentation to back it up, and got cagey when asked for more details, those aforementioned security concerns. But here’s the deal: if he was operating under a security classification for the US government, he’s already in violation. Such clearances do not have clauses in them remotely resembling, “You can hint, you just can’t be specific.” Not only would he be violating his oath by repeating what was said by anyone with classified intelligence, but he would be liable himself for not reporting their blabbing to the proper authorities.

Technically, he could be tried for perjury if, indeed, he was making any kind of false statements, which is what makes a lot of people assume that he really is legitimate, but think about it: what, exactly, is he going to be charged for? He’s only provided hearsay in a vague manner. You really couldn’t prove that he didn’t have someone vouchsafe such information to him – until and unless he names names, in which event there can be a distinctive case against him, as well as further charges regarding his breach of security, as well as the breaches of those he spoke with and whoever showed him the documents.

The Pentagon has denied his claims, which many people automatically dismiss as meaningless because of course they’d deny the coverup – except, they’d also deny the claims if they flatly weren’t true. What else would you expect? Oh, yeah, you’d expect them to come down like a ton of hammers onto anyone even hinting at classified information, bringing them in for questioning about who and when and where and what did you see, to root out the source of the breach – if the government did actually have the evidence that Grusch claims. With no such evidence to be had, however, you’d expect, well, exactly what we’ve seen so far.

Let’s look at all the ways that this falls apart, because I don’t expect anyone to be convinced yet.

Security clearances are strict. You violate them, you’re boned. Automatic court-martial. There’s no such thing as being off the hook at any time in your life. At the level that Grusch is implying here, not only would he be in a military prison right now, anyone that he’d had contact with would be under investigation. The US military – any military – has a specific goal to keep defense secrets from being discovered, and they don’t leave little loopholes nor allow any hint of ‘getting away with it’ to survive. You’ve heard of Julian Assange, of course. Yeah, he was an Australian journalist, not American, had no security clearance, and was seeking asylum to avoid extradition regarding the information that he’d been provided. He’s in US military custody right now, and judging from the multiple charges that continue to be leveled, probably won’t get out for a long time. Grusch wouldn’t stand a chance.

Secure information is limited to only those that need to know. Grusch being shown documents and photos would be next to impossible, because such secure information is usually limited to one room (which is why Florida Man is in so much trouble.) Secrets are limited to the fewest people possible, and documentation tends to be very sparse and not easy to abscond with. While not impossible for him to have seen something, the likelihood remains extremely low.

chart of reported UFO sightings from ESRI
Boy, the aliens really respect those invisible US borders, don’t they?

The US government is not the only one in the world. This tends to get forgotten a hell of a lot among the crowd that maintains that the government is keeping it all secret for “reasons,” (usually to avoid a panic or whatever,) but alien spacecraft could fly over, land, or crash anywhere in the world. It’s ludicrous to believe that every government can and will maintain the same standards of secrecy, especially those diametrically opposed to the US (which is no small number.) There are plenty of governments and even factions that would be happy to discredit the US in this manner, to say nothing of what they would do with their own discovered alien technology.

No government has a stranglehold on dissemination of information. It’s also ludicrous to think that, for any encounter or crash, any government would be the first and/or only witnesses, or that in our age of social media, any such evidence would somehow fail to be worldwide in a matter of hours. The “men in black” concept of immediate suppression under dire threats (that apparently Grusch was not subject to,) might have worked well as an idea thirty, forty years ago, but today? Horseshit. We’re going to come back this in better detail.

Now some of the reasons to question any UAP reports.

Extra-terrestrial life would have to come from a long ways away. The distances are hard to overstate, since they’re expressed in light-years, meaning that traveling at the speed of light, it takes a year to traverse this distance – the closest star system to us is 4.2 light years off. Physics tells us such speeds are impossible, so multiply that times whatever fraction can actually be managed. Physics also tells us how much energy can possibly be derived from any given material – that’s what Einstein’s equation means – so we actually know how much it would take to travel such distances. Long story short: it’s an incredible drain on resources just for ‘gas,’ to say nothing of life support. Highly unlikely.

Personal visits are nigh pointless. Why risk any form of personal contact, and the myriad issues that could arise from such, when observation will provide 99% of the same information? What purpose could hooning around in a planet’s lower atmosphere possibly serve? Why bother? Aren’t such things supposed to be performed by higher intelligence?

The numbers aren’t being kind. Just counting from Kenneth Arnold’s highly-publicized sighting in 1947, we’ve seen thousand of reports of UAPs in this country alone, leading people to believe that there must be something there. But among those thousands of reports, we’ve managed to advance our knowledge of extra-terrestrial life – not one fucking millimeter. Now, we have the vast majority of the populace carrying video cameras with them, and whole-sky surveys taking place every clear night from numerous observatories, and instantaneous communication throughout a populace – yet the explosion of information and knowledge that we should easily expect has not happened at all. We can triangulate on meteor sightings obtained from doorbell cameras and confirm fragments of the fucking meteorites, but alien visitation information remains as shitty as it was in the sixties. I’ll let you determine what’s wrong.

We already know how bad people are as witnesses. On average, they’re excitable, suggestible, and really, really bad about accuracy – this is what all of the programs that investigated sightings has found, over and over. But the idea of visiting aliens is fascinating and exciting, and this lets a significant bias take hold, both among the witnesses and among the general public just hearing about such things. As shown above, people usually miss the pertinent details, such as Grusch only claiming to have been told about this evidence, and yet providing nothing at all. Worse, many, many publications play fast and loose with their own interpretations and hype the hell out of simple observations of, for instance, a fireball meteor. Such publications have no accountability and have nothing to lose, no matter what they report – save if they actually malign a witness (and that will never, ever happen, even when roundly deserved.)

Note, too, that this fascination with UAP reports really puts a crimp in the idea that the government has to keep aliens secret to avoid panic and all that jazz. Not to mention that there is no evidence whatsoever that such a panic could take place – refer to the Phoenix Lights accounts if you like.

Untold numbers of accounts have turned out to be worthless. Overimaginative interpretations, really piss-poor ‘investigations,’ and witnesses that prove to be less than accurate or trustworthy have arisen time and time again. Some of the “best” bits of evidence, when subject to decent scrutiny, turn out to be completely mundane, like one of the USAF images that turned out to be a goddamn Batman balloon. It’s disturbingly pathetic, and not a good showing for our species if we are under observation by extra-terrestrial intelligence.

But here’s the real heart of it all.

The primary benefit, and goal from anyone serious, is to further our knowledge. This does not take place with unsubstantiated, single-witness events, blurry photos and video, and hearsay claims from anyone, regardless of their supposedly impeccable credentials. It takes place with hard evidence and testable, replicable results – that’s science. Until and unless such things can even remotely take place, well, we got nothing, and it’s a waste of time even paying attention to any of it.

For giggles, I looked at the transcript from Ross Coulthart’s interview with Grusch, after I wrote virtually everything above, and it failed to alter any of it. Coulthart is an Australian “investigative journalist” without an impressive track record, but worse, is currently making a living from sensationalizing UFO/UAP accounts – not exactly any kind of impartial or critical interviewer. And it showed. Grusch made the same claims as above, lacking specifics every time, and begging off with supposed clearance violations at the slightest suggestion that he back something up with more than hearsay. Not one name, not one department, not one date, not one specific example, at all. Worse, Grusch managed to include just about every tired old trope about alien technology that’s been kicked around in such circles for decades, including the appeal to “extra-dimensions” and “quantum mechanics” to allow extra-terrestrials to shrug away physics. He even repeated the hoary old claim that advanced technology was recovered from the infamous Roswell ‘crash’ site, showing that creativity is not his strong suit. Roswell is a case study in hearsay, all building on one unsubstantiated claim after another, but look at it this way: the US military has had supposed alien materials since 1947, which has allowed them to produce military technology far in advance of any other country’s and wholly remarkable in performance. Yes, that’s sarcasm.

So, here’s my prediction: Grusch will not, at any point in time, ever provide anything at all to substantiate his claims. That’s a more dependable pattern of evidence than anything else the entire field of UFOs/UAPs has managed to produce – something that most UAP enthusiasts somehow fail to notice. Hey, if I’m wrong, fine, serve up the crow – but until that time, I won’t be losing any sleep over it…

Tried to help

After a horrendous storm tonight that dropped some much-needed rain, and then a lot more too, I was checking out the environs of Walkabout Estates, noticing that the edgeworthia/paperbush was significantly happier now – it had not liked the heat at all, and no amount of water that I offered seemed to help much. Nearby, though, something odd caught the headlamp, one of those little pattern-breaking things that deserve a closer look; it wasn’t the normal leaves of a small sapling, showing the wrong shapes and colors.

newly adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis showing misshapen elytron
It was an adult Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis,) a little earlier than expected, especially since about a week ago I’d been observing one less than half this size. It was obviously having trouble with its right side elytron, which is the wing sheath that covers the flight wings. I gently detached it from the bush and then juggled it for five minutes or so in an attempt to remedy this situation, thinking that it might simply have gotten blown askew in the recent storm. The mantis did not take kindly to this, and repeatedly clutched at me with each of its foot hooks (ungues) or, if I didn’t have a firm hold of its thorax, attempted to fly away, which always resulted in a half-hearted flutter down to the ground or branch beneath it.

newly-adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with misshapen elytron
Eventually, I got a decent, yet gentle, grip on the curled elytron and determined that it was firmly shaped this way and would not simply uncurl back into proper shape. To the best of my knowledge, the mantis ran into some difficulty soon after molting into its adult form, while the wings were unfurling and drying, and the elytron settled into this shape. This did seem to be hampering its ability to fly, and I’m not exactly sure how much this would affect things. Until the final instar, adult stage, they have no wings and are strictly ambulatory, but they develop wings for a reason, likely to assist with mating in some way.

I did not have the camera in hand when I first found it, which was good in that I had the free hands to try and assist, so I had to go inside afterward and get the camera and flash rig. On returning just two minutes later, it took a little while to find the mantis even though it couldn’t fly anywhere, but that’s where these photos came from (with the new new softbox, which I’ll go into later.) The mantis was intent on making good time and scrambling among the ivy and vinca, making me work to keep up and stay focused. This doesn’t give me confidence that I’ll ever be able to find it again, but I guess we’ll see what happens.

Tripod holes 32

Wilson's snipe Gallinago delicata peeking from foliage in Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida
N 26°28’46.36″ W 80° 8’30.05″ Google Earth location

This location’s pretty precise, because I remember distinctly where I was when I spotted the bird. In fact, this represents the only time that I’ve ever spotted a Wilson’s snipe (Gallinago delicata) in the wild – there remains a slim chance that I encountered one while working in wildlife rehab, but memory tells me it was probably a woodcock instead. Zooming in and out on this location illustrates a lot, actually, and it really has to be seen to be believed. Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a wildlife and wetlands reserve smack in the middle of the overpopulated gated community area of Delray Beach, Florida, and not the place you’d go looking for wildlife photos. I’ve related my (one) experience with it before, so go there for details, and I really do need to return, but it’s not close to other areas that I target when in Florida. Plus I haven’t even been in the state for over a decade, which is embarrassing. But yeah, when you go (and you will,) make sure you’re ready for audio recording as well. Looking at the aerial photos, would you expect to find alligators? Expect to find alligators. And more birds than you can imagine – referring back to those aerial photos, I’m almost certain those white blotches on the little tussocks in the middle of the water are all birds, or at least nests.

While there, you might also want to check out Green Cay Nature Center & Wetlands, about a block west-northwest – I had not, having only found it now on the map, and it’s possible that it didn’t even exist when I was there in… 2000? Somewhere around that time. The maps will reveal portions of the ecology of south Florida, because zooming out, you’ll see Lake Okeechobee to the northwest, which gathers the water that runs through central Florida, partially from the underground caverns that funnel water down from the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, and partially because it rains horrendously damn near every afternoon in the summer in Florida (the meteorologists tell me I’m exaggerating, but the residents tell me I’m understating it.) Anyway, this water flows out of the lake into the Loxahatchee Refuge, slopping over into Delray Beach and other bordering areas, but mostly runs south to form the Everglades – really, Florida is damn wet in most areas, and it doesn’t take a sharp eye to see all of the water management efforts installed to provide a semblance of dry land to the residents and developers. And this says nothing about getting hit with hurricanes way too frequently. It’s okay to visit, the subtropics being great conditions to find more exotic wildlife than most of the country, but you really wouldn’t want to live there.

Junk drawer

Time to clean out the things that I’ve been holding onto for too long. Well, it hasn’t been that long for these, really, I’ve just been neglecting to post them in a more timely manner. So let’s do them in order, shall we?

possible pearl crescent Phyciodes tharos on butterfly bush Buddleia davidii blossoms
This is possibly a pearl crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos,) or it might be another of three or four more species that look remarkably similar but have trivial differences in markings, mostly on the underwings, which is something that makes giving the proper taxonomy for posts challenging sometimes. But let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t be the only one who made the mistake, and those who can tell the difference are likely used to it. The plant I can identify confidently, though: it’s a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii,) even if there are countless cultivars for different colors, two of which we have, and you’ll see another in a little bit. I got lucky in being able to lean in close to this one before it spooked off or simply left in that manic way of theirs. The butterfly, I mean, not the bush, which is overall pretty mellow.

Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis peeking around rose stem
Just a nice dynamic pose from one of the adult Carolina anoles (Anolis carolinensis.) I’m fairly certain that I saw this particular one scarf down a pearl crescent just two days ago, too quickly for me to snag the camera. It’s a shame, because that’s the kind of behavior that I want to capture, on video preferably, but I’m mostly to blame in that I haven’t been staking them out like I should. Heat stroke has been a real possibility in making such attempts recently, though, and thus I’ll blame it on conditions instead…

osprey Pandion haliaetus looking at photographer from nearby perch
I went down to the lake, oh, about eleven days ago, to see what could be found, and the answer was, not much – certainly nothing like the conditions from, damn, about two months back now. This osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was perched on a prominent branch and, while quite well aware of my presence, let me creep in fairly close as long as I was casual about it. The bird was disinclined to do any hunting, but its attention on the water told me that it was waiting for the right conditions.

It did eventually fly off, but while I was still remaining in my spot, and settled on a perch not too far away, and then as I was on my return leg around the lakeshore, I spooked it from there and it returned to the exact same perch, and so I backtracked slightly for another few frames, because really, there wasn’t a damn thing else going on.

osprey Pandion haliaetus not looking at photographer from nearby perch
Note the same position of the feet, too, indicating that this is a left-brained, creative type osprey rather than a right-brained analytical type. Okay, no it doesn’t, and that ‘left-brain/right-brain’ stuff isn’t a thing anyway, yet it did make me check the photo sequence to ensure that these weren’t taken at the same time, but no: 18 minutes apart, and you can see the difference in the sky and foreground pine needles anyway.

very young Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis perched on blossoms of butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
I did eventually capture one of the newborn Carolina anoles on a flower cluster of a butterfly bush, intending for a nice scale shot, but even to me it doesn’t carry the concept as well as I’d hoped, and of course if you’re not quite familiar with butterfly bush flowers you have no real idea anyway. If you’re looking at this on your smutphone, however (shame on you!), you’re probably pretty close to seeing this at life-size. Nose to tail-tip, the anole might have spanned just slightly more than your four fingers across.

eastern tiger swallowtail Papilio glaucus partaking of black night butterfly bush Buddleia davidii
This is the same eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) from the month-end post, who was endeavoring to get every possible drop of nectar from the butterfly bushes, including this ‘black night’ variety – it returned many times during the day, and visited all three bushes. I’d had a hard time establishing the butterfly bushes in the yard here at Walkabout Estates, and finally called it quits this year and transplanted all of them into big pots, whereupon they exploded with growth – they really don’t like the natural soil conditions that we have. This means, however, that the greenhouse is going to be even more full in the winter, and I suspect I’ll be building another little one for the overflow. Sheesh.

newborn Carolina anole Anolis carolinensis tucked within leaf of peach tree for the evening
You can never have too many bebby anoles, is what I always say (every morning upon rising,) and this one takes that to heart, not just by appearing here within the blogoblob but by appearing on the peach tree in the back forty, well away from the other two that I’m routinely tracking; in other words, this is a third newborn for this year. So far. The only thing we’re doing is providing lots of plants (and ‘exposure,’) but I guess it’s working. And here I didn’t think much of anyone was reading these posts, but it appears they’re popular somewhere. I’ll continue to do my part.

I am fail

Yet another holiday rears its ugly head, but this time I was unable to celebrate it, and I apologize for not letting you know sooner, but what am I, your mother? (Seriously, am I? Because there’s a period from my early thirties that is largely blank, and I suspect my memory was wiped, so who knows what I was up to?) Anyway, the holiday is (still, as I type this, so you have a chance,) International Capture A Red Sprite Day. No, it’s not about soft drinks nor communist elves, but the vague and ephemeral discharges that occasionally happen above electrical storms. There is a very slim chance that I captured a couple of vestiges a few years back, but of course that was not on the holiday. Now, I have these as a goal on my mental list constantly, but most times I haven’t the distant view of storms that is necessary, so opportunities have been scarce. But as lightning was seen sporadically to the south of Walkabout Studios, I trekked down to Jordan Lake to see what could be found.

None of the visible thunderheads were producing anything at all, however, and I could tell where the thunderheads were because the moon was quite bright and largely unobscured from my location, so it was lighting up any clouds within 40 kilometers or more. I decided to play around with this light since I’d made the trip.

great blue heron Ardea herodias herodias standing in glitter trail of full moon
I could just barely make out this heron from where I stood, and fired off a few frames to see what I could capture – this is 12 seconds at f8, ISO 400, and strictly moonlight on the water. The heron didn’t have to stand still for too long, but was nicely cooperative in that respect.

And a similar one.

moons within gently rippling water in glitter trail of full moon
I’ve passed these rocks dozens of times – they’re just rocks, nothing at all remarkable about them – but the moonlight on the water worked fairly well with them. I pretend I can do fartistic things now and then, when I’m not pretending I’m an astronaut race car driver.

The few clouds soon vanished almost entirely, and between aircraft (there was a serious buttload of planes coming in and out of Raleigh-Durham Airport, of which the lake sits in line with the approach and departure corridors,) I played around with other things by moonlight, because again, I was already there. There wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about this one, except for the interloper:

lakeside landscape time exposure shot marred by lacewing on lens
See the large indistinct blurs in the sky? Yeah, I couldn’t while framing and focusing, because it took a two-minute exposure to even show them this well, but I saw it when I chimped at the image afterward. I then took the headlamp and went around to the front of the camera to chase off the lacewing, who was wandering around on the glass during the exposure and, I found, there for a previous exposure as well. This is the second time that I’ve had insects on my lens while doing time exposures at this very location, so I suspect they’re doing it on purpose.

All of these were actually taken last night, before midnight, so weren’t even during the holiday in the first place, but I would have lied had I actually caught a red sprite. Regardless, I figured I’d exhausted my options and was packing up and heading back towards the car when I caught a dim flash of light in the sky – and then another. Cutting through a small copse of trees on a point of land, I found that many kilometers away (the far side of Raleigh,) there was an active thunderhead, so distant that no lightning could show over the horizon, but the clouds were lighting up – significantly, I might add, because I was seeing them through the trees. So, I set up the tripod aimed in that direction now.

distant storm clouds illuminated by lightning under bright full moon
Exposure times and settings were tricky, because the moon was very bright now and the sky could easily become too exposed to show much, especially of the distant storm. I hadn’t brought the long lens so this is at 135mm, and there was nothing I could do about the electrical poles in the image. This is just to show what the thunderhead itself looked like in the conditions, and is 11 seconds at f8, ISO 800 – the storm would produce two to three bursts of light within the clouds in that time, fairly dependably. But now I had my holiday opportunity! Knowing (now) that red sprites tend to happen very high above the clouds that they emanate from, I switched to vertical and much wider, to see what I could of the sky above the storm.

clear sky above active thunderhead under full moon, no sign of red sprites
Alas, despite the clear sky, the thunderhead was only 40-50° off from the bright moon with the humidity still high, so the sky would light up significantly with even relatively short exposures – this is a mere 17 seconds, f11, ISO 800, and while I only suspect that I’ve actively seen (as opposed to capturing within the camera) a sprite once or twice, I’m fairly confident they’re quite dim. Meaning this much light in the sky was likely enough to obscure them had they occurred, though I was watching carefully and saw nothing even remotely like one.

While doing this, however, it passed midnight and made it today, which meant I was now on holiday time. Motivated by this, I remained and fired off several more frames in the vague hope that I might at least find something under enhancement, but it was not to be. It will happen one of these days, because I’m determined to capture some and of course the determination of human beings transcends luck and physics – except when it doesn’t, but that’s only because someone didn’t pray hard enough. Or so I’m told…

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