Monday, April 21, 2014

Looks good enough to eat...

But having earned the name "Skunk" Cabbage, one probably should not...

Same location as most of the skunk cabbage flowers shot on March 15th but a month later (April 18th).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nothing special...

Really, there is nothing all that special about my yard. Okay, so it’s bigger than a postage stamp (just under two acres if you don’t count the driveway) and there isn’t a lawn to speak of—and what remnants of grass are left don’t get mown. Ditto for most of the lot bordering my southern side (for now—fingers crossed). There’s Green Space to the east that houses some horses but the rest is “natural” and the Farmland Trust acreage to the north is still under agriculture of a sort… Then there’s the little pond just behind the tree line and the ditches in the old hedgerow that hold enough water to classify as wetlands. Western neighbors mow; hopefully that at least keeps the woodcock happy since my tangle is getting rather too thick for their ideal enjoyment.

But native vegetation? Sweet gum trees—lots of sweet gum trees (it’s an early successional species, so they’re to be expected on farm-returning-to-natural land). The American Holly is trying to re-establish itself, as is the bayberry. A few oaks and maples, a persimmon and a young sycamore; haven’t noticed a sassafras in awhile, though. Plenty of red cedar (juniper)—around here one might not be blamed for thinking seriously about calling it a weed. But the Japanese honeysuckle and multiflora rose and that lovely thick grass along the drive (which is apparently taking over a good bit of the county open space) and the list of invasive non-natives goes on—compromise a fair portion of the vegetative mass … Flowers? Hah. Can you say “increasing deer population”? All my wood violets are in pots and even they have been grazed.

So why Gray Treefrogs (of the Northern persuasion) love my property is beyond me. I’m convinced it is solely because of my treefrog gray colored house and sheds.

I heard the first-of-the-year treefrogs half-heartedly calling last week. I’ve spent the recent too-warm-for-April-but-after-this-winter-I’ll-take-it days puttering around my decks, cleaning up last year’s accumulated mess.

I nearly cleaned up this little one thinking a dead leaf had fallen on the pot since the last time I’d looked.

A bit later, I noticed another.

(View from inside my front door.)

Heard two more close by but couldn’t track them down.

As much as I’m at a loss to explain why I have such cute little neighbors who make somewhat frequent appearances, I’m not complaining. I loved having the green treefrogs all around when I lived in Florida. At least their gray cousins have (so far) kept out of window tracks and away from that horrible inadvertent death. Of course with so many grays around already this year I’m starting to get a bit paranoid about where I step and what I move around… (I once incautiously moved a cardboard box that had been sitting long enough on the deck to turn into a nice damp skink habitat—I really didn’t need to know firsthand what happens when a wee lizard loses its tail. Eww… Fascinating, yes—no blood? How can you break off a tail and not have a raw wound???—but definitely gruesome.)

The frogs spent hours baking in the sun—apparently these wee ones can form a clear coat over their skin to protect them presumably from moisture loss and perhaps it acts as a sunscreen as well? They actually went from dull-skinned to shiny-skinned as they sat in the sun (you’d think it would be the other way ‘round) and I actually watched the one on the pipe trellis rubbing off a clear, thin membrane as the sun shifted to shade—then they moved. The one on the pot rim had tucked itself down under the moss inside and the one on the trellis moved to a lower level. And probably called—a very loud treefrog “song” just outside my front door is what drew me back outside to see where they had gone a couple of hours after I first photographed them.

I am happy to report that at least one skink is out and about as well. Life goes on after a harsh winter—for the little cold-blooded critters as well as the winged things. (That blasted carrion beetle was back again!)

SPOKE TOO SOON. I simply must learn to keep my mouth shut. The flowerpot full of moss and little gray tree frog 36 hours later:

That’s a thick layer of very large sleet pellets from the “April shower” that accompanied an overnight low of 29°F. (The good news is I didn't see the frog when the pot thawed.)

Ah, April... You misbegotten month! *grrrr*

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Welcome to my world...

Where I am mocked by, of all things, a Carrion Beetle. This carrion beetle, to be exact:

So this unknown buggish, beetlish thing landed on my deck soon after I had taken the photos of the Two-spotted Stink Bug of the previous post—and after I had (stupidly) put away the camera. Of course it was gone by the time I got back with said camera.

Fast forward to the next afternoon. *fwup* A flying thing bounced off the house wall. It was back! And when I went to get it off the deck railing, it fell to the ground and disappeared. Strike Two. I finally decided to creep through the ever-more-tick-infested yard and crouch down (making it easier for the ticks to get me) to look around for it under the deck. There it was! Of course, I now had a container in hand but no camera. And while going for the camera, the insect crawled out of the crack in the container… Strike Three.

But that wasn’t the end of it. *fwip* It landed on the house wall. And promptly ducked behind the siding. Argh!

It finally showed up again, and this time I had a new holding container. No cracks and with a lid. I had even had time to punch in air holes. And I had the camera. Success! See above photo.

And because I now had an okay shot, the damn bug taunted me the rest of the afternoon. It landed on the umbrella… “Nope, sorry, don’t need you anymore.” I went inside to fix supper—and it followed me into the house by coming in under the screen door! [All sorts of things have come in under that badly-fitting storm door, most notably skinks and a baby black rat snake that somehow made it half way up the door to wrap itself around the door handle.] I rescued the beetle before Sephy-cat could grab it and chased it back to the other side of the door. I took my soup out to the deck and what do you know? The blasted bug was on my hat that I had left outside!

It finally fell off the hat and disappeared down the crack between deck boards. Hah! I thought; let's see you get out of that.

Yes, you know what happened next. It did come back...

Yes, that’s it. Sitting. On. The. Camera.

My life in a nutshell: mercilessly teased and taunted by a Carrion Beetle. (Possibly even two, because that first one doesn't quite look like the one in the next two shots.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring Bugs.

With recent temps shooting into the seventies (yup, we’ve skipped Spring once again and headed right into Summer—no real surprise there) the creepy crawlies are out and about. And I’m not just referring to the ticks, which are pretty much a given at any time of the year. (Although in spite of much bushwhacking lately, I did not acquire my first tick bite until April 11, which has to be one of the latest dates, so even though some of the bloodsuckers survived the winter [damn], the numbers are definitely down [for now].) 

This American Oil Beetle raced past me across the sidewalk at the public library—right before the last snowfall. I like to think it would not have survived even if I hadn’t accidentally toasted it by keeping it in a little container in the warm truck before photo-documenting it. Whoops. Sorry, so sorry…

This gorgeously colored leaf-footed bug apparently spent the winter wedged between my shed door and the frame. It survived quite well enough to fly away on the warm day I took this photo. (Interestingly, there was second one nearby between the door and floor that did not make it… And no, I hadn’t stepped on it.)

I saw this beauty cruising down my deck railing and at first thought “Box Elder Bug?” because that’s what comes to mind when I glimpse a black and red creepy crawlie, but something wasn’t clicking into place... I’m glad I managed to plunk a plastic dish over it while I went for the camera, because the little bugger was not willing to stay around for a long photo session. Guess it heard about the oil beetle?

Resorted to Google and the Bug Guide for its ID, as the obvious starting point of “Black and Red Stink/Shield Bug” in my insect guide showed a critter that was definitely not this one.

Two-spotted Stink Bug, Perillus bioculatus. Even though this is a first for me, it seems to have a very broad distribution and activity period judging by the photos online. And is reportedly bred specifically to help control the Colorado Potato Beetle...

I saw another neat bug that didn’t get photographed because I didn’t tap it into a holding container. I had (stupidly) put the camera away and the bug was gone by the time I got it back… [It showed up the next day, however, and that’s a post of its own!] There was also a white moth that flew into the bathroom and then fell off the wall somewhere onto a shelf when I tried to reach it… I might be able to get a picture of it if I can find it, but I’m in no hurry as I’ve tried and failed to ID the one white moth I have found—even with top and bottom photos of it. (You’d think that they’d be easy to put a name to, given that there aren’t that many of them. Hah!)

The overwintering butterflies and early-emergers were also out, but flitted by (helped by a steady breeze) so quickly I could only guess at IDs, never mind try for pics. Come on, holly tree; I need you to get your flowers open soon to slow down the fly-bys…

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Oh, baby...

Lensbaby that is—a system of "creative lenses" for DSLR cameras. You could probably do most (most likely all if you're really, really good) of the effects in an image editing program these days, but doing the work in-camera appealed to me. That, and I figured the learning curve on the lenses would be less than the learning curve on the software. (Not to mention less time consuming: Point and shoot, or sit and fiddle for hours…)

I hate learning curves. It's probably the reason I don't play an instrument—I hate to practice.

I have good beginner's luck, though. Fourth shot off with the new lens:

Then I get cocky and think "I can do this!" and I start to play around and it all goes downhill from there… [Ask me about the one and only time I tried downhill skiing.]

But from the first 68 attempts I managed a few keepers, some technically-okay-but-not-interesting, a few near misses, and a few dozen I'm not even going to bother to post. (Ouch. Reality Check.)

Missed the exposure and focus by a smudge, dang it. Photoshop (Elements) to the rescue! I know how to lighten, darken and sharpen…


Yeah, fudged that one a bit, too.

And these… Two shots with nearly the same composition but with different exposures making the color saturation come out markedly dissimilar. Kinda like the effect myself; it conveys two totally different moods of what is, essentially, exactly the same photo…

Eh, I think one out of twenty or so shots is a good average for the first time out with a new gadget. And I'm so very grateful for the digital technology--I would never have started to shoot if I'd only had film to work with…

I am also very grateful to have such gorgeous, patient and captive models on which to practice. This one is my Cassandra. A real handful much of the time (gotta love that torbie cattitude!), but she sure knows how to vogue...

What, exactly, does the creative lens do? Compare a normal shot from one of my "regular" lenses, an 18-55mm zoom set at 36mm and f5 with the Lensbaby shot (Sweet 35) set somewhere around f4 or f5.6 (the lenses don't communicate with the camera body, so I have to be more diligent about start recording what settings I'm using)...

Of course the new toy had to be returned because I received duplicate lenses in the kit instead of the two different ones it was supposed to contain. Argh. Sigh. At least the snow that had followed a few hours behind the UPS truck (easily 7 inches, probably more) meant I had a day to play (because I was sick of clearing off the truck and the wind was too nasty to want to go out in yet more snow).

But B&H Photo had a new kit in my hands exactly a week later.

Naturally, we are currently trapped in that horrible in-between season where it is no longer Winter (I can't believe I'm saying that) but Spring is being a bit timid about appearing (can you blame her? Every blooming thing out there is waiting for Winter to reappear, say Gotcha and laugh evilly)... So what does one do when one needs to practice and is tired of annoying her cats? Why, sit outside on a sunny afternoon in that still-low, glowing light and just start shooting whatever is on hand. Like a rock. And a piece of that wow-it's-already-green moss. And a marble. And oh, I have those cool ceramic mushrooms in the house...

Still life!

This is a learning curve I might enjoy...