Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fossil Creek

I have walked the length of most of the creek where I found the shell fossils and at some places, the
creek banks are simply sand or clay while at other places, the creek runs through harder rock layers. Here are a few photos where you see fossils in the stream bottom

Over time, the erosive action of freeze/thaws and heavy rains break up the rock layers and heavier
rains begin to carry the smaller rocks down stream.

The fossil rocks are easy to spot although if they are face down, the back side is usually just plain rock in appearance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I found this beautiful fossilized scallop in a local stream.  It is a little more than two inches long. It may look rough, but it is actually very smooth. You can tell from looking at it that it consists of clay mud hardened into rock.  As it turned out, when I began looking around, there were many small fossilized shells and other forms of sea life.  I believe this is called a fossil pecten.  It was the first one I found and I have kept it on my desk ever since.  What really touched my imagination was when I realized I was almost certainly the first to have ever laid eyes on it despite it having lived thousands of years ago.

The first fossil described from North America came from Maryland.  Scientists Cliffs, here in Calvert County, is one of the main fossil outcrops in this region.  The whole area is thought by scientists to have been underwater during the Miocene era.  The whole area is thought by Bible believers to be more evidence of a universal flood in the not-so-distant past.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Assassin Bug

I spotted an assassin bug on our back deck one afternoon - although I didn't know what it was at the time.  I had only seen a few similar bugs in the past.  There are quite a few different species that don't necessarily look the same.  They can have different colors as well as shapes.  One thing they all do have in common is that big feeding tube for a mouth which they use to inject saliva into their prey to liquify it, then suck out its insides.  If bitten, the bite can be very painful and, in some cases, what wikipedia called "medically significant." 

Some of these photos look like two different bugs, but they are all the same one.  The white hairs showed up more on some photos than others.

The hairs serve to keep the prey stuck to them.

The long, probe-like mouth is also seen better in some images than others.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ant on a Peony

I used my junk telephoto to take this image combined with a close-up lens and an extension tube.  A close-up lens looks like a slightly thicker clear filter that can be screwed onto the front of any lens having the same thread size. It is relatively inexpensive way to convert a normal lens for close-up photography.  I had also placed an extension tube between the lens and the camera body.  An extension tube is just what it says, a tube having no glass, so it has no effect on the amount of light entering the camera.  It allows you to use a lens at much closer distances to the subject, however, and that is what I was using it for.  I was shooting at a very small aperture to gain as much depth of field as possible.  The trade-off is you have to use a slower shutter speed which will amplify any movement, so I was using a tripod and trying to catch the ant when it was still.

Peonies are very attractive to ants, although I'm not sure why.  I like the effect of a lone ant against the wall of color in each individual petal.  This was one of only a few frames where the ant stayed still enough to get the image without blurring it's movements.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Success or Failure?

I had a 100 mm macro lens on my camera on this day and was filming ants on the peonies.  This ant was about the same size as the ones I have posted over the last few days - maybe a little less than one-half inch from head to tail.  This gives you some idea of how shallow depth of field is when shooting close up like this.  Just as I took the shot, the ant turned, walking away from me.  Before it turned, it's entire body was in focus because the plane of focus is parallel to the front of the camera.  To get enough light without using flash, I had the camera aperture wide open, meaning depth of field was minimal to begin with.  It also means things out-of-focus are very soft, and I like that look.  But, the lesson here is how shallow depth of field can be with close-up photography and how little of the ant - even at half-an-inch - is in focus. 

I was going to initially pitch the image, but after studying it for a moment, I liked it.  I thought it gave a clue to how large a world even a flower is to an ant.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Ant Story

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos depicting the story I am going to relate.  The incidents took place at work and I never had the chance to film them.  It began when I pointed out to my boss how some ants in the grass just off the sidewalk were dismantling someones cast-off from a fast food establishment and taking the pieces back to their nest.  Over the course of that summer, we "fed" them several times and it was amazing to watch their labor in harvesting the food we would leave for them.

One day, my boss donated a generous piece of cake.  Over the course of the next few days, the ants didn't take it away (it was too large to do that) but, instead, buried it - or should I say - covered it with dirt, so that they could dismantle it out of sight.  On other occasions, we watched as they would work in unison, an entire "platoon" of ants moving a piece together.  There were even ants on top of the food while others were moving it.  That begs the question, How did they communicate with each other to all move it at the same time and in the same direction?

I am reminded of Proverbs 6:6-8 in the Bible which says, "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer or ruler, she prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ant Farming IV

In this photo, you can see some of the aphids that were under the care of the ants.  Aphids are more complex than you might imagine.  Wikipedia has a good write-up on them if you are interested.  Some lay eggs while others give birth to live offspring.  Some can develop offspring that have wings as the need arises to move to another food source. How weird is that?  The weather turned cold shortly after I was done filming.  When it did, the ants disappeared, leaving the aphids to fend for themselves.  At that point, the lady bugs moved in and ate the farm!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ant Farming III

On the second day I spent filming the ants, I noticed an aphid that had left the flower and was a couple of miles away (in aphid miles) from the farm, sitting on the stem of another flower.  One of the ants approached and seemed to talk over why the aphid wanted to leave, and where was he to go if he did.  After talking to it with it's antennae for some time, the aphid turned around and returned to the underside of the flower.  Now, that was pretty amazing to watch.  The ant, appearing very weary (droopy antennae), returned to a stem where a couple of other ants were waiting and seemed to tell them about what the aphid had decided.  At least, that is how it appeared.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ant Farming II

Some species of ants have a symbiotic relationship with aphids.  In exchange for protection from the ants, the aphids allow the ants to "milk" them for the sap they produce from eating plants.  Scientists in England recently discovered the ants control the aphids using a chemical in their feet.  I also witnessed the ants "milking" the aphids with their antennae.  The aphids were of more than one species.

Think about what has to take place in establishing a "farm."  The ant has to not only communicate it's desire to have the aphid work for it, but also has to be able to direct them to the plant it wants farmed.  It also has to some way ensure that the aphid will not just fly off on it's own.  Its all pretty amazing what takes place under our feet without us even being aware of it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Depicting an Ant's World II

Another feature I wanted to capture to convey the spirit of the place ["genius loci" - see yesterday's post] was a yellow bloom in the background that very much reminded me of the sun.  Capturing the ant in the right place and with the right "expressiveness" in it's antennae was not as easy as it might seem.  Yes, they did travel up and down the stem many times in the course of the shoot, but their antennae might be in an ackward looking postion or they might go down the backside of the stem (note the second ant) or any number of things.  So, there was a lot of patience involved in waiting for the right shot.

I often wonder how our vision compares to something such as an ant.  Can an ant see as far as we can?  If it were on your shoulder, could it see the entire flower patch like you do, or would it reach the limit of it's vision and not be able to see anything distinctly at that distance?  When it looks out over the blossom's edge, does it see a confusing forest of stems and leaves or does it have a very solid sense of where it is and where it's home lies?  Silly questions?  I don't know.  It certainly adds wonderment and something close to the joy a child must have in discovering new things in a new world.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Depicting an Ant's World

So, how would you depict an ant's world?  It is funny, I wrote the previous question and decided to take a break to think about what I wanted to say.  While "breaking," I read a short article that used a
term I had never heard before, but which exactly expresses the idea I wanted to convey.  The term is "genius loci," which means, "the spirit of the place." 

Today's image is one of my favorite photos from this series.  It conveys the idea of what a big world a small flower patch can be to something so small as an ant.  I took quite a few with the ant looking out over the edge of the blossom, but the one that makes this the winner is the position of it's antennae.  It is as if the ant is getting some important information it needs through it's antennae.  In other photos the antennae were not as "expressive" and, in some, they are hardly seen at all.  That is because when you are shooting close-ups like this, even a millimeter can be the difference between a sharp image and a picture headed for the trash can.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ant's Eye View

It is hard to figure what interests people.  I am coming up on a year of doing this blog and, in that time, have posted photos from a wide range of subjects.  Some have been aesthetically beautiful (at least, in my opinion) while others may not have been good photography, but still caught some interesting activity. 

One of the nice things about is it gives you access to information about visitors to the site.  Not specific information, but general.  Like, what countries are represented among visitors (15 to date, including Kyrgyzstan! and the small country of Latvia.  It also shows how many times a page has been viewed.  The two highest pages (and this is what is hard for me to figure) is the dragonfly (Feb. 6), which has gotten three times more hits than the second nearest, which is the snapping turtle in the mud (Sept. 23).

Maybe the interest stems from the ability to see close-up something people don't normally have a chance to examine.  So, for a while, I thought I would concentrate on macro photography.

I liked this image of an ant looking out over "the abyss" from the time I took it.  The leaf it was on was about four feet off the ground.  I always wonder what it might have been thinking.  Of course, an ant could fall from the top of a high tree and probably not get hurt, but if a human were to fall from a proportionate height, they had better be wearing a parachute.

You cannot take macro images with any consistency of sharpness while handholding the camera.  The depth of field is too shallow.  The slightest movement can cause the photo to go from pin sharp to completely out of focus.  On this day, I was using a tripod, altered to serve as a monopod.  That at least gave me stability in one direction.  You have to have some maneuverability because insects can move surprisingly fast, so that is why I was using it as a monopod rather than a tripod.  In this case, one leg is better than three.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ant Farming

We had a mild autumn a few years ago and frost had not yet killed the flowers in late October.  My grandson had planted some wild flowers in the bed in front of the porch and I noticed some ants farming aphids on some of the coreopsis blossoms one day.  I didn't have a macro lens at the time, so I used my piece-of-junk 75-300mm lens with a Canon extension tube.  The extension tube is relatively inexpensive and allows you focus closer than is possible with just the lens itself. 

I ended up spending the entire weekend filming these ants, trying to communicate what the world looks like from an ants point of view while also trying to concentrate on making visually interesting
compositions.  The ants were actually pretty fascinating to watch.  I'll post a few more over the next
few days.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Friesians IV

This is one of my favorite images of Enya, the adult Friesian.  It shows how well conformed Friesians are.  Taking photos of dark subjects can be problematic since there can be such a difference between the brightest and darkest parts of a photo.  I should have added some extra exposure to the setting I used to make sure there was plenty of detail in the darkest parts of the image.  At least, that is what I would do if I had it to do over.  Also, I might have waited a split second longer for the foal to clear the front of the mother so that there was better separation between the two.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Friesians III

Here are two other Friesians that my friend owns.  The smaller one is a yearling.  She was curious and came over to greet me when I first arrived.  The older female didn't like it,  however, and got in between me and the younger horse and guided her away from me.  The ears are pinned back, a sign that she was unhappy, but I'm not sure whether she was upset with me or with the young horse.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Friesians II

Here is another photo of the Friesian and her foal.  It shows the mother's protective nature.  She is keeping the foal in the middle of the paddock, guiding her with her head to keep her from getting too near horses in neighboring paddocks.  Some of the horses in surrounding paddocks seemed to have had a keen interest in the foal and the mother really took a dislike to a pony in one of them.

Monday, February 13, 2012


A friend of mine raises Friesian horses.  He has allowed me to film some of the foals soon after arrival.  This one is two days old.  Friesians originally come from the Netherlands and are almost always black.  The foal has it's "baby fur," but this will eventually turn black too.  The two were at a veterinarian's farm for the birth and this was the foal's first outing.  They were taken into a paddock with other horses in other paddocks all around and the mother was very protective of the foal, keeping her in the middle of the paddock away from the other horses.

Being very nimble and having great presence, they make wonderful dressage horses.  I was reminded of this recently when I saw a video clip of a Friesian performing to a Riverdance number.  The video clip can be found here:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Morning Light

Here is another photo I took while fishing with my brother. A peaceful image, I particularly like the
play of light on the water.  With water, I have found if the light is ugly in one direction, it is usually
much better in the exact opposite direction.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

You Could See this One Coming

I knew this gull was going to drop the fish before he did.  There was just something about the lackadaisical way he was handling it.  For one thing, some birds have enough sense to take their catch to a spot where, if they do drop it, they can recover it.  For example, I watched a snowy egret one morning catching fish and, each time he caught one, he would bring it back up on the beach where he could easily pick it up if it fell - which a few of them did.  The gull could have easily landed on the dock instead of the piling but, no, he had to land in a spot where, if he dropped the fish, it was going back in the water.  And, sure enough, after fooling with it a little bit, it fell.  It is also possible that he realized the fish was too large to swallow and simply decided to drop it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Carolina Wren

There are nine species of wren, but the most common one - at least in this vicinity - is the Carolina wren.  A small bird, they almost always have their tails raised above their heads, which is a pretty good way of identifying them since I cannot think of another species of small, brown bird that will do that.  They are fast, inquisitive, joyful birds that actually enjoy being around human dwellings where they often take advantage of some structure to use as a nest - a hanging basket, a cardboard box, the cap to a propane tank - all of which have been used here around our home.

This photo is one of my favorite images of a wren.  It was also taken on the tree that fell over the deck.  It was shot with the telephoto that never quite focused right, but I don't mind it in this picture.  It did render the background into an interesting abstract with enough blur to keep the main subject as the point of interest.  The early morning light gives the picture a warmth it would not have had if it had been taken later in the day.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Audie Murphy

Today... something a little different.  Someone sent me an email about the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington.  In reading it, I was reminded of a visit our family made to pay our respects to my wife's parents who are buried there.  While there, we also visited the amphitheater where the tomb of the unknown soldier is guarded twenty-four hours a day, year round.  We were looking at graves on the entrance side of the tomb when, to my surprise, I came across the headstone of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier from WWII.  What surprised me was that his grave marker was no different than a thousand other tombstones in the cemetery.

It is unlikely anyone younger than my generation even knows who he was, which is a shame.  His amazing bio can be found on Wikipedia.  After the war ended, he went on to star in Hollywood movies, including one called, "To Hell and Back," which is kind of strange because he played himself in the movie.  He died at a rather young age (47) in a plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia.

The Initials on his grave stone stand for the following:
DSC = Distinguished Service Cross
SS = Silver Star
LM = Legion of Merit
BSM = Bronze Star Medal
PH = Purple Heart
OLC = Oak Leaf Cluster

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Downy Woodpecker

The downy woodpecker is the smallest of the woodpeckers found on the east coast and is about the size of a titmouse.  Except for a small patch of red on the crown of the male, both male and female are a mix of black and white barring on top and mostly white underneath.  The hairy woodpecker looks very similar, but is quite a bit larger.  The hairs around the base of their bill are more noticeable than other woodpeckers.  It is to protect their eyes from sawdust when they are pecking at trees.  The tail is used as a prop like this one is doing with it's tail.  They are also attracted to peanut butter, which is what this one is eating. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hit 'Em, Hit 'Em Hard!

When I first started going down the river, I would see red-wing blackbirds chasing birds and thought
that they must have transgressed and crossed their nesting area.  After a while, I realized the blackbirds
just enjoy pecking these large birds simply for the fun of it.  It doesn't matter how big the bird - osprey,
eagle, great blue heron - or what they are doing, they will chase them and peck their backs knowing that
the target is too large to maneuver and go after them.  I have seen osprey and eagles in the midst of a
dive for a fish out in the middle of the river being harassed by RWB's.  They just seem to enjoy doing

Monday, February 6, 2012


I was bored one morning at the river and mounted a macro lens and a tele-extender to the camera and went looking for something to shoot.  There is a race of dragonflies down there that are an orangy-red color and, early in the morning before the sun touches the marsh grasses, they can be found resting on grass stems.  Once the sun hits the grasses, you see them fly out over the river in wave after wave.  Its kinda interesting.

Anyway, the trick is to get a non-distracting background.  They can be approached if you move very slowly.  Using a large aperture, in this case f/2.8, nicely blurred the background into a sea of green, allowing the dragonfly to stand out.  The little appendages just under the head remind me of the ones that came out of the chest of the aliens in the recently released movie, "Cowboys and Aliens." 

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Bufflehead female stretching her wings

Where have all the sea ducks gone?  They were here through most of December, although not in great numbers, but you would be hard pressed to see any now.  We are having an unusually mild winter like most of the East coast and the owner of the dock where I have permission to shoot speculated that was the cause when I spoke with him this past week. 

I wonder if it isn't a lack of food, however.  Some events can take an extended time to unfold, years in some cases.  Decades ago, Hurricane Agnes devastated the submerged aquatic vegetation native to the Bay.  In some cases, the grasses never did recovered.  This past summer, Hurricane Irene dropped an enormous amount of rain on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  From NOAA satellite images, it was startling to see the amount of soil being carried into the Bay from the Susquehanna, Potomac and other rivers.  The silt itself can create large die-offs of submerged grasses, but the infusion of Nitrogen run-off also creates algae blooms and dead zones that devastate the food chain, starting with the smallest dinoflagellates and working its way up the food chain.  I suspect the lack of ducks has more to do with Irene than the mild winter.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

So What Am I Looking At?

I was vacationing with my brother a couple of years ago on Smith Mountain Lake, a highland lake in
central Virgina.  I was bored to tears.  We were up in a cove catching nothing.  I finally decided to put the rod down and pick up the camera instead.  But what to film?  I settled on photographing the water - or at least the reflections created by the water.  Part of the fascination of reflections is that they are constantly changing because of the ever changing light as well as water and wave  movement.  This reflection is so perfect, it might be mistaken for the real thing.  I turned the photo 180 degrees so that it would be a little harder to guess.  Below is the reflection as it actually appeared.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sunrise Over the Bay

I have always been ambivalent about this photo. All the photographic "rules" were followed. The
horizon is not in the center of the photograph so as not to create a static impression, but it is static
anyway. The subject has been reduced to it's simplest elements - water, sky, and bird. It was taken at
dawn when the lighting was at it's peak. Still, I'm not sure I like it. For those who may not have seen
this illusion before, the objects along the horizon are actually the land on the eastern shore of the bay.
At the slight angle of view, the light reflecting off the water creates an optical illusion which makes it
look as though the far shore is floating in air. And that may be the only interesting thing that saves this image.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Opportunity Knocks II

Some bird species routinely use a tactic called kleptoparasitism to obtain food.  They would just as soon steal food as find it themselves.  Gulls may be at the top of the list for using this tactic, although eagles are also known for this.  I have seen gulls expend much more energy chasing another gull with a fish all over creation rather than go catch a fish themselves.

One tactic they use in the winter is to fly over a raft of scaups or buffleheads and wait until one of these diving birds comes up with a crustacean or shellfish and try to steal it from them.  The ducks know they are constantly trying to do this so, when a gull swoops in, they will often dive underwater.  That is what is going on in this photo.  The splash under the gull isn't from the gull, but from the duck that is diving back underwater.  You can see the tips of it's wings as it is going under.  If you look closely, you can also see the scaup to the right of the gull has something from the bottom in it's mouth also.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Opportunity Knocks

Gulls are very opportunistic as anyone in a mall parking lot knows.  They are not above begging, stealing or borrowing - although I'm not completely sure about the latter.  Gulls, of course, have webbed feet, so there are certain places you won't see them.  Sitting on a telephone wire or on a tree branch, for example.  So, I was amazed a couple years ago when I saw some gulls solve the problem of harvesting the fruit from a Bradford pear.  They were using their wings in a strong wind to stay in place next to branches so that they could pick the haws without landing.  Is that smart, or what?  You can see where the one on the left has dropped the fruit it had just picked.  You have to admire their ingenuity.