Sunday, August 31, 2008

Exploring the Depths of Little Pond

I promised that I would share part of of trip to Little Pond through video. For this the aquapac came to good use.

Here I am jumping into the dark water of little pond, straight off the dock. The water is fairly cool, enough to take your breath away. Only after about a minute does my breathing come back to normal.

I head to the shallow, peaty waters of the edge of the bog, and then swim through the water lily, watershield, bladderwort, and bull-head lily. This is where the bass, sunfish, and chain pickerel lurk.

I swim out to the dock, with the camera going, catching Megan by surprise. She really doesn't know what to say, but she did a great job. I try to say "hello" through my snorkel.

And finally, after I think this one is funny. I think I inherited from my father the ability to take long movies of the ground when I really think the camera is off. Before they had auto off features in video cameras, my dad was famous for filming large sections of grass during my soccer games. Well here, I was in the water, and I get out of the water. The aquapac is a bag that has a shoulder strap. See if you can interpret what is going on. An interesting look into a two minutes of my life.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Exploring Little Pond, Maine, in the Rain

I bought this little water proof bag called an aquapac to take my digital point and shoot underwater. It served as a great tool for me while I was hiking and exploring little pond in the rain. First on foot, then by canoe. There is something magical about hiking and naturalizing in the rain, and this is the first time I was really able to capture that experience in images, thanks to the aquapac. By the time I captured the last three images, the rain had subsided, and I removed the camera from the bag. Tomorrow, I'll take you underneath the surface of little pond to explore the depths of the waters.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Count the Baby Turtles

My co-worker, Steve Harvey, preserve manager of Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, sent me this photo of hatchling snapping turtles on the beach at one of Ohio's most famous natural areas. How many turtles do you see? Clicking on image will reveal the turtles at full resolution. Summer is winding down, and hatchling turtles are a sure sign that fall will soon be in the air.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Attack of the Cicada Killer

My co-worker Rick Gardner, one of the best botanists in the State of Ohio, was botanizing recently at Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve in Adams County, Ohio, when he heard a cicada buzzing on the ground. "What could be happening?" he must have thought. Sure enough, when he moved in for a closer inspection, a cicada was being viscously attacked by a female cicada killer wasp (most likely Sphecius speciosus, but I'm not expert on wasps!) He captured this excellent video of the attack.

Here are a few things that I have learned about these creatures, mostly from Prof. Chuck Holliday's Cicada Killer Page:

-Females dig burrows in sandy soils.

-Females catch and stun cicadas by stinging them and slashing their throats, as this individual is doing.

-Males cannot sting.

-The females carry back the stunned cicada to their nests, put them in an individual cell, lay an egg in the cicada, then cover the cell.

-A grub hatches in a few days and feeds on the cicada (i am unclear at which point the cicada actually dies, however, I'm guessing this occurs after it gets sealed off by the female).

- The cicada killer spends only 10% of its lifetime as an adult.

- Its life cylce is completed in one year.

- They emerge as adults just before annual cicada start flying, therefore they are not predators on periodical cicadas, which hatch much earlier in the year.

-They range throughout the eastern United States.

I only recently learned about this species thanks to a hike led by Jim Bissell in northern Ohio. A group of us encountered a sandy lawn on the floodplain of the Vermillion River that had hundreds of cicada killers flying low above the ground, and we even found a paralyzed swamp cicada that had been dropped. Perhaps the most interesting thing about seeing this species in real life is realizing just how huge they are. Aren't insects fascinating?


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sugar for Hummingbirds and People

Upon arriving in Maine, it was quite wet. The landscape was lush and green, but still wet, and a misty rain continued to fall during the afternoon as Megan and I rode with her father and brother to pick up some "Beeah" (that would be beer) in the touristy and historical Old Port section of Portland Maine. It was wet. I wasn't going to be taken my new fancy lens that I had rented from this day. But upon arriving at Little Pond, I stepped out onto the back porch of the house which faces down towards the marsh, and saw a hummingbird feeder hanging from the edge of the roof, full of syrupy goodness.
Sure enough, as I looked left, there was a female ruby-throated hummingbird resting on a lichen covered snag. I popped on the telephoto lens and fired off a few shots.
After watching her a few minutes, she came to the feeder. I was ready with my flash.

Like a lightning bolt, another hummer darter towards the feeder, but this afternoon, this was a one-hummer feeding station. It seemed as if this female had laid claim to this feeder. I watched for thirty minutes as other hummers made dozens of attempts to alight on the perches, and the female continually chased them away.
The rain continued through the evening and night, and to the next morning. Just a little "Scotch Mist" was falling, according to my father-in-law, but it was still quite wet- too wet to take out a $1000 piece of glass that I was renting, but I still wanted to use it. There is no reason I couldn't have the hummers acclimate to my presence, stand about five feet from the feeder, and get decent shots with the 55 mm lens I was using, and perhaps crop the images a bit. So I tried this, using the lens wide open at F 2.8, and got several shots that I was happy with. Not using flash, I was able to get just enough motion stopped so that the head and bodies of the hummer is in focus, but the wings and tail show blur.

After getting slightly bored of taking hummer photographs, I walked to the kitchen, where Megan had been busy since waking up creating a fresh batch of whoopie pies, a Maine dessert curiosity. Here she is laying them out on the countertop to cool. I contributed to this baking effort by eating a few to make sure that had come out properly, and I can attest, they were delicious, even though they weren't quite yet finished. The pie is like a sandwhich, with two of these cookie type things on the outside with a thick layer of cream filling. They are superb creation, and Megan's were no exception. These were headed to the welcome gift bags each group of guests received upon arriving for the wedding weekend.But as I was in the kitchen, I noticed that Glenn and Kate had hung another hummer feeder just outside the right window behind Megan. They've had this feeder before, but the window has a screen on it, so I just never considered capturing hummer images from the kitchen. On further inspection of the screen, I realized that I could pop it out by releasing two levers. It was off very quickly, and after a wipe of the glass with Windex and paper towels, I was ready.
This was a tough place for the hummers to acclimate to me, because I was less than a foot away from the feeder. It took them a little while, and this one hovered peering into the window at me and the camera.
Finally, what looks like a male hummer (he doesn't have white-tipped tail feathers) was brave enough to land, although the female arrived quickly to chase him away.
In the end, I was just two close to the kitchen feeder, so I headed back out to the porch, but this time, I though, why not use flash with the new lens, and see what happens. I got the best results yet, and after this round of pictures, I was satisfied.

The aerial maneuvers and interactions between individuals is fairly incredible.

Toward the end of my observation, it seemed as if the female had lost her grasp as sole user of this feeder, and finally, several hummers enjoyed the sugary food together.