Saturday, July 31, 2010

House Wren

We've enjoyed the company of a family of house wrens the past three summers in our backyard.  This year, the wrens moved in a little later- perhaps this pair had nested somewhere else earlier in the season.  The chirps of the chicks kept getting louder as their mouths got bigger- so I just couldn't wait any longer to try to get a photo of their parents.

House wrens may be small, but they're really interesting birds with plenty of interesting behaviors. One of the parents visits the nest box every few minutes, each time bringing their offspring some new food item that they captured in our neighborhood.  They bring spiders, moths, caterpillars- anything that they can catch.  In the hour or so that I watched and photographed them, this green prey item was by far the largest brought to the nest.  I'm not exactly sure what it is- perhaps a grasshopper sans wings, head, and legs?  Maybe a katydid?

Yesterday evening I checked the nest box -and it was silent- the wrens had fledged.  Hopefully we'll see them again next year.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Stumbling Upon Miracles

A few days ago, Jim McCormac posted his find of a transforming lyric cicada in West Virginia- an amazing encounter and equally superb photographs by Jim.  I was inspired.  In the comments for Jim's post, filmmaker Opposable Chums queried "how DO you manage to stumble upon these miracles?".  I know how Jim does it- he is constantly looking for these types of very things- and let me tell you, he's not stumbling.

A few weeks ago I was walking out of the Cedar lodge at Batelle Darby Metropark with  Jim after the evening programs.  I'm chatting with him as I walked down the sidewalk and suddenly I realize he wasn't there anymore.  He stopped outside the door, in the twilight hours, and was checking out the hundreds of insects that had been attracted to the porch light.  I completely blew by the light- I wasn't in nature mode.  But Jim was- he is constantly looking for Nature's miracles.

Today, Megan, Weston and I attended the Ohio State Fair and Weston led me to a small miracle.  We targeted a shady area by a little leaf linden to let him out of the stroller and burn some energy.  After a round of chasing daddy around the tree, Weston picked up sticks and was hitting them against the bark of the tree trunk.  

As I was watching him do this, I discovered a shed cicada larval exoskeleton clinging to the tree.  I gave it to Weston, but he didn't recognize it as anything more than a dead leaf.  Soon after he discarded it, I realized that there were several more exoskeletons- and that two freshly hatched cicadas were clinging to the tree right in the middle of the Ohio State Fair. As I nudged the lower of the two, he intently watched as it crawled upwards.  As I scanned around the tree more intently, I found another cicada, this one much younger with its electric green blood coursing through its new body.

I'm constantly surprised by how nature is all encompassing- even in the middle of a city like Columbus.  Today it was Weston that reminded me that if we keep eyes and ears open to the world around us, we just never know what miracles of nature we might stumble into.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Macro Nature Photography for the Canon Camera System

This post is primarily me pontificating on camera gear and techniques- it's different from my usual post, but if you like it, I might discuss nature camera gear and offer photography tips more frequently.  All images here were taken with the recently discontinued Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG IF HSM APO.  -Tom

Up until Friday afternoon, I was taking my insect photographs with a variety of lenses.  I use the Canon system, and my primary go-to macro lens was the ef-s 60mm f/2.8 which is designed for Canon's line of crop sensor cameras like the Rebel series and the XXd series (30d, 40d, 50d, and now the 7d).  The Canon 60mm ef-s lens is small, light, extremely sharp, and focuses quickly.  Perhaps the best feature about the lens is that it is small enough to use my digital rebel's on-board popup flash, which I often diffused with tissue paper or bounded downwards with a small reflector.  Using this setup, I could get quick, easy photographs of small insects.

However, the downside of this lens is that I had to have the camera very close to my subjects.  This worked out OK, but I often would scare the insect that I was trying to photograph and it would fly away.   For dragonfly and butterfly photography, I was using telephoto lenses that could get me fairly large magnifications, especially if I cropped the images a little bit.  But I often couldn't fill the entire frame with a small butterfly or damselfly- and I certainly couldn't get super tight close-ups with mega-detail like yesterday's powdered dancer and prey image.

So I needed another option.  I needed a telephoto macro lens.  Canon makes such a lens, the 180mm f/3.5L, a super duper lens that is currently selling for $1300.  Although I have no doubt this is an incredible lens, I just didn't want to spend that much cash, especially when a seemingly viable alternative exists.  After looking at example photographs and reading a review by Juza, I decided that the Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG IF HSM APO Macro in a Canon mount would help me get the type of photographs that I wanted.

This lens was recently discontinued by Sigma, but B&H photo is still selling new copies.  Since I am "cheaping out" on this lens in the first place, I decided to look for a used copy, and sure enough, KEH camera brokers had what I was looking for.  I placed my order, and my lens arrived Friday afternoon.

After a few dozen shots and copious "chimping" (photographer's speak for looking at photos on the back of your camera), I knew I was going to love this lens.  The sharpness is amazing, and so is the color and contrast.  And after some concerns that the lens would be to big and heavy, I found it to be quite light compared to my Canon 100-400L.  And I could simply get images that I couldn't get with any of my older lenses.

The Sigma 180 isn't an easy lens to use- the depth of field is extremely narrow and the long focal length mean I'll need to use a tripod, have great light, or use high ISO's.  But only after a weekend shooting with this new lens, it's just amazing!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Powdered Dancer, Prey

Powdered Dancer, Prey, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.

Olentangy River- The dragons don't seem to mind today's heat.


Cabbage White

Cabbage White, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.

I'm playing with a new toy this morning (i mean tool! it's a tool!). I'm going to like this new lens, it's crazy sharp.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Common Raven

Common Raven, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.
Common ravens are extremely rare here in the Buckeye State. In fact, they were completely gone from the state as confirmed breeders until 2008, when a nest was found in Jefferson County in extreme eastern Ohio. In the Maine Woods of Oxford County, ravens are a common sight- this one was part of a pair that soared right above the clearing around my in-law's home.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Common Yellowthroat

Some animals at Little Pond Maine are things that we just don't see here in Ohio, while others are common in both places. The bog that rims the pond is full of both male and female common yellowthroat warblers. The male has a bold black mask, while the female completely lacks this feature. If you'd like to see common yellowthroat warblers in Ohio, look for them in scrubby, shrubby areas, especially near water and wetlands.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Slaty Skimmer, Pickerel Weed

Those four words have a nice rhythm to them- the amalgam of insect and plant.  I'm back from Maine, and although I'd love to spend an hour typing why this was our worst trip to "vacationland" ever, I just don't have the energy.  I'm home, with a freak summer cold, while Megan and Weston recover from the same virus in Maine.  Weston's cold developed into an ear infection and we had to take him to the emergency room Saturday morning after two mostly sleepless nights and near nonstop screaming.  My brother-in-law likened it to the high pitch squeals from the Velociraptors in the movie Jurassic Park.

Megan and Weston delayed their travel plans to give Weston more time to recover before the pressure changes of the airplane.  And it's a good thing they did, because my ears are still sore from today's flight.

While in Maine, I did get out a bit to photograph mostly dragonflies.  I have been feeding you a steady stream of odonates, I hope you enjoy these amazing bugs.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Female Eastern Pondhawk

It's hard to believe this is the same species as yesterday's dragon, but it is.  This is a female eastern pondhawk, which looks completely different from the male.  This is one of the most easily recognizable dragonflies in Ohio, look for one near a field, river, or wetland near you.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eastern Pondhawk

Eastern Pondhawk, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.

The male eastern pond hawk is bluish while the female is grass green with black stripes on its abdomen. The two couldn't look any more different. Whenever I call out "female eastern pondhawk" as a dragon zips by, newbies are often amazed that I could tell it was a female. "How do you know it was a female?", they ask. For dragons that are sexually dichromatic, it's an easy giveaway. Tomorrow, I'll post a picture of the female eastern pondhawk.


One Frightened Rabbit

This is what a rabbit looks like when it has just discovered that it is sharing the same lush and grassy enclosure with a male Bonobo at the Columbus Zoo.  I watched this creature munching on lettuce placed intended for the pack of apes.  When the male Bonobo showed up, I thought the bunny's little eyes were going to pop right out of its head.  An instant after I clicked the shutter for this image, it bolted back into the higher vegetation. 

My only question is this-  Is this just your typical eastern cottontail rabbit that the zoo staff tolerates living in the Bonobo enclosure, or is this some type of other rabbit species that is actually a part of the zoo collections?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blue Fronted Dancer

Blue Fronted Dancer, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.

This morning, I went on a field trip to the Big Darby Creek as a part of the Great Lakes Odonata Society meeting that's being held here in Columbus. This blue dancer caught my eye as it was chomping down on some prey which by the time I snapped this image, was unidentifiable. After the morning trip, I headed across town to meet Megan at our friends' baby shower. I arrived muddy and scraped, but a quick wash up with the garden hose took care of things.


More Flying Things

After seeing my dragonflies in flight pictures, my friend John Howard, who hails from Adams County Ohio sent me these fantastic shots of a hummingbird clearwing moth and a fantastic comet darner.  Amazing John!


Monday, July 05, 2010

Prince Baskettail

The Prince Baskettails were really patrolling there small territories Saturday morning on the Olentangy.  Each one cruises about 50-100 feet of stream, often near an area of water willow.  They're a great species to start practicing dragonfly in-flight photography- they are fairly large, fly fairly slow, and they predictably cruise in the same general area.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing, originally uploaded by Tom Arbour.

This tiny little dragonfly is most often mistaken for a bee or wasp, but when viewed closely, it's clearly a dragon. Taken this afternoon on the Olentangy at Kenney Park.