Monday, September 29, 2008

Just Passing Through?

Back at the beginning of the summer we discovered that we had dozens of dragonflies around, particularly at the pond. Before too long I had dozens (then hundreds) of dragonfly photo's. When you add the damselfly photo's the numbers may now go into the thousands. Of course not all the photo's are of a good quality. And naturally there are quite a few that are virtually duplicates of others. I will often take multiple shots of one perched as I am approaching closer so the numbers add up fast. I realized that I had so many photo's that I might be tempted to flood the blog with dragonfly and damselfly posts and photo's at the expense of other things going on around the pond so I elected to limit my dragon and damsel posts to once a week on Monday.

Well the dragonfly and damselfly season is slowly coming to a close. There are still some around and I am still observing them and taking photo's of course. But, now that the season is closing, I figured I might as well retire the Monday Dragon/Damsel post. I will still be adding Dragon/Damsel posts in the future, but just not on a weekly schedule. Actually this will give me a chance to catch up on researching some of the behaviors I have observed and putting names with some of the species I have seen and captured.

Today I thought I would share with you a few of the butterflies we were able to capture last week at the neighbor's flower garden. We haven't seen many butterflies this summer. Well, I should say we haven't seen many congregations of butterflies. We see butterflies often, but normally they are individuals cruising about and they often don't stay in one general area long enough to track them down and get a photo.
On a couple of recent visits to the flower garden I have had a bit better luck though. There were quite a few butterflies around. The most numerous were the Gulf Fritillary. We had not seen any earlier in the summer, but all of a sudden several showed up. As a matter of fact, one day while I was there they all showed up within a matter of minutes as though they were traveling as a group.
I understand that the Gulf Fritillary is a migratory butterfly so we think the sudden arrival of several may mean they are just passing through. Whether they were residents or just passing through it was a great opportunity for a few colorful photo's.

I found it really hard to pick a favorite. I eventually decided just to make a collection with a couple of those above plus a couple of more. Of course it is best viewed enlarged.

And one more thing. I want to thank our neighbor for planting all those colorful flowers out where we can all enjoy them.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

New View

You probably have no idea the lengths I sometimes go to for a photograph for the weekly PhotoHunt theme. Or perhaps I should say heights in this case. Some of the weekly themes are relatively easy to meld with the general subject of the blog. Some present more of a challenge. This week's theme of 'view' was one of the challenging ones.

Of course I have lots of photo's with views of the pond. There are views from north, south, east, and west. There are views in sun and in rain. There are views featuring reflections of the trees, sky, and clouds. There are views from the center of the pond back to the shore. Believe me, I've got views. The problem was I have used a lot of those before in other posts. I needed a new view. Well, I got one. This view was taken from close to 25 feet above the pond. Now that is pretty high off the ground for taking photographs in my world. It took a tall tree, an extension ladder, and a limb saw to get the shot.

Actually I had an ulterior motive though. I was looking for fish. Big fish.

For the last week or so we have not seen the large grass carp nor have we seen many of the larger turtles. Normally the carp would always come up to eat when we throw out the fish food. In fact they would often be the first ones there and the most voracious.

I'm not sure why they disappeared all of a sudden. Evidently it has to do with the change of season, but the weather has remained fairly warm. I was surprised that they may already be going into their cold weather mode where they eat less, slow down their metabolism, and move to deeper water. Perhaps the cycle has more to do with the change in the length of the day than the specific changes in the weather.

Now these are big fish for a small pond. It's hard to show exactly how large in a photograph because there is usually not a good point of reference. They are about 24"-28" long and may weigh around 20 pounds. Some of you may recall the catfish used for the 'dark' theme in a prior PhotoHunt. These carp are probably twice the size of that catfish.
I knew that if I could look down into the water from a high point I might be able to spot them if they were toward the shallow end. And it just so happens I did. I spotted 3 together in water that was about 3-4 feet deep, but they were too far away and too deep in the water to get a photo.

We had a total of 5 of the grass carp in the pond. The three I saw were ones that were put in about 18 months ago and they grew tremendously fast over the first year. The other 2 have been in the pond for years, but we rarely see them now. Every time we write them off as dead and gone they show up.

It's easy to tell them apart from the younger ones as they are probably 50% larger. Usually they are too far away to get a photo, but I was able to get a short video of one of them this summer. I'll have to track it down and post it soon.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Flowers Next Door

I decided I better make a few more visits to the neighbor's flower garden with my camera before cold weather sneaks up on me. Actually we should have a few more weeks, but you how it is when you put things off. Before you know it there is a sudden frost and those flowers begin to go.

So here are a few of the beautiful flowers and plants we have been enjoying this summer.

There are always a few of these below growing wild along the edge of the pond and hanging out over the water.

I've always loved these large leaves below with the curved veins in so many colors. I didn't realize until I downloaded the photo that I had also captured a small lizard. I imagine a surface like that would complicate being able to change colors to hide but I guess he was doing OK since I did not see him.

I think this last one may be my favorite of the day. You may recognize it as one of the flowers I used in the 'Something A Little Different' post last week.

We made another visit yesterday and I was able to capture a few photo's of butterflies among the flowers. Look for an upcoming post on that visit.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

There Are Other Creatures, Too

When I talk about the pond and immediate vicinity I am generally referring to things within sight of the the pond. Sometimes, however, I extend the 'immediate vicinity' to places within a short walk of the pond so the photo's may be of other creatures, plants, and such that we see on our way to the pond or around one of the nearby small streams. A few posts may include photo's from a nearby lake, about a 5 minute walk through the woods, but I would normally identify those if they were of some animal or plant we don't normally see around the pond.

Having said all that I thought I would share with you a few photo's of other creatures we often see here or there. Many of these are fairly common and would be seen in many different habitats of course.

This is the five-lined skink, commonly called a blue-tailed skink. Normally they are found around dark, moist places with old logs or decaying vegetation where they can easily hide and nest. Occasionally they come out in the open to hunt or warm themselves in the sun. But, if you approach too close they quickly scurry for a nearby hiding place. Many people keep these as pets.

Some of you may recognize this one. It's an anole and a rather small one at that. It is common in the southeastern US and the Caribbean. We probably have hundreds of them. This group is often called chameleons due to their ability to change colors to blend with the environment. (The actual true chameleon is quite different and is native primarily to Africa, Madagascar, and a few tropical regions.) The anole is closely related to the iguana. There are over 300 known species of the anole, but it is believed only one (the green anole) is native to North America.

Despite their ability to modify their colors sometimes they just can't quite manage the drastic change as you can see below.

Of course we have soft, furry creatures, too. One we do not see too often is the rabbit. They tend to stay hidden in the underbrush and woods nearby and when we do see them they are generally too far away for a good photo. I did happen to walk up on this one a few weeks ago and I guess he thought he was safely hidden from my view.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Again And You Know That Means Dragons and Damsels

I'm sure you realize I'm no entomologist. And I'm by no means an experienced nature photographer wise to the ways of the natural world. Over the past few weeks, though, I have been taking quite a few photo's of dragonflies. I've spent hours observing them around the pond and in the immediate vicinity. And, I've seen hundreds if not thousands of dragonfly photo's on line when researching some of the dragonflies I have captured. I can not recall having seen a similar photo in my rambling through all those dragonfly photo's on line though I'm sure many have probably been taken.
Now what is so special about that photo? There is nothing unusual about the species. I think it is probably relatively common. And there is nothing unusual about this particular dragonfly. It appears healthy with no unusual distinguishing characteristics such as damage to its wings or anything like that. At first glance the photo and dragonfly appear normal.

I'm sure to most of you the unusual aspect of this photo will not seem all that exciting, but as for me I was amused and delighted that I captured it. What's different is that the dragonfly is upside down. You are looking at the it from the bottom side, not the top as you would see in most photo's. Even in photo's providing a bottom view the dragonfly itself is normally upright and the camera is below it or level with it if the dragonflies body is vertical.

This dragonfly probably flew up and perched on the blade of grass that was standing upright. The weight of the insect was a little too much and the blade bent down taking the dragonfly with it and leaving it in this odd position.

Now normally one would expect the dragonfly to jump off if its perch collapsed. I see this happen all the time. But this guy evidently just rode it down and continued to hang on for several minutes before he took off again. If you check out the enlarged version of the photo you can even see that it looks like he is holding on for dear life.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Road

Hidden from the public view,
This road is known to just a few.

It's not so very far from me,
Just head due west and you will see.
Go across the bridge and make a right
You'll find the road within your sight.

Now around the curve and up the hill
Through the mushroom forest, quiet and still.

Go over the hill and down a short way
Seeing new treasures every day.

Find the old walk and cross to the lake
If some photo's you want to take.

See turtles and deer, flowers and bees.
Find dragons and damsels in bushes, in trees.

And then its back home, just a short way,
And plan the next visit for some other day.

Now as for roads, it's not about size,
The important thing is where it lies.
What sights can you see along the way?
And are they different every day?
And how does it curve, how does it bend?
But most of all, where does it end?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Something A Little Different

I very seldom change a photo very much prior to posting. Of course I do crop them quite often to show the primary subject and maybe do a minor bit of adjustment to the lighting and such if needed. I stay away from anything more than that with the exception of some of the photo's of fish and turtles underwater. Those often have to be adjusted a bit more to remove the glare and reflection of the water or there would be nothing to show.

Recently, however, I was playing around with some photo's checking out a few of the added features available in the new Picasa3 software. Of course they are modest compared to what one could do with a full-blown image editing program, but they can produce some interesting effects for playing around with. Picasa3 includes some new editing features such as a modest retouch capability and features related to working with collages.

Mostly I was using them with flower photo's I had just downloaded and I think some of the results were interesting so I decided to share them on the blog.

The collage feature was interesting also. Here's a very simple one, but of course you can make them much more complex with multiple photo's and a variety of orientations.

Actually I didn't do as much editing on this next photo, but I particularly liked it so I thought I would include it also. I think it looks more like a painting than a photo.

If you have access to one of these programs (and there are many that are free, by the way) you should try them out. You don't have to be an editing expert by any means, but you may find a feature that can turn a photograph from a dud to a keeper.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to Dragons

In last week's Damsel and Dragon post I mentioned that I have been seeing fewer dragonflies with the beginning of the change in seasons. Although a few species are still around the pond I see very few in the nearby fields. And, most of the damselflies I see at the pond are the smaller ones.

Also in that post I described the mating process of many of the pond damselflies and included photo's and a couple of videos. The mating process for many pond dragonflies is basically similar, but normally they move around so fast over a wider territory that it is difficult to get good photographs or videos.

Of course each of the species has its own procedures, but most of the dragons I have observed do not stay in tandem for an extended period of time. Often the male will disengage and the female will lay the eggs on her own. The male of some species may stay nearby to discourage other males from mating with the female.

As I said, videos are difficult, but I do have a few that show a female dragonfly depositing eggs in the shallow water along the bank. Usually they fly very fast along the edge of the water dropping down repeatedly to barely touch the water with the end of their body. Some species will do the same in deeper water and spread the eggs out over a large area.

According to what I have read, dragonflies may sometimes drop down to obtain water for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are just drinking or will use the water to help clean their eyes or cool their bodies. And some may drop near the water over vegetation to pick off small insects. I presume, however, that repeated dipping into the water as displayed by the following short video is for the purpose of laying eggs. It's not a frequent occurrence for this species in my observation.

Please Note: This video includes audio that can be adjusted on the video. The audio is not excessively loud, but you may want to adjust the initial volume settings depending on your situation. Also, you can view a full-screen version by selecting the small icon immediately to the left of 'vimeo' in the bottom right corner of the video block. You can return to the normal view by pressing [Esc].

Dragonfly Ovipositing from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

All said, I am going to miss the dragons and damsels as fall and winter move in. Luckily, I still have lots of photographs to go through and I plan to share them along the way as I get them organized and identified.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wild and Timid

Well, our little pond blog is most often about wild things and 'wild' happens to be the theme for this week's PhotoHunt. I have never posted any photo's of one of our predominant wild creatures that I am sure you are all familiar with. Many of us like to feel there is a bond between us and this creature. We feel a certain familiarity with them as though we can communicate with them and have them accept us into their world.

This photo was taken in the pasture adjacent to the pond just a few days ago. We were surprised this young deer still had such prominent spots. It was alone with no older deer to be seen anywhere nearby.

This year we have not seen nearly as many deer as we would normally see for some reason. And, oddly, many of the deer we see are younger ones. Of course we do occasionally see a single doe with her fawn, but we do not see many groups of 5-8 like we have in most years. I'm not sure why this is the case, but for now I am just considering it is a cyclical situation.

Each year the patterns change. Some years we have 2-3 small groups that pass through at various times during the day. Other years there will be larger groups that we see on a daily basis. It seems as though they have a regular daily routine for each season.

Often this summer we have seen these two young deer below together, but we never see an adult with them. They appear to be several weeks apart in age as the one on the left is significantly larger. It is much more attentive, as you can tell in the photo, and seems to watch over the younger one.

Of course most deer are very cautious, but some (like with many wild animals) can become tolerant of humans to some degree when they realize that we mean them no harm. This particular deer was at the nearby lake which is within a short walk from the pond. It stayed around browsing for at least 20 minutes fully aware that I was only yards away.

We are hoping that this fall and winter we will see a return of larger groups. It's always fun to watch the young ones at play when it is easier to see them through the bare trees. And for some reason they often appear less timid during the winter.

Check out more PhotHunters at


Monday, September 8, 2008

More Damsels Than Dragons

I guess it is part of the life cycle of the various species, but I have been seeing fewer dragonflies lately and more damselflies at the pond. Interestingly though, I have seen some new dragonflies, but I will leave that for another post.

Anyway, with fewer dragons I've been spending more time observing the damsels. I have posted a few photo's of damselflies mating and laying eggs, but I thought I would share a few more.

Each of the species has its own specific requirements and behavior in breeding and depositing eggs. Many of the pond damselflies, however, share a similar process. I will not bore you with the technical aspects, but basically when mating the male will actually attach himself to the female by grasping her behind the head with appendages on the end of his body.

The female will then curl up under the male bringing the tip of her body into contact with the male to fertilize her eggs. This position is often called a 'wheel'. Ironically, in many species the mating position happens to resemble a heart, but I doubt love has much to do with this whole procedure.

Often the pair will remain attached for some time and fly 'in tandem'. Frequently the male will maintain the hold on the female as the pair lands and the female deposits the eggs. This could be on plants or directly in the water, but most that I observe are actually in the water of the pond primarily within floating vegetation. Basically the male remains attached to ensure that the female does not mate with a competitor prior to laying the eggs.

The positions both the male and female can maintain are fascinating. The long, slender body originally looks very rigid in a solitary damselfly. However, it is made up of segments with joints in between which can bend producing some very interesting positions.

I was able to take a few videos of a pair depositing eggs in the floating plant matter along the edge of the pond. The first one is interesting in that it shows how they sometimes hop from spot to spot.

Check out some of the other creatures, also. You can see how much life is all around in the pond. You can see the various insects that are continually moving along on top of the water and if you watch the clear water off to the side you will see numerous small fish swimming by. And keep in mind that those bugs and small fish will give you an idea of the size of the damselflies. These are not the smallest ones, but they certainly aren't very large.

Please Note: These videos include audio that can be adjusted on the videos. The audio is not excessively loud, but you may want to adjust the initial volume settings depending on your situation.

Damselflies Ovipositing from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

This second video is a bit shorter but it includes some interesting views of the female dipping much of her body into the water to lay the eggs more deeply.

Damselflies Ovipositing (2) from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

By the way, some of the background sound you may hear in the video is not the wings flapping or anything interesting like that. It's just a tractor. One of the neighbors was cutting grass in a field nearby. Also, you may note that the male is flapping his wings rather vigorously at times when the two are stationary. This is primarily due to a strong breeze requiring him to flap his wings to keep the pair balanced and in one place.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Stringing You Along

This week's PhotoHunt theme is string(s).

I could find a couple of things around the pond that would qualify, but I happened across this and decided it just might fit.

Now you have to admit this looks a lot like thick string hanging in a rather unkempt manner. Well at least that is what it always looks like to me.

But as you can probably guess it is not actually string. These are the long, string-like tendrils hanging from vines that grow all along the stream that runs near the pond.

I'm not sure what type of vines these happen to be. They are relatively thick and very old. They have had this same ancient appearance for over 20 years so I would think they could have easily been around for 40-50 years or perhaps even more.

Over the years we have taken out a lot of the vines that grow too thick and eventually choke the life out of some of the larger trees. We took special care, however, to leave some of these older vines that added so much to the character of the stream. Some of the tendrils are over 10 feet long and at places they create a curtain of sorts across the stream bed or nearby trails.

By day they are an interesting addition to the stream, but by night they can give the stream a certain haunting feeling, especially during the late fall and winter when the trees have lost their leaves and you can see the long, hanging tendrils swaying in the wind on a moonlit night.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quick! Somebody Call A Chiropractor!

It seems that over the past few weeks the green herons have become more tolerant of sharing their pond with me. At least one of them is more at ease allowing me to approach much closer than before.

They are such interesting birds. The extremes to which they can extend their body is amazing. Often when they are hunting along the edge of the pond they go into a crouched position making them look smaller than they really are. They are like a coiled spring ready to strike.

At other times they are in a more natural looking position that one would associate with a heron. The long legs are visible plus the neck is extended.

Then at times they are really extended showing just how long the neck can be. You can see how they could reach out a long way to snatch an unsuspecting fish or insect.

And then there are the times they show off just how flexible they really are.

I guess if I was that flexible I would show it off, too. I feel certain, however, that if I tried I would probably have to go to a chiropractor afterwards.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008


As some of you may know most dragonflies and damselflies spend the greater portion of their lives as nymphs (or naiads to be technical) living in water. After going through several stages (instars) where they shed their outer skeleton, they eventually emerge from the water for the final transformation into the dragons and damsels we are familiar with. For most species the naiads crawl from the water and ascend some type of vegetation or other surface in or near the edge of the water. The naiad then splits open its exoskeleton (outer shell) along the top and emerges head and thorax first.

This emergence is a crucial period for the dragons and damsels as it may take some time (at least an hour and sometimes longer) until the body emerges completely and the wings become extended and dry. During that time the dragon or damsel is very vulnerable to predators, rain, wind, and other dangers. Being unable to fly they have no way to escape or hide.

If you check around the edges of a pond or some other water source where dragons and damsels breed you may find the empty shells (now called exuvia) they leave behind. Around our pond I frequently see exuvia on sticks and blades of grass. (I presume most of these were left by dragons and damsels though it is possible that some could be of different insects.)

I have tried to spot the emergence of a dragon or damsel, but I understand that many dragons actually emerge at night. Damsels, it seems, often emerge during the day. Just a few days ago I happened to be photographing a spreadwing damselfly and when I downloaded the photographs I was surprised to see that I had also captured the emergence of a damselfly off to the side. While that portion of the photograph was not in perfect focus, I decided it was well worth sharing on the blog.

You can see it has just emerged and the head and thorax (the main part of the body where the wings are attached) are clearly recognizable. The rest of the body and the wings are still wet and covered. At this stage the damsels do not display their eventual coloring and they are difficult to identify by species.

I only wish I had noticed this one when I was actually there at the pond, but it was one of those cases of leaning out over the water at an odd angle trying to get the photo of the spreadwing (which I got by the way and it was in focus) and I just was not looking for the emerging damselfly.