Friday, August 29, 2008

If Beauty Is In The Eye of the Beholder Then I Invite You To Behold This

This week's PhotoHunt theme of 'beautiful' was perhaps one of the easiest for me. I will admit I cheated just a tiny bit on my normal pattern of trying to use photo's from around the pond. Now it was just a little bit. This particular photo was taken at a nearby outdoor produce market that also sells flowering plants.

I didn't feel too bad about the 'cheating' since I had the camera with me only because I had been out taking pond photo's just before we went to the market. Once there I happened to see a couple of butterflies flitting around the flowers and retrieved the camera to try to capture a few shots. I was lucky this Red-Spotted Purple stayed around just long enough for a few good captures.

Also, I have several photo's of this species around the pond, but almost all of them are from above. This species generally prefers to feed on rotting fruit, decaying plant matter, and such more than flowers so it is seen landing on the ground most frequently and often keeps its wings spread open or partially open. Like many butterflies they have a bad habit of flitting away when one approaches too close.

This particular butterfly moved back and forth between flowers and the ground over and over providing several photo opportunities. Here's a shot of it from above.

Normally around the pond they will land on vegetation near the water or even on bare ground. Some species land on the ground to obtain particular minerals they need in their diet I understand.

It is amazing how butterflies can look so different when viewed from the top or the bottom, yet each side is equally beautiful in its own way.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Did I Hear Someone Say Free Food?

I've posted before about how we feed the fish in the pond using commercial game fish food which consists of small, floating pellets. While the food is primarily meant for the smaller bream type fish, it seems that the grass carp and turtles always get the major portion. Actually the feeding has become a bit of an entertainment for us and a chance to see the big fish and turtles up close.

The fish and turtles have associated my presence along the banks of the pond with a free lunch. When I just walk down to the area where we normally throw out the food the fish start arriving within seconds.

Within a minute or two I can see the turtles approaching from all across the pond. Sometimes there are 10 or more approaching so fast that they often leave a wake. And you can see some of the turtles aren't too shy about easing on in to claim their food when they get there.

Even without throwing out food I can walk along the edge on most days and the smaller fish and carp will follow along just 2-4 feet from the edge of the water. If I stop the bream will stop and line up facing me waiting for their meal.
Turtles evidently have great vision and are notorious for rapidly disappearing under water at the first hint of danger. We have found, however, that some individuals are much braver than others and will approach very close when these evidently delicious food treats are offered.

Often when I sit at the very edge of the water in various places around the pond trying to capture a few shots of dragonflies and damselflies a few specific turtles see me and will come all the way across the pond to wait for a handout. Over time I have lured them closer and closer to the point where now a few will come so close that I could likely reach out and touch them.

You can see this guy is basically walking on the shallow bottom at the edge of the pond. He is probably within 2 feet of me here though he has often come much closer. (This one is named Chip, by the way.)

Having them so close also provides some good video opportunities. I think you can tell by this video that some of these turtles have become regular chow hounds.

Please Note: This video includes audio that can be adjusted on the video. It is not excessively loud, but you may want to adjust the initial volume settings depending on your situation.

Chow Time from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

I find it funny the way they spit when they grab something they don't want. I never knew that turtles could spit. And who knows? Maybe one day I will have some video of them actually eating out of my hand. Now that would be cool.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Damsels Can Be Difficult

As I have previously posted it is fairly easy to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly based either on the placement of the eyes and shape of the head or the way they hold their wings when at rest. To me dragonflies look very similar to one another except for their size, patterns, and colors. Damselflies are a bit different and I think perhaps this confuses some casual observers.

You can generally identify a damselfly by the hammer head shaped appearance produced by its widely separated eyes. A dragonfly's eyes are close together or touching and give the head a round appearance.

Damselflies typically have long, tubular bodies compared to dragonflies and most other insects. Plus, both the front and back wings of a particular damselfly are normally of the same size and shape unlike dragonflies. Typically they fold their wings together when perched. That's where part of the problem comes in. Not all damselflies follow the exact same pattern.

Most damselflies have long, thin wings that they fold together and hold more or less parallel to the body like the one above. Some damsels have larger, more paddle-shaped wings. These wings are generally folded together, but due to their size and shape the major portion of the wing extends away from the body.
Some wings are so large they actually stand straight up similar to a butterfly with its wings closed. In these species the wings are often very dark and can even appear black. And, at times some of those species might actually open and close their wings while at rest much like the butterfly.

To further complicate matters there is a group of damselflies called 'spreadwings'. Their wings may not be the same size with the rear wings sometimes being much smaller than the front wings. And they are held extended, not folded together. Often they will be at an angle to the body somewhat like a swept-wing fighter with two sets of wings .

Spreadwings are not a large segment of the damselflies. I believe there are 10 or fewer species recorded in our state and some are extremely hard to identify. I believe this is possibly either a Southern Spreadwing or a Carolina Spreadwing.
Now, if you add to all of this that some of the damselflies are extremely small you can see why identifying them by species can be difficult for the observer.

Nevertheless, they are extremely interesting to watch. They are quite different from dragonflies in their flight characteristics. Most do not zoom along like the dragons, but are more like butterflies flitting from one perch to another. Some of the smaller, lighter colored damselflies appear to float through the air like tiny ghosts of insects, rising and falling on the smallest breeze.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

They Come, They Grow, They Wrinkle, They Go

Another new weekend, another new PhotoHunt theme. 'Wrinkled' around the pond? Hmmm? It's not yet the time of year for the leaves to die and wrinkle as they fall from the trees. The birds get most of the berries before they have a chance to become wrinkled. The bark on these trees looks rough, not wrinkled. And the fish don't get wrinkled from staying in the water too long. What to do?

Ahhh! How about this one? And it even has a touch of the 'What Is THAT?' theme from a few weeks back, too.

It's something we are all familiar with I do believe. Click below to see the full photo's of what it actually is.

I just happened to take photo's of this mushroom down near the pond on two successive days. The photo below is the first I took around 9 AM one day. The mushroom seemed to have appeared almost overnight. I'm sure I would have seen it before if it had been there very long.

This next photo was around 11 AM the next day, just over 26 hours later.

The final photo with the wrinkles was taken about 4 hours later. The next time I ventured past this spot the mushroom was completely gone.

I love mushrooms. They seem so magical. They often appear to pop up full grown overnight when the conditions are just right. They are around only a few hours or days and then before you know it they are gone.

But what I love most of all about mushrooms is they are great on pizza. Maybe I should leave that for another post.


Friday, August 22, 2008

You Just Never Know When You Will Want the Camera

I'm sure a lot of you are like me. Many times you have probably said to yourself. "This is great sight. I wish I had a camera with me right now." Well just a few days ago I was out at the pond taking a few photo's. On my way back home I decided the weather was nice and relatively cool so I hopped on the lawn tractor to cut a bit of grass before dark. Of course I still had the camera with me.

About 15 minutes into the cutting I noticed something yellow fluttering over in the uncut grass. I stopped the mower and got off to investigate with camera in hand. It was a yellow swallowtail butterfly.

I could see that it was evidently in some distress and you can see in the photo that it is actually under some of the blades of grass. I reached down and gently eased my fingers beneath it. The butterfly immediately climbed on board and seemed to be pleased to be rescued.

To start with it didn't move much, but then it started to walk all over my hand. Of course I still had the camera in my right hand so I was able to take a few quick shots. You can see in this photo it had lost much of its signature tail.

I'm sure I must have looked funny shifting my arm, hand, and camera around slowly to odd angles trying to get the close shots as the butterfly crawled all around my hand. This close-up shot is a tight crop of a larger photo so it is not very sharp, but I found the front view very interesting, especially the face and the fuzz on the back.

Eventually the butterfly recovered the strength it had lost in its struggle in the grass and decided to depart. Its flight appeared a bit slow and awkward, but it made it to a nearby tree and then flitted around a few times among the leaves. I last saw it about 8-10 feet up and almost hidden by the leaves.

I guess this just shows you never know when a camera will come in handy. Sometimes it is even when you are cutting the grass.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

We Sometimes Get Awards From Our Friends

Occasionally we are honored with special awards from some of our visitors and friends. Receiving an award or special recognition is always exciting. It shows that there are people out there that do enjoy visiting our little pond and you know we love to share the pond and its flora and fauna with visitors both in real life and here on the internet.

We've been trying to think of a way to adequately thank those visitors for the awards yet still maintain the normal flow of pond-related posts on the blog. Most of the awards have similar 'rules' for the recipients that request showing a link to the blog that passed along the award as well as to the originator of the award. Plus, most request that you pass the award along to additional blogs. Some awards may also include requests to share various types information, answer a list of questions, and the like.

We've elected to provide a listing of the posts in the sidebar by way of a link to the specific award post as an indication of our appreciation. We know we should normally be passing along the award to deserving blogs. We feel that we support other blogs through mentioning them or linking to them in posts or comments or providing links to our special friends in the sidebar here on our blog so it is not necessary to single them out for the awards so many of them are deserving of.

We want all our readers to know that we appreciate their visits and we appreciate their kind comments even more, whether here or perhaps on their own blogs. And we especially appreciate when they feel our blog is worthy of receiving an award.

We will use this post along with a permanent link to it in our sidebar to recognize those friends and visitors who have graciously passed along an award to our blog.

Rose DesRochers - World Outside my Window
The Smile Award 7/24/08

Mozi Esmé
Arte Y Pico Award 8/17/08

Mental Motes
Brilliant Blogs Award 9/9/08

Wishnik Woods
Friendship Award 11/3/08

Rose DesRochers - World Outside my Window
The Lemonade Award 11/28/08

Thank all of you so much for the awards.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Monday Dragons Report Comes on Wednesday This Week

Who knew that the Monday Dragon and Damsel report would come on Wednesday this week? Well, I had some computer issues relative to my photo programs, but hopefully those have been resolved for now.

There is one species of dragonfly that has continued to intrigue me over the summer. That is the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). The Amberwing is a small dragonfly that prefers still waters and we normally have quite a few around the pond.
The above is a male of the species. The females are similar in size and shape but generally the wings are more transparent and have bands.

What intrigues me is the way some of these Amberwings tend to hang out together. From what I have read it seems that they are territorial, but I continually see 2-3 flying and perching in close proximity to one another. In fact, they are the only dragonflies which I often capture together and when they are active they do not seem to actually interfere with each other.
Solitary Amberwings are generally a little harder to capture up close. They tend to perch on short sticks out over the water. While it is hard to get close to them for good, detailed captures, having them close to the water can provide for interesting photo's if one has the right angle for a good reflection.
One other thing that intrigues me about them is a habit they have of revisiting a particularly small section on the surface of the pond. Normally it will be a small patch of floating vegetation maybe 1-2 inches in diameter Originally I thought it might be related to mating or the depositing of eggs, but the behavior is exhibited by males when no females are around that I can see and it appears they do not normally actually touch the water or vegetation. I presume they are feeding on some extremely small insects living on the vegetation. Here's a short video displaying this behavior.

Please Note: This video includes audio that can be adjusted on the video. It is not excessively loud, but you may want to adjust the initial volume settings depending on your situation.

Dragonfly - Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

They will often return over and over to these small patches and frequently there will be two or maybe even three of them alternating on the same small patch.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Am I The First One Here?

As many of you may know I normally try to relate the weekly PhotoHunt theme to the general subject of the blog which is the pond. This week's theme is 'colorful' and I had several ways I could go. After all, nature is full of color. I looked through several of my photo's and found it was hard to pick just one.

Then I happened upon this photo. Somehow it just seemed to fit. It was one of the first flowers to bloom on this plant around the pond this year and foretold of many more to come. It's not a bright, showy type flower that you see so often featured on blogs. It is just a small wild flower that is often brushed aside as inconsequential. Yet its seemingly small simplicity holds within it the complexities and colors of life.

I don't have a little tutorial or nature lesson for this week. I think I'll just let the little flower speak for itself.


Friday, August 15, 2008

A Dragonfly Update and a Project

I want to tell you about the little project I mentioned in my last post, but first here's a short update on another post. In the Monday Dragons and Damsels post I told you about the Calico Pennants, both the male and the female. If you recall I ended by saying I hoped they would make a suitable 'Love Connection' as we could use quite a few more of the Calico's around in the coming years.

Well, you guessed it, they did. Not only did I see the female obviously laying eggs on her own one day, but the next day I also saw a pair of them flying in tandem which indicates a probable mating.

Now you have to understand that this photo was taken with them flying past at maybe 10MPH or more and they were about 8-10 feet out over the water. That's not exactly a prime photo opportunity with such little subjects that are less than 3 inches wide. Actually, I couldn't believe it came out as well as it did considering I only took one quick shot as they zoomed by. It was just a lucky capture.
Needless to say, we are pleased that we may have a thriving colony of Calico Pennants in the future.

Now back to the project. Often readers comment on the dragonfly and damselfly photo's here on the blog and some say they try to (or would like to) take a few, but they are not successful. I've answered these comments from time to time with modest suggestions on some of the things that have worked for me. I eventually decided that maybe I should write up some of those tips and provide a link to them.

I am strictly an amateur as far as photography goes, especially on the technical side. These are not technical tips. They are really for other amateurs, like myself, who perhaps want to expand their photo taking experiences.

I have posted the tips on another site and invite you to check them out if you have an interest in maybe taking some dragon and damsel (or other insects) photo's of your own. (Be sure to check out the 'Let Them Come To You' tip. It is the most practical tip for capturing dragonflies.) The tips are still a work in progress and I would appreciate any comments about them. I would especially like any simple, similar tips that you may have that you would like to share.

You can find the tips here:
Tips From an Amateur Photographer


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Almost Forgot These

Over the past couple of weeks I have been working on a little project involving the blog and I was going through some of the photo's taken earlier this summer. I realized I never had gotten around to showing you some of the other plants and flowers around the pond. Here we have the trumpet vine and I think you can easily tell where it gets the name from.

These vines are prolific growers climbing 30-40 feet or more in some of the trees around the pond. I understand the flowers are a favorite of the hummingbirds. Unfortunately, since our vines grow in the trees the flower production is rather limited and most of the blooms we see are peeking out among the tree branches and leaves far above ground. I think these below were about 10-12 feet up. (This photo was taken from the ground late in the afternoon in a shaded area so the color is off a bit.)

Of course every now and then we have one or two at eye level and they are always a treat.

And as for that little project I was working on, I'll let you know in a day or so.


Monday, August 11, 2008

A New Dragon Shows Up For Monday

Some of you may recall the post from a few weeks ago about the dragonflies and damselflies landing on me at times when I am trying to photograph them. In that post I included a photo of a Calico Pennant(Celithemis elisa). We don't see too many of the Calico Pennants around the pond, but when we do they are always a treat.

This one is evidently a mature male. They are not very large compared to most of the other dragonflies around the pond, but they are easily recognized. The red color is striking on the body and wings. And check out the little heart-shaped markings along the top of the abdomen. Those are a primary marking identifying the species.Male dragonflies often tend to hang around breeding grounds waiting for females. Since we see the Calico infrequently I presume there are not a lot of them in the immediate vicinity.

From the time we researched and identified the male Calico over 6 weeks ago I have been looking for a female Calico. The photo's we saw on line were very striking. I figured if one showed up it would be easy to spot since they are marked much like the adult male, but in gold as opposed to the red.

Finally one showed up. Well, at least I think it is a female....

The problem is I found out that the immature males can also be golden in color and very similar to the females. Like many dragonflies, particularly males it seems, they change color as they mature. I'm not sure I know enough about the species to definitely say this is a female. I guess I will have to do some further research.

Although there was a mature male around I never did see them in close proximity to one another. I did note that this one did not generally approach the water whereas the males seem to prefer short twigs right at the water's edge to perch on. These golden ones stayed mostly in the short grass on the banks maybe 3-4 feet from the water.

I have seen both of them in the short grass around the pond also. You can tell by this photo that they are a bit difficult to spot in the grass, especially the yellow ones. (Go to the center of the photo and then down and to the right just a bit to find it.)

Immature male or female, it is still a beautiful little creature. Personally, I'm hoping it is a female of course, and that it will make a suitable 'Love Connection'. We could use a lot more of these around in the coming years.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Here's Something Fishy About This Week's Theme

Those PhotoHunters who have visited before may have noticed that I try to relate the weekly theme to the central subject of this blog which is the pond, its inhabitants and visitors, and the plant life and other creatures in the immediate vicinity around the pond. This week's theme of 'dark' presented a bit of a challenge as there aren't too many things around the pond that are dark. At least not ones which would make for interesting photographs.

A few days ago while feeding the fish it came to me. Now this one may require a bit of explanation, but here is the photo which was taken in the spring.

I know you are probably thinking 'OK. That is one big dark fish. What's the big deal?' Well, check out the bottom side or belly of the fish...

As you can see, it's not dark at all. In fact it is mostly white.Did you ever notice that the coloring of many fish follows this pattern? They are frequently dark on the top (back) and light on the bottom (belly). Well here is one reason for that.

The pattern provides a simple camouflage sometimes known as countershading. Many fish are the natural prey of other fish (and other predators) and they live in an environment where they can generally be attacked from any direction. If the predator is above them and looks down, then the fish more easily blends in with the dark colors of the deeper, darker water or the bottom. If the predator is below them and looks up then the fish tends to blend with brighter water and sky above. If the predator approaches from the side then the blend of light and dark tends to break the total silhouette against the background.

Interestingly this same camouflage can often provide the same benefit to the predator. If they are similarly marked when approaching from above or below they enjoy some of the same advantages making them less visible to their potential prey. Countershading as a camouflage is not restricted to fish. It can be found in other animals also, particularly birds.

By the way, for those who are wondering that is a catfish and a pretty good size one at that for such a small pond. And don't worry. Even though catfish is very tasty this one ended up being returned to the pond. Here you can see it rolling as it was put back in the water. In less than a minute it swam away. We frequently see a big catfish coming up in the shallow water and we think it may be the same one as it is unlikely there are many that size in the pond.


Friday, August 8, 2008

There Is Always a Surprise It Seems

I dropped by the pond yesterday to try to find an unusually large dragonfly I saw a couple of days ago but was unable to get a photograph of. The weather was bright and sunny, but I could see the towering cloud banks looming. Still, it didn't look like any serious rain was likely in the next hour or so and I kept looking for that dragonfly and taking a few shots here and there.

Eventually I felt the rain start. It was just a few drops, nothing serious. I could tell it would probably be one of those sunshine showers we get often in the summertime. Sometimes on a bright, hot day a rain cloud will pass directly over and produce a small shower while the sun is still brightly shining and often the rain does not last long at all.

Immediately I noticed an unusual phenomenon. I've seen it before, but not too often. When the initial drops of rain hit the pond many of them created bubbles that floated on top for a minute or more.
Initially I wasn't overly surprised as I have seen this before to a limited degree. Within a minute or so, though, I was amazed. The shower continued in rather widely spaced raindrops and before I knew it the pond was covered with thousands of bubbles. They seemed to spring up magically.

The whole process only lasted a few minutes. Within maybe 4-5 minutes the shower became a bit heavier and the bubbles began to disappear as fast as they had arrived.

I'm not sure what factors created the bubbles to start with. My guess is that there are several factors that just happen to coincide. For one thing, the pond is not overly large and when the water level is down as it often is during the summer it essentially creates a bowl which is maybe two-thirds full. Also, the pond has trees around 3 sides. These trees and the bowl like shape mean that it takes quite a strong breeze to create any ripples that break the surface. As a result the pond often has a thin sheen of collected pollen,dust, and decaying algae on its surface when we have limited breezes and no rain.

I think the size of the rain droplets were just right to break through and create the bubbles using the sheen much like a soap bubble. And, the lack of any breeze let them float on the surface without breaking. Eventually the increased rain bursts the bubbles and breaks up the surface tension and sheen enough to stop new bubbles from forming.

Whatever the reason, the whole process was amazing and I felt lucky to be there with camera in hand to capture the magic.


Monday, August 4, 2008

It's Monday -Time for Dragons and Something New

I mentioned in my Dragons and Damsels post last Monday that I have been trying to take a few videos to post here on the blog. I haven't yet been able to get a satisfactory video of the damselflies which I really wanted, but I did get one of a dragonfly that I hope you will enjoy.

I don't see this particular species down at the pond very often. I think it was only the 2nd or 3rd time I had seen it and been able to get a photo. If I'm not mistaken it is a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). Actually it is a relatively common dragonfly, but I have not run across many of them in the immediate vicinity.

Normally most of the dragonflies I see perched on sticks and branches remain fairly still and in one position. All dragonflies hold their wings outstretched as opposed to most damselflies who fold their wings together. Some species of dragons may fold their outstretched wings forward almost as though they are wrapping them around their head. If there is a strong breeze the dragons may shift about a bit and adjust their wings to maintain their balance on a perch. Other than that there is not a lot of movement once they settle in.

I was really surprised at the movement of this dragonfly in the video. It continued to move and shift its position almost continuously even though there was only a moderate breeze and other species of dragonflies on nearby perches were relatively still. And it held its wings at a much higher angle to the body than do most of the dragons I have been observing. (By the way, watch for the other dragonflies passing in the background, too.)

Please Note: This video includes audio that can be adjusted on the video. It is not excessively loud, but you may want to adjust the initial volume settings depending on your situation.

Dragonfly - 3932 from BakerWatson on Vimeo.

In researching the species I came across an interesting comment on BugGuide. "Frequently seen perched on weeds in fields as it forages, pivoting with the wind." Perhaps this pivoting motion is a special characteristic of this species.

Whatever the reason for the constant pivoting it was interesting and gave me an opportunity to capture a variety of shots from different points of view without ever having to change positions.

I hope you enjoyed the video.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Clouds Are But the Cheeks Of Angels

Since I so often see clouds through their reflections on the pond I thought I would feature that view for this weeks 'Clouds' theme for Photo Hunt. These two photo's were taken just moments apart as you can probably tell.

Our current basic nomenclature for clouds was devised by Luke Howard in 1803. He was a British pharmacist and manufacturing chemist by profession, but also an avid amateur meteorologist. He is sometimes recognized as "the father of meteorology". Pretty high accolades for an amateur I would say.

Clouds had been classified in a variety of ways prior to that time. Basically they were categorized by color, such as dark or black or even 'mackeral skies'. Howard brought to them the standardized Latin names that so many of the other sciences had adopted. His basic groups were called cirrus, cumulus, stratus and nimbus, which mean ‘curl of hair’, ‘heap’, ‘layer’ and ‘rain bearing’. Of course the descriptions have been expanded and refined over the years to better identify specific characteristics of clouds by providing information relative to the height of the cloud formations and other factors.

Clouds and meteorology in general were among the last of the common physical phenomena to be addressed by the growing scientific community in that era. The invention of such devices as the microscope, telescope, and various measuring devices brought forth a surge in investigation, analysis, and categorization of the physical environment.

Clouds and weather were difficult to study, however. You couldn't exactly replicate a cloud within a laboratory to study it at the time. A cloud would not fit into the 'cabinet of curiosities' like say insects collected from all over the world. You couldn't visit clouds in various circumstances to inspect them. They weren't available for experimentation. They were difficult to measure and analyze other than by general visual inspection or perhaps modest measurements of weather such as temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, and wind speed. The complex nature of clouds and weather in general has continued to challenge scientists and meteorologists to this day.

But back to our clouds. We can just sit back and enjoy them for what they are, sometimes simple and plain, sometimes colorful and playful, and sometimes majestic and formidable, but always amazing us in the never-ending changes to their complexity and beauty.


Cloud of a Different Sort?

How about a PhotoHunt cloud of a different sort?

PhotoHunters click here for my primary cloud theme post.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Another Visit to the Neighbor's Flower Garden

Every few days I take a stroll across the road to visit our neighbor's pond and capture a few shots of dragonflies and damselflies plus a few other creatures. It also gives me a chance to capture a few of her beautiful flowers and plants which are always a treat.

I really love how big and colorful they are. Not just the flowers, but the leaves and plants as a whole.

I like to try to visit after a rain when I can. The air is so clear and the water droplets can provide such great subjects for a quick shot or two.

Of course I always snap off a couple of shots of the crape myrtle at the head of our pond on the way back. They were originally planted along the road when it was new, but eventually the area became overgrown. Many of the crape myrtles survived the intrusion of the vines and other growth and now their bright blooms poke out almost at random in the very natural setting.