Saturday, May 31, 2008

Alaska Sunday VIII

Photos from Coldfoot to Deadhorse

Today’s Trip consists primarily of Photos along the Dalton Highway from Coldfoot to Deadhorse.

(Be sure to click on the photos for the full dramatic look)

At mile 179 from Deadhorse is the last Spruce tree on the Alaskan Pipeline Road.
Last Spruce Heading North

One of the most striking features as you cross Atigun Pass is the large cirque to the east. It is difficult to photograph due to the extremely dark rock, bright snow and shooting into the sun. We have left the trees far behind and at this altitude and latitude, the vegetation is scarce. We parked here for a while and enjoyed the view. Traffic is almost non-existent, and the only sound is the sound of the wind through the pass. It is a lonely feeling.

Cirque at Atigun Pass

After we crossed over Atigun Pass and dropped down onto the North shelf of the Brooks range, we stopped and talked to some oil field workers who were having a lunch break. They told us to watch for Dall sheep high on the mountains a couple of miles further on. He said they had only recently moved to the North side of the mountains as the days got warmer. They typically spend the winter on the South side. I used my a 300 mm lens to photograph them. With our good Swarovski Scope we got a pretty good look at them.

Dall Sheep

We noticed that the mountain erosion here did not look like the erosion in most of the mountains the lower 48 states. There is more rubble at the lower end of the canyons and they are not washed clean, leaving larger rocks and boulders, like you would see in the Rockies for instance. At this level as we dropped down off of the shelf, we began to see some shrubby plants, as well as the lichens, mosses, and tough grasses. It makes for some interesting colors on the mountains. In the lower 48 states we are used to seeing the dark greens of the cedars at the tops of the tree lines.

Mountains Slowly Wearing Down
Rain was immanent

Most days had some clouds at different times of the day (and night which was day!). the clouds never seemed to vary in altitude, except when we encountered some heavy rain on the day that we left the North Slope Tundra and headed back. Usually they were uniformly low as in the following photo. They were very striking, usually just brushing the mountain tops.

Low Clouds in the Mountains

Dropping further down towards the plains and eventually the tundra, we came in sight of the White Mountains. This is a beautiful range of mountains and requires a lot of stopping for photography. We have long since left the Boreal Forests of Northern Canada and Alaska. This is the last range of “mountains” with the exception of some lone bluffs. Here, these mountains and valleys are covered in browns, tans, yellows and soft greens.

White Mountains

Martha made one last photograph of the terrain before dropping down into the valley between the hills. It features marshland and Pump station #2. This is called Last Chance station and has a pullout for viewing the Coastal Plain. Migratory birds from around the world come here to nest. Porcupine and Central Arctic Caribou herds migrate through here, to and from the calving grounds.

Pump Station #2

Bird watchers come here to view King eiders, Spectacled eiders, Canada geese, Tundra swans, Jaegers, Snowy owls and other tundra species. Just a little ways down the road we saw our first Long-tailed Jaeger. Whoo-hoo.

Long-tailed Jaeger

To the east of the road is the Franklin Bluffs, a low range of bluffs from a worn-down range of hills. It was a welcome sight since it is only 50 miles from Deadhorse.

Franklin Bluffs

Check the May side bar for previous episodes of the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) Adventure.

Next week is Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, Arctic Ocean, and environs. The following week is the start of the trip back down the road through landslides and flash floods. Great fun.

We hope you have enjoyed this week’s episode of mostly Photography.

Photography by Troy and Martha

Alaska Sunday is a collection of photographic remembrances of our driving trip from Texas to Alaska.
18,000 miles, 16 weeks, 16 western states including Alaska and four Canadian Provinces.
No chronological order, just anything of interest that got in front of our cameras.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Columbian Ground Squirrel

Camera Critters

Who Me?
You Talking to Me!

Columbian Ground Squirrel
(Spermophilus columbianus)

Click on the Photo for an Up Close and Personal Meeting

Look at My Fine Profile,
See My Steely Gaze.
Notice My ‘Ready to Pounce’ Stance,
And My Long Razor-Sharp Claws.
Don’t Mess With Me.

Photographed at Two Medicine Lakes in Glacier National Park.

The Columbian Ground Squirrel is common in the interior of the Northwest, in mountain meadows, prairies, and farmland. Sometimes it becomes a pest in agricultural fields. Normally very social, except when giving the Clint Eastwood 'tough guy' pose and 'Robert De Niro' quote. Males defend their individual territory within a colony setting. It has different alarm calls when it spots aerial predators, than for those on the ground. They may store food in the burrow during the summer for use when emerging in the spring from hibernation. They are large, dark gray above, quite reddish below and on the face, forelegs, and near the tail. Martha and I thought they were quite beautiful.

Camera Critters is here. Come along; you’ll see some unusual stuff.
Join in; We would like to see your critters. Click here to join.

Troy and Martha

Scroll down for Skywatch Friday
in the Mojave and Death Valley

Scroll down 2 for Outstanding Yosemite Sunset
by Martha

Scroll down 3 for Photography
at Midnight in Coldfoot
in the land of the Midnight Sun


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Few Clouds Allowed Here

Sky Watch Friday IX

This photograph is looking across the Mojave Desert towards Death Valley in the distance. The haze that you see is a heat haze and not moisture in the air. It was a balmy 105oF while I was photographing this. The distances are deceptive here. The farther mountains in the photo are probably well over 100 miles away. I wish we could have spent more time here. It has some interesting geology, history and climate.

Mojave Desert & Death Valley
It has a stark beauty of it’s own
(Click on the photo to see the colors)

I love the way the colors change and fade with distance. Up close you can see the browns, then blue/brown, then just blues with distance, receding to even lighter shades of blues, and finally a very pale blue. The blues tend to make it look cool. Don’t believe it. Even a short hike can be deadly if proper precautions are not made, such as having plenty of fluids and something to replenish lost electrolytes. Yes, we drank a lot of water and Gatorade.

Can you smell the baking dirt and bone-dry grasses, feel the shimmering heat waves, and almost hear the crackling in the air? If you have been there, you probably can. If you haven’t been there then you really do need to go and see what this is all about.

The Mojave, locally referred to as the High Desert, occupies a significant portion of southern California and smaller parts of central California, southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, and northwestern Arizona, in the United States. Named after the Mohave tribe of Native Americans, it occupies well over 22,000 square miles (57,000 km²) in a typical Basin and Range topography.

The Mojave Desert's boundaries are generally defined by the presence of Joshua Trees — they are considered an indicator species for the desert. The topographical boundaries include the Tehachapi together with the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. The mountain boundaries are quite distinct since they are outlined by the two largest faults in California: the San Andreas and the Garlock. The Great Basin shrub steppe lies to the north; the warmer Sonoran Desert (the Low Desert) lies to the south and east.

This desert is believed to support between 1,750 and 2,000 species of plants.

Death Valley is the lowest, driest and hottest valley in the United States. It is the location of the lowest elevation in North America at 85.5 m (281 ft) below sea level. It holds the record highest temperature in Western hemisphere and world's second highest. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the United States was 134 °F (56.7 °C) at Furnace Creek (then known as Greenland Ranch), during a sandstorm (according to National Weather Service records), on July 10, 1913. Located southeast of the Sierra Nevada range in the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert, it constitutes much of Death Valley National Park. It runs north-south between the Amargosa Range to the east and the Panamint Range to the west; the Sylvania Mountains and the Owlshead Mountains form its northern and southern boundaries, respectively. It has an area of about 3,000 square miles (~7,800 km²). Millions of years ago, there was an inland sea located over where Death Valley is today, but as the area turned to desert, the water evaporated, leaving behind the salt. Many of Death Valley's narrow, serpentine roads were built in the 1930s and cannot be driven on at high speed. Badwater, located within Death Valley, is the specific location of the lowest point in North America. (Surprisingly, the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, is just 76 miles (123 km) west of Death Valley). At 282 feet (86 m) below sea level, Death Valley shares most of the characteristics found in other places around the world that lie below sea level. Ref: WikiPedia.

Map and Co-ordinates of the Mojave Desert
and Death Valley National Park

Scroll down to the next post to see a different type of sky (with clouds)

To participate in Sky Watch Friday visit Wiggers World.

Troy and Martha

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sunsets - Yellowstone and Golden, B.C.

ABC Wednesday
Eye Candy
For Your Viewing Pleasure

(Click on the photographs for the full Sunset effect)

Looking for our Campground
Golden, British Columbia

Martha shot this through the front windshield as we were going down the road at 70 mph. The Vibration Reduction Lens was on active. She only had about 10 seconds before the flare from the sun was gone. She grabbed the camera and ripped off about 10 shots. This is the only one that had the effect she was looking for. The cool blue and strong orange and yellow contrast was outstanding. Wish you could have been there and, "I wish this was my photograph", said Troy

Yellowstone Sunset
Totally Un-Retouched.
Exactly as Shot

Another "Martha Photo" through the front windshield as we were going down the road. The beautiful colors were gone in just a few seconds. If we had found a place to pull over and got out of the car, it would have been too late.

The moral to this story is, "Keep your front windshield clean".

To play, visit ABC Wednesday, mrsnesbitt's place. Click here.

Photography by Martha
Driving by Troy

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Alaska Sunday VII

Today we will try to get from Coldfoot to Deadhorse.

Be sure to click on the photos to see the enlarged view.
Maximize your browser to full page.
Check the sidebar for previous episodes.
Enjoy and leave a comment.

Midnight in the Rain at Coldfoot
A little rain can’t stop the Photography

Coldfoot is basically a truck stop on the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. It has a restaurant, and a small number of overnight accommodations (converted pipeline construction camp quarters). Bus tours along the highway typically take two days, and passengers spend the night here. The BLM, USFWS, and NPS jointly staff a small visitor center during the summer. The Coldfoot truck stop was founded by Iditarod champion Dick Mackey who started his operation by selling hamburgers out of a converted school bus. Truckers helped build the existing truck stop and cafe.

The Koyukuk River at Midnight
Photography at Midnight is Great

I stayed up most of the night having fun with photography. I had to sleep a little for the drive tomorrow into Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse).

The town was originally a mining camp named "Slate Creek", and around 1900 got its present name when prospectors going up the nearby Koyukuk River would get "cold feet" and turn around. In 1902 Coldfoot had two roadhouses, two stores, seven saloons, and a gambling house. A post office operated from 1902 to 1912, then reopened in 1984.

Coldfoot Airport, on the west side of the Dalton Highway, consists of a 4,000-foot (1220-metre) gravel strip.

The Road and Pipeline out of Coldfoot
The road is pretty good here
For perspective, the Pipeline is 48 inches in diameter.

The Koyukuk River is a principal tributary of the Yukon River, approximately 500 mi (805 km) long, in northern Alaska in the United States.

It drains an area north of the Yukon on the southern side of the Brooks Range. The river is named for the Koyukon people.

It rises in several forks above the Arctic Circle in the Endicott Mountains, near 67°58′N, 151°15′W.

The North Fork rises in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The combined river flows generally southwest, past Bettles, in a broadening valley of spruce forests amid small lakes and marshes. It joins the Yukon from the north at Koyukuk.

Its tributaries include the Glacier, Alatna and John rivers. The area around its confluence with the Yukon is a large floodplain protected as part of Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge.

The valley of the river is a habitat for bear and moose and is a destination for game hunting.

A little History of the Region of Coldfoot and Deadhorse

Lt. Henry Allen and Private Fred Fickett of the United States Army ascended and explored the river in 1885. The discovery of gold deposits on the Middle Fork in 1893 led to a gold rush in 1898 with the establishment of trading posts and mining camps, including Bettles, on the upper river. In 1929, Robert Marshall explored the North Fork and gave the name Gates of the Arctic to the high Brooks Range along the river.

In 1980 the United States Congress designated 100 mi (164 km) of the North Fork in the Brooks Range as the Koyukuk Wild and Scenic River.

In 1994 floods on the river swept away three villages, forcing the wholesale relocation of the population.

Blue Sky Ahead
Photo Opportunities Abound Everywhere

Next Week will be about the Brooks Range and the Tundra.

Here is a short preview of the Tundra and Deadhorse

Deadhorse is a settlement located on the North Slope of the U.S. state of Alaska near the Arctic Ocean. The town consists mainly of facilities for the workers and companies that operate at the nearby Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Deadhorse is accessible via the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks, or the Deadhorse Airport. Limited accommodations are also available for tourists.

Companies with facilities in Deadhorse service Prudhoe Bay and other nearby oil fields, as well as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) which brings oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in south-central Alaska. Facilities in Deadhorse are built entirely on man-made gravel pads and usually consist of pre-fabricated modules brought up on barge or via air cargo.

Tourists traveling to Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay typically take tour buses from Fairbanks via the Dalton Highway, a two-day journey with an overnight stop in Coldfoot. During the summer months, visitors can access the Arctic Ocean during its summer thaw, as well as experience the midnight sun due to Deadhorse's location above the Arctic Circle. In winter, the opposite phenomenon of polar night occurs.

Facts about Deadhorse Weather

  • Longest day: 63 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes (12:09 a.m. on May 20 to 11:18 p.m. on July 22)
  • Shortest day: 45 min (11:42 a.m. to 12:27 p.m. on November 24)
  • Longest night: 54 days, 22 hours, 51 min (12:27 p.m. on November 24 to 11:18 a.m. on January 18)
  • Shortest night: 26 min (11:43 p.m. on May 19 to 12:09 a.m. on May 20)
  • Highest recorded temperature: 83 °F (28 °C) on 21 June 1991
  • Lowest recorded temperature: −62 °F (−52 °C) on 27 January 1989
  • Highest wind speed recorded: 95 knots (109 mi/h, 176 km/h) on 25 February 1989
  • Official lowest wind chill: −102 °F (−74 °C) on 28 January 1989 (air temperature of −54 °F (−48 °C) and wind speed of 31 knots (36 mi/h, 57 km/h))

Wildflowers on the Tundra
Along the Sagavanirktok River

In the photograph below looking across the Tundra to the west of the Highway is a pingo? It is 3 miles away and shot with a 200 mm lens. Pingos form from the bed of a spring-fed lake that has been covered by vegetation. Freezing of the water can raise the surface several hundred feet above the flat terrain. They start small and grow from year to year.

The Tundra is flat, flat, flat.

This is a waterfowl paradise. There are thousands of small lakes and an abundant food supply. Following is a map centered on Prudhoe bay showing some of the small lakes. Also there are perhaps millions of small water filled potholes.

Map centered on Deadhorse

Next week: Brooks range, wildflowers, Prudhoe Bay and environs.
Yes, we will get to Deadhorse next week. I promise.

Lots on wildflowers, flash floods and landslides on the trip back to Fairbanks in two weeks.

Troy and Martha

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Short-billed dowitchers

Identification in flight

A Birding Lesson for Camera Critters' followers
If you don’t bird watch, now is a good time to start.
If you don't want to start, just enjoy the photo.

Notice the white upper rump and pale secondaries which is unique to dowitchers.
Long-billed dowitchers typically have darker tails in flight rather than gray as seen here.

The bill length is not always reliable due to much overlap in bill length.
Sibley’s guide to birds has a nice comparison of dowitchers.

In the Summer, the Short-billed Dowitcher is usually found on the Southern Coast of Alaska, and the Long-billed is a Summer resident on the tundra and along the Arctic coast. During our 5 weeks in Alaska in 2006, we saw both species in their proper places.

Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)
(Click on the photo to see identifying marks)
The gull didn’t get the memo,
He’s going the wrong direction

Photographed in Anchorage, Alaska
July 7, 2006

These birds were flying over Westchester Lagoon,
only a few hundred yards from the beach of Cooks Inlet

I love to watch them wheel and turn in flight. I never get tired of watching flocks of birds. Or, just give me a single bird. That will more than suffice.

Be sure to scroll down and see the exciting award we received today

Troy and Martha

Blogs that Make my Day

We have just received our first blogger award. We have only been blogging for three months and it's a real honor. Thank you Island Rambles, for presenting us with this award. I will strive to do even better in the future. Martha will guarantee that.

the rules for this award are:

1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day

2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver

3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

I am passing this award along to some of my favorite reads:

1. Marvin over at Nature in the Ozarks really knows how to do a detailed report on the wonders of nature complete with fantastic photographs. He always furnishes me with a lot of links for futher reference. I admire his site, photographs and descriptions a lot.

2. Julie at Pines Above the Snow has a wealth of information on interesting books to read, nature and photography.. If you are not familiar with this site, check it out. It's a favorite.

3. Donald Kinney of "a photo a day" always inspires me to do better with my photography. He is an expert at the use of color and especially patterns. This is a site that should be on everyone's side bar. His Daily Duo is really a fun site filled with wonderful photographs.

4. Kathiesbirds at Sycamore Canyon has one of the best nature and photo walks in the Southwest. I am always inspired and want to grab my camera and go for a walk after a visit there. I wish I had her way with words for describing everything in detail.

5. I would be remiss if I didn't include Duncan at Ben Cruachan Blog. This blog comes from Australia and is a wealth of new, exciting, and exotic wildlife and nature. I love to read this blog and wrap my tongue around the savory names of the flora and fauna. Put this on your sidebar and check in for a change of pace.

By the way, Island Rambles would be in my list of 5 if he wasn't the presenter.

If you don't wish to participate, just know that your are a favorite of mine and deserve this award.

To include the award on your page, just copy the photo and reduce to a size appropriate for your sidebar or grab the award in the sidebar already resized.

Have a great weekend all.

PS: Do you know how hard it was to narrow this down to 5?
Just know that everyone on my side bar is deserving of this award.

Troy and Martha

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sunrise on the High Plains – Sky Watch Friday VIII

An Exercise in High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography

The following is a photograph taken on our drive from Texas to Alaska and back. In fact it was the first photo made on the trip. It was made on the grasslands of the Texas High Plains at about 3000’ altitude. The scene shows grasslands with a tree-lined creek and a brushy fencerow. There are a few farmhouses on a dirt road, visible in the distance through the lifting fog.

You will have to click on the photographs to see the detail and dynamic range.

It was made with a telephoto just after sunrise. The sky was uniformly cloudy as the lifting fog burned off. Ansel Adams would have said that compromises would have to be made in the exposure since the picture ranged from really bright(zone 8) to almost pure blacks(zone 2).

The human eye is a fantastic instrument, since it can take in a scene like this and send it to the brain with all the details intact and then store it for future memory recall. Whereas the camera will struggle to capture all the detail in a single photographic exposure. Even with matrix metering, it is an average and an approximation at best. As a photographer, we take several varying exposures and hope one will be adequate.

I shoot RAW format in order to make any later adjustments in exposure.
The following photographs demonstrate different solutions to obtain a decent photograph.

Do Nothing
Matrix metering – Average exposure. No detail visible

Corrected in Photoshop
Adjusted curves, levels, brightness and contrast.
More detail, but not exactly as I remember.

Corrected with Photomatix Pro 3
Combined 3 exposures to capture the full dynamic range,
capable of viewing on a monitor or printing.

The above photo is what it looked like to the best of my memory.
The entire scene was bathed in a golden glow.
Remember, you are looking through fog.

Note: A Photomatix generated photograph usually requires some final tweaking of levels in Photoshop.

Faded Sepia
I included this for those that like Sepia

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Do you use Photoshop, Photomatix and/or other HDR software? Or what touch-up software do you use? There is a shareware or maybe a free version of HRD software available on the internet. I looked at the shareware version and it did not seem to be user friendly.

To play Sky Watch Friday visit Wiggers World.

Troy and Martha

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

R - Red and Rest

ABC Wednesday

Richard the Red
Richard the Rhode Island Red
Richard the Rhode Island Red Rooster

Richard Resting
Boss of Our Backyard

Rest Area
Texas Roadside Picnic Area
New Paint for Memorial Day, Texas Flag

To play, visit ABC Wednesday, mrsnesbitt's place. Click here.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Jewel Beetle

Flat-headed Beetle or Metallic Wood-boring Beetle
Also known as Red-legged Buprestis

Jewel Beetle (Buprestis rufipes)

(Click for a closer look)

This one was walking down the trail and allowed me to get one photograph, then took off like a giant helicopter and vanished. It really did look like a jewel. Beautiful. I believe this is the only one I have ever seen.

Buprestidae is a family of beetles, known as jewel beetles or metallic wood-boring beetles because of their glossy iridescent colors. The family is among the largest of the beetles, with some 15,000 species known in 450 genera. The larger and more spectacularly colored jewel beetles are highly prized by insect collectors.

The shape is generally cylindrical or elongate to ovoid, with lengths ranging from 3 mm to an impressive 100 mm, although most species are under 20 mm. A variety of bright colors are known, often in complicated patterns. The iridescence common to these beetles is not due to pigments in the exoskeleton, but instead physical iridescence in which microscopic texture in their cuticle selectively reflects specific frequencies of light in particular directions. This is the same effect that makes a compact disc reflect multiple colors.

The larvae bore through roots, logs, stems, and leaves of various types of plants, ranging from trees to grasses. The wood boring types generally favor dying or dead branches on otherwise-healthy trees, while a few types attack green wood; some of these are serious pests capable of killing trees and causing major economic damage.

Larval Hosts: Members of this genus bore into such trees as:

Fagus - Beech
Populus - Cottonwood
Acer - Maple
Quercus - Oak
various Conifers

Not recorded in very many counties in Texas. Records for Tarrant county do exist.
This one was photographed last June at the Ft. Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

If you like this type of post, leave a comment and I will do others occasionally.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alaska Sunday VI

The Haul Road – 414 miles of dirt, gravel, and pot holes

See part I of the Haul road saga from last week

For those looking for Sunday's Camera Critters,
Scroll down and see the Flower Beetles playing Rugby.
There are two posts for today.

Today’s post on Alaska will be abbreviated.

Yesterday, the temperature was 75-80 F., and we spent the entire day at Hagerman NWR. We saw 45 species of birds including more Spotted sandpipers that I have ever seen on the migration route and lots of beautiful Black terns. And for those that are worried about where all of the Dicksissles are – well, they are alive and well at Hagerman. Seems like they were in every tree. This morning we are off to the Ft. Worth Nature Refuge to look for Tiger Beetles. It may still be early for them there, but we will find something great. We always do.

Next week I will continue with the travelogue portion of the drive on the Haul Road from Coldfoot to Deadhorse. There we will cross over Atigun Pass, the highest in Alaska, and then drop down onto the tundra on the way to the Arctic Ocean.

Atigun Pass (el. 1415 m./4643 ft.) is a high mountain pass across the Brooks Range in Alaska. While famous among bush pilots for difficulty of crossing the pass with small planes (Anaktuvuk Pass is favored as the safer flying route), it is the only pass in the Brooks Range that is crossed by a road (the Dalton Highway).

Atigun Pass is the northernmost pass in the world that is kept open year-round and the highest year-round pass in Alaska.

Atigun Pass in July
(Click on the photos for much larger views)
There is still plenty of snow

Looking Back at Atigun Pass
(The pass is the first notch on the left side)
Alaska Pipeline

I will leave you with another photograph of one of my favorite wildflowers along this road – the Fireweed.


For an amazing photograph,
Scroll down two posts to see a Long-tailed Jaeger playing in a storm on this portion of the road.

Alaska Sunday is a collection of photographic remembrances of our driving trip from Texas to Alaska.
18,000 miles, 16 weeks, 16 western states including Alaska and four Canadian Provinces.
No chronological order, just anything of interest that got in front of our cameras.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Beetles playing Rugby – Camera Critters

It’s a Scrum mates, let’s have a Go !

Flower Beetles (Subfamily Cetoniinae)
Prickly Pear Blossom
(Click on the photo to get close to the Scrum)

To learn more about Flower Beetles, Click here.

For those that don’t know what a scrum is, Click here.
For those that don’t know what Rugby is, forget it, don’t bother.

Camera Critters is here. Come along; you’ll see some unusual stuff.
Join in; We would like to see your critters. Click here to join.

Sorry about the poor attempt at an Australian accent in the Sub-Title.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sky Watch Friday VII

Long-tailed Jaeger having fun.

Photograph taken on the tundra of the North Slope in Alaska.

Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)
(Click to see more detail in the silhouette)

We were about 10 miles from the Arctic Ocean when we noticed a storm approaching. The jaegers were diving, swooping and just having fun on the approaching winds. Storms are interesting in the summer in the Arctic. This makes for some great skies.

Martha watched the jaegers while I made camera adjustments.
In order to capture this photograph, I set my camera on 1000 ISO, f16, and manual focus.

I wanted a deep depth-of-field to show the clouds. I waited until the bird came around and used follow-focus on the bird. When he was against the right background, I snapped the photo. The long central tail feathers are visible in the enlarged photo (click to see).

There were only two adjustments to the photo that I had to make.

I used “Neat Image Pro” to remove the grain (noise) due to the high ISO.
I adjusted levels in Photoshop.

Note: We saw all three U.S. Jaegers that day. Wheee-hooo.

To play Sky Watch Friday visit Wiggers World.

Troy and Martha

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Festive Tiger Beetle

No, not a state of being, A Name!

The name of the tiger beetle in question is:

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris ssp. scutellaris)
(Click for a closer view)
A temperate zone tiger beetle

There are seven (7) distinctive populations recognized as scutellaris subspecies. At contact zones between most subspecies, considerable variation and inter-gradation can be evident.

Yes, our tiger beetle is dressed in his ‘festive’ best. He has a “smooth” and brightly metallic surface on the upper side. The dark green - blue head and thorax contrasts vividly with the intense reddish orange elytra.

This subspecies is the dominant form in the extreme western portions of the scutellaris species’ range, roughly west of the Missouri river. A broad contact zone with lecontei produces tremendous variability among individuals in eastern S. Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

The only species likely to be confused with scutellaris is the Splendid Tiger Beetle (Cicindela splendidas) which has a dull matte finish on the elytra and usually some short tan maculations (spots).

There is at times great difficulty in identifying some species without them in hand. Lighting and angle of light can play an important part in identifying a tiger beetle from photographs. I have only recently come to realize that I should photograph them with both flash and natural light, and from different lighting angles.

Consider the follow photograph.

Is it a Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris ssp. rugata) or a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata) without any maculations. By the angle of the photo we can eliminate the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle since both sexes of the Six-spotted have a white or whitish labrum (face). Notice the female in this photograph has a black labrum. So again, either several photographs are necessary or the right angle of viewing, as in this case, helps.

Cicindela sp. (possibly C. scutellaris rugata)

Following is a photograph of one of the most common tiger beetles encountered on the trail by hikers. They are bright green with four to six maculations (sometimes they have just two or even no maculations). Range is an important factor when making identifications or comparing with other plain green tiger beetles.

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata)

Sharp-eyed "Fishing Guy" over at "This is my blog" (Click here) noticed that the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle has eight spots. Mid-line maculations, if enlarged, which they are in this case, may sometimes have additional very small spots.
Currently, 10 subspecies of the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle have been proposed, but current taxonomic analysis reveals that none are consistently different enough from one population to the next to list as separate subspecies. Maybe with more study or future thinking, this will be changed.

There are currently 119 species of tiger beetle in North America north of Mexico and another 114 recognized subspecies or geographically distinct sub-races.

After 50+ years as a birder, and many years photographing butterflies, looking at dragonflies, observing insects, being involved with spiders, and studying nature in general, I have decided it’s time for a new challenge. tiger beetles. I have heard other birders who have not seen a new life bird for their lists say they need a new challenge. Many avid butterfly photographers are long time birders.

At the recommendation of Doug Taron over at Gossamer Tapestry (click here), I have a new book called “Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada”. It’s a great book and may help to elevate my appreciation and understanding of the tiger beetles. However, there is a lot to be said for ‘dumb and happy’.

I would be glad to consider expert testimony as to any mis-identification of the individuals presented here.
All were photographed in varying habitats near Ft. worth, TX.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ABC Wednesday "Q"


The Dall Sheep (originally Dall's Sheep, sometimes called Thinhorn Sheep), Ovis dalli, is a wild sheep of the mountainous regions of northwest North America, ranging from white to slate brown and having curved yellowish brown horns. There are two putative subspecies: the northern Dall Sheep proper (Ovis dalli dalli) which is almost pure white, and the more southern Stone Sheep (also spelled Stone's Sheep) (Ovis dalli stonei), which is a slaty brown with some white patches on the rump and inside the hind legs.

Thinhorn Sheep (Ovis dalli stonei)
King of All He Surveys
(Click to see the King up Close)

Photographed in Alaska
Across a Canyon

Research has shown that the use of these subspecies designations is questionable. Complete colour integradation occurs between white and dark morphs of the species with intermediately coloured populations, called Fannin's Sheep (Ovis dalli fannini), found in the Pelly Mountains and Ogilvie Mountains of Yukon Territory. Mitochondrial DNA evidence has shown no molecular division along current subspecies boundaries, although evidence from nuclear DNA may provide some support. Also at the species level current taxonomy is questionable because hybrdization between Ovis dalli and Ovis canadensis has been recorded in recent evolutionary history.

The latter half of the Latin binomial dalli is derived from William Healey Dall (1845-1927), an American naturalist. The common name Dall Sheep or Dall's Sheep is often used to refer to the species Ovis dalli. An alternative use of common name terminology is that Thinhorn Sheep refers to the species Ovis dalli, while Dall's Sheep and Stone's Sheep refer to subspecies Ovis dalli dalli and Ovis dalli stonei.

The sheep inhabit the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Mackenzie Mountains in the western Northwest Territories, and northern British Columbia. Dall sheep are found in relatively dry country and try to stay in a special combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged ground in the immediate vicinity, in order to escape from predators that cannot travel quickly through such terrain.

Male Dall Sheep have thick curling horns. The females have shorter, more slender, slightly curved horns. Males live in bands which seldom associate with female groups except during the mating season in late November and early December. Lambs are born in May.

During the summer when food is abundant, the sheep eat a wide variety of plants. During the winter diet is much more limited and consists primarily of dry, frozen grass and sedge stems available when snow is blown off, lichen and moss. Many Dall Sheep populations visit mineral licks during the spring and often travel many miles to eat the soil around the licks.

The primary predators of Dall Sheep are wolves, coyotes, black bears, and grizzly bears; golden eagles are predators of the young.

Dall Sheep can often be observed along the Alaska Highway at Muncho Lake and at Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park and Reserve, as well as near Faro, Yukon (Fannin's Sheep).

To play, visit ABC Wednesday, mrsnesbitt's place. Click here.

We saw all 3 types on our driving trip to Alaska. You need to have a really good reason to want to go to Faro, Yukon. It's a beautiful drive but out of the way.

I probably should have saved this for Skywatch Friday because you have to watch the ridge line to see them silhouetted against the sky.

Troy and Martha


Anole – Shedding skin

First and foremost, in putting together this article, I learned several things about Anoles. Until I enlarged these photographs, I had not realized what a nice pattern they have running down the spine. It shows up best in the photo of the shedding anole while he is in the brown phase. It looks a bit like a zipper, maybe for removing the skin quickly? Secondly, they can strip off the skin really quickly and eat it. I have seen a lot of snake skins but never an anole skin lying around. I assume they remove the skin as quickly as possible for camouflage purposes. And only recently have I come to realize how many of these little fellows there are. When you look for them, they are everywhere.

Anole lizards are frequently and incorrectly called chameleons or geckos, although they are not closely related to either of those groups. In fact, they are more closely related to iguanas. These misconceptions are likely due to their ability to alter their skin color and run up walls, respectively.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)
Photographed at the Ft. Worth Botanical Garden

They are small and common lizards that can be found throughout the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and various other regions of the Western world. A large majority of them sport a green coloration, including the only species native to North America, the aptly named Green anole. However, the green anole can change its color based on its mood and surroundings. Anoles are an exorbitantly diverse and plentiful group of lizards. There are currently well over 300 known species. The knight, green, bark, and Cuban brown anoles can all be found in the United States, primarily in Florida. The most prevalent of these species by far is the Cuban brown anole, which has pushed the native green (or "Carolina") anole population farther north.

Interestingly, when green anoles and brown anoles co-habit the same area, the brown anoles are primarily terrestrial or restrict themselves to the lower branches of bushes, while the green anoles stay higher. Brown anoles have also spread here into East Texas. At a local nursery in the Heights neighborhood of Houston, Texas, a stable population has established itself, hatchlings having been observed in the spring of 2005.

All species of anole in the U.S., except the green anole, were introduced through eggs nested in imported plants. It is notable that while nearly all anoles can change their color, the extent and variations of this ability differ wildly throughout the individual anole species. For example, the green anole can change its color from a bright, leafy green to a dull brown color, while the Cuban brown can only change its shade of brown, along with the patterns on its back.

Many anoles are between 8 and 18 cm (3–7 inches) in length. Some larger species, such as the Knight Anole, can surpass 12 inches. Some males of the Knight Anole species can even reach 20 inches in length.

Anoles thrive on live insects and other invertebrates, with moths and spiders being some of the most commonly consumed prey. Anoles are opportunistic feeders, and may attempt to eat any attractive meal that is small enough. The primary food for captive anoles is small feeder crickets that can be purchased at most pet stores.

These subtropical lizards are semi arboreal. They usually inhabit regions around 3–6 m (10–20 feet) high. Shrubs, walls, fences, bushes, and short trees are common hiding places

Anole shedding skin
(Click on photo to see skin pattern)

I turned away to photograph some butterflies and was back in just a couple of minutes. By then he had stripped off the skin and had only a small piece of the evidence sticking out of the side of his mouth. He also returned to a green color in just a few minutes.

Most anoles are said to live between 3 and 5 years. Even anoles captured from the wild can live for several years if given acceptable living space and cared for properly. A healthy anole in captivity, being free from predators and natural disaster, may live well beyond seven years. Breeding occurs for several months beginning in late spring. Males employ head bobbing and dewlap extension in courtship. 1–2 small, soft-shell eggs are laid among leaf litter. More clutches may be laid before mating season has ended.

Anoles have many features that make them readily identifiable. They have a dewlap, made of erectile cartilage that extends from the neck/throat area. For example: If an intruder approaches, the male will compress its body, extend the dewlap, and bob its head. Their toes are covered with structures that allow them to cling to many different surfaces. Also, their tails have the ability to break off at special segments in order to escape predators or fights. The tail itself continues to wriggle strongly for some minutes after detaching. This ability is known as autotomy. Anoles are also diurnal, which means that they are active during the daytime.

Anoles, though defensive and territorial, are usually shy. They will often flee when faced with overwhelming danger. They are also very easily stressed. For these reasons, as well as others, it's highly recommended that any keeper avoid handling his/her anoles as much as possible. Often one will notice small dark spots forming on the anole's skin, commonly around the eyes, when handled. This is a sign of stress.

Anoles, though relatively inexpensive themselves, are costly lizards to keep and raise. They require somewhat intricate setups to mimic their subtropical habitats. It's often difficult for most people to imagine such an inexpensive lizard as being such a responsibility. This is why many pet anoles are considered to be neglected.

Troy and Martha

Click on the comments to see more information about pigmentation.

Reference : WikiPedia