Leaving the West Coast

082315IMG_7572

Sorry sorry sorry neglected blog! I apologize for the lack of blog posts over the past months. Catherine and I have been very busy, with a spider course in Arizona, ant work,  many manuscripts to finish, and an impending move to Toronto. Catherine is going to be starting a PhD on widow spider behaviour this fall at UTSC, and I am heading out with her to try to ind some work or a postdoc there.
For now, I will just post some photos with some rambling about what we have been doing in the last few weeks. I will try to get more in depth on the spider course and associated activities soon!

IMG_2572

Catherine at the Spider Course in Arizona. This was an awesome 2 week trip for us, and a real education in spider ID!

IMG_2612

During the spider course, I shot quite a few pictures…Here is a beautiful Chrysina gloriosa!

IMG_2583

Wow. What an awesome beetle!

IMG_3529

The spider course was held in the Chiricahua mountains, an absolutely gorgeous area that has a lot to offer the naturalist.

IMG_4968

Off course, the spider course brought us to a great area or spiders…Here is a huntsman. Be prepared for many cool species when Catherine gets around to posting about them!

080815IMG_6217

After our return from the spider course, we made a trip to Island View Beach to stock up on black widows or Catherine’s PhD research.

081015IMG_6359

It was a gorgeous day for collecting, and the coastal dunes were doing their best to tell us not to leave!

081015IMG_6540

A garter snake from Island View. We will look forward to a more diverse snake fauna in southern Ontario.

081015IMG_6685

In the past few weeks, as we organized our gear for the move, we had some balcony visitors, including this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. Right above our door!

081915IMG_7168

The hummingbirds are still here, right outside the door…In Ontario, we will have but a single species, and only for part of the year :(

081115IMG_6786

Ant work has kept me busy…Myrmica rubra tending to larvae.

082115IMG_7418

I have managed to do some shooting on the weekends…Including a quick couple trips out to Iona Beach.

082315IMG_7599

A Paciic Treefrog from this morning. We will definitely miss these little cuties!


Spider predation!

IMG_1271Nothing to see here, just a couple of cool spider species engaged in predation!

IMG_1321

Misumena vatia (in white form) consuming a fly. These are called the goldenrod crab spider, but I find them on may flowers.

IMG_1353

This plump one was the same one I had photographed on foxglove in the last post.

IMG_1221

Misumena vatia in the yellow form with a fly. This one is not yet an adult.

 

 

IMG_1227

Ambush predators are so cool.

IMG_1470

A Phidippus jumping spider with another jumping spider!

IMG_1478

You could share this and say she is carrying her babies to safety…Who will believe you will tell you a lot about your friends!

IMG_1512

I wonder if these spiders make a lot of their living by preying on other jumpers. They seem to relish them!

IMG_1517

So cool!

 

Country living

IMG_0567So Catherine and I are enjoying a stay deep down south in Langley. We are about 200 m from the US border, and are house, dog, cat, and mouse sitting here for Sofi and her partner Brian. The animals, being motile, homeostatic organisms, are quite easy to care for. The plants, during this ridiculous heatwave and drought, are suffering, even with daily watering!

Anyway, this is our home and family until Saturday, and we plan to make the most of it!

IMG_0272

Callie, the dog, is one of our companions during our county sojourn.

IMG_0276

Misto the cat looking elegant. What you can’t see is his special butt-hair trim that will spare us the pleasure of cleaning his rump daily.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document his route, and sealed him in for good.

Oreo the cat, an escape artist, has successfully broken out 3 times during our residency. We used a camera to document her route, and sealed her in for good.

IMG_0344

In the back 40 are some rabbits, deer, and coyotes. Here is a baby bunny that lives near the woodshed.

IMG_0298

Familiar faces are to be found here too: there are lots of cellar spiders!

IMG_0310

Here is a common house spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) with a great brood of eggsacs.

IMG_0439

Out on my morning walk with Callie I found this gorgeous Misumena vatia (goldenrod crab spider) with a big catch.

IMG_0460

Here is some more successful predation, this time an Enoplognatha ovata with a crane fly.

IMG_0475

There are a bunch of Rufous Hummingbirds here, many of them brood of this year.

IMG_0666

Again, out for a morning walk with Callie, I shot this gorgeous Tibellus oblongus (a type of running crab spider) with an egg sac! I really took a lot of pics of this beauty, so let me know what you think!

IMG_0716

Mixing in dawn light is one of my favorite techniques at the moment.

IMG_0895

Against blue sky, because why not?

IMG_0943

A Meet your Neighbours style shot.

IMG_0986

Probably my favourite, this one against the hazy dawn sky (there are forest fires nearby!)

IMG_1054

This one is shot with the YongNuo 35 mm with a Raynox DCR250.

IMG_1042

Another with the 100 mm. 

IMG_1107

To round out this post, here is another crab spider, this time a male of Misumena vatia, with spider prey. I believe the spider is a sac spider (Clubionidae).

IMG_1109

Cheapskate Tuesday 27: the Yongnuo 35 mm F2

IMG_0236

So my soujourn in Guyana was not entirely without casualties. Although I avoided getting eaten by the jaguar, my Canon 50 mm 1.8 II died. I have no idea what happened, but the whole front assembly became detached from the rest of the lens. Everything still works, aperture, focus motor, but I cannot figure out how to snap it back together.

IMG_0230

The carnage: maybe the jaguar attacked it!

Anyway, I needed a new fast prime, and it just so happened that when  got back from the jungle, the YN 35 mm f2 was announced. It was retailing for 110 bucks, the same for the 50, and since i have a crop-frame camera, a 35 sounded like a nice focal length for a fast lens. After all, the legacy of the fast 50 mm prime is a holdover from film days, where it would be a “normal” lens on a 35 mm frame. With my 1.6X crop frame Canon, 35 mm is just about a normal focal length, so what I am really getting is not a wide lens, but a fast normal lens. I ordered one!

The waiting for shipment took way longer than expected, as it was on the slow boat from China, but when it arrived last week, I immediately tried it out. The first few images I took with it were OK, but not stellar. Then I remembered to take the protective plastic off the rear element!!!

OK, this lens is pretty cool, it is nice, fast focusing and decently well built (seems on par with the el cheapo Canon 50 anyhow, and is quite reminiscent). It does have a metal mount, and the autofocus switch feels way nicer than that of the Canon. So far so good. What about the images?

I intend to use this for a number of things I used to use my 50 for: documenting social events, fieldwork, and sometime putting it on tubes for macro. Here are my results so far:

Social documentation

IMG_9603

Nice and sharp details, and the real advantage of this lens for me is that I do not have to run backwards to frame up a shot. It sees what I see!

IMG_9633

I like the way colours are rendered (although a better body would help with the greens!)

IMG_9597

The lens is decently fast in focus response, and hence feels fun to use.

IMG_9612

The lens is not so wide as to significantly distort faces in close-up shots.

IMG_9661

Most importantly, it captures the expressions of huskies well, especially that moment they discover there is a bag of chicken skewers nearby.

IMG_9726

Because the lens is bright, getting focus right in the dark is way easier than using a slow zoom.

Field Documentation

IMG_0189

Again, I like the focal length. If I want a snapshot of a GPS and a pitfall trap, it works great.

IMG_8820

For documentation of habitat, it is wide enough to show the scene.

IMG_9080

It can even work for a bit wider view of larger insect phenomena!

Macro

IMG_0032

It does focus pretty close for a wide lens, but the magnification sort of sucks for macro.

IMG_0044

With a Raynox DCR 250, it can be used for closeups, even in natural light. It gets to about 1:2. With 31 mm of extension tubes, it gets a bit better than 1:1. With more extension, the working distance gets pretty darn short. i will experiment with this kind of thing, but for anything approaching 2:1, I would be better off with the 100 mm as a starting point.

IMG_0247

“Native” magnification. Not too impressive.

IMG_0243

With 31 mm of tubes. A usable macro setup, though subject distance is small.

IMG_0096

The seven bladed aperture definitely renders out of focus highlights better than the Canon 50 mm 1.8 II.

 

Verdict

Well, this is certainly a usable and enjoyable replacement for my 50 1.8. In fact, with its focal length, it will likely be way more useful to me. I am impressed with the decently close focus, the fact that it is fast and light, and that it fits my budget! One thing to keep in mind about this versus the Canon 50 is that the front element is much less recessed, and hence ghosts and flare may be more common. I did not notice anything other than small blue ghosts when the sun was right in the frame.
I would say if you can afford to, one of the Canon versions of this lens would undoubtedly hold value way better, and perhaps offer an edge in build quality or some aspect of performance. But this is definitely a usable lens, and is quite sharp even wide open (I will post some samples soon!). I will certainly be making a lot more use of this lens than my 50 got, as this is a more valuable focal length for documentation and snapshooting. Look forward to seeing more from this lens in the future!

 

 

 

Rattlesnakes!

IMG_1116

I have been a bit remiss in continuing to tell the story of the trip Catherine and I took to the Okanagan Valley this spring. I apologize, and in recompense, offer one of the most exciting observations we made.

One of the species we had most hoped to see was the Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus. I was anticipating that being early in the spring, the snakes would still be close to their winter denning sites, perhaps engaged in mating. As it turned out, we were too late. The snakes had already left their den sites for more productive hunting grounds further down the valleys.

The Pacific Rattlesnake is BC’s only rattlesnake, and like many northerly populations of rattlesnakes, is a threatened species. The reasons for the rarity of these snakes is that they have been persecuted by humans, and their habitats are being threatened by development. Persecution of these snakes was particularly damaging as they rely on safe hibernation sites, free of freezing conditions, and must migrate to these sites en masse in the fall. This means that entire populations of the snakes may end up in just a few suitable caverns, where humans can find and destroy them. This is in fact what has happened, not just in BC, but all over North America wherever these denning sites occur. In BC, there was a bounty on the snakes, and some people made it their mission to destroy every snake they could, dynamiting and gassing the dens.

2701635206_e8d69f3dc7_b

Snakes and roads don’t mix: my unfortunate first encounter with a Pacific Rattlesnake. The snake was decapitated by a truck I was driving, Aug 22, 2008.

In addition, the seasonal migration also poses extreme risk as the snakes must often cross roads to get to where they are going. Needless to say, cars do not mix well with snakes, and death on the roads is undoubtedly a major threat to the species.  I know this all too well, as my first encounter with this species was a fatal one. Years ago, I was driving a truck doing fieldwork in the Similkameen, and hit a snake on the way to a campsite. I felt terrible about this, but by the time I saw the snake, it was too late.
Later that evening, I walked out on the road I had driven up, and saw 7 more freshly killed rattlesnakes! This was likely due to an active log hauling operation using the roadway, but really even a modest amount of vehicle traffic would kill snakes. The 8 I saw killed that day is a ridiculous amount of excess mortality for a long-lived and not very fecund animal, and it means that the population of these snakes is in decline.

IMG_1821

On the lookout for snakes, spiders and whatever else we could see.

Every time Catherine and I were in likely areas, we would look at potential den sites with eyes keen for the snakes, but to no avail. We had a bit of inside info on historic den site locations, and so we felt well-prepared. Alas, the snakes did not show up. It was not until late in our trip that we checked out a site near Vaseux Lake. Here again we did not find any rattlers, but we did find a snake-catcher’s equipment in one of the likely den sites: tall boots and a large bucket. This was likely from someone in animal control or perhaps a pest control business that had used these to transport rattlesnakes to the den from someone’s house or other building in the fall (sometimes the snakes will end up in these locations on the way to their dens). This was most encouraging!

We occupied ourselves taking pictures of spiders and insects in the grasslands near the bluffs, always with an eye out for snakes. In the same area where we found  the racer, I finally spotted one!

IMG_1133

This was quite a small snake, and when I saw it, it was fleeing our approach (I had thought they might just stay still, like Bothrops). Unlike most snakes which I am familiar with, this is a pitviper, adapted for camouflage and ambush predation, rather than quick flight. We wanted to get some photos, so I picked the snake up on my monopod and placed it in an open area. The little snake was obviously not too pleased with this, but only gave a halfhearted, barely audible rattle. In addition, at no time did the snake strike the stick. It was fairly easy to keep the snake in place just by moving the monopod in front of its head, and it soon just settled in a defensive coil. This made it very easy to photograph, although if I had a polarizing filter for the brilliant sunshine, the shots would have been better!
The ease I had handling these snakes is in stark contrast to just about every other snake I have met. They are relatively slow and cumbersome animals (though the strike is likely very quick).  I have no doubt any reasonably capable adult could move any “threatening” snake from their premises easily with a large bucket and a stick. Nonetheless, these snakes are still regularly (and legally) killed to “protect life and property”, which means that enforcement of their protected status is a nebulous concept.

IMG_1136

The snake was absolutely beautiful, with chocolate-brown patches on a cream background.

IMG_1126

This eye-level shot shows off the heat-sensitive pits (large holes on the front) which the snakes use to sense their warm-blooded prey. The vertically-slit pupils are a hallmark of predominantly-nocturnal snakes.

IMG_1153

Landscape with reptile: a wide and close shot to show the surroundings.

IMG_1170

This shot (like many of the previous shots) used a bit of fill flash in order to make the snake stand out.

IMG_1145

This is how the snake looks in the grass. Very obvious if moving, but if coiled under a plant, it would be hard to spot.

IMG_1172

After a short session (we did not want to stress the animal too much), I nudged it under a large rock, which would be a safe place for the animal to hide.

With these photos, it is obvious that the animal was manipulated into position for photography, and some might take issue with this from an ethical standpoint. I see where this comes from, and I agree somewhat. The snake obviously does not like being handled, and in point of fact, the majority of snakebite accidents probably happen as a result of handling. That being said, from the standpoint of this snake, what has occurred is that the snake was threatened, it could not escape, it stood its ground, and the dangerous animal (me) went away. In the life of one of these snakes, with hawks, cattle, dogs and cars to contend with, this is really small potatoes.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found a second, slightly larger rattler. This one was also fleeing, and in fact did not need capturing, as it took shelter under my backpack, getting caught around the straps in the process. Getting it into position for photography was just a matter of moving the pack to an open area and coaxing the snake out.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.

snake in a pack! Photo by Catherine Scott.

 

removing the reptile.

removing the reptile. Photo by Catherine Scott.

IMG_1228

The sun was definitely more harsh in this shot, and a polarizing filter would have come in handy! You can tell that this larger rattler has molted more times than the other, as its rattle has more segments.

IMG_1264

With this snake, I tried the 300 mm. It compresses the perspective, makes the colours pop a bit, and overall emphasizes the snake.

IMG_1293

Again, a wide and close shot to put the snake in the landscape. This accomplishes the opposite of using a telephoto, but can also produce a pleasing composition.

IMG_1300

After a short photo session, the snake just disappeared into the next rocky overhang. And that was the end of our rattlesnake adventure!

 

Dawn shots

IMG_7608This morning, I got up before dawn to take some pictures out near Iona Beach. I have not been getting out much recently, and so I thought I would change my routine a bit.

IMG_7587

I was out for sleeping insects, and dawn is the best time to find them. It also allows me to mix ambient light with flash illumination in a pleasing way!

IMG_7628

Small changes in the angle of the shot result in massive differences in the background. Compare this shot near the sun…

IMG_7629

To this shot a few degrees away.

IMG_7672

I am always excited to find new things. Here are a couple sleeping bees I have never seen before!

IMG_7682

They sleep like many bees I have seen; gripping the vegetation with their mandibles.

IMG_7686

I have no idea what these are, so if you have ID suggestions, let me know!

IMG_7697

Whatever they are, they are gorgeous!

IMG_7705

A bit of nudging got this one to grip the top of the flower.

IMG_7725

Of course I could not have a dawn shoot without a Coelioxys!

IMG_7760

I found this garter snake under a log.

IMG_7782

A closeup with an unusually cooperative model.

IMG_7793

I like to donate blood to those in need. This is Aedes dorsalis

IMG_7806

There were a bunch of these red clover casebearer adults (Coleophora deauratella) hanging out. I assume they must begin mating before dawn.

IMG_7841

For some reason, it is really hard to get a photo to convey their bright metallic wing scales! I will keep working at it!

 

 

Weekend Expedition 65: Mossom Creek

IMG_6929

This weekend, Catherine and I took a trip to Mossom Creek in Port Moody, in search of a very special frog: the Pacific Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei). The Pacific Tailed Frog gets its name from a copulatory organ present on the males of the species. Because their preferred habitat are these cold, fast-flowing creeks, the usual froggy broadcast of sperm over an egg mass would not be very effective, so these frogs use their “tail” for internal fertilization of the eggs within the female.

I had never been to this creek at this time of year, so I was a bit unsure whether we would find any, but it is such a lovely spot it would be nice anyway.

IMG_6926

IMG_6933

Looking under rocks is the best way to find larvae of Tailed Frogs, and incidentally is also great for finding stonefly larvae!

IMG_6947

It wasn’t long before Catherine turned up this gorgeous Tailed Frog tadpole, clinging to a rock with its suction cup-like mouth.

IMG_6953

Failing to find any adults, we continued to survey the creek for inverts

IMG_6983

Here is a stonefly that is much smaller than the nymphs we turned up. This is likely a newly-emerged Isoperla.

IMG_6998

It is a good thing Catherine examines salmonberries before eating them!

IMG_7001

When in the woods around here, a rugose stag beetle is always a good find! Sinodendron rugosum is a gorgeous beetle, with elaborate ornamentation on the males.

IMG_7006

If you scaled this up and cast it in metal, it would make a good beer bottle opener! The beetle used these projections for intrasexual combat.

IMG_7027

A truly majestic beetle.

IMG_7045

Aphids with newborns on a grass blade.

Catherine and I did not find any tailed frog metamorphs or adults. This is obviously not a good time to find them, and we will try to return later in the summer. But I do have some photos I took a few years ago that show the creatures in situ at Mossom Creek:

tailed-frog_7752812096_o

tailed-frog_7752809202_o

A better view of a great frog!

tailed-frog-larva_7763741838_o

This larva was a lot more advanced than the one we found on Sunday. This one has legs!

 

Guyana: a myrmicine trapjaw ant


IMG_1157

Sometimes, I never really know just how special the subjects I photograph really are. During the second night we spent on the Rewa river, I was dealing with blistered, sunburned hands as well as moderate fatigue. After dinner, it was tempting to crawl into my hammock and snooze, but I forced myself to go out, at least for a bit, and try for some nighttime arthropods.

IMG_1087

A leafcutter trail briefly caught my attention, but doing any elaborate setup for shooting was beyond me that evening.

 

Right in our camp, just a few metres from the cooking tarp, I found these amazing ants. At first I thought they were leafcutters, but when I got closer I realized that this was some kind of myrmicine version of a trap-jaw ant! I had never seen these in French Guiana, and in fact did not know of their existence. These were Daceton armigerum, one of only two species in the genus, related to the leafcutters, but tree-dwelling and predaceous. They have evolved these amazing, lightning-fast mandibles, like their ponerine equivalents,  which they use for seizing prey. Their extremely crazy-shaped heads contain the heavy musculature needed for this strategy, and a trigger mechanism to release all of the force built up in a single stroke. For a great paper on this, showing the internal morphology, click here.

Unlike the ponerine trap jaw ants, they are quite fast and active, with seemingly large colonies contained in hollow trees.

IMG_1119

Adult-adult trophallaxis is a difficult affair with these massive jaws, and the ants seem to use their maxillae for this.

IMG_1125

I can’t get over these amazing heads!

A few of the ants walking towards nest entrances had prey, such as this pretty but unfortunate beetle.

A few of the ants walking towards nest entrances had prey, such as this pretty but unfortunate beetle.

IMG_1110

Social life: most ants that passed each other on foraging trails up the tree at least antennated each other. It seems that other than tiny Crematogaster, no other ants are tolerated on this tree.

IMG_1127

A few workers were carrying males, but whether these were alive or dead was hard to tell.

IMG_1130

The males looked very different from the workers, as with most myrmicines, but really not that different from a lot of other mymicine males.

IMG_1144

Nest entrances seemed to be scattered around the trunk, and these workers looking out show that there are definite castes in this species.

IMG_1147

Some nest entrances were busier than others! Here are some males poking out along with a range of various-sized workers.

IMG_1149

With a bit of waiting, the males came further out.

IMG_1156

Daceton armigerum was certainly one of the oddest ants I had ever seen. If I had known how unusual it is to photograph them in situ, I probably would have devoted more time to photographing them.

IMG_1116

The lesson is, even if something is big, obvious and odd, if it is from the rainforest, it may not have received much attention!

 

Gronenberg, Wulfila. “The trap-jaw mechanism in the dacetine ants Daceton armigerum and Strumigenys sp.” The Journal of experimental biology 199.9 (1996): 2021-2033.

Moffett, Mark W., and John E. Tobin. “Physical castes in ant workers: a problem for Daceton armigerum and other ants.” Psyche: A Journal of Entomology 98.4 (1991): 283-292.

 

Barn Owls and Red-tailed Hawks

IMG_6394

A barn owl in the hand.

 

Was out with Sofi last night, to do Barn Owl nest checks (and some bleeding for rodenticide testing). The Barn Owls were in various stages of development, with only the first nest having owls of sufficient size for bloodwork.

IMG_6402

There was a Red-tailed Hawk nest nearby, where the parents only got anxious if we actually looked at them (they were fine if we did not pay attention to them).

 

 

 

IMG_6443

A gorgeous hawk in the evening light.

 

IMG_6477

Some little Barn owlets, in their brand-new nest box!

Further coyote pup shots!

IMG_6363

Today at work, the coyotes were not evident…For a while! I heard excited yipping from the trees, and went to see what I imagined was a food delivery. It was, but the pups were sent away, and all I saw was the adult staring at me balefully. When it saw that I had seen it, it barked and growled. I went back to my ant nest, knowing that I had overstepped my bounds.

IMG_6206

Mama or daddy isn’t too happy!

Anyway, when I was packing up to go, I noticed that the tan pup was out. This time I had the 300! I managed to get some shots of it sleeping, and yawning. Evidently the yipping from before was excitement over a meal, as the little tan guy (I think I will call him Tanguy) had a fat belly.

IMG_6217

Getting ready to relax.

IMG_6238

Yawing is also important.

IMG_6268

This little guy will get much bigger, judging by his legs and paws!