Yesterday I went out to the woodlands near University of Toronto Mississauga with Gil for a springtime walk. We were hoping to see some post-breeding Ambystoma salamanders, and whatever else caught our eye…After a long cold and largely photo-free winter, this outing proved to be rather awesome…
Last night, Catherine and I were out again all night, performing what was ultimately a futile spider experiment on Cordova Spit (TIXEN in the SENĆOŦEN language). The one thing that did go right was that the dawn had some decent light, so I set out early to try to get some photos of sleeping hymenopterans.
I did not end up shooting very many, as I found this absolutely lovely cluster of Coelioxys which were just begging to be shot. These parasitic megachilids are wonderful subjects, and seem to sleep in small aggregations, sometimes with Ammophila wasps. Their preferred perches are the dried seedheads of the Puget Sound Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), a fragrant seaside plant that is a good place to find halictids in the daytime.
Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took this morning!
I am continuing to tinker with the Canon A720IS for wide angle macro, as it seems this will be the only machine I have for the purpose for he forseeable future….I now have a method of holding the camera and the slave flash, but would like to do some more tinkering before I lay it all out. Today I was up at Mt. Tolmie again, where I waited in vain for a glorious dawn…But I did see a spectacular moonset!
Click the image below for a larger version.
The subjects of my macro experiments were snakeflies and some Nomada cuckoo bees. These relatively inactive subjects proved ideal for my tinkering, and I managed a good many angles for each. If you have any thoughts on these compositions, please let me know….I was constrained a bit by ambient light, as it was near dawn, but in the future I want to let the landscape show through more.
OK, now for some comparisons, here are some shots of the same subjects with the 100 mm macro on the DSLR
And in other news, check out this beautiful bee fly I found!
This morning Catherine and I tried something different with our spider observations: instead of going out at night, we would get to the beach before dawn, to catch the tail end of spider activity. Turns out, as soon as any light is in the sky, the widows are out of sight, presumably to avoid dawn-foraging birds. So that meant I had a bit of time for some photography!
I really wanted to try out the small Canon A720IS I had used on the alligator lizards in the context of capturing wide angle closeups of sleeping bees at dawn. I did manage some shots of Ammophila wasps and Coelioxys bees, but I am not entirely sure I am pleased with them. Perhaps the strength of the camera lies in wide angle macro in better lighting conditions. Anyway, it made for some neat images, which I share below.
Now we move onto dawn shots of the same subjects shot with the DSLR and 100 mm macro. We also found some cuckoo wasps!
As I mentioned in my last post. Catherine and I are working late nights observing black widow behaviour, so I do not really get the opportunity to go out at dawn as much as I normally like to. We have begun to take Friday and Saturday nights off, however, so assuming I can get my sleep schedule quickly reorganized, dawn shoots are possible!
This morning, I went out to Mt. Tolmie, in the hopes of seeing a spectacular dawn. Unfortunately, the light and colour were a bit subdued, but I did manage to get some snakefly photos with some colour in the sky.
Snakeflies were about all that was on offer at Mt. Tolmie, so after breakfast I headed down to Dallas Road, on the shore near Beacon Hill Park. I knew of an Anthophora bomboides colony, and hoped to get some pics of them waking up.
So this is where I find myself: I am currently employed as a field assistant to my partner Catherine Scott, as she spends the spring and summer of 2016 doing thesis research on Vancouver Island. Over the winter and early spring, I had several interviews for postdoc positions, but ultimately did not get any offers. I am still in the market, as this field gig is not paying much, but this is where my employment situation stands.
The fieldwork may not pay much, but it sure has been exciting. The first stage of the work involved a ridiculously long roadtrip from Toronto to Texas, and out to LA, up the coast and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria. Our objective in this was threefold: 1) we had to collect some beautiful “Texas widows”, a variety of western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus) for later lab research, and 2) we had to attend a wedding in Los Angeles and 3) we needed to get our vehicle to BC for the fieldwork.
Of course, this roadtrip was a great opportunity to get some cool shots of the natural world along the way. In the following shots, you will get a taste of what we encountered.
One of the greatest trends in wildlife and macro photography is so-called “wide angle macro”, or getting close to a subject with a wide lens in order to show both detail of the subject, and some of the surroundings for context. In addition, the exaggerated field of view places the subject right in your face in a way that standard macrophotography struggles with.
To achieve this with a DSLR, there are a number of lenses that can be used, including some very exotic optics such as the Venus 15 mm Macro (see Thomas Shahan’s video here for a good intro).
Well, here at Cheapskate Tuesday, we can’t afford that kinda thing (yet), so we have to make do. One way to acheive this type of look is both cheap and abundant: old compact cameras! I happen to have a fine Canon A720 IS that I bought some years back for 35 bucks at a pawnshop in Victoria. It focuses extremely close, and from my days shooting the S2IS and S5IS, I knew it could be hacked with CHDK in order to get RAW file capture for improved dynamic range and white balance editing.
Well, working with a compact still has some disadvantages in terms of the maximal quality of the images captured, as well as the limited resolution available…The compact is versatile though, and is very light. One very cool feature of this model is that it has a global shutter and a very high flash sync speed, so flash-illuminated shots can still retain great detail in a bright sky.
The most important thing is that it focuses VERY close even at the widest zoom setting, allowing for the shots of the lizard you will see. There is a set of crazy tricks I used when shooting this image that I won’t detail here, but will cover in a future Cheapskate Tuesday post…Suffice it to say, if you desire the ability to make images like this on the cheap, and don’t mind a bit of tinkering, pick up a similar camera today, if you can find one at a good price….
Catherine and I are out in California right now, in the midst of a cross-continental journey we are calling #SpiderTrip2016. This trip has taken us down the east-central part of the country to Austin and further south, where we collected some very colourful black widows for Catherine’s research.
Right now we are in L.A., where we have been for several days to attend a wedding in Redondo Beach. As the wedding was Sunday night, on Monday morning we went out to find a park to have a picnic and see what we could see. We ended up on the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a region of L.A. that neither of us have visited. This peninsula has some soaring cliffs and beautiful views of the ocean, as well as a great interpretive centre at Point Vicente focused on natural history.
As we were eating lunch, the screams of a rapidly diving Peregrine Falcon alerted us to check out the cliffside. While I tried in vain to get a shot of a diving falcon, we clued in to the fact that the falcon was harassing a pair of Red-tailed Hawks nesting on the cliff ledge below.
These hawks are well known to the local birders and photographers, and it isn’t hard to see why. Their activities are well in view from the top of the cliffs, and they come very close to the walking path as they provision their nest and ride the updrafts from the ocean winds striking the cliff face.
Anyway, here is a selection of photos I managed to get during a couple hours of watching this incredible specatacle:
This post is gonna be short; Catherine and I a prepping for a very long roadtrip to Texas, LA, and eventually to BC to start Catherine’s field season. This is just a video of a Grey-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla) feeding nestlings at the Nouragues Station in French Guiana.
This nest was right beside the showers in camp, and to get this footage, I set up my camera and started recording, leaving it there until the card filled or the battery ran out. This was a labour intensive process, as the majority of clips recorded were just the bird sitting there and the chicks sleeping.
I think that this clip of feeding made it all worthwhile though, as it gives a rare view of how the chicks “plug in” to the adult to receive their meal of “crop milk”
On Sunday, Catherine and I went out to Mississauga, where we met up with Gil Wizen, one of my favourite macrophotographers to go out for a early spring hike around the woods above the Credit River. It was such a treat to be out with a fellow invertebrate zoologist, not having to explain why exactly we should flip over a given log, or pull up a piece of loose bark…How very rarely do we get to go out in the woods with another person with the same agenda!
The forest was snowy, but warming, and we are anticipating a major thaw through the week….Very soon, the famed Ontario salamander fauna will be on the move to vernal pools for breeding. This weekend we did not find any salamanders, but we did find a great variety of cool arthropods, thanks in no small part to diligent searching by Gil.