Last year we didn’t have furniture up on the deck except for a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs. With so many other things to do after the move, furniture was not a priority. But this year I bought a comfy couch and chairs so I end up spending more time up there. As a result I notice more and despite being really tiny, this little guy stood out –
It’s a burrower mayfly; easily identified by those big green eyeballs. The body, legs and wings are about 1/2 an inch long; the whole thing barely an inch. Here in Wisconsin we have many species of mayfly and some emerge in the hundreds of thousands; clouds so big they are captured on radar and mistaken for thunderstorms. It’s said that the massive presence of mayflies are an indication of clean water, so it’s good, but it has a downside. When they emerge en masse like that they leave behind their larvae carapaces which collect by the thousands along shorelines and docks. My shoreline. My dock. The smell was so bad that I couldn’t be outside until my husband pushed them all into the current and they were washed downstream (I tried to do it, but gagged and had to stop). I’ve come across a ripe moose carcass in the woods that smelled better. Unbelievable.
One at a time they’re pretty cool though. Mayflies are one of those species that exists for the larva stage. The adults have no mouths or other digestive organs and are basically just gonads with wings. And eyeballs. They live just days, mate and die. Their corpses are wispy, weightless things that float on the slightest breeze. I noticed several other kinds on the deck, but none were situated so nicely as this one – on my grill cover.
These next little bugs were on the deck railing just at the top of the stairs and because they herd together in a little group, they’re easy to see even though they are only about 3mm long (not including the feelers). The little stripes are so cute and so I had to grab the macro lens. I also used a 25mm extension tube so I could get even closer. They seemed to be eating the gunk that collects in the texture of the decking material. Because it’s not natural wood, I wasn’t concerned although if a bug that ate plastic did evolve, that would be a big help for us! Those two little balls in the lower right are what they look like – poop. Tiny, tiny poop.
After a bit of puzzling, an answer to what these guys are finally came from an insect ID group on Flickr.
The are Cerastipsocus venosus; commonly known as barklice or sometimes tree cattle which is hilarious because in one of my photo captions I mentioned how they herd together like cows and graze. The little group on my deck was only 10 individuals to start out with and I’m glad it wasn’t more because they do mass in the hundreds and that would have been kinda icky. A few at a time are cool though and here’s how they looked after a few days –
What I thought might be vestigial wings turned out to be just undeveloped and as they moved through the larval stage they got bigger and so did the antennae. The fully grown wings added another 2mm to the overall length, but the bodies didn’t grow. In the background of the shot up there, check out the orange spot. It’s visible to the naked eye, but I didn’t know what it was. When the critter sporting it got into a good position, I grabbed the camera again –
It’s a tiny mite; a parasite. Not sure if it’s harmful or not, but the bug itself didn’t seem to be the worse off for it. I love that you can still see the stripes through the wings.
Luckily when disturbed this little herd just froze up, allowing me to use natural light instead of having to resort to flash or very high ISO in order to keep things sharp. The last one has great light; the first rays of the rising sun. Even the tiniest creature throws a shadow.
So now I know what they are, will I be evicting them? Nope. They’re beneficial and non-destructive to wood or trees. Instead they eat fungi or algae or other organic stuff (gunk, yeah, that will do) that collects on tree bark and other things like my deck. I found some good info on this website.
Oh how I love my macro lens. Makes dealing with all the leaves in the yard kind of bearable. I used a tripod for all the shots. If you can remove the center post of your tripod, I recommend doing it if you like to get close to the ground. I don’t use my beanbag as much now I have a tripod that can go all the way down. I also played in the light, looking for very subtle backlighting.
Playing with shadows is a lot of fun, too. I had to work fast for this one, but in the end I beat the sun as it sunk behind my house. Sure, there was always tomorrow, but I kind of like working against a clock. Of sorts.
I couldn’t help turning a couple of the images upside down. Although the light and bokeh are striking, I think inverting the shot just makes it a bit more eye-catching. And we can’t do the same things all the time, now can we?
Back when I lived in NH, I could and did spend hours in my yard photographing tiny things of beauty. It was barely 1/2 an acre of sand and weeds (for the most part), but it kept me occupied and occasionally intrigued. Now I’m in the northwoods of Wisconsin on a bit more land and I have a feeling I could be spending a lot of time finding more of the same. Way more.
So what are we dealing with? An acre and a half of hardwood forest with 150 feet of waterfront (we’re looking into buying the lot next door which will bring the total to about 3 acres). Here’s the big picture –
That’s a view of the dock with a slice of the backyard and the house. I was in the kayak, I didn’t wade out there. It’s probably far over my head anyway. They say the flowage is 20 feet or so at its deepest point.
This is what we like to do best! Beverages on the dock when the water and winds are calm. It doesn’t happen too often; it’s pretty windy through here and the water is often choppy and full of life. Luckily it’s mostly a southern wind, which would be coming from the right in the picture, downstream.
Here’s a view from my chair across the river to Billy’s house –
So that’s some of the big picture, but there’s always a small one for me. The unseen and ignored. Like this liverwort and the sporophytes it makes, like little palm trees.
And then there’s the flowers. Wildflower central. In May the wooded part of the yard (which is most of it) is awash in trillium which comes after the masses of bloodroot bloom. I’ve seen catnip, daisies, tiny pink ones that I don’t know what they are, indian paint brush, spotted touch me not, heal-all, evening lychnis, water hemlock, spring beauty and various kinds of aster, like this rattlesnake root –
And to my utter delight, my favorite, indian pipe –
And of course mushrooms. The yard is loaded with them as are most of the nearby forests (warning, warning, many mushroom photos soon to come).
Being so remote, we have a lot more wildlife than is present in southern NH. I’m not a wildlife photographer, but I may have to become one. We’ve got a loon that lives very close by and that I see or hear almost daily, bald eagles, too. Waterbirds nest in a nearby inlet that is quiet and host to a resident great horned owl that I’ve scared twice now while paddling (previous post). One time a ruffed grouse and I eyeballed each other from mere feet away when I was in the kayak – so different from the other times where we scared each other to death in the woods; me by making one explode out of the undergrowth with furious wing-beats. I had the privilege of watching a family of pileated woodpeckers dining on some stumps and logs right next to my driveway. There are frogs and toads galore and we even have a resident gray tree frog like we did in NH. I hear it singing frequently from the gutter on the roof and others respond back. Oh and then there are the spiders –
That big momma is a fishing spider and she lives on our dock with a few sisters, each 3 to 3 1/2 inches including those marvelous legs. They’re nursery web weavers and that’s what she’s done here; woven a protective net for her hundreds of babies. They’re between the metal frame and the wooden dock segments themselves. I’m the only woman in the world that would be happy about this, I think. And of course there are other kinds and my spider ID book rarely stays put.
So my adventure begins in my own backyard once again.
It is wonderful, but posting is going to be a problem. I have really terrible internet here at home. There is no cable or any other high speed connectivity and so a cellular connection with 20gb per month is all we have. Not nearly enough to upload high res photos like I’ve always done. So I need to go to the library and use the wifi there and that will only be once a week or even less. If you tap into any of my online galleries like Flickr or Smugmug, it will be a big batch load instead of a trickle of a few photos per day. Just the way it is. I think I’ll go down to the dock and cry about it. ; )
More from the yard. Everything was shot with the legacy OM 90mm f2 macro except for the amanita.
My husband is used to it by now. If I see something, I can’t sit still until I shoot it. Sometimes just a new idea about how to shoot something will obsess me until I do it. Or the light will change and something will lure me off my chair. Our hanging out on the deck time is often punctuated by me coming and going with the camera. Just the other day though, we had a visitor –
I decided to leave the manual 90mm macro on just to see if I could work with it and a moving subject. It was challenging, but not impossible. The detail at this ISO (1000) is pretty amazing. Some of the softness is grass extremely close to the lens and out of focus. I just wasn’t able to get a lot of that out of the way for fear of scaring it. Never before have I had such an easy time with a garter snake. It was aware of me, but not frightened. I didn’t shoot it the whole time, but just watched it move and investigate a small section of my yard.
Some of our visitors join us right on the deck, like this little shieldbug –
Isn’t he great? The colors just knock me out. Check out his little pink legs! You know you’re a photographer when a bug lands on the deck and you run in for the camera. Another shieldbug came by yesterday, but it was too active to shoot – it crawled all over the place then flew off, crashed into the house, bounced off and landed in the lawn. Who knew bugs could be so entertaining? This earlier one posed for me quite happily though. When I was a kid we called them stinkbugs.
Then there was this mayfly that came by in June –
I love the detail in this shot. All the different structures and formations. I learned that mayflies do not have mouth parts and thus do not eat. The adults exist only to breed. And to serve as models for fly fishermen. The golden mayfly is the largest of the species and from head to the base of the body (not including that long whippy tail) it’s about 1 and 1/4 inches. It stayed on the screen door for more than 24 hours before I decided to send it on its way. I mean, no other mayflies were hanging out so it needed to find where the party was.
The mushroom population is a little thin this year, but this beauty is gracing us with its presence now. I’m no expert, but I think it might be an amanita farinosa.
This next shot is a couple weeks old. It’s a very common weed, but like many plants we call weeds, it can be very beautiful (especially after it rains, which was when I took this image). This one always catches my attention because the yellow is so very pale and soft. Not like garden loosestrife, St. John’s Wort, Butter-n-eggs and some other yellow flowers.
But nature isn’t all wonderful all the time. It’s rough out there for some. When I first spied this tiny bird’s egg by my walk, I was delighted. I love finding signs of new life and activity. Then I turned over one section and found the yolk still intact. Instant sadness.
It is all part of a much larger cycle though and within a few hours all traces of the yolk were gone. Ants found it and made short work of it. Some of those ants will feed a bird or two or other creatures that birds eat.
What kind of egg is it? I thought it would be pretty easy to ID, but lots of little birds make tiny speckly eggs. My best guess is titmouse. It’s about the size of my thumbnail – a little larger than a dime.
Yesterday I found something very cool in the yard, but I haven’t photographed it yet, so you’ll have to wait for the surprise.
Another one that’s not elusive in the sense that it’s rare, but that I’ve never encountered it before. This post combines my love of wildflowers and my yard macro thing from the last post. I spotted these guys in an overgrown garden that’s being reclaimed by weeds. Sigh. Laziness. That’s why I can’t have anything nice. But hell, I do have wildflowers so I don’t really care. Both images are done with the OM 90mm macro. Like you couldn’t guess.
I didn’t intend to convert to B&W when I shot the second one, but when I got it into Lightroom, the color saturation was so off the charts that I thought it detracted from what I wanted to do with the image; namely to show the structure of the plant. The color shot I deliberately isolated that one blossom and leaf to hide the structure of the plant. If you didn’t know it was loosestrife, or didn’t know how a loosestrife plant was put together, that shot wouldn’t really help you. The second one (shot at f11) does that, but the extreme yellow and green made you forget about how symmetrical and lovely the arrangement of leaves and flowers is, so I deleted it. Then I cranked the green slider a ways to further emphasize the tonal range.
My approach to shooting wildflowers is to try for something that might be different from how other people have taken photos of the same subject. I mean, how many shots of pink lady slippers does the world need? Whenever I shoot them I try for different angles or to find a specimen that has something unique about it. If I don’t have an idea of how others shot the plant, I try for what strikes me about it at the time. As I studied these little wonders, I was struck by the symmetrical arrangement of the flowers on the leaves, and the graceful counterparts they make. So that’s what I tried to highlight. Hope you liked my “fine art” treatment of a backyard weed.
that I call ‘Yard Macros’.
It’s when I go into the yard for some camera therapy.
I live in the ‘burbs. On a tiny plot of sand. I suck at gardening. As much as I’d like a nicely landscaped yard, I don’t (once I attempted it, but it didn’t take). I can’t stand yard work or gardening and so we basically have wildly overgrown plants, hardly any of which came from a green house. Most are what you’d call weeds.
Yeah, I said it. Weeds.
And this year is the worst year yet. I haven’t mowed. My husband had surgery to repair a torn pectoral, so neither has he.
Yep. Mid-June and narry a Honda has graced the lawn.
Lawn. That’s nice. Call it that if you want. I prefer pasture. Or meadow.
So back to that thing I do. Sometimes I go into the yard and shoot what is there. Often it’s something pretty small because any kind of landscape will have a neighbor’s house in it. No matter what direction I face there’s a house. So small scale it is, but darn, there’s sometimes wonders down there, out of sight but within view.
I would have added some mushrooms, but someone eated them.
Finally a post that fits the blog name.
Without going all Disney on you about the cycle of life, death is most certainly part of it. While I don’t seek out dead things to photograph (even though there’s plenty of roadkill these days), I didn’t avoid it when presented with an opportunity. I thought there might be something beautiful to be found and I was right. At least I think so.
A couple of months ago I looked out onto my back lawn and saw a strange, black shape. ‘A dead crow’ flashed through my mind before I even walked over. Lo and behold it was a dead crow. In the middle of the lawn. Weird. I mean, yeah, I know crows die and probably even they don’t get to choose either the manner or the hour, but this one fell out of the sky into my yard. Unfortunately, it was already…well, um…someone had a meal already and it wasn’t in a particularly photogenic state. I could wait though.
I’ll start you off slowly, with a couple shots of the beak. The blue up there is real, not computer-generated. They say that all the colors of the rainbow can be found in aspects of black and it certainly did with this study. Having never been close to a crow before I had no idea they had a little hook there at the end of the beak. Useful I’m sure. As I said, this fallen flier had been disturbed with one wing completely severed and so I moved it into position for these shots and as much as I like that one of there look what nature brought me a few days later –
I’d been planning to go outside in the early morning because that low-angled sun would bring up all kinds of texture and detail. Who knew I’d get a frosting of ice crystals? I was out the door like a shot when I saw it from the window and the race was on. How many images could I get before it melted? Could I manage the dynamic range of pure black and pure white? Would it be as subtle and yet dramatic as it was to my eye? Oy.
While the seconds ticked by and the sun started to erase the finery, I noticed so many color changes that I could hardly believe it. While they may not work as a cohesive set, they are pretty true to life. I didn’t add color that wasn’t there and I didn’t process too hard what color was there. It’s purely light and white balance.
While I shot these last couple of images, a few of this crow’s still-living brethren flew overhead, calling a raucous good morning. Crows, as a rule, aren’t very sentimental. I’ve heard it said that they mourn their dead, but as smart as I know crows to be, I think they’re more interested in eating their dead than anything else. That’s probably what got to this bird in the first place. That or a hawk of some kind. I’ve often seen them arguing high overhead (we have tons of crows and hawks in my neighborhood). Crows have always reminded me of stern deacons of some intensely puritanical sect, stalking around with stiff-legged purpose; disapproving. And I have an unfulfilled fantasy of having a raven as a pet. Of course I also want an octopus. Intelligent animals fascinate me.
I’m not the only one. Check out this terrific little TED Talk with Joshua Klein. The CrowBox was a great idea, but seems to have, alas, dropped out of sight.
A follow up to the last post, I went out back to the carpet of whitlow grass again and found it buzzing with tiny mining bees (1.5 cm or 5/8 in). The sun being strong, but slightly diffused by clouds I went back in for the camera. So glad I did –
Isn’t she sweet?
Even though I’m out of practice with this lens, I got a decent shot. Basically I have to shoot with the lens stopped down which darkens the viewfinder making it harder to see to compose and focus. Luckily the light was strong and the wind marginal.
I’m always amazed that little creatures like these can make a living this time of year. It makes these seemingly insignificant little weeds all the more important. Oh and while I was hunched down there shooting, I noticed the whitlow grass has a most wonderful scent – like tulips. It was very strong, but so welcome after the long winter.
I can’t help it. Discouraged and in my weird place I still had the urge to go out after a storm and take pictures of my front garden. The process itself made me happy and that hasn’t changed.
I basically just walked the driveway and the shoveled path and used the legacy OM 90mm f2 lens. The light was lovely and it was freezing, but I enjoyed myself. That’s important, but this new feeling of purposelessness is not good. I used to shoot for it’s own sake, but now it seems empty somehow. I don’t know if it will wear off or if this is really the impetus to take the next step and try to make this into a business. A small one anyway. But will that remove the enjoyment? See…this is what I’m bent around the axle about. Part of it anyway.
Suffering for my art.
Snagged a branch off a wonderfully photogenic, but wickedly invasive, bittersweet plant. They’re everywhere now, like purple loosetrife, choking the life out of native plants.
Anyway, I haven’t been shooting macro much so decided to bring out the big guns for these – the OM 90mm f2 and the OM 35mm f2 and the 25mm extension tube. No tripod, just my bag of barley and very bright shade.
I love how the berry coverings make them look like tiny lemons before they’re shed. The berries are just under a centimeter across. The background of this next one is an old grill cover (the one the frogs were living in) on the deck. It only looks good out of focus.
The combination of the extension tube and the 35mm lens allows me some really great angles of view. I like how it makes the berries look slightly menacing –