Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy Autumn!

Sorry, I know it's a few days late, but better late than never, right? Also, my Mom's birthday is tomorrow, so Happy Birthday Mom!

One of the very special weather treats that we get this time of year out in the rural areas is fantastic morning fog! I love it. Here's a picture I took last year, almost exactly 1 year ago.

And here are some pictures I took on the way in to work this morning. I love how the fog diffuses the bright morning sunlight.

If the night has been chilly and without a breeze, the morning sunrise is bound to be shrouded in fog this time of year. It happens in October, and March and April, too, but not as often. I'm guessing the air is just plain drier in those months, and fog can't form when the air is dry. Some correlation between air temperature and the dew point... but I'll stop there, 'cause I can't offer any more in the way of scientific explanations on the formation of fog!

Instead, just some more photos...

Here's a lonely little Ironweed plant, sticking out like a sore thumb among a field of soybeans.

And here is some type of grass that's gone to seed, with a grasshopper, dew drops and spider webs to keep it company. This is the original (albeit cropped) picture that I took, and I think the coloring conveys the crisp, cool feeling of the morning.

But then I altered it a little, bumping up the saturation and warming up the colors just a bit, which gives it more of a "fall" feel.

The leaves are a'changin' around here, and we're going to start seeing more and more of these warm fall colors.

This weekend I'm off to The Wilds for a photography camp. I'm sure I'll have plenty of photos to share when I get back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Great Hickory Horned Devil, Batman!

One great thing about living in the woods is that it's a veritable Discovery Zone. I see so many new things in our woods, and if I'm lucky, I'll see it more than once. For example, spotting frogs and toads is not too uncommon around here. And just the other day, for the second time, I spotted a Red Eft. These pictures were actually taken over 3 years ago, but at least you can see what I'm talking about. The one I saw the other day I actually managed to pick up to let it run around on my hand for a minute.

I am SO outta here!

I also picked up a frog the other day. So it would only seem natural that I would want to pick this up.

Gaaaah! What the...?!


Dave found this the other day, wandering around the base of one of our Shagbark Hickory trees. I wasn't home at the time, but he knew I would want to see it, so he contained it for a bit until I got home. At first I was freaked out, as he told me I would be, but then fascination took over. He had already done some Googling and found out that it's a Hickory Horned Devil.

Here is a description, as found on the Ohio State Unversity Extention Fact Sheet on Giant Caterpillars: "This caterpillar is the larva of the Royal Walnut Moth, also known as the Regal Moth. The larva is not one for a timid person to suddenly discover. It has a scary, frightful appearance resembling a small dragon with up to five pairs of long, curving hornlike structures over the back of its thorax with the rest of the body covered with shorter spikes. The body color ranges from deep blue-green to tan with orange spikes tipped with black. Shorter spikes are black. Though very ferocious appearing, it is quite harmless to handle. They are enormous in size, being five to six inches long and nearly 3/4-inch in diameter. They feed for a period of 37 to 42 days on the leaves of hickory, walnut, butternut, pecan, ash, lilac, persimmon, sycamore, sumac and sweet gum. Larvae mature in late summer, wandering around searching for a place to burrow underground to pupate. Overwintering occurs in the pupal stage."

By the way, I have to take this opportunity to plug state extension offices. Do you want to know what that funny bug is crawling around your house? Do you want to know why the leaves on the Sycamore trees around the county are turning brown prematurely? Want to learn how to raise cattle? Want an analysis of your soil? Your local extension office can help you with these questions. For folks in Ohio, check the Ohio State University Extension website for all kinds of helpful stuff, including links to county offices. For those in other states, just type in "your state here extension offices" in any search engine and you should come up with something. I have found the Athens County Extension office's weekly online updates to be a valuable resource. Now back to the show.

We had seen some pictures of people holding one of these devils in their hand, and I was determined I was going to do the same.

Or maybe not. This was NOT a happy caterpillar - every time I touched it, it would thrash about, and that really freaked me out. I knew it wouldn't hurt me, but it was still alarming just the same. Dave thought it was too bad he didn't get a picture of me when I jumped the first time I touched it. This is as close as I got to holding it. Also, these pictures give you a better perspective of just how big this thing is.

-by the way, I'm not really scared here - just hammin' it up for the camera (imagine that)

Will we ever see one of these again? Who knows. Maybe I'll be a little more brave if there is a next time. Hey, at least I touched it. That's more than I can say for the guy who took all the pictures.

So what makes a creature like this develop such ferocious-looking characteristics? Are there other caterpillars out there that are equally (or more) alarming in appearance? And for those that don't look intimidating, what is their defense against predation (assuming that's why the Hickory Horned Devil is built this way)? Poison in their flesh? Something else?

Other fascinating facts: The adult moths have no mouth parts and so are unable to eat. But they don't need to. Once they emerge as an adult moth, they mate during the second evening after their emergence, eggs are laid the third evening, and then they die. Can you imagine what it would be like to eat like mad as a baby for a few weeks to a few months, hibernate for 1-2 years, emerge full grown and in a completely different form, have sex on day 2, deposit eggs, then die, THE END? This is one of the great mysteries of the animal world that I can't wrap my brain around. I also wonder if the passage of time seems eternal to these small creatures with short life-spans. Maybe an hour seems like days. Or maybe they have no comprehension of time whatsoever, other than the natural rhythm set for them by their ancestors.

Nature's Discovery Zone frequently reminds me about how much I DON'T know, and makes me relish each day as an opportunity for new knowledge, and new questions to ask. I was always fond of school, and I love learning new things. As I grow older, I become more and more excited about being a student of life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

At the water's edge

Yesterday's photographic theme was all about water. Certain subjects draw my photographic attention more than others, and water is definitely one of those subjects that lure me in. Especially moving water, but we don't have so much of that in these parts, especially not at this time of year when all of the little creekbeds are just about dry as a bone. So for now I have to make do with still water. And stillness is fine, too. Especially early in the morning, on your way to work. These images are from Fox Lake, all variations on the same theme - to capture the mist rising over the water.

While I was there, in the stillness I heard a Pileated Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and heard and saw some unidentified hawks. Sorry, no bird pics, they were either too far away or not visible at all. I was really hoping to encounter some Canadian Geese on the dock side of the water, but I actually saw none at all.

Later in the day, after work, I made my way up the The Ridges, where there is a nice little pond. I was pleasantly surprised to find lily pads still in bloom.

There were also large groupings of a flower I determined to be White Snakeroot. I mean, it was all over the place.

I like this shot, but I feel it's a little too busy, and the reflection of the sun off the water in the background is distracting. I thought I would try it out in black and white with a bit of a blurry halo around it. I like that result a little better.

A close-up of White Snakeroot

I always enjoy taking pictures, but sometimes I'm just not pleased with the results. I debated whether or not to give voice to my inner critic in this post, and decided to go with it, albeit with a much more condensed version than I had originally planned (there has been the space of a day between this writing and the time I took the pictures, so the critic has backed off a little).

I very much prefer to take tight, close-up shots of things, with only 1 or 2 subjects filling the frame. This was the type of photography I gravitated to immediately when I first got my digital SLR 2-1/2 years ago, and I plan on taking that even further by getting a macro lens sometime in the near future. That said, I do also like to capture more "landscape" style photos, but I feel like they often fall flat, either because they lack a focal point of interest, or the composition is slightly off. It's also more difficult for me to get proper control over my exposures, and the colors often end up looking either flat or washed out. I want to continue practicing taking these landscape-type pictures, but 95% of the time I am frustrated with my results. The only way I will become more comfortable with it is to keep trying, but it's tough. My instinct draws me to stick with what I'm good at, and getting better at (i.e. close-up photography). For example, my favorite photos shown in this post are the 2 very close-up shots that are all about the foreground, not so much about the background:

So there you have it - my photo self-critique out in the open. If you have opinions about any of the images you see here, whether they be positive or negative, feel free to let me know!

Monday, September 1, 2008

New toy!

Dave is now the proud owner of a tractor!

It's a Kubota BX2350 sub-compact tractor with a 23HP, 3-cylinder diesel engine. Currently the front-end loader is the only attachment on the tractor - we're still waiting on the rear blade to come in.

We took pictures on a couple of different days. It was suggested that I didn't take enough pictures of the actual tractor the first day (I was more concerned with getting close-ups of the happy operator, I guess).

Already he's moved a few railroad ties around with the bucket, used the bucket to "blade" the driveway (kind of -the bucket doesn't do quite as clean a job as the real blade will do, but it's decent enough), and moved around a little earth with it.

He even let me give it a shot. Actually, I was a little intimidated by it at first, but once I tried it out, I now understand how fun it is to play with!

Next project: building a pole barn to house the new toy (as well as other items that need better homes than they currently have).

Good beginnings

Happy Monday! Happy September! Happy Labor Day! It seemed appropriate to me to bake something this morning, to celebrate the fact that I could be in my kitchen at 9:00 am on a Monday morning instead of at my desk at work. The fruit of my labor? Chocolate Chip Scones!

Yes, scones and a cup of Bengal Spice tea seemed like a fitting way to start the day.

Dave and I enjoyed our leisurely breakfast out on the deck, both of us splurging and having 2 scones each. The dogs hung out with us as we ate and talked. The birds and the cicadas sang. What a great way to start the morning, to start the week, to start the month. Good beginnings to you!
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