Thursday, July 20, 2017

Photos of the Week

A random assortment of photos taken at Innovation Place and on my walks back and forth to work.

I always enjoy seeing the pelicans at the weir. (Taken from the railway bridge with the RX10m3's 600mm lens)

white pelicans at the weir

I had trouble tracking this Swainson's hawk against a bright sky. If only I could fly my paraglider half as gracefully.

Swainson's hawk

Lots of different water lilies on the pond these days. The water is somewhat dirty and distracting so it's nice to be able to turn it black.

water lily

I love the details of them. Sometimes they seem to glow with an inner light.

water lily closeup

water lily closeup

The giant water lilies aren't flowering yet, but the leaves are impressive (about 18 inches across!)

giant water lily

Lots of other flowers around too. Interesting to observe the flowering process.




I'm not sure what kind of flower this is, it's on a large bush / small tree and the flowers are huge - grapefruit sized, and quite interesting inside.


And the usual birds are about - sparrows, robins, magpies, crows, and chickadees. The sparrows know to come around the outdoor tables where people eat lunch, looking for crumbs.


This robin was shy about having a bath while I was watching. Every time I moved to get a better angle it would stop and look around innocently.

American Robin

The jackrabbits are becoming common at Innovation Place. It's a rare day when I don't see them, and usually it's several times a day. Some of them are smaller so I assume there's a new generation around. They seem even more tolerant of people than their parents.


My thanks again to Innovation Place for their lovely gardens, and for being able to walk to work along the river.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I've been taking lots of photos lately so I thought I'd split off the bugs. Most people are happy enough with butterflies and dragonflies, but beware, if you scroll down too far you'll be into the spiders :-)

Aphrodite Fritillary butterfly

I think this is a Fritillary butterfly, maybe an Aphrodite. I saw it fly by and land out of sight. So I crept up slowly, closer and closer. But I couldn't see it, maybe it hadn't landed? I walked closer and it spooked and flew away. It landed nearby on a brick wall. I slowly moved towards it, taking photos as I went in case it flew away again. But this time it put up with me getting close enough for some good shots.

I didn't even make it off the front steps of our house for this next one - a cute little (1 cm) furry moth on the wall.


This one I chased around on the lower dirt trail beside the river. It refused to sit still for long, but at least it kept landing by the trail where I could photograph it. I submitted this one to iNaturalist with a tentative id of an Eyed Brown, but I was soon corrected that it was a Northern Pearly-eye. Many butterflies have very different patterns on the top and bottom of their wings, but this one was quite similar.

Northern Pearly-eye butterfly

There are lots of dragonflies and damselflies around. I try to photograph a variety. Because they are territorial, they often return to the same hunting perch which helps a lot in photographing them. I think this is a Four-spot skimmer. (confirmed on iNaturalist)

Four-spot skimmer dragonfly

Four-spot skimmer dragonfly

While I was photographing this dragonfly I spotted this nearby. I think it's a Crane Fly of some sort. They look a bit like a giant mosquito, but they don't bite (thank goodness!)

crane fly (?)

And last, but not least, the 8 legged ones. I was walking by the backlit lilies when I noticed the silhouette of a spider. It turned out to be a Harvestman (which aren't technically spiders). Many of these are missing a leg or two but this one still has all eight.


Not sure what kind these next two are.



Of course, my favorites are the fishing spiders. After multiple years of observing them, I finally saw one eating. It had one of the small damselflies by the head. I also saw what could be leftovers beside others, damselfly wings beside one, and water beetle wing covers next to another. They are mostly nocturnal hunters which is presumably why I don't see them eating much. It's hard to pin down what fascinates me about these spiders but I don't seem to get tired of observing them.

I was crouched down by the pond (I'm sure people wonder what I'm looking at) searching for spiders when I realized this one was on the edge of the concrete within inches of my feet. This is another female with egg sac. The egg sac starts out white from the newly spun spider silk, but it soon turns this shade of gray/brown. I can't quite figure out how they hang onto the egg sac. They don't appear to use their legs.

fishing spider

Once the eggs are ready to hatch the female makes a "nursery" web to protect the young spiders. At the Innovation Place Pond they seem to do this on the concrete side of the pond. Here's one batch of babies. It's a bit tricky to get the spiderlings in focus when they're surrounded by web. They also tend to start dispersing when you get close with the camera.

fishing spider babies in nursery web

There are a couple of corners of the pond where I tend to spot them. It usually takes a few minutes to see them, even when you know what to look for. Although they don't appear especially camouflaged, they tend to blend in quite well. One day I thought there were none around and by the time I was finished I'd spotted four of them within a square foot of pond. Here's one hiding in plain sight. They seem to like to be in a position where they can duck under the water if threatened.

fishing spider

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Print of the Week

water lily and reflections

A water lily with a background of reflections. Early morning at the pond at Innovation Place when the sun is on the trees but not on the water itself, resulting in good reflections. And just enough breeze to ripple the water in an interesting fashion. The flower adds some tangible interest to the otherwise abstract reflections.

My recent prints are showing a bit of a green theme, but that's the time of the year. Can't help but appreciate the vibrant color of life and growth in contrast with our long winters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bird House Wren

House Wren

Shelley's Dad made a batch of bird houses and they put up a couple in our yard. One was right beside our shed and back gate and I was skeptical that a cautious bird would choose to use it. But it soon filled up with twigs and obviously something was building a nest, although I never saw the builder. Then one day when I was getting my bike out of the shed I heard a lot of cheeps from the box - hatchlings. Twigs blocked part of the entrance, and it was dark inside so you couldn't see them.

Watching from my office window I finally spotted a parent coming and going feeding the babies. I haven't figured out if it's one parent or two doing the feeding - I've only see one bird at a time. (Audubon says "probably both parents feed nestlings")

House Wren with a beak-full of bugs

It think it's a House Wren. I've probably seen them before but from a distance they're just another sparrow-like bird flitting about, although they're a little smaller than a sparrow. When you get a better look in the photos, they actually have an attractively patterned tail.

I was amazed at how often the parent returned to the nest with food. They're obviously very good at finding and catching insects. It's also amazing that the babies can process food at that rate, although it is being shared with probably 6 or 7 of them. It was as quick as 15 or 20 seconds between visits, or as long as a minute or two. Visits were quick and if you glanced away you could easily miss a visit. If you were within hearing you could tell when the parent was feeding because of all the cheeps from the nestlings. The first day I was watching the parent would go completely inside the bird house to feed them. But a few days later the nestlings are getting bigger and they come close enough to the opening that the parent can feed them while perched on the edge. The feeding frequency seems to have slowed down as well.

Of course, I had to try to take some photos. I got out the big lens, tripod, and gimbal head. At first I took some photos from my (open) office window. But even with 900mm equivalent the bird house was a bit far away for good shots. So I moved into the back yard. Our yard slopes down towards the back so I could set up sitting on the ground. I tried not to disturb them too much. The feeding continued as before so I assume I succeeded. Occasionally the parent would land on the fence or on top of the bird house before delivering a batch of food. Perhaps a nice juicy spider, or a fat moth, or a mouthful of miscellaneous bugs.

House Wren with a nice juicy spider

House Wren with a beak-full of bugs

I'm always impressed that they can collect multiple insects without dropping them, a good trick with no hands!

House Wren with a moth

This morning, the nestlings are more active and vocal, crowding around the door awaiting the next food delivery. Notice the bright yellow mouth to provide the parent with an easy target. These guys look fairly well developed.

House Wren nestlings

Of course, what goes in must come out. With that many nestlings eating that many bugs, the nest would be a mess, except that the parent carefully removes the waste (which the baby bird conveniently produces in a tidy fecal sac) Taking the waste away from the nest also reduces the chance of predators finding it.

House Wren taking out the garbage

House Wren

Despite the decent camera and lens and my best efforts, the photos aren't quite as sharp as I'd like. Not sure what I need to do different. High ISO on some, which is part of the problem. It's also a balance between small aperture for depth of focus and fast shutter to freeze motion. Getting closer would be the best solution but I didn't want to disturb the birds too much. On the other hand, these days the majority of people view photos on the tiny screen of their phone.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Window Seat

Cedar Waxwing

I glanced up from my computer at work to see a Cedar Waxwing on a tree branch outside. It looked small, perhaps a juvenile? It stayed for a few seconds so I slowly pulled my camera case out of my pack beside the desk and started getting the camera out. Of course, it immediately flew away. I looked around but couldn't see it anywhere so I started putting the camera away. Of course, then it reappeared. I got the camera out again and this time it stayed in sight, although it was hopping and flying from branch to branch making it difficult to photograph. On top of that, the window isn't the cleanest and the camera was struggling to focus at full zoom.

Then a second Cedar Waxwing appeared. The first one started begging and the new one regurgitated something and fed it to the first. This was repeated several times and then they sat quietly on the branch for a short time, seemingly satisfied. I assume the first one was indeed a juvenile, and the second one a parent. Some birds continue to feed their offspring even after they can fly and leave the nest, until they learn to feed themselves. Adult Cedar Waxwings eat mostly berries. The young are fed mostly insects at first and then more berries after a few days. I think I saw a moth like insect being fed at one point.

Cedar Waxwing parent feeding juvenile

They are quite attractive birds with their black bandit masks and flashes of yellow. Outside of breeding season they are usually seen in flocks.

Photos taken with my new Sony RX10m3 at 600mm equivalent, through a window.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Montana Nature


This rabbit greeted me at the campground when I arrived and was ok with me taking its photo, as long as I didn't get too close. There were lots of deer around as well although I didn't get many photos of them. This one had a lopsided set of antlers.

deer running away

But the highlights were the wildflowers.

lupin flowers


wild rose


ladybug on flowers

Even the prickly pear cactus were blooming.

prickly pear cactus flowers

Of course, I was on the lookout for other critters. I found this Northern Leopard Frog in a small dammed pond for cattle. I had the camera within a few inches of it before it got fed up and jumped away. It's nice to see them since, although still relatively common, they are threatened (as are many amphibians) by habitat loss, pollution, and disease.

Northern Leopard frog

I think this is some kind of Fritillary butterfly but there are several that are very similar.

Fritillary (?) butterfly

There were lots of birds around as well.

Cedar Waxwing

American Goldfinch

Gray Catbird

Red-winged blackbird

White Pelicans taking off

See also Montana Abstracts

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