Project 52 No 5 – backlit flies

20 05 2011

This is the final posting in my “bugs on plants” series this week.   Previous images include a true bug on a dandelion and a pair of Tibetan butterflies frolicking among ferns.  Today’s image shows the shadow of a fly perched on the other side of a plant.  This was taken in a weedy lot near my home last summer, which had gorgeous diversity of plants.

I liked this image for the dramatic green leaf with its yellow veins and red-trimmed edges, and how the fly’s shadow was so clearly seen through the leaf.

The shadow of a backlit fly against a leaf

For folks in Canada, have a great Victoria Day long weekend!

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Project 52 No 7 – a plant bug on a dandelion

17 05 2011

For my birthday several weeks ago, Cosmoboy gave me a snap-on Raynox macroscopic lens converter for my 4/3 camera (Pansonic Lumix G2 HD). It is a nifty little tool which clips on to the end of a lens to enable macro pictures in a hurry.  I’ve been having some fun experimenting with this, and found that it creates lovely  bokeh when using a shallow depth of focus.

This image of a true bug (Hemiptera) on a dandelion was taken two weeks ago on a rare sunny evening in between rainstorms.  It was steadily making its way across the flowertop, then flew off into the sunset.  This tiny bug was one-third size of my fingernail, and I was pleased with how well the macro lens converter allowed me to capture its details so well.  Furthermore, the green grass provides a very nice painterly bokeh background for the little bug.

A true bug on a dandelion

Natural history note:  People who study insects only use the term “bug” (or true bugs) for the insects falling into the Hemiptera order.  Those insects, which are not beetles (Coleoptera), share certain characteristics including the way its wings fold and its proboscis mouthparts.  I think this little bug falls into the Lygus genus.





Great Lakes, Great Stakes! Part 2. Tilting at wind turbines.

11 05 2011

Lake Ontario is a beleaguered Great Lake. Millions of Americans and Canadians live around the lake and countless others depend on the Lake Ontario watershed for water, fish, transport and shipping. It is inevitable that harmful impacts will arise from all those people relying on the lake’s resources.  But, is it also possible to generate postive impacts?

TransAlta claims so.  They have built one of the largest wind farms in Ontario and are leading the forefront of the so-called, “green energy” industrial development in North America.  The wind farm is on the truly buccolic Wolfe Island, just a short ferry ride from the City of Kingston.

Wolfe Island wind turbines from air

Wolfe Island wind turbines from air

The area around Kingston is one of the windiest in Canada, making it a freshwater sailing mecca, and the host of many sailing  regattas and championships. As students at Queen’s University know, wind and kite surfers are a common sight along the shoreline. To take advantage of this energy bounty, TransAlta’s wind turbines, 86 of them, covers the entire island from head to foot, the description locals fondly use for the western and eastern tips. Every turbine, standing a gargantuan 80 meters tall (24 stories), is located on private land with TransAlta paying a generous fee to the land owner. Many farmers have found the turbines to be a significant boost, allowing them to expand their businesses and produce for local markets. However, many residents find the turbines to be ugly, noisy and harmful to the peace of their cherished island.

The IJNR fellows had happened to arrive on Wolfe Island on an important day.  Wednesday May 5 marked the beginning of  a tax-assessment hearing on the impact of wind turbines on property values.  As the Kingston Whig-Standard reported, Wolfe islanders were arguing that the wind turbines had lowered property values on the island.  Other opponents of wind farm developments elsewhere on Lake Ontario had come specifically to sit in the hearing.  As a result, the IJNR had to tread carefully and sensitively to avoid the impression of bias towards any group on the island.

An IJNR fellow photographing a wind turbine tower

An IJNR fellow photographing a wind turbine tower

We toured the island to see the wind turbines up close. They truly tower over the entire island which otherwise consists of farms and 2-story houses. The structures are so prominent in the landscape that local touring companies now have their boats go by the island specifically to view the turbines. Our lunch stop was  a church, which had been carefully selected because it represented neutral ground for all factions on the Island.  Farmers, TransAlta representatives and anti-wind community members then discussed issues with the journalists.  As a Queen’s professor and an observer, I did  not directly participate in those sessions but used this as an opportunity to listen and learn about the issues.

Green energy initiatives are simply not as clean-cut as one would like, or the press would have us believe. Wind power does produce minimal pollution when generating energy, a big advantage in a province that relies on dirty coal-powered generating plants and controversial nuclear plants.  However, having such dominant structures planted throughout one’s community really changes one’s relationship to the land and landscape.  Wolfe Island is now an important case study for all communities and corporations considering wind power developments.

After Wolfe Island, we travelled to Picton where we had a lovely evening meal at one of the local restaurants. Frank Allen spoke in detail and gave some intriguing perspectives on environmental reporting and communicating complex ideas to the public.

Frank speaking on environmental journalism at IJNR dinner in Picton

Frank speaking on environmental journalism at IJNR dinner in Picton

The next day, they joined a fishing trip led by my colleague Tim Johnson, a scientist with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources fisheries research station in Glenora. I said my good byes that evening, but I’ll definitely be following the work of all the journalists I met during this trip.  It was a wonderful opportunity, not only for the journalists, but also for this scientist, to discuss Lake Ontario environmental issues.

My thanks go to the Institute of Journalism and Natural Resources for their invitation and hosting.

[Part 1 of this two-part post on the rising & declining fish populations in Lake Ontario is linked here.]





Project 52 No 9 – Go-kart track tires in rain

20 04 2011

This weekend, I took a trip to the dump just north of Kingston to recycle a very rusty BBQ.  On the way, I passed the local drive-in movie theatre which has a small park including a go-kart track.  But with the freezing rain pouring down,  it was closed. The place looked utterly dismal and bleak in the rainfall, so I pulled over to see if I could get some shots.  Unfortunately, I started to shiver within minutes due to the rain (despite wearing a waterproof insulated jacket), so I couldn’t stay for long despite the amazing photographic potential of the site.  Even so, I was able to get some interesting shots of the water-logged track lined with old tires.

As you can see, it was a pretty miserable day.  The white streaks of rain hurtling down, the splashes in the puddles and the slickness of the tires along the quiet go-kart track convey that impression of loneliness and discomfort.

Tires lining a go-kart track

Photo notes:  I thought I’d try out G’MIC, an open-source image manipulation software package for GIMP.   I used the “artistic pencil” feature for this go-kart photograph and made the pencil outline as fine as possible. This allowed me to preserve the photographic b&w quality of the image, but still bring out the important details of the image. I liked how this technique made the foreground details pop out in stark contrast to the burned-out white highlights from the reflections off the wet track.





Project 52 No. 10. Squirrel with a cookie

13 04 2011

Last Friday, while heading home from work I noticed a little black squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) trying really hard to avoid attention among the shrubs but failing.  The squirrel had in its paws a delicious-looking chocolate-chip cookie and was frantically seeking a quiet place to consume this treat.  Two other squirrels were circling, looking for an opportunity to grab a bite, so the squirrel finally ran up its tree – close to where I was waiting with my camera.   It wasn’t too happy to see me either, but I managed to grab a couple of photographs before it scooted up to its its hiding place in a hollow in the trunk.  This image shows the squirrel grasping the cookie in its mouth, which was larger than its own head! It kept a close eye on me and I suspect it was probably assessing just how likely I was to steal its delicacy… but I was more interested in capturing its image.

A squirrel with a cookie on a tree

Natural history note: This is the black form of the Eastern Grey Squirrel.  Three colour variations have been observed among the Eastern Grey squirrel population on the Queen’s University campus: the standard Eastern Grey colour, which is a speckled grey/brown coat with  creamy underside fur, the all-black melanistic form common throughout Eastern Ontario and the less common all-blonde variation (not albino) with dark brown eyes.  It is my goal to photograph up close the blonde squirrels which occasionally appear on the campus. However, they are very elusive and do not appear every year. Maybe this summer, I will get lucky?





Project 52 No. 11. Raindrops on tabletops

6 04 2011

It’s raining again in Kingston. It has been a wet winter — when it is not snowing, it’s raining!  Fortunately, spring has arrived, with green shoots and buds emerging everywhere. During my daily lunchtime stroll back to Queen’s University, I saw stacked patio tables in front of the Grad Club, covered with raindrops. The play of light was rather interesting, so I obtained permission from the Grad Club Manager to access the locked patio.  The original images came out rather flat, and the reflections and colours I had seen with my eyes were not obvious.  So I found myself doing a bit of post-production on the colour space using GIMP. I adjusted the levels until the rain drops “popped out” in the way I had seen when I was walking by.

Raindrops on tabletops





Breaking out of Project 52 Doldrums II: Getting out of the corner

30 03 2011

Yesterday, I explained that I was struggling with my photography. I didn’t even want to look at my camera on some days, which is very unlike me, as I usually enjoy experimenting and capturing quirky images.  As a result of my disinclination, I have fallen behind on Project 52. This week, I am trying to break free from the doldrums by drawing inspiration from other people who chose to communicate in public venues.

Today’s image is from Kingston, Ontario.  I do not take images of graffiti tagging for a number of reasons. So why did I take this one? This was in early January late at night, when I was rushing to my car parked downtown.  This scene caught the corner of my eye, and I had to stop and see what compelled me so.  The lonely yet brash tag contrasting with the additional out-of-boredom doodles of decorative painting around the electric box and vent was a bit surreal. The whole security-lit scene by the firmly-locked steel door seemed to speak volumes.  Are we communicating with each other?

Kingston tag and doodles

(Project 52 No. 13)