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 1. The rise and fall of fish species.

10 05 2011

Are the Great Lakes important? Should people outside of the region care about our Great Lakes?  The Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR) think so.

Last week, a group of American and Canadian journalists travelled around Lake Ontario on an IJNR fellowship.  Travelling on a bus rented from a Montreal hockey team, they started their journey canoeing down the Don River in Toronto. After the canoe trip, they continued along their route, stopping at various sites to meet experts and learn about environmental issues affecting Lake Ontario.

Frank Allen of IJNR invited me to join them halfway through their trip.  I met the journalists in Sackets Harbor in New York and spent a lovely evening talking about science communication and the journalist perspective.  The next day, inspired and energized by the discussions from the night before, I joined several journalists on a charter fishing boat captained by “Megabite”.  The goal for the day was to land some trout, but the heavens opened early.

IJNR Fellows fishing in the rain

IJNR Fellows fishing in the rain

Despite the downpour, it was a good trip. We went to a deep trench in Lake Ontario by an island where trout and salmon congregate at their preferred cold temperatures and caught many fish.  And throughout the day we talked extensively about the science and economics of the introduced fish.

IJNR fellows interviewing Captain "Megabite"

IJNR fellows interviewing Captain "Megabite"

Most trout and all salmon in Lake Ontario are not native. They have been stocked by state and provincial governments for several decades.  They are the cornerstone of a thriving multi-million dollar sportfish and recreational fishing industry around the lake.

Just as I wrote about Lake Erie, Lake Ontario is not the same lake it was 50 years ago.  Invasive species, especially round goby, now make up a high proportion of the trout and salmon diets. After meeting with the charter boat captains and New York biologists we discussed native, introduced and invasive species. The Sackets Harbor captains mentioned that the round goby had very probably revived their fishing businesses in a big way!

Trout caught by IJNR fellows for lunch!

We then drove over the Canadian border to meet with a group of people working on the endangered American eel.  The rain simply would not abate, and we had to huddle under a bridge by small river for shelter. This particular river is an important site for young eels and we were to see a demonstration of electro-fishing. My colleague, John Casselman and his graduate students spoke about their work with American eel, which has an amazingly intricate marine-freshwater lifecycle that is threatened by dams along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

In addition, John Rorabeck, an expert commercial fisherman, spoke about the historical importance of American eel to fishing industries. Unfortunately the boat was not working so we could not collect American eel, but the journalists got to listen to top-notch stories by two leading experts.  It was wonderful to listen to John R, especially as he truly has close ties to Lake Ontario and he had worked with one of my graduate students on the Rideau Lakes catching fish for our food web analyses.

Commercial fisherman John R speaking about American eel

Commercial fisherman John R speaking about American eel

By the end of the day the complexity of the lake was becoming very apparent. We had considered introduced fish species which were benefiting from an invasive fish species, the trout and the round goby. We also discussed a native species fast declining in the Great Lakes.  Lake Ontario is changing very rapidly… what will it be like in the future? Even the most knowledgeable scientists and fishermen are not sure.

Tomorrow:  Tilting at wind turbines.





Project 52 No 8. Mayflies & a spider web

27 04 2011

Over the long weekend, Cosmoboy and I visited Prince Edward Point Conservation Area just to check out how Spring was emerging there. What we encountered, instead, were emerging swarms of mayflies!  This picture shows numerous mayflies captured in a spiderweb, with the spider nowhere to be seen.

Mayflies trapped in a spiderweb

Natural history note: Those are tentatively identified as early blue-winged olives of the Baetis genus (if you can help with identification, let me know).  Mayfly larvae and nymphs spend much of their lives underwater, and emerge as adults to look for mates. Their emergence each year are an indicator of the start of fly-fishing season for many serious anglers (and the start of a productive season for hungry spiders and fish). Although, many people do find them a nuisance when they are found on one’s teeth and in one’s hair after a nice bike ride along the lake!

To give an idea of how it must have looked with all the mayflies swarming around us, this is a shot of the sky taken just for fun:

Overhead mayfly swarm





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?





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)