Photography

Invasion of the Acorn Hoarders….

It just doesn’t seem possible to me, at least at the moment, to relate the latest disconcerting and aggravating episode of life’s trials put upon me in any sort of condensed version. So I must bear the toil of ascribing this latest trial to you in some detail as it winds its seemingly never ending path while you, should you even dare, must tag along and endure what will surely seem to be a journalistic maze.

It would seem critters of all sorts, sizes and family origins have perhaps been bewitched by the wicked Mother Nature of the East and set upon me to taunt, harass and just in general make life here in the neighborhood dark and miserable. It seems to have all begun summer before last….

Cardinal MessPerhaps you’ll might remember the persistent male Cardinal that spent the summer fighting the other male Cardinal he was seeing in my side view car mirror and making a mess of both my mirror and my car door (no pun intended). Well if you forgot note click on the photo just to the left or you can refresh your memory with all the gory details ‘here’.

I eventually resolved that critter crisis when this past September, unbeknownst to me, I was about to be besieged by yet more bewitched critters. It all started innocently enough with my clothes dryer. I went to dry some washed clothes one morning and when I turned on my dryer I heard quite a disconcerting rattling sound coming from the vicinity of my dryers vent hose. The sound only lasted for a couple of seconds and then everything sounded fine. Next time I did a wash and it was time to dry the clothes, same thing, a brief rattling sound coming from the dryer then everything was fine.

Well, if you’re like me disconcerting sounds from a clothes dryer tend to send up all sorts of red flags, the most serious of course is perhaps the potential fire danger from a malfunctioning dryer. So I finally called an appliance repair company who came out and after a brief examination could not find an issue but noted several acorns on my patio around the dryer vent and suggested that it might be some small critter using my vent hose as a place to hide his acorn stash and each time I turned on my dryer it would blow them out of the vent and on to my patio.

My dryer vent seemed too small for a squirrel to enter so I assumed it must be some sort of mouse or small rat. Then only a couple of nights later I had gotten up out of bed in the middle of the night to go tinkle and while standing there heard what sounded like gnawing just below where I was standing under the floor. That was very upsetting to me because I am almost fanatical about insuring that nothing can get inside my home’s crawl space from the outside. If the sound was indeed emanating from under the house whatever it was would have surely had to burrow from outside and then under the house foundation to get under the house.

Next morning after getting up I went outside and inspected the outside of the house near where I had heard the gnawing that night but saw no evidence at all of any burrowing or possible access for a critter to get under the house. But it is fall and there are lots of leaves everywhere, perhaps I could miss something. At any rate I broke out my stash of small mouse traps. That first day I set my first one on the patio along the side of the house near the opening to the dryer vent. Next morning, Walla….

P1020183a

Just to be sure there wasn’t more than one of those critters I set the mouse trap again but set this one on the other end of my patio near wear I had heard the gnawing and next morning, Walla….

P1020188a

After that second night I tallied up the score and I saw it as, Alan-2/Mice-0! And it is certainly worth noting that those results were confirmed as final. Just in case, I set a mouse trap under the house for a few days and caught nothing. Also there were no more rattling noises emanating from the dryer and that has remained so to date. So, problem resolved right? Wrong….

It was just like any other partially warm, sunny December day as I got in my car to head out for my weekly grocery shopping. As I was backing out of the drive I hit my windshield washer lever just to clean off my windshield a bit. “Uh oh, nothing but a whirring sound and no fluid coming out onto the windows. Well crap!” I thought to myself, “I’m out of washer fluid.” But that was okay because I knew I actually had a gallon or so in my storage room so I would just have to remember to refill the reservoir in the next day or two.

And so it was a few days later that I went out to take care of that little chore. After struggling to get the hood open on my Chrysler and getting one of those lovely blood spots I posted about a few days ago, I finally got the hood open. It was at that very moments that complete shock ensued when I got a look at what was under my hood. Every little crick and cranny under that hood had acorn shells piled in them, including bunches of them on top of the engine itself.

When I saw them in the little indentations and cubby holes on and around the engine it was a bit alarming. Fortunately my driving normally consists of little jaunts here or little jaunts there, but if I had driven the car long enough to really heat up that engine I’m not sure those things might not have caught fire. They looked like fresh kindling lying around everywhere but of course those literally on the engine themselves being the most disconcerting.

I inspected the compartment as best I could quite honestly expecting to find wires or hoses having been gnawed on or damaged. Fortunately there was no visible evidence of damage or of any sort of nest building, just tons of acorn shells. Oddly enough, there were no whole acorns at all, just bits and pieces of shells and the accompanying photographs will bear out.

So I got out my leaf blower and blew all the acorn remnants out from under my hood and when I finished things looked pretty normal to me. So I put up my leaf blower, closed the hood and got into the car to test the windshield washer just to make sure it was working again. Bad news! It still wasn’t working. I could hear the pump running but now washer coming out of the window sprayers.

As you can imagine I wasn’t happy about that outcome but I was happy about finding out about my acorn hoarders thus averting which may have caused a serious engine fire at some point. So for the moment that in itself might have been better in the short term that repairing the windshield washer.

But now my attention turned to my favorite little car, my Geo Metro which is parked right next to my Chrysler. I thought that surely it had also fallen victim to the critter hoarders. As expected, opening the hood on the Geo did in fact reveal the deeds of their apparent numerous visits. Yet more acorn shells tucked here and there once again in every crick and cranny. When I found this mess under the hood of my Chrysler I failed to get any photographs of the deed but that wasn’t the case this time. Below are photos of the Geo engine compartment and as usual, be sure to click on image to enlarge….

Geo Engine Compartment - 02

Geo Engine Compartment - 04
Geo Engine Compartment - 03

My detective work to date has not produced any real satisfying results as to the origin of the acorn shells. In trying to decide whether it was squirrels or rats I thought the ‘poop’ configuration might give me a solid clue. Well as luck would have it, the poop configuration for rats and squirrels is all but identical. And it is quite evident in the above photographs since there are definite ‘poop’ samples available for viewing.

As far as how my windshield washer malfunction plays into all this, well I went to my local auto repair station shortly thereafter and after opening my hood and searching out the washer hose path the service technician almost immediately found a small severed washer hose. He trimmed the two severed ends, slipped on a small length of shrink-tubing and I was back in business. And…. it only cost me $10.

So… obviously I will have to remain vigilant and be on the lookout for any further developments regarding this matter. I could put some hope in the possibility that the two rats/mice that I did send to their demise just might be the culprits behind this deed as well, time will tell I suppose. 🙁

The Week in Photography….

I don’t get in as much photography as I use to unfortunately. Goodness, even that statement implies I’m doing at least some but no, not really. If a subject is just begging to be captured in a photo, happens to fall into my lap so to speak and the camera is handy I may actually get up off my ass and try my luck at taking some measure of a photograph, but nothing like I use to do.

Last week while sitting on my patio a very large grasshopper made his appearance on one of my landscape timbers right in front of me. A rather handsome specimen I thought, assuming that you even like grasshoppers, so I begrudgingly got out of my chair to go get my camera with little hope the grasshopper would even be there when I returned. But alas, upon my return there he was and he seemed quite willing to strut his stuff for the camera….

Grasshopper 01(Click to Enlarge)

Grasshopper 02(Click to Enlarge)

Then this past weekend when supper time rolled around I declared it “chicken night”. I decided to cook up a small batch of my extra crispy, extra greasy, famous chicken wings. Not normally being one associated with the many food photographers that seem to inhabit our planet, I just could not help myself when I took a look at my famous chicken wings lying on that plate so off I went in pursuit of the camera. A few minutes later the photographic deed was done and then it was time to express my sincerest condolences to those chicken wings and put them out of their misery!

Big Bro’s Extra Crispy Chicken Wings(Click to Enlarge)

And there you have it, this week in photography as seen through the eyes of a very lazy photographer. Not impressed? Well, I’m not sure I am either but sometimes you just have to give it your best shot (no pun intended) and move on with some hope better times lie ahead. 🙂

Littering – A Study in Still Life

I was recently inspired to write this post by a blogging acquaintance who resides at her blog, PiedType, who just in the last few days featured a post titled “Haute couture made of Senegalese garbage” which highlights the human pollution that is a very serious issue in areas of Africa and features photography as a means of exposing this growing problem.

I was reminded as I read the associated article from her post and viewed the associated photographs of my own endeavors somewhat along those lines although to a much, much lesser extent for sure. Nevertheless, my intent was similar in nature regarding our own attitudes here in the United States regarding litter and garbage.

Certainly our issues here are far less critical than those in Africa but nonetheless, constantly they deserve our attention. Our landfills are certainly of concern and have been for some time now but on a better note, our efforts to eliminate littering have much improved. Not solved by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly improved over what we were dealing with a generation ago.

I have submitted a few samples my own photography work in the area of littering and thought I would share them here today on my latest blog post….

Chicken Noodle Soup Can(Chicken Noodle Still Life)

Spam Can - 01(Spam Still Life)

Gold Medal Flour Bag with Flowers(Recycled Flour Bag & Flowers)

Tomato Soup Can(Portrait of a Soup Can)

The only confession I suppose I should make with regard to the subjects of my photographs is that there may be noted a palatable influence by some of Andy Warhol’s work if the soup can subjects were to somehow catch your eye.

Other than that, I figured that if we as a society enjoy littering so much that surely there is also a place in our culture for the art that celebrates such things…. 🙂

My Resident Female…. Up close and personal!

I have been spending some time lately trying to improve my photographic skills when it comes to photographing hummingbirds. My recent posting showing a bit of jousting between a Ruby-Throated male and female at my feeder seemed sufficient enough to display the action but lacked the ‘pop’ I like to see in a photograph.

In pursuit of that goal here are a couple of photos I took a couple of days ago of the female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird who is the favorite of my summer visitors this year. Since I don’t have but a few regular visitors anyway, it is fairly easy to keep up with who’s who.

By the way, if you look at the enlarged versions of the photos you can actually see bits of pollen on top of her head apparently gathered from a recent visit to a flower, especially in the second one. Thought that was sort of cool….

Hummer 07(Click to Enlarge)

Hummer 08(Click to Enlarge)

A spring storm’s littlest victim….

Flegling Robin(Click for Enlarged View of Photo)

On this more or less dreary and dark morning with the threat of storms and rain I decided to have my morning coffee on the patio regardless. Noticed some movement along my nearby fence line and was quite surprised to find a young fledgling Robin. We have had several rounds of weather roll through the last couple of days so obviously the young one had been unwillingly routed from the nest. I immediately retrieved my camera for a quick photo or two.

But I was even more surprised to see a baby Robin at all quite honestly. I know it is early May but that seems too early to be seeing fledgling birds, whether in distress or otherwise. And the Robin wasn’t all that small to boot. Probably hatched in early April or so.

However, is as usually the case in these situations mom and pop were nearby offering a great deal of encouragement and of course their food catering services. Being in my yard, he was safe from any other larger critter getting him such as a dog or cat so one can only hope he stays safe until finally on the wing.

Sun Direction Calculator for Photographers….

I recently read in our local newspaper about a mural in the downtown area of a nearby town, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, that was going to be lost due to a fire that had gutted the building on which it was painted. The building had received severe fire damage from an apparent arsonist and was slated to be torn down in the very near future. The mural which the Union Pacific Railroad paid some $30,000 for in 1998 depicts a locomotive engine, “Engine 819″, which was built back in 1943. Union Pacific has operated a huge train repair and railway yard in Pine Bluff beginning in 1962. The recent article also published a photo of the mural which is what tweaked my interest… photographically speaking.

I was seriously considering getting my own photographs of this mural before it is destroyed but I was curious as to when it would be best to take a short trip to the town to get a photograph or two. I wanted to go when I knew the sun would be at the proper angle to illuminate the mural. Perhaps I could have made an educated guess but wanted to find out exactly, direction wise, where the mural was located and at what time would the sun be full on the mural so as not to have wasted a trip to the location since it was in another town. I needed a “sun direction calculator” for lack of a better term.

Well as it turns out, despite my best intentions, I was never able to get to Pine Bluff in ample time to secure my own photographs of the art work but I was fortunate in discovering a really great sun direction calculator. If you are a serious photographer, depending on the subjects you like to photograph, the sun can be a very important part of the photograph’s equation. Especially for those who enjoy photographing landscapes and architecture. The only ‘serious’ photography I do outdoors that is critical to sun is architectural in nature. But unlike many, I prefer to do my architectural photographing not on bright, sunny days but cloudy days so as to eliminate those harsh shadows that can often be created by the bright sun. But, this post is not about photography techniques but rather about a photography tool.

As to the discovered sun calculator mentioned earlier, as it turns out, and wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Google already had the exact tool available for use. Mr. Google made the calculator an add-on of sorts to its “Google Maps” program which of course made all the sense in the world. You just had to know how to access the calculator it and how it worked and you could easily project sun direction on any location you so desired.

Google’s sun calculator program is called “SunCalc” and can be accessed by clicking on the following link… Google Sun Calculator.

If you are familiar with Google Maps in general you will note when opening the SunCalc webpage that it looks identical to the google maps layout except for the geometric drawing appearing over the map which is in fact the “sun calculator indicator”. The map application itself works just the same as always except you now have the movable calculator appearing over the maps which you can move around as necessary to meet and/or determine your specific criteria. You also still have available the “Map” view as well as the “Satellite” view.

So for the purposes of this little ‘show & tell’ I have assumed that we are going to visit New York City and we want to go to Liberty Island and take a great photo of the Statue of Liberty. Hopefully the screen shots that follow along with my brief tutorial will be of some use in learning how to use the sun direction calculator.

We have decided that we want to take a photograph of the Statue of Liberty with a full frontal view. And we want full sun on the front so that no dark shadows are present to hide any portion of the statue. So we will need to know at around what time is the sun in a position to fully illuminate the front of the statue. We then open the “SunCalc” and type in the location we are looking for and in our case that would be Liberty Island in New York. We would then see on the Google’s Map page a graphic similar to the one below. Please note that you will need to click on the images I will be presenting and enlarge them so as the see the details we will be discussing….

Map - 01(Click To Enlarge)

The circle shown in the middle of the map is the geometric part of the calculator. Also note that Liberty Island which is our subject matter is located near the center of the calculator circle. Now let’s look at a marked-up version of the graphic….

Map - 02(Click To Enlarge)

On this graphic I have added a few notes. Note that the calculator can be moved around the map so that you can locate the center of the calculator at the specific point you desire. Now of most importance is to note the timeline bar and setting at the top of the graphic. The orange dot on the timeline indicator is currently sitting on about 4:30 AM. If you put your mouse cursor on that orange dot you can slide the dot along the timeline indicator. As you do that, the straight orange line on the inside of the calculator circle which goes from the center of the circle to the outer edge will begin to move around the outside edge of the circle. This orange line is the sun direction indicator and is how we will determine at what time we need to be at the Statue of Liberty to get our fully lit frontal photograph of the statue.

Now, using the ‘ZOOM” function of Google Maps we will zoom in on Liberty Island for a good close up view. We will also set Google Maps from the ‘map’ function to the ‘satellite’ function so we can determine the exact location and position of our subject, the Statue of Liberty. You should see that function setting in the upper right-had corner of the map. After doing that hopefully you will see a representation similar to the one below….

Map - 03(Click To Enlarge)

Now we can clearly see Liberty Island and the precise location of the Statue of Liberty. As we note the direction that the statue is facing which is towards the bottom right-hand side of our graphic we will then want to move the ‘orange dot’ on the timeline bar at the top of the graphic. Again as previously noted, as you move the ‘orange dot’ along the timeline you will see the straight orange line rotate around the center of our sun calculator circle. The straight orange line is indicating the current sun direction based on where our orange dot is located on the timeline bar. As can be noted from my graphic, the current time setting is around 10:00 AM and the orange straight line is pointed directly at the front of the statue. Therefore, to get the photograph of the statue that we desire fully lit from the front we should be standing in front of the statue at around 10:00 AM in the morning.

Going to the sun calculator application, opening it and playing with it for a few minutes I think will show that this whole process is a lot less complicated than I may have made it look. But if precise sun direction is ever of any concern for any particular reason, hopefully this application will be of some use. I know with regards to some of my photography projects such as the one mentioned at the beginning of this post, it certainly can be of great help.

There’s Been A Changing of the Guard….

Almost before the ink could dry on my last post regarding my hummingbird visitors, the adolescent male whom I had posted about was gone and there was a new king on the mountain, so to speak. Seems an adult male has now staked his claim to the feeder and is willing to take on all comers. And when I say the adolescent male was gone, I mean I have not seen him since so the new adult male took over so he must have sent the young man packing for good. In fact, much to my dismay the resident female I posted about I have not seen in some time now either. With migration time almost upon us I could assume both hummers just decided to go ahead and head south for the winter but of course one cannot really know these things for sure. One thing for sure, the little female I referred to as my ‘resident female’ will be sorely missed.

The weather was to my liking yesterday so I went out on the patio and setup for another photo session in the afternoon. Took photos off and on for about four hours but the adult male who is currently king of the castle was the only hummer who showed up to be photographed. Here are a few of the photographs from yesterday….

Hummer 01(Click to Enlarge)

Hummer 02(Click to Enlarge)

Hummer 03(Click to Enlarge)

Hummer 04(Click to Enlarge)

Next week brings on the first week of fall so it will be only some three or four weeks before all my little friends will have headed south. Photos will probably be far and few between from now on but I will have my eyes open for transients traveling south who may opt to stop by for a ‘pick me up’ on their long journey. 🙂

The Adolescent Male…. Up close and personal!

If you are familiar in the least with hosting a hummingbird feeder then you know that there is pretty much always one hummingbird in the mix of visitors who thinks the feeder is solely theirs and spends the better part of their days running off the other hummingbirds who try to feed. That particular hummingbird is, of course, typically referred to as the dominate hummingbird. Others like myself may refer to such hummingbirds as “little assholes” since they wreak havoc on any plans one might have of taking any meaningful photographs.

Unfortunately for me given my photographic aspirations as of late, I have one of the most tenaciously dominant hummers I have ever run across. And what is most surprising about the little critter in that he is an adolescent male less than a year old, probably born this past spring. He not only keeps any potential visitors away from the feeder, he keeps them out of the entire yard. He literally watches the yard from high in the trees and when one encroaches he goes on the attack.

You will note the dark colored spots on the throat of the hummer below which indicates that he is an adolescent male. Males normally tend to be the more aggressive of the species although as I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have a resident female who holds her own against all the males and feeds when she so chooses, despite their strong objections. But back to the featured little pesky male. He will migrate this fall and go through the molt stage during our winter and then next year when he arrives back north in the spring/summer his throat feathers will all be present in all their ruby-colored glory. If in fact he would by chance return to my area and feeder I doubt I would even know it since he will look completely different.

Hummer 05(Click to Enlarge)

Hummer 06(Click to Enlarge)

Ruby-Throated Humming Bird Feeder Wars….

Yesterday morning well before sunrise I went out to the patio and retrieved my hummingbird feeder. It was time for its weekly cleaning and refill. With late summer closing in I thought that later in the morning I would go out and try to capture a few photographs of some of the hummers that had been around this year. I sit on my patio just about every morning drinking a cup of coffee or two and watching them come and go. And because I don’t have all that many it is somewhat easy to soon become familiar with certain ones and their personalities.

My Resident Female(My Resident Female – Click to Enlarge)

It was around 8:00 AM as I prepared my camera and was about to go out and set it up near the feeder when I looked out and noticed there were a couple of hummingbirds really going at each other around the feeder. I went ahead and went out, set up the camera, grabbed my coffee and was ready for my photo shoot. I sat down to relax for a moment and the two hummers were immediately back and trying to exert their dominance over the feeder. One of the gladiators was one of my resident females who I really liked and is quite elegant. The other was a very aggressive male which was not a part of the daily visitors and must have happened upon the feeder by chance this morning, perhaps even in the process of migrating already.

Anyway, to my amazement for the next 2½ hours the two did battle never straying more than 6 feet or so from the feeder. Photographically speaking, I was in hog heaven because the least of their interest was me and during the time period I shot well over a hundred photos. Of course, many didn’t turn out and many were quite similar in content. Thought I would share a few of those this morning and remember to see a larger version, just click on the desired photo….

Feeder Wars - 12
Feeder Wars - 01

Feeder Wars - 03
Feeder Wars - 05

As previously mentioned, this display of domination and aggression went on for over two hours when finally they literally locked up and went to the ground almost in a ‘ball’ configuration and then just laid there on the patio floor motionless. I really thought they had been injured or something. They were on the patio about three feet or so from me so I shuffled one of my feet and they apparently relinquished their holds and each other and flew off. The male never came back so obviously the victory and the feeder went to my beloved female. Hoooorah! 🙂

Anyone in the market for a $2000 chicken?

I’m sure the majority of you will remember the famous commercial that had the very familiar tag line…. “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” In our case of the photograph shown below perhaps we could say…. “Is it alive, or is it a ceramic?”

Ayam-Cemani-Greenfire-Farms-01Breed – Ayam Cemani (Photo Credit : Greenfire Farms)

Well, when I ran across the photo of this chicken and someone was trying to pass it off as real… well to be quite honest I had very strong doubts. Turns out, it’s as real as you or I. You can’t tell me that photo doesn’t look like a bronze statue of a chicken – pure and simple! And check this one out and tell me that wouldn’t look great on a nice end table….

Ayam-Cemani-02Breed – Ayam Cemani (Photo Credit : Unknown)

Fact is, I was just taken back by the statuette nature of this bird. Quite beautiful and the iridescent feathers are more than striking. These chickens are of the Ayam Cemani breed and are apparently of Indonesian decent.

After doing a little research I ran across a farm in northern Florida which offers these birds for sale along with numerous other breeds, all of which look quite exceptional to me. I tell you the truth, if I had a few acres in the country I would have a number of these chickens for sure. I found the website to be quite helpful and educational to boot. If you’re curious you can take a tour here – Greenfire Farms. All the various breeds are listed on the left-hand side of the webpage where you’ll find numerous photos and select videos of the breeds.

At any rate, just wanted to share my discovery although it may only be a discovery of any consequence to me alone. I also ran across a video that might be of interest to some. I found it to have some educational value myself. When it comes to chickens, I’ve led a very sheltered life with exception of the chicken section at the local grocery store.