Friday, September 21, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavour- Final Flight

I decided to do something a little different and head up to Sentinel Peak overlooking downtown Tucson and watch history in the making. Former shuttle Commander Mark Kelly who is also the husband of Gabrielle Giffords the former congresswomen who survived an assassination attempt here in Tucson a little over a year ago had requested that his shuttle fly over Tucson on it's way to it's final destination in Los Angeles to honor his wife. It was our good fortune that his request was granted by NASA and we were able to be a small part of history as the shuttle piggybacked on a 747 flew directly towards our position atop Sentinel Peak.

Tucson normally has blue, cloudless skies this time of year but lingering weather patterns made conditions less than ideal for photography but that didn't stop the hundreds of people that made their way to the top of the mountain along with Nan and I.

The shuttle passed over the Rincon Mountains and into view right on schedule at 11:15 A.M. on Friday September 20, 2012. Kelly and wife Gabrielle watched the flyover from the top of a parking garage at the University of Arizona, a leg in the final journey of the last shuttle to take to the sky ever.

I remember four tragic events like they were yesterday. First the assassination of JFK, second the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, third the Challenger explosion and last 911 of course. All four of these events changed the course of our country and I for one will never forget.

Please enjoy the photographs and take a moment to visit the NASA website . It is well worth the time and will take those of you who are old enough on a 30 year journey of the shuttle.

Farewell old Friend!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lowland Leopard Frog

One of the many species that has been driven to the point of extinction here in Pima County the Lowland Leopard Frog is threatened by loss of habitat and introduction of the much larger Bull Frog into it's remaining habitat.

These frogs are currently residents at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum here in Tucson and as you can see when raised in a protected environment they seem to do quite well.

These frogs have green to brown coloration and the characteristic spots that give it it's name. The exhibit at the museum is quite well done and having seen only a few of these in the wild it is nice to see them in these numbers.

There are leopard frogs present at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near Sasabe Az. and at Arivaca Cienega that I have observed in my travels which means you can still see them here in Southern Arizona if you are interested.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Trumpet Lilly

I photographed this Trumpet Lilly just as the sun hit the flowers and I thought you might enjoy seeing it. One of the truly great aspects of photography is discovery of light which may last only a few seconds but makes all the difference.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Butterflies, Butterflies, Butter....

Photographing nature is rewarding precisely because it can present many different challenges for the photographer and this can be illustrated by a day stalking butterflies. First it's clear that not all butterflies behave in a similar fashion as one another. Some like the Queen are likely to land frequently and to fan their wings between open and closed. Sounds like it would be simple enough to take a great shot of the Queen but it is not always that easy. Many things can ruin a nature shot. The subject might be just fine but the background undesirable. Shadows can be a problem and getting the butterfly to stay where you want it is really up to the butterfly. Another problem is wind which can blow the subject right out of the frame at the precise moment you think you've got the shot of the day. Even if you are proficient in exposure there is no guarantee that you will be successful each and every time you shoot.

While the photo of the two Queens above is not too bad it does have a few issues that if corrected would make it a better shot in my opinion. First the background is muddy especially on the right hand side of the photo. In the upper left side the stick running across the corner is distracting and the butterfly on the bottom is partially hidden. These are things that can only be corrected in the field and only if you are very lucky or the subject is very cooperative. Even though it's far from perfect I still like this shot because it depicts Queen behavior which if you observe them for long you will realize that they are very much into community. At night Queens will come together and spend the night in the same bush or tree.

It's almost impossible to photograph butterflies with a tripod and this is especially true of the California Dogface which is a sulphur species. This butterfly is extremely uncooperative especially when it comes to opening it's wings to show it's "dogface".  I spent several hours chasing this one around the yard and I have dozens of shots of it feeding with it's wings in the upright position and two with it's wings open.
I am actually pretty happy with these shots because this one is a mover making short, quick stops to feed and not staying in one place for long. I set my camera to continuous shooting most of the time because when I use automatic focus it gives me a few chances to get the shot right and will frequently capture the butterfly as it takes flight. Keep in mind that nothing is fool proof and you should expect shots with no butterfly at all because they are very fast to move on when they are disturbed or just done.

These Snout Butterflies below are small and usually ragged but they are common throughout the United States and are fun to photograph. They seem to really like the Bird of Paradise in the front yard so there is an abundance of them to practice on most days in butterfly season. They are called Snout Butterflies for the obvious reason but they are so small that you really have to look to see this feature. They are kind of erratic fliers but land frequently and are found in pairs more often then not. I wish the Snout on the plant wasn't quite so hidden in the first photo but I wanted to show one in flight.

The photo below shows the snout really well and it also shows that the wings are similar on top and bottom.

I find the Spicebush Swallowtail to be one of the harder butterflies to get a great shot of and I think it has to do with the coloring. Black for some reason seems to effect exposure and focus in many shots. They are also not inclined to stay in one place like so many butterflies. They move rapidly from flower to flower and bush to bush doing what they need to do in seconds so you have to be fast most of the time.

If you do get it right they are extremely beautiful and it's rewarding to get the shot with these large visitors.

Below is a Funereal Duskywing Butterfly that I spotted on the Vitex. As you can see getting good definition on black butterflies can be a challenge. This one stuck around long enough for me to get as many shots as I felt I needed.

I shoot butterflies on shutter priority which allows me to stop the action and get fairly sharp images even though my 70-300 mm Canon lens is not the best. I check my settings frequently because there is nothing more upsetting than finding out that shots that should have been terrific are mediocre due to an unwanted change in mode or speed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Little Things Outside My Door

I've been spending quite a bit of time at home this summer due to the very hot, humid weather conditions prevalent during Monsoon season. Lately however I've begun to use the abundant nature in and around my yard to practice with my camera and test out some of it's functions so that when I begin to photograph in a serious way in the coming months I will hopefully make fewer mis-steps in the field. Now I know that the best way to improve the quality of my photographs is to work with a tripod but did you ever try to get a Spicebush Swallowtail like the one in the above photo to stay in one spot long enough to  set up the tripod, focus on the subject and shoot a dozen or so times to capture a memorable photograph. This photo shows the Swallowtail on a Vitex which is also known as Chaste Tree. Here in Tucson this tree/shrub blooms for long periods and more than once a year depending on weather conditions.

The Queen Butterfly is a little more abundant and quite a bit more cooperative than some of the other butterflies. At first glance many people mistake the Queen for a Monarch Butterfly due to it's color and size. We have had dozens of Queens in the yard over the last few weeks and they have provided me with dozens if not hundreds of opportunities to practice.

Rocky II

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite creatures that frequent our yard. Right now during hummingbird migration we have had Costa's, Black-chinned, Rufous, Magnificent as well as many that went unidentified because they were chased off by the two "Rocky's" pictured here. The Costa's in the above photo lives on the carport side of my house and guards both feeders that he considers his! Hummingbirds are extremely territorial and Costa's have established themselves as the ruler of the yard and they will spend the entire day driving off any intruders.

Rocky I

Rocky I considers the front yard his territory and from very early in the A.M. until dark he can be observed doing his rounds. Although territorial many other hummingbirds do manage to find a way to get to the feeders during the day and on some days there are many that breach the defenses of the Rocky's.

Here is a female Rufous Hummingbird feeding at the Vitex. Rufous are migratory here in southern Arizona and breeds from northern California all the way to Alaska. They winter in Mexico and they pass through Tucson and if I am lucky my yard. I had them stay for an extended period one year but that is not the norm and they usually are around for a short period of time.

Not a Hummingbird but a moth the White Stripped Moth resembles a hummingbird and is frequently referred to as a "Hummingbird Moth". They are not much smaller than a hummingbird and their behavior resembles a hummer as they move from flower to flower feeding through what looks like a vacuum hose leading to their mouth.

Hummingbird Moth at the Bird of Paradise in the front of the house.

Vitex blossom.

Texas Ranger blossoming for the second time in a very short period. Very pretty but short lived blossoms. Here today and gone tomorrow, still worth seeing.

Everything has spines here in the desert. This beetle has been on the cactus outside my door for the last few days but I'm not sure what it is.

Cottontails are a regular visitor here as there is very little chance of predators here in the yard although it is not unheard of to see a coyote stop for water on it's way to somewhere else.