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Friday, April 18, 2014

The Golden, The Pyrenees & The Collie

I was rather startled to see exactly how few posts I've made this year. It seems like I've either been feeling under the weather (it was the wettest March on record and my body didn't like it) or busy. Some of that busyness has been directed toward bird photography (house finches nesting in Goldie's backyard prompted me to get moving on purchasing my birding lens), but the main reason I haven't had the energy to write more is that I have been doing a lot of dog-sitting. I've seen three clients in the last month and am currently in the midst of a long gig. Since I'm always pointing my camera at the dogs in my care and caring for dogs has been my primary preoccupation as of late, I thought I might as well share some of my dog shots.

First up: Goldie, the pretty and ever-genial Golden Retriever.

She likes going on walks...

...crunching up sticks...

...rolling on top of her toys...

....being silly....

....and spreading happiness.

I spent a day with the mischievous Cutie, who just celebrated her third birthday.

Here she is peering over my laptop at me, hoping to stir things up.

A long walk in the woods burned off lots of that playful energy!

Mr. Gorgeous' coat is in particularly fine form this time of year...

....though the back end of it is a little less sleek-looking than the front.

He really is quite the handsome beast!

Though, like most of us, he can look a trifle disheveled when he first wakes up.

He even had a moment of silliness the other day...

....but he mostly spends his hours posing regally or sleeping soundly.

The hardest thing about spending so much time taking care of other dogs is that I miss my own so much. I see her for a few hours almost every day when I'm gone, but we are both glad when I lug my duffle bag of clothes back through the door, the sure sign that I'll be sleeping at home again at last.

There will undoubtably be more bird photo posts to come and I really hope that I have the energy to do more writing soon! In the meantime, check out daily photo posts on my Facebook page!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Just Ducky

Two and a half weeks ago, I decided that the time had come: I'd been wanting a lens for birding ever since last spring when I became enamored with photographing the locals as they raised their babies and this winter's glut of dog-sitting made it financially possible to purchase a telephoto zoom lens. My requirements were that the lens be light enough to carry around, to have image stabilization to compensate for my hand tremor, and to function well even in the perpetual Pacific Northwest gloom. My choice was between a 100-400mm lens and a more expensive 70-200mm lens. I bought one and rented the other to do a side-by-side comparison. The birds that had been ubiquitous around the backyard in days prior suddenly vanished when I brought the lenses home (they may be nesting now), so I turned to a more reliable avian photography source: ducks.

A female mallard rinses her bill during a preening session.

I spent a long weekend during this time looking after my collie friend, Mr. Gorgeous, who just so happens to have a couple of little ponds on his property with some regular duck visitors. I took some pictures and having established ducks as good test subjects, I hauled both lenses (nearly five pounds apiece!) down to a local lakefront park that is always swarming with not just the usual mallards but a variety of domesticated ducks and hybrid ducks. There, I alternated between lenses and snapped 700 photos of the local waterfowl. Here are some of my favorites. Remember, you can always click on the photos to enlarge them!

A brilliantly-colored male mallard.

A Swedish blue duck.

A domesticated male mallard.

This duck superficially resembles a female mallard, but has lighter plumage, no colored wing bar, and a dark bill. I'll leave duck ID's to the experts!

Ducks spend a considerable amount of time preening. Water doesn't roll off a duck's back unless the feathers are kept well-oiled and in good working order. I enjoyed watching the ducks contort themselves to make sure every last feather was attended to.

This female mallard combs through her wing feathers to make sure the barbs are properly lined up and hooked together, essential for flight.

Scratching an itch.

Tending to your feathers means that sometimes you have to bend all the way forward, like this duck.

Or this one.

Other times, only an extravagant backbend will do!

The end result is an oily, watertight covering. Droplets form and roll off the well-groomed head of this mallard who has just been feeding underwater. (Click to enlarge.)

While there seem to be some bachelor mallards that frequent the ponds at Mr. Gorgeous', I regularly saw this couple in the upper pond. One day, I walked up and patiently won their trust so that they felt safe to go about with their routines while I sat on a nearby rock. Much to my surprise and delight, this including mating!

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. They grew comfortable with me, but less so with the dog!

Mating goes a little something like this:

The female, on this occasion, initiated the mating process by noisily diving under the water (picking up a coating of pond scum) and staying low in the water with her neck out as the male approached.

During mating, the male duck holds on to the back of the female's neck as he mounts her.

After some scrambling about and dunking the female under, the actual mating takes place with her tail up and his tail down.

The female emerges looking slightly frazzled and in need of a prolonged preening session. You can see the marks in the feathers on her neck where the male grasped her!

Various aspects of being a duck are hard work, like swimming, flying, socializing, feeding, mating, and all that preening. That means sometimes you've just got to...


...and settle down for a nap in the sun.

Napping with a buddy is even better! These ducks are so used to living in a busy park that they snoozed happily on the lawn as dogs and toddlers and strollers and people passed by.

When evaluating the lenses, what I was especially looking for was the ability to cleanly capture details, like the texture of feet and feathers.

This beautifully patterned duck waddles along on a pair of inward-turning orange webs.

A great shot of the underside of a foot!

Feathers details.

More feather (and water droplet) details.

Mallards have never been of overwhelming interest to me because, like robins, they are so common. But spending this time observing them and photographing them, I became more fond of them. It's hard to resist the iridescent heads and bright yellow bills of the males.

And I must say, I do like their small "quot-quot-quot" conversational quacks and the whistling sound they make when they fly. Also, I'm not immune to the fact that the upward turn at the corners of their bills makes ducks look like they are smiling. Even though I know they aren't, it does still add to their charm!

"I'm not smiling, my bill just looks that way!"

So once the ducks had been thoroughly photographed and I'd tested the lenses in a variety of light conditions, I settled on the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM. That means there will be many more bird photos to come this spring and summer, including, no doubt, more ducks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Fungi Files: More Miscellaneous Mushrooms

I have several serious, writing-intensive posts that I'm working on, a process much slowed by the fact that the weather has been abysmal, sending wave after wave of wind and rain my way, resulting in wave after wave of fatigue and migraines. To tide you over until I can get my deep thoughts written down, here's another photo-centric post on fungi.

In the three and a half months since I posted about mushrooms with gills, the three months since I posted about mushrooms with pores, and the two months since I posted about some of the more strange kinds of fungi you can find (a post you should definitely check out if you haven't seen it already), I naturally took a great many more photos. Most of them are pictures of mushrooms with gills and I believe with the exception of perhaps one or two, none of the species shown here were featured in any of those previous blogposts. The photos are arranged in no particular order, though the first third of the post features mostly mushrooms I found in my yard and the rest is devoted to mushrooms I found in the forest. As always, you can click on photos to enlarge them and I recommend that you do!

These little orange mushrooms seem to be common lawn inhabitants.

They begin to invert as they age.

The caps are about the size of the nail on your pinkie finger.

I upended one to look at its gills.

This is one of the few species previously featured. As you can see, great swaths of them sprouted in our lawn.

I find them very charming.

A cluster of tiny, orange-capped mushrooms emerge from the moss and leaf litter.

I found a big colony of these mushrooms in the gloom beneath some overgrown shrubs and spent several weeks documenting the evolution of their caps as they matured.

The caps started out quite purple.

As they opened up, the color started to fade and the caps often split.

A trio of wide-open caps--the largest is perhaps an inch and a half across.

Eventually, the caps inverted...

…and grew increasingly dry and pale...

…until they looked like this.

A portion of the colony.

They weren't the only mushrooms growing under the same shrubs. Four different varieties sprout next to one another in this photo.

The brown one on the bottom left in the above photo looked like these as it matured.

The cap of this mushroom was mostly orange when it emerged...

…but the new growth as the cap expanded was white. 

A similar mushroom from another part of the yard. I could never decide if it was the same variety.

It lasted an unusually long time, so I photographed it many stages.

Unlike the purple mushrooms, which split from underneath, this orange-capped mushroom is splitting from the top down as it grows.

This mushroom with its deep red cap was very popular food source. It's probably related--if not the same species--to the "twin" mushrooms from my previous post on gilled mushrooms.

This mushroom had scaly cap...

…as did this one.

I never tired of seeing mushrooms muscling their way out of the ground.

This cluster of large, white mushrooms were hidden under a layer of fallen leaves.

A mature mushroom standing high about the leaf litter.

Large, off-white mushrooms of a type commonly found on our lawn.

This mushroom is splitting at the top as the cap matures.

The cap on this particular specimen had barely begun to unfold but had already spilt around a central point.

You can see it in the background after it matured in this photo showing two varieties of fungi.

This "lawnscape" shows the proliferation of white mushrooms in November.

A pair seen from the top...

….and from the side.

The emergence of another fruiting body has pushed one mushroom over on its side, revealing the arched structure of the gills.

While these dark brown mushrooms didn't grown in my lawn, I found them in several other lawns of my acquaintance.

They are, in fact, my favorite variety of lawn mushrooms.

They invert as they age in a particularly beautiful way...

…exposing their light brown gills.

This grouping shows the species in multiple stages.

Gills the color of chocolate buttercream.

Unlike most mushrooms I see of similar size and body type, this species grew in a tight clump.

The stalk on this mushroom was nearly six inches tall!

I found these red-capped beauties beneath a row of apple trees.

The largest were about two inches across.

They had a fairy-tale air about them.

They were definitely one of my favorite varieties among the many I found this fall.

And now on to the forest mushrooms...

I found these small, pale mushrooms growing DOWNWARD out of a decaying stump on long, slender stalks.

These brown-capped mushrooms are growing directly out of the side of a log end that also hosts some toothed fungus.

Tiny orange mushrooms grow on another log face under the umbrella of a polypore.

This larger mushroom was all by its lonesome as it projected from the side of a fallen log.

I believe this is the same variety as the mushroom above, just a more mature specimen...

But is this? Same growth habit, same stalk color, but a darker (more mature?) cap.

These deep orange mushrooms blaze against the green mossy tree they are growing on.

I thought this shade of orange was both striking and beautiful.

These paler orange mushrooms are growing out from the end of a log covered in white slime mold.

Gray mushrooms with fluted caps sprout from a mossy crevice.

The stalks appear to weaken as they age.

I found mushroom colonies of all kinds growing on or near fallen logs in the woods.

A spacious stair-stepping set...

….a crowded colony...

…and a spangled log...

…with a scattering of clusters.

This stump was covered with multiple colonies of photogenic fungi.

Its top and sides produced the seven photos below.

Corals cozy up with capped mushrooms.

The moss-covered top of a downed tree trunk also harbors many mushrooms... does this one.

A classic umbrella silhouette.

These yellow mushrooms had unusually limp and moist caps.

I liked the look of these little long-stemmed mushrooms on the end of a stick. I wonder what they looked like when their caps opened?

Small, ghostly, gray mushrooms whose caps are nearly transparent at the edges. (I think I DO have a picture of one of these in the earlier gilled mushrooms post, but it was a top view!)

This particular downed log spans a creek. A trio of mushrooms make a home on its limb.

These mushrooms overlook the water running white over the creek's rocks.

This tiny purplish mushroom clinging to the side of a log had a cap no larger than the nail of my little finger.

These mushrooms, as you can see...

...all grew in a row at the base of a fallen log.
Llittle gray mushrooms clustered next to a fallen log.

A different group of mushrooms had yellow centers and pale edges.

Here's a closeup of one of them.

There was one variety of mushrooms that very, very long, thin stalks

A closeup of the cap.

This grouping shows this type of mushroom at various stages of maturity.

These mushrooms were very dry in appearance.

A closeup of one of the caps.

These flared mushrooms were growing under the shelter of a log.

Detail of the underside of a mushroom's cap.

A big mushroom after pushing its way out of the dirt.

An upended mushroom.

Some critter had been pulling them up and snacking on them


This mushroom's cap was almost completely inverted by the time it got munched on.

This large mushroom--six inches across or so--had a brown cap and an upward-furling edge.

A view of the gills on the underside.

I always like the sight of a mushroom pushing up the fallen leaves.

Here's another mushroom that's broken free of its leafy blanket.

The most charming and unique mushroom habitat I encountered was this pinecone that was host to twin mushrooms.

It was impossible not to think of antennae or eye stalks when looking at these little mushrooms rising from the pinecone's tip!

Mushrooms sprouting in a tree cavity.

This broken snag had multiple varieties of mushroom growing on it.

I waited all winter for this particular type of mushroom to sprout on a stump at the stable where I ride horses. This one is about  foot across.

The wholly inverted structure creates gorgeous, gill-scored waves.

A rising fungal crescendo.

The underside of the mushroom was exposed when a horses knocked it off the stump. As you can see, it was producing still more waves!

It's one of the most beautiful mushroom's I've photographed.

Now, I don't rightly know what this next mushroom is. When I saw it near the mailboxes by my house, I thought it had been upended and snacked on by an animal. When I tried to turn it over with my toe, however, I discovered that it was still firmly rooted to the ground. The animal had been eating it from the top down! It looks like it was probably a mushroom with pores rather than gills. I'm sorry it did not get to assume its full size, as it was at least six inches across even in what I believe was a still-developing state.

Eaten from the top of the cap in.
A detail of the interior flesh.

A side view shows a little bit of the dark, leathery, textured cap exterior.

Speaking of other fungi varieties, I did encounter a few more interesting polypores.

One branch on this tree had a group of polypores along the underside.

As you can see (especially if you click on the photo to enlarge it), the pore surface has a jagged, or toothed, appearance.

Another view of the branch. I though they were an especially elegant collection.

These shelf fungi also had a jagged, toothed pore surfaces.

You can see both the underside and the unusual texture of the lip in this image.

I hadn't encountered any polypores quite like this one, so it was an exciting find!

I found this toothed fungus growing in a big patch in a tree cavity.

To round out the categories I've previously reported on, I also found more puffballs. This particular type grew in a dense colony and looked much softer than those whose photos I posted in the previous blog.

You can see the spores (especially if you click to enlarge) within this burst puffball.

The spent puffballs were very flaccid in appearance.

A still-firm puffball whose cap is just beginning to crack has an interesting textured surface

Another look at puffball spores.

I have things to say yet on the subject of lichens and molds, but this likely wraps up posts on what we might think of as more traditional fungi until next autumn. I hope you've enjoyed taking a photographic stroll through the various fruiting bodies of fungi that can be found in my neck of the woods between September and March and that it has perhaps opened your eyes to seeing what is sprouting all around you in your own.

In review:

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