Smartphone Nature Photography – part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post….

Identification. Sometimes I take a lot of photos so I can identify something later. This was the case with these caterpillars. They were devouring dogwood plants at Brookside Gardens last summer. They remind me of lemon bars (yellow custard underneath powdered sugar). I defaulted to thinking they were a moth or butterfly larvae…but they turned out to be a dogwood sawfly larvae!

Stories. Some pictures tell a story. If you are aware at the time…make sure you take the pictures of the whole story. This Achemon Sphinx Moth was discovered by summer campers going out between rain showers during a nature photography activity. Moths are more active at night and usually are hiding in foliage during the day. This one was on the ground and twitching. I knew from experience in the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit that it had probably been bitten by a spider. We took our pictures and left it where it was. I regret that I was too busy helping campers to keep my camera at the ready to shoot the moth being pulled between two rocks – presumably by the spider that never did make itself visible.


Insects. Insects can be very fast moving and difficult to photograph no matter what camera you have. They often are slow or immobile when it is cooler. Cool mornings are good to find cicadas – silent and still…but maybe not dead. Butterflies can be under leaves roosting if it’s cool…or it is dusk and they are seeking a place to spend the night. Then there are masses of milkweed bugs that are prevalent in the fall. They are moving but there are so many that it’s easy enough to get a good number; I always try to figure out how many instars are shown in the same picture.

And sometimes it is just luck. This blue morpho sat on my wrist while I was at the exit of last summer’s butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens. I had my phone on the lanyard so was able to pull it out and one-hand the phone to take the picture.


Specimens. There are nature photography shots that might be of specimens rather than out in the field. The shot of the blue morpho wing was from a specimen that had died using the 15x macro lens. I’ll try the 60x next summer. I included the label in the picture of the dogwood tree cookie…for documentation; I liked the irregularity of the rings.

Wet day color. Sometimes a rainy-day hike is a good thing. The color of fungus is often more intense on these days – and the phone handles the raindrops better than more traditional cameras.

Light. Sometimes an image is made by something special about the light – spotlighted ferns, the shadowing of a sectioned Nautilus shell, a sunrise.

Clipping. Because the camera only has a digital zoom, I often take the picture without zooming then make a clip after I get home. In the example below – the two butterflies (tiger swallowtail and male monarch) are clearly identifiable even though the clip has a painterly look.

So – go out and take some pictures! The only blooms we have outdoors right now are the witch hazels. There are other winter opportunities too: tracks in the snow (or mud), seed pods, snow landscapes, and ice crystals. And maybe a squirrel will be close enough and still enough….

Shelf Fungus

There were several tree trunks/branches thick with shelf fungus that I photographed last Friday during my muddy hike in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area). The first was a tree standing by the river – exposed roots holding it right on the edge. There were at least three different kinds of fungus on the trunk.

Perhaps seeing that tree made me more observant as we hiked further along the along the loom of the South Wind Trail. I spotted some bright orange fungus on some fallen branches beside the path. The color jumped out – a contrast with the greens and browns on the forest floor.

With all the rain we’ve been getting – there are quite a few fungi around…and they are fresh enough to be brightly colored. They are fun to find and photograph. Exact identification is frustrating for most of them, so I am lumping these as ‘shelf fungus’!

Gleanings of the Week Ending August 11, 2018

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Chemists characterize the fatal fungus among us -- ScienceDailyAspergillus fumigatus is deadly to people with compromised immune systems. It affects more than 200,000 people annually including 25% of all leukemia patients – killing half of them. Understanding more about the organism may enable better screening and treatment.

 Learning from ‘little monsters’ -- ScienceDaily – Research on macroinvertabrates. Since I volunteer for field trips with schools to streams and rivers to sample these critters – I read anything that comes up in ScienceDaily about them.

How Rising Seas Could Threaten the Internet - Yale E360 – Within the next 15 years, 4,67 miles of fiber conduit and 1,101 notes in the US are expected to be underwater. New York, Miami and Seattle will be the most effected. -- Visualizing the Impact of Humanity | CleanTechnica – Three very short videos…about earth’s temperature over the past 137 years, the more recent time sequence of wind turbine installation in Europe and solar installations in the US.

Pic for Today – Point and Shoot Photographer -  Nature photography with a point and shoot camera. I subscribed so I get the picture and short description with my news feeds every day.

Allergy clinic finds large percentage of anaphylaxis cases from tick bite meat allergy: Increased awareness, more available testing led to 33 percent of cases identified as alpha gal allergy -- ScienceDaily – Wow! This is not good. Lyme Disease is serious but not anaphylaxis serious. We’re going to have get even better at avoiding tick bites.

AGU and AAS: Working Together to Expand the Understanding of Exoplanets - From the Prow - AGU Blogosphere – There seem to be more areas where we are acknowledging that interdisciplinary approaches are needed. The old lines of specialty can be limiting.

Hollow trees host massive moth slumber parties -- ScienceDaily –black idia moths in Florida are found in roosting in hollow trees during the day (they are active at night like most moths). The post didn’t identify the species but there are black idia moths in Maryland. I am going to start looking more carefully in hollow trees when I’m hiking although it’s already close to the end of the season.

Great Fall-Blooming Plants for Pollinators - The National Wildlife Federation Blog – The fall-blooming plants are not just for bees…they help the butterflies too!

Free Technology for Teachers: Take a Look at Microsoft’s Free Hands-on STEM Lesson Plans and Projects – I am going to take a look at these…see if there are any that could be easily incorporated into field trip conversations this fall.

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 16, 2017

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Switching Jobs | FlowingData – How often do people change jobs and what kind of job to they move to. In the field I was in (computer mathematical), almost 70% stay in the field. I certainly did for the duration of my 40 year career.

You’ve Seen the Washington Monument. Now See the Other Washington Monuments | Smart News | Smithsonian – A little history.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week #117 – National Geographic Society – I always enjoy the weekly collection of bird pictures.

Autonomous Driving Levels 0–5 + Implications | CleanTechnica – A good reference re autonomous cars. Right now, I have a level 1 car (it has adaptive cruise control). I am hoping that by the time I am very old and want to stop driving that level 5 cars are easily available.

Cataloging Fungal Life in Antarctic Seas | The Scientist Magazine® - Fungi that thrive in extreme conditions…some surprises.

Water-loving cats: Unique Tiger facts – National Geographic Society – I like the last image the best: tigers in the snow.

3 Reasons Why California’s Fire Risk Won’t Dampen Anytime Soon - NPR – I was interested in this article but it didn’t answer the question that I thought it would: In areas where fires are burning now – are they reducing the ‘fuel’ enough that fires will not burn again for a long time…and could we develop techniques to maintain that reduction in ‘fuel’ (i.e. dead wood, brush) without damaging the ecosystem.

In Luxor, Two Tombs Dating Back 3,500 Years Unveil Their Secrets | Smart News | Smithsonian – There seem to be more finds in Egypt recently – but will they be enough to draw tourists back to the region?

The Secret in the Sand Dunes – Cool Green Science – Midway Beach survived Sandy…because they pay a lot of attention to maintaining their dunes --- including after-season Christmas trees to provide structure to dunes…catching sand.

Common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101 -- ScienceDaily - Study finds group displays distinct optimism, stubbornness and bond with family, religion and land

Monitoring Conservation Easements

This December is my first experience volunteering to do the annual monitoring of conservation easements for the Howard County Conservancy. I went to a training back in September and then ‘shadowed’ an experienced monitor visiting 2 easements in November. In December, I was ready to monitor 2 easements with a cohort that was doing it for the first time as well.  The owners were notified by Howard County Conservancy that we would be monitoring on a particular day and the weather cooperated for both days – dry and not overly cold. The first property was mostly forest and the hike around the property was different than my usual hike since there were no well-defined trails; deer trails or picking a path through the briars (glad we were doing this in December when it was cold enough to wear heavy pants to protect my legs from thorns). It was a wonderful early winter ‘walk in the woods.’

The land was crossed by a stream that feeds into the Patuxent River. We had one stream crossing over a culvert but made another stepping on rocks; it was good that it had not rained recently. Most of the trees were native…but there was a substantial clump of bamboo growing on one streambank.

The land was easier to see with the leaves on the ground. As usual, I noticed fungi.

There was an odd holly-like plant as part of the understory. The leaves looked like holly but the top did not.


At the end of the walk, I rejoiced that the property owner had made the effort to make it a conservation easement and that it was about that same as it had been in previous years.

The second easement was entirely different: surrounded by housing developments and an active farm/golf related business rather than forest. The business was about the same as it had been in the previous year…but there was a change at the farm: a guard dog. The dog did not appear immediately, but no one was home. We could tell that there had been some earth moving going on upslope from the stream that starts on the farm and eventually flows into the Patuxent River. If a heavy rain came – a lot of soil would slump down into the stream. The dog appeared…and we decided to gracefully retreat without completing our check of the easement. The monitoring will have to be done when the owner or their representative can be there. It was a rattling experience, but we enjoyed a hefty morning snack with hot tea/latte to recover!


Belmont BioBlitz – Fall 2017 (Part II)

The second day of BioBlitz, the area my group was assigned had some native trees planted as landscaping (one was just beginning to display it fall colors) and long row of white pines. We found mushrooms under the pines; one of the chaperones used the clip on macro lens to photograph underneath the bright yellow mushroom (with the phone in selfie mode).

Of course there were insects and small flowers too….with pinecones to examine while we were enjoying the shade under the pines before heading to the front of the manor house for their picnic lunch.

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The third day of BioBlitz, my group was in the woods. We found several types of fungi growing on rotting wood.


Millipedes seemed to be everywhere. We talked about taking a video as we watched how their legs moved in ‘waves’ to push them forward.

And then there were lots of small insects we tried to capture in the magnifiers so we could get good pictures!

This was probably the best Belmont Bioblitz I’ve participated in: the weather cooperated (dry and not too hot) and the 5th graders were enthusiastic observers!