Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

NANPAMichael is an active member of the Cypress Basin Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist.  Originally from Newsome, Texas (Between Pittsburg and Winnsboro), educated in Dallas & Garland schools, then off to the University of Texas system where he received a degree in biology and worked as a biologist with the University of Texas system. After many years away from nature and biology, he recently relocated on the banks of Lake O' the Pines where he has been rediscovering the joys of nature. He is somewhat surprised that he has become a birder. Most of his interest in nature was centered around reptiles. Perhaps just like birds evolved from reptiles starting in the late Jurassic, he has begun his own evolution. During his formal education his interests in biology/nature grew to include community ecology and population studies, all with a binding of evolutionary processes. He liked birds, but they were secondary at best. All at once he finds them fascinating.

Who Do I Bill For My Self-imposed Photo Assignments?

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I have decided to create some self-imposed photo assignments for myself.  The whole reason for it is that we learn better when we are pushed a bit. Right now when I go take photos, I am an equal opportunity photographer. My aim may to see what birds are out or to look for butterflies. I likely start out with my telephoto in my hands. However, as I amble about, I may see bees around a nice flower and so my aim changes. I put on my Micro lens and may pull out my flash for fill light. Then I may see a delicate mushroom pushing through the moist earth. Then, I am down on my hands and knees or, sometimes, flat on my stomach to make the shot. When I walk a little further, I may crest a hill and there is a beautiful view of the lake and the piney woods behind it. So, then I am slipping on my wide angle and digging out my polarizer filter. I adjust to whatever the situation may require. So, is that a bad way to go taking pictures? Not at all. I love doing that and it is why I burden myself down with so many pieces of equipment on my walks.

These days, I am most likely to be walking with my 200-500 mm lens mounted on my main camera. Often, I have it mounted on my tripod and carry it over my shoulder. There are times, though when birds (or other subjects) are active and I may need to make some fast shots. Then I will have my camera in my hands and the tripod on a shoulder sling. In my holster is my second camera and it will usually have the 105 mm Micro lens attached. I can quickly pull it out of the holster when needed. In another pouch, I may have my 18-300 mm zoom or my 14 mm wide angle. In my pockets, I will likely have my flash, a 1.4 tele-converter, a remote shutter release, some filters (polarizer, ND. . . ), memory cards, extra battery and a few cleaning supplies (brush, micro cloth).

That is my "normal" gear. It does vary depending on what I am thinking about photographing. For example, if I am purposely going to be doing macro, then I might add a ring light, knee pads, reflector/diffuser, etc. With this gear, I am ready for most situations. Whatever pops up, flies over, crawls by or magically appears, I am equipped to get a decent shot.

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Here is an Nine Thousand Word Post

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I have been unusually busy lately so here I wanted to post a major article - here is the equivalent of 9,000 words.  That is, if indeed a picture is worth a thousand words.  

All of these images were taken within a couple of hundred yards of my front door.  

Female Green Anole

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Becoming a Birder is Incredibly Easy Except for the Hard Part - 4 Stages of Learning

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I was late becoming a birder. Oh, there was always some interest, but never strong. It was just a another feature of nature, that I, as a biologist and naturalist, wanted to have some familiarity. My real focus was on herps, reptiles and amphibians. Actually, it started with snakes, gradually began to include lizards, then turtles and on to frogs, toads & salamanders. Mammals were in the picture, too. By the time I was around 12 or 13, my bedroom and backyard was like a zoo - cages and aquariums everywhere. I didn't ignore birds for I did come up with lots of "abandoned" birds that I ended up raising. Of course, I know now that few of those birds were really abandoned, but was ignorant of that fact then. I "raised" a couple of Blue Jays, a Mockingbird, two Crows, a Turkey Vulture, and numerous Sparrows.

Later, as a biology student and then as a biologist, I was in the field a lot. While none of my work involved birds, I always made a point of getting to know the local species. Honestly, all I cared about were the more commonly seen species and it was just a mild curiosity.

I should add that I was doing a lot of photography back then as well. Birds were rarely a target for my cameras. I was mainly taking slides and photos of herps, flowers, insects, spiders and lots of scenics. Most of my gear was suited for closeup photography and not birding.

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What Do I Get For "My" Mockingbird in Lieu of Cigars?

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I have mentioned "my" Mockingbird here before. He used to land on my hand and eat live mealworms from my open palm.

I have also complained about his lack of success in finding a mate. He sang continuously - including all night long, until he finally attracted a little grey feathered cutie.

Today, he has been having a fit - really aggressive with other birds on the feeders (ten feet from his nest). He has been chasing the cat next door. He attacked the squirrels when they came to feed today. And when the little boy up the hill walked by, the Mockingbird popped him in the back of the head twice. As usual, he didn't pay much attention to me when I was out and let me take his picture as usual from about six feet away. But when the little boy up the hill walked by, the Mockingbird popped him in the back of the head twice.

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Photos From Today's Limp in the Woods

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Still having gout issues but it was just too beautiful today to stay inside.  So, I put the Nikon D800 on the tripod with the Nikon 200-500 lens, stuck the D3300 with the Nikon 105 Micro in the holster on my belt and limped off the the woods.  

If anyone saw me, I know I must have been a sight to behold with the tripod extended and that big lens hanging down as I very slowly limped to the woods.  You really didn't have to look close to see that it was a bit painful, but I didn't care.  Woods . . . 

I got to my little clearing where I have the lake on one side (under the trees), a small creek in front of me and a path going uphill into the deep woods in front of that.  Nice spot.  I usually just lean back against a big oak tree and before long the birds forget that I am there.  

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