I don’t think there has ever been a time in my existence when I wasn’t fascinated by the small details of life. My mother has told me stories of how ridiculously long it took to walk anywhere with me when I was a toddler as I kept stopping every few feet or so to inspect something that had caught my interest. For anyone who’s ever had the experience of walking somewhere with me today, they can probably attest that not a lot has changed! *GRIN*

Though it can be distracting (and occasionally overwhelming), my heightened attention to very small details is not a trait I would ever really want to change. I think it is an essential component of being a good naturalist… and photographer too. Being able to see small differences in two different shots can be very useful when editing a large number of images. Paying attention to how an image makes you feel if you alter the exposure a little or experiment with a slightly different crop can really improve your finished product. Of course, sometimes I wonder if the things I get hung-up on are perhaps too subtle for most people to care about. For instance, I was working on this image today:


sky & water pre-crop


This gorgeous scene was captured from the window of the train on the return leg of our trip to Seattle. The body of water paralleling the tracks provided a perfect mirror image of the striated sky above. The colors were subtle and perfect. This is the image I took, full-frame, nothing done in post-processing except to adjust the exposure a bit. I wanted this to feel somewhat abstract. I wanted it to be more about the repeating colors and lines than about the context of the scenery per se. As I stared at the above image, something just wasn’t sitting right for me. So, I cropped it, like this:


sky & water cropped


If you can immediately tell the difference between these two shots… well then, I am impressed! This crop did serve some practical purpose because my camera creates images that are roughly 8 x 10.6 inches. These dimensions are not particularly useful for making prints and cropping this to a standard size of 8 x 10 inches makes sense. But, that’s not why I did it. My reasons were far less obvious…

I am always trying to understand how someone’s eye reads a photo or piece of artwork. I think there are ways to guide the eye. To subtly suggest where the focus should be and how the eye travels to get there. My goal with this piece was to have the viewer’s eye follow the repeating horizontal lines in a way that would feel seamless… flowing, I suppose. Back and forth, like a typewriter, spewing pastel lines of clouds and water. I wanted to include the land below the water because it anchored the whole scene a bit and gave a hint of context. But foreground — especially darker foreground — is always going to draw the eye, and in this case, my attention kept being inexorably drawn to that tiny dark blob in the lower left corner. A little bump that made me stop and scrutinize when I wanted to just keep gliding back and forth.

At this point — if you’re still reading — you’re probably thinking 1) this woman is more than a little neurotic, and 2) does it really make any appreciable difference? Well, I freely admit to the first point… and as to the second, who knows? I felt instantly better about the whole thing after cropping it, but I have no idea how it translates to others. I’d be happy to hear what you think! Here are the two images side-by-side:


sky & water compare*Click on this (and the above images) if you want to see a larger view.*


Eventually, after staring at these two images for long enough and putting this blog post together, I began to second-guess myself. What was the big deal with the little blob anyway??? It finally dawned on me that it was the “blob” part that wasn’t working for me. Though a small protrusion, it poked up out of an otherwise congruous series of lines and drew attention. But then, to further frustrate things, I simply couldn’t resolve what I was looking at and that made my eye linger even longer on this spot. At this point, curiosity got the better of me and I enlarged the image and seriously increased the exposure to get a better view of the inscrutable dark lump.


sky & water blob revealed


Surprise! It’s a GOOSE!!! A Canada Goose, with its back to the camera, to be exact. Hah! Now, if this goose had been more visible, recognizable as a goose from a distance, there is no way that I ever would’ve considered cropping it out. That would have been a perfect destination for the viewer’s eye — traveling across the image and settling on this lone bird also surveying the unfolding scenery. Ahhh, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around, I guess.

Hmmm… re-reading this post, it seems awfully long and meandering. Not sure if anything I’ve written will be of interest to anyone. Just trying to give some insight into my creative process, which at times can perhaps be overly rigorous. More and more, I recognize that I must give myself more freedom to have fun and be spontaneous with my photography… but, the details do matter to me and they probably always will. And… I’m OK with that!

Harsi / June 10, 2011 / photography, skies, travel, water / 4 Comments

Agapostemon Almighty

Last weekend, in addition to all my fun with turtles and Green Heron, I also had the pleasure of attending my friends’ annual ceramic/jewelry sale at their home. Although it was easy to be entranced by so much amazing artistry in one place, I still found myself occasionally sidetracked by the critters. You see, they have a simply wonderful garden (featuring many native plants) and the birds, insects, lizards and small mammals surely must be eternally grateful to them for such splendid habitat. I told myself I wasn’t going to walk around taking pics the whole time, but when I saw this little green jewel… well, how could one realistically resist?!


sweat bee & sunflower


When I showed her my photos, Ro told me that she had been seeing the same bee on that sunflower earlier. She asked what kind of bee it was, but my response at the time was a bit vague… Probably something like this:

“Well, it’s in the family Halictidae. A group of bees that are commonly known as ‘Sweat Bees’. (Yeah, I know, not the most romantic of names!) There are two different kinds that I think it could be, but I forget how to pronounce their names — they both sound like Greek gods to me…”


sweat bee & sunflower


In my defense, many insects don’t have common names assigned to them, just long, hard to pronounce scientific names. A lot of them also look very, very similar and I confess that in the end I needed one of the insanely good experts on BugGuide to help me out. With his assistance, I can now confidently say:

“Behold! Agapostemon! All-powerful green god of the sunflower children. Dazzling beyond measure, with skin that sparkles like a million emeralds and furry chaps dripping with gold dust”


sweat bee & sunflower



I guess I’m feeling a bit silly today…


sweat bee & sunflower


There are so many species of native bees (as opposed to the introduced, non-native Honey Bee, Apis mellifera) and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Next time you see one… approach slowly and take a good close look… they’re beautiful creatures! (Oh, and if you happen to take a picture… send it to me! I love getting the opportunity to try to identify mystery insects.)

Harsi / June 9, 2011 / arthropods / 3 Comments

An Empty Space To Fill In

sky blue

sky blue

sky blue



here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me

Joni Mitchell, “Blue”


sky blue

sky blue

sky blue

Harsi / June 8, 2011 / lyrics, skies / 5 Comments

Green Heron & Blue Damsels

Green Heron pano


For anyone not familiar, the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) is a small (16 – 18 inches) wading bird that can be found throughout much of the U.S. along creeks and rivers or at ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps and even pastures. Finding the immature bird in the above photo probably isn’t too hard… but at a distance they are extremely cryptic and even up close they can be hard to spot if they’re standing still.


photographer & hidden Green Heron


Now, why would I include this photo?  Well, because I thought it was amusing. This woman was diligently taking photos of a turtle sunning on the edge of the pond in front of her. Unseen from her vantage point was the stealthy heron lurking in the foreground several feet away. Can’t see it? *Click on the image if you’re in need of some assistance.*

Of course the heron has good reason to skulk quietly and slowly in the partial shadows at the water’s edge… Much of its diet is comprised of small fish. Actually, it is one of the few bird species known to use bait in order to capture its fish prey. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website: “It commonly drops bait onto the surface of the water and grabs the small fish that are attracted. It uses a variety of baits and lures, including crusts of bread, insects, earthworms, twigs, or feathers.”

The Green Heron is also known to eat frogs, insects and other invertebrates. While hanging out at El Dorado Regional Park last weekend, it was my extreme pleasure to get to watch one immature heron hunting damselflies. The vegetation around the ponds was rife with bright blue and pinkish damselflies. Rarely can I recall seeing so many damsels in one location. Time after time we watched this bird snap at the air and at plant edges. From what we observed, it had a pretty high rate of success, catching damsel after damsel and gulping them down. The fact that I caught a few of these captures on film was just marvelous! *Be sure to click on the images to see more detail.*


Green Heron searchingSearching… searching…


Green Heron & damselsHmmmmm… damselflies above and below…


Green Heron nabbing damselGot one!!


Green Heron nabbing damselIt’s a bit tough to see in this photo, but if you click to see the bigger image you can just make out the blur of a struggling damsel in the heron’s mouth and one flying dangerously close just above its head.


Green Heron & shadowI love how long and tall this heron looks next to its squat little shadow…


Green Heron looking greenIn some lighting it can be hard to tell why the Green Heron is so named. Immature birds are not as brightly colored as the adults, but in this photo, you can get a feel for the iridescent greeny-blue head and wing feathers that gave this bird its moniker.

All of these photos were taken during our day trip to El Dorado Regional Park where we were quite entertained by our observations of one (or possibly two) of these immature heron. I leave you with this parting image…


Green Heron wading

Harsi / June 7, 2011 / arthropods, birds / 2 Comments


As we were driving out of the canyon on Sunday — on our way to our destination in Long Beach — we arrived at a flat area of open fields and low brush (same spot as in this post) where we have observed several quail couples regularly foraging for the last few months. It’s been my experience that in the late Summer, Fall, and Winter months, California Quail (Callipepla californica) travel in typically large groups (known as coveys), but beginning in early Spring, they start pairing off and the couples seem quite inseparable from that point on. As we slowed to allow one such pair to cross the road, I was delighted to see four little chicks scurrying between their legs! These are the first babies I’ve seen this season, and though I had to take these so-so pictures through the front windshield, the results are still undeniably cute! (Click on any image for a slightly embiggened view.)


California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks

California Qual & chicks


Anyone have a recent story to share about baby bird sightings around your home?


Harsi / June 6, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

Relaxin’ Weekend?

Red-eared Slider

The Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegan) is native to many parts of the southern United States, but here in California it is an introduced species.


Today I met up with my friend Chris to explore El Dorado Regional Park in Long Beach. We saw so many fantastic birds, arthropods and other critters! I had a really great time… though after a couple hours of walking around, I had to concede that I was a tad jealous of how completely r-e-l-a-x-e-d some of the turtles looked. *GRIN*

Hoping that everyone else found something wonderful to do today that left you tired and happy!


turtle lounge deckTurtle lounge deck extraordinaire!

turtle stackingIt’s surprising to me how amicable some turtles were about being climbed on and used as a sunning spot by other smaller turtles.
*Click on the image to see a close-up of their seemingly happy and blissful expressions.*
I’m still searching for a positive ID on the smaller turtle in this shot… anyone reading this have an idea of which species it is?

Harsi / June 5, 2011 / reptiles / 8 Comments

It Is Shining


cloudy sky with blazing sun


Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within
It is being
It is being

Lennon–McCartney, “Tomorrow Never Knows”


Harsi / June 4, 2011 / lyrics, skies / 2 Comments

Wishing for Whiptail

Coastal Whiptail, selective color


The Coastal Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris stejnegeri) is a real favorite of mine and a lizard species that I never really got to see regularly until we moved to the canyon. They prefer hot and arid habitat with relatively sparse vegetation, which describes much of the habitat around here. These guys are proficient diggers when foraging for invertebrate prey and they are super speedy when they want to be. (There’s a cool video about half-way down this page on California if you want to get some idea of how fast they are.) Definitely not an easy lizard to catch, but I have found that with a slow and steady approach it is possible to observe them closely. Usually I start seeing them towards the end of May and then continuing through September or October. (Note: This may not be indicative of their actual seasonal activity, it’s just what I have noticed from my daily sightings over the last several years.)

I love this photo of a pair I was hanging out with one July afternoon a few years ago. They took a break from their courtship activities to rest awhile in the shade. Here you can see how wonderfully camouflaged they are:


Coastal Whiptail pair


The juvenile lizards are much more colorful than the adults. How awesome is that blue tail?!


Coastal Whiptail, juvenile


So, aside from wanting to share this great reptile with you all, I guess I’m kind of hoping this post will serve as a conjuring trick of sorts. You see, I haven’t actually seen one since last year and I haven’t had the chance to photograph one since May of 2009. I’m fairly certain this lizard’s population is relatively stable in this area, so I’m not worried that they’re not out there… it’s just that I’d love the opportunity to spend some more time in the field with them. Everyone keep your fingers crossed for me and maybe I’ll have a few more recent pics to share soon!

Harsi / June 3, 2011 / artwork, reptiles / 2 Comments

Cloud Jellyfish

A few days ago, a friend sent me a wonderful link to some footage of jellyfish in Palau and I started thinking about how amazing it would be to actually get to see these creatures for myself. Oh, I mean I’ve seen lots of jellyfish… in aquariums, in countless nature films, but never in person. Eventually, as is often the case with unknown places and things, I began to wonder what it would be like to photograph them. Who knows, perhaps someday I will get the opportunity and have those incredible photos to share with you all! For now, I thought I’d showcase one of my favorite images and a very special memory of mine… Last year, near the end of October, I was photographing this intriguing series of wispy clouds (cirrus clouds, I believe). As I stood gazing upwards, a subtle rainbow appeared. This was not a rainbow arcing across the sky, this was a rainbow in the cloud itself. I quickly snapped several shots and I’m glad that I didn’t hesitate because it only lasted about 2 seconds. (Really! I checked the time stamp on my photos!) After it disappeared, I mused to myself that it was a lucky thing I had been already engaged in the activity of photographing that particular cloud, or I’m certain I would have missed out on capturing it, and possibly never seen it at all.


circumhorizonal arc


So, according to the reading I’ve done, the (entirely unromantic) scientific term for this phenomenon is “circumhorizontal arc“. I have also seen it referred to as a “cloudbow” and I understand that it is a fairly common occurrence caused by the relatively high angle of the sun as it strikes ice crystals in the cloud. But for me, the instant association I had on that day, the very reason I was photographing the cloud in the first place…. was that it looked like a jellyfish. When the rainbow suffused the hanging tentacles, the illusion seemed complete to me. There, in the infinitely blue expanse of ocean-sky, hung a bioluminescent creature of the deep. Fanciful, I know… but, that’s what I saw. And once seen, it’s now impossible for me to unsee it. Why would I want to anyway?

Harsi / June 2, 2011 / skies / 2 Comments

Sometimes The Sky Calls…

Another night of unsatisfying sleep, my Inbox is full of e-mail awaiting responses, my household chores are steadily backing up. In light of all of this, I had decided that I would stay inside today and just post some remaining photos from yesterday’s walk. But… this morning I looked outside and it was cloudy. I cracked the front door and the weather was cool and breezy. Birds were singing… squirrels were zipping around… and, well, you know how it goes. I got dressed and put my shoes on. [insert sheepish grin] I figured I should at least grab a cup of juice before leaving and while gulping it down, I peered out the kitchen window. As if on cue, my favorite spotted-little-one showed up with its mom and gave me a glimpse or two as it snuck through the sage and olive trees.


mule deer fawn

There was a fair bit of blue sky showing, but the clouds that covered the rest of the sky more than made up for it. Wispy and whimsical. Puffs and arcs. Stretching, shifting and moving. Aaaah… action in the sky… just what I crave!


clouds sky trees

clouds sky hillside

cloud abstract


As if issuing some sort of homage to the little spotted fawn from earlier, the sky shifted yet again and produced this most wonderful pattern:


cloud abstract spots**Be sure to click on the image for a beautiful panoramic.**

A Cooper’s Hawk (quite likely the same one from yesterday!) soared effortlessly above me. Sharing the sky with the hawk were a few swallows swooping and diving at unseen insects. I heard the raucous croaking of the boisterous raven family long before I spotted them high over the hills. The juveniles are as big as the adults now and the family (6 birds total, I think) loudly travels together in search of food and perhaps a bit of mayhem.


Cooper's Hawk & Common Ravens


There were small arthropod joys to be had as well. Several bumble bees were working a patch of California Poppies. If yesterday’s photos were a matter of good luck and perfect timing, today’s images proved to be more a matter of supreme patience and diligence. For some reason, my camera repeatedly refused to achieve focus when I wanted it to, and countless opportunities for beautiful shots of the bees ended up as little more than blurry blobs of orange, yellow and black. But, it was a beautiful day to be out and I smiled despite my frustration, and stuck with it until I managed to come away with at least a few nifty shots.

bumble bees on poppiesI was kind of amazed at how long bumble bees’ back legs are when they let them dangle.


I knew I had been gone too long, and reluctantly I turned and headed for home. As I rounded the corner of the small work shed near our cabin, I slowed down to carefully watch my step and scan the ground… Why? Well, because there’s always the chance I’ll see this poking out of the abandoned ground squirrel burrow:


rattlesnake under shedIf you’ve got a heebie-jeebie-thing about rattlers, I wouldn’t click on this one for the bonus shot… (*grin*)

Hope everyone has had a truly wonderful day!

Harsi / June 1, 2011 / arthropods, birds, flowers, mammals, reptiles, skies / 2 Comments