Out of Context


abstract crop


No tricks with this one! Nothing mirrored, flipped, reversed, altered or otherwise manipulated. What you see is simply a cropped poriton of a larger photo. It looked so otherworldly to me today that I wondered how recognizable it would be without the surrounding context.

** Can you tell what it is??! **

As always, you can click on the above image to see it larger. Once you’ve decided what it is, go ahead and click on the question mark below to see the original uncropped image:


Click here for answer!



Harsi / August 10, 2011 / fun stuff / 8 Comments

Geranium Grouper?


geranium, flipped


It might just be that I didn’t sleep enough last night, but does anyone else see a hungry fish coming right for you?

Lovely plant:                                                     courtesy of my mother-in-law’s garden

Interesting patterned leaves:                             courtesy of hungry insects or snails

Fanciful underwater interpretation:                   courtesy of yours truly



I hope no one is sick of the whole (mir)ror im(age) thing yet…  I have really been having lots of fun with this!! And since laughing, smiling and generally having more fun are all items on my “How To Improve My Life” list, you can expect to be seeing more in the future.

Harsi / August 9, 2011 / fun stuff, plants / 8 Comments

The “See Ya’ Later” Lizard


Southern Alligator Lizard, reddish


This may be the most brightly colored Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata webbii) I have ever seen!! They are always beautifully patterned, but usually draped in more subtle shades of brown, gray or green. (Sightings like this are always so much fun, but they are even more fun when my neighbor and her 3 yr. old son are along for the walk. Many thanks, J, for spotting this one for me on our walk together last week!)

The alligator lizards around here seem to really enjoy hanging out at various points along the main road as it parallels the creek. CaliforniaHerps.com describes them as “generally secretive, tending to hide in brush or under rocks, although they are often seen foraging out in the open or on roads in the morning and evening. They are common inhabitants of suburban yards and garages.” This description matches up quite well with my own observations over the years. I’ve often found them creeping about on our porch in the early morning hours and twice I’ve had to figure out how to trap-and-release young ones that somehow found a way inside the house itself. (I can tell you from firsthand experience that the snake-like look of their head and eye can really throw you for a loop if you can’t see the rest of their body… Just imagine one popping its head out from behind a bookcase as you are strolling through your living room. *grin*)


Southern Alligator Lizard, rescue


Southern Alligator Lizard, rescue


They can move extremely fast when they want to, but my experience has been that they prefer to remain very still up until the last possible second that danger (or possibly prey?) approaches. When the object finally gets too close, they either strike or run away. Sadly, it is my belief that this strategy — which may work quite well in most situations — might be responsible for the potentially large number of accidental deaths along the road to our home. They seem to rest in the shadier spots and can be extremely difficult to pick-out from the surrounding ground, twigs and leaves. I think that this, combined with their seeming preference to remain motionless until something approaches very closely, may prove to be a fatal combination when sharing their habitat with automobiles. I can only hope that their numbers in this area are healthy enough to support these tragic losses. (For what it’s worth, I always move the dead bodies off to the side of the road and I am pleased to report that there are enough scavengers here that the corpses rarely linger for more than 24 to 48 hours before something makes a meal of them.)


Southern Alligator Lizard, roadkill

I’ve heard from a lot of people that they think these guys are “creepy”. I’ve also heard some comments that they bite and are aggressive. I can only say that I have never personally experienced any of these things. And, aside from being startled on occasion — they do look and move a lot like a snake! — I greatly enjoy having these lizards around and only wish that I had more opportunities to photograph them.


Southern Alligator Lizard, eye close-up


Harsi / August 8, 2011 / conservation, reptiles / 2 Comments

Out of Sight

I continue to hear the calls of the juvenile Great Horned Owls every night… This has been so reassuring after the “summer of silence” last year. I continue to open windows and smile into the dark black night, imagining them in my mind.

For years now, as I took photo after photo after photo of the owls — roosting on a branch in the afternoon, grooming, hunting, incubating and feeding their young, learning to fly — I knew not to take it for granted. I was acutely aware of how precious and unique the opportunities were and I made the most of them. That being said, I suppose I hadn’t considered how hard it might be to find an owl to photograph now that they’ve moved their nest further afield. It can’t be too far away, but as I don’t know where the nest is exactly, finding an owl to view or photograph in the daytime is no longer as easy as simply scanning the large trees directly around our cabin. I do see them occasionally when we drive the road at night — silent, dark shapes flying across the sky. But I confess that I miss seeing their yellow eyes, their impressive talons gripping a branch, or the delicate tufts of feathers that constitute their “ears”. I decided to check my photo files to see when the last time I had the opportunity to photograph one and was surprised to find that it was as long ago as November of last year. Here’s the photo:

Great Horned Owl, most recent photo

Sometimes I take what I call “record shots”. For me, that means a photo that is simply meant to record the existence of something in my area, or perhaps to record a notable date or significant sighting for something. My intent is not necessarily to create a photo anyone else would want to see… just to take a mental snapshot (a “screen capture”, if you will) of what I am seeing.

Oddly, I can remember that when I took this photo, it was meant to be a record shot. At that point, we were still seeing the adult owls around the property and there wasn’t really anything notable about this particular sighting. But, perhaps I intuitively sensed their impending move as something compelled me to record this (at that point) fairly common occurrence of looking up and seeing a roosting owl. Well… in any event, I’m happy that I took the photo when I did. Also, I’ve decided to try harder to locate where the owls are currently spending their days so that I might get the opportunity to see them once again. Wish me luck!


Harsi / August 7, 2011 / birds / 2 Comments

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles


California Ground Squirrel, juveniles



I was looking through some old folders of images that I hadn’t browsed recently and came across this series I took back in July of 2006. A California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) raised her young under a little wooden bridge behind our cabin that year and I had the fun of seeing the whole family out together on several occasions. I’m not sure where the mother was on this day, but her spectacled brood sure was adorable as they cautiously ran in and out of their burrow.

I know at least one of my friends is keeping tabs on a couple of nests around his place and getting some nice shots of baby birds …

* Anyone else have juvenile animals visiting or growing up somewhere in your yard or garden right now? *


Harsi / August 6, 2011 / mammals / 0 Comments

Doubling My Fun

This past week, I took a few more shots of trees with the express intention of playing around with flipping the photos. I had such a good time with the last few (mir)ror im(age) posts — here and here — but I wondered how I could step it up a notch for this round.

Well, if two images mirroring each other created something fantastical… What would FOUR look like?


Oak tree, flipped2x



UNK tree, flipped2x



Just in case anyone was curious, these are the original images:



trees, pre-flipped


Harsi / August 5, 2011 / fun stuff, plants / 0 Comments

Wading It Out

The sound of the air conditioner rattling away. The cicadas buzzing during the day; the crickets singing all night. The heat that smacks you in the face when you open a window or the door. Yup… it’s summer, all right.

While considering subject matter for this blog my thoughts have been increasingly turning to images of cooler weather or locales. Not surprising, eh? Join me as I recall a nice afternoon spent at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary back in May of 2007. This graceful Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) was feeding in the shallow end of one of the ponds and allowed me to take several nice photos…


Black-necked Stilt wading


(For those of you who are new to birdwatching, these wading birds can be found in various wetland habitats throughout much of the country, searching for aquatic invertebrates and small fish.)


Harsi / August 4, 2011 / birds, weather / 0 Comments

The Remains of the Day

What is it about watching the sky go from daylight to sunset and then dusk to twilight? Any time the clouds are moving, I enjoy looking up to watch (camera in hand), ready to capture the loveliness as it passes by. But the unfathomable yet reliable transformation of light to dark as the day ends — and then the same miracle played out in reverse at sunrise — is something that always holds me in thrall. I find it hard to tear myself away from the spectacle until it is complete. A song that feels unfinished until the last few notes fade out…

August sunset triptych

When I went out for my evening walk yesterday it was hot and muggy. It didn’t matter! The sky had been beckoning me all day and now I was ready and waiting to enjoy the symbiosis of clouds and color. The quickly changing light transformed the hillsides such that I could stand in one spot and create several pleasing variations of the same image…

August sunset triptych II


When the moon finally showed itself it was a delicate waxing crescent. One last sliver of light as the rest of the canyon succumbed to darkness…


100th crescent moon

Guess what? This is my 100th blog post. (!!!) I just wanted to take the opportunity to say what a joy it has been to share my photos and thoughts with you all. I do cherish the solitude of my outings, but I love the connection and communion that I feel in getting to share those moments with friends that value and admire the natural world as I do. Thank you for all the wonderful comments and participation. Your encouragement and enthusiasm means the world to me.

*blissful smile of gratitude*


Harsi / August 3, 2011 / hillsides, skies / 4 Comments

Phidippus Phun!

When I walk the main road that parallels the creek, I don’t have to worry too much about encountering rattlesnakes. But, I still tend to spend a lot of time looking down at my feet and the path ahead. There are several species of darkling and ironclad beetle whose cryptic coloration blends easily into the blacktop. I do my best to avoid stepping on them and any other smaller critters that might be scurrying past as well.

The other day, a slight bit of movement next to a fallen oak leaf caught my eye and I was rewarded with the opportunity to photograph this wonderful jumping spider:


Phidippus jumping spider, immature


Jumping Spiders (Family:Salticidae) have got to be my favorite family of spiders. (If you have never noticed them before, I seriously encourage you to seek them out in your garden or local wildlife area. Feel free to ask me if you want tips on where to look!) In addition to incredible patterns and colors, they seem fearless and have loads of personality. They are very aware of your presence and will actively watch you (or your camera’s) movement. I don’t know if it’s a defensive maneuver or just curiosity, but they will often jump directly at you (or on you!) if you get too close or corner them. Don’t worry… they are completely harmless!

[NOTE: I believe that this is an immature Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni). I’m basing this assumption on input I have gotten from several images I’ve submitted to BugGuide.net for identification. But, determining species in immature spiders is often difficult and so I’m still uncertain.]

Harsi / August 2, 2011 / arthropods / 2 Comments

Making it Work

I sat down today to work on prepping those Mule Deer images I promised. Several young males (last year’s fawns) have been hanging about lately. Adult females and their spotted little ones share their company as they make daily visits around the perimeter of the cabin. They stop to get a drink of water, nibble on the plants and bushes, and to lay in the cool, shady areas. In photographing them, I managed to capture some wonderful expressions and behavior. However, as is often the case (especially if I attempt to shoot through the kitchen window), I found myself unhappy with the quality of the photos. It’s not that they’re horrible, they simply suffer from various problems like soft focus, contrasty lighting, improper exposure or unwanted objects. Using a graphics program like Photoshop, there are countless ways to attempt to improve or fix these issues. Some times I go that route… But, other times, I find that if an image needs a significant amount of manipulation it’s just more fun to unleash my creativity instead of trying to make it look like the perfect photograph I had imagined. By playing with the digital filters and brushes, altering the color palette or lighting, it’s possible to create a myriad of artistic effects.

I thought it might be interesting to start by showing you this image exactly as it looked after I downloaded it from my camera:

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon

This young male was so blissfully chewing away on the Toyon leaves, that he hardly seemed to notice me standing at the window taking photos. It was a beautiful few moments. But, the image looked so washed out and lifeless to me. I wanted to try and add more of the warmth and intimacy that I had felt. Also, the background was very bright and eye-catching, so I hoped to even out the light some, make it twinkle a bit, and highlight all the wonderful leaves.

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon (filtered)

I liked the way the deer fills this square crop and the painterly effect is very close to what I had envisioned. (If anyone is interested, I used the “Accented Edges” filter and then experimented with the color and exposure.)

I know it can be very hard to get a feel for the subtleties of the texture and brush strokes with the small size of web presentation. I usually do provide a larger version that can be seen my clicking on the image, but it is still a very limited view. So, here is a crop showing just a portion of the above image so that you can see more detail.

Mule Deer, male eating Toyon (filtered)


In this next instance, you can see an example of an original image which is really not very good. But, I so loved the composition and the delightful scene it portrayed that I wanted to try and do something nice with it.

Mule Deer, two males resting

These two young males decided to lay down near each other in late afternoon shade. They were just within view through my kitchen window and they weren’t going anywhere, but no matter how many photos I took, the glass distortion and lighting conspired to leave me with less than satisfactory shots. Additionally, there was that exposed (defunct) pipe jutting out off the ground next to the upper deer in every single image. It was the layered appearance of the background and the repeating shapes of the deer that had compelled me to take the photo in the first place, so I tried to focus on those elements when cropping and transforming it. (In this case, the filtering process also makes it very easy to seamlessly clone a portion of the background to obscure the unattractive pipe.)


Mule Deer, two males resting (filtered)


Though I don’t always succeed, it is always my goal to accomplish something that is better than the original photo. To create something that tugs at the essence of what I saw when I first lifted my camera, but then draws it out further… Exaggerating it to evoke an emotion or feeling that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Harsi / August 1, 2011 / artwork, mammals, photography / 2 Comments