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

Farewell to July

When I opened my eyes this morning, it took me a moment to reconcile the sound.


That didn’t seem very likely… I sat up and let the fog of sleep drift further away.

It is rain! What the heck? It’s raining!

Not a lot, mind you… Just enough to dapple the brown earth and make the air smell moist and alive. But, here in the canyon at the tail-end of July, any rain at all is a rarity and I was grateful for it. I’m quite certain that the wildlife shared my elation as well.

The sky was overcast and lovely for much of the day, but by late afternoon when I finally got clear of the “to do” stuff on my list and went out for a walk, the big clouds had mostly retreated and were accumulating over the peaks of the San Gabriels.

clouds accumulating over San Gabriels

I walked down to the oak woodland area that parallels the road. It was hot and humid and the bitey flies were out in force looking for a meal. (I’m not sure if we are as tasty as the main course — the local Mule Deer — but that certainly doesn’t stop them from sampling.) Fortunately, I had good company and was happy to be out despite the constant waving and swatting.

Previously, I had mentioned that our seasonal creek has completely dried up in several spots. I thought it might be interesting to illustrate this and so I searched through my photos to see what I could find. The picture on the left was taken in early February of this year. This spot along the creek forms a large, slow-moving, shallow pool that is always a favorite congregating spot for the breeding Coast Range Newts (Taricha torosa torosa). The picture to the right was photographed just last week, and as you can clearly see, the ground is little more than damp now.

creek comparison (February & July)

Tomorrow’s post will feature a bunch of pics of the Mule Deer who can (with increasing frequency) be found resting and browsing for food in the relatively cooler, shadier areas around our cabin. In truth, I meant to share them with you today, but (like the female pictured below) I ran out of steam and decided to take it easy instead. I hope everyone else is finding ways to beat the heat and still enjoy some time outside!

Mule Deer, female resting


Harsi / July 31, 2011 / hillsides, mammals, skies, water, weather / 2 Comments

Trials & Toyon-ations

I had planned to write something today about my recent wildlife sightings around here. I had several other small projects and “to do” items lined up for myself as well. And, I definitely — definitely! — had earmarked a chunk of the day for a walk outside. But, as John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In my case, “life” included: an impressive number of big ants invading the bed + me asleep + a very unseemly hour of the morning.

I’ll spare you the somewhat traumatizing details and just tell you that I didn’t get any sleep after that and spent much of the day trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again tonight. I think I’ve done as much as I can and I’m already finding ways to laugh at my early morning ordeal. (What else are you gonna’ do?!) But, as I never did get around to writing the post I had in mind, I hope no one minds seeing another one of the (mir)ror im(ages) I created yesterday… *exhausted grin*


Toyon flipped & turned“Toyon Bird”


Harsi / July 30, 2011 / fun stuff, lyrics, plants / 0 Comments

(mir)ror im(age)


I was thinking that I really liked this image I made of a sunset from last January…


January sunset & branches


I wondered what it might look like if I flipped it horizontally…


January sunset & branches, flipped


I decided I didn’t like that as much. But, then I thought… Maybe you need both! So, I decided to see what they would look like side-by-side…


January sunset & branches, side-by-side


Actually, what resulted was sort of a happy accident. I had intended on putting the two images together in a manner similar to the image I shared here with a thin black border between. I happened to place them too close together and (fortunately!) I saw this marvelous pattern and shape appear. I love when you can do something in a graphics program with your photo that manages to retain its essential nature but also adds a new dimension or element. In this case, it was already so fantastical and surreal that I thought I would go just one step further and turn the image upside down…


January sunset & branches, upside down


Now, I had originally planned at this point to tell you how excited and impressed I was by the figure that appeared to me when I stared at this last image… But then I thought it might be more fun (à la the interactive-cloud-gazing post) if I asked y’all:  What do you see?


[P.S. When I was trying to come up with an interesting name for this approach (technique?) (style?), a few of the words that I was playing around with were “mirage” and “mirror image” as both terms seemed apropos. It dawned on me that the first word was contained within the letters of the second. I thought that was nifty! Though, perhaps there’s no great surprise in this as apparently the words “mirror” and “mirage” share the same Latin root — mirare, meaning “to look at, to wonder at”.]

Harsi / July 29, 2011 / fun stuff, photography, skies / 5 Comments

A Tall Drink of Water


Acorn Woodpeckers drinking from sprinkler


Now that we have truly entered the long stretch of hot and dry weather typical for this area at this time of year, the animals in the canyon can increasingly be found seeking out remaining water sources. The seasonal creek still has water in a few places, but large portions are little more than beds of rock and sand now. In addition to the water that I leave in containers behind my house, there are also many troughs provided for the horses living in the adjacent pasture. Most of the local mammals can be found (at some time of day) visiting these or other unintentional water sources around the property. Birds are also frequent visitors — drinking, bathing and even hunting insects over the water. (And, of course, the insects themselves also have a great need for moisture in these months. In addition to their own requirements, many bees and wasps also require water in order to construct their nests.)

I thought I’d share the above photo because it’s a nifty summer/fall behavior that I’ve seen the Acorn Woodpeckers engage in every year that we’ve lived here. They can often be seen in numbers of three or more squabbling over the opportunity to cling to a sprinkler head and drink the small amount of liquid that sometimes seeps out.

(NOTE: This photo was taken on July 28, 2009 — two years ago to the date!)

Harsi / July 28, 2011 / birds, weather / 2 Comments

(selective) Beachcombing


Point Robinson beachcombing


Fern Cove beachcombing


Fern Cove beachcombing


Point Robinson beachcombing


All images were taken on Vashon, WA — the first and last were photographed at Point Robinson and the middle images were photographed at Fern Cove. (If you missed it, you can read more about the photo processing technique here.)


Harsi / July 27, 2011 / travel / 4 Comments

‘Scuse me while I kiss the…



September sky



I scrolled past this photo in my archives and it got me thinking about the beautiful skies of Fall — not too much longer to wait!

This stunner is from the end of September last year.

Harsi / July 26, 2011 / lyrics, skies / 2 Comments