The Australia trip is over and I’m finally getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Our flight miles added up to nearly 21,500 miles and Collin and I drove approximately 3,400 miles in country. I have been spending lots of hours during the past few days going over the nearly 6,000 photos I took during the trip and have roughly finalized my bird list – 89 species, with a couple yet to ID from photos. Not nearly enough to match my dreams, but getting to see a bit over 10% of the continent’s birds (~850 species) while on a work trip is nothing to complain about, I guess.
On our last day in country we visited Wilson’s Promontory National Park. What an impact this place had on me. Take something like our Yosemite NP and surround it by ocean on three sides, fill it with unique habitats, exotic birds and marsupials and you have an idea of what the ‘Prom’ is like. Of course, one day was only enough to wet my appetite. Two weeks would have been better.
Entry fees for national parks in Australia vary by state. In Victoria, all NP’s are free to enter and all other states charge a very affordable rate. This makes me wonder why the cost of our parks are going through the roof and why so many state parks (not in MO) charge an entry fee. Priorities, I guess.
Here are a few of my favorite landscapes from the Prom that should give an idea of the diversity of habitats this place offers. All of these were taken less than three miles from the few roads that lie within the park.
Well, it was definitely worth the hype. I sure didn’t perform perfectly in capturing the photographs that I wanted, but the experience along with what I did capture still had me coming away with feeling I had a great experience. Some of my conclusions I definitely want to remember for the next time:
1) Focus. My lens was consistently needing to be refocused. This is something I heard from other photographers as well. I assume this must be due to the changing temperatures from sitting in the sun, but the problem didn’t seem to go away. This was really a problem when I removed the solar filter for totality. In the heat of the moment I failed to think about focus until it was really too late. This had a negative effect on getting critical sharp images during Bailey’s beads and the diamond ring. Next time I will check as often as I can.
2) Bracketing during totality. My 7D mkii is equipped to take serious bracketed shots. Unfortunately, I failed to review how to do this automatically prior to the eclipse. I could have taken ~14 tightly bracketed shots in no time during totality. Instead, I barely pulled off three or so that were probably too widely spaced to create the final composite I was hoping for. It wasn’t a complete wash, but it could have been so much better.
3) Importance of aperture. I wasn’t thinking much of totality when I chose the aperture that I did. During totality, it is much more important to pick a smaller aperture that will get you those nice starbursts and critical focus then to worry about letting in more light to avoid digital noise. This will also help with focusing in general and getting sharp focus of the solar flares.
I’m sure there are other improvements I could make. With about 7 years to prepare, I won’t make the same mistakes again.
Here is one of the interesting visitors I had to my black lights at Hawn State Park this summer. Bolitotherus cornutus, or horned fungus beetle is in the darkling beetle family, Tenebrionidae. I wish I knew of their preference for polypore fungi as larvae and adults so that I could have photographed them on more suitable substrate.
This series was taken on the joint outing of the WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups at Council Bluff Lake. Here we have eastern black carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) feeding on a freshly dead ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus).
With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees. The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days. There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with. So, I decided to give some attention to the Lindera benzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails. My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.
One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly. This is my best guess on identification. This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.
Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).
The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.
I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen. This is what I figure was going on in the image below. Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source. I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.
Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae. These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.
Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male. Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper. In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate. In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.
At least one species has taken this system a step further. The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”. The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names. Another overlooked beneficial fly. Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.
I’ll leave you with one final image. This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer. What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall. This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush. Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.
Until next time…
A wonderful post about the Bald Eagle and the photographer’s experience!
American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Lock & Dam 14.
Lock and Dam 14:
Located in the city of Le Claire, IA. Hailed as one of the better bald eagle viewing opportunities in the continental US, each winter hundreds of eagles congregate along the flyway of the sometimes frozen Mississippi River to catch fish that get stunned as they travel through the cascading water passing through the lock.
Hands downs, Lock and Dam 14 is my favorite because it provides closer views of the eagles from the viewing platform. The best light is in the afternoon, although I’ve still gotten some great images in the morning. Get there early to find a good spot on the platform as it gets crowded later in the day (especially on weekends).
While in Le Claire, plan a visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum, or a boat ride with the Riverboat Twilight Tour cruising…
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