For the Birds

This day pretty much blew except for one interlude of peaceful bird-watching and -photographing. It started with my BF coming home, announcing he was “wicked sick,” and then going into the bathroom with my best stainless steel pan to puke in. (I am totally buying a new one. And making him pay for it. Because I am NEVER cooking in that thing again!!) Then I went to the doctor’s, where I had to have blood drawn. I came home and took care of the bunny, since I didn’t want Ulysse touching any of the animals if he had a stomach virus. After that I re-photographed a bunch of jewelry for my Etsy shop, then packed my laundry bag and headed to my mom’s. While the laundry was in, I sat and watched all the activity in the back yard through my mom’s big picture window, and that was blissful. I saw grackles, red-winged blackbirds, robins, cardinals, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, a red-tailed hawk in the distance, ducks in the river, and even a mama squirrel (the nipples gave her away). Then my mother came home and put on NESN to check on the Red Sox, only to hear the news of the explosions in Boston. (I think the last time there was a similar disaster, I was also watching birds. I always find it so… jarring to be living this quiet, do-no-harm kind of life, enjoying nature and whatnot, and then to be repeatedly smacked in the head by the reality of the ugly world in which we live.) After that I headed to a friend’s grandmother’s wake and then home. (Interspersed were THREE trips to various stores for things for Ulysse.) Here’s the hoping tomorrow is better – for everybody.

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New Canon

So, I’ve been test-driving my new Canon Rebel T3, which is always risky, because what if I can’t get a once-in-a-lifetime shot for some reason? And I have bumped into some issues, mainly with the focus. The 75-300mm lens I got with the camera doesn’t have image stabilization, which the 18-55mm lens does, which makes ZERO sense. When I zoom in on something far away, I’m finding I can’t get the focus super sharp, like I want. Also, my “old” 75-300mm lens has a macro setting, which I knew I was gonna miss, and I do. Badly. But the color is very rich with the Canon, which I like, and I can spot meter and get the exposure correct, so those are two good things.

Anyhow, here are some images taken with my new camera that I am more or less happy with:

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Hummingbirds videos

I have two videos of hummingbirds at my mom’s feeder posted on YouTube.

The first, Dance of the Hummingbirds,  is about 4 minutes long. It was taken from inside my mom’s screened porch, so there is a bit of a diffusing effect from the screen.

The second, Hummingbirds at the Feeder, is a little over 5 minutes long, taken outdoors while sitting cross-legged behind the cover of some bushes. (You have to be dedicated to do this stuff!!)

I created both by splicing together short clips using Windows Movie Maker, which I am really loving. It’s easy to add titles/credits, music, transition effects, etc.

Monarch Manor

I released my two monarch butterflies on Monday (check out the video on YouTube!) and have been checking out the milkweed downtown for any more eggs, but haven’t seen a one. Then, yesterday, I was chasing bugs around Buttonwood Park with my camera and noticed a monarch laying eggs on a green plant that wasn’t milkweed. I checked it out, and a few more nearby, and they were loaded with monarch eggs (plus some other eggs I didn’t want to risk taking home). I broke off two stalks to take home, because they were far enough into the grass that I think they might have been mowed. Otherwise, the eggs could have just been left where they were. So, already I have two monarch eggs and SIX monarch caterpillars at home. Zoinks! Also, I consulted one of my butterfly field guides, which I own but don’t break out too often, and learned (after all this time!) that monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and dogbane, which also has a milky, sticky, bitter sap. Duuuuuuh…

Dogbane with butterfly eggs

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

Monarch video

I just posted a video on YouTube of one of my monarch butterflies emerging from his chrysalis this morning.

I have raised monarchs for several years now. There is milkweed in the yard behind my work, which a friend and I both check for monarch butterfly eggs (they lay them on the underside of milkweed leaves). If we find some, we take them home to give them a chance to become butterflies, because we never know when the landscapers will show up and pull them out.

Caterpillars are quite easy to raise, if you have the interest, which I do as both a photographer and nature-lover. I have a 10-gallon fish tank with a screened top that I keep them in. After a few days the caterpillars hatch from their eggs, and they are tiny. I pick a milkweed stalk (making sure there are no bugs already on it) and cut an “x” in the lid of a plastic container, fill the container with water, and stick the stalk inside it. That way, the milkweed gets water and the caterpillars aren’t in danger of drowning. I put them on the leaves and then just let them do their thing. They eat, they grow, they molt. Every 2-3 days I get them some new milkweed. (Tip: They prefer smaller, light green leaves to older, tough ones.)

When they are ready to form a chrysalis, they head to the top of the tank and attach their butts to the screen with silk. They then hang in a “j” shape until they form a chrysalis (which mine tend to do after dark, when I’m asleep). The chrysalis is small, jade green, with an edge of black and gold at the top. After maybe a week and a half, the green fades until you can see the form of the butterfly folded up inside. That means they’re ready to emerge.

Mine usually open early in the morning, before it’s light out. Today I got up at 4:30 a.m. to film them emerging. I set up lights and my tripod the night before, so all I really had to do was wait and watch. This is the first year I’ve gotten a really good video of a monarch emerging. Not only that, but I made several short tapes of them stretching their wings, and one of me releasing them at Buttonwood Park, and then I used Windows Movie Maker to put together a really nice video presentation with music and transitions between scenes, which I’m really very pleased with and proud of.

I don’t mind getting up at 4:30 a.m. to watch my monarchs hatch. I can’t think of a better way to start one’s day! I haven’t seen as many monarchs this summer as I normally do, so this year in particular I feel like I’m doing something to help them rather than just observing them. You don’t have to be a kid and you don’t have to have kids to have a reason to raise butterflies. When so many of our lives are filled to the brim with work and stress, here is a way to reconnect with nature – and it’s free!

Monarch butterfly

Male monarch I released a previous summer

Monarch butterfly chrysalises

Monarch butterfly chrysalises from a previous year. The clear one is about to open.

New ride

Yesterday was a scorcher – at least to me, not being a fan of direct sunlight. Ugh. Got the barnacles scraped off my teeth first thing (UGH) and then spent the rest of my day at a car dealership, trading in my 2002 Ford Focus w/89K+ miles on it, for a 2007 Chevy Aveo w/33.5K miles. S-weeeet! I just have to pimp it out with some bumper stickers now! ;)