Tagged: personal

Sandhills

Nebraska was magical.

It was, at first, strange to go back — after my graduate school misadventures, driving back felt like a reminder of my own failures, and of a particularly rough time during my own life. The weather didn’t help much, either: Tuesday’s drive was a terrifying haul through clouds, wind and billowing snow.

But on Wednesday morning, the sky was clear. Frozen grass sparkled like gold, and I got to watch cranes fly under a perfect blue and yellow dawn.

Sunrise on the Platte River

I’ve seen Sandhills before, and in Australia I had the privilege of seeing both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, but these sightings of solitary birds simply don’t compare to the awesome sight (or the sound!) of a hundred birds packed together, trilling and trumpeting at each other from a narrow stretch of sand.

Sandhill Crane

Later in the day, I watched cranes feed together in groups of two or three in empty fields, surrounded by broken stalks of corn. Occasionally, they’d stop to dance, practice for their more serious courtship when they finally resume their migration to Alaska.

Sandhill Cranes

After a quick coffee break, I headed down to Kearney, where I stood with dozens of other birdwatchers to watch them tumble down to roost at night, jostling for space on a sandbar, or wading ankle-deep in the braided channels of the Platte River.

Sandhill Cranes

I think I’ve made my peace with Nebraska.

Sandhill Cranes

Gas Station Finds

I love gas stations. This is partly because I drive an SUV with terrible mileage (I know! I am a bad person! But it was an affordable vehicle on my grad student budget.), but also because gas stations have wonderful, bright lights and ready resources of sugary garbage. The net effect of this is that I often find quite good insects at gas stations, especially late at night.

Most gas station attendants are a little weirded out if you just go at it with a bug net, but I try not to let the little things stop me.

So, for example, when I was driving home from Omaha late on Sunday night, I had to stop for gas. The gas station that I stopped at was pretty well deserted (mostly because it was about one in the morning), and the lights were full of little buzzing insects … and one very large, flying insect.

I at first assumed that this insect was a hunting dragonfly that had, for some reason, stayed out past its bedtime … but something wasn’t quite right about its flight pattern. When the insect came in to land, I managed to capture it, and this is what I found.

Mediterranean Mantis
Mediterranean Mantis

This is a beautiful adult male Mediterranean Mantis (Iris oratoria). At first, I wasn’t quite sure what he was, since I didn’t realize that this species got to this size … but while I was capturing, I managed to annoy him enough that he gave me a beautiful threat display, which pretty much cinched my species identification.

Iris oratoria

(This lovely photo is not mine — It was taken by Isidro Martínez, who graciously CC licensed it for the Encylopedia of Life collection — but I figured that you all needed a photo of just how cool this display really is.)

Since Mediterranean mantises are invasive, I didn’t feel a particular need to let him go back into the wild — so he’s currently in a Critter Keeper on my desk at home, voraciously devouring an offering of crickets. I’ve decided to name him Sheldon.

I also went herping today, and actually found stuff, in spite of the awful weather we’ve been having in Nebraska — I’ll post those photos for you all tomorrow.

Why I love wasps (and you should too!)

Wasp Portrait
Image from Stuart Williams

I was asked to talk about wasps over on tumblr, and I put so much effort into the resulting post that I figured I’d better cross-post it over here, too.

The fear of wasps and bees is an incredibly common phobia. For anyone who’s ever been stung by a yellow jacket or a hornet, this probably seems like a perfectly reasonable thing. Being stung hurts, and some people can have life-threatening allergic reactions to stings. And unlike bees, wasps don’t get a lot of positive press. They don’t make honey, after all, and they’re not the insects that we think of when we think of agricultural pollination.

But wasps are probably some of the most important insects in the world. If we somehow managed to remove all of the wasps from the world, it wouldn’t be inconvenient or a small ecological disaster, but the world would basically stop working.

This post is going to get long, but hopefully by the end of it, I can convince you that wasps are the best animals ever.

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Sketchdump

So I have finally bowed to consumer pressure, and bought an iPad. I figured that it would be a useful tool for, uh, reading PDFs and taking notes, and that sort of useful graduate student stuff.

Less than forty eight hours after buying it, its memory is half full of X-Men comics and music… So that worked out well.

My favorite thing on the iPad so far, is probably the Paper app from 53. It’s a very neat little sketchbook tool, with really elegant, responsive brushes. Playing with it feels like very fancy fingerpainting. It’s a ton of fun. Plus you get to see my terrible handwriting.

African Wild Dog
African Wild Dog

The next one was done from vague memories of what ranids are supposed to look like, so it’s probably awful…

Frog
Frog

So, does anyone have any recommendations for apps that will turn my iPad from a really expensive sketchbook / comic book reader / mp3 player into something that might actually be good to do science with?

New Reflector

I spent most of yesterday making myself a small reflector out of cardboard, white paper and aluminum foil (I am super, super cheap) and spent today testing it, first on a very perplexed kitten, and then outside on an actual insect.

River
River

Ah, the glare of reflected light in tiny kitten eyes. So charming.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/11, 1/160 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Weevil
Weevil

I think it works a little better on small things.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/125 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Fort Worth Botanic Garden: Flora

I am not really a fan of plants. I mean, yes, I recognize that they are sort-of an essential part of my existence, but they’re just not all that charismatic. (Except for my Venus flytrap, which is a wonderful plant.) I also find them very, very challenging to take pictures of, because they are just sort-of green, leafy amorphous blobs to me.

But since I was in a botanic garden yesterday, I felt obligated to take at least a few plant pictures.

Waterfall in the Japanese Garden
Waterfall in the Japanese Garden

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Fort Worth Botanic Garden: Fauna

Today, I went to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. If you are ever in or around Fort Worth, this is a place you should go. It is full of plants, and almost all of the gardens there are free (except for the Japanese Garden, where you have to pay $4.50 to get in, and the amazing indoor conservatory, which will cost you a dollar, and is totally worth it). It’s also a great place for bug watching, since the flowers draw a lot of interesting pollinators, and they have a lot of diverse, arthropod friendly habitat. It’s also apparently not a bad place for city herping, since I heard some calling cricket frogs and spotted two green anoles and a blotched water snake while wandering through the gardens. (They’ve also got red-eared sliders everywhere, but turtles are not exciting herpetofauna, so I wasn’t that excited to see them.)

All in all, it was a pretty great day.

Bridge in the Japanese Garden
Bridge in the Japanese Garden

I could not take a landscape photo to save my life. Fortunately for all of us, that’s not why you’re here. (I hope.)

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Worm Salad 2.0

Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen sp.)
Dog Day Cicada (Tibicen sp.)

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5


I switched domains. I wrote (part of) my thesis. I was accepted into a PhD program. I got a kitten.

Somewhere, in that mess, I forgot to save my old blog, and so I’m starting from scratch. For those of you who used to follow me, I apologize for making you update your feeds and generally get an awful headache of awfulness trying to sort out the new blog. To those of you who are new–that’s great. You won’t have to see my awful old photos from two years ago. Trust me, that’s a good thing.

Anyway, what’s new with you?