Archive for the 'It’s Only Natural! Birds, Geology, Wildlife & More' Category

Oct 08 2015

Putting Potholes in the Picture

Of Time and the River

Who has a good word for potholes? Certainly not urban commuters, whose drive to work often resembles a gymkhana, with the only prize on offer being a chance to keep the car out of the tire and alignment shop for one more day. And what about cyclist commuters, those hardy iconoclasts whom you sometimes glimpse though a rain‑streaked windshield, darting among the phalanx of creeping cars like nervous herring swimming through a pod of killer whales? They play the game for even higher stakes, since dropping a wheel into a pothole often means a sudden, violent flip over the ‘bars, with mild concussion perhaps the happiest outcome.

In short, potholes don’t have much of a fan club. But there’s one exception: paddlers. Of course, hitting a pothole at speed when shuttling cars is never a good idea, particularly if your boat isn’t securely tied down. But river potholes are a whole ‘nother story. They’re scenery, not traps for the unwary. (Well, most aren’t, at any rate. Some are big enough to capture a boater, however. Read on.) I have fond memories of long days spent exploring the potholed cliffs along the river that ran past my grandad’s camp. I can still recall my wonder at finding water and pebbles — not to mention an occasional listless trout — in sculpted hollows many feet above the river’s surface. The sense of wonder even survived my disappointment in learning that flash floods had deposited the trout and pebbles in these cliff‑face aquaria, and not some mischievous river sprite. In fact, it was the realization that natural processes were responsible for the apparent miracle that engendered my nascent scientific curiosity.

And, in due course, this same curiosity gave birth to an article for Paddling.net. Which, in turn, gave rise to an influx of reader mail, much of which drew my attention to the paucity of illustrations. “Why didn’t you have more pictures?” my interlocutors demanded. The answer was simple: I wrote the column before I’d got my hands on a digital camera, and my stock of slides simply came up short on potholes.

That was then. Nowadays, I’m a digital girl through and through. Farwell is of a different mind. He keeps threatening to unearth his father’s old Smith Corona Sterling portable typewriter, leaving his computer to gather dust on a shelf. (No worry about power outages. No broadband fees. No helpful reminders that he’s using an obsolete browser whenever he checks a reference. Only words on paper. Hmm… There might be something in it.) Still, I’m not ready to go back to the future just yet. So let’s head down to The River for a virtual field trip. But first, we’ll pause on the riverbank for a short, illustrated course in pothole formation… Read more…

Potholes Like You've Never Seen Them Before

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Jul 09 2015

Confessions of a Turtle Taxi

Sittin in the Morning Sun

At first glance, the turtle’s world is very different from ours. Any creature that can spend half the year entombed in frigid mud, only to swim free as soon as the sun warms the waters above its temporary sarcophagus, doesn’t have much in common with you and me. Or so it seems. But appearances often deceive, and the apparent gulf between our lives and theirs is an illusion. We share the same earth. Breathe the same air. And we are equally dependent on the availability of abundant, clean water.

Water. It’s the turtle’s home.* And it’s also the paddler’s summer refuge. But our brief holidays from the daily grind are just that: holidays. However long we’ve been at the paddling game, no canoeist or kayaker is at home — truly at home — on the water. We’re visitors. Guests. Blow‑ins. Strangers in a strange land. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Yet this doesn’t prevent us from participating, however distantly, in the pageant of life in and around wild waters, even if our role is that of the onlooker. We are benign voyeurs. We do our thing. They do theirs. And then each of us goes his or her own way — they to attend to the serious business of raising their families and getting a living, we to continue our essentially passive (but always pleasurable) looking‑on.

Success in this watching game is mostly a matter of stealth. Splashing about and shouting back and forth between boats pretty much guarantees that we’ll see nothing. That said, even the quietest paddler will be hard‑pressed to take turtles by surprise. I seldom do. It makes no difference if they’re basking on a log, their backs toward me, seemingly lost in whatever species of reverie turtles experience. Long before I drift close enough to get a good look at them, they’ve sensed the presence of an unwelcome intruder and plopped into the water, leaving only a spreading web of ripples and an occasional bubble to mark their passage.

This preternatural alertness is easy to understand. Turtles are survivors. They even shrugged off the cataclysmic Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that put paid to the dinosaurs. But we’re now in the midst of another great die‑off — one largely of our own contriving — and this time around, the turtle clan may not be so fortunate. The threats to their future include all of the usual suspects. Habitat destruction, commercial harvesting, the pet trade, introduced predators… Each of these takes its toll. Yet the greatest danger of all is one that dares not speak its name (not in the US Congress, at any rate): global warming.

Of course, there’s very little that I, as one person among seven billion, can do to check humankind’s pell‑mell rush toward the Exit, taking many of our fellow travelers on planet Earth along with us as we go. Nevertheless, I’m occasionally able to do something for individuals in danger of immediate harm, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, I do just that. Often the individual in question is a turtle in peril on the highway, spotted as I travel to or from a favorite backcountry destination by car or bike.

Which immediately raises a seldom‑heard question: Why does the turtle cross the road? … Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

May 03 2014

Buzz Off! by Pat McKay

Not long ago I spotted a European hornet, but I was disappointed that I didn’t have the chance to capture an interesting image. They are an impressive wasp. So today when I saw this one busy building its nest, I decided to set things to rights. Since I was just carrying the Panasonic GX7 with an Olympus 45 mm lens attached, I had to use a couple of Kenko extension rings and then get reasonably close to the subject. How close? Well, by my estimate I was less than a foot away.

I fired off a couple of frames using the on-camera flash, but the results were just terrible. I found an old piece of white styrofoam and decided to use it as a reflector. I held the camera in my right hand, the jury-rigged reflector in my left, and fired off another series of shots until the lady finally lost all patience and told me in no uncertain terms that it was time to move on.

Pat McKay European Hornet

When I got home I did a little online research and discovered the following: “[European hornets] are …defensive of their hive and can be aggressive around food sources. … Care should be taken when encountered in these circumstances as they may sting without warning. The pain from the sting may persist for several days with attendant swelling. If you are stung you may wish to seek medical attention.”

Photo details: Panasonic GX7, Olympus 45 mm, ƒ/6.3 at 1/60 sec, ISO 3200, stacked Kenko extension tubes (16 mm and 10 mm).

Pat McKay cycles and paddles around the Delmarva Peninsula, camera always in hand (or near at hand, anyway). Many of his photos have graced these virtual pages in the past — and with any luck, many more will do so in the months to come.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

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