Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city. A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately. What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions. It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.
Yellowstone national park has the highest concentration of thermal features anywhere in the world, but it is far from a sterile place as far as living organisms are concerned — even in the hottest of the hot springs, “life has found a way”.
Two groups of microorganisms (Archaea and Bacteria) are the foundation of Yellowstone’s thermal ecosystems. By utilizing the chemical elements liberated by steam and boiling water from the rocky matrix, they build vast and deep mats of bacteria that encircle the hot pools, different species existing in different thermal gradients from just below boiling temperature to simply “hot” water.
Ephydrid flies specialize on eating the bacterial and algal mats in the hot pools, although they too (especially their eggs) must be heat tolerant. These consumers in turn attract a variety of predators, like spiders and dragonflies, who must be mobile to escape sudden spurts of boiling water.
Or how about this one — what do you see in this accumulation of bacterial growth at the edge of the hot water?
I’ve been trying out a new, quick photo editing program on the iPad, Snapseed. It’s a real time saver, compared to my usual method of editing images in Lightroom. It’s easy to get carried away with special effects, though, with these landscapes from the geyser basin at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.
Ansel Adams introduced us to the grandeur of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains in his early photography in the 1920s and 30s, but his famous capture of the light on the Grand Tetons and Snake River was made about the time he invented the 10-point zone system of tonal contrast (varying from pure white to pure black) in the early 1940s.
It’s hard to reproduce that scene today, because the vegetation has changed quite a bit — in fact, the trees have grown so much they obscure part of the view of the river.
On another day (with better air clarity), we got a good sense of the rugged texture of those famous peaks, punctuated with a little fall color from the yellow aspens.
This location provided an opportunity to try to “channel Ansel Adams”, for some dramatic Black and White photography. So, here’s my rendition of the Grand Tetons a la Ansel Adams.
What a location for landscape photography, to say nothing of the wildlife we saw as well.
We had a lovely day of sun, rain, sleet, mini-hail pellets, strong wind, and more sun as we walked about 9 miles around and through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London. Spring is well on its way here, with an assortment of wildflowers blooming and a flush of new green leaves on the trees.
The Brits have great affection for their swans. Killing or eating one is punishable by death (a law still on the books, but it hasn’t been enforced lately), and injuring a bird or collecting its eggs is liable to get you a £5000 fine and some jail time.
some other notable images from today…
On a dreary, rainy day devoid of color here in Minnesota, I’ll share a photo of a scene that is so rich in color, it can only be called a kaleidoscope. This is a multi-image, blended composite of several frames and several exposures of the innards of the Haleakala volcano on Maui. When I was editing the composite to blend the different frames and exposures, I was struck by how the mineral composition in the crater has colored the scene: yellow sulfur deposits, rich red-purple to red-brown iron deposits, gray to black weathered lava and ash, blue and white of the cloud layer that hangs over the mid-altitude of the volcano, and a little hint of yellow-green from the plants that have struggled to establish themselves in this rocky, almost lunar-looking landscape.
For best viewing, click on the image to enlarge it to the max — it’s a complex scene worth exploring. On a PC or an iPad, click once to single out the image on just one web page, and click on it again to enlarge. Scroll with your finger or the bottom/side scroll bars.
Multiple small cinder cones dot the mid-landscape in front of the peak, and a recent (within the last 300 years or so) lava flow crosses in front of the peak. Strangely enough, the crater is actually not of volcanic origin, but was formed by the erosion of the walls of two valleys during a particularly wet part of the island’s history. The volcano is dormant, not extinct, with frequent small earthquakes that indicate it is still capable of island-building action.
Growing up in California, I don’t ever remember spectacular color in the fall. But the trees imported from southeastern Asia that are now used as boulevard trees in San Jose (Northern California) are exceptionally colorful in what is now the fall season here. I am delighted to have a second fall season before going back to a colder MN winter season.
We humans with our superb color vision seem inordinately fond of bright, colorful images. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the color tones in a multi-hued bright image almost distract from the message, and other times the colors are so monochromatic, the scene is almost monotonous instead of dramatic. In these instances, sometimes conversion to black and white format is useful to keep the viewer’s eye focused on image content.
I thought the New Mexican landscapes were stunning and spectacular, but I didn’t feel the color version of my photos did justice to the drama of those scenes, so I played around with some of the images to see whether B&W conveyed the message any better. What do you think?
Note added: This is the 900th post on Backyard Biology!
Among the many new techniques in photography I’ve tried recently is a cool way to get wonderful depth of field in a complex or large subject using multiple images. The process is called “focus stacking”, which means that you take several photos (usually on a tripod), as you focus on different areas of the subject. Then you have to blend them all together in Photoshop.
I decided to experiment with this technique after an overnight rainstorm had left a collection of dew drops on the newly opening Columbine flowers in my front yard. For this shot, I positioned the camera directly over the flower, pointed down at it, put it on manual focus, and then turned the focus ring very slightly as I clicked the shutter. Here’s the result of blending 5 images together — I probably needed more images in the stack because there are some holes in my focus, but you’ll get the idea.
I went looking for the nesting Great Horned Owls at Silverwood Park the other day, but found only the one owl (female?) sitting in the nest box with just the tips of her “horns) showing. Not much to photograph there. However, there was quite an amazing “bird” elsewhere in the park.
Since I used to teach comparative anatomy, I was intrigued by the parts the sculptor used to represent parts of the bird’s anatomy.
What a bird!
NOTE ADDED: The artist of this piece is Al Wadzinski. “Wadzinski creates zoomorphic assemblages using found objects of every material – valuable, mundane, cast-offs, delicate or impermeable, reclaimed from salvage yards, garage sales and alleys.” Find more Wadzinski artwork here.